The idea came out of a card game. A reporter playing Hearts with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1949 asked him to name the meanest, wiliest fugitives the bureau could not track down. He thought putting their pictures in the newspaper might help. A few weeks later, 10 names and pictures appeared at the reporter’s door, says the Los Angeles Times, and he got them plastered on the front of the Washington Daily News.
They were a sorry lot. Four escapees, three con men, two accused murderers and a bank robber. They were plucked from 5,700 fugitives hiding in the U.S. or abroad. To Hoover’s surprise, nine of the 10 were soon captured. A year later, the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list was officially born. Since then, 497 fugitives have made the roster. Their photos and IDs have gone from newspaper pages to TV screens, from post office posters to iPhone apps. Some names remain etched in the nation’s psyche, including Martin Luther King Jr. assassin James Earl Ray; serial killer Ted Bundy, and Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. New details about some of the cases have come to light as about 250 former FBI agents have told their stories in oral histories that will be housed at the National Law Enforcement Museum when it opens next year in Washington.