by Bruce A. Smith
Editor’s Note: With all the interest in the DB Cooper case generated by the 41st anniversary a couple of weeks ago, I thought it worthwhile to reframe the opening chapter of my forthcoming book, “The Hunt for DB Cooper – The Resurgent Investigation into America’s only Unsolved Skyjacking.”
On the day before Thanksgiving in 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper approached the Northwest Orient Airlines counter at the Portland, Oregon airport, and for $20 he bought a one-way ticket to Seattle aboard Flight 305. The man was soon to become known as DB Cooper, and he skyjacked the 727 jet aircraft as it became airborne. Later, he parachuted from the jetliner with $200,000 tethered to his body, and not only has he never been seen since, his identity is still unknown.
Adding to the mystery, not a single shred of definitive physical evidence has ever been found – not his parachute or any trace of his remains– not even a piece of clothing. Not a single twenty-dollar bill from the ransom loot has surfaced except for a $5,800 bundle discovered eight years after the skyjacking buried along the banks of the Columbia River that the FBI admits was deposited there years after the hijacking and via means still unknown.
Further, the primary witness to the skyjacking, flight attendant Tina Mucklow, disappeared from public view for over thirty years – only being discovered in 2010 after dogged private investigatory work, and even now she steadfastly refuses to talk with the media or any member of the public.
Astonishing, Ms. Mucklow spent 12 of her 30 years in an Oregon convent, even though the Mother Superior allegedly told a fellow investigator, Galen Cook, that “Tina never really fit in here.”
Compounding the perplexities are bunglings by the FBI, such as losing the prime DNA samples – the eight cigarette butts that DB Cooper smoked aboard the airplane – along with enormous doubts about the clip-on tie, which may also be a source of DNA that he allegedly left aboard the aircraft. Worse, the fingerprint team apparently botched the job during the evidence retrieval in Reno, where the plane landed for refueling during Cooper’s getaway.
In addition, we have a missing FBI agent, as Jeremy Blauser, who was active in the case in 2006, is now missing, and the Bureau can not say where he is or what happened to him, only that he was a regular field agent based in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, he was known to be working the Cooper case out of a Tacoma, WA federal office.
Clearly, mysteries abound in the DB Cooper case, and it consistently ranks in the top-ten of true American crimes. The FBI has investigated over 1,100 credible suspects, along with the 922 individuals who have confessed to being DB Cooper, including at least one fellow on his death-bed, so the Bureau has been determined in its work.
Yet, the case seems as intractable as it was forty years ago. Nevertheless, the investigation has become resurgent in the past several years because of new technology, and many feel we are getting closer to knowing the truth of the DB Cooper case, the only unsolved skyjacking in the history of the United States.
Most notable in the resurgence is the availability of DNA testing. Suspects can be evaluated more comprehensively than ever before, and the impact is so enormous it is as if the case has been re-opened anew.
The second most important contributor to the resurgence is the Internet, its ubiquitous nature allowing private researchers, journalists and investigators to uncover vast new sources of information and to share them with each other. Truly, this book could not have been written forty years ago. In fact, the success of the resurgent Cooper case validates open-sourced sleuthing via the Internet, and establishes a new kind of partnership between law enforcement, journalists and citizen sleuths.
Seizing that opportunity, an innovative FBI agent named Larry Carr actively sought the public’s help when he became the Cooper case agent in 2007. Carr helped form a chat room on the skydiving web site known as the DropZone that has been an invaluable site of informational exchange, and he drew selected members from that forum to become part of his Citizen Sleuth Team. The CST, led by scientist Tom Kaye, has in turned produced remarkable new evidence and analysis, including the heralded find of titanium shards on Cooper’s tie, and strange chemical and biological artifacts on the ransom bills, which might indicate what bodies or water the twenties floated through on their way to Tina’s Bar, the beach where they were found in February, 1980.
The confessees also include a number of death-bed confessions, in particular one by a long-time con man Duane Weber, who told his wife, Jo, that he was Dan Cooper just days before his death from renal failure in 1995. Jo, in turn, has become an investigatory zealot to learn the truth of her deceased husband, and her posts can be found daily at the DZ.
Similar confessions have fueled copious amounts of research from concerned family members and eager journalists looking to crack the case. Kenny Christiansen is one such suspect, and his life has spawned two research books, “Skyjack- The Hunt for DB Cooper” by Geoffrey Gray, and “Into the Blast – The True Story of DB Cooper,” by Robert Blevins and Skipp Porteous.
