The First FBI’s Most Wanted Criminal


Thomas James Holden was the FBI's first Most Wanted fugitive. (

The FBI’s list of the Ten Most Wanted fugitives has been an important tool in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s fight against crime for more than 70 years. With the goal of reducing crime and improving public safety, the Ten Most Wanted list has helped the FBI capture some of the most dangerous criminals in the country. On March 14, 1950, Thomas James Holden became the first fugitive to be placed on the newly formed Ten Most Wanted list. It worked. Thanks to his appearance on the FBI’s list, Holden was quickly apprehended and tried for his crimes. Let’s take a look at the creation of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List and see why Thomas James Holden was named to it.

The Worst of the Bad Guys

Reporter William Kinsey Hutchinson suggested to the FBI that they form a list of the “toughest guys” that the Bureau was searching for. He thought this would be a good way to publicize their crimes and help the public assist in their capture. The FBI agreed. On March 14, 1950, they released their first FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. The criminals on the list were all fugitives and the FBI did not know where they were hiding. The goal of publishing the list was to splash the faces of these criminals across the media so that if anyone in the public saw them or knew where they were hiding, they could be apprehended.

In the more than seven decades since its inception, the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list has included the names of 521 fugitives. The list is maintained by the Bureau’s Criminal Investigative Division and is updated on an as-needed basis. It is important to note that the Most Wanted List is not a ranking of the worst criminals, and the name in the top spot is not necessarily the one who committed the most heinous of crimes. All the people on the list are considered dangerous and have eluded capture. 

The FBI sought the public's assistance in tracking down wanted fugitives. (time)

Thomas James Holden, the Original FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitive

Thomas James Holden, who was born in 1896, had a long criminal history. Starting in 1926, he and Francis Keating formed the notorious Holden-Keating Gang. For more than two years, the pair pulled off a series of successful bank, train, and truck robberies that netted them hundreds of thousands of dollars. In March 1928, an accomplice ratted them out and Holden and Keating were arrested in Illinois and sentenced to 25 years in Leavenworth Penitentiary.

Prison Break

Just two years into their sentence, Thomas Holden and Francis Keating forged passes and made their escape by simply walking out of Leavenworth. In St. Paul, Minnesota, Holden and Keating continued their streak of brazen daytime robberies, but they added a new branch to their criminal activities. They used the connections they made at Leavenworth to smuggle guns and ammunition into the federal penitentiary. They also helped other inmates – seven in all – escape from Leavenworth.

In July 1931, Holden, Keating, and two of the men they helped to escape were enjoying a round of golf in Kansas when the FBI swooped in and arrested the foursome. Thomas Holden was sent to Alcatraz and served out his sentence alongside Al Capone.


Thomas Holden served out the remainder of his original sentence at the infamous Alcatraz. On November 18, 1947, he was paroled. He returned to his home state of Illinois and to his wife, Lillian, who was living in Chicago. He soon resumed his criminal ways but stuck to petty crime until June 1949.

In the pre-dawn hours of June 5, 1949, someone called the police to report the sound of gunshots coming from a West Side apartment. The responding officers found Thomas Holden’s wife, Lillian, her brother Ray Griffith, and her half-brother John Archer all dead from gunshot wounds. A fourth person, Ray Griffith’s wife, Elva, was also suffering from a gunshot wound but was still alive. She was able to tell the officers what had happened. 

Holden's arrest (Oregonlive)

A Night of Drinking Gone Wrong

As Elva Griffith explained, the group had gone to a local bar for a night of drinking. When Lillian Holden wanted to leave, Thomas Holden got angry with her. Once they returned to their apartment, Holden started to beat his wife. Ray Griffith and John Archer tried to help Lillian, but Thomas pulled out a gun. He shot everyone in the apartment before he fled. Police searched the city for him to no avail.

Holden and the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted

Several months after Holden murdered his wife and others in Chicago, the FBI came out with their new Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. The first fugitive placed on the list was Thomas James Holden, in part because the FBI had no leads to point them to Holden’s whereabouts and in part because his crimes were still fresh in the minds of the public. The timing was right for Holden to be named the first Ten Most Wanted criminal.


Once he was named one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives, Thomas Holden’s face and the details of his crime were plastered on newspapers across the country. The FBI hoped that someone would recognize him and alert the authorities. A few months later, a resident of Beaverton, Oregon, contacted the police after seeing Holden’s photo in the local newspaper. Holden had been using the name ‘John Roger McCullough’ and had been working in construction. In fact, the FBI showed up at his job site and arrested him in front of his shocked co-workers. He was tried and convicted of murder and returned to prison, for good this time. The arrest of Thomas Holden proved to the FBI that their Ten Most Wanted List was a success.