Alexis Stern was stunned when police told her there was a hit out on her life.
In 2018, the Minnesota teenager learned she was the target of a mysterious online assassination plot. Detectives told Stern that a user by the name of Mastermind365 had paid roughly several thousand dollars in bitcoins to have her murdered. She thought she was being pranked.
“Someone put a hit out on you and they want you dead,” Stern, now 19, recalled being told by police during an interview with CBS News’ "48 Hours." “I was like, 'This is a joke, right?'”
But it wasn’t a trick — somebody, somewhere, wanted to eliminate Stern. She discovered that an unknown dark net user had paid thousands in cryptocurrency to dark web assassination service Besa Mafia to carry her contract murder. Stern was shown a copy of the contract out on her head, which detailed her address, photo, and description.
“It definitely changed my life,” she told "48 Hours." “I kept looking over my shoulder. I didn’t know who I could trust. I could be killed on my way to work. I could be killed on my way home from school and that terrified me.”
Stern, an aspiring horror writer, suspected that her ex-boyfriend, Adrian Fry, a UK-based online gamer, was Mastermind365, the dark web user behind the alleged solicitation of her killing.
Stern said she met Fry online in 2016 during her sophomore year of high school. The young teenager was charmed by his accent and said their relationship soon shifted into high gear. The 20-year-old British national boarded a number of flights to Minnesota — and began speaking of marriage. But Stern, who described Fry as “controlling,” broke it off in 2018. The British man, she claimed, reacted angrily to the split.
“You deserve everything horrible that happens to you,” the Minnesota teenager recounted Fry telling her, according to "48 Hours."
She’s convinced it was Fry who later sent $5,000 worth of bitcoin to the Besa Mafia.
The freelance assassin service, rumored to have links to the Albanian mob, claimed to act as an intermediary between a seedy underworld of violent criminals willing to murder for cash and those looking to hire them.
“You can submit your orders to kill the people you hate,” the site’s mysterious admin, known only as Yura, said in a recording obtained by CBS News producers.
In the video, the man, who’s completely cloaked in black, his face obscured by a ski mask and sunglasses, explained he controlled a global network of “hundreds of gang members, criminals, and people who love to kill for money.”
For a base price of around $5,000, users could order a standard hit on anyone they desired, anywhere in the world. For $10,000, the killing could be made to look like an accident. If users shelled out even more cryptocurrency, the site promised an elite assassin, such as a military-trained Chechen sniper, according to Wired.
In Stern’s case, authorities said the dark net user first debated whether to kidnap the teenager.
“I can see on your website that the services you offer are murder, assault, and arson,” Mastermind365 web use wrote in a message to Besa Mafia, "48 Hours" reported. “I was wondering if the hitmen on this site also do other jobs, such as kidnapping, and how I could order that service.”
The cryptic kingpin of the freelance hitmen site replied it would cost about $10,000 to carry out Stern’s kidnapping.
“It is usually a bit more difficult to kidnap than just go there and shoot someone and run,” the man told Mastermind365.
However, on July 15, 2018 — the day after Stern reportedly told Fry that she had a new boyfriend — the kidnapping was allegedly upgraded to murder, the teenager claimed.
“I would just like this person dead,” Mastermind365 wrote. “I would just like for this person to be shot and killed.”
Stern was further unnerved by Mastermind365’s grammar and mannerisms in his messages to the alleged murder merchant, which, she said were nearly identical to how Fry communicated. The dark net user and Fry made similar typos, both spelled “i” in lowercase, and wrote “thankyou” as one word, she said, according to "48 Hours."
Fry has since denied any involvement in the alleged plot to orchestrate Stern’s execution on the dark web.
"I can assure you that I did not go to the online web to hire a hit man or anyone to kill Alexis," Fry wrote in a text message to CBS News producers.
However, after declining an interview, he again appeared to mimic Mastermind365’s vernacular.
"Thankyou for the opportunity," he reportedly wrote.
No known arrests have been made in Stern’s case, nor does there appear to be any concrete evidence that the alleged hit against Stern was ever seriously attempted, authorities said.
