by Bruce A. Smith
The Resurgence – The Internet, DNA, and the Legacy of Larry Carr
The resurgent investigation of DB Cooper didn’t begin with just one dramatic act, but rather, was a slow convergence of technology and cultural events. Foremost was the advent of the Internet, followed by the evolution of DNA as a forensic tool. Accompanying these developments came provocative death bed confessions and the de-classification of military secrets from the Vietnam era, most notably the actions of rogue commandos in illegal combat operations.
Truly, I would not have been able to conduct any substantive investigation into the DB Cooper skyjacking case or write this book without the use of my computer, emails, and the relationships I have formed on the Internet. At best, Galen Cook and I would have been pen pals – not partners, without our pc’s.
The Internet in turn spawned chat rooms – and the DropZone forum is the primary site for the exchange of information, opinions and facts on Norjak.
Coupled with the DZ is my online news magainze, The Mountain News-WA. It has provided me with a platform to share my findings on the case, which in turn has attracted more information. Perhaps the best indication of the power of the Internet is the 39,000 hits the Mountain News received in one day to view present-day of pictures of Tina Mucklow.
On a related flank, Sluggo’s “Northwest 305’s Hijacking Research Site” is the quintessential depository of Norjak fact: http://n467us.com/ . Sluggo presents much of the basic information on Norjak, and his web site is rich with details from the early days of the investigation. Most notably, Sluggo’s site contains pictures of all the principals, flight path maps, and copies of flight transcripts.
Adding to this trove is the FBI’s own web site on DB Cooper. The Bureau provides many separate postings on Norjak, although some seem to be time-limited and disappear after awhile. Nevertheless, their “Vault” has hundreds of pages of documents. Unfortunately, much of it is composed of copies of newspaper clippings and not of FBI files. Thus it has uneven value to a serious researcher.
But the greatest manifestation to emerge from the ubiquitous presence of the Internet is a new way of communicating. Truly, a new kind of investigation is now possible – the open-sourced method of information gathering where knowledgeable sources give and get information freely.
Granted, this has become a kind of Wild West affair at times with the Norjak case, but for those of us who are brave and clear-minded we have gained much. Just in terms of investigatory data, I have learned a great deal in a short period of time. It has become my experience that some open-sourced journalists know more about the case than FBI agents
Further, I have had the opportunity to discuss the case with many different kinds of people – long-time agents, citizen sleuths, hobbyists and general seekers of the truth – all asking questions, sharing opinions and posing hypotheses. Verily, a deeper kind of justice is being crafted by the citizens of the world via their access to cyber space.
Conducting an open-sourced investigation is certainly rewarding, but it is also daunting –how do I make any money doing it, though? How do I get these words into your hands and have enough money to pay my bills? Not only is that an issue for me, it is one of the great unknown for journalists, and not many of us have found a solution. Even the New York Times had to sell its HQ in New York City in 2009 to make payroll that year – so what are the Mountain News and I to do? Perhaps that will be the focus of another book – or part of a grand YouTube campaign.
The emergence of DNA as a forensic tool
One of the primary factors that has fueled the resurgence of the Cooper case, particularly for the FBI, has been the widespread usage of DNA testing by the late 1990s. With it came the ability to trump Cooper’s careful efforts to mask his identity, thus allowing the Bureau re-examine top Cooper suspects, which essentially re-opened the case.
However, the DNA testing has added another layer of bureaucratic efficiencies to evaluate, or even reveal possible acts of sabotage as valuable saliva samples are now missing.
As far as I have learned, by the early 2000s a profile of Cooper’s DNA was developed using dried saliva gathered from the eight cigarette butts recovered in Reno. Apparently, this profile was recorded, possibly in Texas, and the findings were released to the media – at least KOMO TV in Seattle.
Author Pat Forman says that she and her husband heard a news report on this important development in 2002. The broadcast occurred just after Barb Dayton had died and the Formans were beginning the research on their book. Knowing that the Bureau had a DNA profile, they fully expected that the documentation would be available to them as investigators and were surprised to learn that it wasn’t.
