n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Hired killings in intimate partner relationships : a new breed of violent offenders?

Volume 19, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Murder initiated by one intimate partner and executed by hirelings is a manifestation of violent crime that has received little attention from criminologists. The sensational details of hired killings have stirred media and public interest whilst its regular occurrence has brought it to the attention of the writer as a topic for research. As a research topic two major research problems have been identified:

  1. Limited scientific literature on specifically hired killings exist (spousal killings on a one-to-one basis are adequately researched and findings in this regard have been published) which necessitate the gathering of knowledge from various sources.
  2. Hired killings lack a biographical profile as they occur within any age, race, gender and socio-economic group, compelling a more situational approach to the studying of this phenomenon.
From an exploratory point of view this article focuses on the nature or offence characteristics of hired killings. After studying relevant documentation such as law reports, pre-sentence reports, case histories as well as newspaper reports, an outline of a pattern of hired killings has emerged. This article underlines the act as premeditated and rational, involving careful planning and preparation (grooming) of the criminal event. As a crime of deliberation, various aggravating factors are identified such as approaching third parties to "remove" the intimate partner who has become an obstacle and subsequently offering a reward, which may include money and sexual favours. Motives for killing are instrumental (involving the achievement of a financial or romantic goal) as well as expressive (reflecting a balance of power discourse). The latter is pertinently addressed in Charles Tittle's theory of control balance in which he explains contract or hired killings as an act of exploitation. By means of careful planning and the assistance of third parties, the hirers as primary offenders succeed in distancing themselves from the murderous act and strongly believe that they will get away with it. Victims often suffer a cruel death. Primary offenders show no remorse for their actions whilst hirelings do not always receive the rewards initially promised to them and receive heavy sentences if apprehended. The seriousness of the crime is evident from this article, but poses a problem for the criminal justice system, particularly in the case of female offenders. Personal circumstances of the primary offender, such as abusive relationships need to be weighed against the deliberate intent to kill.

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Article metrics loading...


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error