I have been busy the last few weeks formatting and editing the print edition of Finding DB Cooper. It should be ready to go by early November. I have lowered the price of the Kindle version. Once the print book is published, the current Kindle version will be replaced with the second edition, which includes about 40% more material. According to the Kindle Publishing dashboard, it can take a day or two for the new price to publish.
*I did a shorter profile of LD Cooper based on what I could learn about him from the popular press. More information is now available to us since Marla Cooper published a “raw” and “unedited” version of her book about her uncle’s possible connection to the DB Cooper hijacking. She did this to coincide with the History Channel’s documentary on the case.*
The story of LD Cooper exploded on the media like a fireworks show and disappeared just as quickly. Media fawned over Marla Cooper, a photogenic forty-something, when she announced that her uncle Lynn Doyle Cooper was the real DB Cooper. Rumors persisted that her story was so convincing the FBI might even close the book on Dan Cooper. LD was the “most promising” suspect ever in the case. Details were difficult to come by until recently when Marla published a book about her uncle’s connections to Norjak.
Lynn Doyle Cooper was a surveyor in Washington state who served in the Korean War. His brother once worked for Boeing and might have picked up knowledge about the 727 there. Marla claimed the two conspired to commit the hijacking, using handheld radios to meet up after LD jumped out of N467US. Marla further remembers seeing her two uncles on Thanksgiving Day in 1971. The two arrived in a car; LD was badly hurt and covered in blood. Marla stated her two uncles later went to the home of a fourth brother who took the two in. One of Marla’s cousins later confirmed LD was badly hurt. In the days and weeks after the hijacking, her uncles scoured the woods searching for the lost money, but never found a single twenty. The Radio ended up in the junk drawer, and the whole episode was lost to time. At least until Marla’s father talked about the events just before he died, rekindling the whole affair.
Marla brought her story to the attention to the FBI and SA Curtis Eng. This is where the story gets interesting. Eng is infamous for being an unemotive and impatient statue when dealing with people and their crazy DB Cooper theories. Something about Marla’s story caught his attention. When Marla talked about how her uncle had lost the money in the jump, Eng got very excited. Apparently Eng was sick of hearing stories about genius Cooper suspects planting money on Tena Bar to fool those meatheads at the FBI. So Eng pursued the matter, giving Marla an extensive polygraph exam, which she passed. The FBI later tested DNA and looked for LD’s fingerprints to check against the evidence collected from the airplane at Reno. The DNA produced no match, the fingerprint analysis came up with nothing, and no physical link was ever made between LD and Norjak.
Taken at face value, the story is interesting but it’s no more compelling than any of the other stories about Cooper suspects from people like Jo Weber. The forty-year-old memories of a then eight-year-old girl about her uncle being hurt on Thanksgiving day ain’t exactly what I’d call… promising… It’s actually pretty thin. We can take all of Marla’s memories as Gospel truth, and it still doesn’t warrant the investment Eng made. Other than Marla’s recollections of the night she saw her uncle LD badly injured, she makes zero connections to Norjak.
Why isn’t LD Cooper DB Cooper? First, LD Cooper’s military record did not include any parachute training that we know of, and LD Cooper otherwise had no experience parachuting or skydiving. Marla suggests LD’s military records are incomplete, or fabricated. Regardless, no one can put LD in a parachute harness.
Some of LD’s DNA was tested against the tie, and no match was found (from Marla’s book, it sounds like they tested LD’s daughter and mother; having the mother tested would allow them to look only at LD’s DNA). At least one fingerprint of LD’s was tested against the samples taken from the aircraft, again to no success.
And of course, LD did not work with titanium. Nor did his brother, who Marla claims loaned the tie to LD. Marla even produced a photograph of her uncle wearing a skinny black tie with a tie tack that looks like the tie tack from DB Cooper’s tie. But, the tie tack looks like it was inserted from the right (opposite of DB Cooper) and the photo is from 1964. The tie was available in 1964, but according to Marla her uncles were all blue collar guys who didn’t wear ties very often. Funerals and weddings, basically. None of them would have been wearing the tie often enough (or any tie often enough) to put the density of particles Kaye found on DB Cooper’s tie.
