Colton Harris-Moore may be up to old tricks in Oregon

  • Wed Jun 16th, 2010 5:33pm
  • News

By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer

WARRENTON, Ore. — A string of crimes in this small town on the banks of the Columbia River has some officials speculating that Colton Harris-Moore has moved south.

A boat theft, an attempted plane theft and a car theft all within hours of each other on June 1 have the hallmarks of Camano Island’s teenage fugitive.

“We have a very quiet, low-crime community,” Warrenton Police Chief Matthew Workman said. “It stands to reason they would be related.”

Harris-Moore may be a suspect, Workman said.

“If it’s him, I’d like to know,” the chief said. “We just don’t know.”

Officials are analyzing fingerprints taken from a $450,000 boat stolen from Ilwaco, Wash., and recovered at a dock near the southern end of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

“The bottom line is we don’t have a firm suspect,” Workman said. “We have to look at everybody to see if it would match.”

Harris-Moore, 19, is linked to several similar crimes throughout the Pacific Northwest, racking up more than $2 million in stolen credit cards, smashed airplanes, a wrecked Mercedes-Benz and other property.

Police believe his crime trail has extended from his childhood home on Camano Island to the San Juan Islands, across the border into British Columbia, into Northern Idaho and back to Snohomish County.

He is suspected in dozens of burglaries and thefts since his April 2008 escape from a Renton group home.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office last pinned his location to Lopez Island.

Surveillance video on May 15 captured his image just before a boat was stolen from a marina at the island’s north end. That boat was found adrift off the southern tip of Camano Island the next day.

A few days later another boat was taken, this time from the south end of Whidbey Island. It was found aground near Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula. Speculation swirled that it was Harris-Moore.

A week after that, on June 1, the crimes happened in Warrenton.

First, a 34-foot power boat was taken from the marina at Ilwaco, near the mouth of the Columbia River. An alert harbor master in Warrenton called police after he found the boat tied up to a commercial pier. The pleasure boat was out of place among the hulking fishing vessels, Workman said.

An officer was able to lift a partial fingerprint from the boat and that evidence has been sent to crime labs in Oregon and Washington for analysis.

Police in Warrenton also are looking into what appears to be connected incidents at the Astoria Regional Airport, about 3 miles away from the marina. Someone tried unsuccessfully to pry open the doors of a Cessna similar to the four other planes he’s suspected of stealing.

The airport’s Hertz rental office was broken into and a 2010 Dodge Journey stolen from there was later found parked near a farm in Dayton, a rural community about an hour south of Portland.

Little evidence was collected in the airport crimes and the Hertz office was not equipped with video cameras, Workman said.

“We were kind out of luck on the surveillance images,” he said.

Meanwhile, people outside law enforcement are still trying to help.

Everett bail recovery agent Mike Rocha said he and a team of bounty hunters have been conducting their own surveillance of marinas and airports in Island and San Juan counties.

Using small boats, the bail bondsmen have been working different areas, mostly at night, hoping to catch Harris-Moore with his guard down.

Dowser Richard Grover, 70, also has been hunting Harris-Moore for the past two months.

Grover believed he caught a glimpse of the 6-foot, 5-inch teenager in the woods on Orcas Island. Deputies determined the person Grover saw was a resident walking in the woods, not the serial burglar.

Still, Grover said the teen’s case spurred his interest. For the past 40 years, Grover has been tracking Sasquatch using dowsing techniques. That’s when people use special sticks to locate underground water or metals.

“Nobody believes me,” he said.

Now Grover said he’s applying his investigative techniques to track Harris-Moore’s movements. He believes the teenager recently has been hiding in a horse barn on Camano Island.

“He’s been quiet lately,” Grover said. “He might be planning something else.”

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437, jholtz@heraldnet.com.