South By Northwest– Foreword to D.B. Cooper

Since I now have Bermuda Triangle II off my back, and I await only one bit to finish HorrorScope, I am beginning my next round of books. I have written the foreword to South by Northwest, my investigation and pursuit of D.B. Cooper. A foreword is the first chapter I write in a book and the last I re-write. So this can most certainly change. But here it is as it stands now. I hope it whets your appetite to finally uncover the true identity of the Jesse James of the Jet Age.

South by Northwest, Foreword by Gian J. Quasar

 

Not since the romanticized Old West has a villain been so glorified as D.B. Cooper. There are those who would object immediately to him even being called a criminal or villain. Villain perhaps not, but he certainly committed a high stakes crime, high not only in the dollar amount he extorted but in the risk and daring factor. Criminal this makes him. He may have been a gutsy, even brave criminal but he was a criminal nonetheless.

There is no question that his image is a cool one. He was dressed like a middle age James Bond—dark suit, thin black tie, carried a briefcase, and hid his eyes behind fashionable wrap-around shades. This is the man who claimed he had a bomb in said briefcase and made the air carrier Northwest Orient pay out $200,000.00 under threat he’d blow up the plane and the passengers thereon. As the game unfolded and all waited tensely, he drank a Bourbon. He offered to pay for it. He’d rob a corporation but not the stewardess. She declined. This was the sleek villain threatening to blow up the airplane.

For the antiestablishment movement this in itself carried cache. Add the daredevil image to his calm and cool look and there is little wonder that Cooper soon became glorified as the “Jesse James of the Jet Age.” A strange hero was born: a modern Robin Hood who robbed from a rich corporation to keep it himself.

Cooper’s daring exploit, in fact, has never been equaled, not successfully anyway. There are those copycats who tried to get away with skyjacking an airliner for cash. They displayed the same daring and risk, but each one failed. Copycats obviously have no originality.

But D.B. Cooper did. He succeeded. He was the first. He chose a stormy night. He chose to bailout over the rugged wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Surely these are clues to his character and foreplanning. Put together with every other aspect of his caper and the profile of a careful, premeditative man emerges. It paid off. He remains elusive, not just in terms of never having been brought to justice; his very identity is unknown. This is quite an accomplishment all things considering.

Dan Cooper is just the alias he used to check in at Portland International Airport. He was seen extensively and up close by the stewardesses, of course. His features were unique. A composite was done in detail. Yet no dragnet ever uncovered Dan Cooper’s true identity.

Because skyjacking is a Federal crime, the FBI was in charge. Despite the Bureau’s formidable power of collating and analyzing data, both nationally and internationally, it is a remarkable fact that they never uncovered a missing person who fit his description. There was no missing uncle. No missing brother or brother-in-law. No missing father. No person was reported missing who matched Dan Cooper.

Given their theory this fact is amazing. At the time the FBI wanted to believe that he had “splattered,” that is, after he jumped from the Boeing 727 his chute didn’t open or on that rainy and windswept Thanksgiving Eve night 1971 he was plunged into the jagged, spear-like forests north of Portland and there ended the daredevil skyjacker, clutching his ill-gotten gains. It is a fact that none of the money was ever spent, and the FBI had shrewdly taken down each bill’s serial number. So to them the quest was one to find Dan Cooper’s true identity.

Yet too many clues say he survived. But why hadn’t he spent the filthy lucre?

It is possible to still trace Dan Cooper and uncover his identity. He is not just an alias and a distinctive looking man on a Federal handbill. The clues he left behind make him trackable. He knew the 727. He gave instructions to the captain how to fly it on the getaway trip from Seattle. All these instructions made it possible for him to jump from such a huge airliner in midair. He knew parachutes. He selected one that indicated he had some military experience, though not recent experience. He knew those woods. He could not have been a stranger to Portland. From Portland he had come. No car was found abandoned and traced to a man resembling him. No suitcase had been left in a locker. No motel room guest had failed to show up again. Dan Cooper had left zero trail. Only a man who had returned to his place in society could leave no trail and yet taunt us with all these clues.

Was Cooper an adventurer or was he the desperado the FBI painted him to be? The reader will have to decide after reading this book. One thing is certain: he went to unprecedented lengths to secure his money, and it worked. Something went wrong. The money was not spent. But he got away.

All of these are clues that lead us closer to Dan Cooper.

