Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Little Better News for the Barefoot Bandit. Plus: Big Discounts for You in the Freezer Section!

Colton Harris-Moore, retired airplane pirate and future serial entrepreneur, is continuing his quest to raise the cash necessary to cryogenically preserve his dying mother, Pam Kohler. Donations so far total only $2,115, but the good news is that Colton has managed to reduce the amount needed for the procedure from $308,000 to only $230,000 by recalculating fundraising costs and obtaining a membership for her in Alcor’s frequent freezer program.

Yes, of course, that last bit’s a joke. But it’s to make the point that this whole thing is not a joke.

Alcor is a real company that along with other cryonics organizations already have more than a thousand people (some just their heads, others full-body) held in industrial tanks “frozen” into a hopefully suspended animation (the animation and re-animation are the tricky parts). And Alcor does indeed have a membership program that offers a discounted rate for treatment, and Colton tells me that Pam is now a card-carrying member.

I just got off the phone with Colton and he said how hard it is to get people to take this idea seriously. He knows it’s out there on the edge of experimental science, but he has full faith in technology advances and thinks the rest of us should too.

Colton now has such confidence and belief in cryonics that he says he’s going to form his own company when he gets out of prison. So, like the bennies early investors get in other crowdfunding plans, Colton is offering the full freeze treatment at his future cryonics company to anyone who donates at least $25 at SAVEPAMK That’s a savings of at least… well, it’s basically free compared to what established companies are charging. I think Colton may have priced this perk a little low, but maybe he plans to make it up in volume. For anyone thinking of donating, it’s about the cheapest out-there immortality insurance around, and much better than that name-a-star BS.

Part of the problem with cryonics is the image it has of a mad scientist reaching into a Frigidaire to dig out a can of Red Bull from between the frozen heads of his patients. (And if it didn’t have that image, it does now). The process, though, is a lot more involved than just tossing someone in a bait freezer. As Colton has several media interviews lined up in the coming days, I suggested he might explain a bit more about cryonics and how the bodies are actually vitrified—turned into glass—using cryoprotectants to freeze them without turning them to ice, which damages cells. But that probably doesn’t sound any less sci-fi and instead probably invokes the freeze ray scene from Rocky Horror.


So Colton has a very tough hill to climb with this effort. He knows that, but he’s still giving it his all. And regardless if this is a case of unresolved issues between them or just simply a son’s love for his mother, I respect his extraordinary effort and I’m impressed with his focus and management abilities.

I recently released an updated ebook version of The Barefoot Bandit in which I talk about how Colton and I finally connected a couple of years ago and whether the outlaw Colt that I came to know from living through his crime spree here on Orcas Island, tracking him all the way from the Pacific Northwest to the Bahamas, and doing all the research on his childhood, was very different from the Colton Harris Moore I now know as a friend. Spoiler alert: they’re not very different, other than the outlaw part. And that’s a good thing. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

BAD NEWS FOR THE BAREFOOT BANDIT

Colton Harris-Moore has been in custody since July 11, 2010, when Bahamian police captured him after shooting out the engines on his getaway boat during a nighttime chase. In those 69 months, Colton has seen his mother, Pam Kohler, only twice, once in a courtroom and once for a short prison visit.

It’s no secret that mother and son have had an often turbulent relationship. The dingy trailer they shared on Camano Island was the center of many wild storms while Colton was growing up. But both Pam and Colton have told me that there were also good times at their little spot amid the tall cedar and fir trees. They especially bonded over their shared love of animals and the outdoors. They raised chickens and pigs, and always had a dog for Colton to buddy around with. Pam cooked out for them on what she calls her “barbeque’r” every chance she got and took Colton camping as often as possible, teaching him the skills he’d need to survive on his own in the woods.

Despite their troubles and Pam’s personal struggles, Colton has always said he still loves his mom. His plans for as soon as he got out of prison included starting work so he could pay to level that old trailer and build Pam a little log cabin in its place.

Pam’s health hasn’t been great for a long time, and Colton became increasingly concerned about some breathing issues she had late last year. Knowing his mom isn’t the most cooperative of patients, Colton begged Pam to see a doctor, and finally resorted to bribing her with ice cream deliveries if she'd agree to the tests needed to get a diagnosis.

