by Bruce A. Smith
As I compose my book on DB Cooper, I have found it useful to develop a “Who’s Who” of the principals in the investigation – the FBI personnel, the crew, and the leading researchers.
Although the skyjacking began in Portland, Oregon, the case management was given to the Seattle office as they had to mobilize the greatest force to secure the airport, get the parachutes and ransom money, and then track the plane. However, no one from the Seattle office has ever written a public account of the investigation and it is difficult to know who did what.
Nevertheless, here is what I have been able to ascertain:
DB Cooper Case Agent:
The head of the FBI’s investigation was a special agent in Seattle by the name of Charlie Farrell. Author Geoffrey Gray gave an extensive examination of Farrell’s role at the 2011 Symposium, and announced that Farrell had penned a 300-page commentary on his Cooper investigation. However, Farrell passed away in 2005 and all my efforts to contact his family have been unsuccessful. Nor have I seen Agent Farrell’s case history despite my requests to Mr. Gray.
Other agents in the Seattle office, known as the “office of origin” were active in the Norjak investigation, especially John Detlor, Don Steele and J. Earl Milne.
Farrell and the above agents were also assisted by senior staff at the Seattle Field Office (FO) who handed administrative details, such as assignments to “squads” – teams of agents that involved themselves in specific projects, such as the ground search, interviewing certain groups of suspects, or even the perimeter defense on the night of the skyjacking. Special Agent Sid Rubin was one such investigator, assigned to the security detail on the edge of the runway at Sea-Tac.
Ron Nichols was the Cooper case agent following Farrell’s retirement in 1977. Nichols is reported to have been a brilliant agent and he graduated second in his class at the Naval Academy. He served with distinction in the Bureau until his retirement.
Special Agent Don Glasser, a former Navy Seal, joined the FBI in 1978 and reportedly formed a dynamic investigatory partnership with Nichols.
Agent Nichols is also reported by many to have a contentious relationship with Ralph Himmelsbach, the FBI agent in the Portland office working on the Cooper case. Apparently, Himmelsbach did not alert the Seattle office to the Cooper money find at Tina’s Bar in 1980, and as a result Nichols allegedly learned about it by reading the Seattle newspapers.
Special Agent Ralph Himmelsbach:
Himmelsbach was a special agent stationed in the Portland, Oregon FBI office. Himmelsbach said he got the role as Portland’s case agent for all skyjackings that might arise there because he was an accomplished pilot and owned his own plane. Mr. Himmelsbach was an aviator in WW II and reportedly flew P-51s with distinction. During the search for DB Cooper he scouted the Ariel area from the air immediately after the skyjacking, and several days later he flew to Reno, Nevada as part of an expanded aerial search.
Further, Himmelsbach claims that he was the naming agent for the Cooper case, now known as “Norjak.”
Himmelsbach is also co-author of Norjak: The Investigation of DB Cooper, which is an account of his work. Hs co-author is a professional writer named Thomas Worcester.
In the course of the investigation, Ralph became good friends with Bill Rataczak, the pilot of Flight 305. In fact, Bill telephoned Ralph during my interview with Agent Himmelsbach at his home in Woodburn, Oregon in 2011.
However, Himmelsbach didn’t play a major role in the early days of the investigation. Over the Thanksgiving Day weekend field operations in Portland were clearly under the direction of Special Agent in Command (SAC) of Portland, Julius Mattson.
In addition, Special Agent in Command of the Salt Lake City Office, Russ Calame, told me that Himmelsbach “did not play a prominent role in the case” until Ralph presented the FBI’s case against Cooper to a Federal Grand Jury in Portland in 1975.
Nevertheless, Himmelsbach was the leader of the evidence retrieval at Tina’s Bar in February 1980, when $5,800 of the ransom money was found.
Ever since then, Himmelsbach has been the public face of the FBI’s DB Cooper investigation, and he has appeared numerous times in documentaries and throughout the news media. Ralph has repeatedly told me that he expects payment for his interviews, and according to British journalist Alex Hannaford, Himmelsbach asks for $600 for a print interview. Similarly, author Robert Blevins reports on Drop Zone.com that Ralph charges $2,100 for a video filming.
