The Hunt for DB Cooper – the Barb Dayton confession

The Barb Dayton confession: as told by Ron and Pat Forman

 The Legend of DB Cooper – Death by Natural Causes


One of the most notable confessions to the DB Cooper skyjacking has come from a pilot at Pierce County Airport, aka Thun Field.  The confession of the pilot, a woman named Barb Dayton, has come to light via her long-time friends, Ron and Pat Forman. 


Thun Field pilot Barb Dayton - DB Cooper?

Barb Dayton and the Formans flew their Cessna 140s out of Thun Field on many weekends during the 1970s and 80s, forming a life-long friendship.  After Barb died of pulmonary disease in 2002, the Formans researched their friend’s claims and describe their findings in their book, “The Legend of DB Cooper – Death by Natural Causes.”  

The following sketch is consdered by many to be the most accurate of the many drawings developed by the FBI.

Of the many sketches of DB Cooper undertaken by the FBI, this image is considered by many to be the most accurate. 


The following five articles originally appeared in the Eatonville Dispatch from 2008-2009, and were all written by Bruce A. Smith.

August 22, 2008

 Local authors pen dramatic story

about skyjacking legend DB Cooper


Local authors Pat and Ron Forman released their new book this week that adds a dramatic angle to the famous – and still unsolved – DB Cooper skyjacking case. 

The Formans claim in The Legend of DB Cooper: Death by Natural Causes that Cooper was their long-time hanger-mate at Thun Field, a fellow pilot named Barbara Dayton.  Although not proving conclusively that their friend was Cooper, the Formans nevertheless present a strong argument.

In 1971, an individual calling himself Dan Cooper, but now known to the world as DB Cooper, hijacked a Northwest Airlines 727 minutes after take-off from Portland, Oregon.  After releasing his 37 passengers in Seattle in exchange for four parachutes and $200,000, Cooper instructed the pilots to fly to Mexico.  The FBI and the Formans say Cooper then parachuted somewhere over Washington or Oregon.  No trace of Cooper or the heist has ever been found, except for $5,800 found buried in a mud bank along the Columbia River in 1980.  Adding to the mystery, geological experts from the FBI admit the money was placed there at least five years after the skyjacking.

Serendipitously stepping into a story that still triggers all-night debates among aviation buffs, the Formans say Dayton told them bits and pieces of her famous story over a life-long friendship that began in 1977.  Perhaps even more startling than the notion that DB Cooper was a woman, the Formans verify Dayton’s claim that she received the first sex-change operation in Washington, which was performed in 1969.  Thus, the Formans say, Dayton donned the supreme disguise by reverting to her male persona to become DB Cooper.

One indisputable fact is that Barbara Dayton was a highly skilled pilot and parachutist, showing a fearlessness that bordered on reckless.  In addition, she was a proficient machinist and explosive expert, all skills that DB Cooper displayed during his hijacking.


Bobby Dayton, standing next to his Cessna 140, prior to his sex-reassignment surgery.

“Yeah, Barb could have easily done it,” said Bruce Thun, operations manager at Thun Field, who knew Dayton during the 1970s and early 1980s.

The Formans also say that Dayton never spent the money, and only did the crime to satisfy personal issues relating to her sex-change operation.

“Barb was a woman who always lived on the edge,” said the Formans.  “She was a fascinating and remarkable woman.”

Barb Dayton, as she appeared in 1970.

  After Dayton died from cardiac and pulmonary disease in 2002, the Formans launched a four-year campaign to ascertain their friend’s story.  Drawing from numerous interviews of pilots, FBI officials and family members, the Formans have pieced together a tapestry of facts and speculations that plausibly explains how and why Barbara Dayton jumped from a jet plane on a dark and rainy November night and landed in the mists of modern mythology.

Pictures of Barb Dayton, left, compared with FBI sketches, right.

The Legend of DB Cooper – Death by Natural Causes, is published by Border Books and is available on-line through the publisher or  It can also be purchased directly from the authors through their web site:


November 20, 2008

Local authors becoming national celebrities with DB Cooper book


Ron and Pat Forman, two local authors who wrote about their friend and fellow Thun Field pilot Barb Dayton’s claim that she was DB Cooper, are on the verge of becoming national celebrities for their book, The Legend of DB Cooper – Death by Natural Causes.

The Formans will be featured in an upcoming National Geographic TV documentary exploring this famous skyjacking incident, and were in Ariel, Washington this past weekend being filmed by crews from Edge West Productions of Los Angeles. 

