True Crime: The Monster with 21 Faces

It was March 18, 1984. Although the sun had set a few hours earlier on the city of Nishinomiya, Japan, two men had just begun their nefarious work. With guns in hand, the soon-to-be criminals stood just outside the front door of 70-year-old Yoshie Ezaki. As the elderly woman began her nighttime ablutions, the men, their faces obscured by white ski masks, burst in. Easily subduing the frail Yoshie, the pair bound her with a severed telephone cord. But—to her great fortune—their only interest was in a single, tiny item in her possession: the key to her son’s home.

Moments after terrorizing Yoshie, the evil duo slunk through the dark of night to the home next door, the dwelling of Katsuhisa Ezaki, the president of the Glico company. Using the stolen key, the masked gunmen quietly entered the home before them. But the quiet did not last long. Soon, a shriek erupted from Ezaki’s stunned wife as she clung to her eldest daughter. “Take our money,” she pleaded, “but leave us alone.” “Your money is meaningless,” came the response of one of the assailants. Then, after binding their new captives together, the burglars moved deeper into the labyrinthine home.

The two thugs crept throughout the home of Katsuhisa Ezaki, the remaining residents unaware of their alarming presence. Opening one door, then another, they carefully checked each room along their path. Then, they found the other Ezaki children sleeping comfortably in their beds. But the sound of running water soon drew their attention to the end of the hall. There, the criminals found the head of the household, undressed and unaware, as he emerged from the bath. Immediately, the masked men were upon him, binding the naked man and shrouding his head in a canvas sack. Dragging him past his terrified wife, and back outside, the duo stuffed the Glico president into a waiting car, which sped into the darkness.

By sunrise the next morning, police had already been busy trying to determine the motivation for the abduction of Glico’s president. Founded a century ago by Ri-ichi Ezaki, Glico established itself quickly as a popular brand of confections. Their products, the company boasted, were made with health-boosting oyster glycogen. As the decades rolled on, Glico added new delights to its offerings. Then in 1966, Glico’s introduced its now internationally-renowned treat Pocky, the world’s first chocolate covered biscuit sticks. In 1984, however, Glico was just a mid-size, mediocre food processor. That it’s owner would be targeted struck investigators as odd. But then a clue was found.

Just hours after Ezaki disappeared, a letter materialized. Discovered at a telephone booth near the Ezaki residence, the note requested approximately $4.3 million dollars for the safe return of the Glico president. While acquiring this sum would have been difficult, the next demand was nigh impossible. The kidnappers also required 220 pound of gold bullion bringing the total of the demand to approximately $6 million 1980s dollars. It was the largest ransom ever made in Japanese history. Determined to bring Ezaki home, the police spent the next three days searching for the missing man, while struggling with his captor’s demands. But their investigation was interrupted by the appearance of barefoot man.

Although his feet were bare, the man was clothed, albeit with ill-fitting attire. He shambled across the street toward the officer on the opposite corner. The policeman was busy speaking with passersby, flashing a photo of Ezaki as they paused. Finally, standing before the lawman, the barefoot stranger spoke with a weak voice, “I am the one you’re looking for.” Once in police custody, Katsuhisa Ezaki detailed his 72-hour ordeal. Although a bag had been kept over his head during his captivity, his assailants had otherwise treated him humanely. They clothed the naked man, fed him crackers and did not harm him. Being able to loosen the ropes that bound him, Ezaki was ultimately able to escape. But his freedom didn’t end his persecution from his mysterious captors.

“To the Japanese police, are you stupid?” A mysterious letter had been delivered to the police. “There’s so many of you. What on earth are you doing?  If you are real pros, try catching me. Since there’s too much of handicap, I will give you a hint.” The letter went on to include the following hints: that the getaway vehicle in the abduction of Katsuhisa Ezaki was gray, and that the abductors had purchased food from a well-known supermarket chain. They further taunted the police by threatening: “Should we kidnap the head of the police?” The note was signed: “Kaijin nijuichi menso”-“The Monster With 21 Faces.”

About a month after the abduction, Ezaki had returned to his work at Glico and was leading another of his many routine meetings. Suddenly, one of Ezaki’s assistants burst excitedly into the conference room, terror in her eyes. But before she could speak, one of the meeting’s attendees shrieked, drawing Ezaki’s view to a nearby window. Peering through the glass, Ezaki watched in horror as several vehicles in the parking lot below were engulfed in flames. Hurrying through the Glico facility—security now in tow—Ezaki came upon another astonishing sight. There inside the company building, employees had discovered a container full of hydrochloric acid. As the deadly vessel was discovered, an anonymous caller phoned Glico.

The call was direct: A one-time payment of approximately $1.3 million dollars would bring Glico’s torment to an end. After Ezaki refused to pay the demand, the police became more determined to find the culprits. The location of the deadly chemical led police to believe it was an inside job. Disgruntled employees were added to the growing list of suspects. But then, with the ransom unpaid, and the investigation ongoing, the true target of the Monster became clear. Letters began arriving at media outlets throughout Osaka. For years, Glico had touted their food products as wholesome and health-boosting. Now, Glico’s confections, the screeds suggested, had been laced with cyanide.

Following the May 1984 letters, panic erupted across Japan. Retailers everywhere pulled Glico products from their shelves. Supermarkets urged citizens to return any confections they may have at home. Yet after the dust from the ensuing chaos settled, not a single trace of a toxin was found in any of the Glico products. Nevertheless, the damage had been done. The stunt took a toll on Glico’s bottom line. Ezaki predicted the year’s sales would be off by about $130 million dollars. The company was forced to lay off 1,000 employees. But this was enough to satisfy the Monster with 21 Faces, who forgave Glico.