Arranging for a comparison was one of the reasons the Forman’s hired an attorney, and they were further surprised to learn that in 2006 when they spoke with Special Agent Jeremy Blauser that the Bureau’s DNA profile on Cooper was missing.
Compounding the mystery, Special Agent Larry Carr announced in 2008 that the cigarette butts were also missing. In fact, Carr acknowledged that he never had possession of them – that inexplicably the cigarettes had been stored in the Las Vegas FO. Why that happenstance occurred has never been explained.
Nevertheless, Carr jumped into the breech and submitted Cooper’s clip-on tie for DNA testing. Carr told me in 2008 that the Bureau had obtained a “partial” DNA profile using epithelial cells – skin tissue – found on the metal clip.
Carr acknowledged that the tissue samples could be DB Cooper’s or any number of people who have handled the tie since recovery in Reno in 1971.
“The DNA could be Cooper’s, or not,” Carr told me, acknowledging the un-reliably of his sample.
Also troubling is the fact that the tie entered the evidentiary collection four days after the other material reached Seattle, according to Russ Calame. This begs the question of where the tie was over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, who had it, and what they did to it?
Worse is the fact that not all DNA samples are equal. It now appears that the best Cooper sample was the saliva. Next is the skin tissue, and last are the hair samples that apparently were lifted off the head rest cloth.
The Legacy of Larry Carr
Although the best DNA evidence that seems to be available at this time is from a very suspect sample, it does advance the Hunt for DB Cooper.
Responding to this technological crack in the case, a young special agent from Minnesota named Larry Carr, who was trained as a bank fraud investigator, asked to be assigned to Seattle as the Norjak case agent.
Surprisingly, not many FBI agents wanted the job as it entails investigating lots of long shots under the harsh glare of intense public attention, but with the new tools of the resurgence Carr wanted to take a shot at solving the Cooper case.
Plus, his rugged good-looks and obvious charisma allowed him to thrive in front of the cameras. As a result, he was rewarded with a transfer to the Seattle office in 2007. There, he reinvigorated the Cooper investigation with his dedication to a new vision for the FBI – working with the public in an active partnership.
Larry launched the new relationship with a superb gesture: he shared heretofore unreleased information, specifically the presence of the clip-on tie, and he was a regular commentator on the DZ.
Carr didn’t form the DropZone site, but he definitely got it up to highway speed. His posts as “Ckret” gave the chat room an unprecedented air of authority, and it attracted the cream of the cop of Cooper sleuths in Cyber World.
In fact, I have immense respect for Larry despite our bumpy relationship, reflected by my response one night to a Carr posting on the DZ. I forget exactly what Larry said, but I remember that the post was notated “4 am” in his sign-on, and I said to myself. “Larry can’t sleep either, tonight. DB Cooper is keeping us both up.”
From September 2007 until December 2009, Larry posted often and in depth. Highlights of his contributions include the abovementioned revelation that the cigarette buts are missing. In addition, he clarified details of the parachutes delivered to Cooper, identifying the one Cooper didn’t use as a Steinthal 26’ canopy, model 60-9707, apparently packed inside a Pioneer container.
But he added more confusion as he accepted Earl Cossey’s pronouncement that DB Cooper used a 28” canopy stuffed into a modified NB 6 container. From this declaration comes other questionable statements regarding DB Cooper’s parachuting skills, siding with parachute rigger that Cooper picked an inferior chute when he rejected the Pioneer/Steinthal.
Carr confirmed that parachute rigger Earl Cossey had significantly modified the chute Cooper is believed to have used – a military emergency parachute known as an NB 6 – thus making it difficult to deploy. This begs the question of why a master rigger would engineer a parachute designed to be a pilot’s safety rig and make it more difficult to use. Oddly, Cossey enclosed instruction for Cooper, which Carr confirms, making the whole scenario bizarre.
Compounding this, Cossey now refutes the notion that an NB 6 was used, claiming that it was an NB 8. These issues are replete with other controversies and will be discussed in greater detail in the parachute chapter.
Nevertheless, Larry also told us pieces of information that reveal how extensive the Bureau’s investigation actually was, saying that the starboard seats of Row 18 were taken out of the airplane and sent to DC for further analysis.
