The 12 Most Brazen Fugitives Ever

Ruth Eisemann SchierRuth Eisemann-Schier on her way to a Decatur, Ga. courthouse. She was the first-ever woman to appear on the list.

Photo: AP Photo

In 1949, a Washington Daily News reporter asked the FBI to name the “toughest guys” it was investigating at the time.The piece generated so much publicity that J. Edgar Hoover decided to make the “Most Wanted” list a permanent program.

So with the first official “Most Wanted” list published in 1950, came more than 400 fugitives over six decades to be chased by the FBI.

We have culled through that list to find the most brazen fugitives — including prison escapees, bank robbers, and kidnappers — and the first-ever woman to appear on the list, Ruth Eisemann-Schier.  

Thomas James Holden

Although Holden made the list in 1950, his record went way back. Most interestingly of all, he was convicted of robbing a mail train in the late 1920s. This was during the 'easy days,' as the FBI calls them, when gangs roamed the Midwest without much trouble from the authorities. In 1930, Holden escaped from federal prison in Kansas, eventually going back to his mobster buddies -- among them, Verne Miller and Frank Nash. Later on, in 1950, he was placed on the 'most wanted' list for shooting his wife and her two brothers after a drinking party. He was captured the following year.

Source: FBI

Gerhard Arthur Puff

There are few things that Puff wasn't convicted of. He started at the age of 20 with disorderly conduct and stealing domestic animals. Later he added on: bank robbery, car theft, and murder. After several stints in prison and one escape, in 1953 Puff was convicted of killing an FBI agent and sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Sources: FBI

Ruth Eisemann-Schier

Eisemann-Schier became the first woman to claim a spot on the notorious list when she kidnapped the daughter of a millionaire and demanded a $500,000 ransom in 1968. The 26-year-old Eisemann-Schier and her boyfriend buried Barbara Mackle outside of Atlanta in a coffin with ventilation tubes and a little food. Mackle was found buried in the shallow grave 80 hours later, unharmed, while Eisemann-Schier was captured in Oklahoma several weeks later. She was pretending to be a 19-year-old college student.

Source: FBI

Glen Roy Wright

Wright was involved in several shoot-outs with police, and those scars on his face are from multiple knife fights. After repeated armed robberies in Oklahoma, Wright was sentenced to life in prison. But 14 years into his term, Wright smuggled a gun in and blasted his way out in September 1948. He was placed on the Most Wanted list in 1950, but it took the FBI nine months to capture him in Kansas. He served the remainder of his life behind bars.

Source: Dary Matera, 'FBI's 10 Most Wanted,' pg. 32, The Bulletin, Dec. 15, 1950, pg 16.

James Earl Ray

The man who was convicted of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Ray went by the alias Eric Starvo Galt. Previously he had robbed a supermarket in St. Louis, Mo. and had escaped from prison in 1967 by hiding in a food truck. Two months after King's murder, Ray was caught at Heathrow Airport in London, apparently trying to fly to Africa. He was sentenced to 99 years at a state prison in Tennessee, but escaped several years later in 1977. Ray was then put on the Most Wanted list for a second time before being caught just 54 hours later.

Source: FBI

Donald Eugene Webb

Webb is the man with the second-longest tenure on the list: 25 years. Webb allegedly murdered police chief Gregory Adams in Saxonburg, Pa. after Adams had pulled Webb's car over on a routine check. He was also charged with unlawful flight and attempted burglary. Webb was only officially taken off the Most Wanted list in 2007, because of the likelihood that he might be dead.

Sources: FBI, TIME Magazine

Henry Randolph Mitchell

Mitchell, known as 'Little Mitch,' spent a lot of time at the race tracks, where he also lost a lot of money. In order to pay for his debts, Little Mitch resorted to bank robberies, forgery, and narcotics. After he and his gang robbed a Florida bank in 1948, Mitchell, 'a leprechaun of a man,' escaped while his taller colleague was quickly captured. Eight years later, Mitchell was taken off the Most Wanted list, because prosecutors thought he was dead.

Source: Dary Matera, FBI's 10 Most Wanted, pg. 27

Henry Harland Shelton

Shelton was arrested by the FBI in June 1950, a mere three months after being put on the Most Wanted list. He was a prison escapee, kidnapper, and a car thief. After kidnapping a man and forcing him to drive him to several states, Shelton got in a gunfight with the agents trying to arrest him. He was given a 45-year sentence.

Source: FBI, FBI Wanted Poster

Morris Guralnick

Guralnick was a really violent case. In 1948, he stabbed a woman, and at his arrest, he bit off the finger of one of the cops. Later, while in his cell awaiting trial, Guralnick took a plumbing pipe and violently beat his jailers and several other inmates before escaping. It was then that he was placed on the original Most Wanted list in 1950. He was soon arrested while working at a college store in Madison, Wis. and was sent to New York where he had committed his crimes.

Source: FBI, Dary Matera, 'FBI's 10 Most Wanted,' page 34.

Courtney Townsend Taylor

Another man with a relatively short stay on the list, Taylor was a 'master forger' who arrested in February 1951, only about a month after being placed on the list. He was never in the same place for too long. In some of his schemes, Taylor pretended to be a vice president of Bristol-Meyer, Heinz, or Hershey Chocolate, carrying bogus company checks, which he had printed in Pennsylvania. He kept up the VP image by renting expensive rooms and demanding iced champagne upon his arrival.

Source: LIFE Magazine, Sept. 15, 1972, page 57.

Isaie Aldy Beausoleil

Beausoleil's capture is perhaps one of the most bizarre stories for a 'top tenner.' The 'lone wolf,' as the FBI described him, was wanted for murder, and was previously charged with attempted robbery and escape. When the FBI arrested him in 1953, Beausoleil was dressed as a woman, wearing a black satin bathing suit and a green skirt. The FBI nabbed him after there were reports of 'suspicious behaviour' in a women's restroom.

Source: FBI

Clyde Edward Laws

The somewhat ironically named Laws was placed on the list in February 1967. He and an accomplice, while escaping from an armed robbery, wounded an officer, and later on carjacked and abducted a soldier. The soldier was released soon after. Laws was arrested three months later when he was given up by a relative. During his arrest, Laws said, 'The one time I need my gun I don't have it.'

Source: FBI

Now that you've seen some of history's most brazen criminals ...

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