DB Cooper – The Fingerprint Conundrum

By Bruce A. Smith

The fingerprints are perhaps the most convoluted issue in Norjak. To date there is no definitive statement from the FBI that declares how many fingerprints they have, what kinds of fingerprints in terms of palm prints, thumb print, etc., or where they were collected. The confusion over the fingerprints is so complete that we are only learning snippets now, as we read the 302s in 2020. It is akin to reading tea leaves.

In fact, the dearth of information on the fingerprints is so complete that I’ve never written about it before, and this chapter was not included in previous editions of this book. Along those lines, the early works on Cooper barely mention the fingerprints at all, such as Richard Tosaw’s Dead or Alive – DB Cooper, and they fail to declare any specificity as to number, types, and clarity. More troubling information comes from Geoffrey Gray, who, even with his unlimited access to FBI files, was unable to deliver any definitive statement on the fingerprints in his SKYJACK, and in an email to me in 2020 stated: “However many sets there were… we know the quality and origin are… no good or incomplete.”

But the FBI seems to have some fingerprints that it does trust, which it uses to disqualify suspects. So, what does the FBI have on file? Here are the tidbits I have gathered.

Calame and Rhodes, in DB Cooper – The Real McCoy, offered the first – and for decades the only inkling – of what kind of fingerprints the FBI had collected in Reno. They state that 11 sets of fingerprints were retrieved, but were soon found to be too smudged to be of any value. This finding of 11 unusable prints is corroborated by the FBI document 164A-81-8868, (dated 12. 9. 86.) However, this doc also states that these prints were lifted off the ashtray, which suggests that more prints were recovered in other places.

That larger number hovers in the 66-80 range. Larry Carr told me in 2008 that the FBI had 66 sets of prints, which is corroborated by 164-2111, (dated 10. 9. 75), and backed by Himmelsbach in his book, NORJAK.

Similarly, 69 prints are declared by 164-81-7153, (dated 10. 26. 76), and 70 sets are claimed in document SE 164A-81-8767, (dated 8. 14. 84). In addition, a highly redacted 302 announces 77 sets of fingerprints, 164A-81-8816, (dated 8. 13. 85), while the undated SE 164-81-P says “approximately” 80.

In terms of where the additional fingerprints were retrieved, we know only of general areas. Document 164-81-1029, (dated 12. 13. 71), says that the two seats Cooper sat in received heavy attention, along with the airphone on which Cooper called the cockpit to ‘slow the plane down.” Further, the rear door and the surrounding area near the aftstairs were dusted for prints, along with four plastic drinking glasses found in the trash near the back door. It is also believed that the rear lavatory was dusted, as per Summary Report, LV 164-60, page 291, (dated 11. 26. 71.)

Palm prints were also obtained, as per SE 164-81-9260, (dated 3. 8. 79), and it is widely believed these prints were found on the arm rests of seat 18-E, which was removed and examined in Quantico.

As for these fingerprints and palm prints, we now know that they included the “tips, sides, and lower joint areas of fingers,” as per a report from the FBI’s Latent Fingerprint Division, (dated 8. 20. 1976), and again cited in an undated memo, 164-2111. Note: These prints are characterized as “latent” because they do not match any prints on file in FBI data banks.

In addition, fellow researchers at the DB Cooper Forum report that the FBI had been requiring full sets of fingerprint and palm prints of all suspects being investigated in Norjak as early as 1973. As a result, many citizen sleuths feel the Bureau has its greatest confidence in its palm print.

That is disputed by Galen Cook, however, who told me that Larry Carr had informed him in 2008 that the best Cooper print the FBI had was a fingerprint lifted off an in-flight magazine, and was using it as its primary means of dismissing suspects.

Ironically, the issue of magazines is another conundrum, as Calame and Rhodes claim the Reno team did not collect the magazines and were severely chided by the Bureau as a result. Nevertheless, there is another FBI document that suggests a second survey of magazines was conducted after the initial one in Reno – most likely the following day at Sea-Tac – from which clear and clean fingerprints were retrieved. [SE 164-81, page 2, “DB Cooper 8571.” However, this doc states that the magazines were dusted 11. 25. 72, but that is generally thought to be a typo since notes from George Harrison, the NWO official at Sea-Tac working closely with the FBI, describe a thorough search of the aircraft by the FBI when it returned from Reno the day after the skyjacking, Thanksgiving Day.

Along those lines, Larry Carr posted on the DropZone chat room that the FBI had gotten good prints off the magazines. Specifically, Carr stated: “No fingerprints from the airstairs, in fact no fingerprints recovered from the airplane during the first evidence sweep… On a second sweep some magazines were located in the area where Cooper had been. These were processed and a few latents were recovered that are of value.”

