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Bare Foot Bandit
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Bare Foot Bandit - January 29, 2010, 10:04 AM


DENVER, COLORADO // He has been called everything from Klepto Colt to the Barefoot Bandit.

He has rustled small planes, speedboats and luxury cars, robbed island hideaways and survived for weeks in the rugged wilderness of the Pacific North-west. He has got 17,000 followers on Facebook, and hundreds more US police, Canadian Mounties and FBI agents trying to track him down in the real world.

But 18-year-old Colton Harris-Moore has given them the slip for more than 20 months now – often on foot, and on many occasions without any shoes on. By all accounts he is fleet-footed and razor sharp. Whether he is a rebel or a reprobate seems to depend on your point of view.

“Colt’s case engenders strong feelings on both sides,” said Bob Friel, an author and photographer who has reported extensively on Mr Harris-Moore. “People … tend to fall firmly in one of two camps: he’s an outlaw hero or he’s simply a no-good crook.”

Police have tied Mr Harris-Moore to more than 100 crimes, and when cornered, he has made some breathtaking escapes, often in the style of his childhood hero, James Bond.

In November 2008, for example, he is known to have slipped into a parked Cessna on Orcas Island, piloting the tiny plane over the Puget Sound before crash landing on an Indian reservation on the mainland more than 600km to the south-east and walking away from the crumpled wreck miraculously unharmed. The stunt was all the more impressive considering that the gangly teenager not only had no pilot training when he took to the skies that day, he had never even been on a plane before.

Although some residents suspect copycats in some of the crimes in which Mr Harris-Moore is accused, even his mother has expressed wonder that he apparently picked up flying from reading training manuals and playing video games.

Police believe he went on to commandeer two other small aircraft, both of which were also found crash-landed nearby.

“I hope to hell he stole those planes. I’d be so proud,” his mother, Pam Kohler, defiantly told a local interviewer. “But next time, I want him to wear a parachute.”

On another occasion, the Barefoot Bandit leapt from a moving (and stolen) Mercedes-Benz to escape pursuing police. When officers later searched the car, they found a digital camera with a brazen self-portrait the teenager had snapped while wearing a Mercedes shirt and listening to an iPod.

Mr Harris-Moore has also made getaways using two speedboats, according to authorities, and broken into dozens of empty homes, usually in search of food, a warm bath or a place to rest for a bit. He has busted open ATM machines and used stolen credit cards to order survival gear and other goods.

Along the way, his antics have earned him a global cult following, with a clutch of websites tracking his escapades and a ballad romanticising his Houdini-like escapes. T-shirts with his image and the banner “Fly, Colt, Fly!” or “Momma Tried” are selling briskly on the internet, while the world’s media have descended on Camano Island, a wooded atoll 50km north of Seattle where Mr Harris-Moore grew up in a shabby trailer.

He has been likened to the legendary American outlaws Jesse James and Billy the Kid, although his supporters are quick to note that, unlike them, he has not killed anyone.

Mr Harris-Moore reminds others of Frank Abagnale Jr, who as a young man in the 1960s passed off more than US$4 million (Dh14.7m) in bad cheques before the age of 19 by posing as a PanAm pilot, a paediatrician and an attorney. Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed Mr Abagnale in the movie Catch Me If You Can.

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January 29, 2010, 10:11 AM

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January 29, 2010, 10:11 AM

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