WASHINGTON -- What do a 72-year-old history buff from Boston, an outdoorsman from North Carolina, a big-tipping former car salesman, and a fanatically devout Muslim have in common? All are members of one of the world's most notorious groups - the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.
The list currently has eight people who are actually wanted. Nicolay Soltys, a Ukrainian immigrant charged with the murder of six family members, including his wife and children, was arrested Aug. 30, a week after he was added to the list. Another fugitive, accused pedophile Eric Franklin Rosser, was captured Aug. 21 in Bangkok.
The FBI began the list in 1950, inspired by a news story by a reporter for International News Service, who had asked for a list of the fugitives the bureau was most anxious to apprehend. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, impressed by the publicity generated by the story, decided to make the 10 Most Wanted list permanent.
Rex Tomb, an FBI spokesman, said the list is now known round the world and has been copied by many state and local police departments. Agents believe it is a useful tool in the hunt for men and women suspected of dangerous crimes.
Candidates for the list are submitted by the FBI's 56 field offices and evaluated by the Criminal Investigation Division in Washington. Putting someone on the list is a tactical decision, not a judgment on dangerousness. The 10 Most Wanted are not a grouping of the country's worst criminals still at large.
" The other thing that has to go into this is will the publicity help the case," Tomb said.
For example, fugitives believed likely to stay close to their home base will not get on the list if agents believe they would be "spooked" by the publicity into moving elsewhere, making their capture more difficult. Soltys, who was arrested in his mother's backyard in Sacramento not far from the scene of his crimes, was picked because investigators feared he might leave California, possibly committing more violent crimes somewhere else.
So far, 466 people, including seven women, have been on the 10 Most Wanted list and 438 have been captured. More than one-third of them were apprehended as a result of tips or other involvement from citizens as a result of the publicity generated by the list. Tomb said that the shortest time someone spent on the list was two hours, a bank robber who had killed two FBI agents. The most senior member of the list is Donald Eugene Webb, the former car salesman. Webb, 70, a jewelry store burglar wanted for the murder of a Pennsylvania police chief, remains at large after more than 20 years.
The FBI publicizes not just the fugitives' photographs, physical descriptions, known aliases and criminal histories but their hobbies, medical problems and occupations. Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, who vanished five years ago after years of allegedly combining crime and serving as an FBI informant, is described as "an avid reader with an interest in history. He is known to frequent libraries and historic sites." The remarks also give Bulger's heart medication and his habit of walking on beaches and in parks for exercise. On the other hand, the FBI apparently knows little about Eric Robert Rudolph, the suspect in fatal bombings at an abortion clinic in Birmingtham, Ala., and at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.
Criminals on the run remain the people they were before with the same preoccupations and health problems, Tomb said. Some have been captured with the help of alert pharmacists or doctors.
One of the fugitives on the list is unlikely to be apprehended in the United States. That is Usama Bin Laden, the man suspected of organizing the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Bin Laden is believed to be in Afghanistan and getting him into custody is a matter for diplomats as well as for law enforcement. But Tomb believes that having him on the 10 Most Wanted list is useful as a sign that the United States is serious about getting Bin Laden behind bars and into a courtroom.
The other fugitives on the list include Ramon Eduardo Arrellanno-Felix, an alleged leader of the Tijuana drug cartel; Hopeton Eric Brown, a Jamaican national accused of drug activity and of murders in both the United States and Jamaica; Victor Manuel Gerena, wanted for a violent armored car robbery in Connecticut in 1984; and Glen Stewart Godwin, a convicted killer who broke out of prison.
Tomb advises police departments setting up their own "Most Wanted" lists to pick candidates knowing "exactly what they hope to get for the publicity."
"Use the media," he said. "Let the media help you."
He also said that putting someone on a list is useless if officers for legal or other reasons cannot give details about the suspect and the investigation - "you have to be able to discuss the case."