People like to say there’s no such thing as the perfect crime. But whoever stole three hundred million yen in Tokyo on December 10th, 1968 would likely disagree. 50 years later, the case remains unsolved, and the mystery of what happened that day continues to captivate peoples’ imaginations.
In Japan, nearly all companies award bonuses to employees on a twice-yearly basis. One bonus comes in the summer, around June or July, and another in winter, near the end of the year. It’s a tradition that started in Japan’s Edo era. Shopkeepers gave employees a summer bonus so they could return home for the Bon Festival and buy nice clothes. The winter bonus was a reward for that year’s hard work.
On December 10th, 1968, in the city of Fuchuu in the Tokyo District, a Nissan Cedric Sedan carrying ￥294,307,500, which was intended to pay the year-end bonuses of employees at Toshiba, departed Japan Trust Bank (now known as Mitsubishi UFJ) for Toshiba. Adjusting for inflation, at today’s rates, this amounts to around 30 billion yen, or about 26 million dollars. At the time, sending such large sums in cash by car (as opposed to a bank transfer) was considered routine.
The car trip was tense. Just four days ago, on December 6th, someone threatened the manager of Japan Trust Bank. The anonymous messenger threatened to blow up the bank if the manager didn’t hand 3 million yen to a female employee. The employee would deposit the sum at a designated location. Needless to say, the bank didn’t respond to the demand. Instead, the Fuchuu Police Office sent around 50 officers to crawl the area for clues and protect bank personnel.
So the bank employees driving the car to Toshiba that day had a reason to be tense. They soon had reason to be more tense. While driving behind Fuchuu Prison en route to the bank, a police bike came to a halt and blocked their path.
What happened next took all of three minutes. The driver rolled down his window and asked the man he thought was an officer, “What’s wrong?”
“There’s been an explosion at the bank you’re going to,” the cyclist said. “We have information that someone may have planted dynamite in this car too. Let me investigate.”
The bank employees, remembering the threat from four days ago, didn’t take any chances. They let the “officer” access the vehicle. He peered under the car. Out of the employees’ view, he lit a road flare, and screamed, “It’s gonna blow! Hurry, run!!” The employees ran from the smoking vehicle to a safe distance. The “officer” drove off with the Cedric, ostensibly to prevent the exploding car from injuring nearby civilians or damaging buildings.
Many Leads, Few Results
“That’s courageous,” the driver thought. That is, until he saw the extinguished road flare, and took a closer look at the bike. On closer inspection, it clearly wasn’t an official police vehicle.
It only took a minute for the driver to realize that there was no bomb. The “police motorcycle” was a fake. They had been had.
A massive investigation followed. Police interviewed eyewitnesses, and released a composite photo to the public. They conducted a “rolling investigation” of nearby apartments occupied by college students. Officers went door to door to every apartment and interrogated every resident.
Some early clues looked promising. The December 6th letter echoed a series of incidents earlier in the year in the Tama area. Between April and August of 1968, someone sent nine threats and extortion attempts to the Tama Agricultural Co-Op. Some letters demanded money, while others threatened acts of arson and bombing against the Co-Op. A handwriting analysis of these letters against the letter sent to the Japan Trust Bank confirmed a match. In other words, the Tama Cop-Op extortion letters, the Japan Sun Trust extortion incident, and the 300 Million Yen Incident were all linked.
Additionally, the criminal left an orgy of physical evidence in his wake. This included the Yamaha bike he was riding, a hunting hat, the road flare, and a magnet. Police also determined from saliva on the postage stamps on the letters that their suspect’s blood type was B.
Despite such tantalizing hints, however, the investigation never produced a convincing culprit. In the ensuing seven years, the suspect list would grow to 110,000 people. The investigation would involve 170,00 police officers, with the total cost of the investigation totaling 900 million yen. That’s three times the amount of money that was stolen.
On December 10th, 1975, the seven-year statute of limitations for bringing charges lapsed. The perpetrator – whoever it was – got away scot-free.
The Perfect Crime?
The incident is officially called “The 300 Million Yen Pillory” (３億円強奪事件). However, the implies a level of violence. What’s stunning about the incident is that the crime, itself, was victimless. No one at the scene was harmed. Toshiba’s losses were covered by insurance, and its employees received the end of year bonuses they were promised.
However, in a discussion hosted by Gendai Media between three experts – author Nagase Junsuke, manga writer Watanabe Jun, and former police detective Etou Shirou – all three individuals pointed out facts that indicate the perpetrator may simply have been a fortunate idiot.
First, the panel notes, the faux police cycle dragged a rain canopy loosely attached to the back seat. Had a car run over the tarp while the perpetrator was driving, he would have been seriously injured.
Second, many initially thought the culprit chose to commit the crime behind Fuchuu Prison because the area was relatively abandoned. This meant fewer witnesses. However, they were quite a number of witnesses who saw the incident. That includes several guards in the prison tower! So if the perpetrator chose the location to avoid detection, he chose poorly.
