General stats on hitmen?
November 10, 2007 6:20 PM   Subscribe

HitmanFilter: How do they operate?

(First, no, I'm not in the market. Between the book and a recently-announced movie, I just had them on my mind.)

Namely, how do they advertise? I wouldn't imagine they get too much repeat business outside of organized crime, so they need to get the word out somehow. But obviously, there's also strong incentive to keep as low of a profile as possible. In the same vein, how do 'normal people' find hitmen? (With prostitutes, there's the whole "escort" thing... Is there a parallel for hitmen?)

And are there ballpark estimates on the number of hitmen? I know they're not going to jump up and volunteer for surveys, but at least an order of magnitude? 2 or 200 or 20,000?

The Wikipedia page has some information, but still leaves me with unanswered questions.
posted by fogster to Human Relations (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do these guys even want to take business outside of organized crime?
posted by caddis at 6:34 PM on November 10, 2007

I'd suspect that the weakest link for a real professional would be the people who hire them. The mob guys stick with the mob and the rest are just small-time.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:45 PM on November 10, 2007

My guess is that most hitmen that work for just Joe Schmo are people who know Joe Schmo and say, "Give me 10,000 and I'll off him for ya."
posted by thebrokenmuse at 7:13 PM on November 10, 2007

Best answer: Bookmarked so see if anyone is going to betray our cover. We will put a contract out on you.

As caddis mentioned, "professionals" are likely only known within organised crime groups.

Jill: Nancy, I can't stand my husband anymore. I'm thinking of having someone kill him while he's on a business trip, make it look like a mugging; that way I can get insurance money and everything he owns.
Nancy: Oh, Patty's husband used to be in the Marines, then did 9 months in Iraq with Blackwater. Maybe you could ask him.

You hear, every so often, about someone asking for assasination service and the askee rats the asker out to the cops.

If you're interested, there's a kind-of controversial book, Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors

Here's the book in question.
posted by porpoise at 7:21 PM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

seconding thebrokenmuse and porpoise. there are probably very few professional killers like martin blank in existence and the majority are just one-time hitmen.
posted by puritycontrol at 7:25 PM on November 10, 2007

Best answer: I once very briefly met two sort-of hitmen -- people who were paid to kill other people, but not as independent contractors. They were sort of low-level flunkies in what I guess you'd call "organized crime", and both were soon after (and very brutally) killed as part of a cover-up of a killing they took part in. The most surprising part to me was how little they said they were paid -- the entry-level work is not at all lucrative. They weren't highly-skilled James Bond-style operatives, just young guys not afraid to pull a trigger at close range.

So my anecdotal observation would be that if you are a hitman, chances are you don't advertise -- you just follow your boss's instructions, just like any other job, and collect your wages. And any time there is a killing, there is a real worry that you will be eliminated because you are a weak link in the connection between the person who was killed, and the person who ordered the killing. Even if you are doing so-called "wet work" for the CIA or other official organizations, there is still the constant worry that the body will be found in your trunk and you will be hung out to dry.
posted by Forktine at 7:52 PM on November 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hitmen work in or as part of organized crime and gangs. A disreputable private investigator may know one of these types that may do work outside the criminal organization.

In the past gun and paramilitary magazines used to run ads for "personal services" for ex-military types with weapons training prepared to take "high-risk" jobs. Sometimes these people would list themselves as bodyguards or "personal investigators", but the ad would usually laundry list their military and weapons credentials.

Cops eventually got wise to this, and DA's pursued those magazines aggressively to the point where those ads are now nonexistent.

Like most things, hitmen have been glamorized by movies and fiction. Someone able to kill someone in cold blood merely for money would have to be a psychopath.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:41 PM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, I should clarify that there is a relatively healthy market for contract assassins accessible by governments, usu. consisting of recently retired by very sympathetic ex-military folks. However, the services of these people are not generally available to the civilian population.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:49 PM on November 10, 2007

Do we have any source for this kind of information, outside of Ludlum books?

