The owner of the "Rent-A-Hitman" website said he routinely gets suspicious requests and hands them over to the police.
A 17-year-old girl in Iowa was recently charged with solicitation to commit murder following an attempt to use a satirical website to hire an agent to kill a seven-year-old.
As the Des Moines Register reported, the Storm Lake Police Department was alerted by the owner of rentahitman.com that someone had recently visited the site twice, each time requesting to put a hit on a young child. The request included personal information about the child, including their name, address, and where to find them.
This was not the first time someone has attempted to actually hire a hitman from rentahitman.com, and the site owner has routinely forwarded suspicious requests to police for further investigation.
Using this information, police identified the would-be assassin-renter and contacted her under cover of being the hired killer. After confirming that the 17-year-old did indeed want the child to be killed, police arrested the teenage suspect and gathered evidence from her cell phone. They determined that the suspect did pose a credible threat to the child’s life.
Thankfully, the child and his family were unharmed and unaware of the threat.
People previously spoke with Bob Innes, the owner of rentahitman.com, regarding the site and how it lures in actual people who want to kill.
Innes said that the site initially began as a tongue-in-cheek way to advertise a computer security company he had been planning to start with some college friends back in 2005.
“Rent as in hire us,” Innes explained. “Hit as in network traffic, and men, because there were four of us. We thought it was funny.”
Their plans ultimately fell through, and Innes subsequently forgot about the site.
It was a few years later, in 2008, when Innes remembered that he still owned rentahitman.com, that he decided to check the site’s email inbox. To his surprise, it was flooded with emails of people looking to hire hitmen or become one themselves.
“I mean, nobody could be stupid enough to hire a hitman on the internet, right?” Innes said.
Yet, there they were, price inquiries, whether the “hitmen” would perform asset extraction, or if they were hiring. Innes suddenly realized that his fake website was actually attracting potential criminals or, at the very least, tricking people into thinking they could hire a hitman. He adjusted the site, turning it into a full-blown parody.
“There are customer service awards and fake customer testimonials,” Innes said. “And if you click on the banner ad, it opens up a brand-new window to the FBI Internet Crime Complaints Center. If you see that, and you still move forward with filling out a service request form, then I’m your man.”
Innes typically waits 24 hours before responding to a request, then inquires whether the potential “buyer” is still interested in the site’s services. If they confirm that they do still want to hire a hitman, he puts them in contact with one of the more than 17,985 “agents” at his disposal.
Of course, there are no agents. There are, however, somewhere around 17,985 police departments in the United States, according to a figure Innes found on Google in 2016.
Innes takes these serious requests and forwards the information to the proper police departments. As of last year, the site has led to at least 30 arrests and several convictions.
One such instance came in 2010 when a U.K. woman named Helen Kaplan reached out to the site requesting to have three of her family members killed for allegedly cheating her out of her inheritance. She provided all of their information, making it easy for police to corroborate quickly.
Kaplan was living in Canada at the time, where she was arrested and charged. She pleaded guilty, spent four months in prison, and was then extradited to the U.K.
A similar situation played out in November 2021, when a Michigan woman named Wendy Lynn Wein attempted to use the site to hire a hitman to kill her ex-husband.
Innes said he spends more than 20 hours a week monitoring the site for free, other than the occasional t-shirt sale or donation, to keep it running.
“There’s a lot of beneficial information that can be shared to tell adults and children that the internet is certainly not a safe place,” Innes said. “There are bad people out there.”
All of this came from a web domain that cost him $9.20.