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Parents search for the truth about their daughter’s death in Italy; New research launched three years later

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Michiko Sakata, left, and her husband Ryuichi hold a photo of their daughter Masami in Niigata in April.

The body of a Japanese woman was found in Verona, Italy in January 2021. Local police at the time suspected that there was no foul play in her death. However, a local court this month ordered investigating authorities to re-investigate the incident, citing the need for further investigation into the circumstances of the death. Her parents, who have been trying to determine the reason for their daughter’s death, now hope the truth will come to light.

“We have finally come this far. This is a step forward,” said Ryuichi Sakata, 74, and his wife Michiko, 73, in Nishi Ward, Niigata.

On New Year’s Day 2021, Michiko checked a computer screen many times. Their daughter, Masami, then 42, who had lived in Italy for more than twenty years, had never failed to send a Happy New Year message to her parents. However, they received no message from her that day. While Michiko sent her daughter a Happy New Year message, there was no response.

Masami’s parents called her phone on January 9, 2021. A female voice answered and said, “Masami is dead.”

Unable to believe that, they called the Japanese Consulate General in Italy and discovered it was true. Masami was found dead in her apartment. Local police concluded that there was no evidence that a crime had been committed and did not conduct an official criminal investigation into the incident.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was difficult for parents to travel to Italy. As they prepared to claim their daughter’s body and sort through her belongings in Japan, they were told by Masami’s male neighbor that she may have been murdered by a person close to her.

Because Masami had lived a full life in Italy and enjoyed trekking and other activities, they were suspicious and could not believe that she had committed suicide. They submitted a document to the local prosecutor’s office in April of that year, asking for an official investigation into the death. Late that month, they were told that prosecutors would launch an investigation into the incident.

According to a lawyer acting on behalf of the parents, investigating authorities in Italy informed them that the death was not a murder in June 2023, more than two years after the body was found. The parents were not convinced.

In Italy, a judge examines a prosecutor’s request regarding a criminal case and decides whether to initiate a trial, conduct a new investigation, or take other steps. The investigation procedure takes place behind closed doors, with the prosecutors, the suspect’s side and the victim’s side present. The parents claimed during the proceedings that their daughter had been murdered. They asked a local forensic pathologist to examine the body. He had submitted a laboratory report stating there was a good chance she had been strangled.

On April 3 this year, a local court ruled. As there were suspicious circumstances regarding the body, the court concluded that further investigation was necessary and instructed the investigating authorities to conduct a new investigation into Masami’s death and reach a conclusion within nine months .

Niigata Prefectural Police had examined her body in February 2021, which was returned to Niigata. According to a senior investigator with the prefectural police, they were unable to determine the nature of the incident. The Italian court has requested the prefectural police through Interpol to provide all relevant documents in its possession.

Her parents hope that the Italian police will investigate thoroughly and find out the truth.

The court ordered the investigating authorities to re-investigate the incident and mentioned the names of some Italians. One of the lawyers for the named individuals told The Yomiuri Shimbun that his client had nothing to do with Masami’s death, but that the incident needed to be further investigated because she was allegedly attacked.

Become an opera singer

Born in Niigata, Masami belonged to a choir club at her high school. She wanted to become an opera singer and took private lessons when she was in high school. After studying music school in Japan for two years, she moved to Milan in 1998 to study singing. She moved to Verona in 2000 and reportedly auditioned for opera companies and worked as a part-time singer for a choir.

death in Italy1
Thanks to Ryuichi Sakata and Michiko Sakata
Masami Sakata performing at a concert during her stay in Japan in 2004.

When she temporarily returned to Japan in 2004, she gave a concert as a soprano and sang songs such as “Natsu no Omoide” (Summer Memories). The last time she returned to Niigata was in 2013, although she never failed to contact her parents on their birthdays and New Year’s Day.



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