Teen Bandit Colton Harris-Moore: Modern-Day Huckleberry Finn?

PHOTOCourtesy Island County Sheriff?s Office

As an alleged criminal, Colton Harris-Moore is pretty sloppy. But as an escape artist, he's positively stealth.

And he's only 18. Harris-Moore, who goes by the nickname "Colt," is a suspect in nearly 50 burglaries and thefts, including the jacking of two boats and two airplanes, authorities in two Washington state counties said.

Video: Serial teen burglar nabbed by police.Play

"I scratch my head and ask, 'Why can't we catch this kid?'" Island County Undersheriff Kelly Mauck said.

Officials in Island and San Juan counties said they have evidence linking him to the alleged crimes in the form of DNA, fingerprints, eyewitnesses and surveillance videos.

"Colton Harris-Moore, in my opinion, is a horrible criminal," Mauck said of the alleged activity. "He's very good at evading capture, but he's a horrible criminal."

The teen has allegedly broken into hardware stores, homes, restaurants and ATMs, although he has had some trouble successfully pulling off the latter, according to authorities in this rural area of islands off the Washington mainland.

"We have always been very successful linking Colton Harris-Moore through evidence to the crimes he committed," Mauck said of the alleged crimes.

Harris-Moore, whom Mauck described as somewhat of a loner who had a tough life with his mother in a ramshackle trailer park on Camano Island, first became known to Island County authorities at the age of 11, when he began compiling his lengthy record.

He was nabbed for burglary in 2006 after officers, acting on a tip, found out he was holed up in someone else's house ordering pizza from a local restaurant. Working with the pizzeria, it was officers who made his next order and Harris-Moore was eventually sentenced to three years in a juvenile detention facility.

He lasted for about a year before escaping out a window from a "less secure facility" that typically houses juveniles nearing the end of their release, a source of frustration for Island County officials, Mauck said.

Officials are unsure exactly how much he has racked up in cash and stolen goods in the past two years, but said it's likely several thousands of dollars.

Mauck said the last burglary in which they suspect Harris-Moore occurred in July.

Teen on the Run: Have Plane, Will Travel

San Juan County Sheriff Bill Cumming said the teen doesn't always steal money but, rather, tools and other items that might sustain his life on the run.

"He appears to be on foot, and when he needs transport, he is most likely engaged in hitchhiking or stealing," Cumming said.

It was in San Juan County that authorities allege Harris-Moore stole two boats and two planes simply for the purpose of island hopping around the rural communities that are dotted with summer houses for vacationers.

His first alleged plane theft was in 2008, Cumming said, and the second last month, although there's no evidence he's ever been instructed on how to fly.

"We do know he has a keen interest in aviation," Cumming said, noting that officials believe he once used a stolen credit card to order a flight manual.

In both cases, the planes were found but with damage consistent with a hard landing that police believe is indicative of someone not proficient behind the controls. One plane went down on the Yakama Indian Nation reservation.

Both boats, Cumming said, were stolen in a 2½ week period this summer.

Harris-Moore, a formidable kid at 6 feet 3 inches tall and 205 pounds, has earned some kind of admiration in Island County for being a sort of modern-day Huckleberry Finn, Mauck said. But the sheriff in San Juan said the teen is making residents in his county nervous.

"I think everybody is kind of amazed, really the volume of illegal behavior he's engaged in in a short period of time," Cumming said.

Authorities aren't really sure where exactly he stays but believe it's a combination of camps in the woods and unoccupied seasonal homes.

"He's a bit of a survivalist and can stay below the radar," Cumming said.

Frustrating to officers, Mauck said, is that even when they get a tip that Harris-Moore is squatting somewhere, they can't just bust in and arrest him. By the time officers go through the proper channels of obtaining search warrants and otherwise abiding by the legal process, he's gone.

"We're forced to play by the rules and he doesn't play by the rules," Mauck said.

Officials Say Teenager 'Very Good' at Evading Authorities

Harris-Moore has also been able to evade police even when they are standing right in front of him. Not only has he been able to outrun them to hide in the woods he knows much better than they do, Mauck said, the unarmed teen once baited an officer into thinking he had a gun.

Knowing the officers wouldn't be able to tackle someone believed to be armed, Mauck said, Harris-Moore waited until the officers backed off before fleeing.

But Mauck and Cumming say the teen has never shown violent behavior and is not known to be a drug user.

The teen's mother, Pamela Kohler, could not be reached for comment, but Mauck said, she hasn't exactly been helpful.

"Pam Kohler has never been overly cooperative with our office," he said. "She is always been defensive of her son."

But Mauck said he believes Kohler and her son's lifestyle have contributed to Harris-Moore's behavior.

"Living in the woods isn't too far from what he's used to," he said.

Neither Mauck nor Cumming know exactly why Harris-Moore is so intent to live this kind of "Catch Me If You Can" lifestyle, but suggest it just could simply be fun for him.

"One can only guess," Cumming said.