The Devil’s Jaws

October 10, 2013 at 12:00 AM

The estimated reading time for this post is 13 minutes, 36 seconds

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I suppose when I say, “Noroi Gakkotsu,” most of you would guess I was talking about some exotic delicacy, or maybe some holiday resort in the far east. You’d be dead wrong. A Noroi Gakkotsu is a very nasty object that has been part of Japanese folklore for centuries, maybe even millennia.

Please keep reading! I know that folklore, especially folklore from a completely foreign culture, bores a lot of people to snores. I can assure you, I’m no fan either. But please believe me when I say that it’s essential that you read this and understand what Noroi Gakkotsu are and how they work.

As best it can be translated, “Noroi Gakkotsu” means “Devil’s Jaws” in English. According to Japanese tradition, a Noroi Gakkotsu is made of two thin boards of wood, one upon the other, that are bound together on one side with either a strip of leather or length of twine, so that the boards can be opened and closed like a book (or a set of jaws!). A certain spell is then written upon the boards to give the object its dark powers. Basically, so long as they knew the magic words, anybody could make one from household objects.

Noroi Gakkotsu were used to strike a bargain with something they called “Kofuko-oni Koun,” which I’m told means “He who pays for his food with good luck.” Don’t be fooled, though. Even though the name might sound benevolent, Kofuko-oni Koun was regarded as a cruel, evil creature and was greatly feared.

He was believed to have sway over the forces of luck and a person could request him to turn a near-certain failure in their future into a glorious victory, by writing what they wanted upon a piece of rice paper and placing it inside a Noroi Gakkotsu. But there was also a catch.

Kofuko-oni Koun would only honor the request if you nominated your payment for his ‘services’ on the top of the message – and the only payment he would accept was the life of someone you held dear. It had to be someone you truly cared for, though not necessarily a family member, it could also have been a close friend. If you named someone who you didn’t care for, or even someone you actually wanted to die, somehow the Kofuko-oni Koun would know and the wish wouldn’t be granted.

But if the Kofuko-oni Koun approved of the nominated payment, then the person who made the wish would be blessed with the best possible luck in whatever matter they’d asked for the Kofuko-oni Koun to help them with. After that, the nominated victim would mysteriously disappear almost entirely without a trace.

The worst part of the story is that after it had claimed its price, the Kofuko-oni Koun would leave a “souvenir” outside the front door of the person who made the wish. Sometimes it was the victim’s bloody clothing, or some other personal affect. But more often than not, it was part of the victim’s remains! Some people believe that it did this to traumatize the person who had made the wish; to remind them of the terrible fate they’d placed upon their loved one. Others apparently think that it was more like the Kofuko-oni Koun leaving a ‘receipt’ behind for the person who made the wish, acknowledging that it had received its payment and that their business was concluded.

Either way, making a Noroi Gakkotsu and striking a bargain with Kofuko-oni Koun were forbidden practices in Japan, punishable by death. So once the deal was done, the person who had committed the crime would usually destroy all the evidence: the Noroi Gakkotsu, and whatever traces of the victim had been left upon their doorstep.

Even if you are into old monster legends, I’m sure you’re probably just reading this and thinking that it’s just some old superstitious hokum. Well, a few days… hell, probably even a few hours ago I would’ve agreed with you. But not anymore.

I can’t tell you too much about who I am or how I know what I know. What I can tell you is that I have connections in the missing-person-turned-homicide investigation of a teenage boy somewhere in the Midwest.

About a year ago, in the lead-up to Halloween, there was this meme going around with a picture showing the top of a skeleton: the skull, neck and shoulder blades. People would forward it on with MMS’s, tweets and the like with simple messages like “Happy Halloween,” or “Boo!,” etc. You might’ve gotten one yourself.

Eventually, the meme found its way to somebody with a bit of knowledge about anatomy and they realized that the skeleton in the picture was awfully realistic. They reported it to law enforcement. But it would be weeks before the report made it through the bureaucracy to a medical examiner who verified that the image did indeed warrant some an investigation.

The M.E. was convinced that the skeleton was indeed the genuine article, but of particular concern to her was the pinkish tone of the bones, and the trace amounts of what appeared to be blood and flesh still on it. What also concerned her were a series of scrape marks that could be seen on the bones when the photo was examined at high resolution. They appeared to encompass the entire skull and the M.E.’s opinion was that these were made when the flesh was stripped off the body – by something with very sharp and very hard teeth.

There seemed to be no legitimate reason for a photo like this to be circulating among the public. Law enforcement determined that it was either a leaked crime scene photo, or evidence to an as-yet undiscovered crime. They considered that the photo might’ve been taken by some callous private citizens (read asshole kids) who’d found a dead body, photographed it, published it online, and never reported it to the cops. Even more disturbing was the possibility that the photo was published by the psycho who had done this and wanted the world to admire his handiwork.

The trouble was that we had only one photo to go on, which made it really hard to determine whether or not the photo was even related to an active or solved case. The exif-data; the data buried within the jpeg file that detail where the photo had come from, what camera had taken it, when it had been taken, etc., had all been wiped clean; which isn’t hard to do if you know what you’re doing. All we had to go on was the photo itself.

