For 15 months in the early 1950s, Thomas J. Holden was the most wanted man in America.
A prodigious stickup man who terrorized Midwestern banks and mail trains for decades, Holden murdered his wife and her two brothers following a drunken row one spring night in 1949. He even escaped from Leavenworth Prison.
Holden was just one more criminal who was quickly forgotten, but the way he was finally caught gave him the distinction of becoming more than just a footnote in American history.
On March 14, 1950, Holden became the first criminal to find his name on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, a new bureau initiative to enlist the public's help in tracking down men like Holden, who one agent called a "menace to every man, woman and child in America."
Fifteen months later, a resident of Beaverton, Ore., spotted Holden some 1,700 miles from Chicago where the murders took place. Recognizing Holden's picture in a newspaper, the Beaverton man called the cops. Arrested by federal agents, Holden was tried in Chicago for murder, convicted and sent back to Leavenworth.
The "Top Ten" list that Holden inaugurated turns 60 this week, and in that time, some 493 other fugitives have found their names counted among the worst of the worst.
In those six decades the list has hosted some of the biggest, baddest names in crime, from serial killer Ted Bundy, to Martin Luther King's assassin James Earl Ray, to terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
An astonishing 463 fugitives, or nearly 94 percent of all criminals who have made the list, have been captured and brought to justice.
"For something to continue for that long, it has to show itself to be a successful program. We're proud that the program has been so successful, that we've continued to use it for the past 60 years," said Brad Bryant, chief of the FBI's violent crimes and major offenders unit.
The most significant change in the way the bureau alerts the public to fugitives it needs help finding since "Wanted" posters cluttered the walls of Wild West post offices, the "Top Ten" list has evolved since its inception both in the types of criminals listed and the types of media – from TV to Twitter -- used to catch them.
The prototype for the first list was published in 1949 when James F. Donovan, a reporter for the wire agency International News Service posed a question to the FBI:
"Who are the ten toughest guys you are looking for?"
The bureau came back with a list of ten names -- four escaped prisoners, three con men, two murder suspects and a bank robber. Splashed on the front page of papers across the country, the story caused a sensation with hundreds of tips called into the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover, the imperious director of the FBI, realized the bureau was on to something and the next year, the list became official.
The types of criminals who make up the list have changed over time, reflecting the evolving threats against the U.S.
In the 1950s, many of the fugitives were bank robbers and burglars, even car thieves. A decade later, radical activists wanted for destruction of government property, sabotage and kidnapping made up the list.
By the 1970s, the list was mainly comprised of members of organized crime syndicates. In the 1980s, the list was dominated by drug criminals and serial murderers. Since the 1990s, the list has included members of large drug trafficking cartels, pedophiles and money launderers.