Mystery suicide linked to Lucie's disappearance

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The Independent Online

A Japanese man interviewed by the police about the disappearance of the British hostess, Lucie Blackman, has been found mysteriously hanged in a apartment hung with photographs of the missing woman, according to a Japanese magazine published today.

A Japanese man interviewed by the police about the disappearance of the British hostess, Lucie Blackman, has been found mysteriously hanged in a apartment hung with photographs of the missing woman, according to a Japanese magazine published today.

The sensational report comes as hope dwindles for the 21-year-old Miss Blackman, who vanished seven weeks ago while working as a hostess in a Tokyo bar. Today, her father, Tim Blackman, who has been in Japan almost continuously since her disappearance was made public, will return home to Britain after weeks of fruitless appeals for information.

According to today's Weekly Jewel magazine, her disappearance is believed by police to be connected with the death earlier this month of an unnamed man in Kanagawa, the prefecture south of Tokyo.

According to friends, neighbours and relatives of the 52-year-old man, who has not been named by the magazine, he led a double life: outwardly a respectable and happily married Japanese "salaryman", he kept a secret flat filled with hardcore sado-masochistic pornography featuring Western women.

On 5 August, he was interviewed by police investigating Lucie's disappearance. Three days later, his body was found hanging in the secret apartment, half-naked and apparently smeared with excrement. As well as sado-masochistic videos and magazines, and a computer containing downloaded images, the single-room flat also contained police posters featuring Lucie's photograph and appealing for information on her whereabouts.

A spokesman at Tokyo's Azabu police station refused to comment on the report last night. Weekly Jewel is a magazine known for its sensational and sometimes salacious content but, although the lengthy article provides no clear answer to what connections might exist between Lucie's disappearance and the Kanagawa man, it traces in great detail the circumstances surrounding his death.

He is said to have worked as a manager in the technology division of a famous Japanese firm, also unnamed. He was due for promotion, had no debts or other apparent reason to kill himself. He had rented the mysterious second flat, 20 minutes walk from his home, for nine years, and paid the rent the day after being questioned by the police. The next day, he went to work and never returned home.

A friend, who seems to have been one of the few who knew about the secret room, found him there the next day after learning that he was missing. His shoes were lying outside the flat where he had removed them; the door was unlocked, but partially taped shut from the inside. Inside, according to the magazine, the man's befouled body was hanging from a cupboard, and a container of oil was spilled on the floor.

The room was stacked with sadistic photographs of white female models, along with videos and computer equipment, including "some materials of his own devising", according to the magazine.

Last night Tim Blackman said he had not seen the report and would not be changing his plans to fly back to Britain today.

Yesterday, he announced the a reward of Y1.5m (£9,500) for information leading to Lucie's discovery. He has already set up a telephone hotline and assisted in the distribution of posters. Last month, an Australian psychic was flown out to help with the search but concluded that the missing woman was either dead or no longer in Japan.

Lucie disappeared on 1 July after meeting an unknown man, apparently a customer from the Casablanca bar where she was working. The only clues to be made public by police were from a telephone call received the following day by her best friend and fellow hostess, Louise Phillips.

The caller, a Japanese man who identified himself by the name Akira Takagi, claimed that Lucie was undergoing "training" with a New Age religion in Chiba prefecture.

This is seen as a red herring intended to confuse investigators. Last month, it emerged that police had also received a letter, purportedly from Lucie, but bearing a fake signature and containing details known only to her or those close to her.

Mr Blackman has pressed for British police involvement in the case, but this has been ruled out by embassy officials in Tokyo.

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