How Long The Longest Manhunts In History Actually Were

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Vote up the most elusive fugitives.

It's a tricky business staying one step ahead of the law, especially if you find yourself on the FBI's Most Wanted list. Yet some of the individuals featured here evaded capture for staggeringly long periods of time; in some cases, almost entire lifetimes spent on the run.

Some were the result of cunning, others of corruption and a worldwide web of resources, while others were just plain old dumb luck and incompetence on the part of the pursuers. This collection features some of the longest-lasting manhunts in modern history whose "hunted men" were finally caught. 

  • Ted Kaczynski - 17 Years
    Photo: Jeanne Boylan / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Unabomber was at large for 17 years and subject to one of the largest manhunts in American history. Ted Kaczynski was a reclusive former mathematics professor who built increasingly sophisticated incendiary devices with simple household items scrubbed clean of forensic evidence. Little headway was made by the task force formed to track him down until a big break in the case came in 1995, from Kaczynski himself.

    The Unabomber sent a 35,000-word manifesto to the New York Times and other major newspapers. After the controversial decision was made to allow the piece to be published, members of Kaczynski's estranged family recognized the language and came forward. In 1996 Kaczynski was apprehended in a remote cabin in Montana. He was sentenced to eight consecutive life sentences in 1998. 

    He was found unresponsive in his cell on June 10, 2023, he had taken his own life. 

    583 votes
  • 2
    227 VOTES

    James Robert Jones - 37 Years

    James Robert Jones was a former US Army private convicted of stabbing another soldier in 1974. He broke free of military prison three years later and stayed on the run for more than three decades. Using an assumed name, he lived a quiet, normal life in Florida.

    His past finally caught up with him in 2014 when police got wind of Jones living in the Sunshine State. They compared his old mugshots to a database of driver's license pictures and tracked Jones down to Deerfield Beach, FL. Neighbors were shocked to learn of his dark past. 

    227 votes
  • Leonard Fristoe - 46 Years
    Photo: The National Map, US Geological Survey / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    302 VOTES

    Leonard Fristoe - 46 Years

    In 1920, Leonard T. Fristoe was sentenced to life in prison for two slayings but escaped after three years. After driving the prison warden to a brothel (really!), he and an accomplice took the opportunity to flee. 

    Some 46 years later, a frail 77-year-old man appeared before a Nevada judge. A local newspaper described the scene:

    The snowy-haired fugitive was helped from the courtroom witness stand by several sheriff’s deputies who called him "Pop."

    Pop whispered to the judge that he just wanted to "go back and get it over with." He only served five months of his sentence; he was pardoned by the governor, who didn't see the sense of having an older adult live out his few remaining days in custody. 

    302 votes
  • Bernardo Provenzano - 43 Years
    Photo: Italian State Police / Wikipedia / Fair use

    Bernardo Provenzano was an infamous figure in the Sicilian Mafia who managed to elude authorities for more than four decades. He oversaw a faction in the town of Corleone, most famous for inspiring the imaginary protagonist of The Godfather

    Although Provenzano shared many qualities with the fictional crime lord, his nickname was a good deal more chilling than Mario Puzo's character. The Tractor was so-called because he mowed down anyone who got in his way. He was highly secretive, and only a 1959 mugshot existed for authorities to track him down for homicide in 1963. 

    Finally, in 2006, police found an elderly man living in a dilapidated farmhouse in Sicily; Provenzano was 73 when he was apprehended. It was a delivery of clean laundry to his hideout which ultimately led to his capture. He passed after 10 years in custody in 2016. (The mugshots show an artist's age-progressed rendition of what Provenzano was suspected to look like versus what he actually looked like).

    498 votes
  • James "Whitey" Bulger was on the run for a total of 16 years, spending 12 years on the FBI's Most Wanted list (1999-2011); he was considered second only to Osama bin Laden in priority. Bulger was a crime boss in the Boston area who oversaw an expansive criminal enterprise in the 1980s and early '90s. He also worked as an FBI informant for many years, helping to take down rival gangs and ensure the activities of his own were largely ignored.

    He received a tipoff of his impending detainment and fled the Boston area just before Christmas in 1994. He spent the next 16 years on the run, sparking a worldwide search that finally ended with his capture at age 81 in California. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for his array of crimes and perished in a West Virginia prison in 2018. 

    418 votes
  • George Mulholland - 58 Years
    Photo: Sir Raymond Garrett / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    375 VOTES

    George Mulholland - 58 Years

    It's not a killer or a hardened gangster who holds the record for the longest prison escape, but an Australian man who stole a police baton during a riot in Victoria. As he tells it, the act was to simply stop a police officer from striking an elderly protestor. George Mulholland, then 23, picked the lock of his cell and vaulted over the prison walls in 1928. He escaped to Sydney and eventually settled in Newcastle. 

    It's fair to say authorities weren't exactly breaking out the roadblocks to apprehend Mulholland given the relatively minor nature of his offense. Long after the police had given up hope of finding him, an 80-year-old man arrived at the watchhouse of Melbourne's city jail to give himself up. He was pardoned and given his old mugshots as a memento.

    375 votes