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World & Nation

The long, strange odyssey of the ‘Barefoot Bandit’ just got stranger

Barefoot Bandit

A 2009 self–portrait of Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Bandit.

(Island County Sheriff’s Office)

Having survived his own potential death as a self-taught pilot who stole airplanes and landed them in the woods, the fugitive felon known as the Barefoot Bandit has a new unconventional escape plan — this one intended to save his mother’s life.

Or rather, to bring his mother back to life. While she’s alive at the moment, Colton Harris-Moore is seeking public donations to have his mother’s body frozen after she dies and await a post-thaw cure for the cancer he says now threatens her.

Those who chip in $25 or more toward the $230,000 cost of care at an Arizona life-extension facility will be entitled to their own free cryogenic treatment at a clinic Harris-Moore intends to start next year, he said from prison.

“Cryonic preservation is the only solution to save Pam,” he wrote on his GoFundMe page, where he’s accepting donations.

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Pam Kohler, who turned 65 this week, couldn’t be reached for comment. But Harris-Moore’s Seattle attorney, John Henry Browne, confirmed Kohler suffers from Stage 4 lung cancer. There is no prognosis on how much time she has left, he said.

Colton Harris-Moore

Surveillance footage of Colton Harris-Moore shortly before he was captured in the Bahamas.

(Justice Department)

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks — one of more than a dozen prosecutors who brought cases over the years against Harris-Moore, said he understood the former fugitive wanting to help his mother, but warned against donating money to private individuals online.

“Since Mr. Harris-Moore’s crimes were theft and burglary, would-be donors should take that into account,” he added.

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When Harris-Moore was on trial in 2012, Browne laid the blame for his client’s criminal life at Kohler’s feet. As a dirt-poor and neglected trailer-home kid in the Northwest, his abusive upbringing was “worse than a dog’s,” Brown said then.

Now, Browne said, “Colton is doing everything he can to show his love for her, despite his awful childhood.”

Harris-Moore, now 25, has said his mother was never to blame: “I made my own choices,” he insisted, even though court records show he told a psychiatrist his mother was an abusive alcoholic. His father, Gordon Moore, was in prison for drug abuse during his son’s early years.

Left largely to himself, Harris-Moore grew up to earn infamy and — briefly — fortune as an audacious serial burglar and teen fugitive who stayed ahead of the law using stolen pickups and SUVs and once snatching a boat and piloting it across the U.S.-Canada border. He lived in the wilds off and on starting at age 7, and was arrested for his first break-in at age 12. He would eventually be credited with burglarizing at least 100 homes.

He wound up in juvenile detention and then a Seattle-area group home, from which he escaped in 2008. Harris-Moore then launched what became a one-boy cross-county crime wave, allegedly committing more than 70 crimes in eight states and three countries. The losses in stolen or destroyed property — including luxury cars and at least five light aircraft — would top an estimated $3 million.

His most memorable crime was his last: On the Fourth of July, 2010, he stole a $650,000 Cessna 400 from an Indiana airport and crash-landed it in the Bahamas. Though he didn’t have a pilot’s license, he had learned how to fly aircraft by studying manuals. Airplanes, he’s said, have been his “obsession” since he was a child.

He was finally arrested a week later at Harbour Island, Bahamas, after police shot out the engine of a boat he’d stolen. Harris-Moore, at age 19 a serial law-breaker for almost a decade who had been on the run for at least two years, seemed relieved. Having committed crimes in the U.S., Canada and now the Bahamas, he would eventually confess in a plea deal to 40 felonies — some of the early ones committed while barefoot. He also signed his crime scenes — drawing footprint outlines with chalk and adding a sarcastic goodbye, “Cya!”

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Besides supplying him with a nickname, the global publicity surrounding his fugitive escapades netted the high school dropout 50,000 Facebook followers, a $1.15-million movie deal and a 61/2-year prison sentence.

Now, broke again and set to be freed this summer from state prison in Aberdeen, Wash., after serving 51/2 years, Harris-Moore claims in an open letter on his fundraising Web page that his mother deserves a life after death.

“As a son, I regret that her hopes and dreams never came true.”

Having turned over all of his 20th Century Fox movie-rights income to the court as compensation for his theft victims, Harris-Moore is seeking $230,000 to cover the cost of “Whole-Body” cryo-preservation at Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale. The facility is probably best known as the chilly last residing place of Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams, who died in 2002 at the age of 83.

If his mother is to join Williams and others suspended at Alcor, Harris-Moore will need a burst of donations. As of now he’s received $2,115 in contributions from 19 people. “Sometimes it is difficult to accept what we cannot change but I salute your attempt to try,” one donor wrote.

Harris-Moore doesn’t explain how he’ll go about starting his own cryo-preservation company, but it could be a long haul. Alcor froze its first “patient” in 1976, but it took almost 10 years to cryo-preserve a second and third. The preservation science was in its infancy, however, and in December last year Alcor announced that, aided by technological breakthroughs, it had frozen its 142nd patient.

In an interview with ABC News, which he contacted from prison seeking publicity for his fund drive, Harris-Moore said he hoped to design and manufacture aircraft when he’s a free man.

Colton Harris-Moore

Colton Harris-Moore with attorney John Henry Browne in 2011.

(Associated Press)
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“There are several industries I want to go into, but that’s definitely my main goal, building airplanes,” he said. “That’s it.”

He already has one job lined up on the outside: He’s agreed to help around the office of his Seattle attorney.

“He is smart and organized,” says Browne, who is currently representing accused Russian hacker Roman Seleznev and once defended serial killer Ted Bundy. “We have lots of filing and organization we need help with.”

Harris-Moore says that prison and his mother’s faltering health have taught him to tune out the pessimists.

“It’s funny,” he writes on his funding page, “because people will say you’re nuts or insane or that it’s ‘unrealistic’ to work to save someone’s life with cryonic preservation. And they’ll call you insane right up until the moment you accomplish exactly what you said you would.

“The opinions of uninspired people don’t matter for anything. Just believe in yourself!”

Banks, the Island County prosecutor, looks at it from a different angle.

“Are people so dazzled by fame that they will decide the best charitable use of $200,000 is to freeze a famous criminal’s mother based on an uncertain promise of future reanimation?” he asked. “It’s a crazy world.”

Anderson is a special correspondent.

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