Scene of the Crime

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

It was a swift, brutal murder--a symbol, it seemed, of Los Angeles violence at its very worst.

Two Japanese tourists--a husband and wife--were gunned down in an apparent robbery in 1981 as they snapped photographs near the Music Center. Kazumi Miura, 28, was shot dead. Her husband, Kazuyoshi, escaped with only a wound to the leg, receiving an outpouring of sympathy here and throughout Japan.

But, as Los Angeles police and Japanese reporters dug deeper, the sensational case became a symbol of a more fundamental sort--of the dark side of human nature itself. Kazuyoshi Miura, who had railed endlessly about the dangers facing Los Angeles tourists, was arrested.

Today, a decade after the murder, he is being tried in Japan for allegedly plotting with a mistress his wife's death in order to collect $655,000 in insurance money. And, as part of an evidence-gathering mission, a team of Japanese detectives and prosecutors returned here this week to meticulously recreate and photograph the crime scene--complete with the same model cars that were parked in the area on Nov. 18, 1981.

With its themes of murder, sex and money, much of Japan is riveted to the so-called "Los Angeles Suspicion" murder trial. It is one of the most notorious whodunits in that nation's history. The crime scene itself has become a popular attraction for legions of Japanese tourists.

Japan's police say they are staking their prestige, reputation and even their honor in finally bringing the case to a conclusion.

"Regardless of how much money it will cost, we have to solve this very important case," lead prosecutor Koji Yamada said through an interpreter as he surveyed the crime scene, a piece of chalk in one hand, a yardstick in the other. "We must accomplish this."

Japanese and Los Angeles authorities say their level of cooperation on the case is unprecedented. More than two years ago, they filmed an exact re-enactment of the attack in which a lone gunman allegedly hired by Miura fired two rifle shots from a parked rental van as the couple stood nearby.

This time, armed with an assortment of tools and fancy gadgets, the Japanese are here to focus on some small details that they say Miura has contested during the trial.

Such commitment to precision had Los Angeles authorities shaking their heads Friday.

"You've never seen a bunch of more meticulous (investigators) in your life," said Detective Frank Garcia, a Los Angeles homicide investigator. "I've been working with them on this for years, and they never cease to amaze me."

Los Angeles authorities charged Miura with murder and conspiracy to commit murder in 1988. Three years before, he was arrested and later convicted in Japan for an earlier, failed attempt on his wife's life. Los Angeles authorities have relinquished jurisdiction over the latest case to the Japanese under a law allowing citizens there to be tried for crimes committed overseas.

A flamboyant clothing importer now in his mid-40s, Miura has made substantial profits from the case. In two books and countless paid interviews, he has denied killing either his wife or Chizuko Shiraishi, another of his former lovers, whose decomposed body was found on a Los Angeles hillside in 1979. Her remains were identified in 1984.

The Japanese refused to say how much they have spent traveling to Los Angeles at least five times and in flying local authorities to Japan.

"Whatever it is," confided one Los Angeles detective, "it's in the millions."

The Japanese team is keeping a low profile here in hopes of avoiding the literally hundreds of Japanese reporters who have staked out Miura and his prosecutors, following them to Los Angeles, London and anywhere else they've traveled.

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