Who is Dog the Bounty Hunter, the reality TV star searching for Brian Laundrie?

The former A&E star has inserted himself into a nationwide manhunt

Graig Graziosi
Friday 01 October 2021 15:44 BST
Dog the Bounty Hunter: '50 percent of the time' parents know where kids are
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The tragic disappearance and death of Gabby Petito was strange enough on its own; a fiance who refused to speak with police arrived home in Florida after a road trip without the woman he claimed to love. Days after she was reported missing, Brian Laundrie disappeared himself, sparking a nationwide manhunt and a public thirsty for answers.

Then Dog the Bounty Hunter showed up.

Duane Chapman, better known as Dog the Bounty Hunter, is a former reality TV star and bail enforcement agent, otherwise called a "bounty hunter”.

Mr Chapman joined the search for Mr Laundrie in late September, claiming he had more than 1,000 leads and vowing "I will find him”.

The internet exploded at the revelation that the TV persona was on the case. But who is Mr Chapman, and why is his inclusion in the manhunt for Mr Laundrie such a tantalising addition to the already captivating story?

Reality TV star

Mr Chapman was an iconic presence during the mid-to-late aughts thanks to his A&E show Dog the Bounty Hunter.

The show was on the air before streaming platforms dominated the television landscape, when hundreds of cable TV channels were vying for compelling content to keep eyes glued to their programming. Television shows featuring novel occupations like Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, and Deadliest Catch turned regular workers into celebrities through the drama of their day-to-day lives – both real and manufactured.

Beth Chapman, pictured here with husband Duane ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ Chapman (Getty Images)

Mr Chapman rose to fame during the same period. After his bail enforcement business was featured on a television program highlighting unusual jobs, he was tapped to be the subject of his own reality television series.

The programme was greenlit and premiered on 31 August, 2004. The show ran for eight seasons before it was cancelled by A&E in 2012.

In a typical episode of the show, Mr Chapman and his bail enforcement team composed of family and friends would learn about an individual who skipped out on a court appearance, violating the conditions of their bail agreement. Mr Chapman and his team would then track down the individual, often by interviewing neighbors, acquaintances, and family members of their target.

After often dramatically presented confrontations with the targets, Mr Chapman and his family were filmed driving their targets to jail. During the drives, Mr Chapman would often counsel the individual, challenging them to correct their lives, frequently by appealing to the well-being of their loved ones and through Christian evangelism.

Mr Chapman became an iconic figure in pop-culture during that time, notable for his long, blonde mullet, outlaw biker attire, sun-leathered skin, and for carrying enormous cans of bear spray rather than firearms due to a felony conviction earlier in his life.

In 2003, Mr Chapman found himself on the wrong side of the law after he inserted himself into another high-profile criminal case.

Andrew Luster, the heir to the Max Factor cosmetics fortune, was convicted in 2003 for sexually assaulting three women after drugging them with GHB. After paying a million dollar bail, he fled to Mexico, prompting to FBI to issue an Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution warrant for his arrest.

'Dog the Bounty Hunter' joins the search for Brian Laundrie

Mr Chapman tracked Luster to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he took the man into custody. Both Luster and Mr Chapman were arrested, the former for unlawful flight and the latter for kidnapping. Mr Chapman was not allowed to operate as a bounty hunter in Mexico and was held in a Mexican prison until media attention earned him a release.

Three years later, US Marshals arrested Mr Chapman just before the statute of limitations on his kidnapping charges expired. The charge was eventually reduced to a misdemeanor.

The later years of Mr Chapman's show were marred with family infighting, with two of his sons quitting the show mid-season and severing ties with the family. Mr Chapman also made a public apology and committed to change in 2007 after one of his son's leaked audio of him using the n-word in a discussion about the word and his son's Black girlfriend.

Bail enforcement

Most countries outlaw bounty hunters, but bail enforcement in the US is a thriving business thanks to the nation's preponderance of incarcerations when compared to the rest of the world.

Under the US bail system, people who cannot afford to pay their bail can make an agreement with a bail bonds agency. The agency fronts an alleged criminal the sum of their bail on the agreement that they will pay it back, often in installments.

If someone released on bail through a bonding agency tries to flee rather than show up in court, bail enforcers – sometimes called bounty hunters, though people in the profession tend to avoid that designation due to historically negative connotations tied to the term – are tasked with tracking them down and forcing them to appear.

When a bounty hunter captures someone who has skipped on their bail, they are typically rewarded 10 per cent of the bail agreement sum, though those rates can vary. The US bail system has been criticised both domestically and abroad for effectively punishing the poor by either forcing them to enter into debt with a bond agency or sitting in jail until their trials, which can last weeks, months or longer.

The Brian Laundrie manhunt

Mr Chapman's involvement in the case is curious, as Mr Laundrie has not skipped bail. While various rewards for information leading to Mr Laundrie's capture have been offered – including $20,000 from a Florida law firm - Mr Chapman is not guaranteed any payment should he locate Mr Laundrie.

Mr Chapman has said he is not paying much attention to the police search for Mr Laundrie, and he has already proven useful to the search. Shortly after joining the chase, Mr Chapman reported a tip that Mr Laundire's family visited a campground at Fort DeSoto in Panellas County, Florida.

That tip proved fruitful; reporters confirmed from the Pinellas County Parks Department that Roberta Laundrie, Mr Laundrie's mother, checked in to the campgrounds on 6 September and checked out on 8 September. Three days later, Ms Petito was reported missing by her family.

After reporters confirmed Mr Chapman's tip, they further confirmed through Steven Bertolino, the Laundrie's attorney, that Mr Laundrie was with them on that camping trip. The FBI, prompted by the tip and media focus on the campgrounds, secured footage from surveillance cameras in the area for review.

Mr Chapman is using private teams of trained dogs and boat crews in his search for Mr Laundrie, and has teased that he is "closing in" on him.

The bounty hunter's involvement in the case may continue to yield results, or it could be a huge publicity stunt that does little more than add a reality-TV seasoning to the search for Mr Laundrie. It may, and likely will, be a combination of the two.

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