The Context of D.B. Cooper

On the evening of Thanksgiving 1971 the first, the most daring, and the only successful, skyjacking took place. A man known only by the alias of Dan Cooper boarded a “milk run”– a 727 bound from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. As soon as they were airborne he passed a note to the stewardess. It was a demand for ransom from the carrier, Northwest Orient. He demanded 200,000 dollars. He had a bomb in his briefcase. If they didn’t comply he would blow the plane up.

It shouldn’t be long for the flight to arrive at Seattle, but instead the plane was about 2 hours late. The pilots had been circling Seattle, waiting for instructions. The other passengers were kept in the dark. The company acquiesced and accepted to pay. In the meantime the FBI was photographing the bills.

Dan or D.B. Cooper had everything but this figured out. He knew the route from Portland to Seattle. He even recognized McCord AFB below as they circled. He had even figured out how to escape. Along with the money, he had demanded two sets of parachutes. He also knew the 727’s rear door could be lowered in flight, something not even the stewardess knew. He had worked out what to do with the passengers. As the Boeing airliner idled on the tarmac, at a dark and distant corner of the airfield, the few passengers who had been on this short run had to wait in the area nearby, standing in the rain as the airliner basked in the glare of klieg lights. After the money was delivered and the 727 was airborne, he had proved he had more things figured out. He instructed the pilot to fly under 10,000 feet and to keep the flaps down 15 degrees. The plane would be flying only under 200 miles per hour. Impressive knowledge of the huge aircraft. Instructions such as these made it possible for him to make and survive a jump.


After the money was delivered, the passengers were allowed to walk off the tarmac.

The crew, including the stewardesses, huddled in the cockpit on his orders. He prepared himself all alone in the back of the plane. He selected the parachute he wanted, then cut the cords off one of the extras. He stuffed the money in it and tied it around his waist. Snug now in his black suit, he removed his tie, for it could flap wildly in his face, then he opened the aft stairs. A light came on in the cockpit. The crew knew he had opened the door. Then, several minutes thereafter, the aircraft genuflected. He had jumped from the stairs and was gone. 635838907148921501-dbcooper-tie

One of the greatest manhunts in history was initiated after the aircraft landed in Reno, Nevada, its schedule refueling stop. The crew tried to guestimate where he had jumped. The forests north of Portland, Oregon, not so surprisingly, were estimated to be the location. With all the preparations he had done, it seems undeniable that he would have had an escape route preplanned.

The sheriffs and the FBI scouted the woods, cruised the rivers, but never found a trace of D.B. Cooper dead or alive. They never found his distinctive red parachute, nor the briefcase he had jumped out with. The lead Fed, Ralph Himmelsbach, could not believe that Cooper could have survived. The loafers he was wearing would not have even stayed on as he tumbled to earth. If he had survived the jump, he could not have made it out of the woods. To Himmelsbach, Cooper was a desperate, middle aged failure. He saw nothing smart in him, nothing cool.

However, as time had gone by the legend of D.B. Cooper was growing. He was looked upon as a cool and sophisticated daredevil who pulled off the stunt and heist of the century. In appearance D.B. Cooper also had looked like a laconic Bond. He had dressed in a dark suit, neat, narrow tie, dark fedora, and dark wrap around glasses hid his eyes. He ordered a Bourbon from the stewardess as they flew south. She gave it to him. He tried to pay for it. She refused. He sipped it slowly. Despite the briefcase with the supposed bomb in it (the stewardess saw the sticks of what looked like dynamite)  he is the image of a suave, in a rumpled Bond way, heist man. This legend of D.B. Cooper has remained with us.

But because of the foolhardiness of jumping out over a dark, rain swept forest at night, Himmelsbach formed the opinion Cooper was just a desperate fool. On the contrary, every other detail proves to what extent the man known as Dan Cooper had preplanned. He learned the Boeing 727.  He knew the route. He must have timed it more than once. He prepared meticulously how to get the money. He must have prepared his escape just as well. No one goes to all the planning he did just to jump out and take a chance in uncharted territory. But because no sign was ever found of Cooper, the law eventually opted to believe he died in the fall. Moreover, none of the bills were ever passed. He never spent any of his ill gotten gains.

