The Most Wanted Criminals Who Never Got Caught

The history of crime is full of interesting and outrageous stories. Criminals have long captivated the public with their flamboyant lifestyles and attitudes, and their images have often been splashed across front pages to sell countless newspapers. In the 1930s, Hollywood first started to depict criminals as modern-day anti-heroes by portraying them as small-town Joes who made it big through organized crime (per PBS). Within a few years, gangsters like John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd became modern folk heroes, and their legends were buoyed even more when they were killed by FBI agents.

However, while criminals have long been in the public eye, not all depictions of them have been favorable, and unlike in the movies, the police have not always been able to track them down and bring them to justice. Some criminals are able to spend years — if not decades or even their entire lives — on the run, evading law enforcement. While newspapers and nightly news shows have often tried to track their whereabouts, many of the criminals have been able to stay off the public radar and successfully lay low. Even those accused of heinous crimes have sometimes managed to stay on the run for incredibly long periods, sometimes indefinitely. Not for the faint of heart, these are the most wanted criminals who never got caught.

The legend of D.B. Cooper

On November 24, 1971, a man using the alias Dan Cooper boarded a flight heading from Oregon to Seattle (per the Crime Museum). Shortly after takeoff, the nondescript man handed one of the flight attendants a note and indicated he was strapped with a bomb. The note demanded $200,000 in cash and two parachutes to be delivered to the plane when it arrived in Seattle, and he threatened to blow up the plane if there was any "funny business."

Once the plane landed in Seattle, Cooper exchanged the 36 passengers he was holding hostage for the parachutes and a bag with the cash. The plane then went airborne again with flight plans to go to Mexico. Yet, partway through the flight, Cooper opened the plane's cabin and skydived out. The plane's crew was locked in the cockpit, so it's unknown exactly where he decided to jump, but he was never seen again.

The FBI immediately opened an investigation into the case, and within five years, they had narrowed down their list of suspects from 800 to 24, but they have never formally charged anybody in connection with the hijacking. Some suspect he died when he parachuted out of the plane, but a body has never been found that matched the case. In 1980, a young boy found $5,800 in marked bills from the hijacking, but nothing ever came from the clue. The true identity and ultimate whereabouts of Cooper are still a mystery today.

The Zodiac Killer: Taunting the police

One of the most chilling criminals to have never been caught is the infamous Zodiac Killer, who terrorized Northern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. According to A&E Biography, the Zodiac Killer was directly linked by police to five separate murders that took place between 1968 and 1969 and is suspected in another five murders from around the same time. His first confirmed attack took place in December 1968, when he shot two teenagers to death while they were sitting in their car in Vallejo, California. He struck again three more times in 1969, killing three more people and seriously injuring two.

According to A&E, in August 1969, the Zodiac Killer sent a letter to three separate newspapers in Northern California, claiming responsibility for the first murders and demanding his letter be published on the front page. The letters (one pictured above) included ciphers that supposedly contained clues to his real identity, and they continued for five years until they abruptly stopped in 1974. The FBI worked with and supported local law enforcement on the case and used techniques including behavioral analysis and cryptanalysis. In 2018, a group of cold case specialists, the Case Breakers, identified Gary Francis Poste as the infamous killer, but law enforcement and the FBI immediately pushed back on the report and questioned its reliability (via BBC). No one has ever been charged with any of the murders, and the identity of the Zodiac Killer today is still an official mystery.

Jack the Ripper: The terror in Whitechapel

In 1888, in Whitechapel, East London, a series of grisly murders put the entire town on edge. According to Texas State University, between August 31 and November 9, an unknown person attacked and stabbed five local women to death. All of the victims had struggled with alcohol and were either widowed or separated from their husbands at the time of their passing. Some of the stab marks were so deep it almost appeared as though the killer was trying to behead his victims. All of the women had their abdomens mutilated by the killer and were left for dead on the street. The victims were all from the same town, and all lived within a few hundred yards of each other.

Like the Zodiac Killer, Jack the Ripper sent numerous letters to authorities taunting them and describing the murders. The moniker Jack the Ripper came from one of these letters, which the press published immediately. According to the BBC, there is now serious speculation about the authenticity of these letters, and some think they may have been created by the newspaper to cause a stir and sell more copies. 

Just like D.B. Cooper and the Zodiac Killer, the true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been established, and no one has ever been charged with any of his alleged crimes. His true identity and motives have always remained a mystery, long past the point of being able to be conclusively solved.

Bela Kiss: The Hungarian pickler

A candidate for the strangest and most bizarre criminal to have escaped criminal prosecution is the infamous Hungarian serial killer, Bela Kiss. Kiss lived in the early 20th century in the small village of Czinkota near Budapest, Hungary. According to Charlotte Greig in "Evil Serial Killers: In the Minds of Monsters," he shared a house with his elderly maid but otherwise lived alone, though he did have frequent female guests over for company. In 1914, Kiss joined the Hungarian army to fight during World War I, and when he was away, his crimes were discovered.