Various psychological profiles were done on this mysterious man, based on the couple of hours he existed in the limelight and the acts he had committed. The lead FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach preferred to think that Cooper was a down-and-out loser. He hated the glorified image. Cooper was a desperate, uneducated man. Even years after the case was dormant, Himmelsbach would take his own plane and scour the woods north of Portland. It was his own desperate attempt to finally spot the red parachute and find the remains of Dan Cooper. This would remove the hero image. He was a loser unprepared to commit such a crime, and his fate was death in the woods on that dark night.

But agent Himmelsbach never found a trace of Cooper. No one has, alive or dead.

Now it is time that we pick up that trail again and relive that day, a festive Thanksgiving Eve 1971 and then follow every clue to write the aftermath and finally solve the mysterious fate of D.B. Cooper.

*         *          *

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 or Q Man. “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.

Advertisements

D.B. or Dan Cooper– the Logistics of Being a Skyjacker

Things are hotting up in the search for D.B. Cooper. My theory, as you know, is that Cooper came from the Portland area already. Here he boarded the Boeing jetliner on Thanksgiving Eve 1971 and headed to Seattle on the “milk run.” To this place he returned after he made his daredevil jump with $200,000 clams. I like my theory. This fits my POI’s residence. Much in my POI’s background fits the profile. For example, he was a Navy AKAN in Korea.

However, attention has been drawn recently to the theory that D.B. Cooper, the alias for the infamous and still-mysterious skyjacker, worked at Boeing in the Seattle area. An examination of the clip-on tie he left behind before jumping into mystery over the forests of Washington reveals particles that indicate he worked at Boeing. These particles are: “cerium, strontium sulfide and pure titanium.” Citizen Sleuths, the organization that examined the tie, asserts this strongly suggests contamination from a Boeing development area.

airliner

A Seattle based D.B. Cooper would make sense, but without an accomplice it is hard to imagine success. The scenario would be: he was driven to Portland by an accomplice, caught the plane, committed the skyjacking, then jumped back near Portland into the forests and there somehow met his accomplice. Remember, this was a windswept, stormy night. If doing this on his own, he had left his car somewhere in southern Washington . . . but how did he get to the airport from the rural areas of southern Washington?  In any case, he was driven back to Seattle or drove himself.

Like all theories, it is easy, but logistics is difficult. How to pull something like this off successfully?

At the time (November 1971 and soon thereafter) rumors circulated around the little hamlet of La Center, Washington. These rumors even found place in the 1979 episode of In Search of . . . in which Leonard Nimoy cautioned they were “highly questionable.” These rumors spoke of an unidentified light plane that frequently made landings in a field nearby at night and there awaiting it was a car. The implication was that these were dry runs between Cooper and his accomplice. The implication again was that the car would get Cooper after he landed and bring him to the field and plane and then it would take off with him and the ransom money.  . .or a fraction of it.

la-center
La Center’s main street, circa 1979

 

A bit complex. The other accomplice, presumably, drives away in the car.

It is a fact that no one knows what happened to D.B. Cooper. No trace was ever found of him and it took 9 years to even locate a fraction of the ransom money. It had floated for some time in the Columbia River and been beached in a storm at Tina Bar. There $5,800 bucks worth of the $2oo,000 was found in 1980 by a kid raking sand to make a campfire.

For the Feds, especially for the lead investigator Ralph Himmelsbach, this was proof that Cooper splattered when he had jumped. He hadn’t survived. Himmelsbach had a low opinion of Cooper. He didn’t like the popular treatment of him as some kind of “Jesse James of the Jet Age.” He was a desperado, a goober who never could have survived the jump.

placardBut it is a fact that nothing else was ever found. No red parachute, no clothes, no briefcase, no bones. In 1978 Carroll Hicks while hunting 13 miles from Castle Rock, Washington, discovered the plastic warning placard that had been ripped from the inside door of the Boeing 727 when the aft stairs had been lowered. It was possible to find even such a small, delicate item as this. Following the drift of the Columbia River, it seemed Cooper must have splattered in the Washougal Valley area, but no trace has ever come of the parachute or anything else. Moreover, wind estimates don’t allow for Cooper to have made it that far by drift from the path of the airliner.

