Duane "Dog" Chapman is a bounty hunter who lives in Hawaii. He lists numerous captures on his website, but independent verification of such captures can be tough.
Dog is Duane Lee Chapman, owner of Da Kine Bail Bonds in Honolulu and self-proclaimed "Greatest Bounty Hunter in the World." Six thousand-plus captures over the past two decades have earned this highly intense, charismatic ex-con and born-again Christian such a distinction.
He is the modern-day Billy the Kid — minus all the weaponry. "Regulators," he'll often bellow to his supporting cast of bounty hunters, which often includes family members and friends, "mount up!"
He's also the king of comebacks — a modern-day hero who was once a zero after serving time in a Texas prison for first-degree murder. It's a conviction he claims was unfounded and later candidly discusses, for the first time ever, with MidWeek.
"I am what rehabilitation stands for," claims the man who's been profiled on such TV shows as The Learning Channel's Secret World of Bounty Hunters and Court TV's Anatomy of a Crime, and whose Predator's Predator column at www.crime.com receives a bevy of hits on a daily basis. "I did time in prison, and that made my mother and father — not to mention the public — very ashamed of me."
And so as part of his penance, he vowed to help make America a safer place for all.
"It's why I hunt men — fugitives of the law," says Dog, who also spends a good portion of his time tracking bail jumpers, or skips, between Hawaii and Colorado — where he owns three additional bonding companies. "This is a game of good guy versus bad guy. And I must capture the bad guy!"
Over the years, the list of fugitives Dog claims to have either helped catch or single-handedly brought to justice reads like a who's who of America's Most Wanted: Quinton Wortham, Capital Hill rapist; Wayne Williams, Atlanta child murderer; William Scatarie, white supremacist and convicted murderer of Denver radio shock jock Alan Berg.
Even Hawaii's criminals have felt his wrath. Just last week, for example, Dog caught notorious Kona burglar Bryan Blair, who was lying low in Kansas City.
"Dog's a genius at the practical side of humanity, especially when it comes to understanding the criminal mind," says Anthony Robbins, world-renowned motivational speaker who talks highly of the bounty hunter's abilities in his book Awaken the Giant Within. "He's the best in the world at what he does."
Of course, much of Dog's success is due to his knack for getting the most out of his informants.
"Seventy percent of all my captures happen because some good ole American has turned them in by giving me information," says Dog, the spitting image of the maverick bounty hunter: stone-cold blue eyes, long unruly blond hair and weathered skin all wrapped in a skin-tight, sleeveless T-shirt, silver-capped boots, bicycle gloves and arm bands.
"I'm like that new game show on TV: I keep looking for the weakest link. I look for relatives, friends, anyone who might be willing to help bring the fugitive in."
Dog is one of only a handful of men across the country who makes a living as a professional bounty hunter. Together with an estimated 8,000 bail enforcement agents (BEA), they account for 30,000 to 40,000 arrests each year — all at no cost to taxpayers.
"Bounty hunters are a dying breed," says Dog, who at age 46 and nearing retirement refuses to work under the more "politically correct" term of BEA. It's one of the reasons why he plans on opening a bounty hunter school in the Islands, where he'll not only teach the "tricks to the trade," but the ethics of the business as well.
"Bail enforcement agents strictly go after bail," he explains. "Bounty hunters go after anyone with a price on their head — as well as fugitives of the law.
"When I got into this business, I said I wouldn't be a snitch — someone who drops a dime and tells you where the fugitive is. I wanted to be able to look the guy in the face when I brought him in and see the entire process through."
There was a time, however, when looking a fugitive in the face wasn't enough. Dogging the apprehended incessantly was as much of the routine as flashing his Colorado and Hawaii fugitive apprehension badges or slapping on the cuffs and leg irons.
"A skinhead broke my nose once," admits Dog. "I had him cuffed and was walking back to the car, and my adrenaline was going. I started talking sh— to him, what they call 'holding court on the street.' Well, the Bible says that a haughty spirit goeth before a fall. And he head-butted me — just splattered my nose all over the place."
Dog claims to have mellowed with age, although he's still apt to call the captured every expletive in the book.
"It's tough. You've got to be able to chase these guys with your heart blowing. And once you catch 'em you've got to be able to stop that adrenaline," explains Dog, who'll often end his captures with "dogisms" — his own spontaneous, expletive-free sayings.
"I do the verbal thing," he continues. "I'll walk around the fugitive and I'm like, 'You mother f-----, god----, you sh--, you fu----!' But then I'll calm down and compliment them by saying 'You were one of the best chases I've ever had.' "
With all that rage, it's a wonder Dog is able to maintain his sanity. But the balance, he says, comes from these Islands.
"I'll listen to a lot of Hawaiian music — stuff like Iz — to relax," he says. "For me, Hawaii is like decompression."
