DB Cooper – What if he didn’t jump?

By Bruce A. Smith

No one actually saw DB Cooper leave the plane, so we do not know with absolute certainty that he parachuted away. Is it possible that DB Cooper didn’t jump?

Did he crawl into a space above the lavatory or burrow his way into the cargo hold, re-appearing after the commotion in Reno dissipated, or joining the hub-bub dressed as a worker or FBI agent? Many people ask that question, so let’s explore the possibilities:

First, there is no known concrete evidence to support this hypothesis, but let’s not stop just because of that.

Secondly, exactly where did he stash himself? Was it big enough for his body and all of his gear? How did he pull the panels back into place and re-secure them? People familiar with the 727, such as Don Burnworth, say he could have hidden behind a door panel. One aficionado said Cooper could have hidden in the luggage compartment beneath the passenger cabin, as the two are connected on some versions of the aircraft. Others speculate Cooper hid in the compartments above the lavatory. FBI documents state that the feds looked in all the hidey-holes and didn’t find Cooper.

But even if he escaped detection, his getaway would still be problematic. Reno was filled with cops and FBI—at least two hundred—and media swarmed the area, so the chaos was great. This perspective lends credence to the notion that Cooper could have blended into the mix and slithered away.

But it was 11 pm, rainy, and temperatures were in the 30s in Reno, so Cooper would need to be dressed for the weather to blend in. Also, if he sneaked out, how did he get away from the airport? It’s unlikely that he rented a car. Take a bus? Was he picked up by an accomplice? How would the accomplice know the pick-up was in Reno?

Or, did Cooper stay on the plane until it went to its next destination, which was Boeing Field for repairs, according to the Washington State Museum of History, or Quantico, Virginia for more forensic testing, as Geoffrey Gray claims. Either way, how did Cooper deal with the cold and de-pressurization issues? Plus, the walk-away scenario gets dicier the longer he stays with the plane.

If Cooper walked away somewhere, did he take any money with him? In what? Even more problematic is the question of how the three bundles of his money landed at Tina Bar.

How about the rest of the evidence? Did Cooper take that, too, when he escaped at Boeing, or did he leave it all on the plane in his hiding place? Was it ever discovered? If not, why not? How big is the cover-up, then? How come the bomb-sniffing dogs never discovered Cooper or the bomb? Was it because the bomb was composed of road flares and there weren’t any explosive chemicals to detect? Or did Cooper compromise their nostrils by filling the pilots’ Styrofoam dinner containers with hot sauce, ruining the canines’ sense of smell? Plus, how did Cooper stash the coveralls and work coat that he would have needed later to blend into a crowd of workers at Reno?

But there is an Out-of-the-Box idea related to the above hypotheses, only reversed.

Did DB Cooper start his day in Washington, D.C., and pre-load his gear on the East Coast? Did he stash boots and a jump suit, radios and a reliable parachute in the overhead compartments, and then depart at the next stop and take a direct flight to Portland, arriving well before 305? Then, did he re-board 305 at PDX knowing that all the stuff he needed was already in place, and had the added good fortune to arrive undetected in Portland?

As a result, Cooper would have had lots of warm clothes, the exact parachutes he wanted, free of detection devices, and radios to contact his ground crew. Maybe a thermos of hot coffee and a ham sandwich or two.

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DB Cooper – An Introduction, from a nearly 50-year persective

By Bruce A. Smith

On Wednesday, November 24, 1971, the day before Thanksgiving, a middle-aged man named Dan Cooper – but who was later to be known as DB Cooper – hijacked a Northwest Orient 727 airliner as it departed Portland International Airport in Oregon. After landing in Seattle, the skyjacker exchanged the thirty-five passengers for $200,000 in cash – all twenties – and four parachutes. Cooper later used one of these chutes to make his escape via the plane’s unique internal stair system.

DB Cooper has never been seen since. We also don’t know who Cooper was or if he survived, and nothing has ever been found of the skyjacking. No parachutes, no body or clothes, nor any of the money except for $5,800 that a young boy found eight years later buried on a Columbia River beach. Adding to the intrigue, no one knows how the money got there or when.

The DB Cooper case is America’s only unsolved skyjacking despite hundreds of FBI agents hunting for Cooper, and their investigation has been termed “Norjak,” an amalgam of Northwest Orient Airlines hijacking.

But now the FBI seems willing to affirm that failure, since they officially closed the case on July 8, 2016.

When they terminated, the FBI claimed they had exhausted all credible leads and had collected all available evidence. But did they? Records show that they lost vital evidence over the years, and other tantalizing discoveries from citizen sleuths, such as pieces of titanium and other exotic metals detected on the necktie DB Cooper left on the plane, have never been commented upon publicly by the FBI. As a result, we don’t know how extensively they were examined by the Bureau, if at all.

Nevertheless, the FBI has declared that if anyone finds a twenty-dollar bill from the skyjacking, or has Cooper’s parachute, they want to know about it. So, the case is still “open,” in a back-door-kind-of-way.

As an investigative journalist, I am not satisfied with the FBI’s closure. Nor are many other journalists and dozens of citizen sleuths conducting active investigations. Some have even made breakthrough discoveries in the field, especially at the site of the money find. This book is a compendium of what I have observed in these multifaceted investigations, and it’s both a portrayal of an original, bold crime, and an exploration of the FBI’s investigation.

Yet, to evaluate the actions of the FBI accurately, it is necessary to understand the skyjacking. Cooper’s actions were straightforward.

On Thanksgiving Eve, DB Cooper commandeered Flight 305, an NWO 727 inbound to Seattle. He used a bomb in a briefcase for persuasion, and at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) he released the thirty-five passengers in exchange for the money and four parachutes – two main chutes and two reserves. After refueling, Cooper ordered the pilots to “fly to Mexico City,” and forty minutes later he jumped into the chilly November rains of southwestern Washington with his money in a sack tied around his waist. Since nothing substantive of the crime has ever been found and the skyjacker’s identity is still unknown, it seems as if DB Cooper came from “nowhere” and returned there when he jumped.

