It began as a media gimmick but eventually became an iconic reminder that ordinary citizens can help catch the bad guys. This year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program marks its 65th anniversary.
Since its inception on March 14, 1950, a little more than 500 suspects have earned a spot on the top 10 list. Of the approximately 470 fugitives who were subsequently captured, about one-third were located with tips and assistance from the public.
The Ten Most Wanted program might never have started if not for a request in 1949 from the International News Service, which asked the FBI to list the “toughest guys” then being sought by the bureau’s special agents, or G-men. According to the FBI’s website, the attention stirred by that media story prompted famed Director J. Edgar Hoover to create the list and capitalize on the public’s interest in assisting law enforcement.
Much like crime itself, the Ten Most Wanted program has evolved over the years.
Initially, the top names belonged to bank robbers and murder suspects who had fled state jurisdictions. The first person named to the list, Thomas James Holden, was accused of killing his wife and her brother and stepbrother. Holden was found 15 months after the publication of the first Ten Most Wanted list, in June 1951, after a resident recognized his photo in an Oregon newspaper.
Today, the list includes not only suspected bank robbers and murderers, but also fugitives accused of being organized crime bosses, cyber criminals and white-collar offenders. The list’s boundaries also have expanded, reflecting the global age of information, with citizens in other countries able to provide tips on fugitives seeking refuge in far-flung locales.
Public assistance is rewarded. The FBI offers a minimum reward of $100,000 for information that leads to the arrest and capture of a Top Ten fugitive.
Like any list, the FBI’s Top Ten is not without its trivia. According to the bureau’s website, the shortest tenure of anyone added to the list from publication to capture is two hours, which occurred in 1969. The oldest fugitive ever placed on the list came in 2014 when 77-year-old William Bradford Bishop Jr. was added.
And, throughout its 65 years, only eight women have been named to the list. Ruth Eisemann-Schier was the first in 1968, when she was sought – and eventually captured – in the kidnapping of a millionaire’s daughter.
The fugitives considered for inclusion are nominated by the bureau’s 56 field offices across the United States, reviewed by FBI officials and then sent to the agency’s executive branch for approval. There is no ranking among the Top Ten.
Over the years, the FBI has added to its fugitives program, creating multiple classifications, including Most Wanted Terrorists and Cyber’s Most Wanted.