I-Team Web Exclusive: FBI's newest Top Ten fugitive was NW Indiana whiz kid

April 10, 2012 10:00:00 PM PDT
"My stomach feels sickened."

That is how a former high school classmate of Eric Toth's describes her reaction upon learning that the Highland, Indiana native replaced Osama bin Laden on the FBI's list of ten most-wanted fugitives.

"It's pretty creepy to think about being in class with him" writes another student on a Facebook page where Highland High School graduates have been posting their memories of Toth. One-time friends and acquaintances of the accused child pornographer recall him as being an exceptionally smart student since grade school, when he was apparently enrolled in gifted study programs.

Now though, the 30-year old Toth has been enrolled in a far more exclusive club: the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List.

Mr. Toth was working as a third grade teacher at an expensive, exclusive private school in Washington, DC in 2008, when pornographic photos were found on a camera he had been assigned. Another teacher at the National Cathedral school found the sexually explicit photos, some of children believed to be among Toth's young students. He was dismissed from the job but left town before authorities could arrest him.

According to some of Toth's former associates in Highland, Indiana, he lived in his family's attic as a boy and was fluent in German at a young age. Some also remember him as an occasional classroom cheater. He apparently did not graduate from Highland High School, but transferred to a private school for exceptional students located in central Indiana. After high school graduation, he returned to northwest Indiana to attend Purdue Calumet University in Hammond. For a short time Toth worked as a sixth grade student teacher in Highland, according to one former acquaintance.

Federal agents say when Toth was fired for allegedly taking pornographic photos of his Washington, DC students, he returned to the Indianapolis home of his unsuspecting parents. Authorities say he then left the following day by driving through Illinois and eventually heading to Minnesota.

At the Minneapolis airport, police say Toth abandoned his car and left a suicide note, stating his corpse could be found in a nearby lake. His body was never found.

A man fitting Toth's description went to work at a Phoenix, Arizona, homeless shelter in 2009 under a fake name, claiming to be doing research on poverty. But, by the time new photos and video appeared on TV, Toth disappeared again and hasn't been seen since.

An FBI official said Tuesday says that, while "there is no comparison to be made between Toth and bin Laden," and that "Eric Toth has not murdered anyone, he his dangerous...and may be in contact with other children."

This tactic of saturating the country with photos of a wanted criminal has worked numerous times, most recently in the case of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, who was a fugitive for 16 years before somebody recognized him from an FBI photo.