The skyjacking has amazed the world because it is history’s most daring act of skypiracy. Hundreds of airplanes had been hijacked prior, but they had been political and no one had done it strictly for the money. More dramatically, no one ever had jumped out of the plane on their getaway. In fact, DB Cooper revolutionized skyjacking because he was the first to exploit the unique design feature of the Boeing 727, an internal stair system that could be lowered in flight and used to make an escape.

The night of the skyjacking every FBI agent in the Seattle office, over thirty men, were deployed on the case securing the grounds of Sea-Tac, interviewing the passengers, or monitoring the actual hijacking via radio with the Seattle Center FAA tower. Several hours later, a dozen FBI agents and two-hundred local police awaited Cooper’s plane in Reno, Nevada when it landed for another refueling.

The next day, Thanksgiving, the FBI deployed the majority of its Seattle agents to Sea-Tac and the Portland airport (PDX) to gather evidence about Cooper. As a result, they had to out-source the actual ground search to local county sheriff’s departments. This effort was fragmented and slow to develop since the FBI and NWO weren’t certain where to look for Cooper. This occurred because the flight path and time of Cooper’s jump were hard to pinpoint, possibly due to the technical limitations of the radar systems in use.

Nevertheless, deputies from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office were tasked with combing the lands identified as the optimum choice for Cooper’s landing zone—Ariel and Amboy, Washington, an area 100 miles south of Seattle and 30 miles north of Portland. However, they didn’t enter the woods until Friday afternoon, giving Cooper a 40-hour head start over his pursuers. More troubling, the ground team only covered about ten-percent of their assigned area when the FBI canceled the search on Monday, November 29, 1971.

 However, the FBI had launched an aerial search over the Ariel-Amboy area, known as Landing Zone-A (LZ-A), at daylight on Thanksgiving morning, and had flown intermittently throughout the remainder of the holiday weekend. But these attempts were hampered by the fog, rain, and clouds so typical of the Pacific Northwest. Finally, after a massive one-day aerial surveillance of the entire flight path from Seattle to Reno on November 29, the FBI terminated all operations in LZ-A, citing the lack of any promising leads or evidence coming from the resources already devoted to the search for DB Cooper.

Nonetheless, the FBI resumed its ground search in LZ-A four months later in March 1972, when hundreds of soldiers and dozens of FBI agents returned to the fields and woodlands around Ariel. They searched for eighteen days in March and another eighteen in April, but they found nothing pertaining to the skyjacking.

Other mysteries abound in Norjak. The FBI’s top witness, flight attendant Tina Mucklow, disappeared from public view for over 30 years until discovered by researchers in 2010. In addition, Tina had spent twelve of those years in a cloistered convent in Eugene, Oregon, but even as she re-entered the world in 1991, she steadfastly refused to discuss the skyjacking. When I approached her in 2011 to discuss the case, she slammed the door in my face.

Additional aspects of the case are still shrouded in dispute, such as the flight path and what kind of parachute DB Cooper used. Bizarre elements have also surfaced, such as the seemingly inexplicable fact that over 900 people have confessed to being DB Cooper.

As for my entree into the Cooper saga, I did so in a curious manner. Initially, when Cooper hijacked his airliner, I was a 22-year old college student on Long Island, NY, and throughout my life I was aware of his iconic status in American folklore. But I’d never paid him much attention. After relocating to Washington, though, I found that DB Cooper was big news locally, and became reacquainted with the story when I covered an air show for the Pierce County (WA) Dispatch newspaper.

In August of 2008, while perusing dozens of vintage aircraft gathered at Thun Field in Puyallup, Washington, I was elated to see a beautifully restored Fairchild 24. This single-winged plane from the 1930s was the “Rolls-Royce” of private airplanes in its day. I loved building model airplanes when I was a kid, and the first balsa wood job I made was a Fairchild. Now, for the first time I was seeing one for real.

Sensing my appreciation, the owner, Ron Forman, approached and we started talking. After a few minutes in the broiling sun, Ron suggested we retreat to the shade under the Fairchild’s starboard wing. We camped in his lawn chairs, drank ice-cold cokes, and schmoozed.

After a few minutes I saw a book near his chair titled, DB Cooper… something… Legend… something… Death.

“Are you into DB Cooper, Ron?” I asked.

“Heck, yeah!” he replied. “My wife and I just wrote that book!”

For the rest of the afternoon Ron regaled me with his story. “Besides the Fairchild, my wife and I have a Cessna 140, and for years we’d fly on the weekends with a few other 140 pilots here at Thun Field. One of the pilots, Barb Dayton, confessed to being DB Cooper during one of our coffee breaks when we were arguing about the Cooper skyjacking. Our book is about her life and how she did the skyjacking.”

“Barb? I thought DB Cooper was a guy!” I roared.

“Yeah, he was, and Barb also told us that she was the first person in Washington State to get a sex-change operation. Before 1969, she was Bobby Dayton.”

So right at the beginning, I knew the DB Cooper story was going to be a wild ride.

As Ron continued, I learned that Barb/Bobby was a skydiver and an exceptionally skilled pilot. In addition, she was an explosives expert and daredevil, and had worked aboard Vietnam-bound ammunition ships in the 1960s before her “gender-reassignment surgery.” One night in Saigon, Bobby killed a Viet Cong sapper with his bare hands during a late-night sneak attack. Bobby had also fought in World War II with indigenous head-hunters in the jungles of Borneo against the Japanese. Bobby had even been chased by a grizzly in the Yukon while panning for gold.

Wow, what a story, I thought, and Ron and I spent the rest of the day talking about Barb and Cooper. From what I’ve gleaned, it seems Barb did the skyjacking to prove to herself that she still had cajones.

 “Barb would tell us all these incredible stories that we only half-believed,” said Ron. “But when she died in 2002, my wife and I started checking everything out and it all proved true except the DB Cooper confession, which we haven’t confirmed, yet. For that we need a DNA analysis from the FBI, but they won’t give it to us. They won’t even return our phone calls or emails—not a single one!”

