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Assassins Prefer Working in the Suburbs on Tuesdays, say Researchers

Updated on June 24, 2014

For most people it's difficult to imagine what can drive others to murder, whether it be premeditated or committed in the heat-of-the moment. Even harder to understand are the reasons and motivations of those who make a living in killing.

The concept of contract killers in fiction is definitely a popular one, being over utilized by novelists, Hollywood and video game programmers who conjure up scenarios where assassins get paid a fortune to carry out their hits, often working for criminal organizations within diverse teams of colorful characters. The media bombards us with additional ideas of attractive female assassins, exciting shoot outs and high-risk covert ops.

Despite all this attention of hit men in fiction, their behavior, actions, incentives and personalities in reality are barely understood and rarely studied (a 2003 publication estimated that there were less than 5 studies looking on the topic worldwide).

"Hit men are familiar figures in films and video games, carrying out 'hits' in underworld bars or from the rooftops with expensive sniper rifles," says David Wilson,a criminologist at Birmingham City University's Center for Applied Criminology. "The reality could not be more different".

Recently Wilson and a group of fellow researchers completed a study on the typology of British hit men, with their findings being published in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice on January 27 2014. As well as looking at this most recent study this hub also examines previous studies to further explore the hidden world of hitmen.

Hitmen Typology in Britain

The most recent study was completed by researchers from the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University, who used 2,000 global news papers to identify recurring traits and patterns of behavior among 36 British contract killers responsible for 27 assassinations from 1974 to 2013.

While television, cinema and video games, have ingrained the image of a professional sexy female assassin in popular culture, in reality almost every contract killing currently recorded has been perpetrated by a male.
While television, cinema and video games, have ingrained the image of a professional sexy female assassin in popular culture, in reality almost every contract killing currently recorded has been perpetrated by a male. | Source

All but one of the killers in the study were male and their ages ranged from 15 to 63, with an average age of 38 years old. In books and cinema, contract killers are often paid a handsome sum to carry out a hit. According to the study the amount earned by the assassins varied greatly, with one hitman (15 years old Santre Sanchez Gayle) receiving just £200 (or $331.72 USD) to carry out a professional assassination.

The study also identified a number of other curious details such as assassinations mostly occurring on a Tuesday in March, May and July. Firearms were assassins' weapon of choice with 25 of the 35 victims having been shot. Most of the contract killers lived in the same locality as the victim, rather than being professional hitman from out of town and hits usually occurred in suburban and populated areas, such as on the footpath as the victim was walking their dog. The majority of assassinations were the result of business disputes.

Researchers also described 4 types of assassins operating in Britain and categorized them as follows:

The Novice is usually quite young and may be unemployed, working casually or involved in petty crime. Though they're a beginner or trainee, they're still capable of planning a hit and carrying it out. They usually leave the crime scene quite organised, with very little forensic evidence but are often caught after their first murder. An example of a novice is Santre Sanchez Gayle who was only caught after he bragged about the assassination to his friends

Researchers say that firearms are the most common murder weapons in assassinations. In Australia firearms were used in 74% of contract killings from 1989 to 2002, compared to 14% in general homicide. Pistols are the most commonly used.
Researchers say that firearms are the most common murder weapons in assassinations. In Australia firearms were used in 74% of contract killings from 1989 to 2002, compared to 14% in general homicide. Pistols are the most commonly used. | Source

The Dilettante is often much older than the Novice and doesn't necessarily come from a criminal background, usually only accepting a contract on another's life as a way to resolve a personal crisis. The researchers described The Dilettante as "someone who dabbles and dips into the culture of contract killing", but don't undertake the task with much enthusiasm or skill.

Unlike other types they use a variety of methods including shootings, stabbing and strangulation and often leave the murder scene disorganized. The type of hits they usually perform are often due to personal, business and domestic issues. Dilletantes are also more likely than other typologies to get cold feet and in extreme circumstances become victims of their intended targets.

An example of The Dilettante is Orville Wright, a Jamaican legal clerk, who was paid £5,000 to carry out a hit, but upon confronting the target he found that he could not go through with the act and decided to let the victim go.

The Journeyman is capable, experienced and reliable but is not an exceptional performer. They usually have a military history, are involved in criminal activity and/or have a job that includes firearms. They tend to accept contracts that are the result of business disputes or linked to organized criminal groups and leave the crime scene fairly organized with little forensic evidence.

Rather than receiving a suitcase of money,  the amount received for a hit can vary from £200 to £100,000.
Rather than receiving a suitcase of money, the amount received for a hit can vary from £200 to £100,000. | Source

The Master is not likely to be caught easily and may eliminate their target through shooting and poison. They may come from a military background and leave very little to no forensic evidence behind. Unlike the other typologies they often remain geographically mobile and unapprehended. An example of The Master may include a professional contract killer who was described in 2001 study after committing more than 100 acts of murder, eluding authorities for around 30 years.

Previous Studies

Though very few studies on contract killing exist worldwide, several have been conducted in Australia and North America.

A 2002 study in Australia examined 163 attempted assassinations between 1 July 1989 and 30 June 2002. Around 69 of these resulted in a death, representing 2% of homicides during that period.

