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Saturday, June 29, 2013
One murder-for-hire plot in 1990 was hatched in a Roanoke nightclub by a 19-year-old kid from Raleigh Court. He wanted a used-car dealer dead.
Another was sparked by a senior citizen from Christiansburg, who in 2010 paid a hit man $20 in cash, a post-dated check and some war medals to kill a guy dating his ex-girlfriend.
In 2009, in the parking lot outside Covington’s Walmart, a 58-year-old woman gave a contract killer $500 and promised him another $249,500(!) from insurance proceeds after he shot her husband to death.
And in a 1999 case, a Vinton woman, 35, met with an assassin-for-hire in a park behind Roanoke County’s William Byrd High School. There, she agreed to pay $5,000 for the murder of her spouse. Her big concern was she didn’t want his truck damaged during the killing. I’m not making that up.
The circumstances, settings and players were different, and the motives ranged from jealousy and greed to anger and infidelity.
But in each case there was a common thread: The killer-for-hire was an undercover cop, playing a menacing role opposite some ordinary fools who’d let their imaginations run wild. That’s the kindest way to put it.
We saw yet another example last week when Franklin County schoolteacher Angela Nolen pleaded guilty to soliciting the murder of her retired school administrator ex-husband.
Nolen, 47, who taught kindergarten at Sontag Elementary, used her tax refund to afford the killing. It never happened, because the guy she gave the money to was a Virginia state trooper. Her friend and co-defendant, former school nurse Cathy Bennett, awaits trial.
Good grief, what’s wrong with these people? What kind of low-rent fantasy lands do they live in, where it’s as easy to commission a murder as it is to hire somebody to walk their dog or unplug their toilet?
Of course, murder-for-hire has been a literary fixture ever since Shakespeare penned Richard III. The idea of lone-wolf contract killers entered the modern consciousness centuries later, in the gripping Frederick Forsyth novel “The Day of the Jackal.”
From there it has expanded widely. Search Netflix for “hit man” and you’ll get more than 900 instantly streaming results. Most of us understand that stuff is fiction, which means “dreamed up, invented, not real, false and fake.”
Somewhere along the line, the defendants above lost their morality, their dictionaries and their basic common sense. Somewhere else along the line, police agencies figured out that they could exploit those mostly harmless numbskulls.
Why? It’s partly because of the media. Stories about foiled contract killings are almost irresistible to reporters and editors. The more far-fetched the circumstances, and the more unlikely the suspect, the more prominently it will play.
Readers and TV viewers eat those stories up. Meanwhile, the high-profile coverage proves to the public that the cops are doing their jobs. Everybody wins except for the nuts who imagine they can arrange a murder with a brief meeting in a hardware store parking lot.
How do those average citizens hook up with faux hit men? That was one of the things I wanted to ask Virginia State Police. From our clip files it’s obvious the agency is the leading supplier of contract killers in the Old Dominion.
Two state police spokeswomen — Corinne Geller and Deborah Cox — told me no interview was possible last week. Their Academy Award-worthy killers must be shy.
I got some insight into the subject years ago, however when I was a cops reporter in Maryland. It came from a state police corporal named Butch who was a detective at the Glen Burnie barracks. He was a big guy with bushy red hair and a bushy red beard.
Butch spent most of his time infiltrating outlaw motorcycle gangs or doing typical investigations into robberies and fraud and whatnot, b ut occasionally he played a role as a contract killer for some homicidally inclined idiot who was looking to hire one.
“How do you get introduced to these people?” I asked Butch one day.
One way was via criminals. The normally law-abiding idiots would go to lowlifes they knew and seek referrals, Butch explained.
The lowlifes knew they could earn bonus points with the cops, or maybe even a prized get-out-of-jail-free card, with such referrals. The cops had spread that around. In other words, there was an informal system to catch murder-minded but otherwise law-abiding people.
In the 1990 case above, the Raleigh Court teen’s charge was bargained down to attempted robbery. The senior citizen, 71, who appeared in court in a wheelchair and on oxygen, got seven years in prison. The 58-year-old Covington woman got eight years.
The 36-year-old wife from Vinton wore a big silver cross to court and said she had rediscovered God since her arrest. (Before it, she had been planning a post-murder party to which she had invited her “hit man.”) The judge gave her 24 months. Angela Nolen is facing five to 40 years.
I can’t help but wonder if the taxpayers’ money wouldn’t have been better spent by giving these nincompoops a prolonged and humiliating public spanking, plus a court-ordered class called Reality 101.
The first lesson would be that every time your average schoolteacher tries to hire your average hit man, the latter is a cop.
Because unless something changes, people pretending to be smart are going to keep hiring cops who are pretending to be killers. None of the “victims” will die — all of the crimes will be abstract.
Meanwhile the rest of us will sit on the sidelines yukking, tittering and shaking our heads.
And none of it will be real. Could life get any weirder?
The answer is yes. But that’s another column.
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