Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Just received this from my publisher in time for the first gifting season since The Barefoot Bandit was released, making it a cheap ($3 eBook and $10 hardcover!) stocking stuffer for the readers on your list:

We wanted to let you know that Hyperion has lowered the price of several of our key backlist ebook titles, including THE BAREFOOT BANDIT, for the holidays. These ebooks are available at a temporary low price (most are $2.99 or below, depending on the e-tailer) from now through 1/8.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


British Columbia's tragic tale of missing and murdered women along its "Highway of Tears" is getting its highest profile attention this Saturday when CBS 48 Hours airs a full hour on the story.

I've been working with the CBS team on this ever since my article on the highway, The Vanishing, appeared in Outside Magazine last summer. It's a tough topic with a lot of sadness and anger, especially since none of the cases had been solved, leading to a lot of frustration among the victims' families and their communities.

Remarkably, during the filming of the show there was a huge break in the case. It doesn't solve everything, but it's a big step and offers a lot of hope to the many families still waiting for answers.

Here's a sneak peek at the beginning of the show, which will air on CBS this Saturday, November 17, at 10 PM.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Major Success in Highway of Tears Serial Killer Case

Bobby Jack Fowler circa 1972

Good police work by the persistent Mounties in the Vancouver forensics lab resulted in the oldest DNA offender hit in INTERPOL history and the solving of a terrible crime that happened nearly 40 years ago.

According to RCMP Inspector Gary Shinkaruk who heads the Special Projects Unit in Northern British Columbia, in July of 2007, technicians were able to sequence DNA from evidence found with the body of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen who’d been murdered and dumped on a logging road back in 1974.

The results, though, didn’t match any of the DNA profiles in the Canadian databases. Early this year, they decided to try again, this time using a more advanced sequencing technology that allowed them to run the profile with INTERPOL (the international organization which connects police forces from 190 countries, allowing them to cooperate on investigations). Interpol, in turn, ran the profile with the FBI’s CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), which connects samples from federal, state and local US police forces. And that’s when bells started ringing.

Down in Oregon, they had the DNA profile of a monster named Bobby Jack Fowler. Fowler was a rapist, kidnapper, arsonist, alcoholic bar-brawler, and all-around asshole who drifted from state to state and up into Canada working as a roofer and at other blue collar jobs. He was serving time in an Oregon prison for rape and kidnapping when, in 2006, lung cancer cheated the lethal-injection needle Fowler might have gotten if Oregon prosecutors could nail him for as many as seven murders – including four teenage girls –they now believe he committed.

Fowler’s history of violent sexual attacks, his MO of hunting female hitchhikers (all four of the Oregon girls were taken from roadsides), and his timeline that puts him in Canada in the 1970s – and of course now the evidence that he killed 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen – has the RCMP’s E-Pana Unit looking at him as the lead suspect in at least two more of their Highway of Tears cases – and there are another seven where he hasn’t yet been ruled out as the killer.

The two cases they believe show strong links to Fowler are the murders of Pamela Darlington and Gale Weys, both 19 years old when they were last seen hitchhiking along one of BC’s desolate, rural highways. In November 1973, Darlington was beaten to death and later found at a park near Thompson River, partially clothed with bite marks on her body. At the time, a train crew passing through Kamloops noticed a man in a 1950s Chrysler driving suspiciously, trying to race the train to first one then another crossing. Fowler, police say, is known to have preferred old cars, beaters, that sources report he drove until they died.

Gale Weys was last seen at 9:30PM on an October night in 1973 when she left her job at a service station and walked out to the road to hitchhike home to her parents’ house in Kamloops, BC. Her nude, decomposed body wasn’t found until a year later.

Fowler was arrested in 1995 when he beat a woman and attempted to tie her up after telling her that he knew women liked to get raped. She escaped by jumping naked from a motel room’s second story window. Fowler died in jail at age 66 while serving time for those charges.

With two 19-year-old girls taken within a month in 1973... then Colleen MacMillen murdered less than a year later... And four Oregon teenagers in the 1990s… These crimes could just be the beginning of the horrific story of Bobby Jack Fowler.  

Seeing as serial killers are usually at their most prolific during their 20s and 30s, and Oregon investigators convinced that this sadistic psychopath was still murdering girls in his mid-50s, you have to assume that there are an awful number of cold cases going back to at least 1960 that police across the U.S. and Canada will be reviewing very closely to see if there are any links to Bobby Jack Fowler. 


American Named in Highway of Tears Serial Killer Case

Bobby Jack Fowler, an Oregon man who died in prison in 2006 while serving a 16-year sentence for kidnapping and attempted rape, was named as the killer behind a nearly 40-year-old cold case that's part of British Columbia's infamous Highway of Tears.

In August 1974, 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen left her home in Northern BC to go to a girlfriend's house. She walked out to the main road and stuck out her thumb -- hitchhiking is still a common way for young people to get around the rural area where she lived, and was even more common back in the 70's.

When Colleen was late getting home, her parents began searching for her. It wasn't until September, though, that her body was found ditched on a logging road.

Colleen's murder is just one of dozens of cases of girls and women killed or gone missing along three lonely highways that run through Northern British Columbia. Several times over the past decades, the Canadian police have created special units to investigate whether a serial killer -- or serial killers -- could be involved. They've looked at American suspects before, including Ted Bundy, the psychopathic necrophiliac who, during the 70's, lived and hunted victims in Washington State and was known to visit Canada. However, no firm connection could ever be made to any suspect in a Highway of Tears case, until just recently.

RCMP officials say that it was DNA preserved from Colleen's crime scene that finally broke the case when it matched DNA that had been collected from Fowler and held in a database of known offenders. Officials in Oregon now say they're looking at Fowler as a potential serial killer on the US side of the border as they try to tie him to the 1995 deaths of two teen girls in Oregon.

The good news from the Canadian side comes from the latest special unit to tackle the highway murders: the RCMP's E-Pana. For the complete story of E-Pana and the Highway of Tears, see my feature The Vanishing in Outside Magazine. If this information holds true (and the RCMP sound very confident that it will) this will be the first success in a high-profile series of cases. E-Pana has spent more than $20 million on their investigation of 18 of the highway murders since 2005. Those specific cases were chosen because police felt they were potentially similar enough that there could be at least one serial killer involved.

With police now saying that Bobby Jack Fowler was indeed hunting for teenage girls along Canada's roads, the question now is whether he can be linked to any of the other cases -- or even more unsolved cases in the US.  

Monday, August 6, 2012


This has been in the works for awhile now, but Robert Zemeckis and 20th Century Fox have officially come to an agreement for Zemeckis to get involved in the film adaptation of The Barefoot Bandit.

This still doesn't mean there's definitely going to be a movie, but involving an A-list director like Zemeckis -- Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Polar Express, and even a few movies without Tom Hanks, such as Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future(s), Contact, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and so on including the next Denzel Washington film, Flight, which is in post production -- is a good thing.

It's unfortunate that all the Hollywood press that picks up any stories on the movie keeps referring to the original title of my book: Taking Flight. Not that I didn't like the title, but the title of both the book and the screenplay changed to The Barefoot Bandit. (It'd also be cool for them to acknowledge once in awhile that there IS a book.)

So, the film is in development, which can mean a lot of things. In this case, it means screenwriter Lance Black (Milk, J. Edgar, Virginia) is completing his third draft of the script in consultation with Zemeckis. Fox secured the rights to my book and to Colton's life rights (with all of the life rights money going to repay Colton's victims).

I know that a favorite game has been speculating on which actor would be best to play the Barefoot Bandit. There's still no word on that, though don't be surprised if it turns out to be none of the usual suspects...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

More Highway of Tears on the Radio

Here's the interview I did with Canandian Broadcast Co North's morning show: CBC Daybreak North Show. It airs in all of the communities along the Yellowhead, aka, Highway 16, the Highway of Tears.
(BTW: The story appears in this month's Outside magazine, not Outdoor Magazine.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Mention the phrase "serial killer" and you naturally get some attention.

I did a couple of media appearances in the last two days about "The Vanishing," my feature in the latest issue of Outside magazine that's about Canada's infamous Highway of Tears.

Yesterday, NPR's Ross Reynolds had me on his show, The Conversation. (Look for the Listen to the Show links to the right and pick one of the options to hear the archived segment). It's surprising that even here in Washington few people have heard about this tragic story that's been going on for a long time just north of us in British Columbia.

This morning I did an interview with CBC radio, on Daybreak, a show that's based in Prince George, BC, a city that's seen more than its share of Highway of Tears murders and mystery. The host seemed a little miffed that the story appeared in an outdoors magazine, especially in an issue where the cover lines aside from my story (which was given the "eyebrow" above the logo) were all about How to get in shape, and How to buy running shoes.

I understand their sensitivity about the issue (and, frankly, I'm not a fan of this issue's beefcake cover). This is, after all, their collective tragedy, with way too many of their Northern BC daughters and sisters and friends dead or disappeared along this wild stretch of the province. They're also very frustrated that not one of the Highway of Tears cases going back 43 years has been solved.

Outside, though, has a long tradition of covering stories like this: serious journalism about serious subjects like Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild and Into Thin Air, Sebastian Junger's The Storm and others. Byliner has a list here of Outside's "greatest must-reads." Not a fluffy story about running shoes or ab workouts among them.

I'll post the CBC interview as soon as they get it up there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


In a remote and eerily beautiful region of British Columbia, dozens of women and girls have gone missing or been found murdered. The only connection between most of these unsolved cases is that they happened along a desolate road the locals now call the Highway of Tears.

For my latest feature in OutsideMagazine, I traveled up and down this road, which is also known as Highway 16, visiting crime scenes and interviewing victims’ families, private investigators, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and members of the First Nations tribes and other locals that live in the tiny villages and small mill towns scattered along the way.

I was drawn into the story for Outside when I heard of a young woman, Madison Scott, who’d gone missing from her campsite last spring. A large-scale search was underway, and media attention often helps solve these kinds of cases, ideally with the missing person safely returned to their family. (Tragically, though, Maddy, has now been missing for more than a full year. Please visit www.madisonscott.ca for information on search efforts, and contact the RCMP if you have any information. There is a C$100,000 reward for information that leads to solving the case).

Investigating Maddy’s story put me on Highway 16, which you soon discover has a long and terrible history with as many as 43 women and girls from this stretch of BC either found murdered or gone missing and never been found. There’s even a special unit of the RCMP dedicated to figuring out whether a serial killer is on the loose along this lonely, misty road. They’ve concluded that 18 of the cases (Madison Scott is not one of them) share enough similarities to possibly be linked.

The deeper I got into the story, the more complicated it became, and the more I found people who were frightened of what was happening in their isolated, rural communities. The fact that none of the cases on the RCMP’s official list has been solved only feeds the fear and the conspiracy theories that run rampant in some of these small towns.

After three trips into BC to investigate, I turned in my story. I’d found that another young woman from the same town where Maddy grew up had recently been killed, but unlike the other cases, there’d actually been an arrest. It seemed tangential to the main story because the suspect, Cody Legebokoff, knew his victim. 

Still, I mentioned it as supporting a theory that maybe there wasn’t a serial killer involved in many of these cases after all, that maybe the murders were more horribly mundane, and it was just that the vast wilds of British Columbia made it easy to hide evidence of the crimes – that Highway 16 simply offers a convenient artery for creeps, date rapists, domestic abusers and other assholes who wind up killing women and ditching their bodies far along the countless lonely logging roads that branch off the highway. A passage I wrote about this, which was cut from the final story, reads like this:

“So if something snaps inside, if bad mommy drank and didn’t hug you enough, if the devil personally tells you he needs help, if somebody touched you wrong and crossed the wires in your dirty little mind so now you really need to hurt somebody… then Highway 16 can be your friend.”

The day I turned in my story, the RCMP announced that they were charging 20-year-old Cody Legebokoff with three more murders. I yanked the story back from the editors for the first of what would be two rewrites – the second because of another horrific murder that happened while I was doing my research.

If the charges against Legebokoff are proved in court this summer, then there was indeed a serial killer preying on women in that part of British Columbia. However, as you’ll read in the story, which is on newsstands now, what’s even more frightening is that his arrest does nothing to solve all the other cases.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Well Read Colton Harris-Moore

I was fortunate to get an invite to tape an episode of "Well Read" with Terry Tazioli. Taz (as I heard someone call him) is the host of this new PBS show that focuses, as you could guess, on books.

Well Read has an interesting format. Taz interviews an author for about 25 minutes, then spends the last five talking with Mary Ann Gwinn, the book editor for the Seattle Times, who offers a few "Well if you like that genre, then you'll love the following books..."

It's a good format and Terry keeps it lively with his enthusiasm for reading and good books.

You can watch the show at the link, which will take you to the Media Appearances page of my website.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Colton Harris-Moore, Barefoot Bandit New Footage

As I mention in The Barefoot Bandit, on my trip to the Bahamas during Colton Harris-Moore's run, I discovered that he had been carrying around a Contour HD camera. Skiers, bikers, hang-gliders and others strap this tiny videocam onto their helmets to get exciting “You are there!” footage. You can also mount them on dashboards, whether on a car or a plane.

Colton used the camera both with a dashboard mount and as a hand-held to film his point of view as he stole airplanes and cars, as well as just playing around in the woods.

I’ve known this footage existed for quite awhile, but repeated Freedom of Information Act requests to review it have been refused and, currently, delayed by the FBI. I’m not certain how this local Seattle television station, KOMO, obtained the video.

As you check out the clips, what they call nighttime footage is actually daybreak in Bloomington, Indiana as Colton steals and taxis Spider Miller’s Cessna Corvalis in preparation for his flight to the Bahamas. The written commentary from the television station says that Colton waits for the airport to open, as evidenced by the runway lights. But that’s not accurate. Most small airports have a lighting system that pilots can turn on and off by using their radios. Colton knew how to turn on the lights himself.

There are a number of clips here that you can play at KOMO's site. Nothing very exciting unless you keep in mind that this was a young man who’d never had a formal flight lesson…

Monday, April 23, 2012

Colton Harris-Moore, The Barefoot Bandit's Maximum Issues

There's been a lot of news action recently, with John Henry Browne talking to an AP reporter about Colton being locked down in maximum security. It's worth me doing another post to update the one I wrote on March 30th about Colt and the chances he'll spend a considerable amount of time in max.

