The Disappearance of the Yamagamis


The Yamagami family, composed of 58-year-old Masahiro, 52-year-old Junko, 26-year-old Chie, and 79-year-old Saegusa, went missing from their home in Sera, Japan in June 2001.

On June 4, 2001, 52-year-old Junko Yamagami was scheduled to take a business trip to Dalian, China for the travel company she worked for. Before leaving, she was also supposed to attend a meeting. By noon, after Junko hadn’t shown up to her office or gotten on board her plane, her colleagues began to get worried. They checked her house, where she lived with her husband Masahiro and mother-in-law Saegusa, but nobody appeared to be home. The family dog and Masahiro’s car were gone too. 

The Yamagamis’ daughter, a 26-year-old elementary school teacher named Chie, was also missing. She lived alone in an apartment in near-by Takehara city, but came over to visit her parents the night before. Chie was the last member of the family anybody had seen. At 9:30 PM, she picked up some make-up from a colleague and then headed for her parents’ home in the small mountain town of Sera. The Yamagamis’ neighbors heard a car door close at 10:50 PM. Either this had come from Chie after coming home, or it was the sound of the Yamagamis leaving. None of the neighbors were sure. Whatever it was, the family’s newspaper deliveryman reported that the car was missing when he came around 4:00-5:00 AM.


Masahiro Yamagami’s car was also missing.

The Yamagamis’ front door was locked, but the back door was open. Nothing in the house appeared to be disturbed. The kitchen light was left on, all of the beds were made, and breakfast had been prepared. As ordinary as the scene appeared, however, there were a couple of strange details. The Yamagamis’ pajamas were missing, and while their shoes had been left behind, their sandals were gone.  Junko’s luggage and the 150,000 yen she needed for her trip were also inside the house, and so was Masahiro’s pager. It seemed that the Yamagamis suddenly dropped whatever they were doing, took the family dog, and quietly left the house in their pajamas and sandals.

A year into the investigation, the case seemed to be going nowhere. The Yamagamis had good reputations, and weren’t involved with any particularly shady or dangerous people. Masahiro did have some money problems, but it wasn’t serious enough to leave town. To some of their neighbors, the Yamagamis’ strange disappearance reminded them of an old story from Edo times. A female servant was said to have gone into the mountains one day and then disappeared. All the townpeople tried looking for her, but she was never found.


Chie Yamagami and the family dog, Leo.


On September 7, 2002, police recovered a car that was found submerged in a reservoir. The car contained the bodies of the four Yamagamis and their dog. No cause of death could be determined, but there were also no signs of anybody being attacked or bruised. Because Masahiro was in the driver’s seat, police believed that it was a murder-suicide or group suicide.

Now the suicide theory does seem credible; after all, why else would they have taken their dog? But the apparent suddenness of how the Yamagamis left strikes me as suspicious. If Masahiro really did kill everybody, how did he manage (or threaten) to convince the other family members to get in the car? Especially when they were getting ready to eat breakfast? Or did somebody force them to leave? Might they have been trying to get away from somebody, and Masahiro accidentally drove into the water?

This case just makes my head spin. It’s a shame that there isn’t much information online about it. According to a poster on this message board, citing a Chinese newspaper, the Yamagamis’ car was found in a neutral state. Masahiro’s window was down, and everybody was wearing their seat-belt. The Yamagamis’ clothes were so damaged that the authorities couldn’t determine whether they were wearing pajamas. Some glasses and an umbrella were also found. Other users brought up a local rumor that Junko was having an affair, arguing that it really was a suicide of some sort.

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The Disappearance of Yuki Onishi


5-year-old Yuki Onishi disappeared in Japan’s Goshikidai Forest on April 29, 2005.

Greenery Day, a national holiday in Japan meant to appreciate nature, is observed every May 4th. From its establishment in 1989 until 2007, however, it was celebrated every April 29th. In 2005, as part of a Greenery Day celebration, a bamboo shoot digging event was held in Kagawa Prefecture’s Goshikidai Forest. (Yes, this is a thing. Many people in Asia like boiling and eating the shoots.)

Some 60 people showed up to participate, including five-year-old Yuki Onishi and her mother and eight-year-old sister. The event started at 1 PM, and Yuki jumped with joy when she found her first shoot about a half-hour later. She told her mother that she was going to find another one, and then walked away to continue her search.


A picture taken of Yuki the day she disappeared.

