The life of a hitman

By PD Martin

A while ago I started a research series here on Murderati and somehow it fell by the wayside. Sorry! But I’m back on the research front with today’s blog, this time focusing on some research I did into professional hitmen.

Note: In nearly all the known cases of contract killers the gender of the killer is male. It doesn’t mean a woman can’t be a hitperson, it’s just much, much less likely.

An article I found in the Journal of Forensic Sciences classifies three types of hitmen: amateur, semi-professional and professional. The amateur ones are probably best characterised as the career criminal or drug addict who takes a few hundred bucks to knock off someone’s wife or husband. Planning levels are low and often these amateurs stuff up the job and/or get caught.

But then we have the upper, upper echelon. I uncovered one research study on this type of contract killer, but the number of subjects was extremely low (five killers, all male and covering a large age range). One assumes that the people who practice in the upper echelons of contract killing simply don’t get caught. In the US in 2008, there were 200 murders that were either known or believed to be carried out for money. Of those, 82 were solved and fall into the amateur or semi-professional categories, leaving 118 unsolved. That’s a lot of unsolved contract kills. And how many killers were there? It’s possible there were a handful of busy killers, or fifty or so averaging two jobs a year. Who knows?

The professional hitman (which my research was focused on) is highly organised and plans the kill methodically. He (or very rarely she) is often employed by organised crime and the target is usually a criminal and often someone within organised crime. There is little to no physical evidence left at the scene.

In terms of this type of contract killer’s personality, they see what they do as a job-strictly business. There’s no psychological or emotional need to kill; in their minds, it’s simply a way of living. However, it’s been found that some contract killers see themselves as doing the ‘work of God’, stepping in where the justice system fails. Either way, these individuals are capable of complete compartmentalisation and so it’s possible that they’re married with children and successfully living a double life.

In the small sample study of five contract killers, they also tested IQ. They ranged from 95 to 115, with the average being 108. However, most of them functioned above their overall intelligence and this was because they had highly developed analytical and organisational skills, plus extremely well-developed social skills.

Most of them are highly methodical with an overdeveloped sense of discipline and many have served time in the military. They do ‘stalk’ their victims but it’s purely for functional reasons, to get to know their routines and to find the best place to kill them. The contract killer feels no bonds or ties to the victims, and as a professional killer, it’s also unlikely he’ll feel any remorse.

How to be a hitman…really?

One of the weirdest (and funniest) things I ran across during my research was a book called Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors. The book was initially published in 1983 by Paladin Press. However, in 1993 a triple homicide was committed by a man who said he’d used the book. The victims’ family sued Paladin Press and in 1999 the case was settled and the book was officially pulled off the market. Of course, it popped up online the next day!

The book details things like: mental and physical preparations; equipment needed; how to make a disposable silencer; different killing methods; surveillance; planning the kill; finding jobs; how much to charge; how to get it right; controlling the situation; and enjoying the fruits of the life of a contract killer. Bizarre, right?

I actually often read out a section at my talks about women. I won’t repeat it here for copyright reasons but I can give you the general gist of it – it my own words. The section reads as a warning against women. I guess you’d call it a back-handed compliment for women, because it says we can be great contract killers but the reasons given are our deceitful natures and because we’re so vicious! It then goes on to say that luckily women are taken off the street because of our nesting instinct…and then we’re busy with babies, laundry and housework. Hard to believe the book was written in 1983 and not 1953 with comments like that.

So, do you think you know a contract killer? Or maybe you bought the book!

Lastly, I wanted to wish everyone Happy Holidays. We’ll be celebrating Christmas Day out the back, eating seafood and basking in the Aussie sun – the forecast is for 30C (86F).  Here’s a taste of the Aussie Christmas…a song my 5yro was taught at pre-school. The Aussie Jingle Bells. Probably funnier if you’re an Aussie!


And yes, we will be throwing a shrimp on the barbecue. 

16 thoughts on “The life of a hitman

  1. Sarah W

    Thank you! This is perfect timing—there's a hitperson tugging at my cortex, wanting to be written. I'm not sure what her story is, yet, but I can tell you exactly what she'd think about that handbook's backhanded compliment.

    No driving on ice? No windchill? Sounds like a fair trade for a White Christmas! For two cents (and the price of the plane ticket and hotel) I'd be there tomorrow,

  2. Reine

    Hilarious video. Substitute a coyote and a jackalope for the pit bull and kangaroo, and you have a great version of "Christmas on the Rez!"

