It’s the classic story of man (err, boy) against the odds. Hundreds of police, swat teams, FBI, special crime units, psychiatrists, and disgruntled towns members, against one 6-foot-five, 205 lb, green eyed teen, with a scar on his left arm (knife wound), and the desire to open shelters for abused animals (according to his mom). It’s a story that has taken this teenager across North America in stolen cars, luxury boats, three planes, over fifty burglaries, and an alleged gun shooting.
He has been called everything from a modern day Jesse James, Robin Hood, Albert Einstein, to nothing but a cheap dime-store hood who just happens to be more slippery than a fried banana peel. He’s been referenced as the “Bare Foot Burglar” and “Baby-Thief”, and officially became an international legend this past Fall. Colton Harris-Moore has appeared in newspapers and the evening news in countries all over the world, including an Italian newspaper which enthusiastically headlined his story this October, “Viva il baby-landro!”
The most difficult part of telling Colton’s story, is separating the fact from the fiction, the boy from the legend, and the thief from the hero. It is a fine line once a felon commits a crime, yet remains a likable character among the media. Suddenly a nation becomes split among admirers and haters. One side hoping he will escape to carry on more capers alongside fellow legendary myth-meisters, Big Foot, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis. The other side rooting for his swift capture and even swifter punishment.
The Early Years
The story of every great outlaw begins at birth. This is where criminal tendencies are both fostered and shaped. Colton, or “Colt” as he is known in his hometown of Camano Island (near Vancouver), came from a battered and bruised home at the very bottom of the gravy train. A train which begins at a long gravel road, lined with cedar trees, liter, broken-down cars/trucks, and “No Trespassing” signs. At the end is an old, decrepit, single-wide trailer with a tarps strung over the top, and a shotgun wielding mother, sitting outside the porch waiting to greet uninvited members of the media.
Colt’s biological father was extradited from his life when he was 2-years old. Colt’s stepfather died five years later, leaving his mother, Pamela Kohler, a single parent. Colt disconnected himself from his family, friends, and teachers, and rebelled against anything and everything. While his story maybe compared to that of Robin Hood, unless you consider empty pizza boxes and stolen laptops representatives of the poor, he’s the only one who has ever really prospered from any of his thefts.
Colt was arrested for possession of stolen goods for the first time when he was 12. He spent an 11-day stint in detention, followed by a month of community service. By the time he was 13 he’d experienced three more convicted juvenile arrests; by age 15, a mixed bag of 9 convictions (burglaries and break-ins). Each conviction meant more detention, and more community service.
Before long, local law enforcement began keeping tabs on Colt. His mother would tell the media that he was once arrested for riding a $300 bicycle of which she had bought for his birthday. “Every time he had anything, any good, everyone thought he stole it,” she recalls. The police on the other hand, would stand by each conviction, stating they had more than just probable cause.
It was at this point, he tried to turn himself around (“Mamma tried”), but in the end he would drop out of school and devote himself to a life of crime. As far as Colt was concerned, where once he had been given lemons, he now was making himself a big, sugary vat of pink lemonade. Fancying himself as somewhat of a modern day Jesse James mixed with a little James Bond, he amended himself the right to take what he wanted, when he wanted, and make a mockery of those who attempted to stop him. Colt was fast on his way to becoming a surreal rebel without a cause.
A History of Juvenile Delinquency (2003-2007)
While Colt has only recently become world renowned for his shenanigans, he has been a spur in the side of local authorities in Washington State for years. On October 8th, 2003, A 12-year-old Colt was found guilty of third degree possession of stolen goods. Not much over a month after being caught, he was charged of second-degree burglary and third-degree malicious mischief for vandalism of several businesses. He was sentenced 10 days detention, 56 hours community service, and six more months supervision.
