The ‘Dilettante’ Hitman: Exploring the Consequences of Incompetency in the World of Contract Murder

Mr Liam Brolan1
1Birmingham City University, Birmingham, United Kingdom

The phenomenon of contract murder is one of the least understood, yet most intriguing areas of homicide. Until recently, there were fewer than five academic studies worldwide, which sought to understand this complex and often unseen type of murder. Described by Calhoun (2002:9), the hitman operates in a “secret world, an underworld, where they make business transactions with others wishing to conduct themselves ‘beyond the pale.’” It is for this reason, that the ‘hitman’ has seemingly been able to evade the attention of both criminologists and homicide researchers alike.

In stark contrast to this lack of scholarly attention, the hitman and the world in which he inhabits, has become a frequent feature in contemporary popular culture. Often portrayed as an occupation reserved only for those operating with high levels of competency and professionalism, the ‘shadowy world’ of contract murder has been depicted repeatedly in films, television shows and video games.

In their pioneering, exploratory study, MacIntyre et al. (2014) offered the first major insight into the phenomenon of contract murder in a British context. Based on data collated from newspaper reports, MacIntyre et al. were able to present a typology of British Hitmen, although it should be noted that their sample did include one hitwoman. They suggest that British contract murderers can be categorised as: Novices; Dilettantes; Journeymen; and, Master Hitmen. Their study aimed to explore the extent to which the sensationalised media portrayal of the hitman reflected the reality of the phenomenon in a British context. Based on their findings, MacIntyre et al. suggest that the mechanics, methods and motivations behind contract murder are much more mundane than is suggested in the media.

This research explores in more depth, the dilettante hitman. He, perhaps more than any other type of hitman, departs most significantly from the professional, proficient and skilful assassin that is presented in the world of fiction. By drawing upon several case studies from within the sample obtained by MacIntyre et al., this research discusses the incompetence and disorganisation of the dilettante hitman and highlights the often severe, unforeseen consequences of their actions.


Liam is Lecturer in Criminology and First Year tutor at Birmingham City University.

Having completed both a BA (Hons) and MA in Criminology at Birmingham City University, Liam joined the department as a member of staff in 2014, working as a Visiting Lecturer.

In 2015, Liam was appointed as a Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant (GRTA) and began studying towards a doctorate in Criminology. In March 2017, Liam became a Lecturer in Criminology and is currently First Year Tutor.

Liam’s PhD, which focuses on the murder of British citizens in foreign countries, is scheduled for completion in 2019.

Recent Comments
    Recent Comments