Supreme Truth and Extreme Measures: The murder of Tsutsumi Sakamoto by the Aum Shinrikyo cult

Frustrated with his cult, 32 year old Steven Mineo allegedly pleaded with his girlfriend to kill him last Saturday in Pennsylvania. Barbara Rogers, who was also a member of this online cult (and thought to be focused on the “new-age alien agenda) has been charged with criminal homicide for her involvement in his death.

Cults and murder seem to go hand-in-hand. Whilst Jonestown and the Manson family are still prevalent in our popular culture, a lesser known case involves the murder of a Japanese lawyer who fought for those who were also frustrated by the organisations and cults to which people had dedicated their lives.

The murder was perpetrated by notorious Aum Shinrikyo cult, responsible for the 1995 sarin (a deadly colourless, odorless liquid) attack on a Tokyo subway. In addition, the so-called “Supreme Truth” group, classified as a doomsday cult, has been accused of child abductions and the assassination of people opposed to them.

Tsutsumi Sakamoto was just one of the people forced to pay the ultimate price for defending those who weren’t able to defend themselves. Read on to learn more about a tragic story of his murder by members of the Aum cult.


Sakamoto: lawyer for the downtrodden

Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a 33-year-old lawyer from Yokohama, had built a career representing the oppressed and downtrodden. A graduate of the elite Tokyo University law school, he quickly established a reputation as a hard-working human rights lawyer. He was interviewed on radio and television stating unequivocally that Aum was guilty of holding members against their will, fraud and unethical practices.

Sakamoto contacted Aum to negotiate on behalf of the parents of the allegedly abducted children for “fair and proper access” to their loved ones. Aum officials greeted his initial inquiries with polite indifference. This brought him into direct, and what turned out to be fateful, contact with Aum’s chief legal counsel, Yoshinobu Aoyama. A skilled lawyer from a wealthy family, Aoyama was credited with being the youngest student to pass the tough bar exams at the Kyoto University Law school.


A rapid response to a potential lawsuit

Aoyama’s response was swift. Flyers, attempting to discredit Sakamoto, were distributed throughout Yokohama followed by threatening phone calls to his home and office. Sakamoto’s noble response to the threats was to increase the legal pressure on the sect.

Accusations against Sakamoto of mounting a campaign against religions freedom flew and, shortly after, meetings, discussions and any hope for a resolution broke down.


A grisly solution to Sakamoto problem

Aoyama called a meeting with his leading henchmen to discuss the Sakamoto problem. His instructions were clear and straight to the point: something had to be done to silence Sakamoto. Aoyama was mindful of the damage that a lawsuit could do. Aum’s status as an official religion was still in the probationary stage and would be quickly revoked if a legal scandal ensued. This was a move that could mean the end of his rapidly expanding empire.

The plan was simple: wait outside of Yokohama railway station for Sakamoto to return from work, drag him into their car, inject him with a noxious substance, drive the body back to the compound and burn the remains. However, Sakamoto was late getting home.

After waiting several hours, the men realised that it was a public holiday and Sakamoto would be at home with his family. Not satisfied with any further delay, Aoyama directed them to wait until the early hours of the following morning, go to Sakamoto’s apartment and kill the entire family.

At 3 a.m. the following morning, the group entered the apartment by an unlocked rear door and made their way to the master bedroom. As they entered the room, the baby awoke and began screaming. One of the men covered the boy’s mouth with his hand and held him as someone injected the tiny body with a massive dose of a lethal drug. Sakamoto was next.

Two men attacked him while he slept and battered him about the head with a hammer. The noise woke Sakamoto’s wife, who screamed and lashed out at her attackers, biting the hand of one of them until she too was bashed into submission and finally strangled. Both adults were then injected with the deadly drug, but Tsutsumi Sakamoto, as he had done for most of his life, continued to fight. Finally, in desperation, two of the men strangled him until the life drained stubbornly from his body.


Supreme Truth?

The bodies were placed in three separate barrels, and disposed of in three separate areas. Their teeth were bashed in to further complicate identification. They were not discovered until six years later when the cult’s involvement in the murders were uncovered with the arrest of several senior cult members with links to other atrocities, such as the 1995 subway attack.

All those considered to be directly involved with the murders were sentenced to death, with three perpetrators of these murders remaining on death row to this day.


New name, new start?

Following the extensive controversy surrounding their group, the Aum cult has since been renamed Aleph. However, a cloud remains over head with membership a tenth of what it used to be, and the group and its members remaining under constant police surveillance.

Your turn: From Charles Manson, to Marshall Applewhite, cults are often shrouded in controversy, but do you think these groups are always dangerous? What do you think law enforcement can do to protect those involves and, indeed, those that are not?



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