On the afternoon of January 26, 1948, a man claiming to be a public health officer went to a branch of the Teikoku Ginko (Imperial Bank) in Tokyo’s Shiinamachi district and told all 16 present that dysentery had broken out in the neighborhood.
After handing the bankers a business card identifying him as an epidemiologist, the man told everyone in attendance to drink a few drops of liquid that he claimed was a cure. However, the liquid was actually toxic.
Twelve of the 16 people died, and the man escaped with cash and checks for 160,000 yen.
This incident was one of the most sensational post-war mass murders in Japan. A painter named Sadamichi Hirasawa was subsequently tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death for the crime.
Hirasawa was arrested after the police uncovered evidence related to exchanging business cards with personal information. There were two other very similar cases of attempted theft from banks through the use of poison months earlier. In both cases, a single man left a business card at the crime scene.
In one of the two incidents, the perpetrator used a card marked “Shigeru Matsui” from the Ministry of Health. The original owner of the card had an alibi for the afternoon of January 26, 1948 and told police that Hirasawa was one of those whom he gave his card to.
Many secrets remain about the incident, including what type of poison was used and whether Hirasawa was wrongly convicted of the crime.
The incident also shows how impressive a business card with a size of around 5½ cm x 9 cm can be in Japan. Business cards open doors and, in extreme cases, safes too.