The location of a fraction of the ransom money has only added to the mystery of D.B. Cooper. But the greater mystery comes from he dragnet. This was world news. Nationally both in Canada and the US the sketch representing D.B. Cooper was plastered everywhere. Yet no one recognized him. He had a unique, long face with slender nose. He was middle age. No one recognized him? No neighbor, relative, friend. What’s more, no one went on the Doe list. No one was reported missing. No one failed to show at a motel, back at home, no abandoned car was found whose owner matched the FBI sketch.

db-cooper-440

The only conclusion was not a palatable one– the mysterious man calling himself Dan Cooper had survived and returned to his normal life. There was no one to report missing.

But after 1980 it seemed certain he was dead because the money indicated he splattered and eventually it had drifted into the Columbia River. Yet if he was truly dead, how to explain no one was ever reported missing?

Until the 21st century the FBI held to Himmelsbach’s views that Cooper was a dead deadbeat. One of the Feds in charge of the case then wasn’t so sure. He thought Cooper had survived.

It is indeed impossible to explain all the clues and sew them together into one coherent theory. The material on the tie Cooper left behind is another clue. But had Cooper died in the drop, everybody at Boeing would have noticed a coworker missing, especially if the sketch was remotely accurate. No one at Boeing reported a missing man. So, did Cooper survive and return to work, thus allaying any suspicions?

More and more it seems the only theories that can work are those that accept that “Jesse James of the Jet Age” had survived. Why then the money on Tina Bar? Why was no dime of it ever spent elsewhere?

*         *          *

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 or Q Man. “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.

Q-True Crime Agenda– 2017

I try and convey some of my most controversial points subtly, in a round about way. It saves us all grief should something turn out amiss in one’s future predictions, or if a deduction was minus a significant fact that mitigates it.

So much has been claimed on the web. It’s an unfiltered forum and many with great conviction have come forward to reveal, sadly, great error in their deductions. We need only recall the dogma asserted against a particular car dealer being the ZODIAC. Error is innocent, so there is no need to mock.  But it is true that most of the glaring error in naming suspects has been avoidable error.

Despite writing a book on the ZODIAC Killer, which is now except for the last chapter finished, I devoted a lot of web space to my real life investigation, including putting back the crime scenes as they had been. Lots of traveling was involved, lots of photography. In fact, I developed a love for photography. It was necessary that the ground floor be re-laid in ZODIAC because of the decades of folklore that had come to change it all.

Zodiacmockup-icon

For EAR/ONS it was necessary to reveal the ground floor so that now, as it stands at the brink of worldwide popularity, it could not be built upon by folklore.

My agenda, however, has ben a real one, and I have revealed it before. I have three targets in my sight– ZODIAC, EAR/ONS, D.B. Cooper. Each is to be solved unequivocally. My investigation will solve them or contribute significantly to absolute solution. Despite the nobility of that comment I intend to solve them.

I don’t like people who do not have a competitive spirit. So long as they don’t undermine another (that’s not really competition), competition is a healthy motivation. Out stride another. Better oneself. Progress.

You can’t get into a major university without showing the necessary enthusiasm.  Some detective proclaiming how dispassionate he is is not going to accomplish squat. Enthusiasm makes the lightbulb come on. Routine processing does not.

But the lightbulb must come on based on knowledge. For example, 50 year olds were never viable for being ZODIAC. He had a young voice and was described as between 25 and 30.

I proceed along the evidence, and even more importantly, along the clues. I’ve said it many times– clues are everything. When investigated they lead to evidence.

True crime buffs read me with a filter. They tune out dogma because publishing has so destroyed the credibility of the genre with its S&M rubbish of “solved” books by authors who reveal a lack of knowledge on the specific crimes of which they are solving and show more a desire to blame “daddy.”

Haight-Ashbury-Quasar

Cold case makes one go back and study the history of the time. History sharpens investigative skill. Context is everything. History is not processed. It is investigated. It is uncovered. Context is discovered. Historians should tackle cold cases far more often. I think I’m the only one.  ZODIAC’s era was an exotic one.

As it stands now, in 2017 I can say with great certainty the ZODIAC Killer case will be solved. For 4 years I have tracked my suspect, and I can finally say it is time to finish it. How soon thereafter will a solution to EAR/ONS come? That I am not so sure. D.B. Cooper is a little stickier, but in 2017, free of ZODIAC, and having reduce the pursuit of EAR/ONS to knocking off or confirming one of three, I will have more time to follow the trail of a Portlander from a Canadian background. There will be more on that soon.

