Eileen Ormsby is a lawyer, author and freelance journalist based in Melbourne. Her first book, Silk Road was the world’s first in-depth expose of the black markets that operate on the dark web.
Eileen’s gonzo-style investigations have led her deep into the secretive corners of the dark web where drugs and weapons dealers, hackers, hitmen and worse ply their trade.
Eileen is also a regular contributor of scripts for the Casefile True Crime podcast.
Her latest book, Little Girls Lost: True tales of heinous crimes, was published in September.
I’m a big fan of true crime (books, television shows, documentaries, podcasts) so I’ve been wanting to have a true crime author on the podcast for awhile, so I was excited that Eileen agreed to be my first true crime/non-fiction author on the podcast.
We talk about our work, her investigations of the darkest depths of humanity and how she deals with that, death threats, and a lot more.
Eileen Ormsby Latest Book
Other Books by Eileen Ormsby
The Casefile True Crime Podcast where Eileen has researched and wrote several of the episodes for the podcast.
Eileen was the dark webs expert 48-Hours hired to help them in their investigation of the hitman for hire services provided by a dark webs site that Eileen has a fascinating history with which we talked about during the podcast. She appears on camera during the Dateline 48-Hours episode: Click for a Killer. Full episode here but it’s behind a CBS paywall.
Transcript (software generated so text might appear wonky here and there).
[00:00:00.205] – Alan Petersen
You are listening to meet the Thriller author, the podcast, where I interview writers of mysteries, thrillers and suspense books. I’m your host, Alan Petersen, and this is episode number one hundred and twenty four. In this episode of the podcast, we’ll be reading Eileen Ormsby, who is a Dark Webs expert and author of true crime books. Eileen is also a lawyer, an author and freelance journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Her first book, Silk Road. It was the world’s first in-depth exposé of the black markets that operate on the Dark Web. She’s now a leading darkrooms expert sought after by television programs like 48 Hours. Her gonzo style investigations have led her deep into the secretive corners of the dark web, where drugs, weapons dealers, hackers, hitmen and worse ply their trade. Little Girls Lost is her latest true crime book, and it’s out now to talk to her about that and her work. I’m a big fan of true crime and I have been wanting to have a true crime author on the podcast for a while, so excited that Eileen agreed to be my first true crime non-fiction author here on the show. So we’ll be talking to her here in a second. So stay tuned for that. A quick reminder, please visit ThrillerAuthors.com where ou can access the show notes there for this episode and have access to my archive of over one hundred and twenty author interviews. And please do visit ThrillingReads.com/rate to rate and review this podcast. Please note to the graphic nature of true crime. Listener discretion is advised.
[00:01:37.165] – Alan Petersen
Hey, everybody, this is Alan with me, the author and on the podcast for today I have Eileen Ormsby, who is a Dark Webs expert and author of true crime books, Little Girls Lost is the latest in her Dark Webs, True Crime Books. And I’m a big fan of true crime and I’ve been wanting to have true crime author on the podcast. I’m really excited to have Eileen here all the way from Australia. How are you doing today?
[00:02:02.875] – Eileen Ormsby
I’m doing well. How are you, Ellen? I’m doing very well.
[00:02:05.695] – Alan Petersen
Thank you so much for being on the podcast. OK, exactly. Like I said, the first the first, I guess, non-fiction that I had offer that I’ve had on.
[00:02:15.325] – Eileen Ormsby
OK, I feel honored.
[00:02:19.195] – Alan Petersen
So how did you get into writing True Crime can you tell us your story?
[00:02:24.445] – Eileen Ormsby
Well, it really started back in 2012 when I was a freelance journalist and I started writing about the Dark Web and I write about the Silk Road online marketplace. And that was the first of the large point click marketplaces on the dot where you can buy and sell any drug imaginable. And I looked into it. It was still in its early days. And I’ve spoken to the owner and some of the people used to write about it for newspaper here in Melbourne. And my editor immediately asked me to write some more stories about it, because at that time, nobody had heard about it. And so from then on, I pretty much started spending a little bit of every day inside the dark with talking to all the people populated the place, finding out why they were there, what they were doing, having a look at what was going on there, and kept it from my editor. And then, of course, next thing happened, as I feel, which was that Silk Road. And from then on, it’s just carried on. It’s been my thing to be the Darks Web expert, I guess.
