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Japan bicycle shop murder suspect may have told regular customer store was closed

Tatsuya Sasaki, right, is seen at JR Hakata Station in Fukuoka's Hakata Ward on March 18, 2020 after being arrested on suspicion of murder and robbery. (Mainichi/Toyokazu Tsumura)

FUKUOKA -- A suspect in the murder of a bicycle shop employee in this southwestern Japan city told a regular customer, who spotted him at the shop around the time of the incident, that the store would be closed shortly, investigative sources said.

Investigators believe that 34-year-old Tatsuya Sasaki pretended to be a shop worker to cover up the killing of 42-year-old Hiroko Komori. Fukuoka Prefectural Police view the eyewitness report as an important piece of information about circumstances at the shop shortly after the employee's death.

Sasaki, of the western Japan city of Osaka, allegedly snuck into the bicycle shop in Fukuoka's Hakata Ward around the evening of March 4, strangled Komori, and stole about 100,000 yen in cash from the store's cash register and safe. The prefectural police arrested Sasaki on March 18 on suspicion of murder and robbery and referred him to prosecutors the following day.

Sasaki has admitted to the allegations during questioning, the sources said. He was quoted as stating that he snuck into the shop to steal money, and killed the victim because she screamed.

According to the sources, a regular customer visited the shop at around 5:30 p.m. on March 4 to pump up his bicycle tires and spotted a man inside who appeared to be in his 30s.

The customer left after the man told him that the shop would be closed shortly. The customer was quoted as telling investigators that he became suspicious because many bicycles remained on display outside the shop even though it was "closing," and Komori did not seem to be there. Prefectural police suspect that Sasaki is the man the customer saw.

Sasaki was apparently not acquainted with Komori.

Security cameras caught a man appearing to be Sasaki walking around the bicycle shop before the incident, leading investigators to suspect that he may have been casing the store to find out if Komori was serving customers by herself.

Prefectural police have found that Sasaki stayed at accommodations in Fukuoka for several days after Komori's death, and returned to his home in Osaka's Sumiyoshi Ward some days before being arrested.

An acquaintance had submitted a missing person's report on Sasaki to police in late February saying they were unable to contact the suspect.

(Japanese original by Makoto Kakizaki, Ken Nakazato, Yoshihito Asano and Shunsuke Ichimiya, Kyushu News Department)

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