Kiss had kept several barrels on his property, and when the army came to his house during the war looking for gasoline, they opened up the drums and discovered, to their horror, the bodies of dead women. There were over 20 barrels in all, each with a body inside, and all of them were full of alcohol. The alcohol preserved the bodies, similar to pickling, and authorities discovered that Kiss had lured the women to his house by placing an ad in the local paper seeking a wife.

Kiss faked his own death in 1919 to escape prosecution, and though there were numerous sightings of him over the years, he was never caught or apprehended. His final whereabouts are not known, and no one was ever officially charged with any of the crimes.

Josef Mengele: The Nazi Doctor

One of the most infamous and despicable people in human history is the infamous Nazi scientist and doctor Josef Mengele. According to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Mengele was wounded in battle in 1943 and transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he committed some of the most disturbing and heinous war crimes in history. He was known as the "Angel of Death" for his ruthless demeanor and uncaring personality.

While at Auschwitz, Mengele performed various medical experiments on the imprisoned Jews and Roma at the camp. He was particularly interested in running experiments on twins, and he was given full discretion to seriously injure and even kill his subjects if he wanted. He did experiments on the eyes of prisoners and also did tests that involved allowing infections like gangrene to progress and spread untreated in order to study them.

After the war, U.S. authorities briefly had Mengele in their custody, but they did not realize who he was, and he was able to escape. He made his way to Bavaria and then to South America to Argentina. In absentia, a warrant was issued for his arrest by West German courts in 1959, and Mengele fled to Paraguay and finally Brazil to escape authorities. Mengele drowned while suffering a stroke while swimming at a pool in Bertioga, Brazil, in 1979, before he could ever be brought to justice and imprisoned.

Frank Matthews: The New York drug kingpin

One of the biggest drug dealers in American history has long evaded capture from both state and federal authorities. According to The Mob Museum, Frank Matthews used to be the kingpin of a massive drug empire before he disappeared without a trace in 1973. Matthews, born in Harlem in 1944, had developed a reputation as a major drug dealer in New York City by the late 1960s. He imported massive quantities of both heroin and cocaine from Latin America into the United States. His drug empire straddled the East Coast and reached into the Midwest and south, and it stretched across 21 states at its height.

However, as Matthews' drug empire grew, so did police interest, and by 1972, the police had tapped his phones to collect evidence of his crimes. By December of that year, a federal arrest warrant was issued for Matthews. The next month, Matthews and his girlfriend were arrested at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, and he was charged with distributing 40 pounds of cocaine in Miami the year before.

Matthews sat in jail for four months before inexplicably being allowed to bond out in April, and he skipped town and was never seen by authorities again. There have been no confirmed leads into Matthews' disappearance, and he left behind no evidence of where he was going. He has never been brought to justice to this day and remains among the FBI's most wanted.

Alexis Flores: The child strangler still at large

In late July 2000, a 5-year-old girl was reported missing from her home in Arizona, and six days later, her dead body was discovered near an apartment building (per America's Most Wanted). Her name was Iriana DeJesus, and she had been strangled to death and stuffed into a trash bag, where her body had started to decompose. Sadness quickly turned to outrage in the neighborhood as angry protestors identified the culprit as a homeless man who had recently been hanging around the area and called himself Carlos. Carlos fled immediately after the grisly murder, and nobody was able to locate him.

Years later, in Phoenix, a man named Alexis Flores was arrested in two separate incidents in 2002 and 2004, and he was eventually sentenced to prison. As a mandatory part of his prison sentence, the Arizona Department of Corrections took a DNA sample from Flores before he was released. According to the FBI, Flores was released from prison in 2005 and deported back to Honduras. However, his DNA was entered into a national database in 2006, and in March 2007, it was matched to the murder of young DeJesus, and Carlos was determined to have really been Flores.

Authorities immediately issued a warrant for Flores' arrest, but he was long gone by then, having been deported over a year earlier. Almost a decade-and-a-half later, authorities are still unable to locate Flores, and he is still considered armed and dangerous.

Victor Gerena and the Great Wells Fargo Heist

On September 12, 1983, Victor Gerena committed — and got away with — one of the biggest armed robberies in American history. According to Connecticut History, Gerena was the recruit of Segarra Palmer — an activist and founder of the political group Los Macheteros — who planned the heist. The plan was for Gerena, an employee for Wells Fargo in West Hartford, Connecticut, to tie up two of his co-workers and inject them with sedatives to make them fall asleep. Gerena was then supposed to take over $7 million from the bank and load it into his rented car and drive away. The plan worked, mostly, and Gerena escaped with the money, which has still not been recovered to this day.

