Economic data on hitmen

by on January 26, 2014 at 8:03 am in Data Source, Law, Uncategorized | Permalink

The sample is pretty limited, but here is what they find:

The killers typically murder their targets on a street close to the victim’s home, although a significant proportion get cold feet or bungle the job, according to criminologists who examined 27 cases of contract killing between 1974 and 2013 committed by 36 men (including accomplices) and one woman.

…The reality of contract killing in Britain tended to be striking only in its mundanity, according to David Wilson, the university’s professor of criminology. He said: “Far from the media portrayal of hits being conducted inside smoky rooms, frequented by members of an organised crime gang, British hits were more usually carried out in the open, on pavements, sometimes as the target was out walking their dog, or going shopping, with passersby watching on in horror.”

Researchers found that the average cost of a hit was £15,180, with £100,000 being the highest and £200 the lowest amount paid. The average age of a hitman was 38 with the youngest aged 15 and the oldest 63.

The youngest, Santre Sanchez Gayle from north London, shot dead a young woman at point-blank range with a sawn-off shotgun in 2010 after she answered her front door. The oldest was David Harrison who, also in 2010, shot the owner of a skip-hire business in his Staffordshire home.

Most hits involved a gun, with three victims stabbed, five beaten to death and two strangled. The most conspicuous weapon was used in the killing of David King, a widely feared underworld figure known as “Rolex Dave”, who in 2003 was shot five times as he emerged from a Hertfordshire gym by hitman Roger Vincent and his accomplice David Smith, both 33. The killing was the first time an AK-47 assault rifle – apparently belonging to the Hungarian prison service – had been used on a British street.

For the pointer I thank Mike Brown.  By the way, those records are focused on Birmingham, England, which perhaps is not like Lodi, New Jersey in this regard.

The original work is cited as appearing in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, but I do not seem to find the article at that link.

1 prior_approval January 26, 2014 at 10:04 am

‘The sample is pretty limited’

At less than one hit per year for over 40 years, that seems to be a fine example of understatement that even the British could admire.

Especially considering how more than a fifth of the murders were carried by a single man in a four year span, four decades ago –

‘The most prolific hitman was someone few have heard of: John Childs. Between 1974 and 1978, Childs carried out six murders, including the killing of a 10-year-old boy shot in the head alongside his father because the killer became worried that he might be recognised.’

2 Turkey Vulture January 26, 2014 at 10:16 am

Economic Data on Hitmen Who Were Caught.

Maybe less mundane hits are also less likely to lead to getting caught.

3 Scoop January 26, 2014 at 10:19 am

This is not data on “hitmen.” It is data on the subset “hitmen who have been caught.” The second subset “hitmen who have not been caught” may prove similar or it may be stocked with people who more closely resemble movie hitmen.

4 prior_approval January 26, 2014 at 10:51 am

Well, the guy who killed six in four years (of 27 in 4 decades) seems like valid for inclusion – since at least his first couple of murders were unsolved for a while.

5 Z January 26, 2014 at 11:03 am

A hitman with just six bodies is considered a novice in West Baltimore.

6 Z January 26, 2014 at 11:12 am

In organized crime, including motorcycle gangs, killing for the group is rewarded with something far more valuable than cash. Violence capital is the currency of organized crime. For prison gangs and motorcycle gangs, tattoos are commonly used to reward the killer. Motorcycle gangs also use patches to denote violence capital. In the Italian Mafia, they were a little more subtle about displaying their violence capital, but that’s possible in small, geographically concentrated groups.

7 arhold January 26, 2014 at 1:11 pm

thank you oh smart one

8 Rahul January 27, 2014 at 12:59 am

Motorcycle gangs are hardly the gem of organized crime. The real mob bosses probably think of them as a joke.

9 Ahmigad Urzigay January 26, 2014 at 12:03 pm

I’ve twice had people at poker tables intimate that they could have me killed. Not terribly impressive, given that in Vegas a bum will do it for $600 (see Shauna Tiaffay).

