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Lovers top contract killing hit list

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SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) -- Want someone killed in Australia? The average price for a "hit" is $12,700, but you can get it as cheap as $380.

A study of contract killings in Australia has found most are not ordered by criminals, but by angry spouses and jilted lovers.

But professional criminals order the most successful "hits."

The Australian Institute of Criminology and South Australia's major crime investigation branch studied 163 attempted and actual killings between 1989 and 2002.

"The most common motive or reason for hiring the services of a hit man was in relation to the dissolution of an intimate relationship," Toni Makkai, acting director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, said in a statement received on Wednesday.

Makkai said the most common motives ranged from preventing a person from pursing another relationship, revenge for having an affair, eliminating a partner in order to be with a lover or to gain custody of children.

Other motives were money, silencing a witness, general revenge, drugs and organized crime rivalry.

The average payment received by a "hitman" for a contract was $12,700, the lowest $380 and the highest $76,000.

The most common weapon used in "hits" was a gun. In fact guns were five times more likely to be used in contract killings than in general murders.

"If you want the job done you are going to use the most deadly weapon available," Makkai said.

Contract killings in Australia make up only a small percentage of all murders. During the four-year study period "hits" accounted for only two percent of murders.

But the number of "hits" is slowly rising with an average now of seven attempted and five completed each year.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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