"I just had this really bad feeling about her going to Japan."
- Jane Steare, Lucie's mother
It was the 1st of July 2000. A Saturday. Twenty one year old Lucie Blackman told her roommate, Louise Phillips, that she had arranged to meet a man who wanted to purchase a cell phone for her. She left their apartment wearing a plain black dress and black sandals. Lucie didn't tell Louise who the man she planned to meet was but Louise assumed it was somebody that Lucie met at the club where they worked in Tokyo, Japan.
Lucie was from Sevenoaks, Kent, England, United Kingdom but she left there in May 2000 with Louise so that they could travel around Asia. Lucie's parents, Tim Blackman and Jane Steare, were divorced and Lucie, the oldest of three children, wanted a few months to clear her head and decide what she wanted to do with her own life and with her career. Lucie and Louise planned to spend the Summer in Tokyo and they got a job as hostesses at the Casablanca Club in the Roppongi district in Tokyo. When they lived in England, they both worked for British Airways as flight attendants so the hostess role appealed to them as it involved making people feel welcome and the role required the hostesses to have good conversational skills which was a skill that was required for working in the aviation industry also.
Lucie fit in well at the club. Her colleagues loved working with her as she was always happy and had a great sense of humor. The clients and customers at the club loved her too as she was easy to talk to and very attractive. The club where Lucie worked was a hostess club. They are popular in Japan. They are essentially there to look after men, cater to their needs and make money for the owners. The hostesses are an integral part of the business. They welcome the man, normally wealthy business men, into the clubs, sit beside them, top up their drinks, light their cigarettes for them and spend the night talking to them. They are intimate settings but despite appearances, many actually forbid the hostesses from having any sort of sexual encounter with the customers. The idea is that it's all a fantasy and that is what makes the men return time and time again and spend more of their money. Some clubs also encourage what are referred to as dohans which are essentially dates that take place outside the club. The hostesses meet the customer and have a lavish dinner with them and then return to the club. Lucie's club required the hostesses to go on a number of such dates every month.
So that day, the 1st of July, Louise assumed that Lucie was on one of those types of dates. That evening, at 7pm, Lucie called Louise and told her she would be home in an hour. But Lucie never made it home that night. Louise was concerned and tried to find Lucie but when there was still no sign of her on the Monday morning, the 3rd of July, Louise called Lucie's mother Jane who was in the United Kingdom and told her that Lucie was missing.
Lucie's father Tim and Lucie's sister Sophie flew out to Tokyo to search for her. Tokyo is one of the most crowded cities in the world so her family knew they needed as much help as they could get. They sought the help of the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair who provided assistance to them. He went to Japan for a G8 meeting and asked that “everything possible be done” to find Lucie. That brought a lot of media attention to the case. The family also hired a Private Investigator.
It emerged that the club where Lucie worked did not provide as much security as a lot of similar clubs did and they would not provide any assistance to Lucie's family. As Lucie did not tell Louise who she was meeting that day, they had no idea if it was even a customer or not. One of the hostesses at the club who worked with Lucie told the Private Investigator that she observed a man at the club a few days before Lucie went missing. She gave the Private Investigator a description of what he looked like.
Reports were made to police that Lucie had been seen at the seaside, thirty miles outside of Tokyo. They said that Lucie was with a man and the description they provided of the man matched the description the hostess gave to the Private Investigator of the man who was at the club.
Louise received a call from an unknown man. The caller told her that Lucie would not be coming home for some time.
Police arrested a man called Joji Obara in relation to a separate case that involved a sexual assault allegation that had been made against him. Joji was a very wealthy man. He studied law and politics before working for his parents business which was a real estate business. As a result, he made millions of dollars and liked to show off his wealth and spend it. He had boats, Ferraris, expensive watches and seemed to like to date Western women and frequented many of the hostess clubs.