Lacking those kinds of funds, I have offered to take Ralph and his wife out to lunch. So far, he has not agreed to an interview with me, and only spoke with me when I stopped at his house unexpectedly – and uninvited. Nevertheless, he graciously spoke with me for about twenty minutes.
Ralph lives with his wife in a strikingly beautiful home on 40 acres in Woodburn that is accessed by a quarter-mile causeway over a seasonal pond.
Himmelsbach also has a remarkable relationship with Cooper sleuth Jerry Thomas, and the latter calls Ralph a “second father.” It appears the affection is mutual.
In another bizarre twist, Himmelsbach’s mansion is located less than two miles from the hazelnut grove that Barb Dayton says she landed in as DB Cooper and the site of the irrigation cistern in which she stored the ransom money.
Due to mandatory retirement policies at the FBI, Himmelsbach was compelled to retire from the FBI just two weeks after the money find at Tina’s Bar.
Retired Special Agent Bob Sale from the Seattle FO told me that he knows Mr. Himmelsbach and claims that Ralph is good friends with Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, which is based in Portland. Bob suggested that Ralph’s’ apparent wealth may have come from timely investments in Nike in the early days.
Special Agent in Command Russ Calame
SAC Russ Calame led the team that captured Richard McCoy in one of the first so-called “copycat” skyjackings after Cooper. McCoy hijacked a 727 out of Denver flying to San Francisco and he bailed out over the evening skies near his home of Provo, Utah.
Calame later partnered with federal court officer Bernie Rhodes to write DB Cooper- The Real McCoy.
To this day, Calame believes that McCoy was DB Cooper, and performed a second skyjacking. Calame also says that many in Seattle agreed with him in the early 1970s. Calame presents compelling information that McCoy was involved in the Cooper skyjacking, and proves that McCoy was in Las Vegas, Nevada near the McCarran Airport the night of the Cooper hijacking and subsequently was not at home for Thanksgiving dinner the following day, as the Seattle FO now declares.
After capture, McCoy escaped twice from federal custody, and was finally killed in a gun battle with FBI agents in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The Special Agent in charge of that team, Nick O’Hara, claims that “when I shot Richard McCoy, I killed DB Cooper.”
In 2012, Mr. O’Hara, now retired from the FBI, told me that he has become a good friend of Mr. Rhodes, and they regularly vacation together at the latter’s Florida home. Despite the cordial conversation I had with Agent O’Hara, he declined my request asking for help in making contact with Bernie. Although I have Mr. Rhodes phone number and address from Russ, Bernie declines all requests for an interview. Whenever I call, his phone rings into infinity.
I also asked Nick about McCoy’s wife. One of the mysteries of the Richard McCoy story is how the FBI knew to find him at the residence in Virginia Beach, and it is widely believed that McCoy’s wife had become their informer. Such a happenstance makes sense because it is also believed that she was in cahoots with her husband on the skyjacking and was part of his getaway plan – cruising the desert roads outside of Provo in the family car in an effort to pick him up before the cops did. However, McCoy’s skyjacking got delayed far beyond the allotted wait-time and she returned home. Hence, the FBI had leverage with the wife, and this scenario is inferred in the Calame-Rhodes book. Also, it is rumored that the wife successfully sued the authors over this issue.
Nevertheless, I asked O’Hara directly if the wife was his source of information. He laughed when I posed the question.
“I’m not going to tell you that!” he roared. “I’ve never revealed that information in all these years, even though Bernie keeps bugging me to!!!”
O’Hara also confirmed that many within the FBI feel that McCoy-was-Cooper, especially in Salt Lake City.
Further, in their book Calame and Rhodes infer that FBI chief J Edgar Hoover sabotaged the Cooper investigation. Calame suggests that when he was forced to retired shortly after the McCoy collar due to mandatory requirements, Hoover placed a dud in charge of the Salt Lake City office and that the investigation into the McCoy-Cooper connection withered.
