- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2010

Christian Longo was able to slip out of the United States and remain on the lam in Mexico for nearly a month after murdering his wife and three children. But two days after he was added to the FBI’s “10 Most Wanted” fugitives list, his escape was over.

Longo, now on death row in Oregon, was arrested in early 2002 after a Canadian tourist whom he met in Mexico recognized him from the Top 10 list. She called the FBI, and Longo was soon arrested at a beach camp in what the bureau called a classic example of the power of the “Most Wanted” list - which turns 60 years old on Sunday.

“To this day, that’s kind of been what we use it for,” said Assistant FBI Director Kevin Perkins. “It’s a great tool for us to engage the public through the media to get the messages out and find these people on the list.”

The list remains one of the bureau’s most enduring and best-known programs.

“It’s probably below ‘G-Men’ in the cultural iconic status, but it’s definitely up there,” said FBI historian John Fox.

The list was born during a game of hearts between FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and James Donovan, an enterprising wire-service reporter who, according to FBI lore, asked for the names of the 10 “toughest” fugitives so he could write about them.

Mr. Donovan’s story became something of a sensation, the perfect intersection between law enforcement function and publicity — a meeting Hoover was sure to love.

“Hoover realized that you needed to have the public support in order for law enforcement to be effective, and this became a very effective way to do that,” Mr. Fox said.

The public-relations-savvy FBI director decided to implement the list full time, beginning March 14, 1950, and four of those on the first list were captured with public assistance.

“Four out of 10 does suggest that citizen participation is key,” Mr. Fox said.

Throughout the list’s history, about a third of the 463 fugitives who have been caught were located because of the public’s help, according to the FBI. A total of 494 people have appeared on the list.

For better than half a century, the wanted posters have hung ubiquitously in post offices and other public places throughout the country.

Mr. Perkins recalled carrying an 8 1/2-by-11-inch version of the poster with him when he first became an FBI agent nearly 25 years ago. Now the list is more portable, as agents in the field can easily access it on their smartphones. It’s readily found on Twitter and Facebook and easily accessed on the bureau’s Web site.

The fugitives on the list also reflect changes in the bureau’s priorities. In Hoover’s day, the list was dominated by bank robbers and gangsters; now it features international terrorists and organized-crime figures. Among the terrorists was Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York.

“We knew in the [FBI] leadership that we were going to put him on because we wanted worldwide publicity in order to try and capture him,” said Bob Blitzer, a former assistant chief of the bureau’s counterrorism and Middle East section who worked on the case.

The State Department also helped publicize the search for Yousef by distributing matchbooks that included the terrorist’s photograph and other information.

The publicity ultimately paid off in 1995, when an informant went to the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan and told authorities where to find Yousef, who subsequently was arrested in an Islamabad hotel room. The U.S. government paid the informant a $2 million reward.

Yousef was extradited quickly to the U.S. and convicted of plotting the attack. He was sentenced to life in prison, which he is serving in solitary confinement at the ADX Florence Supermax prison in Colorado.

“I think the top-ten program was a factor in getting him back here,” Mr. Blitzer said.

The Longo capture also showed the list’s international reach. In that case, the Canadian tourist became suspicious after she met Longo in Mexico and he initially told her his name was Brad but later said it was Mike.

After the woman was back home in Montreal, she saw publicity about the killings of Longo’s family, which had taken place weeks earlier in late 2001. She confirmed her suspicions after logging onto the Top 10 list on the FBI’s Web site and recognizing Longo’s photograph.

She contacted the FBI two days after Longo was added to the list.

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