"I should be awarded the gold medal for murder."
These were the words allegedly uttered by Gen Sekine upon confessing to having committed four murders, alongside ex-wife Hiroko Kazama, around Saitama Prefecture, Japan in 1993. Known as the "Saitama Dog Lover Murders" due to the victims' connection to the assailants via the dog-breeding business they operated, the case would attract significant attention from the mainstream media at the time of their arrest—due in part to the gruesome methods involved.
The dog breeders
Sekine and Kazama were renowned dog breeders in their home county. Despite being divorced (ostensibly for reasons of tax evasion), the pair ran the Africa Kennel pet store together. Here they specialized in swindling customers—convincing them to purchase over-priced "rare breeds" with the promise that their investment would produce handsome returns when the animals produced litters to be sold.
Sekine had a history of such scams. In his hometown of Chichibu, he'd developed a reputation for stealing back animals he had sold, only to sell them on to new owners. He'd been accused of killing one such animal by poisoning their food, in order to encourage the owner to purchase a new dog from him as a replacement. And he was rumored to have had ties with the yakuza—a partnership that supposedly cost him his left pinky finger after he pocketed dirty money that was loaned to him.
In Saitama, Sekine's racket came to a head when he convinced an Industrial Waste Disposal company director to part with 11 million yen (around $100,000) for a pair of Rhodesian Ridgebacks in 1993. He had promised the customer that he'd purchase the litter back for a sizable sum.
Not only did the victim soon discover that the female dog he had purchased was too old to mate, but he also learned that the market value of such a breed was up to one hundred times less than what he had paid. To make matters worse, the dog in question "escaped" and ran away, never to be found. Upon demanding a refund from the nefarious salesman, the company director soon found himself with a target on his head.
The owners of the Africa Kennel were in a poor financial situation—evidently, Sekine had little discipline regarding money he had scammed across his career. Disposing of the gentleman causing them grief seemed to be a preferable solution to the ongoing dilemma, and in April 1993, the victim disappeared on his way home from work in nearby Gyōda city.
A missing person's report was filed by his family the next day. When his car was discovered abandoned at an underground parking lot a few weeks later, the police suspected foul play—even more so when the man's family revealed that there had been tension between him and Sekine. The police had spent time surveilling the store owner years prior, after a series of disappearances had taken place with him at the center.
The disappearance of the businessman (referred to as "A" in police reports) would eventually be confirmed as the first of four murders committed by Sekine and Kazama within a matter of months—though Sekine was suspected to be involved in several other cases. Like "A," Sekine's other confirmed victims—a gang leader, his driver, and a housewife—were each conned in a similar fashion, and later dispatched using the same shocking methods.
"A" had been promised reimbursement by Sekine and Kazama on April 20th. Having agreed to meet at a car garage in Kamagaya city that day, Sekine would engage in conversation with his soon-to-be-victim before slipping strychnine—a toxin used for the mercy killing of pets—into his drink, killing him quickly.
With the forcible assistance of Africa Kennel employee Eikō Yamazaki, the deceased body was then transported from the crime scene to be dismembered and disposed of. Yamazaki's home, a secluded spot surrounded by wooded countryside and mountains, was chosen (against the owner's will) as the location for the most disturbing actions involved in Sekine and Kazama's crimes.
Fearing that any surviving bodily evidence could link them to the murders, Sekine dismembered the bodies of each of the four victims by hand. He separated organs from flesh and meat from bone with knives and other tools, scattering the unrecognizable, finely chopped-up remains in a nearby river. When only the victims' bones and material possessions remained, Sekine started a fire in an unused oil drum, burning them down to ash to be scattered in the nearby woods.
The disappearances would make the news in February 1994, after mainstream media began covering an unrelated series of dog-related murders in Osaka. Rumors of similar such activity in Saitama became rampant, and when the trio of Sekine, Kazama, and Yamazaki came under investigation for unrelated accounts of fraud, the latter cracked. Yamazaki admitted the crimes that had taken place under Sekine's command to the police soon after.
By December of the same year, Yamazaki's testimony led police to uncover minor remains and belongings from the four victims from a wooded area in Katashina Village, Gunma prefecture. By January 1995, the perpetrators had been arrested.
Despite a major lack of material evidence, Sekine and Kazama were convicted based on the consistency of Yamazaki's testimony—who was himself convicted for three counts of bodily mutilation and four counts of abandonment of a corpse.
For his involvement, Yamazaki received a three-year prison sentence in December 1995. But it would take several more years for Sekine and Kazama to receive sentencing after both perpetrators accused each other of being the principal perpetrator.
An unsolved case relating to the disappearance of at least three men and women in Chichibu City in 1984 further complicated the matter, after a kennel in nearby Kumagaya City was rumored to have been used as a site for mutilations and incineration of several other corpses.
On March 21st, 2001, Sekine and Kazama were sentenced to death for the murders of four people, with Kazama only the 12th woman to receive the death penalty in Japan since the end of the Second World War. Sixteen years later, Sekine died from a heart-attack-related illness at Tokyo Detention House; Kazama still awaits her execution.
The events of the Saitama Dog Lover Murders remain deeply disturbing—even more so after having been visualized on film in 2011 by renegade filmmaker Sion Sono. His controversial feature Cold Fish would change the business of the perpetrators from dog-breeding to that of tropical fish, but many details of their crimes would remain intact, such as the dispatching of victims using poison and the desecration of their bodies in a rural area.
In a review for The Japan Times in 2011, journalist Mark Schilling described the film as "a nightmare" taking place in "an abattoir of blood and gore." It's a description equally fitting of the crimes of Sekine and his cohorts.
Featured photo courtesy of James Balmont