10 Curt F. January 26, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I googled the name, and the article I found said that she was murdered as part of a $20,000 deal between her husband and her purported killer. Not sure where the $600 figure you quote comes from.

11 Ahmigad Urzigay January 26, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Your story is correct but not complete. The husband paid $600 cash, and a promise of more later.

12 Ahmigad Urzigay January 26, 2014 at 12:20 pm

>misplaced response to Curt F. Sorry.

13 Rahul January 27, 2014 at 12:57 am

A one-off lucky discount is not indicative of the prevalent market pricing.

14 Ahmigad Urzigay January 27, 2014 at 10:25 am

Sure, but only fools and tourists pay retail.

15 Noah Yetter January 26, 2014 at 8:52 pm

I thought they didn’t have guns in the UK?

16 BenSix January 28, 2014 at 5:47 am

We don’t. And you don’t have recreational drugs in the US.

17 Alan January 27, 2014 at 1:28 am

If a hit actually costs £15,180 I am surprised that we don’t see more of them. (The implication is probably that hits really cost more than that.)

Another thing a friend of mine often wonders is why organized crime doesn’t do more hits by long-distance rifle (ie snipers). A lot of mob hits seem to be drive-bys or point-blank shootings, which are messy and conspicuous. But a well-trained marksman can reliably dispose of someone from hundreds of yards away, and then escape before anyone even realizes where the shot came from. Indeed, the military trains thousands of people to do exactly that every year (my aforementioned friend among them). So, why doesn’t the mob use snipers?

18 simplicio January 27, 2014 at 10:06 am

I’d think its pretty hard to actually set up a sniper shot. You can shoot someone from hundreds of yards away, but then, you need to find a location that has a clear view of somewhere you know your victim will be. And you probably don’t want to spend all day sitting around with an incriminating weapon waiting for the victim to show up, so you also need to know within an hour or so when the victim will be there.

And you need the spot to be somewhere with zero chance of someone walking in on you, since its pretty hard to come up with an innocent explanation of why you’re hanging around on a rooftop or where-ever with a sniper rifle.

All in all, just knocking on the door, shooting the guy and then driving off is probably a lot easier.

19 John Schilling January 27, 2014 at 10:48 am

Why not snipers?

1: Pre-operational surveilance. JFK notwithstanding, it is rare for the victims of an assassination attempt to publish itineraries. Even if you know where the victim lives/works, there’s probably an hour or so of variance in exactly when he will appear – and hanging out in an urban area with a sniper rifle for an hour is not exactly a low-risk activity however you arrange it. WIth a handgun, you can observe closely but discretely for as long as need be, and attack whenever the target appears.

2: Target identification. Even with a good telescopic sight, identifying a specific individual from several hundred meters away is not trivial, particularly when it is someone you only know from a photograph. Up close and personal means you are more likely to get the right person.

3: Escape and evasion. There’s basically no such thing as a silenced sniper rifle, and while silencers and urban echoes may confuse people as to exactly where the shot came from, everyone within earshot will know approximately what is going on. So, try to escape through an alerted urban area carrying a conspicuously out-of-place rifle, or leave behind a significant piece of evidence? If all you have is a pistol, it’s the work of a second to transform yourself into just another panicky urbanite fleeing a crime scene. That’s probably worth more than the head start a sniper gets.

4: One shot, one kill? The media loves that trope w/re snipers, but the reality is even the best snipers can’t really count on it past 400 meters or so. After that, it’s a matter of ranging shots, luck, and repetition. And the reputation that comes from the one shot that hit from a mile away, and not the twenty you took setting it up. That works a whole lot better on the battlefield than in an assassination attempt, so for the latter you are going to have to get closer than you might be comfortable with – particularly where escape and evasion are concerned, and even more so if you aren’t a top military sniper. Oswald, for example, needed three shots at less than 100 meters, and thus also needed an extraordinary degree of luck to make his initial escape.

