Saturday, November 10, 2007

Want to commit the perfect murder?

Do it in Japan where you probably won't get caught:

Photos of the teenager's corpse show a deep cut on his right arm, horrific bruising on his neck and chest. His face is swollen and covered with cuts. A silhouette of violence runs from the corner of his left eye over the cheekbone to his jaw, and his legs are pocked with small burns the size of a lighted cigarette.

But police in Japan's Aichi prefecture saw something else when they looked at the body of Takashi Saito, a 17-year-old sumo wrestler who arrived at a hospital in June. The cause of death was "heart disease," police declared.

As is common in Japan, Aichi police reached their verdict on how Saito died without an autopsy. No need for a coroner, they said. No crime involved. Only 6.3% of the unnatural deaths in Aichi are investigated by a medical examiner, a minuscule rate even by nationwide standards in Japan, where an autopsy is performed in 11.2% of cases.

Forensic scientists say there are many reasons for the low rate, including inadequate budgets and a desperate shortage of pathologists outside the biggest urban areas. There is also a cultural resistance in Japan to handling the dead, with families often reluctant to insist upon a procedure that invades the body of a loved one.

But Saito's case has given credence to complaints by a group of frustrated doctors, former pathologists and ex-cops who argue that Japan's police culture is the main obstacle.

Police discourage autopsies that might reveal a higher homicide rate in their jurisdiction, and pressure doctors to attribute unnatural deaths to health reasons, usually heart failure, the group alleges. Odds are, it says, that people are getting away with murder in Japan, a country that officially claims one of the lowest per capita homicide rates in the world.

So, next time you hear that Japan has a low murder rate you can stop pinning away for their society. They're probably in the same boat as we are but lying to themselves about it.