It all started in 1949, when a reporter from the International News Service decided to write a story
about the “toughest guys” sought by
the Federal Bureau of
Investigation. In response, the F.B.I. provided ten
names of wanted criminals.
The article created a sensation. Delighted at the subsequent publicity,
F.B.I. director J.
Edgar Hoover began the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives”
program in March 1950.
Since then the list has become a standard crime-fighting tool for the
F.B.I. By widely
circulating the lists to media outlets and posting them
in public buildings,
the F.B.I. has been able to enlist public help in
finding what it calls
serious offenders. Of the 458 names that have appeared
on the list since its inception, 429 have been apprehended,
including 137 nabbed
as a direct result of tips from the public. The
Internet has made the
list even more universal, since it can be seen all
over the world in a
matter of seconds.
The makeup of the list has reflected the changing nature of American
crime. At first, bank
robbers, burglars, and car thieves dominated. In
the 1960s, more
fugitives were charged with destruction of government
property, sabotage, and kidnapping.
As international organized crime and political terrorism increased in the
1970's, the makeup of the list changed again.
Currently, organized crime figures, major international drug dealers,
terrorists, and serial
murderers predominate. Ramzi Ahmed Yousef,
convicted of the World
Trade Center bombing in 1997 and sentenced
to 240 years in jail,
was on the list from 1993 to 1995. Alleged
mastermind in the 1998
bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania, Osama bin
Laden, is currently on the list, as are suspected
abortion clinic bomber
Eric Rudolph, and alleged Boston organized
crime figure James J.
Dangerous to Society
The F.B.I. bureaucracy creates the list, starting with names submitted
by the 56 F.B.I. field
offices. In order to be listed, a suspect must be
dangerous. Authorities must also believe the
increase chances of apprehension.
Fugitives remain on the list until they are captured, the charges against
them are dropped, or
they are no longer determined to be a menace to
society. Only four
suspects have ever been removed for this reason. Charges
have been dropped against 15 fugitives on the list since its inception.
Public Enemy Number
People sometimes confuse the “Ten Most Wanted” list with the
lists released by the Chicago Crime Commission in
1930, and popularized
by the 1931 James Cagney movie, “The Public
Enemy.” The popular
Dick Tracy comic strip; the ABC radio network
program, F.B.I., This
Week; and the Fox network TV show, America's
Most Wanted: America Fights Back, are all used to
publicize the list.