The History Of The FBI's 'Ten Most Wanted' List

By | March 12, 2020

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FBI investigation. (Getty Images)

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.

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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.