Every day, in various locations, we could find ourselves in relatively close proximity to any number of known criminals. I suppose that if one were to let oneself, that could be a source of concern, but it is also good to know that often, the criminal element in our midst is trying just as hard not to be seen, as we are not to know they are there.
Many of those criminals are not seriously dangerous, but some are so dangerous that it was decided that the public needed to not only be aware of them, but needed to help in spotting this dangerous element, so they could be taken off our streets. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) made the decision in 1949 to institute what is now well known as the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list in an effort to publicize particularly dangerous fugitives. The creation of the program arose out of a wire service news story in 1949 about the “toughest guys” the FBI wanted to capture. Once out there, like many new ideas, awareness grew, and a need was realized. The wire service story drew so much public attention that the “Ten Most Wanted” list was given the okay by J Edgar Hoover the following year.
Since its debut, the list has been responsible for the capture of hundreds of the criminals included on the list. To add to the success, more than 150 of those apprehended or located were a direct result of tips from the public. To start the list and in subsequent lists, the Criminal Investigative Division (CID) of the FBI asks all fifty-six field offices to submit candidates for inclusion on the list. Once these are received, the CID in association with the Office of Public and Congressional Affairs reviews then and proposes finalists for approval of by the FBI’s Deputy Director. The criterion for selection is simple. The criminal must have a lengthy record and current pending charges that make him or her particularly dangerous. In addition, the FBI must believe that “the publicity attendant to placement on the list will assist in the apprehension of the fugitive.”
Once on the list, there is generally only two ways to get off the list…die or to be captured. There have only been a handful of cases where a fugitive has been removed from the list because they no longer were a particularly dangerous menace to society. I suppose an older fugitive, known to have an illness or dementia would qualify. The list usually consists of men, but there have actually been ten women who have appeared on the Ten Most Wanted list. The first woman was Ruth Eisemann-Schier was the first, listed in 1968. The current list has a little room, I see.
In years gone by, criminal investigations were often flawed, circumstantial, or non-existent. If the crime wasn’t witnessed by someone, it often didn’t get solved, unless someone had threatened to kill someone. Even then, the wrong person was convicted quite often…probably not often than anyone cared to admit or think about. It was a fact that no one really wanted to think about. Then, as science began to find new ways to process evidence, there were fewer mistakes. That didn’t and still doesn’t completely eliminate miscarriages in justice, but more and more often, the right person is sentenced.
There are a number of television shows on these days that feature the use of a crime lab, and while I realize that the investigations rarely progress as quickly as they do on television, I do find them interesting nevertheless. I don’t know how realistic some of the tests are, but I have a feeling that the answer is…not very. Nevertheless, I like the idea of using science to catch the right criminal. Things like fingerprints, DNA testing, ballistics, and the chemical makeup of poisons, to name a few, are tests that have revolutionized the criminal justice system.
It was on this day, November 24, 1932, that the first FBI Crime Lab opened, and while it has gone through some controversy over the years, it still remains on of the best labs in the country. The crime lab is now known as the FBI Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory. Originally this lab was chosen because it has the necessary sink operated out of a single room and only one employee. It has expanded exponentially since then. Of course, these days each state has their own lab too, and while there has been controversy as to bias over the years, those operate in much the same way. Scientific answers to serious questions. And it all started in a single room, rather primitive lab in 1932.