The 2013 Thai Most Wanted
Hitmen list has 100 names. The 2011 list had only 75 names. That’s a 25%
productivity and employment increase in two years. If this were the economy,
people would be in the streets celebrating. This list is not Thai companies on
the stock exchange but a list of Thai hired killers who are in a bullish
Like the Booker Award, the
2013 list is a long one. We’ll get to the short list and the machinery to choose
the winner a bit later. No literary award I am aware of has ever announced a
long list with a name of 100 authors. In the real world, down those mean streets
walk not writers taking notes for a great crime novel but hired killers the
police would like to catch. And there are at least 100 of them, which works out
about 5 or 6 hitmen for each author on a typical crime fiction award
Authors must choose their
hitmen carefully. It seems there are difficulties in apprehending the Most
Wanted Hitmen—they are even more careful than most authors. After all they have
a lot more at stake, and more to lose.
Thailand law enforcement
challenges aren’t unique (though what country exists where the citizens in huge
numbers don’t believe this?). The police in every country face the same set of
problems—suppressing crime and capturing criminals who refuse to be suppressed.
Techniques of crime suppression and catching the bad guys are glimpses into the
culture of the legal justice system and the social system.
The Thai police have used
Most Wanted list and have made what translates as ‘criminal suspect calendars’, which feature a photo of the
bad guys (or bad women). Maybe the photographs were old, blurry, with bad
lightning and horrible angle—the usual things people say about my photos. In any
event these calendars (we’re not told where they were displayed) failed to bring
phone calls from the public with information that they just saw what looked like
#73 eating som tum at a food stall on Sukhumvit Road. The police phone
didn’t ring. Or if it did, the caller wasn’t reporting the location of a wanted
Faced with the bold
facts—can’t suppress them, can’t catch them—the police decided on a new campaign
to hunt down the gunmen for hire in Thailand. Social hierarchy is the lifeblood
of Thai society—and the building blocks are the Lego like tropes of family
names, titles, rank, private schools, and private clubs. A Thai can step back in
any social scene and immediately experience another person’s place on the
pyramid grid as though they had a sonar system that picks up frequencies that
foreigners simply don’t perceive.
Why not rank hitmen? That
seems like a logical extension to the normal way people perceive themselves and
others—they are either above or below you. This genius for ad hoc hierarchy
making as a blueprint for hitmen pyramid is far more impressive than anything
you’ll ever find in Egypt. If you are raised and educated in seeing social
relations as pyramids, why not adapt that idea to how you design your Most
Here’s how the new Most
Wanted Hitmen List will work—according to the Thai police.
Level one is for the top
gun. The Professional. A Level 1 hitman has proved himself capable, reliable,
with many successful assignments on his resume. The assassins on this list are
not limited to those wanted under an arrest warrant. Apparently just because
you’ve committed an assassination doesn’t automatically mean you will have an
arrest warrant issued. The example given by the authorities is the hitmen
who has just been released from prison having served time for his last job.
Apparently the concept of double jeopardy gives way to preventive action. Once
you’ve done your time for a hit, you are a Level 1 guy would is wanted by the
The Hired Gunman Pro who
is always wanted by the police, arrest warrant or not, is at the top of the
hierarchy. It is important to emphasize this point so no one is confused or
walks away from a citizen’s arrest of such a hitman who might argue there is no
outstanding warrant. Get the guy. Bring him in. If you’re working at Level 1,
the police want you even if there’s no paperwork other than the list. The
privilege of the top rank is to be always wanted.
There’s always some new
guy breaking into the game. Same as in sports. One day you are kicking in goals,
and the next day you’re on the bench because some new kid can kick the ball
better and farther than you. These are the semi-pros looking for the chance to
play in the PGA-level hitmen’s league. They are still building a resume showing
their wins. The police warrant these are the most dangerous players—young,
hungry, trigger-happy and as resume obsessed as a student trying to get accepted
for a Harvard MBA program. The police statement was silent as to the necessity
of any outstanding arrest warrant before such a person goes on at Level 2. It
might be that the arrest warrant exclusion is for only Level 1—give them a bit
of hierarchy pride. As it is unclear, no doubt it could lead to arguments, and,
no need to remind you, these people are heavily armed, that is never a good
thing in Thailand.
Level 1 and Level 2 are
your pro or semi-pro freelance, free agent players. They take assignments from
anyone with the cash and the desire to see someone dead. The Level 3 hitmen are
a different breed. They fit the mode of the in-house lawyers. They work for an
influential figure or the mafia. Yes, in Thailand there is apparently quite a
distinction between the two categories worth an essay on its own. The
third level players raise an interesting policing issue. Why not check with the
godfather, “Seen #43 recently?”
“No, he’s been on the sick
list,” godfather. “No, he’s been transferred to sales and is attending a seminar
“Well, if you see him,
give us a call.”
“You’ll be the first to
Level 3 is the place where
no one ever seems to find any evidence. It all disappears down that Alice in the
Wonderland rabbit hole without leaving a tiny, bitty trace. The gunman signs on
for the usual company benefits, and enters the workplace where whatever evidence
he leaves behind will magically disappear, and he draws a regular salary. The
police admit Level 3 is a toughest nut to crack.
We are at the bottom of
the pyramid on a dark night. In a sand storm. In the desert looking for whom?
These guys are not yet qualified to be hitmen. No, they’ve not earned their
stripes. The most you can say for them is they’ve murdered people in a conflict.
That’s not what professional killers do, who have no emotional connection with
the victim or conflict. The police want to put a lid on the possibility that
these hot-headed, hot-blooded killers who get into lethal fights and arguments,
don’t suddenly become cool under fire, chilled water running through their veins
and climb up to either Level 2 or 3. The greater fear is a lateral entry into a
Level 3 position with a godfather.
Supposedly 30% of the
Level 4 killers have contacts with the Level 3 players and bosses. This assumes
that bosses at Level 3 given a choice would take a level 2 or Level 4 guy.
In a pinch, a Level 4 guy might be given a chance to see if he can kill someone
he doesn’t hate without first punching him out. As a general rule, it’s horses
for courses in the play book for most godfathers.
The Thai police, despite
the limitations of the list, have an Ace up their sleeve. Thais are highly
sociable. They are hard to separate from their parents, friends and relatives.
The police have figured there is no level of assassin, which can sustain
isolation. The loneliness of being on the run is too much for the Thai hitman
who will sooner or later head to his parent’s house, his favorite mia
noi’s room, and the hangout where he drinks and sings karaoke with his
friends. The idea is the police will look for clues among the hitman’s relatives
and close associates.
No discussion of hitmen
can be separated from the price ticket for their services. The no frills, basic
level hit of an ordinary person starts at Baht 50,000 (or roughly US $1800).
Most of the hits at the low end of the market are the result of love affairs
that implode like a star that blows up. Only in this case, the black hole is
between the eyes. If the target is a ‘somebody’ in one of the other social
hierarchies, the price can shoot up.
How have the Thai police
been doing in catching the professional killer included on the 2013 Most Wanted
List? Six months into 2013 they’ve arrested four, and two have died. There is no
report on what level these 6 hitmen came from. The main takeaway is that your
chances of being arrested for being an assassin for hire is only slightly higher
than dying of old age. The next time someone mentions the word ‘noir’ in terms
of crime novels, you can ask them, “And what is your view on how the Most Wanted
Hitmen List for 2013 fits into the definition of noir?” To answer that question
would require a multi-volume series and given a dozen books, I’d only be
sweeping the sand from one side of the path leading to the base of the pyramid
only to watch it blow back the next day.