Here is the abbreviated description of Duane Lee “Dog” Chapman’s life before he became a reality TV star known as Dog the Bounty Hunter: Street rat, Devil’s Disciple motorcycle gang member, vacuum cleaner salesman, manual laborer, convict, ex-con, truck driver, vacuum salesman (part two), successful business owner (bail bondsman and bounty hunter), a motivational speaker (working for Tony Robbins), family man, and the owner of a failing business. He had three previous failed marriages (with children) before wife #4 introduced him to crack and he began circling the drain faster and faster. He ended up losing his business, home, and (for a brief time) his children. Dog always credits his mother with implanting a strong faith in God in him. He also readily acknowledges his own actions that caused him to drift from his religious path many times. When he would hit what he thought was rock bottom, prayer was the only way to reminded himself that, “God had a plan for me if only I would look for where He was trying to guide me.” When future wife #5 pulled him back from the brink of the hole crack had dug in his life, they began a business collaboration that would save his life, faith, and his family. Of course, the roller coaster ride that was Dog’s life wasn’t about to get smoother, not until he rode it through a few more ups and downs.
Dog and Beth had been approached several times about selling their Dog the Bounty Hunter story for a movie treatment, but none of them worked out. A scripted TV series was proposed, but they thought that the best way to tell their story would be to film it live and unscripted rather than reenacting scenes showing them chasing bail jumpers. They were in talks with Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks and Lighthearted Entertainment who was at the time branching out into the entertainment field) when opportunity knocked. Andrew Luster, heir to the Max Factor cosmetic founder’s millions, skipped out on his $10 million bail while on trial for drugging several women and taking advantage of them. Dog and Beth convinced Schultz to bankroll their search for Luster in exchange for the rights to film the hunt. This would be used to market the concept of what would become Dog the Bounty Hunter. Beth worked her media contacts to get Dog on as many outlets as she could. Dog’s team spent countless hours sifting through the many tips and leads that poured in as a result of his many interviews. Most of the leads proved to be dead ends. All Dog and Beth had to show for their troubles were mounting bills and little income to pay them as their normal business chasing down bail jumpers took a back seat to the Luster case.
The plot thickened when Dog received a call from a couple vacationing in Mexico. They had pictures of a man using the name David Carrera partying with them at a small resort outside of Puerto Vallarta. After seeing the pictures (that weren’t very revealing because Carrera didn’t want his picture taken), Dog left home base in Hawaii and headed first to LA, and then to Mexico with his team consisting of long time business partner Tim “Youngblood” Chapman (no blood relation to Dog), his second son Leland, an associate named Boris, and a film crew. They interviewed the resort owners (where the couple had been staying) who were 90% sure Carrera was Luster. Dog made it a point to get acquainted with a part time guard at the resort who also just happened to be a Mexican police officer. This was crucial because bounty hunting in Mexico is illegal and they would only be able to bust Luster with a Mexican policeman present. They seemed close to making their catch but when Luster kept missing his ‘business meetings’ with the resort owners, the waiting game dragged on and on.
It became apparent that the resort owners were now angling to get their share of the $10 million dollar bail bounty for Luster, even though Dog tried to tell them that it had been reduced to a $1 million dollar bail just before he bolted the United States. The resort owners offered to let Dog’s team borrow some kayaks for some recreation on a local river while waiting for Luster to appear. Only after they fought for their lives to get the water crafts back to shore did they discover that the kayak’s outer hulls were perforated with drill holes. Understandably, Dog began to distrust the resort owners. When camera crews from other TV networks began to appear, their dream of using the bust to vault them into Hollywood seemed to have as many holes in it as their sabotaged kayaks. When Mrs Resort Owner ran off in disguise to try and bag Luster by herself, Dog’s crew was forced into action. Luckily for them, they were able to locate Luster eating a taco at a street stand sans his body guards and take him down. Unluckily for them, the bust landed them in a Mexican jail.
On the way to the police station to register their catch, their Mexican police contact (who had heard about the $10 million bounty and thought that Dog’s monetary offer to assist in the capture was much too low) ratted them out to the local police. Luster had the potential opportunity to buy himself out of jail, but in the end the local authorities confirmed that he was wanted in the United States and handed him over. Dog’s crew remained in jail for kidnapping. In his book You Can Run But You Can’t Hide (with Laura Morton – Hyperion Books – 2007), Chapman describes the horrible conditions in the Huntsville, Texas where he had earlier served 18 months of a five year murder-one conviction (even though he didn’t kill anyone). The Mexican prison conditions he describes were much, much worse. Unlike the US system, he describes the Mexican legal system as a corrupt machine that needs frequent greasing with cash to get anywhere. The kidnapping charges were eventually reduced to ‘deprivation of liberty’ (kidnapping is a twenty five year felony if convicted, ‘deprivation’ is a misdemeanor). Just as they posted bail and were set free by the local courts, the Department of Immigration authorities charged them for illegally entering the country and put them back in the same prison they had just been release from.
