A Japanese artist, Sadamichi poisoned 12 bank
employees during a robbery.
One of the
most extraordinary cases of homicidal cyanide poisoning was that
involving a Japanese bank-robber who killed twelve bank employees.
arrived at a bank in the Teikoku Suburb of Tokyo in January 1948 just
before closing time. He passed himself off as a doctor with orders to
inoculate the bank staff against dysentery. The sixteen bank employees
dutifully lined up and drank a concoction given to them by the doctor.
Ten died immediately and two more died in hospital as the result of
immobilized the bank staff, Hirasawa stole all the money he could lay
his hands on, which amounted to the equivalent of a mere 720 US dollars.
eventually arrested, having been identified by a scar under his chin,
and he made a confession to the murders.
In 1948 Japan
was under military occupation, and a court sentenced Hirasawa to death
by hanging. A legal row ensued, with Japanese lawyers claiming that the
sentence violated the Japanese constitution which protected citizens
from self-destruction. It was argued that hanging was
self-strangulation. As a result Hirasawa remained in prison for over
thirty years until, at the age of eighty-eight, he was granted amnesty
by the Emperor.
poisoner had spent his time in prison painting and writing his
autobiography - My Will: the Teikoku Bank Case.
Sadamichi Hirasawa Is Dead; Was on
Death Row 32 Years
The New York Times
Monday, May 11, 1987
Sadamichi Hirasawa, believed to have been on death
row longer than any other prisoner in the world, died today of pneumonia
in a medical detention center in suburban Hachioji, a hospital official
said. Mr. Hirasawa was 95 years old.
Mr. Hirasawa, an artist, had been a prisoner since
1948, when he was arrested and charged in the poisoning of 12 people
during a bank robbery.
He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1950. The
sentence was confirmed in 1955, and he was sent to death row to await
execution by hanging.
In the robbery, a man posing as a Government health
worker entered a Teikoku Bank branch and told 16 employees that
post-World War II occupation forces had ordered them to drink medicine
because of an outbreak of dysentery. The workers obeyed, and, as they
collapsed, the robber scooped up the equivalent of $600 and fled.
Twelve bank employees died. The drink was found to
Several books have cast doubt on evidence used to
convict Mr. Hirasawa, and since 1950 none of Japan's Justice Ministers,
who must approve executions, have agreed to order his death.
(August 15, 1892 – March 19, 1988) was a Japanese painter who was
sentenced to death, convicted of mass cyanide poisoning.
On January 26, 1948 a
man calling himself Jiro Yamaguchi arrived in a branch of the Teigin
Bank at Shīnamachi, suburb of Tokyo, before closing time. He explained
that he was a public health official sent by US occupation authorities
who had orders to inoculate the staff against a sudden outbreak of
dysentery. He gave all sixteen people present a pill and a few drops of
liquid. Those present drank the liquid he gave, which was a cyanide
solution. When all were incapacitated, the robber took all the money he
could find, which amounted to only 160,000 yen ($1392/£754). Ten of the
victims died at the scene (one was a child of an employee) and two
others landed in the hospital.
He was eventually
caught by the police due to the Japanese habit of exchanging cards with
personal details. The real Dr. Yamaguchi contacted the police, and one
of the cards in Yamaguchi's possession was that of Hirasawa, meaning the
two had at one point exchanged cards. The police were also led to
Hirasawa through the use of stolen checks.
He was identified by
one of the survivors as the man who had given them the poison, marked by
a scar under the murderer's chin. He was arrested August 1948. Hirasawa
confessed (though he later recanted), and his later defense was based on
partial insanity, but the court disagreed and Hirasawa was given the
death penalty. His attorneys successfully had the sentence revoked
because of a Japanese law that forbade people from suicide (the death
penalty in Japan at the time called for hanging, and the lawyers argued
that hanging was a form of self-strangulation).
His lawyers argued
that the sentence was against the new Japanese constitution. Over the
following years they submitted 18 pleas for retrial, but the Supreme
Court of Japan upheld the death sentence in 1955. Hirasawa remained in
prison for the next 33 years. He spent his time painting and writing his
autobiography (My Will: the Teikoku Bank Case). The death
sentence, however, was never carried out and he died in a prison
hospital in 1987; shortly before that at the age of 94, he was granted
amnesty by the Emperor.
