Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Born to Run: Inside the Mind of the Barefoot Burglar

Loving the limelight

Colton Harris-Moore
Colton Harris-Moore
It is hardly a surprise that Colton Harris-Moore, aka The Barefoot Bandit, has achieved John Dillinger-like notoriety since his escape almost two years ago from a halfway house in Washington. Like Dillinger, Harris-Moore evaded local police and the FBI on a cross-country crime-spree, but unlike Dillinger he never hurt anybody and survived his ultimate confrontation with the law. Harris-Moore is seen by many as a young man who rebelled spectacularly against the system, helping himself to food and other loot inside vacant McMansions, eluding police by driving around in "borrowed" luxury automobiles and crossing the continent in stolen airplanes.

The six-foot five-inch 19-year-old struck a chord with perhaps millions of people who cheered him on his Facebook fan page or followed his adventures in the news. As the United States stumbles out of what has been the worst recession since the Great Depression, perhaps the time was right for a resurgence of anti-establishment enthusiasm for charismatic criminals. As with the Depression-era fascination with gangsters, in times when the economic outlook is bleak many are outraged by what they see as the imbalance between those protected by the system and the distress of those without insider connections. In the face of this resentment, here was a 19-year old who did as he pleased, leaving behind only bare footprints as he lived off the fortunes others had amassed.

Before launching his cross-country spree, though, the childhood Harris-Moore spent on Camano Island, Wash., was hardly sensational. The young man reportedly grew up in an abusive and broken home in a trailer in the woods, and, by all accounts, fell through the cracks of the state of Washington's social and child-welfare system.

In some respects, Harris-Moore's life on the lam is the understandable outcome of an intelligent but angry and troubled boy growing up in a bad home environment in close proximity to empty vacation homes filled with things that any typical teenager would desire, such as pizzas, ice cream, laptops, and iPods. His alleged plane-stealing and other more daring adventures came after the media attention, spiking in 2009 after he allegedly stole an assault rifle from a police squad car. The increased media coverage seemed to incite him to commit increasingly daring thefts, Det. Sgt. Mike Beech, a local police official, told truTV.

"It sure seemed like every time the media made a big deal about it, he almost purposely went out and did another crime that night or the next day to bait us. That was my feeling last summer when it started to gain momentum, when he moved into other counties, then up into Canada, then the plane out of Idaho," Det. Sgt. Beech told truTV. "It was really too much. I am just glad he was apprehended and that nobody was hurt in the process."

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