I won’t bore you with the technical details, but suffice to say that the computer forensics techs made a thorough sweep of the national crime scene photo database and determined that the photo didn’t pertain to any case in the digital archives.

Several other analyses were run on the photo, but the one that paid off was the facial reconstruction simulation – a piece of software that scans the photo of the skull and determines what the guy would’ve looked like when he was still alive. Eventually, we were able to match the reconstructed face to an active case file out-of-state: the skull belonged to a teenage boy, let’s call him “Jack,” who had been reported missing.

While the photo itself was being investigated, the meme was also being examined. We were charting its course back from the concerned citizen who initially reported the image to the police, to the first person who’d ever sent the image. It wasn’t easy as the meme leapfrogged back-and-forth across several popular messaging services along its way. Just over a week after the victim’s identity was confirmed, we were able to determine who had started the meme. We’ll call her “Jill.”

What was of immediate interest to law enforcement was that Jill’s name was already on record in Jack’s case file – she was apparently a school friend of his and one of the last people to see him alive.

A warrant was issued for Jill’s cell phone and she was brought in for questioning. The phone was thoroughly analysed and an MMS was recovered containing the skeleton photo. But while the phone had a definite record of receiving the message, it was later discovered that Jill’s service provider had no record of ever transmitting it to her.

Another weird thing was that the sender ID for the MMS didn’t contain any numbers; it contained only unicode Japanese Kanji characters. This is technically impossible! The way the system is set up, the phone should only be able to log a series of numeric digits into the sender ID field! The characters in the sender ID spelt out “Anatano Shitauke.” This isn’t someone’s name; the techs translated it and discovered that it roughly means “Your employee,” or “Your business partner.”

Under interrogation, Jill recalled receiving the MMS. She said that the message “kind of creeped her out,” especially because it came from an “unknown sender” (which is what the messaging software told her, because it wasn’t able to interpret the invalid sender ID). But because it was close to Halloween, she assumed that one of her friends sent it as a seasonal thing and so she forwarded the “cool, creepy photo” on, starting the meme.

According to the MMS’s time stamp, she received it only a few hours after Jack was last seen. But Jill claimed she never linked the message to Jack’s disappearance in her mind because at the time she received the MMS, she didn’t even know Jack was missing. The detectives grilled Jill for over three hours, but when she began to get really upset, her father ended the interview and without harder evidence, the detectives couldn’t hold her.

The tech who analysed the phone… well, let’s just say that he’s very thorough at his job, and he didn’t give up on the mystery of how this phone could’ve received an impossible MMS, that its service provider had no record of ever sending. He dug deep into its software, looking for his explanation. Eventually, he came upon a curious anomaly embedded in the phone’s firmware: more unicode Japanese characters, this time a long block of them. The firmware is supposed to be just universal machine code that tells the phone how to work. Japanese text, or text in any human language for that matter, doesn’t belong in there. But as intriguing as this discovery was, it still didn’t explain the impossible MMS. At least, that’s what we thought at the time…

You see, the Japanese text was ‘garbage data’ – which means it was worked into the firmware in such a way that it had no actual effect on how it worked. It was on the phone, but it wasn’t doing anything.

By this point, I was involved in the investigation. When I learned about the Japanese text in the firmware I got curious, so I ran it through google translate. It didn’t translate well, though. A quarter of the words weren’t even recognized and the ones that were didn’t make any sense together. Frustrated, I called upon a Japanese-American acquaintance to translate for me. I’d expected it to be the manufacturer’s copyright on the firmware code, or perhaps even the programmer signing his work. But it actually turned out to sound more like a sombre poem of sorts. My Japanese-American friend agreed, saying that the language was far more elegant than day-to-day Japanese and more than a little archaic.

Seeking answers, we phoned up the phone manufacturer’s development lab in Japan. We eventually got through to the manager of the team who developed the phone’s software and, with my friend acting as translator, we asked him about the mysterious text in the firmware, and also if he had any explanation as to how a Japanese phrase could be recorded as the sender ID for an MMS on one of their phones. He very politely denied knowing anything about either of these matters and assured me that any garbage data in the firmware was of no consequence.

Still wanting answers to at least one of the mysteries, I phoned a professor of Japanese literature at Tokyo University to see if he could recognize the verse in the firmware. Before my colleague could finish reciting the verse, the professor cut him off. He recognized it, all right.

Despite the language barrier between us, I could hear the discomfort in the man’s voice as he explained that the “verse” was the incantation written upon Noroi Gakkotsu to give them their dark powers. It was at this point that my colleague explained the Noroi Gakkotsu legend of his culture to me. He knew the story well, he just had never heard the actual incantation used to create one, until now.

While this was all quite educational, it really didn’t get us anywhere in terms of the investigation. But I kept thinking about the problem of the MMS and eventually I had this crazy thought: The fact that Jill had received a photo of Jack’s remains was eerily similar to the part of the Noroi Gakkotsu legend where the monster would leave behind some proof of his victim’s death.

I suppose just for fun, I skimmed through the rest of the case notes to see if there were any other parallels between the murder and the Japanese legend. I almost wish I hadn’t.

