He evaded authorities for more than a year and became a fixture on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.
On Monday night, however, Warren Jeffs' run from the law came to an unexpected end when a Nevada state trooper recognized him during a routine traffic stop.
The polygamist is wanted in Utah and Arizona on charges of arranging two marriages between underage girls and men.
The officer, Eddie Dutchover, said to "Good Morning America" that Jeffs was sitting alone in the back seat when he approached the vehicle.
He immediately became suspicious of Jeffs' demeanor.
"When I went up to the passenger's side of the vehicle, I noticed immediately he was eating a salad and didn't make any eye contact. That made me real suspicious," Dutchover said.
In fact, Dutchover said, he wondered whether Jeffs might be in trouble because he seemed so nervous.
"I said, 'Is everything OK?'" Dutchover said. "You seem to be a little nervous. In fact, you're making me a little nervous."
Upon searching the car, officers found $54,000 in cash, 15 cell phones, four laptops and three wigs.
Dutchover said he and other officers who arrived on the scene eventually recognized Jeffs from "America's Most Wanted" footage.
"We said to ourselves as a team, 'I think we got him,'" Dutchover said. "It was a proud moment for me. I couldn't believe we captured him."
Jeffs -- who is said to have as many as 40 wives -- is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a secretive Mormon splinter group based along the Utah-Arizona border.
In the fortresslike communities in which polygamy is a way of life, clothing is old-fashioned and outsiders aren't trusted.
"You come into this town, and it feels like you're being watched," said former member Michelle Chatwin.
Flora Jessop escaped the sect as a teenager.
"I was married at 16 to my first cousin," Jessop said. "I was given the choice of marrying him or going to a mental institution for life. They routinely lock up women who rebel."
With 10,000 devoted followers, some observers wonder what effect Jeffs' capture will have on his hidden flock.
John Krakauer, who wrote a book about the sect, "Under the Banner of Heaven," said he didn't think Jeffs' arrest would make much of a difference.
"I don't think this religion is going away at all," Krakauer said. "If history is any indication, the more these people are persecuted -- even having their leaders removed -- the more devoted they are to the faith."