The popular “Most Wanted” feature in The Washington Examiner reached a milestone this week when readers helped U.S. Marshals nab the 50th fugitive profiled in the newspaper.
The weekly feature, which first ran in July 2008, was inspired by the FBI's "most wanted" posters that appear in post offices.
Editors weren't sure the idea would work. They knew stories about the D.C. area's most dangerous fugitives would make for lively reading. But would they actually lead to arrests?
The answer came quickly.
Within weeks, tips from readers resulted in three captures, including one violent offender who vowed not to be taken alive.
"The Washington Examiner and its readers have done a tremendous public service in helping law enforcement bring fugitives to justice," said U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr.
|READ THE STORY OF THE 50TH CAPTURE
Persistent tipster helps marshals nab killer limo driver
SEE THE CAPTURED FUGITIVES
See all 50 of the fugitives captured with the help of Washington Examiner readers
READ THEIR STORIES
Read the stories of each of the 50 captured fugitives
Among those arrests that were a direct result of readers' tips were a man wanted in a 1997 cold-case slaying, a teenager accused of killing a 16-year-old boy and stuffing his body in a closet, and a key figure in one of the largest federal contracting scams in United States history.
Rob Fernandez, commander of the U.S. Marshals' Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force, says The Examiner has become a valuable crime-fighting tool. The fugitives selected to appear in "Most Wanted" are generally violent offenders that the task force has been unable to find on its own. The weekly feature also helps people realize that fighting crime is a responsibility for all, Fernandez said.
"It gives people the power," he said.
"This shows more reader engagement than I've seen in four decades in journalism," said Stephen G. Smith, editor of The Washington Examiner. "Our readers have joined with us in trying to make the community safer. They're showing that newspapers are still kicking at a time when many media critics are writing them off."
The arrest that established the credibility of the feature was the arrest of the second fugitive, Derrick Arthur, whom investigators had called a "1 percenter" because he represented the small percentage of fugitives who mean it when they say they won't be taken alive.
|"The predators became the prey."
-- Michael Sanborn, FBI Special Agent
In 2005, Arthur had escaped police during a wild shoot-out in the District. Armed with a handgun, Arthur dragged a female hostage from a hotel, vowing to never return to prison. With a remote control device, he started his car, climbed in the vehicle and drove toward officers. Police opened fire, the car crashed into a fence, and an officer was struck by a bullet. Arthur got away.
Three years later, Arthur became one of the first fugitives profiled in The Examiner. An acquaintance saw his story and called investigators with information about the fugitive's whereabouts. This time, Arthur didn't get away.
"The predators became the prey," FBI Special Agent Michael Sanborn said.
Sometimes fugitives are arrested the morning their story appears in the newspaper and on its website. That happened with convicted sex offender Andre Stevenson, who had failed to register with police.
In his case, commuters reading The Examiner at a Southeast Washington bus stop looked up to see Stevenson, who was that morning's featured fugitive, hanging out across the street near a day care center. The citizens called the authorities and surrounded Stevenson until police arrived.
Three fugitives turned themselves in to authorities after their profiles appeared in the newspaper. In the case of Omar Weaver, former All-America high school basketball player and NBA prospect who was wanted for a series of armed carjackings, he surrendered to spare his family additional embarrassment.
With the internet, fugitives have been captured months after the story appears and as far as way as New York.
Task force members used the long reach of The Examiner to nab a man in D.C. suspected in the cold case killing in southern Virginia. Lonnie Bowers Jr. had eluded authorities for years after the 1997 killing of 21-year-old Carl Shawn Turner.
Law enforcement officials searching for Bowers turned to The Examiner in October 2011. Within hours of Bowers' story hitting the streets and appearing on washingtonexaminer.com, marshals received a tip from a reader and had the fugitive in handcuffs. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
After the sentencing, Turner's mother hugged Suffolk Police Detective Sgt. Gary Myrick, who headed the cold-case investigation, and told him that bringing her son's killer to justice brought some relief to the family.
"Rather than bring my son back," she told him, "we can have some peace, and my family can move on."
Contact Scott McCabe at email@example.com.