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The Latest on Tena Bar

Video of some original TV broadcasts from the FBI dig at Tena (Tina) Bar was released on YouTube. It was later taken down, but the video vindicated much of what has been told to us by FBI agents who were at the dig. Most importantly, the video appears to show agents digging up a money fragment from around two feet deep. This video, became a topic of discussion on the Cooper Forum, eliminated the possibility of a plant. The money had to arrive at Tena bar through natural processes (plus or minus the dredging operation). The video also clearly shows the line of the FBI dig running perpendicular to the water flow of the Columbia, right up against a line of trees and foliage. This natural backstop creates an area where water-carried debris would accumulate.

This supports a theory proposed by forum member “R99” that the money, and probably Cooper, landed near Tena bar, somewhere between the Williamette/Columbia confluence and Caterpillar island. R99 estimates the money would have been between 10-12 feet above sea level. At some point flooding grabbed the bag, and deposited some of the money on Tena bar. In fact, it’s possible this happened several times, creating the debris field we see in the video.

However, this new evidence also fits in well with the dredge theory. Chunks of the money would be pushed perpendicular to the water flow by heavy machinery as they tried building up the sandbar from the spoils of the dredging operation. These new revelations don’t really help us in choosing between the two theories.

The dredge theory seems more plausible to me. I have a hard time believing Cooper, or even a bag of money, could go unnoticed along the banks of the Columbia River, just a few miles from a major urban area. Fishermen, swimmers, boaters, kayakers, hobos, it beggars belief that no one noticed a dead body, a parachute, or the bag of money. It’s possible someone found some of the money and never reported it, but I find this very unlikely as well. The FBI found no other material at the bar. No parachute fragments, no human bones, nothing except the money.

In the end, the dredge theory wins. The bag of money, or at least some of the ransom money, entered the Columbia River upstream from Tena Bar, and somehow some of the bills became part of the river sediment near Tena bar, and it was dredged and brought to the surface. Finding out how a large bag of money moves underneath the water is the next experimental step. Knowing how fast the money would have moved, where it could get snagged, how long the bag holds up, these will give us clues as to where the real entry point into the Columbia might be.

Robert Wesley Rackstraw is not DB Cooper

At first I thought I would have to do a big write-up on this, but the History Channel documentary basically eliminated their own suspect in the last few minutes of the show. So there’s no need. If you want a long article to read on this, I suggest reading Bruce Smith’s reaction to the documentary.

The History Channel did a four-hour documentary on D.B. Cooper in 2016, spending an inordinate amount of time on Rackstraw. Unfortunately, he’s not a very good Cooper suspect. Witnesses, both now and presumably then, say Rackstraw wasn’t Cooper. He does not have the background to explain the unalloyed titanium found on the tie. He was around 29 years of age at the time of the jump, way too young to be Cooper. And finally, the documentary suggested Rackstraw gave money to a drug-dealing buddy who then gave it to the Ingrams (the family that found the money on Tena Bar) so they could “find” the money and it would prove Cooper died in the jump. Almost every piece of the story fails, the only thing linking Rackstraw to Cooper is “skillset” and there are a lot of guys in that file.

The History Channel did Not Find DB Cooper

I’ll be writing up a longer piece in the next few days, but we can already discard the History Channel’s suspect. The money was almost certainly not planted at Tena Bar. Any conspiracy involving The Ingrams (the people who found the money) and some drug lord is absurd. Very disappointing, but it doesn’t surprise me.

[It is not clear from the documentary whether the HistChan team really believes the Tena Bar money find is a plant as part of their Robert RackStraw theory, or not. They talk about the Tena Bar find during the Dick Briggs segment. So how the lost money fits in with Rackstraw hasn’t been enunciated.]

They did link Briggs to Rackstraw and the Tena Bar find. This alone destroys their case.

–Robert (Bob) Rackstraw was a known Cooper Suspect. He was eliminated by the FBI as a suspect back in 1979

–Rackstraw doesn’t appear to fit the particle evidence on the tie either. Though I have to confirm this.

–Rackstraw was about 29 years of age at the time of the Cooper hijacking, whereas most witnesses put Cooper’s age somewhere in the 40’s.

I’ll be waiting for the conclusion on Monday before I discuss this more.

Those interested can visit my DB Cooper post archive and read up on more suspects, theories and information regarding the Cooper mystery.