Special Agent Richard Tosaw
Tosaw’s participation in the Cooper case is unusual – he was not involved in the investigation as a special agent of the FBI, but rather, he joined The Hunt after he left the Bureau. Tosaw was the attorney that helped Brian Ingram and his family recover the ransom money after the FBI confiscated it in 1980.
Later, Tosaw lived in Sacramento and became a zealous private investigator in the Cooper case. His DB Cooper – Alive or Dead? is one of the first significant books written on the skyjacking.
As for the money, the FBI claimed that they needed it for evidence when they took it from the Ingrams, but with Tosaw’s legal guidance a Seattle court awarded the family about half the bills and the Bureau received a dozen or so. The remaining bills went to the insurance company that had underwritten the NWO plane and operations; for they actually “owned” the money.
Prior to helping the Ingrams retrieve their money Tosaw had been a special agent in the FBI, stationed in Seattle during the 1960s. Further, his brother Michael Tosaw was a special agent serving in San Francisco. Through all these connections Richard became enamored with the Cooper case, and he investigated Norjak extensively until his death from cancer in 2009, spending summers on the Columbia dredging the river bottom looking for Cooper’s remains and artifacts.
Richard Tosaw is also the last journalist to interview Tina Mucklow before her 30-year silence took hold, as he talked with her during the early stages of her residency in the Maria Regina monastery in Eugene, Oregon.
Larry Carr is perhaps the best known DB Cooper case agent in the history of Norjak, and he handled the investigation from 2007 until late 2009. Carr is unique in his efforts to forge a partnership with the public, and he shared never-before-released evidence and information on the skyjacking, such as the presence of the clip-on tie that Cooper purportedly left aboard the aircraft. He also allowed selected members of the public to review the evidence and review files, such as the Citizen Sleuth Team. He also provided Geoffrey Gray with unprecedented access to the Norjak files.
Nevertheless, I spoke with Larry in late 2008 and it was one of the most argumentative interviews I have ever engaged as a journalist. To his credit, though, Carr didn’t hang-up on me even though I was struggling to control my temper at every turn. He didn’t sound like he was having fun with me, either.
Generally, he castigated my questions about Barb Dayton, who was the only suspect I knew anything about at the time of the interview, and he was utterly dismissive of anything the Formans contributed to the investigation, which I found both unprofessional and personally repugnant.
However, as I learned more about the case and had numerous dealings with other FBI personnel, I began to more fully appreciate Carr’s singular contributions to the case.
Yet, his tremendous visibility in the public eye may have back-fired. His commentary in the 2009 National Geographic documentary on Cooper: The Skyjacker Who Got Away, placed Carr in an unfavorable light when he presented the “Propeller Theory” – the notion that the bundle of $5,800 found at Tina’s Bar arrived there after being temporarily wrapped around the drive shaft of an inbound freighter heading up the Columbia River.
Shortly afterwards Larry was taken off the case. Reportedly, he was promoted and re-assigned to FBI HQ in Washington, DC. At that time, Galen Cook told me that Larry had informed him that the FBI was “shutting down the case.” In addition, Carr stopped posting on the DZ and he has not returned any of my phone calls or emails.
Curtis Eng is the current DB Cooper case agent. He is as different from Larry Carr as night is from day. Eng is circumspect and virtually silent on the case. He has declined all my requests for an interview, and has only contacted me once – responding to an email when I alerted him to an Internet hacking episode that involved the FBI and my Norjak files.
Nevertheless, Eng seems to be very busy on the case, and during his tenure we have had the Marla Cooper flap, the release of Letter #3, the arrival of the mysterious “Al Di” to the investigation (see chapter on “Letters”), and the extension of permission to Geoffrey Gray to peruse FBI files that began under Larry Carr. This latter happenstance resulted in Gray’s superlative account of the early hours of the skyjacking and many others heretofore unknown aspects of the investigation, such as the true owner of the parachutes, Norman Hayden.
An FBI official that works closely with Eng is the Cooper PIO in Seattle, Ayn Dietrich. Although she is quite young and her knowledge of the case appears at times to be rudimentary, she is a solid professional. She returns all my phone calls and emails.
