The Monster With 21 Faces

Through 1984 and 1985, a mysterious group calling itself "The Monster With 21 Faces" waged an extortion and blackmail campaign against numerous Japanese companies (often referred to as the “Glico-Morinaga Case”). More than three decades later, the motives and identities of this bizarre group remain unknown.

Ezaki Glico - more commonly known as just "Glico" - is an international food company based out of Osaka, Japan.

Known as a company that produces a variety of food products, Glico was founded about a century ago as a candy company; and today, candy remains what Glico is most well-known for. You are likely familiar with this company because they produce the candies Pocky and Pretz - both of which are pretty well-known worldwide. Glico's products are distributed mostly across Asia - through their native Japan, as well as China and Thailand - but they also have a strong foothold in the American and European markets.

On March 18th, 1984, Katsuhisa Ezaki - the president of Ezaki Glico, and the grandson of the company's founder - was relaxing at home with his wife and children (in Nishinomiya, just outside of Kobe, Japan). Ezaki had endured a long and difficult day of work, and decided to unwind with a nice, relaxing bath as the rest of his family readied for bed.

In the house next door, Katsuhisa Ezaki's 70-year-old mother lived by herself. She was also preparing to head to bed on this Sunday evening, but just before 9:00 PM, two men wearing white ski masks and holding guns forced their way into her home. She was powerless to stop them, and they proceeded to bind her.

Surprisingly, the two men were not interested in harming or robbing the woman. In fact, they only wanted her to provide them with a single item in her possession: a key to the neighboring house, where the elderly woman's adult son lived with his wife and three children.

Moments later, the two masked men quietly invaded the home of Katsuhisa Ezaki, using the key to gain access. Meiko and Mariko Ezaki - Katsuhisa's wife and daughter - were quickly subdued by the masked men, who were wielding a pistol and a rifle. The mother and daughter were quickly bound, and Meiko tried to negotiate with the two strange men - believing them to be robbers - but they were not interested in speaking to her. They were looking for her husband, and began combing the house for him (cutting all of the home's phone lines in the process). Thankfully, the family's two other children were allowed to sleep undisturbed in their bedroom, but the masked men quickly found Katsuhisa Ezaki.

Ezaki had been taking a bath at the time of this home invasion, and was unaware that his family was even in distress. He didn't realize that anyone else was in his home until the masked men were right outside of the bathroom, and - just a moment later - they were in the bathroom with him. Ezaki began screaming and was prepared to fight for his family, but the masked men told him that he and his family would be harmed if he did not cooperate with them. So, Katsuhisa Ezaki allowed himself to be taken by the two men, who made a quick getaway. The naked Glico company president was rushed into a nearby vehicle, which had been left running, and the pair sped off into the dark.

The following day, a ransom demand would be made by the mysterious kidnappers - who would go on to wage an extensive, methodical blackmail and extortion campaign against the company that Katsuhisa Ezaki was employed by, Glico (as well as a handful of other similar companies). The abductors would later claim to be a part of a shadowy cabal, which was prepared to take on the Japanese economy, press, and police force. Over time, this group would embrace their role as villains, and would even adopt a nickname that embodied the multifaceted nature of their crimes.

This is the story of "The Monster With 21 Faces."

By the morning of March 19th, 1984, the investigation into Katsuhisa Ezaki's kidnapping had already begun. Police set out to determine a motivation for the mysterious crime, and had imposed a nationwide blackout on any info pertaining to the case - as they believed that publicizing details wouldn't help them in any way (believing, in fact, that doing so may even spur on the kidnappers to kill Ezaki).

Based on the way the crime had played out - with the kidnappers first breaking into Ezaki's mother's home next door, in pursuit of a specific key - it was believed that the gunmen were familiar with the family. They might have even previously learned their habits and the layout of their home prior to the abduction attempt, which pointed to a personal motive.

However, investigators wouldn't have to wait long to learn why the kidnappers had targeted the president of the Glico company. The kidnappers had supposedly left behind a ransom note at a phone booth near the crime scene, which was discovered just hours after the abduction. The note demanding a ransom of approximately 1 billion yen, which was the equivalent of roughly $4.5 million (at the time).

In addition to the cash demand, the kidnappers also demanded 100 kilograms (~220 pounds) of gold bullion; worth around $1.3 million. This was a much harder demand to meet in a short period of time, and brought the grand total of the ransom demand to around $6 million (in U.S. dollars). Altogether, it was the largest ransom demand ever made in Japanese history.

