One of the most fascinating crime sprees of the past decade was that of Colton Harris-Moore, aka “The Barefoot Bandit.” In his new book The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw, Bob Friel traces the unlikely saga of the young man, which took him from Camano Island in Washington State all the way to the Bahamas over the course of two years.
The story is a fascinating one. Harris-Moore was a troubled teen, with a homelife that brings new meaning to the term “dysfunctional.” His alcoholic mother brought in a series of abusive men, and even married a couple of them.
The young man acted out in small ways in the beginning. He shoplifted and stole from his neighbors near his Camano Island home. Colton’s first conviction was at the age of 12, for which he was put into a detention center for 10 days. By the time he had reached 17, he was facing three years’ time, and bolted from a halfway house.
This was in 2008, and marked the beginning of a run that eventually captured world-wide attention. Colton spent the majority of his time in the San Juan Islands, which is where the author is from. In fact, Bob Friel suspects that the young fugitive attempted to break into his home a couple of times, but was unsuccessful. Whether he did or did not is irrelevant though, as the two did have a unique correspondence going on through Friel’s blog.
As a freelance writer, Bob Friel took an avid interest in the exploits of Harris-Moore, especially so since he began his serious activities on Orcas Island, where Friel resides. As the break-ins and stories of his exploits grew, Friel started posting about Colton on his blog. It became crystal clear that the teen was following the blog when Colton’s mother Pam asked Friel to post something requesting a sign that he was still all right at one point.
The next day, Friel found a 13-foot human foot painted on the ground near his house. It seemed proof enough that the Barefoot Bandit was following his own adventures online, and wanted to reassure his mother that he was indeed ok.
Even though I live in the Seattle area, I had no idea of the full extent of Colton’s spree until I read this book. Of course the big stories concerning the airplane and boat thefts were reported in the local news, but there were many smaller incidents that were kept quiet. The author has painstakingly reconstructed a nearly day by day account of what Colton Harris-Moore was up to, and his adventures bring new life to the cliché “truth is stranger than fiction.”
One of the reasons the tale is so compelling is the fact that the young man was so successful in eluding the police at every turn. Although he was obviously addicted to the thrill of it all, he was a very smart criminal. Colton never fell victim to the lure of drugs and alcohol for one thing, which kept him sharp as a tack. He was also in excellent shape, and a seeming master of making himself virtually invisible once he hit the woods.
When things finally got too hot for him in Washington, Colton began to make his way across the country. As Friel notes, the young man’s MO became obvious early on. He would steal a small plane from an out of the way hanger, fly it some distance, then land. He would then steal a vehicle to move on to the next leg of his trip, which would invariably be the nearest small airfield. After a couple of instances of this, you would think that the authorities would catch on. But they never did. Colton repeated this process over and over as he worked his way across the US.
Colton eventually took his show international, by flying into the Bahamas. As anyone who followed the story knows, he left under armed escort. All tolled, the number of crimes the young perp committed add up to over 100, and there are probably more than that. On January 27, 2012, he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.
In addition to the odd personal connection the author had with Colton, he devotes a significant portion of the book to the young man’s pre-fame history. It is a sad story, and while it does not excuse what he did, it does elicit some sympathy, even from his victims.
Another element of the tale is the weird form of respect Colton (sometimes) exhibited towards his victims. He passed up all kinds of things that a “common” criminal would immediately grab, such as large amounts of cash, and expensive personal effects. I suppose completely totaling someone’s $100K+ plane or boat sort of makes up for that though.
As a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, I have no idea what it is that inspires so many headline-grabbing criminals around here. At least in Colton’s case, nobody was physically harmed though. The Barefoot Bandit reads like a modern Catch Me If You Can, and you cannot help wondering what he will do once he is released.
Even though I knew the outcome of the story, and felt for those whose property was stolen, I have to admit to a certain amount of “rooting” for the kid while I read this book. No matter how you cut it, the story of Colton Harris-Moore is a one of a kind adventure, and Bob Friel has done a great job in capturing it.