Update on the murder of Earl Cossey, an analysis of his role in the DB Cooper case

 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)

 And again:

“The two backpacks came from Cossey, from Cossey’s house.” (6. 14. 08)

 Similarly:

“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

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19 Responses to Update on the murder of Earl Cossey, an analysis of his role in the DB Cooper case

  1. There are some inconsistencies going here. Nice article. And guess what…another hijacking book is coming out in June, but it isn’t really about Cooper, although he may be mentioned. It’s titled ‘The Skies Belong to Us – Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking’ by Brendan Koerner. Check Dropzone post for more on that.

    As far as Earl Cossey, I can see why he became ‘go-to’ guy for the Seattle FBI regarding the parachutes, even if there is some dispute on ownership. Testimony from Norman Hayden and the FBI record leans heavily toward Hayden’s claim that he owned the main backpacks. But the FBI used Cossey because Hayden isn’t a skydiver, and Cossey was the only one who ever saw the canopies on those chutes. It is known that he was the chute packer on them, for sure.

  2. Dick Thurston says:

    Ah, more conspiracy theories emerge again. I cannot think of a motive for killing Cossey that relates top the Cooper hijacking. He has already told the FBI and the press all that he knows and even some stuff he appears to have made up. His killing makes no sense as regards the Cooper mystery.

    Six months after the hijacking, I came to the conclusion that “Cooper” survived the jump but lost the money on the way down. Finding some of the money in the Columbia River is good evidence that my theory is correct. He was carrying the money ina briefcase which is not designed to withstand the shock of a chute opening. It probably opened up during the descent andd scattered bundles of money over the wooded area. Most of the money probably became deer/elk chow. with the remainder being used toi line bird or rodent nests.

    My belief is that “Cooper” whoever he was, limped out of the woods with moderate injuries, went home and said something to the effect of “Well, I’ll never try anything THAT stupid again” He would be over 80 now if he is still alive, which is unlikely considering his bad choices in life.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      You have lots of people who share your perspective, Deck. No hard evidence to support it – not a stitch – but lots of company!

      As for the money find in 1980, there are no conclusions whatsoever on how the money ended up there or when. The FBI’s geologist said that the money arrived after the 1974 dredging period, probably no more than 18 months prior.

      So, where was the money for six-eight years? Floating down the Columbia? If so, where is the plume field? How come the rubber bands were still intact? Protected and concentrated by the briefcase? Okay, so where’s the briefcase? How about the bomb, the reserve chute, Cooper and his chute, and the rest of the $194,000. All lining bird’s nests?

      Hmmmm.

      And how come Earl did so much lying?

      • Dick Thurston says:

        As for the money, if the briefcase broke open during the descent, some of the bundles would ahve burst, others would remain intact. The money that was found may ahve been lodged in a tree or in a mudbank further up the river system and been dislodged buy one or more floods in the interim. Some may have washed out to sea or been eaten by aquatic life forms. Some of it may still be stuck in a teee or brush pile soemwhere.

        Around that time, I went to investigate reports of aircraft wreckage found ona hill near Puyallup by hunters. USAF had no records of a plane crash in that area, so we took a small group of rsponders and investigated. We found several hundred pounds of scattered wreckage and gathered up what we could for investigative purposes. Eventually we spotted a big chunk in a stand of bushesand saplings which stood about 15 feet tall. When we chopped our way into it we found an FAA placard wired to a jet engine. Checking the numbers on the plate, we determined that it was an F-94 that had crashed in the mid 1950′s. It sems that the map showing known wreck sites had this crash marked on another hill about 5 miles north and west of the actual site.

        Other lost objects that I recovered included a B-57 canopy about 10 feet long and 4 feet wide which ahd been lying in an abandoned pasture near Geoirge, WA for at least 20 years. Also an ejection seat from an F-86 which was found on Fort Lewis along with bones. (We sent the bones to the Smithsonian and they determined that they were elk bone.) . Some mushroom hunter or pot farmer may find the briefcase, Cooper’s body or one of the chutes next fall – or maybe 50 years from now. While I was at McChord AFB, I had a list of some 55 aircraft that had disappeared over Washington and Oregon over a period of some 40 years. It ranged from single-seat fighters to a C-54 with 20+ people aboard. All vanished without trace over land.

        So you find it hard to believe that a briefcase could vainish in the thousands of square miles of forest between Seattle and Reno? Or that packs of money might have lain on the ground until they rotted away? I don’t.

        As for the chutes, “Cooper” may have buried them or hauled them out of the woods and disposed of them. Or they may still be hanging from trees some where. Nobody ever saw the “bomb”, it might have never existed.

