A dark-web cybercriminal who advertised hitmen for hire was so spooked by a request from a young Washington state woman—who wanted her married lover’s wife dead—that he gave her up to the feds.
That’s according to an FBI search warrant affidavit unsealed this week, which details a surreal plot originating with a chance encounter at an event hosted by Landmark, a self-help organization with roots in the 1970s which has been labeled as a sort of “cult-lite” by some. The case centers on a philandering husband and his jealous lover, who planned on using her college money to have the man’s wife murdered.
Far from being disturbed by the revelation, when the man—identified in court filings only as “J.M.”—found out about the plot against his wife, he “saw the behavior as a sign of her dedication and affection for him,” according to the affidavit.
The unsealed warrant—which The Daily Beast has redacted to withhold the suspect’s name as she has not yet been formally charged—targets email addresses which the young lover used to register a Facebook account and communicate with J.M., and contact financial institutions and a cashier at her community college. A source with firsthand knowledge of the case said the investigation has been delayed due to COVID-19, but said it is still ongoing.
The alleged plot to have J.M.’s wife killed first came to the FBI’s attention on Feb. 12, 2020, when the bureau’s National Threat Operations Center received an anonymous tip from a ProtonMail account via an IP address associated with a VPN in Phoenix, Arizona. The tipster identified themselves as the administrator of a site on the dark web that offered contract killings for a fee. About a week earlier, a prospective customer transferred $5,000 in Bitcoin to the service to have a hit carried out in the Seattle area, the informant claimed.
“Just kill her ASAP. I don’t care how just make sure she’s dead. I’d prefer if you shoot her in the head,” the customer instructed, before adding that the victim worked for a corporation in Bellevue. She added: “I don’t know if that helps you in someway. She has a 3 years old son that she picks him up at 5 P.M. so she usually gets home around 5ish. Please don’t do anything to the boy. That’s all. Thanks[.] Send me a proof when the job’s done.”
The tipster told federal agents that their hitman website was actually only a Bitcoin scam, and that “no actual murders were committed” on behalf of anyone.
“I feel that all targets that have been paid for are in danger,” the con artist with a conscience wrote the FBI. “Customers that pay to kill someone show that they are serious about killing that person[.] I need to be in contact with you and to provide you with the target information, payments evidence, and other information to trace the customers. Customers don’t give their name or details and hide their IP, but still can be tracked.”
The site administrator sent a photo of the intended victim to agents, one of whom happened to recognize her as someone she had met before, the affidavit states. The next day, the FBI met with J.M.’s wife and informed her that somebody wanted her dead. It’s unclear how the FBI agent knew of J.M.’s wife previously.
When agents asked whether she knew of anyone who’d want her dead, J.M’s wife began to consider people from her past. There was a “snippy” and “aggressive” former colleague from Phoenix, with whom she’d had a “turbulent relationship” and last saw in January 2020, but she didn’t believe that person would ever try to harm her.
A decade earlier, J.M.’s wife continued, her husband sued his boss over a sexual harassment claim. She told agents she “felt that it was unlikely that J.M.’s former employer would solicit her murder,” the affidavit states, “but said it was possible due to the ‘life altering’ nature of the situation.” J.M. was entangled in another lawsuit in 2019, his wife added, when J.M. was sued by a company that accused him of quitting to start his own business, in violation of a non-compete clause.
Other than that, there wasn’t much else—except for one unusual incident that occurred two days before Christmas 2019.
In an interaction captured on J.M. and his wife’s Ring doorbell camera, a young woman appeared on their doorstep and asked for J.M. by name. When J.M.’s wife said he wasn’t home, the woman said she was actually there to see her and asked if she could come inside. The wife locked the deadbolt, and when J.M. joined the conversation remotely, the young woman walked away. J.M. told his wife he didn’t know the woman, and his wife figured the woman must have gotten J.M.’s name from a package addressed to him that had been sitting outside.
The agents then asked J.M.’s wife about her relationship with her husband. She said it had been “strained for the last few years,” describing the problem as a “loss of passion” which had turned their marriage from a romance into more of a friendship. The emotional distance between them began in 2018, following J.M.’s attendance at a Landmark conference. That year, J.M. asked for a divorce, an idea his wife said she rejected “for the sake of their son,” according to the affidavit. They began seeing a marriage counselor—online, because J.M. was too busy with work to do it in person. J.M.’s wife told the agents she “had not had an extramarital affair and did not believe her husband had either.”
The FBI interviewed J.M. the same day. He claimed he couldn’t think of anyone who would want to kill his wife, the affidavit states.
“When describing his job, J.M. stated that he has ‘great relationships with people at work,’ his clients ‘love’ him, he ‘just had a big win’ earlier in the day, and does not believe he makes enemies,” the filing adds. “He stated the ‘only major points of serious contention are that lawsuit against me and that thing out in Phoenix,’” referring to the old co-worker with whom his wife hadn’t gotten along.
Asked if he was having an affair, J.M. initially lied. He later admitted he met “someone” at Landmark that “really liked” him. J.M. said he took his first Landmark course in 2018, attended a second in 2019, and began a third but dropped out at his wife’s request because it was keeping him away from home. His younger admirer was a college student, J.M. told the agents, and said they had had a sexual relationship lasting “six months or so, a couple times, here and there,” the affidavit states.
“He claimed the romantic relationship ended in August 2019. J.M. said he last saw [the young woman] in January of 2020, when she told him she still loved him,” the document explains.J.M. said he had helped the woman out with cash a few times, including earlier that month, when he gave her $2,000 after she said her parents lost their life savings in a burglary. However, she “gave him no indication of being a threat,” J.M. insisted.
