Finding Felons On The Lam

The task of tracking fugitives is getting more difficult for law officials as the number of felons on the run continues to rise and the techniques they use to avoid capture improve. CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports.

The same day that state lawmen were beginning their manhunt for escaped death row inmate Martin Gurule in Texas federal marshals were finally ending one of theirs in California.

Gary Lee Morris stayed on the run for 23 years while Gurule probably enjoyed freedom no more than a few hours before drowning in a stream near the Huntsville, Texas, prison.

But for at least one day Gurule and Morris were members of a growing but hidden segment of our society that few of us know about.

According to the FBI, there are now 485,000 Americans, that's about one out of every 500 of us, that are wanted by the law. Many have been fugitives for years and some have gotten very, very good at it.

Art Roderick of the U.S. Marshals knows just how good fugitives are becoming.

"It becomes more difficult to find them after a year, we've found. The majority of our cases that we currently have in the 'open' status are more than a year old, probably 90 percent of them," says Roderick.

Eric Robert Rudolph
is about to join that fraternity. The alleged Olympic bomber disappeared into the mountains of North Carolina just about a year ago and lawmen have yet to lay eyes on him. Just behind him are the so-called Four Corners survivalists who killed a deputy and have eluded an army of searchers in some of the most desolate country in the far west for over half a year now.

Also rising fast on everyone's list is James Kopp, wanted as a material witness in the shooting death of a doctor in New York. And all of them, says law enforcement consultant Brian Levin, probably have had help.

"People who believe in their cause but aren't likely to help them directly but might help them in a secondary way," says Levin.

Overall, say lawmen, prison escapees are the easiest to catch because they rarely have help. Drug kingpins can be the hardest because they have so much hidden money. In the end, however, they all make the same mistakes.

"They know they're wanted, they travel across country and the next thing you know they're making phone calls to their mother, their father, their sister someone that we know that they know. That usually gets us on the right trail," says Roderick.

Following that trail, however, has become a lot trickier. Click on the Internet now and you'll find explicit instructions on how to create fake I.D.s including exact replicas of state drivers' licenses. Remember Gary Lee Morris in California? He'd gone through six identifications.

The Web sites have become so popular with felons that marshls say they now check them regularly just to keep track of the latest tricks. They're getting results, Roderick says.

"We always get 'em sooner or later. It might take a few years, but we always end up catching 'em," says Roderick.

The problem lately, however, is that if you catch one fugitive, predictions are two more will soon take his place.

Reported By Jim Stewart
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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