Naoko Kikuchi, on the run since the murderous attack on Tokyo's subway system by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in March 1995, found work in nursing care, forged a new identity and shacked up with a lover in a rundown dwelling near Tokyo.
But after nearly 17 years as a fugitive, the past finally caught up with Kikuchi, 40, on June 3.
She was arrested on suspicion of murder and attempted murder after she came home following a tip from a man earlier that day that had prompted a police stakeout.
Kikuchi's arrest leaves only one other former cult member on the wanted list still on the lam.
Police sought to question her about her role in the sarin gas attack in Tokyo that left 13 people dead and sickened more than 6,000.
She was placed on the nationwide wanted list in May 1995.
Police said Kikuchi helped the cult produce the nerve gas by assessing the results of experiments with sarin and performing other tasks for Aum's "chemical squad."
Kikuchi acknowledged her role in the production process during questioning, but said, "I was not aware of what I was making at that time," police quoted her as saying.
Police also suspect that Kikuchi was involved in the production of highly toxic VX gas, which was used to kill a man in 1994 who incurred Aum's wrath as the cult believed he was trying to destroy it, and sending a package containing explosives to the governor of Tokyo in 1995.
Kikuchi is from Saitama Prefecture, neighboring Tokyo. She was placed on the wanted list along with two other former cult members, Makoto Hirata, 47, and Katsuya Takahashi, 54.
Hirata, who gave himself up on Dec. 31, 2011, and was indicted for violating the law governing the handling of explosives.
Police lost track of Kikuchi for more than 15 years after she was last thought to be hiding out in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture.
Right before she was placed on the wanted list, Kikuchi took refuge in a cult safe house in Hachioji on the outskirts of Tokyo. She also hid in Nagoya, Kyoto, Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, and elsewhere, according to the police.
Kikuchi was taken into custody in rural-cum-residential area of Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, some 45 kilometers from central Tokyo.
Police said investigators were staked out near her home after a man visited Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department earlier that day to say "a woman who looks like Kikuchi lives in a house with a man in Sagamihara's Midori Ward."
Kikuchi was apprehended as she came home with a convenience store bag in her hand around 8 p.m.
Asked if she was Kikuchi, she replied, "Yes."
Police said she was a lot skinnier than in the photo circulated on the wanted list.
"It would be impossible to identify the woman as Kikuchi if one just passed her by in the street," said an investigator on the scene.
Police said she wore makeup, but it was difficult to tell whether she had undergone plastic surgery.
Kikuchi, with shoulder-length dark hair, wore a sweat shirt, trousers and sneakers.
The MPD identified her as Kikuchi through her fingerprints.
Kikuchi told investigators she held a full-time job.
Police on June 4 also arrested Hiroto Takahashi, 41, who lived with Kikuchi, on suspicion of harboring a fugitive.
Takahashi turned himself in to the Kanagawa prefectural police around 10:15 p.m. on June 3. He told police at the Yamato station that he did so after learning from TV reports that Kikuchi was in police custody.
Takahashi told police that Kikuchi used an alias when they first got to know each other and revealed her identity when he proposed her. He said she told him they could not marry because she was linked with Aum Shinrikyo.
Kikuchi lived in a rundown two-story wooden house with a zinc roof.
She and Takahashi moved in two years ago, according to a 77-year-old neighbor who had lived in the dwelling.
"The first floor has a 15-tatami mat space, a kitchen, toilet and bath," the man said. "The second floor is not in a condition that a person can live in."
The man assumed they were married. He said Kikuchi sometimes greeted him.
"She seemed quiet," he said.
According to investigators, Kikuchi was one of six employees at a company providing nursing care in Sagamihara's Midori Ward.
A 37-year-old colleague said she called herself Chizuko Sakurai and earned an hourly wage of 850 yen (about $11), totaling 130,000 yen to 140,000 yen a month.
"She is a hard worker," the man added.
Kikuchi began working at the company initially as an accountant around August 2010 after the president of the company asked Takahashi, with whom he became acquainted with through work, if he knew anybody familiar with accounting.
Takahashi introduced her as his common-law wife.
She worked six days a week.
The male colleague said that although she wore glasses, she took no steps to disguise herself, like wearing a face mask, for example.
Kikuchi did not talk about her private life with her colleagues other than that she came from Saitama Prefecture.
She also gave her age as 44 and said she had previously worked for a storage company.
According to investigators, Kikuchi and Takahashi got to know each other through tempiorary work around 2005.
They began living together in the Tokyo suburb of Machida around 2006 and moved to Sagamihara in December 2010.
In February, the National Police Agency doubled its reward for information leading to Kikuchi's whereabouts to 10 million yen.
The NPA concluded that a fresh initiative could yield new leads in tracking down Kikuchi and Katsuya Takahashi, who remains at large.
A senior agency official said raising the reward may have helped.
Shoko Egawa, a journalist who investigated Aum Shinrikyo, expressed relief to learn that Kikuchi is still alive after all those years.
"She became famous just because she was a fugitive and had eluded police," Egawa said.
"But her role in overall crimes committed by the cult is small. She is still young and should settle her past by telling police everything she knows."
As for other members of Aum Shinrikyo, which staged the sarin gas attack as part of a plan to overthrow the government, along with other crimes, death sentences for 13 senior members have been finalized, meaning there is no prospect of appeal.
This constitutes the largest number of death row inmates from a single organization in the postwar period.
Among those sentenced to death is Chizuo Matsumoto, who, as head of the cult, went by the name of Shoko Asahara. He was found responsible for the deaths of 27 people.
Apart from the Tokyo subway attack, the cult was behind the 1989 murder of a lawyer who was critical of the cult. His wife and infant son were also slain by an Aum hit squad.
The cult also staged a sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, in an effort to influence the outcome of a court case involving a land dispute. The attack left seven dead and sickened about 600. One person died in 2008 as a result of the attack.
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