Thursday, March 24, 2011


Dear Patient Readers,

First, thanks to all who responded to my questions about your interest in Colton’s story. I received emails from people of all ages from places around the world. As I suspected, you all had very thoughtful and interesting takes. 

Second, it’s nice to see by the comments that your interest in Colton continues to translate into care about other young people in difficult circumstances. As I’ve said before, that’s been my biggest takeaway from all this.

Okay, book news: I’ve completed the manuscript. Right now it’s a shelf-bender at 600 pages. I’ll try to whittle that down some by the time it gets to the printer. At the same time, though, I’ll be adding pages to it because… The really big news is that my publisher has agreed to push back the pub date of the book until after Colt makes his way through the courts. To me, this is great news and something I’ve been lobbying very hard for. I appreciate Hyperion taking this step for a number of reasons.

Most basically, the book will now have an ending. Colt’s plea deals will, of course, make news, but then quickly disappear. I feel a book on this subject should have a long shelf life, and so it has to tell what happens to him in the justice system. One option was to do the hardcover now then update for the paperback, but I didn't feel that would be fair to the folks who bought the hardcover.

Most worrisome for me, though, was the idea that the book could come out while all the legal wrangling was still going on. Colt hasn’t been convicted of anything since the charges that sent him to Greenhill in 2007. It’s relatively certain that he illegally absconded from the group home in 2008, but who knows… his attorney may try the “alien abduction” defense.

Seriously… Colt has a talented lawyer defending him. The Federal and local prosecutors have the law and all the evidence gathered by numerous county, state, Federal and even international law enforcement on their side. I hope that the negotiations result in fair sentences (at this point it sounds like Colt will face both Federal and Washington State sentencing). There is, of course, still a chance this could end up in a trial or two. I would not want any information in my book to become involved in any Sixth Amendment (impartial jury) issues. It’s been sensibly argued by both sides in previous court proceedings that pre-trial publicity can be prejudicial to both the defendant’s and the People’s cases. Yes, I’ve already written about Colt and some of these events during the last few years, but not in anything like the depth this book goes into.

So, I apologize that the book will be delayed. But at least from my point of view, it’s a good thing and a big relief. It will probably cost some sales, but there are much larger issues at play here.

Colt will be sentenced this spring or summer. I’ll cover that, add it to the manuscript and then Hyperion will release it. The uncertainty of the legal timing means we can’t give a pub date right now. Whenever that is, though, you’ll get the most complete, factually correct book I can give you, one that’s fair to everyone involved in this complex and compelling story.




  1. I'm glad the book is post-poned. It's never good to rush things out. In fact it's sometimes really bad.

  2. I heard a story yesterday about the Broadway show of "Catch Me If You Can" ((shudder)) and was reminded how closely Frank Abagnale's story resembles Colton's.

    I'd forgotten the interesting twist that after his crime spree, Frank Abagnale went on to work for the FBI for 35+ years, confirming the belief that many of us share that even when a clever young man gets into trouble with the law, it is possible for him to turn his life around and use his considerable intelligence in a positive way.

    Let's hope Colton gets the same chance Frank did!

  3. I saw a week or so ago that John Henry Browne seems to be working on a plea deal for Colton that might possibly encompass all the charges--both federal and state(s)--Colt faces. Are you able to tell us any more about that? That same report suggests that Colton is still in solitary confinement; as far as you know, is that still the case and is that still by his own desire? Do you know if he's put anyone on his permitted visitors list and has he actually had any visitors? We haven't heard much lately about how is mother is faring? Is there any news about her activities over the past few months? And what about on Orcas and Camano the Barefoot Bandit still a prime topic of conversation or are your friends and neighbors also on to other things while they wait for reparations? Now that the news cycle has moved on, it's hard to keep up with all things Colton.

    I'm also curious about whether you're able to complete other projects while you're working on the book (and answering all our questions on this blog...). Are you able to write some other things, take some pictures, travel a bit, and so forth?

    Although I'm not looking forward to hearing the length of Colton's prison sentence, I really am excited about reading your book when it becomes available!

