In the movies the elite of contract killers are very well paid anonymous people equipped with the most advanced high tech willing to take down almost any target including famous politicians all around the globe.
1. Is it possible to compare it with the reality or these shadowy characters live only in the fantasies of screenwriters.
2. Is it a job more for the lone wolves or something as Murder Inc. is usual?
Diego Gambetta, Professor of Sociology and Official Fellow, Nuffield College, University of Oxford
1. The latter. In any kind of service, legal or illegal, people demanding a service and people supplying it need to find each other and communicate with each other. If you want a plumber you used to look in the Yellow Pages and now you google for one in your area. But can you do that if you are looking for a contract killer? Look in my recent book Codes of the Underworld for the story of a Canadian woman who thought she could and called a firm listed in the Yellow Pages called ‘Guns for hire’ and ask them to kill her husband…and ended up 5 years in jail In fact, the second thing you need when you are looking for a service/offering one, is to be able to to trust the other party to be willing and able to deliver the service and not cheat you. If a plumber does cheat you, you can call the police or your lawyer or the consumer association, but if a contract killer does whom do you call? And what if your intended victim hires him first?
All the above to say that contract killers of the anonymous kind who one can hire on the open market are very unlikely to exist at all in reality. Many criminals portrayed by movies are found in reality, but contract killers are a figment of screenwriters’ imagination – at least I have never found a case.
2. Neither. I have never heard of an organisation specialising only in murdering people on behalf of others. Even in mafia-like organisations violence is a means for other mafia business not a service for a third party. At most killers are members or employees of organisations — whether criminal ones or secret service ones or political ones — who work only for their employers (may be at most if the opportunity arises they can do a hit as a second job, but even if, hypothetically, they try to become independent from their employers they will also become a big risk for them for they know too much so they would be chased by their successors in the organisation). Only people who are well known, on whom the employer has power either psychological or blackmailing one or both, can be used for such a difficult and appalling task as killing people.
While I like many crime movies, such as Rififi or Donnie Brasco, movies about fictional contract killers bore me.
Lynn Newhart, Professor, Anthropology/Sociology, Rockford College
1. The majority of contract killers are not quite how they are depicted on TV. Of course, there are SOME who are that like that = example The Jackal – but the majority of them are thugs. They work for organized crime, and they do not high tech weapons – they walk up and put a bullet in someone’s head. In fact, that kind of murder is pretty much the signature of contract killers. To these guys (most are guys), it is nothing personal against the victim. It is a matter of business.
2. Of course there are some lone wolves out there – for example, someone wants to have his father killed, he goes to someone who knows someone,== and usually ends up hiring an uncover law enforcement officer, and then being prosecuted for the attempt to murder.
Murder, Inc., although no longer in existence certainly committed many murders – we don’t know how many for sure, but probably around 400. Since there are so many different kinds of organized crime these days, the Mafia is not the only group to use “hit squads.” Every major outlaw motorcycle gang (such as the Hell’s Angels) also has an execution squad.
Leo Barrile, Professor, Department of Sociology, Social Work & Criminal Justice, Bloomsburg University
First let me say that movie killings cannot match the persistent and institutionalized nature of political violence committed by legitimate states and insurgent political groups. Governments have used whatever means available, sophisticated and crude, to rid themselves of enemies, critics and rivals or to control their populations. You know that well in Slovakia from the history of your secret police. Democratic countries like the U.S. have used mercenaries and unofficial agents of government to carry out activities such as renditions, and the training of secret police and paramilitary in other countries. The depictions in the mass media, which are often accused or exaggerating violence, pale in comparison to the violence wreaked every day by war and politics.
To me, what is important about the media presentations is not the technique of killing, e.g. contract killings done in a sophisticated way as you say, but that the killings are usually depicted as a drama of good characters versus evil characters, where good defeats evil most of the time within 90 minutes. In much of the real political violence in the world, resolution is ephemeral and good and evil difficult to determine.
However, there are assassinations that have no institutionalized ties. In the United States we have had several assassinations and attempts that apparently are not linked to anything more than the political leanings of specific individuals. The murders of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and the attempted assassinations of George Wallace, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan, were committed, purportedly, by individuals in a simple way with some political or psychological axe to grind, and no “contract” to kill, no agency to conspire with.
In contrast, many movie assassins are professional mercenaries, are part of an intricate conspiracy, are highly trained and often use advanced technology to accomplish their goals. See movies such as, Air Force One, the Shooter and the Bourne Identity. Typically, they are depicted as working for a rogue agency of a domestic government, a secret paramilitary agency of a foreign government, a terrorist group, or greedy criminal gang. Doubtlessly there are real cases in which political rivals are eliminated in a society by a conspiracy. Dictators have used goon squads to terrorize their populations and decimate their enemies. In otherwise democratic societies, there is no doubt that renditions and kidnappings are done in an organized and sophisticated way perhaps very similar to the depiction in the movie, Rendition.
It is easier for movies to be closer to the truth on organized crime contract killings. The motives are simpler and the techniques typically crude, up close and bloody. The facts of these murders are in plain view in the news media. Their dramatic and graphically violent nature makes them perfect material for film. Mob movies, such as the Godfather, Casino, Goodfellas, and Gomorrah capture the motives and modus operandi of the violence. And while there are exaggerations and fictional characterizations, the “essentials” are captured I believe.
In sum, films entertain. They are spectacles. They are vehicles for characters that are bigger than life and themes that simplify morality. Sometimes films hit the issues perfectly, directly and realistically. Sometimes they do so indirectly and metaphorically. Often they are escapes. We must remember that film is art. It is a person’s vision, there to be interpreted. Some of it is great, some maudlin. It is audience’s responsibility to decide what they can learn from a film. We cannot expect our entertainment films to be news or science.
J. Madison Davis, Professor, President of the International Association of Crime Writers, University of Oklahoma
From what I know reading true crime stories, most of the “hit men” who work for organized crime, like Richard Kuklinski or Charlie Carneglia, weren’t very glamorous at all. They were sociopaths who often were scary to the gangsters which hired them. Carneglia was supposedly good at making people “disappear.” The Gambino family had two policemen who would kill for them. These people all got paid well, but nothing like you see in the movies. I think the cops were said to have gotten $48,000 for one job. I think Kuklinski lived in a regular house with a wife and kids.
Of course, drug gangs in the U.S. often use killers under 18 because they can’t be prosecuted as adults.
I remember that the CIA is said to have contacted the Mafia to try to get them to kill Castro—which is a sign that the CIA doesn’t have a list of James Bond types. At the moment, I cannot think of a political figure who was shot from a long distance (as we so often see in the movies) except for John Kennedy and Martin Luther King. And despite all the conspiracy theories, these seem to have been done by people who were living in their own world. Obviously, the best kind of sniper assassin would be ex-military, but most of these probably would not be psychologically inclined to do something like this in peacetime.
I have never read of any glamorous assassins for real. And it seems they are a fictional invention. Compare Frederic Forsyth’s “Jackal” to the real Carlos the Jackal. A gentleman contract killer would probably be too obvious to last long, so I would guess they are figments of screenwriters’ imaginations, like The Scarlet Pimpernel or James Bond. On the other hand, maybe they exist exactly because to be successful they have to be invisible.
It’s a joke here that every time someone wishes to hire a “hit man” they ask a bartender who arranges for them to meet an undercover FBI agent. It seems there are three of four stories like that in the newspaper every year.