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When a pair of Japanese teens told their parents they were off to visit an abandoned hotel known by locals as a "haunted" site, they weren't too concerned.

The schoolgirls with a taste for adventure just thought they were set for a fun, if spooky, day of investigation in the spring of 1996.

Some 25 years later, the bodies of Megumi Yashiki and Narumi Takumi were found in a car at the bottom of a nearby port.

That tragic discovery ended a generation-long search for the girls' whereabouts – but it hasn't silenced some people's theories about what happened to Megumi and Narumi in Uozu City that fateful day.

As soon as the schoolgirls went missing, early internet forums were awash with rumour and intrigue about the pair's fate.

North Korean kidnappers were suspected, as well as thugs from a bosozoku biker gang.

The second theory was likelier than the first – the derelict Hotel Tsubono, which closed amid financial ruin in the 1980s, became a popular haunt for the criminal biker groups.

But that doesn't explain why the girls were found in Megumi's car at the bottom of the Fushiki Port, on the journey home to Himi City from Uozu.

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The last anyone heard from the pair was a pager message sent at 10pm on May 5 by Narumi to a friend: "We are in Uozu."

Two days after they failed to return home, Megumi and Narumi's parents reported them missing.

But police were preoccupied with Golden Week, the major Japanese holiday period which takes place in late April and early May.

The authorities' response was slow and ineffective.

Because they were 19, Japanese laws state Narumi and Megumi's names could not be publicly released until a year later.

And by that point, all hope was lost.

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That was until 2014, when shocking witness testimony emerged to present a huge new lead in the girls' mysterious disappearance.

Three anonymous witnesses told local police they had seen a car with two girls inside roll backwards into the bay at Fushiki Port.

One of them said: “A car with two women dropped from a parking lot into the sea near Kaiomaru Park at midnight of a major holiday in 1996.”

They added when they approached the car to speak to the girls, "the car suddenly started moving backwards and fell".

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Asked why they hadn't come forward with this crucial information for 18 years, all three said they were too scared.

Police believed them and chose not to suspect foul play – nor investigate further.

So it was another six years before Megumi and Narumi's families would finally get an answer.

For reasons which still aren't clear, police waited till March 2020 to send a crane into the bay to pull the car out.

Eight metres below the surface was the car containing "skeletal remains" and a credit card with the name "Yashiki Megumi".

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Tragically, Megumi's mother said she thought her daughter had simply run away from home.

She told a newspaper in 2020: "It was so long ago.

"I had a hope that she was doing fine and living somewhere else, so I was puzzled to learn of the discovery of the car. I feel sorry that [she existed] in such a cold place for so long."

Megumi's father was less pleased with the police response, saying: "I don't trust [the witnesses] at all.

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"I don't know who they are. I have asked the police but they won't tell me."

He said he wanted the investigation to continue, but the police refused.

The chief of the Toyama prefecture's police department said: "We will investigate as needed in the future."

Needless to say, the internet rumour mill has only intensified since the puzzling witness testimony, the discovery of the car and the bizarre time gap between each new development.

A popular post on Reddit forum Unsolved Mysteries alleged it was simply a case of panic by various players involved.

User Freak_Out_Bazaar wrote: "From the girls’ perspective I think they were startled when they were approached and they tried to move the car.

"The car unbeknownst to them was in reverse, car starts rolling backwards, panic sets in, the accelerator is now the break in the driver’s head, driver tries to stop the car by pressing hard on the break (which the accelerator), car accelerates backwards into the water."

"From the witnesses' perspective, it’s only natural to try to leave a traumatic situation, especially if it’s spontaneous and has nothing to do with you in person.

"You sort of get frozen in place and the mind starts making up stories to fit the narrative that things are OK, 'They probably got out fine' or maybe 'They were just mannequins and someone’s trying prank us' etc.

"And of course, as more time passes it becomes nearly impossible to come forward.

"Anecdotally, when I was a witness to a car accident (along with many others) it took a while for someone to actually do something. Once someone stepped in many followed but for the first while it was just a bunch of us staring.

"People can act weirdly when subject to panic."

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