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Cameramen Wait Passively as Attack Is Committed : Murder in Japan: A Media Event

June 19, 1985|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

TOKYO — As dozens of photographers and television cameramen recorded the scene, which was shown on telecasts throughout Japan, two men broke into an Osaka apartment Tuesday and stabbed to death a man suspected of cheating thousands of old people out of their savings.

Although photographers and reporters did not follow the assailants into the apartment while the murder was being committed, none of them intervened as the two men pounded on the door of the fifth-floor apartment with a chair, ripped the bars off a window, smashed the glass and broke in.

The two men told the newsmen they had come to kill the man at the request of six of his victims, whom they refused to identify.

The Asahi newspaper today published a photograph showing the elder of the two assailants choking the victim, apparently in the midst of the murder. The caption said the picture was taken through the window after newsmen heard sounds of a struggle.

16-Inch Bayonet

The cameramen continued to film as the assailants emerged from the apartment, their clothes spattered with blood. One of them, later identified as Masakazu Yano, 30, brandished a bloody 16-inch bayonet that had been concealed in a bag the two assailants carried into the apartment.

The other man, later identified by police as Atsuo Iida, 56, told reporters: "I am the criminal. Take my picture." He then posed for the cameramen.

Other photographers entered the apartment and photographed the body of Kazuo Nagano, 32, chairman of a firm that has been in the national spotlight for more than a week because of suspicions that it has bilked customers out of money paid for gold bars they never received.

Reporters, many of them holding microphones and attempting to conduct interviews, joined the assailants as they rode down an elevator to leave. However, police arrived and arrested Iida and Yano, who was still carrying the bayonet.

Journalists had been stationed outside Nagano's apartment since police questioned him Monday on suspicion of violating a foreign exchange control law by sending money overseas illegally. Nagano had remained alone inside his apartment since then.

Scenes of the attack on the apartment, the assailants emerging from the apartment, their arrest and the blood-covered body were shown on most television news programs Tuesday night. Some stations did not show the body.

It is at least the second time that Japanese journalists in a position to halt a crime have failed to do so.

In 1968, a gunman who had killed two gangsters in a bar was interviewed by reporters five times as he held nine guests and employees hostage for several days. During one of the interviews, a photograph showed the gunman unarmed and standing with his hands in his pockets, surrounded by seven reporters. Police eventually seized the gunman and released the hostages uninjured.

No policemen were present when the assailants arrived Tuesday, but four private guards and four employees of the victim's company left when the two assailants threatened them.

An announcer for the NHK radio and television network, which broadcast film of the scene for nearly 10 minutes Tuesday night, asked the network's cameraman why none of the journalists had intervened.

"They (the assailants) said that they had come to kill Nagano," the cameraman replied, "but they were so calm in their behavior that we couldn't believe they meant it. Once they broke into the apartment, we stayed to photograph them coming out--and were astonished to see them appear covered with blood."

The Yomiuri newspaper reported that it was deluged with calls from readers who complained both about the bloody scenes being shown on television and about the failure of the reporters and photographers to intervene.

The Asahi printed a two-sentence story on its next-to-last page noting that readers also had made similar complaints to it.

Iida, the operator of a machine tool shop, was later identified by police as the head of a tiny ultraright organization. Yano was identified as a construction worker.

Gold Not Delivered

Nagano and his Toyota Trading Co., which has no connection with the auto firm of the same name, had become the focus of massive mass media coverage in recent days when thousands of customers--many of them retired people--complained of losing their life savings in purchases they had made from the company's salesmen.

Instead of receiving the gold they had paid for, customers got certificates stating that they would be paid interest at rates of as much as 12% a month to allow Toyota Trading to keep possession of the gold. Customers who failed to get the interest payments started complaining when the company also refused to give them the gold they had purchased.

More than 50,000 people are reported to have made purchases of more than $800-million worth of gold from Nagano's company and its subsidiaries.

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