[00:03:31.165] – Alan Petersen
Silk Road. I remember that the the founder of that was that Ross Ulbricht . He was arrested like a few miles from where I live in the library.
[00:03:41.545] – Eileen Ormsby
I remember, of course, in the library the science fiction section of the Glen Park Library, I think it was.
[00:03:47.395] – Alan Petersen
Yes, exactly. That’s two, three miles from where I live. So now when I drive by the library. I think about that. And it’s so interesting.
[00:03:57.415] – Alan Petersen
So, I haven’t been into the dark web, so can you tell us about it and is it a seedy and creepy as it’s made out to be in in the media. Can you give us a tour of it.
[00:04:07.435] – Eileen Ormsby
Oh yes and no. So the Dark Web is just the name that we give to the group of websites that you can’t find using Google or any of your normal search engines. In fact, you can’t find it unless you download special software in order to actually get into it. And you know that you’re looking at it looking for a dark Web site when instead of at the end of the day, you have the Web address instead of dot com org or dot net or any of the normal signifiers that, you know what it says and what will happen if you put that that you are with the onion at the end into your normal Web browser, into Chrome, on Safari or Firefox, it will just come back page not found. This does not exist. But when you download the special software, which is a darknet term, for once you put that into the browser opens up, then you will in fact. From that website and what they are, as is the talk, provides these layers of encryption, which means that both the website owner, the host and the visitor to the website are completely hidden from each other. Neither can find out who the other is with the US Navy in order to protect military secrets. And the whole idea was that it would be unbreakable encryption, especially agents in hostile regimes who talk to each other. Operatives in hostile regimes talk to each other without the communications being intercepted. But those same technologies provide a perfect place for crime happen as well, because obviously criminals also don’t want to be detected. And it was made fairly under the radar until Silk Road Silk Road started in 2011. And the idea was that it was a complete open marketplace where willing sellers and buyers come together, aid each other in this marketplace and buy from each other. And the idea was that it was to sell drugs and it was to operate on the same sort of platform as any other e-commerce platform. So it looks like eBay or Amazon when you go in there. And what happens is you browse the drugs that you were interested in, you pop them into a basket, you pay with Bitcoin, but instead of paying the seller, you’re actually paying the site and the site holds the Bitcoin in escrow until you release it. So you say, yes, I receive the drugs. That they were what they said it and they were supposed to pay the right amount. And so you never really see the money to the seller. And the site takes a small percentage of that doing that. So it operated just like any other online buying and selling price of rights instead of buying and selling books or CDs or DVDs or whatever, you’re actually buying and selling drugs. And it was every drug imaginable and it became huge. It became a multimillion dollar billion dollar industry and it’s still going. Silk Road was shut down for that reason for about two and a half years until I met with the founder, Ross Ulbricht was discovered and shut down. But since then, these sites and popped up have been bigger than that one ever was. And so there’s still a lot of comments going on, a lot of drug going on on the dark web today. And in fact, it’s growing all the time, according to the global drug survey. And that’s not the only thing you can find on the Web. There are other things, but it is mostly used for buying and selling drugs, buying and selling hacking tools. And so it is a place for hackers to go meet each other, to sell the depths of the databases that they have and that sort of thing. And then the really seedy price that you’ve heard of, of course, is it is also the perfect place for a child predator communities to get together and to share their materials and sell their videos.
[00:08:01.565] – Alan Petersen
That was that part was really disturbing when I was doing my research for this summer. So we always know there’s always been a sick, twisted people there. But it’s kind of shocking. I was reading that one because Matthew the Australian I think, I can’t remember his name, but he was basically curating for all these child abusers just crazy.