However, lifting prints off the magazines is incongruous. When did DB Cooper have time to read any magazines? He had his hand on the bomb trigger for much of the flight – to the degree that Tina had to light his cigarettes. Plus, Richard Tosaw states in DB Cooper – Dead or Alive that Tina told him she never saw Cooper touch a magazine during the skyjacking.

Nevertheless, Tosaw’s statements are also suspect because he told others, such as Bill Rataczak and Galen Cook, that Tina’s memory was exceptionally faulty when he interviewed her in the convent in the mid-1980s. As a result, whatever Tosaw has claimed from Tina must be viewed as less-than-reliable information.

Clearly, the fingerprint issue is controversial. In the view of many researchers, the truth probably lays close to the following scenario: The FBI has a lot of prints, including palm prints, but they don’t know conclusively if any are DB Cooper’s. But they might have DB Cooper’s prints somewhere in their pile. Hence, when a suspect is presented, they check his fingerprints against the whole bunch, and if nothing matches, they rule out the individual.

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42 Responses to DB Cooper – The Fingerprint Conundrum

  1. Johnnie Greene says:

    Superb article, Mr. Smith. Over at DB Cooper Forum, Shutter has posted some direct email quotes from Byron Woodruff about the unethical and obnoxious behavior of Robert Blevins. Of course, none of it should surprise anyone because we all know that Robert Blevins is just one big POS.

    • Marla says:

      Yep. Agree 100%. Shutter really outed Blevins and his nastiness towards Bryon Woodruff, as well as his bogus Cooper claims. Blevins just can’t get it together. Must be some real mental problems with Blevins for him to be so stuck on his little preachings all of these years. Who runs the toilet cleaning business while Blevins produces all of his shit at the DZ?
      Btw, Bruce’s dramatic appearance at HBO far eclipses anything Blevins has ever done on Cooper. Way to go, Bruce.

      • Gypsy23 says:

        Robert Blevins bragging about hugging Bryan Woodruff? Lol. Did Bryan hurry up and take a shower too. Lol. This kind of goes against Shutter’s account of the relationship between Bryan and Robert Blevins.

  2. Carlo_n_Dakotah says:

    I have read of only one suspect taking precautions to ensure his fingerprints didn’t remain on the plane. Reca didn’t mention anything of obscuring his palm prints, though. Are you aware if any of the other candidates displayed similar forethought? Were the prints pulled by the FBI mostly smudged or unusable because of other reasons?

    • The original FLYJACK says:

      Yes, Hahneman took several precautions.

      • Carlo_n_Dakotah says:

        Mr. Flyjack, What precautions did Hahneman take? Did he wear gloves on his Honduras flight?
        I also follow the DB Cooper discussion on The Dropzone but don’t post there. I read post #62919 from December 9 where you showed FBI file page ‘DB Cooper-1787’ and spoke of that written description. I was hoping you would include the next page -1788 of the “First” sketch. That sketch doesn’t get any attention.

      • Dr. Flyjack says:

        I was pointing out the “thin lips” description and the “sort of protruding lower lip”..

        Not much is known about the initial sketch,, I call it the “Jack Lord” sketch.. a week later we had the “Bing Crosby” sketch..

        I think I posted it before..

  3. brucesmith49 says:

    Greetings, Carlo.

    1. I know of no suspect who took precautions against leaving his fingerprints behind. You say you know of one? Who?

    2. As for the condition of the fingerprints, all I know is that Larry Carr said they were all damaged or unusable except for one print out of a magazine. The 302s that I’ve read generally do not discuss the status of the prints, inferring that they are all usable. Does that clear it up for you? Smile….

    • Carlo_n_Dakotah says:

      Hello Bruce.
      Walt Reca is the suspect I referenced. According to the Carl Laurin book and his recorded phone conversations, Walt said he used a quick-drying super glue type material to coat his fingers the night before and again just before boarding flight 305. He even tested it out with an ink pad prior to the event, so he knew it left a smudged impression when he placed it on paper.

      I would surmise like you did in your story above, that the hijacker was not taking the time to enjoy a complementary magazine. I think he was pre-occupied from the time he boarded until he jumped from the rear stair. I smile too, as all things seem so clear with the multitude of reports from so many sources. It must be what keeps us searching.

      • Gypsy23 says:

        So glad that Robert Blevins checks in here hourly to read Bruce’s great articles, then report about them on the only site that Blevins isn’t banned from.

