FBI’s Most Vaunted By MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer

nullSunday, October 5, 1997

The Most Wanted List, an icon of a seemingly bygone era, started innocently enough.

A wire service reporter asked the FBI in 1949 for a list of the toughest guys it would like to capture. The resulting story in newspapers around the nation generated so much publicity that then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover made it a permanent list.

The Most Wanted Lists of the ’50s featured bank robbers, burglars and car thieves. By the ’60s, radicals made it onto the list. Revolutionaries, serial killers and mobsters hit the list in the ’70s.

Since the late 1980s, the FBI has been using tabloid television shows, such as “America’s Most Wanted,” to generate publicity.

That program’s first show in 1988 profiled David Roberts, an prison escapee who had been serving six life terms, two of them commuted death sentences.

After the show, New Yorkers tipped off law enforcement that Bob Lord, a homeless man who quickly worked his way to director of Carpenter Men’s Shelter in Staten Island, was none other than Roberts.

New York has been a favorite haunt of the famed list’s fugitives. At least 37 of 451 suspects that the FBI has put on the list have been nabbed here.

Gerald Watkins was profiled on “America’s Most Wanted” in 1995. In 1994, his girlfriend turned down his marriage proposal; he shot her, her son and their 18-day-old daughter. He then came to Harlem, his boyhood home.

Cops caught him trying to duck out of the window of an apartment.

Even serial killer Andrew Cunanan came this way once.

The current list includes Queens hoodlum Paul Ragusa.

“What the numbers might lead you to conclude is that fugitives think New York is a good place to come, to sort of blend in, be anonymous, disappear,” FBI Agent Jim Margolin said. “We think otherwise.

“What the numbers also indicate is that we and the NYPD are very good at finding people who don’t want to be found,” he said.

Even beyond the city limits.

Before his late son Tupac branded himself an outlaw rapper, Mutulu Shakur was a black revolutionary who masterminded a string of armored car robberies, including a 1981 Brink’s holdup in Nanuet, in Rockland County, that went haywire and led to the deaths of three people.

After 3 1/2 years on the Most Wanted List, Shakur was captured by two New York cops on a Los Angeles street corner in February 1986. One of the cops stopped Shakur with a flying tackle.

Mutulu Shakur is serving a 60-year prison sentence.