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December 11, 2020

December 10, 1968: The Greatest Bank Heist in Japanese History, the Perpetrator Was Never Found to This Day

On the morning of December 10, 1968, four Kokubunji branch employees of the Nihon Shintaku Ginko (Nippon Trust Bank) transported 294,307,500 yen (about $817,520 at 1968 or $6.2 million today) in the trunk of a company car. The metal boxes contained bonuses for the employees of Toshiba’s Fuchu factory. They were stopped in the street next to Tokyo FuchÅ« Prison by a young uniformed officer on a police motorcycle. The police officer informed them that their branch manager’s house had been blown up, and they had received a warning that dynamite had been planted in the transport car. The four employees exited the vehicle while the officer crawled under the car to locate the bomb. Moments later, the employees noticed smoke and flames under the car as the officer rolled out, shouting that it was about to explode. When the employees retreated to the prison walls, the police officer got into the car and drove away.

Police officers inspecting a motorcycle, which was used for Japan’s biggest ever cash heist.

It was later determined that the bank employees believed the fake officer because the bank manager had been receiving bomb threats with some rumored to contain demands for 300 million yen. The fire under the car was revealed to be a warning flare. There were 120 pieces of evidence gathered from the crime scene including the motorcycle which had been stolen and painted white. It was determined most of this evidence was intended to confuse police.

The prime suspect was a 19 year old man who was the son of a local motorcycle police officer. The man died of potassium cyanide poisoning just a 5 days after the robbery. His father had purchased the pills. The man had no alibi for the robbery but the money was not found after his death, which was ruled a suicide. His father insisted he was innocent and he was subsequently cleared of charges.

A massive police investigation was launched, posting 780,000 montage pictures throughout Japan. The list of suspects included 110,000 names, and 170,000 policemen participated in the investigation — the largest investigation in Japanese history.

Another suspect was a 26 year old man arrested on an unrelated charge who was found to match the composite sketch of the fake police officer. He was released because he had been taking a proctored exam at the time of the crime.

The 300 million yen robber.

A friend of the 19-year-old suspect was arrested on an unrelated charge on November 15, 1975 with a large amount of money. He was 18 years old when the robbery occurred. He could not provide an explanation for the money but police were unable to prove it was from the robbery.

In 1998 Japanese magazine Shukan Hoseki claimed to have solved the crime saying that they found the alleged thief, 55-year old Yuji Ogata, through the existence of a 500-yen note that Ogata supposedly gave to a 10-year old boy for “good luck” back in 1968. Ogata openly admitted that he and a cohort were able to sneak the money past police roadblocks using a light truck transporting glass panes. Soon afterward they fled to opposite ends of the country. The validity of this story has been questioned by a number of other newspapers citing the lack of evidence for Ogata’s involvement. Ogata’s own wife has called him a “windbag” who likes to make up stories. A number of his family members also remember Ogata attempting to borrow money from them shortly after the robbery.

The seven-year investigation offered few answers, and in December 1975, the statute of limitations on the crime passed without an arrest. As of 1988, the thief has also been relieved of any civil liabilities, allowing him to tell his story without fear of legal repercussions. He has yet to come forward.


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