    • Vern D Jones says:

      Hi Bruce,
      Hope you’re staying safe and healthy. As you know, Walter Reca clearly addressed covering his fingertips in the audiotaped discussion with Carl Laurin with a quick drying glue, something he had practiced.
      It is easy to eliminate suspects, even without fingerprints, if you know who Cooper really is.
      (PS. Carl Laurin passed away a couple of weeks ago. He was a wonderful and amazing man. We will miss him.)
      Happy Holidays

  4. brucesmith49 says:

    Dear Carlo,

    As for Reca, his use of crazy glue on his fingertips was probably something that he routinely did for a crime. Hence, his application of the glue the night before the jump. That is remarkable given how Carl Laurin makes a big deal of the fact that Reca never planned anything, and his description of the Norjak heist sounds downright clownish. Jumping out the forward cabin door? Tina suggesting that he use the aftstairs? Really? C’mon…….

  5. brucesmith49 says:

    To All Guilty Parties – you know who you are: NO MORE toilet-scrubbing jokes or references. Don’t force me to dig out my WordPress folder and try to figure out AGAIN how to ban y’all for bad behavior. I’m tired of being disgusted by your comments.

    • Johnnie Green says:

      No problem, Bruce. I will comply…….
      no more toilet scrubbing jokes about Robert Blevins and his so-called business, R&G Janitorial. But on a different note, you should do a story on the Ariel Store and the new owners. Ulis and you could have a real humdinger of a 50th party there, now that both of you are Hollywood style stars via 2020 docs on DB Cooper. Arrive early, though, so you pre-empt any attempts by Blevins to bring his only camper Greg with him to set up his portapotties and disrupt you and Ulis again. That’s all Blevins has in the Cooper case. Other than disruption, he’s a full ZERO.

      • Gypsy23 says:

        I’ll comply too, Uncle Brucie. I like the Mountain News. But I’m really going to miss the old toilet scrubbing jokes of Johnnie Greene. BTW, I love your latest article on fingerprints. Keep up the fantastic writing. Blevins admits that your book and your writing is his favorite source. That’s why he reads the Mountain News and even quotes it as a source, 4 or 5 times a day.

      • Marla says:

        Sure, I can go along with both Johnnie Green and Gypsy 23 and refrain from any more toilet jokes about Bob Blevins. It is a tough assignment, Bruce, because that’s pretty much what everyone has come to know about Mr. Blevin’s professional status. I think the comments were always just about jesting because everyone in the CooperWorld knew that Mr. Blevins is not in any way qualified to speak or opine on Cooper evidence or the investigation. And he has been a one-person wrecking ball, mainly against Bruce Smith. He is a very envious person and that’s why he has no friends. His only input at the DZ is endless drivel about campouts and his personal life. No one cares, and its all laughable. The FBI rejected Ken Christianson about 10 years ago for a variety of reasons, not the least of which he doesn’t even come close to the physical description. But the high point here is that Bruce Smith is a far better writer and a much higher intellect than Bob Blevins. And that’s why Bruce is solid in the CooperWorld and Blevins is a broken record with no game and his idiotic postings are about 5th grade level. His personal acumen is really only good for the ******, but I defer to Bruce’s request of his loyal readers and will not use that word anymore.

      • Johnnie Green says:

        Before Skipp Porteous passed away he was asked why he never met in person his alleged co-author, Robert Blevins. His answer was along this line…..
        “I was looking for a quick and cheap publisher to get out my story about Ken Christianson. After I had Blevins publish the book, I saw all the factual mistakes he made and the shoddy editing. The book was a failure in sales and I knew in my heart Christianson wasn’t Cooper. I wanted no more contact with Blevins. But he continued to use my name as though he was my co-author. It was always my book, alone. Blevins is a total fraud and a liar.”

      • Gypsy23 says:

        I heard the same thing about Blevins. He stole all of the investigative work of Skipp Porteous and published his own book based on Porteous’ work. Porteous owned some big investigation firm in NYC. Porteous was the guy who worked with Geoff Gray on the Christianson matter. And then, Porteous flat refused to ever meet with Blevins. I get that part. Who would want to do business again with a cheat, thief, and liar?

      • Marla says:

        Apparently, Skipp Porteous found the right reason to never personally meet up with Robert Blevins. Blevins stole Skipp Porteous’ manuscript and made himself the author. Pure thievery. And Blevins wonders why he is banned from all Cooper sites?
        He’s a TOTAL loser. Shutter has Blevin’s figured out correctly.

      • Johnnie Greene says:

        Not just Shutter. Everybody has Blevins figured out. And it’s not good!

      • Gypsy23 says:

        Blabber mouth and bragger cum laude extraordinaire Robert Blevins is hosting a 400-person Cooper party? LOL. These boasts are bigger than all of the misinformation and lies combined in the book he edited, then stole, from Skipp Porteous. This is the old man who has the skills of a 5th grader (but barely) and couldn’t muster two people to any of his previous parties. You know, I think Blevins needs to check in with the mental health services in Auburn. The guy has lost it. Can Gayla or Greg Techie
        assume POA or guardian ad litem and take care of this worthless bafoon? He’s having another mental breakdown on line. Shutter knows.

