Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The U. S. Marshals: The Long Arm of the Law

Fugitive Task Force

When it was formed in 1983, the U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force, headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, was the first of its kind, and it became the standard for all others. Formed initially as a temporary measure, its success soon ensured that it became a permanent feature of the organization. Its sole function is to track down and arrest people for whom felony warrants have been issued, especially career criminals. The Marshals Service supports the task force with office space, information systems, and administrative personnel, and it's staffed by five permanent Marshals Service employees, two Philadelphia police officers, two Pennsylvania State troopers, and the occasional law enforcement team from New Jersey.

Tommy Lee Jones as Marshal in The Fugitive (AP)
Tommy Lee Jones as
Marshal in The Fugitive

From 1983 until the present time, over 12,000 fugitives have been apprehended, and the team's walls are covered with posters to that effect. They also have posters of movies about the Marshals, and the current Task Force supervisor, Steve Quinn, said that he likes the line shouted by Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive: "I don't care!" Their job, they say, is not to concern themselves with an individual's guilt or innocence, but simply to bring that person in.

Dennis Matulewicz is the Chief Deputy Marshal for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and once headed up the Fugitive Task Force. Having spent years chasing down dangerous felons, his favorite quote is something Hemingway once said: "There is nothing like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter." To him it's like a drug; the excitement is addictive.

His office is in the U.S. Federal Court building in Philadelphia, which houses the district courts, the circuit courts and magistrates. In the institutionally white hallway leading up to it are posters that depict great moments in U.S. Marshals' history, along with the mug shots of the 15 Most Wanted fugitives. The decoration was his idea, and his co-workers appreciate the improved aesthetics. Ordinarily, he's known for his "just the facts" approach.

Inside Matulewicz's office, along with more such posters, is a signed photo of President Reagan as an actor playing a Marshal, a collection of law enforcement hats and baseball-style caps embroidered with the names of various jurisdictions and of America's Most Wanted. He also has his father's police cap from when he was an officer on Philadelphia police force. His fictional heroes include Gary Cooper in High Noon, John Wayne's Marshal Cahill, and the television persona Marshal Dillon. In fact, he once hoped to get a placement out west, but the job in Philadelphia opened up, so he took it.

He attributes much of the success of the Task Force to attitude: "We have a rapport with the local law enforcement; we don't come in and take over, we tend to stay in the background and work the case with them as a team. People trust us, so we achieve good working relationships. And we don't seek the glory." Of the Marshals in general, he says, "We have limited resources, but we're the best at what we do."

In one of his early cases, for example, he followed a man who had left during his trial on a drug charge. "The case went on and on, but I kept tracking him, and one day he gave himself up. He said, 'You're always a step behind me. No matter where I go, I know you're coming. I couldn't take it anymore.' That was satisfying. I know I've had an effect."

Talk about "Who are those guys?"

The most dramatic case that he can recall from his stint as Task Force supervisor is one that was shown on America's Most Wanted and featured Task Force members as actors. Steve Quinn was lead investigator. It involved two fugitives, Robert Thomas Nauss and Hans Vorhauer, whom Marshal Thomas Rapone categorizes as "one-percenters"those individuals who own motorcycles in this country who are outlaws.

Robert Nauss, SCI Smithfield photo ID (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)
Robert Nauss, SCI Smithfield photo ID
(Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)

Nauss, a former leader of the Warlocks motorcycle gang, was convicted in 1977 of the murder of his 21-year-old girlfriend, a Philadelphia beauty queen named Elizabeth Ann Landy. She had disappeared on December 11, 1971, while on a date with Nauss. They had spent the evening at the home of a fellow biker, and according to one report, Nauss tried to choke her. She got away and locked herself in the bathroom, but he persuaded her to come out. Then after they went to bed, he bludgeoned her to death with a baseball bat and hung her. He reportedly told a friend, "She won't bother me anymore."

John Weir testified that on December 12, he had burned Landy's clothing and purse, and that other men had transported her body to a disposal site in New Jersey. They buried her in a shallow grave in the woods. Although she'd never been found, a witness at Nauss's trial claimed that he'd displayed her body in his garage.

Even without a body or an eyewitness to the incident, Nauss was convicted of first-degree murderthe first such conviction in Pennsylvania's history. He was sentenced to life in prison in the state correctional institution at Graterford, PA.

