For the last 70 years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list has put the fates of some of the most hardened and dangerous criminals in the nation in the public's hands. The list began as a news article after a reporter asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for details on "the 10 toughest guys" currently on the loose in America, which became so popular that Hoover decided to formalize it as a top-10 list of the FBI's most wanted.
According to the FBI, 488 of the 523 fugitives on the Most Wanted list have been apprehended, 162 of which were caught due to leads from citizens who saw their names and faces in various publications or on TV. For those bad at math, that's one-third of the worst criminals known to the FBI brought to justice thanks to observant yet ordinary folks. One suspected murderer, Billie Austin Bryant, was arrested only two hours after his addition to the list in 1969. You could say it's been a success.
Let's take a look at some of these so-called "tough guys" who had the dishonor of being chosen for the very first list, published on March 14, 1950.
Thomas James Holden mugshot. (Wikimedia Commons)
Thomas James Holden
The very first name on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list was a 54-year-old man from Illinois named Thomas James Holden. Half of the Holden-Keating Gang, Holden and a man named Francis Keating were a bank-robbing duo responsible for several armed bank robberies and murders across the Midwest in the 1930s. Having served a lengthy jail sentence, Holden was released in 1947 only to commit three more murders, one of which was his own wife. He fled and assumed a false identity, but after his face was plastered across the country in 1950 and a neighbor noticed he looked a lot like the wanted criminal in the newspaper, he was captured in Oregon. He only served two years of his life sentence before passing away in jail due to a heart condition.
Morley Vernon King
In 1947, after checking into a hotel in California, Helen King went missing. The staff eventually found Helen's body, apparently strangled to death, hidden in a trunk that had been shoved beneath the hotel's porch and her husband, Morley Vernon King, nowhere to be seen. He was discovered a few years later working at a seafood restaurant in Philadelphia, captured by the FBI in 1951, and convicted of his wife's murder.
William Raymond Nesbit. (FBI)
William Raymond Nesbit
William Raymond Nesbit was arrested only three days after appearing on the Most Wanted list. While serving a 20-year sentence for murder, Nesbit buddied up to the warden, who trusted Nesbit so much that he was given the privilege of running errands for the prison. He used the errand truck to flee and tried to hide out in some caves along the Mississippi river in Minnesota, but some local kids soon spotted him and identified him as the escaped murderer from the Most Wanted list in the newspaper. Nesbit quickly returned to prison, where he almost certainly lost his driving privileges, and the kids got a free trip to Washington, D.C. to tour the FBI's headquarters. They even meet J. Edgar Hoover in person. Nice job, boys!
Henry Randolph Mitchell
Mitchell would prove hardest to catch of the men who appeared on the first FBI Ten Most Wanted list. An avid gambler wanted for crimes ranging from forgery to robbery to hot checks, he lingered on the list for a whopping eight years before he was finally assumed dead and dismissed from the list. Maybe one of the guys he owed money found him before the FBI did? We'll never know for sure.
Omar August Pinson.
Omar August Pinson
Yet another murderous thief, Pinson was convicted of slaying an on-duty Oregon police officer before he, like Nesbit, made a jailbreak. He managed to evade capture for almost a year and even got out of a January 1950 shootout with Montana police unscathed, but a car salesman identified him and gave the FBI enough clues to track him down. He was recaptured in September 1950 and returned to prison, making parole in the early '70s.
Lee Emory Downs
This brash safecracker robbed a telephone company in San Jose, California, stealing over $10,000 from their safe. He attempted to keep his head down, but he was arrested in Florida after spending only a month on the Most Wanted list. Apparently, he had a lot of dynamite and bullets on him when he was arrested, so it was a good thing they got there before he did ... whatever he was planning on doing. He was paroled after serving 18 years but then went out and got arrested again for trying to rob the Colombian consulate, of all things. Some people never learn.
Orba Elmer Jackson.
Orba Elmer Jackson
There was apparently a huge prison security problem in the '50s because Orba Elmer Jackson was yet another escapee. After serving two years for an armed robbery, Jackson spent the next couple of years on the lam working at a chicken farm before a suspicious coworker reported him to the FBI. They caught him in Oregon only two days after publishing his face and name.
Glen Roy Wright
This robber-gangster survived not one but two shootouts with the police before he was arrested. He was serving life in prison until, you guessed it, he broke free after convincing the guards to let him visit his mother, who he claimed was very ill. He lasted a somewhat impressive nine months as a Most Wanted man before recapture. He later died in prison.
FBI Badge and Gun. (Wikimedia Commons)
Henry Harland Shelton
After a string of bank robberies and at least one murder, Henry Harland Shelton and his partner were caught trying to rob a man at gunpoint. His partner was wounded, but Shelton managed to flee on foot. The FBI finally tracked him to a bar in Indianapolis, but Shelton wouldn't go without a fight. He pulled out a gun, and the FBI shot him down. He miraculously survived the multiple gunshot wounds and was sentenced to 45 years.
Last but definitely not least, Morris Guralnick made the list for stabbing his ex-girlfriend multiple times with a pocket knife. Luckily, she survived, but just barely. When police tried to arrest the attempted murderer, he fought back and bit an officer's finger so hard he actually severed it right through the bone. He was imprisoned, but like so many on the list, he escaped after beating up two guards with a pipe. A citizen spotted him at a store in Madison, Wisconsin in December 1950, and the FBI swooped in to capture him.