By Bruce A. Smith
The only comprehensive book on this iconic hijacking, DB Cooper and the FBI—A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking, is now in paperback. Published by CreateSpace, a print-on-demand title, it is available at Amazon and in selected bookstores. This is the 2nd Edition of this work, as the e-book version was published by Amazon’s Kindle division in 2015. The paperback features a deeper examination of the DNA issues of Norjak, as the DB Cooper case is officially called by the FBI.
The book also illuminates how Norjak is a story for our times. Not only does it reveal how the FBI—and by extension all law enforcement—truly functions, but it shows how technology has evolved since 1971. The forensic tools now available to the FBI and the media have reshaped Norjak, in effect reopening the case. This is despite the 40-plus years since a man called Dan Cooper jumped out of a jetliner with $200,000 tied to his waist and a parachute on his back.
The advent of the Internet can not be over-stated. Investigative reporters can now circumvent the efforts of law enforcement to suppress information, and the FBI can no longer control the narrative of DB Cooper with self-serving press releases or by stonewalling intrepid journalists. Google goes a long way to slice through sloppy or doctored federal record-keeping, or the white-washing of a crew’s actions by the airlines.
Internet sleuths have now interviewed passengers, crew, federal investigators, and other principals involved in the case—and little of the official story matches.
Despite the widely-told tale that Northwest Orient was fully compliant with DB Cooper’s demands, we now know that elements within the FBI wanted a shoot-out with the skyjacker, and the passengers-be-damned if anyone got shot. It was the proverbial “collateral” damage scenario. We know with near-certainty that an armed FBI agent, known by name to at least one passenger, boarded the plane before the passengers departed and before the flight attendant carried the money bag into the aircraft. Fortunately, the crew was able to convince him to leave before he provoked an incident that might have compelled the skyjacker to detonate his bomb and kill the 36 passengers and six crew members.
The passengers were also allowed to stay in their seats during the flight or move about the cabin area and use the lavatories, in stark contrast to the official story by Northwest Orient that the flight attendants moved everyone to the forward area for safety shortly after the hijacking commenced. Rather than keeping DB Cooper in relative isolation in the aft portion of the plane, the flight attendants treated DB Cooper like a special NWO official, a ruse that apparently worked according to passenger interviews.
We also know that the skyjacker wasn’t the only problem aboard Flight 305, and the flight attendants “had their hands full” dealing with a drunk passenger sitting amidships. As a result, the crew shut down their beverage service in mid-flight.
Interviews with County Sheriff’s departments that supported the FBI’s ground search now reveal that DB Cooper had at least a 13-hour head start before anyone even flew over the primary landing zone, and a 40-hour lead before any boots hit the ground in his LZ and started tromping through the mud.
Time, like the power of a Colorado River to carve out a Grand Canyon, has also eroded the Old Stories of the FBI. Gone now is Earl Cossey, murdered mysteriously in 2013, but for much of the past forty years a reliable consultant for the FBI who told the world with convincing detail that DB Cooper was a skydiving whuffo who only knew enough to get himself killed. Now, however, Cossey’s commentaries are largely considered canard due to shocking revelations brought forward by investigative journalists, most prominently Geoffrey Gray in his Skyjack—The Hunt for DB Cooper, and we now know that Coss was a Big Time Liar who didn’t own the parachutes Cooper used. Either the FBI was suckered into Cossey’s contrivances, or actively supported them to help build the story that Cooper was a dumb-bunny and dead.
Another major technological breakthrough is the advent of DNA testing. First developed in the 1980s, genetic testing came of age in 2000 and effectively reopened Norjak. In response, the FBI tested many of their primary suspects, such as Sheridan Peterson, an individual only known to the public though the activities of Internet sleuths and DB Cooper chat rooms, especially a skydiving website known as The DropZone.
