Joji Obara (織原 城二, Obara Jōji), born Kim Sung Jong (Korean: 김성종; hanja: 金聖鐘) is a Korean-Japanese serial rapist who may have raped anywhere from 150 to 400 women. He was tried for the rape-related deaths of Australian national Carita Ridgway in 1992 and British national Lucie Blackman in 2000. Blackman's death, as well as Obara's trial, received high press coverage in Japan and internationally, especially in the British media.
Joji Obara was born in 1952 to poor Zainichi Korean parents in Osaka, Japan. During his youth, Obara's father worked his way from scrap collector to immensely wealthy owner of a string of properties and pachinko parlors. Obara was educated at private Tokyo schools, and received daily tutoring in a variety of subjects. At age 15, he enrolled in a prestigious prep school affiliated with Keio University, virtually guaranteeing his acceptance into the latter institution upon graduation. Two years later, after his father's death in Hong Kong, Obara inherited property in Osaka and Tokyo. After traveling extensively and graduating from Keio University with degrees in politics and law, he became a naturalized Japanese citizen and legally changed his name. Obara invested heavily in real estate speculation, gaining assets estimated as much as $38 million. After losing his fortune and his firm in the 1990s recession, he was pursued by creditors, and reportedly used his business as a money laundering front for the yakuza syndicate Sumiyoshi-kai.
Obara was a drug user who was reported to have a fixation on white women (who were often viewed as status symbols). He developed a pattern of criminal behavior, beginning with unlawfully administering drugs to render his victims unconscious and abduct and rape them. Obara victimized women of both Japanese and Western backgrounds. He recorded his attacks on videotape, at least 4,000 of which were recovered by police, giving them cause to believe that he might have raped anywhere from 150-400 women. Police found extensive journals in which Obara made reference to "conquer play," a euphemism describing his sexual assaults on women whom he wrote were "only good for sex" and on whom he sought "revenge on the world" drugging them with chloroform.
Carita Simone Ridgway (March 3, 1970 – February 29, 1992) was an Australian model from Claremont, Perth, Western Australia, who was working in Tokyo's Ginza area as a bar hostess to earn money for acting school. Common in East Asian nations, "hostess" in this sense describes a modern form of geisha entertainer, i.e. young women at bars who are paid to engage in conversation with men, light their cigarettes, sing karaoke, and sometimes dance – with a strict policy against men touching the hostesses or making sexual propositions. Popular hostesses often receive drinks, presents and social invitations from their favourite customers.
Ridgway, who was offered a lift by Obara, was drugged; this led to chloroform-related liver failure and brain death. Obara's complicity was exposed when, while using an alias (Nishita), he had taken an unconscious Ridgway to the hospital claiming shellfish (oyster)-related food poisoning. Ridgway died after life-support was stopped at her family's request; she was then cremated and repatriated to Australia. The cause of death was initially deemed hepatitis E, and there was no support for an investigation by the embassy or Japanese police as requested by the family.
Lucie Jane Blackman (September 1, 1978 – July 1, 2000) was an English woman from Sevenoaks, Kent who worked as a hostess in Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo. Blackman had previously worked as a flight attendant for British Airways and come to Japan to see the world and earn money to repay her debts. At the time of her disappearance, she had been working as a hostess at Casablanca, a nightclub in Roppongi, later called Greengrass. On July 1, she went on a dōhan (paid date) with a Casablanca customer. Other than a few calls to a friend during the date, no one heard from her again.
Blackman's family, wanting to find her, flew to Tokyo and started a high-profile direct media campaign including approaching British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who was visiting Tokyo at that time. Newspapers started publicizing Blackman's disappearance on July 13, when UK Prime Minister Tony Blair mentioned the case during an official visit to Japan, where he met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. An information hotline was staffed by British expats, and an anonymous businessman funded a reward of £100,000. As a result of the publicity surrounding the case, three foreign women came forward to describe waking up sore and sick in Obara’s bed, with no memory of the night before (see: drug-facilitated sexual assault.) Several of them, it turned out, had reported him to Roppongi police but had been ignored. It was also around this time that police made the connection between cases via the man known as Nishita and Obara.
On February 9, 2001, Blackman's dismembered body was found, buried in a shallow grave under a bathtub in a seaside cave at Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture, about 50 kilometres (31 mi) south of Tokyo, just a few hundred meters from Obara's apartment. The body had been cut into eight pieces, her head had been shaved and encased in concrete, and was too decomposed to show the cause of death. According to Obara's indictment, he made Blackman a drink containing a drug before raping her at a condominium in Zushi, subsequently killing her. Obara has maintained his innocence, claiming the drugs that caused her to die were voluntarily self-administered.
Trial and verdict
In October 2000, Obara was charged with drugging, raping and killing Blackman, as well as with raping eight other women and the manslaughter of Ridgway. His trial began on July 4, 2001, and on April 24, 2007, Obara was jailed for life on multiple rape charges and manslaughter, but he was acquitted of Blackman's rape and murder due to a lack of direct evidence. Evidence supporting his guilt of rape included the approximately 400 videos he took, which showed him engaged in date rape activities (including one with Ridgway). For the charge of manslaughter, the prosecutor produced an autopsy report showing traces of chloroform in Ridgway's liver and a paper trail showing that the accused accompanied her to the hospital before she died. In Blackman's case, however, the prosecutor could not produce any forensic evidence linking the accused to her death. Even her cause of death could not be determined.
Blackman's father, Tim Blackman, accepted £450,000 in mimaikin (condolence money) from a friend of Obara's, but other family members were opposed to accepting the money. A trust, using some of this money and promoting personal safety, was established in Blackman's name. The judge stated that in deciding on the sentence he did not attach much importance to Obara’s payment of “consolation money” to a number of his victims.
Former prosecutor Takeshi Tsuchimoto, now a professor of criminal procedure law at Hakuoh University Law School, criticised the decision to acquit Obara for the murder of Blackman by pointing to the conviction of Masumi Hayashi due to circumstantial evidence. The public prosecutor, however, appealed the Blackman-related verdicts, as crucial forensic evidence had not been heard at the original trial, and on March 25, 2008, an appeal trial commenced in the Tokyo High Court. Tokyo's High Court found Obara guilty on the counts of abduction, dismemberment and disposal of Blackman's body on December 16, 2008. In early December 2010, the Supreme Court of Japan rejected Obara's appeal and upheld his life sentence.
The Japanese judicial system has received some criticism for its handling of the case. It is believed that the police did not take this missing person case seriously "because Lucie was working illegally in a job from which women often flee without notice". As a result, the discovery of the body came too late to determine the cause of the death. The verdict, by a panel of three judges, cited the lack of forensic evidence as a reason for acquittal. Some foreign media from common law countries also criticised the police for having leaked information in the case to the press.
- On February 29, 2008, ABC News aired a US documentary titled Vanished in Japan related to the two deaths.
- People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman – a February 2011 book by Richard Lloyd Parry.
- On February 24, 2019, Casefile True Crime Podcast aired an episode revisiting the case.