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Colton Harris Moore (the Barefoot Bandit) – the amazing escapades of a modern day “catch me if you can” burglar

Colton Harris Moore self portrait

A modern-day “Catch me if you can” outlaw

Trailer where Colton Harris Moore grew up with mother Pam Kohler

He first appeared on the Pacific Northwest’s crime blotters at age 8 – for stealing a bicycle. As he grew older his criminal escapades progressed and soon, he was arrested and jailed – from which he promptly escaped. He has stolen four airplanes (while never having taken flying lessons), three boats, several cars, and has broken into over one hundred homes and businesses. He has used stolen credit cards to purchase hi-tech equipment (including night vision goggles) to aid in his crimes. He’s cracked safes and pilfered their contents and has broken into and raided bank ATM machines. He’s located on a 94 square mile island, isolated from the mainland, and has a penchant for pizza.  At 17 years old, Colton Harris Moore is a real life “catch me if you can” criminal that outfoxed and frustrated the police and FBI for over 2 years.

Colton Harris Moore, the 6′ 5″ youth, has become a modern-day legend from his ability to evade the police who have used speedboats, police cars, and black hawk helicopters in attempts to corner and catch him. In several instances, police have noted that after cornering the wily thief, he literally “vanished” without a trace. Today there are Colton Harris Moore fan clubs on the Internet and fan clubs selling t-shirts bearing his picture and “fly, Colton, fly” and “mother tried” printed on them. His Facebook page has over 60,000 members and growing.

Colton starts acting a little funny

Colton A. Harris-Moore wanted poster

Colton Harris Moore, or Colt as he’s known in his hometown of Camano Island, Washington, was born March 21, 1991, to Pam Kohler.  He stumbled through an unusually harsh life. His abusive father abandoned the family when Colt was two years old, slipping away after choking Colton at a family barbeque. His mother raised him in a mobile home planted in the woods and surrounded by the burnt-out shells of old vehicles. His mother remarried but his stepfather died when he was 7 years old. His mother noted that around this time Colton began to display erratic behavior, getting into trouble at school and purposely breaking things around the house. She later said she knew there was “something off about him, a sort of disconnection.”  According to Pam Kohler,

“He wouldn’t listen to his teachers, started altercations at school, and sometimes deliberately broke things around the house.”

Ironically, Colton was first accused of theft around this time, but police discovered that the bike he was accused of stealing was actually a birthday gift.

A wily criminal thwarts law officials attempts to capture him

Colton Harris Moore captured by surveillance video in Island Market

Many believe Colton’s crimes were nothing more than a means to live a “fantasy life” rather than an attempt to burglarize for monetary gain. For instance, in some break-ins he merely soaked in a hot batch or plopped on the couch while eating mint ice cream from the owner’s freezer.  Others, however, note that he seemed to only steal what he needed to live in the woods as a survivalist and nothing more – and sometimes he gave away what he stole.  In May 2010, the owners of a veterinary clinic in Raymond Washington found hundreds of dollars and a note pinned to their door.  The note read:

“Drove by, had some extra cash. Please use this money for the care of animals – Colton Harris Moore, (AKA: “The Barefoot Bandit”)”

Regardless of his motives, his ability to outwit the police was stunning.

As Colton’s crimes grew in number, police realized that this serial thief was unusually cunning. Reported by his mother to have an IQ “three points lower than Einstein”, in some cases Colt took unusually brilliant steps to cover his tracks. In one break-in, Colton discovered the family’s security cameras hidden in the corner of a living room. When the family returned home, their first indication of a break-in was the disassembled cameras sitting in the kitchen sink with water running over them. In another instance, as he was being pursued by the police, Colton purposely crashed a stolen car into a gas storage tank creating a huge explosion as a diversion for his escape into the nearby woodlands. According to one sheriff,

“We saw him, we think, but it’s like he vanished in front of our eyes.”

During a burglary, if Colton came across credit cards or Social Security numbers, Colton would use those to order goods (often items he could use in later burglaries) and have them shipped to the same home.  He would then break back into the home and steal the goods back.

In another instance, sheriff’s deputies were waiting for him at a home he had previously burglarized. Colton entered the home using a key he had stolen.  Police tried to grab him, but Colton sprayed them with pepper spray and sprinted out the door.  Police later said,

“He was on his way out the door almost as fast as he came in.”

A wily criminal learns how to fly

First plane Colton Harris-Moore stole - Single-engine Cessna - November 2008

In November 2008, Colt stole his first airplane, a Cessna 182 (FAA registration number N24658), and flew it three hundred miles, before crashing it on an Indian reservation (police believe he had yet to figure out how to land the planes). The theft was even more unusual given that Colton had never taken flying lessons.

Police then discovered evidence showing that Colton Harris Moore had ordered a flying manual on the Internet and taught himself to fly using the Internet manual and video game simulations. He subsequently stole several more planes, crashing each on farmlands around the area. When his mother was told about the airplane thefts and asked whether she thought her son was capable of such a miraculous theft she beamed,

“I hope to hell he stole those planes. I’d be so proud. But next time, I want him to wear a parachute. I was going to buy him flying lessons but now I guess I won’t have to.”