But ZODIAC tumbles first. Let us talk more about Steve “Beard” or Steve Wilcox in the next post. I know I am putting myself out there where I don’t want to be, but several things have to be said to distance him and the method via which I came to him than all those that have been blithely promoted as ZODIAC over the decades. He ain’t daddy. He wasn’t entirely the unsuspected. But he was the in-investigated. He was only processed. I found more. Lots more.

Embarcadero freeway

*         *          *

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.

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.

article-0-0D3C061B00000578-228_634x367

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.

DB_Cooper_Wanted_Poster
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.

dbtimeline071029_1_560

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.

Drop Zone and D.B. Cooper!

America’s first and most infamous skyjacker, D.B. Cooper,  is said to have made a fatalistic jump from the aft stairs of the Boeing 727 on that night so long ago, November 24, 1971. From that point forward both the Feds and so many in the press were disposed to believe that “Dan Cooper” could not have survived the jump. This attitude has remained ingrained in us today.  Despite a number of living suspects having been put forward in the popular forum, despite the popular wish that he had made it, most nevertheless think he didn’t have a chance.

However, greed inspires others; and from this we get a clue. Soon there were other skyjackers, all hitting 727s because those were the only aircraft with rear stairs that could be lowered in flight. Richard Floyd McCoy is the most famous example of the successful copycatter, but he eventually got caught. His mistake? He hadn’t jumped in a wilderness area.

Richard Floyd McCoy — some think he was D.B. Cooper because he carried off a $500,000 smackeral 727 heist in copycat of Cooper. There is some resemblance, but the stewardesses said it was not him. He died in a shootout with the G-Men.

It would seem that D.B. Cooper jumping into the rugged and untamed wilderness north of Portland was his biggest mistake. Even if his chute opened, how could a man in a business suit survive slicing through the pine branches and then finding his way out of the thick underwood?

The question is probably not necessary. Dan Cooper did appear to have thought things out. Dropping into a wilderness wasn’t his big mistake. It was rather the result of inspiration. And, in truth, he really didn’t drop into “rugged wilderness.” He chose a compromise.

The revised drop zone placed Cooper as having jumped around Woodland, Washington, near both the Lewis and Columbia rivers. The wind (as last recorded) was from the west, meaning he would drift easterly.  Placing him at about 180 pounds, his drift would be in a confined track line east/southeast of the Woodland area.

This area between Woodland and La Center is hardly wilderness. Huge fields checkerboard with stands and oases of woods. There is more than enough room to get a small plane in. There’s more than enough country roads to access most of the area.

Rumors of such a get-away plan naturally surfaced early. One such account even found memorial in the late great In Search of in 1979, in which we were told that unsubstantiated rumors said that locals near La Center, Washington, saw such a small aircraft coming and going from a field days in advance, responding to the signaling flashes of the headlights of a parked car.  After the skyjacking it stopped. Were these events rehearsals?

La Center

La Center was then a very small farming town in the forest. In Search of reminded us that most of the town was that Thanksgiving eve in the Free Evangelical Church attending the wedding of the town’s popular music teacher. Could D.B. Cooper have known about this?

La Center is at the southern area of the probable drop zone.

Such a scenario as outlined by the rumors would mean an accomplice. But did D.B. Cooper take that chance? Those who copycatted him did not.

But we must remember that copycats don’t have original inspiration. None could possibly plan as much as Cooper had. Cooper was the first. He set the precedence. The original inspiration was his. It is not surprising that Cooper alone was never caught. He was never caught because he jumped toward a wilderness. Every clue underscores how he had planned meticulously in advance. He told the pilots how to fly that plane, at what altitude, at what degree to have the flaps down, and he even knew the aft stairs could be lowered in flight, which even the stewardess didn’t know.

Dropzone

The most probable drop zone. Huge bottom land fields west of Woodland and interspersed fields all the way to La Center southeast of Woodland.

One thing Cooper didn’t know– he didn’t know that those aft stairs after being lowered would bounce back up when he jumped off, that is, they would come back up and then lower again. Acting like a rudder, it caused the entire plane to dip its nose a bit– to “genuflect.” The crew, huddled in the cabin at Cooper’s orders, figured it was about 8:15 p.m. Since the rear door placard was found  about 13 miles east of Castle Rock, wind drift tells us that  Flight 305 was west of Castle Rock at that moment. Close to 15 minutes later and the flight would be around Woodland when Cooper jumped.

Dropzone-closer

Beetling in a little closer, we see the field network. It is more developed today than back then, but it was hardly wilderness.