I found such resistance troubling. Doesn’t the FBI want to hear a confession from DB Cooper?

So, I decided to see what was wrong with the Bureau. Plus, I wanted to learn more about the remarkable Ms. Dayton. Ron educated me on the basics of Norjak, arming me with the contact information for many of the individuals discussed in this book.

But I encountered some of the same obstacles Ron had discovered. Although I was never able to speak with the original Norjak case agent, Charlie Farrell, due to his passing in 2007, I did contact Ralph Himmelsbach, the FBI’s chief skyjacking investigator in Portland where the hijacking started. But Himmelsbach refused to discuss the case with me unless I paid him $600. In lieu of speaking with Himmelsbach, I read his book, NORJAK: The Investigation of DB Cooper; and I spoke to him briefly in 2011 when I simply drove up to his house and begged for answers to a handful of questions.

More unyielding was Himmelsbach’s counterpart in Seattle, Norjak case agent Ron Nichols—the fellow in charge of the case when the money was found, and Farrell’s successor. Nichols has been totally unresponsive to my phone calls, emails, and letters.

But I did speak with one active Norjak official, Special Agent Larry Carr, the Cooper case agent from 2007–2010. My twenty-minute interview in 2008 was memorable because he bullied me throughout our conversation with derisive comments and interruptions. However, I did receive plenty of valuable information.

Organizationally, I have also been rebuffed. Prior to 2016, the Bureau denied me access to all files and evidence, although it had opened at least a few of its doors to other private citizens, such as Gray, researcher Tom Kaye and his group of Citizen Sleuths, and attorney Galen Cook.

Fortunately, after the closure in 2016, official FBI documents are increasingly finding their way into researchers’ hands since ownership of all Cooper case files has transferred to the public domain. The FBI remains the gatekeeper to these documents, but they no longer exercise the same informational control. An estimated 70,000 files have been put into the public’s hands since 2016 – often selectively, however.

My Freedom of Information Affidavit (FOIA) to the FBI in 2016 was denied, as have other FOIAs from numerous journalists. But academicians who have received documents via their FOIAs have been forwarding their files to certain journalists, most notably Thomas J. Colbert, and he in turn has been funneling them to public research outlets, such as the DB Cooper Forum.

This treasure trove consists of memoranda, summary reports, and most importantly, the 302 field reports from FBI agents. These latter documents are often raw and in conflict with each other, but they are the quintessential source of information in the DB Cooper case.

The FBI has established a “Vault” on their website, where one can read highly redacted versions of these files. However, the organization of the records is poor, and navigating them is difficult, particularly if one is looking for information on a specific subject.

Ironically, the FBI closed their Norjak investigation just as DB Cooper had become resurgent in the public’s mind due to technological advances, especially the advent of the Internet and the use of DNA to evaluate suspects. Plus, a multitude of deathbed confessions have added to the list of Cooper candidates.

Nonetheless, during the years before the Bureau terminated Norjak, the FBI’s blockade of the Cooper case files was troubling because it was increasingly evident from the work of the independent citizen sleuths that the FBI’s Cooper investigation was flawed. Arguably, it was compromised or even corrupted, possibly sabotaged by political pressures. 

The most damning fact is the FBI’s loss of its most critical piece of evidencethe eight cigarettes butts Cooper left on the plane. These items contained his dried saliva, which was the ideal substance to reveal the skyjacker’s DNA. Worse, the butts were not secured in the evidence locker at the FBI’s Seattle office, which should have been the repository for such important artifacts. Rather, they were stored in Las Vegas due to an apparent bureaucratic turf battle. Worst though, the cigarette butts apparently went missing only after their true value was realized. Case agent Larry Carr acknowledged that the butts “had been processed in 2003,” but subsequently lost. Adding to this disaster, the written scientific findings of the “processing” are also missing.

Similarly, a Norjak FBI agent, Jeremy Blauser, vanished shortly after his assignment to the case in 2006. Since he was based in Los Angeles, this raises the question if a second, “shadow,” investigation was being conducted alongside the official one being run by Carr in Seattle.

Also troubling, the evidence found on the necktie DB Cooper supposedly left behind – in particular shards of titanium, bismuth, and several rare earth metals – have not been investigated by the FBI, apparently. Fortunately, this evidence is being examined by the private scientists who found them, a group of citizen sleuths recruited by Carr in 2009.

But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the hunt for DB Cooper has been the murder of the FBI’s parachute expert, Earl J. Cossey. Cossey was a key figure in assessing Cooper’s skydiving abilities for the FBI, but over the years Cossey told plenty of lies and half-truths to the public. Now, many aficionados wonder if he was killed because his deceitfulness placed the FBI in an unfavorable light.

The problems within the FBI’s investigation are many. Besides the missing cop and a dead consultant, red flags include seemingly minor aspects of the case, such as the Bureau’s inability to pinpoint Cooper’s exact landing area. Also, basic police procedures were not followed, such as establishing road blocks or check points in Cooper’s suspected landing zone on the night of the skyjacking.

As a news reporter I have long known that law enforcement is leery of the media. In effect, the police merely view us as a way to distribute their side of the story to the public, and they rarely discuss complex cases with journalists. Adding to the silence has been the FBI’s policy of refusing to send an agent to professional Norjak gatherings, such as the DB Cooper Symposium in Portland, the 2013 “COOPER” Symposium in Tacoma hosted by the Washington State Historical Museum, and the now-annual CooperCon gatherings organized by private resear4cher Eric Ulis and held in Portland since 2018.

More troubling, for the duration its Norjak investigation the FBI withheld critical information from some agents and between field offices. At times, it even appeared as though no one was in charge of the DB Cooper case, and it was mostly an “every-man-for-himself” type of operation. Part of that was due to the nature of how J. Edgar Hoover had structured his FBI in the 1970s.

