Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
The creator of the website RentAHitman.com has some explaining to do when he contacts law enforcement around the country about real, potentially dangerous solicitations received on his spoof website.
“Usually they (law enforcement agencies) are very receptive,” said Bob Innes, of Sacramento, California. “Sometimes it’s a little off putting; sometimes it’s ‘you have a website that does what?’ And a lot of times I have to say, ‘I’m not a killer, I’m an IT guy.'”
A Las Cruces man is now in federal custody after he allegedly contacted the fake website to hire a hit man to kill his girlfriend’s mother.
Innes recently told the Journal that he became so concerned about repeated online “service” requests from the man identified as Leif Hayman that he notified Las Cruces police in early April.
When emails from Hayman kept coming, a frustrated Innes phoned a friend at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which sent an undercover officer posing as a hit man to find out more. “I didn’t want to see this lady harmed,” Innes said. “I also didn’t want to see this case fall through the cracks.”
It wasn’t the first time Innes has reported a hit man solicitation to New Mexico authorities.
In February 2020, 18-year-old Colton Beall of Roswell was charged in a murder-for-hire plot after Innes notified authorities the high school senior contacted RentAHitman.com wanting two teenage classmates strangled to death. Colton pleaded no contest to soliciting murder, and was sentenced to five years probation.
Innes, 52, is currently a professional exterminator. As in pest control.
He named his “Rent-A-Hitman” website in 2005 as a play on words for a start-up network security company that ultimately fizzled.
He never shut down the site and discovered several years later it had attracted hundreds of people seeking to hire a professional killer.
Innes has kept up the fake website as a parody.
“I turned it into a joke. I thought nobody could be that stupid to think there would be a hit man on the Internet. I’ve been proven wrong time and time again.”
Innes and his website have been featured in stories by the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, the Guardian newspaper, television news programs and other outlets.
About 10% of the solicitations he has received “turn out to be people who are hell-bent on causing harm. Some are hoaxes, and about 30% are people who want to cause harm to themselves.”
Last month, he said he received an online request for a hit man to kill a district attorney in the Eastern U.S. Typically he vets the information received to ensure it is accurate, and “once I determine the solicitation is real and the target is real, I make a phone call to law enforcement and let them know.”
He contends the website has prevented about 150 murders, school shootings and other violent crimes over the years.
Earlier this year, a judge in Monroe County, Michigan, sentenced 52-year-old Wendy Lynn Wein to spend up to 20 years in prison for using a computer to solicit the murder of her ex-husband. She originally contacted RentAHitman.com, and after some of his own investigation, Innes turned over her contact information to Michigan State Police.
Innes said he has tried to show how unserious the website is.
For instance, the website contact is listed as “Guido Fanelli” and in a facetious play on the health care privacy act, the website states that it complies with the HIPPA, “The Hitman Information Privacy & Protection Act of 1964.”
It offers free consultations from a “field operative” along with special discount package for groups of three or more, seniors 65 and over, spring cleaning and graduation. The code to mention for an additional 10% discount: “Cool Cats and Kittens.”
“Nowhere does it say anything about a menu, no mention of murder or mayhem. We are a problem resolution website,” he told the Journal. “There’s nothing illegal. I’d rather be the state’s best witness than a co-conspirator any day.”
Innes said he’s been increasingly concerned about the number of people who contact the website who “want to cause harm to themselves.” Especially considering he isn’t a crisis counselor and has a difficult time trying to get those people to seek professional help.
In the past six months, he said, the website has generated about 360 potential cases, so he has to prioritize those involving potential criminal activity.
There’s no money to be made from the website, he said, except for perhaps donations or the sale of $5 hit man T-shirts.
But Innes, who once considered a law enforcement career, said he can’t turn his back on the fake website.
“If I can prevent a violent act, and perhaps save a life, I want to do that.”