Kanae Kijima, the konkatsu killer: a black widow serial killer for the Internet age

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Some of you may have heard the recent news of a black widow serial killer in Japan. The more I read about this story, the more fascinating and horrifying it gets:

Investigators probing the deaths of two acquaintances of a 34-year-old woman arrested on suspicion of fraud have found that at least four other men linked to the woman died under suspicious circumstances.

All of the men lived in the Kanto district, and in one case investigators initially thought the victim had committed suicide by burning briquettes to release deadly carbon monoxide. Police are continuing to investigate the details surrounding the men’s deaths. The name of the woman, a resident of Tokyo’s Toshima Ward, has been withheld.

Investigative sources identified two of the men who died suspicious deaths as a 70-year-old man from Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, and a 53-year-old man from the Tokyo city of Ome. Unconfirmed details remained over the deaths of other men in the Kanto district.

Her name is Kanae Kijima. Investigators apparently learned of this woman’s possible involvement after reading through one of the victims’ blog posts, which is still online here. You can see from the blog this guy was very into his plastic model kits and thus might not have been all that sophisticated around women. Perhaps understandably, he was blinded by love. Here is what his last post says:

Today I will meet my fiancee’s family. Recently I have been spending most of my time looking for a new place with her and talking about our new life together. Starting tonight, we will go on a three-day, two-night pre-marriage trip.

He was found dead a mere ten hours later.

Kijima was a real piece of work. According to reports, she was a professional con-woman who met lonely men on the Internet and convinced them to ask her hand in marriage. Once “engaged,” she would start asking for money, sometimes pretending to need it for tuition. With the money from her many future husbands she lived an expensive, luxurious lifestyle, complete with the high-end condo, a wine-red Mercedes, and occasional stays at the Ritz-Carlton. She also liked gourmet food such as obscenely expensive green tea (Y2,000 for 100g), a habit that pushed her weight up to a whopping 100kg.

Born in 1974 in Hokkaido the granddaughter of a local politician, Kijima moved to Tokyo at age 18 to attend Toyo University but dropped out after a year without paying her tuition. In 2003 she was arrested for scamming someone in a Yahoo auction.

I was not able to find when her career as a black widow got started, but probably some time around 2006 when she began renting a large two-bedroom apartment in Itabashi-ku. Her scams were apparently so successful she netted a total of Y95 million before getting caught.  So over three years that’s a very comfortable annual income of around 32 million yen (or around $300,000), presumably tax-free.

It’s reported she met around 20 people on the dating site. She apparently didn’t always kill her marks – she was unsuccessful in scamming some and maybe just didn’t feel the need to kill others. The six men identified so far were the unlucky ones.

In addition to her online dating activities, she worked another angle “taking care of” an 80-year-old man who she also met on the Internet, whose house burned down in May under mysterious circumstances with him in it.

Amazingly, she left behind all kinds of evidence on the Internet. First, she gave her real identifying information to the dating site allegedly used for the crimes. Second, she documented much of her activity on her personal blog hosted by recipe site Cookpad (some of it is still available via Google’s cache, and some bloggers have been able to rifle through it). In it she posts pictures and tells stories about all the nice stuff she bought from the men she killed (of course she doesn’t go into that particular detail).

Details of this story underscore just how influential and entrenched the web has become in Japanese society. Not only did the “konkatsu” killer meet all these men on Internet dating sites (including an old man), the cops’ investigation hinges greatly on this woman’s sloppiness and overconfidence in failing to cover her tracks properly.

As juicy as all these details are, it’s important to note that this woman is being given the Noriko Sakai treatment – that is, the Saitama police haven’t officially arrested her for murder, just fraud at this point. The cops will likely hold her for a few weeks as they progress with their investigation, following the standard procedure in Japan. In the meantime, it’s possible the police are trying to get over a lack of damning evidence tying her to these killings by flooding the media with all manner of intimations (and the media is no doubt demanding details on this huge story). That may be why major media outlets have declined to report her real name for fear the character assassination could expose them to future defamation lawsuits, as argued here. Still, with all the reports of new evidence popping up they will probably get their woman.

17 thoughts on “Kanae Kijima, the konkatsu killer: a black widow serial killer for the Internet age”

  1. I’d hardly call that the Noriko Sakai treatment, in fact I’d say that’s pretty unfair and insulting to the way that she was demonized for such a minor offense, and the way so many police resources were wasted on it. This lady is an actual serial killer, and I can’t think of a better possible use for police detention than keeping a serial killer off the streets.

  2. Keeping her off the streets is one thing, and I am definitely not saying she should be let go. It’s another issue entirely to use that three-week period to condemn a suspect in the media. In this case I have no sympathy for the suspect, but it can be pretty abusive as seen in the Sakai case.

