The Hunt for DB Cooper – An overview of the citizen sleuth team assembled by FBI case agent Larry Carr

by Bruce A. Smith 

 The Citizen Sleuths (CS) are a group of scientists and Norjak experts brought together by Special Agent Larry Carr early in his tenure as the Cooper case agent.

 It was perhaps the most visible expression of his vision to solve the case by enlisting the assistance of the public.  Carr hoped a team of citizen volunteers could be a parallel investigatory arm coupled to the resources he had at the FBI, and under his supervision they would provide the Bureau with lots of free – and perhaps innovative – sleuthing.

 The group has been known by a few names, such as the Citizen Sleuth Team and the Cooper Research Group, but now it calls itself simply, “Citizen Sleuths.”  Although Carr has left the case the CS are still working, and gave major presentations at the 2011 DB Cooper Symposium in Portland on a variety of findings.

 The CS have fulfilled much of Carr’s vision for them, especially furthering the investigation of the money and clip-on tie.  However, they also triggered some unintended consequences for the FBI that have proved very troubling. 

 But first, a personality profile of the sleuths:

 Tom Kaye is the leader, and is a self-taught scientist with many interests and skills.  Despite his lack of a college degree, Tom is an accomplished paleontologist with many publishing credits, and has worked as a contract researcher on digs for the University of Washington’s Burke Museum.  He is also an inventor, and reportedly made millions developing paint ball guns.

 Tom was recommended to Larry Carr by a fellow scientist named Jerry W., a university professor who wishes to maintain some privacy; hence I am withholding his last name.

 Tom lives in Arizona, and is generally responsive to email queries about his Norjak work.

 Carol Abraczinskas is known affectionately as “Abracadabra,” and is both a professor and science illustrator at the University of Chicago.

 She is also a leading investigator into the connection between DB Cooper and the “Dan Cooper” comics popular in French-speaking Europe in the 1950s and 1960s.  This odd piece of evidence was first brought to light by Snowmman at the DZ, and then championed by Larry Carr.  After Carr left the case, Carol seems to have picked up the mantle of discovery, and she delivered an overview of the subject at the 2011 Symposium.

 Alan Stone is a metallurgist, and a key scientist working on the CS team, especially in the electron spectroscopy experiments that were conducted on the tie and money.  Alan works at a private metallurgical research firm in Illinois.

 In addition, the CS expanded in 2009 to include associate members for a field trip to the ColumbiaRiver Basin, where they conducted experiments at Tina’s Bar and explored the Washougal watershed.  This latter group includes Jerry Thomas and the fellow who found the money three decades ago, Brian Ingram.  In addition, the CS were accompanied by an in-house FBI journalist from Washington, DC who would like to remain anonymous, but whose initials are BF.  Also, Geoffrey Gray is mentioned by the Oregonian newspaper as participating in the group’s activities, and in Skyjack Gray discusses his experiences with the CS, especially his encounter with one of Jerry’s wayward kids in the hills above the WashougalRiver.

 Apparently, Tom Kaye is more than just a leader of a group of volunteers, but someone dedicated to a new and bold investigation.  Jerry Thomas told me that Kaye funded a large part of the Citizen Sleuths activities at the Columbia, paying for himself, Abraczinskas, Thomas, Ingram and Stone, while the FBI paid for Carr and BF.  Presumably, Geoffrey Gray paid his own way.

  Findings of the Citizen Sleuths:

 To begin, the CS spent two major periods of time perusing the FBI evidence – first in 2009 under Larry Carr’s tutelage and then in August 2011 under the administration of Curtis Eng.  Access to certain personal files was denied to the CS, such as those developed during the investigation of suspects. 

 Although little physical evidence has been found overall in Norjak, which makes the case intriguing, what the FBI actually has on file in its evidence room is still modest, with the CS reporting that the evidentiary collection is “sparse.” 

 Nevertheless, the CS examined a variety of physical evidence and focused primarily on two items – the money and the clip-tie. 

