The Vending Machine Murders
12 people were murdered and 35 were poisoned in 1985, in a rare and strange spate of indiscriminate poisonings taking place in Japanese vending machines.
Police were unable to gather sufficient evidence into the murder and the case remains unsolved.
The tainted drinks that the twelve victims consumed were predominately poisoned with paraquat (with one possible copycat case using a different substance).
Paraquat is a harmful herbicide and weed killer. It is extremely potent and harmful. The substance was banned in the UK in 2007 and it is an extremely controversial compound. There is no antidote to the substance. It will cause serious damage to the human body.
The first victim was 52-year-old Haruo Otsu from Hiroshima - on 11th September 1985. On the way to a fishing trip, Otsu bought two bottles of Oronamin C. He died the following day, getting sick after consuming two bottles of the drink.
There were 35 poisonings after this one and another 12 deaths.
For some unknown reason, one of the main drinks targeted was Oronamin C. This is a marketed health drink in the Japanese market. Before the 80s and the murders, Oronamin had a screw cap top.
The following day, 180 kilometres away from Otsu, a college student in Matsusaka bought a Real Gold drink from the machine. This young man died two days later. An additional bottle in the dispensing slot was found poisoned, police found the additional bottle after investigating the vending machine.
One bottle was poisoned with the aforementioned paraquat and another (the one that killed the student) was spiked with Diquat - a toxic herbicide. Whoever was doing the poisoning could’ve had access to the bottles (in the factory) and the dangerous herbicide (possibly a gardener of sorts or agricultural worker).
Three more victims lost their lives in September 1985 from the poisoned beverages. There were then four more killings in October. This involved a 44-year-old man, a 69-year-old man, a 50-year-old man and a 55-year-old man.
November 1985 added to the death toll with a 42-year-old man in Saitama, after drinking two Oronamin C drinks and the final victim was the only female fatality in the case, a 17-year-old girl from the Kodama District. The majority of victims were men, but this is likely just a coincidence - how could you determine the gender of the victims?
Despite the impact on Japanese society; Japanese investigators drew blanks with their enquiries. They believed it could have been linked to the ‘Monster With 21 Faces’ murders. This criminal gang (Yakuza) placed cyanide-tainted candies across Japan to extort money from the manufacturers - but nobody died during this crime.
The difficulty for investigators was because there were possible copycat poisonings linked (particularly the one using Diquat as opposed to Paraquat) and a complete lack of evidence at each murder.
The fact is that the killings were indiscriminate, random and extremely malicious. There was no link to each individual victim, the mileage between each crime scene was vast. It covered various different parts of a large nation and the case promptly went cold and is now barely even in the Japanese public consciousness anymore.
Possibly, the poisoner had access to gardening and agricultural substances but may have been a courier, able to travel and move around various parts of the country at will.
Reading online is not a saturation of information and the case draws many blanks and asks more questions than it answers.