For more than 60 years, the FBI has kept a list of its top ten most wanted fugitives. The idea took root in the bureau when a reporter asked the FBI in 1949 for a list of the “toughest guys” it was looking for, and published the list in the Washington Daily News, according to the agency. The article captured so much interest that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover institutionalized the most-wanted list the very next year.
For decades, flyers displaying fugitives’ moody headshots were plastered on the walls of post offices and other government buildings, populated with such infamous men (and just a few women) as Osama Bin Laden, the serial killer Ted Bundy, and the bank robber Willie Sutton. The paper flyers have since disappeared, replaced by an online list and a social-media presence that includes Twitter and Facebook pages, along with a “Wanted by the FBI” podcast.
After the FBI started posting its top-ten list on its website in 1996, it decided to widen the scope of the fugitives and cases it publicizes. It’s added a group of pages to its website, dividing fugitives into the crimes they’re wanted for: murder, bank robbery, human trafficking, white-collar crimes, and even cybercrime.
An FBI spokesperson said the criteria for inclusion on one of the niche fugitive pages are far less demanding than what it takes to end up on one of the FBI’s two official lists: “Most Wanted Fugitives” and “Most Wanted Terrorists.” When there’s an opening on either of those, the FBI’s 56 field offices submit nominations, which are subjected to several rounds of vetting at headquarters and must finally get a stamp of approval from the FBI’s top executives.