20 minutes after Yuki ran off, her mother looked at where all the other diggers were and suddenly realized that her daughter was missing. After a search by themselves turned up nothing, Yuki’s family called the police at 3 PM. When the police still couldn’t find a single trace of the girl, firefighters were brought in to assist the search at 5 PM. Although the authorities combed the area for the next six hours, they still weren’t able to find anything, not even a shoe or the hat Yuki was wearing.

Eventually, over 3,000 people assisted in the case, but not a single one of them was able to find any clues. The forest where Yuki disappeared and a near-by pond seemed to turn up nothing. When a police dog was brought in to follow Yuki’s scent, it suddenly stopped in its tracks in the middle of the forest.  Four other dogs were made to follow the scent the next day, but they led police to the same exact spot.


A picture of the forest where Yuki disappeared.

This is probably the most troubling part of the case. How could somebody seemingly just vanish into thin air? A few internet sleuths have suggested that Yuki was carried off by an eagle or some other large bird. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories about eagles swooping down on a baby or toddler and grabbing them, but those are really just tall tales. According to biologist Ron Clarke, the most an eagle can carry without any difficulty is four or five pounds. At 34 pounds, Yuki would have been way too heavy for an eagle’s carrying capacity.

The other, and I’d say more plausible, theory is that Yuki was lured away and snatched up by somebody who was just passing through the forest. While nobody particularly suspicious was noticed by the diggers, some of them did see a man walking through the area with a backpack large enough to hold a child of Yuki’s size. This man has never been identified, although he might have been a camper or hiker. 

At the time of her disappearance, Yuki Onishi weighed 34 pounds (15.5 kg) and stood at 3 feet, 5 inches (106 cm). She was wearing a pink hat, a long-sleeved shirt with a red and orange pattern, white gloves, long blue pants, and pink shoes. She was 5-years-old, and as of the time of this writing, would now be 15-16. A website set up for Yuki, which Japanese-speakers can access here, offers a printable flyer and contact information for anybody who might be able to help.

Be sure to check out more offbeat stories of Japanese crime, folklore, and history in my e-book, 20 Unsolved Mysteries of Japan, available on Amazon for Kindle. 

The Case of Timmothy Pitzen, a Missing Boy Whose Mother’s Suicide Note Promised He Would Never Be Found

Picture of Timmothy Pitzen and his mother Amy. (Image credit here.)

Picture of Timmothy Pitzen and his mother Amy. (Image credit here.)

On May 11, 2011, Amy Fry-Pitzen picked her 6-year-old son Timmothy up from his kindergarten class at Greenman Elementary School in Aurora, Illinois. It was only 8:35 AM, but Amy said that the boy had to leave early because of a family emergency. When Amy’s husband and Timmothy’s father James arrived at the school to pick Timmothy up at the usual time, he was surprised to hear that Amy had already gotten Timmothy. As he told school officials, he didn’t know of any family emergency. He tried calling Amy afterward, but she never picked up her phone.

Surveillance footage of Amy and Timmothy leaving his school. (Image credit here.)

Surveillance footage of Amy and Timmothy leaving his school. (Image credit here.)

Two days after Amy and Timmothy disappeared, Amy used her cellphone to call some of her friends and family to tell them that she and her son were okay. Timmothy was heard in the background by a few of the callers, and some of them even had a conversation with him. The same night, Amy checked into a motel in Illinois by herself. Her body was found dead the next afternoon by hotel employees.

Amy had slashed her wrists and taken a fatal dose of antihistamines. No trace of Timmothy was anywhere to be found, and Amy’s cellphone was also missing.  A suicide note Amy left behind promised that Timmothy was safe with people who would take care of him, but claimed that he would never be found. While investigators found a stain of Timmothy’s blood in Amy’s SUV, they weren’t sure how old it was. Relatives said it was probably from a nosebleed the boy had more than a year before.

Amy Fry-Pitzen's SUV. (Image credit here.)

Amy Fry-Pitzen’s SUV. (Image credit here.)

From eyewitness reports and surveillance footage, we know that Amy and Timmothy went to a car repair shop after Amy had gotten him from school. They went to the zoo as they waited for the car to get fixed, and then Amy drove them to the KeyLime Cove Resort. In the morning, they went to another resort, this time in Wisconsin. They stayed the night there, and Timmothy was seen in line with Amy when she checked out around 10 AM. Amy made her phone calls at 1:30 PM, but was seen shopping back in Illinois around 7 PM. She checked into the Rockford Inn around 11 PM, the last time she was seen alive.

Surveillance footage of Amy walking into a store a few hours before her death. (Image credit here.)

Surveillance footage of Amy walking into a store a few hours before her death. (Image credit here.)

