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