The crypto community has come a long way from the days of the infamous Silk Road and the association of Bitcoin (BTC) with criminal service payments. However, some still try to use crypto as an untraceable payment method for their misdeeds. But global and governmental awareness of crypto crimes has evolved since the early days, and a lot of would-be criminals are learning the hard way that crypto isn’t as untraceable as they had hoped. Their attempts at hiring for murder and injury are further thwarted by the fact that the vast majority of dark web sites offering such services are scams. Below are a few examples of individuals who attempted to hire hitmen with BTC and got their just deserts.
Man gets conned by the FBI after not taking no for an answer
Scott Quinn Berkett, a 25-year-old from Beverly Hills, California, was so enraged when a woman that he had briefly dated broke up with him that he tried to hire a hitman to murder her for Bitcoin worth $14,000.
The two of them met while working together as administrators for a Facebook page for RWBY, an anime-inspired web series. They hit it off online and he offered to pay for her to travel to the Los Angeles area. She ended things after the first night, as she felt he was too aggressive, but he would not accept it.
After months of failing to win her back, Berkett decided that if he couldn’t have her, then no one could, and turned to the dark web to find a willing hitman to murder her. In April 2021, he discovered the Dark Web Group website and posted his murder-for-hire request under the username ‘Ula77.’ He even provided a detailed outline of how he would like the failed robbery attempt to look.
Little did he know that the website was fake and immediately reported any requests to law enforcement. He was investigated and contacted by an undercover law enforcement agent who was posing as a hitman. They met up and Berkett confirmed his request and even paid a $1,000 down payment towards the murder, going so far as to request photographic proof that the deed was done.
Inevitably, Berkett was then taken into custody. However, after taking a plea deal, he got off relatively lightly with a 5-year prison sentence, followed by three years on parole. He was also fined $20,000. The woman’s identity was never revealed to the public.
From doctor to inmate for the low price of $125,000
One of the more surprising mentions on this list is arguably that of the former neonatologist, Ronald Craig Ilg, who hired a hitman to beat up his former colleague and to kidnap his wife in exchange for BTC. Based in Spokane, Washington, this doctor decided that killing them wasn’t enough; he wanted to ruin them.
His story seems to begin soon after his second wife gave birth to their son. They had been married for about two years when he had an affair with another woman who alleges that he was sadistically abusive towards her. Around that time, he also began acting erratically at work and placed tracking devices on his wife’s car and cell phone. He also tried to manipulate her into doing things she wasn’t comfortable with by withholding her possessions from her. This caused her to file for divorce in June 2020.
56-year-old Ilg’s behavior at work worsened to the point that multiple people complained about his behavior. He was soon fired from his position as chief medical director of a multistate neonatology management group. He continued to attempt to convince his wife to return to him, but she became increasingly concerned and requested a restraining order against him for both herself and her son once he began threatening to come to her house without her consent.
In February 2021, he finally crossed the line and turned to the dark web under the alias ‘Scar215.’ There, he attempted to hire hitmen to perform two tasks for him.
Firstly, he listed a request for $2,000 worth of BTC to beat up and break the hands of his former colleague, potentially ruining her career forever. The former colleague reported to the FBI that she thinks the reason that he wanted to target her was that he suspected her of instigating several workplace complaints against him.
His second request was for his estranged wife to be kidnapped and injected with heroin so that she would be unable to continue with the divorce proceedings. But this would not be quick. He wanted her to be held for a week, while being injected with the drug twice a day until she agreed to return to him and drop all proceedings against him, including the divorce. He was willing to pay $60,000 worth of BTC to accomplish this.
The FBI was tipped off about the postings after an international news organization stumbled across them while investigating the dark web. The FBI obtained copies of Ilg’s dark web messages and other evidence and arrested him before anything could come of it. He was then sentenced to 8 years imprisonment in federal prison, a fine of $100,000, and a $25,000 restitution fee. This will be followed by 3 years of probation.
UK stalker caught trying to hire a hitman to murder her crush
Helen Hewlett is a 43-year-old married mother of five from Hawthorns, Norfolk, who had a brief fling with 50-year-old Paul Belton in January 2021. The two, who were both married, met while working together at the Linda McCartney frozen food factory in Fakenham and started flirting during lunch breaks and via email. This led to a one-time fling in her car, which he instantly regretted. Unfortunately, it was the opposite for her, as she became obsessed.
