Did the Alleged Silk Road Kingpin Get Scammed Out of $650,000 by a Phony Hit Man?

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Nov. 26 2013 3:21 PM

Did the Alleged Silk Road Kingpin Get Scammed Out of $650,000 by a Phony Hit Man?

A file photo of a handgun.

Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, federal prosecutors announced that Ross William Ulbricht, the alleged proprietor of the black market online vice emporium Silk Road, was now suspected of attempting to commission six murders, not just two. In addition to the alleged hits on a former site employee from Utah and a troublesome would-be blackmailer called “FriendlyChemist” in Canada, prosecutors now allege that Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts) ordered the assassination of a Canadian Silk Road user named “tony76” and his three housemates. Ulbricht allegedly commissioned these hits from another Silk Road user named “redandwhite,” who was also the ostensible assassin in the first Canadian murder-for-hire plot. Police and prosecutors have no evidence to indicate that any of the five murders for which redandwhite was allegedly paid ever took place. (The hit on the ex-employee never took place, either; the “hit man” in that situation was actually a federal agent.)

Of all the aspects to this ongoing story, the redandwhite angle might be the most confusing. As far as we know, Ulbricht allegedly paid redandwhite $650,000 total to commit these murders. He may have believed that redandwhite was affiliated with the Hells Angels. (Ulbricht allegedly wrote that he “sent payment to angels for hit on tony76 and his 3 associates.”) He apparently received some sort of confirmation that convinced him that they actually took place. Beyond that, nobody really knows what happened. Who is redandwhite? What actually happened here? Here are a few theories that are now in circulation.


Redandwhite was running a very long con on Ulbricht. This is what probably happened: a clever grifter scammed Dread Pirate Roberts out of $650,000. If you believe this theory, whoever was behind the “redandwhite” account was in cahoots with the people whom Ulbricht allegedly was trying to have killed—or maybe redandwhite actually was one of those people. After allegedly convincing Ulbricht that “tony76” and “FriendlyChemist” posed a threat to Silk Road, redandwhite stepped in and offered to neutralize that threat, for a fee. Once Ulbricht allegedly paid for the hits, “redandwhite” staged a murder scene and the offending accounts disappeared, making it look like those users had been killed. This is an elaborate ruse, to be sure, but not an entirely implausible one.

Redandwhite was a government agent. Ulbricht had allegedly been scammed by a government agent posing as a hitman once before. Was the redandwhite saga a similar sting operation? It’s possible. The trouble with this theory is that the government has admitted its involvement in the first sting, which makes it odd that they wouldn’t do the same thing here. While I can think of reasons why the government might want to keep the details of this sort of operation secret—to avoid burning a confidential informant in an ongoing investigation, perhaps—and while it certainly seems like there’s stuff the government isn’t yet telling us about how it identified and caught Ulbricht, I find this theory less convincing than the “Ulbricht was scammed” one.

Redandwhite was an actual hit man, and did a great job covering his tracks. Highly dubious. The Canadian government said there’s no evidence that anyone was ever killed when, where, and how they were supposed to have been killed by redandwhite. Maybe the Canadians are just very bad at investigating or noticing murders. But it’s more likely that the murders never happened in the first place.

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 justintrevett@fastmail.fm.



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand

Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM I First Wore a Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand. It Was Liberating.

Naomi Klein Is Wrong

Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change.

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show


Amazing Images From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters take to the streets, with firm grips on their rights and their umbrellas. 


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 11:57 AM Iowa Radical The GOP’s Senate candidate doesn’t want voters to know just how conservative she really is.
Sept. 30 2014 11:25 AM Naomi Klein Is Wrong Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change.
The Vault
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 AM Thomas Jefferson's 1769 Newspaper Ad Seeking a Fugitive Slave 
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 30 2014 11:42 AM Listen to Our September Music Roundup Hot tracks from a cooler month, exclusively for Slate Plus members.
Sept. 30 2014 12:10 PM Violence, Love, and Hope: Growing Up in the Bronx in the 1980s
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 11:55 AM The Justice Department Is Cracking Down on Sales of Spyware Used in Stalking
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.