This gave police an understanding of why Katsuhisa Ezaki had been abducted, but it still seemed odd as to why he had been targeted. Glico was a large company, to be sure, but they were by no means titans of industry in any way. As far as food processors go, they were pretty middle-of-the-pack, and it struck investigators as odd why Ezaki had been targeted. That question would continue to loom large over the investigation in the coming weeks and months, but - thankfully - police would not have to spend long looking for Ezaki himself.

On March 21st, 1984 - just about three days after his abduction - Katsuhisa Ezaki managed to escape from captivity. He was returned to his family - and his freedom - after fleeing from a warehouse in the Osaka city of Ibaraki, where he had been held captive.

Unfortunately, Ezaki was unable to provide police with much in the way of information - either about his kidnappers or their methods or motivations. He was able to point police to the warehouse he had been held captive in - which was close to a river - but there seemed to be no clues pointing to the identity of the culprits.

Ezaki later spoke about his captivity, claiming that he had had a bag placed over his head for pretty much the entire time, and had been provided some basic clothing by his abductors. They had apparently fed him juice and crackers, and had told Ezaki that his 8-year-old daughter was also being held captive (which was not true, as he had been the only person kidnapped by the mysterious gang).

Eventually, Ezaki was able to work loose his rope bindings, and kicked down a door. He fled down the street, barefoot, with his kidnappers failing to provide him anything in the way of footwear. However, Katsuhisa Ezaki told police that - other than a few scratches on his face - his kidnappers had not harmed him, and he believed they had been carrying toy guns; which was a relief to many, as firearms have been outlawed in Japan for some time.

In the wake of the abduction, police had established a significant series of roadblocks, and conducted a days-long dragnet to try and flush out the kidnappers. With the escape of Ezaki, the abductors' scheme to obtain a ransom seemed to have come to an unsatisfying resolution, but that would not deter these mysterious individuals - who decided to make their presence felt in the coming weeks and months.

On April 10th, 1984 - less than a month after the abduction of Katsuhisa Ezaki - the mysterious group that had targeted him decided to set their sights on his company, Ezaki Glico. They set fire to several vehicles in the company headquarter's parking lot, and - in the coming weeks - would be responsible for a second fire on company property, which did an untold amount of damage to Glico.

Less than one week after the arson in the parking lot - on April 16th, 1984 - a plastic container full of hydrochloric acid was found in a Glico company building in Ibaraki (the same city where company president Katsuhisa Ezaki had been held captive). Because the container was found inside a Glico company building, it seemed to allude to the fact that the mysterious culprits had gained access to the property, and could seemingly be anywhere at anytime.

Along with this plastic container full of hydrochloric acid, the mysterious culprits had left a letter, which was addressed to Glico and demanded a one-time payment to end the harassment.

At around this same time, a like-minded letter was sent to the media, which seemed to be taunting the police - who had failed to apprehend or even identify any of the individuals involved in the kidnapping and harassment plots.

"To the stupid police. Are you idiots? If you were pros, you would catch us. Because you guys have such a high handicap, we're gonna give you some hints."

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 speculating:

"Should we kidnap the head of the [local] police?"

This note was signed with a moniker - "Kaijin nijuichi menso" - which was later translated into "The Monster With 21 Faces."

In May of 1984, this mysterious group of individuals - who had begun to call themselves "The Monster With 21 Faces" - began to send numerous letters. Not only to Glico, the candy company they were attempting to extort for millions of dollars, but to police and even the press. Their letters all shared the same sarcastic tone, and carried the same nickname: "Kaijin Nijuichi Menso," which was translated into "The Mystery Man" or "The Phantom" with 21 faces. Later, the name would be translated as "The Monster With 21 Faces," inspired by a villainous organization from an early 20th century series of Japanese detective novels.

In this onslaught of correspondence, "The Monster With 21 Faces" began to make allusions to them having laced Glico products with potassium cyanide: a toxic substance that - if properly administered - could result in potentially hundreds or thousands of deaths. It was alleged mass poisoning on a scale which really hadn't ever been seen; and it was being used as a threat to extort Glico of large sums of money.

As a result, Glico was forced to pull all of its products off of store shelves. This resulted in a massive loss for the company, as they had to pull roughly $21 million worth of products from the shelves in an effort to suss out whether the threat was real or not. Ironically, this amount was more than three times the original ransom demand for the company president, Kastuhisa Ezaki's, safe return - but the humor in that irony wasn't felt by Glico executives, shareholders, and employees, who would struggle significantly in the coming months.