Ariel, the center of the FBI’s ground search for Cooper, is now home to DB Cooper Daze, a celebration of the legendary Cooper, who hijacked a Northwest Orient 727 the day before Thanksgiving, 1971, and dove into the night sky with $200,000 strapped to his waist.


Surrounded by supporters of Barb Dayton, Ron Forman (standing left) and Pat Forman, (sitting far left) celebrate the launch of their new book, "The Legend of DB Cooper - Death by Natural Causes." Standing to the left of Ron is Rena Ruddell, daughter of Barb Dayton. Ms. Ruddell says she believes her father is DB Cooper.


DB Cooper impersonators enliven DB Cooper Daze, held annually at the Ariel Tavern on the Saturday of Thanksgiving Day weekend.


No trace of Cooper or his money has ever been found, except for a stash of $5,800 found in 1980 in a sandy beach along the Columbia River.  It remains the only unsolved skyjacking in the history of the United States.

The FBI says that DB Cooper most likely plunged to his death.

“Not so!” claim the Formans, who met Barb Dayton in 1977 at Thun Field.  There, they spent many years flying their Cessna 140s together, and became life-long friends.

Over time, the Formans say Barb Dayton told them her story, starting with her sex-change operation in 1969 and then later, the revelation that she was DB Cooper.  She told them numerous details of the heist, including her successful parachute jump – not over Ariel as the FBI claim – but nine minutes of flying time later above the hazelnut groves of Woodburn, Oregon.

The Formans say Barb Dayton never spent the money, and that she did the skyjacking for therapeutic reasons to counter the deep depression she experienced after her operation.

The Formans and Edge West are continuing filming this week in Woodburn at the spots where Dayton said she landed, buried the cash, and switched back to dressing as a woman.  In a few weeks, Edge West will return to Thun Field and interview several others pilots who knew Dayton.

“I was so nervous,” said Pat Forman of her camera experience.  “I’d rather jump out of an airplane than be filmed.”

Nevertheless, Pat appeared very comfortable before the Edge West cameras as she reiterated how she and Ron came to learn this remarkable saga of grit, despair and determination.

Edge West Productions are regular contributors to the National Geographic cable channel, producing an average of ten documentaries a year, including one on Amelia Earhart and another on the legends of UFO activity in Roswell, New Mexico.  They anticipate the Cooper special will air sometime in August.

As for the Formans, they have issued a second hardback edition, which has many more photographs and a few new chapters added.  Paperback editions are also now available.

For more information,


December 17, 2008


DB Cooper flies into Thun Field – again!


The legendary skyjacker DB Cooper flew into Thun Field last Tuesday for his photo-op.

Or should we say, she flew in.

Molly Littlefield, a commercial pilot for Untied who lives in the Kent area, was invited by a National Geographic film crew making a documentary on DB Cooper, to don a wig and fly around Thun in her vintage 1946 Cessna 140 aircraft.

Littlefield’s impersonation was part of the efforts of Edge West Productions of Los Angeles to re-create the scenes of Cooper suspect Barb Dayton’s life at Thun Field.  Edge West is basing much of their documentary on a book written by two other Thun Field pilots, Patricia and Ron Forman, titled, The Legend of DB Cooper- Death by Natural Causes.



United Airlines captain Molly Littlefield stands in front of her Cessna 140 at Thun Field as she impersonates Barb Dayton in the filming of the National Geographic special, "The Skyjacker Who Got Away."

The Formans say their life-long friend and fellow Thun pilot Barb Dayton confessed to them in 1978 that she was DB Cooper, having pulled off the caper by reverting to the male persona she once had until her sex change operation in 1969.

The Formans’ book describes the fascinating story of a reckless dare-devil named Bobby Dayton, who became Barb Dayton in Washington’s first case of sex-reassignment surgery.

The Formans also recount numerous details of the skyjacking that Dayton told them during a period in the late 1970s when she incorrectly thought she was free of criminal prosecution due to the expiration of her statute of limitations.  Details such as why she did the heist, where she buried the money, and how she escaped detection for over thirty years compose the key elements of Edge West’s documentary, being filmed for National Geographic cable TV and scheduled to air in August, 2009.


With pilot and Barb Dayton-impersonator Molly Littlefield giving directions, The Edge West production crew gets ready for in-air filming for the National Geographic special on DB Cooper, "The Skyjacker Who Got Away."