 They asked some refreshing questions.  In particular, could the bills tell the story of where they had been via microscopic analysis of the diatoms and other chemical residues imbedded in the bills?  The answer to that question has been inconclusive, but certainly the CS raised the big red flag of why some of the bills are so discolored.  In fact, a few bills are virtually black in color.  Why? 

 As part of a microscopic analysis they found the bills have curiously large amounts of silver impregnated in the fibers.

 The two clues – the blackening and the silver residues – seem to be connected.  At present, the CS say the discoloration is due to the silver nitrate compounds used by the Bureau to test the bills for fingerprints.

 But, one would think that would be obvious to a seasoned FBI agent, and a blackened bill wouldn’t need any separate analysis – which begs a second question, why was anyone asking the first question?

 So far, none of these issues have been resolved.

 During the several days this larger group spent on the water, they examined the floatability of the money bundles, measured the slopes of the river bank and compared aerial photos, and analyzed the shoreline sediments. 

 The CS also made ancillary inquiries; in particular to the manufacturer of the rubber bands wrapped around the three bundles of twenties found by Brian Ingram.

 Tom Kaye says that they were able to find the original manufacturers of the rubber bands, who informed the CS that the bands would only last in the wild for three or four months.  Yet, according to Brian the bands were intact when he picked the bundles out of the sand, but crumbled soon afterwards. 

 “So this is in conflict with the idea that they (the bills) would be rolling down the river for seven years,” Kaye told a reporter from KGW-TV in Portland.

 It also raises the question of where the bundles were between the skyjacking in 1971 and their discovery in 1980.  However, Kaye has acknowledged that the rubber bands might have been preserved much longer if buried in the sand.

 How much longer is still unresolved.

 Also, the CS put a few 20s under microscopes, looking first at the biological residues and the curious little holes found puncturing the bills.  The CS was hoping that they might be able to find traces of “diatoms,” small aquatic creatures that live in all the waterways of the Columbia Basin.  Kaye told me that the diatoms could function like a biochemical fingerprint, leaving unique signatures that reflect individual bodies of water – replete with their own mineral and biological characteristics.

 It was a very ambitious and thoughtful endeavor.  However, it didn’t seem to reveal much information.

 “We didn’t see any diatoms on the money,” Kaye wrote me in September 2009.

 Nevertheless, Pat Forman has told me that Tom Kaye had told her the money had mineral residues on it indicating it had spent some time in a damp environment south of the Columbia River, in the areas of northern Oregon.  Pat felt this validated her belief that Barb had stashed the money for several years in an agricultural cistern in Woodburn, Oregon.

 However, I have not found any corroboration on this claim.  My relationship with Tom Kaye is uneven, as the CS “goes black” with frequency.  This means the members of the CS do not communicate with any media for long periods of time.  The question of what Kaye told Pat Forman – or what mineral markers have been detected, if any – has not been answered, falling regrettably into this black hole of silence.

 Nevertheless, Kaye did post on the DZ in 2011 that he thought the money did not float to Tina’s Bar.  One reason he gave was that the bills seemed to have been stacked for a long period of time, almost compressing them together.

 “The money we examined was sort of adhered to the other bills in the stack and when they were separated, in some places a stock of bill chunks came with a single bill.  You could see that the bills were all lined up one below the other when they were buried.”

 In contrast, Kaye said that his floatability survey indicated that bundles of money “fan out” when immersed in the water.

 Fortunately, I have found Tom to be quite chatty in person, and the CS have established a comprehensive web site to discuss their work, sharing the following important finding:  “…the money…fragments recovered from Tina’s Bar were examined.  Contrary to popular reports, there were only a few fragments in plastic boxes and no indication that there was a quantity of fragments found or any information on exactly where they were recovered.”  (Italics are mine).

 So where are the money shards that have received so much attention?  The feds aren’t saying, and my queries to the Bureau on this matter are met with variations of boilerplate spin such as “…Norjak is still an open case and the FBI does not comment on its on-going investigations.”

 Stonewalled.

 Moving on, the clip-on tie has revealed significant findings. 

