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Not DB Cooper: List, Mayfield and LDC

John List

Some may remember List as the man who murdered his entire family in order to guarantee their place in Heaven and disappeared for almost 18 years before America’s Most Wanted caught him using an age-progressed model of his face. He was also considered a Cooper suspect since he matched the description and disappeared two weeks before the hijacking. However, he already had $200,000 from draining his family’s bank accounts, he didn’t need to steal more money, at least right away. Further, his career as an accountant doesn’t match the particles found on the tie, he does not have any kind of parachuting background and he did not have the knowledge or skills to pull off this heist, certainly not under such a tight schedule. After his capture, he readily admitted to the murders of his family, but denied being the hijacker..

Ted Mayfield

Mayfield is well-known in the Cooper saga. A skydiver and pilot who had several run-ins with the law, fingers pointed to him almost immediately after Norjak. He was even acquainted with Ralph Himmelsbach before the hijacking. Certainly, Mayfield had the skills and probably had the moxie to pull off such a stunt. However, Mayfield contacted the FBI on the evening of the hijacking, only a few hours after Cooper jumped from the plane. It would have been very difficult for even a competitive skydiver like Mayfield to cover his tracks so quickly. Most importantly, Mayfield is known to be of very short stature, about five feet three inches tall, and thus he does not fit the description of the hijacker.

LD Cooper

The story of LD Cooper exploded on the media and disappeared just as quickly. Marla Cooper reported her uncle Lynn Doyle Cooper as a DB Cooper suspect to both the FBI and media circles, and this included claims that the story was so convincing that the FBI might even close the book on Dan Cooper. Lynn Doyle 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. The two thus might have conspired to commit the hijacking, resulting in Marla’s memories of LD being injured around the time of Thanksgiving in 1971. However, no physical evidence ties LD to the hijacking, and he did not work in one of those fields that would have been exposed to unalloyed titanium like the particles found on Cooper’s tie. Also, a DNA test failed to produce a match between LD Cooper and the DNA profiles found on the tie. Supposedly a movie is in the works, or a book, or something. There’s simply not much to investigate. Lynn Doyle Cooper is not our Hijacker.

Problems with the Gunther Text

If the evidence presented in the Gunther book is so strong, why do few people actually believe it? There are a number of reasons, not least of which is the lack of a real name for a suspect. However, Gunther also gets a lot of little details wrong; early in the hijacking narrative, Gunther gets the seat Cooper sat in wrong, he writes about a confrontation between Cooper and 305 Captain Bill Scott when in fact Scott and the rest of the flight officers never left the cockpit. In fact, entire chapters appear filled with errors and misinformation (more on that later).

Most seriously, Gunther seems to contradict several important details of the hijacking that were kept secret by the FBI until only recently. These include the color of Cooper’s parachute, the description of the bomb Cooper used, how Cooper lost some of his money, and almost the entire hijacking narrative. How do we reconcile these and all the other problems with Gunther’s book if we are to take his story at face value? First, let’s examine the major problems in detail.

Hijacking Narrative

There are problems with the entire hijacking narrative, mostly found in the second chapter of Gunther’s book. A sample of these issues: Cooper never asked for a specific seat, the flight had an open seating arrangement. Gunther gets the seat row and number wrong. There is no mention of Bill Mitchell, the young college student in the row across from Gunther. Captain Scott never left the cockpit to talk to Gunther, nor did any of the flight crew. Cooper never asked where the plane was before he jumped. Cooper put on the parachute long before Mucklow was sent to the cockpit, etc, etc. There are just a lot of little details that Gunther gets wrong.

The primary reason is Gunther, nor his primary source ‘Clara’, were eyewitnesses to the hijacking. By the time Clara contacted Gunther, ‘Dan LeClair’ had been dead for several years. What little information Clara had was secondhand from LeClair. In fact, based on the text, it appears the primary recollection of the hijacking from LeClair’s perspective was unusual connection LeClair made with Tina Mucklow during the course of the hijacking.

Regardless, it shouldn’t be surprising that Clara was fuzzy on these details. She wasn’t the. And why would she ask what seat Cooper was in? Or when he put the parachute on? These details are important to the investigator, but not to anyone else. Gunther fills the gaps the best he can, using his own research to supplement Clara’s story.

The Bomb

Gunther, presumably from Clara, describes the bomb as follows:

*He found an attache case or small suitcase in a storage room at the hotel. Inside this case he built a fake bomb of red-painted tin cans, aluminum and wire (p. 137).*

Here is how the bomb is described by as eyewitness:

*“In the left corner had 8 long sticks of about 6 inches long and 1 inch in diameter there were two rows of them. Then a wire out of there. Then a batt lite [sic], (probably like) a flashlight batt only as sthik [sic], (probably thick) as my arm and eight inches long”. [From RTTY or TTY Log Page 104]*

Commonly, it is assumed the reddish sticks were road flares, wrapped around a large cell battery with black tape, plausibly accessorized with myriad wires to give the full “electric and technical” effect. I found Gunther’s description of the bomb is one of the more jarring and obviously erroneous passages in his book.