Day Two:

— The explanation that Rackstraw gave the money to Briggs, then Briggs gave it to the Ingrams to plant at Tena (Tina) Bar is ridiculous. The money was not planted at Tena Bar, it arrived there by natural means.

— Rackstraw is not the guy. The most important piece of evidence is he doesn’t match the tie evidence. The tie is the one piece of new evidence in this case that people need to hear about, and it wasn’t mentioned! DB Cooper likely worked in the industrial chemicals field as an engineer or manager in a metal fabrication shop. He was exposed to unalloyed titanium, and other anti-corrosive metals associated with equipment used in industrial chemicals. We desperately need people who worked in this fields to come forward and discuss what this business was like in the early 1970’s.

BTW, I have written a book on DB Cooper where I lay out the only remaining, viable method for finding DB Cooper. It will be available in Kindle in early September, paperback will take longer. Please contact me using the form below to receive an email when it becomes available (you will receive only one email, no spam.)

Cooper Podcast

I got my name butchered in a podcast:

In 1971, D. B. Cooper hijacked a plane and made off with $200,000 worth of random money. He was never seen again. In today’s episode Jack and J. J. dissect all the details of the case.…

Source: Ep. 42: D. B. Cooper

It’s a fun podcast, they deliver some criticism of my (and Tom Kaye’s) work on the tie. I admit, we’re shooting from the hip on quantifying this stuff. The reason I feel the need to try to connect Cooper to the tie probabilistically is because everything, every piece of evidence in this case, is challenged. Many of the researchers on the Cooper Forum suggest the tie wasn’t Cooper’s. I think is a very wrong assumption. Common sense suggests the tie belonged to Cooper, trying to connect it to him the way I did in my Math Tie post may have been a futile endeavor.

The two ladies also ridicule my attempt to infer future criminality, or the lack thereof, from someone’s reading habits (cf: Dick Lepsy). I still have a hard time believing Lepsy went from philosophy-reading grocery store manager and family man into a plane hijacker, but I’m adjusting my profile of Lepsy in the response to the criticism.

Definitely give the podcast a listen.

DB Cooper: The Money Find

You might have to visit YouTube to watch this video, but it shows live reporting from Tena Bar as the FBI was digging up money. It’s interesting to get a confirmation that fragments were found two feet or more into the sand. We also see Dr. Palmer in the background at several locations trying to figure out what the layers were on the sand bar. This definitively eliminates any kind of red-herring theory. The big question is if the dredge theory can still hold weight.

Personal Update

I’m approaching the end of my series on the D.B Cooper hijacking. I have a few more suspect profiles to finish, then that will be it. I am currently editing a book on the Cooper hijacking, I hope to have it ready sometime in the fall of this year.

If there is anything you wish to ask of me about the Cooper case, or something you wanted me to comment on, or something I might have missed, or any other grievance about this case to air out, please comment on this post or send me a message through the Contact Page.

Freewrite Review

Almost two years ago, I “invested” in what was then called the “Hemingwrite”, a “smart typewriter” that offered a distraction-free writing experience. I just got mine about two weeks ago, and have used it extensively since then. It’s a beautiful machine, a pleasure to type with, and is exactly what I wanted.

I’m a bit of a Luddite, so the idea of a “smart typewriter” was alluring.My writing production has gone down quite a bit over the years, so I was interested in something that would help me get some large projects done. Finally, writing on a laptop is a thoroughly unpleasant experience and I was desperate to try something else. So the Hemingwrite made sense to me.

However, after the Kickstarter campaign, I decided to look into other devices that ostensibly did the same thing. There were apps that turned off the internet on your laptop, and I found other word processors very similar to the Hemingwrite, like the Alphasmart Neo.

I ended up buying a Neo a few months before the Freewrite arrived. The retail price of the Freewrite is about $500, whereas you can get a used Neo for about $50. While the two devices are quite different in form and there are some functional differences, they do the same thing which is allow the writer to simply write.

Well… Buyers’ regret. While I love the Freewrite, it is heavy. Much heavier than the Neo. The Freewrite is also so much more expensive. I like writing “in the field”, often outdoors, and having a $500 device exposed to the elements is anathema to my natural risk aversion. And the functional differences ended up being more significant than I first thought.

The Neo has arrow keys, which allows the writer to go back and do some editing on a completed piece. The Freewrite is a “draft machine” where the only way to go back and do editing is through the delete key. Which is frustrating, since one of the features of the Hemingwrite is the ability to send a pdf file of your writing to your email address. Well, if you can’t do any real editing, what’s the point of making a pdf file of a draft?

