The “dark web,” an encrypted section of the Internet, is full of purported hitmen offering to kill for the right price.
The assassins are almost always scam artists, but it appears that three journalists investigating the more sordid corners of the web helped thwart a murder-for-hire plot.
Federal prosecutors announced Monday they had charged Kelly Harper, 37, of Columbus, Wisconsin, with using the Internet to hire someone to commit murder.
According to a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin, one of the journalists saw the target’s name and address posted on a dark web site, along with this chilling message: “the target needs to be killed, he is a white 5 foot 5 male, dark brown short hair, blue eyes, weighs 165 pounds.” It was accompanied by his cell phone number and pictures of the man’s vehicle.
The complaint went on to say that “the murder-for-hire site administrator responded to [the suspect’s] message and requested proof of payment in the form of bitcoin. [Suspect] responded by sharing a screenshot of a bitcoin wallet with a value of approximately $5,633.87.”
The journalists, who were not named, also found a bitcoin payment from the suspect to a second murder-for-hire website administrator, according to the complaint.
After the journalists alerted the target about what they had found, his girlfriend reported the situation to the FBI. Agents were able to trace an IP address, email, and phone number linked to the bitcoin wallet to Harper’s residence.
The feds then questioned Harper who allegedly admitted “to paying bitcoin to the administrator of a murder-for-hire dark web site in order to have [the target] killed,” the complaint says.
The court documents do not indicate a motive for the alleged plot.
Harper is being held at the Dane County Jail. Several relatives reached by phone declined to comment. Social media postings by Harper indicate that she has at least three children, and public records show she has also lived in Arizona.