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Contract killing is a form of murder or assassination in which one party hires another party to kill a targeted person or persons. It involves an illegal agreement which includes 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, dictatorships, 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 them 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 are often known as enforcers.
A study by the Australian Institute of Criminology of 162 contract murders and attempted 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 payments varied from $5,000 to $30,000 per killing, with an average of $15,000, and that the most commonly used weapons were firearms. Contract killings accounted for 2% of murders in Australia during that time period. Contract killings generally make up a small percentage of murders. For example, they accounted for 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.
- Abe Reles, hitman and initial leader of Murder, Inc. along with Martin Goldstein.
- Harry Strauss, hitman for Murder, Inc. he is possibly the most prolific hitman to have ever lived, committing 100 (possibly 500) murders during his career.
- Elmer "Trigger" Burke, notorious hitman and supporting player in the Great Brink's Robbery
- 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.
- Tommy "Karate" Pitera, an Italian-American hitman and soldier in the Bonanno crime family. He was known for having serial killer-like characteristics, and was a skilled martial artist.
- Jhon Jairo "Popeye" Velásquez, Colombian hitman who was part of the Medellín Cartel.
- 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. Alexander Solonik was a main killer in the Kurganskaya criminal group.
- Alexander "Sasha-soldier" Pustovalov, Russian hitman and Orekhovskaya gang soldier. Pustovalov has 22 confirmed kills.
- Robert Young, a.k.a. Willie Sanchez, an escaped convict and contract killer employed by an organized crime outfit headed by Nicky Barnes.
- Z, a 15-year-old minor who was convicted of murdering an insurance agent under the orders of her husband in Singapore in 2001. He was detained at the President's Pleasure for 17 years.
- 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. He was killed by Siegel, Whitey Krakower, Albert Tannenbaum, and Frankie Carbo in 1939.
- Harry Millman, gang leader and former Purple Gang member, killed by Harry Strauss and Harry Maione
- Shiori Ino, a 21-year-old university student, who was stabbed to death in 1999. Hitman had been hired by Ino's abusive ex-boyfriend (who committed suicide before he could be apprehended) and the ex-boyfriend's brother, who was sentenced to life imprisonment.
- 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.
- Alexander Solonik, was strangled to death by Russian hitman and ex-Marine Alexander Pustovalov in his villa in 1997.
- Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Las Vegas mob boss killed by unknown assailants in 1947.
- Barry Seal, American airline pilot and undercover CIA informer, who became a major drug smuggler for the Medellin Cartel.
- Grady Stiles, a freak show performer whose family hired a hitman to kill due to 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.
- Annie Leong, an insurance agent in Singapore who was murdered by a minor hired by her husband, who was subsequently sentenced to death and later executed.
- Dana Ewell, convicted of hiring his college roommate to murder Ewell’s mother, father, and sister for the US$8,000,000 estate.
- John Gotti, Italian-American crime boss, hired hitmen to murder Paul Castellano outside of Sparks Steak House in December 1985.
- Robert Fratta, ex-police officer, hired two men to kill his wife.
- Lawrence Horn, record producer whose hiring of a hitman led to the case Rice v. Paladin Press
- 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.
- Wanda Holloway hired a hitman to kill the mother of her daughter's cheerleading rival, inspiring a film.
- Silas Jayne, Chicago-area stable owner, was convicted in 1973 of hiring hitmen to murder his half-brother George.
- Tim Lambesis, heavy metal vocalist who attempted to hire an undercover police officer to murder his wife.
- 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 who attempted to hire an undercover FBI agent to murder a rival, the CEO of Big Cat Rescue (with whom he had a long-running and public feud).
- 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 hired teenage lover Billy Flynn and his friends to murder her husband.
- Thomas Bartlett Whitaker, an American man who hired people to attack his parents and brother in a home invasion in 2003.
- Anthony Ler, a Singaporean who hired a 15-year-old student in 2001 to murder his wife with promises of money and sex, as well as manipulation and death threats. He was sentenced to death and subsequently executed the following year.
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)
- List of contract killers and hitmen
- Murder, Inc.
- Private military company
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- Egner, Jeremy (March 8, 2011). "Steve Schirripa on the Real-Life Button Men in His New Series". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 9, 2011.