TOKYO - Takahiro Shiraishi, the Japanese serial killer who was sentenced to the gallows on Dec 15 for murdering nine people and chopping up their bodies, craves romance and hopes to get married.
"I am thinking it'd be good to have someone who supports me. She'd be able to come and see me here, and bring me things," said the lovelorn 30-year-old in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun the morning after he was sentenced to death.
"I want to meet a normal girl (and) get married. If I do, she could see me even when I go to the Tokyo Detention House," he added, referring to the facility where death row inmates are kept.
Shiraishi has long preyed on human weaknesses, first as a sex scout baiting women into prostitution and then as an unrepentant killer who has not shown a tinge of remorse for his deeds.
He used Twitter to bait eight suicidal women to his 13.5 sq m home where he drugged, robbed, raped, and killed them before dismembering their bodies in a three-month spree from August to October 2017.
He also killed a male friend of the first victim who came too close to discovering his crimes.
Police found nine human heads and 240 bones stashed in cooler boxes on Halloween that year.
Shiraishi had initially craved love - however perverted or abnormal his definition of romance might be - when he began sussing out his female victims. He was looking for a woman with whom he could live, and leech off without ever having to work.
Tapping his experience as a scout for the seedy sex trade in Shinjuku's Kabukicho district - a role he had to give up after he was caught and given a suspended sentence - he targeted vulnerable women by whispering sweet nothings.
He used two Twitter accounts. In one, he posed as a suicide guru with the handle "Hangman", skilled at helping people end their lives.
In the other, he portrayed himself as a forlorn man hoping to find people with whom to enter into suicide pacts. He said: "I thought it would be easier for people with some worries or problems to persuade. It's easier to operate."
Shiraishi's modus operandi for most cases was similar, and he was prepared to play the long game. He won the trust of women by acting sympathetic to their plight, by which point he would toy with their feelings with sweet nothings to reel them in.
Whether or not he was serious about the relationship, he dispensed with many of his female victims after they lost their use to him - either because they were poor and could not support his lifestyle, or because he feared that they would report his sexual assault.
"I thought I could get money without working, while satisfying my sexual desires," Shiraishi said. He robbed his victims of anywhere between several hundred yen to tens of thousands of yen.
While media outlets once reported the names and photographs of the victims, there has since been a court gag order to keep their identities anonymous. They were ascribed the letters A to I, in chronological order, during the hearings.
"It was a very comfortable and pleasurable life," Shiraishi said in court. "I failed because I was caught. I have no other feelings."
Love gone south
Shiraishi thought he had met the love of his life in A, a 21-year-old company employee who once entertained suicidal thoughts after her best friend killed herself.
But things went south after she demanded the return of a loan, and as jealousy struck when he suspected there was another man in the picture.
Shiraishi found their heated arguments "bothersome" and struck by attacking her from behind.
After days went by without having been found out, he began to think that he could get away with murder.
The smooth operator targeted vulnerable women, winning their trust with sweet nothings like "I badly want to meet you", even as he juggled multiple women at the same time.
One reportedly said in 2017 that she lucked out: "I had a date with Shiraishi at his house, but he cancelled on me saying that he was meeting a friend."
During these "meetings" at home, he fed the women alcohol and drugged them with sleeping pills or tranquilisers before robbing them. For eight of them, he also raped, killed and dismembered their bodies in his bathroom to destroy evidence.
The male victim was drugged and robbed before he was killed and dismembered.
"I disposed of their flesh and internal organs like garbage, but kept their bones out of fear that I would be caught," he told police investigators.
One woman, now 24, was working as a nurse in 2017 when she became acquainted with Shiraishi. She told the Shukan Genkai weekly that she might have been the next victim had he not been nabbed.
They met on Twitter after the woman said she was suicidal. Shiraishi introduced himself as 25-year-old Ryo Yamamoto living in Tokyo's Machida district.
They exchanged messages for 52 days. "I love you," Shiraishi reportedly told her.
They made plans to move in together and holiday at Nagasaki's Huis Ten Bosch theme park. But she also had a glimpse of his dark side, which she brushed off as a sick joke.
She told the tabloid that Shiraishi had informed her that he had killed people, and sent her a photograph of a rope.
"I had the impression that he was a good man with a refreshing, trustworthy voice," she said. "But he was talking to me even as he lived in a house surrounded by skulls and bones from carved up bodies."
Court testimonies by friends and relatives of the nine victims tell a story of people who once entertained suicidal thoughts but had emerged from the darkest periods of their life.
Victim A was applying for new jobs. Her friend C - the only male victim - was passionate about music and wanted to become a full-time musician, though a major illness once left him hospitalised and briefly robbed his will to live.
Victim B, 15, had a change of heart but felt pressured into meeting Shiraishi due to their age difference of more than 10 years.
Victim D, 19, had bought a kimono to wear on Coming-of-Age Day, a major celebration in Japan to mark the adulthood for those turning 20 years old.
Victim E, 26, was a divorcee with a daughter who is now nine years old. Her ex-husband said: "She showered our child with so much love. She was not rich, but would always prioritise our girl when she bought food and clothes."
He has not told their daughter that her mother was dead, and wished that they could have put aside their differences and "live together again as a family of three".
Victim F, 17, had dreams of working as a nurse.
Victim G, 17, was working part-time at a gyoza dumpling shop and promised her father they would make gyozas together.
Victim H, 25, was a social recluse who emerged from her shell, and was working part-time at a convenience store. She told her family she hoped to marry and have her own family and was saving up for the future.
Victim I, 23, was depressed when her mother died in June 2017, but was coming out of the dark period with the support of her brother.
He eventually raised the alarm of Shiraishi's crimes, after he hacked into his sister's Twitter account and read the messages.
Nonetheless, Shiraishi's defence team argued that there was "tacit agreement" behind the "consensual murders", given that they told Shiraishi they wanted to die.
But the prosecution said there was obviously no consent given, and that Shiraishi had struck when the victims were unaware.
Shiraishi was visibly shaken during the trial, when a message from his mother was read out in court. "I've been asking myself if I could even live, thinking of the victims and their bereaved families."
He told the prosecution that he will "kill the perpetrators" when asked to imagine that his mother and sister were strangled, sexually assaulted, and killed.
Throughout the trial, he defied his own attorneys by refusing to answer their questions, hoping to end the process faster so as not to "inconvenience his relatives".
Addressing his family, he said: "I don't think it's possible, but I want you to forget about my existence and live on."
Shiraishi's attorneys appealed against the death sentence on Friday, likely against their client's wishes, which means the appeal could yet be withdrawn.
Nonetheless, in Japan, death row inmates get no prior notice of their impending execution until the very morning they face the gallows.
"I want to use the time I have left to find a girl," Shiraishi told the Mainichi daily.
"I want to look for someone who'll marry me while I'm in prison. Several people have come in the last two years, but nothing has led to marriage."