Allegedly, Hoover gave field agents cash bonuses for solving high-profile cases, which motivated investigators to become very competitive, and thus highly selective with whom they shared information. In addition, case agents were given a lot of administrative leeway and ran their investigations like a fiefdom, a practice that continues to this day. This compartmentalization extended to how field offices interacted with each other, and as a result, the Bureau has struggled to solve complex cases that involve multiple jurisdictions. This modus operandi continues to exist in the current era, as we saw in 9-11 when the FBI had trouble “connecting the dots,” as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice famously reported.

Specifically, three main FBI offices shared investigatory responsibilities for Norjak: Portland, where the skyjacking began and some of the ransom money was later found; Seattle, where the ransom exchange took place and the on-going skyjacking was managed; and Las Vegas, which supplied the agents for the evidence retrieval in Reno, and where selected items were stored, such as the cigarette butts.

Later, as a dozen Cooper copycats began hijacking airplanes, other jurisdictions became involved in the Cooper investigation, particularly Salt Lake City when Richard McCoy hijacked a commercial flight in April 1972. At the time, McCoy was considered a prime suspect for the DB Cooper skyjacking also, so a fourth field office landed solidly into the Norjak mix.

In addition, the case is huge, filling rooms with documents. So, it is understandable that the record-keeping became untidy. But the Norjak information has been so disorganized, contradictory, or confusing that Cooper case agents appear befuddled when they appear before a TV crew. Case agent Larry Carr, who relished speaking publicly about Cooper, routinely presented a haphazard view of Cooper’s actions, or the role Earl Cossey played in the Bureau’s investigation.

Further, it appears from cross-checking Bureau documents that Norjak investigators did not read many of the 302s already in the case files, and relied mostly on anecdotal narratives passed down from case agent to another, much like chieftains revealing tribal lore to young warriors. Additionally, Cooper case agents were rotated every few years, which eroded the continuity of case management. Further, today’s agents don’t have any first-hand knowledge of Norjak and stumble when identifying principals in the case. Before 2016, the mess had been so endemic that the FBI asked journalists for the phone numbers of witnesses to the skyjacking. With such a muddle, rumors of a cover-up engineered by Big Money and Big Power come as no surprise.

Welcome to one of America’s greatest true-crime mysteries. Has there been a cover-up? Frankly, I don’t know.

Could the FBI’s investigation have been squashed by powerful sources claiming “national security” concerns or other geopolitical influences? That is certainly a possibility. Was the FBI just sloppy, overwhelmed, or unlucky? Maybe, but I find those scenarios hard to accept.

Could Cooper have outsmarted the FBI and the feds just don’t want the public to know? That’s too tough for me to swallow, too.

Or did Mother Nature simply stuff Cooper into a tiny hole somewhere in the wilds of Washington along with his parachutes, the money, and a bomb in a briefcase, and no one has found him yet? Possibly, for I’ve seen that anything can happen in nature.

Regardless, I feel this is a story for our times because it shows how law enforcement truly functions. Unfortunately, the FBI is not as effective as portrayed on TV. The heroes of Hollywood’s cop shows do not exist in the main, and the FBI is a huge bureaucracy that has trouble solving innovative crimes, especially if they involve multiple jurisdictions.

Nevertheless, the FBI investigated over 1,100 suspects until it closed Norjak. However, it was also sleepy. For much of its 45-year tenure Norjak was “inactive,” according to the Bureau’s long-standing public information officer (PIO) in Seattle, Ayn Dietrich-Williams, and other PIOs, such as Dorwin Schreuder in Portland.

But even though this book is about the FBI as much as it is DB Cooper, I don’t solve the case or prove a conspiracy. I just offer my findings of who said what and why. It’s also my effort through truth-telling to deliver a measure of justice to the incompetent, the hubristic, and the power-hungry. So, follow me through the details of this astounding crime and come to your own conclusions.

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DB Cooper – Assessing the FBI’s investigation

By Bruce A. Smith

The FBI is arguably the world’s best investigatory organization. So, why can’t they solve the DB Cooper case?

I asked former SA Gary Tallis that question, and his reply surprised me: “Because they haven’t found a body. If we had a body, all the answers would follow.”

But what happens to an investigation when there isn’t a body? Add to that conundrum, how should the FBI proceed when they have so little tangible evidence? It’s not an easy job, I admit. Losing evidence doesn’t help, either. But large bureaucracies have screw-ups, lose stuff, and have less-than-adequate agents sprinkled throughout the organization, even at managerial levels. So, after their 46 years of investigating DB Cooper, how did they do? And what can happen from this point forward?

Scanning through the issues, we can identify particular people, places, and events that have been problematic. Some items might have resolution, some might not. But first, let’s talk about the Bureau’s successes:

What the FBI did right:

I say the Bureau did all the basics fairly well – securing the airliner and airport perimeters on the night of the skyjacking, interviewing airport employees to ascertain where Cooper came from and when, and debriefing the passengers at Sea-Tac and the crew in Reno. Later, the FBI did what it does so well – a massive, blanket investigation of person’s named Cooper, skydivers and SOG troopers who could have done the jump, and all those lovelorn fellas that got thrown under the bus by their broken-hearted ladies.

The dig at Tina Bar was conducted adequately, in general, as all evidence indicates that the search was done thoughtfully and comprehensively. Yes, they could have taken more pictures, especially of the shards.

Larry Carr’s actions are stellar, as well. Establishing the Citizen Sleuths was superb, as was his posting on DB Cooper chat rooms.

But there is room for improvement. High on the list is lost evidence or poorly collected evidence, such as the fingerprints. Here’s a specific list:

Deficiencies in the Investigation

   1. Cigarette Butts

       – Where are they?

       – If lost, is anyone looking for them?

       – Were they processed for DNA analysis, as indicated by case agent Larry Carr?

       – If so, where is the paperwork?

   2. Clip-on Tie

       – Why did it reportedly enter the Seattle evidence cache four days after the hijacking?

       – Where was it for that time?

       – Was the chain of custody broken?

