The Wisconsin Woman Charged For Using Bitcoin to Order a Hit

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Bitcoin has been in the news for its skyrocketing value after companies like Tesla have made billion-dollar investments into the cryptocurrency. However, Bitcoin has not also been blowing up in value, but in its use on the dark web — a Bitcoin technology company found that Bitcoin activity was up 340% from 2017 to 2020 on the dark web.

The dark web has notoriously been known as an underground market for drugs and weapons. Some websites on the dark web, however, go farther and offer commissions for contract killings. One website, according to Nathaniel Popper at the New York Times, even provides options for violence — a beating costs $2,000 and death by torture costs $50,000. When these sites were first discovered, many assumed they were legitimately providing users with hitmen or tortuerers.

However, experts say almost all of these murder-for-hire plots on the dark web are scams, with no known murders being attributed to these sites. However, people who frequent these sites can have so much tunnel vision on they don’t listen to the experts. Popper says that increasingly, people are being arrested for paying for murder for hire plots and hiring police. Last year, a nurse in Illinois was sentenced to 12 years in prison after paying a site $12,000 in bitcoin to have the wife of her boyfriend killed. In September of last year, a Nevada woman was indicted for paying $5,000 in Bitcoin to have her ex-husband killed.

Bitcoin is predominantly the currency used in these murder-for-hire plots. After all, most people see it as safer and more confidential than paying with your credit card. However, most of these sites don’t work and are just actively defrauding users. According to Emily Wilson, a head of research at a security firm focusing on the dark web:

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to defraud people because you give them just enough sense of danger…What are you going to do if they don’t go through with it?”

Smith has a great point that makes complete sense to most people — murder for hire sites are mostly fraudulent. However, it’s safe to say logic is tossed aside if you’re on the dark web trying to hire a killer. These murder-for-hire sites clearly tap into a market for people whose motives are too far gone. The allure of these sites for people who want others killed is that people don’t have to take on the risk of killing the person themselves and see the dark web as a place of anonymity where they won’t get caught.

According to Madison Hall at Insider, a 37-year-old woman named Kelly Harper has been charged for murder for hire after she paid $5,633 to a site on the dark web for a hit, using Bitcoin. According to the FBI affidavit, the FBI found probable cause after meeting with the targeted victim and three journalists. The journalists were all working on an investigative report about someone who wanted to kill the victim. The journalists gave a document to an FBI special agent, which gave chat communications from December 3 to December 10, 2020, about a person and an administrator on the website asking for the targeted victim to be killed.

“The target needs to be killed, he is a white 5 foot 5 male, dark brown short hair, blue eyes, weighs 165 pounds,” the person said.

The affidavit said a description of the target’s vehicle, cell phone number, and work location were also reported. The website administrator requested proof of payment, and the person provided a screenshot of a bitcoin wallet with a value of $5,633.87. The transfer was made on October 19, 2020. After the journalists gave the information to the FBI, the FBI’s Money Laundering, Forfeiture, and Bank Fraud Unit reviewed the transfer and found an IP address, email, and phone number associated with the bitcoin wallet.

They found the woman’s name to be Kelly Harper. A search of her house on February 5, 2021, found screenshots from the dark web site and a picture sent to the administrator. Based on these facts, the FBI determined probable cause, and Harper being charged with murder-for-hire.

Harper is a married woman and a mother of four. She is currently in custody at the Dane County Jail, facing 10 years in prison as a maximum sentence.

I don’t know what’s more frightening — that these murder-for-hire sites exist or that there’s a market for them. According to Chris Harris at People Magazine, the journalists only found the messages because they were working on a story about the dark web.

The story of Kelly Harper is crazy, but it illuminates a larger societal issue. She is not the first, nor will she be the last person to be caught using the dark web to kill people. In 2016, a man in Camden County, New Jersey was arrested for paying $20,000 in Bitcoin to have a child victim murdered while he was being investigated for child pornography-related offenses.

Perhaps the more frightening statistic is the people who seek out and pay for these services — and never get caught. At least experts say most of them are fraudulent.

Originally published on CrimeBeat on February 22, 2021.

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