Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joshua Armstrong


Mother's Day is one of the busiest days of the year for bounty hunter Joshua Armstrong. So is Christmas and Thanksgiving. These are the days when fugitives from the law most often make the classic mistake: They go home to visit their families, particularly their mothers.

These are menand women, though less frequentlywho have been charged with crimes, set free on bail, then violated the terms of their release by fleeing the jurisdiction of the court. Unlike most bounty hunters, Joshua Armstrong does not believe in using excessive force to apprehend bail absconders, though he is more than capable of using it if push comes to shove. Careful preparation, meticulous research, and the element of surprise are the most effective weapons in his arsenal.

Joshua Armstrong
Joshua Armstrong

Typically a fugitive will be fast asleep in the early hours of the morning when he's suddenly awakened by Armstrong and one of his associates who will appear like a full-blown nightmare, wearing black masks and body armor, their weapons drawn. The fugitive's heart will be pounding as he tries to make sense of what's happening, but Armstrong will present him with non-negotiable options.

"Get dressed. You're coming with us," he will say in an even but firm tone.

The fugitive might try to talk his way out of it, denying that he's the person Armstrong is seeking. Or the fugitive will recognize his untenable position and become sadly resigned to his fate. "So who sent you here?" some ask.

"You did," Armstrong always answers.

Armstrong believes that all individuals must take responsibility for their actions, fugitives included, but his firmly held spiritual beliefs prevent him from being judgmental with the people he captures. "That's the jury's job," he says. His job is simply to bring them back to court to face their obligations to the legal system. He's guided by ancient Egyptian philosophy, which stresses rules for conducting one's daily life rather than abstract theological principles.

"If you treat a man like a man, he will respond in a manly way," he says in his autobiography, The Seekers: A Bounty Hunter's Story, " but if you treat a man like a beast, he will respond like a beast." He has no doubt that all fugitives have a better nature, and if he can simply reach out to that better nature, violence can be avoided.

Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Armstrong traveled across country immediately after graduating from high school, intent on seeking his fortune in Alaska where he'd been told jobs on the Alaska Pipeline were plentiful. His funds ran out before he made it to Alaska and so he settled in Seattle for a while. Once he had scraped together enough money for bus fare north, he finished his journey and eventually took a job on a mammoth fishing boat, a floating fish factory. Though one of only six black men among a crew of 120, Armstrong proved himself an able worker who could deal with the racist elements on board and not let it affect his performance. He earned a promotion to the elite deck crew and soon became the head of the night shift.

Fishing boat, a 'fish factory' on water (AP)
Fishing boat, a 'fish factory' on water

One morning while off duty, he was awakened from a sound sleep and summoned to the bridge. A sudden snowstorm had blown over the ship, leaving no time for the crew to secure everything on deck. Jimbo, the boss of the day crew and leader of the ship's white supremacist contingent, needed someone to accompany him out onto the snow-covered deck in the raging storm to secure the booms before they caused any damage. Jimbo wouldn't take just anyone, and he had rejected every volunteer from his own crew. To everyone's shock, he requested Joshua Armstrong. Without hesitation Armstrong agreed, and together they trudged along the slippery length of the ship, lashing the booms and tying down loose equipment.

Visibility was extremely poor, and Joshua knew that if Jimbo decided to cause him harm, no one inside the ship would ever see it. Falling overboard was certain death on this vessel not only because the waters were frigid, but also the ship was so big, it would take forty-five minutes to turn it around and retrieve a man overboard. With gale force winds and blinding snow, there were several opportunities for foul play, but Jimbo just did his job. When the two men finally returned to the warmth of the bridge, Jimbo thanked Joshua for agreeing to be his partner. They became friends after that, and Jimbo extended an open invitation for Joshua to visit him at his rural Idaho home in the off-season.

It was during one of these off-seasons that Joshua got his first taste of bounty hunting. In the off-season some of the fishermen Armstrong worked with would take bounty-hunting assignments to fill their time until the boats went out to sea again. One of these fisherman/bounty hunters asked Armstrong to help him catch a fugitive who was thought to be living with an old girlfriend in a black neighborhood of Seattle. The bounty hunter, who was white, felt that he'd have a much better chance of catching his quarry if he had a black assistant who also happened to know the town. But this bounty hunter was trigger-happy, and at best his methods were ham-fisted. Despite several blunders, they eventually caught their man thanks to Armstrong's perceptiveness and ability to outrun the fugitive. But the experience convinced Armstrong that there had to be a better way. He thought bounty hunting might be a viable career option, providing he could improve on the standard force-against-force practice. He came up with the idea of forming an elite team of bounty hunters whose morals were as impeccable as their skills.


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