       – What does it mean that no one involved in the evidence retrieval in Reno, specifically Tina Mucklow, Red Campbell, Jack Ricks, John Norris, and Alf Stousland, could remember the tie when questioned in the 1980s by Bernie Rhodes?

       – To what extent, if any, did the FBI follow-up on the Citizen Sleuth’s discovery of                   titanium and rare earth minerals on the tie, beginning in 2009? Why isn’t that a            priority now?

3. Reno, fingerprints

       – Who conducted the fingerprint search aboard 305?

       – How many prints were obtained in that search?

       – Why weren’t the “In-flight” magazines gathered into evidence?

            – Have any reconstructions of the fingerprints been undertaken?

4. Reno, behaviors of FBI agents

       – What caused the memories of the agents on evidence retrieval to be forgetful, fuzzy or in conflict with each other?

       – Were these agents “victims of some strange post-hypnotic suggestion,” as Bernie           Rhodes has written?

       – Did MKULTRA play a part in Norjak?

5. Ground Search

       –  Why was the ground search of LZ-A called off on Monday, November 29, 1971?               Afterall, the ground teams only covered one square mile out of dozens potentially.

       – Why did Seattle FO tell FBI HQ that there was too much snow on the ground to            continue, when there was no snow reported in the LZ-A by local officials.

6. SOG and 727s

       – What was the complete role of 727s in the Vietnam War?

       – Were they used to deploy soldiers into combat?

       – Did any combat units utilize techniques similar to those of DB Cooper, ie: jumping                    from a 727 with flaps at 15, gear down and locked, etc.?

7. Money Retrieval

       – How many shards of money were found at Tina Bar?

       – Where are they, currently, especially the larger ones in the 2-3-inch category?

       – Did the FBI find part of DB Cooper’s briefcase at Tina Bar, as reported by PIO Dorwin Schreuder?

       – Why was the money found in a highly compressed state?

       – What kinds of follow-up were done along the Columbia River, i.e.: fishermen                        interviewed, other sites dug-up, etc.?

       – What does the discovery of springtime diatoms on the money mean?

8. Richard McCoy

       – What was he doing in Las Vegas on November 24–25, 1971?

       – What was he doing there on November 2–3, 1971?

       – How did he learn the details of hijacking an airplane?

       – What was his relationship with “Dan Cooper?”

       – Why does the Seattle FO accept McCoy’s alibi that he was home with family on            Thanksgiving, refuting the findings from Salt Lake City FBI agents?

       – How did he get that $6,000 in late 1971 that funded his family’s trip to North Carolina?

9. Radar Findings and Flight Path Issues

       – Why is the Flight Path still in doubt? Why was Cliff Ammerman never interviewed by any FBI agent?

       – What did SAGE radar record the night of November 24, 1971?

       – Why do the Seattle transcripts have over one-dozen redactions?

       – Did the F-106s and the T-33 following Flight 305 have any radar findings of Cooper or  his jump? If not, why not?

       – Why did NORAD tell Major Dawson to “back off” the F-106s, and pull out the chaff?

10. Earl Cossey

       – What was the true role of Earl Cossey in the Norjak investigation?

       – Did he actually own the “back” parachutes delivered to the hijacker, as he claimed?

       – Did Cossey influence the FBI’s perspective that Cooper was an inexperienced skydiver?

      – Why did the FBI flip-flop on their assessment of Cooper’s skills?

       – Why was Cossey murdered? Why is that crime still unsolved?

11. Care of Evidence

       – Why weren’t pictures taken of the parachutes?

       – Why weren’t pictures taken at Tina Bar of the shards, and the specific activities of the money retrieval, like the beach slope, the actual location, close-ups of shards buried at three-feet, etc.

12. Suspects: Unanswered Questions –

       – Why was Robert Rackstraw dismissed as a suspect in 1979 after the FBI arrested him in Paris, France on his return to the United States from Iran.

       – Did E. Howard Hunt, or someone like him, play a role in Norjak?

12. What was the full impact of the DB Cooper skyjacking?

       – Did it affect national politics?

       – Did it enhance the efforts to federalize airline safety?

13. Would the FBI be willing to participate in a public debriefing of Norjak?

       – Will the FBI send agents such as Larry Carr and Curtis Eng to CooperCon 2021 to                     anchor a panel discussion assessing the FBI’s investigation?

Lastly, why aren’t these questions enough to re-open the case? How can the FBI reasonably walk away from Norjak with this amount of outstanding doubt?

We may always have the issue of a cover-up, of a federal conspiracy to keep the public knowing the truth of Norjak. Certainly, there have been numerous instances of sloppy police work; systemic deficiencies within the FBI, such as Hoover’s rigid model of case management; and problematic decision-making. But does that mean there is an actual attempt to prevent us from knowing the truth of DB Cooper?

I don’t know. I have no direct evidence that supports a cover up. But Norjak does seem compromised. Is it true that the FBI ran out of credible leads and examined all available evidence by 2016 when they closed the case? If so, they should be able to answer all the above questions.

Besides these specific concerns, perhaps the greatest issue in Norjak is the failure of leadership. This issue has impacted the case in every dimension. At times, no one seemed to be in complete command of Norjak—certainly not in the early stages of the investigation. Farrell was in charge of Seattle-based activities, Manning on the ground near Ariel, Mattson in Portland and later Himmelsbach; and then Campbell and his Las Vegas-based crew in Reno.

But why didn’t Charlie Farrell jump on a plane and fly to Reno to ensure the proper retrieval of evidence, thus minimizing the predictable bureaucratic turf battles that followed?

Additionally, Farrell and his team worked in secrecy. The public knows little of his work. Farrell is reported to have penned a 300-page account of his experiences in Norjak, and Geoffrey Gray says he has read it. But my efforts to obtain access to a copy have been met by resistance from the Farrell family.

Similarly, the Norjak case agent at the time of the money find, Ron Nichols, remains totally silent on the money find, shards, and their documentation. More disturbing, why didn’t Nichols jump in his car and drive the three hours to T-Bar to supervise the money recovery? Further, why did his boss appear at T-Bar three days into the dig, Seattle ASAC Jack Pringel?