However, LeClair was described as quite handy and mechanically minded. While I first thought of just regular cans of soup being spraypainted, it’s possible LeClair may have removed the bottom and top pieces of several tin cans, rolled them tight and narrow to make the ‘dynamite’ sticks, then used an unmodified can or cans painted to look like the battery, and added the wires. Honesty, it doesn’t seem likely given the availability of road flares and radio batteries. Since the bomb was never recovered, we can’t know anything for certain. Personally, this description seems like it was mostly conjecture and misunderstanding on Clara’s and Gunther’s part.

The Money

This is especially complicated, since any Cooper story needs to account for the Tina Bar money find. We’ll examine the finer details of how LeClair could lose half the money in a later post, here I just want to mention one of the biggest problems with the Gunther text. Several times, Clara claims Leclair specifically requested $20 bills. It appears from the text Clara really believed this, however we know Cooper did not specify any denomination for the money. This cannot be easily resolved, but I would say this mistake in the narrative from Clara evolved from Clara and LeClair’s efforts to launder the money after the hijacking (small bills are more easily exchanged in everyday transactions).

Parachute Color

The traditional story regarding the parachute rig Cooper used in the hijacking was that he got an old Navy NB-6 container and harness with a 28-foot round canopy, and that the canopy was white. Over the years the details have changed depending on who and when the details were being discussed. Most recently, evidence was found by Cooper researcher Bruce Smith that Cooper likely used a Pioneer Parachute owned by an acrobatic pilot named Norman Hayden. Confusion over the ownership, type and color of the parachute used by Cooper is now an open question, at least until the FBI releases their complete files on the case, and even this may not help us learn whether, in the confusion on the night of the hijacking, the true color of the parachute was recorded. (In fact, opening the parachute container would have been both difficult for an amatuer and dangerous, as an improperly packed parachute can kill.)

Gunther, from Clara, describes the parachute as a multi-colored parachute with bright red and yellow panels. A quick Google image search for “Pioneer parachute” did return a vintage photo of a round canopy of black, red and yellow, so the color scheme itself is plausible. Clara might not have seen the complete parachute before it was destroyed either, so it’s possible there were more than two colors. Or, it could be a false recollection, or a Gunther fabrication. Who knows? The point here is not whether we can come to a definitive conclusion, the question is whether we need to answer every little contradiction or fuzzy detail with a complete explanation.

The answer to that question is, basically, no we don’t. What we have here is eyewitness testimony given over a decade after the events unfolded. And the testimony is incomplete because our witness, Clara, wasn’t on the plane. What she knows of the hijacking and how Dan LeClair planned it is all hearsay. Even events she witnessed could have been tainted by later facts, for instance, her belief Dan LeClair was a meticulous planner who would never have left something up to chance.

We also must remember the book is much more than just the story Clara told Max Gunther. Gunther did his own research including dozens of interviews with many of the principals in the case. He talked to several FBI agents, and had more than one interaction with Himmelsbach. Skipp Porteous talked to Himmelsbach about Max Gunther and relayed this exchange through his book “Into the Blast”:

*When I asked his opinion on Max Gunther’s book, Himmelsbach said he didn’t like Gunther and knew all about the book. He pointed out that Gunther claimed someone named ‘Clara’ talked to him and provided him with all the details about Cooper. Himmelsbach says that Gunther later changed his story to match the facts.

Porteous, Skipp; Robert Blevins (2011-01-06). Into The Blast – The True Story of D.B. Cooper – Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 1043-1045). Adventure Books of Seattle. Kindle Edition.*

Simply put, this book is a complex document. It is not just the eyewitness testimony of a single individual. It is very likely the story Gunther got from Clara was incomplete, and he was trying to fill in the gaps he knew his audience would expect from such an exposé. Gunther was a journalist, he was comfortable doing interviews and research. If you read through the book, you’ll note he almost always references sources in the text. Once you start looking for them, you can source almost the entire book, and he even hints at when he’s just guessing.

Thanks to Gunther’s habit, we can look at the chapter with the most factual errors, chapter two, and source the problem: The FBI. Gunther talked to several agents in addition to Himmelsbach, and it appears many of the factual errors were intentional misinformation, most prominently the fictional conversation between Cooper and Captain Scott. Providing false information would be one way to test the veracity of this story, however by this time Clara had most likely broken off contact with Gunther and she would not have been able to correct the misinformation anyway.

If you’re looking for a reason not to believe Gunther’s story, you will find it. This was my conclusion when first reading through the text, until the point when Gunther revealed LeClair’s profession. This fact, which represented the only time after-the-fact forensic evidence confirmed a DB Cooper confession, required a deeper look into the text. It is my belief, despite the aforementioned issues, that the Gunther hypothesis still holds true.

The Drop Zone

The primary paradox in the Cooper case has been the discrepancy between the Tina Bar find and the original jump location near Ariel, Washington. Water flows to the Lewis River in Ariel, where it dumps into the Columbia downstream from where the money was found. The money would not move upstream on its own, so something has to give. One way to cover the paradox is to move the jump zone. And it has to move a considerable distance in order to get the money upstream from Tina Bar. This has led to numerous theories, including the infamous Washougal Washdown theory.

