America’s Most Wanted debuted on FOX back in 1987. Since its inception it has proven to be incredibly popular, even surviving a cancelation and a network move before ultimately being canceled again in 2011. That was until 2021, when it was revived yet again.
Over the years, the show has been directly responsible for tips that led to the arrest of hundreds of fugitives, some of them extremely high profile.
10. The First Crime
David James Roberts was the man who proved just how important a show America’s Most Wanted could be. He was the first criminal that was pulled in after being featured on the show, and the very first criminal featured on the show, as well.
It was 1988 when Roberts was on the show for a crime he had committed back in 1974. Roberts had committed rape, murder, and arson. He had set a house ablaze with a couple and their three-year-old child inside. It took only four days after his profile on the show for Roberts to be captured. Over 1,000 tips were called in.
9. Kevin Fuller
In what had to be one of the most unusual tips called in after an episode of America’s Most Wanted, prison escapee Kevin Fuller actually called law enforcement himself to try to explain that things weren’t as bad as the show made it seem.
Fuller had been arrested for bank robbery and ended up breaking out of a medium security facility. According to him, he had to leave to have a medical condition treated that the prison just wasn’t addressing.
In contrast to his claim that he was just having a medical condition treated, police said that during his free time he also strangled a bus driver, robbed a bank and also a convenience store. All of that in the week it took for police to catch up with him again. He ended up being sentenced to 16 years in prison.
8. Marc Clifton Bryant
Life without parole was the sentence for Marc Clifton Bryant after an appearance on America’s Most Wanted led to his capture at a Golden Corral restaurant. Bryant was convicted for the brutal torture of a teenage girl after he tortured her and tried to brand her with the word “liar” on her forehead with a screwdriver and a blowtorch. Then he tried to choke her and drown her in a bathtub.
He committed his crime in 2004 but wasn’t convicted until 2009. Initially he had been friends with the girl’s mom and then developed an obsession with the 16-year-old. He came to believe she had a boyfriend and then branded her as part of the torture.
At his trial the judge called out his brutality, and sentenced him to consecutive terms for each count he was charged with.
7. Margaret DeFrancisco
In one of the most brutal and baffling cases that America’s Most Wanted ever helped close, Margaret DeFrancisco and her sister were arrested for the murder of trucker Oscar Velazquez. Velazquez had dated DeFrancisco’s sister, but the pair chose to rob him sometime later and then shot him. They lured him to their house, got him in the basement, and put a bullet in the back of his head. DeFrancisco was only 16 at the time.
The sisters robbed him, took the man’s body from the house, dumped it in an empty lot, and doused it in nail polish remover before lighting him on fire.
In an effort to skirt the law, she went on the run with her sister, leaving their native Chicago. After America’s Most Wanted aired an episode about them, DeFrancisco cut a tattoo off of her own body in an effort to make herself less recognizable.
An anonymous tip after the episode aired led to DeFrancisco’s capture. Lawyers tried to argue the killing was in self defense. It did not work. She was sentenced to 46 years in prison.
6. Steven Ray Stout
Back in 1988, Steven Ray Stout murdered his mother-in-law and one of her daughters. He had gotten into a fight with his mother-in-law and he recalled that she slapped him in the face. Later, after he was caught, he said he couldn’t remember committing the crimes. According to the forensic evidence, he beat and then stabbed his mother-in-law to death before turning on her 18-year-old daughter, the sister of his ex-wife. She was also beaten, stabbed, and then strangled.
After the murders, he stole his mother-in-law’s car and fled, leaving the state and taking up a new identity. Later that same year, his case aired on America’s Most Wanted. He was living with a woman at the time who actually watched the episode and confronted him, asking if he was the man featured. He said he was, and she turned him in.
5. Lee Nell Carter
Lee Nell Carter had one of the fastest turnarounds of any criminal added to the FBI’s Most Wanted List and then broadcast on America’s Most Wanted. Carter had killed a woman in 1986 and wounded two others after going on what was described as a shooting spree. The death was the result of a romantic feud that got out of control.
