Over the past few weeks, Japanese cops kept finding socks and cellphones they thought may have been stolen by the No. 1 fugitive on their list—but they couldn't find the fugitive himself. That changed Monday with the recapture of Tatsuma Hirao, who'd escaped an "open" prison on Mukaishima Island more than three weeks ago and eluded a law enforcement effort that involved drones, police dogs, and thousands of cops (the BBC says 6,000; NDTV says up to 15,000). Serving 5 ½ years for a string of thefts and not considered dangerous, Hirao, 27, was nabbed near a Hiroshima train station, and a video aired on local TV showed a man said to be Hirao trying to flee over a concrete wall before being yanked to the ground by police, the AP reports. Hirao stymied those looking for him since his escape on April 8 from the minimum-security prison, which has no walls or fences.
Hirao's fingerprints were found during the search, and he apparently went on a theft spree, taking the socks and phones, as well as a wallet, sandals, and even a car key, allegedly leaving a note that said: "I'm borrowing your car but I'll never damage it." Hirao is said to have told cops he first hunkered down in various vacant houses scattered around the island—many of them vacation homes empty for the season—but that strategy eventually tired him out, so he decided to swim to the mainland, then take a train to Hiroshima. "I deeply apologize to local residents and many people for troubling and worrying them for such a long time," says Justice Minister Yoko Kawakami in a statement. (An inmate gives insight into a "brazen" escape from a New York prison.)