A Columbus woman has been charged in federal court after being accused of hiring someone online to commit murder.
Kelly R. Harper, 37, was arrested Friday and booked into Dane County jail. She was charged in the Western District of Wisconsin with a murder for hire conspiracy. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the charge.
According to the criminal complaint, a Sun Prairie police officer responded to a suspicious person call at a residence on Jan. 12. Upon arrival, the officer found a local journalist sitting at a kitchen table with someone identified as the victim. They were participating in a teleconference call with two other journalists. The news organization or organizations were not identified.
The two journalists on the call told the police officer they were working on a report about murder for hire on the “dark web.” They apparently uncovered evidence that someone wanted to kill the victim. The victim gave the officer a report he received from one of the journalists that included what appeared to be chat logs between an unknown person and an administrator on a murder for hire site.
The unknown person sent the site administrator information about the victim, including address, physical appearance and statistics, job, vehicle and phone number. The unknown person also sent photographs of the victim and the victim’s vehicle.
The administrator asked for proof of payment via bitcoin, a digital cryptocurrency, and the person sent a screenshot of a bitcoin wallet with about $5,633.87.
The victim’s girlfriend later filed a complaint with the FBI and a special agent responded. The journalists provided information, including about a bitcoin transfer from October on a second murder for hire site.
The FBI used the information about the bitcoin transfer provided by the journalists and identified an IP address, email and phone number associated with the bitcoin wallet. Following a grand jury subpoena, the accounts were found to be associated with Kelly Harper.
Agents executed a search warrant on her residence in Columbus on Feb. 5 and found screenshots from a murder for hire site and one the pictures sent to a site administrator.
According to the complaint, Harper was interviewed at the Sun Prairie Police Department and admitted to paying bitcoin to a murder for hire site administrator to have the victim killed.
A telephone status conference is scheduled for Feb. 9.