MURDER FOR HIRE
Criminals adopt business models for bloodshed in contract-killing spree
A buoyant murder-for-hire industry – through which Jamaicans engage marksmen to settle domestic disputes, disrupt love affairs, get their hands on insurance money and to bump off business partners – is believed to be the main driver behind the bulk...
A buoyant murder-for-hire industry – through which Jamaicans engage marksmen to settle domestic disputes, disrupt love affairs, get their hands on insurance money and to bump off business partners – is believed to be the main driver behind the bulk of the island's 1,463 homicides recorded last year.
Some of these deadly murder consultancies have their bases in high-price apartments, where they sift through invoices and categorise minor costs associated with bloodshed – including food and accommodation – as miscellaneous expenses. Some even provide one-stop services, including guns, ammunition, hitmen and getaway cars.
Some of these houses are used as hideouts after brutal shootings and murders, and at least one of the players involved in a major murder racket busted by the police recently was residing and operating in a posh community in St Andrew North.
The sinister schemes attract clients – both men and women – from all walks of the society, some of whom make requests to see the body parts of victims as evidence of the completion of the macabre assignments.
Painting a dark picture of the underbelly of crime, Deputy Police Commissioner Fitz Bailey told The Sunday Gleaner recently that a surveillance service is also provided by some of these squads and chosen killers are often required to move into areas where the targets reside.
Blood money is at times funnelled through relatives' accounts in an attempt to throw sleuths off their trail, although hard cash is king.
“People in the underworld know where to contact persons to conduct murders. There is a market for it. The society needs to understand the police force is facing some significant monsters. We have been saying that this is not normal times," Bailey stressed.
The intricate schemes sometimes see gangsters outsourcing their deadly missions to rivals if the intended target is behind enemy lines.
“There is killing by gang members of other gang members, especially in ongoing conflicts. Reprisals and counter-reprisal are commonplace,” Bailey said.
“Gangs also network with each other to carry out contract killings. When a killing is to be carried out in an area controlled by a particular gang, the contract killer finds it difficult to enter the territory. You can't enter a man's territory to do your killing, so you collaborate and get a gangster from that territory to execute the contract. Put it another way: you get the assistance of the resident gang,” the senior investigator told The Sunday Gleaner.
Vehicles from the informal rental system are often used in the deadly schemes and detailed surveillance is done prior to execution.
“They know everything about the target. They know where you live, where you work, your children, your modus operandi. When they come, they will not miss you," was the chilling admission from the senior crime-fighter.
Once considered victims in the bloody cycle, Bailey said women were now active participants in murderous schemes, including ensuring directives sent by gangsters behind bars were carried out. Women are integral to the communication, payment and collection of blood money and are at times used to lure unsuspecting targets into the path of danger.
“It is quite frequent where women are the runners for the gangsters,” Bailey noted.
He told The Sunday Gleaner of an instance where a woman reportedly sought the services of a consultancy to kill another woman she believed was making moves on her boyfriend. The contractor reportedly advised her that he did not offer that kind of service, but she persisted. When told of the $150,000 fee for the hit, the woman expressed surprise at the cost.
“Mi don't have dem kind a money deh. Mi think it woulda 'bout 15 grand ($15,000). So for $15,000, she was willing to kill someone who she believes was taking her boyfriend away,” Bailey said.
Killing costs vary, our news team was told.
"It takes into consideration the cost of vehicles, the numbers of attackers, guns and ammo, and other costs such as sending the prospective killers in the areas, like a sleeper to surveil the area. It is a well-organised industry,” Bailey said.
“They are not ordinary. They are monsters, and you would be surprised some of the persons who are involved. The costs range from $150,000 to $500,000, and higher-value targets carry higher prices up to $1 million. Contract killing is a major driver of murders in Jamaica.”
HUNDREDS OF LIVES SAVED
Police investigators have come across a number of these deadly schemes in recent years.
In June 2020, a masked gunman shot and killed 36-year-old Tamara Geddes in front of her 10-year-old daughter at their home in Reserve, Trelawny, to settle a family dispute over land.
Last year, Geddes' sister, Nadeen Geddes, was sentenced to 20 years for murder and five years for conspiracy to murder for her role in the scheme.
Nadeen's daughters – 22-year-old Shanice Ruddock and a minor, who had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder – were both handed three years' suspended sentences.
Fifty-five-year-old Owen Irving, who pleaded guilty to murder and conspiracy to murder, and 33-year-old Tashana Young, who had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder, were also sentenced to 20 years and five years, respectively.
A sixth person charged in the scheme, 24-year-old Bryan Shelly, who is believed to be the man who pulled the trigger, is still before the courts.
In another case in that parish, a gunman believed to have unleashed a deadly assault on banker Andrea Lowe-Garwood as she worshipped in a live-streamed church service in Falmouth a year ago was also suspected by cops to have been a hired hitman active in a number of homicides.
Cops believe a hefty sum was paid for the hit on Lowe-Garwood and are still tracing the money.
Last year, 24-year-old contract killer Wade Blackwood was sentenced to life in prison for the 2018 shooting deaths of businesswoman Simone Campbell-Collymore and taxi driver Winston Walter in Red Hills, St Andrew, after pleading guilty.
Portland businessman Everton 'Beachy Stout' McDonald, is also still before the courts for his alleged role in the murders of his former spouse and wife.
Contract killer Denvalyn Minott, who pleaded guilty in 2020, detailed how he lured Tonia McDonald to a deserted roadway in the parish and watched as the man he sub-contracted stabbed her repeatedly in July that year.