The timing and location of the jump could probably be pinpointed with the original radar information and data from the flight recorder but neither source is available anymore, so finding the true jump point will have to be made from other evidence, including eyewitness accounts.

First, let me mention that arbitrarily changing the drop zone based only on the Tina Bar find is a fallacy since we don’t know how the money got there with 100% certainty. There is room for mechanical and human intervention in how the money was transported from its original starting position to Tina Bar. I prefer simpler explanations, but nothing is off the table.

For simplicity, until other evidence is found which calls into question the original flight path, we shall adhere to the pre-existing evidence regarding where and when Flight 305 was during the times mentioned below. The key to eliminating the paradox is working the original evidence and finding out why the authorities calculated a drop zone near Ariel and why that was or was not in error.

Oscillations and the Pressure Bump

The main confusion in the eyewitness reports is whether there is a difference between the reported “oscillations” and the “pressure bump” caused by the stairs snapping back against the fuselage when Cooper jumped. Strictly speaking, we can’t be sure there were two separate events. We know the pressure bump happened because it had to, testing showed this was the case. Whether the pilot, in this case Rataczak, felt any kind of disturbance through the stick as Cooper crept out over the stairs is unknowable. Rataczak clearly believes he did, whether this was the oscillation or the pressure bump or turbulence, we can’t know.

What we do know is the cabin crew keenly felt something. Anderson, the flight engineer, had pressure gauges on his panel and they would have jumped around significantly during the pressure bump. The pilot would need to trim the aircraft after Cooper left. The entire cabin crew might have experienced ear popping from the momentary change in pressure. These pressure events were used in later hijackings to pinpoint landing zones for Cooper copycats like McCoy. The entire narrative here is undocumented, and we only get after the fact recollections.

For our purposes, we’re going to assume two distinct events. An oscillation which caused Rataczak to remark Cooper was “doing something with the air stairs” and was relayed over the radio around 7:11 pm, and pressure bump caused by Cooper’s jump sometime shortly after that.

The Evidence:

-At 7:11, the cockpit reported Cooper was possibly “doing something with the air stairs” and relayed this information over the radio. It was overheard by a number of independent witnesses who were listening to these exchanges during the hijacking. This is the time generally given for the jump. In the released flight transcripts, nothing of consequence is communicated for the previous six minutes indicating this was the beginning of the jump ‘episode,’ not its conclusion.

-Harold Anderson, the flight engineer, said the time of the bump was not recorded, but that it happened “five to ten minutes” after the last communication with Cooper, a time generally given as 8:05 pm. This would give an approximate range of 8:10 to 8:15 for the jump, plus or minus a minute.

-In the summaries of the crew debriefs, documents available on the Cooper Forum website, Anderson says the pressure bump occurred when 305 had “not reached Portland proper but were definitely in the suburbs or immediate vicinity thereof.”

This gives some absolute barriers, Cooper did not leave before 7:10, and he was definitely gone by the time the plane was over Portland.

Another clue comes from the Time Table on Sluggo’s website, which gives us this little tidbit:

SEA CNTR advises Portland Altimeter (Corresponding Sea Level Barometric Pressure) is 30.03 inches of Hg. [This is important because it shows that at 20:15:56 they were very near Portland.]

Finally, “Shutter” (owner of the DB Cooper Forum) has been working on the problem of the flight path with what I’ll call “an extreme simulator” and did a test run from Ariel to Portland at my behest under nearly the same meteorological circumstances (he removed the cloud cover) and plane configuration of NWA flight 305. For my purposes, this simulation was mostly to get a view from the cockpit to better understand Anderson’s statement about being near Portland.*

My judgment, based on the simulation, is the absolute earliest someone from the cockpit could reasonably say they were near “Portland proper” is about five and a half minutes south of Ariel. This happened about 8:15 pm according to the published flight path. This is open to interpretation, and I encourage interested readers to see the video for themselves on the Project 305 YouTube channel. I’m being very conservative with the estimate, and I believe this to be the northern barrier for the drop zone.

All the evidence appears to overlap around the 8:15 mark. This is the upper limit of Harold Anderson’s statement of “five to ten minutes” after the 8:05 communication. At this location the flight was plausibly near enough to Portland both by my visual estimate from the cockpit and from the communications transcript.

It can’t be known exactly where 305 was at this instant, but the released FBI flight path suggests it is near Orchards, WA. It would be fair to say the flight could be plus or minus three miles north and south (one minute flying time), and perhaps one mile east and west from that point. This is significantly south of Ariel, very near the Lacamas River watershed, and it also makes a jump point over the Columbia River a possibility (though our estimate here is still a few miles and about a minute of flying time short of the Columbia).

Sluggo’s Flight Path Analysis

Admittedly, the statements from the crew are ambiguous. None of the crew have spoken definitively on the flight path or about the pressure event. Only Rataczak has regularly spoken publicly about the hijacking, and his remarks on the subject is anything but clear. A strict interpretation, which is what others like Tom Kaye have favored, is what gives us the Ariel jump zone. By allowing for the possibility of two events and using the Ariel location for the start of the oscillation and using other evidence to establish the pressure bump, we get a drop zone farther south, closer to Portland and the Columbia River. This eliminates the paradox between where Cooper jumped and where the money was found, and does so without relying on the money find itself.