  6. Marla says:

    Yes, Shutter does know and he is exactly correct. Robert Blevins posts ridiculous non-stop nonsense. Day after day. I love reading Bryan Ingram’s old emails to Shutter, describing Blevins as a complete liar and dishonorable POS. I hope Shutter posts them up one more time. Bryan and Skipp Porteous both regretted ever getting involved with Blevins. Bruce too. He will never give Blevins a second of his time, again.

  7. brucesmith49 says:

    Thank you, Johnnie. Merry Christmas to you as well.

  8. shutter45 says:

    I’m a little late but Merry Christmas to all..lets hope we crack this thing in the coming year…..

    • Gypsy23 says:

      Always good to hear from Shutter at Bruce’s site. Happy New Year!
      btw, if you have time, please post the emails from Bryan Woodruff that were sent to you concerning Robert Blevins. I would love to see them at the DZ again. It really shows what Bryan thought about old liar Blevins. Blevins is so dishonest that he had to photoshop his Cooper Party participants. NO ONE ever goes to his parties.
      NO ONE!

      • Marla says:

        Agree with G23. Shutter, please post those Bryan Woodruff emails again. We all need to see how Bryan really felt about Blevins. Thank you.

  9. shutter45 says:

    I have a thread on my forum that has all the emails posted called “The Ariel Conflict”.

    • Marla says:

      Many thanks, Dave.

      • Johnnie Green says:

        ……..and now we know the reason why Skipp Porteous never met Robert Blevins, and never wanted to meet him. It’s the same reason no one else wants to meet Robert Blevins.

      • Marla says:

        Blevins is a very lovely man. Desperate for ANY attention. And that’s the way it will end for him.

      • Marla says:

        Uhhhh…..”LONELY” intended. He is not lovely at all. Homely……..maybe.
        Lol…

      • Gypsy23 says:

        ParrotheadVol:

        You haven’t learned your lesson, pal. When you talk to the mentally ill and actively engage them in a public manner, you get more insanity. And everyone else does too. STOP IT! Let the insane ramble with their long-winded nothingness to themselves. Your own sanity will be better served.

      • Gypsy23 says:

        Uhh, Shutter, as much as we love you here at MN, you too should note the advice given to ParrottheadVol above.
        Insane, infirm, incontinent, and incompetent individuals who are self-aggrandized contribute nothing to society. You too are wasting your time, and ours, by giving this idiot a paragraph of argument. Let him babble to himself, like dementia patients do.

      • Marla says:

        Lol….lol….lol…
        Best posts yet, Gypsy.
        Pretty well sums up the entire DZ…
        For the past 10 years.

  10. Marla says:

    Lol….lol….lol…
    Best posts yet, Gypsy.
    Pretty well sums up the entire DZ…
    For the past 10 years.

    • Johnnie Green says:

      The guy over at the DZ is completely wacked-out. Just repeats himself over and over like he has advanced Alzheimers. Could someone notify his mother about his condition or get ahold of Social Services Department in WA State and get someone over to AB Books and RG Janitorial and do a welfare check. The guy has some serious mental problems and needs assistance. Maybe he needs to be placed at the old folks home, in the lockdown unit.

      • Marla says:

        Flyjack and Shutter have put Blevins on “ignore.” Bruce Smith did that about 3 years ago. Ignoring the insane and mentally ill will get us back focused on the case. Thank you, Fly, Shut, and Uncle Brucie. You guys are heros.

      • Gypsy23 says:

        Let’s all do an “ignore campout.” We can get together and decide which mental asylum Blevins should get committed to. Gayla will give presentation. Bruce can summon the spirit of Skipp Porteous for an accurate accounting of Blevin’s thought process.

      • Marla says:

        I just off the phone with Skipp Porteous’ widow. A very nice lady, I might add. She informed me that Skipp had virtually very little to do with Robert Blevins. It was a hastily put together business arrangement in 2008 that Skipp regretted to his dying day. Skipp was so sorry that he ever got involved with the loser Blevins. Skipp added that Blevins tried to take advantage of Lyle Christianson and advance a fictitious story about Ken Christianson as DB Cooper. The book was a disaster and Skipp took a huge loss. His wife told me he would never meet with Blevins, and true to his word, he never did. Skipp called Blevins a person with little education and highly dubious publishing skills. Skipp was totally embarrassed to be associated with Robert Blevins

      • Johnnie Greene says:

        I can think of two people who are more stupid than Robert Blevins. Gayla and Greg Techie. One lives with Robert and the other is Robert’s only friend. And now you know who is really stupid.

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