Glico's stock price had taken a huge hit as a result, and the company would later report a dip in sales worth an estimated $130 million. Ultimately, Glico had to lay off about a thousand employees, even though none of the recalled products appeared to have been tampered with or poisoned. It was later learned that the entire thing was a well-orchestrated hoax, but the threat of "The Monster With 21 Faces" continued to inspire real fear in the company and their workers.

During the next several weeks, another fire would be started on Glico property, adding to the myth that this mysterious organization was always present, everywhere. Shortly thereafter, someone claiming to be a part of "The Monster With 21 Faces" contacted Glico, telling them that a payment of $1.3 million would end the harassment for good.

While this mysterious group harassed Glico, they had continued to write letters to the press, taunting police for failing to stop them. One such letter, written in Hiragana (the basic Japanese alphabet) and in a Osaka dialect, read:

"Dear dumb police officers. Don't tell a lie. All crimes begin with a lie as we say in Japan. Don't you know that?"

The letter seemed to be addressing sentiments shared by investigators and police officials, who claimed to be close to catching the mysterious culprits. They referred to investigators as "poor, stupid cops" and in one letter, even teased police for failing to intercept a phone call with Glico administrators:

"You thought you could fool us, dressed up in your nice businessmen's blue suits, acting like salary men. But those shifty eyes gave you away."

The letters constantly blamed the police for failing to catch them, and continued expressing intimate details of the crimes they had committed, giving police no doubt that the letter-writers were the people involved. In another letter sent to police in Koshien, "The Monster With 21 Faces" wrote:

"Why don't you keep it to yourself? You seem to be at a loss. So why not let us help you? We'll give you a clue. We entered the factory by the front gate. The typewriter we used is Panwriter. The plastic container used was a piece of street garbage. Monster with 21 faces."

At one point, police thought they came close to identifying a member of the mysterious group, when surveillance footage was brought to their attention. This footage seemingly showed a man wearing a Yomiuri Giants baseball cap in a convenience store, who was also wearing a business suit and glasses. The man appeared to be putting what looked like tainted Glico candy on the shelves, and the footage was only looked at after someone noticed the Glico candy (which, at the time, had been recalled and wasn't being sold).

Police distributed a clip of the video and photo stills to news outlets, hoping that someone would identify the man - who appeared to be a member of "The Monster With 21 Faces." Unfortunately, the identity of this man remains unknown today, and he has become known in this case as "the Videotaped Man."

"The Monster With 21 Faces" carried on their one-sided war against Glico until June of 1984, having caused nearly irreparable harm to the company in a very short period of time.

But on June 26th of that year, "The Monster With 21 Faces" seemingly issued a peace treaty, in a letter sent to the press, which was addressed "to our fans throughout Japan." In this letter, the mysterious group announced that they were going to be taking it easy on Glico moving forward.

"The president of Glico has already gone around with his head hanging down long enough. We would like to forgive him."

They then wrote that they had "become bored with this affair," and were heading to Europe to escape the muggy Japanese summer:

"Japan has gotten terribly hot and humid. So when our 'work' is done, we want to go to Europe - Geneva, Paris, London - we'll be in one of those places... Let's bring Pocky - the traveler's friend! Delicious Glico products - we're eating them too! See you in January of next year!"

This turn-of-face shocked police and others involved with the case, as "The Monster With 21 Faces" would make good on their word and move on from targeting Glico. This seemed to have happened with no provocation, as Glico officials denied paying any kind of ransom or giving in to other demands.

However, it quickly became clear that "The Monster With 21 Faces" was nowhere near being done, as they simply turned their attention from Glico to other companies: including rival candy company Morinaga, as well as House Foods Corporation and Marudai Ham.

One of the companies targeted by this mysterious group was named Marudai. Now, this company is known as Marudai Food, which has primarily created meat products such as sausage and ham.

In the weeks prior to ending their feud with Glico, "The Monster With 21 Faces" had begun harassing Marudai. And on the same day that they offered the peace treaty to Glico, they agreed to stop harassing Marudai... if they paid a ransom of 50 million yen (approximately $250,000). If they agreed to these terms, they would be provided with detailed instructions on how to deliver the money two days later, on a train headed from Osaka to Kyoto.