*Here is the entire paragraph from the FOIA document: Anderson stated that approximately 5 to 10 minutes after the last contact with subject at 8:05 pm, they heard and felt an oscillation of the aircraft and commented that the hijacker could have departed causing the unusual vibration since there had been no change in flight parameters or any other external force which would account for this sudden vibration. They telephoned the company representative (redacted) shortly thereafter and stated that the ‘oscillation’ which could have been the hijacker’s departure, would have occurred between 8:05 pm and their call to the company 5 or ten minutes later, the exact time being recorded in the company log. Anderson stated that they had not reached Portland proper but were definitely in the suburbs or immediate vicinity thereof.

Understanding the Tina Bar Find

According to Gunther, Cooper lost nearly half of the ransom money in the jump. My theory as to exactly how this is possible based on Gunther’s text will be dealt with in a later post. My goal here is to give a general overview of the Tina Bar find and the current theories regarding how the money got from the dropzone to a popular fishing spot twenty miles away.

Firstly, it has to be remembered how unbelievably unlikely it was that this money was found. These three bundles had been in “the wild” for eight years. In all likelihood the money was protected from the elements by the bag or by sand for most of this time, but it was still outside of human control. After so many years, the money was so degraded that the Ingrams (the family who discovered the money) described several of the bills “dissolving” into mush as they tried to clean and break apart the money (it had compacted together into a solid wad). Brian Ingram, then just eight years old, stumbled upon the money while playing (or digging, or something, accounts differ and Brian has basically forgotten) in the sand. Finding the money under these circumstances was a million to one event.

Unfortunately, this means the money was not found under controlled circumstances. The Ingrams washed and dried and otherwise manipulated the money wad[s] before it could be studied scientifically. When the FBI was notified, they did their own recovery operation on Tina Bar, which included a bunch of agents haphazardly shoveling into the sand, further contaminating the scene. A scientist (geologist Leonard Palmer) wasn’t brought in until the second day of the FBI operation. Worse for amatuer Cooper slueths is, while pictures and reports of the FBI dig are with the Norjack case files, they are not available to the public. All of the analysis done by Cooper aficionados has been done with limited access to these resources.

The Tina Bar find is important to understanding what happened to Cooper after he left the airplane. If Cooper died in the jump, the simplest explanation for why he was not found is that he landed in the Columbia. However, money sinks once fully saturated with water. The money was found well above where the river levels were at the time of the hijacking. Since there is very limited real estate in the area where a body could rot and not get noticed, the “Cooper died” hypothesis requires a search for mechanisms to get stuff from the bottom of the river to Tina Bar.

Because the Columbia is an important shipping lane, the river is regularly dredged. And there was a significant dredging operation a few years after the hijacking in 1974. The big question is whether this dredging brought the money to Tina Bar. While a huge and ongoing topic of debate, the answer to this question is probably not. Leonard Palmer, from a large trench dug near the money location, determined the money was in a distinct layer that was well-above the 1974 dredge material. From “The Palmer Report” we get the “Washougal Washdown” theory that describes the money being somewhere upstream until the 1977 floods, which then brought the money to Tina Bar.

Tom Kaye re-examined Palmer’s report and believes Palmer misidentified at least one of the layers from his trench. Kaye found a base layer of clay material that runs along the entire length of the bar. This layer appears to match the description of Palmer’s clay layer, which Palmer concluded came from the 1974 dredging operation. Since Kaye found this clay layer along the entire length of Tina Bar (which was heavily eroded by this time), he concluded the clay layer was a natural formation and not from 1974 dredge operation.

Kaye also looked at old photos of Tina Bar from before and after the ‘74 dredging and concluded the money was found a significant distance away from the dredging spoils, eliminating the dredge as the mechanism for getting the money to the bar. From this and his other findings, Kaye believes the money found its way to Tina Bar before the dredging operation. He even speculates some of the dredge material could have been pushed north by natural processes and thus helped cover the money until it was found.

The money was found at what many forum members believe was a “collection point” on the bar, where debris would gather during floods. The money location was near heavy foliage which would act as a backstop for debris. Since sandbars are dynamic environments, debris could be deposited on top of the sand and later be buried by wave and tidal action.

Something we can be certain of is that the money was put where it was found by natural forces. The evidence is overwhelming; the money was not planted at Tina Bar. Several FBI agents reported finding fragments during the dig. The size and distribution of the fragments is open to considerable debate, but there were fragments and this alone contraindicates human action. The state of the money reflected long-term exposure to the elements. The money was found in a spot where we’d expect to find flotsam to accumulate, and it was found downstream from where the 727 flight crossed the Columbia.

The Tina Bar find has been the obsessive focus of most of the members of the Cooper Forum, and represents the plurality of the posts found there. The focus spins around the three main theories 1) the money landed near Tina Bar, somewhere uphill and upstream, 2) Cooper and/or the money landed in the Columbia, snagged somewhere underwater, and some of the money was deposited via dredge, or 3) the money landed farther downstream, possibly in the Washougal watershed, and was delivered during the 1977 floods.

What does this all mean for the Gunther Hypothesis?

