Top Ten 60th Anniversary

March 22, 2010

It’s been around 60 years. It’s the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Most people call it the FBI’s Top Ten list.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello. I’m Neal Schiff, and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. It’s been around 60 years. It’s the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Most people call it the FBI’s Top Ten list.

Mr. Bryant: “Part of the success goes back to it being a direct appeal to the public for assistance. The FBI goes out to the public and says, ‘This is a fugitive we want to catch, this is a very dangerous or significant fugitive, and we need your help.’”

Mr. Schiff: That is Special Agent Brad Bryant of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. He’s the chief of the Violent Crimes/Major Offenders Unit at Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Bryant: “That direct appeal, I think, leads to a lot of good information coming in from the public that leads us to the fugitive a lot of times. Of course, the media plays a big part in that, that direct appeal goes through the media, so the media has played a big part in the success of the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitive program. Of course, the hard work and perseverance of our case agents. They work very diligently on these cases, they don’t give up, and they run out every lead that is generated, and eventually we usually find the fugitives.”

Mr. Schiff: The 94 percent capture/location rate is phenomenal.

Mr. Bryant: “It is. It is extremely successful. I think we’ve had 494 fugitives on the list, and 463 have been apprehended; that equals 94 percent, and we are very proud of that. It goes back to the assistance of the public and the media, as well as the hard work of the agents. I believe a third of the fugitives on the Top Ten list have been captured as a direct result of assistance from the public.”

Mr. Schiff: Why was the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program created in 1950? And what was the beginning with the publicity like?

Mr. Bryant: “As you said, it was created in 1950, but it goes back to February of 1949, when a reporter from the International News Service asked the FBI for the names and descriptions of the toughest guys the FBI would like to capture. The resulting story from that generated so much positive publicity and had so much public appeal, that on March 14 of 1950, Director Hoover implemented the Top Ten Most Wanted program, and we have had that program ever since.”

Mr. Schiff: Wasn’t it one fugitive at a time for 10 days, and then a few of them were caught over a brief period, and they had to add a couple more?

Mr. Bryant: “That’s correct, they added one a day for the first 10 days of the Top Ten list. There were some arrests made that very first week of the Top Ten list .”

Mr. Schiff: Who was the very first fugitive posted on the FBI’s Top Ten list?

Mr. Bryant: “The first person added to the Top Ten list was Thomas James Holden. He was arrested in Beaverton, Oregon following a tip from a citizen who read a wire service story in the Portland Oregon newspaper, the Oregonian, and that citizen contacted the FBI, which led to his arrest.

Mr. Schiff: And that’s the reason for the Top Ten program, to get citizens to call in tips and leads so that agents can go out and catch these dangerous fugitives.

Mr. Bryant: “Absolutely, it’s that direct appeal to the public that makes the Top Ten list such a success.”

Mr. Schiff: Jeff Covington is retired now, but he was an FBI special agent when there was a nationwide manhunt for a suspected killer. Andrew Cunanan made it across the country to New Jersey and then headed south to Florida. Covington was working in the FBI’s Philadelphia office when the manhunt hit his backyard and the FBI’s Fugitive Task Force didn’t skip a beat.

Mr. Covington: “I got a call from an agent in Chicago, and he called the task force and wanted to speak to somebody about a guy named Andrew Cunanan, and, of course, I hadn’t heard about him. It turns out that this guy was gay, and he had killed somebody in the Minnesota area, and he had just killed a guy, a rich socialite in Chicago, by the name of Lee Miglin. But no one is sure how this relationship started, but somehow after C unanan killed that guy in the Minnesota area, he left and contacted Miglin in Chicago. He stayed at his home a couple of days, actually killed him, stole his car, but prior to leaving, he stole a bunch of gold Krugerrands, I think those are some of the coins that come from South Africa.”

Mr. Schiff: Covington says the FBI in Philadelphia learned that there was a phone in the Chicago victim’s car. Cunanan was now driving that car and a tracking system was put into use.

Mr. Covington: “As long as that phone is on, they could track his movements. He moved across the country. We found out that he was in the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia area. The techs here were tracking his phone. He was actually on 495 over in New Jersey, and we were setting up to grab him, and all of a sudden, the phone signal was lost. We don’t know how that happened, we don’t know if he heard on the news, or somebody called him, or there was a leak somewhere, that he found out he was being tracked by this phone inside the Lexus, and it got turned off. At that point, we didn’t know exactly where he was.”

Mr. Schiff: At some point it was determined Cunanan was in New Jersey. It’s believed he killed a cemetery worker and switched cars and headed for Florida. He was trailed to Miami Beach and the law enforcement, media, and citizen pressure was growing. Cunanan eventually took his own life after apparently killing a world famous fashion designer in Miami Beach.

Another manhunt, years earlier in 1979, was in Tennessee, outside Memphis. Cecil Moses was the FBI case agent on the hunt for Billy Dean Anderson who was wanted on a charge of assault to murder. Anderson was on the run for a couple of years and Moses, now retired, had a hunch that he was living in the mountains. Many leads were followed. A tip guided Moses and other agents into the mountains to Anderson’s mother’s house. Moses picks it up from there.

Mr. Moses: “You have to understand mountain people to really understand that. I knew, in my own heart and mind, that this man would prefer living in a cave, living in an abandoned coal mine, over being in a prison. That’s why I felt that he had not gone to a city. Once he was on the Ten Most Wanted, and had all that glare of the media on him, he immediately came back into the hills and started hiding out and found this cave. He had notches on a tree that he would show every year. He would cut a notch on the tree beside this entrance to this cave, which he kept concealed. But just looking through the file and looking at his background, he even studied to be a minister in the Methodist faith early in his life, kind of similar to my own. There were so many parallels to his initial life, that he certainly didn’t look like initially a violent-type person. He grew up in a modest situation and was going to be a minister. In fact, he’s buried there behind the Wolf Creek Methodist Church there in Pall Mall.

It was just those kinds of things, sort of put together, that I was firmly convinced, in trying to put myself in his shoes, that I would prefer to live a mountain life than to be in some jail or prison. I had permission from the Bureau, as part of the plan, to offer $10,000 cash reward. I went to the mother, prior to all of this and begged her; I said, ‘I don’t care, just have him surrender, all we want is to have his day in court. I don’t care what the outcome is. We’ve got $10,000 dollars cash. I don’t care if you take the money and hire a lawyer. Our job is to bring him in.’ She fussed at me and screamed at me and said, ‘You know my son is dead, you are just harassing this old woman.’ Of course, I knew in my own mind that she was lying, and she was. The night that we finally had to take Billy’s life, she came screaming out there and threw herself across and I said, ‘Get her out of here,’ because I looked her in the eye and sat in her living room, and literally begged her to get Billy to surrender, and we would pay the reward, no questions asked, and she lied right to the end. I felt no real sympathy for her, given the opportunity she had and refused to cooperate.”

Mr. Schiff: Moses says that Billy Dean Anderson was asked to come out of his mother’s house by the FBI.

Mr. Moses: “The agent called out to Billy to drop it, ‘FBI, drop your weapon.’ He was carrying a rifle in one hand and had two guns strapped on his belt. Instead of dropping it, he wheeled around to try to shoot towards the sound of the agent, and then the agent fired two blasts from a shotgun, double-ought buck. There are 12 pellets in each round, and he connected with 23 of those pellets, and Billy hit the ground, pretty much dead, there in the mother’s backyard.”

Mr. Schiff: Next time we’ll have more about the FBI’s Top Ten list and apprehensions. Check the Internet for additional history. It’s at That’s our show for this week. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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