On the day in question - June 28th, 1984 - a police investigator disguised himself as an employee of Marudai Ham. He hopped on the train to Kyoto, where he was to be on the lookout for a white flag hanging outside. As soon as he saw this flag, he was supposed to toss the bag of money he was carrying, where it would then be picked up by a member of "The Monster With 21 Faces."

While riding this northbound train, this undercover police officer noticed a suspicious-looking man, whom he presumed was watching him. He later described this man as being physically large - brawny, almost - with short hair, glasses, and "eyes like those of a fox." He kept a mindful distance to this man, but made a mental note that the man seemed to be eyeing him on the trip to Kyoto, and remained in eyesight of him the entire time.

The police officer waited to see the signal to toss the bag full of money - a white flag outside of the train - but it never came. So he rode the train all the way to Kyoto, and prepared to take the next train back to Osaka. He noticed that "the Fox-Eyed Man" was taking the same train back to Osaka.

After making it back to the Osaka train station, the two got separated, and the investigator dispatched another undercover operative to tail the man - who eventually lost his trail on another Kyoto-bound train.

"The Fox-Eyed Man," as he would later be known, became the public face of "The Monster With 21 Faces," even though he wasn't confirmed as being a member of the group. His actions that day put him on police radar, and - even though he wouldn't be identified - he became the primary suspect that police began looking for.

Following their dispute with Glico, "The Monster With 21 Faces" began to harass other companies - but no company earned as much of their ire as Morinaga, another candy company that was based out of Tokyo.

Letters similar to the ones addressed to Glico were sent to Morinaga, hinting at all kinds of doom-and-gloom. These letters seemed to have been written with the same type - indicating that the same typewriter was being used - and these letters made use of the same grammar and sarcasm, indicating that they came from the Osaka region of Japan.

However, unlike the previous harassing letters, these letters seemed to carry a much more urgent threat. One letter was mailed to a Morinaga office in Osaka, which demanded a ransom payment of approximately $400,000. This letter happened to contain roughly 30 grams of sodium cyanide, a substance that would be incredibly lethal if consumed. This seemed to prove that "The Monster With 21 Faces" was willing to make good on their threats, and made the next several months incredibly painful for Morinaga.

In October of 1984, a letter was sent to several news agencies in Japan, which had been addressed to the "Moms of the Nation." It carried with it a similar message as had been seen months prior, when "The Monster With 21 Faces" had threatened to lace dozens of Glico products:

"To moms throughout Japan: In Autumn, when appetites are strong, sweets are really delicious. When you think sweets - no matter what you say - it's Morinaga. We've added some special flavor. The flavor of potassium cyanide is a little bitter. It won't cause tooth decay, so buy the sweets for your kids. We've attached a notice on these bitter sweets that they contain poison. We've put twenty boxes in stores from Hakata to Tokyo."

Police began to search stores in cities all across Japan, and actually found more than a dozen of the tainted items. The culprits had actually tainted several packages of Morinaga Choco Balls and Angel Pies, and placed them on store shelves in Osaka, Kyoto, and even a department store in Nagoya. At least six of these items had a lethal dose of sodium cyanide, containing roughly 0.2 grams of the substance.

During the extensive search, which involved tens of thousands of police officers, it was discovered that the laced items had been given obvious, typewritten labels, which read:

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

In the coming weeks, more letters would be received, which seemed to hint at a repeat offense. In a follow-up letter, the mysterious extortionists wrote:

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

This time, though, the culprits hinted at the laced packages NOT being labeled, which would make identifying them almost impossible. A similar panic for Morinaga products began to play out as had affected Glico months prior, with the company's candy, biscuits, and cookies being pulled from the shelves and tested for any of trace of cyanide.

That year, Morinaga would experience a roughly 60% dip in sales, which was having a similar effect on their bottom-line as the Glico extortion attempt. Ultimately, Morinaga had to let go of roughly 450 employees, and the stock price dipped so much that the Japanese government had to step in and encourage private investors to buy either Morinaga products or stock to help keep the company afloat.

Months later - in February of 1985 - police would find several more laced Morinaga products in Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Aichi... indicating that "The Monster With 21 Faces" weren't just bluffing anymore. They were prepared to make good on their threats, and were poised to carry on their bizarre campaign well into the new year.

