A man charged with the murder of a Japanese student whose decomposed body was found in a suitcase near the old Macaroni Grill in Vancouver’s West End two years ago told his wife in Japan by phone, “I did it,” or “I killed her,” Crown told the opening day of his trial on Sept 24.
William Schneider, 51, pleaded not guilty Monday before a judge and jury to second-degree murder in the death of Natsumi Kogawa, 30. He also pleaded not guilty to the second charge of interfering with human remains.
Two weeks after she was reported missing by friends — and police publicly released a photo showing him and Kogawa walking side-by-side at Harbour Centre mall with a tent in a black bag — Schneider told his brother, Warren Schneider, that her body was in a suitcase at a construction site at Nicola and Davie streets, Crown prosecutor Geordie Proulx said in his opening statement in B.C. Supreme Court.
A black suitcase containing a naked body was located later that day at Gabriola Mansion, site of the old grill, by a police dog. A cause of death couldn’t be determined because the body was badly decomposed. The body, later identified as Kogawa’s, was also covered with twigs, moss and leafy plants, according to Proulx.
As Proulx recounted the last known details of Kogawa’s life, Schneider, his thinning hair neatly trimmed and wearing a grey-and-white-striped collared shirt, sat quietly in the prisoner’s dock, his back to Kogawa’s mother, a few metres away in the public gallery.
Proulx told court police were unable to find the tent, Kogawa’s clothing, cellphone or any belongings, nor did they find any physical evidence linking Schneider to where the body was found.
But the Crown laid out the case against him that will include evidence from Warren Schneider about his brother’s relationship with Kogawa, CCTV footage of William from the homeless men’s shelter he lived in in August and September 2016, testimony from the shelter staff of his relationship with a Japanese woman, her credit-card statement showing purchases of vodka and snacks the last day she was seen, and a police interview with William in which he discussed her death and gestured holding his nose.
Schneider was linked to the crime when Warren’s daughter recognized her uncle in the police photo on Sept. 27, 2016, of Kogawa and Schneider together. Warren travelled to Vernon from his Kelowna home, and the two drank together in a park over the next day and night. William bought some heroin and said he was going to kill himself by overdosing.
Warren is expected to testify he overhead William during that time asking if his wife had heard about Natsumi’s death and telling her he killed her.
Warren is also expected to tell the trial William had met Kogawa three times. The day they last met they were on their way to Stanley Park to have sex in the tent, but they didn’t get that far, instead having a few drinks and taking some medication, said Proulx. William then told Warren that Kogawa had a prior engagement and had to leave, he said.
Proulx said CCTV video from the Catholic Charities Hostel will show Schneider leaving the hostel on Sept. 8, 2016, the last day Kogawa was seen alive, carrying the tent bag, and will also show him carrying a large suitcase the next two days but returning on the second day without it.
Hostel staff will be called to testify Schneider had told them he was excited about meeting a Japanese woman in late August or early September and that they had gone hiking and were going camping, but then saying the relationship wasn’t going to work out.
And the trial will also show CCTV of Schneider and Kogawa walking together on Hastings Street toward Stanley Park as far west as Thurlow Street, just before 2 p.m. on Sept. 8, 2016.
The trial will also hear that a folded triangular piece of cloth was found in Kogawa’s anus.
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