British criminologists claim that hitmen are more boring than we make them out to be, but their analysis can’t account for the behavior of “Master” killers.
If a hitman excels at his craft, he’ll operate quietly and without incident. In theory, the whispered meetings will be held in secret, the job will be executed with precision and grace, and no one will witness the escape.
For those reasons, the few criminologists who do attempt to study these misdeeds acknowledge the thorny methodological problems associated with examining “a secret world” to which they have no access. Of course, that hasn’t exactly stifled their ambitions.
A group of researchers at the Center for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University in the U.K. has recently analyzed newspaper articles, court records, and a series of “off-the-record” interviews with informants “who have, or who had, direct knowledge of contract killings” in order to construct what they term a “typology” of British hitmen. For the record, these social scientists “define a hitman as a person who accepts an order to kill another human being from someone who is not publicly acknowledged as a legitimate authority regarding ‘just killing’.” The results of their detailed search of British cases that matched this description in the period between 1974 and 2013 only turned up 27 contracted hits or attempted hits “committed by a total of 36 hitmen” (there was only a single “hitwoman”), but the researchers used the sample to tease out the details and profiles of typical killers-for-hire.
The main thrust of the paper, which will be published in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, is that hitmen do not operate with the drama, professionalism, or glamour that mob films and spy novels afford them. In actuality, the majority of killers select jejune settings for their crimes, have occasionally bumbling performances, and are often hired by contractors with lame motivations.
Here’s the profile of an average British hitman, who seems more confined by the boxy restraints of reality than the undulating arcs of fiction: