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



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