Given the provisional assumption that Leclair lost *a bag* of money, we can deduce one of several possibilities: The money may have fallen off of Leclair right away as he tumbled from the plane; the bag of money could have torn away from him when he pulled the ripcord; or the money was lost at some point during Leclair’s hard landing and he was unable to locate it in the darkness. No claim is made regarding a plant, Gunther leaves us with the impression the money did not venture far from the dropzone. As a consequence, the Tina Bar find helps to indicate where Leclair either left the aircraft or where he landed or some point in between.

If the money lands near Tina Bar or Caterpillar Island, Leclair lands somewhere in Salmon Creek or even Whipple Creek (almost matching the description from the book).

If the money lands along the shores of the Columbia south and east of Tina Bar, Cooper lands in the Vancouver suburbs (not supported by the Gunther account).

If the money lands farther east, near Fifth Plain Creek, or Lacamas Creek, or somewhere in that watershed, Cooper lands in the same area or in even more remote areas of farms, forests and cabins (exactly matching the circumstances from the book).

We can’t be certain of any scenario since Gunther made changes to the story to protect Clara’s identity. It’s likely all the information regarding where the cabin was, how far Cooper traveled from his dropzone, how far the cabin was from any particular area, and where Cooper cached his equipment, are fabrications. This will make it nearly impossible to identify Clara from this information. However, based on the Tina Bar find, we can safely move Cooper’s dropzone well south of Ariel.

Birds without Borders

In 1979, James Vardaman saw 699 bird species during the first “modern” Big Year. Since setting his record, numerous others have bypassed his original effort but have done so following nearly the same strategies he developed. He wrote a book about his adventure, and he ends it by speculating about the possibility of a global Big Year and asks “Is 5000 Possible?” Thirty-five years since he wrote that line, and about seven years since his death, Vardaman’s speculation is on the verge of becoming true:

This year I will try to become the first person to see 5,000 species of birds in one calendar year, a sort of cosmopolitan, modern version of Wild America and Kingbird Highway. Rather than hiring international tour guides, I’ll spend my time with passionate locals—individuals who care about their home patches, and who are making a difference for birds in their own areas. Along the way, I will explore how birding, and the conservation of birds, fits into our new, crowded, globalized millennium.

Noah Strycker recently broke the pre-existing world record and still has two continents and about ten weeks to see 180 bird species.

Is 6000 possible?

Gunther versus Larry Carr’s Profile

In 2007, then Norjack case agent Larry Carr joined the DropZone forum as “ckret” and posted a profile of who he thought DB Cooper was based on the FBI files and investigation to that point. He challenged the forum members to find a candidate who fit his profile. Many of the Cooper sleuths on the current DB Cooper forum believe we don’t have any suspects who fit this profile. However, I believe “Dan Leclair,” as presented in Gunther’s book, is a good fit.

In italics is Larry Carr’s profile as it was posted in 2007 on the DZ forum. My responses, based on Gunther’s book, are in bold.

…who was DB Cooper?

-DB Cooper was not a drinker, he only had one drink and spilled a portion of that. If someone was a drinker, in a situation like this he would have had more than just one in the five hours he was on the plane.

Dan Leclair did drink socially, but there’s nothing in his background to suggest he abused alcohol. On top of this, Leclair actually becomes disillusioned with his new underclass companions, who were mostly bar hounds (p118). As for the hijacking itself, Leclair avoided drinking specifically for the purpose of avoiding inopportune trips to the lavatory.

-He was not a chain smoker, he was on the aircraft for five hours and only smoked 8 cigarettes. That would make him a smoker of less than a pack-a-day and this under normal conditions.

The book doesn’t mention Leclair’s smoking habits in any detail, if at all. Leclair is certainly not described as a chain smoker, which would have been an easy detail to add if Gunther was creating a character, rather than reporting on a real individual. As an author myself, I like having characters who smoke, since it gives them something to do during breaks in the story. Regardless, smoking was so common for men during this era that it would not have been seen as an important detail.

-He spoke in an intelligent manner and never lost his cool, he was always polite throughout the ordeal.

This is so close to the man written about in Gunther’s book that Carr could be summarizing the description from it. Leclair is described in the book as a college-educated sales executive, softly spoken and thoughtful. (p.26)

-He had brown eyes (Schaffner saw his eyes before he put on the glasses, he looked directly at her several times urging her to read the note)

I hesitate to make any claims about what Leclair looked like physically, since we have nothing more than Clara’s description to go by, and she never produced a photograph for analysis (for obvious reasons: she didn’t want the FBI going after her, or Leclair’s family). But Gunther relays a description of Leclair’s eyes as “piercing dark eyes that looked almost black” (p.24).

-He is 5’10 to 6’1 (Mucklow is 5’8 and spent 5 hours with Cooper, she would know if he was her height or taller. Have someone 5’8 stand next to someone 6 feet, the difference is obvious. Better yet, position yourself at a level of 5’8 and look at someone at a 6′ elevation. Now spend 5 hours with that person, you’ll know the difference. No one put Cooper under 5’10.

Same caveat here about Leclair’s physical description. Leclair is described as being around six feet tall.

