Hit Man: A Case Study in Incitement to Murder

by Brad Serber

Postdoctoral Scholar
Assistant Director, Intercollege Minor in Civic and Community Engagement
Dept. of Communication Arts and Sciences

In 1983, an author writing under the pseudonym Rex Feral published Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors with Paladin Press. The manual describes, among other things, detailed steps that one could follow in order to commit murder and get away with it. More specifically, parts of the manual describe how to make and use a silencer and how to dispose of weapons and bodies in order to make them hard to find and identify. Paladin Press sold about 13,000 copies of Hit Man. One of those copies ended up in the hands of a man named James Perry, who, in 1993, was hired by a man named Lawrence Horn to kill his ex-wife, son, and son’s nurse. Horn hired Perry to kill his family so that he could inherit money from his quadriplegic son’s medical trust fund. Despite the fact that Perry followed twenty-seven of the book’s instructions, police pegged Horn as a suspect and traced the triple murder back to Horn and Perry through phone taps and financial records.

Mildred “Millie” Horn’s sister, Vivian Rice, filed a lawsuit against Paladin Press for incitement to murder. Paladin Press defended its publication under the First Amendment, but a Fourth Circuit judge ruled in Rice’s favor in 1997, claiming that Paladin’s publication of the manual did constitute incitement. The 700 remaining hard copies of Hit Man that Paladin Press had at the time were destroyed, but other copies already in circulation are available for purchase on Amazon and eBay. Additionally, PDF copies are widely available for free on the internet. Cases like Rice v. Paladin raise difficult questions about intent and effect, media ethics, and agency.

  • Does this text encourage or facilitate murder?
  • Who should be held responsible for the murder: the author? the publisher? the person who hired the hitman? the hitman? some combination?
  • What constitutes incitement?
  • Who gets to decide? By which criteria?
  • What constitutes appropriate punishment for incitement?

Brad Serber
Postdoctoral Scholar
Assistant Director, Intercollege Minor in Civic and Community Engagement