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The Glico-Morinaga Incident: Japan’s Greatest Unsolved Mystery

The Glico-Morinaga Incident

“The Man with 21 Faces” or “The Glico – Morinaga Case” was a famous extortion case from 1984 to 1985 in Japan, primarily directed at the Japanese industrial confectioneries of Ezaki Glico and Morinaga. The case remains unsolved to this date.

Ezaki Glico Co., Ltd. a Japanese food company headquartered in Nishiyodogawa-ku, Osaka, does business across 30 countries in North America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe.

Back in 1984, the company sold everything from ice cream to hamburger meat but was most famous for its sweets – Pucchin Puddings, Pocky chocolate, and Glico caramels, all made with health-boosting oyster glycogen.

The company was doing great, but no one could ever imagine what the year 1984 had in store for its future.

What started on March 18, 1984, hasn’t finished even today.

At 9 p.m. on March 18, 1984, masked men wearing capes invaded the house of Katsuhisa Ezaki, the then president of Ezaki Glico, and abducted him.

Katsuhisa Ezaki
Katsuhisa Ezaki. Image credits: Glico.com

The masked men had first invaded the house next to Ezaki’s where his mother resided to steal the keys to Ezaki’s house. Ezaki was enjoying a bath with his two children when the men invaded.

At first, he thought it was a burglary but realized soon enough that it wasn’t when he was dragged out of his home and abducted. He tried to call for help, but his abductors were two steps ahead of him. They had already tied up Ezaki’s wife and children and even his mother who lived next door.

They had cut the phone lines of the house too. They put him in a van and took him to an isolated warehouse in Ibraki. While he was abducted, his abductors got to business. They called the director of the company and demanded one million yen and 100 kilograms of gold bars in exchange for the release of the company’s president.

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The plans of the abductors were put to an end when two days into captivity, Ezaki managed to escape. Everyone hoped that all this would end with the abductors being caught and put behind bars. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Then, newspaper offices all across Japan started receiving copies of a peculiar letter. It was addressed to the police.

Newspaper offices all across Japan
Newspaper offices all across Japan started receiving copies of a peculiar letter.

Three weeks after Ezaki returned, six vehicles in front of the Glico headquarters were set on fire. Six days later, a jug of hydrochloric acid and a threatening note addressed to Ezaki were found at the warehouse in Ibaraki, the location where Ezaki had been held captive.

Then, newspaper offices all across Japan started receiving copies of a peculiar letter. It was addressed to the police, taunting them that if they were pros they would have caught the abductors by now.

They poked even more fun at them by continuing to offer hints about the crime: the getaway car was gray, the food they purchased was from Daiei Supermarket. The strange letter was signed kaijin nijuichi menso, which roughly translates to “The Monster with 21 Faces.” The newspapers published the letter.

May 10, 1984, would be the world’s first introduction to a mysterious villain who called himself “The Monster with 21 Faces.” As anthropologist Marilyn Ivy explains in Tracking the Mystery Man with 21 Faces, the gang named themselves after “The Fiend with 20 Faces” a villainous, shape-shifting thief invented by popular detective novelist, Edogawa Rampo.

People in every neighborhood would talk about the mystery man with the 20 faces just as naturally as if they would talk about the weather.

Over the next few months, they published the first letter’s follow-ups, too: there were dozens of them, filled with taunts, jokes, and more useless clues, mostly to poke fun at the poor functioning ability of the police.

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Then one day the abductor contacted the police directly to let them know that Glico candies laced with cyanide had been placed on store shelves. Glico immediately recalled all of its candy and tested it. All of it tested negative, but now it was too late to restore Glico’s reputation. 

Glico products
Glico products display on the store shelf. Image credits: TY Lim/Shutterstock.com

This meant the loss of  21 million dollars for Glico and 450 workers being fired. The company’s assets plunged, and they had to lay off one thousand workers. Glico was in an appalling state. There were no leads. No one had any clue on how to catch the gang, and then suddenly out of nowhere came to a letter that would bring Glico some relief.

On June 26th, a letter was sent claiming “The president of Glico has already gone around with his head hanging down long enough. We would like to forgive him.” Finally, they made a promise: “Japan has gotten terribly hot and humid, so when our ‘work’ is done, we want to go to Europe.

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!”

But to everyone’s regret, the Mystery Man returned long before that.

In September, The Mystery man called up another long-standing food company – Morinaga. Their products include candy and other confectioneries. They demanded four hundred thousand dollars. When Morinaga did not comply, they sent another letter to all the mothers of Japan.

Candy store
Image credits: Sun_Shine/Shutterstock.com

The letter looked something like this:

“To moms throughout Japan:
In autumn, when appetites are strong, sweets are really delicious.
When you think of 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 bittersweets that they contain poison. We’ve put twenty boxes in stores from Hakata to Tokyo.”

The police found boxes of Morinaga Choco Balls and Angel Pies with extra labels “Danger – contains poison. You’ll die if you eat this. Signed as ‘The mystery man with 21 faces.”  To everyone’s horror this time, the candy actually did test positive for cyanide.

This led to an immediate 22 cent drop in Morinaga’s stock. Further letters promised that if supermarkets didn’t immediately begin boycotting Morinaga, future boxes would appear, this time unlabeled.

This led to huge losses which were not only monetary but also in terms of reputation. The Mystery Man kept on sending mockery letters and kept demanding money from other food companies.

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On August 7th, a real tragedy struck Japan. Facing huge pressure from the public and blaming himself and his subordinates for failing to capture the Mystery Man during the stakeout, Superintendent Yamamoto of the Shiga Prefecture Police doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire. 

Superintendent Yamamoto
Superintendent Yamamoto of the Shiga Prefecture Police doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire.

This shocked everybody.

This was too much even for the Monster with 21 Faces, who sent out his last letter five days later and ceased all known activity. This letter read as follows:

“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 decide to give our condolences. We decided to forget about torturing food companies.

If anyone blackmails any of the food-making companies, it’s not us but someone copying us. 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.”

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Nobody was ever arrested for the crimes committed by the Mystery Man but there was one man who showed up in a recording of a security camera. He was known as the “Videotaped Man.”

Monster with 21 faces
An artist’s sketch of the Fox Eyed Man (right) and a videotaped man.

He was wearing a Yomiuri Giants Baseball Cap and could be seen placing a Glico chocolate on a store shelf right around the time people received threats about cyanide laced chocolates.

When the police sent one of their own to exchange 50 million yen in place of a Marudai employee a man was traced. As the undercover policeman was riding the train to the drop point he noticed a large, well–built man with eyes like that of a fox acting suspiciously.

They called him “The Fox-Eyed Man”. They tailed him from the train but lost him. In the money exchange with House Food Corporation, “The Fox-Eyed Man” reappeared but eluded the police again.

Since then the “Glico-Morinaga Case” or as it is less known by its official name “Metropolitan Designated Case 114,” was officially closed.

The Mystery Man lives on in the minds that recall their missives, in hands that hesitate before reaching for a piece of Pocky. As they wrote in one of their letters once:

“Who are we? Sometimes a policeman, sometimes a violent gang Sometimes a factory hand, sometimes a kidnapper but our true identity is The Mystery Man with the 21 Faces!”

And that is all that we may ever know. The odds are that this case will never truly be solved. The bad guys did get away with it this time. And what do we know; the Mystery Man with 21 Faces might just be sitting on the couch in his home right now reading this article just as you are.

[Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4]

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