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Wisconsin Woman Tried To Use Bitcoin To Pay For Dark Web-Aided Hit Job, Federal Prosecutors Say

"The target needs to be killed,” Kelly Harper allegedly wrote the administrator of a dark web murder-for-hire site. 

Digital Series
THE DARK WEB: Fraud and Murder in the Digital Underground
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THE DARK WEB: Fraud and Murder in the Digital Underground

The dark web was developed by the U.S. military to communicate anonymously over the internet. Drug dealers, hit men and scammers now thrive in this wild West corner of the web.

A Wisconsin woman is accused of using cryptocurrency to hire a hitman in a dark web murder-for-hire plot, federal prosecutors said.

Kelly Harper, 37, was arrested after she allegedly wired bitcoins to a dark web murder-for-hire site to carry out the contract killing.

Local crime reporters “uncovered” the murder plot while working on an investigative report on the dark web, according to a federal criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin and obtained by Oxygen.com.

On Jan. 12, police were dispatched to a home in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. There, a reporter and an unidentified man — the alleged target of the plot — accused Harper of using the dark web to sanction his execution.

“They uncovered information showing someone wanted to kill [the victim],” the complaint stated.

Harper surfed the dark web for a freelance executioner for several months last year, investigators said.

Kelly Harper Pd

In December, she allegedly discussed the hit job with the site administrator of a murder-for-hire service. She provided pictures of the suspected victim, his physical description, his home and work address, and vehicle information, according to partial transcripts of their conversation included in the complaint.

"The target needs to be killed,” Harper wrote the site administrator, according to the complaint.

She described the target as a “white 5 foot 5 male," with "dark brown short hair, [and] blue eyes, weighs 165 pounds.”

Harper allegedly also sent a screenshot of her bitcoin wallet to the as proof of payment. The amount was valued at approximately $5,633.87, according to prosecutors.

Harper later wired an undisclosed amount of cryptocurrency to the dark net merchant, according to the complaint. FBI agents ultimately matched the transactions to Harper’s IP address, email address, and phone number, after executing a search warrant at her home. Screenshots of the murder-for-hire site were also seized from Harper’s phone, including images of the intended victim she allegedly sent the site administrator.

Harper later confessed to “paying bitcoin” to have the unidentified man slain, according to prosecutors.

She faces federal charges of using the internet to hire someone to commit murder, according to an indictment obtained by Oxygen.com. She was booked into a Dane County jailhouse on Feb. 5, online jail records show.

Investigators didn't disclose a possible motive in the suspected murder-for-hire plot, nor did they indicate if the threat was, in fact, credible. No other arrests have been made. The case's arrest warrant is sealed.

“This case remains in the early phases of criminal prosecution,” Sun Prairie Police Department told Oxygen.com on Wednesday.

The FBI declined to comment on the case this week.

Harper hasn’t yet entered a plea. Her arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 16. The 37-year-old faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted.

“We will make our defense when we know what the proof they have is,” Harper's public defender, Joseph Bugni, told Oxygen.com on Wednesday. “This is a process. Just because the government says something in a criminal complaint means nothing.”

Woman On Computer G

Harper is from Columbus, Wisconsin. She previously worked as a regional sales manager at a forklift dealer in Madison. Her previous employer, Fairchild Equipment, however, confirmed she's no longer with the company.

In 2019, the girlfriend of Harper’s estranged husband, Travis Harper, filed a restraining order against her. The woman, who said she feared for her family's safety, alleged Harper joined a gym to stalk her.

"She recently joined the [the athletic club] to stalk me and gain information," she wrote in a petition obtained by Oxygen.com. "I am fearful for my life and my children's life."

Harper was also accused of pressuring health club staff into turning over information pertaining to the Wisconsin mother's gym membership, citing a fictitious "police investigation," according to the petition.

The girlfriend also alleged Harper drove by her home frequently, contacted her family and friends, and once showed up uninvited to her son's birthday party. 

The restraining order was temporarily granted but was later vacated by a judge, according to civil filings.

The Harpers finalized their divorce the same year. Their divorce proceedings were sealed on Wednesday, according to Dane County Clerk's Office. 

Kelly Harper's attorney declined to comment on the restraining order or whether her ex-husband was the unidentified alleged victim.

Travis Harper lives in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, a small city roughly 70 miles northwest of Milwaukee, where the ongoing murder-for-hire investigation originated earlier this month, separate court documents show. And according to a 2016 traffic citation obtained by Oxygen.com, he's white with brown hair, and blue eyes, standing at five feet and six inches, matching the description Kelly Harper allegedly provided the dark web site administrator about her would-be victim.

Oxygen.com was also unable to reach Travis Harper for comment on Wednesday. 

Dark web murder-for-hire sites, fueled largely by the bitcoin boom, may be more myth than reality.

“They are all scams without exception,” Chris Monteiro, a UK-based dark web assassination expert, previously told Oxygen.com.

Monteiro has intercepted and exposed “hundreds” of dark net hit jobs. He explained such sites are almost always run by cryptocurrency conmen.

“That said, there are really thousands of people who believe otherwise,” he added.

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