'Killer granny' puts focus on crime wave by Japan's elderly

TOKYO - Even by the standards of vicious crimes committed in Japan, Miyoko Sumida stands out.

Last Wednesday, police filed a new murder charge against Sumida and six members of her extended family for handcuffing a man in a shed on the balcony of her apartment, starving him to death and then placing his body in a barrel before filling it with cement and dumping it into a nearby harbour in western Japan.

The 64-year-old Sumida is said to be the mastermind of at least six murders to claim insurance or pension money.

One of the victims was Sumida's husband, who was part of a group of nine people having their photo taken on top of a cliff when he fell. The family received 90 million yen (S$1.3 million) in insurance and had a property mortgage written off.

Police are investigating suggestions from people who were present that the man was coerced into committing suicide.

Other victims apparently had loaned money to Sumida or had left property or other assets to her after their untimely deaths. More bodies have been found in steel drums or wrapped in blankets and hidden beneath floorboards of family properties.

The authorities are still looking into two more suspicious deaths, including that of her daughter-in-law's 88-year-old grandmother.

While the grisly murders have shocked many Japanese, perhaps what was more shocking is that the alleged leader of the pack - nicknamed The Piranha Family by local media - is a grandmother in her 60s.

But it goes some way towards bearing out new government statistics that suggest Japan is experiencing a crime wave committed by the elderly.

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