By Bruce A. Smith
Commemorating the 41st anniversary of DB Cooper’s skyjacking – and celebrating his cultural status of a “guy who beat the system” – hundreds of Cooper aficionados and party lovers gathered Saturday at the Ariel Store in Ariel, Washington.
DB Cooper skyjacked a Northwest Orient airliner on November 24, 1971 and after he parachuted out of the plane with $200,000 tethered to his waist he has never been seen again. His crime is America’s only unsolved skyjacking case, and the caper is filled with so many secrets and bizarre twists, such as disappearing evidence, a missing FBI agent, and 922 folks who have confessed to the crime – that it is ranked in the top-ten of true crime mysteries.
The Cooper Day Festival is held annually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as DB Cooper skyjacked his plane on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving. The Ariel Store, especially its funky but spacious tavern, has become a center for Cooper fans because it was the primary watering hole for hundreds of Ft Lewis soldiers and dozens of FBI agents who conducted an extensive ground search for Cooper in March, 1972.
This was my third trip to Cooper Day, and I had a great time. After four years on the Hunt, I‘ve come to know many of the participants, and the professional camraderie is exquisite. But this year featured a special highlight – dancing with a woman named Christie, who is new to the Cooper story, and her beauty and grace radiated throughout the festivities.
I traveled to Ariel with fellow Cooper researcher Meyer Louie of Olympia, and we arrived at a surprisingly empty Ariel tavern around noon. As a result, we had a lot of time to talk with Dona Elliott, the owner.
It’s her 23rd “Cooper Day” festival, and she regaled us with stories about the history of DB, the environs, and how she bought the tavern for $45,000 in 1988.
But even before the beer started flowing we dove into DB Cooper gossip, and Ms Elliott told us that she thinks FBI agent and the major Cooper investigator in the Portland office, Ralph Himmelsbach, is an “arrogant bastard,” who is “not interested in finding the truth.” Although Dona says Ralph has been to Ariel three times over the years, there is little love lost between these two icons of Cooper lore.
Seattle-based researcher and Cooper author Robert Blevins got to Ariel as early as Meyer and I, and he sat down with Dona and us for a quiet 30 minute chat before the tavern filled up with tourists. The four of us jumped from story to story, and it felt quite Hamish, as they say in Yiddish, and Meyer seemed to fall in love with the tavern’s ambience and Dona’s lively storytelling.
Dona told us that she heard Cooper’s Flight 305 fly overhead that night, and she adamantly says it was much lower than 10,000 feet. “It sounded like it was at 3,000-4,000 feet,” she declared. Blevins made the point that a jetliner flying as “dirty” as 305 was, with landing gear down and wing flaps at a sharply curved angle, would have its engines roaring so loudly that maybe it only sounded like it was lower than the official account.
Blevins spent the afternoon filming people as they came and went, asking about their favorite suspect and whether they think DB Cooper survived his parachuting getaway.
Meyer spent a bit of private time with Dona and they began to hatch a plan for about a three-hour professional symposium next year at Ariel. It’ll be composed of round-table discussions of findings by investigators and presentations by experts on details of the case.
Along those lines, Doug Kenck-Crispin of the Oregon historical society came and announced that his organization is having a Cooper exhibit in Portland, Oregon, starting in August next year. In addition, there will be one in Tacoma some time in 2013, and Doug will also be sponsoring a DBC symposium on November 30, 2013 in Portland.
Doug is becoming more than just a historian or conference host, and is doing some investigative work on Cooper as well, such as researching what kinds of organizations were using 727s as a parachuting platform, like smoke jumpers in the Forest Service. This kind of information was top-secret in 1971, and as a result Cooper’s scheme was considered the work of a savvy master criminal.
Doug is proving to be very tight-lipped as a Cooper researcher, as I found out when I pressed for details. However, he placated me with a beer, and it worked. This year.
Doug was there with a few friends, all of whom seem to be college-aged, so it’s clear a new generation of Cooper sleuths are honing their chops.
A big treat for me was meeting researcher Clyde Lewis, who is an emerging on-air radio personality as he is currently on 150 stations nationwide. He is part of the George Noory Coast-to-Coast radio syndication, and Clyde explores many of the same topics as C2C, such as paranormal and hidden politics, a format he calls para-politics. He also gives heavy coverage to DB Cooper and we talked at length. In fact, he will be discussing the case with investigator Galen Cook on Wednesday evening, November 28 from 7-9 pm.
Also, Clyde has a wholly bizarre connection to the case – he knew and worked with Wolfgang Gossett, one of the primary suspects in the skyjacking. In fact, Gossett was Clyde’s mentor when he was just starting out in radio in Salt Lake City in the early 1980s. Gossett apparently had a paranormal call-in talk radio show in Salt Lake City, and even though Clyde was just a teenager at the time, he told us, “Wolfgang Gossett taught me everything I know about researching paranormal activity.”
Clyde has researched Gossett extensively, and had a lot to say about the personality characteristics of this notable suspect, which is one of the major clues of the case. Clyde said that Gossett had lots of qualities that he described as a “dark side,” such as possessing a menacing quality. Although the skyjacking is often characterized as a “victim-less crime,” Cooper nevertheless threatened to kill the 40 passengers and crew on board his flight. In addition, Cooper seemed remarkably calm during his six-hour skyjacking ordeal.
I found Clyde to have a great depth and breath of interests, and he is clearly an avid Cooper investigator. He has a website that is partly devoted to Cooper, and he has aged-regressed Gossett with a beard to offer a compelling composite picture.
Also, Clyde is a big fan of using remote viewing to expand the DB Cooper investigation, and he said that he will make inquiries along these lines with folks that he knows are skilled remote viewers. Also, some of the entourage who accompanied Clyde to Ariel are also passionate about using RV to pursue the truth of the Cooper case, and we had a lively chat about this unique forensic tool.
Authors Ron and Pat Forman also came to the shin-dig, and I enjoyed several quiet Cooper conversations with them in the store’s “merchandize room.” The Formans are the authors of The Legend of DB Cooper – Death by Natural Causes, and it is the account of their friend and fellow Thun Field pilot, Barb Dayton. Barb confessed to the Formans in 1978 that she was DB Cooper and had done the job two years after her sex-change operation at the UW medical center in 1969.
© 2012 Bruce A. Smith