MADISON, Wis. – A Columbus woman faces federal charges in an alleged murder-for-hire scheme that, prosecutors say, was uncovered by journalists investigating a contract killing website.
On Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the arrest of Kelly Harper on a single charge of using the internet to hire someone to commit murder. If convicted, the 37-year-old Harper could receive up to 10 years in prison.
According to the criminal complaint against her, a Sun Prairie police officer responded to a suspicious person call on January 12 and ended up meeting with the intended victim and a journalist who reportedly helped uncover the plot. Two other journalists were also connected by video chat.
None of the individuals’ names were included, nor was the name of any news agency for whom the journalists may work.
The journalists explained to the officer they were working on an investigation into a murder-for-hire site when they learned someone wanted the intended victim dead, the complaint stated. They produced chats from early December between someone they hadn’t identified and someone who claimed to run a murder-for-hire site on the dark web, a portion of the internet that is hidden from traditional access routes.
Among the chats, prosecutors said, were a description of the victim, information on where the victim worked and what they drove, as well as proof of payment, which was made in Bitcoin. The person had allegedly sent a screenshot showing a bitcoin wallet with a value of $5,633.87.
On January 13, a day after the Sun Prairie officer met with the intended victim, the latter’s girlfriend filed a complaint with the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center, providing agents with the same information.
The journalists met with an FBI special agent the next day and confirmed what the girlfriend said, the complaint continued. They went on to tell the agent they were investigating a murder-for-hire site outside of Wisconsin when they discovered the individual’s plot. They also had information on another Bitcoin transfer in October to someone else who allegedly runs a site for contract killings.
The FBI’s Money Laundering, Forfeiture, and Bank Fraud Unit was then able to trace one of those Bitcoin transfers back to an IP address, email account, and telephone number that were then linked to Harper, the agent explained.
When federal agents served a search warrant at Harper’s home, in Columbus, they reportedly found screenshots from a murder-for-hire site as well as pictures that matched the ones that were sent to site administrator.
The complaint also states as federal agents were searching her home, Harper was being interviewed at the Sun Prairie Police Dept. station, during which time she allegedly admitted to paying to have the intended victim killed.