Dissolution of relationship was the most common motivation for offering a contract on another's life, representing 19% of all attempted assassinations, followed by money and financial motivations (16%); the silencing of witnesses (13%); revenge (10%); and drugs (6%). For around 17% of contracts the motivation for murder remains unknown.

Payments for carrying out these hits ranged from $500 to $100,000 with an average of $16,500 (with three quarters of the contracts offering less than $20,000). Firearms were used in 73.9% of completed contract killings followed by knives and sharp instruments (11.6%); blunt instruments (4.3%); explosives (4.3%); drugs (2.9%); and assaultive force (1.4%).

The majority of victims and offenders were found to be Caucasian males. Most victims tended to be employed and married or in a de facto relationship, while in contrast more than 35% of perpetrators were aged 35-49 and over half were unemployed and/or single.

Interestingly the most common motive in completed contracts was in relation with criminal networks, though this motive was not a factor at all in failed assassination attempts.

Most assassinations occur in public areas, say researchers
Most assassinations occur in public areas, say researchers | Source

Previous studies have highlighted that the majority of assassinations are carried out by "Amateur" contract killers. This type of hitman is described as having a greater psychotic and unstable personality than any other type of assassin, perhaps even using their position as a hitman to vent this aggression and hostility. The jobs they get usually involve the elimination of a spouse or intimate partner, though they plan their hits poorly and are often impulsive and disorganized.

An other typology described in earlier publications include The Professional, who often performs murder out of loyalty to an organized crime group in which he is a direct member; or who works as an independent contractor with no connection or allegiance to any group. Their victims usually have some involvement with criminal organizations and are often targeted due to their position in a business dispute or for being seen as an obstacle that the group wishes to remove. Their hits are highly planned with little-to-no evidence left at the crime scene. To the professional hitman, killing is conceptualized as "just business" or "just a job" and the majority of them are never apprehended.

The third typology is the Semiprofessional, who tends to make a living through other activities and may engage in contract killing on a one or two time basis. Semiprofessionals tend to have a history of violence and eschew moral values and hard work, instead believing that they can only be successful through criminal behavior. They tend to be fairly orderly, leaving little evidence behind them and have a more stable personality than the amateur.

Many researchers have recognized varying degrees of personality disturbance within the vast majority of contract murderers, but this does not not necessarily make them psychotic. Psychopathic, sociopathic,and antisocial traits tend to dominate all three groups, though with less inner cohesiveness and more disorganization among the amateurs.

Many professionals, such as mafia hitman Richard 'Iceman' Kuklinski who killed over a hundred targets and personal associates, have been able to maintain strong family and community ties, remaining discrete and indistinguishable from their fellow citizens, as they go about their business unobtrusively.

A phony advertisement offering a "hit men service"
A phony advertisement offering a "hit men service" | Source

Controversy: The 'How-To' Guide for Aspiring Assassins

In 1993 Detroit street preacher turned killer-for-hire, James Edward Perry, was hired by Lawrence T. Horn to murder his wife, 8-year-old quadriplegic son and his son's nurse in Maryland, USA to gain control of the child's $1.8 million trust fund. Perry claimed that he carried out the murders using information from a publication titled Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors, which had been published by Paladin Press in 1983.

The book claimed to be a guide on how to be a contract killer, providing aspiring murderers with generic hints on how to find and eliminate a target effectively and dispose of the body. This was accompanied with written advice on how to find work as a hit man; providing instructions on how to create a makeshift silencer; and making suggestions on the best equipment and weapons to use for assassinations.

The book's mysterious author, Rex Feral, is believed to actually be a divorced mother of two who originally presented a manuscript about a fictional assassin to Paladin. The manuscript underwent massive transformation when the publisher requested that she re-write it as a 'how-to' guide.

In the manual's preface the writer explains that "the professional hit man fills a need in society and is, at times, the only alternative for 'personal' justice...there are many, many instances when atrocities are committed that the law cannot or will not pursue. and other times when the law does its part but the American legal system is so poor that real justice is not served. In those cases, as in cases of personal revenge and retribution, a man must step outside the law and take matters into his own hands".

This opinion on the "public service" offered by hitman is obviously not shared by law enforcement agencies worldwide.


  • Black, J.A. (2000) ‘Murder for hire: an exploratory study of participant relationships’, in P.H. Blackman, V.L. Leggett, B.L. Olsom and J.P. Jarvis (Eds.), The Varieties of
    Homicide and its Research: Proceedings of the 1999 Annual Meeting of the Homicide Research Working Group, Washington, DC.: Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp.236-249.

  • MacIntyre, D., Wilson, D., Yardley, E., Brolan., L. 'The British Hitman: 1974-2013', The Howard Journal, January 2014.
  • Mouzos, J. & Venditto, J., Contract Killings in Australia. Canberra, Australia; Australian Institute of Criminology Research and Public Policy Series. No. 53. 2003.
  • Hit-man: a technical manual for independent contractors. Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 1983

  • Pappas, S., 'Real-Life Hit Men Nothing Like 'Sherlock' Shadow Snipers', Livescience, January 27, 2014.
  • Schlesinger, L.B., 'Contract Murderer: Patterns, Characteristics, and Dynamics', Journal of Forensic Sciences, Volume 46 Issue 5. September 2001 pp.1119-1123.


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