“Dog the Bounty Hunter” had been on the air for eight seasons since it premiered on 31 August 2004 on the A&E Network. It was not surprising that the reality television series lasted as long as it did, as people had long been fascinated with the hunt for and capture of fugitives in real life. Duane “Dog” Chapman claimed that he’s the “The World’s Greatest Bounty Hunter”, with 10,000 arrests under his belt and without shooting anyone. The show followed him and his team as they sought people who jumped bail and were on the run. It wasn’t only the thrill of the chase and arrest that had people interested in him, but also the drama that went on in his personal life.
Early life and family
Duane Lee Chapman was born on 2 February 1953, in Denver, Colorado. He has three siblings, Paula, Mike, and Jolene who died in 2016, and although they played together when they were kids, they weren’t very close. He was raised in a middle-class household, but still had a difficult childhood.
His mother, Barbara Chapman, was a devout christian who taught him to see people for who they are and not for their religion, race, or the color of their skin. She would take him with her every summer to Sister Jensen’s congregation in Farmington, New Mexico, to spread the word of God to the Navajo from the local reservation; he would help in collecting tithes and distributing hymn sheets. Inspired by his mom, Duane wanted to be like her, and ‘live a righteous, good, honorable, God-fearing life.’ She died in 1994.
His father, Wesley Chapman, was nicknamed the “Flash” from his days as a boxer, for his great speed in the ring – he never lost a fight. He served in the US Navy as a welder and was aboard the USS Irwin at the time of the Korean War. Duane remembered him as someone who wasn’t particularly large but very strong, and had ‘the most gigantic hands’ that he ever saw. When Duane was young, his dad used his strength to beat him, using a paddle made from old flooring until he was black and blue and very sore.
To toughen him up, Wesley also taught him the basics of boxing, wanting Duane to take his punches like a man and not show any emotion. He thought that the beatings were normal. He ran away from home one day, but called his grandfather Mike from his mother’s side to pick him up when he became tired and hungry but never told him why he did it. Duane feared that his grandpa would kill his dad if he knew about the abuse.
Due to his mixed heritage – on his mother’s side, he’s of English and Chiricahua Apache descent- he was bullied by the kids in school. When he was in seventh grade, a Latino gang cornered him in a parking lot and while he knew he could beat the leader, he had no chance against fighting the rest of them. The gang beat him up until his body was torn and bloody; that was the day he questioned why God didn’t protect him. It didn’t help that when he went straight to school and reported what happened to the vice-principal, who didn’t believe him despite the evidence right in front of him.
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When his gym class teacher noticed bruises on his body, which were from his father’s beatings, his father was called to the school office. The vice-principal told his dad, ‘I suggest you don’t leave marks next time, Mr. Chapman.’ His father beat Duane extra hard for ratting on him, even if the teacher only guessed the truth. After that, Duane dropped out of school.
He discovered the high from inhaling Testors airplane glue from someone he met, and became addicted to it. His personality changed; he stopped going to church and accompanying his mother to the congregation, leaving his mother heartbroken. ‘All of the goodness my mother had instilled in me was slowly fading away with every sniff,’ he said. His father was aware of his bad habit. ‘The more I sniffed, the harder he hit. The more he beat me, the higher I got. It became an unbreakable cycle,’ he said.
His parents didn’t give up on him. His father enrolled him into a martial arts class, and he earned a black belt in karate, learning to channel his anger instead of getting high.
He was 14 when he moved in with his grandfather, and soon afterwards became an emancipated minor.
Wesley died in 2000; Duane found out much later through his sister before she passed away that Wesley was not his biological father, which explained why he was much rougher on him than his siblings. However, he had no plan to search for his real dad.
How Duane got the nickname, “Dog”
At 15, he joined the Phoenix, Arizona Chapter of the Devil’s Disciples, a motorcycle club, and loved the brotherhood and camaraderie. They thought he was 19 because he had a fake ID, and Duane was worried about being caught in his lie, because being underage could land the MC in jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He became a sergeant-at-arms because he was good at fighting, and when he was given his patch as a member, they gave him the nickname “Dog,” because he was always there, he was man’s best friend, and he talked about God so much that they wanted to call him god spelled backward. While riding with them, he said that he still had a conscience, to the point that he refused to join the members when they robbed houses while the owners were at church.
How Duane became a bounty hunter
Conversely, it was said that Duane was arrested 18 times for armed robbery. In 1976, Duane was waiting inside a car while his brother from the MC was buying drugs, but it ended with his brother shooting the dealer. He called 911 to report the crime, thinking that the call wouldn’t be traced. However, he didn’t properly hang up the phone and when he started telling his first wife, La Fonda, what happened, the police heard everything. Before he died, the victim identified his killer as a member of Devil’s Disciples although he denied that it was Duane. However, in Texas, Duane was convicted of first-degree murder for being an accomplice. and in 1977 was sentenced to five years in prison at the Texas State Penitentiary. He became the warden’s barber and the inmate counselor.
One time, the mom of a fellow inmate called Bigfoot died, and he was taken to the hole to stay for 48 hours for the protection of everyone, while he mourned his mother’s death. As he was being taken to the hole, which was outside the prison gate opposite the barbershop, he decided to make a run for it. As Duane saw that the guards were preparing to shoot the guy, he started running after him and tackled him to the ground.
The lieutenant, whom Duane said was the meanest cop in the world, threw the handcuffs on the ground and told Duane, ‘Hook him up, bounty hunter’; everyone then started calling him that. The idea of being a bounty hunter interested him, as he grew up watching “The Lone Ranger” and “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”
After that, the warden informed him that he would be transferred to another jail because the other inmates might kill him for what he did. However, his intention to keep Bigfoot from being shot was recognized, so no harm came to him and there was no need to transfer him. Later, he was put in the hole because the warden thought Duane was lying to him about why he went to jail. When his story was verified, he was released after 18 months with a $200 check in his pocket.
