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1994 Executive Murders: Unsolved

Some circumstances and details may be disturbing. Readers' discretion is advised.

1994 was a landmark year filled with news and pop culture events that made the world nearly stop turning. The Lion King, starring James Earl Jones, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and Whoopi Goldberg, graced the big screen, winning several Academy Awards. The hit teen action-adventure drama Cowboy Bebop had won its fourth consecutive Viewers’ Choice Award, tying with Beavis and Butthead. The Nickelodeon teen improv sitcom that made Melissa Joan Hart a household name, Clarissa Explains It All, had ended. OJ Simpson had led police officers on a car chase in his white Ford Bronco for nearly five hours; his trial was not only prosecuted by the late Vincent Bugliosi, and had received more publicity than when he put Charles Manson behind bars on live television twenty-six years earlier. Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee by her rival Tonya Harding’s former boyfriend. Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, a former First Lady and prominent figure in the disabilities community, passed away. There would be one event that would shock the world as much as the trial of OJ Simpson: the infamous Executive Murders. The circumstances were so gruesome, and to this day, the case has never been solved.

23 Baffling Years Later

Outshined by the now infamous trial of OJ Simpson, the vicious slayings of Juntaro Suzuki and Kazufumi Hatanaka are forever shrouded in mystery. The circumstances seemed as if they were fictitious, straight out of the pages of the best-selling novel The Godfather

What could drive Shinichi Okino, a well-liked young man, to shoot both of his former employers, and then stab them with a katana? He had positive experiences working for both of them; all parties had never said anything negative about one another, even in private. He had supposedly been at both the victims’ homes hours before, as well as the day before, according to friends, family, and neighbors of the victims. Several television outlets immediately pointed the finger at Mr. Okino, even though he was grief-stricken and almost never left his home because of it; he had attended both funerals and was shocked to see his employers’ corpses in the days after. Who really did kill the Chief Operations’ Officer of Fuji Film in San Jose and Vice President of Sumitomo Bank in Los Angeles, 342 miles away and and twenty-three years later? What was the motive? Unfortunately, the public may possibly never know.

The Horrific Circumstances

In the evening hours of September 14, 1994,  Juntaro Suzuki, 54, was found dead in the hallway outside of his apartment in San Jose. The Chief Marketing Officer of Fuji Film Company had been shot between the eyes and his stomach was slashed with a katana, execution-style; both the gunshots and slash marks were carried out quickly and in a calculated fashion. The following morning, he was found by a neighbor, as well as his wife, wearing his pajamas and covered in blood. The San Jose County Police Department was called and immediately questioned his neighbor, but there were no answers. His neighbor had been there the night before, but there was no evidence to charge him. Three months and one day later, an eerily similar case would happen. On December 15 of that same year, Kazufumi Hatanaka, 61, Vice President of Sumitomo Bank, would be found to have been slain in a near-identical fashion; this occurrence was in Los Angeles. He was also found butchered to death by his wife, as well as his daughter. The Los Angeles Police Department had heard of the case in San Jose, leading them to zero in on Shinichi Okino, a twenty-eight-year-old employee at both companies. He had reported a stolen vehicle to Los Angeles Police Department the afternoon later, stating that his car had been stolen the night before. The California license plate seen on the car that was at Kazufumi Hatanaka’s property in Los Angeles matched the one on his vehicle that was there at the time of the killing. Mr. Okino had been at both crime scenes only mere hours before, as well as the morning after. He had described the butchery in exact detail; he had touched the katana and pistol used in the slaughter when he had visited both crime scenes. As a young teen, he had run into trouble with the law for petty theft. He was friends with gang members during his youth, enough to make him known to both the Los Angeles and San Jose Police Departments as a prime suspect. According to testimony from his mother and older sister, he had stopped stealing and gang-banging after they had threatened to kick him out of their Griffith Park area home at the age of sixteen. He had gotten a part-time job and had never run in to trouble with the law since both women had made the threat. In January of 1995, he was tried for first-degree homicide, as well as extortion, and found guilty, because he had picked up the katana and the pistol for a few seconds and his finger prints were on it. Eventually, he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Later that year, he was acquitted and granted anonymity due to lack of evidence, but the damage was already done. His life was completely ruined, as he was unable to find employment. What really did happen may never be known.

