Kobe man held after girl’s body discovered

JAPAN - Police arrested a 47-year-old man on Wednesday on suspicion of abandoning the body of a 6-year-old Kobe girl who had been missing since Sept. 11, with plans to investigate the case as a murder.

Layered, tightly tied plastic bags containing dismembered body parts were found Tuesday at around 4:10 p.m. by a police officer searching a wooded area in the city's Nagata Ward. DNA testing identified the body as Mirei Ikuta.

According to Hyogo prefectural police, the body stripped naked is believed to have been dismembered by a knife or similar tool. At least four bags were found reportedly scattered in a 5- to 10-meter radius containing her head, hands, torso and legs, with the lower back section still missing.

A patient registration card bearing the name of the arrested man, Yasuhiro Kimino, and a cigarette end with saliva matching the suspect's DNA were also reportedly found in the bags alongside a pink-blue dress, a pair of sandals and underwear worn by the victim when she went missing.

Police said Ikuta may have been carrying a rucksack a day after the girl was reported missing. But the rucksack wasn't found at the scene.

Prefectural police will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of the girl's death after setting up an investigation headquarters to look into the murder and abandoning of the body.

The wooded area where the girl's body was found lies about 150 meters northeast from her grandmother's house where she usually lived. The crime scene is on a hill a few dozen meters from a flight of stairs leading up from a narrow street in a residential area, where waist-high weeds grow.

Girl in 'blind spot'

Hyogo prefectural police had been searching for Ikuta since the day she went missing by deploying up to 260 police officers each day. But none had set foot in the wooded area, where her body was found, until the day it was discovered, police said.

"We prioritized searching areas where she had been sighted by witnesses," explained a prefectural police official, on why authorities had overlooked the wooded area.

"The site [where the remains were found] is located in a blind spot in the surrounding area. It was difficult for us to thoroughly search such a vast area," said a senior prefectural police official.

Since Sept. 11, police combed through vacant homes, ditches, a river and other areas based on witness reports. Search efforts were particularly focused on areas surrounding a park located about 700 meters southeast from her grandmother's home.