Early years: Charles Taylor, one of seven children, was born Jan. 28, 1948, in Liberia. He is a descendant of the freed North American slaves who returned to found that nation in the 19th century.

College in the 1970s: He attended Chamberlayne Junior College in Newton, Mass., working as a security guard, truck driver and mechanic. He transferred to Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., and graduated with an economics degree in 1977.

Early suspicions in 1980s: Financial suspicions about him date from 1983, when he was fired for embezzling nearly $1 million while an administrator in the government of Samuel Doe, who came to power after a bloody military coup. He fled to the United States and escaped jail while awaiting extradition back to Liberia.

Mysterious time: He is believed to have received shelter and military training from Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, but it's unknown exactly where he was for several years.

Civil war: He came to prominence in Liberia by leading a group of rebels into the country on Christmas Eve 1989, starting a civil war that lasted until 1996.

Presidency: Taylor won an election in 1997, becoming president until he resigned in 2003.

In Sierra Leone: During the 1990s, Revolutionary United Front guerrillas, backed by Taylor, waged an insurgency. They gained notoriety for amputating the limbs of opponents, forcing children to be soldiers and mining diamonds to pay for guns. A rebel vocabulary pointed to the horrors: applying "a smile" meant cutting off the upper and lower lips of a victim, giving "long sleeves" meant hacking off the hands, and giving "short sleeves" meant cutting the arm above the elbow.

Indictment and arrest: Taylor went into exile in Nigeria amid international pressure after the Sierra Leone court indictment and was arrested in 2006.