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?

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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.

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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.