D.B. Cooper would have to have things timed perfectly. What is the point in going to all this trouble just to jump into thickets and woods? He must have flown the route before. He must have flown it in a private aircraft to check landmarks from the sky. That night he had ordered the pilots to fly that Boeing 727 under 200 mph– a speed that a small private aircraft can make. He had things timed.

Even if the La Center reports are just rubbish, it is a scenario that must have been considered by Cooper. Whether those were test runs that were later abandoned for another method of picking him up we do not know.

Dropzone-closer2

Even closer. . .

What we do know is that the terrain between Woodland and La Center is hardly wilderness.

The original drop zone estimate around Ariel further north, with wind drift, would have placed Cooper in some of the nasty, dense forests, and thus it seemed much more reasonable to assume Cooper didn’t make it. But the revised drop zone seems far more survivable.

There are those that can logically argue that such precision was not possible. There was no way that Cooper could have known exactly what path that Boeing would fly on the way south. Not entirely true. Due to the altitude he dictated, there was really only one way south in order to avoid the large mountains. This was back to Portland.

I don’t think he could have afforded to have a plane standing by near La Center, however, as that presupposed he knew what the wind drift would be like. It could be, however, that he figured La Center would, in fact, be the center of his drop zone no matter what, since the airliner would normally be a little further east in its flight path.

We can second guess it forever. But one thing is fairly certain. Cooper was really not jumping into a wilderness area. Rural yes. Interspersed with swaths of forest definitely.

There was no way possible that Dan Cooper could have drifted to any location near the Columbia River down stream of where only 3 bundles of the ransom money were later found in 1980 at Tina Bar north of Portland. The fact the money was found there suggests it was later dumped.

Cooper
Latin looking, a bit tanned, thin, cool, smoking his Raleighs and drinking bourbon and soda. This image captured our adventurous imaginations in the antiestablishment era and we still wonder today who this enigma was.

D.B. Cooper pulled off the daredevil crime of the century and in some respects succeeded. Even if he didn’t get a chance to spend his ill gotten gains, he may indeed have survived. He became the “Jesse James of the Jet Age”– smooth, whiskey drinking, smoking his Raleighs, in a black business suit. Success or failure, it remains amazing he has not been identified.  He has left enormous mystery in his wake, and now 44 years later people still want to know what happened to this outlaw of the outer limits.

*         *          *

For 25 years 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.

South by Northwest — Assessing D.B. Cooper

Assessing D.B. Cooper. Indeed. After one investigates the actual sequence of events leading up to and after the skyjacking on November 24, 1971, one must proceed to assess which fork in the road to take. Did D.B. Cooper survive or did he “splatter”?  Before one can investigate and begin the process of elimination to try and identify the most notorious skyjacker in history, one must sort this out.

Ralph Himmelsbach, the lead Fed, preferred to believe that Cooper “splattered.” The wise guys told him the chances of someone in a business suit without a helmet jumping from a jet airliner at 10,000 feet on a stormy night. They didn’t even think his shoes– only loafers– would stay on. How could someone like this survive hitting the ground, slogging through muddy prairies, and then through the dense undergrowth of the forest? How could he even get through the dense pine forests on the way to the ground without being shredded by the trees?

DB_Cooper_Wanted_Poster
Basically all we officially know of “Dan Cooper.”

Even long after he retired, Himmelsbach searched the wilderness in the area he thought the most probable drop zone. The problem is Feds aren’t very good with street investigation. It’s not their turf. To read an FBI influenced report is to see how detailed, meticulous, analytical they can be at a higher level. They are quite logistic, which is good. But the street is not their turf. Even more so, the forest is no lawman’s turf.

Ralph Himmelsbach nor any lawman was at an advantage here.

Himmelsbach
Ralph Himmelsbach warns that the Bureau has a long memory– In Search of 1979.

What the FBI had done in the initial phase of the search in 1971-1972 was to alert the banks about the serial numbers. How often tellers checked, we do not know. The Bureau did sweeps of missing persons and felons who had skydiving skills.  They checked into missing persons. Who had not come home? What neighbors are missing? Abandoned cars? No one fit.

But the wilderness has no cross reference and no one is there to assist. This was the last known location of D.B. Cooper.

Because agent Himmelsbach preferred to believe Cooper died in the jump, he eventually limited himself to a personal pursuit of looking for a needle in a haystack. Somewhere that red parachute or pieces thereof should be found. A body. A chewed suit. Even a loafer. How about the briefcase that contained the “bomb”?  Neither he nor anybody ever found anything to indicate what happened to Dan Cooper.

As the years went by, it seemed something should turn up if he lived or died. One of those $20 dollar bills if he lived, some relic of his passing in the wilderness if he died. Nothing.

A relic was not improbable in the wilderness. The survival of some bit of clothing or parachute or even the money was confirmed in 1978 when hunter Carroll Hicks while stalking elk came across  the remnant of the warning placard that had been sucked out of the Boeing 727 when Cooper lowered the aft stairs in flight and the suction yanked it out.

Some 15 minutes after this Dan Cooper jumped with the $200,000 wrapped around his waist in the remnant of one of the parachute sacks he didn’t need. Yet not a trace of any of the clothes, parachute, briefcase has been found. Even if he survived a remnant of the briefcase should have been found. He could not have held on to that all the way down. Nada.

9c22bee5-4190-4ce8-9cd4-e346a989b481
The search at Tina Bar.

Then in 1980 3 bundles of the ransom money were found on Tina Bar, north of Portland. One bundle was shy 200 bucks worth of 20s, making the total amount recovered 5,800 dollars instead of $6,000.00.

This changed everybody’s mind as to just where the 727 was when Dan Cooper jumped.

The calculations had undergone several adjustments even during the search in 1971. Now 9 years later it was time to reconsider. The first calculation proposed that the 727 was near Merwin Dam by Ariel, Washington, when Cooper jumped. Then it seemed the flight had to be further west, and Captain Scott, the pilot, later came to that view as well. It seemed somewhere by Woodland, Washington, was more likely.

By the time 1980 rolled around and the location of the money on Tina Bar, these were 9 year old calculations that had inspired searches that had found nothing. Now it seemed the Woodland one had to be wrong. Woodland is north of where the money was found. Nothing drifts upriver.  Could it be the original was truly the most accurate? Himmelsbach began to think so. The only answer is that Cooper drifted from near Ariel southeast to the Washougal Valley. There he splattered. Over time floods or whatever moved some of the money down to the Washougal River. There it floated in the Columbia, through Portland, past Caterpillar Island and a few bundles beached on Tina Bar.

Map
The first arrow at top of map indicates Woodland where it was later thought probable that Cooper jumped. Star marks Caterpillar Island. Second arrow marks the Washougal. Lake Merwin and Merwin Dam are at the top of the map.

This alone seemed to explain the location of the money and the evidence it had been in the water for a while before it had washed up onto the sand bar within a 3 foot layer of sediment. Clearly flood had moved the money and enough sediment to deposit 3 feet of it, with the money scattered in it, upon Tina Bar.

Logical.

However, nothing has been found in the Washougal Valley to suggest that D.B. Cooper’s remains are there. Moreover, Himmelsbach used as supporting evidence for his theory the report of a pilot, Bohan by name, who was flying his airliner behind the 727 but at a higher altitude. Bohan said the wind was 180 on the nose. Why did Himmselbach not notice that this would be a headwind from the location of Flight 305 to the Washougal? How could Cooper drift southeast into a southeast headwind? It is impossible. And Woodland is too far. If the wind at Cooper’s altitude here was favorable and drifting toward the southeast he was too far away to drift over 25 miles to the Washougal from Woodland. If Cooper jumped in either location he could not have drifted into a headwind.

How then did the money get where it was found?

Neither wind, adjusted location for the flight route, nor anything natural can explain how the money got to Tina Bar.

Because of this the location of the money did not settle the question on what happened to D.B. Cooper. It only raised questions. Did he survive? Did he find out the Feds had taken down the serial numbers and the extorted gains were no good? Did he pitch it afterward? On some dark night did he go out in a boat and dump the money in the river? If he did, when? The sediment band in which was located the money was on top of a band of sediment cast up when the Columbia was dredged in 1974, 3 years after the skyjacking.

Ralph Himmelsbach’s theory could explain it if it hadn’t been for the wind making the Washougal impossible and therewith any subsequent drift of the money in the Columbia River.

Did Dan Cooper survive and get rid of the incriminating money? With the Washougal seemingly out of the picture, and with this a defined landing location to scour removed from the equation it seemed easier to follow through on the probability that “Dan Cooper,” the “Jesse James of the Jet Age,” survived.

It is this fork that I elected to take, and this is the path that led me to my POI.

