This is the first installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, 48, also known as Shoko Asahara, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult.
[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6]
[Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10][Part 11] [Part 12]
Matsumoto is scheduled to be sentenced by the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 27 on charges, including those related to the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
On the morning of May 16, 1995, police searched the Satian No. 6 building of Aum’s complex in Kamikuishikimura, Yamanashi Prefecture. Matsumoto was arrested after he was found in a hideout in the building. Immediately after the arrest, Masaharu Yamada of the Metropolitan Police Department, who directed the arrest, recalled seeing Asahara walking on a magazine-strewn pathway on the second floor.
Matsumoto was holding on to the shoulders of two police officers, and his fat body was faltering. His purplish pajamalike clothes were wrinkled and stains. There were no batteries in the headgear left in his hideout, which the cult members said was used for their meditations.
“Is this miserable man truly the guru Asahara?” Yamada wondered.
The MPD force searching the building that day were armed as they assumed that gunfights with Matsumoto’s followers were a possibility. Many of the personnel, however, were stunned by Asahara’s appearance.
The three-story building, measuring about 43 meters north to south and 23 meters east to west, looked like a huge warehouse. Matsumoto was found by investigators in a space located above the ceiling of a second-floor room in the southeast part of the building. The room measured about 3.3 meters by one meter at the base and was about half a meter high. A sleeping bag and some other items were found in the room.
“Are you Asahara?” one of the investigators asked.
Matsumoto said, “Yes.”
He was told to come out of the hideout. But he said, “I can’t to do it alone.”
The MPD police sergeant and another investigator climbed stepladders and asked him to come out again.
Matsumoto put his feet on their shoulders. “I’m sorry that I’m heavy,” he said. His legs were trembling.
But as soon as he was taken to a small room on the same floor for a health check-up and surrounded by six police investigators, his attitude suddenly changed.
He abruptly sat down. When Yamada asked him if there was something wrong with his health, Matsumoto said, “Nothing.”
When a doctor who was accompanying the police officers tried to take Matsumoto’s pulse, Matsumoto shouted: “Stop it! I’ll get your karma!”
He then brushed away the doctor’s hand. Yamada tried to persuade him to comply with the doctor, saying that the doctor was there for his benefit. Matsumoto continued to try to keep the doctor away from him.
“No! No!” he shouted. “My power will wane,” he said as raised his arms.
Yamada did not give up, saying, “Investigators won’t touch you.”
Matsumoto finally gave in and let the doctor take his pulse. A couple of minutes later, Matsumoto was handcuffed.
A day earlier, senior MPD officers concluded Matsumoto was in the Satian No. 6 building based on information they had gathered.
Information about his whereabouts was obtained from an anonymous phone call. “Matsumoto is meditating in a second-floor mezzanine,” the caller said.
Seiichi Endo, 43, then a senior Aum member, who had been arrested and taken into custody, also told the police: “That information must be correct. Since the guru is in bad health, please take very, very good care of him.”
The investigators, however, soon found after the search at the building began at 5:25 a.m. that there was no second-floor mezzanine believed to be located between the first floor and the second floor. After two hours of searching, they had yet to find where Matsumoto was hiding. They were irritated, and Yukihiko Inoue, the then superintendent of the MPD, who was staying at the MPD headquarters, several times asked those around him, “Not yet?”
It was past 9 a.m. when Matsumoto was found in the hideout.
One of the investigators said: “I think the anonymous lead as well as Endo’s statements were aimed to confuse the investigation in a bid to prevent Asahara from being arrested. Such moves may have been a sign that the cult was making desperate attempts to resist the police as they it was on the brink of collapse.”
After Matsumoto was handcuffed, he barely spoke. There were about 400 reporters and cameramen surrounding him, but he remained silent while he was taken to a police van.
But in the car heading for the MPD, Matsumoto became talkative after investigators asked him about religion. “Hell is divided into three worlds… Heaven is…” He spoke on and on about his theories, and the investigators were appalled, they said.
Yamada, who retired from the MPD four years ago, said he no longer thought much about Matsumoto. But when he hears about the eccentric behaviors of other cult group members, his fears about mind control return.
“I wonder why such a childish man was so admired by so many cult members,” Yamada said. The answer is unknown.