THE ¥300,000,000 BANK HEIST

By Senan Karunadhara

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Historical crime is a fascinating and intriguing subject to read about. You often come across events planned so intricately, so perfectly, that they often push the boundaries of belief. In the years before technology became such a vital tool for the police to use in capturing a culprit, criminals would often carry out plans that their modern-day counterparts would consider suicidal. The Grisly Axe Murders (1892), the Jack the Ripper Cases (1888-1891), the Zodiac Murders (1960s-70s) and the other sheer number of Cold Cases, never likely to be solved, remains truly astonishing. Just in the USA between 1980-2015 more than 211,000 homicides remained unsolved according to the US Department of Justice.

The ‘San Oku En Jiken’ (300 million-yen robbery) in Japan, often referred to as Japan’s biggest and most intricate bank heist in history still remains unsolved today. On the 6th December 1968, a letter, among many others sent a few weeks prior, was sent to the Manager of the Nihon Trust Bank demanding that he give up ¥300,000,000 or his house would be destroyed with dynamite – the letter was created using torn up magazines. The manager shared his concerns with his employees and requested that the Police maintain a close eye on his house, which they did. 4 days later, the Bank was required to make a drop at a Toshiba Factory in a company car.  Eventually, the car was stopped by a police officer outside the Tokyo Fuchū Prison. The officer told them that their manager’s house was destroyed with the actual branch and its employees being the next targets. The employees got out of the company car and the officer searched underneath to ensure the car was protected. As this was happening an employee began to notice smoke from the car. Frantically, everyone escaped and hid behind the prison walls. Having waited for an explosion for a reported 3 minutes, they turned back around only to notice that the car was missing along with the police officer. The employees were unsure about what had just transpired and decided to ring the Bank; however, to their surprise, the Manager answered and told them that his house was not destroyed and that the employees were not in any danger. The robber, disguised as a police officer, had intricately planned this heist for months and was able to take off with the bonuses of roughly 523 Toshiba Employees with the total coming to ¥300,000,000 ($6,000,000).

14 Minutes after the robbery, the pursuit began. 631 Patrol cars were sent out alongside 9,500 police officers and 13,000 riot police officers. They were tasked with attempting to find a, “Criminal who is 18 to 26 years old, height 165 to 167 cm, white helmet on a leather jumper, Cedric 39-year model car robbed, number Tama 5- is -6648. There are three duralumin trunks with cash in the car. Stop the car and check it.”

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In terms of evidence, a warning flare belonging to the ‘officer’ was left, which was used to give the impression of dynamite. Among this, 120 pieces of evidence were left – under normal circumstances this would be considered helpful, however, the perpetrator had intentionally left these pieces of ‘evidence’ (mainly household objects) to mislead the investigation. This worked perfectly as it was first reported that ¥90 million was stolen then ¥500 million and 50 years later the case remains unsolved.

The investigation became the largest in Japanese History, over 170,000 officers partaking and roughly 750,000 pictures were posted throughout the country. 110,000 suspects were named, making this not only largest but also the most diluted search in Japan.

The 19-year-old son of the Police Officer was arrested under suspicion of the ‘San Oku En Jiken’ but after revealing that he had no alibi – died of potassium cyanide poisoning. The police regarded this a suicide and it was ruled that he was not guilty. 7 years later, the 19-year-old’s friend was arrested for carrying large amounts of cash on him. The police asked him where the money had come from, but he refused to answer. Having no proof that the money came from the robbery, they could not charge him.

Young people became a central part of the investigation. The ‘Tachikawa Group Theory’ and the ‘Extremist Faction Collection Theory’ saw the investigation of the Tama area, where a number of young leftist activists were suspected.

A Japanese Newspaper, ‘Mainichi Shimbun’, made it public that they suspected that a 26-year-old man was guilty. Officer Mitsuo Muto, arrested him on an unrelated charge but questioned him about the ‘San Oku En Jiken’ anyway. The suspect had an alibi – he was taking an exam the day of the robbery. As the arrest and questioning was made in bad faith and under false information, Officer Muto was accused of abuse of official abilities – something that became all too common during the investigation.

After 7 years the investigation had come to no avail, and on December 1975 the Statute of Limitations had expired without an arrest (as suspects were questioned but not arrested or were arrested on unrelated charges), meaning that Police were now no longer able to pursue the investigation or bring action to any suspect. Come 1988, the perpetrator could reveal who they were without any fear of legal repercussions yet has refused to do so.

For those who want to see how the San Oku En Jiken’ compares to other major Bank Heists (particularly an interesting 2016 case where 14,000 ATMs across Japan were robbed in only 2 hours with roughly $13million being stolen, or the famous 1948 Health Inspector Imperial Bank Robbery) I recommend watching ‘This is The Greatest Bank Heist in Japanese History’