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Journalists Foil Alleged Plot: 'Target Needs to Be Killed'

Wisconsin's Kelly Harper accused of trying to hire a hit man on the dark web
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 9, 2021 10:37 AM CST

(Newser) – It's called the "dark web" for a reason, and authorities in Wisconsin say a woman used it to hire a hit man. However, it wasn't police who foiled the alleged plot, but instead a trio of local journalists who were working on a story, reports the Daily Beast. The details:

  • Kelly Harper, 37, of Columbus has been charged with using the internet to hire someone to commit murder, federal prosecutors announced in a news release. The complaint alleges that she found a murder-for-hire site in the nether regions of the internet and communicated with someone there from October to December.
  • "The target needs to be killed, he is a white 5 foot 5 male, dark brown short hair, blue eyes, weighs 165 pounds," Harper allegedly wrote to a person claiming to run one such site, per the Wisconsin State Journal. She also provided the intended victim's name, address, phone number, and details about where he worked, authorities say. They didn't identify him.

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  • At one point, Harper displayed a screenshot of a bitcoin wallet worth more than $5,000 to show she could pay, say authorities. The FBI was later able to trace a bitcoin transaction back to Harper's IP address, reports WKOW.
  • The alleged plot came to light because three unnamed local journalists were working on a story about the dark web, reports the Daily Beast. They reportedly saw the messages by Harper, along with the bitcoin transfer, and alerted the intended victim. All four then informed police in Sun Prairie.
  • So would the alleged "hit" actually have happened? Unlikely. The New York Times reported last year that while murder-for-hire sites do indeed exist on the dark web, they tend to be scams. Not a single murder has been attributed to such a site, though Harper isn't the first person charged with trying. Authorities say she confessed when confronted and now faces up to 10 years in prison.
(An Illinois nurse was similarly charged a few years ago, and she was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty.)

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