The Creepy True Story Of Japan's Twitter Serial Killer
A three-year-old criminal case wrapped up last month in Japan, and it was a dark one. It combines murder, suicide, sexual assault, and Twitter. Proceed forward with care. The following tale is graphic and disturbing and should not be read, well, by anyone.
You Wouldn't Think It, But This Is The Scariest Twitter Page Of All Time
In October 2017, Aiko Tamura went missing from where she was living outside of Tokyo. Her brother filed a report with the police and followed a few leads of his own without success. Then he looked at her Twitter account and saw she'd been in touch with someone he didn't recognize. The Twitter user's page looked like this:
If your first reaction on seeing that is "Ew, an anime profile pic, major red flag," that's unfair. That's just a drawing of the user, Takahiro Shiraishi, and this is the message pinned to the top of the page:
"People are bullied all the time at school and work," wrote Shiraishi. "And when you can't handle the places you go every day and the people there, that'll push you further and further mentally. I think lots of people are suffering and attempting suicide, even if the news isn't covering it. I want to help these people. #suicide"
Seems like a positive message, one that might have helped Aiko, who had been depressed. The rest of the page mostly just retweets cute animals, but here's one more tweet from Shiraishi himself:
"Is briquette suicide easy?" he asks. "People often ask me, but it's hard to say for sure. People imagine dying in their sleep, but that might not happen, thanks to nausea and carbon monoxide poisoning. Your brain might get damaged seriously, though. And permanently."
That one might confuse you if you've never heard of charcoal-burning suicide, but that's an established suicide method that's become a lot more common in the last couple decades in Japan. The idea is to burn charcoal in an enclosed space to produce enough carbon monoxide to kill oneself painlessly. By pointing out that this method may fail but may leave you permanently brain-damaged, Shiraishi seems to advise suicidal people not to kill themselves after all.
Here's a closer look at that profile pic:
The avatar wears a noose, has rope marks on his neck, and has cut his wrist. "I want to spread the knowledge of hanging myself," he says, "I want to help those who are really struggling. Please feel free to contact me via DM." The Twitter handle is "@hangingpro," and the name translates as "the hangman," or possibly "the hanging man."
Giving Shiraishi the benefit of the doubt, this is someone who tried hanging himself and is now using social media to share his story, to help other people decide against suicide. But Aiko's brother realized, correctly, that the messages could also mean something very different.
Takahiro Shiraishi Used Twitter To Lure In Suicidal Victims
Aiko's mother had died the previous June. The 23-year-old moved into a group home in a suburb of Tokyo, and she became depressed. She tweeted, "I'm looking for someone who will die with me." Shiraishi DM'd her, saying, "Let's die together."
Shiraishi's account has now been suspended. If you know anyone suspended by Twitter, they likely strongly object to how the service treated them, but we would have to say Shiraishi's ranks among Twitter's more justified suspensions. When the full details of his murders became known, Twitter announced that there is no way to catch people like Shiraishi in real time, but they added a new rule (not in response to the case, they claimed): "You may not promote or encourage suicide or self-harm."
Hunting through Twitter's archives, it's still possible to see a few people who communicated with The Hanged Man. "Don't get hit by a car," offered one user, who's still active today. Another user only posted on one day in October 2017. "16 years old. I want to die soon," says her profile, and she replies to Shiraishi about failing to hang herself. She might be one of his victims. Or maybe this is another of his alt accounts.
Shiraishi operated at least two Twitter accounts. Besides "The Hangman," he used one called "I Want To Die" -- which raised no eyebrows on Twitter, where at least half of all people have posted about wanting to die, jokingly or otherwise. He used both to connect with suicidal Twitter users, to meet and kill them. Sometimes, he used the hashtag #SuicideRecruitment to get people's attention. Other times, he sought victims out directly. "I want to forget everything," he posted on August 25, using his suicidal persona. "I want to disappear." Then the murders began.
When Aiko's brother saw Shiraishi's page in October, he tipped off the police. They didn't have any easy way of identifying who was behind the anonymous page, but they went through what Shiraishi had posted publicly to find another woman he'd been talking to online. This woman, who it turned out had once met the man in person, agreed to set up a more intimate meeting, with herself as bait.
On Halloween, this woman met Takahiro Shiraishi at a train station, while police watched the pair from a distance. Together, she and he went to his apartment. That was how police found Shiraishi's murder house.
The House Of Horrors
We've told you about a few different serial killer homes over the years. Shiraishi's Zama city apartment stands among them in terms of horror and handily beats them all in terms of horror per square foot. At 145 square feet, it wasn't the roomiest place to live, but it's not bad for $250 a month just an hour out of Tokyo.
Police knocked on the door of the apartment just after Shiraishi and the woman entered it. They asked him if he knew where Aiko was. The man pointed to the side of him and said, "In that cooler."
There was indeed a cooler on the floor, and when police opened it, they found Aiko's head. Elsewhere in the tiny apartment, they found eight other heads. They also found other body parts, including arms and legs, containing a total of 240 bones. We actually slightly altered the diagram above of the apartment -- in the original illustration, the eight orange cubes are clearly labeled "boxes containing human remains."
"I disposed of their flesh and internal organs like garbage," Shiraishi would later explain, "but kept their bones out of fear that I would be caught." In hindsight, neighbors in the block of twelve apartments would say that they did find it odd how often he kept going to their shared garbage chute. Shiraishi covered the body parts with kitty litter to absorb odors, with limited success. Neighbors noticed a "pungent" smell coming out of the bathroom exhaust fan, which he left on constantly.
Also in the apartment, police found a saw, knives, scissors, rope, and an awl, all bloodstained. They arrested Takahiro Shiraishi, initially charging him with "abandoning bodies." It seemed fairly likely, though, that they'd soon be able to charge him with more.
He Drugged And Choked Nine People Here
In the months that followed, the media would piece together the history of the 27-year-old killer. His childhood seemed unremarkable, with the one interesting fact being that he used to play "the choking game" with friends, where guys squeeze each other's necks for the fun of passing out and reviving. Most kids tire of the novelty after the first few times. Shiraishi apparently preferred the choking to being choked, as he would go on to choke nine people to death.
After high school, Shiraishi tried a bunch of odd jobs then found himself working in Kabukicho, a red-light district of Tokyo. His job was to recruit women into sex work. Other scouts warned that he was creepy and you have to watch out for him, and that says a lot, coming from other sex-trade scouts. He got arrested once for his scout work. A month after that, according to his father, he said he saw no meaning in life.
In August 2017, he started pursuing victims. The first time a woman agreed to meet him for a drink, her boyfriend came along, which disappointed him. Later, though, she agreed to come to his place alone. After he choked her then hanged her till she was dead, it took him three days to dismember the body. Her boyfriend later came by, asking about her disappearance. Shiraishi killed him too, and dismembered him, working more quickly this time. Shiraishi texted an ex, "I have killed a hostess who said she wanted to die." She assumed he was joking.
He contacted more women with plans to assist them in killing themselves, and he anticipated that each might think better once they actually met. To keep her from backing out (he'd later tell police), he'd meet her at a train station close to where she lived then traveled with her to his apartment. Inside, he gave her a drink that he said was to help her to relax and actually had enough tranquilizers to knock her out. He did this so she wouldn't struggle when he choked her and also so he could rape her unimpeded while she was still alive.
He killed nine people in a little over two months. The oldest was 26, four were teenagers, three in high school, one 15. He did this for the sex, he'd later say, and also for money. He stole $4,400 from one victim, though undisclosed means.
Related: What To Do With 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'
The case captured major attention in Japan. It combined something rather uncommon in Japan (violent crime) with something far too common (suicide). Japan's reputation for frequent suicides, however, may be outdated and based on stats a couple decades old. While still high for a developed country, Japan's suicide rate is currently only a little bit above America's -- and if you look at just men, America's is actually higher than Japan.
Though it soon became clear that Shiraishi killed all nine victims, his lawyers argued that he should not be convicted of homicide. Instead, they said he was guilty of "murder with consent," which carried a maximum penalty of seven years. His victims had all wanted to die, they noted. Even if Japan doesn't allow euthanasia, except under special circumstances that didn't apply in these cases, surely murder should be treated differently when a victim requests it.
There was at least one problem with this argument, however. Shiraishi himself said the victims didn't want to die. "There were bruises on the back of the victims' heads," he told a newspaper. "It means there was no consent and I did it so that they wouldn't resist." Meanwhile, his lawyers went on arguing that any signs of struggle that medical examiners observed were just "conditional reflexes."
The court passed its sentence last month. They reserved 16 seats for members of the public. Four hundred showed up. Shiraishi was found guilty, unsurprisingly. And he had a chance to express a certain amount of sorrow for his actions. "I am sorry for having killed some of the victims, with whom I spent a lot of time, and would like to apologize to these families," he said. "But for the others, I don't really feel a deep sense of regret. In any case, I am sorry only because I failed when I got caught. If I wasn't arrested, I will not be regretting anything."
Now He Awaits Execution
Shiraishi was sentenced to the death penalty, which Japan administers using the gallows. He says he won't appeal. The hanged man will hang.
That's really the end of his story. But a newspaper, The Mainichi, landed an interview with him a little after he received his sentence, and it contains a couple nuggets that might interest you. Currently, Takahiro Shiraishi says he's looking to get married. He doesn't have a bride picked out yet, but he knows that serial killers are the objects of irrational affection and he can expect a lovelorn woman to come forward. He has to be savvy, though. He suspects that a couple of the women already in touch with him might just be more reporters looking for a story.
A wife would be useful "in case I did get lonely," says Shiraishi, trailing off. He does not feel lonely yet. A wife could also "bring me things."
The reporter interviewing him notes that Shiraishi seems incapable of empathy. Shiraishi agrees.
"I might have told you this before," he says, "but the police officer who interrogated me said the same thing. He was like, 'If you'd been a surgeon or a rescue worker, maybe you'd have been a big success.' So I think it's like a gift. I had that kind of gift."
This might be a good time to cleanse your brains with video of a dog meeting a dolphin ...
... but you might enjoy that video less when you learn Shiraishi's profile also shared it, to disarm targets so he could trap and kill them.