A shadowy figure stalks you day and night, never resting, always just one step behind. Let your guard down just once, and the whole game is up. How long can you keep running? Dreaded bounty hunters have haunted criminals and fugitives for centuries, whether they were Roman slave-catchers, Old West gunslingers, or modern “bail enforcement officers.” Keep your wits about you as you check out these 42 facts about bounty hunters through history.
42. Bad Behavior
Former WWF star David Schultz is probably best known for assaulting 20/20 reporter John Stossel while Stossel interviewed him about wrestling’s secrets. His WWF career ended shortly afterwards, and Schultz became a bounty hunter, tracking down around 1,700 fugitives, some as far away as Egypt, for over 15 years.
41. Misdeed and Repercussion
While in previous centuries, the punishment for absconding from bail used to mean losing one's life, today it simply extends the incarceration period. Sort of like in high school, where skipping detention meant getting two detentions, which is how I ended up in detention for an entire semester.
40. Underhanded Dealings
American bounty hunters in the 19th century could make extra profit by kidnapping free black people and selling them into slavery. In 1841, a bounty hunter kidnapped Solomon Northup, a free man, and brought him to the South as a slave. After he escaped, Northup wrote about his experiences in the book Twelve Years a Slave.
In the United States, bounty hunters who cause injury while hunting a fugitive aren’t subject to civil liability—meaning you can’t sue them for it.
38. Fool Me Once
Over a quarter of the population of Ancient Rome was made up of slaves, who weren’t always happy with their situation and would often escape. Owners would offer hefty rewards to slave-catchers, and re-captured slaves would have to wear heavy iron collars, inscribed with instructions on what to do to them should they escape again.
37. Say My Name
Bounty hunters don’t like that name anymore. They generally go by official-sounding titles such as “fugitive recovery agent” or “bail enforcement agent.”
36.Campaign against narcotics
The Philippines has been employing bounty hunters in its intense campaign against narcotics. In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte proposed a $40,000 reward for any law enforcement officer who apprehended or neutralized fellow officers who had aided a corrupt mayor implicated in drug trafficking.
35. Hitting the Big Time
After American operatic tenor Carl Tanner completed his degree in Music, he became a truck driver and bounty hunter to make ends meet. A woman heard him singing Puccini’s “E lucevan le stelle” in his truck and told him he should be singing for a living—so he dropped bounty hunting to make a name for himself in New York City. The inspiration for Barry, perhaps?
34. Modern Technology
A method that modern bounty hunters use to track down fugitives is called “skiptracing.” This involves collecting every possible piece of information about the fugitive (the “skip”), including credit reports, job applications, utility bills. The skiptracer uses clues from this data to work out possible locations for their target.
33. On the Right Track
You knew we'd come to him eventually: Duane Lee Chapman—aka "Dog the Bounty Hunter"—was declared guilty of a serious life-ending act in 1976. He once thwarted a fellow inmate’s attempt to escape, and the praise he received helped inspire him to become a bounty hunter.
32. A Good Living
Modern bounty hunters in the US can earn as much as $100,000 a year, tracking down up to 150 fugitives in that time.
31. International Incident
Bounty hunters have to be careful about chasing fugitives internationally. One American bounty hunter apprehended an offender in Canada and transported him back to Florida for retribution. The Canadian government then charged the bounty hunter with kidnapping.
30. Bad Press
Morgan Spurlock, creator and star of the hit 2004 documentary Super Size Me, took on bounty hunting for his 2008 film Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? The movie was panned so viciously that Spurlock hasn’t read his press ever since.
29. Strange Ambitions
Leonard Padilla is a notorious bounty hunter who twice campaigned for the role of Sacramento's mayor - the initial attempt being from a federal detention center. The second time he ran, he outed an opponent as a child molester.
28. Striking a Deal
Leonard Padilla was successful in convincing Wesley Shermantine, who was condemned for multiple murders, to disclose the sites of his victims' bodies, offering him $33,000 in exchange. Shermantine wanted the money for candy, a typewriter, and a tombstone for his parents. Pretty reasonable, as far as shopping lists go.
27. Serious Consequences
Old West bounty hunter Mickey Free was born in Mexico and spent his childhood in Arizona Territory, but at the age of 12 he was kidnapped by the Pinal Apache. The US armed forces attempted to retrieve him, but they targeted the incorrect Apache group, leading to the outbreak of the Chiricahua Wars.
26. Nom de Guerre
Felix Telles was the original name of Mickey Free, but his association with the U.S. Army's Apache Scouts led to his famous moniker, as the servicemen were unable to pronounce his true name correctly. As a Scout, Free tracked such well-known outlaws as Geronimo and the Apache Kid.
25. Breaking the Sabbath
Most of the US still follows bounty hunting rules laid out in an Old West court ruling in 1873. This ruling established that bounty hunters could chase a fugitive into another state, could break and enter into the fugitive’s house to arrest them, and could even arrest fugitives on Sundays. *Gasp* not Sundays!
24. A Sure Thing
Bounty hunting originated in medieval England, where defendants would offer a friend or family member as “surety.” If the defendant disappeared, their surety would be tried and sentenced in the defendant’s place—so it’s not surprising that sureties would hunt down fleeing defendants.
23. Scared Straight
American defendants are 28% less likely to skip bail if their state allows bounty hunters.
22. Act Naturally
Ralph “Papa” Thorson was a successful American bounty hunter from the 1950s who departed this life in 1991. Steve McQueen portrayed Thorson in the 1980 movie The Hunter, in which Thorson had a cameo as a bartender.