It wasn’t good. Colton’s mom has stage IV lung cancer—NSCLC for those who know about these things.

Those who’ve been reading Colton’s blog (Tidalsocata) know that he and I have been in frequent contact for the last 18 months. (I’ll write more about that in a later post) I’ve been very impressed by how Colton took charge of Pam’s care: arranging her transportation and new housing, and dealing with all the doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies as he sought the best treatments and therapies. He’s doing all of this while still holed up in Stafford Creek Correctional Center and limited to the exasperating prison phone and email systems. He has zero access to the internet and relies on friends to do any research he needs.

Colton’s prison term is over at the beginning of next year, but he’s eligible for a work-release program at the end of this July. On work-release, he’d overnight in a halfway house but be allowed to leave each day to go to work (he’s received multiple job offers). Colton says the best part of early release would be that he’d be better able to take care of his mom. Unfortunately, though, it looks like July will be too late.

Recently, the docs told Colton to give up, that Pam’s case is terminal. She missed her shot at a clinical trial, and now they say she and Colton should just get ready for her to pass within a couple of months.

So for those of you who know his story, what would you expect Colton to do next? Certainly not give up, even when it comes to death.

Colton is now raising money to get Pam treated at Alcor Life Extension Foundation (Alcor.org). And this is where truth meets science fiction, as Alcor specializes in cryonics: the process of vitrifying people at low temperature as soon as they die in the hopes that they can be reanimated sometime in the future.

Yes, insert Walt Disney frozen head joke here. By coincidence, though, I’ve been researching cryonics for a project I’m working on, and while definitely on the exploratory edge of medical science it’s nonetheless very intriguing. If you have faith in the continual leaps in technology we’ve seen in the last 30 years, and see how fast nanotech is advancing… then why not?

I can imagine 100 years from now an army of nanobots marching through my long-frozen skull repairing all the damage and stringing the synapses back up while my fresh new 20-year-old cloned body waits soaking in a saline bath on the other side of the lab. Or maybe it’ll take 200 years… how long won’t matter to those frozen inside the metal tubes.

So beyond the ethical questions of cryonics, beyond even the debate over its eventual viability, lies the reality of a son doing everything he can to help his mother in the hopes that at some point in the future they can revive their relationship.

Colton is raising money at this GoFundMe site: Save PamK


Bob

Monday, April 11, 2016

SKULLDUGGERY


It occurred to me that I might want to explain the macabre change in my blog background. 

No, I haven’t gone Goth (again), and it wasn’t because we’ve just emerged from the rainiest, gloomiest Northwest winter in recorded history (a new puppy in the house tends to keep you too busy for the blues).

The original background image for Outlaws & Outcasts was simply the Wild Westiest stock wallpaper they had on blogger. I’ve always wanted to personalize it. But how? I decided, at least for the moment, to change it to an image that fits what I'm currently working on. I took the shot of the skull inside Actun Tunichil Muknal, a spectacular cave in Belize that I’ve explored multiple times over the last 16 years.

Same cave, different victim. Photo by Bob Friel
The skull belongs to a victim (or honoree, depending on your point of view) of human sacrifice. Maya priests led its owner into the cave, which they considered the entrance to Xilbalba, the “Place of Fear,” dwelling place of the Death Gods as well as the Rain God, Chac. More than a mile deep inside the cave, they carried out the ritual killing to appease the higher ups of the underworld.

Actun Tunichil Muknal was an active sacrificial site circa AD 250-900, the Maya Classic Period, with a lot of that activity in the latter years when a drought hit Central America and the Maya were desperately trying to persuade Chac to make it rain.

The skull, human sacrifice, and related Maya traditions (among many other cultures’ traditions) are related to a project I have in the works, so I felt it fitting to plaster my page with a momento mori. I hope to be able to announce something about the project here later this year.

As the skull might counsel: East, Drink, and Be Merry.

