Episode 35 | Japan's Ruthless Black Widow Murderer
Updated: Nov 7, 2021
"I will laugh it off and die if I am sentenced to death tomorrow."
— Chisako Kakehi.
Latrodectus, the black widow spider. The female of the species can be a real nasty you know what. Killing her mate after getting what she wants- the seed she needs for a bundle of babies. The Male of the species ( the smart ones) tend to choose who they get down to biz with by determining if the old lady has eaten already so they don’t get eaten themselves. They’re able to tell by sensing chemicals in her web. Sadly some of the guys are too trusting, or perhaps have a poor sense of smell, and wind up as the widow’s vittles.
The term black widow has been used as a criminal moniker (for what feels like time immemorial) for women who kill their husbands on the sly- making the killings appear as an accidental death. Unlike our arachnid friends, their impetus isn’t a meal but rather a meal ticket! Once they get their hands on a bundle of cash their old man is useless to them. So you may be wondering what the male version of a black widow is called - a husband who kills his wife or wives one after the other on the sly. That would be a 'bluebeard’, a term that first started with a fairytale Barbe Bleue by the French author Charles Perrault published in 1697. There are plenty of Bluebeards that we’ll be reporting on here on homicide Inc. but for this podcast we've got a black widow story from Japan to dive in to.
Enter Chisako Kakehi, Japan’s very own Black widow. Driven by greed, Kakehi amassed a fortune of nearly 9 million dollars in inheritance and insurance payouts from her relationships and was revealed to be a prolific killer in a country that has one of the world's lowest homicide rates. This making her killing spree a shocking and particularly momentous scandal. The case of 74-year-old Chisako Kakehi — who repeatedly met, dated and married elderly men, including her four confirmed victims — came at a time when elderly people in Japan have become more and more interested in finding partners amid a rapidly aging population and the spread of nuclear families in the country.
Little is known publicly about Chisako Kakehi's personal life but what we do know is she was born in Japan's southwest, Saga prefecture and married her first husband at 24. They founded a fabric-printing company in Osaka Prefecture and were married for 25 years until his death from an illness in 1994. OK lets assume this guy did actually die on the up and up. And perhaps this is the point at which ole Chisako came off the rails. Soon after their business went bankrupt and their home was put up for auction, leaving her broke and prompting her to ask friends and neighbors for a loan. It’s not known for certain but is suspected that over the next decade plus Chisako lured and preyed on a number of romantic victims bilking them out of money and leading some to early and unexplained deaths.
The crimes she would later be tried for and found guilty of began in 2007 with a dating site and a smitten 78-year-old Toshiaki Suehiro. 61 year old Chisako Kakehi wasn’t bashful about the kind of man she was looking for. Her dating service applications stipulated that any potential matches had to be elderly, ill, or childless. Damn. Japan’s many dating sites include details on applicants income and/ or wealth. These figures are not always verified, however there is certainly a demographic for which this a deal maker or breaker.
The murders begin
Chisako and Suehiro began dating in the spring of 2007, They enjoyed dining together, and taking short trips into the countryside. For Suehiro having a companion was wonderful. For Chisako Kakehi having Suehiro’s money within her grasp was irresistible. She borrowed large sums of money from him that she blew on failed financial investments running up a tab of nearly 500,000 dollars. He wanted it back.
On the afternoon of December 18, 2007, Kakehi had lunch with Suehiro and his adult children. She was a charming woman and his kids could see why their father enjoyed her company, but they knew very little else about her. After the meal was finished Suehiro took out his health supplements and washed them down with a glass of water. Suehiro’s kids left and less than 15 minutes later, he complained of feeling ill and as they walked down the street collapsed unconscious. By the time an ambulance arrived, he was gasping for air.
Chisako accompanied Suehiro to the hospital -- but oddly gave herself a pseudonym, "Hiraoka," when talking to the ambulance staff. At the hospital, doctors found he was close to death after suffering from internal asphyxiation. At the time nothing was detected by doctors as the cause of this sudden illness.
Suehiro survived -- eventually the only one of Kakehi's four confirmed victims to do so -- but he was left with visual impairment and other medical issues. He died a year and a half later of an unrelated illness.
It wasn’t long before Chisako Kakehi was eying her next victim, a greying biker by the name of Honda - no relation to the motorcycle company. For 71 the divorced Masanori Honda was fit. After a health scare from diabetes he decided to turn back the clock, get back in shape and get romance back in his life. He found that posting pictures of him on his motorcycle to be especially effective for getting dates on a multitude of sites that he registered with. Duly noted.