Perhaps the most intriguing confession, though, is by a woman named Barb Dayton, who confessed to a pair of fellow pilots in 1978 that not only was she DB Cooper, but also she was the first person in Washington state to have a sex-change operations – having been Bobby Dayton until 1969. Ms. Dayton’s associates, Ron and Pat Forman, later wrote a book about their remarkable friend, “The Legend of DB Cooper – Death by Natural Causes.”
Besides the torrent of confessions, we now have declassified information from Vietnam that clearly indicates that DB Cooper had all the skills common to a Special Forces trooper, particularly those members of the ultra-secret commando group known as MAC-V-SOG, commonly referred to as the Material Assistance Command – Vietnam – Special Operations Group.
In fact, two officials with MAC-V-SOG, SgtM Billy Waugh and Major John Plaster claim that DB Cooper was one of their guys, and have announced that they and many others in the Special Forces think that Cooper was Sgt Ted Braden, a rouge soldier who went AWOL from Vietnam in late 1966 and had significant connections to the CIA and Pentagon brass. In particular, Braden was captured in the Congo by US-backed operatives weeks after leaving Vietnam, and was shipped back to the states to await a court-martial at Ft Dix, New Jersey. However, one of the officers in charge of his incarceration told me that Braden left Dix a free man, dressed in all of his military finery, upon the direct order of the Army Chief of Staff, Harold K Johnson.
Another Cooper suspect from the Vietnam War is a unique character named Sheridan Peterson. “Petey” has been investigated twice by the FBI in connection to the Cooper skyjacking. In 1971, the Bureau conducted an extensive investigation of Petey because, on paper, he’s the ideal Cooper suspect.
Petey is smart and fearless, and has all the Cooper physical characteristics: he’s 6’-6’1” tall with an olive complexion, and he weighs 170 pounds. Plus, he’s fit and he carries himself in a professional manner.
Further, Pete was a crack skydiver, and had been a top-notch smokejumper in Montana during the 1950s. In addition, he had worked for Boeing in the technical department during the 1960s, and had advanced knowledge of many of the engineering details of Boeing aircraft, including the 727.
While at Boeing, Petey had performed a skydiving stunt wearing a business suit with a fifty-pound sack of flour strapped to his legs – all elements of the Cooper jump that continue to mystify investigators as DB Cooper jumped into the cold, rainy November skies wearing only a simple business suit and thin raincoat. In fact, it was 22 degrees Fahrenheit when Cooper leapt out of his aircraft at 10,000 feet. Further, the $200,000 weighed nearly twenty-two pounds and is considered by experts to have been a severely destabilizing element during a skydiving free-fall.
In terms of his personality, Petey can be contentious and has a long history of challenging authority. He was incarcerated by the FBI for a short time in Mississippi during the mid-1960s for his work in the Civil Rights movement. Later, he was dismissed from his duties as a refugee liaison for native South Vietnamese and “invited” to leave Vietnam by the US Ambassador due to his allegations of American combat atrocities and his strong advocacy for the refugees under his care.
Then in 2002 with the advent of DNA testing, the FBI came knocking on Petey’s door a second time, asking to take a swab of his saliva. Partly because the two FBI agents were good-looking women, Petey complied. In fact, he regaled them for two hours with tales of his exploits in Vietnam, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and Papua New Guinea.
One of the FBI agents, Mary Jane Fryar, now a real estate agent in Santa Rosa, California, told me that Petey was the “most fascinating suspect” she had ever interviewed during her FBI career.
But apparently Mary Jane smelled a rat – or at least a quirky, retired intelligence officer – because she came back a second time, claiming she needed fingerprints. However, she used her additional interview time to grill Petey about his extensive travels throughout Asia – hop-scotching between political hot spots without a plausible means of support.
Whether Sheridan Peterson is DB Cooper, a retired CIA agent, or just a free-spirited individual with a bad attitude is unknown, as he resists all contact from me.
As for Cooper, he too, brought mystery to the skyjacking:
The fellow flying the plane when Cooper jumped, co-pilot Bill Rataczak, told me in 2009 that Cooper knew more about the 727 than either he or the captain, William Scott, especially regarding the question of flying the aircraft with the aft stairs deployed.
Further, Cooper was one of the few skydivers on the planet who knew the metrics required for flying the plane safely during a parachute exit: landing gear down and locked, speeds no faster than 200 mph and with the wing flaps set at a sharp angle, and an elevation no higher than 10,000 feet with the cabin pressures off.
“When he told me to set the wing flaps at fifteen degrees, I knew he was a pretty smart guy,” Rataczak said, adding, “The 727 is the only Boeing product that has a pre-dent (predetermined) setting on the wing flaps of fifteen degrees.”