DB Cooper hijacked a Northwest Airlines 727 in November, 1971, just after take-off from Portland, Oregon.  He parachuted with $200,000 tied to his waist and has never been seen since; and the crime remains the only unsolved skyjacking case in the history of the Unites States.


July 16, 2009

Local DB Cooper authors on national TV July 26


 The 37 year-old mystery of legendary skyjacker DB Cooper may take one step closer to resolution next weekend when Ron and Pat Forman, local authors and Thun Field pilots, share seven years’ worth of research on the crime in a National Geographic TV documentary.

The Formans, writers of “The Legend of DB Cooper: Death by Natural Causes” are featured in the National Geographic’s special, which examines new information from a variety of sources in a resurgent Cooper investigation.

The Formans claim that their life-long friend and fellow Thun Field pilot, Barb Dayton, confessed to being DB Cooper in the late 1970s.  In the documentary, the Formans reveal the details of how Dayton hijacked Northwest Orient Flight 305, a commercial jetliner enroute to Sea-Tac, the day before Thanksgiving, 1971.

The DB Cooper case is the only unsolved skyjacking in the history of the United States.  Cooper is believed to have made his getaway by parachuting from the rear of the 727 somewhere over the Vancouver, Washington – Portland, Oregon environs.

No trace of Cooper has ever been found except for a tidy bundle of $5,800 in ransom money that was discovered on a Columbia River beach nine years after the heist, which the FBI acknowledges was deposited many years after the skyjacking.

Titled, “The Skyjacker Who Got Away,” the special airs July 26 at 7 pm and 10 pm PDT on Sunday July 26 on the National Geographic cable channel.


July 16, 2009

National Geographic dumps local authors from DB Cooper documentary

 With only days before local authors Ron and Pat Forman were to appear on a nationwide broadcast of a National Geographic TV special on legendary skyjacker DB Cooper, they and their story about Thun Pilot Barb Dayton were pulled from the telecast.

“I guess our story was just too controversial for them, said Ron Forman.

The Formans, writers of “The Legend of DB Cooper: Death by Natural Causes,” had described how their life-long friend and fellow Thun Field pilot, Barb Dayton, confessed to being DB Cooper in the late 1970s.  In their book the Formans reveal the details of how Dayton said she hijacked Northwest Orient Flight 305, a commercial jetliner enroute to Sea-Tac, the day before Thanksgiving, 1971. 

Throughout late 2008 and early 2009, the producers of the Cooper documentary, Edge West Productions, had spent several weeks in the Thun Field area filming the Formans’ story.  At that time, Phil Day, owner of Edge West announced that he planned to feature the Formans and the Barb Dayton angle in the documentary.

Katie Greenfield, a spokesperson for Edge West, announced the change last week.

“Unfortunately, the executives at National Geographic chose to cut the Barb Dayton story from the film.  This was disappointing to see it go but it was ultimately out of our hands.  We are of course grateful to all the help and information the Formans’ and associates shared with us regarding Barb.”

Titled, “The Skyjacker Who Got Away,” the special airs Sunday, July 26 at 7 pm and 10 pm PDT on Sunday July 26 on the National Geographic cable channel.

 Addendum:   The Controversial National Geographic Special:  The Skyjacker Who Got Away.”

In August, 2009, Executive Producer of Edge West, Phil Day, announced that the Barb Dayton material was removed from the National Geographic documentary on DB Cooper just weeks before the documentary was to air on TV.  Day said that the Dayton information had passed through two layers of approval at National Geographic but ran afoul of senior management just before airing.  Day said that executives at National Geographic cited three reasons for pulling the Dayton footage:  one, Barb Dayton’s sex-change was too controversial; two, the story line was too complex for a one-hour broadcast; and three, the FBI did not consider Dayton to be a credible suspect.

 In addition, Barb Dayton, like all Cooper suspects presented to date, has no concrete evidence linking her to the crime.

 Scrambling to find new material to replace the Dayton footage, Day said that he resorted to using footage describing the controversial Propeller Transport Theory of how the ransom money traveled six miles upstream in the Columbia River.

 The Propeller Theory is one that was espoused on-air by Tom Kaye, head of the FBI’s Citizens’ Sleuth Team.  Kaye hypothesized that DB Cooper landed in the Lewis River near Ariel as per FBI estimations in 1971 and drowned.  Then, Cooper floated downstream with his money bag still attached all the way to the Columbia.  There, the money somehow gets snagged on an in-bound ocean freighter’s propeller and heads upstream.  Finally, the money satchel somehow releases six miles later near Tina’s Beach, where $5,800 was found nine years later.

