Japan’s ‘Twitter Killer,’ Takahiro Shiraishi, Is Sentenced to Demise
TOKYO – A Japanese court sentenced to death Thursday a man who confessed to pursuing and murdering women who had suicidal thoughts on social media, ending a grisly case that sparked much of the country’s social anxiety.
The Tokyo court said the verdict against 30-year-old Takahiro Shiraishi was due to the “extreme gravity” of his crimes. Mr. Shiraishi, said a judge, not only murdered his victims, but “trampled the dignity of the dead”.
At a trial in November, some members of the victims’ families said they had been irreversibly marked by Mr. Shiraishi’s actions and that his utter lack of remorse at the stall convinced them that he should be killed.
The brother of one victim said that hearing Mr. Shiraishi describe his crimes caused him to lose faith in humanity. The names were withheld to protect the privacy of the victims.
Executions in Japan are relatively rare, although it remains one of the few developed countries that still enforces the death penalty. Last year, according to Amnesty International, a human rights group criticizing the practice, three people were executed, compared with 22 in the US.
Mr. Shiraishi, dubbed “the Twitter killer” in the English-speaking media, confessed to meeting eight women on social media and taking advantage of their insecurities to lure them to meet over a period of two months. He drugged, sexually assaulted, and then killed her to stop her from reporting him to the police.
He later killed an acquaintance of one of his victims after he began to fear that the man suspected him of murder.
The murders have appalled Japan since police discovered nine mutilated, crumbling bodies in Mr. Shiraishi’s home in 2017.
Violent crimes of any kind are rare in Japan, and gruesome murders like Mr. Shiraishi are even more common.
The details of the crimes sparked some of the much-discussed social ills in the country: the erosion of family ties, high suicide rates, and an increasingly atomized, isolated society that has turned to social media for cold comfort.
Police discovered the bodies of Shiraishi’s victims in his apartment outside Tokyo after a 23-year-old woman disappeared who posted on Twitter that she was looking for someone to kill herself with.
After setting up a stab operation, investigators followed Mr. Shiraishi to his home, where they discovered the bodies of eight women and one man, whose heads were removed and placed in refrigerators.
Mr. Shiraishi later testified that he initially considered denying his involvement but changed his mind in light of the overwhelming evidence against him.
Mr. Shiraishi’s defense attorney argued that the women committed suicide and that they agreed to be murdered by Mr. Shiraishi, a scenario that would qualify him for a lighter sentence.
But Mr. Shiraishi flatly denied the defense, testifying at previous court appearances that he killed the women on his own initiative and wanted to take full responsibility for their murders.
“Not a single one of my victims consented,” he told the judge during one such session.
He said he had no intention of appealing his verdict, noting that he had advised his defense attorney to end the process as soon as possible in order to avoid adding to his parents’ difficulties.
In testimony in court, Mr. Shiraishi attributed the reasons for his crimes to an argument with his family.
After quarreling with his father, he decided to make a living seducing lonely women and convincing them to give him money.
Mr Shiraishi said he learned to chase after insecurities in women while working as a recruiter for an escort service in Kabukicho, a red light district in Tokyo. While prostitution is illegal in Japan, sexual business – from hostess clubs to massage parlors – is common in urban areas, and young men are often hired to search the city streets for potential employees.
Mr. Shiraishi said he had searched online for women who had thoughts of suicide, met with them, and complimented them.
Mr. Shiraishi turned to the murder after fear that one of the women he met would demand that he repay the money she lent him.
He was serving a suspended sentence related to his previous job – he had knowingly and against the law recruited women to work as prostitutes – and when he imagined the woman could take the case to the police, he killed her, he said.
“It was hard to make up my mind, but I had done illegal things every day as a boy scout and internalized the idea that getting caught is only a problem.” he told the court.
After the first murder, he said, the rest was easy.
At a court appearance, Mr. Shiraishi said that although he felt bad about some of his victims, he had little remorse.
“If they hadn’t caught me,” he said, “I wouldn’t regret anything.”
Hisako Ueno and Hikari Hida contributed to the coverage.