 The tie was examined twice by the CS.  In 2009, they report that they took many “sticky tape” and “stub samples” for a scanning electron microscope.  Initially, they were looking for pollen spores and chemical residues.

 During the second visit in 2011, the tie was “thoroughly sampled using a variety of techniques including ultra violet (UV) laser florescence and forensic vacuum for high density particle collection.”

 The CS found significant amounts of pollen on the tie, saying that spores of Club Moss, common in herbal remedies and homeopathic medicines, were “prevalent.”  Conversely, no pollen residues from other plants were found, which was a disappointment since the CS had hoped to get geographical markers from this line of investigation.

 Perhaps more telling was the CS discovery of titanium fragments on the tie, suggesting that the tie – and most probably DB Cooper – had ben exposed to metal filings sometime shortly before the skyjacking.

 Titanium is an uncommon metal.  In 1971 it was used mostly in airplane manufacturing as it is lightweight and strong, and currently, titanium is also used in golf club fabrication and paints.  Nationwide there are about half-dozen foundries that produce titanium in the form that was found on the tie.

 Did Cooper work in any of them?  Or could DB Cooper have been an engineer at Boeing, or some kind of tie-wearing technician at a shop working with titanium? 

 In addition, the CS found other bits of metal, such as two microscopic spiral shards of aluminum, which may have come from a drill bit.  The CS also found traces of stainless steel and magnesium, plus exotic metals like bismuth.  As a result, the CS feel that Cooper may have worked or visited a highly specialized metal fabrication plant before his skyjacking.

 Despite the assortment of metal shards the CS focused primarily on the titanium.

 “Of all the particles examined on the tie, the titanium particles were the most distinctive,” the CS reports at http://www.citizensleuths.com/pollen.html .

 In 1971, titanium was considered a “strategic” metal used primarily in military aircraft and some civilian aircraft, possibly the mock-ups of the SST, the Super-Sonic Transport being developed by Boeing at their Renton, Washington facility.  Further, the shards found on Cooper’s tie were pure titanium and not an alloy.  Importantly, titanium alloys were more common in the manufacturing of civilian airplanes, so Cooper’s exposure to pure titanium places him in some very specialized environments, perhaps one of the titanium manufacturing plants in the United States.

 Alan Stone, at the 2011 Symposium said that in 1971 there were six sites that could be considered as a place Cooper might have visited – four are in the United States, and one each in the UK and Japan.  In addition, Russian processes some raw titanium sand.

 The titanium foundry in Albany, Oregon known as the Oregon Metallurgical  Corporation, or Oremet, is one candidate.

 However, Bob Sailshaw, a retired Boeing engineer, has reported in the DZ that pieces of titanium alloy and pure titanium were available in scrap tote-boxes in the alley ways of the 9-101 building at the Development Center in Seattle next to the main floor shop where many things were developed and tested for use on the SST airplane.  Sail wrote to me and said:  “A person looking through a tote-box could have easily picked up small machining and dust particles on their tie as it hung down into the tote-box while scrounging for free items.  That lab had experimented with flame-spraying metal, even pure titanium, on leading edge parts for high temperature protection.  Sheridan Peterson (a prime suspect) worked in the ‘Manuals and Handbooks Group’ that had office space in the same building on the 2nd floor and right above the research lab in the late 1960’s.”

 Kaye seems to have vacillated about where Cooper might have picked up the titanium and initially I thought he had suggested the SST program at Boeing, but later when I asked him to clarify this issue at the Portland Symposium he told me explicitly that it was not Boeing.

 “The only connection of pure titanium to SST manufacturing at Boeing was the fact that when Boeing scrapped the SST project it collapsed the titanium industry,” he said wryly.

 But Sail strongly refutes Kaye’s perspective:

 “Boeing was working with all forms of titanium in the experimental shop, including pure titanium to flame-spray on leading edge components.  Pure titanium does not have the strength of alloyed titanium, but has better high-temperature characteristics.  I think Boeing was possibly the only place the tie could have got the pure titanium machining particles.  Kaye’s ‘not Boeing’ is just a bad conclusion.”

 Sadly, my efforts to clarify this perspective with the CS have fallen back into the black hole of “we’re not talking to anyone at this time.”

 One element that can be clarified is Geoffrey Gray’s contention that the titanium found on the tie was a raw form of titanium called “titanium sponge.”  Kaye has widely refuted that claim, saying Geoffrey jumped the gun as the CS were in the early stages of examining their discovery, ultimately realizing that the initial findings may have been a false reading coming from match-head residues of chlorine and sulfur coupled with molecules of pure titanium.

 One important finding of the CS is what they didn’t see –  they never examined the Amboy chute, found in 2009.  This is confounding as I have not spoken substantively with anyone who has, or knows where it is, or even knows definitely where it was found.  This conundrum will be further explored in the chapter on the parachutes.

 Other problems were created by the presence of the CS themselves.

 The CS were apparently were left unsupervised in the evidence room in Seattle, although Alan Stone said at the Portland Symposium in 2011 that Larry Carr was present with them in 2009.  However, none of the pictures taken of the CS include Carr, which is odd considering that Larry loved media attention.  As a result, the evidence may be considered now to be legally compromised.

 More disturbing is the disassembling of the tie as described in Gray’s book, Skyjack, where the CS decided to pull the tie apart and look at its fibers more closely under an electron microscope.  Were they authorized to man-handled the evidence like this?

 Equally problematic is the question of how the members of the CS were selected.  Could anyone be part of the group?  What qualified the members that were chosen?  What happened to the notion of “equal access” for all citizens?  Why can’t I review the evidence like the CS did, and ultimately, why not you, dear reader?  The activities of the CS left the Bureau vulnerable to legal challenges from journalists and the general public.

 Also, the knowledge gained by the CS couldn’t be controlled by the Bureau.  The CS functioned separately and had independent access to media.  Frankly, the members of the CS were more forthcoming than anyone in the FBI, and I learned volumes about the money find by talking to members of the CS for five minutes at the end of dinner in Portland.  They had nothing to hide, and they didn’t.

 Lastly, did the FBI really fail to conduct a microscopic investigation of the tie and money?  Certainly the FBI has electron microscopes and spectrographic instrumentation – I know my biology department at HofstraUniversity had some in 1971.  So, it’s hard to believe that the feds didn’t conduct some kind of analysis akin to the CS. 

 But if they didn’t, why not?

 And if they did, where are their findings?  This raises the question of whether the Citizen Sleuths are truly that, or are they actors in a Kabuki Theater production staged for more pernicious political reasons?

©  2013  Bruce A. Smith

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10 Responses to The Hunt for DB Cooper – An overview of the citizen sleuth team assembled by FBI case agent Larry Carr

  1. Anonymike says:

    Just my opinion, but I don’t think the FBI was totally eager to find him. I suspect there is concern that there was something about the case that would have been embarrassing to the government if the background and motive of “Cooper” had become known. Not saying they wouldn’t have arrested him if he had fallen in their hands, but there are a lot of indication they were not going all out. Certainly, they did a poor job of preserving the evidence.

    My suspicion about the money found at Tina’s Bar is that someone unconnected to the case found some or all of the money. When he (or they) realized it could not be spent, he (or they) discarded it, perhaps close to where it was found. I just cannot imagine bundles of money floating downstream any distance and then ending up buried in the sand all in the same location.

    Obviously, Cooper is dead by now. If he is ever identified, I believe it will only be by familial DNA. And only then if there is an authentic sample. What is perhaps most surprising to me studying the case at this late date is that there could have been a number of men who resembled “Cooper”, were of the appropriate age, had a possible motive, lived in the right geographical area and may have come into a large amount of money, source unexplained, around the time of the hijacking.

  2. Aubrey Murray says:

    Now that the case is closed by the F.B.I. they should offer DB Cooper a pardon and possible a little abet. In doing this he must reveal his modus operandum. The FBI and citizen sleuth can now evaluate their findings to see if they were on the right track. The knowledge may be of use in future such case.