When I read through Jill’s original witness statement – the one taken when police were just investigating Jack’s disappearance as a missing person’s case – she remarked that she remembered the last day she saw him clearly, because it was the same day her history teacher had returned a test that she’d surprisingly aced, even though she’d thought she was sure to flunk it.

My stomach sank when I read that statement. Because I was quite familiar with the contents of Jill’s phone and I remembered reading about this history test before. About 3 days before Jack’s disappearance, Jill had typed a text message into her phone: “I need to pass this history test.”

Jack’s name was marked at the top of the message, as the intended recipient.

The similarities between the old stories I’d been hearing and the murder were suddenly clear as day. Jill had a phone that for some reason contained an old Japanese spell used to summon a monster. She typed what could be interpreted as a demand for a good history mark into the phone, with her close friend’s name on the message, and just like in the stories, Jill aced her test, Jack disappeared without trace, and Jill received a sick memento of his death.

If you’d pointed this out to me at the time, I would’ve chuckled and said, “Yes, it is a weird coincidence, isn’t it?” I wanted to believe that that was all it was. I really did. But deep down, in that hidden ‘doubting Thomas’ part we all have that doesn’t completely trust modern rationality to be our salvation, I was frightened.

Then, a couple days ago, which was about a week after I’d called the phone manufacturer, I received a package in the mail. There was no return address, but the postmark was from Osaka, Japan.

Inside, were a heap of papers. On top of the stack was a cover letter explaining what the package contained. It was written in bad English, although I was able to get the gist of what it was saying. The sender didn’t identify themself, but it’s clear that they must work for the manufacturer of Jill’s phone and that they were aware that I’d been asking questions about the hidden text in the firmware.

My informant was part of the development of the phone series that Jill’s phone belonged to and he/she had an explanation for how the Noroi Gakkotsu incantation had gotten into the phones’ firmware.

There was a guy on the development team; smart, but a real emo-loner type. Not the shy kind of loner, the crazed-gunman-in-the-making kind. People would try to be friendly and reach out to him and he’d stare daggers at them. For whatever reasons, the guy had issues.

Shortly before the phone series’ went into production, the guy hung himself. My informant believes that before he died, the guy implanted the hazardous spell into the phones as his ultimate “screw you” to the world.

Within a few months of the phone’s release, somehow the company’s executives got wind that there was a problem with them ‘receiving’ disturbing MMS’s that the phones seemed to be generating themselves. The company began to investigate the problem quietly themselves, secretly querying all their active phones remotely. They found scores of incidents where a phone had a record of an incoming MMS from “Anatano Shitauke” (“Your business partner”), containing a single jpeg file. Most people who had received these messages had subsequently deleted them. But in several dozen cases, the jpegs were still on the recipients’ phones and were retrieved by the company.

An upgraded version of the firmware – with the incantation removed – was developed, but ultimately never implemented because it was discovered that the phones kept rejecting it. The guy who put the incantation into the firmware had also rigged it so that it would never allow itself to be overwritten.

Two months before Jack’s disappearance, the company abruptly terminated their investigation. By this time, they were aware of nearly 800 instances of MMS’s being received from “Anatano Shitauke.” An unspoken agreement was made that the problem was unsolvable and that their best course of action was to simply turn a blind eye. Everyone involved in the informal investigation was forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Orders were issued to destroy all the records. But my anonymous contact managed to keep copies of most of them, which he/she has sent to me.

It’s taking me a while to get through the documents he/she sent me, as most of them are written in Japanese. But luckily their list of the phones that received an “Anatano Shitauke” message was written in regular digits. I ran all the American numbers on that list through our database and all of them, every single one, belongs to somebody who was questioned in relation to a missing person case that began within days of them receiving that message!

But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that my contact also sent me printouts of all the jpegs they could salvage that turned up during the manufacturer’s investigation. They are all just like the photo of Jack’s remains that began this entire case: a realistic skeleton grinning into the camera, covered in the scrape marks left by whatever sharp-toothed nightmare stripped them of all their flesh. I don’t have access to the advanced software that synthesized an accurate face for Jack’s skull. At least, not the kind of access that allows me to use it without answering a lot of difficult questions first. But I scanned the photos and overlayed them with photoshop on to the case photos of the missing person associated with their recipient. I admit I’m no expert, but as far as I can tell, every one of those skulls fits perfectly inside the face of one of those missing people.

I can’t tell you the name of the manufacturer involved, nor the name of the phone series. Suffice to say, they’re a well-known company and the phone series is quite popular.

I wish I could tell you more, but if I do, I have no doubt that the company will have this warning suppressed as defamation and that can’t happen. The word has to get out and I figure that half a warning is better than no warning at all.

There’s a common series of phone out there with an evil curse marked inside them. You may well be carrying a Noroi Gakkotsu in your purse, or pocket. And even if you aren’t, someone who cares about you may be.

So please, be wary of typing out what you wish for, or hope for, or even think you ‘need’. But most of all, be especially careful of whose name you place on those messages…

Because you just may be sending them into the devil’s jaws.

Spread the word.

Credit To – Darkmyth