[00:08:25.305] – Eileen Ormsby
Yeah. Matthew Graham created the site called Hurt Core, which is so you’ve got I mean, you’ve got a lot of paedophile networks on the dark web, but even most pedophiles, this site is the worst site that’s ever existed. We don’t want anything to do with it. And the law enforcement also said this was the worst site in history because it wasn’t. And I should say just what really child pornography. That’s really about it. But this was the worst of the worst. It was actual torture, child torture. And so that existed in the dark web and it has been shut down. But that little subset of pedophilia called Hurt Core that still exists to some extent on the dark web.
[00:09:06.965] – Alan Petersen
And I also saw that you had your story was so fascinated with it, I believe was the Besa Mafia website that was the dark web, which I guess was supposedly where you could hire a hitman, but it was kind of a con. That’s a fascinating story.
[00:09:21.875] – Eileen Ormsby
Yeah, well, there’s always been Kitman sites on the on the Web. They’ve always advertised ways and said it’s a perfect place for Hitman. And the idea was that you could hire someone. You didn’t have to know who they were. They didn’t have to know who you were. All you have to do is pay them Bitcoin, give them a photo of the person you want to kill. And it would all have you’d never have to meet each other. And it sounded great in theory. But of course, once you handed over your Bitcoin to someone who don’t. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, you can’t you can’t get it back, and so they have absolutely no incentive whatsoever to carry out the murder. So this guy was running this site and he actually ran a very slick site and had really good graphics. And it was good interface and very professional. And he actually had hundreds of thousands of dollars coming in because of people that were trying to order hits, except he was just scamming every one of them. He was like a Nigerian scam. So he every time that winds hit being carried out and said, oh, there’s something went wrong and bit more money or this and that, he keeps inflating them for more and more money until they finally realized it was a scam and gave up and. So I was writing about it and I saw all sorts of scams. This one included, and if you give the money, you lose it. And he started writing me and saying, look, stop, stop writing about my site. First of all, he’s trying to tell me he was real inside. It’s going to send his men after me. And if I didn’t stop writing about it, but then eventually stop saying, look, please stop writing about my site because what I’m doing is a good thing. I am scamming would be murderers out of their money. And all you’re doing is hurting my business. Please stop doing it. Many even offered me a job to help you read write inside English as a second language. We sort of got to know each other in a little while. But the thing was, even though he was scamming people, they were very real people ordering very real murders. So those people were quite dangerous. And in2016, a friendly I had access to a cyber security expert in London called Chris Monteiro access to the and had to crack the password, which was fucked and got into the all the emails. And we were able to and he he contacted me and said, hey, have a look at this. And we were able to actually see every single email that have come and gone, every piece of bitcoin that had been transferred into the account, all the hits that they carried out. And with that, knowing that they were real people that have taken out on them, even though they weren’t in danger from this site, had to start telling law enforcement. And you think that would be fairly easy, wouldn’t it? But not law enforcement when they start having this of journalists in Australia. And this somewhat eccentric cyber security guy from London can ring up and say site with hitmen, people have a time with you guys to just leave us alone. And we really couldn’t get them to take it seriously until one of the people on that list that had a hit taken out against them ended up with a bullet in the head and her name was Amy Alwin in Minnesota and then really started taking this seriously because her name, her details were in this list of things that we have handed over to the FBI. And to their credit, they had actually gone in and seen her and said, hey, your name’s on this website, thousands of dollars to carry out a hit on you. And she not no idea. And I was like, oh, well, you know, keep an eye out. Are you safe? And then she wound up then I scrambled after that to have a look at everybody on this list and her husband was caugh for that one is now in prison. But yeah, then they were really not taking it seriously at all.
[00:13:36.595] – Alan Petersen
Wow, do you know if they knew these people that took these hits, were there any arrests at all or loads more arrests now?
[00:13:48.655] – Eileen Ormsby
After that, there were many more arrests. I worked with CBS over that 48 Hours program, and during that I was still talking to the owner and he said, oh, look, I’ll come on the show because he actually thought to advertise his human side. And he provided them personally with two of the names, addresses and photos of people that had taken at them. And they turned out to be real as well. And two people got arrested over those. So he was he was actually supplying 48 hours with some of the information about these people. But then when they released, it said all sorts of scared to go to it.
