Weird History
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How Long The Longest Manhunts In History Actually Were

Updated July 29, 2021 3k votes 794 voters 296.4k views11 items

List RulesVote 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. 

  • 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. 

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  • 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).

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  • 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. 

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  • Photo: Niagara66 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    Frank Freshwaters - 56 Years

    Convicted of manslaughter after running over a military veteran in 1957 in Akron, OH, Frank Freshwaters escaped from an honor farm two years later. He lived under an assumed name for decades until he was finally apprehended in Florida in 2016.

    Freshwaters was nicknamed the "Shawshank Fugitive" after fleeing the Ohio State Reformatory, which was used as a shooting location for the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption. He was released after just five months behind bars.

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