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Whitey Bulger arrest: How many of the FBI's 'Most Wanted' get nabbed?

The ability that Whitey Bulger had to elude law enforcement is atypical. The longtime fugitive was arrested Wednesday in California after more than a decade on the lam.

By Staff writer / June 23, 2011

This image provided by the FBI shows the Ten Most Wanted Poster page for Whitey Bulger listing Bulger as captured shortly after it was announced he had been captured near Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 22. Bulger, a notorious Boston gangster on the FBI's 'Ten Most Wanted' list for his alleged role in 19 murders, has been captured near Los Angeles after living on the run for 16 years, authorities said Wednesday.

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Say you’re a fugitive from justice. If you’re added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Ten Most Wanted” list, are you more likely to get caught?

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We asked this while perusing the news about James “Whitey” Bulger, the longtime (alleged) Boston mob figure who was arrested Wednesday in California after more than a decade on the lam. He’d been a “Most Wanted” for years but was nabbed only after the FBI started republicizing his case. The bureau had begun circulating pictures of his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, on daytime TV, among other things.

It turns out that if a criminal is placed on the iconic list, he or she is as good as found, if you look at long-term statistics. According to the FBI, 494 fugitives have been placed on the Top 10 list since its inception in 1950. Of those, 465 have been apprehended or located. That’s a 94 percent success rate, by our calculation. (Mr. Bulger is included in this accounting, in case you’re interested.)

Of the 465 nabbed, 152 have been arrested because of citizen cooperation, according to the FBI. And where did the citizens who helped get their Top 10 info? Not from standing in line at the post office and reading the bulletin board – at least, not so much anymore. The biggest source of publicity leading to fugitive arrests is the Fox TV show “America’s Most Wanted.” It’s led to 10 such criminals being brought to justice.

In the future, social media might become the FBI’s best publicity tool. The Top 10 is on Facebook. And, yes, there’s an iPhone app for that.

Bulger’s arrest is typical in that it occurred far from the site of his alleged crimes. Over the past 20 years, only 15 percent of the Top 10 fugitives have been found in the city of their last known address. Fully 42 percent have been found in foreign countries.

But it turns out that Bulger’s ability to elude the FBI was atypical. Sixty percent of “Top Tenners” are arrested, located, or otherwise dealt with within a year of being placed on the list.

In addition, Bulger is the oldest person ever placed on the list. But he does not appear to have been the dimmest. That might be Donald Bussmeyer, a bank robber and career criminal who was nabbed shirtless in Upland, Calif., in 1967. The G-men knew they had their man because he’d tattooed his name on his chest.

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