The life and escapades of Colton Harris-Moore

Chasing the Barefoot Bandit: Missing money, stolen planes and the international manhunt for a modern day Jesse James

Produced by Paul LaRosa and Sarah Prior
[This story previously aired on June 18, 2011. It was updated on July 13, 2013]

Before Colton Harris-Moore became famous as an international fugitive, before he attracted more than 100,000 fans on Facebook and before he stole a single airplane, he was one very unpopular teenager back in his hometown of Camano Island, Wash.

"Colton Harris Moore is nothing but a thief, a criminal," Camano resident Josh Flickner said. "He's not Robin Hood. He's not Jesse James. He's not James Bond."

Colton's crime spree on this tranquil island began when he was just 10 years old. He soon advanced to breaking into homes, using stolen credit cards and stealing boats. By the age of 19, he has a $10,000 price tag on his head and a bounty hunter on his trail.

In the summer of 2010, residents of Camano Island reached a breaking point and gathered to discuss rumors that were frightening everyone.

"We want him stopped," a man at the gathering told the crowd. "Most of us what him dead, period."

The crowd roared "No!" in response.

How did it come to this? Why would anyone want to kill this troubled teenager?

"I mean, he is a criminal," Ashley Martin, who grew up with Colton on Camano Island, said. "But at the same time, there really is a little part of me that just really feels bad for him because I've known him, you know, almost my whole life."

Martin remembers Colton as "a very sweet little kid."

Classmate Jessica Wesson remembers a little boy who always loved animals and airplanes.

"He was really smart, very into airplanes. He had a Boeing book of all the planes that they actually made," she told "48 Hours" correspondent Peter Van Sant.

"And did he tell you what he wanted to do for a living when he grew up?" Van Sant asked.

"He mentioned that he wanted to be a pilot," Wesson replied. "When we heard he was stealing planes, I was like, well, that kinda makes sense."

Wesson says she never went to Colton's house. Maybe he didn't want her to see the dilapidated trailer where he grew up with his mother, Pam Kohler.

"Why do you think Colton went from being this sweet kid that you knew when you first met him into a criminal?" Van Sant asked.

"Probably his upbringing," Wesson replied. "I hear his mom wasn't so nice ..."

"48 Hours" Investigator Paul Ciolino uncovered court records that showed a dozen calls to child protective services by the time Colton was just 14.

"The issue here with Colton is not so much what he did, but who created this kid," Ciolino explains. "There was physical abuse. There was mental abuse. There was physical neglect."

"I was having nightmares when I began to research his childhood," said Bob Friel, who wrote a book about Colton's life. "I would literally wake up in a sweat thinking about some things... Colt went through ... His biological father was in and out of that trailer home that Pam was in."

Learn more about Friels' book: "The Barefoot Bandit:The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw"

Colton's father, Gordon Moore, has been mostly absent from his life. But when Colton was 12, Gordon was convicted of assault for choking the boy. Colton told a child services caseworker that his mother, Pam, was outraged - at him - for calling 911.

Colton had nowhere to turn. As one case worker wrote, "Colton wants mom to stop drinking and get a job and have food in the house, mom refuses."

"Pam chose beer over everything... It ruined his life," said Jacquie Staggs, who has known Pam since Colton was born.

Asked how Colton got his name, she said, "If you ask Pam, she'll tell you she named him after the beer."

"You're telling me that Pam named her son after Colt 45? The malt liquor?" a surprised Van Sant asked.

"Uh-huh. That's what she told me," said Staggs.

"48 Hours" wanted to try and meet Colton's mother. Investigator Paul Ciolino and Producer Sarah Prior joined Van Sant on a walk up the dirt driveway to find some answers.

"That's her house. Sarah, if she calls out, why don't you say that you're the one who left the note," instructed Van Sant.

A homemade sign out front shows Pam does not like visitors. It reads: NOTICE IF YOU GO PAST THIS SIGN YOU WILL BE SHOT.

Peter Van Sant: Hello, Pam?

Pam Kohler: Who are you?

Sarah Prior: Hi, I'm Sarah. I left you a note the other day from CBS ...

Pam: I'm getting my shotgun right now.

Sarah: We just wanna talk to you, Pam. Can you just talk to us for a moment?

Pam: I'm getting my shotgun now. Get out of here!

Later, Pam changed her mind. Off camera, she told "48 Hours" she's always been a good mother to Colton. She also showed us a collage he made when he was 15, filled with images of things Colton might say he was missing in life: money, food and, of course, airplanes.

"When Colton Harris-Moore would break into a vacation home ... he would use the shower. He would wash his clothes and he would sleep on the bed or sleep on the couch," Friel says. "... He was not the traditional kid breaking in to steal booze and damage a house."

But along the way, Colton did more than more just grab a snack and a shower. He stole laptops, iPods, cell phones and jewelry.

Read a letter from one of Colton's alleged victims

Colton's former partner in crime and self-described brains of the operation is Harley Davidson Ironwing.

"Would you say you brought Colton into the world of crime?" Van Sant asked Ironwing.

"I would say I brought him into the world of burglaries," he replied.

Asked what they did together, Ironwing said, "Hit houses. Stole cars."

"Did he ever tell you he wanted to be a pilot one day?" VanSant asked.

"No. He just wanted to steal planes and just fly 'em. ... I have countless people that blame me for what he is today," said Ironwing.

Learn more about Harley Davidson Ironwing

By 2006, Colton was 15, more than six feet tall, and wanted by the law. He ate food where he could, stealing from vacant houses, and spent months from the cops in the woods, in vacation homes and even a tree house on a neighbor's property.

The citizens and police were sick of it. Acting on a tip, deputies went to his mother's house to arrest him. All they found was a note that Colton left for his mother, which read: "Cops want to play, huh? Well, it's not no lil game. It's war and tell them that."

Read Colton's note

"Colton says, 'It's war.' What do you think he means?" Van Sant asked Ironwing.

"Come and catch me if you can," he replied. "It's a war of the minds. He wants to show them they aren't as smart as they think they are."

It was now February 2007. After several narrow escapes from the law, Colton broke into a house while the owner was out of town. A neighbor saw a light on and called the police. After a tense two-hour standoff, Colton was finally arrested. He didn't seem to like the media attention.

Colton was sentenced to three years in the juvenile system. Just one year later, in April 2008, he climbed out the window of a halfway house.

The chase was back on.

48 Hours App

More From 48 Hours

Comments