(CNN)The Bad-Breath Bandit. The Barefoot Burglar. Attila the Bun. And now the Pink Lady Bandit: All of them captured, investigators say, due in no small part to their unique nicknames.
It’s common for the FBI to call unidentified serial robbers by descriptive, often silly monikers. And while the names certainly make for a colorful directory of criminals, they’re also important tools that help agents crack a case. Criminals are named for a defining featureThe Pink Lady Bandit stirred up interest for the pink handbag she carried during at least two of her robberies in Pennsylvania, Delaware and North Carolina. Investigators identified 35-year-old Circe Baez as the bandit and arrested her Monday in Charlotte, North Carolina. A nickname like “Pink Lady” probably won’t inspire civilians to take a criminal seriously. But funny names are serious business.Read MoreNicknames help investigators ID nameless perps and generate publicity that can aid in their capture, retired FBI Special Agent Harry Trombitas said. He’d heard about the practice at other bureaus and started it as his office in Cincinnati, which often investigated more than 130 robberies every year. A catchy nickname helped investigators keep crooks straight, he said. “We wanted to come up with a way to get the information out to the public and hopefully draw some attention to it,” he said. Agents pinpoint a suspect’s defining feature, be it their clothing, age, geographic region or general M.O., and slap the descriptor on “Wanted” posters. Bad-Breath got her name after a witness complained about her smell when she approached the bank teller’s station. Barefoot was notable for his shoeless break-ins. Attila the Bun rocked a messy updo during her heists. “Instead of reporting a mundane bank robbery, this gave it a life of its own,” Trombitas said. Nicknaming is how the FBI ‘advertises’ criminals Ira Kalb, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California, told CNN in 2010 that criminal nicknaming isn’t unlike advertising.”It gets the public much more interested. It kind of brands the bandit,” he said. A memorable nickname that’s just strange enough to make headlines helps the public remember the feature that earned it, especially important when the suspect is still on the lam. It’s likely that someone in the audience will recognize them, he said. “When you give something a name, it gives it more identity,” he said. A criminal typically earns a nickname after their second or third heist, Trombitas said, though they’re not usually caught until after their third or fourth, when they’ve made the rounds in the media. Not every name is a winner Photos: Famous manhunts Photos: Famous manhuntsGuards in an upstate New York prison found the cells of convicted murderers Richard Matt, left, and David Sweat empty during an early morning bed check on June 6, 2015. Three weeks later, Matt was shot and killed by police officers near the Canadian border. Sweat was captured in the same area two days later, ending a massive and costly manhunt.Hide Caption 1 of 12 Photos: Famous manhuntsState troopers escort Eric Matthew Frein from the state police barracks in Blooming Grove, Pennsylvania, on October 31, 2014. Frein, who is accused of killing a Pennsylvania state trooper and wounding another, was found at an abandoned airport near Tannersville, Pennsylvania, authorities said. He had been on the run for nearly two months.Hide Caption 2 of 12 Photos: Famous manhuntsEdward Snowden, the man who leaked top-secret details about U.S. surveillance programs, has been charged with three felony counts, including violations of the U.S. Espionage Act. He left the United States and hid out in Hong Kong until WikiLeaks helped him move to Moscow, where he lived in an airport for about five weeks before being granted temporary asylum in Russia in August 2013. Snowden has said he is afraid he would not get a fair trial if he came back to the United States.Hide Caption 3 of 12 Photos: Famous manhuntsConvicted mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger spent more than a decade on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list before being arrested in June 2011 in Santa Monica, California. The jury in his federal racketeering trial found him guilty on 31 of 32 counts — including involvement in 11 murders — in August 2013. He is currently serving two consecutive life sentences in prison.Hide Caption 4 of 12 Photos: Famous manhuntsEric Toth, a former private school teacher and camp counselor, was on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” fugitives list when he was captured in Nicaragua in April 2013. The investigation into the suspected child predator began in June 2008 after pornographic images of children were found on a school camera that had allegedly been in his possession.Hide Caption 5 of 12 Photos: Famous manhuntsBoston was on edge for days during a massive manhunt for the suspects responsible for the marathon bombings in April 2013. Finally, authorities apprehended Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after an overnight shootout with police that resulted in the death of his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A federal jury sentenced Tsarnaev to death in May 2015 for his involvement in the bombings that killed three and injured more than 260 people. Hide Caption 6 of 12 Photos: Famous manhuntsFormer Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner, accused of killing four people, led police on a chase lasting days before he was tracked to a hideout in the San Bernardino Mountains. He took his own life in February 2013.Hide Caption 7 of 12 Photos: Famous manhuntsTed Bundy raped and murdered dozens of women across the country in the 1970s. He escaped from prison twice but was captured after being stopped for driving a stolen car in 1978. He was executed in Florida in 1989.Hide Caption 8 of 12 Photos: Famous manhuntsThe FBI is still searching for Abdul Rahman Yasin, a suspect in the February 26, 1993, World Trade Center bombing that killed six and injured more than 1,000 people in New York. Six other suspects were convicted in the attack.Hide Caption 9 of 12 Photos: Famous manhuntsEric Robert Rudolph — who was convicted of a string of bombings, including one at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta — eluded capture until 2003. He was arrested in Murphy, North Carolina, and is serving four consecutive life sentences plus 120 years.Hide Caption 10 of 12 Photos: Famous manhuntsOnce a fixture on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in an Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound on May 2, 2011.Hide Caption 11 of 12 Photos: Famous manhuntsLovebird bandits Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are believed to have committed 13 murders and several robberies and burglaries before they were ambushed and killed by police in 1934.Hide Caption 12 of 12With thousands of names claimed, there are bound to be flops: “Bow-Legged,” “Bearded” and “Move Quick” are a bit more vague than “Dollar Store Grandpa” or “Dirty Bieber” (a name Trombitas devised when a witness told him a suspect looked just like Justin Bieber if he hadn’t showered recently). If they’re lucky, criminals end up with a semi-flattering nickname. Some like theirs so much they continue to use them in prison, former FBI special agent Bill Rehder told CNN in 2010.Others are less than thrilled with their identifiers. The Clearasil Bandit, named for his acne-scarred skin, unsuccessfully sued the FBI after fellow inmates teased him about his nickname in prison, he said. Agents exercise caution Investigators tasked with creative nicknaming are careful not to lend criminals notoriety or trivialize their crimes, Trombitas said. “Because it’s a serious matter, we don’t want to make too much of a joke about that,” he said. “These are not victimless crimes.” Rehder said the practice is purely an investigative tool. “It doesn’t make a hero out of them,” he said. “It helps bring somebody to justice quicker.”