TOKYO (TR) – In 1982, Kazuko Fukuda was 34 years old. Married with four children, she worked as a hostess at a cabaret in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture. As prosecutors would later prove, she fatally strangled rival hostess Atsuko Yasuoka, 31, in the victim’s residence on August 19.
Fukuda spent the next 15 years on the run. Her flight from justice ended 22 years ago on Monday. On that day, police apprehended her at a restaurant in Fukui Prefecture.
By that time, her story was national news. So, naturally, a media swarm assembled in Fukui. As detectives escorted Fukuda the following day, reporters and cameramen surrounded them. At one point, she let out a scream from beneath a jacket covering her face.
Perhaps nobody was more pleased by the apprehension than Kunihiko Nakai, the chief detective of the Matsuyama-Higashi Police Station at the time.
“On television, I heard that unmistakeable voice,” he told Fuji News Network earlier this year. “[It was then] that I had faith that [it was her] in Fukui.”
For Nakai, it was the end of just one chapter in the story. For the next, a diary would prove to be the key.
On the run
Fukuda spent the next 14 years and 11 months fleeing from the law, during which time she went to great effort to remain out of custody.
Fukuda initially found it difficult to find work as a hostess due to her relatively advanced age. However, she eventually landed a job at a “snack” club in Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture — a distance of about 620 kilometers from Matsuyama.
Two days later, she underwent plastic surgery to change the appearance of her nose and eyes at a hospital in Tokyo. She would go on to have several more, which led her to become known as “The Woman of Seven Faces” in the media.
She moved from place to place, always working to stay one step ahead of the police. While employed at the club in Kanazawa around September, 1985, she began living with a male customer who owned a long-running confectionery shop.
After the confectioner proposed marriage, Fukuda did not accept immediately, fearing that her past would be revealed. A relative of the confectioner later raised their suspicions about her with the police, which caused her to flee by bicycle for Nagoya — a distance of around 235 kilometers — on February 12, 1988.
Over the next decade, Fukuda found herself working at a pair of love hotels in Nagoya and a brothel in Osaka City before settling in Fukui.
Arrest in Fukui
The turning point in the case took place on July 24, 1997, when a 59-year-old male customer at an oden hot pot restaurant in Fukui City tipped off police about a woman resembling “fugitive Kazuko Fukuda.”
At the time, Fukuda was using the alias “Yukiko Nakamura.” At around 2:00 p.m. on July 29, police took her in for voluntary questioning after she visited the restaurant again.
During the session, Fukuda, who kept drinking alcohol, declined to have her fingerprints taken. However, police used a beer bottle to obtain one such print, which proved to be a match for Fukuda. Her arrest, at approximately 6:40 p.m., took place without incident, with her eventually admitting to the allegations.
The front page of the July 29, 1997 issue of Ehime Shimbun newspaper read in big type “Suspect Kazuko Fukuda Arrested.”
Race against time
Prosecuting Fukuda was a race against time: The statute of limitations were set to expire on August 19.
During questioning, Fukuda testified that she did not commit the murder herself. However, her supposed male accomplice had since died. The police had six days left.
“If it could not to be proven that [her claim] of conspiracy with another person was a lie during those six days, there was a chance that the statute of limitations would expire without prosecution,” then detective Nakai said.
The task for police was to prove that the accomplice was not in Matsuyama at the time of the murder. Police later located relatives of alleged accomplice, but they could not remember what he was doing 15 years before.
The key proved to be a diary he had left behind. “An examination of the diary showed that he was in Tokyo at the time. He was not in Ehime, let alone Matsuyama,” Nakai said.
Fukuda was indicted for murder on August 18, just 11 hours before the expiration of the statute of limitations.
In May, 1999, the Takamatsu District Court handed Fukuda a life-in-prison term. That ruling was upheld by the Takamatsu High Court the following year. The Supreme Court rejected a subsequent appeal in 2003.
Fukuda lived until the age of 57. At the Wakayama Prison in Wakayama City in February, 2005, she collapsed while working at a factory. She was sent to a hospital with a subarachnoid hemorrhage. After never regaining consciousness, she died on March 10.
The saga lives on. Last August, Fuji TV broadcast a dramatized version of Fukuda’s story. In 2011, an hour-long segment on her was also included in “Sekai no Kowai Onnatachi” (“Scary Women of the World”), which was broadcast by TBS.