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Jewish World Review March 28, 2000 / 21 Adar II, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports



10 good reasons to
avoid making this list -- SO THE OTHER DAY I'm looking at an old copy of the Baltimore News-Post, the edition of Feb. 20, 1962 (I try to stay up to date), and a story at the top of page 7 catches my eye.

The headline, from almost 40 years ago, says: "Veteran Ohio Criminal on `Most Wanted' List." A secondary headline reads: "Fond of Night Life."

The story begins: "WASHINGTON -- Harry Robert Grove Jr., a veteran Ohio criminal who likes night clubs, expensive restaurants and burlesque girls, was placed today on the FBI's list of 10 most wanted fugitives.

"Grove, 34, has been hunted by police since December, 1960, when he jumped bail while waiting trial in the robbery of a Toledo meat market. . . . He has been known to carry a pistol concealed either in a newspaper or under the front seat of his automobile."

As I'm reading this story about the nightclub-hopping, meat-market-robbing, burlesque-girl-loving criminal, it occurs to me that, while Grove, at least according to the newspaper account, does not sound like a particularly nice guy, he also doesn't sound like the kind of person who would necessarily make the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list today. A pistol concealed in a newspaper is a bad thing -- but in our new era of semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles wielded by troublemakers ranging from drug pushers to disturbed high school students, the description of Grove seems almost tame.

I begin to read more of the old newspaper -- there is a Louella Parsons column quoting Soupy Sales saying he feels movie studios should be producing more comedies, particularly more comedies starring Soupy Sales -- but then I decide to get in touch with the FBI.

I fear I am going to have to spend several minutes explaining to the FBI why I'm calling about a 10 Most Wanted criminal from more than 40 years ago -- but it turns out, by sheer coincidence, that this month is the 50th anniversary of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, and the agency is geared up to talk about it.

"Society changes," says Rex Tomb, the FBI spokesman on duty. "And the categories of crime change with it."

The 10 Most Wanted list, you might assume, goes back to the '20s and '30s, to the days of Al Capone and John Dillinger. But that's not true. Those kinds of fellows were often referred to as "Public Enemy No. 1," but the ranking -- and the "public enemy" designation -- was a product of imaginative (all right, semi-imaginative) newspaper copy editors, not the FBI.

The 10 Most Wanted list also had its genesis in a newsroom. A reporter for the International News Service, in 1949, asked the FBI for the names and descriptions of the "toughest guys" the FBI would like to capture. The story was so well received by the reading public that J. Edgar Hoover put the "10 Most Wanted" program into effect full-time.

Children going to the post office with their parents in the allegedly placid 1950s were accustomed to seeing the faces of the 10 Most Wanted tacked to the wall next to the stamp-cashier's window -- and a frightening sight that could be. Now, according to the FBI's Tomb (somehow that phrase sounds wrong), some post offices still display the 10 Most Wanted -- but many post offices around the country do not.

"I don't see [the FBI's 10 Most Wanted posters] in post offices as often now," Tomb says. "The postmasters use the wall space to promote new stamps and commemoratives."

But the slack in post office display has been more than made up for by the Internet ( and by television programs such as "America's Most Wanted." The composition of the 10 Most Wanted list is, in fact, considerably different from in the days of the burlesque-house-frequenting Mr. Grove; according to Rex Tomb, fugitives who are on the list today are wanted for such crimes as international terrorism, drug smuggling and bombings, and "60 percent of the fugitives on the list have connections overseas." So the multinationalism that has changed the face of American business has also changed the face of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted.

Not that this means things were any more peaceful back then, Tomb says: "Are criminals more dangerous now? Don't know. They were armed then, and they're armed now."

Do criminals take any pride in making the 10 Most Wanted list?

"Everyone likes to see their name and picture in the newspaper," Tomb says. "But if I had just robbed a bank and was on the run, the last thing I would want is to be on the 10 Most Wanted list. That would be the worst thing in the world."

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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