Bob

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

HIGHWAY OF TEARS UPDATE



After years of a whole lot of nothing happening to improve conditions along a deadly stretch of Canada’s Yellowhead Highway, aka “16,” and notoriously known as The Highway of Tears, it looks like there’s finally some governmental action.

Depending on whose figures you go with—the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the First Nations’ officials and activists—there have been between 18 and 100-or-so women and girls gone missing or found dead along the 450-mile length of Highway 16 between Prince George and its western terminus at Prince Rupert.

(For full background on the chilling story and the factors that make this lonely road through British Columbia so dangerous, see my Outside magazine piece The Vanishing )

Multiple Canadian inquiries about the disappearances going back more than three years have come up with obvious common-sense solutions to mitigate some of the most important risk factors for women traveling the highway, especially financially strapped First Nations women without their own means of transportation. Now, finally, after the recent change of Canadian federal government and an email scandal related to the issue in the BC Transportation Ministry, comes concrete action in the form of a few Loonies (Canadian dollars) earmarked for the Highway 16 improvements.

Women forced to hitchhike along the highway to get to jobs, visit relatives, collect government checks or just go anywhere have always had among the highest risk of abduction. The lack of convenient, affordable public transport for the economically struggling First Nations people of Northern BC was the glaring problem with the simplest solution. Not that simple means easy. It’s a long highway, and a couple big buses running the road each day wouldn’t solve the problem for people who live in such small, scattered communities.  

What’s needed is a tribal transportation system where each of the settlements could have access to its own vans or buses in addition to better access to the province’s regular bus system, BC Transit. And that’s what’s finally happening.

According the CBC, of the $3 million (CAD) that will be spent on a new Highway 16 safety program, about half will go to “extend and enhance” BC Transit so it can better serve these communities. More importantly, $900,000 will be spent over three years to buy vans and to train drivers for provide transport for the most remote First Nations settlements.

Another $500,000 will go toward installing transit shelters and webcams along the highway.


For those following the story of 20-year-old Madison Scott’s tragic disappearance covered in The Vanishing, unfortunately there have been no promising leads. Family, friends, and members of her community in Vanderhoof, BC, continue to search and to hope.           

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Latest Barefoot Bandit / Colton Harris-Moore “News”

Long time no write! 

I didn’t want to comment on the latest spate of news stories about Colton and 20th Century Fox, but since almost all of them have factual errors, I figured I’d let you guys know the real story.

First, as anyone who read the book knows, Colton took five planes, not three. And way more than one boat. Not that it’s likely something he’d want to brag on, but let’s keep the record straight.

The first story that appeared in a Seattle paper also stated that Colton was already out of prison and in a halfway house. That is not true. It said he’ll be a free man in March. Not true.

Colton continues to serve his sentence in a Washington State prison. He’s doing as well as can be expected in there, he’s working on a series of productive projects, studying a lot, and looking forward to his future.

The main thrust of the recent articles makes it sound like 20th Century Fox suddenly rushed in to pay Colton’s restitution in return for his movie rights. Not exactly true.

During negotiations of Colton’s plea deals and sentencing back in 2011/early 2012, Fox offered to option his life rights for a movie they planned to make based on my book, which they had already optioned. Colton, who said he’d prefer no movies or books or anything else about him would ever get released, agreed to the Fox deal but only on the condition that the amount they offered was enough to repay all his victims.

No matter what happened, Colton was going to be ordered to repay the victims. Under normal circumstances, that means a convicted criminal serves out his prison term, gets out, hopefully finds some kind of job, and begins making small payments until he covers what’s due. In the case of Colton’s victims, that would have meant waiting at least five years to start seeing any money at all and, unless he got out and found a high-paying job right away, they might not have been fully paid off for another dozen or more years.  

But if he signed with Fox, Colton could start repaying his debt immediately. Fox agreed to the amount, and the federal attorneys drew up a lengthy plea deal that unequivocally states that Colton can never personally profit from anything related to his notoriety as the Barefoot Bandit. He also cannot try to skirt the deal and help, say, a member of his family profit from it. The agreement states that any money collected via deals like the one with Fox would all go to pay restitution. Any money ever collected above and beyond the approximately $1.2 million he owed would go to the government. This deal, as written, follows Colton for the rest of his life.  

