A Look Back: The “Barefoot Bandit” Teen Who Taught Himself To Fly, Stole And Crashed 5 Planes

Colton Harris-Moore [Island County Sheriff's Office]

On July 11, 2010, a 19-year-old thief who robbed over 100 homes in the United States, sparked an international manhunt, and stole five planes before crash-landing in the Bahamas, was finally apprehended by police.

It was a dramatic end to Colton Harris-Moore’s spectacular crime spree. For two years, the teen had eluded capture, while stealing cars, powerboats, and airplanes, and building a reputation as a folk hero.

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Incredibly, Harris-Moore, who has admitted to an “obsession” with airplanes, had taught himself to fly a plane as a teen by reading aircraft manuals, watching a “How to fly a small airplane” DVD, and playing flight-simulator computer games. 

Harris-Moore, who earned his nickname the “Barefoot Bandit” due to the fact that he left footprints behind — 39 of them and the word “c’ya!” at one crime scene — was sentenced in 2012 to seven years in prison.

His spree began after he escaped from a juvenile halfway house in 2008 — but the teen had a troubled childhood long before then, and was reportedly abused by his father.

According to many reports, he started living in the wild at the age of seven, and would break into vacation homes in the area, stealing blankets, food, and water before disappearing into the forest for days. According to local sheriffs, he would often slip into a home just to soak in a hot bath or steal ice cream from the freezer. His first conviction for stolen property came at age 12.

A Cessna 182T (top) and Cessna 400 (bottom), similar to airplanes allegedly stolen by Harris Moore [Wikimedia Commons]

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After dropping out of high school, Harris-Moore continued to self-educate himself. In an interview from earlier this year, he described what he felt after stealing and piloting an airplane for the first time, after never having been able to practice in one. “It’s something that you have dreamt about and waited for your entire life,” he said. “And out of all the possibilities of that moment, no matter what scenario or situation you could find yourself in, that one moment, you were exactly where you were supposed to be and I wonder if I’ll ever feel that again.”

In a 2016 interview from prison, Harris-Moore told CBS News that he had a lot of guilt about being behind bars while his mother suffered and died from lung cancer. While in prison, he had been working on raising money to have her cryogenically frozen. “If Pam had lived two more days, or even through today, we would have been able to accomplish this,” Harris-Moore said. “I feel profound disappointment because I know that cryopreservation would have saved my mom’s life…. It would have worked, and my mom’s life could have been saved.”

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He also revealed that during his stint in prison, he has been mentored by a Boeing Airlines executive whom he described as “a dear friend” and “incredible human being.”

In 2011, Harris-Moore sold the movie rights to his life story to 20th Century Fox for $1.4 million, which went toward his restitution. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to give up any profits that might come from book or movie deals on his story.

Harris-Moore was released from prison in 2016, and began working for his lawyer, John Henry Browne. He has said that he aspires to someday design and build airplanes. He currently identifies himself as a pilot in his Twitter bio, but a recent GoFundMe to put Harris-Moore through flight school was reportedly shut down by his probation officer. Incredibly, one of Harris-Moore’s victims, John Miller, whose plane was stolen and crashed, encouraged him to pursue pilot training, and was willing to donate to the fund.

“It’s just an airplane — what the hell, they make ’em all the time,” Miller reportedly said.

To learn more about this case, watch the “Catch Me If You Can” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Tabloid on ID GO now!

Read more:
CBS News 
New York Daily News

Main photo: Colton Harris-Moore selfie taken while on the run [Island County Sheriff’s Office]

  • Martha Bartha

    Oh Dear!