A Japanese nurse confessed to police this week that she killed as many as 20 patients while working at a hospital in Yokohama, claiming that she wanted to avoid explaining the deaths to families so ensured that poison drips would kill the person when she was not on duty.
Ayumi Kuboki claims that she only targeted terminally ill patients, but a report in Japan’s Asahi Shimbun says that police have identified several suspected cases of her victims that were not doomed to die before she took them under her care.
The incident is the latest in a string of murders in Japan targeting the sick and elderly in hospitals, nursing homes, and other target-rich environments for these killers, many of whom were paid to guarantee the comfort and health of their victims. Japan’s population is the world’s oldest and fertility rates have been declining for years, in large part a product of a competitive business environment in the country that forces many women to choose between motherhood and careers.
The nation’s nursing homes often boast long waiting lists. Some have attempted to solve the problem by hiring elderly workers to care for people their age, making them part of the nursing home community without having to wait to get in. Others who do not want to wait for months or years to be lodged in a nursing home commit crimes on purpose to get sent to jail, where the government must provide food and shelter. The government has openly expressed exasperation with its resilient elderly population, with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso advising older Japanese citizens in 2013 to “hurry up and die.”
Ayumi Kuboki was arrested this week in relation to the deaths of several patients at Oguchi Hospital in Yokohama in 2016. She admitted to police that she used antiseptic solutions to kill patients she believed were seriously ill “because she wanted to avoid facing bereaved families,” according to Asahi. If she believed the patient might die while she was on duty – leaving her to explain to the families that the person was dead – she would poison them to ensure she was not around for their final moments.
At least two of Kuboki’s known victims were 88 years old at the time of their death and died within hours of Kaboki making an unwarranted visit to his room before her shift began.
While Koboki appeared to target only those who seemed close to death, many of whom were coincidentally elderly, Japan has witnessed several mass murder of this kind specifically targeting older or permanently disabled people. In March, a Japanese court sentenced 25-year-old Hayato Imai, a former worker at a nursing home, to death for killing three of the people he was paid to take care of. Throughout 2014, Imai was found guilty of killing three people – 86, 87, and 96 years of age – by staging accidents around the nursing home. All three “fell” down balconies to their deaths under mysterious circumstances, later clarified by Imai being the only nursing home worker on duty at the time and the fact that the victims were physically incapable of scaling over the balconies on their own.
In 2016, 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu was arrested after going on a stabbing spree in a disabled facility, causing the deaths of 19 and serious injury of another 26 people. Uematsu confessed to the killings and told police, “I hope that disabled people will disappear.” Uematsu had reached out to the Speaker of the Japanese House of Representatives advocating for euthanasia in a letter before his arrest.
In November 2017, another nursing home worker, 25-year-old Hisashi Minakawa, was arrested for killing an 83-year-old under his care. Minakawa told police the victim had wet his bed multiple times in one night and sent him into an angry rage, so he strangled him and drowned him in a bathtub.
Killers of the elderly are not always young people – in some cases, the elderly help each other commit suicide to avoid becoming a burden on their families, or kill to ease their financial burden. 70-year-old Chisako Kakehi told a court she killed her husband and two boyfriends for their inheritance, the only way she could have access to the money she needed, she thought. She was convicted in November 2017 of triple homicide, explaining her rationale as: “In order to live. If you don’t have money, you cannot do anything.”