This Halloween marks the 20th anniversary of Yoshiro Hattori’s murder that once shocked the world as a real haunting Halloween tale. The real Michael Myers is not a man in a mask but a redneck with a gun in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
On the evening of October 17th, 1992, (18th in Asia) a 16-year-old Japanese exchange student named Yoshiro Hattori went with his homestay brother, Webb Haymaker, to a Halloween party organized for Japanese exchange students. With a love for classic American movies, Hattori was dressed up as John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever. The boys arrived at the wrong house just a few doors down. Hattori rang the doorbell as the wife Mrs. Peairs saw them from the side door and called her husband to get a gun. Rodney Peairs opened the front door holding a gun with a laser sight and told the boys to freeze. While Haymaker ran, Hattori turned around and said, “We’re here for the party.”
Right out of The Terminator, Rodney Peairs, a six-foot-two armed man, shot the 130-pound Japanese teenager dressed up as John Travolta. If Hattori had dressed up as Olivia Newton John instead, would he have met the same fate?
I seem to recall I had read somewhere that one of the Paeirs made a comment about “a Jap at the door” before picking up the gun. For years, I contemplated about the possible racist motivation behind the murder that has fascinated me since I first heard about it. Perhaps it was because I too was a “foreign student.” Imagine me being in Baton Rouge dressed up as a witch knocking on the Paeirs’ door. Would I have met the same fate?
That Halloween of 1992, I had just arrived at Yale and was completely buried in poststructuralist theory and frozen yogurt and I didn’t hear about the story until months later. That Halloween I dressed up in drag and went out with some English graduate students. Harvey, a queer PhD student, was also in drag. That night, we might have been presenting an academic paper somewhere on campus. I remember that Harvey was accosted by some New Haven locals for being in drag before getting back to our dorm.
When I went to Hong Kong for Christmas break, everyone was telling me about the story of this Japanese boy who got shot in America.
“I didn’t hear a thing about it!” I exclaimed. “All I knew was Clinton got elected and we stayed up in the dorms glued to the television screen until Bush congratulated Clinton.”
“You aren’t scared in America?” asked my friends.
“I do love horror movies, you know,” I flippantly replied, half-believing in the story they told me.
Hattori’s story stayed with me until years later when I got on-line and was able to research about the murder. In the age of microfiche and lack of internet literature, it was very difficult to research into expired news on top of all the research and reading I had to do as a graduate student.
Of course, the grave injustice was that Rodney Paeirs was acquitted after a seven-day trial. In a civil action, Rodney Peairs was found liable to Hattori’s parents for over half-a-million dollar damages that they used to fund two charities in Hattori’s name—one for American high school students wishing to visit Japan, and the second to lobby for gun control.
To the world, the real American horror story comes from a good old shot of mundane ignorance in America.