PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Michael Edward Harris, a US Army sergeant charged with child sex offenses, is to be deported to the United States today, capping a two week manhunt around the Kingdom.
After jumping bail last January in Florida, Harris fled to Cambodia, starting a new life as a dog trainer in Sihanoukville. For six months, Harris, who figured on the US Army’s 20 Most Wanted list, lived under the name of Michael Dobbs. The muscular and heavily tattooed 34-year-old dated local women.
On Tuesday, Oct. 14, Denise Diaz, the first of his two ex-wives, publicized through Facebook and online forums that Harris was living in Cambodia.
Spooked, Harris bolted from his apartment, leaving behind a half packed suitcase, unwashed dishes and packs of condoms. He stuffed bare necessities into the saddlebags of his black Honda Rebel motorcycle and roared out of Cambodia’s seaport.
According to police, he roared north up Route 4, then east on the coastal road, past Bokor Hill Station, to the laid back river town of Kampot. But, Harris who had trained in military intelligence, may have felt exposed in that intimate town of 39,000 residents. After two days, police say, he drove 150 kilometers up Route 3 to the anonymity of Phnom Penh, population 2 million.
There he checked into a guesthouse on Street 141, behind Ou Ruessei Market, according to Uk Heisela, chief of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department. In the big city, he may have felt confident enough to venture out in the evenings and meet friends. Police responded to several apparently false sightings on Riverside.
But on Tuesday, the Khmer Times came out with a story featuring four full color photos of Harris and this front page headline: “Manhunt for Fugitive American Soldier Focuses on Capital.”
Harris fled again, riding his Honda Rebel much further northeast. He drove across the Mekong River, and then rode four hours and 250 kilometers to Kratie City.
Kratie is the size of Kampot, but it is a seven drive from the Sihanoukville. It was a world away from the Cambodian coast where Harris had made friends over the last six months.
He apparently planned to lay low, waiting for the manhunt to fizzle out. He may have thought it too risky to ride four hours to the nearest Vietnamese border checkpoint and try to cross with a passport cancelled by the US government. Cambodian police had already sent his photo to police at all land border crossings.
According to Mr. Heisela, the American fugitive first stayed on Troung Island, in the Mekong. But by Saturday, he apparently felt bored, and safe enough to take the ferry back to Kratie City and check into the Silver Dolphin Guesthouse and Restaurant, a backpacker haven one block from the Mekong.
Meanwhile, Cambodian police were methodically distributing Harris’ photo to hotels and guesthouses across the Kingdom. Eventually, his image came to Kratie.
Last Tuesday morning, after four days at the Silver Dolphin, Harris apparently sensed he was under surveillance. He jumped on the black Honda and again fled, roaring out of Kratie at high speed.
When provincial police officers blocked the road, he tried to run away on foot. Police chased and cornered him. He still refused to cooperate, denying that he was Harris.
But while taking with a contact in Phnom Penh, he let slip his name, and had to confess his identity, said Mr. Heisela. Even after he was handcuffed he resisted police, threatening to fight back.
During his stay in the Kingdom, Harris is not known to have commited any crimes, said the police investigator.
But on his return to the United States Harris faces trial for forced sodomy with a minor and 44 counts of possession of child pornography.
According to a Florida arrest affidavit, investigators charge that he downloaded eight files onto his computer containing child pornography. They say a search of his home in March 2013 yielded a thumb drive with more pornographic images. By failing to show up for a hearing in the case last January, he forfeited an $8,400 bond.
Over the last six months, the worldwide search was animated by his ex-wife, Denise Diaz. To stir interest in his capture, she posted a $2,000 reward for his apprehension. Diaz now says she is working with agencies in Cambodia to determine who should receive the reward money.
And she has been posting news stories about her ex-husband’s capture on the Facebook page she created earlier this year: “Fugitive Michael Harris Bring Him to Justice.”
“I am humbled by the outpouring of support I have received from around the world during this difficult time,” Ms. Diaz, a former police officer, wrote in an email to the Khmer Times. “Our Law Enforcement agencies involved in this apprehension and investigation deserve our utmost recognition for their diligence in bringing an end to Michael Harris’s time on the run.”
“Thank you to the media for helping spread the word and keeping it in the news,” she wrote. “Thank you Cambodia!”