Palmer claimed to have orchestrated the robbery to help fund Los Macheteros' efforts at gaining Puerto Rican independence. By the time of the heist, Los Macheteros were persona non grata in the United States, mainly due to their attacks on U.S. officials. In 1985, the FBI discovered the location of Palmer and eight of his comrades in Los Macheteros and had them apprehended and extradited to Connecticut. Palmer was eventually convicted on several charges and sentenced to prison, but Gerena was never located and has never been arrested since. He still remains on the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted list, and there's currently is a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

John Ruffo: The former FBI frontman

Not all criminals on the FBI and U.S. Marshals' Most Wanted lists were involved in violent crimes like murder or armed robbery — some of them, like John Ruffo, are guilty of white-collar crimes. According to The New York Times, Ruffo created a scheme that involved illicitly receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal loans. His partner would pose as an executive of the tobacco company Philip Morris and persuade banks to invest in a fictitious research program dubbed "Project Star." The loans were given to Ruffo's company, CCS Inc., who were supposed to supply computers for the project, but instead they pocketed the loans for themselves. 

According to ABC News, CCS Inc. had actually been used by the FBI as a front in the early 1990s to assist them with investigations, but this was completely unrelated to the "Project Star" scheme. Eventually, Ruffo was caught and sentenced to 17 years in federal prison (via the U.S. Marshals). Ruffo was ultimately found responsible for defrauding investors out of $350 million. However, on the day that he was to show up to prison in 1998, Ruffo disappeared. He rented a car that was later found at the airport, and authorities immediately suspected that he had flown abroad. Theories involved both Italy and Russia, but nothing has ever been conclusively proven. Nearly 25 years later, Ruffo is still at large, and authorities have few leads on where to track him down.

Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers: Escape from Alcatraz Island

In 1962, Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin, and John Anglin made their infamous escape from Alcatraz Island (pictured above). According to the FBI, Alcatraz prison, located on a destitute island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, was first created in 1934 to be an inescapable penitentiary.

In 1960, Morris came to Alcatraz, and the Anglin brothers followed a year later. The three devised an ingenious plan that saw them trick the night guards by using dummies made out of plaster and human hair. During the night, the three men escaped from their cells through holes they had spent the previous months carefully drilling, and they made it to a secret workshop they had set up on the roof of their cell block. They created a makeshift raft out of raincoats and attempted to float away from the prison in the dead of the night.

Their bodies were never found, and nobody knows for sure if they escaped or not. The Bay waters are frigid, have strong currents, are full of sharks, and the closest land is at least a mile away, so it's more than likely they perished during their escape. However, their bodies were never found. In 2018, a letter was sent to the FBI purportedly from John Anglin. He claimed the escape was successful and that all three of them made it out alive, but the FBI was lukewarm on its authenticity (per CBS).

Bible John: The pious serial killer

From early 1968 to late 1969, the Scottish serial killer known as Bible John terrorized the local community in Glasgow. According to "The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers," John killed his first victim, Patricia Docker, in February 1968 by strangling her to death. In August 1969, he struck again, strangling another young woman, Jemima McDonald. His final victim, Helen Puttock, was killed two months later in October. The police were unable to identify who the killer was, and he was described as being a redhead, around 6 feet tall, between the ages of 25 to 35; a sketch of him was distributed to the press in hopes of someone recognizing him.

He was given the sobriquet Bible John for two reasons. On the night of the last killing, Puttock was with her sister Jennie Williams and her date. Both men gave their name as John, but Puttock's date had an infatuation with quoting the bible. He made numerous references to the Book of Moses in the Old Testament, and this, combined with his given name, formed his nickname. Authorities immediately set out on a manhunt upon realizing the killings were connected, and within a year, over 5,000 suspects had been interviewed and cleared of responsibility. No one has ever been arrested or charged with the murders. One theory points to convicted murderer Peter Tobin, whose life seemingly overlaps with that of Bible John, but it has never been proven through DNA testing (per Digital Spy).

Amado Carrillo Fuentes: The Lord of the Skies

Amado Carrillo Fuentes was once one of the biggest and most influential drug kingpins in Latin America. According to the BBC, in the 1980s and 1990s, Fuentes created a drug empire while running the Juarez Cartel from the Mexican state of Sinaloa. He smuggled huge amounts of cocaine from Colombia into the U.S. and was given the nickname "Lord of the Skies" because of his penchant for smuggling drugs onboard his private fleet of airplanes.

However, it all came crashing down in 1997, when Fuentes died after a botched plastic surgery. He tried to have his appearance changed to evade capture, but he died on the operating table. At the time of his death, Fuentes was one of the most wanted drug kingpins in the world, but his enormous political power in Mexico shielded him from the reach of authorities until his death (per The Washington Post). Law enforcement from the U.S., Mexico, and even Chile were tracking Fuentes, trying to find a way to put him behind bars. They never apprehended or arrested Fuentes prior to his death, which opened up a power vacuum in Mexico that rival drug lords rushed to fill. Months after his death, allegations surfaced that Fuentes had attempted to bribe the Mexican government to get them to stop pursuing him, but Mexican government officials denied any wrongdoing.