In November of 1984, "The Monster With 21 Faces" had started harassing the House Food Corporation: a company that is mostly known for its curry and tofu products, but also produces snacks, noodles, and soft drinks. One of the first letters to them had read:

"We are the culprits involved in the Glico and Morinaga incidents. If you do not want to become another Glico and Morinaga, put out the cash. If you don't respond, we'll poison your products."

With a letter, the "Monster" had sent out a batch of poisoned curry; which was undoubtedly an ominous warning of what would be distributed by this mysterious group if their demands were not met.

After weeks of harassment, House Foods had decided to pay the ransom of 100 million yen (which was approximately $400,000 to $450,000). They were given directions on how, where, and when to deliver the money, which was going to be dropped off at a location marked by a white cloth on November 14th, 1984. The drop-off location was in Otsu, a populous city in the Shiga Prefecture.

The plan went forward as-planned, and - expectedly - the police were involved. Officers were tailing the van that House Foods employees were using to transport the money, but when the time came for the employees to drop off the money in the garbage can, it was found that the money drop had been called off. The white cloth - which was supposed to be draped over a canister - was laying on the ground, indicating that the deal was off.

However, because of the heightened police presence, investigators were on the lookout for their only known suspect: "the Fox-Eyed Man," who had been described at length by the officers that had previously seen him. In the area of this drop-off location - at a rest stop along the Meishin Expressway, near Otsu - a police officer spotted this individual. But just like his run-in with police, "the Fox-Eyed Man' was able to escape without being detained or identified.

Later, it was learned that a suspicious station wagon had been seen near the drop-off location a short time before the drop. The suspicious vehicle had been idling less than 50 meters away, in fact, about an hour before the drop-off had been arranged. A police officer that was not involved in the undercover operation had approached the vehicle, trying to figure out why they had been loitering for such a long time, and the driver of the station wagon - a thin man estimated to be in his 40's - sped off and quickly lost the pursuing police officers.

Police began looking for the vehicle, and it was later found abandoned a short distance away, in Kusatsu. Investigators learned that the station wagon had actually been stolen from Nagaokakyo, and someone had installed a police radio inside, which had allowed them to listen in on police conversations. This revealed how "The Monster With 21 Faces" always seemed to be a step or two ahead of police, as they were seemingly listening to their conversations as operations unfolded.

Investigators would later speculate that the mysterious group of criminals had never intended to accept the money. Rather, they believe that "The Monster With 21 Faces" had been observing the police to see how they reacted to the situation, and to learn more about the undercover tactics.

Following the close call with police in Shiga Prefecture in November of 1984, "The Monster With 21 Faces" continued to harass House Foods for the next few weeks. Then, in December, they began to take aim at yet another company: Fijiya, a Japanese retail and restaurant chain. Entering 1985, they would begin to steer most of their harassment towards Fujiya, ultimately demanding that the company scatter money from the rooftops of two skyscrapers in Tokyo and Osaka.

In January of 1985, police - having withheld most of the details in this case - decided to publicly release a police sketch of "the Fox-Eyed Man," who had now been encountered near two of the supposed drop-off locations. With him now having been seen by multiple officers, they were able to settle upon a police sketch for him, and he became the second image released by investigators hoping to identify members of this group.

The next month - February 1985 - "The Monster With 21 Faces" continued to target Fujiya and Morinaga, who they had circled back to once again. However, they also began sending threatening letters to two new companies - Meiji and Lotte - and as the candy-centric holiday Valentine's Day approached, officials feared that a second wave of mass poisonings would begin.

Some tainted Morinaga candies were found on shelves, having been laced with cyanide, but - again - the packages were clearly marked and easily identified by authorities.

Over the next several months, investigators continued to hunt for the individuals behind this bizarre gang, who had now been harassing, extorting, and blackmailing companies for over a calendar year. It had already become clear to the public that police were no closer to finding or identifying the members of "The Monster With 21 Faces" than they had been the prior summer, and an editorial in the newspaper Yomiuru Shimbun contained the line:

"We do not recall a case in which criminals have made such fools of the police."

Members of the public, finally having had enough of the troll-like antics of this mysterious terrorist organization, began to heavily scrutinize the police for failing to capture these individuals. As far as everyone else was concerned, the police had not even been able to curtail these bizarre individuals for over a year. Soon enough, there were calls for police officials to step down from their positions or be removed from the case so that others could lead the case to a resolution.