When Belton ended things, McCartney resigned from the company and continued to bombard him with emails that fluctuated between anger and pleas for forgiveness and reconciliation, but he quickly blocked her email account. So, she then turned to attacking him on Facebook, where she even posted that he “needed shooting.”
Things got worse after he moved to the Kinnerton Confectionery in Fakenham. She followed him there and began harassing him again in person, even filing allegations against him of workplace sexual harassment and of making racist and homophobic comments. Fortunately, these were deemed malicious by the company, and they advised him to file a complaint with the police in May 2022. This is when the harassment finally stopped, with her husband being made aware of the affair and filing for divorce.
Unbeknownst to Belton, Hewlett had been plotting his death since at least January 2022 when she created an account with Coinbase through which to buy Bitcoin (BTC) worth £20,547 (~$25,267). With Bitcoin in place, she placed an order on the dark web site Online Killers Market. She uploaded all of the necessary information on Belton to her account, stating that, “it’s vital it looks like an accident.”
After a tip-off, the police looked into the matter and accessed her account through her confiscated hardware where they discovered proof of the plot and canceled the hit. But according to Det Sgt Mark Stratford, of the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit, all indicators seem to point to the site being a sham, so Belton’s life was never truly at risk. The final ruling on the incident is yet to be made in court.
Italian man pays in Bitcoin to maim ex-girlfriend
Thanks to the efforts of Europol and the Italian Postal and Communication Police (Polizia Postale e delle Comunicazioni), an Italian woman was spared the terrible wrath of her ex-boyfriend.
The ex-boyfriend was a 40-year-old Lombardy resident who worked as an IT expert. Like others on this list, he made failed attempts at reconciliation before turning to the dark web for revenge in 2021. However, based on the various reports it seems that unlike most of the entries on this list, he actually managed to contact someone willing to perform the hit for him. This would have entailed throwing acid on the victim and breaking her back in what would appear to be a botched robbery.
Fortunately, before he had made the final instalment totalling 10,000 euros ($11,900) worth of BTC, his messages were discovered by Interpol. Interpol alerted the Italian police who were able to track down the BTC payments to the local cryptocurrency exchange platform that had facilitated the transactions and were thereby able to track him down and put him under house arrest. Oddly enough, he had still been sending his ex-girlfriend flowers and messages even after submitting his first of four payments. He was later charged with attempted grievous bodily harm and stalking. Despite the arrest occurring in April 2021, there has been no mention of his final punishment in English news sites.
Catfished by the FBI
39-year-old Jessica Leeann Sledge from Pelahatchie, Massachusetts, inadvertently hired an undercover FBI agent as a hitman and was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment for her efforts. Her story begins in September 2021, when she decided to hire a hitman to murder her then-husband, Jerry Sledge, so that she could marry her boyfriend of two years, Ollie Cliburn.
She began by downloading an anonymous browser called Tor on her work computer at EZ Wheels. This browser allows users access to the dark web. She then began seeking out a hitman to stage an automobile accident to murder her husband under the alias ‘Forward Only.’
She met the agent posing as a hitman during her online research and made three BTC payments to him totalling $10,000 over two months. During that time, she communicated with him via WhatsApp and phone calls, sending the ‘hitman’ photographs of her husband and the vehicles he typically drove.
It came to a head on November 1, when she finally met with the “hitman” at the Brandon Home Depot. Unbeknownst to her, they were being monitored by two other agents. She was arrested at her workplace later that same day. She was then tricked into admitting to her guilt when she was presented with falsified evidence of her husband’s murder.
Sledge is currently completing her sentence at the Federal Bureau of Prison’s women’s facility in Aliceville, Alabama. This will be followed by three years of probation. It is unknown why she did not simply divorce her husband, though we can guess that she was hoping to inherit all his assets.
A German man loses all his Bitcoin to a scam hitman site
Last year, there was an incident in Germany where an unnamed 28-year-old man tried to have his love rival murdered in the hopes that his unrequited love might finally bear fruit. The two of them met online and the younger man soon fell in love with the 38-year-old. However, his affections were unrequited and the older man soon moved in with his actual partner.