On December 31st, 2003, he was charged of fourth-degree assault, and sentenced six months community service and $100 in restitution charges. On March 16th, 2004, he was caught by his school principal stealing multiple electronic items. The cost of the stolen goods added up to over $700. When the principal confronted him, Colt stated he did not know why he was doing it, but he knew that he wasn’t able to stop himself. He was sentenced 10 days in confinement.
Four months later, he was sentenced for third-degree theft and convicted in Island County. It is interesting to note here that none of these minimum security facilities would be very effective in holding Colt, who would escape from them on multiple occasions. He was only 13 years old at the time of his first escape, and he is still wanted in connection to it.
One of the local authorities most credited arrests of Colt, while hiding in the Camano woods, was a cleverly orchestrated police sting, I like to call, The Pizza Man. Several deputies noted a dozen or so pizza boxes near a camping site believed to be frequented by Colt. The police came up with an idea to draw the young teen out. Officers would collect a few empty pizza boxes from around Kohler’s property, and awaited her next hunkering for pizza. The next time an order was placed, a deputy stripped off his badge, attached a pizza delivery dome to an unmarked squad car, and waited outside. Instead of the usual Sausage Lover’s, Colt received a tax paid ride in the back of a deputy patrol car.
On February 28th, 2005, Colt was sentenced his largest juvenile conviction yet, 30 days in detention for second-degree burglary. He had smashed the windows out of a local library building, stealing $61 from the cash box. The conviction was aided by blood (DNA) found at the scene. No sooner was he released, he disappeared back into the his old stomping and stealing grounds (the Camano woods). On May 28th, 2006, Colt was charged with first-degree theft, including a stolen credit card he racked up with $3,700 worth of computer purchases. After he failed to appear in court for the charges, he was issued a warrant for arrest.
The sheriff department would search for Harris-Moore through the summer of 2006, catching a break on September 6th, when they discovered a campsite near his mothers 5-acre property. They found thousands of dollars worth of stolen electronics hidden beneath a tarp (charges still pending). As the months drew on, the Northern weather grew harsh, and authorities wondered how Colt was going to hold up.
Little did they know he would survive quite comfortably, bunking with acquaintances, breaking into construction site trailers, and lounging in vacant homes while the owners were away. He’d eat their food, drink their beer, put his feet on the couch, steel their property (jewelry, watches, digital cameras, camcorders, remote control vehicles). He’d also steal their credit card information (leaving the card to buy himself more time) to purchase other things he needed, such as bear pepper spray and airplane manuals (more on that later). This is where Colt would make his second biggest mistake leading to his next arrest.
Local authorities do not think much of Colt’s supposed intelligence quotient (his mother claims he is only a few I.Q. points shy of Albert Einstein). While he is indeed slippery, he has not always been that difficult to catch. On February 9th, 2007, Colt was living at a vacant home he’d recently broke into. On most occasions, he would sense when trouble was coming, escaping out the back door before getting caught. On this particular chilly Friday evening, Colt was probably in no mood to camp out with the icicles. Perhaps his senses were a little off, or perhaps he had gotten just a little too cocky. A nearby neighbor had spotted the lights on in the home, and knowing the owners were away, she quickly notified the authorities.
Twenty armed officers surrounded the home. Colt was trapped. his mother was called in to talk sense into the teen, who would end up surrendering himself into custody. Colt was charged with 10 counts of criminal actions, including burglary and stolen vehicles. At the age of 15, he was sentenced to several years in juvenile detention. He would be transferred to a halfway house a year later for good behavior. In April of 2008, Colt took advantage of the trust he’d gained, and escaped through an open window. This was the moment he would embark on a summer crime spree that would amass over 50 burglaries.
Juvenile Thief to Notorious Serial Burglar (2008-present)
During the Summer of 2008, Colt graduated from petty thief to full fledged serial robber. It was within these burglary’s that Colt would develop the nickname, “The Barefoot Bandit”. He got this name from evidence (footprints and surveillance footage) which suggested he was not wearing shoes at the time of breaking and entering many of the homes and businesses. This has become what fans like to call Colt’s “calling card”, although local authorities would later laugh at this reference.
