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Thriller Thursday: FBI’s Most Wanted List

The FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list is something most of us are familiar with. It’s comprised of the worst of the worst, and is usually posted in any government facility, including the post office.

The list originated in 1949 when FBI Boss J. Edgar Hoover had a conversation with William Kinsey Hutchinson about how to capture some of their toughest criminals. A published article was the result of the conversation, and it became so popular that by 1950, the FBI made the list official.

Quick Facts on the List:

  • Individuals are only removed if they are captured, die, or charges are dropped.
  • Victor Manuel Gerena has the longest tenure on the list, having been including since 1984.
  • As of summer 2012, 497 had been listed, with 466 captured.
  • 154 fugitives have been captured thanks to public assistance.
  • Ruth Eiseman Schier was the first woman added to the list after participating in the kidnapping for ransom of Barbara Jane Mackle. She was arrested 79 days after the kidnapping and after pleading guilty, spent four years in prison and was deported to Honduras.

The Inaugural Top 10

1) Thomas James Holden, added March 14, 1950. Holden had been in trouble since the 1920s, having been convicted for various crimes including robbing a mail train, assisting in a prison break at Leavenworth, and finally, in 1949, murdering his wife and two brothers. He was on the list for a year before being captured.

2) Morley Vernon King, added March 15, 1950. Strangled his wife Helen and left her in a steamer trunk. He was on the list for two years before capture.

3) William Nesbit, added March 16, 1950. Nesbit disappeared in 1946 while serving a life sentence for murder that had been commuted to 20 years. He was discovered three days after being added to the list.

4) Henry Randolph Mitchell, added March 17, 1950. Mitchell was on the list for eight years after robbing a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1948. He’d previously been convicted of grand larceny, narcotics, breaking and entering, and forgery. When the bank charge was dropped, he became the first fugitive to escape the list and arrest.

5) Omar August Pinson, added March 18, 1950. Pinson shot and killed an Oregon State Police officer in 1947, was sentenced to life, and then escaped with a cellmate. He was caught in 1950 while burglarizing a hardware store.

6) Lee Emory Downs, added March 20th, 1950. Downs had a career of robbery with the assistance of dynamite and weapons before his attempt to rob the Columbian consolate in San Francisco. He spent a month on the list.

7) Orba Elmer Jackson, added March 21, 1950. Jackson only spent two days on the list, but his criminal career dated back to 1924. While spending time for beating a man and car theft in 1947, Jackson escaped an honor farm and spent more than two years on the run before being returned to Leavenworth.

8) Glen Roy Wright, added March 22, 1950. A former associate of the Karpis-Barker Gang, Wright was sentenced to life for armed robbery and escaped in 1948. He spent 9 months on the list before his arrest and died in prison in 1954.

9) Henry Harland Shelton, added March 23, 1950. Shelton was wanted for kidnapping and car theft after escaping in 1949 from a Michigan prison. He spent 3 months on the list, and was sentence to 45 years for kidnapping and car theft (concurrently).

10) Morris Guralnick, added March 24, 1950. Guralnick stabbed his girlfriend in 1949 and bit off the finger of the arresting officer. He later assaulted guards and escaped. Nine months after being added to the list, he was arrested at a Madison, Wisconsin clothing store.

What surprised me most about the original list is the lack of what we know today as violent crime. Our world is full of murders, rapists, child killers, and terrorists. While these men were certainly dangerous, they are of a different stock than today’s 10 Most Wanted. 

Did you know who the original 10 were? Why do you think our world is so much more violent than theirs?

9 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: FBI’s Most Wanted List”

  1. I had no idea about the original top ten nor did I know most of the facts you presented here. Very interesting! I do have opinions on why we have become such a violent society, but it would take a book of typing to explain it. I’ll save it for my soapbox. lol

  2. I didn’t know who the original 10 were, and as I was reading the list, the same thing occurred to me–for the most part, their crimes aren’t as vicious as what we see today. I’ve often wondered if the way we give so much press (and not all of it as negative as it should be) to our villains contributes to more violent crimes. I’d imagine in the 50s, crimes like we see happening today would result in the men (or women) involved being called depraved and otherwise looked down on. Today, the media talks about how smart the criminals have to be and how much planning it takes. They make it sound almost admirable to be able to pull off some of the more horrible crimes.

  3. I was happy to see that all of them were eventually caught (with the noted exception of Mitchell). I had no idea when this list had started. Very interesting, Stacy!

  4. glad to see Vic Gerena is tops on the present list. His hijinks in Hartford kept us glued to the media here in Connecticut.

  5. Curious what you mean Nesbitt “disappeared.” Does that mean escaped from jail?

    And, btw, I’m just thinking that maybe the original top 10 didn’t sound quite so horrible because most crimes that we think of as the most violent – murder, rape – were not federal crimes but state ones, so maybe those guys didn’t get to the top of the feds’ list.

    • Sorry for being late to approve and reply. If I remember correctly, after Nesbitt got out of jail, he went on the run and was unaccountable for some time. And I agree with your thinking – the FBI’s priorities have certainly changed along with crime stats. Thanks!

  6. Murray Thompson

    Morley Vernon King was arrested by former FBI SA James E. Thompson, Jr. based on informant information. The restaurant was surrounded by FBI Agents and the SAC (Special Agent in Charge of the Philadelphia Division) authorized SA Thompson to make the arrest based on his investigation. There was other information that King was involved in a series of murders including the Black Dahlia. King was arrested as a result of a UFAP (Unlawful Flight To Avoid Prosecution) warrant. Thompson left the FBI later on to practice law in Centreville, Md. where he still resides.
    Murray J. Thompson, SA FBI (ret.)

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