On a rainy December morning in 1968, a bank’s cash transport car carrying about 300 million yen in bonuses for employees of Toshiba Corp.’s Fuchu plant was stolen by someone disguised as a uniformed motorcycle police officer.

Dec. 10 marks the 50th anniversary of the famed “300 million yen robbery,” which took place in Fuchu, a city in Tokyo’s Tama area.

Since the robber apparently knew the byroads and shortcuts in the area well, police thought the culprit was familiar with the neighborhood.

Investigators conducted interviews with residents of local households a total of 1 million times. It is said that many young men with motorcycle licenses were interviewed again and again ad nauseam.

There is still a strong public interest in the robbery, which is one of the best-known unsolved cases in Japan.

Last month, taxi company Sanwa Koutsu Tama started offering special tours featuring sites related to the heist. The five tour sessions that have been held so far have attracted eight times more applications than the maximum number of participants allowed.

The tour takes participants to such places as the location where the robbery took place and the park where the car was found abandoned.

Some of the tour participants came from as far away as Hokkaido and Shizuoka.

The tour provokes participants to construct far-fetched theories about what kind of person the perpetrator was.

“A Japanese national with a connection within the U.S. military got the money out of the country,” goes one such theory. “It was done by a police officer or a person close to one,” according to another.

Participants are invariably “amazed at the audacious and brilliant modus operandi,” said Masaya Sudo, 29, a taxi driver who serves as a guide for the tour. “Everyone talks about the culprit as if they were talking about Nezumi Kozo or (Arsene) Lupin the gentleman thief,” he adds.

Nezumi Kozo is the nickname of a Japanese thief and folk hero who lived during the Edo Period (1603-1868).

The statute of limitations on the crime expired in 1975. The robbery has been featured in many novels and drama scripts, with surprisingly diverse descriptions of the unknown culprit.

Singer Kenji Sawada and director and actor Takeshi Kitano played the role of the mysterious perpetrator in dramas based on the theft.

A 2006 film inspired by the robbery titled “Hatsukoi” (First Love) was based on a bold storyline, with the perpetrator being a high school girl. Actress Aoi Miyazaki played the leading part in the picture.

We can only wonder where the real culprit has been hiding during the past half century. This unidentified criminal may have been laughing scornfully at all the theories about his identity, with an icy look that has absolutely no resemblance to the well-known facial composite.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 9

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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.