Contract Killings: Arranging Murders for Vengeance, or Political, Social or Financial Gain

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This article will discuss the evolution and use of a specific category of the offence of murder known as contract killings, also known as arranged or paid assassinations.

We will take you through several examples of these offences throughout history, their nature and purposes, including contract killings perpetrated for political and/or financial gain right here in Australia.

These crimes are not only committed by those traditionally considered to be criminals, but by those we entrust such as governments and their agents, including police officers, and royalty.

Such crimes are generally perpetrated by those known as hitmen or mercenaries, with a cold, calculated heart that shows no empathy or consideration for the lives of the targets, families and loved-ones they ruin, let alone the impact on democratic systems.

Historical aspects

In 1877, archaeologist Harald Mellor discovered the remains of a German Prince who had been assassinated 3846 years ago in what was known as the Bronze Age (the era when Bronze Products were manufactured) Bronze daggers, swords, axes and machetes were all used in early contract killings and assassinations as it was considered a more durable metal. 

Some historians argue that the Egyptian pharaoh Teti was the first person assassinated which is estimated to have occurred about 2352 and 2572 years ago which is a rather tenuous assertion. 

The Prince is believed by archaeologists to have been one of the first known assassinations as opposed to a contract killing because it is the term generally used for the murder of a high-profile or well-known person. 

In the period (c. 634 – 562 BC which is between 2584 & 2656 years ago according to the omni calendar). 

Although its authenticity is questioned in some circles, Judith a pious Jewish widow seduced the leader General Holofernes of what was essentially the Assyrian army, and beheaded him leading to a victory by the Israelites thus saving Jerusalem from destruction.

Assassination was the order of the day according to the Indian Royal Advisor philosopher Chanakya also known as Kautilia or Vishnigupta.

The philosopher recorded that the founder of the Maurya Empire, Emperor Chandragupta assassinated many potential enemies around the period (c. 350  – 283 BCE which is between 2305 & 2372 years ago according to the omni calendar).

Julius Caesar’s final words as alleged to have been directed to his friend, Marcus Junius Brutus as he was being stabbed by him were “Et tu, Brute?”  which translated from Latin means “And you Brutus?” refers to the Ides of March assassination of Caesar by senators in the year 44 BC.

Australian political assassination & domestic terrorism

1868 saw the attempted assassination of the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Alfred by an Irish Fenian Henry James O’Farrell who shot the prince in the back. The Irishman was hanged at Darlinghurst gaol.

Australia’s first political assassination was the killing of a member of the NSW legislative assembly socialist MP Percy Brookfield in 1921, but the assassination of NSW MP John Paul Newman in 1994 by a local aspiring New South Wales rival politician Phuong Canh Ngo is also often referred to as Australia’s first political assassination which is a strange assertion under the circumstances.

1924 was the year that a Brisbane politician who was a member of the Queensland legislative assembly Albert Edward Victor Whitford was shot and killed by a war veteran

1928 saw another politician assassinated, Hyman Goldstein who was a nationalist member of the New South Wales legislative assembly. 

Whilst the perpetrator has never been found it was believed to be a fellow MP by the name of Thomas Ley who migrated to England and was imprisoned for murder in a mental institution.

1966 was the year that the Australian Labor Party Leader Arthur Calwell was the victim of an assassination attempt when a 19-year-old factory worker shot him through the window of his car as he didn’t agree with Mr Calwell’s policies. He received a sentence of Life Imprisonment.

A Norfolk Island politician Ivens Buffett was shot and murdered by his mentally unfit son in 2004

New South Wales Australia – the Hilton hotel bombing

Declared in Parliament as the first domestic terrorist attack in Australia the bombing of Sydney’s Hilton Hotel in 1978 ended up in the death of three people, a police officer and two refuse collectors with 11 others injured. 

The bomb was actually planted in a garbage bin outside the hotel which was hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting. (CHOGRM) None of the 12 delegates staying at the hotel were injured.

Victoria – police headquarters

Payment of the Soul was that exacted by a criminal gang in Melbourne Victoria in 1986 who, in an attempt to blow up the Victoria police headquarters, caused killing of a  Victorian police officer, Constable Angela Rose Taylor despite a brave rescue attempt by a Melbourne Solicitor Bernard Balmer. 

Indeed each Australian State and Territory has seen such tragedies.

Melbourne’s gangland war

1998 to 2010 saw Melbourne’s gangland war involve 36 contract killings with a significant number unsolved and a recent Royal Commission making findings of potential police impropriety & corruption being played out through the Courts to this very day. Several convicted persons have already been freed with many more currently before the Courts. Notwithstanding that a former High Court of Australia Justice has been appointed to the position of special investigator to further investigate and determine what the Royal Commission was prevented from doing.

Sydney’s gangland war

New South Wales appears to be fast catching up on this statistic with as of August 2022 – 15 contract killings having been committed in the past 2 years with then NSW Police Minister Paul Toole confirming the vast majority being unsolved. 

