During his 16 years evading the law, Gen Ratko Mladic benefited, it seems, from help both at home and abroad.
Last month his wife Bosiljka went on trial in Belgrade, accused of illegal possession of weapons. She said she believed her husband was dead.
She told the court that an automatic rifle and several handguns found in their Belgrade house during a police search in 2008 belonged to her husband.
Serbian police finally located Gen Mladic in the village of Lazarevo, near Zrenjanin in northern Serbia, and found he was going by the name of Milorad Komadic, the Serbian B92 news website said on Thursday.
Gen Mladic was indicted for war crimes in 1995, but lived openly in Serbia until after Mr Milosevic was ousted from power at the end of 2000.
He remained an official member of the Bosnian Serb military until 2002, and was drawing an army pension from Belgrade until the end of 2005.
He was said to be regularly visiting areas in Bosnia to celebrate birthdays with his wartime colleagues, and go hunting in remote forests.
In 2009 video footage surfaced apparently showing Gen Mladic in winter scenes with two women. The man in the video, said to be the fugitive general, said he was with his wife and daughter-in-law at a ski resort.
The film, broadcast on Bosnian Federation TV, is believed to have been shot in 2008.
In 2002 the BBC's Paul Martin approached a villa in Belgrade where he believed Gen Mladic was hiding.
A woman had described seeing Gen Mladic regularly strolling in a park nearby, walking his dog.
But our correspondent was blocked and jostled by security guards, and warned not to come back.
Some believe, however, that it was not just a network of Serbian military and security officials that guaranteed his liberty but the complicity of the international community, at least in the early years.
Carl Bildt, the former UN envoy to Bosnia after the war, told the BBC that members of Nato had shied away from any action that might have threatened the fragile post-war peace.
"I think there was a sort of collective reluctance by the Nato military commanders - and they weren't [just] American command, but British command as well," he said.
"The reason was they feared that if they moved... against Ratko Mladic, there was going to be significant political disturbances of some sort or another."
As time went on, though, the West became more determined to put Gen Mladic behind bars, and increased the pressure on Serbia.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague said it believed Gen Mladic had been hiding in Serbia for years, "within reach" of the Belgrade authorities.
Based on this assessment, and those of Western intelligence agencies, the EU warned Serbia repeatedly that its failure to hand over Gen Mladic could jeopardise its hopes of eventual membership of the bloc.
Belgrade was accused of staging police raids to satisfy the Hague tribunal's chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, coinciding with his regular visits.
An apartment belonging to the general's son Darko Mladic was raided repeatedly.
In May 2006 the EU froze negotiations with Serbia on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement - a preliminary step towards membership.
Serb politicians had always denied Gen Mladic was on their patch. Correspondents say the truth may have been that, most of the time, they did not know whether he was or not.
Change of heart
For years the Serbian government was accused of a similar reluctance to seize the former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic. He was eventually seized and delivered to The Hague in July 2008.
Rasim Ljajic, Serbia's minister for co-operation with the Hague tribunal, said security officials had actually come across the heavily disguised Mr Karadzic while trying to track down Gen Mladic.
It seems a change of administration earlier in the year brought a sudden change of attitude.
In parliamentary elections, the firmly pro-European Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic did well enough to build a pro-European coalition.
Within weeks of new Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic taking office, Mr Karadzic was arrested.
Gen Mladic must have felt then that his days at liberty were numbered.
His arrest now probably paves the way for Serbia to get candidate status soon in its bid to join the EU.