Cold Case | The Biggest Heist In Japan’s History
What became of the stolen money?
On December 10, 1968, the biggest heist in Japan’s history¹ was committed. That heist remains unsolved to this day, over half a century later.
On that morning, four Kokubunji branch employees of the Nihon Shintaku Ginko bank were transporting ￥294,307,500 (the U.S. $ equivalent of $817,520 at 1968 exchange rates).
At the time, the employees were transferring the money in the trunk of a company car. Also, the metal boxes also contained bonuses for the employees of Toshiba’s Fuchu factory.
As the branch employee approached a street next to Toyoko Fuchū Prison to deliver the money, they got stopped by who they thought was a young uniformed officer on a police motorcycle.
After stopping, the unassuming police officer approached them, informing the four employees that the house of their branch manager had just blown up and that his station had received a warning that dynamite had been planted in that very company vehicle as well.
The four branch employees promptly got out of the vehicle while the officer crawled underneath the company car to inspect it for any bombs.
Moments later, smoke and flames billowed out and shot out from under the vehicle, prompting the officer to get out from under the car shouting that an explosion was imminent.
The employees, scared out of their wits, retreated to the walls of the nearby prison for protection.
Unbeknownst to them, as they hid from the imminent “explosion”. The officer then jumped into the vehicle and drove off with it.
During the ensuing investigation, the employees stated why they had believed the lone officer was a legitimate officer of the law at the time, and why they accepted his story about the bombs.
Before the robbery, the bank manager had been receiving threatening letters.
Also, the smoke and flames the employees observed during the robbery had turned out to be from a warning flare the thief ignited as he crawled underneath their vehicle.
Moreover, at some point, the thief abandoned the bank’s vehicle, transferring all of its monetary contents to another car, which had also gotten stolen before the heist.
Later, the thief abandoned the first stolen vehicle as well. From that point, it investigators surmised that the thief had transferred all of the stolen money to yet another stolen vehicle before abandoning it altogether.
Back at the crime scene, there were at least 120 pieces of evidence left behind². One of these pieces of evidence was the police motorcycle, which had been painted white.
Furthermore, the majority of the pieces of evidence left behind were primarily everyday items. Investigators surmised that these items were intentionally scattered throughout the crime scene to confuse the police investigation and plant false leads for as long as possible.
Following the heist, the police launched a massive investigation. As part of the inquiry, about 780,000 montage pictures got posted, and the list of suspects included 110,000 names.
Overall, 170,000 police officers got involved in the investigation. As a result, this made it the most extensive police investigation in Japanese history.
The first suspect pegged, following the robbery, was the 19-year old son of a police officer. However, he ultimately died of potassium cyanide poisoning on December 15, 1968.
During the investigation into his possible involvement, before his death, he had no alibi and no knowledge of police procedure.
The suspect’s death, ruled a suicide, was also considered innocent of the crime posthumously. Also, none of the money was recovered in his possession, furthering the belief of his innocence.
On December of 1969, another suspect got arrested on an unrelated charge, after being suspected by the Mainichi Shimbun. The 26-year old man had an alibi; on the day of the robbery, he was taking a proctored examination.
However, the arrest was later believed to have occurred under pretenses, with the arresting officer, Mitsuo Muto, accused of abuse of power.
Several years later, a friend of the 19-year old first suspect got arrested on an unrelated charge on November 15, 1975. This arrest made just before the statute of limitations.
After the arrest, a significant amount of money was found in his possession, making him a suspect in the heist. At the time of the robbery, he was 18-years old.
However, when asked about the money, the suspect did not say how or where he acquired the wealth. Also, investigators were unable to prove for sure if his money did come from the heist.
The Statute of Limitation Ends
Seven years into the investigation, investigators have found few answers.
In December of 1975, the statute of limitation ran out passed without a single arrest made.
Moreover, as of 1988, the period for any civil liabilities passed, which means that the thief would no longer be under any legal repercussions³ should he ever decide to confess to the robbery for book deals or T.V. appearances.
However, even after any possibility for legal percussions got taken off the table, to this day, the thief has yet to come forward, meaning that the identity of the thief and the whereabouts of the money remains unknown.
²news.com.au article — 10/10/2012
³Asia Times article — 02/02/1999