Third, Watanabe Jun, whose manga “A Composite of the Mysterious 3oo Million Yen Incident” (三億円事件奇譚 モンタージュ) chronicled the crime in detail, thinks that the call to the Japan Trust Bank four days earlier, rather than being a clever setup for the crime on the 10th, may simply have been an extortion attempt that failed. The perpetrator of the 300 million yen theft may well have simply taken advantage of circumstances. As Watanabe put it:
I think the image that this was a perfect crime lingers because it was never solved.
But former officer Etou Shirou thinks exactly the opposite – i.e., that while the crime had flaws, it also required not only careful planning, but insider knowledge:
At that time of the year, many companies were having their end of years bonuses transported. To target the Toshiba funds, the culprit had to not only know the large amount carried by Toshiba, but that it was also lightly guarded, and also have to reason that, due to extremist and left wing student demonstrations occurring in the Tama area, the number of officers who could respond immediately would be limited.
Etou believes there wasn’t one culprit. Rather, there were 4 or 5 different perpetrators who split the money evenly.
However, even Etou agrees with Watanabe that this wasn’t the “perfect crime”. The thief – or thieves – had an in with Lady Luck. Besides circumstances lining up just right for the crime to occur, the perpetrator (perpetrators?) benefited from a haphazard investigation. The 3rd Division of Japan’s police agencies usually leads such investigations. But due to this case’s high visibility, police chiefs transferred control to the 1st Division – i.e., Homicide. Etou believes this badly hindered the police’s efforts, as 1st Division detectives don’t have the expertise in the psychology of thieves that 3rd Division detectives have developed.
Additionally, Watanabe believes that the composite photo released by police did more harm than good. Indeed, several witnesses eventually admitted they hadn’t even seen the suspect’s face well enough to describe it, and in 1974, the photo was officially rescinded.
Collateral Damage of A “Victimless” Crime
While the crime itself may not have been violent, the ensuing investigation took a toll on those who were swept up in its vortex.
The earliest primary suspect was Boy S (少年S), a member of the local youth robbery gang called the Tachikawa group. The method of the robbery was similar to S’s modus operandi; he knew the area as a local resident; and his father was a motorcycle police officer, meaning that S was likely familiar with the operation of such bulky vehicles. However, S’s handwriting and blood type didn’t match the suspect’s, making it highly unlikely he was the primary culprit.
On the night that police visited S’s house to question him, he committed suicide by ingesting potassium cyanide, forever obscuring whatever role he might have played in the crime. To this day, S remains the primary suspect in the eyes of many.
However, the case also destroyed the life of a clearly innocent man. In 1969, a former taxi driver labeled as only A was identified by mass media as resembling the composite photo. Police arrested A under the pretext of another, much less serious crime, using it as a ruse to interrogate and extort a confession from him.
By the next day, someone offered a strong alibi for A that proved he was definitely not the culprit. But the damage was done: A’s reputation was ruined in the eyes of society and the media, and his family fell into bankruptcy. The case was such a stark abuse of power by Japan’s police that the National Association of Lawyers lodged a formal protest. A managed to struggle on until 2008, when he took his own life at home.
Additionally, the investigation itself was so intense and stressful that two police officers also committed suicide during its course.
Will The Real Culprit Please Stand Up?
The official list of people who could have committed the crime was massive. However, over time, a small number of names floated to the top of the list as the most likely suspects. Other members of the Tachikawa Group besides S came under suspicion, as well as a former Fuchuu City taxi driver, a trio of brothers in a nearby city, and an employee of a local real estate broker’s office.
But earlier this year, a new candidate emerged. An anonymous author posted a missive to the site “Let’s Become Novelists” [小説家になろう], which is devoted to hosting the works of amateur novelists, entitled, “I’m the Perpetrator of the 300 Million Yen Incident.” The “confession” was posted in chapters over the course of a month and a half and totaled 80 thousand characters.
The write up seems to fit certain facts of the case. The writer, Shiroda, maintains that he proposed the idea originally to S. However, the two were in a love triangle with the same woman, Kyoko. Eventually, Shiroda and Kyoko decided to commit the crime together, and S bowed out. Shiroda decided to tell the story after Kyoko passed away.
However, the author of this mysterious missive didn’t evince any insider knowledge that only the culprit would know. The story mainly seems to be a good, semi-plausible read. It’s notable that none of the experts in Gendai’s roundtable even discuss the “confession”.
For their part, all of Gendai’s experts have different theories. Most agree that S was in some way involved – either as the perpetrator, an accomplice, or a confederate.
All agree on one thing: this crime wouldn’t remain unsolved if committed today. Between advances in criminal psychology and police procedure, the availability of DNA testing, and the proliferation of anti-theft cameras in Japan, there’s almost no possibility that this “perfect crime” could be perfectly replicated in the 21st century. Whoever’s sitting on that pile of 300 million yen can also thank Lady Luck for being born in the right place at the right time.
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