Meeting the Barefoot Bandit's "mentor"

"48 Hours" producer on meeting Harley Davidson Ironwing - Colton Harris-Moore's former partner in crime

By "48 Hours" producer Sarah Prior

Harley Davidson Ironwing has a bad-ass name, but he has to be the most polite criminal I've ever met. We wanted to meet Harley because we had heard that he was the guy who brought Colton Harris-Moore - the so-called Barefoot Bandit - into his life of crime.

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Harley and Colton met during middle school. Colton grew up on Camano Island and went to junior high in Stanwood, a little town back on the mainland of Washington State. Kids who knew Colton growing up told me he was bullied in middle school. Harley was a tough guy, a year or two older, and he protected Colton. Then, according to Harley, he and Colton starting doing burglaries together, mostly out on Camano Island. Harley says he functioned as a sort of "consultant." Colton would call him to come help him on "a job" and Harley would charge a fee. They'd break into houses together, Harley says, and split what they found.

My first meeting with Harley was at a library (his suggestion) in May 2010. I was early, and while I was waiting, Harley sent me an email; his bus was 20 minutes late from a bomb scare. This is a kid without a computer, without even a cell phone. Somehow he emailed me while waiting for a bus. I was impressed.

I spent a few days with Harley, and a lot of hours in those days, but Harley never wanted me to buy him a meal. If I pressed him to eat, he'd accept only grocery store snacks. Once, after I insisted, he let me buy him dinner at Wendy's. After a long day of delays on our shoot, I apologized to Harley for the wait. He told me no problem, he was glad to be doing something that kept him out of trouble. I could not help feeling like with some good structure and positive role model or two, Harley might be capable of a lot more.

The sad thing about Harley's life in crime is that his crimes are pretty minor crimes. I guess he's just committed a LOT of them. When I met Harley, he was just out of prison after serving 27 months in the state penitentiary for two robberies from which he netted a total of $150. The third robbery - he tried to take a 1,000 pound safe, solo, from his foster mother's church on a Sunday, during church - was unsuccessful.

Harley told us he had been getting in trouble his whole life. Started drinking at the age of 4, started smoking at 6 and started stealing at 7. Some of Harley's stories were hard to believe. He told me he drove a stolen Mercedes at 180 mph down a country road in Washington, but some facts of his life I think are true.

Harley told me his biological mother couldn't take care of him. He went to live with a foster mother, Karen Ironwing at age 4. Harley was named Harley from birth, but Karen gave him her last name and changed his middle name to Davidson.

I met Karen Ironwing a couple of times. She was a very sweet woman, recovering from surgery for a brain tumor, but she clearly loved animals and kids. Still, every time we went to see her we first made sure Harley's foster brothers would not be there. These were two tough older boys, who I think just literally pounded on Harley as a kid. Harley had to get tough or die trying.

At the end of June 2010, Harley's foster mother Karen died. Harley never made it to her funeral. Two days later he was in the grocery store, and tucked several packages of string cheese in his jacket. He was hungry. Another shopper tipped off the police, who chased Harley. Harley ran, and the deputy tackled him, knocking down an older couple in the process. They added assault to the charges against him.

The final sentence? 18 months. For string cheese. I wish he had just called me.