The facts are that Colton Harris-Moore is now in the Washington State Penitentiary  at Walla Walla and is being held in their IMU – Intensive Mangagement Unit. IMU is high-level maximum security, which includes the worst and most-dangerous adult offenders as well as inmates on death row.

In IMU, Colton gets five hours outside of his solitary confinement cell, and three showers per week. He doesn’t mix with other inmates, and his only human contact so far has been with prison guards and officials.

Prior to this, Colton was held at the Washington State prison in Shelton, which serves as a sort-of induction center where inmates are given medical and mental tests to determine where they’ll be sent. Apparently they don’t learn enough there, because officials at Walla Walla are saying they need another seven weeks, which Colton will spend in solitary at their IMU, to evaluate where they’re going to put him next. It’s not an uncommon practice for prisons to segregate new prisoners before assigning them a permanent unit, but this double evaluation within the Washington State DOC seems redundant.

After his capture in the Bahamas, Colton was held in solitary at SeaTac Federal Detention Center for at least six months. Interestingly, he requested he stay segregated even after he was deemed eligible to move into the general population. As I detail in The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale ofColton Harris-Moore, Colton did not do too well juvenile prison. As once source who served time with Colt in County told me, “There were a lot of guys who had trouble with him, but didn’t go after him only because they didn’t want to go on lockdown.” However, a prison buddy from his time at the Greenhill juvenile state facility told me about a number of times where Colton was chased into his room and beaten after getting into arguments with other boys.

Colton eventually did move into general population at SeaTac and by all accounts did fine. There’s often a big difference between the kinds of inmates you find in a federal facility and a state prison, especially maximum security. Feds house a lot of swindlers, fraudsters and other white-collar crooks. Murderers, rapists, gang-bangers and other violent and dangerous felons: you’ll find them in state prisons.

One class of people you’ll find in all prisons, but especially at the local level, are the mentally ill. It’s estimated there are at least 350,000 mentally ill people in US prisons, a number that skyrocketed after the wholesale closings of state hospitals in the 80s and 90s. Huge numbers of the mentally ill were pushed onto the streets, and many now simply revolve through the prison system time and again.    

Two issues that come up with solitary confinement are physical safety and mental well-being. Colton is, of course, a big guy at 6’5”, but by all accounts he’s not a fighter and nothing in all of my research says he’s confrontational or violent. He will be physically safe in solitary unless he got into a confrontation with guards, which seems extremely unlikely given his history.

The mental issue, though, is critical. Special advisors to the United Nations have testified that solitary confinement “can amount to torture.” Those prisoners with mental issues are particularly prone to damage since often part of the segregation means that along with little human contact and extremely limited opportunities for fresh air and exercise, the inmates in IMU are not given the same access to education and counseling opportunities, or even the distractions of TV and radio, as the general population.

We all know the argument that these are prisoners and they deserve to be locked away and not given a cushy existence. And yes, Colt is a criminal who committed dozens of felonies and deserves to spend years behind bars. However, the short-sightedness that I see in our justice system is that it leans way too much toward retribution than rehabilitation, and often seems to forget that these people are coming back to our communities one day. Do we want them to come back simply as better crooks, having gotten their masters degrees in Criminal U? Do we want them to come back with their mental problems worse? Do we want non-violent offenders turned violent because of what they’ve had to do to survive inside or simply because they’ve lost all hope in a “justice” system?

Colton will be out of prison and back in society at age 25, with a long life ahead of him. People that I’m talking to in our communities in the islands – the ones most affected by Colton Harris-Moore’s crimes – are very concerned about what Colt will be like when he gets out. They’re hoping for second-chance Colt, a man who takes  advantage of the educational opportunities and specialized counseling (being paid for by friends who’ve  known him for years and who see him as eminently salvageable) to help him move beyond the challenges he still faces due to the lingering effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the traumas of his childhood, and his own poor record of decision-making.

What they fear is a Colt who’s been further beaten down by yet another “system.” A Colt who has whatever optimism for a functional life further beaten out of him or driven out of him by too much time alone in a box, and who winds up simply learning to become a better, and perhaps more dangerous, criminal.              

A number of letters have been written to the governor – including some by victims who had their homes on Camano Island burglarized multiple times by Colton. The letters have asked for her to intervene, to get Colton Harris-Moore out of maximum security and into a facility where he can start the serious work on his rehabilitation. Colton’s defense team has been working behind the scenes for the same thing. By John Henry Browne taking this issue public, it’s safe to say that those efforts have failed – so far.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Part 1 & 2 of The Barefoot Bandit's Seattle Media Day

The good folks at Seattle's King 5 Morning News had me on last Thursday to talk about Colton and my new book, The Barefoot Bandit. I used to work in television, but always on the other side of the camera and almost exclusively out on location, so it was fascinating to take part in a high-tech studio shoot.

As a former cameraman, it was a little disconcerting to not see one anywhere in the studio. All six of the cameras were robotic and directed via an out-of-site control room. The only people in the large, dark stage were the talent, anchors Joyce Taylor and Greg Copeland along with the weather reporter. When it was time for my segment, three Transformer-like cameras began moving themselves across the studio to line up the angles on the "chat" set.

I clipped a mic on my sportcoat and sat by myself for a few minutes until they went to commercial and Greg came over from the anchor desk. The show's director spoke to him continuously through his earpiece, but I couldn't hear any of it.

We did the scheduled segment (it's impossible for me to figure out how long they last while they're happening; the time goes by very fast. On a television set, though, the interviewer has a view of a timer flashed on the teleprompter as well as signals or voice alerts from the director so he or she knows when we're running out of time.

After the segment, they went back to commercial. As I was leaving, I walked over to the anchor desk to say hello to Joyce. She asked more about the book and potential movie, and then she and the director were suddenly having an earpiece conversation and decided that the audience might like to hear what Joyce and I were talking about, too. They asked me to stay for another segment during which both Greg and Joyce would ask questions.

As a sign of the fascination people have with this subject, in almost every interview I've done so far, I've been "held over" for extra segments.

So, at this KING 5 link you'll first see the initial talk and then a long hold on the book cover as the second segment is introduced. The director hadn't prepared to run an extra six minutes on this, but did a good job of improv by re-running some stock footage of Colton to intercut with the live shots of us on set.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Barefoot Bandit Media and Events

It’ll be a busy Thursday April 5th for interviews and book events for the release of The Barefoot Bandit.

At around 8:15, I’ll be on Seattle’s King 5 TV Morning News. Then at noon I'll be part of The Conversation with Ross Reynolds on Seattle area NPR radio stations. NPR will also be giving away copies of the book to some lucky donors during their pledge drive.

Then it's down to Tacoma to tape an episode of the PBS book review cable show, Well Read.

We’ll then top it off the 5th with a cool event down at the University Bookstore in the U District of downtown Seattle at 7-9pm. 

On Saturday I’ll be at Joint Base Lewis McChord, but that event is open only to those with a military id.

Next week will bring the first national TV interview since the release of the book. Stay tuned for exact date and time.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Colton Harris-Moore and Barefoot Bandit Updates

It appears that Colton will be serving the first part of his sentence in a maximum security Washington State prison.

Aside from the pun, I doubt Colt is really a "flight risk." He walked away from a no-security juvenile halfway house in 2008, but there's a huge difference between that and attempting to escape from an adult prison. I don't think Colt would even consider a breakout because when he ultimately got caught again he'd face losing an entire decade locked in a box.

Colt certainly has a sky-high offender score due to all of the felonies he pleaded guilty to, but with no shortage of murderers and rapists around, it seems like a non-violent offender would be taking up valuable space in max when there's no need for him to be in there. Colt deserves to be in prison, and he's going to serve a big chunk of time... but maximum security seems like overkill to me.

A reminder for those who've read or are reading my book, The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, make sure to check out www.bobfriel.com for story updates, photo galleries, links, maps and a Google Earth tour of all the sites in the story.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Release Day: The Barefoot Bandit

March 20 is the official release date for The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw, my new book from Hyperion. Finally.

It was a long time coming and I appreciate everyone's patience as we waited for the wheels of justice to slowly grind this thing out to a conclusion before we released the book.

My new website BobFriel.com includes maps, Google Earth tours, photo galleries and links. It will also host updates as I continue to report on the story, and any news that arrives about the movie.

The book is getting some press already:     

New York Post ran a feature in Sunday's paper. Not so much a review as a recounting, but they gave it a page and a half in the paper and three pages online, which is a lot of ink.

Dispatches gave a real nice review. Our favorite part is probably: "The Barefoot Bandit is one of the finest and most entertaining true crime books that I've read in a long, long time."

And to mark the release, I'll be on The Bob Rivers Show tomorrow, March 20 at 9am PST. The show will be available online and podcast as well as live on KJR 95.7 in Seattle.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Nelson DeMille on The Barefoot Bandit

I’m thrilled to have Nelson DeMille provide the first cover blurb for The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw.

Nelson DeMille
DeMille is one of the true giants of American writing, with a string of New York Times bestselling novels, like Plum Island, Gold Coast, The Lion’s Game and many others. 
(I'm really looking forward to The Panther, coming this October).

Getting cover blurbs from prominent authors is very difficult, especially for a writer living on a rock in the way-out west who is about as distant and disconnected from New York literary circles as you can be. The idea is to get an early version of your book in front of the author any way possible, and then hope that he or she will, first, somehow have the time to read it, and second, actually like it.

Nelson DeMille was naturally on my wish list of top writers. So huge thanks to him for taking the time to read the galley version of the book and responding with such nice words. We’re putting part of this right up front!

“I doubt if even the best fiction writer could create a character like Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Bandit. This is an incredible, but true story of chase-and-escape that will keep you on the edge of your seat... Bob Friel is a gifted reporter and very fine writer.”  Nelson DeMille 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Colton Harris-Moore Transferred to WA State Custody

With the federal judge having agreed to let Colt serve his time in the state prison system, Colton Harris-Moore has transferred out of Seatac FDC, and will now be held, for a time, at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, WA.

The WCC at Shelton serves as an intake prison where inmates are screened, tested and classified before being sent to the facility where they’ll serve out the balance of their sentence.

According to the WA State Dept of Corrections:

“The Initial Classification process takes four to six weeks. During this time, the offender must comply with having a physical and dental examination and psychological evaluation if needed.

During the physical examination, offenders are screened for HIV, TB, Hepatitis A, Tetanus, and any other contagious diseases.”

The psyche evaluation includes testing the inmate’s potential for “suicide, victimization, and violence,” and checks for any psychiatric diagnosis and substance abuse issues.

Once an inmate is sufficiently poked, prodded and analyzed, the DOC picks a suitable facility based on placing the offender “in the least restrictive custody level designation while providing for the safety of the public, staff, and offenders.”

Colt and his defense team are hoping for a medium-or-lower level security prison where Colt will have the greatest access to educational opportunities and least amount of contact with violent offenders.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Excerpt of The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw in Outside Magazine

The current issue of Outside Magazine includes an excerpt from my new book on The Barefoot Bandit. Outside published the first national magazine story on Colton Harris-Moore, and caps their coverage by running part of the book where Colt steals a plane in Indiana and, incredibly, flies it to the Bahamas, beginning a whole new round of chase-and-escape to add to his outlaw tale.  

Due to magazine space constraints, the 4,500-word excerpt is condensed from an 18,000-word section of the book. It includes much of the wild action--the crash landing, several boat thefts, and the final chase--but book readers will have to wait just a little longer to get the full story. One of my favorite anecdotes that we had to cut out was how a Bahamian on Harbour Island had such a strong premonition that he was going to meet Colt on a certain night that he texted a local police sergeant, asking what should he do? That was just a few hours before Colt arrived at his dock, Walther PPK in hand.

Book readers will also get the complete story of how I managed to make it all the way from Washington State's San Juan Islands to the Bahamas (and to the right island, while all the media were on a different Out Island) in time for the final boat chase and showdown.

Shameless plug: Read the Outside excerpt now, and then pre-order The Barefoot Bandit from your favorite bookseller.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bandit Bookshelf

Nice post from Bookish, a blog for readers and book lovers, about picks for stocking the outlaw section of your home bookshelf. Happily it includes a new book along with some great classics...

Bookish Blogs Outlaw Reads

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Coldfoot Bandit?

MSNBC/AP Mountain Man Bandit

The AP has a story about a Grizzly Adams Bandit who's scaring the hell out of residents out in Utah. Like the Barefoot Bandit, this guy Goldilocks in unattended cabins--breaking-in, eating their food, rifling through their stuff--but unlike Colt, he also drinks their booze and often does damage, spraying the cabins with bullets. Part of his MO is that he also destroys religious objects.

This guy has been at it for five years without getting caught. The photo they got that the FBI hopes will identify him, was captured by using a game camera usually set up by hunters or biologists to record big, skittish animals. The same technology was used by the police to try and track Colton Harris-Moore on Camano Island. Unlike the Coldfoot Bandit, Barefoot was able to avoid the cameras.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Social Bandit, Social Media

It's interesting that the academic term for what Colton Harris-Moore turned out to be is “social bandit.” Those who study outlaws call them social bandits, aka outlaw heroes, because for one reason or another, a segment of society gets behind the bandit and roots for him.

Hero in this context is not a value judgment: No one is equating crooks with real heroes like some cops, firemen, soldiers, and so on, are. The term hero in this context is because some people live vicariously through the bandit’s adventures and see them as getting revenge for them against a system or power that in some way has been unfair.

Social bandits include everyone from Robin Hood to John Dillinger. Robin Hood is held up as the pure example. Colt, obviously, was no Robin Hood. Dillinger was also held up as an outlaw hero by some even though he and his gang killed cops and innocent bystanders. Colt was not on that extreme, either.

Colt was easy for some to root for because he didn’t hurt anyone. And even though he stated no philosophy, some people began to see him as striking out against the various things that they, too, wanted to rebel against. Colt was an exciting, camera-ready avatar for those who wanted to strike back at grown-ups, the police, school, local government, rich people, investment bankers, authority, shoe manufacturers… whatever they had a problem with, Colt was out there fighting against it for them. The Great Recession was as fertile a backdrop for Colt to spring up out of as a social bandit as the Great Depression was for Dillinger.

Social media then played a huge role in spreading his story and fame far quicker than any other outlaw hero in history.

And now the related plug: In advance of the release of my book, The Barefoot Bandit (which will be in bookstores on March 20, but is available for pre-order now) I’ll be launching a new website (more about that very soon), and I have already put up a Facebook Author page. Both will have lots of content related to the book such as photo galleries, videos, links, maps, updates, interviews, etc, acting as the “Special Features” to the book. This blog will then mesh with the other social media stuff.