Once again, for the story to work the tie must have been purchased at a thrift store, sometime very soon before the hijacking. Just like all the other suspects. There are more problems. The Cooper brothers were all hard-drinking men, borderline alcoholics. I doubt, based on Marla’s description of their behavior, that any of them could hijack an aircraft and not drink. DB Cooper ordered one drink, and spilled about half of it. One drink, over six hours. Not the behavior one would expect from a heavy drinker.
Eng is quoted by Marla as saying LD had “the background for this hijacking.” Which is odd, since LD didn’t have any first-hand knowledge of aviation. It’s possible his brother Dewey, who worked at Boeing on the 727s, might have known about the rear-stairs being a good skydiving platform, or about the indent-flap settings. But overall, the stuff DB Cooper knew about the 727 exceeded what we’d expect LD Cooper to know.
Marla is adamant about her recollections, but they are the recollections of an eight-year-old girl. I’m sure her uncle LD was hurt at some point (my guess would be a DUI-related car accident) and at some point was being driven around by her other uncle. I wouldn’t be shocked if they did search for Cooper and his money. But nothing about her story matches the description of DB Cooper as an “executive type” patiently waiting for hours to jump out of an airplane, sipping a single order of bourbon.
Everyone knows “that guy.” That guy who always tells a big whopper of a story. That guy who’s always bragging about what he’s done. That guy who HAS to be lying about winning the four gold medals at the Sarajevo Olympics. However, part of you believes That Guy, because some of his stories are true, he really does have an old picture of himself and Richard Nixon. He really does have a scar from a bear attack. Rackstraw is That Guy. Thomas Colbert (TJC) believes Rackstraw is DB Cooper. (Most of the information found here is from TJC’s website and book.) Rackstraw is a living person, but after his love affair with the media in the late 1970’s during his murder trial, and the subsequent History Channel special about him 2016, make him a public figure in my estimation.
Rackstraw went into the army in the 1960’s, attending the infantry jump school at Fort Benning in 1967. In 1969, he becomes both a fixed-wing and helicopter pilot. Rackstraw serves in Vietnam. According to crime television guru and author Thomas Colbert (TJC), Rackstraw does some freelance work for the CIA while there. When Rackstraw returns stateside, he gets embroiled in a messy divorce. The Army decides to look into Rackstraw’s background after he’s accused of domestic assault. They find that Lt. Rackstraw lied about his college credentials, and lied about his rank and military decorations. He is forced to resign from the military.
From Alabama, Rackstraw heads to the Pacific Northwest where he works as a charter pilot for realtors who need aerial photographs. He spends a lot of time in the area, up to and after the Cooper hijacking. He eventually ends up working for a floor and deck laying company in San Francisco. Rackstraw’s career in crime begins in earnest at this time. He will often wear a suit and tie around shipyards, looking like a supervisor or office worker. This allows him to steal valuables with impunity. Sometime during this period, Rackstraw meets longtime confidant Dick Briggs (who later became a drug dealer in the late 70s). By the mid-1970’s, Rackstraw was on law enforcement’s radar. He was implicated in the theft of military weapons and explosives; check-kiting, ramming his vehicle through a business competitor’s building, stealing goods, stealing dynamite and murdering his stepfather… Among other crimes. He goes on trial for murder in July of 1978. Rackstraw shows up in a wheelchair, claiming to be a disabled veteran of five Vietnam campaigns as a Green Beret captain. His actual service record doesn’t show up until after the trial. He is found “Not Guilty.”
In October of 1978, still looking at criminal charges for his other hobbies, Rackstraw fakes his own death. He is heard sending a “Mayday” call over the radio, claiming to ditch into the sea near Monterey Bay. Rackstraw is eventually found and arrested by police in January of 1979. He spends the next year in jail before being released. Law enforcement clears him of being DB Cooper at this time. He stays out of trouble, and out of the media spotlight, for the next seventeen years. He becomes a college instructor with degrees in economics and law, before getting into trouble again. This time around the charges are mundane, DUI and resisting arrest. The public becomes familiar with Rackstraw again in 2016, when he is prominently featured as a Cooper suspect in a History Channel special on Norjak.