Once the plea deal was signed and Colton sentenced, Fox began making option payments—smaller payments that pay down the balance and keep the contract alive—every 18 months. So, his victims started receiving restitution three years ago.

This latest news is because someone leaked the info that Fox had decided to pay off the full balance of their contract with Colton. I don’t know the exact figures, but based on typical option percentages it’s probably a lump between $800,000 and $960,000. Whatever the number is, Fox paid that to the government and it will now be distributed to the victims.

Also, as I reported here some time ago, the judge’s order states that private victims would be paid back before insurance companies. Colton has repeatedly stated his remorse, particularly for the private victims and mom-and-pop shops he stole from here on Orcas Island.

So dem’s the facts. As usual there is the online debate in the comments sections after the stories. Even with the erroneous facts in the recent pieces, the reporters have all still clearly said the money goes to the victims. That hasn’t stopped some commenters from either decrying or cheering that Colton is getting paid. (Yes, the money is paying off Colton’s debts so it does benefit him, but they’re writing as if he’s pocketing the cash). 

The dumbest comment I’ve read online regarding this whole thing came from someone complaining that the US Marshals were being paid off before other victims. Uh, the US Marshals receive the money, yes, but that’s in order to pay it out to the victims.

So the other questions: What does this all mean for the movie? Do we finally know which heartthrob will play Colton? Will Bill Murray agree to play me? Will they ever find a dog cool enough to play Murphy? Will Hollywood make a few minor changes in the story to make it more bankable, such as moving all the action to a South Pacific island where Colton, now a Chinese violin prodigy, will steal submarines instead of airplanes in order to foil a band of international terrorists bent on financing their nefarious deeds by poaching Russian sturgeon and smuggling the caviar into the Middle East?

Um… I don’t know. This is all being held pretty close to the vest down in LA. The Fox payoff could be read as a positive sign that the movie is moving forward. On the other hand, every month or so there’s a movie released based on a true story that happened 10, 50 or 100 years ago (or in the case of the upcoming Heart of the Sea, the event happened almost 200 years ago and the latest book about it, on which the movie is based, came out 15 years ago!).

Unless the story is about someone fighting crime or aliens while wearing ballerina tights, Hollywood seems in no rush to get it to the screen.  
  



    

Friday, September 12, 2014

SERIAL KILLER LEGEBOKOFF FOUND GUILTY

After three months of trial; 93 witnesses for the prosecution; and three hours of chilling, remorseless testimony in his own defense that only succeeded in damning him as a heartless psychopath, Cody Alan Legebokoff has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of Loren Leslie, Jill Stuchenko, Cynthia Maas and Natasha Montgomery.

He is officially Canada's youngest serial killer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

HIGHWAY OF TEARS SERIAL KILLER UPDATE


The trial of the young Canadian psychopath I first wrote about in my Highway of Tears story for Outside Magazine’s TheVanishing and for CBS 48 Hours, is finally over. 

It’s been a bizarre, creepy and at times horrifying event that began with Cody Legebokoff, 24, showing up in court looking like a corn-fed version of Walter White from Breaking Bad, complete with shaved head and a chinstrapped goatee—strange choice for someone pleading not guilty. 

In a strange twist at the very end of the trial, Legebokoff, who was charged with four counts of first-degree murder, tried to end run the system and plead guilty to second-degree murder.

However, the crown prosecutor didn’t accept the plea, and with good reason. By Legebokoff’s own admission, he was present and involved in the murders of all three women from Prince George, as well as a legally blind 15-year old whose family came from the same small BC town his did. 

(To clarify: None of these victims were on the official Highway of Tears list, though the teenager, Loren Leslie, probably would have been if Legebokoff hadn't been immediately tied to the crime and subsequently cleared of other Tears murders. I've followed this case because Legebokoff was caught while I was working the Highway of Tears story and because these murders all happened in towns I visited along the infamous Highway 16.) 

For his defense, Legebokoff—who was 19 at the time of the first murder—took the stand and in stilted, barely literate, and cold-hearted testimony described each of the murders.

