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The history, the hunts, the captures -- and the criminals still at large
In 1950, the FBI officially instituted its now-legendary list of the "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" as a means of alerting the public and enlisting their aid in the apprehension of notorious felons. Over the years, it has included such infamous names as bank robber Willie Sutton, serial killer Ted Bundy, and assassin James Earl Ray -- and 447 of the 475 criminals have been apprehended, many of them thanks to ...
The history, the hunts, the captures -- and the criminals still at large
In 1950, the FBI officially instituted its now-legendary list of the "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" as a means of alerting the public and enlisting their aid in the apprehension of notorious felons. Over the years, it has included such infamous names as bank robber Willie Sutton, serial killer Ted Bundy, and assassin James Earl Ray -- and 447 of the 475 criminals have been apprehended, many of them thanks to tips from ordinary citizens. In this gripping and endlessly fascinating account, New York Times bestselling author Dary Matera offers readers a stunning, in-depth look at some of the most remarkable manhunts in the history of law enforcement -- and shocking profiles of the crimes and the criminals currently enshrined . . . including an elusive mass-murderer with a $27 million bounty on his head: Osama Bin Laden.
Although there's never been a designated Number 1 bad guy on the FBI's Top Ten list, there was a first ever listee. That inglorious honor went to an aging bandit of the roaring twenties era who was still alive and kicking up trouble in 1950. Thomas James Holden was his name, and robbing banks, mail trains, and staging prison breaks was his game. Holden used a fake pass to escape from the famed Leavenworth prison in 1930, then helped some buddies escape a year later. Captured on a Kansas City golf course in 1932 armed only with his woods and irons, he was returned to his cell. (Another player in the fugitive foursome, Frank "Jelly" Nash, was so lousy a shot, he was off hacking in a distant rough and the FBI missed him.) All Holden's subsequent escape efforts were thwarted. Aging and suffering from a bad heart, he was released in 1947.
Two years later, a drinking party in Chicago got a bit out of hand. Before the last gulp of whiskey was thrown down, Holden ended an argument with his wife Lillian by shooting her and her two brothers, killing all three. A veteran of life on the run, he promptly fled the state, forcing the FBI to get involved. They did in a way Holden never imagined. Eager to round up the last of the 1920s and 1930s era gangs that once blighted the Midwest, the agency selected the old-timer as their first ever Top Ten Fugitive, using him to kick off the list on March 14, 1950. The International News Service naturally jumped on the story it had helped create the previous year. The INS series of Top Ten reports over the next fifteen months were picked up by, among others, the Portland Oregonian, the paper of record in the area where Holden just happened to be hiding. He was made by an Oregonian subscriber who contacted the Feds. Holden was arrested and sent away for good.
Morley Vernon King, aside from all his other problems, missed making history by a single day, following Holden on the list as the Number 2 man on March 15, 1950. As with Holden, King had issues with his wife.
A teenage runaway from West Virginia, King joined the Navy and ran far and wide, eventually settling in Casablanca, Morocco -- the place of Bogie fame. Of all the gin joints in all the world, a particularly saucy lady named Helen -- once the Countess Christina de Zoheb via a previous marriage -- walked into a place where King was holding court in 1931. They fell in love and got hitched not long afterward. Returning to America in 1934, the well-traveled young couple opened a restaurant in New Orleans. Thirteen years later the pair were still in the food business, operating the dining room of a hotel in San Luis Obispo, California. The honeymoon, however, was apparently long over.
In early July 1947 the skies were gray and Helen King was dead, strangled with her husband's scarf. Not sure what to do with her, King kept her body in a closet for nearly a week as he went about serving the hotel's hungry visitors. When a houseboy complained of the odor, King passed it off as a new brand of shaving lotion -- a heavy musk, no doubt. Realizing Ms. King couldn't languish in the closet forever, King found a steamer trunk in the basement, stuffed her inside, lugged the box out back, and stashed it under the hotel's porch. At some point afterward, it dawned on King that his choice of burial places probably wasn't the smartest move he'd ever made. On July 8 he beat it out of town in the dark of night. The following day, the trunk and its gruesome contents were found.
A skilled traveler, King relied upon the itinerate nature of the restaurant business to quietly find work and blend in. Despite being plastered on the FBI's newfangled Most Wanted Fugitives' posters, and being cursed with distinctively large "Dumbo" ears, he escaped capture until late 1951. Acting on a tip, FBI agents found the elusive King shucking oysters in a Philadelphia restaurant. He would limit his culinary skills to prison cafeterias from that point on.
Number 3 on the first ever list was a burglar named William Raymond Nesbit, a man who failed to choose his partners and their girlfriends wisely. After relieving a Sioux Falls, Iowa, jewelry store of $37,000 worth of baubles in 1936, Nesbit and gang hatched another scheme, one that involved the use of the explosive nitroglycerin. Still hanging around Sioux Falls, they drove five miles outside of town to obtain dynamite and gunpowder to make the nitro. In the process of purchasing the materials, an argument ensued among the thieves. They began brawling. The girlfriend of bandit Harold Baker decided to wade into the fury and try to stop the fight. Bad idea. Nesbit clubbed her on the skull with a hammer, and another gang member shot her. To cover their tracks, both Baker and the girl were dragged into the store's powder house. One of the gang lit a fuse, and those who remained took off. Despite her severe injuries, the lady managed to crawl away before the sparks hit the powder. Her boyfriend wasn't so lucky. In a classic case of literal overkill, 3,500 pounds of dynamite and 7,000 pounds of black gunpowder erupted, incinerating Harold Baker and shattering windows in Sioux Falls.
It was not the most ingenious way for a gang of burglars to lay low after a successful robbery. Aside from alerting half the state, Nesbit and crew had also left a very angry, very determined witness. Baker's girlfriend survived the hammering, the shooting, and the massive explosion, and helped the authorities identify the culprits ...FBI's Ten Most Wanted. Copyright © by Dary Matera. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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