By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
and GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu Staff Writers
Chetwood Hotel co-owner Ivan Ko was in the manager’s office Friday afternoon, going over some paperwork as a crew installed a new security system with surveillance cameras. Had it been in place prior to Tuesday, it may have been able to give police more clues into the murder of 74-year-old hotel manager Hideko Oyama, who was discovered mortally wounded in the office late that morning.
There was no new information from LAPD detectives Friday afternoon, who had previously stated that they believe the killing was an isolated incident and that they have made great progress in their investigation. Officials have not revealed whether money was taken, if the victim might have known her attacker, or what sort of weapon was used, only that a gun was not involved.
Brian Kito, president of the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association said questions linger as to whether Oyama was targeted, whether it was a robbery because it was around rent time, or if there was some sort of vendetta against her.
“The thought is, if it’s a random crazy, then we all have to be concerned,” Kito told the Rafu. “Either way, somebody taking a knife to somebody is pretty sick. There’s a crazy out there, whether it’s robbery motivated or personal, we don’t know yet.”
Oyama had been working at the hotel in the 400 block of East Fourth Street for nearly four years, after managing the now-defunct Carver Hotel, which was across the street from the Chetwood before being demolished. Some in the Little Tokyo community who knew her described her as somewhat hard-edged when it came to business matters. They also said that it was common knowledge that she would carry a large amount of cash at the beginning of each month, when rents were due. Oyama’s slaying came on the second business day after the New Year’s holiday.
As the workmen strung wire and mounted unidirectional cameras on the walls at the Chetwood, a pair of flower bouquets stood against pipes on a stairway landing at the darkened end of the second floor corridor. Ko said he didn’t want to speak at length about the case, other than to say he was deeply saddened and shocked.
“I’ve had this building 20 years, and I’ve never, ever, seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s really a shame.”
According to at least two residents of the hotel, which caters mainly to low-income tenants, seniors and travelers mostly from Japan, the two cameras formerly in the entry stairwell were dummy devices, not connected to any kind of monitoring system. Ko said only that the previous security cameras were very old.
The news of the slaying, a block outside the recognized boundaries of Little Tokyo, has many who live and work here reevaluating their personal safety and their surroundings in what is considered to be one of the safest parts of metro Los Angeles. A clerk at the Footland shoe store in the Japanese Village Plaza who identified herself simply as “H” said the news of the killing has unnerved her considerably and that she has thought about it while leaving work the last couple of nights.
“I’m kind of scared now. After that happened, I feel that I have to be careful,” she said.
In Honda Plaza at Second and Central, Little Tokyo Pharmacy owner Jin Park was surprised at the news. He and his wife close their store after nightfall and have never felt at substantial risk.
“That’s scary,” he said. “Actually, before I heard this story, I felt perfectly safe. After hearing it, I’m a little scared and I’m so sorry to hear that.”
Minako Aoshima, director of the L.A. office of the Japanese National Tourism Organization said she always feels safe walking around Little Tokyo and that she likely will not change her habits.
“I often work into the late night, sometimes until 11 o’clock or so, and I never felt unsafe,” Aoshima said.
Kimi Okayama’s Fuji Cosmetics store has been in the same location off Second Street for more than 30 years. Having lived in Little Tokyo while growing up, she said she has seen how the area has declined in many ways, and that she usually locks the door to her shop if she’s working alone.
“This area has changed a lot,” she said. “As a teenager, I lived down on San Julian and it was okay then. Sometimes, if I missed my bus, I had to walk home in the dark, but I never worried, because Little Tokyo was so safe.”
Little Tokyo Service Center executive director Bill Watanabe echoed Kito’s sentiments that fortunately, incidents like this are somewhat rare in the area, with the last homicide in Little Tokyo taking place more than 20 years ago.
“If they can get a lead on who did it and what the circumstances were, if they catch the guy, assuming it’s a guy, that could help to alleviate some of the fears and concerns,” Watanabe said.
Watanabe added that the murder can serve as a warning that although Little Tokyo generally is safe, one should always be aware of surroundings.
He also made it clear that the Chetwood, which sits on the edge of Skid Row, is not typical of hotels in Little Tokyo.
“If you go to the Chetwood, it’s a rough area. Some people might think it’s on First Street, which it isn’t. It’s Fourth Street which is actually Skid Row,” Watanabe said.