[00:14:33.715] – Alan Petersen
Wow. That’s just incredible. And so now you write in your books now from based on some of these cases that you’ve been investigated, is your latest book is The Little Girl’s Loss? Is that the latest one? That’s the latest one.
[00:14:47.425] – Eileen Ormsby
But that’s not actually directly related to. Right. Regulatory crime as well. OK, that’s a bit confusing because I my only point is that it’s true crime, but it is about all sorts of different crimes. So I’ve got three books specifically of The Dark Silk Road, The Darkness with Ed on the Dark Web, and then three books that are on general sort of crimes, the most of most of the crimes that I write about to have some sort of Internet aspect to them.
[00:15:18.025] – Alan Petersen
And so now when you look before you started writing these books and everything, were you a fan of true crime or later because you were like, your background is very different, but you were an attorney, I believe.
[00:15:27.595] – Eileen Ormsby
Yeah, well, I was a corporate lawyer. So that that really had nothing to do with true crime whatsoever except to say at the time I was working for the banks and the bad guys, I guess, with the global financial crisis in 2008. And that sort of got me an existential crisis that I don’t want to do this. People are losing their homes and helping protect the people with all the money. And so that’s when I quit to become a writer. That’s not journalism and writing books. So first of all, by writing chick lit comedy novel, which never went anywhere, never got picked up by a publisher. But my first true crime book got picked up by a publisher and it all rolled out from there.
[00:16:13.705] – Alan Petersen
I found out that you’re one of the writers for the Case File podcast, which is a podcast I’ve listen to before. It’s very interesting cases on there.
[00:16:20.125] – Eileen Ormsby
Yeah I’m a freelance writer for them. So I’ve written about and that’s basically what the books that are under my own imprint, the Dark Webs True Crime series, are all extended versions of those scripts that I write about.
[00:16:38.665] – Alan Petersen
Oh that’s fascinating. And then we realized with the whole podcast scripting, I guess, how is it a big difference from writing a script for a podcast that someone’s going to read compared to a book? I suppose that process, like for you?
[00:16:49.585] – Eileen Ormsby
It is a little bit. I mean, I write them as if they’re going to be a book almost or is it going to be an article but then I tweak it so that it is more suitable for being read out. But then it also goes to an editor at Case File who will edited it for the final reading at. So it’s similar, and that’s why there is a difference between the books and the Case File episodes, because they are more edited for the research and everything like that is exactly the same.
[00:17:23.245] – Alan Petersen
And so then what I would like to ask of my guests about tools that they use. So what do you use to write these scripts in your books? Is it the word or use of software that Scrivener?
[00:17:33.055] – Eileen Ormsby
I’m a Scrivener fan. I couldn’t live without Scrivener and I’m more than happy to give them a free, free shout out because it is amazing, amazing software. Very, very, very affordable. And I’m not on their payroll. I just absolutely love it.
[00:17:50.965] – Alan Petersen
Yeah. I use Scrivener as well too, and I love that software and I like that it’s not subscription based.
[00:17:59.485] – Eileen Ormsby
That’s right. It was like a one time payment that’s more than paid for itself.
[00:18:03.985] – Alan Petersen
So now you come across as the most disturbing stuff. And when you’re doing your writing, does that ever get to you at all or how do you deal with that?
