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.