But these chat rooms and email exchanges also reveal that the FBI botched the DNA analysis. Now we know that the FBI has either lost DB Cooper’s eight cigarette butts, which contained his dried saliva and thus his DNA, subsequently to testing. Or the FBI has hid them purposefully, along with all the documentation of their findings. We know this from the work of other Internet journalists, especially NPR’s John F. Kelley, who covered the investigation of the FBI’s National Crime Lab (NCL) in the late 1990s. In 1996, both the Department of Justice and the US Congress investigated the investigators, and found numerous examples of tainted and tampered evidence at the FBI’s vaulted laboratory, coupled with lost records, incompetence and inadequate supervision. To wit: one of the major whistleblowers at the NCL, Dr. Fred Whitehurst, told me that over 20,000 federal felony convictions may be in jeopardy of being over-turned due to official misconduct.
Other cultural dynamics have made the DB Cooper case resurgent, and one of the primary drivers has been the declassification of commando operations from Vietnam. One group of soldiers from the 5th Special Forces, a super-secret unit called Material Assistance Command—Vietnam—Special Operations Group, or MAC-V-SOG, has been released from their silence and are telling stories that shed great light on Norjak. In fact, some of the SOG troopers I interviewed are convinced DB Cooper is one of their guys. They see the tactical precision of DB Cooper’s hijacking as akin to their own, and as one SOG trooper told me: “If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
One of the elements to arise out of the investigation of Vietnam as a training ground for a hijacker is the use of drugs to improve the fighting capacity of soldiers in long-term combat. This, in turn, has led to other factors that could enhance the impact of America’s commandos, especially mind-control processes as found in the notorious MKULTRA program. Numerous examples of memory-loss and fuzzy thinking by FBI agents involved in Norjak or Flight 305 crew members are now a significant part of the Cooper lexicon, and examined in DB Cooper and the FBI.
Other surprises to the Cooper story are the astonishing number of death-bed confessions to the skyjacking. This dynamic, in turn, has led to an examination of a phenomena often called “The Cooper Vortex,” where lots of people want to be DB Cooper, even if it means going to prison for the rest of their lives. A sad corollary is how many families want a certain family member to be DB Cooper.
As one FBI agent told me, “The longer this DB Cooper thing goes unsolved, the crazier it’s gonna get.”
In the meantime, there’s DB Cooper and the FBI—A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking.
Bruce: Glad to see your book is now in paperback. I will try to get a copy. Just wait until my FLAW found in Sheridan Peterson’s phony alibi about where he was at Norjak time hits the news paper for this 45 year since Norjak.
I also feel it could be Peterson, though of course that’s mainly conjecture on my part; I have no direct knowledge of the case, just a recent fascination with it. His character convinces me more than any factor – EXCEPT the photos on his wall the History channel never bothered to blow up and examine! I DID, just for kicks – and he looks a lot different when not smiling. I put some pics of him side by side with 3 composites and he looks more like all of them than the comps do to each other. I read a little online about the guy and wish I knew more. I’ve heard there’s a Boeing photo of him after a DBC-similar publicity jump but haven’t seen it. That stunt jump alone would be a helluva coincidence. I think many main suspects fail on grounds of either personality or background, and believe there are a few relatives who wish DBC were the person they knew, but that and copycatting (hello-goodbye, Mr. McCoy) do not a case make. I’m interested in what DBC revealed (his eyes, through the early part of the flight), and what he left behind (I’m not convinced the towel was his.) I do NOT understand the recent hounding of a man too young by the most consistent element of witness accounts, age, to be DBC.
Bruce tells me you know the most about SP. As an amateur sleuth, I would love to know more about this particular D.B. Cooper possibility.
PS That yearbook photo of SP looks older, the hairline more receded, than a photo from SP’s wall on the History interview. What KIND of yearbook is it from – high school, college, professional association? What year is it from and who posted it online first? Also, could the “marcel” in the hair have been a styled back-combover? This is of course not omitting the possibility of a wig or other theatrical trick that could be convincing in dim cabin light. Again, he could have just worn a hat. Why show so much but then get picky about retaining matchbooks and such, unless he WANTED a false description to circulate? Best, Lynn
I do notice the photo I see most of SP in his 50s is also the only one I find of him with a beard – at approximately the age DBC would have been in the later 70s. 😉
He was Korean airforce veteran. Brother and black man involved . still alive
The book is a little ‘out there’ in spots, but it covers all aspects of the case reasonably well. One advantage it has over other books is that it is the most recent one published on the hijacking. This means it is more up-to-date with recent events about the Cooper case.