FBI handbill

With time, the attitude would change. Other Feds would come to believe he had survived. In 1979 Carroll Hicks found the torn placard from the back door of the Boeing 727. He was out hunting elk and came across it. It was the warning sticker on the door. It must have been sucked out when Cooper lowered the stairs and the suction of breaking the seal on the aircraft was great enough to rip it off the open door. Yet 40 years have gone by. Those woods are not as isolated as they once were. Yet no discoveries have come of the parachute, parachute pack, clothes, briefcase or the money.


In 1980, $5,800 dollars of the ransom was found on Tina Bar on the Columbia River north of Portland. It was down river of the estimated drop zone, however. Some Feds came to share the popular view that Cooper had survived and the money had been dumped upstream and floated through Portland. The man known as Cooper probably had found the money was worthless. After all his preparations he had not prepared for the Feds to photo every bill and retain the serial numbers before the payoff had been delivered on the tarmac.

D.B. Cooper must have found out. This is a clue. When? I am not sure. But the location of the money indicates he had remained around Portland, the city from which he had boarded the plane 9 years before this paltry amount of money had been found, the city south of the forests he felt confident he could jump into at night and survive.

The circumstances of finding the money confirmed that it had not been dumped there the night of November 24, 1971. The money was found in a sediment layer on top of a dredge layer that was laid down in 1974 when the Columbia was dredged. It had been dumped in the river years after the skyjacking.


This too is a clue. There are many clues in the case of Dan Cooper, but no real evidence. Nobody’s uncle or brother, or father or husband, ever was put on the Doe list or listed as missing.  If D.B. Cooper had died in the fall you would think the man’s true identity would end up on a missing person’s list. If he came from the Portland area, this should happen rather quickly.  But it never did. No one failed to check out of their motel. An abandoned car was never found. The FBI’s handbill with the sketch of Cooper and his distinctive features didn’t register with car rental clerks, motel managers. In short, it seemed Cooper had not stayed around Portland. He must have driven himself or somehow got to the airport, didn’t leave a car behind, took the flight, and vanished into the woods. Yet somehow part of the ransom got back into the river years later. He seemed to still be around.

The case has riveted the nation and even the world thereafter. The heroism, albeit villainous heroism, the looting of corporate funds, the complete mystery of his fate, but the irony that he must have learned it was all for nothing and dumped the ransom, comes together to create a real life movie plot.

Dan Cooper was thought to be close to 40 years old at the time. He is no doubt dead today. But he lived and quietly died, probably around Portland, after having pulled off the most daredevil heist of the 20th century. He has entered legend as the “Jesse James of the Jet Age” and like the fate of the great Old West outlaws, people still want to know what happened to him.

We still question the fate of Billy Bonner, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In like manner, D.B. Cooper’s exact fate intrigues us. Like the outlaws of the Old West he wouldn’t rob a citizen, only a corporation. He has left admiration behind, mystery, and intrigue. But most of all he left many clues. And it is time to start following them.

I have done so for years. They lead to and from Canada, and reveal a complex plan that places the man behind the moniker in another location while he returned to Portland to pull off the heist of the century. He stashed the money in the woods he knew and left again to appear he had always been away. With his French Canadian background, this part was easy. Having been an AKAN in the US Air Force in Korea is probably what led him to select this daredevil  way to extort money for his retirement. But what type of mind truly conceives of something so daring, so complex as a skyjacking?  Dan Cooper’s did, and all the clues say he got away with it.

*         *          *

Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

ZODIAC Chronology

Hindsight it is said has 20/20 vision — yes, probably, if you are looking!

When it comes to cold cases I’m afraid that much gets lost because there is no look back at the context around key events. This is especially true of the ‘Zodiac’ Killer case despite the fact it is within reachable history. Devotees look back and they see the villainous media vulture’s reputation in place long before it really was.

