The Wild Life Of Gary Johnson, The Fake Hitman Who Aided In The Arrest Of More Than 60 People

Published June 1, 2024

Over the course of his career as a fake contract killer, Gary Johnson received dozens of requests to murder spouses, coworkers, and even parents. What his clients didn't know was that he was an undercover cop.

Gary Johnson

Andrew carruth / Alamy Stock PhotoFor years, Gary Johnson was the most sought-after “hitman” in Houston.

To many who knew him, Gary Johnson was a quiet man who lived a private and largely uneventful life in Houston, Texas. He taught community college classes on psychology and human sexuality and spent his free time at home taking care of his garden and his cats, Id and Ego.

But in reality, he was an undercover mole posing as a hired assassin.

Over the course of his decades-long career, Johnson helped police arrest over 60 people attempting to hire a paid assassin, becoming the most famous undercover “hitman” in the city.

Described as a chameleon and “the Laurence Olivier of the field” of mole work, Johnson developed a range of aliases and complex personas for himself — and had a talent for getting people to talk.

This is the story of the real Gary Johnson behind the 2024 Richard Linklater movie Hit Man.

The Early Life Of Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson was raised in rural Louisiana by his carpenter father and homemaker mother. By all accounts, he had a normal and quiet childhood.

Johnson got his first taste of law enforcement in Vietnam, where he spent a year working as a military policeman. Afterward, he briefly worked as a sheriff’s deputy in Louisiana.

Then, in the 1970s, he took on some work as an undercover mole for a Texas police department, helping authorities bust drug dealers — and he discovered he was very good at it.

“I don’t think the drug dealers ever suspected I might be a cop because my personality was so weird to begin with,” Johnson told Texas Monthly in 2001.

Hit Man Netflix

NetflixA scene from Netflix’s Hit Man, a fictional account of Gary Johnson’s life as a fake hitman.

Although Johnson exhibited a knack for mole work, he initially showed little interest in law enforcement. His real dream was to teach college-level psychology courses.

Johnson received a master’s degree in psychology from McNeese State University in Louisiana and moved to Houston in 1981, hoping to enroll in the University of Houston’s psychology doctoral program.

Although he was unfortunately rejected, Johnson decided to remain in Houston and take up a job as an investigator for the district attorney’s office.

It was through this job that Johnson stumbled into the life of a fake hitman.

Gary Johnson’s Journey To Becoming A Fake Hitman

In 1989, the Houston Police Department received a tip that Kathy Scott, a 37-year-old lab technician, was searching for a hitman who could take out her husband.

The department reached out to the district attorney’s office to ask if anyone there specialized in murder-for-hire cases. Immediately, eyes fell on Gary Johnson.

“Gary, you’re our hit man,” his boss told him, according to Texas Monthly.

Johnson was eager at the prospect and even doctored a fake name and persona for himself. He decided on Mike Caine and began molding himself into a tough-looking biker, donning ripped jeans and a silver skull chain around his neck.

Hit Man

Matt Lankes / NetflixGary Johnson moonlighted as a community college professor.

Johnson and Scott agreed to meet at a bowling alley. There, Scott gave “Caine” a picture of her husband, along with instructions for the hit.

“The perfect spot,” she told Johnson, was a nearby predominantly Black neighborhood her husband frequently drove through. “It’s a drug haven.”

She offered Johnson $2,500 for the job, and he accepted. “Are you sure you want this sucker killed?” he asked her.

“Yeah,” she responded. Moments later, the police arrived to arrest her.

Johnson later testified at Scott’s trial that she had not really wanted her husband murdered and had simply gotten carried away. But that didn’t stop the jury from sentencing her to 80 years in prison for the murder-for-hire plot.

The case launched Johnson to inter-departmental stardom. Soon, police departments across Texas were requesting his undercover services.

A Unique And Fruitful Career Path

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Gary Johnson continued working as an undercover hitman while moonlighting as a psychology and human sexuality professor at a local community college.

Johnson’s next sting involved a 31-year-old oil rig worker named Roberts Holliday. Holliday had reportedly confided in a topless dancer that his wife had left him for another man. He then asked the dancer to find him someone to kill his estranged wife so that he could get full custody of their children.

Instead, the dancer passed this information on to the police, who notified Gary Johnson. Posing as a hitman, Johnson accepted a $2,500 fee from Holliday to make it look like Holliday’s wife died by suicide while Holliday was away working on a rig offshore. They shook hands. Police officers swarmed the scene.

Another early client, 32-year-old Katherine Beisel, wanted Johnson to kill her married lover for refusing to leave his wife for her.

