- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

Willie “the Actor” Sutton once was quoted as saying he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.”

That’s pretty simple logic.

The FBI countered with simple logic of its own when it created the 10 Most Wanted Fugitives program to help catch crooks like Sutton: Give the public information and ask for tips about fugitives.

The idea for the program came from an enterprising reporter who asked Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1949 for information about the toughest fugitives to capture. The story was a hit.

Never blind to good publicity, Mr. Hoover started the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list.

Of the 489 people who have appeared on the list, 459 have been captured. According to the FBI, tips from the public have led to the arrests of 150 fugitives.

However, the bureau has never had a formal Public Enemy No. 1, or a public enemy of any other number, for that matter. Mr. Hoover and others informally used that phrase mostly to describe notorious gangsters in the 1930s, such as John Dillinger.

Similarly, the 10 Most Wanted Fugitives are not numbered in any order. They are chosen because the FBI has determined they are particularly dangerous and thinks the public could provide information to help find them.

The list is compiled from recommendations by the bureau’s 56 field offices and in some ways is a reflection of the times.

Today’s list is dominated by terrorists and organized crime figures. Bank robbers occupied many spots in Sutton’s day. He was on the first list in 1950.

Born in 1901 in a hardscrabble Irish-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, Sutton began his life of crime at the age of 9, when he broke into a market and swiped $6 from the cash register.

Sutton already had spent time in prison when he pulled off the robbery that made him a legend.

In 1930, according to his obituary in the New York Times, Sutton went to a bank on Broadway dressed as a Western Union messenger and handed the guard a fake telegram.

“As soon as both his hands were occupied, I merely reached down and lifted his revolver out of its holster,” Sutton later recalled, according to the newspaper.

Sutton made off with $48,000 and a new nickname, “the Actor.”

His later disguises would include a policeman, a window cleaner and a diplomat. An immaculate dresser, Sutton was a gentleman bank robber who never used his gun on anyone.

He was equally creative when he escaped from prison. In 1947, Sutton and several other inmates dressed as prison guards while carrying a ladder across the yard of a Pennsylvania prison.

When the prison’s searchlights shined on him, according to the FBI, Sutton yelled, “It’s OK.” No one stopped him.

Sutton hid in Queens for the next several years, living in a boardinghouse with Puerto Ricans who didn’t speak English.

In 1952, two years after Sutton was put on the first 10 Most Wanted list, 24-year-old Arnold Schuster saw Sutton on the Subway and recognized him from an FBI poster. Mr. Schuster called police, who arrested Sutton on a Brooklyn street.

Mr. Schuster, who had became something of a celebrity, was shot and killed 17 days after the arrest. The crime was never solved, though underworld legend pins the crime on Murder Inc. boss Albert Anastasia, who apparently ordered the killing because he hated “squealers.”

Sutton denied having anything to do with the killing, and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

He was sentenced to what would have amounted to life in prison but was released in 1969 because he was in poor health.

Sutton later said that the famous quote attributed to him was fabricated. He said he actually robbed banks “because I loved it.”

“I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life,” he said, according to the Times.

He died in 1980 while living with his sister in Florida and was buried in Brooklyn in an unmarked grave.

“He specifically said that if anything ever happened to him he just wanted it very quiet and no one was to be notified,” his sister told the Times. He had enough publicity during his lifetime.”

Donald Richard Bussmeyer lacked Sutton’s art of disguise.

In announcing his addition to the top 10 list in 1967, an Associated Press article describes him as a “hulking and heavily tattooed alleged bank robber.”

The tattooed part turned out to be important.

Authorities thought they had closed in on Bussmeyer when they approached a man wearing only shorts. Their suspicions were confirmed when they saw the tattoo on his chest. It read: “Don Bussmeyer Loves Joyce.”

Donald Eugene Webb had “DON” tattooed on the web of his hand, but that didn’t help the FBI find him.

Webb held jobs as a butcher, salesman and vending-machine repairman. His career, however, was crime. He had a affinity for jewelry store and bank robberies and a knack for changing identities. His FBI wanted poster lists 12 aliases.

In 1980, the FBI said Webb took a violent turn, beating a police chief before killing him with two shots to the chest. The next year, Webb was added to the Most Wanted list.

He remained there for 26 years, longer than anyone else.

The FBI knew Webb was allergic to penicillin, loved dogs and flashy clothes and was a generous tipper, but it never figured out where to find him.

In 2007, the FBI removed Webb from the list because the bureau no longer considers him a threat to society and has no evidence he is still committing crimes. Five other fugitives have been removed from the list for similar reasons.

If still alive, Webb would be 77.

The fugitive who replaced Webb on the list lacked his predecessor’s luck and longevity.

Shauntay Henderson, a 24-year-old reputed gang leader and drug dealer from Kansas City, Mo., was accused of sneaking up on a man sitting in a car in September 2006 and shooting him three times in the chest, killing him.

She eluded police for six months but was caught within 24 hours of landing on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list in March 2007.

Henderson is one of eight women to have appeared on the list and had the second-shortest stint,behind Billie Austin Bryant.

Bryant, a convicted bank robber who had escaped prison in 1968, killed two FBI agents who went to his wife’s apartment in Southeast Washington looking for him.

He was added to the list that day. Two hours later, a man who lived near the killings heard a noise in his attic and thought it might be related to the shootings of the FBI agents.

Police found Bryant in the attic, where he had been trapped because of a jammed door.

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