The sheriff’s office may not give Colt much credit for his abilities, but they do give him enough not to run around in the Northern woods, full of bear dung, glass, and snow, without at least wearing a pair of sandals or sneakers from time to time. Legend has it by some fans, that Colt has studied the technique of traveling without shoes (perfected by the North American Indian) as a means to improve his sense of guidance and stealth while traveling through the woods at night. While an interesting idea, this theory does not have a “bare” leg to stand on, according to most expert opinion.
The next big news hit July 17, 2008 when Colt became part of a police pursuit, driving a Mercedes-Benz stolen from a nearby neighbor. The officer was getting dangerously close to Colt, who brazenly jumped out of the moving car, and made a run for the woods. The officer followed the ditched car, as it clipped a propane line and crashed into the side of a grocery store. By the time the officer returned to where Colt had made his leap of faith, he was gone. There was only the distant echo of laughter.
This is where authorities recovered the stolen digital camera which featured the infamous picture of Colt (taken July 8th, 2008) lying in the grass, wearing a smug grin, and a black Mercedes shirt, belonging to none other than the vehicle’s owner. Colt would up the ante again in November, stealing a Cessna 182 (single engine) airplane, flying it from Orcas Island across Eastern Washington. He would crash land on the Yakama Indian Reservation, due to inexperience (or I should rather say, no experience) flying a plane.
It is around this time that authorities believe Colt’s crime spree in the San Juan Islands began. He would go on to be the suspect of two other plane thefts, one on September 11th, and a third on October 1st, 2009. Assuming these planes each valued well into the six figure digits, Colt had now bent the line of grand larceny, broke it off, and ran it through a mulch chopper a couple dozen times.
One of Colt’s claims to fame, is his ability to fly these planes without seemingly any formal training. It is thought that perhaps he learned the basics from several manuals he purchased over the web with a stolen credit card. There was a lot of question as to whether or not Colt could actually fly the planes, especially from those who know the difficulty of controlling a plane. A self taught pilot is a bit of a anomaly. While keeping the plane in the air is only moderately difficult, landing it in one piece, is an entirely different story. This might explain why all three planes flown by Colt, appear to have received significant damage during his patented “bang and brake” landing procedures.
At one point, authorities believed the stolen planes could be drug traffic related, however that was later put to rest when Colt’s “calling card” bare footprints were found inside one of them. Local police also found a puddle of what appeared to be regurgitated food, possibly matching Colt’s DNA, and most likely brought on by the bouncy, hard-landing he’d experienced. This stunt would become quite a leap for the young juvenile, who would amass a $20,000 warrant for his arrest, as well as the classification of “Most Wanted” in the state of Washington.
His mother would celebrate the news, stating to the media, “I hope to hell he stole those airplanes—I would be so proud.” Realizing she was on the verge of being pegged as a bad mother, she quickly added, “But put in there that I want him to wear a parachute next time.” Some experts believe he’s had several partners with him, enabling him to accomplish all his feats. His mother, however, continues to insist that he’s too much of a “loner”. In the same breath, she has also reported Colt as living with a group, offering high tech surveillance for the teen. For all we know, he is sharing a bunk with Bigfoot and Jimmy Hoffa in the forests of Camano.
On September 8th, 2009, Colt was suspected of stealing a boat from Orcas Island, which was later recovered in Friday Harbor. Three days later, on September 11th, he stole an experimental aircraft, flying from Friday Harbor back to Orcas Island. On September 13th, 2009, Colt stole a boat to Point Roberts (Whatcom County), where authorities believe he is responsible for at least 14 additional burglaries.
The following evening, September 14th, Colt came face to face with a couple of San Juan sheriff’s deputies patrolling the area. The officers yelled at Colt, who immediately took off, heading towards the woods. One officer followed pursuit. Colt flew straight into the trees, leaving the officer trailing behind, huffing and puffing donut sprinkles. Once the officer gave up, the brass-balled Colt laughed and taunted the pooped cop, before “vaporizing” into thick forest.
