The Problem With Outsourcing Your Crimes

It’s a bad idea to murder someone else — it’s illegal, it’s immoral, and … do you need a third reason? Don’t commit murder. 

But if you’re going to, you may want to do it yourself. That’s probably not the right lesson to take away from today’s story — again, “don’t commit murder” is a much better one — but it fits. Just ask a Chinese real estate developer named Tan Youhui. He’s easy to find because right now, he’s sitting in a prison somewhere in China. And the guy he wanted to kill is very much alive.

Tan’s story starts in 2013. A competitor of Tan’s, identified only as Mr. Wei, believed that Tan’s firm had run afoul of the law and brought a lawsuit against Tan and his company. Tan, as the BBC reported, was “scared of losing money fighting a lengthy court case,” so he looked for other ways to end the litigation in its infancy. And for some reason, murdering Wei felt like the best option. 

But Tan was a developer, not a killer — he had a lot more experience hiring contractors than he did taking human lives. So Tan leaned into his strengths and hired someone to do the dirty work for him. He found a hitman named Xi Guangan and offered him two million Chinese yuan (at the time, about $280,000) to kill Wei. Xi agreed, took the money, and… didn’t kill Wei.

Xi probably should have just stolen the money and let Wei live; it’s not like Tan can enforce a murder contract in court and, again, don’t commit murder! (In fairness to Xi, he probably had to at least try to kill Wei; otherwise, Tan could have hired another hitman to kill Xi for failing to deliver on the original hit.) But Xi decided that the murder had to happen. But he, like Tan, didn’t really want to do it himself, so he decided to subcontract the work to another hitman. Per the BBC, Xi “asked another hitman, Mo Tianxiang, to kill Mr. Wei instead, offering him ¥1m,” or half the amount of the contract. Mo accepted. (Comically, per the BBC, “after Mo accepted, Xi renegotiated with Tan to be paid another ¥1m after the killing,” effectively getting himself the whole amount of the original contract without having to do any actual murdering.)

Mo, now with about $140,000 in his pocket, also probably should have just stolen the money and let Wei live; it’s not like Tan nor Xi could have enforced the contract in court and — well, you get the idea. But Mo, I guess, was a hitman of his word, and wanted to make sure that Wei died. But why kill someone when you can hire someone to kill the person for you? As CNN notes, Mo “also decided against carrying out the hit. Instead, he pocketed some of the proposed fee and found another man, Yang Kangsheng. Yang was paid 270,000 Chinese yuan ($38,100) up front and promised another 500,000 Chinese yuan ($70,600) when the job was completed.”

Yang, now with $38,000 in his pocket, well, he had an incentive to actually kill Mr. Wei — he wouldn’t get the last ¥500,000 until Wei turned up dead. And while he could have taken the $38k and change and ran, that’s not a lot of money if you’re afraid that two other hitmen and the originally hitman-hiring real estate developer may come after you seeking retribution. So Yang wanted to make sure that his target died, so he went off to kill Wei himself.

No, just kidding: Yang also subcontracted the hit to another hitman. Per CNN, “Yang then pocketed part of the money and outsourced the job to a fourth man, Yang Guangsheng, with an initial offer of 200,000 Chinese yuan ($28,200), and a further bonus of 500,000 Chinese yuan ($70,600) on completion of the deed.” And the second Mr. Yang, like the first Mr. Yang, decided to similarly hire a hitman, a guy named Ling Xiansi. Ling, six months after Tan forked over ¥2,000,000, agreed to take on the job for the highly-discounted rate of ¥100,000, most of which was to be paid only after the murder was completed.

Ling, you’ll be glad to know, did not outsource the work to another hitman. Further, you may be glad to know — and Mr. Wei is certainly happy to have found out — Ling realized afterward that ¥100,000 — a bit less than $15,000 — isn’t enough money to kill someone. So, instead, Ling did what every hitman before him should have probably done: he turned to a life of fraud, not murder. As CNN explains, “Ling also got cold feet. But rather than killing Wei or finding another supposed hitman, he met with the intended target directly – and offered to help fake his death. Wei agreed to let Ling take some photos of him tied up in an attempt to stage the murder.” Ling then reported his success to Yang, etc., etc., and all the hitmen got paid.

And then, Wei went to the police.  

After a few years of trials, all five hitmen and Tan Youhui were convicted; per ABC News Australia, “the court held that each of these actions constituted intentional homicide, and sentenced both the mastermind and each of the hitmen to jail terms of various lengths.” In 2019, Tan received a five-year sentence, the middlemen hitmen went to prison for three years or so each, and Ling was sentenced to two years and seven months behind bars. 

Bonus fact: Hiring hitmen (and hitmen hiring hitmen) is a bad idea, but if you’re in China, taking advantage of broken lottery machines may be worse. In 2005, a lottery ticket seller named Zhao Liqun realized that one of the games had a flaw; you could buy tickets five minutes after the winning numbers were drawn, and, therefore, you could buy yourself a guaranteed winner. According to Reuters, Zhao got greedy and took advantage of this flaw “many times over,” asking friends and neighbors to cash the winning tickets to help mask his identity. He ended up earning 28 million yuan ($3.76 million) before authorities caught on to his scam. He was charged with fraud and, in 2007, Zhao was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

From the Archives: A Creative Way to Stop Your Kids from Spending Too Much Time Playing Video Games: Involves perhaps the only justifiable reason to hire a hitman?