Sabotaged?

According to the defendant and witnesses who testified on his behalf at his appeal trial in April of 1995, he had been complaining of “frequent harassment” by “certain employees”. These unnamed employees had allegedly badgered and intimidated Mr. Okino into accepting so-called “hush money” bribes to keep quiet about the alleged plots to kill both of his fallen employers. He had privately expressed fear of going to work to friends and family, and had nearly considered quitting his position at Fuji Film after nearly four years; he left the company the day after the slaying in San Jose. According to friends, he had stopped by the victim’s apartment hours before the butchery to “say goodbye before leaving”. He had a similar conversation with the victim in Los Angeles; the victim’s wife and daughter had told the jury in the acquittal trial that he had said that he “felt as if his life was in danger”. After leaving San Jose for Los Angeles, he had the same problems with the exact same coworkers; the monetary bribes and harassment continued, even getting worse over the course of three months. He complained to the HR department about the hush money and monetary bribes several times, but had stated that these incidences had never stopped. The alleged witnesses at the scenes in San Jose and Los Angeles were “devastated” at the original guilty verdict, but “overjoyed” at the acquittal based on lack of evidence. Shinichi Okino’s fingerprints had been on both weapons, but he had touched them for only a few seconds before placing them back where they were found. He had also complied with the investigation, as well as passing the second lie detector test given to him in March of 1995. These so-called witnesses had known something that the prosecution team had clearly overlooked: the Los Angeles Police Department had arrested, tried, prosecuted, and convicted the wrong person. There was only one conclusion–he was clearly a victim of what could be described as an act of sabotage. What makes him a victim of sabotage? There are several aspects of the circumstances that make the rumored aggressor out to be the victim of psychological abuse at the hands of his co-workers. The clear perpetrators wanted to work for the company, but on one condition. The ulterior motive was to commit two crimes at the same time.

This practice of infiltrating companies to commit both extortion and/or murder in an undetected manner is a practice known as sokaiya. According to CNNMoney, these types of gangsters have been using this method of fraud to their advantage as early as the 1960s; this is nothing new in the corporate world. Once gang members are inside corporate walls, the blackmailing, extortion, threats, and gas-lighting begin. The practice of sokaiya is not only common in Japan, but in so-called “business states”, such as California, Oregon, Washington State, and New York; these states are where most major foreign companies have great influence and prevalence. No company is perfect, so even companies with the most attentive executive operations officers are subject to fall victim to this form of financial manipulation. Many companies who have some of the strictest policies related to corporate fraud are subject to being driven to the ground because of this. In the end, money talks. 

As stated by David DeSteno, collectivist cultures view money as an aspect of life, especially when the household income revolves around one person as the sole provider. When this is abused by some members of the family, money can be used in a manner that is toxic both within and outside the household. This is when money becomes synonymous with gas-lighting. According to the independent outlet Healthy Place, gas-lighting is defined as “a form of abuse where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick the victim into distrusting his or her own memory and perceptions”. This type of damage can not only be emotional, but can have financial and reputation ruining consequences. No tactic is off limits with the aggressor, as money and threats are common ways of "keeping victims in line", especially co-workers and subordinates. 

The Power of Deception

The alleged aggressor seemed to have anything anyone could ever want; a Bachelor’s degree in business from University of Southern California, nice houses in ritzy neighborhoods in both Los Angeles and San Jose, an attractive girlfriend, several friends–everything. He was hardworking, well-liked by his co-workers, and never said anything negative about his employer or fellow employees; his co-workers said nothing but positive things about him in return. He wasn’t vindictive or violent, according to friends and family. What would drive a top employee at both Fuji Film Company and Sumitomo Bank to randomly snap and kill former employers in such a violent and disturbing manner? According to friends, he had become easily agitated and anxious after moving from San Jose to Los Angeles, as well as stressed out with his new environment. Almost impulsively, he left San Jose for Los Angeles one week after the death of his boss, without saying goodbye to friends and neighbors. Friends, as well as his girlfriend, also stated that he had begun to act bizarre and abnormal almost immediately after moving to Los Angeles, keeping to himself and almost never leaving his home for anything other than work. Once described as an extrovert, he had begun to keep a low profile. According to family, he was a teen delinquent and had gotten into trouble with the law for stealing and gang activity. Did Shinichi Okino lead a double life that was invisible to his inner circle? 