By the time of the Lake Berryessa attack on September 27, 1969, The ZODIAC identified himself only once  as “The Zodiac” and this in only a quick reply in answer to Jack Stiltz’s doubt and subsequent request for more information. This was the only time ZODIAC quickly replied. He spent quite a bit of time fomenting his publicity game, but he knew it was to no purpose if he could not prove that he, the letter writing ZODIAC was not one and the same with the killer. Had Stiltz not questioned this, ZODIAC would have left it with the three simultaneous confession letters and his oblique warning he was going to continue to kill.


The area of the road where Bryan Hartnell had parked.

Doubt, however, still remained after ZODIAC’s August 4, 1969, reply to Stiltz in the Examiner.

Near two months later and still no attack from the ZODIAC. He had faded from the news. His name really didn’t stick with anybody. He was known more as the “Code Killer” if and when his case was referred to. He could still strike again, of course. He had taken lots of time between his first and second kills, so the law knew he was still out there. Lake_Berryessa_Car_door_at_crime_scene

After he attacked at Lake Berryessa, he walked back up the hillside and lettered the side of victim Bryan Hartnell’s door. A ledger of death, yes. But the ultimate purpose must have been quite utilitarian. He finally dispelled any doubt that he the letter writing ZODIAC and the killer were one and the same. Here at the scene of a crime there was proof in the form of his writing.

This was all ion preparation for his most crucial attack yet– in San Francisco, the heart of the Bay Area. In consequence of his writing on the car door, his threat letters had to be taken seriously. Without proving he was one and the same as the killer, the autumn of angst that would soon follow would not have been possible.

*         *          *

Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

Fitting in ZODIAC– Lake Berryessa’s Stocky Stalker

The desire for a solid link to uncover ZODIAC’s identity has caused many to highlight what often appear as irrelevancies. I shan’t do that here, but I think we need to draw some lines in order to connect a few dots about his movements at Lake Berryessa.

Lake Berryessa is so important because ZODIAC was seen without his hood a few times (presumably anyway) and in daylight. It is our first and perhaps only clear view of him.

Before this time Vallejo PD had nothing but Mike Mageau’s groggy account that ZODIAC was a heavyset guy, between 25 and 30 and he had a big face. He was not blubbery fat but he had a paunch. So he was a pretty stocky, beefy gorilla.

Let’s go back to a Kodachrome world.

On the afternoon of September 27, 1969, three coeds had just parked along Knoxville Road. It’s a large turnout on the right, overlooking the bowl of the valley lake. They are just on their way down the trail in the cleft when a silver blue 66 or 67 Chevy Impala pulls in from the south.  They are parked parallel to the road, but on the edge of the turnout where it overlooks the descent down to the “Beach.” They had pulled into the turnout from the north. Therefore the trunk of their car faced north.

The Impala passes their car. The driver stops, backs up and parks just as his bumper is close to their rear bumper. This doesn’t sound like a man who wants his license observed from the road.

The three coeds see him. They note the type of car and that the driver appeared a bit young to be driving such a car. They continue down to the “beach,” the striated dirt area that marks past waterlines at the lake. About 30 minutes later he appears at the tree line. He is watching them, but when they look he looks away.

ZODIAC didn’t attack women alone. He attacked couples. So if this was ZODIAC prowling about why did he linger? They were not alone. There was another couple down there: Denise Brown and Wayne Haight. The coeds knew them from Pacific Union College and had recognized his car in the lot across the road. They were laying out further away.

The coeds described the young heavyset man as not unhandsome. He was beefy, small ears, full, dark hair, perhaps stylized, parted on the left. He wore dark trousers and a dark sweater type top.  After some 45 minutes or so he was gone. Before leaving he had passed about 20 feet from them.

Lake_Berryessa_Suspec sketch

Was he waiting for them to leave so that Denise and Wayne would be alone? If so he got impatient and left.

Whatever the motive for his actions, the coeds found him suspicious. He had waited about 20 minutes in his car before even coming down and watching from the tree line. When they finally went back to the turnout his car was gone.

