Jewish World Review March 28, 2000 / 21 Adar II, 5760
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
"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
As I'm reading this story about the
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
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
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
"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
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
"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 (www.fbi.gov) 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
"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
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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