SEATTLE — A stolen airplane found in the San Juan Islands and chalk-outline feet drawn all over a burgled grocery store suggest that Washington’s infamous teenage “barefoot burglar” is back at it.
Authorities across western Washington state have been hoping to catch alleged bandit Colton Harris-Moore since the lanky 18-year-old escaped from a halfway house in April 2008.
Since then, he’s suspected in scores of burglaries, many of them near his home on Camano Island and in the San Juan Islands north of Seattle. Investigators believe he more recently turned to joyriding in airplanes.
Surveillance video of some burglaries showed the culprit barefoot — hence the moniker.
Harris-Moore’s legend has only grown since last fall, with a Facebook page now boasting 16,800 fans and a Time magazine piece dubbing him “America’s Most Wanted Teen Bandit.”
Sherri Pierson, a bookkeeper at Homegrown Market on Orcas Island, told The Associated Press someone broke into the store Wednesday night, and its owner arrived Thursday to find large chalk-outline feet drawn all over the floor. Cash was taken — Pierson wouldn’t say how much — and a security system monitor was left in a sink with water running over it.
Two of the footprints were leading out the door, next to a chalk-scrawled message: “C-YA!” Pierson said that if the perpetrator wasn’t Harris-Moore, who is suspected in a spate of burglaries in the same neighborhood last fall, it was clearly someone impersonating him.
“We use chalk on our deli board, and he apparently saw the chalk on the fish counter,” Pierson said. “He took everything out of our dessert case. We had a whole tray of raw croissants with fillings.”
San Juan County sheriff’s officials are also investigating a plane from Skagit County that was left at the airport on Orcas Island on Wednesday or Thursday.
Last fall, after a stolen small plane crash-landed at the airport, Harris-Moore was caught on surveillance video breaking into a grocery store. A hardware store, bar, coffee-shop and bank were also hit at that time.
A few weeks later, a Cessna was stolen from a rural airport in Idaho and crash-landed near Granite Falls, Wash., when it ran out of fuel on what may have been a course back toward Camano Island.
In the airport hangar in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho, the plane’s owner found actual, rather than chalk, bare footprints, including some on a wall. The culprit had apparently put his feet up while eating.
“There’s no verification that it’s the same guy, but it sure feels like it,” said Orcas Chamber of Commerce director Lance Evans, who e-mailed his members urging them to take precautions.
David Johnson, whose Sunflower Cafe was broken into last year, said he’s taken a few precautions since then, such as no longer leaving cash in the business overnight.
Beyond that, he said, he won’t lose too much sleep worrying about whether Harris-Moore is back.
“He’ll get caught eventually,” he said. “He’s digging his own grave.”