On March 14, 1950, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover implemented the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” program. A year before, on February 7, 1949, the Washington Daily News asked the FBI to name and describe the “toughest guys” that should be captured for an article. Hoping for the publicity in tracking down these fugitives, the FBI gave ten names. The public responded well to the story. So much so that the FBI decided to make the program permanent and the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” was created a year later. Relying heavily on media and public help, the program was successful. It led to the arrest of nine of the first 20 “Top Tenners.”
Other facts about the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives”:
- In order to get off the list, one has to have been arrest, surrendered, died, charges are dropped or removed because they no longer fit the criteria.
- The first person to be placed on the list was Thomas James Holden, wanted for the murder of his wife, her brother, and her stepbrother.
- William Raymond Nesbit was the first fugitive to be captured as a result of the 10 most wanted list. Only two days after the FBI posted the list with his picture, a boy in Minnesota recognized him. He had been living in a cave along the Mississippi river
- Since 1949, 494 fugitives have appeared on the list and 463 have been located.
- 154 fugitives have been captured/located as a result of citizen cooperation.
- Two fugitives were apprehended as a result of visitors on an FBI tour.
- James Earl Ray, wanted for the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, is one of six people put on the list twice. He was added again in 1977 when he escaped from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Tennessee. Bloodhounds tracked him down after 54 hours.
- Only eight women have been on the list. The first was Ruth Eisemann-Schier in 1968. She spent three months on the list for her role in a kidnapping with ransom case before being arrested.
- Katherine Ann Power was the women who spent the longest time on the FBI list. She was wanted for the 1970 shooting of a Boston police officer. She moved undetected to Oregon, established a false identity and lived quietly there. She turned herself in 14 years later, in 1984.
- The longest a person has been on the list is 29 years while the shortest is two hours.
FBI, “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” Program Frequently Asked Questions
FBI, FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” Program (History)
Jason Ryan, “11 Facts About the FBI Top-10 Fugitive List,” ABC.com, May 12, 2012.
“FBI’s Ten Most Wanted: The Story Behind the List,” Newseum.org