Also, some intriguing tidbits were shared, such as the fact that Tina was interviewed by the FBI both in Reno and Philadelphia, which is where she lived as a kid before moving to Minneapolis.
In addition, Larry told us that 60 sets of fingerprints were recovered from Flight 305, but their identities are far from complete. However, SAC Russ Calame writes in his book that the total number of fingerprints retrieved is much less and are highly suspect.
Carr also showed us some of the complexities of Cooper, revealing that the skyjacker thought the aft stairs were deployed via a mechanism in the cockpit, which suggests that he was not familiar with civilian usage of the 727.
Larry also vacillated on some of his perspectives on the case, especially concerning whether Cooper jumped over the WashougalBasin and lost some of his money there. Carr frequently supported that notion, following with the idea that the $5,800 then floated down the WashougalRiver to the Columbia, taking eight years to reach Tina’s Bar.
But he defended the Victor-23 flight path over Ariel, Washington, as well.
Further, he also posited that Cooper may have jumped over Orchard, Washington, near Battleground.
Lary also provided specific details, such as wind speeds and directions throughout the air column of Cooper’s drop zone, such as winds at 7,000 feet at 20 knots at 225 degrees, and 15 knots from 235 degrees at ground level.
Larry stated often that he did not think DB Cooper survived the jump In his many video presentations Larry generally declared that Cooper was an inexperienced skydiver who knew enough to put himself into serious danger.
Specifically, Carr speculated that Cooper tumbled and panicked immediately after leaving the aircraft due to the cold and his lack of proper clothing, and most likely cratered into the ground as a no-pull, or hopelessly tangled in his chute lines.
Perhaps Larry’s most famous description of the above scenario was presented in the National Geographic documentary titeld: The Skyjacker Who Got Away, which aired in the summer of 2009.
In the film, Larry and Tom Kaye shared the perspective that Cooper and all of his stuff, including the money crashed into the Lewis River drainage – most likely the river itself – and then washed down to the Columbia. There, the Cooper bundle became ensnared on a propeller shaft of a freighter going up river, which eventually separated DB’s remains from the $5,8000 and deposited the latter six miles upstream at Tina’s Bar.
However, Larry did acknowledge that Cooper had some parachuting prowess, generally accepting the notion that Cooper did have some basic familiarity with parachutes and 727s, and had enough skills to at least think he could make the jump successfully.
Carr speculated that Cooper developed his limited but specific knowledge in a unique setting – aboard the cargo planes of South East Asia. Carr expressed this belief on the FBI’s Cooper web page, saying that Cooper was most probably an Air Force veteran, perhaps a “kicker” on air drops, such as were performed by the CIA’s Air America crews over Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
As a kicker, Cooper would have pushed cargo loads out the rear doors of a C-47 during mid-air drops while wearing an emergency parachute, most likely an NB 8 or something similar. Hence, Larry said, when Cooper was preparing to depart Flight 305 it’s reasonable to assume that he picked a parachute akin to one he knew.
In addition, Carr popularized a unique aspect of the modern Cooper case – the Dan Cooper comic books.
At this point it’s important to remember that the skyjacker identified himself to the ticket manager in Portland as “Dan Cooper,” not DB Cooper, which was an appellation given to him by a mistaken journalist named Clyde Jabin in the early hours of the case.
The Dan Cooper series was an action comic popular in the 1950s and 60s. They were written in French and published only in French-speaking Europe and Quebec, Canada. They are utterly unknown in the United States.
The comics describe the exploits of a Royal Canadian Air Force commando named Dan Cooper, who skydives into action to make the world safe for democracy. The existence of the comics were first discovered by an individual on the DZ named “Snowmman” and originally posted in 2009. Hence, Larry Carr gathered something very valuable for his investigation from civilian sources, too.
Carr speculated that since the comics are written in French and unknown in the United States, they might have been discovered by an American airman stationed in the French-speaking parts of Belgium, particularly Brussels, which is also where NATO is headquartered.