In the following weeks, Colt would pay a visit to the Creston Valley Regional Airport, just across the Canadian border from Idaho’s panhandle. It is believed the teen gorged himself of junk food, beer, and soda, before helping himself to two handguns. It is also believed he attempting to steal a couple airplanes by the looks of several aircraft which had been moved around the hangar. He was apparently unsuccessful in getting one started.
Beyond the usual electronics and six packs of beer, he is now believed to be responsible for the disappearance of several guns (one stolen from patrol car, the other (an assault rifle) stolen from an officers home). Colt’s actions have became more brass over the months, with reports of him shooting at police, and hinting to the fact that he has a gun in order to avoid captured. Police thought they had the youth several months ago, but before tackling him, he motioned he had a gun, prompting officers to back off. As soon as he had a comfortable buffer zone, he quickly fled back into the woods.
One of these guns is believed to have been used on October 1, 2009, while en-route back to Camano Island. Colt is suspected of stealing another Cesna 182 (after all, he landed the last one in almost one piece) in Idaho, where it was presumed he was laying low, while committing a few burglaries in his free time. The plane was found crash landed near Granite Falls with an empty gas tank. Blankets, a pair of shoes, food, and a vehicle were later stolen from a neighboring home several hour prior to hearing a gunshot fired from the woods, presumably meant as a warning to authorities who were called onto the scene.
The shots would usher in a SWAT Team, two choppers, and several K-9 units who would make a cameo appearance to the chase. The police boasted that this would be Colt’s last stand, reporting to the media they’d be bringing him in soon. The manhunt lasted hours, but Colt would eventually “vaporize” yet again.
While certainly no role model, Colt has become somewhat of a legend among fans. His Facebook fan page has shot up to thousands of members in only a few weeks. He has his own website, t-shirts (“Mamma Tried”), and there has been talk of a possible Hollywood movie deal in the works. The police involved are none too happy to comment on his burst into legendary fame, although they are at least part to blame. For those who have watched the movies, Smokey and the Bandit and Catch Me If You Can, you know the feeling of routing for the bad guy. Especially when your only other option is an uncoordinated, uncool, bloated, stuffy, and pompous authority figure, who is just too damn sure of themselves for their own good.
The police involved in these pursuits have so far traveled right down the path of Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Smokey and the Bandit), boasting of their supreme intelligence and unbeatable tracking skills. “Everybody gets caught,” the Washington police like to say with swagger and spit of tobacco. A year and a half later, he’s still at large. If Colt has succeeded in anything these past few months, it’s making the police look like a bunch of damn fools. Even the authorities themselves have referenced to the amazing mythological abilities of the teen. “He virtually vaporized in front of me,” explained one Washington state deputy to the media, referencing a very brief pursuit of Colt through the woods.
Colt would seem to be as elusive as Big Foot, evasive as Bin Laden, invincible as Goliath, and mysterious as the Loch Ness Monster. If you ever wanted to drive home the point of an existence of one of these mythical creatures, just bring up the name, Colton Moore-Harris. If wasn’t wasn’t for records of his existence outside of the Camono woods, he would be nothing more than a figment of imagination shared by the entire Washington State Police Department. Authorities have caught glimpses, heard noises (laughter), found traces, and even chased after what appeared to be someone fitting his description; but in the end, the long arm of the law has failed to reach through the branches of Camano and plucked the teenager out.
Where he’ll show up next, nobody knows for sure. It could be in your providence; in your city; at your next door neighbors; or in your fridge, stealing your last brew. The best way to reduce your chances of becoming a victim to the Barefoot Bandit, is to lock your doors, keep all vehicles in the garage, and spread plenty of tacks around the perimeter of your home!
With all due respect to those who have been victims, we wish Colt an unharmed capture and safe return home. Fly, Colton… Fly!
(Originally featured in the 2009 Winter Issue of UMM)