-He had olive skin (no make-up, neither Mucklow, Schaffner or Hancock made comment on make-up which would have been very obvious. Again, do the math, put dark makeup on someone then sit next to them with your shoulders touching, you can see the make-up.)

Ditto the previous caveat, Leclair is described as having a complexion that turns to the color of “walnut wood” when tan (p 84). Leclair is a regular outdoorsmen, preferring long hikes through the woods of the northwest. He had also worked occasionally as an agricultural laborer in the year before the hijacking.

-He had dark hair, receding with sideburns (no wig, this would have been painfully obvious, if a man was wearing a wig with a receding hair line and side burns everyone would have noticed, especially Mucklow and Schaffner.)

Ditto the caveat, Leclair is described as looking a little like “Ben Gazzara” (p 59).

-He was med built (no one put him over 190 lbs, in fact most put him 180 or under. Find a man 6 foot 180 lbs, thats a med to thin build.)

Ditto, Leclair is described as having a long and lean build (p 24).

These are the facts on his physical make-up, if your suspect does not match these you may want to start looking at someone else.

DB Cooper had A.D.D, his attention to detail was poor. He got the big picture, but missed the brush strokes. He was also a “know-it-all.” The type of person who would learn a few facts and then become an expert on the subject. One of those people who has just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

This is another close match to Dan Leclair. At one point, Clara asked him how he got into Industrial Chemicals and his reply was “Oh, I read up on it.” (p 89). The profile of Leclair is as an ultra-handyman, as comfortable doing mechanical repairs as he was jet-setting across the country in a suit to make a major sale.

DB Cooper most likely served in the military and upon leaving used his technical training as a contractor in the airline industry, in and around Seattle. He rose to a mid-level management position but when he could rise no further or his project never got off the ground, he quit or was fired, “because no one understood him or were just to stupid to get it.”

Leclair did serve in the military, used the GI bill to get a college education, and got into business as a salesman, and did indeed work his way up to middle management. This isn’t a perfect match, but it’s close.

Soon thereafter he ran into big financial problems that had a set deadline for resolution. Just as always he developed the “big picture” for getting the money but the escape was very poorly planned.

Leclair’s financial problems were a product of his new life, and it’s obvious the grind of making a living under the table as a transient weighed heavily on him. The book describes over several chapters his elation at his new-found freedom from an unhappy life and marriage, balanced by his frustration with trying to make a life for himself on the run. As an intelligent man accustomed to a middle-class existence, struggling to get money for housing and meals must have been quite a shock.

And the escape? Leclair expected to walk out of the drop zone. He lived in the Portland area and was a regular hiker, so he would have been comfortable with a 15-20 mile walk. Given a full day to do it, such a hike was within his abilities. However, his injury upon landing prevented this and caused him to ask for help, which is how he met with Clara.

Gunther… Again.

I read through the Gunther book a second time, making copious notes of all the connections to the accepted story and all the problems and contradictions. I wrote a more extensive and definitive version of my original post, outlining the important connections in Gunther’s interpretation to later investigative findings. [I’m going to combine the two posts to make an introductory chapter of the book I hope to edit on the DB Cooper case.]

The most important adjustment I had to make was concerning the suit, which is center stage when discussing Kaye’s tie evidence. In the Gunther book, “Leclair” leaves his wife wearing his everyday work suit. Cooper wore a suit during the hijacking, and from the tie we have evidence of Cooper being in the industrial chemical field. (With the caveat that it’s entirely possible the Real Cooper purchased the tie from a thrift store, and Gunther just picked a random industry and the two just happened to match. However, this is extremely unlikely.)

I assumed Cooper wore his work suit to the heist. However, according to Gunther, “Leclair” eventually either lost, sold, or wore out his suit because he needed to buy one just before Norjack. Originally, I missed this key passage. At first I was despondent, since no suit meant no connection to the Kaye evidence. Then I realized it was the tie we cared about, not the suit. In my mind a “suit” is a single piece of wear rather than several independent articles of clothing. (Forgive me, I never wear one.)

Thankfully, it’s fairly reasonable to assume Leclair would keep his clip-on tie as he got bounced around after absconding. It was small and light, he had worn it nearly everyday for at least a decade. He even applied for jobs that would require a tie. I have the same tie that I wore in high school, it’s the only one I wear (during those rare times I need a tie).

More Tie Talk

This tie business is important, so I want to spend some time on it.

Let’s take the thesis that the Real DB Cooper got his tie from a thrift store. There is a small possibility he picks out a tie that was once owned by someone who worked in Industrial Chemicals. Very small. However, we can’t say this is important, since the odds are low for any particular tie representing any particular profession. However, one tie has to be picked. Maybe two ties over, there was one belonging to a dentist that had silver, gold and mercury on it. We would then be looking for suspects who were dentists. In this case we’d be wrong, the tie was just one selected at random.

However, things change once we match a suspect to the tie. If we get a suspect who matches the evidence on the tie, the odds of the tie being selected at random from a thrift store goes down considerably. Since there were only a few hundred people who we would expect to have such exotic particles on their ties, the odds against Gunther and the Real Cooper randomly aligning is thousands to one.