That summer, Shoji Yamamoto - the 59-year-old Police Superintendent of Shiga Prefecture - was relieved of his post and reassigned to the National Police Agency. He had overseen the botched operation in Shiga Prefecture the prior November, when the driver of the stolen station wagon and "the Fox-Eyed Man" had managed to elude officers under his command. Yamamoto had taken that failure personally, and apologized to the public for his officers being unable to detain the individuals.

Following this dismissal, it became clear that this was the biggest failure in Yamamoto's professional career. On August 7th, 1985 - just days after being removed from his position and reassigned - Shoji Yamamoto doused himself in kerosene in his backyard and lit himself on fire. He committed suicide by self-immolation.

Just days later - on August 12th, 1985 - "The Monster With 21 Faces" sent their last known message to the media. In this letter, they pointed out single police officials that had been overseeing the investigation into them, and announced that they were stepping away from their pointless crusade.

"Yamamoto of Shiga Prefecture Police died. How stupid of him! We've got no friends or secret hiding place in Shiga. It's Yoshino or Shikata who should have died. What have they been doing for as long as one year and five months? Don't let bad guys like us get away with it. There are many more fools who want to copy us. No-career Yamamoto died like a man. So we decided to give our condolence(s). We decided to forget about torturing food-making companies. If anyone blackmails any of the food-making companies, it's not us but someone copying us. We are bad guys. That means we've got more to do other than bullying companies. It's fun to lead a bad man's life. Monster with 21 Faces."

And just like that, they were gone.

After this final letter, the entity calling itself "The Monster With 21 Faces" was never heard from again. Other groups would try to harass or humiliate public officials with the same methods - perhaps even attempting to adopt the same moniker - but there were nowhere near as successful or premeditated as their predecessors.

Yet, despite these individuals disappearing, the hunt to identify them would not cease for several years. Following the suicide of Superintendent Shoji Yamamoto, public sentiment had completely turned against "The Monster With 21 Faces" - even among those that had originally admired the group's goals of "sticking it to the man."

Police began leaning on their information they had obtained over the past year-and-a-half; namely, the photographs of the man from the surveillance footage (known as "the Videotaped Man") and the police sketch of "the Fox-Eyed Man." Investigators also released a recording of a phone call made by the mysterious "Monster With 21 Faces," which had been a ransom demand called in by what sounded like a woman and a child. This audio clip was spread by the media in an effort to find someone that identified either voice, either the unknown woman's or the child's.

Police even set up a special phone line, so that people could call in and hear the voices on a prerecorded message. Despite this leading to thousands of tips from the public, it seems like none of the tips lead to a solid suspect or person-of-interest.

Tens of thousands of police officers were ensnared in this hunt; not only detectives trying to figure out the identity of these unknown schemers, but police officers that were tasked with staking out grocery stores and increasing the frequency of their patrols in areas around convenience and department stores. It was estimated that at least a fifth of Japan's entire police force was mobilized to work on this case, in some way, between 1984 and 1985.

One of the major issues when it came to this investigation is that there seemed to be no clear-cut motive. On its surface, it seems like "The Monster With 21 Faces" had been incentivized by ransom to commit the crimes that they did; but at almost every turn, their operatives were not there to collect the ransom.

Naturally, this led police to believe that there might have been an ulterior motive: perhaps a political motive, even. Investigators looked into "The Monster With 21 Faces" being linked to extremists on both the far-left and the far-right, likening this crime spree to a more peaceful version of the campaign waged by Belgium's Brabant Killers during the same time frame, 1982 to 1985. That's another story I covered on this podcast some time back, and - like this group - several theories have been floated about their potential political leanings.

However, other than some mild platitudes released by investigators, it was not believed that this was a political statement being made by extremists on either side (right or left).

Some investigators even believed that this might have been a covert plot put together by the North Korean government, in an effort to destabilize the Japanese economy. Knowing the bizarre and dramatic ways that North Korea has attempted to covertly attack other nations in the past, this would not surprise me; but it doesn't seem like investigators found anything after pursuing this theory.

In the end, police began to consider that "The Monster With 21 Faces" might not have been driven by either financial or political motivations. Perhaps, they were guided by a personal vendetta...

The theory that "The Monster With 21 Faces" had a personal motivation surmised that a member of this group held a grudge against one of the companies they had targeted; likely one of their first two targets, Glico or Morinaga.