Much later that afternoon around 6:30 p.m. Dr. Clifford Rayfield and his 16 year old son David are north of the area where Bryan Hartnell and Celia Sheppard would soon be attacked by The ZODIAC. In fact, they were 4 lagoons north of “Zodiac Island.” This would mean they were one lagoon south of where the coeds had sunbathed.


Zodiac Island, the scene of the attack, as seen from McKenzie point to the south. Picture by me, taken August 6, 2012.

There are two different accounts here. The original account was given at the Spanish Flats coffee shop the next day to Dick Lonergan and Ken Narlow. Dr. Rayfield said they were just coming down the hillside when his son David saw a stocky 5 foot 10 inch man walking on the hillsides. When he saw his son he turned around and walked south up the hillside. This man was dressed in dark trousers and a dark long sleeved shirt.


The hillside around the lake. This is the area where Zodiac came down to attack the couple. It is similar to the area where David Rayfield had seen the stocky man earlier.

Narlow discounted the sighting because  Rayfield said that they had seen no other car parked along the road. The attack occurred around 6:30 p.m. and Narlow didn’t believe this man on foot could get to the location of the attack which was 4 lagoons to the south.

However, years later David Rayfield spoke with Robert Graysmith. He said his father never saw the man, but at the time was fishing at the lake while he wandered around with his .22  rifle. It is then that he saw the man. When the man saw his rifle with an intimidating scope, he turned around and left.

This now makes it sound as the Rayfields had been down there for a while when David had his sighting.

If David is more accurate this would explain why they saw no other car parked up there. The reason why Rayfield had not seen a car is that ZODIAC had parked after them and was coming down to see who the occupants were of their car. When he saw a 16 year old with a gun, he knew these were not viable targets.

It could be that Dr. Rayfield just hadn’t noticed the other cars. He had also said that there was a man down there with his sons shooting B-B guns. Yet Rayfield had not seen their car, and they must have come by one. He did not report seeing Hartnell’s car on the side of the road, though he must have passed it. The stocky man had to come by car, and very possibly Rayfield had not seen it or the man had parked after the Rayfields got there.

Dr. Rayfield’s account the next day does not square up completely with the facts, and it is possible that his son’s recollection is more accurate.


Looking down Knoxville Road, where Bryan had parked his Karmann Ghia.

There is another tidbit. ZODIAC thought the attack location was about 2 miles north of park headquarter. It is, in fact, no way that far. But had he come back along the road from the north, after seeing who the occupants of Rayfield’s car was, he might not really have known how far north he was anymore of the HQ. Anybody coming from the south, who had just recently passed the HQ would not think the attack location was as much as 2 miles north.

Maybe yea, maybe nay, but what we do have are similar descriptions of a man who was still prowling the hillsides in the same general area hours apart. Minutes after David saw the man, Bryan and Celia are attacked by a heavyset man in dark, pleated trousers and a hood over a dark thin windbreaker type jacket. This most definitely was The ZODIAC.

*         *          *

Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

HorrorScope Snippet– Chapter 3

HorrorScope, chapter 3 “Silence of the Peacocks.”

This is not the final draft, but still editing and rewriting as I go through again. This little snippet though will give you a taste of the re-creation style of parts of the narrative.


Instead she finally went to Mike’s. Apparently the fact Dee was married and had a baby girl did not bother the young 19 year old Mike Mageau, at least as little as it bothered Dee. This was 1969 after all, two years after the Summer of Love. The middleclass was only now awakening to an antiestablishment pulse to break the norms and not assume the most negative thing about anything or anybody acting out of that norm. This is part rationalization, granted. Dee Ferrin was still more vanguard than mainstream. The reaction to her lifestyle would probably have been worse than that in one of the top 10 songs of the year before—Harper Valley P.T.A.


Well, the note said, “Mrs. Johnson,

you’re wearing your dresses way too high

It’s reported you’ve been drinking

and a-runnin’ ’round with men and going wild

And we don’t believe you ought to be bringing up your little girl this way”

It was signed by the secretary, Harper Valley P.T.A.