Why is Rackstraw a Cooper suspect? For one thing, he claimed to be our mysterious hijacker on at least one occasion while he was in jail. He abandoned his confession almost immediately, probably when he found out he could still be charged with the hijacking. There are other reasons too, Rackstraw lived in the Pacific Northwest, knew the area from his job as a pilot, and his whereabouts during the hijacking are unknown. Rackstraw has the skills Cooper needed. He went through jump school and would have been quite comfortable with parachuting gear. He may have learned in Vietnam that the 727 was being used as jump platform for secret missions being done by the CIA. He has the criminal background Ralph Himmelsbach was looking for. (Though Rackstraw’s career would be the reverse of what we expect: he would have started with the big heist, then moved on to smaller thefts and cons before working his way back up to murder.) Rackstraw even has a relative named “Ed Cooper” who might have inspired the Dan Cooper alias.
There’s always a catch, however. Rackstraw would have been in his late 20’s at the time of the hijacking. Some reports on Cooper put him as old as 60, but most witnesses put the hijacker in his mid to late forties. Rackstraw doesn’t have the swarthy complexion Cooper is reported to have. Tina Mucklow, the stewardess who spent the most time with Cooper, did not think Rackstraw was the hijacker when she was shown his picture and video on the History Channel special.
The biggest hurdle in connecting Rackstraw with Cooper remains the Tena Bar money find. TJC claims Rackstraw had his friend Briggs give the money to Dwayne Ingram to “find” on Tena Bar, thus throwing the feds off his trail. There are a number of problems with this theory, chief among them the fact the money had obviously been exposed to the elements long enough to alter the bills substantially. They had clumped together into a single, solid mass. The rubber bands attached to the bills crumbled away when touched. There was a field of money shards found up and down the bar, and there is video of FBI agents unearthing fragments of money at least a foot deep into the sand. There is simply no possibility the money was planted there in the late 1970’s as Colbert claims.
When you’re looking for DB Cooper suspects, a military-trained con man with the gift of gab and a long history of stunning crimes is a good place to go looking. But you can’t ignore the fact he was investigated by law enforcement and cleared of the hijacking. He never worked in an industry that used pure titanium. And none of the main witnesses in the case identify him as Dan Cooper. However much Rackstraw may be “That Guy,” he’s not our guy. He’s not our hijacker.
One of the pieces of evidence to surface when Larry Carr opened up the case to amatuer slueths was the notorious “FBI Map” that Carr believed was the flight path, as recorded by the military using the SAGE radar system at McChord AFB. Nothing else was really known about the map, it was not labeled and came with no notations. It had a solid grease pen mark running through tiny “x’s” along Victor 23, and time markings.
Analysis of the map done by Sluggo and Robert Nicholson showed the map had a lot of problems. The distance between some of the markings is too short to represent the distance 305 would have traveled in one minute of flying time (about three miles). There appears to be a “missing minute” as well, though this can’t be verified since the map’s lack of notation make it difficult to interpret. The grease pen mark connecting the hashes creates an angular and unnatural-looking flight path that “doesn’t look right” in the words of my father, a former airline pilot.
However, remove the grease mark and you have something very similar to what the radar operators at McChord were looking at:
(Screenshot of SAGE Radar Display from Motherboard)
It looks like someone tried to mark the map with the same “x” marks seen on their radar display. This means the map was almost certainly created by someone either looking at such a screen, or a photograph of the screen (we know from former SAGE operators that they would photograph their screens to keep a record if something of interest happened). Further, it appears more than one person handled the map and attempted to mark the flight path. (There are red and black markings underneath the grease pen.) The position of the aircraft at 8:11 matches the grid later given to search crews. In the forty-five years since the hijacking, no other map or information about the flight path has surfaced.
Since the map was marked by hand, without precise measurements and without GPS, it is going to have errors on it. I see the hash marks as a general guideline, a probability field approximating where flight 305 was at the times recorded on the map. These timestamps are themselves rough estimates, since the radar would have given a return several times per minute. So the margin of error on the timestamps will be plus-or-minus a minute.