Their own lawyer advised them to make a run for it. Dog didn’t like the sound of that (“This Dog don’t run!”) but with their cash reserves running low and the prospect of more ‘greasing’ to get free of the Mexican legal system, they flew to Tijuana and then drove across the boarder just ahead of the pursuing Mexican authorities. Dog and his team were wanted me in Mexico, but that was alright with him: he had no plans to return to Mexico – ever! Little did he know what this would cost him in the end.
When they appeared before a judge in California to lay their claim for the Luster reward money, they walked away with zero. Schultz had not provided them with his receipts for bankrolling the hunt, information the judge asked to see. Luster’s lawyers made sure the judge was aware that Dog and his team were ‘wanted felons’ in Mexico (even though they were charged with a misdemeanor crime), asserting that they should not collect for illegal activities. The judge retired to study the evidence and upon returning to the bench, gave Dog and Beth a stern lecture about ‘vigilante ways’ and nothing else. The only good that came out of this was the remaining $200,000 bond the court (unbelievably) returned to Luster was later awarded to his victims.
The legal wranglings dragged on with warrants being issued in the States that led Dog’s team being taken into custody from their homes in the early morning hours of September 14, 2006. Beth again stirred the media pot and letters of support for Dog’s release poured in from common folk and celebrities across the land. Even Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne lent their name to the cause (that is Ozzy’s voice and laugh that one hears singing the show’s main theme in the opening credits of Dog the Bounty Hunter). Some in the bounty hunter fraternity did not like Dog’s methods or his rise to fame (or both) and worked behind the scenes to try and undermine his case. A member of the California Bond Agents Association sent a letter to the judge to let him know that the CBAA was not fond of his methods (which the sender didn’t bother to poll the CBAA membership about). This bogus correspondence was part of the ‘evidence’ the judge used to rule against the Chapman’s claim for the reward money. There was also a small group of New Hampshire bounty hunters who tried to get Dog extradited to Mexico. Failing at that, they posted anonymous videos (with faces concealed, of course) threatening the Chapman’s with bodily harm. Soon after they had been arrested by the Federal Marshals, Mexican authorities dropped all the charges and Beth and Dog could turn their attentions toward rebuilding their business, family life, and sanity…but of course, fate wasn’t quite done with testing Dog.
Dog’s oldest daughters had been living with wife #3 in Alaska. The younger daughter (Baby Lyssa) came to Hawaii to work at the family business. The eldest stayed in Alaska, living a life that Dog fully recognized from his days as a street punk: hanging with the wrong crowd, getting involved with drugs. Dog finally stopped sending her money that he knew wasn’t necessarily being used to support his grandson in Alaska. When Dog and Beth decided to marry after being a couple for sixteen years, he decided that it was in oldest daughter Barbara’s best interest to not come to the wedding in Hawaii. When she died in a car accident the day before the wedding, it was Baby Lyssa who convinced Dog that a) Barbara caused her own problems, not Duane Chapman, and b) Barbara would be the first one to tell them, “Don’t cancel the wedding because of me.” Somehow, Dog pulled it together long enough to tie the knot and his grandson from Alaska, Travis, was added to their extended family in Hawaii.
So all is well than ends well, right? The Dog the Bounty Hunter franchise rolled along on the A&E network until March 21, 2012. As sometimes happens in family businesses, internal friction resulted in both Duane Lee Jr. and Leland leaving the business. Duane Lee Jr. can be heard on tape telling Beth, “You want me fired, you gotta fire me,” which Leland seconded with, “I quit, too.” Both left the show and were estranged from the family, both going off to run their own bail bond companies. Leland returned for the short lived Dog and Beth: On the Hunt that was on the air in 2013 and 2014. In this version of the franchise, they visited failing bail bond companies around the country to help them get their business plan right and to hunt down some of their tougher cases. Both older sons continue in the bail bond business, Leland now living in North Carolina with is second wife and Duane Lee Jr (having mended his fences with the family) lives and works in Florida.
Beth and Dog filmed a short series called Dog and Beth: In the Fight of Their Lives to chronicle her fight with throat cancer. There had been some buzz on the internet about her passing away early in 2019, but Dog posted a smiling picture of Beth on Easter of 2019 reminding everyone that they are still in the fight. In Dog’s words, “I am not going to let her die”. Their next TV adventure was set to begin airing in the late spring of 2019: Dog’s Most Wanted. Unfortunately, Beth Chapman lost her battle with cancer on Wednesday June 26th at the age of 51. A man of lesser faith would have thrown in the towel long ago, but shortly after Beth died, he posted the following note on Twitter: “This is the time she would wake up to go hike Koko Head mountain, only today, she hiked the stairway to heaven. We all love you, Beth. See you on the other side.”
Top Piece Video: The Dog Theme! Courtesy of Ozzy, of course!