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How Does a Manhunt Work?

Manhunt -- the word conjures up images of an escaped convict dragging chains through a darkened forest as the sound of barking dogs grows closer.
/ Source: Discovery Channel

Manhunt -- the word conjures up images of an escaped convict dragging chains through a darkened forest as the sound of barking dogs grows closer.

But law enforcement officials say that a real manhunt is more like a checklist used to methodically flush out dangerous criminals on the run.

"It's no different than going to your favorite fishing hole or hunting spot," said Brian Withrow, associate professor of criminal justice at Texas State University and a former Texas police administrator. "It's a systematic process that involves going to the places where they are likely to go. Old homes, old hideouts, old associates. That's generally how it works."

Federal and local agents are scouring parts of rural Mississippi and Arkansas for Adam Mayes, a 35-year-old man wanted in connection with the killings of neighbor Jo Ann Bain and her teenage daughter Adrienne. Their bodies were discovered at Mayes' home in Guntown, Miss., several days ago. On Tuesday, Mayes' mother and ex-wife were arrested in connection with the crime.

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Several hundred officers from 17 law enforcement agencies are involved in the manhunt, CNN reported.

FBI special agent Joel Siskovic told CNN that he is hopeful that the Bain's two younger daughters, 12-year-old Alexandra and 8-year-old Kylilah, are still alive.

"Currently that's what we believe, and we do believe that they are still with Mayes," Siskovic said.

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During a manhunt, the first thing that FBI and local agents do is figure out the dynamics of the relationships of the suspect and the victims -- in this case Mayes and the Bain family.

"You do a preliminary hypothesis on why," Withrow said. "Then they will focus their attention very quickly on the suspect. Where he's from, where his connections are, where he's going."

The difference between a manhunt and a search is that a manhunt is a targeted effort with bigger resources, according to Joe Lewis, a supervisory special agent in the FBI's Washington headquarters. He said the FBI has the manpower and technological know-how to help local law enforcement catch fugitives like Mayes.

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"We might have an airplane we could use with infrared abilities to look for people at night," Lewis said. "We might have helicopters or other kinds of surveillance vehicles. We can also provide subpoena powers to trap and trace phones."

As in the Mississippi case, local police and FBI agents have to work together. The FBI has offices throughout the country. While local sheriff's and state police can pursue criminals across state lines, they can't arrest suspects outside their jurisdiction. Murder isn't a federal crime, so any criminals caught by the FBI are returned to local authorities, Lewis said.

Catching a fugitive like Mayes is a matter of getting the word out to the public and having enough people to cover all the bases. At the same time, it's a myth to think that every police agency in the region has closed down and thrown all their people into the manhunt, Withrow said.

"Eighty percent of the time these are solved with a routine traffic stop," he said, "or a police officer getting a hunch and asking one more question."