I’m with the gentleman who believes it was Peterson. While watching the History doc, I kept thinking how none of the other people they mentioned – including the one that they honed in on the most – were a fit – either their looks, background, or personality were off in a major way.
You are right to highlight the “false confession” angle – media from the time reveal the guy was like Robin Hood to many, and then there was the cashing in angle – more than one reporter was duped into printing Cooper “interviews”. Cooper took HUGE pains to retain the matchbook, notes, etc, so why would this cool character then start bragging about his deed all over Ceation? McCoy was killed not long after – if fear of FBI arrest were not enough, fear of McCoy’s fate would dissuade anyone not mentally ill – if they were Cooper – to keep mum. On the other hand, a false confessor would know they could never be charged because they would not match up – so sure, tell some babe in Baja or wherever that you’re Robin Hood.
Then I saw SP. Of course he made the case that Cooper must have died – if Cooper was as described, he was polite and considerate of the welfare of others aboard (apart from the PTSD some must have experienced – though I’m not sure how well known PTSD was back then, as I was a toddler.) Bottom line, I don’t think Cooper would want someone else to be hounded or even imprisoned for his crime (and I think they’re still really hounding that Rackstraw guy – never mind that the one consistent factor I’m finding in the FBI interviews with those aboard is Cooper’s age). At the same time, he would not wish to be charged with the crime, even now. So giving expert opinion that DB must have died serves him well.
I hope you don’t mind if I correspond with you a little more via e-mail. I am a novice sleuth and find all the stuff available online very exciting. The FBI files take forever to pore through. I would like to find out more about the matchbook (there was a place on Bay Street in Toronto called Sky Chef in the 70s, and I have a found a picture of their blue-and-cream matchbook online. Of course, there is also the European Sky Chef which still exists, but I don’t know if they would have ever produced matchbooks – they seem to be an industrial service.)
While watching the History doc, I also screen-shotted some of the photos Sheridan had on his walls of his younger self and placed them side-by-side with the DB composites. It is remarkable to me how similar they are. Most of the online photos of Sheridan show his mouth open – his broad smile. His face when not smiling was not as broad, and the mouth, eyes and eyebrows match well.
I agree that one other suspect closely resembles the middle era composite. However, I tend to go with the images made most closely to the event itself – memory is a strange thing, and far from accurate (as I’m discovering myself as I near 50).I’m sure you’ve done your reading on the pitfalls of eyewitness testimony. My partner was a make-up artist and can recognize a face after years under pounds of make-up; I forget the eye colors of some of my best friends. Also, I tend to give more weight to the Mucklow account than Schaffner’s – my feeling from every doc and interview available was that Flo was in shock and functioning on that basic “numb” level you do when you are in shock but have no choice but continue. (Again, you get old enough, you remember times like that in your own life. I’ve been in sudden grief, I’ve been in an earthquake that killed thousands and saw a city flattened in 10 seconds. You remember it with a kind of fishbowl effect.) I do not feel confident of the total accuracy of her memory, particularly as she was the initial shockee. The other staff had a slight heads-up before needing to react. Did she write on a notepad or an envelope? Things like that are where I find discrepancies between FS and the other interviewees, though I haven’t read everything yet. (I do NOT believe in silly staff/FBI/CIA conspiracies re the original event. Nonsense.)
The descriptions of color – was the paper bag green or yellow? Was the overcoat black, russet, brown? – are not only typical of different people with different perceptions (my hubby and I argue over whether something is or is not blue very often, and neither of us is color blind) and dim interior plane lighting. (It was a night flight, btw – how dark was the interior?)
Eye colour angle interesting. I wonder why careful Cooper let ANYONE see his eyes. It would indicate to me he wanted a false description to circulate, and I suspect colored contacts. There also appears to be some discrepancy in FS’s statements about WHEN he put those sunglasses on. In the original account, it seems to have been sometime during the time he was bantering with the stewardesses on the ground. In later versions published in magazines, she states he had them on when she re-emerged from the cockpit towards the end of the flight.
None of my friends or family has any interest in this, and I’m totally fascinated. I would love to be able to discuss this more with people in the know. I will buy your book soon, but for now wonder if you know any of the answers to some of the questions I have mentioned above. Still a long ways to go on my reading!