Perhaps this was an ex-employee that had been fired by one or both, and wanted to hurt the companies in return. But whoever they were, there seemed to be some kind of personal connection to Glico, as the kidnapping of Glico president Kastuhisa Ezaki seemed incredibly premeditated. In addition, "The Monster With 21 Faces" taunted police about their ability to gain access to Glico building, leaving notes and starting fires on company property.

The main ire of their harassment campaign had been against Glico, and - even though they later changed course to harass Morinaga and other food processing companies - they seemed to have less intimate knowledge of and access to the company. Maybe they pivoted to the other companies in an attempt to blur any possible motivations by specific individuals, trying to obfuscate the course of the investigation.

There are two other theories that I want to discuss, which I personally don't believe have a lot of merit. However, I want to include them because this case has been unsolved for longer than I've been alive, and anything is possible. So here goes.

One theory that I've read goes into the stock prices of the companies affected by "The Monster With 21 Faces," and points out how the stock prices dipped significantly as soon as the mysterious collective began targeting them. However, on at least two occasions, "The Monster With 21 Faces" had chosen to specifically abandon parts of or the entirety of their harassment campaign, leading to the immediate surge in the company's stock prices. Perhaps the people involved were manipulating the market for their own benefit, seizing the opportunity to buy company stock at its lowest point and waiting for the markets to rebound before selling again; continuing this cycle until roughly half-a-dozen food companies had been affected.

Seems a bit crazy, I know, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.

The other theory that I'm hesitant to admit is the possibility that this crime spree is connected to the infamous Yakuza. This theory has actually been publicly speculated by police officials, who looked into this connection pretty early on. At least some investigators believed that groups or factions within the Yakuza had taken part in this endeavor, to either enrich themselves or distract the police.

This theory seems to have been emboldened when - at around the time that "The Monster With 21 Faces" publicly disbanded in August of 1985 - a large conflict within the Yakuza began to spill out of control. Known as the Yama-Ichi War, this bloody conflicted unfolded over more than four years, before finally coming to a close in 1989. The infighting had resulted in literally hundreds of public shootings and dozens of deaths, and resulted in a major overhaul in Yakuza structure and hierarchy.

Like the investigation into political extremism, it is not believed that police found anything when looking into the possible Yakuza connection. However, some ascribe this to the Yama-Ichi War leading to many in the Yakuza turning to police for help, or leaving behind the life of crime forever. Perhaps, if they had been affiliated with "The Monster With 21 Faces," they chose not to reveal their affiliation for fear of retribution by other gang members.

Like I said: both of these theories are a bit out-there, but anything is possible.

In the decades since this bizarre story unfolded, police have only ever publicly named one suspect: a man named Manabu Miyazaki, who was identified by investigators in January of 1985, following the release of "the Fox-Eyed Man" police sketch.

Not only did Miyazaki match the physical description of this man, he also had a personal history that seemed to line up with the motives often ascribed to "The Monster With 21 Faces."

Roughly a decade before the crime spree began - in 1975 and 1976 - Miyazaki had involved in an labor dispute with Glico (the company first targeted by "The Monster"). In addition, he seemed to be at the forefront of numerous whistle-blowing incidents, which pointed out how Glico had been illegally disposing of industrial waste in local bodies of water - which, of course, did nothing to soften his relationship with the company.

It was also learned by police that Manabu Miyazaki's father was a Yakuza boss, which seemed to fit in with the type of criminal association police had attributed to "The Monster With 21 Faces." If the individuals involved weren't in the Yakuza, they likely had some kind of connection to them.

According to police, Miyazaki provided them an airtight alibi for several of the days in which "The Monster With 21 Faces" had interacted with police, and that seemed to clear him of any wrongdoing. However, some believe that he might have acted as an organizer or leader for the mysterious group, which might not have required him to be at specific locations at specific times. Nonetheless, police obtained information that seemed to clear him, and that was that.

Manabu Miyazaki would go on to publish a book about his experience, which is titled "Toppamono." The book dealt primarily with Miyazaki being publicly identified as the only suspect in Japan's most notorious criminal investigation, and the connotations that association would carry in the following months and years.

To this day, the Glico-Morinaga case - as it is known - remains unsolved, with police officially closing their investigation years ago, due to Japan's statute of limitations. The kidnapping and assault case of Katsuhisa Ezaki expired in March of 1994, and the charges for attempted murder/mass poisoning lapsed in February of 2000.

