Rina Yasutake inquest: Reclusive family who embalmed their sister's body in Yorkshire cottage 'did not believe she was dead' and spoke their own private language

A reclusive Japanese family refused to believe their 49-year-old daughter and sister was dead after she stopped eating - and embalmed her body at their cottage in North Yorkshire.

An inquest at North Yorkshire Coroner’s Court heard today that suspicions were raised about the Yasutake family, who had lived in Helmsley for 20 years, when Cambridge graduate Rina’s brother and sister visited a local pharmacy on numerous occasions to purchase surgical spirit for preserving her body. Staff reported that they smelled of ‘corpses’.

Police found Rina on a mattress on the floor of her bedroom inside 41 Bondgate on September 25, 2018, and it was later established that she had been unresponsive since August 18, though the date of death could not be conclusively determined. She was in an advanced state of decomposition to the point of mummification.

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A postmortem could not ascertain a cause of death, though third party involvement was ruled out and there was no evidence of substance abuse.

The family still live in the same cottage on Bondgate in HelmsleyThe family still live in the same cottage on Bondgate in Helmsley
The family still live in the same cottage on Bondgate in Helmsley

Her siblings Takahiro and Yoshika, now in their 50s, were interviewed by police and confirmed that Rina had stopped eating in around April 2018. They were not aware she had mental health problems, and decided to care for her at home because they feared something could ‘happen’ to her outside if they took her to hospital. She gradually became weak and bedbound before losing consciousness.

They said she had been behaving strangely after their father’s death, but had not sought any medical treatment since 2013, when she was given counselling after seeing her GP about an ‘aggressive episode’.

The siblings added that Rina was gifted, privately educated at Queen Mary’s School near Thirsk before reading classics at Cambridge and a good painter, but had never worked since leaving university.

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The family were self-reliant and isolated, living first in Nunnington after their mother married a British man and they left Japan. They did not have modern communication devices such as a TV or radio and though fluent in English and Japanese, spoke their own private language to each other.

Rina Yasutake was 49 when she diedRina Yasutake was 49 when she died
Rina Yasutake was 49 when she died

Detective Inspector Nichola Holden of North Yorkshire Police said there were ‘significant’ language barriers facing the investigation once their unique dialect became apparent, and added that all three Yasutakes believed Rina was still alive for ‘many months’ after police became involved.

Senior coroner for North Yorkshire Jon Heath recorded an open conclusion.

Takahiro, Yoshika and their mother Michiko, now 80, were charged with preventing a lawful and decent burial, but the charges were allowed to lie on file at York Crown Court in 2021 after a judge decided there would be no public interest in prosecuting them because of their mental afflictions.

They still live in the same cottage.