Welcome to the Hunt for DB Cooper, Lynn. Thanks for buying my book, too! Many of your questions are discussed in detail in the book, especially Sheridan Peterson and I devote an entire chapter to him. Plus, the leading advocate for Sheridan is Bob Sailshaw and his dogged investigation offers many insights into a lot of evidence and the circumstances of the case, which are heavily noted in the book.
I strongly recommend that you join the DBC conversation at the DBCOOPERFORUM.COM. It’s free and good-natured (generally…).
Thanks, Bruce! I imagine I’ll be more a follower than a participant, as I have no expert knowledge of parachuting, orienteering, flight, etc. I DO have a passion for – reason over passion when it comes to these things, and a thing for historical accuracy (people are shocked today at how little security there was in 1971 and don’t realize the impact the case had on the industry. While the airline was out $200 grand, Boeing was out a lot more – how much does it cost to adapt/redesign an entire series of planes? And didn’t they have egg on their faces for the original design?) I’m also very grain-of-salt about eyewitness testimony, particularly if it changes over time with such a talked-about case, and look for the areas of least variance. Am suspicious of confessions or splashy behaviour, given the calm and secretive nature of DBC, and the phenomenon of people wishing their friends, relatives, associates, or themselves were revealed as DBC. I’m interested in the psychology and carriage of the suspects and witnesses as much as the physical details. I think the Boeing connection is significant, as is what DBC chose to reveal and not reveal, and what evidence he chose or did not choose to leave behind. I would very much like to speak with Mr. Sailshaw and thank you for your advice re: the forum! Looking forward to speaking with others who share this fascination and have a thing for real-life puzzles and reading your book! All the best…
I have sent a registration request to thedbcooperforum.com – I missed the “the” before and landed on something called DB COPPER, lol….
Oh, one more thing – Dan Cooper the comic. This would probably not have been widely circulated in WESTERN Canada (our main francophone areas are east from Manitoba, in the “middle” of Canada – I never saw TinTin available except in French language classes, a later development in Anglo Canada, or for sale outside Quebec, and never heard of Dan Cooper the comic until now), and I don’t particularly think DB was Canadian. However, I do think he saw the comic. It didn’t have to be in Europe, where the comic originated. Remember that Vietnam had the French before the Americans – I’m betting you COULD find those comics in Vietnam, and likely in other French-concerned areas in Africa and parts of South America.) He could have been Canadian (Americans always think I’m American – different regions have different accents, and in remote areas like mining towns without a traditional local accent, lots of kids sound like American TV more than like their parents.) But I don’t think he was. I think he was American, was in Nam, had huge parachuting experience, was educated, and survived. (That found money thing makes you go hmmmm, eh?) 😉
Yup, the money is a puzzler.
Lynn, I’ll pass your email to Sail. It’ll be up to him to decide to respond or not. At the very least, you can send him a comment at the DBCOOPERFORUM.COM.
One last thing, Lynn. The pix of Sheridan Peterson in the “yearbook” is from the University of Missouri, Class of 1951, I believe. Sail and I spent a day checking Sheridan’s past. He was an English teacher at Kirkland high school – Lake Washington HS, if I recall correctly. The Kangaroos! He taught there for three years..
Also, Sheridan was born in 1924, so he was in his fifties during the latter part of the 1970s.
Thanks for the info, Bruce! That helps. If Sheridan is reading, I do hope he doesn’t feel I’m definitively stating it’s him – I am, again, an amateur, and whoever it is, if you’re still out there, congrats on THE stunt of the century, possibly the millennium. I believe whoever it is, if alive, HAS gotten away with it, and nothing less than a “smoking gun” piece of new evidence that FIRMLY ties one individual to DBC will change that. Mishandled evidence and the preponderance of alternate theories, plus the likelihood getting more than a few jurors sympathetic to DBC, pretty much ensures that even if the mystery is solved, it will never be prosecuted. I have some definite rebellious tendencies myself, and have no problem with that whatsoever (cheeky wink.) I also think Sheridan is a fascinating character with or without the DBC angle and wish nothing but the best for him.
Sheridan does read the Mountain News from time-to-time, but not recently. However, if you would like to communicate with him, I can pass along messages for you..