        An d I still ask the question. Who would be motivated to kill somebody to cover up something that he has already related in great detail ove a 40 year period?

  3. brucesmith49 says:

    Dick, here’s a speculative response on why someone might want to murder Earl Cossey.

    Suppose that he worked for someone who had an interest in controlling the investigation, or at least influencing the public’s understanding of who DB Cooper was. Suppose this “puppet master” overtly or covertly encouraged Earl to develop a story line that proved DB Cooper was inept and probably dead. Remember, Cossey was clearly viewed by the FBI as a parachute expert, so his analysis of the chutes used and the conditions of the jump could be a valuable foundation on which to spin the Norjak story away from DBC being a hero to a stupid idiot. A change in DBC’s image does wonders for the image of the FBI as well.

    Now, suppose that Earl’s analysis becomes increasingly suspect and he begins to looik like the fool, not DB Cooper. Suppose Earl realizes that he has been duped, or worse, fixed his credibility to a sinking ship. Suppose that Earl knows who is driving the story line. Suppose that Earl would have knowledge of how the FBI really conducted its investigation, and it ain’t too flattering. Suppose that information gets us closer to understanding how so much evidence has been lost and who lost it? Would that be a reason to kill him?

    • Dick Thurston says:

      It’s possible. It is also possible that the FBI killed Jimmy Hoffa, Martin Luther King, Jr, JFK, RFK, John Lennon and Amelia Earhardt. But there isn’t a scintilla of eveidence to prove it. And to imagine a conspiracy that has gone on for 40+ years without anybody spilling the beans is hard to believe. I just don’t see a motive in that litany of suppositions. The peole who did the initial investigation are all dead or retired by now. Are you proposining a multigenerational conspiracy? It might make a good novel

      • brucesmith49 says:

        I live in a world of grays, Dick; the “What if’s.” It helps shape my investigation. It gives me a sense of direction so I have a coherent plan of inquiry – who to talk with, what to ask, the kinds of nuance that might lead to substantive, concrete evidence.

  4. brucesmith49 says:

    Editor’s Note: David Johnson was unable to post his comments due to a glitch somewhere in the Mountain News-WA system, so he sent me an email with his message, which is posted below:

    Thanks, Bruce – this is what I wanted to say:-

    Oh please, not more conspiracy theories.

    On this point I agree with Dick Thurston, where I disagree is on the money find issue:-
    As Bruce will know, I am a retired senior executive of a banknote printing company. There is no way that the money found, in the condition shown, at Tina (Tena) Bar could have been there for more than a year – eighteen months at the absolute outside. I have serious reservations on the circumstances of the “find” and wonder if the truth will ever come-out.

    Please also remember, we have no confirmed evidence that “Dan Cooper” ever jumped from the 727.

    That’s it Bruce, if you would kindly post for me.

    With very best regards from Susie and I

    As ever,

    David

    • Dick Thurston says:

      I’ll bow to David Johnson’s expertise on the money not being there for that long. But I am sure he will agree that loose currency would not survive 10+ Northwest winters in the forest. It was obviously washed downstream to the location where it was found sometime between the day it was dropped and the day it was found. And if somebody had the rest of the money, why wouldn’t they have spent it by now? What’s the point of stealing money you can’t spend?

      • David J Johnson says:

        Dick, I see no reason why some of the money has been spent.

        It could have well been exchanged after the intial interest in the case died down. I very much doubt that every single bill has been checked over the years. Most authorites only check the serial numbers of suspect returned notes for a short period of time. The Bank of England notes which were counterfeited by the Nazis in WW2 were only initially found when a clerk thought he had seen a single serial number before! Eventually the UK authorities withdrew the whole issue because of difficulty in locating and finding the duplicate serial numbers.

        I think the same scenario applies to the DBC money

  5. Clancy Crossroader says:

    I’ve known Coss for over 30 years, there’s not a chance in hell his murder had anything to do with DB Cooper. Coss was a well known gambler, he loved action, on all sports games and played cards numerous times every week. He was an aggresive player and former math teacher. He was also financially secure with quite a few rentals and a property management company. I was surprised to hear he got divorced last year, but even if his property was cut in two he still owns has plenty of assets and his income from his teachers retiement, social security, property management and whatever rentals he retained. A cardroom scumbag killed Coss, or someone who knew he kept cash around for his daily gambling. I haven’t played cards with Coss for a while, but guess he had between $5,000 and $25,000 in his cash bankroll. A wonderful person who toyed with everyone, he didn’t suffer fools gladly

