The Federal Bureau of Investigation debuted the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list over 60 years ago, on March 14, 1950. It was an effort to publicize particularly dangerous fugitives.
The idea came about after a wire service story listed the names and descriptions of the “toughest guys” the FBI wanted to capture. The article gave the FBI so much positive publicity that the former director J. Edgar Hoover decided to start the 10 Most Wanted Fugitives program the following year.
As of October 7, 2009, there have been 491 fugitives on the list. Four hundred and sixty-three of those have been apprehended, 152 of these as a result of tips from the public.
The FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division (CID) decides who will be added to the list. CID starts by asking all 56 field offices to submit candidates for inclusion on the list. The CID in association with the Office of Public Affairs then reviews all submissions and comes up with a list of “finalists” that is sent to CID’s Assistant Director for approval. The final sign-off, however, is done by the FBI’s Deputy Director.
There are two main factors in the selection for the Most Wanted list: First, the criminal must have a lengthy record of committing serious crimes and be considered a menace to society. Second, the FBI must believe that the nationwide publicity afforded by being on the list will help capture the criminal.
Once on the list there are only three ways to get off it. A criminal must be captured, have charges against them dropped or, in some rare cases, the criminal no longer meets the list criteria.
Only eight women have appeared on the Ten Most Wanted list. The first, Ruth Eisemann-Schier, was added in 1968 for kidnapping, extortion, and other crimes.