The Neo isn’t perfect, the arrow keys are easy to hit accidentally. It takes time for the Neo to transfer files onto a computer, and it has no internet connectivity. However, the difference in price and the greater functionality means that I’m writing this review on my Neo, and not my Freewrite.

The Freewrite is a beautiful machine, and I use it often. In fact, I hope to use it for many many years to come. It is such a pleasure to use. But I’d rather have that money back.

Why Didn’t the FBI Catch DB Cooper

This case is an outlier as it represents the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. The FBI were good at their jobs, they solved all the other cases, so why did Cooper escape justice? The common reaction has been to say Cooper died in the jump so the FBI had no one to catch. This is current orthodoxy in this case: An unknown individual, a loner with few social connections, boarded the plane, jumped with the money, and impacted somewhere in the Washougal watershed. The FBI may not have found his body, but they know he didn’t escape with the money.

However, there are other explanations for why Cooper was able to avoid the FBI. In fact, Cooper would have been the only skyjacker who had a good opportunity to avoid justice because he was the first to actually jump out of the aircraft.

– The FBI, and others, did not expect Cooper to jump. Up to this point in history, all other hijackings had similar modus operandi: the plane would be hijacked, then flown somewhere, often Cuba. (Humorously, the Cubans would arrest plane hijackers regardless of their Marxist views.) It wasn’t even publicly known if an airliner could be jumped safely. Only a very small group of people at the CIA and Boeing knew the 727 was a safe skydiving platform.

-Cooper also lucked out because no one knew how to estimate the drop zone. Thus, during the most important time of the heist, the 24 hours after the jump, the FBI had no idea where to look, other than a vague search area encompassing almost all of Cowlitz and Clark counties in Washington. Himmelsbach even flew his airplane south of Portland in the days after the hijacking, before testing confirmed the Ariel jump location. Later, based on his hijacking and later testing, investigators could pinpoint a drop zone within a few miles.

-Cooper’s audacity resulted in what can only be described as a very slow reaction from law enforcement. During later hijackings, the FBI created a chain of communication that activated search parties, roadblocks, helicopters and flares to a drop zone very quickly during a hijacking. Richard McCoy could actually see the search operations targeting him before he hit the ground. For Cooper, there was almost no ground operation on the night of the jump, and only a cursory search over the following week.

-Finally, it’s clear that, live or die, Cooper made no large purchases with the ransom money. No mistaks were made prior to or after the hijacking. No one recognized him from the sketches; he was not missed by friends or family. Whoever he was, he had no one close to him who could identify him as the skyjacker. This is a significant indicator of his social status at the time of the hijacking, and any suspect has to match this particular situation.

Basically, Cooper and only Cooper could have gotten away with this crime. He was the first guy to attempt such a heist, which was the primary key to his success, and he made no major errors before/during/after the hijacking to get himself caught.

Missing Airmen Cases

At some point during my research of the DB Cooper case, I came across a list of missing planes and airmen. I have since lost the link, so I hesitate to publish this. However, there’s value in realizing that a lot of airmen have gone missing in the United States and have not been found. It’s still perfectly plausible that Cooper died in the jump and disappeared into the landscape. So, here are the missing airmen cases for Washington and Oregon from an unknown source (If you recognize where I got this, please leave a comment):

– 26 November 1945 USAAF C-46A Unknown 12 PAX Sedalia AAF, MO to McChord Field, WA

The transport was on a cross country flight after a refueling stop at Oakland, CA when it ran into a winter storm in southern Oregon. High winds, fog and poor visibility forced the aircraft off course and over the southwestern Oregon coastline where is ran out of fuel. The pilot ordered all passengers to bail out, which took place about 30 northeast of Coos Bay. The pilot and co-pilot rode the plane down and were killed in the crash.

The 10 passengers who jumped became the subject of an intensive air-ground search conducted by over 60 personnel from the ARS at McChord Field, the US Coast Guard, Douglas County Sheriff’s posse and local loggers and woodsmen familiar with the search area. Nine of the passengers and crew were rescued to include a glider pilot who was rescued by loggers after spending over 36 hours hanging in his parachute from a tall pine tree. After five days, nine of the jumpers were rescued alive. However, one of the passengers, SGT Robert T. W. Neal, was never found.

