It's a common trope in movies that certain people, either spies or mercenaries, specialize in assassination. (An apparently well-paying but wearing specialty, since generally the assassins are freshly retired before being dragged back in for one last job...)

Is there any evidence that such a role has existed in modern times (say, since the end of WW2)?

I think there's a common-sense distinction between a movie-style assassin and a military sniper, a Mafia hit man, or a criminal thug:

  • Non-uniformed
  • Killing is primary job description, not a by-product
  • Does not decide on victim; is ordered / paid to perform assassination
  • Is not directly involved with the victim (is "brought in to handle the job")
  • Target is individual (different than a bomb-maker)
  • Reason to believe they've assassinated more than once

The last point is to weed out either one-off intelligence assassinations or a willing-but-idiotic psycho who takes out a classified ad in "Soldier of Fortune."

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    @picakhu Gotta' love an article that has the quote "Yet, even when accounting for income differences, Mexican hit men are underpaid." – Larry OBrien Nov 17 '11 at 18:58
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    Is your question about "legal/semi-legal" (police/military) assassins, or illegal ("gun for hire", criminal) ones? I think there is plenty of evidence about latter, therefore I assume the question is not about them, but it is not clear from it to me. – Suma Nov 18 '11 at 0:42
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    @Oddthinking: That sounds very familiar. I was struck by how low the going rate was (about half the value of a basic new car) and what simple technique the author employed. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Nov 18 '11 at 1:24
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    btw. "Target is individual (different than a bomb-maker)" - it's not at all exclusive, many mafia hits were performed using bombs in cars of individual people. – vartec Nov 18 '11 at 15:27

Wikipedia has an article about contract killers where some of them are listed. The ones that look the most like what you're searching for are:

In short: Yes, contract killers exist.

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    Hmm - for a professional, getting your name listed in Wikipedia would seem to be a negative... It's not really an occupation where you want publicity. :) – John C Nov 18 '11 at 12:55
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    maybe those guys weren't professional enough :D but at least Alexander Solonik has managed to escape from a maximum security prison - wich definitely gives him a + on his professionalist-score – oezi Nov 18 '11 at 13:13
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    @John C: Maybe they're so good that it doesn't matter if they're famous (their victims might just be frightened enough when they see their infamous killer approaching that they react by having a self-induced fatal heart attack). =P – Randolf Richardson Nov 18 '11 at 21:35
  • @RandolfRichardson I've never heard of any of the killers on that list. Well... other than Chuck Norris. – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 23 '11 at 9:32
  • Maybe the reason they're on Wikipedia is because they were caught and convicted. – Ernie Jul 8 '14 at 17:57

Another example:

"35-year-old Igor Pikus, holder of a Belarusian passport, former soldier in the Soviet Union's elite Spetsnaz troops and later a KGB officer in Germany, who offered his services to criminal groups in Poland as a contract killer."

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