10 Cold-Blooded Professional Killers
Hollywood loves to glamorize the life of the hit man. In the real world, however, people willing to kill for money tend to share many traits with those who frequently kill for any other reason. The assassins on this list gained a reputation of being particularly brutal, even by the standards of their chosen profession.
Turkish killer Abdullah Catli made a name for himself as a leader of a far-right nationalist group known as the Grey Wolves. In 1978, he and other members of the group murdered seven students whom they believed to be communist revolutionaries. The students were members of the left-wing Turkish Workers’ Party, and the Grey Wolves raided their apartment expecting to find weapons, but the students were completely unarmed. The militants tied them up and shot them anyway.
Another member of Catli’s Grey Wolves was Mehmet Ali Agca, who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981. Two years before that, Agca had been locked up for the murder of a journalist, and Catli got him out of prison. Some believe Catli arranged the assassination attempt on the Pope for money.
After this, Catli was recruited by Turkish intelligence agency MIT. He carried out attacks against the Armenian liberation movement, for which MIT paid him in heroin. Smuggling drugs landed Catli in prison in France in 1984, then in Switzerland in 1988.
He escaped in 1990 and once again became a killer, this time working for the Turkish police. Starting in 1993, the police began kidnapping and executing members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which fought for autonomy for the Kurds in Turkey. Catli not only carried out the killings, he also conned money from his victims by promising to protect them, before having them kidnapped and murdered.
Catli died in a car crash in 1996, an event that caused a scandal in Turkey. He was traveling with a senior police officer and a member of parliament though he was still officially wanted by the police for his murders during the 1970s. The crash revealed the relationship between authorities and the Turkish mafia.
Estimates suggest Catli’s gang murdered 4,000 people whose activities were thought contrary to state interests.
John Childs is one of the most prolific contract killers in British history. One crime writer who interviewed Childs said, “the only time he laughs is when he talks about killing.”
Childs’s first contract was in November 1974. For £1,800, Childs shot a businessman named George Brett with a submachine gun. He also killed Brett’s 10-year-old son to eliminate him as a witness. Childs’s next victim, for £4,000, was a nursing home manager named Fred Sherwood. Childs beat Sherwood to death with a hammer before shooting him.
None of the bodies of Childs’s victims have ever been found. He claimed that he chopped up the remains, passed them through an industrial mincer, then burned them in his living room.
When Childs was caught, he claimed he’d been working for a man named Terry Pinfold and alongside one named Harry Mackenny. In 1980, both men were sentenced to long prison terms based on Childs’s testimony. They spent over 20 years in prison before their convictions were quashed, with a judge deciding that Childs was a pathological liar.
Between 2000 and 2003, the Zemun Clan was perhaps the most powerful criminal organization in southeastern Europe. The group was an offshoot of the Serbian mafia, with the typical gangster fondness for nicknames. Among their ranks were criminals known as “The Fool” and “The Rat.” Their most brutal member was Sretko “The Beast” Kalinic.
Kalinic earned his nickname partly because of his fondness for dismembering bodies. He was also willing to kill as a favor. When he killed a man named Branko Jeftovic in 2004, he claimed to do so out of “friendship and not for money,” as a revenge attack requested by another Zemun Clan member.
In 2003, the Zemun Clan assassinated the Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic. Kalinic was one of the masterminds behind the attack and was sentenced in absentia to 30 years in prison, finally being caught in 2010. He and another inmate tried to break out of prison in 2012. He cut through bars, leaped from a window, and overpowered a guard but was caught and imprisoned once more.
While Prime Minister Djindjic is undoubtedly the most famous of Kalinic’s victims, the killing of Milan Jurisic is his most infamous murder. Jurisic, a Zemun member himself, was bludgeoned to death in 2006. Kalinic, working with two others, cut the body into pieces. Much of the body was flushed away, but some of it was ground up, cooked, and eaten, marking one of several cannibalistic kills with which the Beast has been linked. The skin from Jurisic’s face was cut off and used to make a mask.
