The following is a chapter from the book “Murderous Minds: 30 Stories of Real-Life Murderers That Escaped the Headlines”.
Dr. Michael Stone, best known for a scale he developed to measure “gradations of evil,” studied the case of Tsutomu Miyazaki, known as the “Otaku Murderer,” and his results were surprising.
Stone’s scale, patterned after Dante’s levels of hell, is comprised of twenty-two levels, beginning with one—Least Evil—and ending with twenty-two—Most Evil.
Ted Bundy, arguably one of the most notorious serial killers and sadistic individuals of all time, was ranked by Dr. Stone as seventeen. Miyazaki, the myopic misanthrope, who spent much of his time immersed in a fantasy world of manga and horror flicks, was ranked just below Bundy as sixteen. When police searched Miyazaki’s room following his arrest, they were amazed to find an extensive collection of VHS tapes, many of a pornographic nature, numbering in the thousands. Many Japanese, already worried by loners such as Miyazaki, who spent most, if not all of their free time watching videos of a sexually violent nature, lobbied for a ban of such materials, fearing more crimes would follow.
When details of Miyazaki’s crimes hit the news, The New York Times described them as completely “un-Japanese,” but the perpetrator was very much Japanese.
Individuals who refer to themselves as otaku are not necessarily antisocial because they detest society, but because they have a fear of socializing with others. Socializing is primarily confined to computers, with otaku friendships of several years never advancing to a stage where individuals meet in real life: simply no desire to do so.
Several members of the otaku community were outraged at Miyazaki being labeled as “otaku” by the press, stating that because Miyazaki made a conscious choice to leave his home in order to hunt victims, he should not be considered otaku. Otaku only venture out when absolutely necessary, for work or school, and readily admit they do not seek out sexual partners.
Sexually stimulating literature and media are used to masturbate to, and when asked how they will go about producing future generations if no one chooses to copulate, in true otaku fashion, they answer that technology will develop a solution to that problem. “Otaku,” or not, Tsutomu Miyazaki was a depraved killer whose twisted desires matched his twisted limbs.
Born August 21, 1962, Tsutomu Miyazaki was a small, premature child with a deformity that would forever cause him to be ostracized. His hands were fused to his wrists, which caused him to have to turn his entire arm just to rotate his hand. His hands also appeared gnarled, deformed, and overall strange-looking.
It came out during his trial that he was not his mother’s biological son; in fact, he was the product of an incestuous relationship between his father and his father’s sister, which resulted in a pregnancy. Perhaps this explains his deformities, but, regardless, it still caused other children to shy away from him and to bully him once he entered elementary school.
Miyazaki was additionally nervous trying to get to know other children because he realized how disturbed others were by his hands. His insecurity, coupled with the other children’s actions towards him, caused him to keep to himself and have no friends. Even his sisters tended to keep away from him, just as repulsed by his birth defect.
He attended high school in Nanako, Tokyo, where he was still cold-shouldered by the other students. Once more, he mostly kept to himself, which allowed him plenty of time to focus on his studies. Subsequently, he was a star student for a while. Then, he began to lose focus. This likely marked the point when he began to immerse himself fully in his fantasy world, losing sight of any aspirations he may have harbored for the real world.
His grades dropped dramatically, and he gave up on his dream to study English and become a teacher. When Miyazaki graduated, he ranked forty out of fifty-six in his class. Because of this low placement, he was not given the customary admission to Meiji University. Instead, he went to a local junior college and studied to become a photo technician.
Miyazaki moved back into his parents’ house in the mid-1980s. He shared a room with his oldest sister. His father owned a newspaper company and his family was very important in Itsukaichi, where they lived. Miyazaki’s father wanted him to take over the business, but Miyazaki adamantly opposed this. Miyazaki continued to isolate himself. He was a loner not only among his peers, but among his family, as well. His younger sisters were still ashamed of him. Miyazaki struggled with the emotions that came with this and expressed later that he truly desired “being listened to about [his] problems.” However, he thought his parents “would not have heard [him]; [he] would have been ignored.” He also stated that at this point, he began to contemplate suicide.
Though he felt rejected by his family, Miyazaki found solace in his grandfather. He felt his grandfather truly supported him and felt that he could always go to his grandfather for guidance. However, in May 1988, his grandfather passed away, shattering his world and his already damaged psyche. Miyazaki went so far as to eat his grandfather’s ashes after he had been cremated, in an attempt to “retain something from him.”