State crime command director detective chief superintendent Darren Bennett says that the violence appears to be the result of intergroup and family conflict but predominantly for control of the burgeoning supply of prohibited drugs.

Detective Bennett also states that international crime bosses still demand payment for drugs seized by the authorities leading to another aspect of conflict which can result in violence and thought with the recent arrest of two alleged contract killers that NSW police had taken a giant step forward saying it was a good day for the people of NSW. 

Some weeks later, though came another high-profile execution then another and on it went. At the end of last year it seemed that police now had the upper hand with assistant commissioner Michael Fitzgerald of NSW state crime command stating that almost all of the gangsters behind the murders are now in jail or had fled overseas.

Mr Fitzgerald said the department had seized $21 million in cash, 180 firearms, 408 kg of cocaine and 2.7 tonnes of methamphetamine or ice claiming that the trifecta of the formation of Taskforce Erebus to join Strike Force Hawk and the Southwest metropolitan region has been integral in leading to this success. 

Sadly, after a lull in the contract killings March of this year, another person was shot dead outside a martial arts gym.

World’s worst serial killer

42 assassination attempts to protect the free world from Adolf Hitler all failed but Hitler succeeded in his first attempt to kill himself by swallowing a cyanide pill and shooting himself in the head. From 1932 to 1943 Hitler was marked for assassination.

However, all failed including the sophisticated plot of 1939 by a carpenter Johann Georg Elser who saw that the Nationalist Socialist Party of Germany were war mongers.

His primary targets were Hitler, Goring and Goebbels and he constructed the mechanism for the explosives under cover of working at the assembly hall where Hitler was due to give a speech. 

Fortuitously for Hitler, infelicitously for the free world Hitler left the assembly room only moments prior to the explosion saving his life. Mr Elser was arrested and interred at the Dachau Concentration Camp where he was murdered weeks before the war ended after spending years in solitary confinement. Despite much speculation that Mr Elser was a British agent this has been disproved through the ages.

State sanctioned assassination squads

Despite the hue and cry amongst Human Rights organisations in relation to pre-emptive strikes against a perceived enemy of a State such death squads have increased in size, effectiveness and intensity throughout the 21st century. 

From smaller countries to the giants such as the USA there are assassination squads at the ready every minute of every day on the ground in the sea and in the air prepared to kill on command by legitimate governments.

Such was the case of Osama bin Laden who was once an ally of the United States of America who became the mass murderer of many nationalities. Osama bin Laden became head of the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda and by hijacking various commercial airlines attacked America until tracked down about a decade later and ultimately executed by United States navy seal team six.

This was in conjunction with special operations aviation regiment (SOAR) the central intelligence agency (CIA) and the British special boat service (BSBS) in an operation codenamed Neptune Spear.

Infamous assassinations

Thousands of assassinations involved people from all walks of life such as:

  • Jesus Christ,
  • Abraham Lincoln,
  • Mahatma Gandhi,
  • John F Kennedy,
  • Martin Luther King Jr, and
  • Yitzhak Rabin.

Punishment for the offence of murder

In New South Wales, similar to legislation in most jurisdictions the world over contract killing and assassination comes under section 18(1)(a) of the Crimes Act 1900 which prescribes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for the offence of murder. 

Of course, some global jurisdictions still have the death sentence carried out by firing squad – electric chair – hanging – lethal injection and beheading numbering many thousands each year.

As is the case in many countries, Australia considers contract killings and assassinations as a most significant aggravating feature resulting in an increased sentence.

The presumption of innocence

Naturally, should you be charged with any crime associated with a contract killing or assassination or indeed any allegation concerning a death, you should decline to answer police questions until you have spoken to an experienced, specialist criminal defence lawyer.

Hiring a hitman or an assassin generally carries a similar sentence as the perpetrator of the crime.

In crimes such as those involving contract killing or assassination many defences available to other crimes cannot be used. The defences which may be available and should be discussed with a solicitor immediately are found in Acts of Parliament amongst them such as those that may fall under the Crimes Mental Health and Cognitive Impairment Forensic Provisions Act 2020.

Life sentences in NSW: life means life

The New South Wales Parliament decades appeared to determine the payment to be exacted for a crime committed against those who protect NSW and ultimately other states and territories of Australia. 

This was the enacting of legislation Crimes Amendment (Murder of Police Offciers) Act 2011, ensuring the convicted were to be imprisoned for the term of their natural life under certain circumstances. 

There were only two potential exceptions to the carrying out of this mandatory life sentence under section 19B of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) and one was if you were under 18 years of age. The second was if you were found unfit to be tried by virtue of the Mental Health and Cognitive  Impairment Forensic Provisions Act 2020 (NSW).

It is also interesting to note that in our state, a life sentence means for the term of a person’s natural life.

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David McCulloch

David McCulloch

David McCulloch has spent years assisting Australian prison inmates and immigration detainees, collaborated with management and academics to establish a Nordic-style recidivism reduction program, written extensively on the history of criminal law and the inequities that plague the criminal justice system and been involved in law-related podcasts and television programs.

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