In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a handful of daring private citizens made a living tracking down wanted desperados, like outlaw John Wesley Hardin, so they could claim the rewards offered for their captures. Today, bounty hunters still stalk fugitives wanted for trial, but usually only because those fugitives have skipped out on bail. For example, in the city of Philadelphia alone, about 10,000 defendants fail to show up for court dates each year.
The bounty hunter's profession is a favorite subject for movies and reality TV, but it's also a controversial one. In some cases, bounty hunters have been accused of using excessive force or breaking laws to capture wanted men. On the next 10 pages, meet some of the world's better-known bounty hunters, from past to present.
10: Pat Garrett
Unlike most bounty hunters, Pat Garrett wore a sheriff's badge when he stalked Henry McCarty, better known by his alias, William "Billy the Kid" Bonney. He was motivated not only by duty but by the prospect of a $500 reward offered by the governor of New Mexico for the fugitive, who was responsible for between nine and 21 murders.
Born in Alabama, Garrett drifted westward to New Mexico, where he worked as a cowboy before being appointed sheriff of Lincoln County, N.M., in 1880. Garrett killed one of Billy the Kid's underlings in a gunfight, before leading the posse that captured the Kid and the rest of his gang and transported them back home for trial. But after being convicted, the Kid managed to escape from the Lincoln County Jail in 1881, killing two guards in the process. The final meeting between Garrett and the Kid played out like this: The lawman surreptitiously entered a house in Fort Sumner where the Kid was hiding and, according to one account, ambushed him in a darkened room and shot him to death. Later in life, Garrett ran into financial difficulties and was shot to death under mysterious circumstances.
9: John Riley Duncan
Native Kentuckian John Riley Duncan worked as a Dallas, Texas, detective and private investigator, before the governor of Texas hired him in 1877 to help capture infamous outlaw John Wesley Hardin. Posing as a hobo to avoid attention, Duncan quietly tracked Hardin and his associates to Pensacola, Fla., where lawmen cornered the group of outlaws on a train.
Spurred by his share of the &36;4,000 reward for Hardin, Duncan went on to have a successful career as a bounty hunter, bringing in more than 20 fugitives and collecting &36;12,000 in reward money. But going after the big bucks required him to ply his trade in rough, scary places, and in 1878, he was shot in the throat and nearly killed in a Dallas brothel. Duncan recovered and continued to hunt fugitives, even though he needed to insert a silver tube through his tracheotomy hole to breathe.
8: Duane "Dog" Chapman
Duane "Dog" Chapman is a long-haired, muscular, former biker gang member and ex-convict who found religion, switched sides and now stars in the long-running reality TV show Dog: Bounty Hunter. Chapman, who's described himself as "the greatest bounty hunter who has ever lived," is the prototype for a new breed of flamboyant self-promoters. This bounty hunter once got into hot water with the country of Mexico, which wanted to extradite him after he allegedly abducted a wanted American sex offender south of the border in 2003. But the charges were dismissed by a Mexican judge in 2007.
7: Domino Harvey
Domino Harvey, the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey (who starred in the 1960s film The Manchurian Candidate), briefly ran a London nightclub and worked as fashion designer before forsaking the glamorous life. After working as a ranch hand and firefighter, she took a job as a bounty hunter in the mid-1990s, tracking fugitives on some of the meanest streets in Los Angeles. One of her favorite tricks was to pretend to flirt with male fugitives in sleazy nightclubs and then, at the right moment, stick a gun in their ribs. But Domino also struggled with drugs. She died in 2005, at age 35, shortly before the debut of a movie based on her exploits.
6: Rick Crouch
Born in South Africa in 1960, Rick Crouch has had a remarkable career as both a bounty hunter in the United States and as a human rights activist and elected official in his own country. As a college student in the 1980s, he became involved in the anti-apartheid movement and was forced to leave South Africa. He relocated to the United States, where he became a commercial pilot and then formed his own private investigation firm in Los Angeles. Crouch worked for attorneys representing various celebrities, but he also made a name for himself apprehending suspects who had fled the United States after being accused of sex crimes against children. In 2005, for example, he tracked one man to a ranch in Mexico, then used subterfuge to lure him to the U.S. border, where he was arrested by U.S. marshals. In 2006, he moved back to South Africa and was elected as a city councillor in the eThekwini municipality.
5: Robert Ford
Robert Ford was a would-be bank robber who switched sides primarily out of greed. As a youth, the Missouri-born Ford admired notorious outlaw Jesse James, especially after Ford's older brother Charles joined the James gang. By 1882, many of James' original crew were dead, imprisoned or tired of the lawless life. The outlaw needed new blood, and he accepted Robert Ford as a recruit.
While James plotted a new bank robbery, the Ford brothers were enticed by the &36;10,000 bounty placed upon their leader's head by the governor of Missouri, railroads and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. In April 1882, after eating breakfast with James in St. Joseph, Mo., Robert Ford abruptly shot James in the back of the head. The Ford brothers then turned themselves in to local authorities, thinking that they would be released quickly and paid the reward. Instead, they were tried for murder and sentenced to death by hanging.
Before they were executed, however, the governor intervened and pardoned them. Still, the Fords were cheated out of most of the reward money. Charles Ford eventually committed suicide, and Robert was reduced to appearing in dime museums as "the man who killed Jesse James." In 1882, he was shot to death by a man who mistakenly thought the deed would make him a hero.
4: Gary Brooks Faulkner
Most bounty hunters become famous because of the fugitives they apprehend. But Gary Brooks Faulkner, a 52-year-old Californian, made headlines in June 2010 because of his failure to catch America's most wanted man: al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, for whom the U.S. government is offering a &36;50 million reward. According to newspaper accounts, Faulkner traveled to Chitral, a northwestern Pakistani province bordering the Taliban stronghold of Nuristan in Afghanistan, where bin Laden is rumored to be hiding. The bounty hunter reportedly was accompanied by a Pakistani bodyguard and had equipped himself with a gun, dagger, sword, night-vision goggles and an assortment of Christian missionary literature.
After hotel security guards, who keep a close eye on foreign guests, noticed Faulkner's absence one evening, a search party was dispatched. He was found a few miles from the Afghan border and detained by authorities, who later released him with no charges. Faulker, who has kidney disease and requires thrice-weekly dialysis, told United Press International that he aims to go after bin Laden again, using a balloon or a glider to stalk him.
3: Bob Burton
Not only did Bob Burton, veteran skip tracer, serve as a technical adviser on the 1988 Robert De Niro film Midnight Run, but he's the dean of bounty hunters — literally. He founded the Arizona-based National Institute of Bail Enforcement and has trained thousands of bounty-hunter hopefuls at classes and seminars offered through his website. Burton, who has authored a shelf full of how-to books, a memoir and novels about bounty hunters, also has frequently been featured in the media as an expert on best practices in his profession. In 2004, he told a Detroit Free Press reporter that being a successful bounty hunter requires plenty of patience and endurance. "You drive around bad neighborhoods, drinking cold coffee, talking to stupid people," he explained. "It's boring as hell."
2: Joshua Armstrong
Joshua Armstrong created a stir in 2000 with the publication of The Seekers: A Bounty Hunter's Story, a critically acclaimed memoir of the black-leather-clad bail recovery agent's confrontations with fugitives and the exotic mental and physical training that helped the bond-enforcement agency he founded achieve its claimed 85 percent success rate.
A native of Elizabeth, N.J., Armstrong spent time working on a fishing boat in Alaska, according to his memoir's co-author, Anthony Bruno. In the off-season, he took a moonlighting job helping a bounty hunter, who was white and thought the African-American Armstrong would blend in better in the black neighborhood in Seattle where he was seeking a fugitive. Armstrong ultimately caught the target, but he was disillusioned by the crude methods used by his employer. The experience inspired him to form an elite team of bounty hunters who would train in martial arts and immerse themselves in Sun Tzu's The Art of War and Egyptian mysticism.
A major film studio bought the rights to Armstrong's memoir, and Wesley Snipes reportedly was interested in portraying Armstrong on the big screen, but the movie was never made. In 2001, an American Journalism Review article questioned Armstrong's credentials as a bounty hunter, and in recent years, he has kept a low profile.
1: Ralph "Papa" Thorson
For decades, the stocky, bearded Thorson was the most renowned bounty hunter on the West Coast, so famous that Steve McQueen's final movie, The Hunter, was based on his life. A 1987 Los Angeles Times article reported that in his 40-year career, he'd apprehended more than 12,000 fugitives and been shot or stabbed eight times in the process.
Thorson wasn't known just for his prowess, but for his colorful affectations. He relied on astrology charts to help him locate fugitives and, though he packed a .45 pistol, preferred to rely on a nonlethal weapon called the Prowler Fowler, which used compressed gas to fire beanbags filled with buckshot. Thorson ultimately met his demise in 1991 via a car bombing staged by a vengeful fugitive. His wife and daughter continued his work.