21. Written in the Stars
“Papa” Thorson was a bishop with the Temple of Inspired Living, and a devotee of astrology, which he credited with his success. He once described bounty hunting as “picking the right astrological moment to hunt the man down.” So if Mercury is in Gatorade, the criminals are more likely to get caught? Sure, Papa.
20. Carrying On
Following the demise of “Papa” Thorson in 1991 (due to an alleged car explosion), his widow, Dottie, and his daughter, Brandi, took charge of the bounty hunting business. They are the subject of the early-2000s TV series The Huntress.
19. Big Money
Wild West outlaw Jesse James had a bounty of $5,000 on his head—about $90,000 in today’s money.
18. Hollywood Hunter
Former South African politician Rick Crouch once worked as a high-profile bounty hunter and private investigator in the US, and has been called “PI to the stars”. He published a book called Bail Investigator Training Manual (Become a bounty hunter now).
17. Career Change
In 1877, Texas Ranger John Riley Duncan successfully tracked down and helped to ambush infamous outlaw Wes Hardin. Duncan got a share of the $4,000 reward for Hardin’s capture, and decided to quit his job and become a bounty hunter.
16. Minor Obstacles
Duncan was a successful bounty hunter, but he did have some misadventures. In 1878, he was shot inside an establishment of ill repute, necessitating a tracheotomy and the lifelong use of a silver breathing tube. Following this incident, Duncan continued to achieve success as a bounty hunter.
15. Star-Crossed Lovers
The Dunn Brothers were five Old West bounty hunters and occasional cattle rustlers. They made their biggest catch when they shot and neutralized notorious outlaws “Bittercreek” Newcomb and Charley Pierce. Newcomb was romantically involved with the Dunns’ sister Rose, and they simply waited for him and Pierce to come over and visit his girlfriend.
14. A Bad End
The Dunn Brothers were far from popular, particularly given their engagement in bounty hunting, supplemented by theft and cattle rustling. Eventually, Sheriff Frank Canton began probing into Bill Dunn— when Bill attempted to ambush him, Canton shot first, leading to Bill's demise. With their reputation tarnished, the Dunn Brothers stopped bounty hunting.
13. One-Man Operation
Millard “Dry Wolf” Gardner was a famous Prohibition-era lawman. He got his start as a bounty hunter, working alone to track down bootleggers and bring them to court. As a deputy sheriff, he was known for walking into speakeasies, having a drink, and then raiding the place.
12. Simmering Tensions
In 1850, American Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, allowing bounty hunters to track down escaped slaves in free states with almost no regulation. There was also hefty punishment for anyone who assisted an escaped slave. Several Northern states passed laws protecting fugitive slaves in response, augmenting tensions between the North and South.
11. Domino Effect
Domino Harvey was a British model and bounty hunter who worked in the United States. She gained significant recognition before she tragically succumbed to a lethal dose of fentanyl in 2006, a life so intriguing that Kiera Knightley embodied Harvey in the biopic Domino.
10. Conflict of Interest
Pat Garrett, a former New Mexico saloon owner, became a local sheriff and found himself tracking down an old acquaintance of his—Billy the Kid. After tracking down various members of Billy's gang, Garrett claimed that he ambushed Billy in the dark and ended his life. However, some believe that Garrett staged his old friend's demise.
9. Good at Their Job
As of 2004, bounty hunters were catching around 31,500 fugitives per year, making up 90% of bail jumpers.
8. Going Incognito
Charlie Siringo worked as a detective and bounty hunter for Pinkerton Detective Agency in the 1880s and 90s. He was an expert at undercover work, and he successfully infiltrated Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang. Siringo's information resulted in the demise of Kid Curry, triggering Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to escape to South America.
7. Dying Breed
Nowadays, bounty hunting is prohibited in all but a few countries, primarily conducted in the United States and the Philippines.
6. Getting a Head
Tom Tobin was an early explorer, US Army Scout, and bounty hunter in New Mexico and Colorado. In the 1860s, the army requested Tobin’s help in hunting down Mexican murderer Felipe Espinosa. Tobin refused the support of a troop, single-handedly tracked Espinosa and his cousin, ambushed them at their campsite, and then returned with the Espinosas' heads in a sack. Now that’s how you make an entrance.
5. Ancient Headhunting Firm
Charietto was a German bounty hunter who worked for the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate. At night, he would watch for barbarian raiders crossing the Rhine on the empire’s frontier, and in the morning he would bring their severed heads to the Romans.
4. Gaming the System
Roman slaves and slave-catchers could work in cahoots, to the annoyance of the masters. A slave-catcher could offer to buy the fugitive slave from their master at a reduced rate once captured. The captured slave could then pay the slave-catcher a hefty price for his freedom—so the slave-catcher would profit, the slave would gain his freedom, and the master would have lost a slave for less than his market value.
3. John of Priests
Seán na Sagart—aka John Mullowney—was an infamous priest hunter in 18th-century Ireland. At a time when Catholic priests were forced to take an oath recognizing Queen Anne as the head of the Church of England and Ireland, there was a bounty of anywhere from £5 to £100 on the heads of rogue Catholics.
2. Selling Out
John Mullowney initially engaged in horse theft, but he was apprehended and subjected to capital punishment for his wrongdoings. A judge, learning of his “low character,” offered to spare Mullowney’s life if he became a priest hunter, which he enthusiastically embraced.
1. Cruel and Unusual
John Mullowney used cruel deception to capture Catholic priests. He would feign being on his deathbed and would summon someone to perform the last rites, then he would neutralize or capture the priest. Once, when Mullowney had ended the life of the penultimate priest in the area, the very last priest donned a female disguise to attend the funeral. Mullowney located him and launched an assault, but the priest defended himself and a witness took Mullowney's life.