In June of 1984, the Monster announced a surprising turn in another letter to the press.

To our fans throughout Japan: We’re satisfied. The president of Glico has already gone around with his head hanging down low enough. We would like to forgive him. In our group there’s a 4-year old kid — every day he cries for Glico. It’s a drag to make a kid cry because he’s deprived of the candy he loves. So, we’re also really upset. It would be great if we could forgive Glico, so the supermarkets could sell their products again.

In truth, although the Monster turned its sights away from Glico, it had already been harassing other food companies. And this time, it was prepared to make good on its threats.

In the weeks prior to ending its feud with Glico, the Monster With 21 Faces had already begun threatening the food company Marudai Ham. And on the same day they forgave Glico, the criminal group demanded Marudai executives to pay $50 million yen to avoid their ire. Unlike Glico, Marudai agreed. But instead of sending an employee with the money, as the mysterious blackmailers had insisted, a policeman disguised as an employee followed the Monster’s instructions and boarded a Kyoto-bound train.

As the train barreled north, the disguised officer scanned the terrain outside for the signal. A white flag would be hung somewhere. At that moment, the imposter-employee was to toss the ransom-filled sack out of the train window. But as the officer watched for his cue, he noticed a man watching him. A large man with short hair and eyes like those of a fox peered surreptitiously through his glasses at the officer. While being mindful of his audience, the officer continued to look outside. But by the time the train reached Kyoto, the signal had never appeared, and the fox-eyed man had vanished. Having reached the end of the line, the officer caught the next train bound for home. But he wasn’t the only one headed back to Osaka.

Exhausted and frustrated the disguised police officer rose slowly as the train arrived back at Osaka. It was then that he noticed a familiar face. There at the other end of the car sat the bespectacled fox-eyed man. Their eyes connected just as the doors of the train opened. As the officer hurried toward the suspicious bespectacled man, the man hurried from the train. And by the time the policeman reached the platform, the fox had eluded him. But it wouldn’t be long before the police would have another chance to capture this curious suspect. Their next encounter, however, would have deadly consequences.

By October of 1984, the Monster with 21 Faces had added another food company to its who-to-extort list. The mysterious criminals had demanded $400,000 dollars from Morinaga & Company. Unlike their other ransom demands, however, this letter from the Monster also included 30 grams of cyanide, a substance lethal, if consumed. That small, but deadly, quantity foreshadowed the scores of terror yet to come. For when the Morinaga Company refused to reply, an even more frightening note arrived at news agencies throughout Japan.

To moms throughout Japan: In Autumn, when appetites are strong, sweets are delicious. Well, we’ve added some special flavor. The flavor of cyanide is a little bitter. It won’t cause tooth decay, so buy the sweets for your kids. We’ve put twenty boxes of Morinaga in stores from Hakata to Tokyo.

Terror struck Japan. No longer was Osaka the sole target. Forty thousand police officers were mobilized throughout the country. And as the officers continued to search stores in cities across Japan they found what they were looking for: Several packages of Morinaga Choco Balls and Angel Pies, placed shelves in Osaka, Kyoto and a department store in Nagoya had a curious label affixed to them. It read:

Danger: contains poison. You’ll die if you eat this. The monster with 21 faces.

After this phase of the ordeal had ended, several packages were confirmed to contain lethal doses of cyanide. But the terrorists didn’t for the authorities to finish their accounting. In the coming weeks, more letters arrived, each threatened at a repeat offense with one change. The mysterious extortionists wrote:

Morinaga is the best when it comes to confections. But now their products taste a bit better since we have added a special seasoning of sodium cyanide.

This time, however, the Monster made it clear that the deadly packages would not carry a warning. It would be impossible to find the dangerous treats. A panic similar to that following the Glico threats ensued. Every Morinaga candy, biscuit, and cookie was pulled from store shelves. And though not a single poisoned confection was consumed, Morinaga’s bottom line was damaged.

Meanwhile, after weeks of harassment, House Foods—yet another of the Monster’s targets—agreed to pay $450,000 dollars to rid themselves of their plight. So, on November 14, 1984, a House Foods employee followed the instructions the extortionists had given. The police likewise followed their orders and observed the employee from a safe distance. But as the worker—with the money in hand—neared the drop-off location in the Shiga Prefecture, he could not find a garbage bin marked with a white cloth, the in which he was to dispose of the ransom. Instead, a white cloth lay on the ground nearby, signaling that the Monster had called the deal off. But police everywhere were on high alert. So, it was no surprise when one officer spotted a familiar, bespectacled and fox-eyed man, behind the wheel of a nearby car.

Once again, the police pursued their key suspect this time in a vehicle. But as it was before, the phantom eluded law enforcement. A short time later, the police found the fox-eyed man’s car abandoned at a nearby railroad station. Inside, they found what may have explained how the Monster continued to evade authorities. There in a vehicle: a police scanner. Having confirmed their suspicions about the fox-eyed man, police released sketches of the suspect. This increased effort, however, could not lessen the shame of the officer leading the investigation that saw the Monster slip through its fingers. Humiliated, Superintendent Yamamoto of the Shiga Prefecture stepped into his backyard, doused himself with kerosene, and lit himself on fire. This, it seems, prompted one final act from the criminal mastermind.

The death of Superintendent Yamamoto prompted another correspondence from the Monster.

No-career Yamamoto died like a man. So we decide to give our condolences. We decided to forget about torturing food companies. We are bad guys which means we’ve got more to do than bullying companies. It’s fun to lead a bad man’s life.

And after this, the Monster with 21 Faces was never heard from again. And nearly 40 years later, the identity of the person or people behind the criminal organization still remains a mystery.

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