Can a robbery be perfect? Maybe only in Hollywood movies. However, there was a mysterious robber in Japan who set a real-life example. The infamous “300 Million Yen Robbery” is Japan’s most notorious money heist, surprisingly masterminded and executed by a single man. The robbery took place on the fateful morning of December 10, 1968, in Tokyo when an unknown individual, disguised as a Tokyo Metropolitan Police officer, cunningly robbed more than 294 million yen from a car owned by the Nihon Shintaku Bank en route Toshiba’s factory in Fuchu, a suburb of west Tokyo. The money, which was worth around US$817,500 at 1968 exchange rates, was destined to be the winter bonuses for Toshiba’s employees.
On December 10, 1968, four employees of the Nihon Shintaku Bank drove towards the Toshiba’s factory carrying the employees’ bonuses in metal boxes. A man, suited as a police officer on an official motorcycle, came in their way and stopped the car. He claimed that criminal entities had blasted the Bank’s branch manager’s residence and planted dynamite in the car they were driving. Meanwhile, the officer began examining the lower side of the vehicle, and smoke began to appear from beneath the car. Moreover, since the bank manager had previously received bomb threats, the employees readily trusted the officer and rushed out of the car, taking a cover for safety.
At that moment, they were concerned for their lives, so keeping the money safe was the least of their concerns. As they waited anxiously behind a nearby prison wall, fearing the worst, a few minutes passed uneventfully. The employees wondered what was going on and came out to see about the happenings and the police officer, only to find that the officer had left with the money. As the fear for life faded away, the reality sunk in, and the employees realized they had been robbed.
Amid the enormous magnitude of the financial loss, the robbery attracted nationwide attention and investigations began. It was later revealed that the smoke emerging from beneath the car was caused by a flare dropped by the robber beneath the car while pretending to examine the car for possible bomb implantation. During the forensic scrutiny of the crime scene, the investigators found around 120 pieces of evidence scattered all around the crime scene. However, several of those evidence pieces were deliberately left behind to mislead the investigators.
An extensive investigation was initiated, consisting of one lakh and seventy thousand police officers. Around 780,000 photos were published around Japan. The later investigation also revealed that the thief drove the car to a nearby park where he managed to transfer the money boxes to another vehicle, which he had allegedly stolen earlier. There was huge media attention surrounding the case; however, the culprit was never apprehended despite speedy investigation.
Shortly after the robbery, a police officer’s son, 19 years old, was arrested. Later, he committed suicide, and the officials confirmed him not guilty. On December 12, 1969, a 26-year-old man was suspected and apprehended on an unspecific allegation. However, by producing evidence of his absence from the theft location, the man proved his innocence. As the years went on, several speculative theories were surrounding the robber’s true identity.
While some speculate the robber to be a bank employee who knew the route and time table of deliveries, others predicted him to be the son of a renowned politician hiding behind his father’s political clout. However, the most predominant theory regarding the robber’s identity proclaims him to be a police officer or the son of a serving officer. This theory gathered the most support as only a police officer could have evaded the police’s apprehension for so long.
In the words of Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of media and communications at Hokkaido Bunkyo University; “One of the most convincing suggestions was that he was a police officer or the son of a serving officer, which would explain how he knew about police procedures and how he obtained the uniform, but also how he was able to evade the subsequent search.”
The interesting fact to note here is that despite the passing of the statute of limitations in December 1975, no one has come forward to claim notoriety. This case is definitely one of the most infamous money heists in the history of Japan.