By Bruce A. Smith
Editor’s Note: the following is from the 3rd edition of DB Cooper and the FBI – A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking, being prepped for publication.
If the FBI thought the world would lose interest in the DB Cooper case when they “officially closed” it in 2016, they must have been shocked with the huge media splash Walter R. Reca and Principia Media publishing company made in 2018.
Not only did another author, Carl Laurin, claim his best friend Walter R. Reca was DB Cooper, his story was embraced tectonically by Principia and its owner, Vern Jones. Besides Laurin’s book, DB Cooper and Me – A Criminal, A Spy, My Best Friend, Jones launched a media blitz that included a large-scale documentary, a press release extravaganza that included experts, such as Joe Koenig, the lead investigator of the Jimmy Hoffa case, and then his team hit the road showcasing Reca-as-Cooper across the country, culminating in a major presentation at the 2018 CooperCon in Portland, Oregon.
In fact, Principia and Koenig doubled-down on the Reca-is-DB Cooper story in 2019 when Jones published Koenig’s own book, Getting the Truth; I am DB Cooper.
However, the origins of the Reca story were humble. Principia, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, stumbled upon Laurin’s freelance effort, through a quirky old-girl network of an editor-has-a-friend-who’s-uncle-just-wrote-a-book, etc.
Nonetheless, 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. Laurin is unshakeable in his belief, and Jones and his team agree completely, even though few others in Cooper World share their enthusiasm.
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. As proof, Laurin presented Principia with a treasure trove of foreign passports including several from Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, a variety of covert identity cards, such as from the MI-6 and KGB, and a diary chock-full of descriptions of assassinations and other covert operations.
All this made an impressive show-and-tell during Principia’s Reca Road Tour.
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. That means that Walter Reca was 37 years-old in 1971, a little young for DB Cooper. However, Laurin says that his suspicions of his friend Walter being Cooper began the night of the skyjacking.
“Walter Reca was as tough as nails,” Laurin said at Principia’s initial press conference. Laurin also characterized Reca as being the most skilled and fearless skydiver in the Pacific Northwest, adding with emotional emphasis: “I know Walter Reca was DB Cooper because Walter Reca WAS DB Cooper.”
Jones fully supports Laurin, and told the CooperCon audience in 2018, “I believe Walter Reca was DB Cooper.” Despite the mountain of passports and foreign security cards, though, neither Jones nor Laurin has produced a twenty-dollar bill from the ransom, nor the parachute that Cooper used.
What they do have is a great story, and also some tantalizing clues.
High on the list of bizarre-but-intriguing pieces of evidence is an 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 (pronounced Oh-Side-Itch) 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 asked Osiadacz 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 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, who gave him a ride to the coffee shop. In addition, Reca signed an affidavit confessing to the Cooper skyjacking shortly before his death in 2014, affirming his crime in front of his niece, Lisa Story.
Yet, the claim that Cooper’s hijacked plane was actually flying over the heart of the Cascade Mountains near Snoqualmie Pass, and far from Victor 23 is tough to swallow. To wit: Reca’s story challenges the FBI documents that state Cooper demanded the aircraft fly no higher than 10,000 feet, so why would Reca and the pilots risk crashing into the nearby mountains? A low-level flight across the Cascades at night, in the rain and clouds, seems exceptionally dicey, but Jones and Laurin remain undaunted.
Jones claims the FBI and crew have 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.
Other red flags of inconsistency pop-up went one reads Laurin’s book, particularly on the lack of details from Reca on how and why he did the skyjacking.
Most notable is Laurin writing that Reca told him he didn’t know that he could jump from the aftstairs, and in fact first attempted to exit via the main door in the front part of the cabin. Reca says that Tina Mucklow stopped him and suggested he use the aftstairs. Along those lines, Laurin told the Washington Post that Reca didn’t know he could jump using the aftstairs, and that he tried going out a side door despite the almost certain death he faced from striking the rear stabilizer wings, a fact that Laurin confirmed to me when we spoke in 2018.
When challenged on major incompatibilities such as this, Jones equivocated in a phone interview with me in 2018. Jones said that Laurin’s statement to the Washington Post was accurate, and that he simply did not know why Reca said what he did. Nor did Jones offer any details on what Reca actually knew about parachuting from a 727. Further, Jones suggested that Laurin knew Reca “never did a job that required more than an hour’s worth of planning or needed more than a napkin to draw up.”
Such a profound lack of planning does not satisfactorily answer Laurin’s and Reca’s massive departure from the known facts of Norjak.
When confronted on the many incongruities, Jones offered a mis-direction of his own: “You have to remember, this is a memoir. This is Carl’s story.”
