By Bruce A. Smith
With the 46th Anniversary of DB Cooper’s skyjacking approaching us – Cooper hijacked his Northwest Orient jetliner on the evening before Thanksgiving in 1971 – it is certainly timely to discuss this iconic crime with another DB Cooper author, Martin Andrade, Jr.
To begin, let’s review Martin’s book.
Andrade is co-author with his father, Martin Andrade, Sr., of: Finding DB Cooper – Chasing the Last Lead in American’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking. Andrade, Sr. is a former commercial airline pilot and offers succinct perspectives on the technical aspects of the hijacking, but most of the Cooper research and writing has been conducted by Andrade, Jr.
The book has three main components – first an overview of the skyjacking, along with a detailing of the clues and characteristics of DB Cooper, and a synopsis of popular suspects. Next is a comparison of known facts with statements and descriptions of Cooper offered in Max Gunther’s 1986 work based upon the hijacking, titled: DB Cooper – What Really Happened?” Lastly, the Andrade’s deliver an original analysis of Cooper’s jump: at night, in the rain, in November while wearing ordinary clothing based upon a review of survival rates and anecdotal accounts of air crews during WW II. The Andrade’s reveal that Allied flight crews experienced a 95% survival rate despite the fact that most crew members had never parachuted before.
The book also contains an extensive reference section where readers can glean the FBI’s actual summary reports – and even cockpit notes taken during the hijacking – that are now part of the documentary vault at the DB Cooper Forum, a vital repository of Cooper-related information.
Martin Andrade, Jr, is a former radio talk-show host, and is the author of a science-fiction novel. He resides in north-central Minnesota, about two hours from Minneapolis, and we had an amicable chat spanning two hours in early November, 2017.
“So how are book sales?” I asked. It seemed like a good way for two authors to bond at the beginning of a conversation.
“Nothing has sold like this before! Martin exclaimed, and I felt a twinge of jealousy. “My book on DB Cooper is selling much stronger than my science-fiction book. I might just switch to writing True Crime from here on out.”
“Are a lot of women reading your Cooper book? I hear that women make up at least 50% of the True Crime market.”
“I don’t know, but women are 55% of the mass market for book sales, and women read a lot more books than men,” Martin said.
Martin and I then delved into the nitty-gritty of his Cooper research, in particular his analysis of Max Gunther’s writings. Gunther developed his book based upon phone calls and letters he received from a woman named, “Clara,” who claimed to have found an injured DB Cooper in the woods near her home in southwest Washington state in 1971. She said Cooper was actually named Dan LeClair, and she nursed him back to health from a severely sprained ankle. Later, she fell in love with LeClair and they moved to the New York City area, laundering the ransom money in Atlantic City casinos and living a quiet life together.
“So what’s new on the Max Gunther front? What can you tell me? I understand that he is long-deceased.”
“Well, Gunther was a journalist, and he interposed many factual statements and references to actual events and people in the text, so I really would love to see his original notes. I hear he archived all of his research, and that his heirs have the material. I know he has a son and a daughter – both grown adults now – and they live in the Connecticut area, but I don’t have the resources to find them at this point.”
Martin continued and said that he considers Gunther’s book to be a work of non-fiction. However, I feel it is a docu-drama-esque book that leans heavily on a questionable source, “Clara.” Nevertheless, it carries strong potentials of being truthful. Regardless, access to Gunther’s notes is critical in determining if Dan LeClair was DB Cooper.
“Sounds like you need a Richard Tosaw to locate them,” I suggested, referring to the now-deceased DB Cooper author who was also an expert in retrieving lost properties and locating missing heirs. Tosaw is perhaps most famous for helping the Ingram family regain possession of half of the Cooper ransom bills after the FBI had confiscated them for evidentiary purposes. Prior, the Ingrams had found three bundles of Cooper twenties at a beach called Tina Bar in 1980.
“Perhaps Snowman can help you find Gunther’s children,” I added. (Snowman is a noted cyber expert who has been very helpful in other DB Cooper-related inquiries.)
“Well, I’ve contacted Mark Metzler a lot over this and other issues, but I don’t want to ask him to help me again by reaching out to Snowman.” (Mark Metzler is widely known as the principal contact person for Snowman, who refuses all direct contact with Cooper researchers.)
“But I am reviewing a lot of documents on Canadian-born, US military vets living in the Untied States,” Martin continued. “Gunther’s Dan LeClair was born in Canada, moved to Chicago when he was a kid, and graduated from high school in New Jersey. After graduation he enlisted in the army, and was a paratrooper in WW II….I’ve got 12,000 vets to check out, so I’m busy. I investigate about two or three individuals a day.”
“It sure would speed things up to talk directly to Max’s kids, wouldn’t it?”
“It sure would,” Martin replied, laughing.
“Any ideas on Dan LeClair’s motivation for hijacking an airplane?” I asked.
“Yes, Clara provided some insights. Dan was called a ‘mouse,’ and felt emasculated. Dan was a ‘company man’, but also was a very smart guy. He was also estranged from his wife. But overall, Dan LeClair’s background is hazy.”
“LeClair was a guy who lived in the background,” Martin added, “and he wasn’t the kind of guy who would raise suspicion.”
Martin also said that the most important sections of the book – the parts that contained the most critical pieces of information – were also the murkiest. He also expanded upon my knowledge of Max Gunther.
“Gunther was a trained journalist, but he had a wide range of interests. He was into black magic and wrote extensively on the occult.”
“You really need to find those kids, Martin,” I intoned.
“You’re right. I do.”
“In the meantime, what is your general view of the DB Cooper case these days?” I asked.
“Well, I’m an eternal optimist,” Martin replied. “I think it’s solvable, and I hope to see all of the FBI files some day. We need to expand our investigation into the chemicals and the tie – I’d love to be able to photo-match the tie to all those (look-alikes) in the newly discovered directories, such as the Tektronix directory.”
At that point Martin and I traded anecdotes about the new crop of young, enthusiastic DB Cooper researchers – but sometimes a little too-enthusiastic in our opinion – appearing at Cooper-related chat rooms and Internet sites.
“Yeah, I worked a lot with Dovid on the Tektronix directory when it first came out,” Martin said with a chuckle. “But we definitely need more analysis of the tie and the particles on it. Like all the smoking particles. Tom Kaye found lots of residues on the tie that come definitively from book matches.”
After a pause, Martin resumed on a related tack. “But we have a problem with those who dismiss evidence away… meaningful discussion and analysis is difficult under those conditions.”
At that point Martin launched into a soliloquy about the on-going dispute over the parachutes, their harnesses, who owned them, and what it all means in terms of truthfulness and the reliability of FBI documents.
“It’s crazy, and I have an NB-6 and an NB-8, too,” he exclaimed in frustration. (Note: NB-6 and NB-8 parachutes are at the heart of the controversy.)
“Well, in terms of disappointments, what do you think of the feds closing the case last year?” I asked.
“It is very frustrating. It feels very unprofessional, almost stunt-like. Do you mean to tell me that the FBI is not interested in the mystery? It’s one of the biggest, and they don’t want to continue investigating a whodunit central to American history? They’re a bit too nonchalant for my tastes.”
For those who would like to follow Martin’s on-going research more closely, visit his website: martinandrade.wordpress.com .
Also note: his family name is pronounced: An – Drah – day. “It’s the Spanish pronunciation, but it comes from the Portuguese-side of the family.”
Finding DB Cooper
Martin Andrade, Jr., at work
Martin Andrade, Sr., in retirement