Soon after internet forums identified American fugitive and child abuse suspect Michael Edward Harris as a dog trainer in Sihanoukville on October 15, the 34-year-old hurriedly fled his apartment, leaving dirty dishes, a Bible and packs of condoms strewn across the flat.
Harris’s run from the authorities would last 12 days and take him from one end of the Kingdom to another.
“He was hard to find – he knew how to hide,” said the investigations chief at the immigration department, Uk Hai Sela, in a reference to Harris’s past career working with the FBI and as a military police officer.
The search for Harris, who arrived in Cambodia on January 17, was sparked by his ex-wife Denise Diaz, who posted a US media report about him in a Cambodian forum.
Harris skipped bail in Orlando after his arrest for possessing child pornography and was wanted by the US Army for indecent acts on a child and forced sodomy.
At first, police thought he could be in Koh Kong near the sea and would attempt an escape, so Hai Sela sent Harris’s photo to all provinces and various border checkpoints.
But as the net tightened, Harris, who spent two nights in Kampot after escaping Sihanoukville, fled again to Phnom Penh.
Rumours quickly started flying that he was in the capital.
“He tried to hide in Phnom Penh, but when people started talking about it, then he tried to go to Kratie,” Hai Sela said.
Harris would stay in Kratie eight days, first on the river island of Koh Trong and then for four to five days at the Silver Dolpin, a guesthouse in Kratie town, police said.
But Harris stuck out in the small provincial town.
“He’s [looks like] a European, a big man you know, easy to find,” Hai Sela said.
Kratie police finally had a confirmed sighting of him on Tuesday morning.
“He was wearing glasses, sitting by the guesthouse,” said Prum Phanith, deputy head of provincial immigration police.
“When he realised we spotted him at the guesthouse, he immediately checked out and drove his motorbike to Chhlong district and we arrested him there.”
Police say Harris was on his way back to Phnom Penh when he dropped his motorbike on the ground and tried to flee on foot.
Even though Harris was surrounded, he did not cooperate.
“He didn’t let anyone close to him,” Hai Sela said.
Harris claimed the police had the wrong guy, but gave up the fiction after he let slip his name during a phone call to a friend to help explain his situation in Khmer.
Harris was taken to Phnom Penh and questioned yesterday, said Hai Sela, adding that the deserter has not been accused of any crimes in Cambodia.
A request will be made to the Ministry of Interior to deport him to the United States.
“We appreciate the efforts of Cambodian law enforcement to find and arrest Michael Harris”, said US Embassy spokesman Jay Raman.