If there were no suspects available to us that explained the particles on the tie, then we’d be safe in saying the tie might have been picked up at a thrift store. This is not the case, so we have to take Gunther’s suspect seriously.

[I intend to expand on this probabilistic case in a later post, and actually do the math. Basically, the odds Gunther picked a profession that matched the tie evidence is thousands to one; the odds the Real Cooper randomly picked a tie from the thrift store that was from someone in Industrial Chemicals is thousands to one. The odds these two independent events match just really unlikely. I’m still looking for exact numbers.]

Dick Lepsy: Not DB Cooper

One of the few “good” candidates for Cooper from the missing persons database is Dick Lepsy. He absconded from his wife and children a couple of years before the hijacking, and was never heard from again. Because he absconded, he was not listed as a missing person for many years. In Norjack, Himmelsbach says the FBI took a very close look at all the missing persons who disappeared before the hijacking and came up with nothing. However, since Lepsy (and another Cooper suspect, Mel Wilson) weren’t listed as missing at the time, the FBI never investigated either one as a potential Cooper suspect. (Wilson is an interesting case, one we’ll investigate later).

Ross Richardson’s book “Still Missing” gives an overview of the Lepsy case, including potential links to DB Cooper. Primarily, the case is based on Lepsy’s resemblance to the early Cooper composite drawing, and his physical description generally matches Cooper’s.

Lepsy went missing a couple of years before the hijacking. He was a grocery store manager who he might have been cheating on his wife. He was probably experiencing some form of quarter or mid-life anxiety. He got married very young, worked an unremarkable job and was leading a very mundane existence. An escape with a young woman to somewhere exotic would be an attractive proposition for any man, particular one drifting through life, slowly approaching middle age.

Lepsy has not been seen or heard from since the day of his disappearance. It’s possible one of his friends, named in Ross’s book, might have known part of the story. However, he never said anything, even when asked long after the disappearance. The rumor was Lepsy flew to Mexico; his car was found in an airport parking lot. His actual destination has never been known. It’s possible he never got on a flight, as no one matching his description was a passenger on the day of his disappearance (though I’ve read differing information on this).

Other than matching the general physical description, what other elements of the Cooper hijacking does Lepsy account for?


Lepsy had no knowledge of aviation, he did not work in any industry that used unalloyed titanium, and thus he could not have been the original owner of the tie found on Cooper’s seat. Lepsy was not French-Canadian, he had no experience in parachuting, skydiving, or even wearing a harness. He was much younger than the median reported age for Cooper, he smoked the wrong brand of cigarettes, and he was not from, nor had he lived in the Pacific Northwest.

Lepsy’s “Black Box.”

Any criticism of Lepsy as a suspect is generally answered with the “Black Box.” Lepsy did not have a background in aviation, he was not a regular airline traveler. He would not be so familiar with all the technical details about the 727 that Cooper seemed to know. However, he had two years in Mexico (or wherever) when he could have planned out all the details and done all the necessary research.

Thus, to answer any objection to the Lepsy hypothesis, all one needs to say is “he learned it in Mexico.”

Lepsy would not use the phrase “Negotiable Currency.” –“He learned it going into and out of Mexico.”

“Lepsy looks too heavy to be Cooper.” –“He lost weight in Mexico, and got a really deep tan, and learned a little bit about skydiving, all in Mexico…”

“We have no evidence that he ever got to Mexico.” –“We have no evidence he didn’t get to Mexico”

We can fill the two years between Lepsy’s disappearance and the Cooper Hijacking with whatever we want or need to align him with Dan Cooper.

So is that the end of it? Maybe there’s some way to close the empirical gap through something other than the “black box.”

The Secret Intellectual

At first it doesn’t look likely. Lepsy was an uneducated store manager who had no prior history of criminal activity. He looks like an especially bad fit for a crime such as an aviation hijacking. Norjack involved incredible panache and style, chutzpah, and loads of technical detail and careful planning. Cooper remained calm during the hijacking, he had a lot of technical knowledge about aircraft and airline flying, and he seemed completely comfortable wearing a parachute and jumping out of an aircraft.

Well, to give Lepsy the “benefit” of the doubt here, we have to note that he did embezzle $2000 from his store before leaving. Thus, he had begun a life of crime the moment he absconded from his wife and kids. Most importantly, while Lepsy was uneducated, he was very well read. According to transcripts published in Ross’s book (his wife later tried to declare him dead for insurance purposes), Lepsy’s most prized possession was a series of books by Will and Ariel Durant that gave a detailed survey of Western Civilization from an historical and philosophical perspective. (The last book in the series won a Pulitzer Prize.) Lepsy regularly read ancient Greek myths and plays to his children, and was otherwise a regular reader of classic (read: brainy) books. This demonstrates Lepsy wasn’t a dullard but a very intelligent and well-read person capable of thinking such a crime through in advance.

