10 Firsthand Accounts Of History's Biggest Manhunts From People Who Helped End Them

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Vote up the most insightful accounts from some of history's biggest manhunts.

Hunts for criminals can last hours, days, weeks, or even months. Some of them span years and even decades as countless individuals take part in investigations to bring malefactors to justice.

Many manhunts, especially the shortest ones to have ever taken place, might be little known. Others, like the search for Adolf Eichmann, are noteworthy for a host of reasons, while still other manhunts remain ongoing and may never come to an end.

A lot of planning, coordination, frustration, and relief go into these searches, all of which the individuals involved can attest to. Here are some firsthand accounts from the men and women who were part of the biggest manhunts in history - vote up the ones that offer the most insight into what actually went down when the hunt was on. 

  • John Wilkes Booth Told The Men Sent To Capture Him, 'I Will Put A Bullet Through You'
    Photo: J.W. Black and John G. Case / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    After shooting President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865, John Wilkes Booth fled on horseback. He was on the run for 12 days, venturing into Maryland before meeting up with fellow conspirator David Herold. With the help of Confederate sympathizers, Booth and Herold made their way into Virginia

    According to Captain Edward P. Doherty, who'd been tasked with apprehending the men two days earlier: "I took the first 25 men in the saddle, Sergeant Boston Corbett being the only member of my own company." Alongside detectives, Doherty and his men "passed the Garrett farm, not then dreaming that the assassins were conceived there." 

    Herold and Booth were, in fact, hiding at the farm owned by Richard Garrett, where Union soldiers arrived to confront them on April 26. Doherty described the scene

    I unlocked the [barn] door, and... summoned the inmates of the building to surrender... I directed a corporal to pile up some hay in a crack in the wall of the barn, and set the building on fire. As the corporal was picking up the hay and brush Booth said, "If you come back here I will put a bullet through you." I then motioned to the corporal to desist, and decided to wait for daylight and then to enter the barn by both doors and overpower the assassins.

    Herold later surrendered and, when he reached the door, Doherty recalled:

    I asked him to hand out his arms; he replied that he had none. I told him I knew exactly what weapons he had. Booth replied, "I own all the arms, and may have to use them on you, gentlemen." I then said to Herold, "Let me see your hands." He put them through the partly opened door and I seized him by the wrists.

    Booth remained defiant, however, and when he made a sudden movement, Seargent Boston Corbett shot Booth in the back of the head. As Doherty described it, the wound was:

    ...about an inch below the spot where his shot had entered the head of Mr. Lincoln... We gave him brandy and water, but he could not swallow it. I sent to Port Royal for a physician, who could do nothing when he came, and at seven o'clock Booth breathed his last. 

  • When The Authorities Caught Up To Bonnie And Clyde, They 'Weren't Taking Any Chances'
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow traversed large parts of the US during the early 1930s, robbing banks, stores, and other establishments along the way. Accompanied for a time by Clyde's brother, Buck, and Buck's wife, Blanche, the group also killed 13 people.

    Former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer came in to track down the fugitives in 1934. As he conducted his investigation, Hamer "interviewed many people who knew [Clyde], and studied numerous pictures of him and his woman companion." Hamer was able to gain insight into the outlaw's preferences, habits, and mind, while learning about Bonnie by paying a clerk in Dallas to tell him about "the size, color, and pattern" of her dresses and the accessories she wore. 

    During his pursuit of the couple, Hamer tracked them through Texas and surrounding states, following them back to Louisiana. Hamer wanted to "catch Clyde when he was 'at home'... it was my hope to take him and Bonnie alive."

    However, when Hamer and fellow officers, including Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn, caught up to Bonnie and Clyde in May 1934, a fatal shootout ensued. Hinton and Alcorn described what took place:

    Each of us six officers had a shotgun and an automatic rifle and pistols. We opened fire with automatic rifles. They were emptied before the car even got to us. Then we used shotguns... there was smoke coming from the car, and it looked like it was on fire. After shooting the shotguns, we emptied the pistols at the car, which had passed us and ran into a ditch about 50 yards on down the road. It almost turned over. We kept shooting at the car even after it stopped. We weren't taking any chances.

    Both Bonnie and Clyde were deceased and, when asked about the former, Hamer said:

    I hate to bust the cap on a woman, especially when she was sitting down; however, if it wouldn't have been her [sic], it would have been us.

  • Christopher Dorner Ambushed Authorities, Leaving Them With Only One Option
    Photo: BigBearCabins / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    Former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner went on a killing spree in 2013 based on revenge. Disgruntled after his recent dismissal from the police department, Dorner posted a "manifesto" identifying several of his targets as he embarked upon his murderous rampage.

    His first victims were Monica Quan, the daughter of a Los Angeles police officer and Dorner's former advocate, and Quan's fiance, Keith Lawrence. He then exchanged gunfire with authorities on numerous occasions, fatally shooting one officer in the process. 

    A manhunt in California, Nevada, and Arizona extended south into Mexico, with the emphasis later centered in the Big Bear Lake area of California. As San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon explained: "He could be anywhere... that's why we're searching door to door." 