He told the jury that the three Prince George women—Jill Stuchenko, 35, Cynthia Maas, 35, and 23-year old Natasha Montgomery—were all drug users deep in debt to their dealers. He claimed it was their dealer (who he identified only as “X” because he definitely didn’t want to be known as a “rat”) who actually killed them. 

All Legebokoff said he was responsible for was letting X, along with his friends, Y and Z, kill the women in his apartment. Oh, and he provided and handed them the murder weapons, which included a picaroon—a wicked-looking logging tool that would be right at home on a Medieval battlefield. And, of course, Legebokoff also said he watched throats get slit, heads get bashed, and lots of blood get spilled on his couch and splattered on his walls. And he did nothing to stop it, because, you know, he's a party guy. 

The Crown prosecutors rebutted his version with blood spatter and other physical evidence that was inconsistent with Legebokoff’s tale, as well as all the inconsistencies and obvious lies he’d fed to police investigators from the start.     

Legebokoff’s own attorneys told the jurors that they didn’t expect them to believe every word of their client’s testimony.

The creepiest and most cold-blooded part of Legebokoff’s testimony detailed the death of the teenager, Loren Leslie. As her father, Doug, told me, Loren was a sensitive, talented, over-trusting 10th grader who never let her vision problems slow her down. She even studied martial arts, though that wouldn’t have helped this small, nearly blind young girl fight back against the 6’2” 220-pound former hockey player when they were parked on an abandoned logging road way out in the sticks on a pitch black, snowy night.

Though their grandparents grew up together, Legebokoff found Loren while trolling social media looking for sex. He pressed her to meet in person, though their text messages showed she explicitly wasn’t interested in anything “sexual.”

On a frigid northern BC Saturday night, November 27, 2010, a young mountie named Aaron Kehler saw a black pickup come skidding out of the woods near the town of Vanderhoof. As the truck sped down the road, constable Kehler lit it up and pulled it over. When he got a look at the driver, he knew something was wrong. It was only good timing and good police instincts that led to Legebokoff’s capture near the scene of Loren’s slaying. 

Kehler testified that Legebokoff, then 20, had blood on his face and legs, and that there was a pool of blood in the truck. Legebokoff began flinging bullshit, first saying he and a friend had been poaching deer, and volunteering the disturbing fun fact that after his friend had shot the deer, Cody finished it off by repeatedly whacking the injured animal with a pipe.

While detaining Legebokoff in his car, the mountie called in a wildlife officer to hike up the logging road and check for the deer. He obviously sensed there was something way off about the kid’s story—and way off about the kid—because he also told the wildlife officer to be prepared to find something much worse than a dead deer. Up the road, he found Loren Leslie, bludgeoned and slashed to death, and with her pants around her ankles.

Caught literally red-handed, Legebokoff then tried hitting the cops with a whole stockyard of bullshit. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, when I was whacking the deer, I happened to find a dead girl up there on the skid road. I grabbed her monkey backpack and her phone, then I touched her, which got some of her blood on me. 

Legebokoff said he didn’t know Loren… then he did. But no way did he have sex with her… then he did, twice. But absolutely no way did he kill her! In fact, he said, she killed herself, probably because she wasn’t happy about having had sex with him, but mainly, he said, because she was crazy.

No matter that forensics showed the great number of blows and stabs Loren suffered before she died, a couple of days after his arrest, Legebokoff told investigators: “The bitch went fucking psycho” and starting hitting herself and stabbing her own throat. 

He said that after she attacked herself, instead of trying to help, he stood there for several minutes and watched her die.

During the trial, a woman who says she was Legebokoff’s girlfriend at the time testified that he told her Loren had beaten and stabbed herself, but that he had “put her out of her misery” by smashing her skull a couple of times with a pipe wrench.

Right now, the Legebokoff jury is deliberating. If they determine that he planned any of the murders, or committed them in relation to a sexual assault, he’ll be found guilty of first-degree murder. They can also find him guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter for each of the charges. 

Of course they could also find him not guilty, but that’s not going to happen, especially with this animal whose main priority seems to be that he not be known of as a rat.

That would be an insult to rats.