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April 2, 2012
Sadamichi Hirasawa poisoned 16 people for the equivalent of a few hundred pounds in cash. Or did he?
by Robert Walsh
Just before closing time at the Teigin Bank in the suburbs of Tokyo, on January 26th, 1948, a nondescript and middle-aged man walked in through the front entrance. He was later identified, possibly incorrectly, as artist Sadamichi Hirasawa, but claimed to be Dr. Jiro Yamaguchi and had a business card to prove it. He left less than an hour later, but what happened between his arrival and departure was to shock the whole Japanese nation and reverberate through the Japanese courts for decades to come.
The man identifying himself as Dr.Yamaguch arrived wearing an armband bearing the label “Metropolitan Office, City Hall of Tokyo,” carrying a medical bag over his shoulder. He explained that dysentery had broken out in the area and that he had been sent to vaccinate the bank’s staff. Tokyo having been very heavily bombed during the later stages of World War II meant that dysentery (and other diseases) could still pose serious public health problems and, the Japanese being a people usually deferential to and respectful of authority figures, the bank staff both believed and obeyed him implicity. None of them suspected, even slightly, that Dr. Yamaguchi wasn’t who he claimed to be.
Most of them would pay for this trust with their lives.