Hiding in Plain Sight

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Whitey Bulger

Whitey Bulger was one of the FBI’s most-wanted criminals during his 16 years on the lam, inspiring 16 episodes of America’s Most Wanted. His case was somewhat of an embarrassment for the FBI, since Bulger had once served as an FBI informant, which many felt protected him from being arrested for his various crimes, before a corrupt agent allegedly tipped off Bulger that he was about to be indicted for 19 murders and various other crimes. Over the years, many speculated about Bulger’s whereabouts, and America’s Most Wanted’s host John Walsh said they had received 200 tips from over 20 cities in the years Bugler was missing. Bulger, 81, and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, 60, were living in the same Santa Monica apartment for more than 15 years, located just five miles away from the FBI’s Westwood office. He had $800,000 in cash when the police found him, along with an arsenal of 30 guns.


Osama bin Laden

For almost 10 years, Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts were hotly debated. Was he still hiding in Tora Bora, where he eluded capture in December 2001? Or had he escaped to the mountainous Waziristan region of Pakistan? It turned out he was living in a suburban house in Abbottabad, located just 80 miles from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Even more shocking, bin Laden was living just miles from a prominent Pakistani military academy. His home was eight times the size of the other houses in the neighborhood, with a privacy wall and intense security. But it was ordinary enough that the U.S. did not start pursuing the Abbottabad link to bin Laden until 2007, when the U.S. learned the name of one man of particular interest, a courier for bin Laden. Although the question of where Osama bin Laden had been hiding was answered, now there are questions about how he could have been hiding in plain sight in Pakistan.

Colin E. Braley / AP Photo

Brian David Mitchell

In 2003, Brian David Mitchell, a wanderer also known as Emanuel, was spotted in Sandy, Utah, with two companions. One of the women with him was 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart, wearing a gray wig, sunglasses, and a veil to hide her identity. A one-time day laborer for the Smart family, Mitchell was the main suspect in Elizabeth’s kidnapping and had even been featured on America’s Most Wanted. For nearly a year, he and his wife, Wanda Barzee, had traveled from Salt Lake City to San Diego, California and back again—in plain sight the whole time. How were they able to pull it off? Testifying years later, Smart said that when police approached her to find out who she was, she was too scared to say anything.

STR / AP Photo

Ratko Mladic

War criminal General Ratko Mladic had been on the run for 16 years when he was finally arrested in Serbia in May 2011. Mladic is accused of genocide in connection with the 1995 massacre of 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica. After the Bosnian War ended, he returned to live in the Serbian capital of Belgrade under the protection of Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic, and lived comfortably and publicly in that city until Milosevic was arrested. Mladic was finally caught in 2011 at a relative's house in the village of Lazarvo. Lazarvo is only 50 miles from Belgrade. At the time of his capture, Mladic was about to take a walk in the home’s garden. Authorities said the raid on the house was part of a series of raids that were being carried out around the country, and that even 16 years into the search, they had no specific intelligence that Mladic was there.

Valerie Kuypers / AP Photo

Radovan Karadzic

Apparently Serbian President Radovan Karadzic liked his capital of Belgrade so much, he didn't even leave when he was on the lam. Karadzic is accused of planning the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre of nearly 8,000. He disappeared in 1996, and was finally found and arrested in 2008; he was still living in Belgrade and working at an alternative medicine facility. To be fair, he had been living in disguise--wearing a white beard, crazy hair, and oversized glasses--and going by the name of Dragan Dabic. A prosecutor on the case said, “His false identity was very convincing. Even his landlords were unaware of his identity.”


Uday and Qusay Hussein

Saddam Hussein’s two sons, Uday and Qusay, met their end while hiding at a villa in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The house was owned by Saddam Hussein’s cousin, who was also the likely informant who told U.S. forces where the pair was hiding.

Robert Cohen / AP Photo

Michael Devlin

Michael Devlin kidnapped 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck in 2002, and took him to his apartment in suburban St. Louis, Missouri. After sexually assaulting Hornbeck and attempting to kill him, Devlin kept Hornbeck in his apartment where he continually assaulted and tortured him over the years, even as he gave Hornbeck more freedom like phone and Internet access. Hornbeck was even allowed to play outside with other children, even as missing posters with his image on them were also posted in the vicinity. At least once during his captivity, Hornbeck was stopped by the police, but not recognized. In January 2007, Devlin also kidnapped Ben Ownby and brought him to the same apartment, but both boys were rescued a few days later. A neighbor in the apartment complex said, “It’s just amazing how those kids could be right here living among us and nobody knew.”

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

Phillip Garrido

Phillip Garrido kidnapped Jaycee Dugard in 1991, and kept her inside a soundproof shed in his backyard in Antioch, California. During her captivity, Dugard was sexually assaulted and gave birth to two of Garrido’s children, before all three were rescued in 2009. Many neighbors were aware of their presence in the backyard. In 2006, a neighbor called the police to say that Garrido had a sex addiction and that he had children in tents living in his back garden. However, the police who visited the house only told Garrido that because of housing rules, no one could sleep in the backyard; the officers did not ask to see the garden. Other neighbors said that they had called the police about Garrido at least three times, including to report sightings of him with young girls.

Robert Jaeger / AP Photo

Josef Fritzl 

In 2008, the world was shocked to learn that an Austrian man named Josef Fritzl had kept his daughter, Elisabeth, imprisoned in his basement for 24 years -- and fathered seven children with her -- while his wife and three of the children lived upstairs. He told his wife and later three of his children, whom he adopted, never to go in the basement. The room where he kept Elisabeth and the other children was soundproof. Between 1984 and 2008, Elisabeth never saw the light of day and was never allowed to leave her soundproof prison. When she was finally released, Elisabeth told police that only Fritzl ever brought her food, and that Rosemarie could not have had any idea that she was being held hostage in the basement.

Matthias Schrader / AP Photo

John Demjanjuk

John Demjanjuk was born in Ukraine, and during World War II, he initially fought in the Red Army. By 1943, he was working as a guard at the Sobibor concentration camp in Poland, where he participated in the murders of more than 28,000 individuals according to his conviction. In 1952, Demjanjuk moved to the United States and claimed to have spent most of World War II in a German POW camp.  By 1958, he had become a United States citizen.  He lost his U.S. citizenship in 1985, because he lied about his past. Though he was tried (but not convicted) in Israel in the 1980s, it was not until 2009 that he was deported from the United States to Germany to face trial. On May 12, 2011, he was convicted of 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder and sentenced to five years in prison. He had spent his life in the United States as an autoworker in Ohio.