Craig Rolfe, Patrick Tate and Anthony Tucker thought they were taking the fast route to easy money in the soulless towns of south Essex.
The three men were friends and worked as a criminal team in Basildon, Grays and the surrounding areas, and all had numerous previous convictions for various offences.
But these were for traditional crimes such as stealing cars, burglaries and armed robberies. Tate had come out of prison after serving a sentence for the latter only a month before they were shot dead.
All three had ambitions to make more money - and in the underworld today, that means dealing in drugs, with the risk of making dangerous enemies.
Tate knew the risks involved because he had been wounded by a gunman in a murder attempt outside his home just before he went into prison.
Det Supt Ivan Dibley, heading the inquiry into the killing of the three men at Rettendon, near Chelmsford, said: "These men, from previous experience, have been involved in criminality where it is likely that their lives have been threatened."
Tate, 37, had lived with his girlfriend, who is a child- minder, and their 18-month-old son at a bungalow in Basildon. The couple moved in 18 months ago and had spent thousands of pounds renovating it, but his girlfriend left before he came out of prison.
Sylvia Pearce, a neighbour, said: "They were rum neighbours. I'm not surprised something like this should happen. There were always cars drawing up and people visiting at all hours."
Rolfe, 26, from Grays, came from a violent background. According to a police source yesterday his father was convicted of manslaughter in 1978 for an axe attack on his mother from which she later died.
Outwardly he was a devoted family man and had lived with his girlfriend Donna Jaggers, 26, for seven years. The couple have a six-year-old daughter.
Tucker, 38, had recently moved to a large house in the village of Fobbing, near Basildon. He was not well known by neighbours, one of whom said: "He looked a tough nut and I kept well away."
The village is full of mock- Tudor windows and bungalows that would not look out of place on the Costa Del Sol. It was the sort of lifestyle to which Tucker aspired.
He got a whiff of that life through his friendship with the boxing champion Nigel Benn, for whom he had acted as a minder at big fights.
To finance such a life, the three started dealing wholesale in drugs. They were murdered in Rolfe's Range Rover in a muddy lane. It was a violent end to a tacky dream.