Even after Hirasawa's
death, his son Takehiko Hirasawa has tried to clear his name. As of
2003, his lawyers have submitted new evidence to prove Hirasawa's
February 18, 1892
May 10, 1987)
was a Japanese tempera painter. He was sentenced to death and was
convicted of mass poisoning, though he is suspected to have been falsely
charged and no justice minister signed his death warrant.
January 26, 1948
a man calling himself an epidemiologist arrived in a branch of the
Teigin Bank at Shiina, suburb of Tokyo, before closing time. He
explained that he was a public health official sent by US occupation
authorities who had orders to inoculate the staff against a sudden
outbreak of dysentery. He gave all sixteen people present a pill and a
few drops of liquid. Those present drank the liquid he gave, which was a
cyanide solution. When all were incapacitated, the robber took all the
money he could find, which amounted to 160,000 yen ($1392/£754/1000€).
Ten of the victims died at the scene (one was a child of an employee)
and two others died while hospitalized.
Arrest and trial
Hirasawa was caught by the police due to the Japanese habit of
exchanging business cards with personal details. The poisoner also
created two other incidents. The poisoner used a card which was marked
"Jiro Yamaguchi" in one of the two incidents. Yamaguchi didn't exist.
The poisoner also used a card which was marked "Shigeru Matsui" in
another of the two incidents. Matsui told the police that he had
exchanged cards with 593 people, including Hirasawa. The police were led
to Hirasawa through finding the money of unknown origin. He was
identified as the poisoner by several witnesses.
He was arrested on August 21, 1948. He was also found
to be in possession of sizable amount of cash, whose origin Hirasawa
refused to divulge. After police interrogation which allegedly involve
torture, Hirasawa confessed, but he recanted soon after. His later
defense against confession was based on partial insanity. He had been
troubled with Korsakoff's syndrome, so he could say a made-up story.
However, the court disagreed and Hirasawa was given the death penalty in
Until 1949, a confession had been a solid evidence
under the law, even if the police tortured a person to extract a
confession. The Supreme Court of Japan upheld the death sentence in
1955. His attorneys tried to have the sentence revoked. Over the
following years they submitted 18 pleas for retrial.
Doubt over guilty
He was sentenced to death, but
there was originally no conclusive evidence. In addition, although 40
employees saw the crimes, there were only two people who identified him
as the criminal.
Seichō Matsumoto presumed that the
true culprit was Unit 731 in his books; A story of the Teikoku Bank
Incident in 1959 and The Black Fog of Japan in 1960.
Matsumoto also suspected that "the money of unknown origin" came from
selling pornographic drawings. Kei Kumai protested Hirasawa's innocence
by his film The Long Death in 1964.
Ministers of Justice in Japan did not sign his death warrant, so the
death sentence was never carried out. Even Isaji Tanaka, who on
13 October 1967
announced in front of the press that he had signed death warrant of 23
prisoners in one go, did not sign Hirasawa's death warrant, stating that
he doubted Hirasawa's guilt.
The poison was regarded as potassium cyanide in
Hirasawa's trial. However, Keio University's investigation claimed that
the true poison may have been acetone cyanohydrin which Hirasawa could
not have obtained. It is regarded as one of the reasons to doubt his
guilt because the victims' symptoms were clearly different from
potassium cyanide poisoning.
Death in jail
Hirasawa remained in prison as a condemned criminal
for the 32 years. He spent his time painting and writing his
autobiography My Will: the Teikoku Bank Case
In 1981, Makoto Endo became the leader of Hirasawa's
lawyers. Besides the case, he took part in controversial trials such as
Norio Nagayama. The defense claimed that statute of limitations for his
death penalty ran out in 1985. The death penalty has 30-year statute of
limitations under the Criminal Code of Japan, and so Endo appealed for
his release. However, the Japanese court refused this argument pointing
out that the the statute only applies in the case if a death row inmate
escapes from prison and evades capture for 30 years.
Japanese courts judge that the punishment begins when
the minister signs the death warrant. His health deteriorated in 1987.
April 30, 1987,
Amnesty International petitioned the Japanese government to release him.
He died of pneumonia in a prison hospital on
May 10, 1987.
After his death
Even after Hirasawa's death, his stepson Takehiko
Hirasawa has tried to clear his name. They submitted 19th plea for
retrial. His brain damage was also proved. As of 2008, his lawyers have
submitted new evidence to attempt to prove Hirasawa's innocence.