An interesting part of this story is that he first attempted to end the relationship between the parties by paying for ‘witch’ curses online. But after they failed to work, he turned to the dark web in March 2022 and lost all his BTC, valued at $24,000 to a scam hitman site.
The scammer eventually confessed to him and suggested that he too scam people online. He took the advice and was discovered by a journalist a month later. The journalist then reported him to the authorities. He was charged with attempted incitement to murder in September last year. The identities of the involved parties were not revealed to the press.
An Italian woman gets conned on Crime Bay
It seems that BTC-funded hits are popular among disillusioned lovers looking to outsource the murder of their significant others. In yet another example, a 58-year-old Italian woman living in Denmark decided that she had had enough of her boyfriend so turned to a website on the dark web for help in 2017. However, she picked the wrong site, as she decided on one rather dubiously called ‘Crime Bay’ to advertise her request in March 2017. She was soon contacted by a supposed hitman and paid 4.1 BTC, worth around $4,000 at the time, for his services. As is typical with these sites, she was told to deposit the funds in escrow and that they would only be drawn once the hit was completed with proof.
As usual, she was requested to submit the man’s address and a photograph of him. For a slight change, she stipulated that she wanted him to be killed with a silencer and that his death should be immediate, meaning that she at least cared enough about him that he shouldn’t suffer, which is a lot nicer than some of the other entries we have mentioned.
However, the site was a scam that promised hits and never delivered. Although it wasn’t revealed how the plot was discovered, one can assume that international cybercrime investigators monitor such sites and try to trace these attempted murders down before they can turn to other methods to carry out their crimes.
Fortunately, she was arrested in September 2017 by Denmark’s National Cyber Crime Center and was sentenced to six years in prison a couple of months later on attempted murder charges. She was also expelled from Denmark, where she had been residing for 30 years. The identities of both parties were not released to the public. But this case is noticeable because it is one of the earliest instances of such a case.
Jealous co-worker attempts to kill off love-triangle rival
Witney Franks’ story reads like a dark episode of The Jerry Springer Show. A woman (Witney Franks, 25) goes into a jealous rage when she discovers that her colleague (Rutt Ruutna, 29) is also having an affair with their married boss, James Prest. All three were working at a Midsummer Place Sports Direct store at the time, where Prest was the general manager.
But it gets better. Both women knew that he had a long-term partner with whom he had two children. Despite knowing that he was already a serial cheater, Franks decided that Ruutna was the problem and so turned to threaten her.
Going so far as to download Tor to access the dark web, Frank discovered a site that she believed to belong to the Sinaloa cartel, called the Sinaloa Cartel Cyber Team. There, she posted a request for Ruutna to be murdered, offering to pay £1,000 worth of BTC for the job.
Fortunately, a BBC journalist, Carl Miller, who was doing undercover research on the dark web, discovered Franks’ post in August 2020 and passed it on to the authorities. They then took protective measures to guard Ruutna until they had concluded their investigation. They proceeded to confiscate Franks’ iPad and mobile device, through which they discovered that she had downloaded Tor as well as her postings and a crypto wallet containing £282.57 (~$341) in BTC. She was arrested in September 2020 and received a 12-year prison sentence two weeks later.
The BBC to the rescue – again
Nearly four years after the Witney Franks saga, the BBC saved another life from a would-be assassination attempt plotted through the dark web. However, this time it was the life of Ann Replogle from the US. In this instance, Nelson Paul Replogle, a 60-year-old retired teacher from Knoxville, Tennessee attempted to hire someone to murder his wife for around $17,800 of BTC.
In April 2021, a BBC investigator discovered that someone had posted a request on the dark web for Ann Replogle to be killed as she “travelled from her residence to the veterinarian’s office while taking her pet for an appointment.” The request also included specific details regarding the model, color, and license plate of her car. The BBC then informed the FBI who passed the information on to the Knox Police department. They responded by taking the couple in for questioning. During the interview, they both stated that they could not think of anyone who would want to harm her. Since the BTC payment had been made anonymously, it was not yet known who had attempted it.
However, the FBI was able to trace the BTC payment to Coinbase. So, they issued a subpoena to the company to reveal all data pertaining to the wallet. This showed that the IP address from which the transactions were made was linked to an AT&T account belonging to Nelson Replogle. He was then arrested and later sentenced to 87 months followed by 3 years of supervised release in February 2022. It is not known why he wanted her dead.