I'd rather not know if it means you have to kill me afterwards
posted by the number 17 at 9:21 PM on November 10, 2007

Best answer: Forktine's got it right. Being a hitman is a short, brutal, and underpaid existence. Pastabagel's assertion that hitmen are all psychopaths are way off the mark, however. Most hitmen aren't terribly different from most club bouncers, in my experience; it's just an escalation of violence. Bouncers don't feel bad about cracking heads when someone slaps a drunk girl in a club, you know?

Normal people don't find hitmen, the same way normal people don't find 10 year old boys online who want to fly away to Cuba for a weekend of sin. Instead, normal people end up finding police officers, or they convince someone not as smart as they are to do the job.
posted by Jairus at 9:33 PM on November 10, 2007

Best answer: It's very rare to read about an actual "professional job". There are two types that you do hear about.

The first is the Jill/Nancy scenario. A good number of these amateurish attempts to find a professional fail for two reasons. First, because the person they find has no desire to do life in prison for a stranger. Second, because the person they find -- someone with a dicey past -- often has an incentive to work with the police. Say, expunging something from their record, or an arrest warrant they want to result in a favorable plea bargain.

The second scenario is the type that you hear about after it's successful -- that is, after the murder. This is where the solicitor of the crime "has something" on the hit man, or is able to make the latter think they do. Say, evidence for lesser crimes that could put them in jail, or advancement in a gang.

If you want stats? The FBI sez:

Today, we typically work between 70 and 90 cases a year, including 78 in fiscal year 2006. The investigations range from spurned lovers out for revenge to more organized gangs and crime groups that want to take out rivals and snitches

A recent Chicago case.
posted by dhartung at 10:42 PM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding everything said above.

Its not like in movies or video games where you dial 1-800-4HITMAN and get someone to shoot someone for you. The physics of the American justice system make that virtually impossible.

Most of the "hits" I've heard about usually involve either family or close acquaintances. Like paying your tweaker cousin a few thousand bucks to hack somebody up with a axe, etc. I would imagine that even most mob hits aren't too different from this.

Naturally the "problem" (actually very good for the rest of us) with hitmen is that they are very vulnerable. Anyone who actually pulled the trigger becomes an enormous liability, as they are the only ones who can finger the "employer" in court. I would imagine that far from being ruthless, dapper professionals, most hitmen are desperate for drugs or cash and are very expendable.

I don't have a URL (sorry) but I remember reading what is rumored to be a CIA-produced handbook on assassination. It basically said that the average assassination is pretty much a suicide mission, as with modern security and forensics it's very hard to get away with killing someone. The handbook said it was best to use someone completely desperate or someone fanatically devoted to the cause -- since anybody with a brain would realize that their life would pretty much be over once the mission is finished -- one way or another.
posted by Avenger at 11:44 PM on November 10, 2007

I don't know how it is in other cities, but in Baltimore there is a huge witness intimidation problem, and the people making threats are all too willing to carry them out. Usually the "hit" is done by a member (or members) of a local gang or other people connected to the person on trial, I have never heard of money being exchanged for the "hit", and it is never so elegant as sniping from a long distance or climbing into their bedroom and slitting their throat ninja-style. There's a lot of firebombing, a lot of just random shooting on the street. I don't think professional hitmen exist anymore.
posted by Anonymous at 5:48 AM on November 11, 2007

As a reporter, I got to break a news story about a "suspicious fire" (pdf) that, as my paper and other news organizations following the story would eventually report, ended up incorporating a Jill/Nancy scenario as referenced above, where the man who was offered money for killing someone ratted on the woman who eventually did the deed herself.
posted by emelenjr at 10:49 AM on November 11, 2007

I know I'm late to the party but there is no such thing as a "button man". As numerous others have noted above it's simply a question of finding the person(s) in the criminal organisation that a) won't talk about it and b) are actually able to pull the trigger or what have you. Even national governments don't have this sort of thing.

This was a huge shame to me as a child as it was one of the two jobs I wanted to do for a living. Leon-style ethics also being a factor in my choice of an alternate career.

The Hitman book was written by a bored housewife who cribbed details from crime books. If it was written nowadays it would reference scarabic's infamous "corpse-disposal" answer.
posted by longbaugh at 9:53 AM on November 24, 2007

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