Further proving how he had lost touch with reality, a few weeks later, his sister caught him watching her while she took a shower. Miyazaki attacked her when she demanded that he leave. When his mother found out and confronted him about the matter, he attacked her as well.
Miyazaki kept even more to himself and began collecting gory films, pornographic anime, child pornography, and adult magazines. He began to attend his college’s tennis matches, not because he was interested in the sport, but so he could take photos up the women’s skirts. He would use these photos to masturbate. He had a high libido, but that was coupled with being too self-conscious to speak to women his own age or older.
A high school classmate was asked to comment on what Miyazaki had been like in school and ended up divulging that Miyazaki had confided in him he had a small penis, which caused his insecurity and prevented him from approaching girls. The classmate went on to say he had always believed Miyazaki had an inferiority complex. Perhaps his inability to socialize with women his own age, combined with his high libido, was part of the reason why Miyazaki took advantage of little girls. He progressed quickly from avidly watching child pornography, which was legal in Japan at the time, to actively preying on children.
It was August 22, 1988. Miyazaki had celebrated his 26th birthday the prior day. That afternoon, four-year-old Mari Konno left her family’s apartment in Saitama to play at a friend’s house. A Nissan pulled up just as she left the apartment complex and a man got out of it. He convinced the girl to get in the car with him, then drove off. He ended up in a wooded area, under a bridge westward of Tokyo. He sat with Mari for half an hour before finally strangling her, then having sex with her corpse. He left her small, lifeless body in the hills near his home, but took her clothes home with him.
By that evening, when Mari had not returned home, her father, panic-stricken, called the police to report her missing. Despite all their efforts, Mari’s body was not found. Miyazaki later returned to the crime scene, where Mari’s corpse had been decomposing. He took her hands and feet, which he hid in his closet. He took the rest of her skeleton, save for her teeth, and placed it in his furnace. Once the bones had been successfully charred, he ground them into powder. He placed the ground bones in a box along with Mari’s teeth and a photo of her clothes. He sent this box to her parents, alongside a note which read: “Mari. Cremated. Bones. Investigate. Prove.”
October 3, 1988, Miyazaki was driving down a rural road in Hanno, Saitama, when he spotted seven-year-old Masami Yoshizawa walking alone. He offered her a ride, and she accepted. He drove her to the same place he had killed Mari. He strangled her, too, then had sex with her corpse. He left her in the same place he had left Mari, and once again took his victim’s clothes home with him.
Miyazaki killed again on December 12, 1988. Four-year-old Erika Nanba was walking home from a friend’s house when Miyazaki forcefully abducted her. He deviated from his typical routine and drove her to Naguri, Saitama, where he parked in a parking lot. He forced Erika to take off her clothes, then photographed her in the backseat of his car. He killed her, then tied her hands and feet behind her back. After placing a sheet over her body, he put her in the trunk of his car.
Once more straying from his usual tactics, he threw her clothes into a wooded area and disposed of her body in the nearby parking lot. One thing Miyazaki did not deviate from was taunting the girl’s family. He sent them a letter compiled of different words from magazines, which spelled: “Erika. Cold. Cough. Throat. Rest. Death.”
After the disappearance of Erika Nanba, the police immediately made the connection between her disappearance and that of Mari and Masami. Erika’s clothes were found relatively quickly. The next day, her corpse was found. Suddenly, the investigation into the disappearance of the three girls took a dark turn. Law enforcement began to realize they potentially had a serial killer on their hands. All three girls lived in close proximity of each other, in Saitama Prefecture.
As they began to investigate the possibility that the person who murdered Erika may have also killed Mari and Masami, police learned all three families shared another experience. After each girl had gone missing, the family would receive strange phone calls. When answered, the caller on the other end would say nothing. If the family chose not to answer the eerie call, the phone would ring for at least twenty minutes.
It was on February 6, 1989, that Mari’s father found the box with the ashes, photographs, and teeth. Originally, the verdict was that the teeth likely did not belong to Mari. When Miyazaki, who was following the news obsessively, heard this, he sent a letter to Mari’s family entitled: “Crime Confession.” He also included a photo of Mari. It was signed “Yuko Imada.” A play on the words, “Now I’ll tell.” The letter stated: “I put the cardboard box with Mari’s remains in it in front of her home. I did everything. From the start of the Mari incident to the finish. I saw the police press conference where they said the remains were not Mari’s. On camera, her mother said the report gave her new hope that Mari might still be alive. I knew then that I had to write this confession, so Mari’s mother would not continue to hope in vain. I say again: the remains are Mari’s.”