Under continued scrutiny, Jones diverted from the DB Cooper story into a passionate recounting of Reca’s many foreign passports, vaccination certificates and diaries that seemed to validate his career as a spook, possibly for several countries besides 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 told me in 2018.
“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, that he had assassinated a Middle Eastern diplomat named Abu Dauob, the alleged mastermind of the Munich massacre of eleven Israeli Olympic athletes. Yet, Reca said he was never an employee of the CIA or MI-6, but rather was a freelance covert operative.
His pathway to being an assassin-for-hire is a bit circuitous. According to Jones and Laurin, Reca began life as “Walter Peca,” and was a troubled kid, spending time in juvenile detention in Detroit when he was nine years-old. In adulthood, he apparently craved excitement.
After skydiving with Laurin in the 1950s in Michigan, Peca/Reca began jumping at the Elsinore, California DZ because he had heard that the CIA recruited operatives from that site. In 1963, Peca/Reca applied to the CIA, but was denied a position despite the fact that he spoke Russian and Polish fluently. In fact, Walter never spoke English until he entered grade school. In addition, he only obtained an eight-grade education.
After the rejection from the CIA, Peca/Reca became despondent and returned to Detroit. There he began a string of armed robberies, the first being the most infamous because when he heisted a Big Boy hamburger joint, he was captured since his getaway man was busy getting a parking ticket.
Unable to face incarceration Peca/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. Peca/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 girlfriend 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, according to Laurin. 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 Damore.
Damore, 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 his relationship to 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 are troubling. 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. Reca does not speak like DB Cooper at all. On his tapes, Reca displayed a thick and heavy European accent 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.”
However, Vern Jones gave me one tidbit of information that is worth any discomfort in considering the role of Walter Reca in Norjak. At the 2018 CooperCon, I asked Jones about the possibility that Reca’s soggy night in Cle Elum, Washington could have been real, even if it wasn’t the actual DB Cooper skyjacking.
“Do you have any thoughts on what else Walter Reca could have been doing in the middle of the Cascades on a Wednesday night on November 1971?” I asked. “Could it have been a CIA training mission perhaps, or something like it? Maybe something out of MKULTRA?”
“Yes, that is possible,” Jones answered.
Jones then told me a story that Laurin had told him about Reca’s accounts of life in the CIA. Reca had said that after the two guys from the Vinnell Corporation approached him he went into two years of training, and during that time he described the process as having “his mind sculpted.”
“Mind sculpted?” I gasped. “That sure sounds like an MKULTRA kind of thing. Mind control and all that.”
I’ve encouraged Vern Jones and his team to dig more into these possibilities, but so far, they seem to be sticking to their Walter Reca is DB Cooper narrative.
However, Carl Laurin has a whole chapter on MKULTRA in his book, so it is clear to me that the significance of the ‘mind sculpting” piece of evidence has not escaped him. Yet, he too, has yet to weave it into his Reca-is-Cooper story.
For more on the Reca story, go to Principia Media at:
Walter Reca. Picture courtesy of Principia Media.
Reca’s collection of foreign passports and identity cards. Picture courtesy of Principia Media.
FBI sketch of DB Cooper, the “B” Composite that was developed in 1972, about a year after the skyjacking.
Carl Laurin’s book on DB Cooper.
The current edition of DB Cooper and the FBI, available from Amazon.
Nope, not the guy I met, The guy I met looks like the wanted picture.
Interesting! I am Googling after watching part of the Netflix on D.B.Cooper.
I think I am missing something about the DNA. Is there DNA from the night it happened to compare to anything?
I like how this theory addresses the money found on Tena bar. But how could have Dick Briggs told Carlson that that family would find D.B. Cooper money? Or did that not happen?
Greetings Elizabeth and welcome to the Hunt for DB Cooper –
The question of DNA is a bit murky. What we do know, or at least what the FBI has told us, is that there are three or four DNA samples on the tie that DB Cooper supposedly left behind on seat 18E. Are any of those samples DBC’s? Who knows. Are they all just spittle from law enforcement agents who examined the tie? Who knows.
As for the money found at Tina Bar, Robert Colbert and his team ignore ALL the money that was recovered at T-Bar beyond the three bundles. Even Dorwin Schroeder seems to have forgotten that HE discovered thousands of tiny pieces and 8-10 shards of money large enough to have serial numbers on them, underneath the spot where the kid found the three bundles. Dorwin was the PIO for the FBI dig, and he was filmed by KATU-TV placing those fragments into Plasticine Evidentiary envelopes. Sadly, those envelopes are now missing and there is no written documentation in Seattle saying they ever proceeded them into evidence, at least according to Larry Carr when I spoke with him a couple of weeks ago. Worse, Netflix chose not to include those kinds of findings. Hopefully, someday somebody will, along with all the other evidence that is missing – and who chose to go look for them, or chose not to.
