'The Monster With 21 Faces' Terrorized Japan For A Year With Poison Candy And Taunting Notes

Every Halloween, parents warn their children not to eat candy from strangers before they inspect it. Though most stories about criminals who poison candy turn out to be hoaxes or parents who tried to intentionally harm their own children, for a year and a half in the '80s, the very real threat of cyanide-laced treats struck terror in the hearts of the Japanese public. 

A group or person who called themselves "The Monster With 21 Faces" menaced Japan with taunting letters sent to the police and media outlets. The nightmare started in 1984 when the Monster captured the president of Ezaki Glico, a company known for its sweets, and threatened to contaminate its products. After causing serious financial damage to Glico, the mysterious figure set their sights on another candy conglomerate, Morinaga, and this time placed boxes of cyanide-laced candy on store shelves.

The Japanese National Police Agency never caught the Monster, and the statute of limitations on the case has expired.

  • The President Of Ezaki Glico Was Kidnapped In 1984
    Photo: Bakkai - Bakkai撮影<レタッチ済> / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

    The President Of Ezaki Glico Was Kidnapped In 1984

    The Monster With 21 Faces began their reign of terror when they allegedly kidnapped the president of Ezaki Glico on March 18, 1984. Katsuhisa Ezaki arrived home from work and was taking a hot bath when he heard a commotion. Armed men broke into his home and terrorized his family before kidnapping him.

    The assailants took Ezaki to a remote warehouse. They left a ransom note demanding 1 billion yen (around $4.3 million at the time) and 220 pounds of gold bullion from the company for his release. Ezaki managed to escape his captors a few days after they picked him up.

  • A Camera Caught A Suspect Putting Packages Of Cyanide-Laced Candy On Shelves

    After the kidnapping of Ezaki Glico's president, the Monster set cars on fire at the company's headquarters. They also began sending taunting letters to the police via the press. The Monster claimed to have laced boxes of Glico candy with cyanide. Glico recalled all their products to test for toxins, but the results came back negative.

    On October 8, 1984, authorities received another letter in which the Monster threatened to distribute packages of substance-laced candy. However, this time the Monster followed through. One supermarket camera caught an unknown man stocking shelves. The man, who did not work at the store, had curly hair under a baseball cap and wore glasses.

    When police swept supermarkets, they found labels on boxes of cyanide-laced candy that read: "Danger, contains poison. You'll die if you eat this. The mystery man with 21 faces."

  • The Monster With 21 Faces Addressed The Authorities Directly
    Photo: Janine from Mililani, Hawaii, United States / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    The Monster With 21 Faces Addressed The Authorities Directly

    The Monster sent letters to the police and the media containing details about the crimes. They described the kind of getaway car they used to kidnap the Ezaki Glico president, the model of typewriter they used to write the letters, and how they entered the candy factory prior to setting vehicles on fire in the parking lot.

    The Monster eventually moved their sights to Morinaga & Company, another candy manufacturer. In October 1984, the Monster sent the media letters addressed to "moms throughout Japan." They claimed they had placed cyanide-laced boxes of Morinaga candy on store shelves - police eventually found 21.

  • Undercover Officers Attempted To Catch The Monster During Ransom Exchanges

    In addition to taunting Morinaga, the Monster began harassing companies House Food and Marudai Ham with letters demanding ransom money. In June 1984, Marudai agreed to pay 50 million yen. A police officer attempted to make the exchange, but the transaction was never completed and a potential suspect got away.

    When House Food decided to pay 100 million yen in November 1984, authorities staked out the drop. The company arranged to leave the money at a rest stop off the Meishin Expressway in Shiga Prefecture. Police spotted a suspect and attempted to trail his vehicle. They lost the suspect, but found his stolen car. Inside was a scanner the suspect had used to listen in on the police and avoid capture.

  • A Composite Sketch Led To A Suspect, But He Had An Alibi

    In January 1985, police released a sketch based on the man who had been seen by undercover officers during ransom payment attempts. Authorities took Miyazaki Manabu into custody and questioned him based on his resemblance to the sketch.

    Manabu had tangled with Ezaki Glico in 1975 and 1976 when he exposed the company dumped industrial waste in Osaka. Police also believed an audio tape of Manabu from 1976 revealed speech patterns similar to linguistic patterns identified in the Monster's letters.

    But in the end, Manabu had alibis for all the crimes, and authorities released him.

  • The Case's Lead Police Superintendent Took His Own Life

    Superintendent Shoji Yamamoto of the Shiga Prefecture police became despondent after his department failed to solve the crimes. Reassigned from his position due to his inability to find the Monster With 21 Faces, Yamamoto died by self-immolation on August 7, 1985.

    The Monster responded a few days later with a final letter that concluded:

    No-career Yamamoto died like a man. So we decided to give our condolence. 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.