By Bruce A. Smith
The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book: Sky Thief – A Report on the DB Cooper Hijacking.
Earl Cossey, the controversial rigger and long-time consultant to the FBI on the parachutes used in the DB Cooper skyjacking, was murdered on Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
His body was found three days later by his daughter in his home in Woodinville, Washington. Officials with the King County Sheriff’s Department said that Coss last had contact with his family on Monday, April 22, when he went to a movie with a family member.
The looming question in Cooper World is whether Coss was killed because his credibility had crumbled in the past few years due to the controversy over his claim of ownership of the parachutes used by DB Cooper, and serious challenges to his analysis that Cooper was an inexperienced skydiver who died in his jump.
At the time of this writing it is still unknown what the murder weapon is, who used it and why, but many in Cooper World feel that Cossey may have been deemed a “loose end” by a Norjak puppet master who controls the investigation and wants to keep a cover-up intact.
Sgt Cindi West, the PIO of the KCSD, said that she and her department have discussed the DB Cooper connection with the FBI.
“I have had many calls asking if this case is related to the DB Cooper case,” she told me, adding: “We have NO information that leads us to believe that this case has any relation to the Cooper case.’”
Sgt West did say that Cossey was killed by a blow to the head, but she declined to describe what kind of weapon was used or where Cossey was struck.
“We’re not releasing that kind of information at this time,” she said.
Coss was 71.
Nevertheless, Cossey’s death, even if it was for mundane reasons like interrupting a burglary or an angry ex, has brought intense scrutiny to his actions in the Norjak investigation, which appear increasingly deceptive. This in turn tarnishes the image of the FBI who had a real but amorphous relationship with Cossey.
Cossey was the de facto technical expert for the FBI in the DB Cooper case on the matter of the parachutes used by the skyjacker, having packed the four chutes that were delivered to the skyjacker as part of a ransom deal.
In addition, Cossey had become an outspoken proponent of the notion that DB Cooper chose an inferior parachute, thus proving himself to be an unskilled skydiver who most likely died during his getaway.
This analysis was incorporated into the FBI narrative that evolved during the mid-stages of the investigation, as the Bureau’s view of Cooper shifted from their initial assessment that the skyjacker was a “master criminal” who beat the system, to an inept fool who panicked and was unable to pull his rip cord.
In examining Cossey’s stature in the Norjak investigation, his most damaging statement was that he was the owner of the back chutes. This claim has come under increasing disbelief as federal documents reveal that the parachutes were owned and delivered to Sea-Tac airport by a Kent pilot named Norman Hayden.
Further, scrutiny of Mr. Cossey’s analysis of the survivability of the Cooper jump and the parachutes the skyjacker used has also come into question as other experts in the field refute Cossey’s view, most notably Mark Metzler. At the 2011 Symposium in Portland, Metzler thoroughly rebuffed Cossey’s claim that the 28-foot military NB-8 was a poor choice, and stated that as a naval pilot emergency rig it most likely would have a canopy designed for a high-speed jet opening. This perspective contrasted sharply with Cossey’s oft-stated contention that Cooper should have chosen the civilian sport chute because it was designed for a softer opening.
Cossey may not have had a formal partnership with the FBI, but he was clearly their go-to-guy for parachute questions. When I asked an agent or the PIO about Cooper and his chutes I would be directed towards Coss.
“That’s the kind of question you should ask Earl Cossey,” PIO Robbie Burroughs told me when I inquired about the Amboy chute.
I wasn’t the only one to call Coss, as he told me that he had been “hammered” by media requests regarding the Amboy chutes.
“I’ve gotten about thirty or forty calls already,” he told me, when I spoke with him in April 2009.
Cossey told me that the Amboy chute was not one that made the ride aboard Flight 305, as it was too large and was a cargo chute.
But he proudly told me that he had spoofed the Oregonian newspaper by telling their reporter the parachute was Cooper’s – thus sparking a five-minute round of hysteria before Cossey retracted what he latter described as an “April Fool’s joke.”
Similarly, when I questioned Cossey about the ownership issue he became angry, cursed me, and hung up.
Additionally, Cossey had told me conflicting pieces of information over several phone interviews since 2009, such as whether he had provided an NB-8 or an NB-6 parachute, and the exact name of the second, not-used chute. In one instance Cossey called it a “Paradise” and on another he said it was a Pioneer.
When I asked for a clarification on the story that he had stuffed a 28-foot canopy into an NB-6 rather than the larger NB-8 sack, he told me the stuffing story was “pretty much accurate.” He later said that the tightly-packed rig was another reason why this chute – that Cooper allegedly used – was a hard pull.
Along those lines, Cossey has never explained why he modified a pilot’s emergency rig to make it more difficult to use. Cossey had told me and many others that he had re-located the rip cord on the chute and had tucked the handle into a pouch under the right arm-pit, thus making the chute a “double-pull.” This meant that Cooper would need two tugs on the rip cord to successfully deploy the rig – one out of the pouch and a second up and away to free the canopy.