 As stated in a 2013 publication by M.E. Thomas for the outlet Psychology Today, individuals like this show only what they want those around them to see. He or she will show themselves to be the person who ‘has it all’ and makes those around him or her jealous, e.g. good-looking partner, nice house in an affluent neighborhood, anything that anyone would want. Although they keep to themselves and often have a reclusive personality, a sociopathic individual uses this to hide who they truly are. Their true personas become known after the damage they did has already been done; after a sociopath has been caught, he or she either push the blame on someone else or will only admit to their actions on certain conditions. If these are not met, the outcomes can oftentimes be deadly. Many individuals who have dealt with sociopaths or individuals who possess similar tendencies pertaining to sociopathy have dealt with consequences such as blackmail, harassment, and sabotage.

True Perpetrator Remains at Large

The truth is very clear: The perpetrator has never been caught and it is highly likely that they will never be apprehended. Who really did murder Juntaro Suzuki and Kazufumi Hatanaka three months apart, in nearly-identical fashions? Why did the defendant shoot both victims between the eyes with a pistol and slash their stomachs with a katana execution-style? The motive is very unclear. Both forensic teams in Los Angeles and San Jose, along with detectives, had one thing in common: both suspected that the slayings were linked to gang activity and organized crime. At the time, both cities’ police departments had begun to crack down on gang and organized crime activity. It is highly likely that both killings were also considered vengeance crimes. One might ask, “What constitutes a vengeance crime?” As shown by 2014 statistics published by the Federal Bureau of Intelligence, 1,165,383 violent crimes were committed that year. 0.2 percent were considered crimes of vengeance and vindictive actions. 

Although the 1994 Executive Homicides were overshadowed by the televised trial of OJ Simpson, this criminal case continues to fascinate the public. The real suspects were never apprehended. Currently, all the public can do is ask questions and guess the answers. The smash-hit late-night television series’ Unsolved Mysteries and Dateline aired several episodes based around the case, as well as documentary-series’. Fascination and curiosity surrounding the case is similar, if not equal, to that of the infamous Manson Family case. To this day, many individuals have questions that are unanswered, and that will mostly likely remain the case.

References

Blustein, Paul. "MURDER OF EXECUTIVE SHAKES JAPAN INC." The Washington Post. WP Company, 02 Mar. 1994. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Elliott, Susan J. "10 Ways to Tell If You're Being Gaslighted." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 16 Oct. 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

DeSteno, David. "A Culture of Bribery?" Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 24 June 2011. Web. 27 Apr. 2017

"FBI Releases 2014 Crime Statistics." FBI. FBI, 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

Pollack, Andrew. "Where Meetings Are Truly Feared." The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 June 1994. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Riggio, Ronald E. "Workplace Bullying: Applying Psychological Torture at Work."Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 02 Feb. 2010. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

"'Sokaiya' Scams Hit Japan." CNNMoney. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.

Thomas, M. E. "How to Spot a Sociopath." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 07 May 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

Tracy, Natasha. "Gaslighting Definition, Techniques and Being Gaslighted - Emotional-Psychological Abuse - Abuse." HealthyPlace. HealthyPlace, 26 May 2016. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Unavailable, Author. "Suspect Arrested in Murder of Fuji Film Executive." Associated Press. Associated Press, 27 Dec. 1994. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Unlisted, Author. "Gang Member Is Arrested In Slaying Of Fuji Executive."Tribunedigital-orlandosentinel. Orlando Sentinel, 18 Oct. 1994. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

"Violent Crimes - Murders." FBI. FBI, 02 Aug. 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

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