Some of the more disturbing cases included a father who asked Johnson to kill his wife and infant child so that he could collect on life insurance policies and become a private detective; and a high school student who offered Johnson video games and loose change in exchange for killing a rival classmate.

Johnson even nabbed an 11-year veteran police officer who wanted to kill his ex-wife for costing him too much in child support.

Glen Powell

NetflixGary Johnson sometimes developed elaborate personas for himself while posing as a hitman, though he reportedly found disguises unnecessary.

In Johnson’s most famous case, he was hired by a wealthy woman named Lynn Kilroy, the former vice president of the Houstonaires Republican Women.

Kilroy had confided in a friend that she hated her husband, oil tycoon Billy Kilroy, but did not want to divorce him. After all, the couple shared millions of dollars and an infant son – and Kilroy did not want any of that to slip through her fingers.

So she got in contact with Gary Johnson, or “Chris,” as she knew him. The two talked in a hotel lobby about her desire to kill her husband.

The woman handed Johnson $200,000 in jewelry as payment for the hit, telling him “do what you need to do.” The next day, Lynn Kilroy’s name was all over the local papers, and her failed plot was revealed to the world.

“It was the same old story,” Johnson told The Washington Post in 2001. “The rich want more, the poor want more. We all want more. Too much is never enough.”

Gary Johnson’s cases involved housewives, bookkeepers, church-goers, and even an Elvis impersonator. From Johnson’s perspective, no one was immune to the lurid appeal of a hitman — someone who could make their problems go away in an instant.

“My people have spent their lives living within the law,” he said. “A lot of them have never even gotten a traffic ticket. Yet they have developed such a frustration with their place in the world that they think they have no other option but to eliminate whoever is causing their frustration.

“They are all looking for the quick fix, which has become the American way. Today people can pay to get their televisions fixed and their garbage picked up, so why can’t they pay me, a hit man, to fix their lives?”

Gary Johnson Hits Hollywood

Real Gary Johnson

NetflixThe real Gary Johnson never had a romantic relationship with one of his clients.

The wild story of Gary Johnson eventually caught the attention of Hollywood producers. In 2024, a film inspired by Johnson’s life, titled Hit Man, hit the big screen. Directed by Richard Linklater, the film follows a fictionalized version of Gary Johnson, played by Glen Powell, as he goes from an unassuming college professor to New Orleans’ most sought-after fake hitman.

While the movie shows Johnson engaging in a steamy relationship with one of his clients, the real Johnson made it clear that he had never pursued romantic relations in any of his cases — though he admitted he received offers.

In 1996, Johnson met with a 61-year-old woman named Patsy Haggard, who was intent on having her husband killed. Haggard reportedly became infatuated with her “hitman.” During one meeting, she even offered to perform a sex act on Johnson on the hood of her Cadillac — a suggestion Johnson declined.

However, the romance in the film is loosely based on one of Johnson’s actual cases, in which a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship felt that she had no choice but to have her abuser killed in order to get out of the situation.

Instead of organizing a sting against the woman, Johnson referred her to social services and set her up in a women’s shelter.

“The greatest hit man in Houston has just turned soft,” a reporter from Texas Monthly joked about the case.

“Just this once,” Johnson responded.

Johnson’s experience as a hitman led him to distrust others and live a relatively solitary life.

“I only trust dead people and my enemies, because I know where they stand,” he explained. It’s your friends, relatives, colleagues, and lovers, he said, that “sneak up and cut you.”

In his personal life, Johnson was divorced three times and was described by his students as mild-mannered. He cared deeply for his two cats — Id and Ego — and tended to his garden. He was your average man with a not-so-average career.

To some of his coworkers, it was like Johnson could flip a switch when it came to his work.

“He’s the perfect chameleon,” said Houston lawyer Michael Hinton, one of Johnson’s former supervisors. “Gary is a truly great performer who can turn into whatever he needs to be in whatever situation he finds himself. He never gets flustered, and he never says the wrong thing. He’s somehow able to persuade people who are rich and not so rich, successful and not so successful, that he’s the real thing. He fools them every time.”

Gary Johnson died in 2022. For those who really knew him, he was one of a kind.

After reading about fake hitman Gary Johnson, dive into the stories of the deadliest mafia hitmen in history. Then, meet Charles Harrelson, Woody Harrelson’s father who worked as a hitman.

Amber Morgan
Amber Morgan is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
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Morgan, Amber. "The Wild Life Of Gary Johnson, The Fake Hitman Who Aided In The Arrest Of More Than 60 People.", June 1, 2024, Accessed June 21, 2024.