On Valentine’s Day 2020, an FBI agent interviewed the college student. She said the last time she saw J.M. was three weeks prior, when they traveled to Portland, Oregon, for a night. J.M.’s secret girlfriend said she was unaware at first that he was married, according to the affidavit. When she found out, J.M. told her that he “could not stand his wife,” but that she had cancer and he couldn’t leave her.
But the young woman told agents she unearthed photos online of J.M. and his wife that seemed to contradict his story. After first denying she took steps to have J.M.’s wife murdered, the woman allegedly confessed to soliciting the hit. She then claimed she got nervous and tried to delete the transaction after submitting it, but was unable to do so.
“When asked if she [hoped] J.M. would come live with her once his wife was killed, [the young woman said] ‘…yeah,’” the affidavit states.
Indeed, the young woman told agents she tried to sabotage their marriage. Before showing up at J.M.’s house in December 2019, she created a fake Facebook account under the name “Katlyn Everson” and sent the wife messages saying J.M. was having an affair.
“I know it because I know the person he’s cheating on u with,” Katlyn wrote, according to the affidavit. “If u dont believe me, they’re gonna meet up today at the Kizuki Ramen restaurant in Olympia at 4:30 PM. You can prove it by yourself.”
But J.M.’s wife apparently never saw those messages.
The FBI returned to J.M. for more information in March 2020, since his initial statements didn’t add up. In his second interview, J.M. admitted that he had previously lied to agents when he denied recognizing the young woman in the Ring footage; at the time, he didn’t want his wife to discover his extramarital relationship.
J.M. told investigators that he spoke to the girlfriend shortly after she visited his Bellevue home unannounced, and asked why she did it. She told J.M. “she was there to kill [his wife] and that she brought a knife with her in order to accomplish the murder,” the affidavit states.
Soon after that interview, J.M.’s lover lawyered up and met with the FBI to discuss making a deal. For her part, the woman claimed she never intended to kill her lover’s wife and wasn’t armed during their encounter. She said she only told J.M. this because she was upset.
She added that J.M. had previously “made comments about wanting to kill his wife and once asked [her] if she knew anyone” willing to do the job.
The woman told authorities that their affair, which began in summer of 2018, “ebbed and flowed,” and that she’d dumped J.M. multiple times because she was frustrated by his refusal to leave his wife. She claimed J.M. told her they couldn’t be together until his spouse “died or something happened,” the affidavit alleges.
Over the course of their relationship, she said, J.M. had a litany of other excuses: the wife had cancer, he was afraid of losing custody of his child, his wife had threatened to kill herself in the past when he threatened her with divorce.
After the couple reunited in fall of 2019, the college student made plans to end J.M.’s marriage via the murder-for-hire plot. She said she’d used $2,000 that J.M. sent her via PayPal, as well as college scholarship money to solicit the spouse’s execution.
The young woman said she and J.M. went out to dinner following her unannounced appearance at his home in December 2019.
“J.M. asked why [she] went to his home, and [she] told him that she went there to kill [his wife],” the affidavit states. “[She] stated that she did not really intend to kill [J.M.’s wife], and was not armed when she went to the home, but told J.M. this because she was upset. [The young woman] claimed that J.M. wasn’t angry but instead saw the behavior as a sign of her dedication and affection for him.”
In order to pursue the murder plot, the woman told agents, she used an old phone she’d obtained from her pastor, then used it to download an application to access the dark web. According to the affidavit, the student surfed reviews of sites offering hitmen—whose services included beating, maiming, or killing victims, she said—and requested price quotes before landing on the alleged Bitcoin scammer. She chose the Phoenix killer because their site “had an escrow system, giving her a sense of security that her funds would not be stolen,” the filing states.
The gal pal instructed the phony hitman not to harm the wife’s child and sent them the victim’s Facebook profile picture and address. She’d release the funds, she said, once she had photographic proof that the victim had been murdered.
Weeks went by, and J.M.’s wife was still alive, the young woman told the FBI. She contacted the “hitman” through their website, and asked what was going on. The scammer, who claimed they never really planned on carrying out the assassination, provided an excuse: The hitman they hired for the job had been arrested, so they were looking for someone else to pull it off.
Needless to say, it never happened. The search warrant was executed last April, and filed in court this week, showing that FBI agents mined two of the woman’s email accounts for further clues and evidence about the aborted hit.
The young woman was unable to be reached. Her lawyer is not identified in the filing, and is not listed in court records.
There have been myriad reports of attempted murder-for-hire plots hatched via the dark web in recent years, though a majority of them end up being scams. In each of the cases, men paid online goons several thousand dollars in Bitcoin. Around the same time J.M.’s girlfriend was searching for an assassin, CBS 48 Hours highlighted the case of a Minnesota teenager whose British gamer ex-boyfriend had ordered her murder online via a mysterious dark net fraudster known as “Yura.”
In April, The Daily Beast reported on the case of Spokane doctor Ronald Ilg, who is facing criminal charges for attempting to hire dark web killers to attack a former employee and kidnap and extort his wife. Police say journalists from an unnamed news organization foiled Ilg’s plans. One month later, reporters disrupted another alleged murder-for-hire, this time in Beverly Hills. Scott Quinn Berkett, 24, is charged with trying to orchestrate the killing of a woman he met on a Facebook anime fan page.