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.”
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