Shadowy World of Hitmen

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

British researchers have turned their eyes toward the shadowy world of hitmen:

“Hitmen are familiar figures in films and video games, carrying out ‘hits’ in underworld bars or from the roof tops with expensive sniper rifles,” said Professor David Wilson from Birmingham City University’s Centre for Applied Criminology. “The reality could not be more different. British hitmen are more likely to murder their victim while they walk the dog or go shopping in suburban neighborhoods.”

The team analyzed newspaper articles from an electronic archive of national and local papers from across Britain, using the reports to piece together a list of cases which could be defined as contract killings. The final list comprised of 27 contract killings, committed by 35 hitmen, and one hitwoman, active on the British mainland from 1974 to 2013.

“Using court transcripts and off-the-record interviews with ex-offenders we were able to identify recurring traits and patterns of behaviors amongst British hitmen,” said Professor Wilson. “We explored demographic data about the contract killers, who the targets had been, how they had been murdered, if the killer had been caught, if the killer was already known to the police, and how much they had been paid to carry out the hit.”

While the age of hitmen ranged from 15 to 63, the average age of a British contract killer was 38, while the average age of their victim was 36. Guns were the most common murder weapon of choice, accounting for 25 of the 35 victims.

The cost of ordered murder in Britain was also found to vary considerably, with the average cost standing at £15,180. The lowest fee in the sample was a mere £200, in contrast to the highest fee of £100,000.

Far from being carried out in smoky underworld clubs, the majority of hits took place in suburban neighborhoods, often as the victim was walking their dog or going shopping. Often the hitman and their victim lived in the same area, which is one of the most common reasons behind their eventual arrest.

Contract killings are overwhelmingly likely to be carried out by men. The only female hitwoman to be identified was Te Rangimaria Ngarimu, a 27-year-old Maori who was found guilty of being paid £7,000 to murder her victim in 1992.


“The motivations to pay a hitman the relatively small amount to carry out a murder were often depressingly banal. Spouses fell out, business deals fell apart, and young gang members wanted to impress their elders,” concluded Professor Wilson. “The reality of British hitmen stands in strong contrast to the fiction and we hope these profiles will help the police to identify patterns and behavioral traits common to contract killers in Britain.”

They have quite a problem with selection bias though, since “master” hitmen are unlikely to get caught — or even to commit their crime in an obvious way.


  1. Toddy Cat says:

    Contract killings are overwhelmingly likely to be carried out by men. The only female hitwoman to be identified was Te Rangimaria Ngarimu, a 27-year-old Maori

    There’s that old glass ceiling again! When will society rectify this glaring disparity in the field of Involuntary Population Reduction? At least the one hitwoman was a “woman of color”, though. There is hope…

  2. MT says:

    South America has been at the forefront of equal opportunity in contract assassins. Hit women are increasingly common there and some have carried out high-risk killings of high-profile public figures.

  3. Toddy Cat says:

    Not surprising. After all, female suicide bombers have been quite effective in Russia. Another blow for equal opportunity.

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