The Washington Daily News, Feb. 7, 1949 (FBI Tour)

FBI’s Ten Most Wanted: The Story Behind the List

One of the FBI’s longest-running programs — the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives — was the result of a newspaper story.

In 1949, International News Service reporter James F. Donovan asked the FBI: "Who are the 10 toughest guys you are looking for?" The FBI gave him a list.

Donovan’s front-page report in The Washington Daily News displayed photos of four escapees, three con men, two murder suspects and a bank robber.

The list was a hit, and some of the fugitives were captured as a result. The next year the FBI started the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program.

Today, fugitives on the list get even greater exposure through the popular TV show "America’s Most Wanted."

Some Ten Most Wanted facts:

  • The first name on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list was Thomas James Holden of Chicago, who killed his wife and two others. He was arrested in 1951.
  • The first woman was Ruth Eisemann-Schier, listed in 1968 for kidnapping and extortion. She was arrested less than three months later.
  • Donald Eugene Webb, wanted in the 1980 murder of a police chief, spent the most time on the list. Never found, he was removed from the list in 2007.
  • 489 fugitives have appeared on the list. Eight of them were women.
  • 458 criminals on the list who were captured or located; 150 of them, as a result of tips from the public.
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