March 12, 2010
FBI poster of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. (Newseum collection/Courtesy FBI Tour)

FBI poster of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. (Newseum collection/Courtesy FBI Tour)

60 Years Ago in News History: The FBI's Ten Most Wanted

Sixty years ago this month, one of the FBI's longest running and most successful programs — the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives — began, the result of a newspaper story.

In 1949, International News Service reporter James F. Donovan asked the FBI: "Who are the 10 toughest guys you are looking for?" The FBI gave him a list, hoping the publicity would lead to arrests.

Donovan's front-page story in The Washington Daily News displayed photos of two murder suspects, four escaped convicts, a bank robber and three con men.

The story was a hit with readers, and as the FBI had hoped, the publicity helped capture some of the men. The following year, the FBI started the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program and used the power of the national media to help publicize it.

The first person to make the list was Thomas James Holden of Chicago, who killed his wife and her two brothers. He was arrested in 1951. The first woman was Ruth Eisemann-Schier, wanted in 1968 for kidnapping and extortion. She was arrested less than three months later. Donald Eugene Webb, wanted in the 1980 murder of a police chief, spent the most time on the list. He was never found and was removed from the list in 2007.

Today, fugitives on the list get even greater exposure through the popular TV show "America's Most Wanted."

Donovan, the reporter who started it all, died in 1967 at age 48.

The story of the Ten Most Wanted is told in the Newseum's popular exhibit "G-Men and Journalists: Top News Stories of the FBI's First Century."

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