Many people think 18-year-old affluenza-boy Ethan Couch and his enabling mom, 48-year-old Tonya, won’t last long on the lam — too spoiled, too rich, too in need of 1,500-thread-count Egyptian cotton bed sheets.
But, hey, some people do manage to elude even the world’s best Wyatt Earps for a very long time. If we look at the nation’s top catch-me-if-you-can fugitives, will we find consistent characteristics to explain their success at evasion? And which of those traits might they have in common or not with the Couches?
Reading between the lines in the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, we do find clues:
One thing that seems to work well for fugitives, for example, is being a ruthlessly evil person with strong foreign ties, or, put another way and with a very reluctant tip of the hat to Mr. Trump, being a foreign fiend:
Yaser Abdel Said is the Egyptian-born cab driver from Lewisville who thought his teenage daughters were misbehaving in 2008, so he took them to a motel and shot them. His big trick for eluding arrest, law enforcement believes, is called “Egypt,” where he probably has some new 7-year-old daughters by now. Presumably Ethan Couch’s chances for hiding in Egypt are between microscopic and nonexistent.
Eduardo Ravelo, a capo in the Barrio Azteca gang wanted for money laundering, racketeering and blah-blah, has been on the lam since 2008. His secret is called “Mexico.” Of course, the United States has extradition treaties with Mexico, but the FBI suspects Ravelo also has altered his appearance and his fingerprints.
Couch and his mother certainly know how to get to Mexico from Texas. Due south. But once due south, will they also be able to show up for the acid-bath, finger-tip-scalding treatment? Hmm.
You don’t even have to be truly foreign if you can just pass. Fidel Urbina, a Chicago man, out on bond for raping and beating a woman in 1998, when he raped, beat and killed another woman, has been in the wind ever since. The FBI thinks his hidey-hole may be Durango, Mexico.
The top 10 list of most wanted fugitives also includes people with another set of characteristics we might lump together as ruthlessly evil and smart. Jason Derek Brown, a fugitive since 2004 when he murdered a guard in an armed robbery, is fluent in French, has a master's degree in international business, is an avid golfer, snowboarder, dirt biker and Mormon. The FBI says he enjoys “being the center of attention” and frequents nightclubs where he shows off “his collection of high-priced vehicles, boats and other toys.” Oh, and another characteristic, according to the FBI: Look for him to be carrying a Glock 9mm and a .45 caliber handgun.
Among other things, that’s a lot to know about a guy you haven’t been able to catch in over a decade.
William Bradford Bishop Jr. is alleged to have bludgeoned to death his wife, age 37, his mom, age 68, and his three boys, ages 5, 10 and 14 in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1976. That’s 39 years ago. The FBI says he then trucked the bodies to Columbia, North Carolina, where he set them on fire and buried them in shallow graves.
The FBI describes him thusly:
“Bishop was, and may still be, an avid outdoorsman, camper and hiker. He had extensive camping experience in Africa. He also enjoyed canoeing, fishing, swimming, jogging, tennis, skiing and riding motorcycles. Bishop enjoyed working out several times a week. He was also a licensed amateur pilot who learned to fly in Botswana, Africa.
“Bishop has an American Studies degree from Yale University and a Master's Degree in Italian from Middlebury College in Vermont. He was known to read extensively and may have kept a diary or journal. A longtime insomniac, Bishop reportedly had been under psychiatric care in the past and had used medication for depression. He drank scotch and wine and enjoyed eating peanuts and spicy food.
“Bishop was described as intense and self-absorbed, prone to violent outbursts, and preferred a neat and orderly environment.”
No big hints there on why Bishop has been able to evade capture for almost four decades except maybe for the brains and the insomnia. Probably not an easy man to sneak up on. As we regard this particular picture, the faces of Ethan Couch and his mother really do not float into view.
So you can be a foreign fiend or a native-born evil genius and succeed in hiding out for a good long time. But some descriptions of people on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list don’t offer a clue why they’re still out there.
In 2001 Robert William Fisher is alleged to have killed his wife and two young children and then to have blown up his house in Scottsdale, Arizona. The FBI describes him as physically fit, an “avid outdoorsman, hunter and fisherman” with a noticeable gold crown on an upper side tooth. He walks “with an exaggerated, erect posture and his chest pushed out due to a lower back injury” and chews tobacco heavily.
And they can’t find this guy. Maybe things are looking up after all for the Couches.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
But remember this: Ethan Couch never had to become a fugitive. His mom never had to leave home to help him. In 2013 he got a walk for killing four people while driving drunk. Texas Juvenile Court Judge Jean Boyd gave him 10 years probation after a defense witness testified Couch was too rich to know better.
Of course the terms of his probation forbade him from consuming alcohol or drugs. Couch only became a fugitive after a six-second video clip appeared on Twitter showing him taking part in a game of beer pong, which involves throwing balls into cups of beer and … just drinking a lot.
So Couch effectively might have thrown away 10 years of freedom to play beer pong with “friends,” at least one of whom was video-recording him, presumably on a cell phone.
The one characteristic that really does not show up in the 10 most wanted list, even for some of those whose success at evasion is somewhat puzzling like the puff-chested, gold-toothed tobacco chewer, is total and complete idiocy. Couch and his mom may have that one going against them.