  3. Paladin Press

    The book Hit Man was written by a housewife in Florida. She originally approached Paladin with the material written as a novel. Owner and publisher Peder Lund told her he was interested in the subject, but didn't publish novels. She then presented it as a how-to.

    To learn more about Peder and Paladin Press, you can visit:

    Also, the January issue of Playboy has an article featuring Peder titled "The World's Most Dangerous Publisher." Much of it highlighting the Hit Man situation.

  4. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks for this, PD! I can't get enough hit man instructional manuals. But….was it really written as a novel by a housewife in Florida? Kinda reduces its validity, unless of course she was a hit woman herself.

  5. Zoë Sharp

    Hi PD

    I read a little of the online HIT MAN book and it was very entertaining – I particularly liked the section about choosing a female partner. I can well believe that it was written as a spoof. Can’t help thinking it’s a bit like those books that tell you how to get rich quick. By the time you’ve waded through all the hyperbole the advice usually boils down to ‘write and sell a book entitled HOW TO GET RICH QUICK …’ If you ARE indeed a successful contract killer, why on earth would you want to write a book explaining to anyone else how to do it? Surely exclusivity pushes up your own price?

    The Journal article sounds very interesting, though. I’m surprised about the intelligence levels. I thought they’d be further up the IQ scale.

    Which of your books did this research relate to – we need a title and some details here!

  6. Paladin Press

    As a newer employee, I'm learning about the Hit Man case in bits and pieces as well. He doesn't talk about it much, but he opens up a bit in the Playboy article saying he maintains it was a simple housewife from Florida and that he's protected her identity to this day. I'm in a very bias situation due to employment, but I believe him.

    A few months ago, I was going through our copy of Publisher's Weekly and on the back cover was a book about a contract killer – and I apologize, I can't remember the title and we're working from home today – but it was pretty much the same situation presented differently. Modern cover and graphics, … much more professional presentation. Peder added a sticky note saying "I guess this is more classy than Hit Man."

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Just one shrimp?

    It's funny, I've been doing a lot of research into contract killers, too, but not because I want to write a hit man. Or woman, which is just such a Hollywood fantasy. My research turned up some slightly different information about present-day contract killers and I'm wondering if you were reading mostly European books and articles. The bottom line of my research was that above the amateur level that you describe, hitmen are still thugs, almost always members of the criminal organization that dispatches them to kill rivals or traitors. But the new wave of contract killers are the assassins (like the "Artistic Assassins") that service the Mexican cartels.

  8. Laura

    That was really interesting PD! I always enjoy your research blogs. 🙂
    Have a very Merry Christmas – and if the forecast is right we may even have the Aussie version of a white christmas… A wet one! Bad joke. Sorry!
    Laura 🙂

  9. Pari Noskin

    I'm fascinated by this and some of it confirms what I thought — at least about the professionals just viewing it as a job.

    I'm not sure if I know a contract killer or not — it's possible some hang out a mystery conventions (isn't it?). But I do know that when my mother divorced my father, one of her high school friends offered to "get rid" of him.

    What astounds me more is the price someone will do a kill for. In NM several years back, a guy was paid $250 to off another guy's wife. It was a botched attempt. I wonder if it was because the purchaser "got what he paid for."


  10. PD Martin

    Sorry, guys late to my own party today! Was out last night Aussie time when this went live and then up early and out this AM for breakfast Christmas party and then into the city with my daughter. Just at a computer now…

    Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed hearing about hitmen! And the video of course 🙂

    Thanks to the Paladin Press employee for some additional insights too.

    Alex, I can email you through my research stuff – might be interesting to compare. I did have one thing that was Aussie-based but a lot of it was US, given my books are set in the US.

    And Zoe, this was for The Killing Hands and also for the spy thriller novel I completed earlier this year that I'm thinking of self-publishing on Amazon! May as well do the trailer plug –


  11. David Corbett


    Sorry to be so late to the party. I know Palladin Press well, and this is sadly only too par for the course. Where they get the clowns to write these things, who knows. Thanks for the various insights, and women actually do make good assassins for the same reason they make good cops and PIs: people trust them.

    Have a lovely holiday.


  12. lil Gluckstern

    I am really late for the party, but I loved the video, and can only imagine how much fun this is. Happy Holidays!

  13. Paladin Press

    Hi, David,

    I take issue with your statement. Paladin Press has many wonderful, knowledgeable and expert authors. People tend to focus on the rouge titles like Hit Man and the Get Even series that cater to a certain individual and get media attention. But when you look at the enormous collection of Police and Military science, Survivalism etc., I don't see how you can call those authors clowns.


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