Catch me if you can: 'Barefoot bandit' eludes US policeSEATTLE, Washington (AFP) – Eighteen-year-old Colton Harris-Moore is achieving folk hero status as the "Barefoot Bandit" in the US and Canada after a string of burglaries and dare-devil escapes from the law.
Romanticized by some as a latter-day "Billy the Kid" figure but regarded by others as a common thief, Harris Moore has a criminal record stretching back to when he was just 12 and a penchant for kicking off his shoes before fleeing.
Caught in 2007 and sentenced to detention in a halfway house near Seattle, the teenager from Camano Island, north of Seattle, escaped the following year and his legend began to grow.
Shortly after breaking out, he was being pursued driving a stolen Mercedes-Benz near his mother's home when he jumped from the moving vehicle and ran into the woods, leaving police with a wrecked car filled with loot.
Among stolen possessions recovered was a digital camera the fugitive used to take a self-portrait. The photograph, complete with self-assured smirk, has become the public face of a teenage robber who has now become an Internet idol.
Burglaries continued on Camano Island and while Harris-Moore remained out of sight police and neighbors were sure it was him behind the thefts. Within months he was suspected of more than 50 buglaries across three counties.
For the next year, Harris-Moore, a six-foot five inch (1.98-meter) giant who obviously stands out in a crowd, was a ghost as far as the police were concerned.
Then, in September of this year, on the remote San Juan Islands that straddle the watery border between Washington State and Canada's Vancouver Island, he was spotted on a surveillance tape during an attempted robbery.
While stealing 2,500 dollars from the ATM machine of another business the same night, he cut himself, leaving traces of blood that were matched to his DNA.
Much to the consternation of police, his re-emergence again captured the public's imagination as more tales emerged of his uncanny ability to outmaneuver the authorities.
A San Juan County sheriff's deputy said he nearly caught Harris-Moore in the woods and had him in his flashlight before the suspect "virtually vaporized in front of me."
He recalled hearing him laughing loudly from the woods when he realized he had eluded him.
The "Barefoot Bandit" legend took on a new dimension in October when a private plane crashed near the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle. It had been stolen in Idaho, near where a rash of burglaries had occurred.
Searchers never found the pilot, but a few days later, an intruder was reported at a nearby home. When police arrived, the suspected burglar ran into the woods and fired a gun at them.
They never found the assailant, but investigators found bare footprints leading up to the door and inside the Idaho hangar where the stolen plane had been stored.
More crimes were soon attributed to the teenager, including another plane theft, this time in the San Juan Islands in late 2008.
Seattle radio personality Bob Rivers had his plane stolen and it was later found wrecked in a field almost 200 miles (320 kilometers) away.
"The thief broke into a locked hangar, apparently found some keys in the hangar, stole the plane," Rivers said. "All indications are that Colton Harris-Moore is the prime suspect."
Harris-Moore's mother, Pam Koehler, didn't doubt her son could be a pilot if he wanted to be.
"He's smart. He took an IQ test a few years ago and he's three points below Einstein," she said. "I hope to hell he stole those airplanes -- I would be so proud."
Since October, nothing has been heard of this wunderkind of burglars, but a Hollywood producer wants to make a movie of Harris-Moore's life and compared him to Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the film "Catch Me If You Can."
Harris-Moore has a cult following, including a fan club on social networking site Facebook, and a Seattle man has even started selling T-shirts bearing his picture alongside the words "Momma Tried."
But the man officially named Time Magazine's "most wanted teenage thief" for 2009 is not so popular with the authorities.
Island County sheriff Mark Brown, whose office has had to deal with the criminal pursuits of Harris-Moore since he was 11, growled, "He is an adult felon! I will not have him made into some kind of folk hero."
ONTD_P, should this man be hailed as a masked thief of the night or should he be brought in ASAP and the book be thrown at him? imho, I'm amused. He sounds like he's just doing it for the thrill xD