    Ultimately, authorities discovered Dorner in a cabin near Big Bear Lake. Sheriff's Captain Gregg Herbert described what happened when law enforcement arrived:

    Every time they tried to move, Dorner was shooting at them... There was bullets snapping through the trees.

    Two officers were hit, one of whom succumbed to his injuries. The assault team then used gas, which led to a fire breaking out at the cabin. Herbert later explained that "this was our only option."

    Dorner shot himself while in the cabin, but as it burned around him, several officers on the scene were heard making comments about burning the cabin down. McMahon went on the record to state: "We did not intentionally burn that cabin down." He then defended the remarks by his officers:

    They had just been involved in probably one of the most fierce firefights. Sometimes, because we're humans, they say things that may or may not be appropriate.

  • Ted Bundy Had A 'Well-Masked Anger Toward Women' 
    Photo: Donn Dughi / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    David Lee, the police officer who arrested Ted Bundy, took the serial killer into custody for driving a stolen car in February 1978. When Pensacola Police Chief Norman Chapman first met with Bundy that night, he found him to be "very personable, very charismatic, very unalarming." He also admitted at the time that he had no idea who Bundy was.

    Bundy was a wanted man who'd kidnapped, assaulted, and killed numerous women around the US for years. He had previously been captured on two occasions. The first, in Utah, resulted in a psychiatric assessment in which a prison psychiatrist determined he had:

    A fairly strong dependency on women, and yet he also has a strong need to be independent. I feel this creates a fairly strong conflict, in that he would like a close relationship with females but is fearful of being hurt by them. There were indications of general anger and, more particularly, well-masked anger toward women.

    Later, on December 31, 1977, Bundy escaped from confinement in Aspen, CO. An ensuing manhunt pushed the killer east to Florida and, after he was finally captured, he was sentenced to death for his crimes. One of the lawyers involved in Bundy's case, Jerry Blair, admitted no one really knew what drove Bundy:  

    Ted Bundy was a complex man who somewhere along the line went wrong... He killed for the sheer thrill of the act and the challenge of escaping his pursuers. He probably could have done anything in life he set his mind to do, but something happened to him and we still don't know what it was.

    It was this complexity that factored into authorities overlooking Bundy as a suspect at the time of several of his crimes. As early as 1973, former police officer and author Ann Rule met Bundy, thought he looked like a homicide suspect, and reported it to police. In the end, no one took her seriously and, according to Rule

    The head of the Search and Rescue group for Washington State... teased Ted about his being a "look-alike" for the "Ted" the police were looking for.

  • The FBI Was 'So Pessimistic' About Finding James 'Whitey' Bulger - Until A Cat Intervened
    Photo: US Attorney's Office / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Organized crime boss and FBI informant James "Whitey" Bulger headed the Winter Hill Gang in Massachusetts from the mid-1970s through the 1990s. After leaving the Boston area during the mid-1990s, Bulger was on the run until his capture in 2011. 

    Bulger was #2 on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list and, in his own words, "a cat got me captured." Bulger and his long-time girlfriend, Catherine Greig, used to help one of their neighbors in Santa Monica tend to an abandoned cat. It was only after the neighbor moved that she realized who Bulger and Greig really were.

    Based on the information the neighbor gave them, Special Agent Neil Sullivan "was quite convinced we had them." Another agent, Scott Garriola, remained skeptical: 

    I was still so pessimistic, having already covered so many Bulger leads over the years... But something told me that I should go cover this one.

    Bulger and Greig were captured in Santa Monica, CA, at which point the lead investigator in the search, Rich Teahan, recalled, "I just jumped in the air. Finally we got this guy and we did it our own way."

    Teahan explained exactly how Bulger and his companion were apprehended:

    The tip basically said, "The people living at the Princess Eugenia Apartments, in Unit 303, Charlie and Carol Gasko, are actually Jim Bulger and Catherine Greig."

    From there, authorities entered the apartment, where they found weapons, ammunition, and money. They also found evidence that Bulger planned to travel to casinos in Nevada. According to Teahan: "He would take those old hundred dollar bills and ‘wash’ them into new money. He had an envelope in the apartment, and it was entitled, ‘new money.’”

  • After James Earl Ray shot and killed Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, he led authorities on an international manhunt that lasted more than two months. This wasn't Ray's first time being on the run, as he'd escaped from prison in 1967. Before arriving in Memphis, TN, Ray spent time in Canada and Mexico before returning to the US.

    In the days and weeks after King's assassination, Ray went to Europe via Canada. After landing in England, he visited Portugal and then returned to London. Hundreds of FBI agents coordinated with officials in Canada and the UK and, on July 8, Ray was arrested. According to historian and author Hampton Sides: "The officer who detained him had no idea he was James Earl Ray" - he was originally detained for having two passports. Ray was extradited back to the US in July and later received 99 years in prison for King's assassination.

    During the manhunt, questions over whether Ray acted alone were of utmost importance. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman commented on Ray's time in Toronto, noting:

    He didn't come cold into the city... there was help of some kind. 

    No one ever determined with any amount of certainty if Ray had help, although some theories identify Ray as a patsy, not the actual assassin. In 1978, a Congressional hearing determined "that the evidence provided the likely outlines of conspiracy in the assassination of Dr. King."