by Bruce A. Smith
I found Sheridan Peterson, sort of, but he defintely got his basket of cheer.
Sheridan is arguably one of the top suspects in the DB Cooper case, having been investigated twice by the FBI – once in 1971 when they launched an extensive investigation that involved family and associates in Seattle, Richland and Bakersfield, California, and then again in about 2002 when DNA testing became available and he was swabbed by two agents at his home north of San Francisco.
Through a quirky twist of family upheaval, my Christmas trip back from New York routed me through San Francisco. Not wanting to add another four hours to my already lengthy and mind-numbing transcontinental flight, I decided to disembark at San Francisco and go look for Sheridan at his last known address in Windsor, California, about 60 miles north of SF.
I have sought the man on and off over the past several years as part of my DB Cooper research, and initially I exchanged about a dozen emails with him, but he was mostly tangential and vague. After dodging three or four direct inquiries if he was DB Cooper, Sheridan declared finally that he was not DB Cooper, and I believe him, mostly.
However, on paper he is perhaps the ideal suspect, and interest in him is high in Cooper World. He’s a former Marine from WW II, a former Boeing employee with a declared interest in the aft stairs of the 727, and a fearless skydiver and former smokejumper who reportedly jumped for a Boeing promo wearing only a business suit – just like DB Cooper. Plus, he’s the right age for the skyjacker and has most of his physical characteristics.
Further, he has an oddball alibi for November 24, 1971, claiming he was living in a mud hut in Nepal with his new wife and two infant kids. As for grudges, he had a ton – especially his disgust at American policy in Vietnam where he was working as a state department official in refugee affairs. In addition, he got busted by the local fuzz in Mississippi when he was a civil rights worker during the 1960s in Amite County, the heart of Klan Country.
However, most of what I know about Sheridan Peterson I have learned through his writings and that is uncanny for a DB Cooper suspect – why would the skyjacker write about himself and post his life’s story on the Internet?
To whit: Sheridan is a superb writer and journalist. He is both a former high school English teacher from Lake Washington HS in Kirkland, WA and at a USAF base in the Philippines. Plus, he is currently writing his memoirs and has a 700-page novel under his belt.
In addition, he has been a college professor teaching journalism and English overseas, and has been an in-house writer and technical editor at several high-tech manufacturing firms.
What I have read of Sheridan is fascinating. The guy has lived a remarkable life – one that I would like to hear more about. He’s worked throughout Asia, including Japan, China and Papua New Guinea, and has also lived in the Middle East, where he departed Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf via a hairy-scary road trip through Iran with his two kids. Yikes!
But more importantly, I wanted to patch up our relationship. I greatly offended Sheridan with my initial writings about him – most notably my accounts of what his family says about him. About a year ago, he suspended all communication with me.
Sheridan is about 85 years old – his exact age and birth date is a tad difficult to pin down – but he’s both old and in ill health. In the past year I have heard that he has been afflicted with advancing prostate cancer, which might have metastasized into an eye.
Other Cooper investigators have called repeatedly for me to follow-up with Sheridan, particularly those at the DropZone.com, a skydiving website that is the premier cyber gathering spot for the Cooper Sleuthing World. Many offered support to me in a variety of important ways, such as cash donations, the use of a car, food and lodging – and most dramatically, one DZer who gave me a huge basket of cheer to deliver to Sheridan should I ever meet him face-to-face, and then insisted on remaining anonymous.
So, landing in San Francisco on Friday, December 30, 2011 I began my search for “Petey,” as many of us have nick-named him, partly based on Sheridan’s own moniker for himself, “Eagle-Eyed Pete.”
First, though, I needed to get settled and have a good night’s sleep. Then, the next day, New Year’s Eve day, I drove a gifted Suzuki econo-car through the bowels of San Fran, got on the five lanes of 101 north, sped through the Golden Gate on a 60-degree Saturday afternoon and headed to Windsor.
Petey’s last reported address was in a senior apartment complex called Vinecrest, ironically numbered 305, the flight number of the hijacked airplane. His unit is a simple one-story cottage, and judging from what I saw the units seem to be a kind of studio apartment affair with a bed in a large central room that contains a kitchen and a couple of small rooms in the back, which presumably includes a bathroom.
No one answered at 305, but I spoke with “Nancy” nearby. I chatted with her for awhile and learned that Sheridan had moved out a few weeks before. Other residents that I met in a spacious community room nearby confirmed that Sheridan had left the first week of November, 2011, but no one knew exactly where he had gone.
They also agreed that Sheridan had lots of medical issues, most seriously the cancer. He also seemed to be having a lot of trouble taking care of himself and I doubt if he was eating adequately; and God-Only-Knows if he was taking his medications.
“Maybe he’s at the Palo Alto VA,” one said. “He’s a vet and he needs lots of medical attention.”
Another told me that there was a VA out-patient clinic in Windsor that might know his whereabouts, and a third told me that they thought he had moved to another senior residence, “Perhaps the one that’s near the Safeway.”
