Report: "Barefoot Bandit" Colton Harris-Moore endured abuse, family dysfunction before crime spree

July 2009 file self-portrait provided by the Island County Sheriff's Office showing Colton Harris-Moore, the so-called "Barefoot Bandit."
Associated Press
Colton Harris-Moore self portrait
AP Photo, file

(CBS) - A newly released psychological profile of Colton Harris-Moore - the so-called "Barefoot Bandit" who taught himself how to fly and then stole five single-engine airplanes - reports that the 20-year-old was "a healthy infant and toddler" who became psychologically damaged during his childhood by an alcoholic mother and the violent men in her life.

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On Friday, Harris-Moore will appear in a Coupeville, Wa., court where his attorney says he will plead guilty to multiple counts of theft in the state of Washington. He has already pleaded guilty to federal charges, including the theft of a plane, and faces up to nine years in prison when he is sentenced on January 27.

"I don't think anybody can read this report and not feel empathy for Colton," his attorney John Henry Browne told Crimesider.

The report, submitted to the court Wednesday, was commissioned by Colton's defense team and written by Dr. Richard Adler, a forensic psychologist based in Seattle. It is based on interviews with Colton and various family members, and paints a grim portrait of the life of a young man who has been called "Western Washington's new Jesse James" and whose international crime spree is being made into a feature film by 20th Century Fox.

In essence, the report indicates that Colton was failed by nearly every adult figure in his life and failed by a system that did nothing to lend him a lifeline.

Colton's mother, Pamela Kohler, was 39 when her son was born in 1991. The boy's father, George Moore, reportedly lived on-and-off with the family in a dilapidated trailer until Colton was three or four-years-old. According to the report, after Moore left, Colton's mother married William Kohler, a heroin addict with a history of convictions for domestic violence and burglary.

Colton was just four years old when child protective services became involved with the family. In 1996, the department responded to a report that the boy was being physically abused by his mother, but according to Adler's report, the agency could not find Kohler and did not pursue the matter.

In 2001, Adler reports that the agency took Colton away from the home for several days after a report that he was being abused by his mother's boyfriend. Two years later, Moore was arrested after allegedly assaulting Colton. The family was repeatedly referred for specialized services, but according to Adler's report, Pam Kohler was "not cooperative" and "refused treatment recommendations."

Colton reportedly told Dr. Adler that his mother was violent to him "hundreds of times."

Reached by phone at her home in Washington, Pam Kohler told Crimesider that the allegations of abuse and alcoholism are "total lies."

"Nobody abused him, ever," she said.

Kohler admitted that the boy's father was "violent and an alcoholic" and that she drank too much after Colton's stepfather died in 2002.

"I realize now that Colton and I should have gone to grief counseling," she said. Kohler also said that she believes the local sheriff's department and Colton's school were major problems in his life. She said the sheriff's department routinely hassled her son and his school "ignored his intelligence."

Indeed, according to the report, the boy who apparently learned to fly a plane by watching a DVD was labeled "developmentally delayed" at age 3, had trouble with self-control by first grade, and missed 34 days of school in fifth grade. Adler's report states that records show Colton was prescribed anti-depressants and a powerful anti-psychotic drug at age 10.

In 2003, when Colton was 12, he started getting into trouble, committing crimes like vandalism and theft. That year, a social worker reported that she "has concerns regarding this child due to mother's possible use of alcohol or drugs." At the time, Colton reportedly stated that he was depressed and had been having trouble sleeping for the past three years.

He was, it seems, going downhill fast: Dr. Adler found police and probation reports indicating that Colton allegedly assaulted his mother in 2004 and 2005.

By 2007, after he'd been arrested for possession of stolen property, Colton was described by a doctor at the detention facility as suffering "a persistent, chronic state of depression."

"Colton came into the world a healthy infant and toddler," wrote the evaluator. "Unfortunately, he was born into a home situation marked by instability, loss and alcohol abuse."

Attorney John Henry Browne calls Colton's life "a compelling, sad story."

"When Colton was young, no judge was ever presented with this kind of information," he said. Browne hopes the judge at the Island County Courthouse will take the Dr. Adler's report into account when sentencing his client.

Kohler says she won't be at Colton's hearing Friday because of the crowds. She says she has spoken to him recently and he is "very scared," and that when he gets out of jail, she wants to have a relationship with him.

"He is a special person," she said.

Complete coverage of the Barefoot Bandit on Crimesider

  • Julia Dahl

    Julia Dahl writes about crime and justice for