In 1945, the economic situation of Japan was critical. This caused many parents to look for alternatives to get rid of children they couldn't feed or raise.
In the history of serial killers, or even simply murderers, their reasons vary from infamous acts of revenge, passionate crimes, ambition, to basically any sick reason. Many have wondered what leads people to seeing murder as an option. I've always thought that for most serial killers it's a feeling of empowerment that satisfies them. It’s like playing God and feeling you have the last word regarding another person’s life. Ultimately, that's what is so invigorating and inebriating for them that they just can’t stop. What goes through your mind to make you think you have the right to decide what’s best or not for other people? The story I’m going to present you today deals precisely with that idea of superiority over others to decide what’s best for them, even when they are in no position to know what the hell is happening. This is one of those macabre stories where the reasons, more than being understandable, are sinister. So, without further ado, let’s talk about Miyuki Ishikawa, also known as the Demon Midwife, the woman who killed at least 103 newborn babies to "spare them a life of misery and poverty."
In 1945 Japan was forced to sign an unconditional surrender to end the war. The country suffered a terrible social crisis due to the traumatic consequences of being in a war, the atomic bomb, the economic turmoil every country experiences during and right after such a huge conflict, and the list could go on. Besides the fact that most of Japan’s population were stagnated in the worst misery, they also experienced a very interesting social phenomenon: a massive baby boom. It’s believed that this phenomenon is linked to the great number of postponed marriages over the war, or even couples that were forcibly separated due to the war. But it’s also linked to this need to bring life to normality, to form a family and move on from those traumatic moments. Well, it’s estimated that, only in Japan, about 2.6 million babies were born annually from 1947 to 1949. I mean, we know that the post-war babies are actually called baby boomers, but the numbers in Japan were just over the top.
So, under that context the events we’re talking about took place. There's almost no information about Ishikawa’s life prior to the war. What is known is that she was born in 1897 in a small town in southern Japan called Kinitomi. She studied at the University of Tokyo, got married, started working as a midwife in the maternity ward of a hospital, and even became the director of the ward. So, according to the story, she realized that the birth rate was increasing dramatically, and she noticed how couples were very worried because they barely had money to feed themselves. This made her think that the best solution was to actually leave all these newborn babies to die, since that was better than living a life of misery, disease, and suffering. I mean, it’s nice to help and act when you see others going through harsh situations, but there’s a huge difference between finding a viable solution to a problem and deliberately killing babies.
Not only had she decided it was best for these babies to die, but in many cases, the parents asked her to do something, as they were unable to even feed their child. At the time, abortions were illegal in the country. Doing anything to prevent a pregnancy was severely punished, even more than the death of a child out of neglect. So, poor people who didn't know what to do with their children or those who didn’t want them started recurring to Ishikawa for a definite solution. Her practices weren’t that secret and private, and actually many of the other midwives working at the hospital condemned what she was doing and resigned. It’s impressive that, while it was an open secret, no one really did anything to stop her.
She soon realized that she needed help if she wanted to get away with her plan, and so, she included her husband and a doctor at her hospital, Shiro Nakayama, in the business. I deliberately said business because that’s what this spree of horrors became. They started asking their clients for money, arguing that it was going to be way less than the money they would have to pay during their child’s life. Awful, right? So, Miyuki Ishikawa would take care of the killings, her husband would then collect the money from the desperate parents, and Dr. Nakayama was in charge of creating false death certificates. Their scheme was perfect, or so they thought, since not so long after they started doing it, they were caught by the local police.
In 1948, two police officers found the remains of five newborn babies. An investigation was set in motion after the autopsies revealed that they hadn’t died of natural causes. Through witnesses and declarations, the police arrested Miyuki and her two accomplices. But this isn’t the creepiest part of it. While they were interrogating and waiting for a trial, the investigation led the officers and detectives to a temple where they found about thirty baby bodies buried in the premises and about forty in a mortician’s house. All had died in the same way as the first five they found. Miyuki declared in the trial that she had nothing to do with this, and that the most likely explanation was that the parents had actually abandoned them out of their desperate economic situation.
Believe it or not, that speech had some effect on the jury, and she was accused of the crime of omission instead of murder. She was only sentenced to eight years in prison, while her accomplices only four. The couple appealed to the Tokyo High Court and their sentence was reduced, so she only spent four years and her husband two. Due to the number of killings, Miyuki Ishikawa is considered the most prolific serial killer in the history of Japan, even when she didn’t really pay for her crimes. Still, the case caused such an impact that some laws changed in Japan. For instance, the government started discussing abortion, and by 1949 it became legal under special economic circumstances as part of their Eugenic Protection Law.
Here are other stories you might find interesting: