The FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List

March 13, 2009

You’ve probably heard of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, commonly known as the Top Ten.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello I’m Neal Schiff and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. You’ve probably heard of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, commonly known as the Top Ten.

Mr. Bryant: “It was created on March 14th, 1950.”

Mr. Schiff: You don’t want to be on the Top Ten list, but there’s been hundreds that qualified, that’s for sure. At FBI Headquarters in the Criminal Investigative Division, Supervisory Special Agent Brad Bryant is the Chief of the Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Unit.

Mr. Bryant: “The story behind it is about a little over a year before that, a reporter from, I believe, the International News Service had come to the FBI and said, ‘Give us a list of names and descriptions of the toughest guys that the FBI wants right now.’ So the FBI put that together for him and it became such a big hit for the FBI in terms of publicity and public appeal that Director Hoover decided to make it a permanent program. So he established the Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitive program on March 14th, 1950.”

Mr. Schiff: At that time in March of 1950, it was one fugitive a day, right?

Mr. Bryant: “That’s correct. One a day for about the first ten days to establish the Top Ten list.”

Mr. Schiff: What types of fugitives were on the list back in the early days of the FBI’s Top Ten list? What kind of crimes were they committing?

Mr. Bryant: “Well, in the early days of the list, in the early 50s, they were wanted for crimes such as bank robbery, burglary, there were car thieves, and armed robbers who primarily made the Top Ten list back then.”

Mr. Schiff: But things started to change. The world started to change, and criminals started doing many other things and that increased the inventory available to put on the FBI’s Top Ten list.

Mr. Bryant: “Absolutely. With the turbulent social changes of the 1960s, our list became a reflection of the revolutionaries of that time. So we had crimes such as destruction of government property, sabotage, and kidnapping; fugitives wanted for those types of crimes began to make the list. As we moved into the 1970s, the FBI began to focus on organized crime. So a lot of the fugitives making the list in the 70s were those who had ties to organized crime. During the 1980s, the FBI began to focus a lot on drug-related crime and also serial murders became a crime we focused on. So we had fugitives wanted for drug-related matters and some serial murderers on the list in the 1980s. And that continued up to the 1990s. And during the 90s the international aspect of criminal activity began to arise, and we had people wanted for various international crimes such as large drug trafficking cartels, international money laundering; they were all, began to go on the list; as well as crimes against children, and of course international terrorism; people wanted for those matters began to make the list.”

Mr. Schiff: So the world was not quite as safe as it was back in the 50s when this Top Ten list began?

Mr. Bryant: “No it’s not. The crime is really, it crosses all international borders now, and we have to really reach out across the world to find these folks now.”

Mr. Schiff: Bryant says there’s been some well known people on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list over the years.

Mr. Bryant: “Well probably the most prominent is Usama bin Laden, of course, he’s on the list; he’s probably the most well known right now. Besides him, Ramsi Yousef, who was wanted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was on the list. Mir Aimel Kansi, who was wanted for the killing of two CIA employees outside CIA Headquarters back in 1993, was on the list. Andrew Cunanan, who was wanted for several murders, including the murder of Gianni Versace, was on the list. Harry Bowman, who was the international president of the Outlaws Motorcycle gang, was on our list, and of course James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, who had ties to organized crime up in the Boston area, is still on our list, as a matter of fact.”

Mr. Schiff: We asked Bryant about some of the earlier days of the Top Ten and who made the board.

Mr. Bryant: “One of the more well-known ones from the 50s, Willie Sutton, was on the list. Willie was a notorious bank robber, and when he was asked by he robs banks his response was, “Well, that’s where the money is.’ Actually, he was the number 11 person to make the Top Ten list. Besides him, James Earl Ray, who was wanted for the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, was on the list. He was on the list twice, as a matter of fact. Once in 1968 after the assassination, and then again in 1977 when he escaped from prison. Also, kind of an interesting one, is the shortest person to be on the list for the shortest amount of time is Billy Austin Bryant from right here in Washington, D.C. He was on the list for a grand total of two hours back in 1969. And Leslie Rogge is an interesting one. Leslie Rogge was the first person to be apprehended as the result of the Internet, and he was captured down in Guatemala.”

Mr. Schiff: So the Internet plays a key role now in identifying fugitives whether they’re on the Top Ten or not?

Mr. Bryant: “Absolutely. It plays a very important role. So far we’ve had two captures as a direct result of the Internet, and I think this is most assuredly going to grow in the coming years. A couple of reasons: first of all, the Internet allows more people to have access to the Top Ten list; and secondly, it allows people to look at the list for longer periods of time. You can study the photos more. You can look at the write-ups for a longer period of time than just hearing it on TV or hearing it on the radio or seeing a poster in a public place like a post office or something like that. So more people can see it and more people can see it for longer periods of time. So we think the Internet is going to help us capture a lot more fugitives in the coming years.”

Mr. Schiff: Did you know that 40 of the 491 fugitives who have been on the FBI’s Top Ten list were caught or located in other countries? And Bryant says the public has played and can play a big role in getting these bad people behind bars.

Mr. Bryant: “The public’s tips and leads really have led to the capture of a lot of Top Ten fugitives. Over a fourth of our captures have been as the result of the public giving us a tip or a lead that we can follow up on and locate that individual. So, it’s critical to any fugitive investigation to get information out there to the public, have the public respond, and allow us to follow up on their tips and their leads.”

Mr. Schiff: To date, 460 of the 491 folks who have been on the Top Ten list have been caught or located and you, the public, have helped over the years.

Mr. Bryant: “A total of 151 have been captured as the result of help from the public. So over a third, about a third, have been because of the public’s assistance, and we really appreciate that and that’s what we need to continue to have a good solution rate to finding these folks.”

Mr. Schiff: If you had one thing to say to any of the Top Tenners out there right now, what would you say to them?

Mr. Bryant: “Well, we know who you are and we’re coming after you. We don’t stop until we find you. You can’t hide forever. The FBI is coming after you so get ready.”

Mr. Schiff: There have been women on the FBI’s Top Ten board and there are rewards out for all of the people on the list; at least $100,000 for information which leads directly to the arrest of a Top Ten fugitive. More on the history of this long-running list on the Internet. You can visit anytime to see all of the wanted flyers, which feature pictures, descriptive data, and more. That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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