Thus, Carr speculated that his USAF cargo kicker spoke French, had quite possibly been stationed in the environs of Brussels, and at least got his non de guerre from the comics – or even derived the inspiration for the skyjacking.
In addition, Vietnam and Cambodia were once French colonies, and a French patois was widely spoken in SE Asia when the United States military arrived in the 1960s. This provides yet one more connection to French-speaking, comic book loving, adventure seeking American cargo kickers.
So, did DB Cooper have any knowledge of the comic book action hero? Was his signatore a talisman? An inside joke?
Why not? Or, rather, pourquoi, pas?
Sadly, after his ignoble presentation of the Propeller Theory on the National Geographic documentary – and endless ribbing on the DZ – Larry was relieved of his position as Cooper case agent by early 2010 and reportedly promoted and shipped to FBI headquarters in DC.
When he left Seattle, Larry also stopped posting on the DZ, although I believe he still follows the case. I have sent him a “personal message” on the DZ – a wonderful little feature of the web site that provides secured communications between individuals – and although Larry did respond to my “PM” he wouldn’t engage in a conversation. Further, a “SA Carr” has posted on the Mountain News-WA, my online news magainze, but again does not engage in any follow-up emails.
Nevertheless, one of Carr’s most lasting contributions to the DB Cooper case may be his Internet-based network of citizen sleuths.
Drawing from his contacts on the DZ in 2007, Carr formed a Citizens Research Group, an eclectic team of scientists and sleuths. They’ve re-examined the evidence and visited the topography of the case, applying modern technology in innovative ways – such as using electron spectroscopy to assay mineral and biological deposits on the recovered money.
The leader of the Citizens Sleuths, as they are currently known, is Tom Kaye, who was Larry’s side-kick on the Propeller Theory. However Kaye has publicly distanced himself from that infamous hypothesis.
However, the contributions of the Citizen Sleuths are extensive and will be more full examined in the following chapter.
In actuality there are only a handful of death-bed confessions, but they pack a wallop in terms of fueling the resurgence. In fact, the death in 1995 of confessee Duane Weber can be considered the dawning of the new Norjak investigation.
Specifically, while lying in a hospital bed eleven days before he died of kidney disease, Duane told his wife, Jo Weber, that he was “Dan Cooooper,” with the first syllable of the last name drawn out.
The soon-to-be-widowed Jo, says she didn’t know what Duane was talking about, and looked quizzical. Frustrated, Duane burst out: “Oh, fuck it, let it die with me.”
Duane’s destiny soon came to be. But afterwards Jo Weber became a fierce investigator of the DB Cooper case, impassioned to learn the truth of her husband. Her obsessive dedication is so complete that Jo Weber can arguably be considered the godmother of the Norjak resurgence.
After her husband’s outburst in the hospital, Jo sought to comfort her husband and a nurse rushed in, but the two women heard nothing more about DB Cooper. Certainly, the nurse did not hear any confession, and apparently Jo is the only one who did.
Distilling all of her years’ worth of research, perhaps the most intriguing bit of information that Jo has shared is her tale of a road trip she and Duane made through CooperCounty in the early autumn of 1979. Jo describes the adventure as “The Sentimental Journey,” and she feels that Duane’s behaviors during the trip and the places they visited indicate that Duane was DB Cooper.
Jo says the car trip began in late September or early October in 1979, and the itinerary took them from their home in Fort Collins, Colorado to a professional insurance conference in Seattle.
What made the journey so remarkable were a number of side trips that Duane made in southwest Washington and the Columbia River gorge. Jo describes them as a special time for her husband, re-visiting familiar landscapes from his younger days.
But, she also says that Duane left unannounced for up to six hours at a time, never telling her where he had gone when he returned. Once in The Dalles of Oregon, she says Duane returned to their motel room with his clothes dirtied and muddied, as if he had been digging. Duane also did odd things, such as surreptitiously throw a small paper sack into the Columbia River from the riverfront promenade of the Red Lion Inn in Vancouver, Washington. Later, he drove to a dead end street across the river, told Jo to stay in the car, retrieved something from the trunk and headed towards the Columbia, returning in a few minutes.
But the most memorable moment occurred in Camas, Washington, where Duane pointed to a spot in the woods along the north shore of Lake Camas, and according to Jo said, “That’s where Cooper came out of the woods.”
Jo said she replied, “How would you know?” and Duane supposedly said, “Maybe I was his ground man.”
Even more incredibly, such an exchange refutes Jo’s initial claim to me – which she has reiterated many times on the DZ – that she had never heard of DB Cooper, or even “Dan Cooper,” until Duane made his confession in 1995.
But both of these two declarations can not be true, which begs the question: is Jo Weber lying?
Or is she simply a distraught widow lost in her grief and talking nutty?
I confronted Jo on this discrepancy and she artfully back-tracked from her claim that she had never heard about DB Cooper until her husband’s death-bed confession. I am unsatisfied by her explanations. Frankly, I feel deceived.
However, after years of mutual investigations Jo and I are almost like Cooper kin. I have even toured Cooper Country with her one memorable day in 2010 – and she feels more like a family member who tells tall tales at Thanksgiving Day dinner than a lying and conniving Cooperite.
Jo Weber is certainly an odd case. She is cranky and whiney; needy and lonely. She obfuscates much of what she writes on the DZ, cloaking details in gibberish, or uses impassioned entreaties to beg for the protection of her mysterious sources. It is easy to dismiss her as a bs-artist.
But she is no dummy. She is profoundly knowledgeable of the case, and she seems to have plenty of juicy contacts – to whit, she converses with all the principals in the case. In fact, she may be somebody else’s eyes and ears to monitor what cyber sleuths know about Norjak.
Further, she is a skilled investigator – or appears to be one – and was the first sleuth to find Tina Mucklow sometime prior to the time when Galen, Geoffrey Gray and I came to learn that important piece of information – all separately, by the way.
But, is Jo being fed information from somebody? Is she the beneficiary of a Norjak overlord?
Looking more closely at her discovery of Tina’s whereabouts, Jo says a critical piece of information came in an email from an anonymous source called “Robbie Clampett.”
Jo says this individual told her the county and state where Tina had received a divorce in the mid 1970s. From that, Jo says she was able to determine Tina’s current address using many of the skills she learned as a real estate agent to peruse public records.
Later, Jo says that she has called Tina several times and has spoken with her once, briefly, in September 2003. Recounting that conversation, all Jo will say is that Tina announced: “He (Cooper) was a very sad man.”
Since then, Jo has become very protective of Tina, and has harshly criticized my efforts to speak with Ms. Mucklow and her family.
In addition, Jo seems to have unparalleled access to Tina’s sister, Jane. Lee Dormuth, Jane’s husband, told me that Jo had a lengthy phone chat with his wife the night before I arrived on their doorstep in 2010. Jo now says that she called the Dormuths to warn them of my pending visit the next day.
Similarly, Jo says that Ralph Himmelsback has invited her to dinner at his home in Oregon, which I consider to be a coup since the renowned G-man won’t talk to me or anyone else without cash up front. Further, Himmelsbach is quoted by journalist Douglas Pasternak in a US News and World Report piece that Duane Weber “is one of the best suspects he’s come across.”
Complicating the issue, Jo is hardly the dumb blonde that she says she is. Rather, she is a skilled seductress, attracting assistance on the DZ at will – receiving the help of fellow DZ-ers whenever she needs to resolve some technological glitch or investigatory speed bump.
Jo’s mysterious behaviors cast her in a suspicious light, which are intensified by her frequent phone calls to me that are veiled fishing expeditions. Is she keeping tabs on pesky investigators like Galen and me? Why?
Nevertheless, Jo Weber has pumped a lot of time and energy into the Norjak case. So, has she proved that her husband was DB Cooper?
Duane Weber certainly had criminal creds, as he was reportedly arrested 26 times and spent at least 16 years in prison, including one stretch when he was incarcerated under a second identity, John C Collins.
Yet, despite her many words and years of research, Jo has yet to put her husband on Flight 305, or show conclusively that he had any parachuting experience.
Further, Jo says the FBI told her in 1998 that their fingerprint analysis ruled out Duane as a suspect, and again in 2007 they declared that Duane was not Cooper – this time based on DNA testing. Nevertheless, Jo steadfastly holds out for Duane and her arguments have some merit – at the very least Duane was very familiar with the topography of Cooper Country, and he did confess to being Dan Cooper, not DB. Also, we know that the FBI’s DNA samples are flawed and at least one FBI agent says the fingerprints retrieval was botched.
In a later chapter we will explore the intriguing possibility that Duane was part of a ground team and Norjak was a group effort. After all, if DB Cooper made it, how did he get away with all of his stuff?
Besides the antics of Jo Weber and the supposed confession of her husband, there are other important Cooper confessees, in particular Ken Christenson and William Gossett.
In addition, another 922 people have reportedly confessed to being DB Cooper, and this topic needs its own treatment in a separate chapter.
One surprising source for the renewed vitality in Norjak is the de-classification of covert operations of the Vietnam War. This has given many soldiers the freedom to talk about their wartime experiences, particularly members of the 5th Special Forces and their ultra-secretive MACV SOG unit.
MACV-SOG is generally understood to mean Material Assistance Command, Vietnam – Special Operations Group, although in the world of spooks and warriors it is hard to know for certain what any written word actually means.
Many of these soldiers have written books detailing their activities in ultra-secret operations in North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and they clearly illustrate that SOG troopers had the physical training, mental preparation and planning capabilities to perform the Cooper skyjacking.
In fact, two leading MACV-SOG authors, MSgt. Billy Waugh and Major John Plaster, specifically identify a renegade SOG trooper named Ted Braden as DB Cooper. Further, they claim that it was widely believed in Vietnam that the Cooper caper had all the earmarks of a SOG operation.
In addition, the closer examination of military and CIA operations in Vietnam reveals that smoke jumpers were actively recruited for Air America – the air wing of the secret war in Asia. Stateside, these gung-ho guys jumped out of airplanes and fought forest fires. Hence, they were highly skilled, brave, and in excellent physical shape – prime candidates for covert operations in Southeast Asia.
This in turn leads to the CIA’s use of 727s to drop supplies and agents into combat, and the training and psychological make-up of the men involved in these missions. Could Cooper have been more than just a cargo kicker?
This scrutiny of smokejumpers brings other suspects to light, including the noted Sheridan Peterson, who is distinguished by being investigated twice by the FBI for Norjak.
Again, this topic requires a separate chapter.
So, what has the resurgence discovered? Are we closer to finding DB Cooper?
Yes and no.
Some prime suspects have reportedly been dismissed with negative DNA profiling, including the abovementioned Duane Weber and Sheridan Peterson.
But even with the rejuvenated investigation the FBI still doesn’t have any additional hard evidence beyond the $5,800 found at Tena’s Bar, nor do they have any conclusive idea of DB Cooper’s identity.
In fact, the resurgence has produced only more confounding clues, seemingly making the Cooper case more perplexing.
For instance, the silver traces found on the money are believed to be left-over residues from the FBI’s fingerprint dusting of the bills with a silver nitrate compound and is also thought to have turned many of the bills black, which had been another mystery.
As for the tiny holes in the bills, however, no one has any solid theory, but a widely-discussed hypothesis is that they are the borings by tiny aquatic creatures.
Nevertheless, the resurgence has garnered two main achievements: One, there is more substance in the FBI’s findings, such as knowing that the tie had titanium shavings on it. Secondly, the public, backed by the power of the Internet, is now intimately involved. In fact, the stage is set for the first successful hybrid investigation between governmental law enforcement and open-sourced, Internet –based private investigators and journalists.
With the Cooper case so resistant to resolution, the partnership between law enforcement and outside volunteers may be the only way to solve the case.
To that end we need to take a closer look at those dynamics, especially the Citizen Sleuths and the DZ.
© 2013 Bruce A. Smith
The above passage is an excerpt from my upcoming book: The Hunt for DB Cooper – The Resurgent Investigation into America’s only Unsolved Skyjacking. – BAS