Tom Manning ran the field operations for the FBI’s ground searches in the Ariel area, both in the days immediately after the skyjacking and then later in the spring of 1972 when the massive Army effort was launched. Manning was a special agent out of the FBI’s satellite office in Longview, Washington, which is just south of Ariel.
Dorwin Schreuder took over Norjak duties in Portland after Himmelsbach retired in 1980. In addition, Dorwin was the Public Information Officer (PIO) for the money retrieval at Tina’s Bar.
After Cooper Dorwin was involved in several additional skyjackings, and his next episode was in 1983 at the second skyjacking attempt by Glenn Tripp. Tripp had tried to hijack another airplane in 1980, and during his second effort, which occurred at Sea-Tac airport, Dorwin was selected be one of the FBI’s negotiators.
Dorwin told me he was on the phone with Tripp at the moment the agents on the ground stormed the airplane and fatally shot the skyjacker.
Years later Dorwin was summoned again, this time to the Portland airport to negotiate the surrender of one of his neighbors who had hijacked a TWA flight over a beef with officials at the Portland Police Department. It was successfully concluded without injury.
Dorwin’s fourth skyjacking was to negotiate a hijacking in Eugene, Oregon, on small local flight headed for Hillsboro, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. Again, Dorwin engineered a successful conclusion.
“He was a very depressed guy, and an alcoholic,” Schreuder told me.
I found Agent Schreuder to be a kindly old guy. Currently, he lives in Montana where he skis daily. He has invited me to visit him any time I’m in the area, and I plan to do so when I get a few bucks.
Mike McPheters also handled skyjackings besides Norjak, particularly when he was stationed in Miami. After his transfer to Portland, he participated in the dig at the Tina Bar tide line looking for fragments. McPheters claims he found about a dozen and at depths to a foot or two.
Later, McPheters left the Bureau and became a Mormon bishop. He has written an account of his remarkable life, titeld: Agent Bishop – True Stories of a FBI Agent Moonlighting as a Mormon Bishop, and I spoke with him at his Moses Lake, WA home in 2009.
Lee Dormuth is the brother-in-law of Tina Mucklow, the flight attendant that Cooper kept on board as a hostage. Dormuth is a 32-year vet of the FBI, and was a special agent in the San Diego office at the time of the skyjacking. Dormuth told me that he and his wife, Tina’s sister Jane, flew to Reno the night of the skyjacking to be with Tina.
I have visited with Lee briefly on two occasions, and he has been civil but tightly guarded when he spoke with me on his front stoop. He ended both conversations by walking back inside his home and shutting the front door. He says he wants “no part of it,” meaning his sister-in-law and the Norjak case. Yet, he is deceitful for unknown reasons, as he tells me that Tina is fine when she clearly is not. Further, I strongly believe that he has regular dealings with Tina despite his disclaimer; and he also told me his wife spoke at length with Jo Weber the night before my last visit to their humble double-wide, located in a bucolic setting in the Puget Sound area.
Dormuth currently works as a private investigator.
Crew of Flight 305:
Bill Rataczak was the first officer of DB Cooper’s plane, and was at the controls when the skyjacker jumped from the plane. He was a career pilot for Northwest Orient, and has lived in Minnesota with his family for the majority of time after the skyjacking. I spoke with him for 70 minutes in a 2009 phone call and he was both gracious and generous with his time.
However, he asked to see what I was writing to “get a feel for who you are and where you’re going with this.” In response, I sent him a 32-page overview of my findings, and ever since then he has not returned any of my calls or emails.
Ralph Himmelsbach says that he and Bill have become good friends ever since they met for the first time at Ralph’s retirement party in 1982. Ralph told me that he was very touched that Bill and Scotty flew him for the celebration.
Nevertheless, Himmelsbach has misspelled Bill’s surname in his NORJAK: The Investigation into DB Cooper, and writes his name as Radaczak.
William Scott, “Scotty,” was the senior officer and the captain of the flight. After the skyjacking he continued to fly for Northwest Orient, and died in the mid-1990s. In YouTube clips Scotty appears to be a solid, dependable company man, and defers most media questions to others or stonewalls them in a civil-but-firm manner. This has given credence to the belief that Northwest Orient tried to keep 305’s crew on a short leash after the incident.
