The Alleged Silk Road Mastermind Teaches Us All How Not to Hire a Hit Man

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Oct. 2 2013 6:39 PM

The Alleged Silk Road Mastermind Teaches Us All How Not to Hire a Hit Man

This is a gun. Don't hire someone on the Internet to use one on your behalf.

Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

In the criminal complaint against Ross William Ulbricht, aka “Dread Pirate Roberts,” the 29-year-old San Francisco man accused of running a massive online illegal marketplace called Silk Road, authorities allege that Ulbricht attempted to arrange the murder of a man who had threatened to reveal personal data about Silk Road users. This apparently wasn’t Ulbricht’s first dalliance with assassination; online records indicate that, while arranging the hit, Ulbricht noted that “not long ago, I had a clean hit done for $80k.”

A new charge against Ulbricht now provides details of that “clean hit,” which, as it turns out, was neither clean nor a hit. An indictment from the U.S. District Court in Maryland alleges that, in January 2013, Ulbricht attempted to arrange the murder of a former employee who had recently been arrested by the feds. Unfortunately for him, the “assassin” he tried to hire was an undercover federal agent.


According to the indictment, Ulbricht sent the agent $40,000 up front; once the hit was “confirmed” by means of an elaborately staged photograph, Ulbricht sent him another $40,000. Ulbricht’s alleged response to the photograph is dripping with irony:

After receiving the photograph, ROSS WILLIAM ULBRICHT, a/k/a “Dread Pirate Roberts,” a/k/a “DPR,” stated that “I’m pissed I had to kill him … but what’s done is done[,]” and that “I just can’t believe he was so stupid[,] … I just wish more people had some integrity[.]”

The incompetence here is staggering. I won’t bother talking about how someone so obviously smart in a technological sense could be so gullible in other regards. But I will offer two pieces of advice that everyone—Internet drug baron or not—would do well to heed. First, a bloody photograph does not count as proof that someone has been killed. Second, if you try to arrange a murder online, you should automatically assume that your contact is an undercover government agent. As such, you should never try to arrange a murder online. It will just end up with you getting arrested, and the entire world laughing at you.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at


The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

Walmart Is Crushing the Rest of Corporate America in Adopting Solar Power

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.