Police worked against the clock in the final year of the millennium to bring some kind of resolution to this case, dedicating a continued investigative front, thousands of man hours, and even pleas to the public in an effort to help wrap up the investigation. At one point, it was even estimated that more than a million police officers had worked on the case in some capacity or another over the years, chasing down more than 28,000 tips and investigating roughly 125,000 persons-of-interest.

Yet, the individuals who called themselves "The Monster With 21 Faces" have never come forward or expressed any guilt for their actions; possibly because the self-immolation of Police Superintendent Shoji Yamamoto seemed to turn public sentiment against them, and - in the eyes of Japan - their actions had led to the death of a career lawman. Even if their intentions were pure, there was no way that an association to "The Monster With 21 Faces" could be construed as anything but harmful. Perhaps even unintentionally, they had led to a man's death.

The case was officially closed on February 13th, 2000, when the statute of limitations officially expired. The week prior, a press conference had been held at the National Police Agency headquarters, and an NPA official named Yuji Aiura admitted "defeat" at the hands of this mysterious cabal - who had stumped investigators for over 15 years.

Setsuo Tanaka, an NPA Chief, also spoke during this conference, stating:

"It is extremely regrettable that we could not apprehend [the] suspects. It is indispensable that we make this an important lesson for our future investigations."

Katsuhisa Ezaki, the man whose kidnapping had jump-started this investigation back in 1984, was also present at this press conference. He was still the president of the company he inherited, which was now just known as "Glico," having dropped his family surname from the brand-name in the years since. He did not believe that "The Monster With 21 Faces" had personally targeted either him or his company, but - rather - were trying to make a statement... a statement that, decades later, is still unknown.

Today, even if the individuals behind "The Monster With 21 Faces" were to be identified or come forward, there is nothing that can be done to prosecute them. Like I explained, the statute of limitations expired roughly 20 years ago, yet their identities and motivations remain a mystery to the world at-large.

To this day, the individuals belonging to "The Monster With 21 Faces" remain unknown, and the affair known as the "Glico-Morinaga Incident" remains unresolved.


Episode Information

Episode Information

Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan

Producers: Ben Krokum, Quil Carter, Laura Hannan, Astrid Kneier, Katherine Vatalaro, Damion Moore, Amy Hampton Miller, Timothy Stratton, Scott Meesey, Steven Wilson, Sara Willemsen, Scott Patzold, Marie Vanglund, and Kathy Marie

Published on June 2nd, 2019

Music Credits

Sara Afonso - "Underwater 03"

Kai Engel - "Touch the Darkness"

ROZKOL - "Slow Muties"

ROZKOL - "Faces to the Sky"

Mystery Mammal - "Leer"

ROZKOL - "Chase Scene"

Xenojam - "Abduction"

Graham Bole - "Lurking"

Sergey Cheremisinov - "Sleepwalker III"

Forlon - "Roembden Crater"

Other music created and composed by Ailsa Traves

Sources and further reading

Wikipedia - The Monster With 21 Faces

Wikipedia - Glico Morinaga Case

Wikipedia - Manabu Miyazaki

UPI - “Kidnapped executive escapes”

The New York Times - “The Great Candy Caper Leaves All Japan Atwitter”

The New York Times - “Poisoned Candy Found On Japanese Store Shelves”

The New York Times - “Police In Japan: Badges Have Lost Their Sparkle”

UPI - “Head of cyanide-candy investigation commits suicide”

The Japan Times - “Clock ticking on Glico-Morinaga cases”

The Japan Times - “NPA admits defeat on Glico-Morinaga case”

BNet - “16-year police probe of Glico-Morinaga case to end” (Archived Version)

Atlas Obscura - “The 1980s Crime Ring That Poisoned Japan’s Candy And Never Got Caught”

The Burlington Daily Times - “Blackmailers in Japan using poisoned candy” (October 8th, 1984)

The New Mexican - “Employees, families search stores for tainted candy” (October 14th, 1984)

The Santa Ana Orange County Register - “New Japanese candymaker threat” (October 25th, 1984)

The Galveston Daily News - “Poison plotter frustrate Japanese police” (December 15th, 1984)

The Paris News - “‘Man with 21 Faces’ baffles Japanese police” (December 23rd, 1984)

European Stars & Stripes - “Japanese candy makers receive more warnings from extortionists” (January 18th, 1985)

The Huntington Daily News - “Japanese gang poisons valentine candy” (February 13th, 1985)

The Defiance Crescent News - “Police super commits suicide” (August 8th, 1985)