Dee was as much a reflection of the counterculture as she was, by type, part of the cause for the receptive attitudes around San Francisco. Her life was certainly not the typical mainstream life of a 22 year old wife. Nor had it been. Her reputation for excitement must have been such that the young Mike Mageau had a definite impression of her and geared his introduction accordingly. He had said he was wanted by the FBI, thinking this would make her like him.


But Dee had liked him anyway, though he had some peculiarities. He thought he was too skinny. As a result he dressed to build himself up. For instance, despite the summer’s tepid air from the bay, he had dressed tonight in 3 pairs of pants, 1 t-shirt, one long sleeve shirt, and over these 3 sweaters.

In this combination— her thin but lively flower print and his built up stork’s physique— they sailed down Columbus Parkway in her brown Corvair, windows down and radio playing the currents hits. Under the clutches of the canopy of eucalyptus, into the starlight, and at last they plunged into the cleft of the bosom where the solitary orb of light floating in the ink marked the lamppost at Blue Rock Springs Park.

The Corvair’s headlights swept the golden letters of the painted redwood sign, steadied, closed in and stopped. She parked at an angle, her headlights obliquely lighting the sign. She didn’t park in a stall. No one was there. There was no point in being picky. Dee was never picky. She turned the headlights off and the sign went dark. Dee turned off the engine and kept the radio playing softly.

There wasn’t much time to say anything before a couple of cars came rolling in. Kids giggled, set off some firecrackers, and rolled back onto Columbus Parkway and into the clutching shadows of the eucalyptus canopy.

It must have been near midnight. They had barely been left alone when yet another car came from the direction of Springs Road and pulled in next to Dee on her driver’s side. Considering she was parked crooked, it was bold to mimic her angle. Mike looked over. He could see there was only one man in the car. It looked like a car similar to Dee’s Corvair. The person turned off his headlights and sat there. He was parked only 6 to 8 feet away. This was indeed bold. Dee too looked over. Mike joked about how she knows everybody.

“Do you know him?”

“Oh, never mind,” she replied.

He didn’t know what she meant. No matter anyway. The lights on the strange car soon came on and the car started up and pulled out and drove off back to town.

It was a queer moment but Dee knew many odd people. After all, she liked the far side. Mike didn’t pursue it.

Only minutes later the same car returned, this time pulling to the right side and at an angle. At least they thought it was the same car. They looked over their shoulders at the blinding headlights. It might be a policeman. The policeman on this beat checked the lot occasionally. A powerful flashlight came on and started to move behind them and up to Mike’s open window. Now Mike was sure it was a cop. As the light came to the window he looked over his shoulder. He saw a beefy guy; under 6-foot tall he estimated. He had a blue short-sleeved shirt on. He carried one of those big handheld flashlights in his left hand. Mike leaned back and reached around to get his wallet. It was a fortuitously timed act.

A shot burst forth. Mike felt burning pain in his neck.   He jumped back. Dee clutched the steering wheel, but 2 more shots pumped out, piercing through her right arm and then through her left. Another shot spit out. She slumped from a shot in her ribs. Mike was flailing about. A shot hissed out again from behind the blinding splatter of the flashlight. His hip burned with pain.

The bright flashlight beam streaked off the car. Footsteps casually thumped away. Blood trickled and dripped down the interior, lit only by the surreal light of the assailant’s headlights. They cast a lumbering shadow over the gruesome scene in the Corvair as the killer passed before them.

Mike let out a scream of agony, mixed with anger.

The shadow stopped, steadied. The flashlight beam streaked over the car again, sparkling off the rear window and illuminating the blood streaking down the interior paneling. The footsteps were returning. Mike panicked. He started jumping about in the backseat. The flashlight splatter stopped at the side window. From behind the splatter two more shots burst out. His shoulder burned in back and then his leg. Two more shots burst out at Dee. She was slumped over the wheel and took the shots in her right back without any attempt to block them.

The splatter of the flashlight beam coasted off the car again. Moments later the killer’s shadow lumbered through the blood in the Corvair as the villain passed in front of his headlights again to the driver’s side of his car.

*         *          *

Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.