  4. Hi Ned,
    A lot of questions there, but as I haven't been posting lately I'll try to hit as many of them as I can.

    The deal that looks about finished will encompass all the charges in all of the US jurisdictions (However, I don't expect the Canadians to try to bring him to trial, and the Bahamians had their shot, so this will cover everything).

    The deal will have Colt plead guilty before both a Federal judge and then a Washington judge in Island County, where Colt is from. I expect the Federal judge to sentence him to ten years and then whatever the Washington sentence is will be served at the same time (legally I believe they have to say he'll get "credit" for the Federal time served instead of saying he's serving concurrent sentences, but it's all the same in the end). The state sentence will fall within that same ten years, and will include potential restitution for victims.

    Colt did stay in solitary for a long time of his own choosing, but went into Seatac's general population a couple of months ago.

    His mom recently called into a local radio show where the hosts were getting together relief supplies for victims of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami. She was calling to tell them that Colt could fly the plane over. She then complained that someone had stolen her "If you go past this sign you will be shot" sign. She was mad about that... I guess it sucks to have stuff stolen from you.

    People here in the islands have tried to move on, though there are echoes of Colt every time someone double checks a lock or turns on their new alarm system. Scratch one more place off the short list of communities where people feel safe enough to leave their doors unlocked. Two of the Orcas restaurants that were hit during all this have gone out of business, including Vern's, the one you've seen on the TV shows where the flight manual was ordered and the uninsured cash taken out of the safe. It's been a tough winter for all the island businesses, and we've also lost several others.

    The sentencings will be a big topic here, and it will be interesting to see the local response. I know there will be some who feel it is too harsh while others will think it's too lenient.

    What do you folks think?

    Regarding me and other projects: No, I haven't been able to work on anything else in about a year. For someone who has spent his entire career constantly traveling, it's been quite a change. This story is so fascinating from so many angles, though, that it's been more than enough, and it continues to take up all of my time with editing it down, trying to save a few trees and reader's arm muscles. Once the plea is final and I write the last chapters, then I'll be back on the "street," finding a publisher for my next book and doing something adventurous for Outside Magazine. I will keep the blog alive, though, as this is something that's become much more than just another story to me.

  5. I don't want to monopolize your blog, but since you asked...(and apparently I have to do this in two parts)

    I have mixed feelings about Colt getting a ten-year prison sentence. First of all, is there a chance the he might have an opportunity to be paroled well before the ten years are up? Second, it's good that the federal and state charges will likely not be served consecutively; that could make for a very long ten years...and then some.

    If Colton did, indeed pull off all or most of the crimes we've heard attributed to him, then he did hurt a lot of people--people who, at the very least, deserve some satisfaction from the outcome of this whole ordeal. If Colt were to walk, his victims would be justifiably angry. They also deserve to be made as 'whole' as possible. As you noted, your neighbors on the islands won't likely ever again feel comfortable leaving doors unlocked but if there's some way to recover some of the financial losses, that would be a start. Unfortunately it sounds like it's too late for some of the small businesses in the San Juans. It may not be entirely Colts' fault (the economy has to take some of the blame) but it's really sad.

    Still, I don't like the idea of someone as intelligent as Colton, someone who seems to have at least some conscience (albeit a wacked out one), someone who seems to have many real and useful talents as he does, wasting the next ten years sitting in a jail cell at our expense. If he's a 'redeemable' guy, then I think it would be worth trying to repair what's wrong with him and really develop his talents and skills. Can that happen in a prison? I don't have the experience to know.

  6. Specifically, I think it would be good for Colton to meet regularly with a counselor or several. Ideally, that should be happening already. The counselors have to get to know him, to really understand him, and then need to assess Colt's ability to live within our society's rules. If they decide he can't ever do that, then maybe he's better off in prison.

