Where did the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list come from and When was it first published?

We’ve all seen mug shots in post offices and police stations of shady, unshaven characters with deep, mean eyes and unkempt clothes, and most of us would prefer not to cross their paths, though apprehending them if we do is the reason for the FBI’s list.

Back in the 1940s the Associated Press, the United Press, and the International News Service were distributing stories about major criminals wanted by the FBI. It was in 1950 that the bureau decided to collaborate with the International News Service to select and publicize a list of ten particular criminals.

Supervisors at the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., determine “The Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” by using the following criteria:

A. The individual must have a lengthy record of committing serious crimes and/or be considered a particularly dangerous menace to society due to current criminal charges.

B. It must be felt that the nationwide publicity afforded by the program can be of assistance in apprehending the fugitive, who in turn should not already be notorious due to other publicity.

The list has carried 379 fugitives, including 6 women: Angela Davis, the radical leftist, was on it for two months in 1970, and Katherine Ann Power, wanted for murder, has been on it since 1970.

Among the six men who made the list more than once was James Earl Ray, assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., posted in 1968 and again in 1977. Three hundred fifty-three of the fugitives have been apprehended, nearly a third as a result of citizen cooperation. Detractors of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover maintained that Hoover only placed on the list criminals who were on the brink of capture—in the process enhancing the bureau’s public image.

From these 353 the FBI has come up with an average profile of a Top Tenner: height, 5 feet, 9 inches; weight, 167 pounds; age at apprehension, 36; average time on list, 157 days; average distance between crime scene and apprehension point, 969 miles.

Charles Lee Herron, still at large and wanted for murder, holds the record for tenure on the list: 14 years of skillful evasion of the FBI.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

Leave a Comment