By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer
PELLA, Iowa — The name Colton Harris-Moore is spreading across the Midwest almost as fast as the string of crimes police suspect are linked to the notorious Camano Island fugitive.
Police departments from Washington south to Oregon and then east to Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa are sharing information about vehicle thefts and burglaries, all apparently connected.
The evidence points to Harris-Moore, 19, although police still are working to process crime scenes, officials said.
“We don’t know that it’s this guy,” Capt. Steven Hecker with the Norfolk, Neb., Police Division said Monday. “This man may be a suspect.”
The crime spree now extends across six states.
Since June 1 there have been more than a half-dozen reported burglaries and car thefts at small airports. As soon as police recover one stolen car, there seems to a new break-in and yet another stolen car.
The latest report is that of a 2000 Cadillac Escalade stolen from Karl Stefan Memorial Airport in Norfolk and recovered Monday nearly 300 miles away in Pella, Iowa.
Law enforcement officials in the region are learning of Harris-Moore, a fugitive who has been on the run since escaping from a Seattle-area group home in April 2008.
Harris-Moore has a history of breaking into vacant vacation homes to nap on couches, grab a shower, surf the Internet, eat food and steal credit card numbers. He’s suspected in several thefts, including luxury cars, boats and small planes.
That criminal pattern fits with incidents last week in Yankton, S.D., said Jerry Hisek, the assistant police chief there. The Yankton airport was burglarized on June 15. During the investigation, police recovered a car that had been stolen from an airport at Spearfish, S.D., near the Wyoming border.
A few days later, on Friday, a family returned to a vacation home near the Yankton airport and found a tall young man, reportedly nude, in their home. The startled man ordered the family to leave, then reportedly fled. Despite a massive manhunt, no one was arrested, Hisek said.
“It would have been great if it was him and if we could have got him,” he said. “It sounds like we’re not the first he’s gotten away from.”
The burglar appeared to have been in the home for several days. He’d taken food, used the shower and cut his hair. The hair has been sent to a crime lab to see if it matches Harris-Moore’s DNA, Hisek said.
Positively identifying a suspect would help police.
“That way we can put part of it to rest,” he said.
On Sunday, about 70 miles south and across the Nebraska state line, Norfolk police found a Toyota Sequoia that had been stolen from Yankton. Officers recovered it in TaHaZouka Park around 7:30 a.m., Hecker said.
A few hours later, there were several reported break-ins at the nearby airport, he said. On Monday morning, the Cadillac’s owner reported it missing from the airport.
The luxury SUV was recovered in Pella, a five-hour drive east in central Iowa. Police there on Monday said it was too early in their investigation to release details.
Harris-Moore has proved elusive even when tracked by FBI agents and other federal officials in Washington.
Despite allegedly breaking federal laws by crossing several state lines in stolen cars and planes, Harris-Moore still is consider a low-level, local criminal who happens to moving around, FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt said Monday.
“He’s not of particular interest to us,” Gutt said.
No matter where he goes, Harris-Moore can’t run forever, said Hecker, the police captain from Nebraska.
“It would be a matter of time, I suppose, before somebody catches him,” Hecker said. “He’ll be caught in some manner, some place.”
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437, firstname.lastname@example.org.