This is the second installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, 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]
Four months after his arrest in May 1995, Aum Supreme Truth religious cult leader Chizuo Matsumoto, 48, better known by his cult name of Shoko Asahara, found himself under interrogation in a room at Metropolitan Police Department headquarters.
“You can’t avoid the death penalty, so you might as well come clean and take responsibility for your cult’s actions,” an interrogator told Matsumoto in an attempt to persuade him to confess.
Matsumoto replied that he would make a confession the next day, only to change his mind when the time came. “Shoko Asahara said he would talk, but Shoko Asahara is dead,” he said.
“I will be a martyr for the truth,” he added.
On Sept. 7 that year, Matsumoto was arrested again on suspicion of murdering lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, wife and child.
At the same time, government and prosecutors sought to dissolve the cult based on the Religious Juridical Person Law and the Antisubversive Activities Law.
By this stage, junior followers of Aum who had been indicted were beginning to criticize Matsumoto in the courts.
The criticism appeared to pose a dilemma for Matsumoto. One of his interrogators at the time observed that he seemed to be deliberating whether to confess, or whether to stay silent and remain “a sacred man” for his followers.
On Oct. 1, Matsumoto began telling police the details of the Sakamoto murders.
“It was my close aides and I who committed those crimes, so I think it is my responsibility to pay for them with my life,” he said.
To prevent the Antisubversive Activities Law from being applied to the cult, Matsumoto stressed that the murders were not committed systematically by the sect.
He even signed a police report in which he admitted to giving an order to kill Sakamoto to help him “move to a better life through reincarnation.”
The next day, Matsumoto had a change of heart and asked investigators to discard the report.
“I understand your position, but please don’t use the report,” he begged.
Matsumoto’s willingness to protect the cult by taking personal responsibility for the crimes had evaporated. He later told his lawyers that investigators had tricked him into making the confessions.
Many of the investigators had a simpler explanation for his U-turn, however, believing he was desperate to avoid the death penalty.
Earlier, Matsumoto also had said he would confess to his involvement in the death of a former Aum member whom he had said was murdered.
“I intended to punish (the former follower) by having one of my aides strangle him until he became unconscious,” he said.
Although he denied any intention to kill, he did admit his involvement in the incident. Why did he decide to talk?
The key may lie with the arrest of his wife a few days earlier in connection with the strangling.
During an interrogation session that lasted all night, Matsumoto stressed, “My wife kept saying that maybe we should let the follower go.”
One of the then investigators recalled that it seemed clear Matsumoto was trying to protect his wife.
Another investigator who was involved said, “There is a part of Matsumoto that is just an ordinary guy who cares about his family.”
Many of the investigators who dealt with Matsumoto remember “his wealth of knowledge about religion and his astonishing memory.”
Matsumoto demonstrated his abilities at a hearing on illegal drugs produced by the cult.
“Human beings can transcend the normal limits of humanity in two stages,” he said. “The first stage is to realize, and then to rise above, one’s earthly desires. After repeating this process many times, one may move to the second stage.”
Investigators remember Matsumoto was full of confidence when he lectured on “the path to enlightenment.”
“Such a process usually takes a long time, but harassment by the victims’ lawyers meant we sometimes had to speed it up, if need be using drugs,” he said.
Matsumoto’s explanations were an empty, self-centered attempt to justify his actions, but still impressed investigators with the meticulous way they were put together.
One of the senior prosecutors who was involved throughout the entire investigation, said he came to a clear understanding of the man.
“With his abnormal ability to focus on one idea, and to devote all his fantasies and actions toward that idea, Matsumoto created an aura of greatness around himself, persuading even educated people to become his followers,” he said.
But the “dignity of the cult leader” that Matsumoto desperately tried to protect at the hearings with investigators fell apart when his aides spoke against him at their trials.
In court, Matsumoto met their testimonies with a few mumbled, incoherent remarks, and then fell silent.