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12 Things We Just Learned About The Biggest Manhunts In History

Updated May 21, 2021 7.4k votes 1.3k voters 73.5k views12 items

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The biggest manhunts in history each have their own well-known pieces of the story. The who, what, when, where, and why take over, but the cases also have strange and fascinating side stories that play a major part in the overall narrative. For anyone wondering about the largest manhunt in American history, that's in here. So is the most expensive, as well as the manhunt that probably wasn't legal.

Many of the most famous bandits in history have been the focus of insane manhunts. The following stories feature some of the most classic true crime tropes: lawmen coming out of retirement, amazing escapes, and people going above and beyond the call of duty to bring a criminal to justice. Some manhunts were marred by mistakes or focus on fugitives who have escaped justice for decades.

Not all of the following manhunts are over, and it's still possible that new pieces of information could come out about some of these felonies.

  • Photo: Government Press Office (Israel) / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Adolf Eichmann was one of the men directly responsible for the demise of 6 million people during the Holocaust, something of which he was immensely proud. He worked out the logistics of the genocide following the Wannsee Conference and enjoyed success within the Nazi Party. He escaped justice at the Nuremberg trials and was funneled out of Europe and into Argentina by Nazi sympathizers in the Catholic Church.

    By 1950, Eichmann was going by Ricardo Klement and living a quiet life in South America. After learning about his location and the fact that he was just hanging out in town, members of the Mossad (an intelligence agency in Israel) traveled to Buenos Aires and picked him up when he got off the bus before dragging him to a safe house and flying him to Israel.

    Eichmann's capture had to be kept quiet because the operation's legality was debatable, but he was put on trial anyway and sentenced to hang on May 31, 1962.


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  • John Wilkes Booth was the sole target of one of the earliest well-known manhunts in American history. After assassinating President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, Booth went on the run from the authorities on a broken leg that he earned in the fall from Lincoln's presidential box, first making his way to a friend's home in Maryland, and then to a swamp.

    Booth hid out in Maryland's Zekiah Swamp, where David Herold, one of his conspirators, brought him supplies and newspapers; however, there was no clear way out of the mess he was in. A $100,000 bounty hung over his head, as well as the shadow of thousands of Union soldiers who were making their way through the area with the intent of dragging him back to DC.

    Booth and Herold managed to escape the swamp and make their way to a tobacco farm in Virginia while posing as injured Confederate soldiers. The ruse worked for a while, but on April 26, the Union Army boxed Booth and Herold into a barn where they were hiding. Herold surrendered, but Booth wouldn't go without a fight. After setting the barn ablaze, the military just waited for Booth to escape the flames. When he finally left the barn, he was shot in the neck. He passed a few hours later.


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  • Photo: Florida Department of Corrections / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Ted Bundy didn't just lead authorities on one manhunt; he took state and federal officers on multiple wild goose chases through several states. After a series of brutal slayings in the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado, Bundy was first arrested in August 1975 after police stopped him while he was driving with a busted taillight on a Utah highway.

    In February 1976, Bundy was found guilty of attempted kidnapping and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. During that time, authorities were investigating his connection to a series of slayings in the area. Later that year, he was charged with the murder of Caryn Campbell in Colorado, where he was extradited to stand trial.

    Bundy served as his own lawyer - something that gave him the opportunity to visit the Pitkin County Courthouse law library without leg irons. During a recess in 1977, Bundy escaped through a window. Six days later, he was arrested in Aspen after police noticed the car he was driving weaving in and out of traffic.

    While in prison waiting for his trial, Bundy got to work planning his second escape. He cut a hole in the ceiling of his cell with a hacksaw smuggled to him by other inmates, and after losing enough weight to fit through the hole, he made trial runs through the walls. On December 30, with most of the staff on Christmas break, he made his way through the ceiling, into the warden's apartment, and then he left through the front door.

    Bundy escaped to Tallahassee, FL, where he just sort of bummed around for a couple of weeks in January 1978 while Colorado authorities searched for him throughout the state. Bundy couldn't keep his horrific proclivities tamped down in spite of the fact that he was a wanted man, so he went back to committing vile acts, but he changed his MO.

    It's not clear if Bundy went on a slaying spree in the Chi Omega sorority house on January 14, 1978, as a means of throwing the authorities off his scent or if he was just completely gone at this point, but after viciously assaulting four women and killing two of them, all eyes were on Florida. On February 9, he picked up a 12-year-old girl and ended her life in gruesome fashion. Within a few days, he was busted again after loitering in his car suspiciously.


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    D.B. Cooper's Real Name Is Still Unknown

    When D.B. Cooper highjacked a Boeing 727 on November 24, 1971, he shouldn't have been able to escape as easily as he did - or jump out of the plane with $200,000 in cash strapped to his chest. Barring the fact that he escaped without a trace, it's unbelievable that the authorities still don't know his name.

    Cooper bought a ticket at the Portland International Airport under the name "Dan Cooper," boarded the plane, and handed a note to a flight attendant stating his plans to take everyone on the plane captive. After receiving his ransom money and the parachutes he requested, Cooper jumped out of the plane somewhere over Washington and was never heard from again.

    Some of his cash was recovered in 1980, but in spite of multiple private investigations and theories surrounding Cooper's identity, the truth has never been discovered.