Contract killing is a form of murder in which one party hires another party to kill a targeted person or multiple people. It involves an illegal agreement between two or more parties in which one party agrees to kill the target in exchange for some form of payment, monetary or otherwise. Either party may be a person, group, or organization. Contract killing has been associated with organized crime, government conspiracies, and vendettas. For example, in the United States, the gang Murder, Inc. committed hundreds of murders on behalf of the National Crime Syndicate during the 1930s and 1940s.
Contract killing provides the hiring party with the advantage of not having to carry out the actual killing, making it more difficult for law enforcement to connect said party with the murder. The likelihood that authorities will establish that party's guilt for the committed crime, especially due to lack of forensic evidence linked to the contracting party, makes the case more difficult to attribute to the hiring party.
Contract killers may exhibit serial killer traits, but are generally not classified as such because of third-party killing objectives and detached financial and emotional incentives. Nevertheless, there are occasionally individuals that are labeled as both hitmen and serial killers.
A contract killer is colloquially known as a hitman. Contract killers who work for criminal organizations and are assigned to murder a targeted person are often known as enforcers.
A study by the Australian Institute of Criminology of 162 attempted or actual contract murders in Australia between 1989 and 2002 indicated that the most common reason for murder-for-hire was insurance policy payouts. The study also found that the average payment for a "hit" was $15,000 with variation from $5,000 up to $30,000 and that the most commonly used weapons were firearms. Contract killings accounted for 2% of murders in Australia during that time period. Contract killings also make up a relatively similar percentage of all killings elsewhere. For example, they made up about 5% of all murders in Scotland from 1993 to 2002.
- Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll, an Irish-American hitman who worked for Dutch Schultz and Owney Madden.
- Glennon Engleman, American dentist who moonlighted as a hitman.
- Ray Ferritto, Italian American hitman and soldier for the Cleveland and Los Angeles crime families, best known for killing Danny Greene; later he became a government witness and testified against the mob.
- Christopher Dale Flannery, reputed Australian hitman.
- Giuseppe Greco, a Sicilian hitman who killed at least 58 people during the Second Mafia War.
- Charles Harrelson, American hitman, father of actor Woody Harrelson.
- Marinko Magda, Serbian hitman convicted for 11 murders, including a Hungarian family.
- Tommy "Karate" Pitera, an Italian-American hitman and soldier in the Bonnano crime family. He was known for having serial killer-like characteristics, and was a skilled martial artist.
- Frank "the Irishman" Sheeran, a union official and mob hitman, who was associated with Russell Bufalino. Sheeran claimed to have murdered former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa.
- Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, a Jewish hitman who headed the Bugs and Meyer Mob and was a hitman for Murder, Inc.; Siegel was also the Italian mob's main hitman during Prohibition.
- Alexander Solonik, Russian hitman, known for carrying a firearm in each hand, who killed more than 30 Russian mafia bosses.
- Robert Young, aka Willie Sanchez, an escaped convict and contract killer employed by The Council, an organized crime outfit headed by Nicky Barnes.
- Griselda Blanco, the subject of the film Cocaine Godmother (2018), a former drug lord gunned down on September 3, 2012.
- Li Fuguo, a Tang Dynasty eunuch killed by a hitman hired by Emperor Tang Daizong.
- Harry Greenberg, a Mafia associate of Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel's. He was killed by Siegel, Whitey Krakower, Albert Tannenbaum, and Frankie Carbo in 1939.
- Shiori Ino, a 21-year-old university student killed by hitman Yoshifumi Kubota, who served 18 years in prison for the killing. Kubota was paid by Ino's ex-boyfriend and the ex-boyfriend's brother.
- Salvatore Maranzano, a Castellammarese Mafia boss and rival to Masseria in the Castellammarese War who was killed by Siegel and several other men in 1931.
- Dan Markel, an attorney and legal academic murdered in Tallahassee, Florida in 2014.
- Joe Masseria, a Mafia boss murdered by Siegel, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, and Joe Adonis in 1931.
- Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Las Vegas mob boss and Flamingo Hotel owner, killed by unknown assailants in 1947.
- Grady Stiles, a freak show performer whose family hired a hitman to kill because of his abusiveness.
- John H. Wood Jr., an American judge known as "Maximum John" for giving severe prison sentences for drug offenses, killed by Charles Harrelson at the behest of organized crime.
- Dana Ewell, convicted of hiring his college roommate to murder Ewell’s mother, father, and sister for the $8,000,000 estate. Serving three life sentences.
- Ruthann Aron, convicted of hiring a hitman to kill her husband and a lawyer who had won a fraud case against her.
- Mike Danton, former NHL player, hired an undercover federal agent to kill his sports agent.
- Italian-American crime boss John Gotti hired hitmen to murder Paul Castellano outside of Sparks Steak House; the murder was carried out in December 1985.
- Wanda Holloway: The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom is based on Holloway's hiring a hitman to kill the mother of a girl competing with her daughter at cheerleading.
- Lawrence Horn, record producer whose hiring of a hitman led to the case Rice v. Paladin Press
- Silas Jayne, Chicago-area stable owner, was convicted in 1973 of hiring hitmen to murder his half-brother George.
- Tim Lambesis, vocalist of heavy metal bands As I Lay Dying, Austrian Death Machine and Pyrithion, who attempted to hire someone to murder his wife through a contact at his gym. The alleged "hitman" turned out to be a police officer masquerading as a hitman.
- Charlotte Karin Lindström, Swedish waitress/model who attempted to hire a hitman to kill persons testifying against her boyfriend in a drug trial in Australia.
- Charles "Lucky" Luciano, American Mafia and Luciano crime family boss. Ordered Siegel, Tannenbaum, Genovese, Buchalter, Carbo, and Krakower to murder Mustache Petes Joe Masseria and Sal Maranzano in 1931, and stool pigeon Harry Greenberg in 1939.
- Joseph Maldonado-Passage (better known by his stage name Joe Exotic), an American zoo owner currently serving 22 years on two counts of attempted murder-for-hire (as well as other charges ). He attempted to hire a hitman to kill Carole Baskin, the CEO of Big Cat Rescue (with whom he had a long-running and public feud), but ended up talking to an undercover FBI agent who was posing as a hitman. The case was the primary focus of the 2020 Netflix documentary series Tiger King.
- Diana Lovejoy, a technical writer, and her gun instructor Weldon McDavid were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder of Lovejoy's husband in 2016.
- Jennifer Pan, a Canadian woman who hired three men to stage a home invasion in order to eliminate her parents in 2010.
- Nicole Doucet Ryan attempted to hire an undercover Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer to kill her husband. After ruling that she could not use the defense of duress, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered she could not be retried.
- Pamela Smart of Derry, New Hampshire, who made national headlines in 1991 for hiring teenage lover Billy Flynn and his friends to murder her husband Gregory Smart.
- Wallace Souza, a Brazilian television presenter who was accused of hiring hitmen to murder at least five people in 2009 to increase his programme's ratings.
- The Commission, American Mafia ruling body that ordered Siegel's murder in 1947.
- The Council, an organized crime outfit and employer of contract killers such as Robert Young aka Willie Sanchez, headed by Nicky Barnes.
- Thomas Bartlett Whitaker, an American man who hired people to attack his parents and brother in a home invasion in 2003.
In popular culture
Fictional cases of contract killing or "hitmen" are depicted in a range of popular fiction genres in the 20th and 21st century, including comic books, films, and video games. Contract killing is a core aspect of the video game franchise Hitman, wherein the player controls a hired hitman simply known as Agent 47. In the game Hotline Miami, the player controls a man who receives mysterious calls telling him to kill members of the Russian Mafia.
- Assassination market
- Cleaner (crime)
- Federal crime in the United States
- Fixer (person)
- Murder, Inc.
- Organized crime
- People v. Superior Court (Decker)
- Private military company
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