[00:18:15.475] – Eileen Ormsby
Well, most of the time I stay away from the really disturbing stuff. So I’m not I don’t have a problem with going into the drug markets, drug dealers and all that sort of thing. I am against the I’ll get to political politically, but I’m against the war on drugs. And I think drugs should be legalized, regulated. I should be a health problem, not as an order problem. And so the whole idea of the drugs markets online, in some ways they’re providing a safer place for people who are going to buy drugs anyway to buy their drugs. They don’t have to come face to face with most people that buy the drugs and not criminals in any other way of drugs. And so this way that I’d have to come face to face with any drug dealers or anything like that. So there’s no violence involved. It’s all come from side to side. And there’s also there’s a lot of the feedback and quality control online as well. So like any other sellers online sellers, they live and die by their feedback. So they’re always searching for that five out of five feedback. And that means that they provide high quality stuff. And it’s also there’s other people on there that are independently testing these changes and all that sort of thing. So that. Overall, you know, not obviously doing drugs is never safe, but this way is safer than buying off the street in general. So and they tend to be very reasonable. Nice people that I spoke to. The only time I got really disturbed was when I was writing the second book. I did write about the sorts of things and I didn’t I never viewed any photos because I knew that once you once you see that, you can’t unsee it. Not to mention it’s very legal, but I did not want to say any of that stuff. But I did go into the forums, discussion forums where they get together and they talk about where they can find those things. They talk about actually abusing children and different methods for keeping them quiet. And I do not remember and although that was very disturbing. And then I also went to some of the trials, including Matthew Graham, who owned Hurt Core. And that was just two days of really, really disturbing stuff I let out because I was reading out some scene by scene of these videos that he posted and exactly what was inside discussions between him and the torture and that something. So that was. Yeah, like I really went home in tears. I try to get it behind me and try not to think about that so much anymore.
[00:21:14.415] – Alan Petersen
I read one of those articles on his trial and had some this is just on a regular website, just covering the trial, just a couple instances in there. I couldn’t believe it when I was reading, so I can’t even imagine. Good thing that the that they got him at least one of them, at least for now.
[00:21:35.295] – Eileen Ormsby
Oh, that’s right. And I mean, there’s still fallout from that. Now, when that because I mean, he he was never contacted and there’s no evidence that he ever actually captured children and other people. But now there they have been able to sort of get into some of the videos, photos and start finding people from those. I mean, there’s no there’s no cracks of a team working on this. It’s old fashioned detective work where I look at the videos and the photos, I sort of find a freckle on someone’s finger or some sort of evidence that they can figure out where in the world they, the child find perpetrators that way. I don’t envy the police, actually. All those materials.
[00:22:17.465] – Alan Petersen
Yeah, yeah, I watched that I think was the 60 Minutes Australian 60 Minutes. on that guy in the Philippines that was doing that.
[00:22:26.325] – Eileen Ormsby
Yeah Peter Scully.
What a vile human.
[00:22:31.245] – Eileen Ormsby
He’s probably the worst of the worst really. When there’s some bad people out there. He’s at the top of the list.
[00:22:36.945] – Alan Petersen
Yeah, but yeah. But it was from a from a crime perspective, police procedural, like you said, it’s just unbelievable. These guys and women, these these police and law enforcement people are really doing it. Old school.
[00:22:49.925] – Eileen Ormsby
Yeah. They go undercover. They talk to these people, try to get them to give up any information, doesn’t get to trust them. So imagine what that does to yor psyche.
[00:23:01.275] – Alan Petersen
Yeah. Yeah. Because that’s the thing with the dark Web site they were saying before is that it really is untraceable like like regular web is.
[00:23:12.195] – Eileen Ormsby
It’s untraceable if you do everything right . But there is no human being that does everything right. In fact, in the hackers, you’ll always find these assignments of hackers, of its way to the person is the computer. And the way most of them get the really big breaks is literally by social engineering, by talking someone into giving up their password, pretending to be someone important, they have to be the person or whatever. And that’s what most hacking is all about rather than what’s happening on a computer. And then that like, let’s say something like.
[00:23:47.645] – Alan Petersen
And so what is your writing process like that? I’m so curious because coming from a fiction, the fiction world, how what’s your writing process for non-fiction? I mean, do you have these outlines? Walk us through that process.
[00:24:00.695] – Eileen Ormsby
Well, I’ve got this massive list of crimes I’d be interested in writing about. So nowadays mostly, I think is on writing. I write a small episode a few moments. So I have this master list of cases I’d like to cover and constantly adding to that. So any time I say something interesting on Reddit or on Twitter or anywhere like that, I could be interesting in the past. And then I’ll choose which one is going to go next and see how much it’s going in. And I sit there, I create a script and I read everything I possibly can and watch everything I possibly can about it, depending on whether it’s appropriate or not. Our interview people and I’ll actually visit goat trials, the paper and so on, that’s not always appropriate. And then once I’ve got every bit of research I possibly can have, I think of my narrative structure. So I try to write them. So they are not like ordinary podcasts in a way, because they are literally like a short spoken, like a short audio book. So they have a narrative structure the same as any fiction. Obviously everything has to be true and real in it, but I try to give a sense of the narrative structure structure, so I have to figure out, put it in chapters and figure out how it’s going to sound. Interesting how people’s interest, because I quite like.