Further, Cossey has never explained why he sent the two back chutes to Boeing Field first and not Sea-Tac where the skyjacker waited.
Earl also told me that he never discussed the technical aspects of the Cooper jump or the parachutes with the FBI. Yet, that seems to not be true. Special Agent Larry Carr made many posts on the DZ that described his interactions with Cossey.
“I like that guy, I could have talked to him all day but he grew tired of me in about an hour,” Carr wrote on June 12, 2008 about his earlier phone conversation with Cossey.
Carr believed that Cossey owned the chutes and apparently discounted what was in the FBI files. He also maintained that Cossey had put a larger canopy into the smaller NB-6 container.
“…I asked Cossey why he packed a 28-foot canopy in the NB6 and he just shrugged. Kind of like, ‘it was my chute; I did it because I can.'” June 12, 2008.
Carr clearly supported Cossey’s assertion that he owned the chutes and delivered them from his home.
“The NB6 and the Pioneer were Cossey’s chutes, he had them at his house, they weren’t at Seattle Skysports….” (6. 12. 08)
“The two backpacks came from Cossey, from Cossey’s house.” (6. 14. 08)
“Cooper jumped with a chute that had obviously been modified for one individual, it’s (sic) owner.” (6. 13. 08)
Carr also confirmed that Cossey had told the FBI in writing that one chute was an NB-6.
“In Cossey’s statement to the FBI on 11/26/1971, 4th paragraph ‘…he described the missing back pack parachute as having a sage green nylon container, model NB6 with sage green nylon harness, which harness has no “D” rings to mount a chest pack.'” (December 17, 2007)
Yet, Cossey vigorously and repeatedly told me that he had provided an NB-8 with a 28-foot canopy when I spoke with him a second time in October 2011. He also told me that he didn’t know how the NB-6 story got started, contradicting his written statements to the FBI in 1971.
In addition, Carr was also confused about the larger picture; as he reverts to the official FBI documents regarding the transport of the back chutes and does not fully confirm Cossey’s version of how they got to Sea-Tac.
“The chutes were secured through NWA’s Seattle flight operations. The flight ops manager called an individual from Pacific Aviation who in turn called an individual he knew who had two back packs. This person put the two back packs in a cab and the cab driver delivered them to Boeing Field and then onto Sea-Tac by private car.” (12. 17. 07)
Again Carr straddles the fence and seems to waver:
“Yes we have the serial numbers and interviewed the rigger. One chute was returned to its owner, two were never found and one is in evidence.” (1. 1. 08)
Yet, Cossey told me that his not-used chute was not returned to him – that he was only paid for it by Northwest Airlines.
As for his analysis of the survivability of the jump, Cossey’s family says he changed his mind on that subject as well.
In the aftermath of the homicide investigation, Richard Bowyer, Coss’ former brother-in-law, told reporter Graham Johnson of KIRO news that in days immediately following the skyjacking Earl had told him that he thought Cooper had made it.
Along those lines, Geoffrey Gray also says that Cossey had claimed the jump was not too difficult. Geoff posted the following in his tribute to Cossey at his http://www.huntfordbcooper.com web site:
“During a time when many in the Bureau were convinced that Cooper never survived the jump, Cossey met with agents and told them the jump wasn’t as perilous as they thought. Cossey’s opinion was that Cooper could have survived the jump, even with minimal parachuting experience.”
In his remembrance, Geoffrey also confirmed that Cossey had told him in their one meeting that the FBI didn’t return the not-used parachute.
“We spoke about the parachutes he packed. He was upset the FBI never returned them.”
Geoffrey also penned an account on Cossey for the May 3, 2013 issue of Esquire Magazine where he seems to recast Coss as a firm proponent for the notion that DB Cooper survived his jump. In the piece titled, “The Man Who Believed in DB Cooper,” Geoffrey presents a remarkably revisionist view of Earl Cossey:
“As an expert skydiver in the area, Cossey was summoned to see Bureau agents in the days after Cooper disappeared. At the time, according to the Bureau’s original Cooper case files, many of the lead agents hunting for the hijacker were convinced that Cooper was a master skydiver if he indeed pulled off the jump. Agents were so gung-ho on this theory they went through over 14,000 registration cards for skydivers in the Pacific Northwest. The Bureau even sent undercover agents to a skydiving contest across the border to Canada to look for suspects.
“The feds were wrong though, Cossey said. Cooper didn’t need to be a pro skydiver to pull off the jump. According to documents that outline his Bureau interviews, Cossey told agents that with only six or seven jumps with an instructor the hijacker could have landed safely in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.”
These characterizations are in profound contrast to the vehemence that Cossey told me that he was convinced that Cooper was a no-pull and augured into the ground.
What are we to make of all these inconsistencies? Did they contribute somehow to Cossey’s death? The mystery deepens.
© 2013 Bruce A. Smith