Australians call Christopher Dale Flannery “Mr. Rent-A-Kill.” He was a lifelong criminal, starting at 14 with burglary and auto theft. By the end of his career, he was being paid tens of thousands of dollars to kill people.
In 1979, Flannery got a job as a bouncer at a nightclub in Melbourne, where he made the contacts necessary to move into contract killing. One of his first jobs was Roger Wilson, a lawyer who Flannery allegedly killed for $35,000 in 1980. He kidnapped and drove Wilson into the wilderness before emptying a clip into him. The body was never found. Flannery was put on trial and acquitted but was arrested for another murder on the way out of court.
Flannery obtained a fake medical certificate deeming him unfit for trial, and the case eventually fell apart. The doctor who issued the certificate eventually went to prison for perverting the course of justice. However, Flannery used his freedom to move to Sydney where he became an enforcer for a local kingpin, George Freeman. According to one of Freeman’s sons, Flannery “used to have a price for an arm, a price for a leg, a price for a kid.”
In the 1980s, the Sydney underworld saw a five-way gang war in which Flannery killed at least 13 people. He also shot an undercover police officer named Mick Drury, which earned Flannery $50,000.
Being the most prolific and dangerous hired killer in the country made Flannery enemies, however. He was injured in January 1985 when someone shot at him outside his house. Then on May 9 of that year, Flannery left his apartment after receiving a call from Freeman. He was never seen again, and his body still hasn’t been found. A skeleton found in 2013 in dunes in southern Sydney was thought to possibly belong to Flannery, but DNA tests ruled otherwise.
Frank “The German” Schweihs is one of the most infamous and notorious hit men in Chicago history. A former member of the city’s law enforcement called him “a cold-blooded, tough killer who would murder anyone if ordered to.” He was known to tell his victims “what goes around, comes around” before killing them. Despite being the prime suspect in over a dozen hits, he was never convicted of a single killing (though he was charged with plenty of other crimes).
His daughter Nora Schweihs appeared in the 2012 reality TV show Mob Wives Chicago, calling her father’s reputation unjust. That year, she had his body exhumed to ensure it was definitely him, as she believed the true body may have been stolen by the FBI after he died in 2008.
Many people believe Schweihs killed Marilyn Monroe for the Chicago mob but made the death look like suicide. In December 1962, the body of Schweihs’s 18-year-old girlfriend was discovered; one detective claimed she had been murdered after finding out about the Monroe hit from her boyfriend.
Some estimates reckon that Bernard Hunwick, known as “Barry the Bear,” had notched up 300 kills by 1982. Even the most conservative tallies are around 100. Despite that, he was only convicted of a single killing—and that was in 1999. He was jailed for committing one murder and for planning another. An undercover FBI agent arrested him after paying him to kill a drug dealer.
Hunwick was married to a former Playboy bunny, herself a marijuana trafficker. A former employer said, “I’ve never seen anybody as tough or mean as Barry Hunwick,” describing how the hit man would happily beat a person to the brink of death before getting on with whatever he’d been doing. He was once recorded describing how he’d put broken glass into a man’s mouth before beating his face.
The one murder Hunwick confessed to was the killing of cocaine smuggler Richard Diego Messina, who was found with his throat cut. The case against him in 1982 had fallen apart because police had lied about obtaining a warrant before raiding Hunwick’s premises to collect evidence. The cops may have been under pressure, as Hunwick was said to have been planning to overthrow the local Mafia. Among the items they gathered were pistols, brass knuckles, a high-powered rifle, a homemade hand grenade constructed from a beer can—and a hit list. Hunwick’s going rate was around $3,000 to $5,000 per killing.
The botched search procedure got Hunwick another 17 years of freedom in which to ply his trade. He died in 2013, having served just over a decade for his crimes.
4Mexico’s Teenage Killers
When Rosalio Reta worked as a hit man for Mexico’s Zetas drug cartel, he earned between $10,000 and $50,000 each time he killed. He is currently in prison, suspected of killing 30 individuals. It’s not the pay or quantity of hits that makes Reta’s story so shocking, though, it’s his age. He carried out his first killing at just 13.
