Colton Harris-Moore, the barefoot boy bandit, outfoxes sheriffs
In the forests and remote islands around Seattle, police are setting traps for a barefoot teenage outlaw who has eluded them for nearly two years.
Police say 18-year-old Colton Harris-Moore, whose escapades are turning him into a folk legend, is a one-man crime wave, responsible for 50 burglaries as well as stealing light aircraft, which he taught himself to fly from video games, and several speedboats.
He lives in the woods, shuns shoes and catches his own food. His only technological aid is a pair of thermal-imaging goggles to hunt at night and his weakness is pizzas, which he asks to be delivered at the edge of the woods.
For some Harris-Moore is a modern Butch Cassidy: a surprisingly agile 6ft 5in cat burglar who thanks his victims by leaving them notes and cheeky photographs of himself, which have sold for £300 on eBay.
Thousands subscribe to his Facebook page and his image appears on T-shirts with the logo “Fly, Colton, Fly!”. Local rock groups have penned songs about him.
Hollywood producers have lodged lucrative film deals with his family and offered to pay for lawyers if he gives himself up.
Raised in a caravan on Camano Island, an isolated community in the Puget Sound, Harris-Moore started living wild at the age of seven. He would break into holiday homes, steal blankets and food and vanish into the woods for days.
In April 2008, after being sent to a juvenile detention centre, he complained that the beds were too short for his lanky frame and went on the run.
Police believe he fled to Canada and then, a few weeks ago, came back across the border to Idaho where he stole a Cessna 182 and flew to Seattle. He crash-landed in a forest clearing and walked away with cuts and bruises.
Since then he has been accused of stealing other planes for hops around the islands in the Puget Sound, including another Cessna belonging to a disc jockey who vented his frustration on radio, saying: “He still doesn’t know how to land a plane in one piece.”
He evaded a police pursuit by crashing a Mercedes-Benz into a roadside gas storage tank, using the explosion as a diversion to escape back into the woods where, he says, he feels like a Native American.
This was followed by the largest manhunt in recent memory. Three dozen sheriffs, aided by specialist armed units and an FBI helicopter, fanned out across Camano Island but failed to capture him. “We saw him, we think, but it’s like he disappeared in front of our eyes,” said one sheriff.
His luck may be about to run out. During a recent sweep a rifle shot was fired at police, raising his status to “armed and dangerous”. His mother, Pamela Kohler, now fears that even if he did not fire the shot he will be held responsible.
Kohler said she was proud her son had stolen the aircraft because he had never had a flying lesson in his life. “I was going to send him to flight school, but I guess I don’t have to,” she said. “I’d tell him the next time he took a plane: wear a parachute and practise your landing.
“If he shot that gun, it was really stupid. I don’t expect him to come out of the woods alive.”