Duane went back to Denver. Being an ex-convict posed a problem for him, as couldn’t get a driver’s license, rent an apartment, or get a job. He then went to the post office, and got the list of the top 10 fugitives, and two weeks later arrested one of them, and pocketed the $10,000 reward. Back then, he didn’t need a license for bounty hunting; he just did it.
He bought a badge from the police supplies store and when he was asked what his ID number was, he gave his prison number; to this day, it is still his badge number.
Meeting Tony Robbins
In the course of his work he would meet FBI agents, and one of them told him that Tony Robbins, a motivational speaker, author and philanthropist, wanted to meet him because of his life story. Duane felt empowered by Tony, and he was asked to speak at his convention in the early 1980’s. After that, he worked for Tony until 1997 as a guest speaker at his conventions, and he also attended his seminars. He became a living example of how one could turn his life around, despite the bad things that had happened in his life.
From 1988, he would go back and forth to Hawaii and Denver. Duane and his fifth wife, Beth, owned Da Kine Bail Bonds in Honolulu, and Beth owned several more bail companies in Colorado.
How Duane became famous
The actor Martin Sheen, whom he met through Tony Robbins, told him that he should be on TV, so he went to reality stars Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne – Sharon was very accommodating, and talked to Beth about how to go about it. They started appearing on various TV shows, while Duane was on the news a lot anyway, because of capturing many fugitives in Colorado.
He appeared on A&E Network’s “Take This Job,” which was about people with unusual careers. At the time he was chasing a fugitive, and the film crew managed to capture the arrest on camera. He was suddenly the talk of the town, although other bounty hunters looked down on him, saying he was nothing but a felon. Beth wanted to change that, and talked to him about the high-profile case of the millionaire fugitive.
Andrew Luster was the great-grandson of the founder of the cosmetics giant, Max Factor, and was living on a million-dollar trust fund. He was arrested in 2000, when a student from a local college reported to the police that she had been raped by Andrew at his home. Investigations revealed that he had used the date-rape drug GHB on three women, and proceeded to sexually assault them and videotaped the assaults.
— Duane Dog Chapman (@DogBountyHunter) May 9, 2021
He paid a million-dollar bail, but then failed to appear in court. He was sentenced to 124 years in jail after being convicted in absentia of 86 counts of rape, and the FBI issued a warrant for his arrest in January 2003.
Duane had a hunch that he was in Mexico, because Andrew speaks Spanish, and an informant called him up, that he had a picture of Andrew. He and his team then went to Mexico with the film crew. They caught him and were on the way to deliver him to the Mexican police, when they were stopped and arrested themselves. Andrew was extradited immediately while his team was jailed since bounty hunting was illegal in the country. They were granted bail, and fled to the US upon the advice of their lawyer, but in 2006 they were arrested in Honolulu by US Marshalls on behalf of the government of Mexico. Twenty-nine Republican congressmen wrote a petition to Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, not to have him extradited to Mexico. Since court hearings took a while, the criminal charges against them were later dropped in 2007, as the statute of limitations had expired.
However, the judge ruled that Duane was ‘not entitled to any restitution’ for arresting Andrew.
“Dog, the Bounty Hunter”
There was much interest in Duane, and it didn’t take long before the reality series “Dog, the Bounty Hunter” started airing on the A&E Network. His team was armed, except for Duane as he’s an ex-convict. After an arrest was made, Duane would counsel the fugitives on turning their lives around during the car ride on the way to the jail. Off-camera, he would feed them when they were hungry, and Beth would tend to any wounds that they’d suffered while trying to run from them. The show featured Duane’s family, as his wife and sons worked with him in bounty hunting. The Chapmans shared what was happening in their personal lives as well.
The production and airing of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” was suspended in November 2007 after Tucker, his son with his third wife “Big Lyssa,” allegedly sold a tape that contained a conversation Duane had with Tucker in which the former discussed the word “nigger,” and the latter’s black girlfriend’s sensitivity to it. The National Enquirer released the audiotape and Duane issued a public apology.
The series resumed after the network investigated the issue, and was eventually canceled after eight seasons, with the last episode aired on 23 June 2012.
A spin-off with the same concept, entitled “Dog and Beth: On The Hunt”, aired for three seasons from 2013 to 2015 on CMT. WGN America’s “Dog’s Most Wanted,” another spin-off, aired for one season in 2019, but the show “Dog’s Unleashed” slated to air in 2021 was canceled, with Unleashed Entertainment accusing Duane of breach of contract.
Losing Beth and moving on
Beth, his wife of 13 years, passed away on 26 June 2019 after losing her battle with throat cancer, which was diagnosed in 2017. Their struggle was featured in the TV special, “Dog and Beth: Fight of Their Lives.”
She was Duane’s best friend and soulmate, and he was devastated when he lost her, having depended on her so much.
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He would be fine when he was with other people, but once alone he would be reminded that she’s gone. There were times when he felt guilty for feeling good or for just smiling, and even contemplated taking his life, but figured that if he did just that, he would go to hell, while Beth was certainly in heaven.
He claimed that the medical expenses incurred left him broke, and he later experienced a health scare as he suffered from chest pain and was diagnosed with pulmonary embolism in September 2019.
Although still mourning her loss, he admitted to wanting someone in his life but didn’t want to marry again as there would never be another ‘Mrs Dog’. However, Duane found a new love in the 52-year-old Colorado rancher, Francie Frane, and planned to marry her in September 2021; his family has been very supportive. Reportedly, he also wanted his murder conviction overturned, as he wanted to become a sheriff and turn it into a show, which he thought would be a hit.