While Amy suffered from depression and had once made a suicide attempt before, her family and friends don’t believe that she had any reason to hurt Timmothy. Police suspect that the whole affair had been planned, and Amy had traveled to a few of the spots included in her trip a few months before her death.

(The left picture is of Timmothy before his disappearance. The right is an age-progression picture of what Timmothy might look like as a 10-year-old. (Image credit here.)

(The left picture is of Timmothy before his disappearance. The right is an age-progression picture of what Timmothy might look like as a 10-year-old. (Image credit here.)

In October 2013, Amy’s phone was turned into police by a woman who had found it along a road in Illinois 2 years earlier. The phone, however, contained no further clues, and a search of the area where it was found turned up nothing. A review of her phone records and emails have shown that Amy wasn’t in contact with anybody who her family was unfamiliar with. While there have been unconfirmed sightings of Timmothy since his disappearance, there is a bleak suspicion that Amy might have lied about his whereabouts and committed suicide after killing him.

British Explorer Percy Fawcett and the Ancient Lost City of Z

Percy Fawcett with an Olmec (?) statue.

Percy Fawcett with an Olmec (?) statue.

Colonel Percy Fawcett was one of the most famous British explorers of his day, a friend of writers Arthur Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard. He had a strong interest in Atlantis and the occult, and after years of exploring South America, speculated that the ruins of a lost ancient city called Z laid somewhere in the unmapped territory of the Amazon.

Fawcett believed the city was built by an advanced civilization, once writing to his son Brian that he expected “the ruins to be monolithic in character, more ancient than the oldest Egyptian discoveries. Judging by inscriptions found in many parts of Brazil, the inhabitants used an alphabetical writing allied to many ancient European and Asian scripts.” He even heard rumors that a strange source of light would illuminate the insides of the buildings, “a phenomenon that filled with terror the Indians who claimed to have seen it.”

After two previous expeditions in the early 1920s that ended in failure, Fawcett set out for a third expedition with his 21-year-old son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh Rimell in 1925. Fawcett suspected that Z was located somewhere in the jungles of Mato Grosso, a little-explored region full of dangerous insects, unfriendly Indian tribes, and piranha-infested rivers.

Jack Fawcett and Raleigh Rimmell.

Jack Fawcett and Raleigh Rimmell.

By May 29th, about 5 weeks into the expedition, Fawcett and his two young companions arrived at the outpost where Fawcett had left off in his last search. He gave their native guides a letter written for his wife, and then dismissed them back to the state capital of Cuiaba. 2 years passed without anybody hearing from the team again, and some began to fear that they were dead.

The Royal Geographical Society’s George Miller Dyott organized an expedition to find the Fawcett party in 1928, but they came up with nothing. There were rumors that the trio was still alive, either the captives of hostile Indians or volunteers who had given up civilization and gone native. In the 90 years that have passed since their disappearance, over 100 people have been killed trying to look for them.

Another picture of Percy Fawcett.

Another picture of Percy Fawcett.

Missionaries in the early 1930s reported hearing stories about a tall, blue-eyed white man in the area who was forced to marry an Indian chief’s daughter. There were also sightings of a white baby boy said to be the son of either Fawcett or Jack. Fawcett’s wife believed that the men were still alive, and claimed to have received a psychic message from her husband in 1934. Psychic Geraldine Cummins also reported receiving a telepathic message from Fawcett in 1936, and received four more communications until 1948, when he told her that he was dead. Further venturing into inanity, some people in the theosophist and flying saucer communities believed that Fawcett really did find Z, which was actually a subterranean city full of UFOs and beautiful red-haired people.

These bones were said to be the remains of Percy Fawcett, but later investigation showed that they belonged to a Kalapalos Indian.

These bones were said to be the remains of Percy Fawcett, but later investigation showed that they belonged to a Kalapalos Indian.

Moving onto more “plausible” rumors, there were also stories of Fawcett being killed. One man in 1949 claimed that Fawcett and Rimmell were dead, and he had seen their shrunken heads. Author Harold Wilkins in 1952 heard that another man was shown Fawcett’s shrunken head by an Indian chief. The same year, Brazilian indigenous activist Orlando Vilas Boaz reported that the party was killed by the Kalapalo Indians. He discovered some bones in the area, but later examination showed that the remains weren’t Fawcett. Another theory suggests that Fawcett intentionally went missing so he could establish a remote theosophist-influenced commune.

Fawcett’s son Brian made several trips to Brazil in the 1950s to search for his father and brother himself, but he was unable to find any more information about what happened to them.

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