The Yanagi Shooting Death

I was contacted by a group of citizens in Japan who are investigating the death of Mr. Yoshio Yanagi. The full details of the incident are available on their "Suicide or Murder" website  (Note: The website is now closed)

This basics of the incident: Japanese police detectives were interrogating Mr. Yanagi about his connection to an illegal 2" Rossi, .38 revolver. While in the interrogation room, Yanagi was fatally shot in the left upper chest once with a .38 JHP bullet. The police stated that while he was being questioned Yanagi managed to remove and conceal a single .38 cartridge from an evidence bag. When the Rossi was later placed in front of him for identification, he grabbed the gun, loaded it and shot himself.

My work often requires examination and analysis of similar shooting incidents but to provide an authoritative opinion I need to be able to fully examine all of the physical evidence - not just selected images and data.

However, I have reviewed the images sent and the data on the Yanagi case website here are my tentative opinions:


  • I cannot offer an opinion as to whether this was a suicide as the police describe or a homicide as the group alleges. 

  • The physical evidence is consistent with either manner of death. 

  • In spite of the group's allegations, I cannot find anything in the data provided to me that is significantly inconsistent with the police version of the incident.

After I had published my findings (above) Mr. Haginoya, a member of the investigative group, emailed me with further questions. Below is an edited version of my reply:

As I said earlier in this mail, Mr. Tetsuya Tsuda, the journalist who happened to have the same surname with the coroner, Dr. Seiro Tsuda, said to  me that he could not find any soot in the autopsy report. I agreed to him. Although a complete translation of the autopsy report takes a lot of time, I couldn't find out any description that the coroner, Dr. Tsuda, witnessed the soot while he had been conducting the autopsy of Mr. Yanagi.

SOOT or Gunshot Residue (GSR): It is very difficult to see GSR inside a wound. The particles will absorb or be covered by blood. Many pathologists (even in the USA) are not well-trained in the interpretation of gunshot wounds and unless a pathologist makes a determined effort to look for GSR in a wound, he may not notice it. Powder particles can be found with a microscopic examination of the tissue.

Only around the entry hole, he could "see a bullet entry hole of near-oblong shape with diameter of 1.1cm near to the left nipple, together with a ring of dirt with gunpowder particle of 0.5cm width surrounding the entry hole. I also see a change of color of his skin with the area of 4cm times 2.5cm around the entry hole."

This statement alone is extremely strong evidence of a contact gunshot wound. The presence of gunpowder particles surrounding the entry hole can only occur from a contact or near contact range. The "change of color" in the skin is a phenomena which occurs when the carbon monoxide  gas of the gunshot affects human tissue to create a very red color.

The bullet that killed Mr. Yanagi was Jacketed Hollow-Point 38 special whose diameter is 8mm. The JHP-type bullet might have caused a little bit wider entry hole, he said to me, but the diameter of the entry hole has to be basically the same with that of the bullet in case of a contact gunshot.

This information is wrong. A .38 caliber bullet has a diameter of 9mm, not 8mm. I must tell you that it is amazing to me that any attempt to analyze a shooting can be attempted by anyone who does not have such simple basic facts -- which are easily obtainable. (The nomenclature of ammunition and firearms is not based on scientific description but on the marketing concerns of munition marketing and inventors.)

The diameter of an entry hole by .38 caliber bullet will be the same whether the bullet is a JHP or a FMJ. A hollow-point bullet does not expand (if it does expand) until after it has passed through the skin.

Gunshot entry wounds are usually slightly smaller than the diameter of the bullet. But in a hard contact wound, the entry hole can be slightly larger because the skin has been stretched by the gas expansion. I do not know the actual diameter of the entry hole because all the images I have seen are of very poor quality.

I don't know he is correct. I am no expert in any field. What I want is just a truth and only the truth as a man who upholds law and democracy. I will appreciate very much if you kindly give any further comment on the above issue.

Mr. Haginoya,

The facts are clear: The decedent was shot with a .38 caliber bullet which was found inside the body. There is no doubt that it was a contact wound. The imprint of the front sight, the color change in the tissue, the presence of gunshot residue surrounding the hole, and the area of abraded tissue are all consistent with a contact wound.

The holes in the clothing are much, much larger than the diameter of the bullet. These very large holes were caused by the gas expansion. This can only happen from a contact or near contact distance. It is impossible for a .38 cal bullet to create such holes from a 30 cm distance.

This is all I can do for you. This work -- the analysis and reconstruction of shooting incidents is my profession. I usually charge for such services. I did this work for free because it interested me but I cannot spend any more time on this case -- and, in my opinion, this case does not need any more analysis. There are no technical "mysteries" or questions.

I do not know what happened in that police interrogation room. I am not interested in protecting the Japanese police nor am I interested in helping anyone to sue the police or to be critical of the police. My only interest in this matter was to analyze the physical evidence to make a determination on what could or could not have happened. My final opinion is that Mr. Yanagi could have been shot by someone holding and firing a .38 caliber firearm against his chest or by Mr. Yanagi holding and firing a .38 caliber firearm against his own chest.

I realize that you are motivated only by a sense of justice in this matter. You want the truth. But you cannot find the truth by relying upon people who are not qualified to analyze or interpret technical information. I also suggest to you that a comprehensive analysis of this incident -- beyond the technical ballistic aspects -- can only be performed competently when there is an understanding and acceptance that ANY incident will appear to be flawed when studied under a "microscope" and particularly when any flaw or mistake will be automatically interpreted as proof of a conspiracy. The truth is that in the real world, everything has flaws. An intelligent, reasoning person accepts this fact. In my profession, I have analyzed hundreds of shootings and they all have some flaw or flaws. Only with experience can one determine which flaws are significant and which are not.

There are no significant flaws in this case. The physical evidence in this matter is consistent with the police version of the incident.

Goodbye and good luck.

Alexander Jason
Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst