The Tangled Life Of Dog The Bounty Hunter

When it comes to unlikely television stars, Dog the Bounty Hunter is definitely up there. With his over-the-top attitude, bleach-blonde hair extraordinaire, and rather unorthodox way of doing literally everything, his show makes for the kind of watching that's both fascinating and puzzling. Even as viewers tune in, it's easy to see how they might be asking themselves, "Why on earth am I watching this?"

Because: There's also no denying that there's something strangely hypnotic about it. Dog the Bounty Hunter — also known as Duane Chapman — turned from a regular bounty hunter into a television star after he tracked down and captured on-the-run fugitive, Andrew Luster. In 2003, Luster was accused of drugging and raping several women, ultimately convicted in absentia after skipping bail and fleeing the country. It was Chapman who followed him to Mexico, but it turns out there was a huge problem with that ... but more on that in a bit.

Chapman's television show premiered the next year. In years since, he's gained nationwide notoriety, and controversy has followed. Perhaps predictably, that's been larger-than-life, too.

He made some big claims about teenage years in a motorcycle gang

Dog the Bounty Hunter has made no secret of the fact that he's walked both sides of the law, and when he wrote his autobiography, "You Can Run, But You Can't Hide," he detailed his time in a motorcycle gang. As a teenager, Duane Chapman had a run-in with a gang called the Devil's Disciples. He recounted the conversation as starting when a biker came up to him and said, "Hey, man, who the h**l do you think you are?" Chapman wrote, "He couldn't help but smile, because I wasn't afraid to go nose-to-nose with him even though I was six inches shorter and fifty pounds lighter."

By 1968, Chapman had not only learned the biker's name was Tom Tom; that biker had become his legal guardian.  On their way to the deep southwest, the gang fought another gang along the way. After a falling out, Chapman said he talked his way back in — at 16 years old — by demanding the sergeant-at-arms hand over his patch. (He says he called out the group's president, too.) Chapman reports that they all laughed and gave him full membership. 

But he was very quickly done with being a biker, so what's a 17-year-old, fully-fledged biker gang member to do? Kick his mentor in the chest and leave. It wasn't a clean break, though, and Chapman said he was already too deep into the lifestyle to leave it behind with his patches.

Here's what he had to say about his murder conviction

Before he was Dog the Bounty Hunter, he was Dog the petty criminal, and in his memoir, Duane Chapman wrote about one particular night: September 16, 1976. Even though his wife had asked him not to go out, he did. He shouldn't have, he reflected: "She had a great ability to foresee things. I wish I had listened to her."

They were drunk; they were partying; and someone got the idea to rob a man named Jerry Lee Oliver. Chapman said that he initially protested, but with the promise of scoring a pile of pot, they headed to Oliver's house. Knowing he'd be recognized, he stayed in the car as he didn't want Oliver to know he was part of it: "I liked Jerry. ... I loved him, and he loved me."

The plan went terribly wrong, though, when Chapman's buddies came running out of the house on the heels of what he said sounded like a gunshot. Chapman said that they took him home, he called an ambulance, and then he confessed everything to his wife — while the phone was still off the hook, and the operator was listening. He was ultimately charged, convicted, and sentenced to five years in the Huntsville State Penitentiary, later saying, "I got the education of a lifetime in Huntsville. It prepared me to confront any situation ... It was a time when every choice had a sudden and often horrible end result."

His story of being hired as a bounty hunter is ... strange

In his autobiography "You Can Run, But You Can't Hide," Duane Chapman tells the story of how he became Dog the Bounty Hunter, and it's perhaps predictably a strange one. After getting out of jail and meeting a girl who would ultimately become his next wife, Chapman wrote that he had turned his life around and found his niche: selling Kirby vacuum cleaners. Then, his first wife went after him for child support, and he was 100% going to refuse to pay her anything. "I didn't even know where my boys lived," he wrote. "So why would I give her a penny?"

Chapman found himself in court and in front of a judge who had made it quite clear that he needed to pay toward the support of his children. He said that no, he didn't have the money, and that's when, per Chapman, the judge made him an offer he couldn't refuse. While he'd been in jail, he had played a part in the re-capture of another inmate. That led the judge to offer a deal: If he found a particular individual that the court was looking for, the bounty would go to paying the child support he owed. 

He found the guy and wrote that the judge was so impressed that he put him in touch with a bail bondsman. It was life-changing: "I was completely convinced defending the law was a better choice."

Not all of his apprehensions have been legal

"Dog the Bounty Hunter" turned into "Dog the Bounty Hunter, television star" after he got attention for his involvement in the re-capture of Andrew Luster. Luster had fled the U.S. for Mexico in the wake of a rape trial, and when he was apprehended by the bounty hunter, Chapman and his assistants were arrested as well. Why? Bounty hunting is viewed a little differently in Mexico. A police spokesperson, Guadalupe Santos, explained (via The Guardian): "In our country it is not allowed to go around just abducting people like that."

The initial charges were dropped, with a judge ruling that prosecutors had dropped the ball when it came to getting to court in a timely fashion. That was, of course, appealed, and in 2006, it was widely reported that Chapman had been arrested in Hawaii in relation to the charges. 

More charges were filed. The Chicago Tribune reports that Chapman posted bail on charges of deprivation of liberty, and extradition was a possibility that hung over him until 2007. That's when Mexico canceled the warrants for his arrest, clearing him of fear of extradition and also noting that he was once again free to visit Mexico.

He had an odd way of denying claims he was racist

In 2007, Dog the Bounty Hunter briefly disappeared from television lineups amid a massive controversy: National Enquirer published a recording in which Duane Chapman repeatedly used a racial slur while speaking with his son — and yes, it's that racial slur. He, of course, ended up back on television, and he told CNN he wanted it to be well-known that just because he used racist words, that didn't make him a racist.

"Not one Black person to this day has walked up to me and said anything bad; it's all been the whites," he said, adding that most people were indifferent about the whole thing, saying that his actions spoke louder than his words. By 2021, accusations were back in the headlines.

This time, they were coming from one of his daughters, Bonnie. She claimed she hadn't been invited to her father's wedding to Francie Frane because she supported the Black Lives Matter movement, adding that he was also homophobic and had cheated on his previous wife, Beth (pictured with him). Chapman addressed the accusations in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, saying (in part), "I thought I had a pass in the Black tribe to use it, kind of like Eminem. ... To say a racist name doesn't qualify to make you a racist." ET host Kevin Frazier clarified: "If you use that word, if you use it in your regular, everyday life, it makes you a racist."

He credited his mother for his respect for women, but ...

Losing a beloved parent is one of the worst things that a person can go through, and in his memoir, Dog the Bounty Hunter wrote about the moment that Duane Chapman lost his beloved mother. He called it "my darkest day," but it didn't play out as anyone might expect.

Chapman first wrote, "In a sense, I am the biggest mama's boy ever. My mom meant the world to me. She taught me to appreciate the ladies, treat them with respect, to embrace their loveliness, and adore their companionship." (He adds that one of the things he didn't like about being in a motorcycle club was the division between men and women.) Chapman moved his parents to join him in Hawaii after his mother's close call with emphysema and angina, and about a year went by before she called him. 

He wrote that she said she had called to say goodbye, and he explained he hadn't understood: "The truth is, I had a girl there who wasn't my wife. I wanted to get off the phone, if you know what I mean, so I hurried the conversation along." The next day, he got another phone call that she had passed away, and it wasn't long before he started blaming himself: "I spent most of my life putting Mom through hell, and now she was standing at the gates of heaven. ... stress killed her."

He was sued by someone claiming major broken promises

Bobby Brown is a familiar face for devoted fans of "Dog the Bounty Hunter," and it turns out that behind the scenes, he was shrouded in some serious conflict. In 2011, Brown sued the networks and companies responsible for the show, saying that not only would it not have been possible without his hard work — up to 50 hours of behind-the-scenes legwork for each episode he was in — but that he was only paid $6,000 for the entirety of his work. On top of that, he claimed that he had been promised a spot as a regular cast member, and that promise never materialized. Charges in the lawsuit included breach of contract and promises, as well as misappropriation of his publicity rights (via The Hollywood Reporter).

It's unclear just what happened with the lawsuit, but as far as Chapman and Brown are concerned, there seems to have been some mended fences — or, at least, there's no long-term bitterness. When Beth Chapman passed away in 2019, Brown issued his condolences (via KRDO): "It's hard for me to talk about it right now but you cannot prepare for when it really happens. ... Her life was built on faith and family first and that's the way she left this world."

He tweeted, too, support for Chapman's books and for Chapman's other series. Bygones, it seems, were bygones.

