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June 2007

Freefall: Tragedy in the Grand Canyon

Arizona's Havasu Canyon is a hiker's paradise famed for its jaw-dropping waterfalls. But now there's trouble in paradise—serious trouble.

Coconino County Medical Examiner Lawrence Czarnecki performed an autopsy on May 15. One of the marks he used to make a positive ID was a small tattoo of a Japanese symbol on her left foot. Japanese media would later quote Hanamure’s friends recalling her wish to be identified by this mark if something happened to her. The symbol, which comes from a character in her last name, means "flower."

In a copy of the coroner’s report obtained by BACKPACKER, Czarnecki noted that Hanamure was a little over 5 feet tall and a "very physically fit, muscular" 130 pounds. She had another tattoo of a heart on her lower abdomen, and a green bellybutton ring. Her hair was black and cut short. She wore a blue short-sleeved shirt, green shorts, and brown hiking boots.

The report cited 29 stab wounds. The evidence taken included Hanamure’s fingerprints, fingernail clippings that might contain the killer’s DNA, her blood-splattered clothing, and a rape kit. Although the autopsy did not reveal physical trauma that might suggest sexual assault, rape was not ruled out. All lab results have been sealed under court order.

The autopsy paints a grisly account of Hanamure’s last moments. Of the 29 stab wounds, 22 were to the head and neck, a number of them severe enough to be fatal. A single blade that was about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide had sliced the carotid artery on the left side of her neck and punctured her lung. Her skull was chipped from blunt force. Pathology experts who evaluated the report for this story were struck by the apparent manic nature of the homicide.

"This person was in a frenzy," says physician Tom Myers,coauthor of Over the Edge, which chronicles all known deaths in the Grand Canyon. "The killer must have been so psychotic or incoherent he couldn’t appreciate that he was still stabbing her even though she was unresponsive, basically dead." The coroner noted that the stab wounds came from many different angles. "He was moving. She was moving. It was an all-out fight for her life," concludes Myers. "This is the most brutal killing in the Grand Canyon in modern times."

When the media reported the gruesome autopsy details last summer, people from Flagstaff to Tokyo were outraged.A crazy, cold-blooded killer was at large. Japanese reporters became obsessed with the homicide and accused the U.S. government of not doing enough to solve the crime. Japanese TV crews camped at the county sheriff’s office and the Supai trailhead. The Arizona Republic reported that state tourism officials were worried about public-relations implications—not surprising, since some 100,000 Japanese tourists visit the Grand Canyon every year. A July 24 Republic article notedthat Japanese TV segments about Hanamure almost always showed pictures of the national park, with no mention of the crime happening on a reservation.

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