  3. Good article, but 2000 yen for 100g of green tea is hardly “obscenely expensive.” It’s just barely into the non-ordinary range, as a visit to any decent tea shop will confirm.

  4. There is a tendency for police in Japan to use the media this way. A prominent example was Yoshiyuki Kono in the Matsumoto sarin case while, more recently, there was the case of Kiyoshi Yamashita who was hounded by the media when his daughters went missing in Kagawa. When it does happen, it stands out because the Japanese press can otherwise be respectful of the rights of suspects. To be honest, I’m more uncomfortable with US media coverage of high profile cases and the behaviour of TV hosts like Nancy Grace where it seems anything goes.

    Perhaps that’s because I’m more used to the UK where press speculation is discouraged in case it might prejudice a trial. Specifically, the defence can argue it is impossible to have a fair trial if a jury is aware through the media of hearsay or rumours which would not be admissible as evidence in court. Some trials have been halted because of press coverage. Here’s a famous example from 1995 where the trial didn’t even take place:


    “Judge Roger Sanders, stopped the proceedings against Mr Knights because ‘unlawful, misleading, scandalous and malicious’ pre-trial reporting meant he would not get a fair hearing. Judge Sanders told Harrow Crown Court that a ‘grave abuse of process’ by the media had forced him to ‘stay’ Mr Knights’ forthcoming trial on wounding and assault charges. This is believed to be the first time ‘adverse publicity’ has been successfully cited as the sole reason for ordering criminal proceedings to be ‘stayed’, a legal term meaning the case will never be heard.”

    In an interesting decision, no paper was held in contempt because the High Court later ruled “it was quite possible for a judge to stop a criminal trial because of prejudice caused by the totality of press coverage but for no one individual publication to be guilty of contempt.”

    With the introduction of the lay judge system, I did wonder whether there might be tighter controls on pre-trial reporting in Japan but that’s not a discussion I’ve seen anywhere.

  5. Before the lay judge system got started the major media did announce changes to their reporting policy, but it centered more on making the sources of information clear and avoiding phrases that make the person look guilty. It seemed to be a tweaking of existing policies rather than a major change. I blogged about it a while ago:

    Also, a fraud case wouldn’t require a lay judge trial, but multiple murders definitely would. I don’t think that would affect the reporting much, however.

    We’ll see if my declaring her the konkatsu killer gets me into any trouble, but I doubt it. The evidence so far looks pretty damning.

  6. Thanks Leonard, corrected. Suffice to say her income was a very comfortable $300k-ish per year, enough to fund her life of luxury.

  7. Does anyone else remember that case in Fukuoka about a year back where a mother strangled her son in a public park? I and the few Japanese that I was watching TV with immediately started in with “it had to be the mother” as soon as the murder was reported. The circumstances were just that suspicious. However, the media totally used the kid gloves. The Japanese media is very erratic in its handling of these sorts of cases with the Matsumoto Sarin case cited by Mulboyne pretty much the worst.

    As for the US comparison, I’m afraid that 24 hour news has turned high profile cases into a form of bizarre hounding by default – complete with a constant stream of geinojin shrinks. Remember that French sniper who was AWOL during those DC area killings years ago? They had someone on talking about childhood in rural France. And the profilers who liked someone – white, 30s, highly educated, poor relationship with his mother.

  8. I should also say “great post”. Not being in Japan, it is easy to glance over a case like this so I really appreciate not only the coverage of the case, but also the reflection on the nature of the brewing media storm.

  9. I said that this story is a good example of how central the Internet has become to so many people’s lives here, but maybe it’s important to clarify because some people seem to have learned the wrong lesson from this case:


    Here we have consumer affairs minister Mizuho Fukushima saying this was a “net crime” but she actually killed these people OFFline

  10. I’m not sure how one can kill someone ON-line, outside of terrible early 90s cyberpunk inspired B-movies like Lawnmower Man.

  11. And since she’s currently being held on fraud charges, isn’t he actually correct in calling it a “net crime”?

  12. I’ll admit it’s not inherently productive to focus only on the definition of a net crime. If what she did wasn’t an internet crime then really I don’t know what one is.

    But I think Fukushima is missing the larger point. Worrying about this as some kind of special “flavor of the month” crime is way off the mark – the konkatsu killer wasn’t doing participating in fringe behavior – Cookpad, for instance, is a wildly popular site used by millions, mainly housewives. At least one of the victims was on Yahoo’s blog service, way more popular and mainstream than Geocities ever was in its day (though the particular individual had a niche hobby). I think we are past the point where our leaders should understand that the Internet isn’t some scary netherworld. This administration is way more progressive on the issue than the LDP but still.

  13. Well, this still isn’t as bad as the hyperbole over the “Craigslist killer” in America a few months or a year back.

  14. Omg she’s so ugly, and fat some more -_____- i kinda expecting a wedding swindler is a hot babe so she can lure rich men -_____-

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