The Washington Times-Herald

Community News Network

November 29, 2012

Why handsome criminals seldom show up on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted

NEW YORK — Last week, the FBI announced the capture of Jose "Joe" Luis Saenz, an alleged gang member and murderer who, since 2009, had been on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Saenz was captured in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he had been living above a beauty parlor. According to the Associated Press, Saenz had gone to great lengths to disguise his identity: losing weight, removing tattoos, disfiguring his fingerprints. But it's unclear whether he was able to alter his fat, distinctive baby face.

That baby face may have helped Saenz get on the list in the first place. Ever since the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list was created in 1950, many have assumed that the list contains the worst of the worst — that it's something like a power ranking for crooks. And, indeed, the list has contained fugitives who've loomed large in the public imagination: Osama bin Laden, James Earl Ray, Whitey Bulger, Eric Rudolph, Ramzi Yousef.

But in a New York Times article this June, Michael S. Schmidt noted that "bureau officials have also tried to select other dangerous fugitives who may have been hiding in plain sight but could be recognized by the public because they have distinctive physical features." In other words, a weird-looking fugitive is more likely to make the list than a criminal without distinctive marks.

This makes sense. The whole point of the list is to motivate the public to help identify fugitives, and it's easier to identify someone whose face is hard to forget. Joe Saenz has the sort of broad cake-eater's face that would stick in your mind if you saw it, and might trigger recognition when you saw that face on a wanted poster.

The FBI issued its first "wanted poster" in 1919, in an effort to catch a runaway soldier named William N. Bishop. (Bishop had four vaccination scars and a "massive lower jaw.") The Most Wanted list was created after a wire service reporter in need of column copy asked the FBI for a list of its 10 worst fugitives. The subsequent story generated enormous positive publicity, and prompted J. Edgar Hoover to institutionalize the format; in 1950, the bureau issued an official list of 10 notorious murderers, kidnappers, escape artists and car thieves. An American legend was born.

Text Only
Community News Network
  • Ice bucket challenge trending up

    Internet trends are a dime a dozen these days. Everything from Tebowing to planking to the cinnamon challenge can cause a wave of social media activity that can last for weeks before fizzling out.

    August 19, 2014

  • Africa goes medieval in its fight against Ebola

    As the Ebola epidemic claims new victims at an ever-increasing rate, African governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have instituted a "cordon sanitaire," deploying troops to forcibly isolate the inhabitants in an area containing most of the cases.

    August 18, 2014

  • Democrat? Republican? There's an app for that

    If you're a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you're a Democrat, put down that Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.

    August 18, 2014

  • Five myths about presidential vacations

    In the nuclear age, presidents may have only minutes to make a decision that could affect the entire world. They don't so much leave the White House as they take a miniature version of it with them wherever they go.

    August 15, 2014

  • Can 6 seconds launch a career? A generation of Vine stars sure hopes so.

    A year ago, Shawn Mendes filmed himself singing a tentative acoustic cover of the Justin Bieber song "As Long as You Love Me" and put the results on Vine. He wasn't expecting much response. "I didn't really want anything to happen; I just kind of wanted to see what people would think," says Mendes, 16. "I posted that first Vine and woke up the next morning with 10,000 followers. That was pretty cool."

    August 14, 2014

  • Freshman.jpg 8 crucial tips for college freshmen

    With school starting back up around the country, no one has a bigger deer-in-the-headlights look than college freshmen.

    August 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • A night in Ferguson

    For the past week in Ferguson, reporters have been using the McDonald's a few blocks from the scene of Michael Brown's shooting as a staging area. Demonstrations have blown up each night nearby.

    August 14, 2014

  • unrest.jpg Why the Ferguson police-shooting riots had little to do with Ferguson

    Riots and vandalism broke out in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. An 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown was fatally shot by police there. Brown was unarmed. It's still unclear why tensions boiled over.

    August 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drug dealers going corporate

    A top federal official on Tuesday said that 105 banks and credit unions are doing business with legal marijuana sellers, suggesting that federal rules giving financial institutions the go-ahead to provide services to dealers are starting to work.

    August 13, 2014

  • Robin_Williams.jpg Williams among many who cracked jokes while fighting depression

    Robin Williams isn't the only comedian who has struggled with a disease suffered by an estimated 350 million people worldwide. Williams, a comedian known for his manic energy, committed suicide Aug. 11 at age 63.

    August 13, 2014 1 Photo