Late last year, a Michigander named Wendy Wein decided to have her ex-husband killed. Unsure of how to go about this, she simply googled "rent a hitman," saw a link for RentAHitman.com, and submitted a request using the company's convenient online form.
Despite the claims made by founder Guido Fanelli, RentAHitman.com does not actually comply with the privacy laws as sort forth in the Hitman Information Privacy & Protection Act of 1964 (also known as HIPPA). That's because such a law doesn't exist, and neither does Guido Fanelli. Because RentAHitman.com is — gasp! — not real! As the Washington Post reported:
RentAHitman.com is a fake website. It's not run by "Guido Fanelli," as it claims, but by Bob Innes, a 54-year-old Northern California man who forwards any serious inquiries to law enforcement. Innes launched the site 16 years ago as part of an Internet security business that never went anywhere. Instead, it has served as a honeypot of sorts, attracting people who want to hire professional killers.
For Wein, it didn't go well. She was arrested within days of seeking out an assassin and pleaded guilty earlier this month to solicitation of murder and using a computer to commit a crime. Under her plea agreement, she faces at least nine years in prison when she is sentenced in January.
On the surface, it certainly seems strange that some random guy just happens to run his own assassination honeypot hobby. Naturally, there's a story there. It turns out that Innes had gone through the Napa Valley Police Academy himself, and then ended looking at a career in network security. He purchased the domain name back in 2005 as part of a joint business venture — first, to resell for a profit if someone wanted it, and second, to help him launch his own B2B consulting firm that would test company's online infrastructure for vulnerabilities.
Ultimately, neither venture panned out, and he just kind of forgot about the domain. A few years later, he checked the email inboxes for the site, and found around 300 inquiries, most of which seemed serious, or at least earnest. Then, in 2010, he received his first serious inquiry. As he conveyed to Roling Stone:
It was from a female by the name of Helen. She was out of the U.K. but stranded in Canada. She had written an email to the contact email address, and it basically just it was a long and rambling email saying how she was screwed out of her father's inheritance by three family members. She has no money. She has no place to live. She is stranded in Canada without a passport, so she can't even leave. She wanted retaliation against her aunt, uncle, and one other family member. She provided physical addresses and whatnot. So when I first received that e-mail, I was helping my brother move from L.A. back up here to the Bay Area, so I was loading a U-Haul truck full of his belongings. I didn't really take the time to read Helen's e-mail in-depth. I just thought, this is a troubled person. I really didn't give it much thought. Then she sends a second e-mail with "Urgent" in the subject line with more detail, more corroborating information. And I responded to that e-mail and I asked two simple questions. "Do you still require our services? Would you like me to put you in contact with the field operatives?"
I could tell that this person was in a bad place. She obviously was serious about causing harm to people overseas. Her email was long and rambling and with great detail. This is a person that was in desperate need… The other emails, they were basically one line emails to the e-mail account, and there wasn't a lot of information to go off of. Nobody was leaving names or addresses or anything like that. These were people just kind of feeling the water. And I didn't respond, so they kind of just went away with this. This Helen email, I knew just reading her first e-mail that this is a person who wanted to have these people murdered.
Innes would catfished Helen for a while until he got some details out of her, which he then passed on to a friend in the local department, who in turn contacted Canadian authorities, who performed a welfare check on the woman — who turned out to have several extraditable warrants in the UK.
Since then, Innes has forwarded about 400 "service requests" to authorities — a little more than half of all of the inquiries he receives through the site, according to the Post. Some of them have turned out to be pretty serious, too, though I'm not sure where this sort of pedestrian volunteer service falls in terms of entrapment.
A Michigan woman tried to hire an assassin online at RentAHitman.com. Now, she's going to prison. [Jonathan Edwards / Washington Post]
How a Fake Rent-a-Hitman Site Became an Accidental Murder-for-Hire Sting Operation [EJ Dickson / Rolling Stone]