6 Things I Learned Chasing Down America’s Worst Criminals
If you commit a serious crime and go on the lam, you might cross paths with the United States Marshals Service, or perhaps an angry shepherd, depending on how literally you interpret that phrase. The U.S. Marshals are America's oldest federal law enforcement agency, and they are the ones who chase fugitives across jurisdictional boundaries. Naturally, we wanted to learn more about them, so we sat down to binge-watch Justified, and then, when our boss yelled at us for not doing real work, we spoke to Deputy Samuels, a U.S. Marshals task force officer. He told us that ...
Even Vicious Murderers Have Families, And It Gets To You
A few years back, Deputy Samuels was tracking a group of brutal murderers:
"It was a gang-related killing -- the victim was carved up pretty badly by several assailants. The first one or two were easily located at their home, or at school."
Yes, school. But hold on, don't get too depressed ... because you'll need to save some for later, when it gets worse:
"The third guy was the one that stuck with me. Via monitoring social media, we noticed he had knocked up his underage girlfriend about nine months earlier. A week or so after being assigned the case, congratulation messages started popping up in the bad guy's timeline. We tracked down the girlfriend through police contacts and ended up finding the guy's car parked out front."
"Congratulations, 'Dad!' Also, you have the right to remain silent."
See, this is why we never wish anyone a happy birthday on Facebook. It's not that we don't care; it's that we don't want to give away your position.
"We entered the daughter's room and found our man. He was curled up in bed, snuggling with his daughter, who couldn't have been over a week old.
"I felt like I should be giving this wanted murderer some harsh commands and a face full of Glock -- fitting with his offense. But I holstered my gun and just told him we needed to go. He was wearing boxers and a T-shirt, so I knew he wasn't armed."
If he'd been willing to get into a firefight with his newborn in the room, he probably wouldn't have been visiting her in the first place.
The guy went quietly. He said he knew he'd probably be picked up at the house, but he still wanted to see his daughter, at least once (aww ...). You know, after brutally murdering someone. We think we just got emotional whiplash from that.
"This is such a weird job from an emotional standpoint," Deputy Samuels admits. "So fulfilling when you lock up the worst of the worst, and yet I found it hard not to resent as well as empathize with this guy, a murderer in bed with the most innocent."
Even Death Doesn't Get You Away From The Marshals
Some fugitives decide to save the courts a lot of time and money and end up taking their own lives. But Deputy Samuels doesn't like it when the Grim Reaper collects on one of his collars.
"[One] target was dishonorably discharged from the military a few years prior due to getting locked up on child porn charges. He worked odd jobs between then and the time we found him, but he also molested his new girlfriend's daughter, hence the new charges we were trying to lock him up on. We eventually got a hit from a stationary license plate reader and tracked him down to a hotel by the beach."
Living on the lam doesn't mean you can't live in style.
"The girlfriend provided information that the guy had made suicidal statements prior to leaving the residence. He'd also brought all his firearms with him." The Marshals cleared out all the neighboring rooms, and Deputy Samuels took position in front of the door with a giant shield in case the criminal decided that dying alone was just too scary.
"We approached the door and I tried the falsetto 'Housekeeping!' ruse, but he didn't bite," because, to our eternal disappointment, life isn't a Pauley Shore movie.
We assume the next tactic was dressing up as a mailman to deliver a box containing a boxing glove on a spring.
"The target then yelled, 'Step back or I'm going to blow you away!' The SWAT team ended up ramming the door and got to the guy before he could react. Turns out he didn't actually have any firearms, but he had been attempting to kill himself the whole time, first via suffocation with a plastic bag, then later with the plastic fork from his Chinese takeaway, sawing away at his neck and wrists, but not getting anywhere other than some friction burns."
Dear Lord, that guy was more desperate to kill himself than we were after the movie theater guy said "Enjoy the show" and we answered "You, too!"
Even Luck Isn't On The Criminals' Side
A Marshals operation is a lot like trying to argue about a bill over the phone: It requires a lot of preparation, planning, and pumping yourself up. Also, when the time comes, something usually goes wrong and the whole thing goes horribly off script.
"One time we were sent a lead to try and track down the prime suspect in a triple gang-related homicide. We went to the area of his ex-girlfriend's apartment and waited to see if he'd show up. I was covering the rear of the apartment building and the rest of the team was set up on the front side."
Of course, when the guy finally showed up, he popped out of the back of the building, away from the main team, completely obliterating the Marshals' plan, the selfish bastard.
"Mayday, mayday! Itinerary down!"
"I popped out of my car dressed in plain clothes so as not to spook him," but the guy was more paranoid than a stoner spotting a Crown Vic. As soon as he saw Deputy Samuels, he made a run for it.