Cooper’s knowledge of the parachuting dynamics of the 727 is uncanny because in 1971 it was classified information, known only to selected Boeing officials and within commando operations in Vietnam.
© 2012 Bruce A. Smith
Bruce: You need to add some more about Sheridan Peterson and that he was in the “Manuals and Handbooks Group” at Boeing with complete access to all the information he would need for the operation of the Aft Airstair in the 727. His office was just above the “Materials Research Lab” in the Boeing 9-101 building and that lab had large open scrap boxes available to Sheridan and he could have got the Titanium and Aluminum machining shards on his tie by looking through the scrap box. He had to pass by the scrap boxes each day to get to his office. Also, he was a Smoke Jumper for the USFS for three years and knew how to land in the trees and how to find his was out from being dropped into remote fires. He also started the Boeing Employees Skydiving Club with the Isssaquah Skysports (where the 4 parachutes came from) and received his Instructors Certification there. The FBI is very close to solving the case if they test the Four Letters sent just after the skyjacking by DB Cooper that he made it. On the envelope flaps/stamps would be the DNA of the sender and it is believed that it would match Sheridan and prove he was not in Nepal (his perfect alibi) at the time but at the scene of the crime. This is a real “Smoking Gun” in the case and the only evidence the FBI has yet to investigate. Hopefully, the FBI has started to look into the DNA on the Four Envelopes or will soon do so to compare with Sheridan’s that they already have.
Good start on your book,
You’re correct, Sail, I do need to write more about Sheridan – and I will, but in a separate chapter. Thanks for your concise and comprehensive overview of Petey’s qualifications to be DB Cooper.
Bruce, Bob Sailshaw pisses me off. He wants Pete to go to prison for lying to the FBI. He’s the liar. Pete has sky blue eyes and very fair skin. He was an editor at Boeing. He was an English teacher and journalist who corrected engineering documents. Removed the gobbledygook so that the mechanics on the flight-line could understand them. That’s what all of us did. One time an arrogant engineer came into the room which was downstairs in building A at plant 1 and shouted: “where’s Peterson. He’s made my document so any fifth grader could understand it.” Our boss came out of his cubical and said: “You just got a raise, Pete.” I lost touch with Pete when he went to the Philippines on a sabbatical and didn’t come back for 30+ years. He left Vietnam and went to Pokhara, Nepal for a couple of years to write a literary protest documentary of the Vietnam war. He showed the FBI his passports and his kids birth certificates. The were born there. I would contact the FBI and tell them that Swineshaw lied to them. When he was in Mississippi with the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee. He was arrested and incarcerated along with priests, ministers and Ivy League students for marching in Jackson, Mississippi without a permit, not the FBI, the redneck cops. they did come in the fair pavilion and take movie pictures of the protest. He did not make a jump wearing a suit and tie and loafers. The picture was taken at the Boeing parking lot. He was asked to make a pose as though he were making a turn in the air. The picture was taken for the Boeing news letter.
Swineshaw can’t write. It’s doubtful if he was an engineer. Pete did stay at a basement apartment at Swineshaw’s sharing it with Joon Lee, a Korean graduate student in Seattle on a business scholarship; a manager for the Korean Airlines. Although Pete paid rent for a month he left after 2 week in search of cheaper accommodations. When he dropped by see Joon Lee, Swineshaw ran at him shouting vulgarities. Joon Lee blocked a punch Pete took at Swineshaw. That ended the encounter, but Swineshaw has sought revenge all these years. He’s a real swine and should be locked up.
WOW, Grant. That’s quite a revisionist view of Sheridan Peterson and his time with Sailshaw. As for charging Sail with being a fraud and not an engineer, that’s over the line. Sail is an engineer.
Burt, why so much animosity towards Bob Sailshaw? He has always acted like a gentleman.
Bruce, we have never met. Im studying journalism and was told you have been known to go above and beyond in your work. Furthermore it appears you have been known to put your gum shoes on and travel down the rabbit hole. Have you ever thought about digging around colorado?( norad, skulls and bones, cia, ect.) I know its a touchy subject but something very “wrong” has been taking place with the financial ellite who run this country. Are you the type of guy who likes going home to his wife and kids and pretending everything is going to be ok. Or are you the type that wants to make a change no matter the cost. Its time we get some credible boots on the ground and expose the corrupt. If this scratches you right where you itch please get in touch with me. PS Im thinking of visiting the colorado area for the holmes trial……….”i have nothing to lose but everything to gain.”
