Seattle's teenage Jesse James

As an outlaw in the grand tradition, 18-year-old Colton Harris-Moore has both infuriated and impressed the Pacific North-West with his escapades. Now he's back on his home turf

Victims call him a one-man crime wave who ought to be in prison. Fans say he's a misunderstood folk hero in the grand tradition of Robin Hood, Huckleberry Finn, and Jesse James. To police near Seattle, who are once more on his elusive tail, Colton Harris-Moore can be summed up in two words: most wanted.

The young fugitive is just 18, and has nothing to his name except a resourceful personality and an apparent inability to understand the meaning of fear. But for 18 months, he has led police, the FBI, and several divisions of Canada's Royal Mounted Police on a merry dance across thousands of miles of the Pacific North-west. During the man hunt, Harris-Moore, who is thought to have committed at least 50 burglaries, has stolen three planes, two speedboats, and countless cars. He's walked away from crashes that ought to have killed him, inspired a folk song, got his face on T-shirts, and accumulated almost 4,000 "supporters" on the internet site Facebook.

Now, with Hollywood eager to buy-up his life story, police believe the juvenile delinquent's odyssey has returned to where it all started: the dense forests that cover Camano Island, a 40sq-mile piece of land in the middle of Puget Sound.

A string of recent break-ins on Camano, where Harris-Moore grew up, and neighbouring Whidbey Island have convinced the forces of law and order that the troubled youth who became known as the "barefoot burglar" on account of his habit of leaving a footprint at the scene of his crimes, has managed to make it back home.

"We've had some burglaries on Camano Island, and we've had them on Whidbey Island, and we're investigating them, and that's what I can say," Island County Sheriff Mark Brown told reporters this week. "I'm just not going to comment on the on-going investigation, and I think you can probably appreciate why."

Sheriff Brown is reluctant to add to the layers of mystique surrounding Harris-Moore. Raised by his single mother in a tiny trailer, he began breaking into local properties and businesses at the age of seven, and has been on the run since escaping from a juvenile prison several hundred miles away last April.

Sheriff Brown is also anxious to avoid saying anything that might increase public sympathy for the youth, whose crimes have been, perhaps unfairly, dubbed "victimless" - and who usually tends to to steal blankets, basic foodstuffs, and pieces of survival equipment that allow him to stay a step ahead of the law.

Among his many misdemeanours, Harris-Moore once pinched thermal-imaging goggles from a local fire station, so he could see police coming to arrest him at night. He also taught himself to steal and pilot aeroplanes by using an online flight simulator.

The Scarlet Pimpernel-like nature of his recent escapades is certainly compelling. After a troubled childhood, in which he was abused at home, he spent a portion of his teenage years living in the woods on Camano Island, breaking into local stores and deserted holiday homes in order to get food, petty cash, and occasional shelter.

He was eventually arrested when police noticed that he'd begun phoning for pizzas from his forest hideouts. They decided to dress up as delivery boys in order to capture him. But after serving a few weeks of his sentence, he escaped from Grifffin Home, a juvenile prison in Renton, Washington State.

That was 18 months ago. Since then, Harris-Moore has been more or less untouchable. He spent a summer living on Orcas Island, to which he initially fled using a stolen speedboat. Then, exactly a year ago, he stole a Cessna from a local airfield and flew to the Yakama Indian Reservation, on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains where he crash-landed and decided to stay for the winter.

In September this year, he returned to Orcas Island, apparently in another stolen aircraft, carried out a few burglaries, hot-wired another speedboat and drove it to Point Roberts on the Canadian border. He then made his way across British Columbia by foot and stolen car, carrying out a string of break-ins that saw him star in police "wanted" posters.

After pinching another plane, in Idaho, he crash-landed near the town of Granite Falls. "How he walked away from it is anybody's guess," Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus told the Los Angeles Times. "The wings were broken, the fuselage had a big crack in it, the nose was broken." There were 10 to 12 gallons of fuel left in the tank.

Days later, Swat teams were called to woods north of Seattle, when they thought they had Harris-Moore cornered. A shot was allegedly fired by the fugitive. But three dozen agents equipped with search dogs and flashlights were unable to nab the elusive suspect. One officer said it was like he "vapourised".

All the while, Harris-Moore's hero status was growing. A range of T-shirts bearing his mugshot and the logo "Momma tried" were launched, and a tribute song released on YouTube. Hollywood producers have offered up to $100,000 for his life story. And his Facebook appreciation site has almost 4,000 members.

"People that are struggling with this huge economic downturn," says the site's founder, Zack Sestak, "feel let down by the system. And to see an 18-year-old kid that seems to be taking on the system and winning... it certainly strikes their imagination."

Now he's back on home ground, but he's not coming home. He calls his mother, Pam Kohler, occasionally. "I've talked my head off, I've tried everything. But he's the kind of kid who's going to do what he wants to do," she told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper. "If he taught himself to fly, I'm very proud of him. Next time, I hope he wears a parachute, that's all."

Arts and Entertainment
TV Review: Sabotage, a meltdown and, of course, plenty of sauce
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
sport
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - Lewes / Brighton

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

PE Graduate?

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Are you a PE graduate looking for a ...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £135 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Key Stage ...

Humanities Teacher

£100 - £150 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Permanent Teacher of Humaniti...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?