Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joel Sandler's Murder for Hire

A Most Unusual Contract Killing

In the mid-afternoon of March 28, 2001, multi-millionaire Joel Sandler went to a restaurant at the King of Prussia shopping mall northwest of Philadelphia to meet a hit man. Sandler had millions of dollars at stake, and he wanted to make sure that the one person who stood in the way of this fortune would be taken out. The man who offered to take the job showed up at the designated location, a mall restaurant, but refused to conduct business in the presence of others. Instead, they agreed to talk in Sandler's car in the nearby parking lot to discuss the macabre business in a most unusual way.

Sign for King of Prussia mall
Sign for King of Prussia mall

From the get-go, it was clear that Sandler wasn't going to take any chance of getting nabbed by police. He refused to talk much, and instead resorted to negotiating using index cards with carefully chosen pre-printed text. It was a well thought out precaution that would protect him in the case the conversation was being taped.

King of Prussia mall area
King of Prussia mall area

Negotiations ensued, involving a steady stream of index card questions and statements. Sandler expressed through the cards that he wanted the hit man to kill a female and that finding her would involve some investigative work because the intended target's location was not known. He also specified that he wanted the body destroyed and the remnants buried hundreds of miles away, if possible. He gave the hit man thirty days to complete the job leaving no evidence leading back to him.

The only time Sandler broke his silence was when the conversation turned to money. Sandler had a pre-set amount of $25,000 that he would pay after the hit, refusing to go over that amount. When the hit man challenged the amount and the timing of the payout, Sandler became visibly agitated but eventually agreed to paying $10,000 as a down payment and the remaining $15,000 of the money to be paid on completion of the job.

Afterwards, Sandler began to destroy the cards by ripping them up, even employing the help of the alleged hit man. After the cards were reduced to pieces, they were thrown in a garbage bin and burned. All the evidence was destroyed, or at least that was what Sandler believed.

Upper Merion Township Police Department patch
Upper Merion Township
Police Department patch

Sandler didn't know at the time that the man posing as a hit man was actually an undercover agent from the Upper Merion Township Police Department who had been called in to lure Sandler into revealing his true purpose for the meeting: to kill his wife so he wouldn't have to pay her millions in alimony. Sandler also had no idea that the entire transaction was caught on videotape. Even though Sandler took the bait it was clear that he had gone to great lengths to protect himself, and as Dominick Dunne reported in the TruTV series Power, Privilege and Justice, "reeling him in" would prove to be more difficult than the police had ever imagined.


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