So if you’re on Facebook, go to http://www.facebook.com/AuthorBobFriel . I’ll be adding more content frequently.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Colton Harris-Moore Makes the Travel Channel

It's not "America's Great Escapes" or "Fugitives Pick Their Favorite Restaurants To Go," but the Travel Channel has a new show in its first season called "Hidden City." A couple of months ago, it's host, crime-fiction writer Marcus Sakey, and his crew came to Seattle to focus on the Emerald City's most enduring criminal mysteries.

Marcus is an experiential reporter, so he tried to play guitar with a grunge band to look into Curt Cobain's death, and then he turned to Colt's case and actually tried to take off and land a Cessna. Very cool idea, which Seattle DJ (and owner of the first plane Colt stole) Bob River and I were going to do: rigging up Bob's replacement Cessna with cameras and having me try to "steal" and fly it... that is until my publisher got wind of the idea and nixed it because I wasn't done the manuscript yet. Probably smart on their part.

Anyway, Marcus's production company apparently didn't have the same qualms. As part of the story he also sat down with me in an Orcas Island coffee house to talk about the story. It's another one of these where the interview lasted an hour, but I have absolutely no clue if I'll be on for five seconds or maybe a full three minutes, and I don't know which part they'll use... I do know that the director mentioned I used the word "balls" too many times...

So, check out Hidden City tonight on the Travel Channel at 9 EST. We still don't have television out here at the cabin, so someone send me an email and let me know how it goes.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Colton Harris-Moore Federal Sentence

On Friday, Judge Richard Jones handed down a sentence of six-and-a-half years for the seven federal charges included in Colton Harris-Moore's plea deal. This was at the top of the sentencing range, as requested by the US Attorney. However, the sentence does offer credit for the time Harris-Moore has already spent in custody at Seatac Federal Detention Center. Colt has been held there since July 2010.

The federal sentence will run concurrent with Colt's 87-month Washington State sentence, which is set to begin counting down when he turns 21 in March.

Between the WA state charges, federal charges, and the various other crimes committed during Colt's cross-country run before he flew to the Bahamas in a plane he stole from Bloomington, Indiana, Colt has pleaded guilty to or "acknowledged, as relevant conduct" some 67 crimes. He hasn't been charged with any of the dozen or so crimes the Canadians say they believe he committed up there. And the Bahamians simply charged him with an immigration violation instead of the car theft, multiple boat thefts, series of commercial and residential burglaries, and severe gun charges they had evidence of during his time in the islands.

It was a busy 27 months on the lam for Colton Harris-Moore. However, he says that he did have some peaceful down time, including the hours spent perched in his aerie here on Orcas Island's Turtleback Mountain, where he tuned in to aviation chatter on the radio, and studied flying. In November 2008, he climbed down from his nest and flew into history by stealing and flying the first of five airplanes without ever having gone to flight school.

Colt's next move will be from Seatac FDC to a state prison. The exact one is still tbd. There, Colt says he'll concentrate on his education, and he still plans to aim for the sky, starting an aeronautical company when he gets out.

When will that be? The huge number of felonies for crimes like stealing planes, boats, cars, guns and identities would make you think of a throw-away-the-key type sentence, but the prosecutors and judges all work within sentencing guidelines. Instead of a series of long, expensive trials, all of this was decided with plea deals where in return for saving the counties and the federal government money and time, defendants are given lesser sentences. Big factors in the sentencing were also that none of these charges was for a violent crime, AND, because compared to the vast majority of criminals, Colt has a much better shot at paying restitution to his victims even though he owes well over $1 million. In John Henry Browne and Emma Scanlon, Colt also received an excellent, vigorous defense, just as we all deserve.

The US Attorney's Office brought a good case. They won the PR battle by using those phone transcripts and emails, and got their 78 months. They'd also argued, however, that Colt should not get federal credit for his time served, saying that it should only go toward the remainder of the juvenile sentence Colt skipped out on by escaping the group home. The judge didn't agree.    

So weighing everything, what's fair? A source that is certainly in a position to know now tells me that if Colt behaves in prison, he'll walk out before his 25th birthday--which Colt will celebrate in about four years and seven weeks from today.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jailhouse Rock

Federal prosecutors today (yesterday by the time you read this) released their sentencing memorandum for Colton Harris-Moore’s upcoming hearing. Interesting reading… both the memo itself, as well as what the feds have had on their reading list, which included possibly more than 1,000 pages of emails and phone transcripts of communications Colt has had while in federal custody.

Prisoners and the people they communicate with are informed that they should have no expectations of privacy in any letters, emails or phone conversations between inmates and the outside world. Those in custody are often especially careful about what they say prior to their trials or sentencing because that’s when prosecutors pay particular attention, hoping to find useable nuggets.

