By Bruce A. Smith
Bob Sailshaw passed away early this morning. I just received an email announcement from his wife, Michele.
For those of us who knew him and interacted with him, we knew Sail as a passionate, cantankerous-but-kindly, and generous member of Cooper World. He got involved with us several years ago after reading about our investigation of Sheridan Peterson, which began in the waning days of the DZ.
Sail knew Petey, and had been his Seattle landlord for one month in 1961 until he kicked him out for non-payment of rent. Later, in 1972, the FBI came knocking, asking about Peterson – and a flood of memories came rushing back from those 30 days.
Sail felt that Sheridan Peterson is DB Cooper because of the many uncanny things Petey said and did, such as his constant scheming, trying to develop the “System that Beat the System,” a phrase that later appeared in Letter #3, further convincing Sail of his beliefs.
Sail and Pete also discussed the latter’s days as a smokejumper in Montana, and his fearlessness in jumping into wilderness areas.
But most importantly, Sail started a “Salon” of Inquiry into the DB Cooper case. Every few months or so he would host a small luncheon at the Seattle Yacht Club – where he had been the Commodore – and invite members of the SYC who were knowledgeable of the case, along with selected Cooper sleuths. That is where I met Bob Sale, a long-time FBI agent at the Seattle Division, and other FBI agents, pilots, and skydivers. It was also the occasion that I met other Cooperites, such as Vicki Wilson and her daughter.
Sail always picked up the tab – he even met me at the bus stop when I was coming up from Tacoma.
Sail also arranged for us to go on a road trip to Eagle Creek, Oregon to speak with Ralph Hatley, the iconic skydiving champion and friend of Earl Cossey. Again, Sail took us all to lunch – this time accompanied by Sail’s wife, Michele, too.
Sail was instrumental in helping me launch my DB Cooper book, and he and Michele came to one of my first book signings and public presentations. A year ago, Sail and Michele sold their house in Seattle where Petey had been a resident so-many years ago, and had just moved into a condo in a lovely nearby neighborhood, so their Seattle roots were still intact.
Michele says that Sail’s health deteriorated rapidly in November, and he spent most of December in the hospital. He was admitted into a rehab and assisted living facilities a few weeks ago, but was in hospice last week.
I will miss my friend, and I send his family many good wishes to move through this grieving time with strength and grace.
Bob Sailshaw and Michele at the 2013 COOPER exhibit at the Washington State Historical Museum
DB Cooper posing with Sail and Michele. WSHM, 2013.
Sail showing a dimple in the face of DB Cooper’s Composite B sketch. Sail claimed that Sheridan Peterson had the same dimple.
A Facebook post of Sheridan Peterson, with a pix circa 1970.