When Bob Rivers’s Cessna was stolen and crashed in a rare instance of airplane piracy, the Seattle radio personality had the same thought as local authorities: drug runners had used, abused, and discarded the plane; case closed. To their astonishment, they later learned that the culprit in the 2008 heist was actually seventeen-year-old Colton Harris-Moore, a poor, neglected, troubled kid who’d had no formal flight training. This was the first time Colt had flown a plane, and yet it wouldn’t be the last. He was in the midst of a years-long crime spree — boosting cars, boats, identities, airplanes, and lots of food. The pattern of his thieving centered on the coastal islands of the state of Washington, where Bob Friel lives.
Which meant Friel had a front-row seat to the increasingly brazen thefts of the “barefoot bandit,” so named because Colt had a penchant for going shoeless. Capitalizing on the trusting nature of island residents, many of whom wouldn’t lock their doors, Colt often holed up in vacant vacation homes. Whenever authorities closed in, he would take to the woods and call on his time-tested survival skills. This cat-and-mouse game was infuriating to victims and authorities, and eventually drew the attention and involvement of the FBI and Homeland Security, thanks largely to his ongoing interest in stealing airplanes.
But Colt’s brazen ways — repeatedly swiping bicycles from the police station lockup, for example — also engendered respect and admiration in certain circles. It helped that his were nonviolent crimes. “Colt’s combination of twenty-first century tech savviness and nineteenth-century outlaw cojones came together to create a remarkably effective criminal.” Thanks to Facebook fan clubs, he quickly became a modern-day John Dillinger. Like Dillinger, Colt’s tale ended in a hail of gunfire. In Colt’s case, though, all the bullets missed. Rightly or wrongly, that unbelievable luck adds just another layer of myth to a minor — but no less fascinating — entry in the annals of American crime.