Needing a cuppa java myself, I went looking for all of the above in downtown Windsor. I found a Peet’s Coffee and Tea in an upscale shopping plaza that also contained a Safeway. Buying a 12-ounce drip and a chocolate chip cookie I settled in, organized my notes, and started kibitzing with a few sassy broads my age at the table next to mine.
After thirty minutes of light-hearted banter, coffee and chocolate, I rose and headed towards the door. Halfway there a little voice spoke in my head, the little voice that is so often so right, and it said to ask the gals about Petey. Hence, I stopped and turned around.
Kibitzing is one thing; but being approached by a strange hulking guy wearing three coats on a warm winter day in California is another.
“Excuse me, but do any of you know a fellow named Sheridan Peterson?” I asked, plowing through my social anxiety and the conventions that forbid such boldness.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” said one, a woman named Jeanette.
I explained my purpose, saying I was a friend – a colleague really – who was looking for Sheridan and had just learned he had left the Vinecrest apartments. I described much of what I knew about Petey to assuage their anxieties that I might be a real loony. I even gave them a business card, which seemed to satisfy some deep investigatory need in me and them.
“I can’t tell you too much,” said Jeanette, “because I have a professional relationship with Sheridan and I need to protect his privacy. But I have a friend named Claire that knows him and she may be able to help you make contact.”
Jeannette didn’t offer any contact information, but she did say that she thought that Sheridan may have moved to a large senior facility in Santa Rosa, and she gave me a lead in that direction to pursue.
I then asked if they could deliver the basket of cheer.
“Hunh?!!!” was their immediate response.
“I’m not sure I will meet with Sheridan before I have to fly back to Seattle,” I continued. “Could you deliver this gift to Sheridan or give it to Claire, or anyone else who might be able to get it into Sheridan’s hands.”
Jeanette and her crew were stunned, but they broke into wide smiles when I retrieved the twenty-pound-plus gift from my Suzuki and plunked it down on their table.
“Sure, I guess we can deliver it,” said Jeanette with a distinct tone of bewilderment.
I last saw Jeanette waddling out to her car under the heavy load of wine, cheese and crackers, and I had no idea what would happen next. Nevertheless, I was sure we were heading in the right direction.
I drove next to Santa Rosa, Palo Alto and all the other suggestions that folks had given me – but they came up blank.
I returned home a few days later and the updates started coming in. First, Claire called in the afternoon to introduce herself, and then Jeanette emailed. Then some more calls in the evening – they were on the Hunt! Then joyfully they announced that they had made contact with Sheridan and were going to see him the next day.
On Thursday, January 5, they visited Sheridan and delivered the basket. Sheridan was profoundly touched. My DZ associate had scored a homerun. The gals called and emailed to kevel about their achievement, but they advised me that Sheridan had insisted that they not reveal his whereabouts or contact information.
Nevertheless, Sheridan emailed me later that evening to offer his thanks, and demanded that I tell him exactly who and how this fabulous gift had come to him, stressing that he wanted to know how some guy claiming to be a newspaper reporter came all the way from Yelm, WA to bring him a basket of cheer. He shared his profound surprise and deep appreciation that the DZ guys cared about him, an old and lonely skydiver. Sheridan exchanged a few more emails with me, and along the way he asked that I share his ‘Thank You’ on the DropZone.
Now, I was the one touched, and my heart spilled open and the tears flowed.
Hence, with a great deal of honor I delivered his “Thanks” to the DropZone, and now I share it with you, my journalistic family back home here in Mountain Country. It is perhaps one final Christmas story of this holiday season.
Here is Sheridan’s email:
Who would believe it? You received this gift from a “drop zone” chum and traveled all the way from Yelm, Washington to Windsor, CA present it to me. Not finding me at Vinecrest Senior Apartments, you handed it to someone who knew someone who knew me. The two women delivered the package just now.
I was a bit chagrin when you posted an interview of my brother and sister-in-law on Drop Zone. It was quite terrible and left me in a state of fury for weeks. Then I learned that (Larry) Carr was an FBI agent and so I assumed that you may be too. Being an ardent liberal and hating Obama for betraying us, I grew cautious. So many evil things have surfaced lately such as Obama renewing the Patriot Act, the predator drones, and then yesterday the signing into law a bill that will allow the president to incarcerate innocent Americans and confine them as long as he wishes.
A Kiwi from Christchurch, New Zealand sent me an article on Facebook from a small town in Washington suspecting me of being D. B. Cooper. (Wow, what a sentence.). Now I know who wrote it.
However, I was thrilled to get the marvelous gift as any lonely old man would be. It is quite horrible getting old in America especially if one is so totally isolated as I am. Tell me. Who is (your DZ chum)? Are you allowed to tell? I am not paranoiac, for paranoia is fear and loathing without reason. I assume that you are a rather complex person with a great deal of curiosity. Nevertheless, I must thank the giver of the gift. I can’t rest until I do.
Although sworn to secrey, I told Sheridan the name of the guy who gifted him with the basket of cheer. I have been assured subsequently that I have been forgiven for that breach of anonymity. Sheridan then asked for the guy’s address, and now two old skydivers have new pen pals.
Happy New Year, everyone.
© 2011 The Mountain News