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Police try talking cardboard cutouts to find murder suspect

By pressing a button on the cutout, a person can hear a recording of the suspect's voice, hopefully prompting someone to remember speaking to him.

Life-size wanted poster
Bill Hawker, the father of slain 22-year-old teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker, displays a life-size cardboard cutout of the suspected killer, Tatsuya Ichihashi, during a press conference at the British embassy in Tokyo on Tuesday. AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno

If you're looking for someone wanted for murder, you could put up a wanted poster at a few post offices. You could set up Web sites with images of the felon or mail people the pictures. These days, however, we're bombarded with information, and the bulletins could--and most likely would--get lost in the static.

Or you could cut through the sea of info by putting the identities right in the public's face with life-size, talking, cardboard cutouts of the evasive culprits.

Such a test case is currently underway in Japan as police try to track down Tatsuya Ichihashi, a man wanted in the 2007 murder of 22-year-old British English teacher Lindsay Hawker. Ichihashi barely slipped out of an arrest situation and has been at large ever since.

Hawker's parents reportedly don't like the idea of the life-size cutouts, and think police are using them as a way to appease the grieving family since they've made no apparent progress in the case in months.

This isn't the first time Japanese police have used cardboard cutouts instead of traditional wanted posters. Cutouts were used to try to track down three fugitive members of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult responsible for the 1995 sarin gas subway attacks in Tokyo, so far unsuccessfully.

This is, though, the first time an audio playback solution has been utilized. By pressing a button on the cutout, a person can hear a recording of Ichihashi's voice, hopefully prompting someone to remember speaking to him at some point. Two cutouts are located at a police station, with others set to go up elsewhere.

With luck it will work, Ichihashi will be found, and the Hawker family can get some closure. Using technology like this is a very Japanese solution to a common problem, and one we might see here in shopping malls, courthouses, and city halls in the future, though the idea of life sized, virtual killers all over the place might be too much for the American public.