Harold “Andy” Anderson was the flight engineer, taking responsibility for weather monitoring, navigation, and mechanical operations. After the skyjacking, Anderson also continued to fly for NWO, eventually becoming a full captain. Andy has also stayed out of the limelight, and he has only spoken to Galen Cook of all the journalists on The Hunt.
Alice Hancock was the senior flight attendant at 24 years-old, and as such was also the Purser, the individual who handled the team of stewardesses and had primary responsibility for the passengers. She also is someone who has not spoken publicly about the skyjacking to any great degree, but has been interviewed recently by Galen Cook and has attempted to intercede with Tina on Galen’s behalf.
Florence Schaffner worked the economy cabin with Tina Mucklow. Flo has assisted many researchers in exploring the case, and played a key role in the 1980s to develop a better sketch of DB Cooper. Flo had been claiming since 1971 that the FBI’s original drawing were not fully accurate. Further, Ms. Schaffner has spoken extensively with Geoffrey Gray and others including Galen Cook, but she has apparently clammed-up since 2007. She has not returned any of my phone calls since I started investigating the case in 2008.
Tina Mucklow joined NWO about a year before the skyjacking and often roomed with Florence on lay-overs between flights. Tina is a highly religious woman, and reportedly had a Catholic bible with her aboard Flight 305. She is pictured in media photos as clutching what appears to be a bible immediately following her debriefing in Reno. Galen says that Florence told him that Tina would often over-do her proselytizing in the stew quarters during the lay-overs.
Tina left NWO a couple of years after the skyjacking, and is believed to be currently working in the social services field in central Oregon.
Authors and Investigators
Galen Cook is one of the leading figures in the Norjak investigation. He has been digging into the case for at least twenty years, and probably more than that. He is an attorney, licensed in both Washington and Alaska, and currently lives in Anchorage.
Galen has invested tens of thousands of dollars in his research, and he is arguably the most knowledgeable investigator on the case. As an attorney he has access to many unique networks of law enforcement personnel, and he is a superb sleuth. His knowledge of the law has also been of critical importance to me at numerous points in my research.
Galen is known to many as the chief advocate for William Wolfgang Gossett as DB Cooper, but I have never found Galen hamstrung by that perspective.
Galen is also the only journalist to have sued the FBI for access to the Bureau’s files on DB Cooper. In 2004, he filed suit with the US Department of Justice, but did not win his lawsuit. It was eventually dismissed by the Chief US District Court judge in Seattle. But Cook did prevail on a motion for an “in camera” review of the case. After Cook’s suit was dismissed, Cook’s welcome at the FBI Seattle Field Office (FO) was established through permission by the Supervisory Agent in charge of the Seattle FO.
“That relationship has been mostly positive, especially with SA Eng,” Galen wrote me in an email.
In general, Cook enjoys the greatest amount of access to the FBI of any private investigator. He has actively worked with Norjak case agents, in particular Eric Mueller (2004-2006), Larry Carr (2007-2009) and the current Cooper case agent, Curtis Eng. Galen has told me that he has exchanged at least 60 emails with Eng, and they have reviewed physical evidence together, as well.
Galen is currently writing a book on his findings.
Lastly, I am proud to call Galen Cook my friend.
Geoffrey Gray is a top-notch writer and the author of Skyjack-The Hunt for DB Cooper, published in 2011. Geoffrey spent several years of research on his book, traveling repeatedly across the country to investigate virtually every lead and suspect. When I asked him how he could afford to bounce between New York and Sea-Tac so frequently – and also go to California to see the Dayton family, Florida to speak with Jo Weber, South Carolina to speak with Florence, and Minnesota to meet with the conspiratorial Bob Knoss – Geoff replied: “Plastic. I go where I want to go and I put it all on plastic.”
In addition, Geoff has a substantial gig as a feature writer for New York Magazine, where he has written numerous stories. As an “A” list journalist, Geoffrey seems to have extensive contacts within the government and military.
Further, Geoff is cute, charming, and well-spoken. Plus, he organized the 40th Anniversary Symposium on DB Cooper – a monumental and important undertaking.