Hans Vorhauer SCI Huntington photo ID (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)
Hans Vorhauer SCI Huntington photo ID
(Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)

For the next six years, he spent a lot of time in the prison's wood shop with Hans Vorhauer, a manufacturer of illegal drugs. Vorhauer was reputedly a genius and a master of disguise, and he had a plan. On November 15, 1983, the two criminals successfully escaped from Graterford by smuggling themselves out in an armoire that Vorhauer had built. They were helped by an unknown couple who picked them up in a truck. They were gone before anyone realized it.

Frank Bender, forensic sculptor
Frank Bender, forensic

When a quick capture eluded the task force, it seemed likely that the fugitives had altered their appearance, so the Task Force sought help from Philadelphia-based forensic sculptor and artist, Frank Bender. Captain Allen Kurtz from the Philadelphia Police Department had seen Bender's talents on other fugitive cases, so he introduced the artist to Matulewicz, who was supervising the effort to track the escaped convicts.

"We had Nauss's Warlock pictures from before his incarceration," said Matulewicz, "and his intake picture at the prison, all of which were several years old. We wanted Frank to give us an updated look so we'd know what to look for on the street."

To get a point of reference, Bender looked at their surveillance photos from the neighborhood where Vorhauer's girlfriend lived. "I said to myself," he recalls, "that he had the highest IQ of any prisoner who'd entered the Pennsylvania state prison system and was equally street-smart. He was seen once without a cap, and then with a baseball cap, so I figured he'd change the color of his hair, and he'd make it blond, because it would work with the color of his skin. So I made a drawing like that with blond hair, and it turned out that's exactly what he'd done."

So Vorhauer was caught first, because he made the mistake of coming back into the area. From him, the Task Force learned the identity of the couple who had assisted with the escape.

Now they needed to find Nauss. He had grown up in Upper Darby, PA, in western Philadelphia and by the time he was 19, he was a hardcore biker. Besides murder, he committed a variety of crimes, robbery, rape, and drug trafficking. For obvious identifying features, he had a large blue parrot tattoo on his upper right arm.

"We had several leads generated about Nauss," says Matulewicz. "One was in the Poconos, where we set up in a cabin for several weeks and operated a surveillance team involving about a dozen people. But he wasn't there. Then we heard that he was out West, so we went out there and set up surveillance across from a motorcycle parts distributor. Again, no results."

They asked Bender for a sculpture to show on America's Most Wanted, so he tried to think what Nauss would do to facilitate his ability to blend in. "I thought Nauss would be clean-shaven, short-haired and living in suburbia," he says, "because he'd come from a good family. I felt that even though he was an outlaw biker, if he ever left that element, he'd go back to what he'd known."

Matulewicz wasn't so sure. "That was the first time we'd worked with Frank, and he came up with this idea of a clean-cut guy. We didn't know about that. Bikers were bikers were bikers, but this incident was also during a time when some bikers were catching on and realizing that if they looked more respectable, they wouldn't stand out as much. Nauss knew there was a national manhunt on for him, so he'd also know that a clean-cut guy wouldn't attract as much attention as a biker would."

When Bender was finished, Nauss's bust was definitely clean cut with short dark hair, neatly combed. He was described on the show as being five-foot-nine, 190 pounds, and age 35. His distinguishing marks, which Bender had noted, were a downward slant of eyes, small chin, muscular neck, and ears close to jaw line. For disguises, he'd had goatees and mustaches at different times, but the Task Force members all believed that he was now clean-shaven.

In addition to his physical appearance, the show host John Walsh pointed out that Nauss was a mechanic and knew motorcycle repair. He had a love-hate relationship with women and was prone to violence. Besides his parrot tattoo, he had another tattoo on his right forearm of three skulls and on his upper left arm of a skull, dagger, and the phrase, "Born to lose."

Once the bust was shown to the public, a tip came in that led to his capture.

Nauss is now confined in SCI Smithfield, Pennsylvania (Special thanks to Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)
Nauss is now confined in SCI Smithfield,
Pennsylvania (Special thanks to Pennsyl-
vania Department of Corrections)

Despite a few false leads, the incident had been exciting and had resulted in a successful capture. "It was an adventure," says Matulewicz. "It's all part of the chase."

Butch Cassidy, to his chagrin, was right: When they have a job to do, they do it.

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