Dog recalls one of his captures: Hector Gonzalez is pissed— and he's taking his frustration out on Dog's car. Lying in the back seat with his hands cuffed, this heroin — or cheiva — smuggler from Colombia is screaming obscenities at the bounty hunter while using his stocky legs to boot the back windshield. Thump. Thump. Crash!
This is not what Gonzalez had in mind when he decided to head for the mountains — a typical destination for many fugitives. He thought he'd be as free as a bird as long as he stayed close to Carter Lake in Loveland, Colo., and as far away from the El Gato Negro, a bar located on the seedy side of Denver, where Gonzalez' drug deals often went down and which the feds and local authorities were keeping close tabs on.
But now here he was — a fugitive considered so dangerous that the FBI put a no-hold bond on him — and he's headed for the pen. The embarrassing thing is, he'd been duped by this bounty hunter and his five kids! Hell, the oldest one couldn't be more than 12, Gonzalez thought to himself. And what were they holding? Flashlights?
He honestly believed it was the feds who woke him in the middle of the night. "All right, Gonzalez," growled a voice over a bullhorn. "You're surrounded. Come out with your hands up!"
With lights streaming in from all sides of the cabin, Gonzalez thought he'd do the only sensible thing and surrender. But after being cuffed and placed in the back seat, he didn't expect to hear these 11 words:
"All right kids, you can come out from behind the bushes!"
"Arrrh! Gonzalez screams. They're just kids! "I'm gonna kill you , mother f —" he shouts, glaring at his captor. "I'm gonna kill you when I get out!"
Don't let the looks fool you. Despite the tough-guy image, Dog is afraid — and rightfully so — whenever he's chasing a criminal.
"I'm a normal guy. I'm scared all the time. Fear, I let him out," he says. "Like with Gonzalez. When he said that he was going to kill me, well, that shook me up for a pretty long time."
But more so than facing killers and drug dealers, Dog fears not making ends meet for his family — which includes 12 children, seven of whom still live with him and his "significant other," Beth Barmore. Bounty hunting, it turns out, isn't quite the lucrative job after all.
"There's this really big misconception that Duane makes all this money," says Barmore, co-owner of the couple's bonding businesses. "Most of the time, bondsmen can't pay."
In general, bounty hunters make between 10 and 15 percent of the posted bail. For Dog, however, the return isn't always there. By his own calculations, he's been paid for less than half of the 6,000 fugitives he's brought in. People have offered him wristwatches and old pickup trucks as payment. Ironically, a bondsman once handed Dog a puppy rather than cash.
Two years ago, Charley Dillion — a bondsman in Palm Springs, Calif. — posted a $200,000 bond for a murder suspect. After the suspect skipped town, Charley showed up at Dog's door and begged him to take the case. All Charley had was $5,000 — and brain cancer to boot. "He came in and said, 'I'm dying,'" Dog recalls, "'and I can't leave my wife with this kind of financial burden. You got to find this guy, Duane. You're my last chance.'"
Dog found the skip, but still hasn't been paid. "How can you take money from a guy who's dying?" he asks.
It's this compassionate side of Dog that many in the business don't often see. With him, the job is never over once the fugitive has been delivered to the proper authorities. In return for his devotion to them, many of Dog's captures become his friends for life.
"He's really big on honor," Barmore says. "He does it to the point that sometimes I want to kill 'em. He'll be on the phone with the guy, and I'm telling him, 'Duane, it's over. He's already in jail.' But with him, it's his honor because he told the guy he'd see him through the process."
"It's just like being a father," Dog says. "You got to show them love and you got to show them the path. I don't like this role-model stuff, though. Jimmy Swaggart was my role model and he got caught buying whores twice. So don't look at me as a role model."
Robbins, for one, disagrees with that last statement. In fact, he allowed his son, Joshua, to spend many summers under the bounty hunter's wing simply because he found Dog to be a fine example.
"What makes him so special," Robbins adds, "is that he has the mind-set to convert these criminals to a better life. It's as if he's here to serve a greater good."
Raised in Denver, Dog is the oldest of four children born to Wesley and Barbara Chapman. His dad was a welder with the Navy, while his mother was a minister with the First Assembly of God, and often traveled to Native American reservations to teach the gospel.
"My mother taught me that if they bleed red, then they're your brother. When I was young I used to say, 'Mama, how come that man's dark?' And she would say, 'He lives on the side of the mountain where the sun and Jesus are,'" Dog remembers.
"My father was real abusive. Not sexually, but verbally and emotionally. He'd say, 'You're nothing! You'll never be sh—!' I still hear him today."
Wesley Chapman died last year, but Dog says their relationship improved significantly before his death. "I had to prove a lot to my dad. He started working for me the last few years. I took him with me one time and he was telling me, 'Now son, you were calling this guy a son of a bitch, and telling him his mother was whore. You don't need to do that.' And I said, 'You got to, Dad. They've got to feel afraid — be intimidated.'
