Inside the world of America’s favorite bounty hunters.
“His picture doesn’t look like he’s in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, so we gotta be careful.” —Duane “Dog” Chapman
Duane Chapman, perhaps better known as “Dog the Bounty Hunter” hasn’t always hunted thugs although, as the son of a bail bondsman, he certainly came by his calling honestly, even if by way of some jail time himself. While he wasn’t the triggerman, he was a passenger in the getaway vehicle when another took a man’s life. Chapman received a five-year sentence and was released after 18 months. Not long after, his legal pendulum swung clear to the opposite side as he began tracking bail jumpers.
While visiting Dog and Beth for a couple of days, Dog quipped, “We’ve arrested over 8,000 people, well over, but I try to stay conservative with it. Nobody would ever believe how many people we’ve caught. I’ve been at it a long time and I know I’m doing the right thing.” Most notable among his captures was Max Factor makeup heir, Andrew Luster. Luster was convicted of drugging and raping scores of women but fled to Mexico before his impending incarceration. Dog, his son Leland, and fellow bounty hunter Tim Chapman found Luster in Puerto Vallarta and were returning him to the U.S. to begin is 120+ year sentence, but Mexican police had other plans.
Luster was released to American authorities and soon after Dog, Leland and Tim also returned home; however, Mexican officials made things difficult for the trio until the statute of limitations ran out. Not long after the Lusk incident made national headlines, Beth, Dog’s wife, joined Chapman on his show, “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” Their partnering became the staple-focus of the show, bad guys aside—their larger-than-life personalities, humility and love for each other always underpinning (sometimes over-pinning) every dramatic moment. Together, they waged war on countless bail-skipping thugs on and off the camera through their business, Da’Kine Bail Bonds.
While Da’Kine Bail Bonds was headquartered in Hawaii, Dog and Beth both hail from Colorado and when I caught up with them myself, they were chasing folks near Huntsville, Alabama—a boon for me since Alabama is quite a bit closer to Texas than Hawaii. I was the first and only media-type guy to be invited to spend a couple of days riding along with them so even if they were in Hawaii, I would have sacrificed for my team and the story.
Where’s Your Bulletproof Vest?
Armed with a few Pulsar thermal imaging devices at Dog’s request (he had used Pulsar Helion Thermal Monocular) on a recent chase in Hawaii with a pretty dramatic capture sequence, I lit out of north-central Texas and landed just a couple hours later in Huntsville. Within an hour of touching down, I was in a shopping center parking lot watching the team’s stream of black SUVs pour in. Dog and Beth were among the first to step out and greet me.
Dog spoke first, “Where’s your bulletproof vest? You can’t ride without a vest, brother.”
My response was a bit awkward, “I guess I don’t have one.”
“I’m just kidding. You’re good. So, you’re an outdoor writer? A hunter? You ready to hunt people?” He smiled, even at night, with his sunglasses on.
I smiled back, “Hell yeah, I’m ready.”
Dog didn’t miss a beat, “Let’s go.”
Bounty Hunters, Unscripted
The caravan lit off down the highway like a shot. They had information that their fugitive was passing the time in a nearby house. Dog and Beth stalled at a gas station on the main drag while we ventured forward to stake out a house in a seriously sketchy neighborhood. Armed with a Pulsar Accolade XP50 thermal binocular we scanned the exterior of the residence. “The car’s there but no activity.” We also noticed the car didn’t register a heat signature; it had been parked there for a while. We also noticed a few people walking around the streets. None appeared to be the subject either but without thermal we never would have known they were there, and in a neighborhood like that, knowledge is power.
I heard Dog’s voice on the radio, “Come on back.” We regrouped at the gas station. Dog, Beth, David, Rainy, Leland, Kaleo and Sonny huddled for a moment in the darkness. While we surveyed one home, they had received information about the fugitive being in another just down the street. We left again, this time at a white-knuckle rate of speed for a couple of miles before turning off into another shady neighborhood. We parked and walked over to watch Dog, Leland, David, Kaleo, Sonny and the film crew swiftly yet quietly approach the door. Beth and Rainy stayed with the SUVs where we also waited and watched.
Shortly after the team’s abrupt knock, the door opened. In a shock-in-awe flash, blinding lights flooded the entrance and into the home as Dog and his team filed in. By then it was 2 a.m. and I couldn’t imagine the level of danger these guys threw themselves into. “This is some sketchy s*it!” Beth and Rainy nodded in agreement—neither smiling. Indeed, hunting people is dangerous work. Moreover, the truth about Dog the Bounty Hunter, Beth, the rest of the team and the show itself was abundantly clear. This IS reality TV. There was no script. Nothing known beforehand, nothing choreographed. These were bounty hunters blowing into a home at 2 a.m. looking for a fugitive. Anyone of them could have easily been killed. Again, I thought, “This is some sketchy s*it!” While I watched, the show producer approached to tell me, “They gave us access to this residence earlier and there’s no time-limit. So, here we are.”
The house cleared and the fugitive still at large, Dog and the team filed back out of the home, but with more information. Another home a few miles away might lead them to their guy. Again, we flew down the highway, through town, and turned off into another neighborhood, stopping next to a single-story brick home. The house had a backyard enclosed by a chest-high chain-link fence.
