by Bruce A. Smith
Long-time DB Cooper suspect, Ted E Mayfield, was killed Friday, August 28 in an aviation-related accident at his home in Sheridan, Oregon. He was struck on his arm while hand-starting an Air Coupe prop airplane and died of his injury at the scene.
Mayfield was 79.
Mayfield was well-known in the DB Cooper case as the leading suspect in the early days of the DB Cooper investigation. FBI officials have stated that Mayfield was fingered by at least six callers the night of the hijacking, November 24, 1971, but was soon cleared from the suspect list.
Despite the official position, many researchers continued to feel that Mayfield was an important suspect, and his status was re-examined by two Portland investigators, Daniel Dvorak and Matt Meyers, in 2006.
Mayfield’s death was quickly reported in DB Cooper chat rooms on the Internet, and on Sunday August 30, I spoke with Ted Mayfield’s daughter, Gwen in Sheridan as his family gathered at his home.
Gwen confirmed that Ted died from an accident with his airplane. She gave me details, and also a commentary on the family’s interaction the night of November 24, 1971. First, his death.
Gwen said that Ted died Friday, about 2:30 pm. He was hand-starting a plane located in his backyard and the prop caught, nearly severing his arm. Gwen said that Ted “just wanted to listen to the engine.”
Because Ted had been taking a blood-thinning medicine called Warfarin, he bleed out within minutes.
“There were a lot of people around, and the paramedics were on the line, but there wasn’t anything anyone could do,” Gwen told me.
Despite the family tragedy, Gwen eagerly shared her memories of the night DB Cooper stole his airplane.
“I was living in Bellevue at the time with my mother, and the skyjacking was all over the news. I told my mom, ‘I gotta call Dad and see what he thinks!’
“I called my father and he was sitting right at his desk. He told me that the FBI had already called him looking for parachutes and that he had told them to call Earl Cossey. Then he said that he had to hang up because the FBI had just arrived and they wanted to go through his records. He sounded very casual the whole time. Now, does that sound like someone who had just hijacked an airplane?”
Gwen and I also discussed the DB Cooper case.
“I have a theory on what happened to skyjacker,” she said. “I think that when he opened the stairwell doors the air rushed out and pulled him into the stairway, where he hit his head and fell down the stairs unconscious. I don’t think he ever opened his chute and that’s why his body has never been found, and the money was scattered down by the river.”
Again, I countered, “Then what happened to the bomb, the briefcase, the other parachute – all the stuff that wasn’t found on the plane at Reno?”
“Well, you have your opinion and I have mine, and we can argue all day long if you want to!” she said. “I’m just as bull-headed as my father,” she added playfully, but firmly.
We both laughed.
Gwen also told me her perceptions of her father.
“He was a good man, benevolent. He was a man of good will.”
I countered and said that a lot of people had a different view of her father.
“We can argue about that, too,” she said.
Even though Mayfield’s daughter has fond memories of her father, the public record indicates the man was much different.
Ted Mayfield had many run-ins with law enforcement during his life, and had been arrested in 1977 for flying a stolen airplane across state lines. In addition, he was also arrested for armed robbery in his youth, a hold up that occurred in the Oregon City area.
In 1994, Mayfield was convicted and incarcerated for five months for the negligent homicide of two of his skydiving students at his Pacific Parachute Center in Sheridan. Later, Mayfield was found to have been indirectly responsible for the death of 13 other skydiving students due to faulty equipment and training.
Similarly, Mayfield had lost his pilot’s license and rigging certificates on multiple occasions for safety violations, most recently in 2010 when he flew a plane from the Eugene airport without proper credentials and blatantly failed to follow safety protocols on take-off.
His criminal background also put him on the FBI’s radar screen before the Cooper skyjacking, as he had a prior altercation with FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach, the special agent who headed the DB Cooper investigation in Portland. Apparently, two members of Mayfield’s staff violated safety protocols at Aurora airport where Himmelsbach parked his own private airplane and Mayfield held skydiving classes. Himmelsbach was a former WW II fighter pilot, and reported the infractions. Soon, friction developed between Mayfield and Himmelsbach.
However, Himmelsbach later wrote in his book on the Cooper investigation that Mayfield was “most helpful” in the Cooper investigation, giving the Bureau vital information on local skydivers.