How to get away with murdering fiction?

One of these days I’ll set down to write the great American novel, and of course I’ll have to decide what to write about. One thing that has always fascinated me is writing about getting away with a high profile assassination as it is not the historical norm. Generally people crazy enough to assassinate high profile targets are crazy and/or stupid, not guys who get paid two million cash per hit. I don’t think I’m alone in this fascination. If you think about the rather popular TV Show titled “How to get away with murder” what you are observing is every humans innate desire to have some no consequences for some action that is outside the accepted norms of civilized behavior.

The most popular villains in fiction from Professor Moriarty to Hannibal Lecter to Ernst Stavro Blofeld all have one thing in common, they don’t leave evidence for “common” police detectives to find. These villains exist only to be the perfect foils for the heroes of the story in the classic protagonist/antagonist epic struggle.

But, if we move away from fiction, we have to ask “is it possible to get away with murder?” And the answer is clearly “yes” depending on a few things.

1, how much resources are you willing to spend to accomplish your goal?
2, how much planning can you do to understand the methods and goals of the people sent to investigate your crime?
3, how much resources the people sent to investigate your crime are willing to spend to investigate and is it enough to overcome your planning and resource expenditure?

To illustrate this in a more concrete sense, all sniper missions have a few distinct phases. Planning, preparation, infiltration, planned action on objective, exfiltration. Each stage has pitfalls in terms of leaving evidence, and having a plan to sanitize or obscure the evidence should probably be key to “getting away with it.”

In the planning stages, you need to gather information. But even gathering information is information that could later be used against you. So you have to do things like use proxy services to router your public interface to another jurisdiction, and encrypt every bit of information you have that pertains to your plan. In the United States, simply planning a crime can be prosecuted under “conspiracy.”

In the preparation phase, you will need items or services to set the stage for your operation. The trope of many a thriller is the completely custom all plastic firearm, or custom computer chip installed in a targeted computer. Staging a welding set, firearms, or other tools to aid in your execution and exfiltration are key. When you transition to the “execution phase” you shouldn’t have to do any additional preparation.

Infiltration…this can be a subphase of “execution” but it should be its own phase because until someone commits there are lots of easy “mission abort” points. In the infiltration phase there is a lot of danger for a sniper.

The execution phase…doing the deed. It is relatively easy to commit murder, human beings are rather fragile after all. It is much harder to make it look like an accident (the trope of many a hitman movie like “The Mechanic”). In sniper/assassin movies this just boils down to the “money shot” where the target is killed and the sniper/assassin has to deal with complications to the plan (getting betrayed/captured/change of mission/etc).

The exfiltration. This is always a tough stage to plan, because other people are almost always involved. Other drivers on the road, other passengers on the bus or plane, other people in the crowd walking away from the tragedy… The idea of using “camouflage” to blend in during this phase is important if you don’t want to be identified.

Still, even the best laid plans can get derailed, and some targets are just too high profile. Someone who has the backing of a nation state to conduct an investigation will probably outspend all but another nation state. There aren’t too many “unsolved assassinations” of heads of state throughout the history of major western powers for all of these reasons. Bump off some African tribal leader in a backwater failed state and no one notices, after all no one seems to be willing to pitch “CSI: Central African Republic” to the networks…

The conclusion is that there is no guarantee of “getting away with it” since it is impossible to eliminate all evidence of an act, and you never know how the randomness of reality will interfere with the best laid plans of would be literary assassins. Which is why there are so many more popular detective novels written about how a single minor clue takes down some shadowy international assassin. Even the classic Duke Togo aka “Golgo 13” often deals with how Duke outsmarted the police yet again, detailing how the police just can’t get enough evidence, but remain convinced that they can get him next time….


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