When Joji was arrested, a number of other women came forward to share their experiences with him. They too alleged they had been sexually assaulted. There were many women, Japanese and Western women, and they all had a similar story to tell. They alleged that Joji would take them out for dinner and then they would wake up the next day and he would tell them that they drank too much the night before. The women believed that he put drugs in their drink and sexually assaulted them while they were unconscious.
When Joji was asked about the allegations, he claimed any sexual encounter he had was always consensual. Police searched his properties. Joji owned several apartments, one of which was a seaside condominium. They discovered that he had videotaped around 400 sexual encounters with women, many of which involved rape.
While there was initially no direct connection between him and Lucie, police discovered that phone records showed that Lucie used his phone the evening of the 1st of July.
Seven months after Lucie was last seen alive, on the 9th of February 2001, police made a horrifying discovery. At the seaside, just 200 yards from Joji's home, along a cliff in the town of Miura, they found body parts, including a severed head partially encased in cement in a cave. It was confirmed, via the use of dental records, that the body parts were those of Lucie Blackman.
The cement used to encase Lucie's severed head found in the cave was of a similar kind that was found in Joji's condominium. Some people came forward to notify police that they saw him with cement on his hands.
Joji denied any involvement in Lucie's death. He was charged with her rape and murder. He admitted that he was with her the night she went missing but denied that he killed her. He also faced further charges in relation to other matters. He was charged with the rape of eight other women and sexual violence resulting in death for allegedly drugging and raping an Australian woman, Carita Ridgway, in 1992. All of the women were hostesses and worked in the Roppongi district of Tokyo.
It took six years to bring the case to Trial.
Prosecutors sought a life sentence. They told the Court that Joji exhibited a history of violence and aggression towards women. He targeted women who worked as hostesses as he believed their allegations would not be taken seriously. And he was correct. A number of the women who alleged that Joji drugged and raped them reported the matter to the police long before Lucie disappeared but no thorough investigations were carried out. As a result, he was free to continue carrying out the same vicious assaults, and videotaping them, time and time again.
It was the Prosecution's case that the rapes always began the same way. He would meet the woman at the hostess clubs and invite them to his condominium for a dohan. He would slip a drug into their drink without their knowledge and when they were unconscious, he would rape them and videotape it. The Court heard that in 1992, a woman by the name of Carita Ridgway died under suspicious circumstances. Carita moved to Tokyo from her home in Australia and worked as a hostess. In 1992, Carita was admitted to hospital by a man who referred to himself as Akira Nishida.
The Prosecution told the Court that Akira was in fact Joji. When he brought Carita into the hospital, he told the medical staff there that she had suffered food poisoning after eating a bad oyster. Carita died from liver failure that was consistent with poisoning from an excess of chloroform.
Police believed that both Carita and Lucie died from an overdose of drugs administered by Joji. They also believed that Joji panicked when he realized Lucie was dead and dismembered her body in an attempt to get rid of the evidence.
It was the Defense's case that Joji was not guilty in relation to all of the charges he faced. When faced with the videotape evidence, he argued that it was all consensual. He claimed that Lucie and Carita took drugs themselves.
Joji was found guilty of eight counts of rape and the charge of sexual violence resulting in death in relation to Carita's death. In relation to Lucie's death, the Court believed that while he was guilty of abducting Lucie and dismembering her body, he was not guilty of her murder. Judge Hiroshi Kadono said that the Prosecution had failed to prove Joji fatally drugged Lucie.
Joji was sentenced to life in prison. It is believed that he raped many more women than the number of charges he faced in Court. Not only did he have hundreds of videotapes, he kept a diary which had details of dates, places and varying cocktails of drugs that had been used on each woman.
Lucie's mother Jane was devastated when Lucie's father Tim accepted what is referred to as a “condolence payment” of nearly $850,000 from a friend of Joji. She believed that the Court would take that into account when sentencing Joji but the Court assured the family that that had not been taken into account. Tim used some of the money to set up a charity in Lucie’s name, The Lucie Blackman Trust. It has since been rebranded and is called LBT Global. They provide assistance to families who have missing loved ones overseas.
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