The cops claim Colt has “vaporized,” “vanished,” and “ran like lightning.” When the posse does close in, he allegedly rustles luxury cars, boats, and even planes.
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I get the sense, though, that the weirdness started before Colt's current troubles. Pam, at 58, appears literally hunched over from the weight of a life that hasn't been what she expected. We sit down at a small table in the kitchen. She's not smoking, but the air is so saturated Pall Malls, by the butts in the ashtray that it claws my eyes. She talks of a marriage to an Air Force man (she was Pam Harris then), a life in Southern California, another in St. Louis, and then moving back to her home state, Washington, cashing in her retirement fund to buy these five acres on Camano, where, after five years of trying and 20 years after the birth of her first son, along came Colt. Pam says she had a federal job back then, in the accounting department of the National Park Service down in Seattle. "Commuting three hours a day when I had a newborn baby, that was awful." The Air Force husband was gone, and Colt's biological father was in and out of the trailer and their lives. Pam remarried when Colt was four, giving him a stepfather named Bill, a Vietnam vet whom, she says, he was very close to. "They did everything together," she says. Then one day, when Colt was ten and Bill had gone off to help move some relatives to Florida, the phone rang.
"Someone from Island County sheriff called and asked if I was Bill's wife. I said yes, and they just said, 'Well, he's dead.'" No funeral, no closure other than the jug of ashes in the closet and Bill, she says, never wanted to be cremated. Pam doesn't know how he died. "They wanted me to pay for a coroner's report, and that just don't jive with me not cool."
"After Bill died, I freaked," says Pam. "I cried all the time, and I drank a lot and went into a deep depression. I'm sure it affected Colt, too." Her job ended, and the only money coming in was from Social Security widow's benefits. She took some criminal-justice and psychology classes at Skagit Valley College. "I wanted to be a lawyer," she laughs, then sighs. "But then crap just started happening, trucks breaking down, nobody to help me." She stopped going, and money got tighter. "We starved," she says. Court documents from around that time report, "Colton wants mom to stop drinking and smoking, get a job, and have food in the house."
Melanie climbs onto the couch in the living room, where a nice TV stands next to the woodstove. A hallway so narrow that my arms brush both walls leads back to a bathroom and the bedrooms beyond, including Colt's, the one that a deputy's affidavit says sported a padlock hasp one time when they showed up looking for him, so Pam took a hatchet to it. In the kitchen, I sit below a piece of plywood screwed into the wall where there used to be a window. Three years ago, Pam says, a neighbor who accused Colt of stealing his car stereo terrorized them every night for a month by throwing potatoes, a can of corn, and circular-saw blades at them, breaking windows in both the trailer and her truck.
NEIGHBORLY RELATIONS DO seem complicated along this stretch of road. One of the times the local police came closest to catching Colt was when they spotted a black Mercedes owned by Carol Star who lives next door to Pam driving erratically. When they gave chase, the Mercedes turned into the parking lot of the nearby Elger Bay Café and out jumped Colt while the car was still moving. He disappeared into the woods as the car rolled between a propane tank and a wall with inches to spare, coming to rest against a dumpster just a couple of yards from a 20-foot cliff. Star says Colt had already robbed her house several times, and it was from a stolen camera found in her car that Island County Detective Ed Wallace recovered the now infamous picture that Colt had shot of himself and then deleted. It shows Colt relaxing amid the ferns, wearing a Mercedes polo and a Mona Lisa smile. It's the same picture that now graces WANTED posters throughout the state.
"That's a terrible photo of him," says Pam, though she likes another WANTED pic taken by a security camera at the Island Market, on Orcas. "We didn't take many photos when he was growing up," she says, handing me a dusty frame holding a 1997 group shot of a Stanwood/Camano Junior Athletic Association soccer team along with a portrait of Colt in his uniform. In the pictures, he's a cute towhead with a big, bright smile. When I spoke with the parents of another kid on that team, though, they said that Colt had come to only the first couple of practices and the photo session and that he never actually got to play. It's a shame, because from the accounts of a half-dozen deputies who've chased but never caught fleet-footed Colt in the woods of Camano and Orcas, he's a natural athlete.
"He was a fat, happy baby," Pam remembers. "I used to call him Tubby." She pauses for a moment, then recalls other nice memories from Colt's childhood: camping in the Cascades ("Maybe I shouldn't have taught him all that survival stuff"), summer days on the water, she and Colt dancing to Sinatra's "Summer Wind" out on the deck. Pam remembers once taking Colt to a local beach but having to leave him there alone because she had a headache. "When I went back to pick him up, he'd set up a whole Robinson Crusoe camp, propping his towels up on sticks for a shelter." Colt had also dived up 40 Dungeness crab in deep water without a mask or any other equipment. "He had them all lined up on the beach," she says. "I told him to pick the five biggest to take home for dinner, and he let the rest go."
Colt's problems with the police, Pam says, started on his eighth birthday, when she bought him an expensive bike. "He goes out to ride it, and next thing an Island County cop car pulls into the driveway with Colt inside. The deputy gets out and opens the trunk. He says, 'Is this Colt's bike?' I got pissed! Just because we live in this kinda dumpy old trailer they figure, 'How could Colt get a nice bike like that? Well, he musta stole it.' I know Colt was scared, and it had a big effect on him." Since then, Pam says, everything that happens on the island is blamed on Colt. "He hasn't been alive long enough to do all the crimes they say he's done." Of the burglaries he is responsible for, Pam doesn't think he's stealing because he wants things. "Anything he needed, I always found a way to get for him," she says. "He had a computer, a PlayStation, then the new PlayStation, a whole bunch of James Bond movies I got on eBay he loves those. He also had two flight-simulator games..."