Nichols’ failures are coupled with the stonewalling from Himmelsbach on the money controversies, making the whole situation unacceptable.

If Norjak was too big a case for a single agent, why wasn’t a Task Force developed? True, a quasi-force was formed in 1975 when they met in San Francisco and determined the jump zone was ten miles south of their initial estimates. But why wasn’t this group formalized to continue a joint, comprehensive investigation?

Another example of poor supervision was the care given to the evidence stored in Seattle. Before being shipped to HQ in 2016, the main pieces were stored loosely in a cardboard box that looked like it once held knickknacks from someone’s attic. Concerns over the chain of custody pepper Norjak as well, such as the clip-on tie being torn apart by the Citizen Sleuths. It appears they were able to review physical evidence without any FBI agent present, although Alan Stone refutes that assumption.

Nevertheless, these breaks in the chain of custody are serious concerns. DB Cooper aficionado Mark Metzler, an attorney in the Bay Area, offers a cogent view of the matter:

    “The FBI has been amazingly cavalier about the handling of physical evidence (in         Norjak). It’s not normal practice. As a defense lawyer, when I had my experts examine physical evidence or run lab tests the prosecution enforced strict protocols so that the custody chain was unbroken and fully documented and that contamination or alteration of evidence was prevented.

    “Even in minor cases this was how things were handled. I represented a ghetto bar     owner who the cops hated. He was arrested for serving alcohol to a minor. It was a major hassle just to get a sample of the drink which was preserved. My lab had to sign for the sample and document its handling at every step. The prosecution wisely only gave my lab a portion of the sample so that they had a control if my findings were later to be disputed. My client got really lucky. My lab tested zero alcohol. When the police lab repeated their test, they found the same thing. Case dismissed.

    “It might be that the FBI has some undisclosed evidence that has been very carefully     handled and that is highly probative in identifying Cooper, enough so that a conviction could be secured without any other evidence. Cigarette butts might fit this description. It just makes no sense that they would be ‘lost.’

   “Peterson, a highly qualified suspect, was ruled out on DNA. Maybe it wasn’t tie             DNA but cigarette DNA, which would be more confidently linked to DB Cooper.”

In addition, there was an uncanny passivity to the FBI’s work at times. Ralph Himmelsbach never interviewed Tina even though she moved to the Portland area after the skyjacking for medical treatment and then spent decades in Eugene, just two hours south. Is this a proper handling of a primary witness in a major case? More troubling, Himmelsbach’s book reveals—and Dorwin Schreuder confirms—that for much of the Norjak era the Portland FO had a reactionary stance to the investigation, and only responded to leads as they came in to the office. Similarly, Seattle agents, such as Bob Sale and Sid Rubin, have also indicated that the Cooper case was near-dormant in the Seattle FO between the money find in 1980 and the resurgence in the late 1990s.

Further, did silence on the details of the case really serve the investigation? Why didn’t a single FBI agent attend the DB Cooper Symposium in 2011 or 2013 or the CooperCons in 2018 and 2019? What did that avoidance achieve? What kind of investigatory integrity did that maintain?

At times, it appears that FBI agents don’t talk with one another, either, even when working on the same case. Researcher Galen Cook has a telling story on this subject:

    Seems like the NORJAK agents die by the vine, but DB Cooper lives on. The Bureau must hate that. No one ever hears from Carr since he left. He e-mailed me about six months after I started talking with Eng, but Eng wasn’t too enthused that I was still talking with Carr about the case. Led me to believe that the agents aren’t necessarily on the same page, and rather territorial of their own turf, even among other agents.

Part of this non-sharing with fellow agents was fostered by J. Edgar Hoover. As discussed previously, Hoover awarded cash bonuses to agents who busted tough cases, so field agents had an incentive not to share since it could cost them money. Plus, we have the pressures seeping from the mundane area of internal politics: promotions based upon performance, and assignments determined by one’s status within the office.

As for my relationship with FBI agents, when I ask questions beyond their initial set story they balk. I call it the “One and Done” scenario. I get one good interview—usually a recitation of their well-rehearsed narrative—then, nothing. Follow-up phone calls and emails go unanswered. Thus, I strongly suspect that what I was told initially was a spin job, and they don’t want me to scratch beneath the surface.

More troubling, formal communications with the FBI become seriously strained in 2015 when I was informed the FBI had a new policy for communicating with journalists. Simply, the FBI stopped talking to anyone about Norjak unless the contact was specifically authorized. After years of exchanging increasingly opaque emails with PIO Ayn Dietrich-Williams, she finally stated the obvious on December 7, 2015:

    “The FBI’s media policy prohibits discussing ongoing investigations unless a release is specifically thought to have potential benefit to the investigation.

    “…I understand your continued interest in our investigation and apologize that I will not be able to share additional information to answer your questions.”

Nevertheless, I have not abandoned all hope in the FBI, and I will be providing them with a “Special Edition” of this book, complete with phone numbers and contact information for all of the major figures of the case. At least then, the Bureau will have a comprehensive overview of the case for future investigators to consult.

Of course, they can call me anytime for assistance.

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DB Cooper – Early Suspects, and the Cooper Vortex

By Bruce A. Smith

Newly released FBI documents have shed new light on the early suspects in the DB Cooper case. Here are some of the latest findings:

Besides the hundreds of confessions, there have been over a thousand suspects investigated in Norjak. Geoffrey Gray pegs the number of suspects at 1,100, and has amusingly shown that a large number of them were the result of romances gone off the rails. Gray intimates that many women thought a felonious accusation was cheaper than a divorce—or better payback. Of note, none of the FBI’s investigations of these suspects are part of their documentation transfer into private hands, nor are any posted at the FBI’s DB Cooper Vault.

However, as we examine Norjak suspects we find something similar to the confessees—a psychological pressure from the families to have their loved one be DB Cooper. It’s a pull so strong that people who would be repelled normally by a criminal investigation actually welcome it. It is as if the fame and glory of Norjak warps people’s judgment, fuzzes their memory, or makes them hungry for money and fame. It’s one more manifestation of the “Cooper Vortex.”

