In all of human history, it is destruction and death in which we have excelled, and for every empire builder and bringer of peace there have been countless assassins, murderers and thugs prepared to tear things down and remove people that get in their way.
But who do gangsters, governments and anyone with deep enough pockets turn to when they need a problematic person or persons removed? Here we take a look at some of history's deadliest assassins and government agents, or at least the ones we know of.
A secretive sect of gorgeous and deadly female assassins, the Visha Kanya appear in various Indian mythologies and folklore throughout the ages and are even mentioned in the ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, Arthashastra, written by Chanakya, an adviser and a prime minister to the first Maurya Emperor Chandragupta (c. 340–293 BCE).
Supposedly operating during the times of Ancient India, historians are widely in agreement that they did exist. Girls were taken at a young age for the Visha Kanya and fed poisons and venoms, in small doses, throughout their lifetimes to build up an immunity to them.
They would then sell their services to the highest bidders who wanted someone of importance killed and then they would use their wiles and allure to work their way close to said person and then poison their food or drink, often eating the tainted food alongside them, which they had become impervious to, so as to avoid suspicion themselves before slipping away when their work was done.
Appearing in many Sanskrit texts, there are even cases detailed where the women's bodily fluids had become imbued with poison, and thus seduction was enough to kill their targets. Whether this is genuine or a work of fiction remains up for debate though.
The Agents of North Korea
With North Korea appearing a lot in the news recently, it is perhaps worth remembering how desperate and reckless they can be when pursuing their goals and this includes their government-sanctioned assassins. Perpetually at war with the ideology of the West, the secretive state has managed to instill a fervor in its people that will see them wholely committed to its Stalinist cause.
This was evidenced by the recent killing of its leader's brother Kim-Jong Nam who had become problematic for the leadership and its image. Sending out assassins to dispose of Kim-Jong Nam, the killers tracked him to Malaysia and administered VX nerve gas in the middle of a crowded airport with many potential witnesses and security cameras. So determined were they that they were happy to operate in broad daylight and send a message to the world about crossing their leader, showing no remorse when captured.
North Korean assassins have even been known to 'defect' to South Korea to track down other defectors and silence them before they can spread word about what the state is up to or damage the reputation of the nation.
John Jairo 'Popeye' Velásquez Vásquez
Pablo Escobar's notorious Medellín Cartel was a highly organized and ruthless drug operation that, at the height of its operations, smuggled tons of cocaine each week into countries all over the world and brought in up to $60-$100 million daily in drug profit. With the income of a small nation, the cartel often used its money to leverage power and influence over authorities and people in power but those who could not be bought needed to be removed in other ways.
Operating from 1976 to 1993, the Colombian cartel had a main man they turned to when someone needed killing, and that was John Jairo 'Popeye' Velásquez Vásquez. Popeye was captured and convicted in 1992 when he confessed to 250 killings, the kidnapping of then-candidate for mayor of Bogota, Andres Pastrana Arango (who would later become President of the Republic), the kidnapping of Francisco Santos (who would later become vice president), kidnapping and murder of Colombian politician Carlos Mauro Hoyos, complicity in the murder of the governor of Antioquia, Antonio Roldán Betancur, in a failed mission entrusted to Popeye and John Jairo Arias Tascon, alias "Pinina" to kill a police colonel, and the killing of politician and Presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento.
He also killed his wife, whom he claimed to have loved very much when it transpired that she was a police informant and Escobar entrusted getting rid of the informant to him. In an interview, according to Popeye, Escobar was clear in his instructions, “you or her, do not hesitate a single second ... “
Since 1992, Velasquez served a prison sentence on charges of terrorism, drug trafficking, conspiracy for terrorist purposes and murder. However, despite the severity of his crimes, Colombia does not have capital punishment, and the maximum sentence is thirty years, and by 2014, he was released due to good behavior after 23 years and 3 months in prison. He now spends most of his time attending media interviews about his past life and building up his social media following, carving himself out as a YouTube star with his videos on various topics in Colombia such as a corrupt government and socioeconomic hardships.
Many former spies, politicians, historians, and scholars on the Soviet Union and its spy agency the KGB have said of the shadowy organization that you never really leave it, implying that once you have been recruited, there is a culture that means you remain loyal to its aims and its personnel despite its collapse along with the Soviet Union. The current president of Russia, Vladimir Putin was a former agent which has lead to many to question his motives, suitability, and rise to power.