  3. Denis Tekautz says:

    Mr. Smith, bear with me on this. I would like to give my idea as to what happened to DB.
    I have always believed that the most compelling reason that DB was never found or identified is because he died the night of the incident or shortly thereafter. His chute may have never opened or he might have landed but badly injured himself and died several days later from his injuries and/or hypothermia. I have nevered believed that the jump was so easy that highly trained skyjumpers could pull this off. I base this on two things: 1) no one has ever duplicated this jump (as least to my knowledge) where the conditions were exactly like (or close to) the Cooper jump. 2) the instructional placard that was blown off the stairwell. Wouldn’t this indicate an extremely violent wind condition? I don’t see how someone could stand on the stairwell and “spot” the jump under these circumstances.
    Now as to what happened to DB. I think he was found by fortune hunters who found the money still attached to his corpse. They might have even killed him if he was still alive. In any event, they buried the corpse, the parachute and even the briefcase if it was still around. They then took off with the money. For many reasons, it would be almost impossible to trace this money by the authorities.
    Perhaps, some day, the person (or persons) who did this will come forward with a confession. They could probably get a book or movie deal if they did. They don’t have to admit to burying the corpse. Just say they found the money, tell how they spent it and claim that they were afraid to tell the authorities. If they claim they never encountered Cooper, there may be a statue of limitations concerning any criminal charges against them.
    Thanks to all that have read this. If I am wrong or if I overlooked anything please let me know. I look forward to hearing from anyone.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      You may be correct, Denis. No one knows for sure.

      That said, if you would like a more detailed response, I suggest that you read my book or the 60-odd articles in the Mountain News on this skyjacking. Much of what you say is not factually accurate.

      • Denis Tekautz says:

        Thank you for your response. I will take up your suggestion. Just one question. Was I totally wrong about the parachute jump? I am new this and have never read any of the Cooper books but I think it would be very hard to separate what is fact and what is speculation.

  4. brucesmith49 says:

    Denis, my chapter on the parachute issue is twenty pages long and took me a month to write. Plus, the chapter on the fourteen Cooper copycats closely examines who made the jump successfully and why.

    Frankly, I think it is unfair to expect me to encapsulate all that information here.

    In the meantime, why not tell us about yourself and how you became so interested in DB Cooper and have yet to read any of the books. Are you aiming to be King of Opinion at your local tavern regarding true crime mysteries? Or are you just a newbie starting out on the road to discovery?

    That said, let me describe the five skyjackers that made it to the ground alive. I think you and other readers might enjoy a comparison with DBC:

    1. Richard LaPoint jumped in the snow in Colorado, just north of Boulder in January 1972 during daylight hours. He was only wearing slacks and a long-sleeved shirt. He surrendered to local LE shortly after his bright orange parachute was spotted by CAP assigned to find him.

    2. Martin McNally, my favorite copycat, made it to the ground in Peru, Indiana in the summer of 1972, at night, even though he had never skydived before. In fact, he didn’t know how to put on a parachute and the FBI had to show him how to do it. Marty escaped captured for several days until his best friend turned him in as part of an alleged deal to save his mother from incarceration on a drug bust charge in Detroit.

    3. Frederick Hahneman made it to the ground with all his loot in the middle of the jungle in Honduras. A month later, he surrendered to American authorities at the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa. The money has not been recovered as far as I know. Freddy said he surrendered because he was tired of being afraid of capture.

    4. Robb Heady was apprehended in May 1972 because his getaway car had a US Parachuting Association sticker in its rear window and was the only car parked for miles around Robb’s LZ. But Robb’s skyjacking is perhaps the most daring of all the copycats because he jumped from 12,000 feet in freezing weather at night while the plane was flying at least 300 mph and probably faster than that.

    5. Richard McCoy’s escape may have been even more dramatic. It is unknown publicly how fast his 727 was flying when he jumped, but it could have been in excess of 300 mph. McCoy jumped at night, in April over Provo, Utah, and landed only a few miles from his home despite 200 LE looking for him.

