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Want a new career as a contract killer?

Google is probably not your friend…

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A bizarre case was reported in the Times last week of a woman who used a website - www.hitman.us.com - to hire a contract killer to “rub out” her multi-millionaire partner. Sharon Collins, 45 and a divorced mother-of-two, hired Tony Luciano – actually an Egyptian poker player called Essam Eid - to kill property tycoon P J Howard and his sons.

Unfortunately, this sordid tale appears to be one of bungling from start to finish. It started to unravel when Essam Eid decided that there was more money to be made from not carrying out the hit – and contacted Mr Howard’s son requesting £70,000 not to go through with the plot.

Mr Howard went to the police, who quickly picked up an electronic trail a mile wide. Ms Collins appears to have been unaware of the power of the IP address. The user of her IP address was shown to have ordered a proxy marriage certificate, researched inheritance rights for cohabiting couples, booked flights to Malaga in the name of Sharon Collins, bought weight-loss drugs in the name of Sharon Collins and logged into Sharon Collins's Eircom email account.

There were also frequent and incriminating emails between lyingeyes98@yahoo.ie - apparently a reference to the Eagles’ 1975 hit, Lyin' Eyes – to hire_hitman@yahoo.com. As if that was not enough, phone logs showed a total of some 50 calls between mobile phones owned by Ms Collins and Essam Eid.

Sod the hitman, what about Her?

The jury at Dublin central criminal court was not impressed by claims that this was the frame of the century. Ms Collins was found guilty of conspiracy to murder. Mr Eid was convicted of demanding money.

So is this the latest frontier for internet enterprise? Or just a momentary aberration by the technologically-inept? In the interests of research, The Register has been googling away all morning – and has come up with very little at all to substantiate the former. We even spoke to the Met, who declared themselves equally unaware of any new trend in online-inspired homicide.

Hitmen definitely exist. A recent Australian study reveals a small but persistent number of hits attempted each year. Average remuneration for a hit is $12,700. But one hard-up hitperson was prepared to do the job for a mere $380.

Very occasionally, desperate individuals advertise for hitmen on the web. Earlier this year, Ann Marie Linscott from Michigan stunned agents at Sacramento FBI after she advertised on Craigslist for someone willing to kill the unsuspecting wife of a man she'd begun an affair with online.

According to the FBI, she offered $5,000 for the hit, emailed applicants with the name and work address of the woman she wanted dead and, according to agents and court documents, explained to bemused job seekers that successful candidates would be her "silent assassins".

"I've seen some screwy things, but I've personally never heard of anything like this," said Drew Parenti, special agent in charge of the Sacramento FBI office. Which more or less puts it into perspective.

Too bad for those of a homicidal tendency. But if you are really looking for a new career which involves travelling to far off exotic places, meeting interesting people… and killing them, Google might still be your friend. Just feed it a heady mixture of terms like “security”, “armed”, “private” and “for hire” – and we guarantee thousands of hits, including dozens of companies that feature pictures of men with guns and talk about “risk reduction” and “security solutions”, but oddly never quite resort to the k-word.

Happy hunting. ®

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