On the 14th March 1950, the FBI launched its list of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. Its origins lay in a conversation between the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Editor-in-Chief of the International News Service that led to a news story on the 7th February 1949 that highlighted the “toughest guys” the FBI wanted to capture. The story had such a huge impact on the public that Hoover opted to make the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” a permanent program the following year.
In many ways the Ten Most Wanted list was a twentieth century version of the classic ‘Wanted’ posters that had been in use since the invention of the printing press. Even the use of newspapers to apprehend people on the run wasn’t new: during the 18th century, for example, wanted adverts for runaway slaves were often listed by their owners.
What made the FBI’s list unique was that it brought dangerous fugitives to nationwide attention. The development of the internet has made the list’s reach global, though it is still an exclusively FBI program. Candidates for inclusion are submitted by the FBI’s network of 56 Field Offices, which are reviewed by the Criminal Investigative Division at FBI Headquarters before final approval by the Director.
The first person to be listed was bank robber, murderer and prison escapee Thomas James Holden. He was arrested fifteen months later in Beaverton, Oregon after the Ten Most Wanted were printed in the local newspaper.
As of January 2016, 505 fugitives have appeared on the list, of which eight have been women. 474 have been apprehended or located.