by Bruce A. Smith
At least four letters were sent to area media by “DB Cooper” in the days and weeks following the 1971 skyjacking. Now, one of them, Letter # 3, is causing quite a stir within the investigatory community, along with the mysterious work of a Cooper sleuth known as “Al Di” who has analyzed the letter.
Several days ago, noted DB Cooper researcher Galen Cook contacted me and asked if I knew the identity of “Al Di.” I didn’t.
Galen reminded me that Al Di is the self-proclaimed author of a video and web site that “decoded” Letter #3, and with that prompt I dug deeper.
What is striking is that Al Di’s analysis of Letter #3 is superb. His “decoding” reveals that the cut-and-paste letters Cooper used came from the June and July 1970 issues of Playboy magazine. That level of sophisticated sleuthing suggests that Al Di is either an FBI agent or connected to the Bureau and its Cooper investigation – and either had access to the investigatory work done in the 70s, or was able to launch a sizeable investigation in recent years.
Or, the decoding might indicate that Al Di is involved with the skyjacker and learned about the Playboy usage that way.
Or possibly he worked independently, such as a highly skilled graphics designer who knew the history of magazine journalism exceptionally well and was able to ferret-out the fonts of 42-year old skin mags.
Playboy Magazine has had a reputation for quality journalism. Historically, it has paid top dollar to its freelance writers, and presumably that dedication to excellence carried over into its publication values. Hence, its use of graphic design, paper and ink would be easily recognizable to industry mavens. As a result, uncovering the Playboy connection did not have to be an impossible task and FBI investigators could have discovered it with reasonable effort.
Or Al Di did privately with exceptional diligence.
In addition, Al Di’s decoding video has excellent production values, suggesting that it was professionally made and well-financed. Further, the voice-over is a young male voice who speaks competently but with a veiled anxiety, suggesting a personal connection to the source material rather than a hired actor.
Al Di’s web site was created in August 2011, and he announced its existence on the dropzone web site in September 2011, but the implications of his announcement are only now coming to light.
Further, Al Di says that the FBI only made the existence of Letter #3 known to the public on August 1, 2011 – about ten days before his own launch – when the FBI released it to the original owners, The Oregonian, Portland’s famed newspaper, by posting it on their web site, OregonianLive.com.
The original letter was postmarked December 1, 1971, and was mailed in northern Oregon, but not in Portland. The Oregonian had given it directly to the Bureau back in 1971, and had not published the letter nor revealed its existence at that time.
Letter #3 reads:
“Am alive and well in hometown P.O.
The system that beats the system
In addition, the letter’s envelope is hand-written in pencil and addressed:
“Editor – Oregonian
1320 SW Broadway
So, who is Al Di?
All efforts by the Mountain News over the past few days to contact Mr. Di have been unsuccessful.
As a result, I have turned to the FBI.
Ayn Dietrich, public information officer for the FBI’s Seattle office and the wellspring for the Cooper investigation, told me Monday that Al Di is not an FBI agent and has no relationship with the Bureau.
In addition, Dietrich said that the “FBI has not reviewed Al Di’s work previously…but the case agent (Curtis Eng) is now aware of Al Di’s work and will review it.”
Further, Ms. Dietrich was unable to confirm the conclusions of Al Di’s video and web site, specifically that the Letter #3 was crafted using text from the Playboy magazines, nor did she confirm that the FBI released Letter #3 to the Oregonian on August 1, 2011 as Al Di claims.
However, Galen Cook says that the FBI released Letter #3 during the flurry of media releases in the first week of August, 2011, that included the Marla Cooper bombshell that her uncle LD Cooper was the “most promising” suspect, along with the roll-out of Geoffrey Gray’s book, Skyjack.
Al Di says that he decoded the letter 10 days after the FBI released it, about August 10, 2011, which implies that he did the investigatory work recently. However, he offers no corroborating information.
As for his identity, Al Di says that he is just an “average Joe” who is interested in the DB Cooper saga.
