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Contract killing is a form of murder in which one party hires another party to kill a target individual or group of 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 an organization.
Throughout history, contract killing has been associated with organized crime and with vendettas. For example, in recent United States history, the gang Murder, Inc. committed hundreds of murders on behalf of the National Crime Syndicate.
Contract killing provides the hiring party with the advantage of not having to be directly involved in the killing. This makes it more difficult to connect said party with the murder and decreases the likelihood of establishing guilt for the committed murder, because the hiring party did not commit the murder; they only enabled it to happen. It is also often used by parties who do not have the ability to carry the killing themselves, such as a spouse contracting the murder of their partner.
In the United States, the United Kingdom, and many other countries, a contract to kill a person is void, meaning that it is not legally enforceable. Any contract to commit an indictable offense is not enforceable. Thus, if a hitman takes the money but then fails or refuses to perform, the customer cannot sue for specific performance or for damages for breach of contract. Conversely, if the hitman performs the killing as promised but the customer refuses to pay, the hitman cannot sue the customer for monetary damages.
Furthermore, both the actual killer and the person who paid the killer can be found guilty of murder. Indeed, the acts of merely negotiating and paying for a contract killing (that is never actually carried out) are themselves punishable as attempted murder, as they constitute the "substantial step" towards a crime which are essential for imposing liability for an attempted crime.
In some U.S. jurisdictions with capital punishment, a contract killing may be a special circumstance that allows for the contractor as well as the killer to receive the death penalty.
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 policies payouts. The study also found that the average payment for a "hit" was $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 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. According to America's Most Wanted, Walker County, Alabama is the #1 place in America to hire a hitman.
- Glennon Engleman, American dentist who moonlighted as a hitman
- Christopher Dale Flannery, reputed Australian hitman
- Giuseppe Greco, one of the most prolific Sicilian Mafia killers.
- Igor the Assassin, ex-KGB operative turned hitman who is suspected of having killed over 40 targets internationally
- Charles Harrelson, American hitman, father of actor Woody Harrelson
- Richard Kuklinski, American contract killer, linked to the murders of over 33 men and rumored to have murdered over 250 men
- Marinko Magda, Serbian hitman convicted for 11 murders, including a Hungarian family
- Alexander Solonik, Russian hitman who killed more than 30 Russian mafia bosses, and who was known for carrying a firearm in each hand
- Benjamin Siegel, a Jewish hitman who headed the Bugs and Meyer Mob and headed and was a hitman for Murder, Inc.. Siegel was also the Italian mob's main hitman during Prohibition.
- Vincent Coll, a Irish-American hitman who worked for Dutch Schultz and Owney Madden.
- Li Fuguo, a Tang Dynasty Eunuch killed by a hitman hired by Emperor Tang Daizong.
- Shiori Ino, a 21-year-old University student killed by hitman Yoshifumi Kubota, who served 18 years in prison for the killing. He was paid by her ex-boyfriend and his brother; the case gained some notoriety in Japan.
- Grady Stiles, freak show performer whose family hired a hitman to kill him because of his abusiveness.
- Ji Yunqing, a Chinese Shanghai Triad boss affiliated with Wang Jingwei's puppet regime in the late 1930s murdered by BIS hitman Zhan Seng.
- Harry Greenberg, a Mafia associate of Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Siegel. He was killed by Siegel, Whitey Krakower, Albert Tannenbaum, and Frankie Carbo in 1939.
- Joe Masseria, was a Castellmammarese Mafia boss that was murdered by Siegel, Vito Genovese, and Lepke Buchalter in 1931.
- Salvatore Maranzano, was a Castellammarese Mafia boss and rival to Masseria in the Castellammarese War and was killed by Siegel and several other men in 1931.
- Benjamin Siegel, Las Vegas mob boss and Flamingo Hotel owner, killed by unknown assailants in 1947.
- Nicole Doucet Ryan attempted to hire an undercover Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer to kill her husband. After ruling she could not use the defense of duress, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered she not be retried.
- Silas Jayne, Chicago-area stable owner, was convicted in 1973 of hiring hitmen to murder his half-brother George.
- Mike Danton, former NHL player, hired an undercover federal agent to kill his sports agent.
- Italian crime boss John Gotti hired hitmen to murder Paul Castellano outside of Sparks Steak House; the murder was carried out in December of 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
- 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.
- 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, Brazilian television presenter who was accused of hiring hitmen to murder at least five people in 2009 to increase his programme's ratings.
- Ruthann Aron, convicted of hiring a hitman to kill her husband and a lawyer who had won a fraud case against her.
- 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.
- The Commission, American Mafia ruling body that ordered Siegel's murder in 1947.
- Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Hit and run tactics
- List of controversies involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- Murder Inc
- Organized crime
- Private military company
- Sniper Rifle
- The Canadian Press (2013-01-23). "Ex-husband in hit-man case says courts were wrong - Nova Scotia - CBC News". Cbc.ca. Retrieved 2013-02-07.
- Government of Scotland: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2003/11/18570/29572
- CBC News http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/story/2013/01/23/ns-hitman-michael-ryan.html. Missing or empty
- Boyle, Robert H. (4 June 1973). "End Of A Bloody Bad Show". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
- "Mob Boss John Gotti Is Dead". The Smoking Gun. June 10, 2002. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
- Nothing Personal, a television documentary series that focuses on stories of contract killings.
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