“It’s scary that you can do that, but on the flipside of that I can say that I haven’t seen any [online assassinations] fulfilled in my time,” Big Lake Police Chief Joel Scharf, who investigated Stern’s case, told Oxygen.com.
“On any given day, I’m more concerned about someone in our community getting killed by a drunk driver than an online arranged hit. But it’s definitely something that’s eye-opening, because [of] the anonymity that the internet gives you.”
The case was turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security, he said.
Whether a killing is carried out or not, the Big Lake police chief explained that enlisting such murder-for-hire sites is dangerous — and enough to constitute conspiracy to murder.
“Just the fact that you’re taking the first step towards putting the plan in motion is the criminal element,” Scharf said. “That’s all that’s required to prove a conspiracy.”
Despite the apparent risks, people have shelled out thousands in cryptocurrency to have others slain in similar — and fraudulent — dark web murder schemes in recent years.
Thirty three-year-old Santa Barbara film student and Youtube personality Beau Brigham, for example, who was duped into forking over $10,000 to a hit man site to have his stepmother whacked, was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison last year, KSBY reported. The assassination was never carried out.
Minnesota preacher Stephen Allwine also solicited Besa Mafia to murder his dog trainer wife several years ago, but gunned her down himself instead after he became impatient with the virtual hitmen service. He received a life sentence in the woman’s slaying.
In the years since Stern’s and other such cases have emerged, Besa Mafia — and the dark web murder-for-hire industry as a whole — has widely been debunked as a sham.
“They are all scams without exception,” Chris Monteiro, a Britain-based dark web assassination expert, told Oxygen.com. “That said, there are really thousands of people who believe otherwise.”
Monteiro is largely recognized as one of the driving forces behind exposing Besa Mafia as a vehicle for fraud and extortion.
In spring 2016, he hacked the dark net platform and intercepted “hundreds of orders” for contracted killings that spanned the globe. From Singapore to Denmark, his research supposedly uncovered dozens of assassination plots — including those involving Brigham and Allwine — and has also led to a number of arrests and criminal convictions in the U.S., according to CBS News.
But Americans, Monteiro said, appear to seek out hitmen on the dark web more than any other nationality. The cyber crime analyst said he's also seen a high number of similar incidents crop up in Germany, Canada, the U.K., and China.
“What the dark web and the internet has done is given people easier access to what they think are potential ways to dispose of people for fairly inexpensive amounts of money,” Adam Scott Wandt, a cyber crime expert and assistant professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Oxygen.com.
Wandt, who was also skeptical of the existence of a sprawling network of dark web hitmen, insisted that most online merchants peddling freelance assassins are crooks or undercover law enforcement.
“The chance of dealing with scam artists and law enforcement are significantly higher by a huge percentage than finding an actual murder-for-hire plot on the dark web,” Wandt added.
It’s unclear if Besa Mafia is still operating, although Monteiro, the British cyber crime expert, suspects Yura, the site’s supposed admin, is hiding out in Romania.
Other accounts place the shadowy crime boss in Queens, New York. CBS News previously reported Yura may have retired and opened up a restaurant in the outer boroughs. A television crew for "48 Hours" recently confronted an unidentified man believed to be Yura on New York’s streets, but the individual aggressively denied the allegations and swatted a cameraman.
Yura’s whereabouts aside, the thought of the online hitman-for-hire merchant, still haunts Stern, the Minnesota teen, whose brush with Besa Mafia — and Mastermind365 — remains fresh in her mind.
Last year the FBI wrote her a letter, explaining agents had closed the file on her case, stating that prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office weren’t moving forward with charges against Fry, her English ex-boyfriend, CBS News reported.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security both declined to comment on the case this week.
“[Homeland Security Investigations] can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation,” a department official told Oxygen.com.
But the 19-year-old, who continually lives in fear someone could take her life at any moment, is convinced that her ex-boyfriend, or whoever ordered the hit in the first place, may explore other means of killing her.
Stern pointed to one of Mastermind365’s final messages to Yura, in which the dark web user, disgruntled that the hit on Stern hadn’t been carried out, made a troubling request: He needed a pistol with a silencer.
“It sounds like he is willing to take matters into his own hands if it doesn't get it done,” Stern added.
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