A Louisiana woman found herself on the wrong end of an FBI sting operation after attempting to hire a contract killer via a parody website “linked directly” to the bureau’s internet crime squad, according to a federal complaint first obtained by The Daily Beast.
New Orleans resident Zandra Ellis was arrested earlier this week in the parking lot of the self-described “fanciest Waffle House” in America. She is the latest unlucky customer to allegedly fall prey to the satirical offerings on Rent-A-Hitman.com, a website run by a California IT specialist that has already ensnared numerous others looking to have someone knocked off.
“Got a problem that needs resolving?” the site asks, archly. “With over 17,985 U.S. based field operatives, we can find a solution that’s right for you!”
Glowing testimonials displayed prominently on the site feature satisfied “customers” from across the U.S. One, from “Abigail P.,” reads, “My consultation was fast and free and they took care of everything while I was on vacation. Highly recommended!” Another, from “Stuart M.,” says, “My old grouchy landlord was a real problem and wouldn’t leave my family alone. I filled out the service request form and within days, my issue was completely resolved. Would highly recommend!”
In a clever play on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which protects patients’ sensitive medical information, Rent-A-Hitman assures clients that their identities “will remain private as required under HIPPA, the Hitman Information Privacy & Protection Act of 1964.” However, the site, which started as a joke but has reportedly helped foil more than 150 murders since, in fact works directly with law enforcement.
“I get requests every single day,” Rent-A-Hitman.com owner and administrator Robert Innes told The Daily Beast on Friday. “Despite the attention in the news media, podcasts, online videos, people still see this as a place where they can attempt to hire a hitman. It’s mind-boggling. I just don’t get it.”
Ellis contacted Rent-A-Hitman on June 30, states the complaint, which was filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana and unsealed Thursday.
Apparently still trying to maintain some semblance of anonymity, Ellis allegedly submitted a service request form under the name Jasmine D. Brown. After providing her email, phone number, and physical address, “Brown” said she wanted to have a woman identified in court filings as “B.H.,” killed, the complaint says. She allegedly entered B.H.’s phone number, address, and Instagram handle into the appropriate field, and noted, “I would like her dead since she is trying to kill me.”
About 24 hours later, Innes—who goes by “Guido Fanelli” on the site and is identified as “R.I.” in the complaint—contacted “Brown” and “asked if she still required the requested services and if she wanted to be placed in contact with a field operative for her free consultation,” the filing states. Exactly one minute later, the answer came back: “Yes.”
Innes told The Daily Beast that he gives all potential customers a “cooling-off period” for them to change their minds. He said Ellis’ request seemed particularly violent, and that she had included photos of the intended target. Innes checked out the names and determined they were indeed real people, leading him to believe she was serious.
“At approximately 9:44 PDT, R.I. emailed [Ellis] and asked why the name provided on the service request form read ‘Jasmine D. Brown’ but the name associated with email address firstname.lastname@example.org depicted ‘Zandra Ellis,’” it continues.
Ellis replied, “I didn’t want my real name out just in case this isn’t real or if it comes back to me or so I wouldn’t go to jail for wanting something like this done,” the complaint says. “I just didn’t want it to fall back on me.”
On July 3, Innes reported Ellis’ request to the FBI National Threat Operations Center. On July 5, an undercover FBI agent reached out to Ellis to go over the plan.
In a text message, the undercover agent introduced himself as “Ace,” and asked Ellis if she was still interested in going through with the job, the complaint states. After Ellis said she was, the agent inquired as to when she would like to “make that move.”
“Depends on the price,” Ellis responded.
The two eventually agreed on a “G,” or $1,000, according to the complaint.
“The [undercover agent] informed Ellis that she would be required to provide ten percent of the payment which would be $100 dollars,” the complaint continues. “Ellis responded, ‘ok cool I got the 100 but will need jus [sic] a lil time for the rest unless I can do installments lol.’ The [undercover agent] asked Ellis where she wanted to meet and Ellis replied, ‘Waffle House on Canal St cool wit u???’”
On the afternoon of July 6, the undercover agent showed up at the Waffle House to meet with Ellis, who arrived pushing a small child in a stroller.
They sat at the counter to discuss the upcoming hit, and the undercover agent secretly recorded the conversation, according to the complaint.
“Ellis told the [undercover agent]... that she had been feuding with B.H. over social media because the two women had children by the same male who was not identified by name,” the complaint states. “Ellis maintained that if someone wanted her and her unborn child dead that they had to go.”
Ellis allegedly handed over the agreed-upon $100 down payment to the undercover agent, who asked her how she wanted confirmation that the assassination was successful. The complaint says she replied that she had “filled that part out online,” but said that “a code word would be fine.”
As for the balance due, Ellis allegedly told the undercover agent that she got paid every two weeks and planned to devote at least $250 from each check to it. Once the $1,000 was paid down, the undercover agent said the job would “get done.”
In the meantime, the undercover agent asked, did Ellis have anything to protect herself?
“Ellis glanced at her backpack and told the [undercover agent], ‘When you see me with this I’m always strapped,’” the complaint states. “When Ellis exited Waffle House she was arrested and found to be in possession of a Ruger .308 pistol containing live rounds.”
She is now charged with use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.
“When a life is in jeopardy, I want [the case] to get into capable hands,” Innes told The Daily Beast. “Fortunately, a life was saved in this process.”
Requests for hitmen have spiked enormously in 2022, Innes said, explaining that he alerts authorities when requests appear to be significant threats, and ignores the inevitable pranksters.
In 2020, Rent-A-Hitman.com received 58 “actionable” requests, according to Innes. In 2021, it received 56. In the first six months of 2022, the site has received 331 actionable service requests. Of those, Innes said 67 percent have been people looking to retaliate against somebody else, such as a bully, a landlord, a boss, or a spouse.
One Alaska man requested that the victim’s lungs be removed from his chest cavity, Innes said. An East Coast woman wanted a bullet put in the head of a district attorney she thought was too soft on crime. One requester in Indiana who said her roommate wouldn’t leave asked that the interloper be pinned to the wall with knives through her wrists and ankles, her abdomen sliced open, and her heart set aside “in a cooler with ice.”
If convicted, Ellis—who does not yet have a lawyer listed in court records and was unable to be reached for comment—faces up to 10 years in federal prison.