But before the man could be killed, three journalists stumbled across the exchange while investigating the site, according to federal court records filed Monday. The Internet protocol address and other information linked to the bitcoin account led FBI agents to 37-year-old Kelly Harper, who is now charged with using the Internet to hire someone to commit murder.
Her alleged scheme began to unravel in January, when a police officer in Sun Prairie, Wis., responded to a call about a suspicious person at a home, prosecutors claim in the records filed in the Western District of Wisconsin. The officer found a local journalist sitting at a kitchen table with the contract-murder plot’s intended victim. They were on a conference call with two of the journalist’s colleagues.
The man handed the officer a piece of paper showing two people hatching the plan on the dark Web, a hidden part of the Internet often used for illegal activity.
The man’s girlfriend filed a complaint with the FBI the next day. Approached by an FBI agent, the reporters said their investigation showed Harper was behind the messages and had transferred bitcoin to the administrator of a second murder-for-hire site in October, prosecutors say.
Court records do not identify the intended target, his relationship with Harper or an alleged motive. The journalists and their news outlet are also not named, and there is no explanation of who the “suspicious person” was.
On Friday, FBI agents showed up at Harper’s Columbus, Wis., front door with a search warrant. They found what they were looking for, prosecutors say: screenshots from a contract-murder site and a photo that the anonymous writer had sent to the site’s administrator.
At Sun Prairie Police Department headquarters that day, Harper confessed, prosecutors said in their court filing.
A public defender assigned to Harper’s case declined to comment. If convicted, Harper faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. She was in custody as of Tuesday afternoon.