On 18 December 1959, two lumberjacks working for the Weyerhaeuser Timber Co. felled a 200 foot fir tree in the Lake Creek area in Douglas County 45 east of Coos Bay and discovered a parachute and harness snagged in the tree. Two Air Force officers sent to investigate confirmed that the parachute was packed at Sedalia Field in 1945. They stated that all but one buckle on the harness were found still buckled and made it appear that whoever was in it never got out alive.

In April, 1960 the US Air Force sent a 10 man team from Portland Air Force Base to conduct an extensive search around the Lake Creek area. Airmen using rakes, metal detectors and other tools searched around the base of the tree and the general area, but found nothing. The Air Force announced at that time that there would be no more organized searches for SGT Neal.

– 29 November 1945 USN PV-1 BuNo 49459 5 PAX Whidbey NAS to Miramar NAS, CA

The same winter storm that downed the USAAF C46A also downed this aircraft in the Mount Saint Helens area of southern Washington State. Flying into icing conditions about 10 miles east of Cougar, the pilot ordered the two passengers to bail out. One of the passengers, Army 1LT Warren Lawson, successfully bailed out and walked into Cougar on 2 December. However, he could not say for sure what happened to the other four. The other passenger, a young sailor, was found by loggers dead from exposure on 3 January 1946, still hanging in his parachute from a tall fir tree. That same day another parachute was found less than a mile away but no sign was found of the occupant. An intensive ground search was conducted for over a month in deep winter cold but no further trace of the other three crewmen was found.

In August, 1962 a Forest Service ranger found a crude snow shoe made from a military style survival life raft about 10 miles east of Cougar near Swift Reservoir. A search of the area found no other evidence or human remains. This was reported to the State CAB and the US Navy. However, no further investigation was conducted. On 5 August 1963, a Forest Ranger found the crash site of the PV-1. It was located about 10 miles east of Cougar, 8 miles north of Swift Reservoir and approximately 1.5 miles from a logging road.

On 8 August, a team of 8 US Navy personnel from NAS Whidbey Island accompanied by the county sheriff’s and a representative from the State CAB investigated the crash site. What appeared to be a camp site was found on a hill about 100 feet east of the crash site. It appeared that two or more of the survivors may have found their way to the crash site and salvaged what they could in an attempt to survive the winter cold. Remnants of the survival life raft, paddles, a flashlight, torn cloth and clothing, a camera and an empty wallet was found. Two parachutes were found in the wreckage. However, no human remains were ever found. Investigators theorized that it is possible that two of the crew may have rode the plane down and survived the crash. After several days waiting for rescue, they may have attempted to walk out and perished in the forest.

– 10 Nov 1962 USAF F102A 56-1387 1 PAX Paine AFB, WA to Local

The F102A left on a training flight over the Olympics when it vanished. Radar tracked the aircraft to a point NW of Shelton in Grays County. There was no indication of any problems during communications with the pilot, CPT Robert Lucas, 34, with 11 years service in the USAF. A three week search centered on an area 25 miles north of Shelton was conducted by Air Force helicopters, US Navy and Coast Guard aircraft and 20 fixed wing aircraft of the Civil Air Patrol. Rain, snow and high winds curtailed the search on some days. The ground search included over 100 soldiers from the US Army’s 12th Infantry at Fort Lewis, 40 members of the Tacoma, Seattle and Olympia Search and Rescue Councils, 50 Explorer Scouts and 20 airmen from Paine AFB. The only clues found during the search was a faint beeper that was heard in the Mount Tebo area during the first three days of the search, but the source could not be pinpointed. Hunters claim to have heard a crash in the vicinity of Church Creek 3 miles south of Mount Tebo. The search failed to find any other trace of the missing jet.

On 14 May 1965, loggers found a parachute and harness in a tall pine tree in the Camp Gobey area 12 miles west of Hoodsport on the Hood Canal. This was the center of the search area. It appeared that whoever was in the harness cut himself free and lowered himself to the ground. A search of the area revealed aircraft parts and wreckage that were identified as being manufactured by North American Corporation. However, it could not be proven that the harness or the wreckage belonged to the missing pilot. On 4 November 1968, the Civil Air Patrol reported finding wreckage of an unknown F-102A further north in the Olympic Mountains and submitted photos and wreckage for evaluation. Examination of the wreckage revealed an old SAR data plate placed at discovered crash sites by the State that verified the wreckage was of another F-102A that had been previously recovered.

Recently, the family and relatives of the missing pilot announced they are continuing to search for the wreckage of this jet. The area where the jet was presumed to have crashed has long since been logged out and populated. Other than the parachute harness, no trace of the jet was found in that area. The current theory now is that the jet crashed somewhere deep in the southern Olympic Mountains. Other than family members, there is no “official” active search going for this missing jet.

