Two Aum Shinrikyo fugitives were settling comfortably into relatively normal lives, but things began to unravel after one of them decided to hook up with a new boyfriend, police sources said.
Following their split, the two former cultists--Naoko Kikuchi, 40, and Katsuya Takahashi, 54--bickered over money and were finally arrested earlier this month after 17 years on the run.
But through it all, the two persistently tried to lead ordinary lives. They have told police that this goal was the reason they continued their flight from authorities for so long.
Kikuchi and Takahashi are suspected of murder and other charges in connection with the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people and sickened more than 6,000.
They began living together as fugitives in November 1996, and at one time had about 17 million yen (about $212,500) between them. Both suspects say they earned the money through jobs while on the lam, but police suspect some of the funds were provided by Aum Shinrikyo.
In 1997, Takahashi landed a job at a construction company while Kikuchi worked as a dispatched worker. They lived in an apartment provided by the construction company.
In 2001, they moved to an apartment in Kawasaki’s Saiwai Ward in Kanagawa Prefecture, and they even found time to engage in Katsuya’s mountain climbing hobby, traveling to such places as Hida-Takayama, Tateyama-Kurobe and Hokkaido.
But in 2007, Kikuchi left Katsuya Takahashi to live with a different man, Hiroto Takahashi, 41, whom she had met at her workplace. (Katsuya and Hiroto are not related.)
According to the sources, Kikuchi took about 7 million yen without Katsuya’s consent, saying, “This is mine.”
Kikuchi continued to try to live a normal life. She began to work as a care worker for elderly people, and she often joined her colleagues for drinks at Japanese-style “izakaya” pubs. In addition, she visited such places as Tokyo Disneyland.
However, things were not always smooth. Kikuchi said thieves had twice broken into their home, stealing a total of 2.5 million yen.
“But I did not report the incidents to police because our fingerprints would be taken,” Kikuchi was quoted as telling police.
Her new boyfriend was having difficulties making a living. In fact, Hiroto called Katsuya around 2010, without telling Kikuchi, telling the fugitive: “A gangster knows that my partner (Kikuchi) is wanted by police and is threatening us. We need hush money.”
Several days later, Katsuya gave Hiroto 3 million yen at a coffee shop near Kawasaki Station, the sources said.
Katsuya, in the meantime, remained unemployed for about three years. But in October 2011, he began to work for his previous employer in the construction industry and tried to resume a life of normalcy.
With the help of his colleagues, Katsuya moved to a company dormitory. He sometimes drank alone in a nearby “yakitori” (char-broiled chicken) pub.
Kikuchi was arrested in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on June 3 after a man told police he saw a woman who looked like her.
According to police sources, Kikuchi told police after her arrest, “I began to love Hiroto and did not want to change my lifestyle.”
She said she no longer believes the teachings of Aum Shinrikyo’s founder, Chizuo Matsumoto, who was also known as Shoko Asahara and has been sentenced to death.
Kikuchi is cooperating with police, but she sometimes refuses to talk to investigators because of media reports detailing her life as a fugitive, including the fact that commemorative photos of her wearing a wedding dress had been taken.
The information she supplied about Katsuya led in part to his arrest in Tokyo on June 15.
Katsuya, who has yet to apologize to victims of the 1995 nerve gas attack, was carrying photos and recordings of the teachings of Matsumoto when he was caught.
“I had a comfortable life earning money by working,” Katsuya was quoted as telling police. “If Kikuchi did not talk to police about me, I was going to return to my workplace.”
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