Terror has swept an island in Japan after a “master thief” escaped prison earlier this month.
Tatsuma Hirao, who was serving a five-and-a-half year sentence for theft at a low-security prison in the city of Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, has reportedly made several thefts since his escape on April 8.
The 27-year-old inmate allegedly slipped past the guards unnoticed during his assigned shift working at the jail’s shipbuilding yard.
Around 6,600 police officers are now engaged in a manhunt to end Hirao’s crime spree, according to The Japan Times.
Police cited numerous challenges in their pursuit of the slippery thief, including the island’s hilly landscape that makes helicopter searches difficult and the 1,000 vacant houses on the island that requires each owner’s permission to search inside.
The 22-square-kilometer (8.5-square-mile) island, which has a population of around 22,000, is reportedly gripped in “terror and anxiety” with Hirao on the lose, according to a local news headline via Daily Mail.
Reports have indicated that while the fugitive left fingerprints during the multiple robberies he committed recently, authorities are having difficulty tracking him down.
In the last few days, Hirao was able to steal socks, a mobile phone, a wallet, a pair of sandals and a car, in which the owner reportedly found a polite note, saying, “I’m borrowing your car but I’ll never damage it.”
Investigators believe Hirao is now hiding in the island of Mukaishima, near Hiroshima, after driving the stolen car through the 43-mile bridge and highway system that connects several islands.
The minister responsible for the penitentiary’s security has publicly apologized over the escape, which has made headlines throughout the nation.
“I heard the incident has caused anxiety among local residents, especially since there are many elderly people living alone… I feel truly sorry,” Justice Minister Yoko Kawakami was quoted as saying.
Hirao, a notorious petty thief, was arrested after robbing numerous barber shops in Fukuoka and other cities on Kyushu island in southern Japan in 2013.