Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Dark World of Online Murder Markets

Brian Merchant, Harper’s:

For that reason, it can be hard to distinguish genuine intent from rage-clicking through a dumb-looking website. A user named Frankbill161 was apparently furious at the operators of the sports-betting website FanDuel for not refunding his money, which, he told Yura, “ruined my life.” So he’d paid $6,232 to order the murder of the customer service representative who delivered the bad news to him over the phone. This sort of spontaneous anger, which might otherwise be spent on a Twitter or Reddit thread, can now be unleashed on sites where users believe their clicks can kill.

So far, according to [Chris Monteiro], eight people have been arrested for ordering murders through Yura’s websites, on the basis of evidence Monteiro passed to law enforcement. One of them, a young Californian named Beau Brigham, had paid less than $5 toward a hit on his stepmother. Nevertheless, he was found guilty of soliciting murder and sentenced to three years in prison.

Murder marketplaces may force us to reexamine — and redefine — what constitutes criminal intent. Though judgments have been somewhat inconsistent, courts seem to regard making a payment of any amount as proof that the desire for harm is sincere. David Crichton, a doctor in the United Kingdom, was acquitted of attempted-murder charges after ordering a hit on a financial adviser who’d lost most of his pension, because he had never transferred any money to Yura. In court, Crichton claimed he had been trying to “clear his head” of his own suicidal thoughts, and that he’d never really wanted the killing to happen.

Marketplaces offering murder-for-hire have existed on the web for decades. But it’s only relatively recently — with the coalescing of legitimized storefronts, difficult-to-track payment systems, and what I perceive to be a shift in societal condition that is at best increasingly nihilistic and at worst misanthropic — that have resulted in what Merchant describes as the first documented death purchased through these means.