    But if--as most of us who frequent this blog seem to hope--the experts feel Colton can reshape himself to be a responsible and productive member of society, then that process should start immediately. Work with him on anger management, self-control, focus, impulsivity, patience. Provide him with therapy to get beyond his past, to build self-esteem, to help him recognize his talents, to develop what does appear to be a glimmer of compassion already within him. Push him to complete his formal education, to hone his skills (he seems to have the survival ones covered but there are plenty of others), to learn to manage his time, to set goals and reach them...legally. Then, slowly acclimate him to the life that most of us know but he's never lived--a responsible, productive, and happy life. And while we're at it, let's do this for all the other inmates with promise in FDC SeaTac and every other prison we run.

    Colton's recovery needs to start now. He's not a little kid anymore. If he serves a full ten years, he'll be a 30-year-old man when he gets out. From my experience working with young people (I do it for a living in a public high school). I think it's entirely possible that Colton is reaching an age right now where he might be able to better understand how to make good choices. He might be able now to control himself better than he could when he started getting into trouble nearly ten years ago. But he will certainly need serious assistance--and probably lots of it--to turn his life around. If he doesn't get that help now, and he spends the next ten years locked up and being guided by his fellow inmates, he's likely to end up a bitter and hardened soul with little hope for the future.

    I've gone on way too long. I'll stop before, I too, reach 600 pages. But I do have a couple more practical questions. Do you hear anything about whether Colton likes getting mail from those of us who care about him even though he has no idea who we are? In other words, if we continue to write to him, will he appreciate it or does it make him feel uncomfortable? Also, as far as you know, are his legal fees being taken care of somehow? Finally, do you know of anything we can do to help his (alleged) victims?

    Oh yeah, and should we take up a collection to buy his mom a new sign?

  7. Hi Ned,

    Good points. I think many people feel the ambivalence in this saga, empathizing both with the victims and with Colton's long, troubled path.

    I didn't mean to imply that the burglaries directly put those folks out of business. They didn't help, though, especially in one case. The point is that almost all of the businesses in these communities operate on a very thin margin. The victims were not -- as I keep seeing them referred -- "all rich people."

    There's still wrangling going on over the sentencing, and some of the technical details will make a big difference in how many years Colton actually spends behind bars. We'll know pretty soon what the details are.

    Redemption... rehabilitation... Our adult prisons are first and foremost (some would argue "only") a punishment system, meant to keep lawbreakers out of the community. The great societal issue for those who think it through, though, is "Who do you want coming out of that prison and back to your community?" The adult prisons do offer some educational, vocational and mental health programs, but it's up to the inmates to apply themselves.

    Colton has goals, skills and some smarts, and ultimately it's going to be up to him as to the man he is when he walks out at the end of whatever sentence he receives.

  8. Hi Ned,

    From the questions in your second post: I'm sorry I can't say about the mail. I haven't heard of anyone he didn't know from before all of this happened getting a response back to their letters. I would hope that he'd appreciate words of encouragement, but can't say for sure.

    I did ask John Henry Browne even before Colton was captured whether he was going to take the case pro bono, but he told me the fee details are private, between him and his client.

    As for the victims... I don't know of anyone who is in dire need of donations, but if you make it out to Orcas Island, definitely go to Homegrown Grocery and buy some of the organic blueberry cheesecake that Colt enjoyed so much. That'd be a delicious way to help them recoup. (I even had one as my birthday cake last year.) Also stop in Orcas Island Hardware (the Ace), and Bilbo's restaurant, Turtleback Farm Inn, The Inn on Orcas Island, Deer Harbor Inn, Island Market... You could actually come to the island for an entire vacation just using businesses that were burglarized during the spree.

  9. Hello, Bob -

    Regarding Ned's inquiry about writing to Colton, will the prison even allow him to receive mail from anyone who isn't a family member or his lawyer?

    Maybe the reason people haven't received a response from Colton is because the prison hasn't given him their letters. Whenever you have time, could you look into this?

    Also, the prison limits inmates to about 5 first-class stamps per month, and they usually don't have access to e-mail, either; that really limits their ability to respond to concerned people.


  10. Hi Beth,

    Yes, Colton gets his mail from people other than family members as long as it's sent according to prison regulations, which I've detailed previously. Basically you're safest if you simply send a letter without putting anything else into the envelope. He also gets books as long as they're sent by a publisher or bookstore.