5: Versatility. As the UK study shows, there isn’t enough business to keep specialized “hit men” fully employed in the real world. Most are amateurs, and the occasional professional is usually a mob enforcer who, just this once, is told to go beyond intimidation or robbery and actually try to kill someone. Since initimidation and robbery can’t be practiced from a quarter-mile away, the professionals likely focus on developing the skills they can use more than once or twice in a career.

The military faces a fundamentally different operating environment than does any organized criminal outfit. It is also several orders of magnitude larger, which allows for a much higher degree of specialization and of mutual support.

20 Alan January 27, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Excellent points. I shall forward them on! Thank you.

21 Alan January 27, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Although re the training and skills, his thinking was that people might turn to crime after dropping out of the armed forces. If your only skills involve shooting people from a great distance away, and you’ve got an OTH, job options are limited.

22 John Schilling January 27, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Job options are limited regardless – a specialist hitman who managed to capture the entire known UK market would net only a shade over £10,000 per year. And with less that one “legitimate” job offer per year, odds are the guy trying to hire you is really an undercover cop.

Anybody who tries to break into that business without the right connections, will wind up in prison very quickly. Anyone with the right connections, will find that their prospective employers are usually far more interested in an intimidating bruiser than a specialist killer. Meanwhile, Blackwater may have changed its name more times than I can count, but they’re probably still offering £100,000/yr for essentially legal work.

23 ohwilleke January 27, 2014 at 10:50 pm

One new technological factor that might change the analysis is the “Smart Rifle” http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com/2014/01/smart-rifles-exemplify-threats-our.html which is basically a tech assisted targeting tool that allows a rank amateur to immediately have the accuracy of a highly talented sniper with a minimum of training and not terribly expensive or tightly regulated equipment. While really talented snipers are reasonably rare and rarely desperate enough in their pensioned military retirement to turn to this kind of crime (and lack the connections to get the work), people who can afford to mail order at $27,000 piece of equipment after receiving an advance on a contract killing who are already in this line of work are considerably more common.

The sort of context that would favor such an approach would be a target individual for whom it is hard to get access in any other way, due to home and work security measures or security details.

24 ohwilleke January 27, 2014 at 10:40 pm

I suspect that the study’s timing may have something to do with the popularity of the British television mini-series Hit&Miss featuring a male to female pre-operative transsexual woman who is a contract killer, and whose killings incidentally, are a pretty neat match to those described in the study except that they are quite a bit more frequent.

I strongly suspect that the U.S. pattern would be considerably different. The share of hits connected to drug dealing is probably quite a bit greater in the U.S. and one of the pronounced recent patterns in contract killings in the U.S., particularly on the West Coast, is for the people employing the contract killer to in turn kill the killer when he comes to collect his fee. A large portion of those contract kills are on other gang members (either in the same or rival gang) and so statistically, contract killing is pretty hard to disaggregate from “do it yourself” killings by gang members directed at other gang members. However, the share of killings that look statistically and demographically like gang killings is also the component of the overall U.S. murder rate which has contributed most heavily to the decline in the overall murder rate. So, there is good reason to expect that these are becoming more rare.

A pretty significant share of amateur prospective contract killers in the U.S. are indeed arrested by undercover cops in bars.

Probably the most surprising reality of contact killing both in the U.S. and in the U.K. from an economics perspective is the lack of a powerful link between the economic scale of the deals the victims are involved in and their likelihood of being targets. The victimization rate for the poor or near poor is much greater than the victimization rate for the affluent. There are many circumstances when it would make economic sense for somebody to pay a hit man to kill an affluent or powerful individual, but this is in fact exceedingly rare and affluent or powerful individuals who are murdered are predominantly murdered in crimes of passion, ideological killings committed by the ideologically committed person, killings where the murderer is pretty indiscriminate about who is being killed, or murders fueled by killers being drunk or insane.

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