One such person who worked for the KGB at the same time as Putin is Andrei Lugovoi who is currently a Russian politician and businessman and deputy of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, for the LDPR and although there is no direct evidence of him being an assassin, he is currently wanted by the British police on the suspicion of murder.
Why? Well, in 2006 Lugovoi found himself in London at the same time as Alexander Litvinenko, another former KGB, and later FSB (current Russian spy agency) officer. Litvinenko had become an open critic of Putin's regime in Russia and was apparently on the payroll of British secret service MI6 but on 1 November 2006, Litvinenko fell ill and would later die of radiation poisoning.
After a British investigation into his death, it transpired that Lugovoy had visited London at least three times in the month before Litvinenko's death and met with him four times. The investigation found traces of polonium-210 in Litvinenko's system and also traces of it in several places where he had appeared in public, places that Lugovoi had also been present on each of these occasions. The hotel in which Lugovoi stayed in during these trips also happened to have a level of radioactivity from such polium as well. The Kremlin has denied any such suggestion that Russia or Lugovoi was involved and have refused a British request for extradition.
During WWII, the Nazi regime inflicted unimaginable horrors on the Jewish population of Europe and during the war, the Nokmim was founded whose personnel were a Jewish partisan militia group that operated predominantly in Lithuania under Soviet Command to fight the Nazi's and avenge the plight of the Jewish people under the fascist regime. At the same time, the British army created the Jewish brigade to fight the Nazi's in Italy, and once conflict had officially ceased, veterans of these forces came together to form the Nakam.
A group of assassins that targeted Nazi war criminals with the aim of avenging the Holocaust, they wanted their actions to become so noted and terrifying that it would warn off others from ever trying to attack the Jewish population again and they particularly sought out those Nazi officers who they thought had evaded justice. Hunting down former SS and Gestapo officers, many were killed off one by one, but the organization also had a plan to poison the water supplies of Berlin, Munich, Weimar, Nuremberg, and Hamburg in an attempt to kill 6 million Germans, the same amount of Jews that were killed during the Holocaust. This plan ultimately failed, but they did manage to infiltrate a prison camp housing former Nazis and poison the food supply.
Whilst investigations into the Nakam were put into place, with some members even admitting their involvement, prosecutors never managed to convict any of them for their crimes, and it is thought that the organization was absorbed mainly by the secret service of Mossad when the state of Israel was created.
Known as the “The Godmother and The Black Widow,” Griselda Blanco was suspected of the murders of 200 people during a smuggling career which saw the Columbian transport cocaine from her homeland to the U.S.
Blanco, who is the arguably the most successful female gangster of all time, started out her criminal career with the Medellin Cartel having run away from an abusive mother to work as a prostitute. Her methods, which included designing special underwear to conceal cocaine, gained her a lot of kudos and by the time she moved to New York in the mid-70s, Blanco was one of the world's foremost drug smugglers and had her own empire in Miami.
But her appetite for money and power eventually led to her downfall when she was jailed on drug conspiracy charges and shortly after her release, two hit men fatally shot her.
At her peak, it is estimated that Blanco was making $80 million a month, and had acquired a net worth of $2 billion.
Jorge 'Rivi' Ayala
Blanco hired Jorge Ayala as her gunman to dispatch of enemies and agents who were causing her problems and, despite being suspected for dozens of murders and a member of Blanco's drug syndicate during a period of bloodies wars and rivalries, he was only ever convicted of three murders when he was finally captured in the 90s.
Ayala remains imprisoned despite claiming he was guaranteed just a 25-year stretch after helping convict other members of a gang known as the 'Cocaine Cowboys' and even appeared on screen in a documentary of the same name detailing some of his gruesome exploits.
Carlos 'Cumbamba' Arango
Another favored hitman of Griselda Blanco, Cumbamba also did work for the Medellin cartel and has been implicated in machine-gunnings, chainsawings, draining the blood from a dismembered corpse in a bathtub so that the body would be easier to fold up and dispose of and the infamous Madeland Mall massacre where, in broad daylight, two gunmen exited a paneled truck, entered a liquor store and gunned down two men, wounding the store clerk.
