By Bruce A. Smith
Vern Jones and his Principia Media publishing company have just released a book that claims to identify the iconic skyjacker DB Cooper. DB Cooper and Me: A Criminal, a Spy, My Best Friend, is a memoir penned by an 84-year old Floridian named Carl “Charley” Laurin, and it traces the alleged exploits of Detroit native, Walter R. “Peca” Reca.
Laurin claims that Reca is DB Cooper.
In addition, Laurin says that Reca was a life-long covert operative for the CIA and other agencies of the intelligence community, possibly even the KGB and Mossad.
This wild story starts in Michigan during the 1950s when Laurin and Reca were members of a skydiving team attached to the Michigan Air National Guard. A friendship ensued, which lasted in spurts until 2014 when Reca died at 80. Laurin says that his suspicions that his friend Walter was actually DB Cooper began the night of the skyjacking.
“Walter Reca was as tough as nails,” he said at Principia’s book launching press conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan last week. He also characterized Reca as being the most skilled and fearless skydiver in the Pacific Northwest, attributes that DB Cooper needed to successfully conduct the only skyjacking in the Untied States that has never been solved – until now, purportedly. “I know Walter Reca was DB Cooper because Walter Reca WAS DB Cooper,” Laurin proclaimed.
Jones supports Laurin, and told the Mountain News, “I believe Walter Reca was DB Cooper.” However, no one has a twenty-dollar bill from the ransom, nor the parachute that Cooper used. Further, Laurin and Reca muck up most of the the details of the skyjacking, including the flight path, the types of parachutes used, exit points, and behavioral characteristics. Nor can they shed any light on some of the mysterious elements of the skyjacking, such as which passengers started a ruckus while the plane circled Seattle, exactly when did the passengers move to the forward part of the plane, and how did the crew get the FBI agent off the plane after he had snuck aboard?
Simply, the inconsistencies challenging Reca-as-Cooper are monumental, yet Jones clings steadfastly to his belief, and cites a slew of bizarre-but-intriguing pieces of evidence.
Foremost is the eye-witness account given by Jeff Osiadacz, a former cop who says that he encountered Reca the night of the skyjacking walking alongside a mountain road near Cle Elum, Washington, and then conversed with him in a nearby diner. Osiadacz says that Reca was soaking wet, wearing a black suit, and carrying a bundled-up raincoat under his arm. The diner was nearly empty and Reca approached Osiadacz and asked where they were. Osiadacz informed him that they were four miles east of Cle Elum – about one-hundred miles east of Seattle – and Reca in turn asked Osiadacz to call a friend named Don Brennan in Hartline, Washington – another one-hundred miles further east – and give him driving directions. Osiadacz said that he complied with Reca’s request. At that point, Osiadacz left to perform a guitar gig at a local grange, and only rejoined this drama in 2016 when Jones and his investigatory team tracked him through a local newspaper reporter in Cle Elum.
For his part, Reca says that he bailed from Cooper’s Flight 305 over Cle Elum and landed close to the highway where he was spotted by Osiadacz.
Yet, was Cooper’s hijacked plane actually flying over Snoqualmie Pass? This despite volumes of testimony that state Cooper demanded the aircraft fly no higher than 10,000 feet and remain unpressurized so that he could open the doorway to the aft stairs, by which he would make his parachute getaway. Plus, a low-level flight across the Cascades at night, in the rain, and in the clouds seems dicey, but Jones is undaunted.
He says the FBI and crew has provided “mis-direction” when it comes to the truth of the flight path. In addition, Jones says that he has discussed the Reca flight path with air traffic controllers and commercial aviation pilots who have assured him that flying eastward from Seattle at 10,000 feet is doable, as is the return loop over the lower Cascades to rejoin the long-established flight path of Victor 23 through Oregon and southward to Reno, where Flight 305 later refueled.
When confronted on the many inconsistencies, Jones offered a mis-direction of his own: “You have to remember, this is a memoir. This is Carl’s story.”
Hearing that, this writer pushed back harder. “Don’t you have to answer to the inconsistencies and implausibilities at some point?” I asked. “Isn’t it true that Carl told the Washington Post that Walter Reca didn’t know he could jump using the aftstairs, and that he tried going out a side door? Do you really believe that Walter Reca would try to skydive out of a plane using a door directly in front of the main wing?”
In response, Jones equivocated. He said that Carl’s statement to the Washington Post was accurate, and that he simply did not know why Walter said what he did. Nor did he offer any explanation or defense on what Reca knew about parachuting from a 727. Further, he offered that Carl had quoted Walter as saying that he never did a job that required more than an hour’s worth of planning or needed more than a napkin to draw up.
