Federal grand jury indicts Tennessee woman previously arrested in murder-for-hire plot

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A Tennessee woman was indicted after she was accused of paying a hitman from the dark web to kill the wife of her hiking friend who she met on an online dating service, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee announced Wednesday.

A federal grand jury in Knoxville, Tennessee, indicted Melody Sasser, 47, with one count of using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee said.

Sasser, who also lives in Knoxville, was arrested on May 18 and was charged with murder for hire. Investigators accused Sasser of targeting a woman in Prattville, Alabama, who had recently married a man Sasser had met on Match.com.

Sasser allegedly used the screen name "cattree" to order the death of her perceived romantic rival on Online Killers Market, a website hosted on the dark web that offers "hitman for hire" services, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on May 11.

In the description, which authorities say was shared with them via screenshots, cattree said: "It needs to seem random or accident. or plant drugs, do not want a long investigation."

Cattree then described the target’s daily habits, including where she worked and what she drove. Authorities say as the weeks went on, cattree also used a fitness tracking app called Strava to monitor the Prattville couple, notifiying the Online Killers Market of her target’s movements.

The Montgomery Advertiser, part of the USA TODAY Network, is not naming the woman that law enforcement says Sasser targeted because of privacy concerns.

Sassers' alleged acts occurred over a four-month period, from the start of the year until April 27, 2023, according to the criminal complaint. The quoted amount for Sassers' alleged order: $9,750, to be paid in cryptocurrency.

In written testimony, Special Agent Gregory Martin of Homeland Security Investigations said he was alerted to the scheme in late April by a foreign law enforcement agency that supplied him with the targeted Prattville woman’s name, address, and photograph.

If convicted, Sasser faces up to 10 years in prison and a maximum three-year term of supervised release. She will also have to pay a $250,000 fine and restitution.

An arraignment has been scheduled for June 21.

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Authorities connect plot to Sasser

When agents from the Birmingham, Alabama, office of Homeland Security Investigations alerted the Prattville woman to the threat, she suggested agents investigate Sasser.

The Prattville woman told authorities Sasser was a hiking friend of her husband’s in Knoxville who had become enraged when she learned the man planned to marry. Sasser allegedly told the man, "I hope you both fall off a cliff and die."

Martin said the targeted woman’s husband said he’d met Sasser on Match.com and that she helped him plan an Appalachian Trail hike.

The targeted woman said Sasser arrived last fall at her husband’s Prattville house, unannounced. She told agents that after the incident, her car was vandalized and the couple began receiving threatening phone calls from someone with an electronically disguised voice.

Agents analyzed the couple’s phones, showing at least nine calls from Sasser to the wife in November of 2022, when license plate readers also showed Sasser’s vehicle near the wife’s workplace in Hoover, Martin testified in the criminal complaint.

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'Cattree' complained hit was taking too long

Authorities say Online Killers Market claims to have 12,000 registered members worldwide and offers services including "hacking, kidnapping, extortion, disfigurement by acid attack, and sexual violence."

The website includes an internal messaging system for users to connect with an alleged hitman, administrators or other users, Martin said in the criminal complaint. It was there that authorities alleged Sasser, as cattree, complained to site administrators that the hit she’d ordered was taking too long to be carried out.

"I have waited for 2 months and 11 days and the job is not completed," cattree messaged on March 22. "2 weeks ago you said it was being worked on and would be done in a week. the job is still not done. does it need to be assigned to someone else. will it be done. what is the delay. when will it be done."

The admin responded, saying the assignment was too risky for the person who’d agreed to do the job.

"I have two other hitmen that I can assign on the job," the admin said, noting that both wanted more bitcoin to do the job. In a message on March 29, cattree agreed to pay more: “I will add btc.”

Paige O. Windsor is executive editor of the Montgomery Advertiser. She can be reached at pwindsor@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Tennessee woman accused of paying hitman to kill hiking friend's wife