[00:25:36.835] – Alan Petersen
Yes, that’s what I enjoy about that one to, that I mean, I enjoyed the other Serial, you know, like the the the scripted one with all the interviews, spiced it and everything, but those get a little bit too much. It is kind of nice just to listen to someone just tell you about the case had so much production.
[00:25:54.595] – Eileen Ormsby
Well, I think that’s what’s popular is it is pretty much a free audio book to people listening on guides for an hour and a half, two hours. It’s like listening to a short audiobook.
[00:26:06.515] – Alan Petersen
With everything that has been going on this year. The craziness with the pandemic that changed the way you you do your work or so that affected you at all.
[00:26:16.095] – Eileen Ormsby
Not really it’s been I haven’t been able to travel to see places as much anymore. One of my favorite things that I own is an Oculus Oculus VR headset. And so that way I could actually visit locations in the VR and walk around them because as I have Google Maps, they are in there. But I do that instead of going out. But as far as personally, I’ve always worked from home anyway, so it hasn’t been too bad.
[00:26:50.195] – Alan Petersen
So what are you working on now? What’s next for you?
[00:26:53.375] – Eileen Ormsby
I’ve got another Case File podcast come out. I am going to put together a sort of a complete encyclopedia of the Dark Web, which once I’ve got a bit of that underway, I’ll start pitching that to my agent, pitch to publishers. But I haven’t thought about getting that pitch in yet. So, yeah, and I’ve got another. In the published book to come out in the fall coming out. So it’s all those things working together, I try to. Much touted the H1N1.
[00:27:30.095] – Alan Petersen
And the best place for listeners to find you would be on your website, you have a lot of great info on that on your website.
[00:27:36.105] – Eileen Ormsby
Mostly I’m on Twitter @EileenOrmsby and anything that I do could sort of be linked to I’ve got a blog at All Things Vice.com. Or if you just Google my name, I’ll come up.
[00:27:49.355] – Alan Petersen
Your blog, your blog cracked me up because your contact info when I was trying to find how to contact you, to be asked to be on the podcast, it was like basically like regular email. And then for, like, all the paranoid, these special keys.
[00:28:03.085] – Eileen Ormsby
Yeah, I’ve got a I’ve got an encrypted email and a regular email and then people send me like encrypted messages to the encrypted emails. Sometimes it’s very secret squirrel.
[00:28:15.375] – Alan Petersen
That’s crazy. So it’s kind of funny, but. And so before I let you go, I always like to ask my guest for advice, because we a lot of our listeners are also aspiring writers. Any advice for aspiring true crime writer out there?
[00:28:28.435] – Eileen Ormsby
Well, I guess that might be a true crime writer is you have to be accurate now because people will jump all over you if you get anything wrong. So research, research, research is the main thing for that. And then, yeah, try to integrate it for a book or try to give it that same narrative structure and fiction without compromising your accuracy. That’s the big challenge.
[00:28:55.695] – Alan Petersen
All right, Eileen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, I really enjoyed talking to you about your work. T
[00:29:01.145] – Eileen Ormsby
Thanks very much for having me on. It’s really great.
[00:29:03.455] – Alan Petersen
Thanks for listening to the author podcast. Be sure to visit ThrillerAuthors.com to join the conversation, access the show notes and discover great thrilling reads. If you join the podcast, I’d love for you to subscribe and give a review to it wherever it is that you’re listening to this podcast, be it iTunes, Apple podcast, Google podcast, Stitcher, tune in, Spotify, wherever it is that you listen to this right now. I would appreciate it. And please to check out my own thriller novels over at my website at AlanPetersen.com. Until next time.