December 18, 2023 | Mathew Burke

Chilling Facts About America’s Most Wanted


Not to be confused with the television show, what we consider to be America’s Most Wanted is actually the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive list. This list has been responsible for the spread of information and subsequent capture of some of the most violent criminals in modern US History. Let's take a look at 24 facts about one list that you don't want to end up on.


1. A Declaration of Ownership

There is a long history of manhunts in the United States. Long before the country was actually established, wanted posters were hung throughout towns in an effort to capture alleged criminals. Newspapers were often used by slaveholders as a way to capture escaped slaves. In 1769, some guy called Thomas Jefferson posted in The Virginia Gazette, offering 40 shillings for the safe return of the human being he owned, Sandy.

America’s Most Wanted

2. Hoover’s List

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives was created on March 14, 1950 by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

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3. Tough Guys

The origin of the list doesn’t come from the necessity of its existence, but rather from a request by a journalist for the International News Service. The reporter asked the FBI for names and descriptions of the “toughest guys” that they were after. Hoover implemented the program at the FBI when he realized how much publicity this INS publication attracted.

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4. Not His First Rodeo

The first person placed on the list was a man by the name of Thomas James Holden. Holden was wanted for the ending of his wife, her brother, and her stepbrother. This wasn’t Holden’s first manhunt, however; he was a bandit in the 1920s and 30s, notorious for bank robberies and jailhouse breaks. He was captured in 1951, and later passed in lock up.

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5. Many Men

Since the creation of the FBI’s Most Wanted, there have been 517 fugitives on the list. To this date, only 483 of these people have been apprehended.

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6. Citizen Authority

Citizens have played a vital role in the capture of many fugitives, with 161 of these wanted persons being caught due to the help of ordinary citizens.

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7. Criteria

What makes someone eligible to end up on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list? Simple: a lengthy corrupt record along with current pending charges that qualify the person as dangerous. The FBI only puts an individual on the list if they believe the publicity warranted by the list will assist in the apprehension of the offender.

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8. Teamwork

While the Fox television show America’s Most Wanted is not a part of the government agency, the FBI will work closely with them in efforts to further publicize particularly dangerous criminals.

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9. A Man’s List

The first woman to ever land on the Most Wanted List got there because she kidnapped a young woman and buried her alive. In 1968, Ruth Eisemann-Schier and her lover kidnapped a 20-year-old university student and buried her in a ventilated fiberglass box that kept her alive, feeding her through a tube while requesting a ransom from her wealthy father. The victim, Barbara Mackle, was found unharmed after the father paid up, and Eisemann-Schier and her lover were caught after leaving a sloppy trail.

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10. Not the Biggest Fan of Activists

One of the more famous people to be placed on the list was Angela Davis. A prominent American intellectual, Davis was an assistant professor of philosophy at UCLA when guns that had originally belonged to her were used in an armed escape from a courtroom in California. The incident led to the ending of four people, including the judge in the case, after a authorities shootout. She was detained, and underwent a trial for kidnapping and manslaughter, but was found not guilty.

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11. How to Get Off

For someone to be taken off of the list, they must meet one of three conditions: they are captured, the federal prosecution against the individual is dismissed, or the person no longer fits the original criteria. There have only been nine cases where this last change occurred, as the people were no longer considered to be a “particularly dangerous menace to society".

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12. Who to Go After

The list has changed its makeup over the years. In the 1950s, it was comprised mostly of robbers, while the '60s saw revolutionaries on the list, into the organized criminals and terrorists of the '70s and '80s. Female predators and drug traffickers were put on in the '80s and '90s.

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13. Special Ones

Over the years there have been 13 "special additions" to the list. Notable among these additions was James Earl Ray, wanted for the execution of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The latest addition was Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.

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14. State to State

Fugitives have been apprehended in every state in the United States except Alaska, Delaware, and Maine.

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15. No No

Today there are many forms of publicity, from television shows and segments, to print and digital publications, used for the purpose of locating the alleged criminals. However, commercial use of the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” is strictly prohibited.

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16. How Much?

The minimum and usual reward for information on a fugitive is $100,000, but there have been a few instances where more was rewarded. The highest number offered for capture was a $27 million price tag on Osama Bin Laden.

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17. Second Time's a Charm

Six people made multiple appearances on the list, including James Earl Ray, who did so in 1968 and 1977.

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18. Quick Convict

The shortest time someone spent on the list was two hours: In 1969, Billie Austin Bryant was put on the list at 5 pm and was discovered by a citizen in an attic in Washington, D.C. by 7 pm.

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19. 32 Years A Fugitive

Victor Manuel Gerena spent the longest time on the list, from 1984 until 2016. Gerena was accused of robbing a Wells Fargo Armored Car facility for $7 million after he held two security officers up at gunpoint, and injected them with a “mystery” fluid. At the time, it was the biggest cash taken in US history. Although he was removed from the list, Gerena was never captured by the FBI.

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20. Oldie

The oldest person to be placed on the list was William Bradford Bishop Jr., who was 77-years-old upon being added in April of 2014. Bishop Jr. is still on the list, but his deeds date back to 1976, when he became unhinged and ended his wife, mother, and three sons after he didn't get an expected promotion.

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21. Is That You, Sean Penn?

One of the criminals on the wanted list, Jason Derek Brown, robbed an armored car of $56,000 and ended the guard inside, but that's not his claim to fame. Brown apparently resembles famous actor Sean Penn—so much so that the FBI has apprehended Penn's body double not once but twice for the deeds.

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22. Fleeing the Country

Not all apprehensions take place within the US: A fugitive was apprehended outside of the United States 52 times, 21 of those in Mexico and 11 in Canada.

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23. A New List

In wake of the attacks of 9/11, the FBI created a new list: Most Wanted Terrorists. They did so as a way to distinguish between the heinous offences of certain individuals and the masterminding of events to destabilize the United States. International cooperation is not always there, however, as international organizations like Interpol do not prioritize criminals. Handsome FBI agent taking notesVAKS-Stock Agency, Shutterstock

24. Runs in the Family

A bank burglar named Benjamin Hoskins Paddock made the Most Wanted List in the 70s after escaping from lock up. He would be on the list for eight years before being caught. Years later, his own son would be the monster who committed the 2107 mass attack in Las Vegas, Stephen Paddock.

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Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8