Wednesday, December 16, 2015


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


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


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.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Just got a note from our friends helping man's best friends down in Raymond, Washington. Ebay said they had to rejigger the auction of a framed collection of Colton Harris-Moore's donation to Vetter's Animal Hospital along with the police lab reports, etc, so it complies with their charity designation.

You'll still find it under the mobster memorabilia, but for some reason, because they refiled it all the previous bids were wiped away. So, if you bid... rebid. If you didn't, here's your chance for a deal because the basement bid is less than half price what it reached when I checked on Saturday.

Remember that all proceeds go to help the pups and kitties. You can find the offer here: Colton's Vet Note

Saturday, March 8, 2014


We’ve had plaster casts of bare footprints left after a chase on Orcas Island. We’ve had his mom trying to sell a confidential list of crime victims eligible for restitution. We’ve even had former prison mates of Colton’s selling letters written to him by his mom…

The latest offering of Colton Harris-Memorabilia, however, is something different: It’s of proven, police-sworn provenance showing that it’s legit; it’s famously tied to his spree and was covered in every newspaper, book, and TV story; and the money earned from its sale is going to a great cause.

This new framed collection of Barefoot Bandit souvenirs is now up on Ebay, listed under “Historical Memorabilia/Gangsters & Criminals.” 

You can see it here: .

Inside the frame you’ll find the $100 Colton left at the Vetter Animal Hospital in Raymond, Washington once he left Orcas Island and began his cross-country road trip that ended with the flight to the Bahamas on the 4th of July.

It was universally reported at the time that Colton left a $100 bill, but we discover that no, it was a collection of bills including $20s, $10s, $5s, $1s and even three $2s. Along with the fanned bills are the police report, evidence bag, and the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab report stating they recovered Harris-Moore’s fingerprints on one of the bills and on the famous note that read:

“Drove by, had some extra cash. Please use this money for the care of animals”

The original note was written on a page torn from the owner’s manual of a car Colton had stolen. So that was returned to its owner. The frame does, however, include a copy of the note.

The bids have already topped $1,000. According to Vetter’s, all proceeds of the sale will benefit the Harbor Association of Volunteers of Animals, which is an animal welfare group in Raymond involved with only no-kill shelters.

One of the coolest and most valuable things about this piece of history is that it speaks directly to one of the most interesting discussions about Colton and some of his actions, our reactions to it all, and fame—including both the seeking and reverence of it.

Colton always professed a love of animals and an interest in animal welfare, so it’s certainly in character that he would leave a donation with an animal hospital. Some folks, however, might wonder where he got the cash to make the donation.

That then leads to the Robin Hood debate: that he stole from the rich to give to the poor dogs. When I talk about this in my book, though, I have to remind readers that many of the crime victims were not rich, and most of what he stole (during the time after he fled the halfway house) went to support himself while he was on the run. Still, he made the gesture… And around we go.

What’s even more interesting about this episode, though, is that Colton repeatedly insisted during and after his run that he didn’t want the attention, that he didn’t understand why people were making a bid deal over him, about how silly the people following on his Facebook groups were. And, of course, how he hatred the press who covered him, all of whom he called “paparazzi.”

So why then instead of leaving the money anonymously—since, after all, anything he did during these months made the news—did he sign the note he left at Vetter’s:

“Colton Harris-Moore (AKA “The Barefoot Bandit” Camano Island)”?

That, to me, makes this the coolest piece of Barefoot Bandit memorabilia we’ve seen. Hang it up and start the debate: Was Colton a hypocrite? Just naive? Or was he brilliant enough to realize that he could multiply his donation to the animals more than tenfold by signing it with his real name then becoming more famous by stealing another plane, getting arrested after a shootout in the Bahamas and going to prison, knowing all along that the evidence would be returned to the animal hospital so they could auction it off?

It's the ultimate conversation piece--and it's a hell of a lot easier to display in your living room than a broken airplane. 

And to top it off, the money goes to a great cause! 

I hope the bids go sky high. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


A Spirit Bear, or kermode, hunts salmon in a rainforest stream. Photo: Bob Friel

While I've been off the outlaw (and outcast) trail for a little while to work on a couple upcoming projects, I've also been able to get back to one of my first passions: wildlife and adventure photography. Along with my life-long fascination with sharks and whales, I dig lions and tigers and bears... and jaguars, leopards and cheetahs.

On the newsstand this week is the March issue of ISLANDS magazine, and in their cruise roundup is a short feature I wrote about a sailing adventure I took through British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest.

We boarded Emerald Isle's ketch Nawalak in Ketchikan, Alaska, and cruised south into the last great temperate rainforest. The Great Bear is named for a rare variant of the black bear called the kermode, whose fur is a creamy white with tawny touches. Local First Nations tribes revere it as the Spirit Bear.

Along with the ghostly white bears, we had close encounters with "regular" black bears and their awesome cousins the grizzlies as well as rainforest wolves, humpback whales, eagles, porpoise, spawning salmon, and some of the most amazing scenery I've experienced.

While the ISLANDS story only had space for one or two pictures from the trip (I haven't seen the issue yet), I've created a slideshow of more images at my photo site: Great Bear Rainforest