Going through Colt’s transcripts, the feds found passages that they’re using to counter part of Colt’s defense presentation. They say these statements, when seen side-by-side with Colt’s letter to WA State Superior Court Judge Vicki Churchill, cast doubt on the idea that Colt feels remorse and accepts responsibility for his actions. For example...     

Colt wrote to the judge:
“Your Honor, the term of my sentence which you hand down, I will serve with humility. I was wrong and I made mistakes beyond what words can express.”

Then from an email Colt wrote two weeks after Judge Churchill gave Colt the lowest sentence possible within the standard sentencing range:
 “So the citizens (and sheriffs) are appeased, justice is served. It’s all political. I’m thankful for the judge saying what she did, but at the same time her words were greater than her actions - she had the ability as invested in her by the people to create change, and the opportunity to stand up with compassion, but didn’t reach that potential.”

The feds quoted a portion of Colt's letter to the judge regarding his aircraft thefts, and “glamorizing” his crimes:
 “I will continue to write and correspond with the individuals who have been inspired by my story . . . not to view me as a role model or what the media has created, but instead to learn form my mistakes and follow their own dreams . . . I hope that nothing I have said [in this letter] is misconstrued - though I described in detail my first flying experience, in no way whatsoever am I ‘glamorizing’ that event or anything else I have done.”

Then they show part of an email Colt sent in August 2011:
“[T]he things I have done as far as flying and airplanes goes, is amazing. Nobody on this planet have done what I have, except for the Wright brothers.”

Colt’s attitude toward the police was spelled out in his letter to the judge:
“I would also like to extend my apologies to . . . the Island County and San Juan County Sheriffs Office, who I know were only doing their jobs.”

And here’s Colt talking to his mom a week before his state sentencing hearing:
“the more people I have from my camp the better, because that’s just one less seat that will be filled by the media vermin or the swine, the king swine himself, [Island County sheriff] Mark Brown.”

In Colt’s defense memo for Friday's federal sentencing, his attorneys mention his fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, “poor impulse control” and “defective judgement,” as factors in his 27-month crime spree. They’re now saying that those same things, plus his youth, contributed what he’s said in these emails and phone conversations. The most important thing, according to Colt’s attorney Emma Scanlon, is that although Colt may be mad at the sheriff of Island County and the state prosecutors, while digging through his communications, the US Attorneys “…seem to have been unable to find an email that shows a lack of remorse towards his victims.”

As it stands, the US Attorney is asking for a sentence of 78 months to run consecutive with the state sentence Colt skipped out on back in 2008, but concurrent with the new Washington State sentence imposed last month. This  means the federal sentence would start when Colt turns 21 in March, just like his state sentence. In addition, the US is asking for the maximum three-year term of probation once Colt is finished his federal sentence.

Colt’s attorneys are arguing that his sentence should be 70 months.

The press reported heavily and sympathetically on Colt when the mitigation package recounting his childhood was released just prior to his state sentencing. With the release of this memo from the prosecutors’ side prior to his federal sentencing, headlines from the “media vermin” have so far had a decidedly less sympathetic take, with each article illustrated by photos of Colt smiling or looking shifty in court:

The Whidbey News-Times from Island County, WA: “Insults show Barefoot Bandit as two-faced as sentencing nears”

LA Times: “Barefoot Bandit calls authorities ‘fools’ and ‘swine.’”

Daily Mail: “Barefoot Bandit… brags about his crime spree from prison, labeling authorities as ‘fools’”

In a case that's gotten so much media attention, attempting to use Colt's own words against him was a smart tactic by the US Attorney's office. Colt's boasts and insults are going to be what gets the most attention during this round, and part of this is indeed a PR battle, with the authorities trying to counter the public image of Colt as a sympathetic or even heroic figure. But I'm not sure these things will do much real damage to him in court. As far as we know, Colt did not say anything imprudent about his victims, only the cops, prosecutors, and the press--all frequent targets. Judge Jones has a lot of discretion with the sentencing even with a plea deal in place, but it'd be a huge leap for him to go beyond the 78 month upper range or to make the federal sentence consecutive on top of the state sentence. 

Outside of court, those who have always rooted for Colt as an anti-authority hero will eat up this latest twist, while those who've always thought he was a punk will find his attitude reinforces their view. Others may say these sound like the headstrong things a 20 year old would say. 

What do you think? 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Interesting Note about Colton Harris-Moore's Federal Sentencing

On Friday, Colt will appear before the Honorable Richard A. Jones of the US District Court in Seattle. Judge Jones presided over Colt’s federal plea hearing last summer, and will now pass sentence after listening to prosecutors and defense attorneys arguments over why Colt should receive the higher or lower level of the sentencing range (63 to 78 months).

Judge Jones, a 61-year-old grad of U-Dub (University of Washington) law school who was appointed to the federal bench by President Bush in 2007, is the half brother of 27-time Grammy winning record producer Quincy Jones.