To his devoted fans, Colton Harris-Moore was "the right criminal at the right time." To his victims, public support for the so-called "Barefoot Bandit" points to the sorry state of the country.
To the executives at 20th Century Fox, however, the "Barefoot Bandit" story is a likely gold mine, evident by the eye-popping $1.3 million movie deal the company inked with Mr. Harris-Moore on Wednesday to tell the story of his audacious criminal exploits.
Akin to the story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenage counterfeiter who successfully posed as a Pan Am pilot – the real-life inspiration for the hit movie "Catch Me If You Can" – the Barefoot Bandit tale captures the peculiar appeal of outlaws in American culture. Cheered by some as a modern-day Huck Finn, Harris-Moore gained fans as a backwoods individualist who found adventure and freedom through bilking the rich with a wink in his eye.
Caught after a two-year crime spree that ranged from the Pacific Northwest to the Bahamas and involved the theft of five planes, several boats, dozens of cars, and the burglary of over 100 homes, Harris-Moore has agreed to hand over the proceeds from the movie deal to pay the bulk of the $1.4 million restitution he still owes his victims.
"I am humbled to know I can now help the people I hurt, at least for the financial damage I caused them," Harris-Moore said in a statement. "I have absolutely zero interest in profiting from any of this and I won't make a dime off it. It all goes to restitution. That's what I insisted on from the beginning, and the contract I signed guarantees it."
While the movie deal means restitution is now ensured, some worry about further glorifying the life of someone they see as a troubled, deviant individual. “He’s certainly not my hero," Sheriff Mark Brown of Washington's Island County, where Harris-Moore grew up, told a local TV station last year.
"A lot of people are rooting for him on some level – the fact that he's escaping from the normal humdrum of life and looks for adventure and excitement and gets his own sense of power out of it," says Leo Barrille, a sociologist at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. The problem, he adds, is "that there certainly will be people who might emulate him, especially if there's a movie. Some people are going to say this [movie deal] sets a bad precedent."
Harris-Moore began living part-time in the woods of Camano Island, 30 miles north of Seattle, before he became a teenager. Under the tutelage of another budding child criminal on the island, Harley Davidson Ironwing, Harris-Moore turned to petty thefts, which turned increasingly more audacious as his run-ins with police increased.
On April 29, 2008, he disappeared out the window of a Washington state halfway house for teens and began an elaborate string of thefts, including stealing five airplanes over a two-year period after teaching himself how to fly from a book he bought on the Internet with a stolen credit card.
He committed some crimes in his bare feet, which earned him his moniker. Computer-savvy and aware of his growing following as the manhunt intensified, Harris-Moore at one point taunted police by drawing chalk outlines of bare feet at one of his crime scenes.
He also mixed his experience as a survivalist with modern-day teenage sensibilities. He once ordered a pizza to be delivered to the edge of the woods where he was staying. In the most iconic picture of Harris-Moore, a self-portrait taken as he's laying down on a forest floor, he's wearing a polo shirt with a Mercedes-Benz emblem.
He was captured after a brief boat chase in the Bahamas on July 11, 2010.
“He’s not a common criminal," Zack Sestak, who runs the Colton Harris-Moore Fan Club, told Maxim magainze last year. "He’s an extraordinary criminal.”