The dead men were eventually identified as a Colombia-based cocaine trafficker and his bodyguard who were rivals of Blanco.
Cumbamba was eventually caught when he was sent to assassinate a drug pilot who became the key witness against Colombian cocaine boss Jorge Ochoa. Cumbamba and several other colleagues ambushed this man in a parking lot and shot him 12 times before speeding away. Shortly after the shooting, a witness told police that the driver of the getaway car had been wearing green surgical pants.
Carlos changed his pants but, when pulled over by cops they noticed he was wearing green pants and detained him. Although these weren't the surgical pants he was wearing for the killing, the cops searched his car and found the items of clothing he had been wearing during the shootout and he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Barry Seal and was sent to Angola, the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary, to serve his sentence. He died there in 2015 at the age of 66.
The East Harlem Purple Gang were a crew of Italian-American heroin dealers and drug traffickers that controlled and dominated the distribution of the drug in Harlem and The Bronx areas of New York City in the 1970s and 80s. The gang had close ties to both the Genovese family, Bonanno and Lucchese family crime syndicates and would often 'freelance' their work out to other gangsters.
Meldish has been linked to between 40 and 70 assassinations from the period, but police aren't quite sure as witnesses have quite often 'disappeared', refused to talk or were left physically unable to in the cases of these murders. It was only when a getaway driver flipped on Meldish in return for witness protection that he was put behind bars.
A member of the far-left militant group Red Army Faction (RAF) that operated in West Germany during the period of the East-West split of the country, RAF was supported by the East German government during the height of the cold war and, as such, undertook in several killings and kidnappings of a political nature.
Monhaupt came to prominence in '77 when she was linked with a speight of murders which included the assassinations of chief federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback in Karlsruhe and banker Jürgen Ponto, chairman of the Dresdner Bank board of directors, in Oberursel, Taunus. She was also involved in the kidnapping and murder of employer representative Hanns Martin Schleyer. In September 1981 Mohnhaupt took part in a failed assassination attempt on U.S. General Frederick Kroesen using an RPG-7 anti-tank rocket.
She was captured and put on trial in 1982 and the court considered her a leading figure of the RAF, but could not determine whether she had personally been involved in any of the murders. As such, she served her mandatory 24 years imprisonment but walked free in 2007.
A former KGB spy, Stashynsky became noted for his assassination of the Ukrainian nationalist leaders Lev Rebet and Stepan Bandera in the late 1950s. Stashynsky never had any intention of working for the KGB and his family were actually supporters of the anti-Soviet Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Arrested for traveling without a ticket on public transportation to Lviv from his village he agreed to act as an informant for the MGB and infiltrated the UPA through his sisters and passed on the information to the government.
In 1953 he was sent to Kiev to continue studies in espionage. In 1954, he was sent to East Germany under the name Josef Lehmann where he perfected his knowledge of German. Lev Rebet was a Ukranian editor who has briefly led Ukraine before their occupation by Nazi Germany.
Wielding serious political power, his writings and support for anti-Soviet sentiment meant the USSR wanted him and his supporter Stepan Bandera dealt with and so Stashynsky was deployed in a plot that was known about by the very highest members of the Soviet Union, including Nikita Khrushchev.
Using a spray gun that fired a jet of poison gas from a crushed cyanide capsule, Stashynsky disguised it in a rolled-up newspaper and walked right up to Rebet outside his office. The gas was designed to induce cardiac arrest, making the victim's death look like a heart attack and was so effective the West assumed this was the case until Stashynsky defected to West Germany and detailed his part in the plot to kill both of these men.
Enrique "Ricky" Prado's CV reads like the ultimate CIA officer: veteran of the Central American wars, running the CIA's operations in Korea, a top spy in America's espionage programs against China, and deputy to counter-terrorist chief Cofer Black – and then a stint at Blackwater.
However, investigative journalists found that he had once worked as a hit man for a Miami based crime lord so why was he working for the US government?
It turned out that Prado may have been so good at his job that the CIA decided they wanted him onside and employed him to track down and kill Taliban militants as the head of a covert unit that was not bound by military law. The CIA refuses to confirm any of this, but the evidence suggests that this is undoubtedly the case.