Under continuing scrutiny, Jones quickly diverted from the DB Cooper story and shifted into a passionate recounting of discovering Reca’s many foreign passports, vaccination certificates and diaries that seemed to validate a career as a spook. Key among them was an identity card issued by the KGB, along with passports issued in Reca’s name by the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States.
“I worked for all of them,” Reca proudly recalled, Jones said, adding that Reca had documents suggesting that he worked for Israeli interests. However, Jones demurred when asked if Reca worked for Mossad. “I don’t know,” Jones said.
“What did Reca do for all of these agencies or countries?” I asked Jones.
“He killed people,” Jones replied, adding that Reca confessed to his niece, Lisa Story, that he had assassinated a Middle Eastern diplomat named Abu Dauob. Yet, Reca said he was never an employee of the CIA or MI-6, but rather was a freelance contract covert operative.
His pathway to being an assassin-for-hire is a bit circuitous. According to Jones, Reca began life as Water Peca, and apparently was held in juvenile detention in Detroit for a period of time when he was nine years-old. After skydiving with Laurin in the 1950s in Michigan, Reca began jumping at the Elsinore, California DZ because he had heard that the CIA recruited operatives from that site. In 1963, Reca applied to the CIA, but was denied a position despite the fact that he spoke Russian and Polish fluently. In fact, Walter Peca never spoke English until he entered grade school. In addition, he only obtained an eight-grade education.
After the rejection from the CIA, Reca became despondent and returned to Detroit. There he began a string of armed robberies, the first being the most infamous perhaps when he heisted a Big Boy hamburger joint and got captured because his getaway man was busy getting a parking ticket.
Unable to face incarceration Reca jumped bail, ditched his wife and kids, and fled to Washington state. There he lived with a skydiving buddy he had once met in Alaska, Don Brennan. Reca also started a new life and a new family. He also dropped the Peca and became Walter Reca full-time.
But his legal troubles followed and he was extradited to Michigan to face the robbery and bail jumping charges. However, he was released on probation to rejoin his pregnant girl friend in Washington, and he returned to Seattle. There he got a job with the CIA-affiliated Vinnell Industries, hoping to make contact with the agency.
But then he decided to steal an airplane and become DB Cooper.
Two months later, two workers at Vinnell approached him and asked, “Walter Peca, do you want to go to prison?”
“No,” he answered.
“Then, you work for us,” they replied. After that, Walter Reca began a two-year period of training to become an international covert operative.
Starting in 2000, Reca and Laurin reconnected. Daily phone calls became lengthy taped phone sessions in 2008, and Laurin began writing and conducting a more rigorous investigation into his suspicions.
At first, Reca never confessed to being DB Cooper despite Laurin’s persistent pestering. At one point, Laurin surreptitiously took a discarded tissue of Reca’s and had its DNA tested via a Floridan attorney named David DeMoore. DeMoore, in turn, sent the sample to Larry Carr and asked for a finding while insisting on confidentiality for his client. However, Laurin soon received a message from Reca that he had gotten a phone call from the FBI wanting to know about his DNA profile and DB Cooper. As a result, Reca broke off the friendship with Laurin.
Nevertheless, they eventually repaired the damaged relationship and continued the conversations. Soon, Laurin says, Reca called him and said, “I can’t lie to you anymore, Charley. I’m DB Cooper.”
Viewing the whole story, it all seems preposterous. A former spook keeps his KGB identity card, but not a Cooper twenty?
Plus, the actions of the Jones and Principia investigatory team is outrageous. They claim to know who DB Cooper is, yet they fail to corroborate any information with any of the known witnesses, such as the passengers or the flight attendants – especially Tina Mucklow. Ms. Mucklow sat next to DB Cooper for five hours and would certainly know his looks and speech patterns – thick and heavy with Minnesotan notes on long, round “O’s,” such as “douhn” for “down,” and “abouht” for “about.” Plus, Reca spoke with a distinct blurring of “th” sounds with hard “d’s” so that “there” became “d’ere.”
Hence, the Hunt for DB Cooper continues.
But we have another conundrum: if Reca was not Cooper, then what the hell was he doing in Cle Elum in a black suit, in the rain, on the night of the skyjacking? Sadly, Vern Jones doesn’t seem interested in pursuing that question. He’s got his story and he seems to be sticking to it.
But we’ll be pursuing it at the Mountain News.
Courtesy of Principia Media of Grand Rapids, Michigan
The new book on DB Cooper from Carl Laurin
Walt Reca, in the 1970s
Jeff Osiadacz, the eye witness from Cle Elum
Lisa Story, Carl’s niece
Bruce A. Smith is the author of DB Cooper and the FBI – A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking, available through Amazon.