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Camano Island produces a bandit for our times

The author of a new book on the Barefoot Bandit talks about how the unlikely kid from Camano became a cult figure, greatly abetted by social media.

'Bandit' author Jackson Holtz

'Bandit' author Jackson Holtz Sue Frause

Reading an article in The Herald, "Island County next for ‘Bandit' case," I could only imagine the media craziness encircling the city of Coupeville here on my home island of Whidbey later this summer. That’s when Colton Harris-Moore, who recently pleaded guilty to federal charges in Seattle’s U.S. District Court, will answer to state allegations. It’s unlikely that he’ll face trial.

If you don’t know Colton, aka the Barefoot Bandit, he’s the Camano Island kid who made headlines as a 15-year-old crook. The teenager went on to international notoriety as he eluded cops in nine states for two years, committing nearly 100 crimes. Currently, he’s behind bars at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, sharing a cell with a white-collar criminal and reading Joseph Campbell.

Herald reporter Jackson Holtz was one of the first reporters to cover the story when it broke in 2007. Having written more than 100 articles about the Barefoot Bandit, Holtz developed a national following, and now he’s authored a book. Fly, Colton, Fly: The True Story of the Barefoot Bandit was published by New American Library in April 2011 and is the first book about Colton Harris-Moore. The 244-page Penguin paperback, which includes black and white photographs, focuses on Colton’s upbringing, the people in his life, the burglary victims, and his criminal adventures.

Holtz, who previously wrote for The Associated Press in Seattle (covering the Capitol Hill massacre of 2006) and The Oregonian, is soft-spoken and matter of fact. Over lunch at The Sisters in Everett, a quasi-cafeteria for many of The Herald reporters and staff, he doesn’t think it’s a big deal that he wrote the 244-page book in a mere five weeks. Granted, he took time off from the paper to do so, but the quick turn-around is impressive. 

Holtz said the book came to be after people encouraged him to write one. His response was a simple, “Why not try?” He wrote a detailed proposal that included chapter outlines and a summary, submitted it to a literary agent who was recommended to him, and New American Library snapped it up. Last October they made a handshake deal, and Holtz sent off the 65,000-word book to the New York publisher five weeks later. “It was fun as a reporter to write in chapters, as opposed to 20-inch stories,” said Holtz.

During his five weeks of writing the book, Holtz spoke to numerous experts and made trips to Camano Island, Coupeville, and the San Juan Islands to interview people. Holtz said it would have been interesting to interview Colton, but it didn’t happen. “It would have added another dimension,” said Holtz, “but the story is as close to the truth as we can get and provides as many angles as possible.” He describes his book as an “analysis of a psychological, flying, American folk hero — plus the added element of American mythology.”

Holtz says Colton Harris-Moore is “a sad story,” and that he was in fact two people: Colton as the kid in jail, and Colton who became the Barefoot Bandit, the folk hero. Whereas folk heroes of old were violent (“think Dillinger and Bonnie & Clyde”), Colton was not. Holtz is also aware that many people don’t like that Colton has been heroized. Now 20 years old, he’s been described as everything from “Jesse James of the Facebook age” (Rinker Buck, "Flight of Passage") to a 21st century Billy the Kid.

During his crime spree, the teenager became something of a cult figure. He also had the advantage of technology, including Facebook and Twitter. “He was a social criminal,” said Holtz. In doing a simple search for Colton Harris-Moore on Facebook, dozens of pages surface, with Colton Harris-Moore, The Barefoot Bandit being among the most popular (39,000+ people “like” it).

Jackson Holtz has been promoting his book through readings, interviews, and appearing on TV. As far as a film based on Run, Colton, Run, he says there are no movie deals yet. But if there are, he wants the movie to be “true to the story” in terms of Colton’s life. As far as life back at The Herald, not all that much has changed. There’s no new office, just the same small cubicle. With the front page of the Colton-Harris Moore “Captured!” edition hanging above his desk.

Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. You can reach her at sue@suefrause.com.


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