Japan: Sweet and Deadly

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The typewritten letter was neatly addressed to "Moms of the Nation" and signed Kaijin 21 Menso, the Man with 21 Faces. The message, sent to Osaka news agencies, warned that 20 packages of Morinaga candy had been laced with deadly sodium cyanide and placed on supermarket shelves. Within days police had scoured stores from Tokyo to cities in western Japan, and found more than a dozen of the lethal packets of Morinaga Choco-Balls and Angel Pie, apparently before anyone was poisoned.

The appearance of the poisoned candy was the latest in a series of extortion attempts aimed at two of Japan's major confectioners, Morinaga & Co., Ltd., and Ezaki Glico Co., Ltd. Katsuhisa Ezaki, Ezaki Glico's president, was kidnaped last March at his home near Osaka. He escaped three days later from an abandoned warehouse. His captors remained at large and announced two months later that they had put poisoned Ezaki Glico products in the nation's supermarkets. No tainted sweets were found, but authorities cleared shelves of all Ezaki Glico candy. The company lost at least $21 million and was forced to lay off 450 part-time workers. This time the losses could exceed $30 million.