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. Contract killing has been associated with organized crime and with vendettas. For example, in the United States, the gang Murder, Inc. committed hundreds of murders on behalf of the National Crime Syndicate during the 1930s and 1940s.
Contract killing provides the hiring party with the advantage of not having to commit the actual killing, making it more difficult for law enforcement to connect said party with the murder. The likelihood the authorities will establish that party's guilt for the committed crime, especially due to lack of forensic evidence linked to the contracting party, makes the case more difficult to attribute to the hiring party.
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 under contract law. Thus, if a "hitman" takes the money but then fails or refuses to perform, the customer (or hiring partner) 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 that is 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. Criminal code statutes prohibiting "solicitation of murder" are also intended to curb contract killings.
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 with variation from $5,000 up to $30,000 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.Glennon Engleman, American dentist who moonlighted as a hitmanChristopher Dale Flannery, reputed Australian hitmanSalvatore 'Sammy the Bull' Gravano, an underbossCharles Harrelson, American hitman, father of actor Woody HarrelsonRichard Kuklinski, American contract killer, linked to the murders of over 33 men and rumored to have murdered over 250 menMarinko Magda, Serbian hitman convicted for 11 murders, including a Hungarian familyAlexander Solonik, Russian hitman who killed more than 30 Russian mafia bosses, and who was known for carrying a firearm in each handBenjamin 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, an 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.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 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.Tim Lambesis, former vocalist of heavy metal bands As I Lay Dying, Austrian Death Machine and Pyrithion, who attempted to hire someone to murder his wife through a contact at his gym. The alleged "hitman" turned out to be a police officer masquerading as a hitman.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 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 PressCharlotte 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.
Fictional cases of contract killing or "hitmen" are depicted in a range of popular fiction genres in the 20th and 21st century, including films, comic books and video games.
Well-known film depictions in crime films and action movies include:The Mechanic, a 1972 film featuring Charles Bronson as a hitmanThe Day of the Jackal, 1973, a political thriller film, featuring Edward Fox as an assassinOutland, a British 1981 sci-fi film featuring P. H. Moriarty and Doug Robinson as professional hitmenPrizzi's Honour, 1985, comedy-drama, starring Jack NicholsonBest Seller, 1987, James Woods plays Cleve, a career hitman, who wants to turn his life story into a book written by Dennis Meechum (Brian Dennehy), a veteran detective, in crime filmCrimes and Misdemeanors, a 1989 film with Chester Malinowski portraying the bit part of the hitman hired by Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), in the Woody Allen written and directed filmJean Reno's charismatic hitman in Léon: The Professional (1994)Pulp Fiction, 1994, starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson as a pair of hitmen in Quentin Tarantino's filmNo Country for Old Men, a 2008 Academy Award-winning film featuring Javier Bardem as a ruthless hitmanInterview with a Hitman, a 2012 film featuring Luke Goss's portrayal of a professional Romanian hitmanCollateral, a 2004 neo-noir crime thriller, featuring Tom Cruise as a professional contract killerJohn Wick, a 2014 action crime thriller depicting an ex-hitman who comes out of retirement to seek revenge upon gangsters who wronged him, features Keanu Reeves
"Offbeat" or humorous depictions of hitmen have also been done in film, such as:John Cusack's portrayal of a hitman attending his high school reunion in the dark comedy film Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), also similar character in political satire War, Inc. (2013)Former supercouple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, depicting husband and wife assassins in the 2005 romantic comedy film Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Novels and comic BooksIn Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider (character) saga, a Russian named Yassen Gregorovitch, who worked with Alex's father John as a contract killer for S.C.O.R.P.I.A.
Video games that depict contract killing include:HitmanElder ScrollsGrand Theft Auto