Despite the torrent of leads from angry ex-lovers, the FBI focused more on ex-cons in the early stages of the investigation. Two felons garnered sharp attention. The first was John List, and he was a doozy. List murdered his entire family—his wife, three kids and an 82-year old mother -and he stole $200,000 from his dead mother’s bank account, which generated the initial suspicion from Norjak officials. List was arrested for the murders and theft in 1989 and admitted to these crimes, but he denied any connection to the skyjacking. He died in prison in 2008.

After List, the second ex-con investigated was Bryant “Jack” Coffelt, a long-time criminal who died in 1975, but seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of the Cooper skyjacking. During the late 1940s and early 1950’s, Coffelt served a stint for auto theft in the Atlanta Penitentiary, where he met a former Air Force pilot named James Brown. Coffelt and Brown became best friends and were released in 1952 and 1955, respectively. After their release, Brown followed the straight-and-narrow and became an engineer and started a family. Coffelt in turn, gave up robbery and put his energies towards Big Cons in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

In 1974 Coffelt called Brown and enticed him to go on a road trip to Mount Hood, Oregon to look for DB Cooper’s money. Coffelt also insisted that James bring his 19 year-old son, Byron, since Coffelt was 57 years-old and he felt they needed some young blood to search the wilderness. The elder Brown agreed.

In the summer of 1974, James and Byron left their home in Georgia, picked up Coffelt in his hometown of Joplin, Missouri, and headed to Oregon. Along the way, Coffelt confessed to being DB Cooper. However, he refrained from answering too many questions from the Browns, who were certainly curious, but increasingly felt concerned that they might be arrested for assisting in the skyjacking after-the-fact.

For a few weeks they scoured the eastern slopes of Mount Hood. They found the burnt remnants of a parachute that Coffelt said he had torched with a magnesium mixture upon landing, but they didn’t find the money. Coffelt said he had placed the ransom inside a large plastic bag, then with cords cut from the reserve chute he cinched the top of the container closed, and made a long sling that he looped over his shoulder. However, when his parachute opened violently, the green sack slipped off his shoulder and was lost in the forest below.

As they searched, the tensions between Coffelt and James Brown escalated and Coffelt left abruptly, but not before he told the Browns that he had three accomplices who might be also looking for the money. The next day, two pick-up trucks roared into their campsite west of Friend, Oregon, and the Browns quickly left.

However, in 1983 Byron published a lengthy magazine article about their adventure in the Las Vegan Magazine. He also included years-worth of research on Jack Coffelt and Norjak, and in 1977 made another trip back to Oregon to check-out details of Coffelt’s story. Bryon found the huge searchlight that Coffelt said was manned by one of the accomplices that was positioned in a cabin in the Pine Hollow Resort about twenty miles south of Mt. Hood. Coffelt said that he had instructed Flight 305 to head towards the search light, thus putting him on a predictable flight path. Coffelt also said that he had stashed a jeep in the woods with provisions and medical supplies, but Byron was unable to locate it.

Nevertheless, Bryon was able to confirm from the local Sheriff’s Department that unexplained burnings of hay bales had occurred at the edge of the foothills of Mount Hood during the skyjacking period. That aligned with the story Coffelt told that a second accomplice was burning bales to outline the LZ in the westernmost wheat fields west of Friend. Byron also found several residents of Friend, OR and the Pine Hollow area who remember seeing Coffelt in the area during the 1971-1972 period, when Coffelt said that he had first started looking for his lost loot.

In addition, Byron says he interviewed Tina Mucklow, Florence Schaffner, and passenger George Labissoniere. Florence confirmed the 1974 photos of Coffelt that Byron showed her, exclaiming: “Oh my God! Where did you get those? I never thought I would see that face again. It’s him! My God, it’s him.”

George Labissoniere not only confirmed the 1974 pictures of Coffelt to be DB Cooper, but also an earlier photo from a stint in the Leavenworth Penitentiary. In fact, when Byron showed him the picture, Labissoniere said that the FBI had showed him the same photograph six weeks after the skyjacking. So, the FBI had an eyewitness confirmation to DB Cooper by the end of 1971, but no official records are available to these claims.

Byron also writes that Florence confirmed many strange details of the skyjacking that Coffelt told the Browns in 1974, but are in stark contrast to the official narrative, such as Cooper wearing white gloves during the skyjacking, and putting on hiking boots before he jumped. Florence also claimed that she, not Tina, spent the majority of time during the skyjacking with DB Cooper. Byron also says that Tina confirmed the Coffelt details when he spoke with her in 1977 in San Diego.

Byron also writes that Coffelt told him in 1974 that he threw out $5,000 worth of bills before he jumped because they didn’t fit into his plastic green bag. Coffelt said that he tossed the bundles out the door somewhere around a dam on the Columbia that he could see by its lights. Byron assumes those are the bundles that Brian Ingram found eight years later at Tina Bar.

But the whole narrative is too hard to swallow, and suggests that Jack Coffelt was conning the Browns, or that Byron Brown added his own con to Jack’s initial one. Currently Byron Brown is impossible to locate, and Florence and Tina aren’t talking at all.

Additionally, Coffelt was dismissed by the FBI, according to Ralph Himmelsbach. “We were certain that Coffelt was not Cooper, and that an opportunist was trying “to score,’ without any basis in fact,” wrote Himmelsbach in NORJAK, giving early notice to the presence of the Vortex.

However, one early suspect has lingered to this day, Ted Mayfield, who enjoyed a revival in 2006 when two Oregonian sleuths, Matt Meyers and Dan Dvorak, drew sharp attention to him.

Mayfield was former Special Forces, a skydiving champion and pilot. He also owned a skydiving school, the Pacific Parachuting Center.