"I made it within a few dozen yards before he changed course and turned to run behind another building. As the guy went to round another corner and made for some thick woods, he glanced at me catching up to him. Due to his lack of attention toward his path, he failed to register the looming sign for the exercise area and slammed into it at full sprint."
The sign went on to make sergeant in the wake of such a successful takedown.
The guy literally had no idea what hit him. He was down and being arrested before he could figure it out. When deputies caught up to him, tased him a bit for good measure, then took him away, he uttered these legendary words: "Damn, you guys got ninjas and shit up in here?"
Sometimes You Have To Use A Man's Best Friend Against Him
"Some years back, we had a string of bank robberies -- maybe seven or so? -- and in each one the guy wore the same jacket. Warrants were obtained and I was given lead on the case into tracking down our suspect."
Deputy Samuels went sniffing around the suspect's last known address, but none of his neighbors would snitch. Eventually, he started asking around nearby convenience stores, where "A clerk recognized him due to an argument he'd had with him a few nights prior for bringing his dog into the store."
"Looks like I might actually get away with this. Better make enemies in the stupidest way possible to keep things interesting."
That's when Deputy Samuels came up with a plan: He'd use the guy's dog against him.
"The 'don't snitch' culture is a major pain in the ass for my line of work. However, I found when you approach someone asking if they know where the owner of a large blue-brindle pit bull is ('The one from this picture?') because you're interested in paying for breeding rights, they're a little quicker to render support."
"Any idea how many exits their home has? Those dog show judges really like to know everything."
Fitting, then, that Deputy Samuels said he was interested in breeding rights -- because the dog did, indeed, end up fucking its owner over. Someone finally recognized the pit bull and inadvertently helped the Marshals track the suspect to another apartment complex.
"He was even wearing the same frigging jacket from all the robberies!"
The guy was immediately arrested, and he eventually gave a full confession. All while Deputy Samuels "fought the urge to send a box of dog biscuits ... as a thank you gesture."
Sometimes The Universe Just Wants Criminals Arrested
Deputy Samuels' most memorable arrest:
"I had been looking for an armed robbery suspect for weeks, but he was too slippery. He had ditched his phone, social media, family's home, and vehicle, and taken to couch-surfing with his low-life friends."
But then one day, "While taking the kids to the pet store, I spotted a trio that seemed out of place. Sure enough, upon further examination, it was my guy, walking with another male and a female."
What better way to celebrate escaping a string of armed robberies than buying a guinea pig?
It was clearly a gift from Sgt. Claus, so Deputy Samuels quickly grabbed his family and started following the suspects.
"We eventually followed them to their car. My wife was driving and my kids were in the back of the van, but I had her pop a U-turn and set up on surveillance as I called the dispatch center."
"Calm down back there or we'll turn this whole stakeout around and head home!"
Unfortunately, Deputy Samuels ended up losing the car after it turned down a side road. But by then, he had all he needed.
"I soon had several officers, a K-9, and our helicopter in the area, and gave out the guy's description. A few minutes later, the helo relayed that they saw the group hiding in some woods. After a short foot pursuit, all three were detained. It was a positive ID on my robber. Also, the second male was wanted for a stabbing in my area and later turned out to be good for a murder in a nearby neighboring jurisdiction."
Well then, there you go: further proof that crime fighting can be a family affair. Even Batman does it.
Your Vices Will Be Used Against You
"Playing off a guy's lust and greed usually works," Deputy Samuels told us, as we frantically closed the many porn and gambling tabs we had open while talking to him. "We had one case where the target we were after was known to use various friend-finding apps to locate nearby sexual partners. The new guy drew the short straw and installed one on his phone, and with the cooperation of the target's ex-boyfriend, we located the suspect's username, happily beaming his GPS coordinates. We piled into a transport van and were parked nearby, inviting the target to join us on a 'date.'"
"List your turn-ons as 'handcuffs' and turn-offs as 'concealed firearms.'"
And he did actually wind up on a date that night: with justice.
Money works, too: "If a target has been recently released from jail, we contact a relative saying we're with the accounting section of prisoner services. 'There was an error in (fill in the blank)'s discharge and we have a positive balance on his commissary fund. Can you provide a good mailing address to your darling relative?' Not many people can turn down free money."
So if we've learned anything from this article, it is this: When you're a fugitive from the law, you can't trust your friends, money, sex, the outside world -- not even your dog. It's just not worth it.
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For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Insane Things I Did As A Cop (They Don't Show On TV) and 5 Surprising Things You Learn as a Real Life Private Eye.
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