Mr. Cook is only able to shed a bit more light on Al Di’s identity, and says that the elusive Di first contacted him on August 16, 2011 and subsequently has sent him numerous emails. Despite his requests, Al Di has never revealed his true identity to Cook, nor has Al Di called him.
Further according to Cook, Al Di has not revealed exactly how he decoded Letter #3, claiming only that he “colorized” the black and white version that the FBI sent to the Oregonian. Once colorized, the unique characteristics of the background used on Playboy cover pages were apparent, thus revealing the source of the lettering to Al Di.
But why should anyone play cat and mouse at this stage of the Cooper investigation? Why won’t Al Di reveal himself? If the decoder is a member of the FBI, why not come clean? If Al Di knows DB Cooper, is he keeping quiet because of a fear of retributions – but what kind can there be from a man that is probably 90 years old, or dead?
Nevertheless, the manner in which Al Di describes DB Cooper is interesting.
On his web site Al Di describes DB Cooper as a “sky pirate” and one that is “brash, (and) highly calculating” and who “coolly executed” the hijacking. He characterizes the skyjacking as “akin…to a James Bond movie.”
These are not the perspectives usually associated with the typical views of the FBI or former agents involved in the case.
Further, what is the response of the FBI to Al Di and the presence of Letter #3 – and in fact all the letters? Are they checking the DNA of the envelopes? The stamps? What are their conclusions from this evidence?
Mountain News reader Bob Sailshaw has been quite vocal in championing the examination of the DNA from the letters, demanding that the sample be compared with the DNA findings obtained from Cooper suspect Sheridan Peterson.
Passionately, Sailshaw wants to know if Peterson’s alibi can stand up to scrutiny – that he was living in a mud hut in Nepal with his new wife and two little kids at the time of the skyjacking. Sailshaw feels that the DNA contained in the saliva residues on the envelopes and stamps can prove whether Peterson was actually stateside, or not. It won’t prove conclusively that Peterson was Cooper, but it can show whether “Petey” is telling the truth about his whereabouts on November 24, 1971.
Sailshaw also claims that a line from Letter # 3, “The system that beats the system” is close to a mantra uttered frequently by Peterson when he lived in Sailshaw’s home in 1961, that he was looking for a “system to beat the system.”
“The coincidence is just too uncanny,” says Sailshaw.
As for the four letters, here is what is known. First, they were all sent to newspapers by an individual calling himself “DB Cooper.” No one knows for sure if the letters are from the skyjacker, but the question clearly haunts the investigation.
The first letter was received by the Reno Evening Gazette in Reno, Nevada on November 29, 1971, just five days after the skyjacking. In addition, Cooper’s plane had landed in Reno for refueling after he jumped somewhere south of Sea-Tac airport.
Letter #1 was postmarked on November 27, 1971 in Oakdale, California, a small town northeast of Modesto. According to Mr. Cook, it was a cut and paste job using lettering from the Friday, November 26, 1971 evening edition of the Sacramento Bee newspaper. It read:
Thanks for the hospitality
Was in a rut.
It was published by the Reno Gazette and then given to the FBI.
Letter #2 was hand-written and sent to the Vancouver Province newspaper in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It was sent to the Province between November 30 and December 2, 1971, and was mailed in Vancouver, BC. It claimed that the first composite drawing of DB Cooper “did not represent the truth,” and contained the following:
“I enjoyed the Grey Cup game.
Am leaving Vancouver.
Thanks for the hospitality.
The Grey Cup game is the championship professional Canadian football game, and in 1971 it was played in Vancouver on November 28.
Letter #4 was also mailed to the Reno Evening Gazette and mailed December 1 from the Sacramento, California area. Although received, the Gazette did not publish it in accordance with the FBI’s wishes. However, the Gazette did write a story about the letter’s existence.
Again, it was a paste-up and contained the following:
“Plan ahead for retirement income.
© 2012 Mountain News-WA