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You and sailshaw are liers, I know Peterson. None of your bullsit is true. George Magaga
If I am a liar, George, then it must take one to know one. Your email address bounced back, saying your email is invalid.
As for Peterson, I’d be happy to set the record straight. Please give me a call. 360. 832. 6248. Pacific Time. Afternoon and eves are best.
Pete (AKA various aliases here) ,
Hope you enjoyed the holiday cheer package. May 2016 be a good year for you.
As wingsuits steal the show from regular skydiving, your pioneer wingsuiter status should be recognized and recorded.
I have a Vietnamese barber friend who was a ARVN paratrooper. He said they never jumped into hot combat though. They were trained in both S/L and freefall. He, like you, sport jumped with the Saigon SPC out of the H-34 helos you mentioned. Everything you said about the Saigon SPC checked out.
You have such a rich history in early skydiving. It needs to be documented and preserved. I wish you’d consent to a telephonic interview. I promise to refrain from any DBC questions.
USPA D license, still jumping.
First jump 1968
Over 100 surplus round canopy jumps
I hope Sheridan replies.
Wow, that was strongly worded… kinda like the poeple who all came out in support of the Auditor when she took all those horses that weren’t sick. Seems to me you have to get really ballzy when your job is defending the government’s lies, it’s a ploy to make someone back down… some of us know that.
Back down? Who me?
Bruce: The writer above “Grant Olsen” must be Sheridan Peterson to know all the details he has published. He must be afraid to use his own name but possibly he could comment on how Sheridan’s alibi about delivering his own child in Nepal at the time of the Norjak caper when the facts do not in support of that being possible. FACTS “Ginger Lucenda Peterson”
(his daughter) was born in October 1972 and his son “Sheridan Ramon Petersson” was born Sept. 12th 1970. The Norjak skyjacking took place Nov. 24, 1971. His lie to the FBI is a Fedral Crime with jail time but could be exchanged for the real DB Cooper story.
Also, Sheridan’s skin color was OLIVE when he lived at my home for a month (possibly sun tan as he was an outdoors guy) his eye color could have been an easy disguise with BROWN cosmetic contact.lens that he proudly displayed to the Flight Attendant before covering them with his sun glasses for the rest of the flight. This blows his alibi about being in Nepal and having blue eyes and fair skin.
Here is Wikipedia’s summary history of wingsuiting It reads like nothing happened between the 1930s and 1990s. The Sheridan Peterson wingsuit experiments need to be added. Pete was a serious skydiving rebel. Got kicked out of the USPA for his defiant wingsuiting.
“An early attempt at wingsuit flying was made on 4 February 1912 by a 33-year-old tailor, Franz Reichelt, who jumped from the Eiffel Tower to test his invention of a combination of parachute and wing, which was similar to modern wingsuits. He misled the guards by saying that the experiment was going to be conducted with a dummy. He hesitated quite a long time before he jumped, and hit the ground head first, opening a measurable hole in the frozen ground. A film of his attempt exists.
A wingsuit was first used in 1930 by a 19-year-old American, Rex Finney of Los Angeles, California, as an attempt to increase horizontal movement and maneuverability during a parachute jump. These early wingsuits were made of materials such as canvas, wood, silk, steel, and whalebone. They were not very reliable, although some “birdmen”, notably Clem Sohn and Leo Valentin, claimed to have glided for miles.
In the mid-1990s, the modern wingsuit was developed by Patrick de Gayardon of France, adapted from the model used by John Carta. In 1997, the Bulgarian Sammy Popov designed and built a wingsuit which had a larger wing between the legs and longer wings on the arms. His prototype was developed at Boulder City, Nevada. Testing was conducted in a vertical wind tunnel in Las Vegas at Flyaway Las Vegas. Popov’s wingsuit first flew in October 1998 over Jean, Nevada, but it never went into commercial production. Popov’s design was a great improvement in creating lift; it was able to slow the vertical speed to 30 km/h while gliding horizontally at speeds over 300 km/h. In 1998, Chuck “Da Kine” Raggs built a version which incorporated hard ribs inside the wing airfoils. Although these more rigid wings were better able to keep their shape in flight, this made the wingsuit heavier and more difficult to fly. Raggs’ design also never went into commercial production. Flying together for the first time, Popov and Raggs showcased their designs side-by-side at the World Free-fall Convention at Quincy, Illinois, in August 1999. Both designs performed well. At the same event, multiple-formation wingsuit skydives were made which included de Gayardon’s, Popov’s, and Raggs’ suits.”