– 28 August 1963 USAF F106A Unknown 1 PAX McChord AFB, WA to Local

The jet intercepter, accompanied by a wingman, flew an afternoon interception mission against a USAF RB-57 out of Hill AFB, Utah. The pilot, 1LT Roger Auxland, 27, from the 489th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, attempted to close on the “target” about 5 miles over the ocean off the mouth of the Queets River on the Olympic Peninsula. The F-106A collided with the RB-57 and exploded in a ball of flames and plunged into the ocean. The damaged RB-57 managed to return to McChord AFB. The wingman thought he saw a distinct “explosion” that looked like the pilot ejecting from his stricken aircraft. This prompted an air-ground search for the missing pilot.

Several leads were developed that led searchers to believe that the pilot may have landed on the rugged coastline. A fisherman who saw the collision also saw a parachute drifting down toward land. Later that same evening a camper heard three gunshots in the vicinity of the beach in the search area. The USAF later estimated that wind and ocean currents could have pushed the parachute within a mile of the shore.

The week long search was conducted by USAF helicopters from McChord AFB, and Coast Guard helicopters from Port Angeles Coast Guard Station as well as fixed wing aircraft from the Coast Guard auxiliary. They were joined that weekend by fixed wing aircraft and ground teams from the Civil Air Patrol. Over 30 members of the Search and Rescue Council from various cities conducted an extensive ground search of the shoreline and a half mile inland. Rescue boats from La Push Lifeboat Station searched off shore.

No trace of the pilot was ever found and he was declared dead by the US Air Force on 4 September 1963.

Finding Dan LeClair

It does us no good to confirm the Gunther text without finding out who Dan Cooper was, where he was from, and what happened to him after the hijacking. It may seem an impossible undertaking as we are given very few clues about the real Dan LeClair, and any or all of these clues may be purposefully false or misleading. Here’s a rundown of what Gunther tells us about LeClair: He was born French-Canadian, later moved to Detroit, then to Newark, he enlisted in the Army during WWII and became a paratrooper, he went to college on the GI Bill, he went into sales for an industrial chemical company and later worked his way up to an executive position, he started a family and had two children, he left his family sometime before the hijacking and permanently left the grid using a stolen identity.

The only clue we can be nearly 100% sure of is that Dan LeClair was a white collar worker in industrial chemical field. According to Alan Stone at the 2011 Cooper Symposium (Smith, p150) there were only four places in the United States where Cooper could have picked up those titanium particles. Employment records from five decades ago are probably scarce to nonexistent. However, family photo albums from company picnics, surviving employees and other records are probably available. Publicity would be our most important ally; people need to know we’re looking for these sources. The Cooper case has a good following, but the latest research needs enough media attention to produce leads. Cooper would be easy to spot, his swarthy complexion and above average height should make him stand out in any photos.

If Dan LeClair really did have children like Clara claims in the Gunther book, they would be in their 60’s or 70’s now and still quite capable of identifying our suspect. We might even be provided some details of his life that we didn’t get from Clara. There would be family photos and other documentation to possibly prove the story. The greatest treasure would be to finally photo-match the tie. This would be quite easy, despite how common his style of tie tack was, because Cooper put the tie tack on backwards.

There are other records to check as well. We have WWII enlistments and WWII casualty records, as well as about 20% of the service records from the war (the rest were destroyed in a fire). Military historians might be able to place LeClair in a certain military unit based on the clues given in the Gunther text. We can compare those records with Census data. The 1940 Census has been available since 2012 and all the records are digitized and available for searching. There are about 400 men born between 1915 and 1939 who were born in Canada and lived in Newark in 1940. If LeClair was really from NYC, the number increases to over 3000. It’s a big list and would take a lot of work to vet all the details, but if any of the information from the Gunther book is true, a few names will stick as possible suspects.

If LeClair was not born in Canada, finding his true identity may prove particularly difficult. Being Canadian by birth reduces the number of people who could be LeClair by a factor of ten. If the French-Canadian lead turns out to be a misrepresentation by Gunther or Clara, only through the leads from the chemical companies will we be able to find viable Cooper suspects. Though I do hold out some hope that, sometime in the future, all records from that era become searchable by electronic means. Death in Absentia records, obituaries, military service records, etc. Unfortunately, this digitization is decades away from completion.


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