Last week, we looked at a few very terrible people, and how law enforcement officials identified them and hunted them down. Here are a few more infamous killers, and how they were captured.
1. Whitey Bulger
Whitey Bulger spent twelve years on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List, and his bounty (a handsome $2 million) was surpassed only by that of Osama bin Laden ($25 million). In the early days of his career in crime, Bulger was an armed robber, though he wasn’t a very good robber, and ended up at Alcatraz in 1959. When he got out, he spent some time as a bookie for the mob, and during a war between crime families, killed a rival mobster. Only he wasn’t much better as a killer than he was as a robber, and he killed the wrong guy. This didn’t help relations among the rival families, so Bulger did the only thing he could think of to save his own neck: He (allegedly) killed the leaders of his own crime family.
He would eventually find fame as a shakedown artist who targeted criminals, ordering the deaths of those who “stepped out of line.” This earned him a fairly good reputation as far as people with bad reputations go—he was kind of a gun-toting criminal Batman who didn’t wear a costume. Eventually, the FBI even recruited him as an informant. Accordingly, people all around Bulger started going to jail for doing really bad things, and Bulger, who was also doing really bad things, avoided arrest. In the absence of criminal competition, Bulger consolidated power in Boston, and used his sway with his FBI minders to have the competition locked up. Also, he had a bunch of guys killed. Here’s where things get thorny. Bulger was an FBI informant, but he wasn’t the only informant, and those other informants were informing on Bulger. And then an FBI agent started informing Bulger of the other informants. Did Bulger forgive the mobsters who were ratting against him? No, he did not. Suddenly people started developing extra holes in their heads.
Whitey Bulger soon got into the drug business, and won the lottery. (No, really, he won the lottery.) The ticket had been purchased from a store that he owned, and the guy who bought it claimed that Bulger was his partner. The purse was $14 million.
Eventually, law enforcement agencies that were not the FBI decided to nab Bulger under the RICO Act (that thing Harvey Dent did at the beginning of The Dark Knight) and once again, an FBI agent tipped off Bulger. On the lam he went. The list of places Bulger visited reads like it came from a Nabokov novel. In short, Bulger was everywhere but inside of a prison.
By 1999, the FBI had pulled itself together and placed Bulger on the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list (more on that below). He appeared on America’s Most Wanted practically as often as John Walsh. Over the years, these media efforts paid off for investigators, and he was finally nabbed in Santa Monica, California at the age of 81. Bulger claims to have killed 40 people, though he’s also pleaded not guilty to everything, so go figure.
(The Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, one of J. Edgar Hoover’s many innovations as director of the FBI, is a perfect representation of his uncanny skills at public relations. In short, one of Hoover’s first orders of business after taking the helm of the newly minted FBI was to build an impenetrable shield of public support. He knew that such support would be essential to surviving the hostile political waters of Washington. His efforts went far beyond a few press releases—he encouraged the creation of pulp magazines, bubble gum cards, and comics. Likewise, he worked with Hollywood to produce such “G-Men” films as Public Enemy’s Wife, Show Them No Mercy, and The FBI Story. One film—Public Enemy Number One—even put Hoover in its advertisement campaign. The common image we have today of FBI special agents—of dark suits and neckties—is a direct result of these efforts, and has endured for 80 years. The Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list was an accidental success that Hoover capitalized on. He and the editor-in-chief of the International News Service collaborated to find ways to promote the Bureau’s prowess at hunting down fugitives. The resulting news story was so popular that the FBI created an official list, and has maintained it since 1950. The upshot to all of this is that Hoover and his Bureau were made invincible early on and successfully weathered some pretty awful events, including Ruby Ridge, Waco, the Whitey Bulger affair, COINTELPRO operations, and so on. J. Edgar Hoover went on to serve as FBI director for an astonishing 48 years. For comparison, a seat on the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, and even then, the longest-service justice only lasted 36 years. Hoover’s story, and how the whole of the intelligence community attempted to emulate his press savvy, are recounted at length in my new book.)
2. Saddam Hussein
So after Shock and Awe, Saddam Hussein got the impression that the United States didn’t like him much, and he bolted from Baghdad. The name of the mission that caught him was Operation RED DAWN, and the places it searched were called Wolverine 1 and Wolverine 2. Really. Here’s how it all went down: U.S. intelligence and the Joint Special Operations Command had been hunting Saddam pretty relentlessly since the invasion, eventually narrowing his location to somewhere in the vicinity of Ad-Dawr, Iraq. A 600 soldier force descended upon the Wolverine sites, and combed the desert in Spaceballs fashion. They turned up little. Soldiers from 4th Infantry Division then spread out and formed a cordon, and Delta Force went after a suspicious little farm nearby with a suspicious little hut and a suspicious little trap door covered in dirt. (They deduced that something suspicious was going on.) Beneath the trap door was an eight-foot-hole. At the bottom was Saddam Hussein, a pistol, a couple of AK-47s, and 750 dollars Americano. Said Saddam: “I am Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq, and I want to negotiate,” and everyone laughed. After a trial, Hussein was executed by hanging.
3. John Allen Muhammad
You probably know this guy as the D.C. Sniper. He was born in Baton Rouge, trained in the Louisiana Army National Guard, and served in the Gulf War. At some point, he became a big fan of al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden in particular. Muhammed was a big supporter of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and a year later, he went on a determined killing spree of his own in Washington, D.C. (His previous murders in Louisiana and Georgia were leisurely by comparison.) He used his Chevrolet Caprice as a mobile sniper nest. With an accomplice driving, Muhammed could climb into the trunk from the back seat, and fire his rifle from the prone position through a small hole near the license plate. In October 2002, he randomly killed or wounded 13 people. He would have been captured earlier—he had, in fact, been stopped multiple times by police officers on various occasions over the course of his killing spree—but everyone was focused on a mysterious white van. Eventually, witness accounts helped determined that a blue Caprice was a vehicle of interest. On October 24, a witness spotted the vehicle at a rest stop, Muhammed and his accomplice asleep inside. Police closed off the rest stop, and arrested him. In 2009, he was killed by lethal injection.
4. Adolf Eichmann
When it comes to evil, you’re going to have a hard time finding someone worse than Adolf Eichmann. With his logistical prowess and German work ethic, he helped exterminate six million Jews. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that he didn’t just surrender when things went bad for the Nazis. You probably will be surprised to learn that the Army caught him right away, but nobody worried too much about him because he said his name was Otto. He eventually slipped away from custody and spent a couple of years hiding in Germany, and later Italy (here he called himself Ricardo, because why not?). In 1950, he found a home in Argentina, where he managed a rabbit farm, among other jobs.
The Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, doesn’t care for Nazi war criminals, and immediately set about hunting them down. Evidence later narrowed Eichmann’s location to Argentina, where his son undid him. It seems the junior Eichmann had a girlfriend, and liked to brag to her about his father’s talents in genocide. The girlfriend’s father went to the district attorney, who then approached the Mossad. After an investigation and round-the-clock surveillance, the Mossad and Shin Bet snatched up Eichmann at a bus stop outside of Buenos Aires. They dressed him as a flight attendant to smuggle him on a plane, and pumped him full of drugs so that he looked drunk, and so that no one would ask questions. They brought him to Israel to stand trial. Said Eichmann years before: "I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction." He was found guilty of committing crimes against humanity (among other things), and was committed to death by hanging.