Minott was sentenced to 19 years in prison and ordered to serve 10 years before he becomes eligible for parole.
Despite this, the cops are making some progress, Bailey said, noting that far more lives could have been lost through direct hits in the last five years were it not for proactive policing.
“On a yearly basis, on what we call threat-to-life engagement, the police save an average of 300 lives through proactivity. These would have been victims of contract killings, which [the police] moved out of danger," he said, referring to a situation called target-hardening.
"I remember in one situation, my officers were frantically trying to find the target of hit. They were searching 'round the clock to find the target to move them out of danger,” he explained. "The public is not aware of the amount of resources we invest to prevent lives from being lost – where we know that Tom Jones' life is in danger and we have to deploy resources to prevent it."
Last year, the police intercepted what they believed to have been a hit squad on their way to execute three women – a mother, aunt and grandmother of a minor in what is believed to be tied to a child custody case – in western Jamaica, who had a $400,000 bounty on their heads.
Acting on intelligence, the cops arrested seven persons within 24 hours in a series of operations across the Corporate Area, among them a district constable who had reportedly submitted his resignation to the police force, which had not yet been processed, and was out on sick leave. The cops also seized an American tactical hybrid rifle, at least three handguns, several rounds of ammunition, firearm magazines, and police apparel.
The police believe the mastermind of the plot, who is known to them, is hiding in the United States.
“We are in trouble in this country. I am in the field, and I am in the trenches. This is domestic terrorism. This is like the Taliban telling someone that you conform or die," Bailey told The Sunday Gleaner, adding that the public should be aware of the threats not only law enforcement personnel, but also citizens, face daily.
"When gangsters tell you that if you don't pay extortion, we are going to burn down your business, and kill your workers, that is an economic ideology based on killing, we might just get to the point where gangs say we cannot live on a particular road if we do not pay extortion. And people are saying that the use of 'terrorism' is too strong,” added the senior cop.
Bailey lamented that even with the scored successes, criminals are still able to direct hits from within the nation's prisons, noting that just like law enforcement agencies, crooks were employing the use of technology to their advantage.
“Unless there is controlled use of the telephones among incarcerated persons, the telephone can become one of the most dangerous weapons to a killer,” Bailey noted.
Last December, Parliament passed the Corrections (Amendment) Act to make it more punitive for persons caught behind bars with cell phones, with nearly 6,000 such devices were confiscated in the prisons between 2016 and 2020.
“Recently, one gang member charged under the anti-gang legislation, while in custody, he masterminded several murders in Westmoreland. We recovered the phone and saw all the communication, among other things. Though behind bars, he is feared by persons on the outside,” said Bailey, who manages the crime and security portfolio in the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
JUSTICE FOR SOME, REVENGE FOR OTHERS
Dr Paul Bourne, director of the Socio-Medical Research Institute in Kingston and lecturer at Northern Caribbean University. is convinced that the economic hardships associated with urban sprawl in Jamaica create conditions that predispose individuals to commit murders.
“I have done research which have found that there are direct relationships between divorce and murders, for example. One party become upset after the divorce and decides to kill the other. It is very easy to get someone murdered in Jamaica. Let me put it this way: it is easier to kill someone than to get COVID,” he said, making reference to the current pandemic.
Like Bailey, he also believes that women play a vital role in the business of murders, with the most attractive ones being among the most dangerous players.
“Women are critical to the process of murders and killers are also well known. Many of the individuals in the business are degreed persons or close to completing tertiary education. They are tacticians. They are learned individuals, and have made their own money to start up their murder businesses. So the traditional sources of money, which was the politics, have been abandoned,” stated Bourne, adding that some hitmen are flown into Jamaica, kill their target, and are out the next day.
“We have reached a situation now where politicians have lost their grip on many of the marginalised men in their space who have made their own money through lottery scamming and other means. They can no longer talk to them. With their own cash and guns, criminals have diversified their businesses, and many splinters of some Corporate Area gangs are now in rural areas," Bourne noted.
Turning to child killings, he said that the criminal minds did not rationalise such acts, but youngsters were murdered to send a message to an individual or family as to what more could happen.
“In some bizarre way, murder has become justice for some and revenge for others. There is a real fear that this jungle law will become the dominant law because we have lost the battle between morals and ethics, and it is the clearest indication that the Church has lost its footing, too. And of course, the widening inequity gaps is also breeding this vicious cycle,” Bourne said.
“We know the right thing. A critical part of the right thing is restructuring the society and make it more equitable and nobody wants to do that because they will lose control. But it is just a matter of time before no one will be safe. We must decide if we want a better Jamaica or we want to destroy Jamaica,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
Dr Saphire Longmore, a senator and president of the Jamaica Psychiatric Association, said that the nation has lost its soul, in many respects.
“We are grappling with a society that has lost its moral and ethical signpost and this provides the [climate] for this kind of business to grow. It is a reflection of the breakdown of morality and spirituality and we don't value life any more. We are so hardened towards negativity that some of us do not know what it is to be happy,” she said.
“It is a sociopathic mind, a mind that is purely driven on their own agenda, and because of the lack of growth in a system that nurtures spirituality and family, the value of another human life that is able to appreciate differences in opinion, a person feels entitled to remove the very life of someone whose views go counter to theirs, even if theirs is more evil,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.
Many factors, including inequality, are to be blamed for this perversion, she said, noting that resentment could grow into full-fledged murders, especially in a society where a five-minute drive can paint contrasting pictures of the haves and have-nots.