They say you can’t run from the law forever, but that doesn't stop crooks from giving it the old college try. These fugitives from justice have been criss-crossing the globe fleeing the law for years and even decades. Some of them have been caught, some of them disappeared without a trace, but they’re all some of the sneakiest guys on Earth. Here are 10 fugitives who mastered the art of elusion.
Robert Leon Davis
When cops turn crooked, you bet your life that they’ll do everything they can to not get caught. For Robert Leon Davis, a New Orleans police officer caught in a web of corruption, that included leaving every aspect of his life behind. After being caught by Internal Affairs, Davis made bail and fled to Canada, where he lived in the wilderness for 22 years, camping out and only rejoining civilization to work cash jobs and buy supplies. In the Canadian woods he had an epiphany and decided to go back to New Orleans and face the music, and amazingly he served no time, instead devoting his life to God and helping others not make the same mistakes.
The amazing story of Patrick Critton’s flight from justice actually started with a simple misunderstanding. In 1971, Critton believed that he was mistakenly wanted for a bank robbery in New York so he hijacked a plane and demanded to be flown to Cuba. Once he got there, he spent a few months in prison before getting a job on a sugar plantation. Eventually he moved to Tanzania, got married, and had two kids before returning to America in 1994. He thought the heat had gone away, but an idle Google search by a detective discovered him and fingerprints found on a ginger ale bottle from the plane hijack brought him in in 2001. He only served a year for his crimes, which is even more ironic.
One thing that often keeps criminals from prosecution is a deal with law enforcement, but even that couldn’t save James “Whitey” Bulger. The Boston-area Mafioso masterminded a huge protection racket in the 1970s, and covered his butt by working as a confidential informant for the FBI. Unfortunately, when the media started exposing his corrupt ties to many local businesses and politicians, the Bureau couldn’t protect him any longer. Bulger split Boston and went into hiding, managing to stay undercover for a staggering sixteen years before being arrested in Santa Monica at the ripe old age of 81.
Compared to some of the other heavy hitters on this list, Colton Harris-Moore, who was dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit” by the press, barely spent any time on the run. But his brazen defiance of the law, as well as his young age, have made him a cult figure. Harris-Moore started living in the wild at the age of 7, robbing vacation homes for food, and in 2008 he walked out of a halfway house in Washington State and started a life on the run. Harris-Moore stole a variety of vehicles, including boats and small planes, and perpetrated over 100 robberies from 2008 to 2010, often not wearing shoes. Teaching himself how to fly with video games, the Barefoot Bandit eventually made his way to the Bahamas, where he was captured by police at the age of 19.
Ian Jackson MacDonald
In 1980, Ian Jackson MacDonald was known as “Big Mac,” a small-time drug runner who got busted trying to bring 500 pounds of pot to Canada from Fort Lauderdale. After he was taken into custody, he faked a heart attack to get transferred to a hospital and then vanished. For the next thirty years, MacDonald set up a new identity in Pennsylvania, even getting his wife to join him in his new life. Using the alias Jack D. Hunter, MacDonald built a successful business and even ended up owning an appliance store. He eventually retired and moved back to Florida, where authorities found him in the tiny town of Homosassa in 2001.
Probably the most famous fugitive of all time, D.B. Cooper was the mastermind of the only unsolved plane hijacking in American history. In 1971, Cooper boarded an airplane in Portland and took command of it, claiming to have sticks of dynamite in his bag. He made the plane land in Seattle, demanded $200,000 and two parachutes, and, after getting paid off, headed the jet to Mexico. Over southwestern Washington, Cooper opened the cargo hold and parachuted out, never to be seen again. Some of the money was found nine years later washed up on the banks of the Columbia River. The FBI has investigated over a thousand possible suspects but the real Cooper is still at large. Or dead.
Here’s an unusual fugitive for the files. When Paula Carroll was arrested in Melbourne, Florida, her neighbors were shocked – what kind of trouble could this grandmother and Boy Scout supporter be in? It turned out that Carroll – who was using the name “Sharon Brown” – had been eluding the authorities for a staggering 34 years. In 1975, Carroll was arrested for receiving stolen property and sentenced to five years at the Florida Correctional Institution. Less than two months into her sentence, she escaped along with another convict and disappeared. The other inmate was recaptured, but Carroll was in the wind. She stole the Sharon Brown identity from a woman who shared her birthdate and soon got married and became a stay at home mom who was a pillar of her community. Until the cops hauled her in so she could finish serving her time.
When you leave the Mexican drug cartels, you usually do it in a pine box. For Joaquin Guzman, the head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, he’s managed to keep control of his criminal empire while running from the law for over a decade. After escaping an assassination attempt in 1993, Guzman fled to Guatemala, where he was arrested and extradited back to Mexico. In prison, he masterminded an escape attempt in 2001 that involved over 70 people. Since then, he’s been the Mexican police’s top target. The dwarfish criminal – he stands only five foot six – has made a handful of public appearances since then but still manages to elude the cops.
One of America’s most wanted fugitives for over four decades, George Wright just embarked on what might be the craziest chapter of his already wild story. In 1962, Wright and some accomplices committed a string of armed robberies that culminated in the murder of a decorated World War II veteran. Sentenced to 15 to 30 years, Wright escaped in 1970 with three other inmates. He spent two years on the run before hijacking a plane in Detroit. Wright and his cohorts forced the plane to fly to Algiers. After decades in Europe under an assumed name, Wright was finally caught in Portugal. The kicker? Because he’s a Portugese citizen, that government is refusing to extradite him to the United States to face trial for his crimes.
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The record for the longest escape from justice probably belongs to Austrian doctor Aribert Heim. Known as “Dr. Death,” Heim practiced his grisly experiments in the Nazi concentration camp at Malthusen during World War II. These “experiments” didn’t advance the cause of science as much as they gave Heim his jollies by torturing Jewish people and Gypsies to death. After the war ended, Heim was captured and taken to a POW camp. He was actually released and worked as a gynecologist until his crimes came to light in 1962, when he disappeared. He fled through Europe to Africa, and despite a worldwide manhunt that stretched over nearly half a century, he still has not been found. Some believe he died in 1992 but nobody is certain.