How much does it cost to put a hit on someone?

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Feb. 26 2009 6:44 PM

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

How much does it cost to put a hit on someone?

Hitman poster.

A Dallas woman and her mother were arrested this week for attempting to hire a hit man. According to the police, Tammie Lafawne Lewis offered someone $25,000 to kill her father so that she and her mother could collect on his insurance policy. What's the going rate for a contract killing?

Anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars, if offered rates are anything to go by. According a Texas Monthly profile, undercover investigator Gary Johnson has been hired by more than 60 Texans to off their enemies in the past 20years. At the high end, a wealthy socialite who wanted her husband dead gave Johnson $200,000 in jewels as a down payment on the killing. At the low end, a teenager once offered him "seven Atari computer games, three dollar bills, and $2.30 in nickels and dimes" to take out a romantic rival.

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Reliable statistics on murder-for-hire fees are hard to come by, since most successful contract killers presumably go unpunished and are careful not to leave a paper trail. But fees can depend on a number of factors: the difficulty of the hit, the prominence of the target, the financial standing of the employer, and the financial needs of the hit man, to name just a few.

The $25,000 offered in Dallas does seem to be a generous offer, however. The FBI works undercover on an average of 70 to 90 murder-for-hire cases a year. According to bureau press releases, recent quoted fees have ranged from $25,000 to kill a spouse to $600 to kill a girlfriend. And a drug dealer in New Orleans tried to pay for a contract killing in crack.

Organized criminals may have their own pay scale for contract killings. This month, a reputed member of the Patriarca organized-crime family—Anthony "the Saint" St. Laurent Sr.— was accused of offering two people $20,000 to kill another mafia capo, Robert "Bobby" DeLuca. However, mob hits apparently aren't always so lucrative: Richard Kuklinski, a man who claimed to have killed more than 100 people as a Mafia hit man, said in an HBO documentary that he received just $1,600 per victim. (Many Mafia murders don't involve fees at all, with junior members killing rivals at the request of their higher-ups.)

The 1983 book Hitman: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors, written by one "Rex Feral," suggests charging a $30,000 minimum fee for a hit, which includes expected expenses of $500 to $5,000. However, it was later revealed in the course of a lawsuit against the book's publishers that the "manual" was actually a work of fiction, written by a divorced mother of two. 

A few years ago, the Australian Institute of Criminology and South Australia's major crime-investigation branch studied 163 attempted and actual contract killings between 1989 and 2002. The average rate received was 12,700 Australian dollars, or about $8,254. The lowest was 380 AUD (about $250), and the highest was 76,000 AUD (about $49,400). In Russia, where murders-for-hire are on the rise, contracts start at a couple hundred dollars. An expert quoted in the Moscow Times says the most expensive Russian hit may have been the 1998 killing of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, which may have gone for $150,000 because of the long chain of people allegedly involved.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Jay Albanese of Virginia Commonwealth University.

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