The location was dark and with the exception of a light pouring from a couple of the home’s windows. The team huddled quickly and I could hear Dog giving instructions. One of the team members took my Pulsar Accolade thermal binoculars and handed them to Dog. “Holy sh*! I can see everything with these. A production light flashed on in time to catch Dog peering through the thermal binoculars before handing them off. “You can see everything with this thermal.” Handing the thermal binocular to Kaleo, he instructed, “Take it and go around to watch the back door.”
It was dark with a heavy layer of controlled chaos bursting at the seams. Kaleo took my Accolade thermal binoculars and hurried into the backyard. I remained on the other side of the fence, out of the yard. I hurried around the fence’s perimeter with the Dog’s Most Wanted producer, Matt. He cut around a tree growing on the fence line just a bit wider than I did. Lucky for him, since one step I was on the ground and the next, there was nothing. My left leg went straight down into a hole, most likely where somebody has been digging to remove a root ball. My leg disappeared into the hole and I slammed the edge of the ground with my inner thigh. It hurt like hell (I was bruised across the back of my leg for weeks) but I jumped up “unphased.”
I tried to watch the backdoor but seriously only made out lights on the side of the house from the production crew and a slight amount of light from the back of the Accolade thermal binos while the bounty hunter in back watched the backdoor carefully. While we waited in the dark and the team member kept watch in back, Dog and the rest of the team filed into the home. Now it was after 3 a.m. There in the dark, all I could think of was, “Yeah, I really should have a vest on. Someone could get shot out here pretty easily. This isn’t a game at all. They really are hunting people.”
As luck would have it, the guy was not there either. Dog seemed frustrated but I learned quickly that he’s pretty level headed. He doesn’t pull punches but he handled the disappointment in exceptional bounty hunter style explaining, “He knows the pressures on him now. We’ll either get him or he’ll give up. He doesn’t want us to get him.”
I was back in my hotel at about 4:45 a.m. but it was hard to sleep. My adrenaline continued to pump and seeing first-hand how dangerous bounty hunting can be was enlightening to say the least. I was glad to have brought the thermal imagers. Through the “hunt”, Dog kept an Accolade XP50 thermal binocular in his vehicle and I had shared the pair I had with the team, Dog included, whenever his pair was in the hands of another team member. The reality of just how much safer thermal imaging makes a bounty hunter’s job is undeniable.
The next day, I drove over to meet the team. Dog updated me on the manhunt from the night before. The thug we were hunting had been just a couple of hundred yards away and likely watched Dog and company conduct their search. Dog was right about the pressure. He had turned himself in early that morning, likely before any of us were awake. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on perspective and business, there are always more. So, Dog and Beth turned their attention to another nearby bail jumper, this one with an exceptionally violent history.
You Can Run but You Can’t Hide
Before the hunt began again, we laughed and joked about many things and I had some short yet serious heart-to-heart conversations with both Dog and Beth. Among the deeper comments I recall, one stuck with me and dramatically endeared his sincerity and overall character to me.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I don’t hide from any of them. You know what I do? I learn from them. I let them work within me to make me a better person. I want to be a better person, for me, especially for Beth. You can run but you can’t hide. That’s for me, too, brother, so I don’t hide. I grow.”
Spending time with Beth was even more impactful. The short span of time I spent with her was a blessing. She welcomed me with a hug and gave me many more, treated me like the rest of the team and talked to me as if I was part of her family. As true with a lot of people who befriended her, she left an indelible mark on me. She embodied truly inspiring strength, a fierce warrior spirit and the love and compassion of a mother and a wife, fiercely supportive of her family and equally as supportive.
She was also just as unapologetic. “People at home love us or hate us,” suggested Beth as she smiled slyly. “For the ones that hate us, we’ve either taken them or someone they know.” She continued to smile at me as Dog added, “They can run but they can’t hide.”
I hated to leave. Dog, Beth, Leland, David, Rainy, Kaleo, Sonny… honestly, the entire team, including the Dorsey Pictures film crew, had invited me in, treated me like family and sent me on my way with more hugs, handshakes, and goodbyes that were more like alohas—I was invited back and the invitation, open-ended. I expect to take them up on it. As I drove a rather long stretch of highway westward to catch my flight back to Texas, I thought a lot about them, about how important thermal imaging can be when you make a living getting bad people off the streets.
More than thermal though, I also thought about Beth, her smile, the unconditional love she shared with me about Dog and the rest of her family and how proud she was of each of them. She talked to me about her decision to stop chemo, how staying on the hunt helped her to not think about her illness, and how it bothered her that some had labeled the fight for her life a marketing ploy.
In the short time I called her a friend and felt the warmth of her compassion in smiles, hugs and talks about her family (the team most assuredly part of it), she left an indelible mark on my life and on the lives of countless others. She was impactful, inspiring, full of fight… and love. In a world of fight or flight, she took life head-on. While I heard “you can run but you can’t hide” more than once, she definitely was not a hider. She was present. She lived… I mean really lived, and her unquestionable spirit and strength are now helping many others love more, fight harder—her inspiration now, no less than a guiding light for so many in need of it, in any manner of challenges.
To that end, Beth is still here, still felt, still on the hunt. To many, June 20, 2019, wasn’t as much of a goodbye as it was an aloha. I agree. After all, in a language absent of hello and goodbye, aloha is there, but with much deeper meaning. Aloha also means love, compassion… presence.
As a final note, if you’re interested in the game-changing, potentially life-saving benefits of thermal imaging like the Pulsar Accolade thermal binoculars Dog’s team used on our hunts, visit www.pulsarnv.com.