Is Chisako Kakehi a misandrist anti-hero, or just a sociopathic murderer? Perhaps Japan's 'black widow' serial killer is a bit of both.
In December of 2013, 68-year-old Kakehi's 75-year-old husband was found dead in his home in Kyoto, Japan. At first, police ruled his death to be a heart attack; Kakehi played the grieving widow well. But authorities soon grew suspicious of their month-long marriage and, according to the New York Times, "when a test of the dead man's blood revealed lethal cyanide, the police began an investigation of his bride, Chisako... on suspicion of murder."
What they found was a string of men that Kakehi married, or dated, for money and then left in her wake. At the time of last year's investigation she was charged with wedding and dead-ing six elderly men, for whom she was often the sole beneficiary on their will. Reports claim that her chosen method was poison—cyanide, which she kept in a planter.
While Kakehi maintained her innocence at the time ("I don't even know how to kill someone. And I don't know where the cyanide came from. I wish someone would tell me."), the police have been slowly bringing to light her backlog of killings. Along with her former husband in Kyoto, Kakehi has been charged with the death of a boyfriend in Osaka—who perished in a motorcycle crash after she poisoned him—and attempted murder of a boyfriend in Kobe. Though she slipped her Kobe lover hydrocyanic acid and he later died in 2009, the police only tied her to his death this June.
Female serial killers are much more likely than males to kill for financial profit, comfort, or revenge.
Since 2014, the black widow has been in police custody awaiting trial and now News On Japan reports that Kakehi has been linked to yet another man's death. On Wednesday it was announced that authorities confirmed she played a hand in the death of another 75-year-old man back in 2013. She poisoned his drink with hydrocyanic acid while the two were at a restaurant. He collapsed outside in the parking lot. This time she confessed right away: "I killed him with cyanide," she told the police.
We might never know the reasons behind Kekehi's murders. There's little information about her background or upbringing available online, and she hasn't been very outspoken herself. Flash, a Japanese tabloid, reported that Kekehi was a member of multiple matchmaking sites, which she used to ensnare victims. A representative from one of those dating services told the magazine, "She came across as a normal, kind person, and someone who has overcome many problems... Since so many men have been duped it is clear that she is a manipulator." The trope of the black widow—a lethal woman whose crimes are entangled with seduction for financial gain—isn't new, though. She's a man-eater, like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction; she's a gold digger with raised stakes—life or death. Murder is murder, of course, but there remains something sadistically delightful about vengeful women. Early last year, BAM dedicated a whole week to the genre of killer ladies in film, and well-aimed misandry never goes out of style.
There's likely to be a perfect storm of predisposition to mental illness accompanied by developmental events and life stressors that underlie these crimes.
In terms of the general population of murderous women, femme fatals make up less than 20 percent of all serial killers, according to Dr. Scott A. Bonn writing at Psychology Today. Unlike murders committed by men, murders committed by women aren't typically motivated by sexual or sadistic drives. Bonn asserts that women who kill serially are much more practical. "Female serial killers are much more likely than males to kill for financial profit, comfort or revenge," he writes. In a male dominated world, where women make 70 cents for every man's dollar, I guess a girl has got to get ahead somehow.
I asked Dr. Marissa Harrison, an expert on the psychology of female serial killers at Penn State, why female serial killers tend to be so motivated by money. Could it really be because women are so economically disadvantaged that some believe their feminine charms and willingness to kill are their only ways to lean in? "I think you make a good point, certainly, that women may have more economic disadvantages than do men," she said over email. "But not everyone who is experiencing hard times kills. There's likely to be a perfect storm of predisposition to mental illness accompanied by developmental events/life stressors that underlie these crimes. Unfortunately, we may never fully understand why."
I also spoke to Merry White, an anthropology professor at Boston University who focuses on Japanese society. While she was careful to point out that Kakehi is an anomaly and can't possibly indicate a larger societal trend in Japanese culture, White explained that there's an increasing population of elderly men in Japan looking for care—creating the perfect conditions for Kekehi's crimes. Gone are the days of good Confucius children who take care of their aging parents, says White, which leaves unmarried or widowed men—who traditionally view care work as women's work—seeking a female companion. "[Her victims] are of a generation of men who never did learn how to take care of themselves. They do not know how to live independently. They had previous wives, and they were waited on hand and foot by that generation of women." Indeed, the men who found Kekehi got a lot more than a docile housewife.