Nevertheless, Geoffrey drives me crazy. The release of his book was postponed several times and ultimately hit the book stores during the same week that Marla Cooper’s story broke. The timing seemed so contrived that I wondered if some kind of deal had been made when Geoffrey got access to the FBI files – did the Bureau demand that Geoffrey help them bury the Cooper story behind the golden tresses of the lovely and alluring Marla? I never got a straight answer from Geoffrey even though I chased after him half-way across Portland one night in November 2011.
Robert Blevins and his co-author Skipp Porteous have written the 2009 book, Into the Blast – The True Story of DB Cooper. Despite its title, the work is actually a compilation of circumstantial evidence that places a Northwest Orient Airlines purser by the name of Kenny Christiansen on the list of Cooper suspects. A key element of their argument focuses on unusual amounts of cash at Kenny’s disposal, both at the time of the skyjacking and later throughout his life.
A shorter version of the essential story was written by Geoffrey Gray in 2007 for New York Magazine, titled Unmasking DB Cooper. In this work, Gray reveals that Christiansen was probably gay, and had troubling relationships with teenage runaway boys and allowed them to stay in his Bonney Lake, Washington home. Blevins and Porteous do not investigate this dimension of Christiansen’s life, nor his continued work at NWO for twenty years after the skyjacking. Further, they do not explore what Christiansen’s activities were in Asia and if Kenny had any independent business activities there, as he flew Northwest routes to the Orient exclusively throughout his career.
Blevins lives in Auburn, Washington and is the head of Adventure Books of Seattle, a small independent publishing house. In addition, he cleans houses to pay bills. Porteous is a private investigator in New York City, and is the owner of Sherlock Investigations.
George Nuttall is a retired California Highway Patrol career officer and the author of the DB Cooper Case Exposed – J. Edgar Hoover Cover Up? Nuttall entered The Hunt as a tag-along buddy to a law enforcement friend of his, Harry L. Grady, who stumbled into Norjak when the latter retired to southwestern Washington after a career in the San Diego Police Department. Once he started digging, Grady realized that not everything in the Cooper case was kosher. He then summoned his old friend Nuttall to assist him, and together they began a foray into the mysteries of Norjak.
They concluded that the Cooper case was sabotaged by FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover in order to cover up his involvement with Mafia-based gambling activities.
Grady died in 2009, but his co-researcher Nuttall finished their work and published in 2010. George lives in San Diego and is always willing to talk about Cooper. He picks up on the first ring.
Bob “Sailshaw” has a unique position in the pantheon of investigators – he buys lunch for me at the Seattle Yacht Club and invites interesting people to talk about DB Cooper. In effect, he runs a Grand Salon of inquiry, and as a former commodore of the SYC, Sail knows a surprising number of folks who have ties to the Norjak story – retired FBI agents, former Boeing engineers, skydivers and pilots. In fact, Bob’s own connections are extraordinary – he once rented a room to prime suspect, Sheridan Peterson.
Sluggo, aka Wayne Walker, has developed the most extensive Cooper website on the Internet: http://n467us.com/ . The site is aptly tiled: “Sluggo’s Northwest 305’s Hijacking Research Site,” and the signage of “n467us” used in the URL refers to the registration number for the actual aircraft.
Sluggo’s site has unmatched amounts of files, details and facts about Norjak, including copies of the flight transcripts. In addition, he has profiles on all the crew members, and a comprehensive description of Cooper as rendered by all of the eye witnesses. Further, Sluggo has compiled a laudable array of composite drawings of Cooper, including aged-advanced sketches that suggest what Cooper may look like today.
No research of Norjak is complete without a visit to Sluggo’s web site.
The FBI “Vault.” At the FBI’s web site there is a special DB Cooper section and it features the “Vault.” Within this file are volumes of old documents, giving researchers a tangible feel for the early days of Norjak. Sadly, the files do not appear to be updated -or even well-organized – so finding meaningful information can be daunting. Nevertheless, it is a valuable depository of raw data, newspaper clippings and court testimonies.
© 2013 Bruce A. Smith