A three-part series looking at the life of Vancouver murder victim Natsumi Kogawa and the Vernon man convicted in her death. Warning: parts of these stories may contain graphic elements unsuitable for some readers.
A former Vernon man convicted in the murder of Japanese exchange student Natsumi Kogawa has had a long history with the law.
William Victor Schneider has appealed his conviction on charges of second-degree murder in the high-profile 2016 Vancouver murder, but previously pleaded guilty to interference with a human body.
If his appeal is granted, Schneider will face a new trial.
Kogawa’s naked body was found stuffed in a suitcase on the property of a vacant Vancouver mansion 16 days after she was reported missing.
Schneider, known as Willy to his family and in Vernon, was a longtime troublemaker and bully in his youth, according to those who knew him in the Okanagan.
He was born in 1967 in Vernon and was 48 when he was arrested in Polson Park on Sept. 28, 2016.
His father still lives in the home where Willy and his older brother Warren were raised. Their mother died in 2000.
Schneider’s history with the law began in his teens.
He has 48 prior convictions on his criminal record, including assault, resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, and theft. In 1998, he was convicted of armed robbery and served a four-year sentence at Kent maximum security prison in Agassiz.
Willy dropped out of school in Grade 9 while attending Clarence Fulton Secondary.
Toronto’s The Star newspaper reported in 2018 that as a teen he once set a live cat on fire and “took bets with his friends on which direction it would run.” That information was from a psychological assessment in 2000.
Willy would eventually drift to the Lower Mainland, where he would go on to marry another Japanese woman and father a child. The marriage was believed to be one of convenience for immigration purposes, and the mother returned to Japan while pregnant. They have been estranged for years, and his wife has reportedly sought a divorce for over a decade.
Christopher Meisner, a friend of murder victim Kogawa, says he first met Schneider in 1998, when he and another known criminal associate attempted to rob him on the side of a Richmond road. No one was convicted in the incident, however.
“I managed to evade the robbery, but I never forgot the faces," recalls Meisner. “Imagine my shock when he started surfacing again in my life while I was in Vancouver.”
Schneider would often panhandle and loiter outside Meisner’s property in downtown Vancouver.
After his release from prison on the robbery conviction, it was brought up during his 2018 murder trial that Schneider is alleged to have been involved in a smothering incident in Edmonton. The female survived.
“When in Vancouver, he often hung around our property, loitering for hours on end in the food court, and I often evicted him,” says Meisner.
He was often seen hanging around the abandoned Gabriola Mansion on Davie Street, and Meisner says he called police in 2012 (one of multiple incidents) after he witnessed Schneider trying to entice people into the mansion for $5 tours.
During this period, he was either sleeping in a tent on the mansion grounds or staying at the Catholic Hostel on Cambie Street.
Schneider and Kogawa’s worlds would converge during the summer of 2016. He would often be seen loitering around some of her favoured study spots in downtown Vancouver.
Schneider testified that they struck up a conversation about a book she was reading about craft beer.
He later described it to police as their “first date.”
Meisner recalls seeing them as they passed his building on that day, “to my shock and extreme uneasiness.”
“I still struggle with my choice not to intervene, but there was nothing in Nat's body language to indicate distress,” he said.
Schneider and Kogawa would meet two more times, and Meisner again felt unease when he saw them walking together on Sept. 2, 2016. “I had one foot out the door, ready to intervene,” he recalled.
Schneider told police in a pretrial interview that their meeting on Sept. 8, 2016, was to be an agreed to “sex date” arranged by email, however police forensics revealed the two never communicated.
Kogawa had a potential job interview later that day.
“I never saw Nat again after that,” says Meisner.
Kogawa, a non-drinker, non-smoker and non-drug user, bought a mickey of vodka for Schneider that day, according to her credit card records.
They were seen on security video at the Harbour Centre mall that afternoon. The images would later be plastered all over the media after Natsumi’s disappearance.
Meisner says messages to Natsumi's phone were not returned after 4 p.m. that day.
She was reported missing on Sept. 12. Her body was discovered Sept. 28, and Schneider was charged the same day.
In part three, we take a look at Schneider’s actions between Kogawa’s death and his arrest and at the legal proceedings that would follow.