    So, Denis, it is true that no one else has ever done the Cooper jump exactly as DBC did – at night, in the rain, with significant cold at 10K, and only wearing business attire. But the fact that all the copycats who jumped made it to the ground alive suggests that Cooper could have as well.

    When you read my book, you might enjoy some of the commentaries offered by skydiving enthusiasts, who talk about jumping naked from aircraft, or just wearing flip-flops and a bathing suit. So much for wind chill, eh? Nude at 14,000 feet at 120 mph, even in the summer, is damn cold, no?

    Another chapter you might enjoy is a discussion of what covert ops guys think of Cooper and his jump. There is NO doubt in their minds that Coop made it. In fact, many of the Special Forces troopers that I have talked with, such as the MAC-V-SOG units, are convinced that Cooper is one of them.

    • Denis Tekautz says:

      No Bruce, I didn’t expect you to regurgitate your entire chapter about the actual jump. Your a gifted writer. You could satisfied my question with just a couple of sentences. I do appreciate, however, all of the examples you gave from your book. Ok, I was ignorant about the jump mechanics and all of the examples given, however, the main theme of my post was about the fortune hunter theory. This was something I have been thinking about for years and I was finally able to get it off my chest on your site. I am not naive enough to think that I am the only one who has though of this scenario. I would like to know if others agree with me or if it is plausible. If not, I would like to know why. I hope you didn’t do a chapter on the stairwell placard (I don’t want to piss you off again).
      Did I impress as the “King of Opinion”? In the first sentence of my original post, I state to “bear with me” and that this is just an idea. I end by saying that if I overlooked something please let me know. I meant this for both you and anyone reading it. I hardly passed myself off as a know-it-all on the subject.
      P.S. I’m 65 yrs. old, married, and a retired tax auditor. I have invested my money wisely for the past 25 yrs. Thanks for asking. I have been interested in DBC since day one because I find it fascinating and I will buy your book!

      • brucesmith49 says:

        Fair enough, Denis.

        Fortune Hunters, homeless folks in the woods, or a maiden with a cabin in the forest, all of these scenarios are debated endlessly in Internet chat rooms, around campfires, and wherever good beer is poured. Could DBC encountered some of them, been murdered and buried – or befriended – and all of his money hijacked? Yup. Who really knows?

        Did it happen? Maybe – but there is not one single piece of evidence to suggest that it did. In fact, the preponderance of available evidence suggests that it didn’t. If FH got Cooper, how come over 6-grand was discovered in two different money finds at Tina Bar in 1980? If a bunch of FH killed Cooper and remained undetected, then not a single one of them turned on the other, made a plea deal with the LE, or tried to sell the story to Time magazine or Hollywood? Wouldn’t you want the millions that could come from the True Story of DB Cooper rather than taking your measly share of the loot and spending the rest of your life looking over your shoulder and wondering if you can trust your cohorts???

        As for the placard, it was never conclusively proven that it was from Flight 305, but it is generally believed by most investigators that it was, because if it wasn’t from 305, what 727 was it from and how did it get to a spot underneath Victor 23? I accept that the placard was from Flight 305. However, its discovery doesn’t explain much to me regarding wind currents and such. Numerous experts talk about the reduction of wind turbulence around the stairs due to peculiar perturbations caused by the stairs. In fact, one parachute expert has publicly declared that when he jumped from a 727 a Styrofoam coffee cup remained unmoved from the top step for the duration of a jump by dozens of skydivers. Further, Robb Heady told me that the wind on the stairs was not a significant factor. Engine noise was much more a factor, as was the shock wave of hitting the 200 mph wall of turbulence.

  5. Denis Tekautz says:

    Ok Bruce. I think I got everything I need. I won’t bother you again. You supplied me with a lot of info I never knew before and I thank you for it. I have always believed that the only dumb question is the question not asked. It was in this spirit that I contacted you in the first place. Good luck and happy hunting!

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