Ten Most Wanted Anniversary

March 25, 2011

March 2011 marks the 61st anniversary of the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, which is one of the FBI’s most effective and longest-running publicity programs.

Audio Transcript

Mollie Halpern: Osama Bin Laden. James “Whitey” Bulger. Eduardo Ravelo. Those are just three men on the current FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. March 2011 marks the 61st anniversary of the list, which is one of the FBI’s most effective and longest-running publicity programs.

Bradley Bryant: The purpose of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program is to apprehend the most dangerous fugitives that the FBI has.

Halpern: I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau, and you’re listening to “Inside the FBI.” Coming up, what lands certain fugitives on the Top Ten list, how the list tracks the evolution of America’s crime problem, where the public can get information needed to help the FBI find fugitives, and how tipsters can receive a reward for leading agents to those on the run. We’ll hear from Supervisory Special Agent Bradley Bryant of the Violent Crimes Unit and FBI Historian John Fox. But first, Fox tells us the role journalists played in the creation of the Wanted program.

John Fox: We were approached by someone from the Washington Daily News who was doing a story on fugitives, and a wire reporter saw it and thought, “You know, I can do something like this too,” and asked us if we could give him information about some of the most wanted fugitives, and we came up with 10 names. The story that he did based on it went across the country, and it was very successful in helping us to identify and capture fugitives. We thought that this should be something that we regularly do, and so by March 1950, the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program was instituted.

Halpern: Since then, the FBI has engaged the public in its search to close in on fugitives. As technology advances, so does the way in which the Top Ten list is promoted. The Bureau uses its fbi.gov website, Facebook, and Twitter to provide people worldwide with information about the fugitives. Four hundred ninety-four fugitives have been on the Top Ten list; 463 of them have been arrested or located—that’s a 94 percent success rate. Violent Crimes Unit Chief Bradley Bryant says one-third of those fugitives have been captured as a result of the public’s participation.

Bryant: Two of our Top Ten fugitives have been captured directly as a result of Internet publicity, and we think that’s going to grow in the future as more and more people use the Internet.

Fox: We’ve captured two fugitives from tips garnered by radio programs that feature the Ten Most Wanted program, we use digital billboards, we use any means that we can find to get this information out to the public.

Halpern: Printed publications, television, and even a cell phone application are also used to disseminate information about fugitives.

Bryant: One of our Top Tenners, Michael Registe, fled the United States and went down to the islands in the Caribbean. An individual down there had seen the publicity and saw this person and called in the tip. That was just a good example—you never know who you’re going to come across. And this person came across Mr. Registe, called in the tip, and he was arrested and brought back to the United States.

Halpern: Tips like that can lead to rewards from the FBI—a minimum $100,000 is offered for information which leads directly to the arrest of a Top Ten fugitive.

Bryant: There are a couple of fugitives who have reward offers more than that. For instance, “Whitey” Bulger has a $2 million reward offer on him. Usama Bin Laden, I believe his is $25 million.

Halpern: When there’s an open spot on the list, a nationwide search is launched at the Bureau’s 56 field offices across the country in an effort to solicit candidates for consideration. The Criminal Investigative Division and the Office of Public Affairs at Headquarters carefully weigh the nominees. The top three to five are then forwarded to senior executives for deliberation. The FBI Director makes the final decision. This process can take several weeks.

Bryant: There’s actually quite a bit of thought given to it. The criteria for being on the Top Ten list are, first of all, the fugitive must be considered a particularly dangerous menace to society and/or have a lengthy record of committing serious crimes. And secondly, we have to believe that nationwide publicity will help lead to the fugitive’s arrest.

Halpern: As the FBI’s missions continue to evolve over time, so does the kind of fugitive we’re seeking.

Fox: The Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program shows over time how our focus on crimes changes. Back when it was begun in the 1950s, a lot of violent crimes were on the list—bank robberies and murder, fugitives wanted for murder. Over time, new crimes have been added. Today of course, we have major drug enterprise figures, we have terrorists, and even child predators.

Halpern: The Top Ten list is full of compelling cases and notorious fugitives. For example, James Earl Ray was on the list twice. The first time, he was wanted for the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ray was placed on the list a second time when he escaped from prison. The law caught up with him 54 hours afterwards. Fox gives us a snapshot of some other interesting facts about the list.

Fox: It was almost 20 years since the start of the list before the first woman was added in 1968 in a kidnapping case. Since then we’ve had seven other women who have also been named to the Top Ten Most Wanted list. Obviously, the crimes that have been committed that put people on the list occurred across the country. California has had the most fugitives wanted for crimes committed in that state. A couple of states have not had any fugitives who committed crimes in their state—they include Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, and Rhode Island.

Halpern: To see who is on the Top Ten list and the charges against them, visit www.fbi.gov. Select the Most Wanted tab. You can also listen to a weekly radio spot on other wanted fugitives by going to the FBI’s home page, selecting the News tab, and clicking Radio/Podcasts. I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau, thanks for listening to “Inside the FBI.”

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