They swarm to Sin City's end-of-the-line motels and neon-lit casinos, betting they can beat the odds and get lost in the crowd, only to learn that this city of security guards and surveillance cameras is actually one of the worst places to go underground.
"If you think you can hide in Las Vegas, don't come," Henderson Police Chief Mike Mayberry said Wednesday in announcing the capture of
McCoy discovered the difficulty of going on the lam in Vegas when authorities swooped in on him at the budget hotel where he was staying. Police had received a tip from a resident who recognized McCoy as he read a newspaper story about himself at the Stardust hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
Police say some fugitives use Las Vegas as a way station, a place where they can figure out their next move. Others take permanent refuge here, using fake names to start a new life.
"It's an image of risk and bright lights and adventure," said Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston. "Those are the elements that may be attractive to those men in the first place. It's the image of wild, wild west. Vegas projects that image."
Thousands of fugitives - from shady bankers and parole violators to gangsters and murderers - have found the end of road in Las Vegas over the years.
Music Row murderer Richard F. D'Antonio, convicted of killing a 23-year-old researcher for the now-defunct Cash Box magazine in Nashville in 1989, made his way to Las Vegas. He was working as a pit boss at a casino before he was caught.
turned himself into the FBI here after killing a postal worker and wounding five people in a 1999 shooting at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles. He took a taxi to Las Vegas.
William "Andy" Beith, a Baptist school principal, was arrested at a local hotel in 2001 after fleeing from Indiana with an 11-year-old girl with whom he was having sex.
Newspaper heiresshid out in Las Vegas for several days after robbing a San Francisco bank in 1974. So did Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, who thought Las Vegas would be an easy place to cash bad checks after butchering a Kansas family in 1959 in a spree that inspired the book "In Cold Blood." Even five of the Sept. 11 hijackers spent time here in summer 2001.
"We get a lot of murder suspects," said Las Vegas police Lt. Ted Lee, who spent three and a half years leading the Criminal Apprehension Team, the task force that collared McCoy. "We've had so many I don't know if there's one you could single out."
Since the task force was founded in 1992, the squad has plucked more than 6,000 fugitives off the streets of Las Vegas. Last year, the nine-person unit arrested 400 people wanted for various crimes.
Lee said many fugitives come to Las Vegas in the belief that it is bigger than it really appears, thanks to an influx of tourists that reached 36 million last year.
Las Vegas also has a virtually unseen force of 9,000 private security guards patrolling hotel-casinos and bolstering the 2,000 or so sworn members of the police department. Add in a battery of surveillance cameras at hotel entrances, casino floors, elevators and hallways, and it is hard to stay hidden.
"People really can't hide too much because they have to live," Lee said. "They have to show their faces."
In most cases, Lee said, fugitives are simply trying to put distance between themselves and where they are wanted. In McCoy's case, he drove about 2,000 miles from Columbus, Ohio.
"They come here and have one last hurrah before they get arrested," Lee said.
By Adam Goldman