The Barefoot Bandit's mom is pissed. Pam Kohler says Orcas Island–based writer Bob Friel—author of The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw—agreed to pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars for the extensive interviews she provided. But so far she hasn't seen a dime.
Friel, an award-winning travel writer and journalist with an extensive publishing history (which includes a story about the Barefoot Bandit for Outside magazine), says Kohler's claims are "ridiculous and absolutely false."
But even if Friel is telling the truth—and it should be stated up front that Kohler seems to have a pretty weak case against the writer—the flap has exposed the fact that Harris-Moore's mom is cashing in on her son's misdeeds, thanks in large part to Europeans' more liberal approach to journalism.
Asking for financial compensation for interviews about her famous son is standard procedure for Kohler at this point. The Barefoot Bandit's mom tells Seattle Weekly she typically charges $1,000 for off-camera interviews and $2,000 for on-camera sit-downs. She says the price tag for her work with Friel is a result of the "days and days" the author spent interviewing her at her home.
Kohler, who called Seattle Weekly last week with the stated intent of letting "everybody know what a cheater [Friel] is," says she spent three months being interviewed by him for his book. She says Friel told her "I should get between $100,000 and $300,000" for her time and the interviews, but that never happened. "So I spent all that damn time with him, and he won't return my calls or anything," Kohler says. "I spent hours and hours talking to him."
When Seattle Weekly e-mailed asking about this charge, Friel responded within the hour: "I never paid or offered to pay Pam Kohler for any of the interviews I did with her—not for my Outside magazine article on Colton, and certainly not for my book," says Friel. "In fact, Pam Kohler told me, in front of a witness: 'You're lucky you talked to me before I started charging people.' "
Friel also disputes the amount of time Kohler says she spent being interviewed. "The span of time over which I talked to Pam was probably three months or so, but it's grossly misleading to say that we spent three months doing interviews," says Friel, noting that he visited her trailer several times and spoke on the phone with her a few other times.
Friel says he doesn't know any U.S. journalists who have paid Kohler for her time. "Unfortunately, it looks like some foreign magazine writers and documentarians have offered her money to cooperate, but I absolutely did not, and I don't know of any U.S. journalist who did," says Friel.
Kohler says she wants the money from Friel to build a home for her and her son, saying she currently lives in a "dilapidated trailer" on Camano Island.
As far as the book she spent time helping Friel construct, Kohler tells Seattle Weekly she hasn't read it and doesn't plan to, saying "I refuse. I'm not putting any money in [Friel's] pocket." When Kohler heard Amazon.com's description of the book, which describes Moore's hardscrabble upbringing in a family "marred by alcohol abuse," she said much of it is "crap."
Friel stands by his book, adamant that all of it is properly sourced. He chalks this dispute up to a desperate attempt for publicity. "Apparently [Kohler] feels it's been too long since she's had her name in the paper," he says. Matt Driscoll