Police actually arrested Carter shortly after the crimes but inexplicably let him go by mistake eight days later. He was on the run for nearly three years before he was found again. America’s Most Wanted aired an episode about him at 8 p.m., the FBI put him on the most wanted list at 9 p.m., and he was in police custody by 11 p.m.
4. Wardell David Ford
Some criminals try to think big and Wardell David Ford was one of them. His crime was meant to be an action movie-style heist involving an armored car robbery. Things didn’t go as planned, however. Ford and his best friend David Temple rolled up on an armored car in Detroit back in 1983. They pulled guns on the guard and Ford proceeded to lift $45,000 from the car.
Temple and the guard got into a scuffle as the guard pulled his own gun. The two men wrestled over the weapons, and Ford just started firing, killing both of them. In 1990, America’s Most Wanted aired an episode about the case and law enforcement received tips that Ford was working on the docks. He was arrested and given a life sentence ofr his crimes.
3. Tony Ray Amati
Back in 1996, Amati and two accomplices robbed a gun store in Las Vegas. The three of them made off with 75 firearms and chose to celebrate their haul by going on a vicious shooting spree through town.
Three total strangers were killed by Amati, their bodies shot over 20 times apiece with a variety of weapons. For all intents and purposes, it just seemed like Amati was trying out the guns he’d stolen to see how well they worked, and he chose human targets to do it.
Amati had posted bail after his initial arrest and then vanished. It was about a year and a half later when he was finally found again thanks to his story being featured on America’s Most Wanted. Despite the fact he’d changed his hair color and was working in Georgie, an anonymous tip after the show led police to him.
2. Eric Rosser
It’s terrifying to think of the lengths former John Cougar Mellencamp piano player Eric Rosser went to in order to escape justice. The first pedophile to be placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, Rosser had committed a slew of sex crimes involving children. He fled the United States and was on the run for over a year while authorities tried to track him down.
During his time abroad he used three different passports to travel through Europe and Asia. He got liposuction and other cosmetic procedures to try to alter his appearance and hide from law enforcement.
After appearing on America’s Most Wanted, law enforcement was flooded with tips from all over the world. 53 different countries, in fact. But it was in Thailand where he was found, his apartment full of more evidence of his crimes, including photos and video. While there he had been working as a soloist with the Bangkok symphony and providing piano lessons to Thai children.
He was extradited to the US, where he served 16 years in prison. He was released in 2017.
1. John List
In 1971, John List killed his entire family. The accountant, who looked like the stereotypical accountant and seemed mild-mannered to everyone who knew him, had been faking going to work for months beforehand. Every day he packed a lunch and headed out to catch the train to the office. In reality, he’d spend all day in the parking lot. He had been fired from his job and chose to hide that fact from his wife Helen and their children, as well as his mother who had invited to live with them in the 18-room mansion he’d purchased thinking his high-profile job would last.
List was apparently a religious man. His kids were teens now and they were being corrupted by the world of the late ’60s and early ’70s. His wife had admitted to him that she had contracted an STD from her first husband and it had not been treated. She stopped going to church and started drinking. So List killed them all. His reason? To ensure they’d get to heaven.
He killed his wife over breakfast after the kids went to school, then killed his mother. Then he waited the entire day for the kids to come home, first killing his 16-year-old daughter, then one of his sons. Then he drove to his third son’s soccer game, watched him play, drove him home and murdered him, too.
List went about staging a meticulous and exhaustive cover up. He told the school his kids were leaving the state to be with their sick grandmother. He cashed in savings bonds, closed all bank accounts, ended mail and newspaper delivery and literally cut his face out of every photo in the house so no one could put him on a wanted poster. And then he vanished.
It was over a month before anyone even began to wonder where the family went, since he had been so thorough in explaining their absence to everyone. A teacher went to investigate and neighbors called the police because they saw someone creeping on the property. When they entered the house, they found all five bodies.
It would be 18 years before anyone would see List again, or at least know they’d seen him. The man had started a new life and even remarried. In 1989, America’s Most Wanted aired an episode about List and included an image of what they thought he’d look like after 18 years. The image was enough to make one of List’s neighbor’s call the police. He was arrested and convicted. He died in prison in 2008.