A wily criminal angers, then embarrasses, the police

Footprints CYA (see ya) drawn by Colton Harris Moore

In late 2009, police recovered a stolen Mercedes Benz with a digital camera sitting on the front seat. They reviewed the photos on the storage card and were stunned to find a self-captured picture of Colt, headphones plugged into his ears and wearing a black Mercedes shirt, smiling back at them. Embarrassment prompted an all-out raid on his mother’s mobile home but to their dismay, Colton stealthily slipped out the back and disappeared into the woods. After the raid the police received a written warning from Colton,

“Cops wanna play huh!? Well it’s no lil game…’s war!”

Soon after they discovered that Colton had broken into one of the sheriff’s cars taking various police equipment including a bolted down shotgun (for which he was thereafter classified as armed and dangerous).

He earned himself the nickname of “the Barefoot Bandit” (sometimes called “the Barefoot Burglar”) by committing some of his crimes while barefoot. In at least one of the airplane thefts, there were bare footprints inside and outside the hangars that had been broken into. In another instance, footprints were on the wall – indicating that Colton had put his feet up, apparently while eating. In another instance, large three-foot cartoon like footprints were drawn throughout the ransacked house leading to a back door with a final message, “CYA”, drawn near the doorway.

His mother freely admitted that she sometimes talked to him on the phone (using an untraceable mobile phone) but claimed she had no idea where he was located.

“I figure I’ll spend my time with him in a positive way – because who knows if he’ll be shot tomorrow?”

A wily criminal is captured

A barefoot Colton Harris-Moore arrives in Nassau on Sunday after his arrest

The ending to the The Barefoot Bandit saga ended in typical Colton Harris Moore fashion.  Colton Harris Moore was finally caught on July 4, 2010, after high-speed James Bond like boat chase in the Bahamas (the police shot out the motor of the boat as he attempted to speed away).  He had flown there from Indiana using a plane he had stolen.

Colton Harris Moore was taken into custody in the waters off Harbour Island. Marina security director, Kenneth Strachan, said Moore came running down his dock about 2:00 AM Sunday July 11, 2010, carrying a gun and a knapsack slung over his shoulder. “They’re going to kill me” Moore shouted as he ran by. Moore had landed on Harbour Island on a stolen 15-foot skiff which he had driven from nearby Eleuthera Island. Marina security director Strachan immediately put out an alert requesting help as soon as possible.

As Moore ran from the marina through the resort’s property, authorities quickly “disabled” the skiff’s motors. Moore jumped into a second boat and attempted to take off, but the boat got stuck in the mud (Moore did not realize the water was so shallow in the area he attempted to take off from). Authorities drew guns and Moore threw a computer he was carrying into the water and put a gun to his head. Police talked Moore out of committing suicide and Moore then surrendered with no resistance.  Afterwards police learned he had intended to go to Cuba to throw authorities off his trail and then proceed to the Turks and Caicos Islands – all areas that did not have an extradition treaty with the United States.

Colton Harris Moore in orange jumpsuit

Colton was suspected in more than one hundred thefts in Washington, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota, Idaho, and Canada.  He was charged with thirty-three counts of burglary, theft, and other charges.  He plead guilty, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison, and sent to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, Washington under heavy guard and wearing handcuffs and leg irons during transport.

Fox bought the film rights in a deal that could be worth $1.3 million, and a screenplay is in the works.  The Barefoot Bandit will keep none of the profits made from the deal, and instead, use the proceeds to pay back his victims.

Additional Information

Note left at vet by Colton Harris More

In April 2010, 20th Century Fox purchased the film rights to the book Taking Flight: The Hunt for a Young Outlaw, based on a proposal by Bob Friel.  Harris Moore’s mother has retained celebrity lawyer Yale Lewis to seek control of entertainment interests related to her son. She has also hired John Henry Browne to handle her son’s criminal defense.  Under a plea deal, Harris Moore agreed to forfeit any profits from selling publishing rights to his story.

The Barefoot Bandit Documentary (which premiered at Friday Harbor Film Festival on November 7, 2014, filmmaker Carly Bodmer) explores the childhood and time that Harris Moore spent evading the law. Pam Kohler (Colton’s mother), the FBI, lawyer John Henry Browne, and a range of personalities from Harris Moore’s hometown to the Bahamas piece together why he did what he did.

A 2014 Canadian documentary about Harris Moore called Fly Colt Fly: Legend of the Barefoot Bandit was made by brothers Adam and Andrew Gray, showing how the mythic story evolved in the media and how Harris Moore became a 21st century outlaw folk hero.

As of July 2016, Harris Moore has been released to a halfway house at an undisclosed location.

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

A barefoot Colton Harris-Moore arrives in Nassau on Sunday after his arrest via CBC News by AP with usage type - Fair use (low res)
Trailer where Colton Harris Moore grew up with mother Pam Kohler via CBS News by 48 Hours
First plane Colton Harris-Moore stole - Single-engine Cessna - November 2008 via CBS News by 48 Hours
Colton A. Harris-Moore wanted poster via IFiber One with usage type - Public Domain
Note left at vet by Colton Harris More via Bob Friel
Footprints CYA (see ya) drawn by Colton Harris Moore via Bob Friel
Colton Harris Moore captured by surveillance video in Island Market via Bob Friel
Colton Harris Moore self portrait via Bob Friel
Colton Harris Moore in orange jumpsuit via Altered Dimensions

Featured Image Credit

Colton Harris Moore self portrait via Bob Friel


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