‘Twas the sweet embrace of social media fame that finally put this infamous Yakuza behind bars.
For 15 years, 74-year-old Shigeharu Shirai had successfully evaded the Japanese police. In 2003, a warrant was placed for his arrest after he was implicated in the killing of a rival gang leader. Mr. Shirai and seven other individuals in the notorious Yamaguchi-gumi gang are alleged to have murdered Kashihiko Otobe, the second-in-command of the Kamiya Gang.
Unfortunately, before he could be tried for his crimes, Mr. Shirai completely vanished from Japan in 2005. For over a decade there were no leads until a photo taken in Thailand of an older man with distinctive full-body tattoos hit in the Internet.
The candid shot showed a shirtless Mr. Shirai playing checkers with a group of men. While the photo did not get a closeup on his face, the highly detailed blue ink drawings were unique enough for police to verify his identity from them. The photo was shared over 10,000 times and Mr. Shirai was recognized by multiple netizens.
Yakuza are often known for their intricate tattoos, meant to be an homage to classical Japanese culture and a a marker of their status in the gang world.
During his time abroad, Mr. Shirai married a woman he met in Thailand and did a remarkably good job at staying hidden. A couple times every year, he received a small amount of money from various “Japanese associates.”
If he had kept his shirt on during that fateful checker game, it’s possible that he never would have been caught, and he would have lived out his remaining senior years in relative peace. What was supposed to be a leisurely game pass the time turned into his ultimate undoing.
Mr. Shirai has been apprehended by Thai authorities, who charged him with illegal entry into the country. He is expected to be returned to Japan and turned over to the police there.