The plot thicken, eh Watson???
This isn’t the guy I met back in the 80’s. The guy I met looked like the wanted picture or closer to it.
Bruce, thanks for bringing this story forward again with your writing. I have seen how the initial sketch of DB Cooper compares to earlier photos of Walter Reca (Peca). It makes we wonder why this initial sketch is not used or shown very often? The initial sketch is the one produced the night the plane landed in Reno. It portrays a younger suspect with broader nose, chin, and foreheadl plus thicker hair. I have followed this story and the usual suspects for the past six years and not one references that initial sketch. Intriguing to me is how it resembles Walter more than any of those other candidates. Perhaps enough intrgue to add another dimension to the real flight path discussion.
I don’t think Reca is Cooper, or even that he looks like Cooper.
The following comes via email from Vern Jones, the chief at Principia Media, offering corrections, which have been made above, and commentary:
Thank you for the nice summary of our case that Walter Reca is the real D.B. Cooper. I would like to offer a couple of corrections and a clarification.
The actual name of Joe Koenig’s book in Getting the Truth; I am D.B. Cooper. I think that it is important to note that Joe is a nationally renowned Forensic Linguist and he evaluated Carl and Walters 2+ hours of taped conversations about the hijacking and found them to be truthful, as was Jeff Osiadacz, Lisa Story, and Carl Laurin in hours of conversation. After a couple of years of investigation, Joe believes that Walter was D.B. Cooper.
It is also important to note that Joe received endorsements from a former Special Agent in Charge and Executive Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation; two former prosecuting attorneys’; a former US Attorney and Principal Associate Deputy US Attorney General; a retired Assistant Director of the United States Secret Service; and many other individuals in the FBI and law enforcement.
You correctly point out that Walter kept so many documents throughout his life, yet we didn’t find a Cooper 20-dollar bill. The passports and many of the documents were mailed to Carl from Walter as they discussed various aspects of Walter’s numerous escapades, which resulted in boxes of letters and documents in Carl’s possession. In Walter’s final years he required significant assistance which was provided by family members and, most often, from his next-door neighbors. The executor of Walter’s estate told us that the neighbors routinely took things from Walt’s house and raided his bank account. While the passports and diaries would have been of no interest to them, if there was a $20 bill from the hijacking, it would be gone quickly. Carl did ask often about what he did with the money and tracked it to some very interesting places, however he never asked Walt if he kept one.
While in the café the night of the hijacking, Walter was the one to call his friend Don Brennan to pick him up. Not knowing where he was, he asked Osiadacz to give Don directions. In the recorded phone conversations Walter stated that on the way home he gave Don a “few” bundles of the money. While Don was a petty thief, he was not into felonies and became very paranoid to the point that he wouldn’t even talk about the money with Walter. We are looking into leads that could implicate Don in the money found at Tena Bar.
Don’s paranoia accelerated when he was interviewed by the FBI regarding the Cooper hijacking. I find it very strange that the FBI claimed to interview all of the sky divers in the Northwest. They did interview Don but not his fellow skydiver, Walter. Walter was uniquely qualified to make this jump as he was a former Para Rescue and Survival Specialist with the US Airforce Reserves and had performed numerous nighttime jumps in the winters in Michigan and Alaska.
Regarding the lack of details from Walter; these recorded conversations were conducted in 2008-2009, 37 years after the hijacking. During that time, we have very solid evidence that he traveled across the world engaging in clandestine activities, many of them more dangerous than the jump. Walter told Carl that he started to forget the hijacking immediately after his leg recovered, as it was just another robbery.
One last thing, the name of the attorney that Carl hired to send the DNA sample to Special Agent Larry Carr was spelled David Damore. Interestingly, Damore was the prosecutor of Aileen Wuornos, a former street prostitute who murdered seven of her male clients between 1989 and 1990 and was executed in Florida in 2002. She was the basis for the movie “Monster.” Damore said that Carr told him the results would be finished within two days once he received them. The DNA results were overnighted to Carr on July 27, 2009. Walter called Carl to confront him about collecting and testing his DNA against his wishes a few days after they were sent to Carr. Carr denied having test results for weeks. Finally, on October 8, 2019 (74 days later) Carr sent an e-mail to Damore indicating that the DNA did not match.
Thanks again for your interest in our story even though we disagree about the “known facts” of this case.
The Walter Reca story is fascinating!
It would be great if you could forward the voice recordings and pictures of Walter to one of the flight attendants for their consideration.
to the author what is your background are you a FBI agent helping to unsolve the case
Nope. I am an investigative newspaper reporter. First with the Dispatch in Eatonville, WA, and then here at the MN.
Thanks, it’s for an assignment.
Thanks for the information it is really interesting.