Bad guys celebrate as AMW folds
by Robert A. Waters
Five million viewers each Saturday night aren’t enough, so “America’s Most Wanted” has been deep-sixed. To replace the beloved show, the FOX network is going to slug in some reruns. They also plan to have new two-hour episodes every three months.
AMW was born on February 11, 1988. That show caught its first bad guy a few days later, setting the stage for two decades of successful captures. The bad guy was an evil psychopath named David James Roberts. He also happened to be one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives.
Roberts was a career criminal who incinerated three innocent people, including a toddler, when he burned down a family’s home. He later kidnapped a woman and her baby, raped the mother, and left the infant by the side of the road. The child died of exposure. After the first AMW aired, viewers in Staten Island called in to identify Roberts. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to six terms of life in prison.
It’s safe to say that had Roberts not been arrested, he would have murdered again.
Over the years, the show has helped capture 1,150 fugitives. It has also found more than 50 missing children.
Two of the most sensational cases solved by viewers of AMW were the John List case and the Elizabeth Smart abduction. List murdered his entire family, then fled to Colorado where he became a mild-mannered accountant. Eighteen years later, AMW commissioned forensic sculptor Frank Bender to sculpt a bust showing what List might look like as an older man. List was captured after a viewer recognized him.
In 2002, Smart was abducted from her home as her family slept. One of the most intense manhunts America had seen at the time produced no results. When Elizabeth’s younger sister (who'd been sleeping in the same room) recalled that her kidnapper was a man who had worked on the family’s roof for one day, police didn’t believe her. He'd gone only by the name "Emanuel"--no one knew his real identity. AMW hired an artist to draw a sketch of the suspect based on the girl's memory. When it aired, the family of a drifter named Brian David Mitchell recognized him and called the show. Within a few weeks, a viewer of AMW saw Mitchell and two women walking down a street in Sandy, Utah. One of the women turned out to be Elizabeth Smart. It was one of most sensational rescues of a kidnap victim ever recorded. And it was all due to AMW.
“America’s Most Wanted” has been my favorite television show for many years. I'll miss it. But maybe now I can catch a few “Malcolm in the Middle” reruns. NOT!