It was late summer of 2011 and one gal in particular that began chatting with him gave him butterflies. Chisako. She was warm, caring, charming and forward. And she dug bikes. She dug Masanori. At least that’s what she led him to believe. They ripped around on his BMW touring bike, including overnight trips to onsen hot spring resorts. She was fun. They laughed. They shagged. He was hooked. The couple told friends later that year they planned to marry.
By the following spring, Chisako was through with Masanori Honda and made her move.
On March 9, 2012, she met Honda at a department store, for lunch. The two then went their separate ways. Later at around 5 p.m., he lost consciousness while riding his motorcycle. Not advisable. Less than two hours later in hospital, doctors confirmed his death. Initially it was assumed his death was caused by the crash but evidence later showed something much more sinister was at play.
It seemed Chisako Kakehi had no plans to live out her years with Honda. Just two months before his death, in January 2012, she had already begun secretly dating other men through another dating agency. Damn. The black widow strikes again!
Are you starting to see a pattern here? Dining and dying. Coincidence? Don't be fooled like the authorities were for far too long.
Target NO 3
Chisako was was proving to be very popular with the older gentleman callers, just killin’ it on the dating scene. (If you’ll pardon the pun)
Enter 75 year old Minoru Hioki. He had struggled with loneliness and a relapse of lung cancer but by July 2013, life was looking up: his cancer had been almost completely eliminated by radiation therapy and he was in great health. And in great spirits. He had a new romantic interest. Her name was Chisako and she was all that.
By August 2013, Hioki was devoted to Chisako Kakehi, professing his love to her in an email and stating that he wanted to stay together forever. They were close, often eating together and spending the night in each other's homes.
Their idyllic romance came to an end on September 20th when the couple went out for dinner. Jesus we know what comes next.
Hioki, like Kakehi's second husband Suehiro, often took health supplements in pill form which he took during their meal. Minoru had barely finished his last bite of tiramisu when he passed out at the table. By the time an ambulance arrived, he was breathing painfully and gasping for air.
Despite knowing he had children and had recovered from cancer, Chisako lied to the ambulance crew, claiming he had no family and was suffering terminal lung cancer. When they offered to resuscitate him, she refused. He died within two hours.
Chisako Kakehi only seemed to get bolder in accumulating relationships and victims. It wasn’t even 2 months after Minoru Hioki’s ashes had been interred that Chisako had already professed her love of another man, and became a blushing bride once again. It was her next and final target -- Isao Kakehi- whose name she would bear til death did them part. Just as a side note, barely a month after their wedding, she began dating another man in secret. Damn.
At 75, Isao Kakehi was healthy and in love.
It was 2013, and he had embarked on an exciting new relationship with a gregarious lady named Chisako, a 67-year-old widow he met through a Japanese matchmaking agency.
Within two months, the couple married, moved in together, and began a seemingly blissful life in Kyoto's Muko City, cooking together and making rice cakes for their soon to come New Year's celebrations. Isao Kakehi seemed renewed with enthusiasm for life. In email exchanges and messages, he told his new wife he wanted to do their best to enjoy a bright second life and live long together. She had other plans.
They were mere weeks into their marriage when on the evening of Dec. 28th after eating dinner at home with Chisako, Isao Kakehi collapsed. She called an ambulance, which rushed him to the hospital -- but he died just an hour later.
OK things were really starting to stink to high heaven by now. Isao’s death FINALLY roused suspicion about Chisako’s string of unlucky lovers, and prompted a police investigation that would quickly unravel the black widow’s web of deceit.
Catching a killer
Autopsies are rare in Japan, and are typically only performed when there is suspicion of foul play -- which may be why the deaths of her former partners went largely unnoticed at the time.
But Isao Kakehi's death was considered suspicious enough to warrant an autopsy, which revealed lethal amounts of… wait for it… cyanide in his heart, blood and stomach.
Days after his death, authorities found health supplement pills and empty capsules in Chisako’s apartment -- suggesting that she had emptied the health supplements and refilled them with cyanide that had been ground into a powder. Remember at least two of her partners took supplements with their meals. Damn.