Finally, weeks later, definitive results came back that the teeth were indeed Mari’s; two had been positively matched against the X-rays of her dental work. It was also confirmed that almost her entire skeleton lay, ground to dust, inside the box. Only her hands and feet were missing.
To make matters worse, her already distraught family received yet another letter from Miyazaki, who was still using the alias of “Yuko Imada.” This one was titled: “Confession.” It contained details of the changes Miyazaki had noted in Mari’s body as it decomposed. Quite apparently, he had routinely gone back to visit her body. The letter stated things such as, “Before I knew it, the child’s corpse had gone rigid. I wanted to cross her hands over her breast, but they would not budge.” (sic)
He went on to describe the “red spots”—lividity??—that had appeared on Mari’s body. “Big red spots. Like the Hinomaru flag. Or like you’d covered her whole body with red hanko seals. After a while, the body is covered with stretch marks. It was so rigid before, but now it feels like it’s full of water. And it smells. How it smells. Like nothing you’ve ever smelled in this whole wide world.”
On June 6, 1989, Miyazaki killed once more. He had managed to go nearly half a year since his last murder. This time, he approached five-year-old Ayako Nomoto and asked her if she would let him take pictures of her. After taking a few photographs, he led her to his car, where he killed her. He covered her body in a bedsheet before placing her in the trunk of his car. He took her body home. He spent two full days photographing, filming, and engaging in necrophilic acts with the corpse.
Once the body began to decompose, Miyazaki dismembered it. He dumped the torso in a cemetery and the head in the hills close by. He kept her hands, which he drank the blood from and ate part of. Two weeks later, he began to fear that police would find Ayako’s torso and head, so he went back to retrieve them. Afterward, he kept them in his closet. Ayako Nomoto would be his last victim.
July 23, 1989. Tsutomu Miyazaki was in a park attempting to insert the zoom lens of a camera into a little girl’s vagina. Luckily, before he succeeded, her father approached him. Despite being naked himself, Miyazaki decided to make a run for it. The girl’s father promptly called the police. Miyazaki was arrested when he returned to retrieve his car.
The police believed they had caught the “Little Girl Murderer.” When they searched Miyazaki’s house, they found a collection of five thousand seven hundred and sixty-three videotapes. Scattered among the unbelievable amount of tapes were pictures and video footage of the victims. Also discovered were the body parts he had hidden away inside his home.
Once arrested, the long journey to a final trial and sentencing began. There are several differences between the criminal justice system in America versus that of Japan. Although Japan offers court-appointed attorneys for defendants who are unable to pay, court-appointed defense lawyers are notorious for rarely meeting with and interviewing their clients.
The quality of the defense strategy is measured by the amount of money a client can pay. It requires a lot of time to prepare a proper defense. Obtaining qualified professionals to look at the defendant’s past mental health issues and background are important factors to an insanity defense—a fact often ignored by lawyers not being compensated for their time.
Miyazaki’s father refused to pay for his son’s defense. Ashamed and heartbroken that his offspring could commit such atrocious acts, he committed suicide in 1994. Upon hearing his father had taken his own life, Miyazaki stated he felt refreshed by the news and felt his father was justified for committing suicide; it was penance for doing such a terrible job parenting.
Unlike America, in Japan, even if the accused confesses to the crime, there must still be a full trial. Miyazaki’s trial began in 1990, a time when Japan did not have jury trials. Instead, a judge, or a panel of judges, depending on the crime, listen to the evidence and make a ruling.
None of the mental health professionals who interviewed Miyazaki before his trial could draw any conclusions regarding his sanity with a high degree of certainty. Some thought his conversations and drawings of “Rat-Man,” the persona Miyazaki blamed for forcing him to kill, were just a ruse. Other mental health professionals felt that Miyazaki was insane according to the legal definition, thereby not guilty of the crimes with which he was charged.
Seven years later, in 1997, Miyazaki’s trial ended when a Tokyo District Court judge found him guilty of all charges and sentenced him to death. Japan’s court system reviews cases of condemned persons at predetermined intervals to ensure a death sentence is still warranted.
Miyazaki appeared in court at two such trials in 2001 and again in 2006. The initial ruling was upheld, and Miyazaki was executed by hanging on June 17, 2008, at the age of forty-five.