The Killing Folk: What Makes a Hitman?

What makes a hitman? A new TV3 series from investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre lifts the lid on the secret world of the contract killer.

Not all hitmen are created equal. The modern assassin invariably belongs to one of four categories: novice, journeyman, dilettante or master. That’s according to gangland reporter Donal MacIntyre and UK criminologist David Wilson, who have collaborated on new TV3 series Assassins: Ireland’s Contract Killers.

“I’ve never met a master hitman,” Wilson tells Hot Press, conjuring the image of an international assassin in the vein of Agent 47 from the Hitman video game franchise. “The thing about the master is that you don’t even know they exist.”

With Dublin in the grip of a criminal feud that’s been bloody even by Irish gangland standards, Assassins arrives at a timely moment. Here MacIntyre and Wilson re-examine high profile cases from the past, drawing on shared academic expertise that includes their co-authorship of an influential paper, The British Hitman: 1974 – 2013.

“Those young men… want to develop their reputation quickly in organised crime,” says Wilson, a former prison governor and now professor of criminology at Birmingham City University (MacIntyre is a visiting lecturer in criminology at the same institution). “They will put themselves forward as being willing to engage in this type of hit.” The six-part documentary opened with a chronicling of the life and death of Paddy “The Whacker” Doyle, a Kimmage hitman who revelled – a little too prominently it transpired – in his notoriety.

One aspect of the series likely to prove controversial is the portrayal of Doyle as – in his own imagination at least – an elite master assassin. In several scenes an actor playing Doyle is shown staring into a mirror with a dapper hit-man clearly inspired by Agent 47 gazing back. Is there a danger of glamorising a homicidal thug?

“It’s always the criticism and it’s an appropriate challenge to filmmakers and journalists,” says MacIntyre. “We always hit this territory when we do crime shows. I remember when I did A Very British Gangster, we did a documentary on a major gangland figure in Manchester and again we painted the picture as it was in a real, true documentary fashion.

“At the start we got accused of glamorising it, but then we got awards from various police forces across Europe for giving an honest portrayal. This is about advancing the true crime drama and trying to bring some sophistication to it.”

It would be far more short-sighted to sweep these killings under the carpet and pretend hitmen don’t exist, adds Wilson.

“In Britain the police don’t even describe the hits as hits, they describe them as ‘targeted attacks’ – so there seems to be a denial this world exists. What we were trying to do was to actually see the pathways into why people might become hitmen,” he says.

“Looking at those pathways, so much of them were about poverty, gangs, masculinity – those are important issues to discuss as well. I don’t think those issues glamorise. I think if you’re in a society where you feel like all you’ve got is the ability to rise up through an organised criminal network, it really shows we have to work harder with these men.”

The feud sweeping the capital’s underworld isn’t directly referenced in the series. However, the bloody crimes depicted on screen provide a valuable context in which to view the current conflict. MacIntyre, who once doorstepped the leader of one of the gangs involved, thinks the tit-for-tat slayings will continue for some time.

“These are international criminal conglomerates. It’s pretty difficult, and of course they’ll have people all around them. I think the feud is now personal. If it was just business, it would be over. It’s personal.” The criticism that the Gardaí could be doing more is misplaced he feels. For obvious reasons, the public only hears about the successful hits. Those stymied by the police are never reported.

“Their efforts are far more extensive and expansive than they would let us know. The amount they can predict and manage is extraordinary. It is very difficult. I have a great deal of sympathy for the job.”

Assassins will also revisit the “Lying Eyes” trial, in which a mother of two sought to hire a hitman to dispatch her millionaire love interest.

“What we learnt was that while most murders are committed by men, when it comes to contract killings within relationships, there seems to be an even split between husbands and the wives commissioning the hit,” says Wilson. “The best advice is: Don’t cheat on your wife, don’t fall out with your business partner’.”

Assassins: Ireland’s Contract Killers airs on TV3 on Wednesdays at 9pm.

 

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