I preferred that D.B. Cooper splattered. It would be more enticing to think one can traipse across beautiful forests and suddenly find his remains or those of the rest of the money and get a whopping reward! But those chances are slim, and in 44 years no one has done so despite the example of Carroll Hicks finding a needle in a haystack in 1978.

In taking this fork, we must accept that Cooper buried his red parachute and made it out of the forest; that nobody has come across his briefcase out there with the “bomb” or didn’t know what it was; that he did not spend any significant amount of the money (though 200 bucks was missing from one bundle recovered); that he was a local Portlander or that he returned to dump the money.

The last step on the aft stairs of Flight 305 is the last sure step we know of “Dan Cooper.”

More than this we must accept the obvious clues and evidence that Cooper was qualified to make the jump.  That he took time to learn the 727 and the route. Equally, we must accept that he took the time to plan out a drop zone. He knew where to have those flaps set on the plane, what altitude to order it to fly– everything. He must have taken equal care about his escape.

Let us pursue this further in our next D.B. Cooper post.

 

*         *          *

For 25 years 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.

D.B. Cooper, Me, and My POI

Steve Doran, in a rare moment when his mouth wasn’t full or his fingers busy holding his Turkish delights, sent me the following link.

New D.B. Cooper person of interest

The old buffs of D.B. Cooper will see some problems with the POI and some problematic claims.

But it comes time soon to reveal that I have had a POI for a while. I haven’t revealed it because, as always, there is much that needs to be done before any POI can be taken seriously. The article above reveals that basically Lepsy vanished in 1969 (which is not uncommon) and wore a similar black tie. There is no knowledge of wind drift, how the money could have gotten to Tina Bar, no understanding how Himmelsbach, the lead Fed, frankly made some serious mistakes in calculating drift that allowed the theory that Cooper could have drifted to the Washougal Valley. Without that it is hard to explain how the money wound up on Tina Bar unless it had been intentionally pitched in the Columbia or Willamette rivers after the 1974 dredging operations.

These little indicators above suggest Cooper survived and remained nearby.

With my POI it is difficult. He did not vanish in 1971. He was local. He was of French Canadian heritage, a family with strong links to a certain region of Quebec. His grandfather had come to America, to the Midwest first where his father was born and then they came to Portland, where he was born.  He was 39 during the skyjacking.

His age fits, the French Canadian connection fits with the use of Dan Cooper, a Belgian parachuting hero, the comics of which were available in Canada, where he had many aunts and uncles.  He served in the US Navy as an Airman in Korea.

D.B. Cooper chose the oldest of the pair of parachutes delivered to him, indicating to the Feds that he had some from of military background, but nothing current.  He used the alias of the skydiving Dan Cooper, a comic published in French. He had no accent, but was thought possibly to be Canadian.

db-cooper-440
“Dan Cooper” with and without his wrap around sunglasses.

There is more, of course– a job that might give him a clue faster than others that the Feds had photo’d the serial numbers of the money. A cabin in the woods. Perhaps even a tight community that might protect him, though the last is unlikely. Time in Canada before and after the skyjacking. All of it makes a good cover.

But those who follow my true crime and cold case investigations know how difficult it is to get enough details in order to go public and then go official. Unless you have enough to motivate the authorities the rest of the investigation may not follow the right track. You may never hear back on your POI.

Skyjackal

An indication of how early I am in my continuing investigation. I can’t even figure what to title this mock up of my proposed book.

I have also been beset by my EAR/ONS investigation, which has derailed a number of my projects. D.B. is on hold. But it is time to reveal tidbits here and there over the coming year.

The skyjacking of Flight 305 on Thanksgiving Eve (November 24, 1971) is one of the most daredevil and improbably successful crimes of the any century.  Who was Dan Cooper? And why never a trace of him dead or alive? No missing uncles. No missing neighbors. No missing motel guests (in Portland), no missing car renters (in Portland). No unclaimed parked cars (in Portland). No one was missing after the crime. If Cooper was local or came from afar and didn’t survive the jump, something unclaimed had to be left behind somewhere.  If it was someone who fits Lepsy’s dossier, he had to have had neighbors in the 2 years since he had vanished in 1969. Nobody reported missing neighbors. What indeed happened to D.B. Cooper? He exists for only a few hours on November 24, 1971, and left no trace thereafter except some of the money in an improbable location.

*         *          *

For 25 years 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.