He has a lot of kids ... and one he just found out about

Duane Chapman has a lot of kids. Like ... a lot of kids — 13, at current count — with many featured on "Dog the Bounty Hunter" in some way. That includes his second-oldest, Duane Lee, and Leland. James Robert also showed up on the show, along with Tucker Dee, Lyssa Rae, and Bonnie Joanne. Opting to stay out of the limelight are Garry and Wesley, and there are also a few kids that Chapman didn't even know that he had. 

In 2023, he posted a surprising message on Instagram. At the same time he acknowledged the day as "one of the greatest losses of my life," he added, "God redeemed this day when I discovered my son Jon, who I just met recently, was born on this day. So now instead of sorrow, this day has a new meaning." He promised to reveal more in his upcoming book.

In his memoir, he talked about getting a phone call from the mother of one of his girlfriends, Debbie White. He'd known White in Denver, he recalled, and her mother told him she'd given birth to his child, who had been put into foster care and adopted after she died by suicide. They met at the county jail where Christopher Michael was serving time for a hate crime, and Chapman said he was able to use his pull with authorities to avoid the 45-year sentence and make it only five.

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His lifestyle has led to health issues

When The New York Times spoke with Duane Chapman, aka Dog the Bounty Hunter, in 2020, he said that at the time, he had been responsible for 10,000 fugitives captured. In 2007, he said that his 27-year career had seen him net 6,000 fugitives (via ABC), and for anyone who's counting that alone means he says that he apprehended someone about every day and a half. Stressful? No doubt, and according to what Dr. Mehmet Oz said at the time, his was a lifestyle that was just courting danger — especially with the added loss of his wife, Beth.

Not long after her death, he was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. That, says the Mayo Clinic, is a potentially life-threatening condition where blood clots get stuck in the arteries of the lungs. Chapman blamed testosterone supplements, but other causes include long-haul travel, smoking, obesity, and extended periods of inactivity, such as during recovery from surgery. Oz was so concerned about his health that he had flown out to have a heart-to-heart with him, telling the Times, "Does Dog want to live or not? Dog told me a dream where Beth said, 'Big Daddy what took you so long?' Maybe she's waiting, what am I living for?"

The result was something of a compromise: Chapman paid more attention to his diet and cut back to smoking two packs a day. Attempts at getting him to wear sunscreen and skip tanning sessions were a fail, though.

He's been accused of doing more harm than good

In the latter half of 2021, headlines were pretty much dominated with the case of the missing Gabby Petito, and the search for her fiance, Brian Laundrie. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dog the Bounty Hunter — otherwise known as Duane Chapman — got on board the search when it was announced the Laundrie was unaccounted for, and not everyone was thrilled with his assistance.

Former NYPD detective chief and COO of a security services company Kevin Harrington didn't pull any punches when he summed it up to the New York Post like this: "Nobody in real law enforcement respects people in fake law enforcement." Meanwhile, other law enforcement experts had other concerns: According to former FBI agent Matthew Young, there was a good chance that whatever Chapman was doing could "sabotage what law enforcement is doing." Even as other bounty hunters scoffed at his involvement (and his alleged capture numbers), Chapman's daughter, Cecily, called the whole thing "just a publicity stunt." 

He also made waves when he spoke with The Sun and gave a strange interview that reenacted what he imagined her last moments as being. That reenactment came along with claims that he believed Laundrie's family was involved in some way, saying, "I don't think a jury would put a man to death if he went to keep his woman quiet and he suffocated her but woe unto him if he did anything else."

He's been outspoken about his religious beliefs

Duane Chapman may have overhauled his life from gang member and criminal to a bounty hunter, but that's not the only sharp turn his life has taken. Fans of the show will know that he's vocal about being a man of God, and in an interview with The Christian Post, he explained, "My journey has built faith. I've been through some terrible stuff, but it builds faith ..."

Chapman said he started praying for another wife after the death of Beth, and that God delivered one to him in the form of Francie Frane. They not only married but moved to Florida: Coastal Breeze News reported that they were relocating to be closer to their church of choice and to establish a society to help trafficked women.

Not all of his preaching has been so New Testament-inspired, though, and in 2022, he brought some Old Testament, fire-and-brimstone to an evangelical Christian conference called "Opening the Heavens" (via Deadline). In it, he asked God about the election of President Joe Biden: "Why did you let that freak steal the election?" After telling a tangentially-related parable, he continued, "Hitler committed suicide. And do you know why? Because he was caught. And you know what's going to happen? They're going to catch these cheaters. And I'm not saying with my tongue or my mouth that he's going to commit suicide — but you never know." Needless to say, not everyone was pleased with his comments.