Finding a US ‘Most Wanted’ upstairs
Motel owners spot one of their guests on TV
JUPITER, Florida: It takes just a glimpse sometimes to catch a fugitive.
As America’s Most Wanted previewed an episode about a Florida man accused of killing four relatives at a Thanksgiving dinner, a couple who own a remote motel in the Florida Keys became alarmed. They recognised the suspect as one of their guests.
When the show aired just a short time later, about a week ago, armed authorities already were quietly surrounding the motel. They busted through a sliding glass door and arrested Paul Merhige, a fugitive the police had been after for more than a month.
He is accused of killing his twin sisters, a 79-year-old aunt and a six-year-old cousin after a typically festive Thanksgiving Day meal.
The motel’s owners, Melinda and Paul Pfaff, were watching a football game when the America’s Most Wanted promo popped up. To be sure, Melinda checked the show’s website and realised Merhige had been staying in one of their rooms for nearly a month. The couple called the show’s hotline, and within a few hours the popular Fox series had recorded its 1 099th capture since it hit the air in 1988.
With about six million viewers every Saturday night, authorities said the show had been a crucial tool in catching violent fugitives for 22 years. It is directly linked to the capture of 17 people who were on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list. The latest was Merhige.
The show’s first episode brought a tip that four days later led to the arrest of a convicted murderer, also the first fugitive profiled on the series.
“In today’s world, a fugitive can be across the country in three or four hours,” said William Sorukas, chief of the US Marshals Service domestic investigations division in Washington, DC.
“ America’s Most Wanted is probably the most significant tool to law enforcement that’s been developed in the past 20 years,” he added, noting he had deputies in the show’s hotline room every week.
One of the most notable cases solved with the help of the show was the 2003 arrest of Brian David Mitchell, charged in the abduction of Elizabeth Smart from her Utah home in 2002. She was returned to her family nine months later after an intense search.
Host John Walsh, whose sixyear-old son was abducted from a South Florida mall and killed in 1981, said the show had led to the capture of fugitives in 35 countries and had brought home alive more than 50 missing children. Walsh said the key to the show’s success was putting a story to the crime and a face to the fugitive while providing an emotional connection to the victims. – Sapa-AP
On the Net: America's Most Wanted: www.amw.com