Looking at the map, the plane appears to move along the center of the Victor 23 corridor, with some variance caused by the fact the co-pilot was flying the plane without the aid of the auto-pilot. As the plane nears PDX, it drifts off the centerline of Victor 23, only to do a fairly major correction to get back on course just before it passed over the Columbia River.
A recreation of flight 305 needs to be done in a proper flight simulator to smooth out some of the map’s rough edges. This will help align the timestamps to the flight path and confirm where the plane really was during the important 8:11 to 8:15 time period. Regardless, the map is the best evidence we have for figuring out where Cooper jumped and solving some of the mystery surrounding this case.
-We have the three various and incomplete male DNA profiles on the tie. At some point we may find a good candidate who can provide a good DNA sample, and we’ll get a match. Since the samples on the tie aren’t complete, we can’t be 100% sure, but once we have a candidate like this, an investigation should find plenty of circumstantial evidence to go with the DNA evidence. We’ve been told familial DNA match would be impossible from these partial matches.
-In theory, there is a complete DNA profile on the recovered cigarette butts. If that evidence is found, a DNA profile (including a racial profile) will help match suspects to DB Cooper. There are a number of survivors and relatives that will link a candidate to the complete profile (Familial testing) and we can be nearly certain about who Cooper was. A complete DNA sample will give us racial information, and we could even produce a realistic bust of our hijacker.
-There are a few details the FBI has never released about the hijacking. A deathbed confession with the necessary details, or a posthumous confession out of the woodwork could get us our guy. However, if Cooper is dead and hasn’t left a written confession with these magical details, then those details are useless.
-We get a complete list of engineers and managers from Industrial Chemical companies operating in the 1970’s, and we investigate each one in turn. This would be difficult, but not entirely impossible. Publicity could result in former coworkers of Cooper’s coming forward, from there we might get employment records, census records, payroll information, photos from company picnics; all could lead to a falsifiable candidate. The problem is most people are unaware of the Kaye findings. The people who would have been working with Cooper at these chemical companies would all be in their 60s/70s/80s, so the clock is ticking here.
-Large databases are used to find all those who match the various Cooper details, and each is investigated in turn. Larry Carr, former Norjack case agent, felt he could solve the crime by getting access to military records, cross referencing physical descriptions with job descriptions, finding those who worked as loadmasters (they had to wear parachute harnesses) and then tracking matches through their lifetimes. Carr would not only need access to these databases, he would need a lot of human resources to work through all that information.
-Someone finds a skeleton with money tied to it. Since I don’t believe Cooper died in the jump, I doubt this will happen.
It is my opinion this case will get solved.
One of the guys reviewing the draft version of my book on DB Cooper had this to say about what would have happened if Cooper had belly-flopped into the Columbia (he works on a dive/recovery team on the Mississippi):
I have some points of fact that counter your statements regarding river survival, but maybe we can chat on an actual telephone about that some time.
The interwebs tells me the Columbia River was 50F/10C around November 24, maybe colder. That’s really the cut-off for bodies to not pop. Trust me.
And people don’t drift, he was not semi-buoyant. We do our usual search patterns basically as the radius of water depth. People pretty much drop like a rock.
Any additional weight would have stymied the bloating process. very likely, given the water temp, that Cooper popped in the Spring of 1972. If he went in the river. Not sure if any of your nerds on those forums are part of an actual recovery team, but just my two cents. Usual trend for bodies that go in, in that cold of weather, to not pop until the spring.
Also, research the barge activity on the Columbia. I know you researched dredging efforts. Which would indicate the river is heavily traffic. We’ve seen barges really alter the sub-surface landscape. Occasionally stir a body lose (happened this Spring, but luckily in another county)
So, if Cooper lands in the Columbia, his body stays on the bottom until the spring of 1972. The money on Tena bar would have to be deposited on Tena bar at this time, or it stayed on the bottom (detached from Cooper’s body) and was later dredged. This is still unlikely, since we’re pretty sure Cooper jumped before the airplane was over the Columbia, but it’s a possibility.
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.
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.
Postscript: I did a longer write-up on Rackstraw anyway…