In case you were wondering as I was what exactly cyanide is and how it kills… it’s is a chemical compound that is not illegal to obtain. In addition to being used in the mining of gold, cyanide is also used for a number of industrial purposes including the manufacture of paper, plastics and textiles. Hmmmm… Remember back at this beginning of this story and the business that Chisako and her first husband ran? A fabric printing shop. Hello! I think we can assume that is where she got the idea for cyanide as her killing machine. And she knew how to acquire it. Cyanide kills when ingested by preventing the cells of the body from using oxygen. Hence why some of the victims were gasping for air. In August 2014, investigators discovered their smoking gun in Isao Kakehi's apartment. Buried in a potted plant Chisako had thrown out was a plastic bag containing traces of cyanide.
The color of the bag and its contents suggested the cyanide had been buried for several months -- and the same type of plastic ziplock storage bag was found in Chisako’s apartment. They also found paraphernalia for administering drugs and medical books at an apartment she kept south of Kyoto, the pages on poisoning were earmarked.
Two months later, police arrested Chisako Kakehi. After interrogations over numerous months, she eventually confessed to poisoning Honda, Hioki and Suehiro with cyanide capsules.
Police also believed Kakehi was linked to the killings of four other men, on top of the four she was charged with -- but apparently prosecutors decided against indicting her for those due to insufficient evidence. Though she confessed to the crimes, she offered little apology to the victims' families. Even stating in court regarding one victim, “I killed him... because he gave other women tens of millions of yen but didn’t give me even a penny,” she also told judges she was ready to die saying “Even if I were executed tomorrow, I would die smiling.
But her court testimony vacillated between protesting her innocence and bluntly admitting her crimes. At times during the trial, she appeared confused and tired. Her legal team pointing to her confession and its subsequent retraction as evidence of dementia and coercion.
The case captivated Japan and highlighted the dangers lurking online for aging singles vulnerable to love scams. And it has also caused the country to question why a woman in her sunset years would start killing the men she purported to love.
The four men lived in different cities, worked different jobs and had no connection to each other -- except for one thing: they all had big bank accounts and sizable assets.
This, combined with their late age and single status, made them perfect targets for the black widow.
It appears the first of the four poisonings was driven by debt: Chisako owed Suehiro nearly 500,000 dollars and figured that if he were dead she could avoid the repayment.
Oddly, two months after Suehiro's death in February 2008, Chisako wrote a letter to his adult children saying she had paid back the money using the inheritance of another man.
The letter shocked Suehiro's children, as they hadn’t been aware of their father's lending to her and knew very little about Chisako Kakehi other than having met her for lunch the day he fell ill. When they tried to get more info from her about the money etc., she quietly vanished, leaving them with no answers about their father's falling ill or his mysterious companion.
It's not clear what Chisako Kakehi's financial situation was when she began her killing for cash schemes, but by her fourth victim's death, she had taken so much money from her victims that her motive could no longer be explained by need or desperation, but simply a blatant disregard for human life for her own greed and obviously the thrill of killing.
It’s estimated she racked up a handsome bounty of more than 8 million dollars in total from her partners' inheritance, valuables, and other assets. Damn.
In 2017, at age 70 Chisako Kakehi was sentenced to death by hanging after one of Japan's longest trials- over 100 days. An appeal to overturn the ruling failed in June of 2021 and her sentence will be upheld. Chisako Kakehi, is now 74 and awaiting her date with her executioner. For those on death row in Japan there isn’t much warning beforehand. Most often the condemned is told just hours before their execution and only after they have been executed are family and then media notified.
With the dementia claims that shrouded her testimonies, and the additional alleged murders she was never indicted for, we may never know what really sent her off the rails into a murderous spree so late in life.
Japan has one more black widow that also is awaiting execution and that is 46 year old Kanae Kijima. Also known as the ‘Konkatsu Killer’. Konkatsu are ‘marriage hunting’ sites. Oddly her killing spree began around the same time as Chisako Kakehi in 2007. But it's difficult to say who the OG is. Kijima’s method of killing was slipping her 3 fiancé’s sleeping pills and then poisoning them with carbon monoxide by burning charcoal briquettes where they slept. Lovely.
Kakehi had registered with a matchmaking service in the hope of meeting wealthy men with an annual income of more than ¥10 million ($87,900). She married or was associated with more than 10 men and inherited about ¥1 billion, though she eventually fell into debt.
But there is a view that Kakehi’s case may not deter elderly people from falling prey to similar schemes, apparently due to an anticipated rise in elderly people living alone and no conclusive measures to prevent a repeat of such incidents.