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Teacher replaces Osama on most wanted list

People: Eric J. Toth,a schoolteacher from the Washington area,is accused of possessing child pornography

Written by New York Times | Washington |
April 12, 2012 1:28:28 am

MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT

Shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed last May,the FBI sent out a request to field offices across the country: Nominate fugitives who could fill Osama’s place on the bureau’s 10 Most Wanted list.

The choice is more complicated than simply finding a violent criminal who has committed a high-profile crime. In recent years,bureau officials have also tried to select other dangerous fugitives who may have been hiding in plain sight but could be recognised by the public because they have distinctive physical features.

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On Tuesday,the FBI finally filled Osama’s place on the list,adding Eric J. Toth,a schoolteacher from the Washington area accused of possessing child pornography. It was the first time since 2009 that the FBI had added a fugitive to the list.

“We have had a couple of vacancies on the list that we’ve been trying to fill,” said Kevin L. Perkins,the FBI’s acting executive director for criminal and cyber operations,referring to the spots left by Osama and the Boston crime boss James (Whitey) Bulger,who was arrested last June.

In fact,just last month,officials were preparing to ask the bureau’s director for approval to choose a fugitive accused of killing three police officers in Puerto Rico. But then that person was caught. Using most-wanted posters to enlist the public’s help in catching criminals dates to the early part of J. Edgar Hoover’s tenure as the head of the FBI in the early 1930s,when the face of the notorious bank robber John Dillinger was on a “public enemies list.” In 1950,the bureau began using the list of 10 Most Wanted Fugitives. The first,Thomas Holden,was accused of killing his wife and two brothers-in-law. A little more than a year later,he was caught.

Since then,the FBI has caught 464 of 494 fugitives on the list. As American society has changed,so too has the list. For decades,the FBI list was displayed in post offices. But as the number of postal patrons has dropped,the bureau has put the list on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter,and on billboards.

The types of “most-wanted” criminals have also changed. Instead of highlighting just the most violent and high-profile criminals,“every once in a while we break the mould,” Perkins said,referring to the choice of physically distinctive fugitives.

The authorities believe they have a good chance of catching Toth because he has distinctive features. “He has a mole under one of his eyes. He is tall and lanky,” Perkins said.

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