    • Dave Ruckert says:

      my name is Dav3e Ruckert.. Coss was one of my best friends ever! I am shocked and very sad to hear this terrible news. Coss and I used to play poker every week for years with a few friends. So much for that end of things. Coss was one of my first instructors in skydiving. His sense of humor was always positive, a great guy! He always helped people in our sport to be safer, and be supportive in teaching less experienced jumpers to become better and safer skydivers. I could go on, but no point…Please catch the murderer, who should fry in hell! Thank you for your time.Dav3e Ruckert

  6. Bob Sailshaw says:

    Bruce: Could it be that Coss was in on the skyjacking and served his part as the man on the ground and get-a-way car. Then he could have been involved in the laundering of the loot through the many Casinos he played at by exchanging loot for chips and then back to bigger $100 bills that take up less space. He could have been involved in the investment of the loot and when the partnership got questionable, Coss could have been confronted by DB eyeball to eyeball in his garage. When he turned to walk away, DB could have hit him in the back of the head with a tool from the garage. DB purpose was to talk but when cut off by Coss, DB could have hit him in a rage as his temper flew. So, there is the possibility DB and Coss were connected and the murder resulted. If the murder tool can be found, the fingerprint/DNA on that tool could be that of DB Cooper. Just a wild thought that could be stranger than fiction.
    Bob Sailshaw

      • rthurs666 says:

        It is also possible that Cossey was killed by a Bigfoot. If large numbers of the Cooper money was spent in Reno or Vegas, some of the bills would have been detected at banks. None has show up in 40 years, except the batch found in the Columbia River. If Cooper is still alive he is over 85 now and proabably not in good enough shape to bash somebody in the head.

  7. Bob Sailshaw says:

    rthurs666 Bigfoot is funny but sorry he is not a not part of the Cooper caper. The Banks were not able to check and find any Cooper loot as they were not set-up to do so with such large quantities of money passing through each day. It would have been tougher than finding a needle in a hay stack. Cooper is close to 90 now and should not be discounted on age as those of us at that age are staying in good shape by just going to the gym, keeping active, and eating well. I don’t think DB went to see Cossey to kill him but when Cossey tried to brush him off, the rage in DB could have caused him to strike out with a tool from the garage and Cossey with his back turned could have made a good target. Anyway, the FBI has the finger prints and DNA on file and if they match what could be found at the Cossey Crime Scene, then they have their man and the connection between Cossey and the DB Cooper case. Remember, this is just a wild thought and outside the normal thinking box.
    Bob Sailshaw

    • rthurs666 says:

      Your theory was amising, but the connection of Cossey to Cooper is dubious at best. Remeember that Cooper didn not specify the Cossey was to pack the chutes, nor did Cooper specify the types of schutes to be used. NWA mad the arrangeemnts with a third party to ontain the chutes, Cooper had nothing to do with the acquisition process. cossy packed the chutes, noiuthing, nada, zip, zero that connects him with Cooper before or after. the highjacking.

      Let me give you a parallel example. If I had been a gunsmith and the owner of a gun repair shop who had replaced the bolt on Lee Harvey Oswalds’s rifle two weeks before 22 Nov 1963, would this make me a “suspect” in the JFK assassination? Now I could be called on to testify as to the condition of Oswald’s rifle and give an opinion on whether or not it could have fired the fatal bullets, but that would not make me a suspect in some vast (or half-vast) cosnpiracy.

      • brucesmith49 says:

        Dick, your comparison is flawed. Cossey said he not only packed the chutes but that he owned them and had modified them to make them more difficult to open.

        He said this for 40 years, and his technical expertise added weight to the FBI’s perspective that DB Cooper picked a bad chute and proved that he was a wuffo in the process. As a result, he was most likely a dumb guy who died in his jump.

        Then, when Cossey’s testimony was revealed to be suspect and his professional credibility destroyed, he got murdered.

        You don’t see a connection here?

        Bruce

  8. Bob Sailshaw says:

    rthurs666 You are not aware that my suspect (Peterson) worked with Cossey at Issaquah Sky Sports before Norjak and was President of the Boeing Skydiving Club that jumped at that site. So, they (Cossey and Peterson) knew each other and could have planned the caper together. This would explain why Cossey was too quick to admit that he “DID NOT KNOW” Peterson when I talked with him and this also explains the false stories from Cossey and his manufactured explanation that DB did not know what he was doing and died in the jump. Peterson (a certified Skydiving Instructor) knew exactly what he was doing and is still alive in California and close to 90 years old. Those of us that have stayed in good shape are quite able to do most things. I still ski and sail as an example. As Bruce knows I get around quite well and don’t look my age.

    Bob Sailshaw

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