Reta hadn’t even reached adulthood by the time he was caught. Yet there are even more dramatic cases than his. Francisco Miguel N., arrested in 2012 at 16, was connected to at least 50 killings for the Los Mazatlecos drug gang. His nickname was “El Nino,” meaning “the boy,” and he’d been trained to use an AK-47 and a handgun. Among the victims he’d confessed to executing were police officers and farmers.
3Rodney Charles Collins
Rodney Collins, Australia’s “most prolific living hit man,” is suspected in nine murders, though he’s been convicted of only two. He’s earned multiple nicknames, including “the Duke,” “Cherokee,” and “the Fox,” from his association with nearly every major criminal in the country.
On July 27, 1987, Collins dressed as a police officer and used a forged warrant to access the house of drug dealer Ray Abbey and his wife Dorothy Abbey. When Collins arrived, he shut the Abbeys’ children in their bedrooms before shooting the married couple and slitting their throats. The children were the first to find the bodies the following morning.
That story is almost identical to the murder of Michael Schievella and Heather McDonald in 1990. The couple were bound and killed by a cut to the throat. Their children, aged eight and nine, were trapped in their rooms and left to discover the bodies. A third crime linked to Collins, the murders of Terrence and Christine Hodson, also features a wife brutally murdered as collateral damage.
The case against Collins for that last set of murders fell through in 2010. A key witness was gang boss Carl Williams, who had hired Collins to kill the Abbeys. Williams was beaten to death in prison with a piece of gym equipment before he could testify. Bizarrely, the exercise bike involved in that killing has its own Facebook page with 200 likes.
The criminal career of Jimmy Moody was as long as it was dramatic. He began in London in the 1960s working for the city’s most notorious gangsters, the Richardsons and the Krays. He was jailed for manslaughter in 1968 and spent four years behind bars. When he came out, the world was different—his former employers were in prison.
He reacted by joining a crew that targeted armored trucks. Moody himself wielded a chainsaw to cut his way into the vehicles, and the group became known as the Chainsaw Gang. He stole over £900,000 before being caught in 1980 and placed in Brixton prison to await trial. He joined up with his cellmate, IRA militant Gerard Tuite, and the men dug through the walls and escaped over the prison roof.
Moody moved to Belfast, where he allegedly became a killer for the Irish Republican Army. He was soon the most notorious hired killer in the United Kingdom, known for a willingness to tailor hits to requirements—he would dispose of bodies if required, or he’d perform executions publicly to send a message. His reputation in Northern Ireland was such that the British Security Services were rumored to have dispatched an SAS hit squad to try to take care of him.
Moody moved back to London in the early 1990s, but he wasn’t suited for the drug-fueled underworld. He killed at least one member of a criminal family before deciding to forgo the lifestyle altogether. Unfortunately, it was too late.
On June 1, 1993, he was drinking in a local pub. At around 10:00 PM, a man entered and ordered a pint of lager. Without drinking any, he approached Moody. The man pulled out a gun and carefully placed four bullets in Moody—one in the chest, one in the head, and two in the back. Police described it as a professional execution, with one odd feature. The killer swore while shooting Moody. “Hired killers don’t usually betray such emotional signs,” said a police officer on the case. The identity of the killer is still unknown, but there is certainly no shortage of possibilities.
Fred Burke’s nickname in the underworld was pretty straightforward—people called him “Killer.” His weapon of choice was a machine gun, and his hits tended to involve multiple victims. He gunned down three gang members in Detroit in 1927 in an event that became known as the Milaflores Massacre. It was the first ever use of a machine gun to commit homicide in the city.
However, Burke earned his nickname from the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, one of the most infamous shootings of the 1920s. On February 14, 1929, four men dressed as police officers gunned down seven associates of gangster “Bugs” Moran, Al Capone’s biggest rival. One of the victims, John May, got 17 bullets. Burke, uncertain he was dead, then blew half his head off at close range with a shotgun.
Despite being identified as a likely killer by police, Burke wasn’t caught immediately. He was only apprehended later, when he ended up in a traffic accident and killed the first policeman who arrived on the scene. He was arrested in 1931 and died in 1940 while serving a life sentence for the February 14 killings.