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History of the Most Wanted List

History of the Most Wanted List

Here at Dutko Law, we provide criminal defense services in Reading and the surrounding areas. Having been a criminal defense lawyer for years, we have the knowledge and experience necessary to help with all kinds of felony and misdemeanor cases. But here, just for entertainment purposes, we thought we would go over a history of the Most Wanted List. You’ve probably heard of it before, in pop culture if nothing else, but you might be surprised about its history. We go over just that here.

How It Started

The first official FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list appeared on March 15, 1950, and stemmed from a Washington Daily News Article dubbed “FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives Named” from the Washington Daily News in 1949. However, in practice, the concept of wanted posters has been around before America even became a country. It was the printing press that made this possible. The criminals usually found in most wanted posters back then were a different sort than they are today. For instance, runaway slaves were among the first to be targeted by this kind of poster. One notable example of this is when Thomas Jefferson took an ad out in The Virginia Gazette offering a reward of 40 shillings for his slave Sandy, who he described as “inclining to corpulence, and his complexion light.”

As the technologies of photography and printing made advances, wanted posters saw more use. Bounties for for outlaws became popular, especially with big names like Butch Cassidy and Jesse James. Eventually, the FBI also started issuing wanted posters, mostly for people they dubbed gangsters or military deserters. However, these didn’t have the popular format of the FBI’s Top 10 we all know today. A much closer analogue happened in Chicago, when the Chicago Crime commission released its list of “public enemies”, targeting mobsters headed by none other than Al Capone.

Top 10 Most Wanted List

Now we get into the actual creation of the FBI’s Top 10, which largely happened due to the actions of one J. Edgar Hoover. While as late as 1939, Time had noted that the FBI did not like publicly displaying lists of criminals, they did have an unofficial list. After the popularity of the “public enemies” list, Hoover jumped at the chance to spread information about the people the FBI viewed as America’s most dangerous criminals. The ensuing article was so popular, and brought so much good PR to the FBI, that they decided to make the list a regular program.

The first person to reach number one on this list was Thomas James Holden, who was wanted for robbing a mail train, a prison escape, and the murder of his wife. He was apprehended in less than a year from an Oregon citizen who had seen the list. Since its implementation, 160 of the 514 total placed on the list have been apprehended. Law enforcement has always relied heavily on citizens to feed them the information they use to track down criminals, it’s a necessary part of policing. Obviously, the tactic isn’t completely effective, and many people like Victor Manuel Garena continue to evade capture even after 30 years on the list. In contrast, the person who was on the list for the shortest amount of time was Billie Austin Bryant, who was captured after only two hours after being put on it.

History of the Most Wanted List

Hopefully you found this article interesting. While we probably won’t end up representing anyone on this list, if you are looking for legal services from a criminal defense lawyer in Reading or the surrounding areas, we can be of service. If you have any questions about how we can help you, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. One of our representatives will be happy to answer any questions you may have.