"We went on a bounty one night because he'd become a bondsman and this guy had jumped his bond. So we find this guy, and I have to pry my dad's hands from this guy's throat. I'm saying, 'I got him, Dad,' and he's screaming at this guy, 'You son of a bitch, I'll kill you!'
Jerry Lee Oliver is a good-looking guy, a natural with the ladies. He's also a pimp and drug dealer — the kind of cat nobody messes with.
People pay him "business visits" all the time at his home in Pampa, Texas. But on this evening, he smells trouble — literally — when Donny Kurkandall, a member of the motorcycle gang Devil's Disciples, shows up at his door reeking of whiskey.
Oliver knew of the Disciples — but he generally avoided them because they hated blacks. Dog, however, was different. The biker would often park his Harley-Davidson on Oliver's front lawn, then rev his motor until the earth worms would surface. Oliver would then scoop up the worms and use them for catfishing.
"How'd you get a name like Dog?" Oliver once asked the biker, who was relatively new to the Lone Star state.
"We have a guy in the gang who's always mad at God," explained Dog, the Disciples' sergeant-at-arms. "He's always flipping God off. So I started praying for him. Since we already have a 'Preacher' and a 'John the Baptist' in the gang, I became known as Dog — God backwards."
Now that Dog, Oliver thought, he's cool by me. But this other cat standing in front of me, he's no friend of mine.
"You got any pot?" Kurkandall asks, his speech slurred.
"Yeah," Oliver responds.
"Good," Kurkandall says, whipping out a sawed-off shotgun from his coat and pointing the barrel straight at Oliver's chest. "Give it all to me!"
"What the — ?" stammers Oliver as he grabs the gun's barrel.
The thunderous blast sends Oliver backward and into the wall. He slumps to the floor as Kurkandall drops the gun and stumbles out the front door.
"Oh, God," Oliver cries, looking down at his white shirt turned red. "I'm bleeding."
Less than eight hours later, he would be dead.
Dog knows what it feels like to be a wanted man. As a juvenile, he had his share of run-ins with the law from Colorado to Mexico.
Still, he wasn't prepared for the news when it blared over the radio during an early September morning in 1976: Duane 'Dog' Chapman is being sought for the murder of Jerry Lee Oliver, who died last night.
"I was at home in bed at the time and I remember that my wife, LaFonda, rolled over, pulled the covers over her head and started screaming," says Dog, who's been married four times. "And I said, 'Oh, my God. Jerry died!'"
Dog admits he was at Oliver's home that fateful night, waiting outside in a car with several other Disciple members. But, he adds, the plan was simply for Kurkandall to buy pot and get out. Had he known his fellow biker was carrying a concealed weapon, Dog says, he would have aborted the drug plan right then and there.
"I actually went back to Jerry's place," Dog says. "The paramedics were bringing Jerry out and he was wide awake on a stretcher and I said, 'Jerry, brother, are you all right?' And he says, 'Dog, it was one of your brothers.'
"There was a policeman nearby, an Officer Love, and he hears what Jerry says. So he asks Jerry, 'Was it Dog?' And Jerry says no."
After hearing the news flash on the radio, Dog says he acted on instinct. "We're running," he remembers telling LaFonda. "Get the kids, get the camper. You pick me up down the street. Where we going? Who the hell cares? We're out of here!"
Dog never made it far. In fact, he barely made it out of his back yard before he was caught by the local police and arrested.
Found guilty along with several of his biker brothers, Dog was sentenced in 1977 to five years of hard labor in a Texas prison. He would end up serving less than two years of the sentence, and was finally released on parole on Feb. 6, 1979.
For Dog, however, life was just beginning.
"LaFonda, my first wife, had filed for divorce while I was in prison. So one day, this Judge Levi called and said I owed thousands of dollars in back child support. Well I told him I wasn't going to pay for it because I wasn't there — I was in prison.
"So he said, 'Do you know what a bounty hunter is, boy?' I said yes. He held up a picture and said, 'Can you find this boy? I said yes. He said 'If you find him, I'll pay $200 of your child support.'
"Well I only needed about a week to find this guy. When I did catch up with him, I tied him up with my belt, cinched it, and I took him into Judge Levi's court.
"My first bounty," he says proudly.
Soon afterwards, Dog claims he was arresting up to four fugitives a day. And the rest, he says, is history.
Now, he's looking forward to telling his story to CBS, which has reportedly signed him to do a made-for-TV dramatic series on his adventures. There's also talk that Gary Scott Thompson, the writer of The Fast and the Furious, is interested in immortalizing Dog on the big screen.
Dog first came to Hawaii in 1989 — at the time content to just spend a few days in paradise before heading home to Colorado. But after befriending a local and becoming fascinated with terms like "aloha," "aina" and "mana" — he decided this is where he would plant his roots.
New York Daily News
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