 Kaye later renounced this theory and claimed his recorded dialogue was just idle chit-chat filmed one day when he was sitting around with the production crew and other principals of the telecast.

 Nevertheless, shortly after the broadcast the FBI ceased its outreach to the public asking for help in the DB Cooper case, and apparently shut down Kaye’s Citizens’ Sleuth Team as well.  The FBI had formed the CST the year before the National Geographic special aired, and it had been a featured element of the broadcast.

  © 2011 Bruce A. Smith

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14 Responses to The Hunt for DB Cooper – the Barb Dayton confession

  1. Bruce,
    We appreciate your unbiased reporting on Barb Dayton as a viable suspect in the D. B. Cooper case. You are a terrific writer and as would be expected, you are creating an accurate and compelling case for our friend. We wrote our book to satisfy a promise we made to Barb to get her story told in the hopes that it would help others understand the turmoil that led her to plan and execute the skyjacking. We don’t understand why the FBI does not take us seriously given the amount of evidence we presented and the initial reaction of the FBI agent we spoke with a few years ago. Now the FBI won’t even admit that we ever talked with them and seem to block every attempt to get her story told. Thank you.

  2. brucesmith49 says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Ron and Pat, and thanks for the update on your relationship with the FBI. Please keep us posted.

  3. Joe Googleplex says:

    This all makes a lot of sense why Barb (D B Cooper) was never found. The only real evidence is THE MONEY, WHERE IS THE REST OF THE MONEY??? If the money was FOUND and linked to the crime, then the story would be shown to be true.

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  5. I know this is old, but… What the heck.

    Were I “cooper,” and I wanted to escape, there are a few things I’d do…
    1) No way I’d jump over mountains when there were flats 9 minutes later. This is SUcH a no-brainer that I’d think the feebs would have thought of it… I’m not convinced a .mil flight 5 miles back would have seen a diver anyway – so their estimation is bunk.
    2) How to make people think I died in the jump? Bury some money where it would be found later! Seems like “tena beach” would have been a spot where one could be, and dig, without attracting attention, so it makes good sense as well!

    The biggest reason I think cooper lived is that nobody matching his description came up missing in the proper time-frame. A “professional” man who was comfortable in a suit just doesn’t disappear permanently without SOMEONE wondering about him!

    All that said, my tinfoil-beanie side wonders if the whole thing isn’t complicated by the .gov desire to cover up if he was indeed one of the Laos jumpers… That should be a very short list, no?

    • Also, I wonder if his demand for a “chest pack” wasn’t just a convenient way to carry the cash… would $200k fit in a reserve-pack? What about the chute itself? It would have made good insulating material stuffed inside his suit/coat to help keep him from freezing!

      I’m not clear how much time he had alone, when he could have cut up the chute or whatever, but… As I understood it, “Tina” saw him tying rope around his waist (binding chute material?) and then when they landed in Reno they found he was gone…

      Seems to me this would have given him plenty of time, though the idea he jumped out south of Portland shortens it a lot…

      Seems like – discounting the “curtsy” bit of apparent idiocy – the idea he jumped over mountains was based on the assumption he was already gone when the ,mil flight joined in formation. If they were 5 miles back, flying at 200 mph in a storm, and he was wearing all black, I just don’t believe they’d have been able to see him jump. If he was familiar with .mil jump techniques he could easily have extended free-fall until such a time that the .mil crew couldn’t POSSIBLY have seen his chute!

      The fact that the serial-numbers were never found doesn’t mean the cash never got spent – it could easily have been spent overseas – one could have a hell of a party almost anywhere with $194k in 1971!!

    • brucesmith49 says:

      Regarding the “Laos jumpers,” are you referring to the secret ops combat team that Everett Johnson talks about in the Mountain News piece on 727s in Vietnam? Yes, the list of those troopers would be very short, and Everett says there were no more than 20 soldiers on that team.

      As for the “chest” pack, Cooper only asked for front and rear chutes. I know of no “chest” packs. That said, it does seem that he explored the possibility of putting the ransom money in the reserve bag, but it didn’t fit; hence, he secured the bank bag.

      Cooper was only alone for a few minutes, which began after he sent her to the cockpit, just moments before he is believed to have jumped at approximately 8:10 pm.


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