Not a topic that often comes up at parties I go to, nor do I know one personally, but assassins is a fascinating topic. For the record, I don’t condone the profession but there is a certain fascination in the workings of the “underworld”.

A group of researchers at the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University in the U.K. has analysed newspaper articles, court records, and a series of “off-the-record” interviews with informants “who have, or who had, direct knowledge of contract killings” in order to construct what they term a “typology” of British hitmen. For the record, these social scientists “define a hitman as a person who accepts an order to kill another human being from someone who is not publicly acknowledged as a legitimate authority regarding ‘just killing’.”

The sample comprised of 27 contract killings, committed by 35 hitmen, and one hitwoman, active on the British mainland from 1974 to 2013. Not the most robust sample size but in this “industry,” a small sample size is very good.

Some fascinating nuggets:

  • At the lower end of the fee spectrum some victims were murdered for as little as £200 (approximately S$420)
  • The highest fee was £100,000 (approximately S$209,425)
  • The average fee was £15,180 (approximately S$31,800)
  • The age range of the hitmen and hitwoman was 15(!) to 63
  • The average age was 38
  • The average age of the victim was 36
  • Guns were the preferred weapon of choice, accounting for 25 of the 35 victims.
  • Most of assasinations took place in suburban neighborhoods, often as the victim was walking their dog or going shopping – mundane undertakings.
  • Tuesdays was the most popular day to assassinate someone (this was not statistically significant though)

The research team identified, four types of hitmen (source:

The Novice:
While a novice is a beginner who may be carrying out a hit for the first time, this is not to suggest that they are incompetent. One example of the novice was 16-year-old Santre Sanchez Gayle, who committed murder for £200 in 2010 and was only caught after bragging to his friends.

The Dilettante:
This type of killer is often older than the novice. Of the four types, they are the least likely to have a criminal background and therefore they may lack access to firearms. The dilettante is likely to accept a contract as a way to resolve a personal financial crisis, and may not take to contract killing with much enthusiasm or skill. One example is Orville Wright, the “hitman who lost his nerve”, who decided he could not go through with the £5000 hit, after talking to his intended victim.

The Journeyman:
This killer is someone who is capable, experienced and reliable but not an especially exceptional hitman. As a ‘career criminal’, they are highly likely to have strong connections to their local criminal underworld. While this allows them to source guns, it also means that the police can use local intelligence networks to identify them.

The Master:
This final type of hitman is the most elusive to study, as they are also the least likely to be caught. Professor Wilson’s team suggests these killers are likely to come from a military or para-military background and could be responsible for up to 100 hits. The major reason the master killer evades justice is that they travel to an area to carry out the hit, without any local ties, leaving minimum local intelligence about the hit or the hitman.

The full paper will be published in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice.