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FBI usually does get its man, even if tardily

Saturday's capture of Eric Rudolph offers a lens on the tools - and twists - of manhunts.

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Just about all of them get caught ... eventually. That may be a central lesson in Saturday's capture of FBI fugitive Eric Rudolph, suspected of masterminding four bombings - including the 1996 Centennial Park bombing in Atlanta - that killed two and injured more than 100.

Sometimes it's a mug shot or an appearance on "America's Most Wanted" that does the job. Sometimes it's a suspect's slip-up - as when David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam" killer, was caught after getting a parking ticket in New York City in 1977. And sometimes, as happened with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, it's a family member or acquaintance who proffers the crucial clue.

One way or another, though, authorities tend to nab their culprits. In this case, it wasn't the vaunted FBI but a bit of serendip-ity and a rookie deputy who used to be a Wal-Mart security guard. And it wasn't just Rudolph's wiles that kept him out of reach, but a mountain culture that may have helped him disappear - taunting authorities with bumper stickers praising him as an "escape artist" and urging, "Run, Rudolph, Run."

Of the 100 people on the FBI's most-wanted list over the past decade, only a handful have eluded capture. And if history holds up, many other high-profile fugitives may eventually be captured - from James "Whitey" Bulger to Osama bin Laden.

This time, after five years of searches with howling bloodhounds and high-tech tools, the survivalist credited with Houdini-like escape skills was found in a dark alley behind a Save-A-Lot grocery store in the small mountain town of Murphy, N.C.

At 3:27 a.m. on Saturday, Officer Jeffrey Scott Postell spotted a man squatting in the alley. The man scrambled into a bin of milk cartons, where Mr. Postell, gun drawn, apprehended him. Rudolph reportedly did not put up a fight, accepting his arrest with almost a sense of relief.

"Usually people get tripped up not because of great investigative work but because they do something stupid," says Tod Burke, a former forensics investigator who's now a professor at Radford University in Radford, Va.

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