In my career as a newspaper reporter, no assignment has ever made me feel as helpless as the so-called Glico Morinaga serial extortion case.

The investigation was going nowhere when I was assigned to cover the Hyogo prefectural police beat. With my superiors keeping me on my toes, I scurried around the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe area, where the crimes had taken place. But I failed to produce a single story worthy of mention.

The Glico Morinaga case shocked the nation in 1984 and into the following year. A group calling itself "Kaijin 21-menso" (The phantom with 21 faces) blackmailed food companies, including two confectionery giants, Ezaki Glico Co. and Morinaga and Co., by claiming to have laced their products with poison.

The culprits challenged police with taunting letters, one of which was addressed to "Dear dumb police officers." Police efforts to solve the case failed totally, and the statute of limitations eventually ran out on all charges against the perpetrators.

Voices of small children were used in some phone calls to extort victims. A child's voice said, "(Leave the money) behind the seat of the bus stop bench." On another instance, it went, "There's an empty tin under the stairs of the overhead pedestrian bridge."

I vividly recalled these young voices when I read "Tsumi no Koe" (Voices of sin), a novel by Takeshi Shiota, 37, and based on the Glico Morinaga case.

"I think the voices are those of people of my generation, and raised in the Kansai region like me," Shiota noted. "If they are still alive, they must have jobs and children of their own now."

In his novel, they become anguished when they learn of their involvement in the case as children.

A former reporter with The Kobe Shimbun, Shiota wanted to become a writer when he was in school. He finally became a full-time writer four years ago, complementing his creativity with his journalistic background.

His novel was 15 years in the making, during which he mulled over how to present the "biggest unsolved case of the Showa Era" to the present-day readership.

Shiota is of the opinion that voices of three children--one girl and two boys--were used in those blackmail phone calls. The girl, he deduces, is probably a 47-year-old woman today. The boys are about 41 and 37, now.

Are they still being tormented by their memory of being used in criminal activity? Or do they know nothing and are living peacefully?

All these thoughts filled my mind when I revisited the scenes of the crimes in Kyoto and Shiga prefectures for the first time in 27 years.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 14

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.