While this helps close the gap between Cooper and Lepsy, it also poses a problem. As a reader of ancient wisdom literature, Lepsy suddenly becomes a bad psychological match. Even if Lepsy was going through a midlife crisis, he wasn’t the kind of person to hold people hostage with a bomb. I, as a reader of the ancient Greeks, know there’s one consistent message in those tragedies: you do not tempt Fate with foolishness. These stories are filled with ancient codes for proper behavior. For example, in the Iliad, the Greeks murder Trojans who had sought refuge in the temple of Athena. Despite the fact Athena was a protector of the Greeks, this blasphemy doomed most of them from ever returning home. Athena, insulted by the Greeks refusal to keep the sanctity of her temple, conspired with Poseidon to punish them. These moral lessons would have been ingrained in Lepsy, and would have been an everyday part of his life.

Yes, these stories are filled with tales of great adventures and war, and the moral message isn’t entirely consistent across the literature as a whole. But I would say, based on my own experience with this literature, that any devoted reader would see these stories as imploring moral action, rather than as celebrating immoral action.

And, even though Lepsy took $2000 dollars from his employers, he could have stolen much more than that. He showed great restraint, and likely only took the bare minimum he needed to abscond. It’s even likely he only took money he felt was owed to him, for whatever reason, by the store. My guess is Lepsy rationalized the theft as some form of severance for the decade or so of dedicated service to the company.

Since the Lepsy hypothesis is wrong in almost every way, other than his resemblance to the sketch and physical description, and the fact Lepsy’s candidacy fails to account for any of the pieces of evidence associated with the Cooper hijacking, I have to reject him as Cooper. My conclusion, based on Richardson’s book, is that Lepsy met with foul play sometime soon after he absconded. Lepsy was a committed father and it would have been, in my estimation, unlikely that he would have gone two years without trying to make some contact with his children.

To move his candidacy forward, there has to be some accounting for where he was in the interim years. At some point, Lepsy would have needed to fly into SeaTac. At some point, Lepsy would have needed to either skydive or interact with skydivers. Lepsy would have needed to do research, so what reference material could Lepsy have found on the 727? Does that reference material tell him what the flap settings were, or that there even was an aft staircase? Richardson, posting on the Cooper forum, believes Lepsy “read up” on skydiving. Again, read what? What could you find in a bookstore or library that would teach him how to put on parachute harness with such ease?

Since both the Lepsy case and the Cooper case remain unsolved, it’s alluring to try to solve one mystery with another. Unfortunately, there is simply no evidence linking Lepsy to Cooper.

Weekend Reading

Two really good essays, first from Lee Sandlin is Losing the War, a remarkable essay, perhaps the best available in English, about WWII. I copied the text and made a pdf, and read it off of an e-reader (it’s about 70 pages in MS Word). The second essay is about soil conservation and its role in human civilization (hint: more important than anything else). It was written by former asst. chief of the Soil Conservation Service Dr. WC Lowdermilk, titled “Conquest of the Land through 7000 years” and it chronicles the role soil conservation has played in the history of the rise and fall of empires. It’s eye-opening.

Smaller Sample Size, Please

This is an interesting tidbit from David Lykken’s “Professional Autobiography” that was once available on the webpage of the U of MN’s Psych department website:

When I was a graduate student circa 1950, I had a job for several months in the Student Counseling Bureau analyzing the returns from a “After High School What?” survey that one of the counseling faculty had administered to 57,000 seniors in Minnesota high schools. In the basement of Eddy Hall, I would run boxes of IBM cards, each bearing the responses of one student, through the IBM sorting machine. A few years later, when I was on the faculty myself, Paul Meehl and I used those data for our unpublished “crud factor” study in which we showed that, in psychology, everything is related to everything else, at least a little bit. We cross-tabulated all possible pairs of 15 categorical variables on the questionnaire and computed Chi-square values. All 105 Chisquares were statistically significant and 96% of them at p less than 10-6. Thus, we found that a majority (52%) of Episcopalians “like school” while only a minority (47%) of Lutherans do. Fewer ALC Lutherans than Missouri Synod Lutherans play a musical instrument.

What this silly-sounding study implies is that Group A is bound to differ from Group B on Variable X so that, if your theory predicts that A > B, you have about a 50:50 chance of confirming that prediction empiricallyat least if you have a large enough sampleeven if your theory is dead wrong.

Meehl used these data as illustrations in a 1967 paper in Philosophy of Science. He pointed out that the physical sciences, whose theories are strong enough to permit point predictions (Group A will average 125% of Group B’s score, rather than merely A > B), use significance tests in a way that is obverse to the way they are used in the soft sciences. Psychologists say, e.g., that X and Y will be correlated positively and, if that much proves true, then we try to “reject the null hypothesis” by showing that the correlation is so far above the zero or null point, that there is less than one chance in 20 (or more) that the true value of the correlation (which our obtained value estimates) could be as low as zero.

One unhappy consequence of this way of proceeding is that our conclusions become more suspect as our experiment gets better! If we use good, reliable measures of X and Y, then we are more likely to detect the (almost inevitable) correlation between them, and the larger our sample, the more likely it is that this detected correlation will be statistically significant, i.e., have a small enough sampling error and be far enough from zero to believe it really is not zero. A cheap, crappy experiment with poor measures and a small sample that can report a statistically significant result is therefore regarded as more persuasive than a good, big study!

I’ve added some bolding for emphasis. This form of data-mining isn’t really discussed anywhere, from what I can tell, in the popular press or even in academic settings.

Professor Lykken’s autobiography is worth a read.


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