In addition, Mayfield had an impressive criminal history. In 1994, he was convicted on two counts of negligent homicide stemming from the deaths of a pair of his skydiving students. Equally troubling is a report that Mayfield’s Pacific Parachuting school had thirteen skydiving fatalities during his tenure. Further, he had been found guilty of transporting a stolen airplane across state lines, and along the way he lost his parachute rigging certificate from the FAA for packing improprieties. In 2010, Mayfield got pinched again for flying without a proper license. Lastly, as a young man Mayfield had been convicted for the armed robbery of a grocery store,

According to Ralph Himmelsbach, Mayfield had been such a bad egg that he was allegedly fingered as DB Cooper by six different callers to the FBI on the night of the hijacking. In fact, written notes from NWO’s George Harrison reveal that Mayfield was targeted while Flight 305 was still winging its way to Reno.

More impressively, Mayfield was already well-known to Himmelsbach because the FBI agent had a “run-in” with some of Mayfield’s skydiving staff at the Aurora State Airport.

This small airport southeast of Portland is where Himmelsbach parked his private plane, and at issue was the failure of Mayfield’s people to comply with proper taxiing procedures and causing unsafe conditions.

Astonishingly, Mayfield called Himmelsbach the night of the skyjacking to offer his assistance, making Himmelsbach, in effect, his alibi. However, the agent also turned to Mayfield for some level of assistance in the Cooper investigation. In his book NORJAK, Himmelsbach praised Mayfield for being “most helpful,” although it is not clear what contributions Mayfield made to the FBI. But later Himmelsbach did describe Mayfield as assisting him in identifying certain skydivers being put forward as Cooper suspects. Himmelsbach specifically stated that Mayfield was helpful for his “comments that night, and other conversations we had later when he assisted us in the investigation.”

But such pronouncements make me curious. Why did Himmelsbach maintain a relationship with an ex-con like Mayfield, particularly since he already had bad business with him? Couldn’t Himmelsbach get a more trustworthy skydiver to identify local jumpers? Seeking answers, I called Mayfield at his Oregon home in November 2009. When I identified myself however, he hung up on me, but not before saying, “No thanks. I always get wracked over the coals every time when I talk about this stuff.”

Digging more deeply, I interviewed a Seattle-area skydiving official in 2013, Bill Jeswine, the former manager of the Issaquah Sky Sports Center. Jeswine told me that he was summoned to help run the Pacific Parachuting Center when Mayfield went to jail, and he described the conditions at the facility as “horrible.”

But the similarities between Mayfield and DB Cooper were all behavioral. Physically, Mayfield was too short and had little of Cooper’s bodily characteristics. Specifically, Mayfield was in his twenties—much too young to be the skyjacker. In addition, his attitude was so pugnacious that in YouTube clips he walked with a strut reminiscent of Danny DeVito’s character in “Other People’s Money.” Surely, the passengers and flight attendants would have noticed such a prominent personality trait.

Sadly, Mayfield died in August 2015 from injuries suffered while working on a vintage aircraft at his Sheridan, Oregon airport. He was 79 years old.

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DB Cooper – Re-visiting Tina Mucklow, the primary witness to the skyjacking that has never been solved

By Bruce A. Smith

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming 3rd Edition of DB Cooper and the FBI – A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking:

Tina Mucklow is the most enigmatic figure in the DB Cooper saga. Even though she is the prime witness to the skyjacking, she hid from public view for thirty years until a bevy of journalists and private investigators discovered her whereabouts in 2010. Continue reading

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DB Cooper – An Overview

By Bruce A. Smith

From the 3rd Edition of DB Cooper and the FBI – A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking, due to be published in early 2021.


On the day before Thanksgiving in 1971, DB Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient 727 airliner just after leaving Portland International Airport in Oregon. Upon landing in Seattle, the skyjacker exchanged the thirty-five passengers for $200,000 in cash and four parachutes, and later used one of those chutes to make his escape via the plane’s unique internal aftstair system. Continue reading

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DB Cooper – Citizen Sleuth Chief publishes break-through findings of new evidence on the Tina Bar money

By Bruce A. Smith

Tom Kaye, the leader of the Citizen Sleuths, an investigatory group formed by FBI Special Agent Larry Carr in 2009, has made a major new discovery in the DB Cooper case. He has found specialized diatoms – little aquatic creatures that live in river water – on one of the twenty-dollar bills recovered from the skyjacker’s ransom in 1980.

Kaye’s findings were published this week in the prestigious Scientific Reports. As such, they are triggering a wave of new interest in the DB Cooper case. Further, they reverse or clarify earlier findings about the relationship between the bills and diatoms. Since it is a complex issue, I am posting the full chapter on the work of the Citizen Sleuths to illuminate the broader context of Kaye’s findings. Continue reading

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DB Cooper – Controversy continues concerning the flight path

By Bruce A. Smith

Note: Recent postings at the DB Cooper Forum indicate that the flight path issue for DB Cooper is not resolved. As a result, I offer the following excerpt from my forthcoming edition of DB Cooper and The FBI – A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking.

Analysis of the Flight Path, Weather, and Clothing

 The Traditional Flight Path

The flip-side of the parachute examination is: Where did Cooper land, even if he died upon impact? The key to answering that question is knowing where Flight 305 was when Cooper exited the plane, and for that we need precise information on the flight path and the time of the jump. Surprisingly these issues are not fully resolved, which begs another question: why not? Is it due simply to the turgidity of bureaucracy? Or is there a cover-up? Continue reading

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DB Cooper – A retrospective on the development of the sketches

By Bruce A. Smith

Note: The following is an excerpt from my upcoming 3rd Edition of DB Cooper and the FBI – A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking

Sketches of DB Cooper

The first drawing of DB Cooper, known as “Composite A,” was developed by the FBI immediately after the skyjacking and was created by one of their top-notch sketch artists, Roy Rose. Continue reading

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DB Cooper – an update on recent suspects, 2013 to the present

By Bruce A. Smith

Although the DB Cooper case is over forty years-old, the suspects keep coming and one of the enduring mysteries of this case is how many middle-aged Caucasian men didn’t appear for Thanksgiving dinner in 1971. Continue reading

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