Ross Ulbricht is best known as the creator of anonymous darknet marketplace, Silk Road, in 2011. Ulbricht operated the hidden Tor-based service until his FBI arrest in 2013. Silk Road’s association with bitcoin payments (and subsequent news coverage) is often viewed by the crypto community as an unfortunate reflection on digital currencies as a whole.
Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison without parole, a punishment that has been criticized for its harshness and deemed “wildly unfair” by human rights organizations.
Evidence seized from Ulbricht’s laptop was highly incriminating. Although he was not formally charged with murder-for-hire, it was found that he did in fact try to hire hitmen for the murders of five people. As a result, the judge took this under consideration during his sentencing.
Ross Ulbricht in the News
Interviews with Ross Ulbricht
- 2021-08-17: What Does It Mean To Lose Your Freedom? | Ross Ulbricht - Audio Interview | REIMAGINE v10.0 #51
Ross Ulbricht FAQ
Why did Ulbricht try to have people killed?
A summary of events is as follows:
- Mar 13, 2013: Silk Road vendor FriendlyChemist writes Dread Pirate Roberts (Ulbricht). FriendlyChemist claims to have been scammed by another seller, Lucydrop. Ulbricht is initially receptive, but apologizes and says there’s nothing he can do.
- Mar 14, 2013: The next day, FriendlyChemist threatens to reveal thousands of usernames, orders, and addresses unless Dread Pirate Roberts (Ulbricht) steps in and ensures he receives the money Lucydrop stole from him.
- Mar 15, 2013: Ulbricht sends a message to Lucydrop asking him to reach out. The same day, FriendlyChemist says his own life is in danger and that Lucydrop owes him $700,000.
- Mar 16, 2013: Another user, RealLucyDrop, sends Ulbricht a message claiming he was formerly one half of a drug partnership with Lucydrop. RealLucyDrop claims to have been in jail for months, only to find upon release that Lucydrop has disappeared with all his money, scamming him as well. He explains that FriendlyChemist is a middleman for their LSD distributors.
- Mar 17-18, 2013: Ulbricht writes RealLucyDrop saying that he is being blackmailed and needs FriendlyChemist’s “real world identity so I can threaten him with violence if he were to release any names.” RealLucyDrop says he will try to resolve this with FriendlyChemist privately before resorting to threats of violence.
- Mar 19-20, 2013: RealLucyDrop writes Ulbricht saying he has met with FriendlyChemist and he can’t be stalled much longer. He then asks Ulbricht if he will lend him the money. Ulbricht again asks for FriendlyChemist’s “real world identity” and says “there is no way I will be handing cash over.” RealLucyDrop refuses once again, and Ulbricht writes “don't bother messaging me again if the message does not contain his personal information.”
- Mar 21-24, 2013: Ulbricht tells RealLucyDrop to “have your suppliers contact me.”
- Mar 25-26, 2013: New Silk Road user Redandwhite contacts Ulbricht claiming to be the supplier FriendlyChemist owes money to. Ulbricht tells Redandwhite he is willing to help resolve the issue and recommends Redandwhite create their own vendor account to sell directly and avoid future issues. Ulbricht then writes RealLucyDrop again asking for FriendlyChemist’s home address.
- Mar 27, 2013: Ulbrict writes to Redandwhite “In my eyes, FriendlyChemist is a liability and I wouldn't mind if he was executed.” He then provides what he believes is FriendlyChemist’s full name and address, including he has a “wife + 3 kids.”
- Mar 28, 2013: Redandwhite says they have kidnapped FriendlyChemist’s partner, Xin, recovered their stolen product, and are on the hunt for FriendlyChemist himself. Ulbricht replies “That is great news about Xin. If I understand the situation, he is the one responsible for your loss.”
- Mar 29, 2013: FriendlyChemist writes Ulbricht saying he wanted $500,000 within 72hrs or he will release over 5,000 user details and dozens of vendor identities. Ulbricht asks him to extend the deadline to 96 hours. He then writes Redandwhite saying “FriendlyChemist is causing me problems” and “I would like to put a bounty on his head if it's not too much trouble for you. What would be an adequate amount to motivate you to find him?”
- Mar 30, 2013: Redandwhite writes Ulbricht saying that Xin has been murdered and they have already recovered their losses. He then says “Does he owe you money or do you just not want him around anymore? I can send a couple of my guys to do recon to find out exactly where he is right now.” Ulbricht replies, “If you can find his location, that may be enough for me to scare him off. He is trying to blackmail me. Just let me know what you need to make this worth your while.” Redandwhite replies saying a “clean” hit is $300k, and a “non-clean” hit will run $150-200k.
- Mar 31, 2013: Ulbricht tries to haggle on the price of murder-for-hire, claiming he’s already had a “clean hit done for $80k.” Redandwhite says their best price is $150k. Ulbricht agrees and sends 1,670 BTC ($150,000 USD at the time) to Redandwhite, who confirms FriendlyChemist will be “grabbed tonight.”
- Apr 01, 2013: Redandwhite writes Ulbricht saying “Your problem has been taken care of.” He also claims they have discovered “he and Xin were actually working together on this scheme to blackmail you.”
- Apr 02-04, 2013: Ulbricht replies “Excellent work” and provides a .onion upload link for Redandwhite to share a photo confirming the hit. Redandwhite uploads the file, confirms he has deleted the information (blackmail.txt) found on FriendlyChemist before his murder, and shares the identity of another person FriendlyChemist was working for, Andrew.
- Apr 05: Ulbricht tells Redandwhite “I would like to go after Andrew, though it is important to me to make sure he is who [FriendlyChemist] said he is.”
Over the following months, Ulbricht would order four additional murders through Redandwhite in additional to loaning him $500,000 to assist Redandwhite’s own vendor account started. In total, Ulbricht sent Redandwhite a total of $1.15 million.
How big was Silk Road?
Silk Road generated roughly $1.2 billion in sales and $80 million in commissions.
How was Ross Ulbricht caught?
Ulbricht was known online as “Dread Pirate Roberts” and operated Silk Road from his personal laptop. Network records were traced by the FBI, ultimately identifying Ulbricht as a suspect. The laptop was seized upon his arrest on October 1, 2013.