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Personal Update

It’s been a very busy summer for me and I haven’t had much time to write. I’m helping with a house remodel, I have a lot of professional obligations right now, and what little time I have to write is being spent on a book project. I am keeping up-to-date on the DB Cooper case and hope to publish some more articles on it in the coming year. Almost every aspect the Cooper mystery is solvable, and I want to present the case as it stands today. I am also collecting more data on WWII parachuting and will likely write a paper on survivability based on one of the chapters from my book on Cooper. Then there’s my perennial promise to try out podcasting (I swear, this year is the year!)

A lot of prep work for a future series of articles on the Golden State Killer had to be trashed thanks to the fantastic work of law enforcement who tracked down and caught Joe DeAngelo. I am currently looking for new mysteries to investigate. I want to thank everyone who has read, commented, sent me messages and followed the blog since I started working on the Cooper case. It has been quite an adventure and quite a surprise for me. I’m not done, but neither am I devoting the resources to the case that I had in the past.

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DB Cooper: Sheridan Peterson Revisited

Eric Ulis, a longtime DB Cooper sleuth has released a report detailing his investigation into the skyjacking, now available for purchase at: https://thecoopercase.com/ In the report he discusses the hijacking, the Tina Bar money find, the tie particles, and the flight path. He comes to the conclusion that Sheridan Peterson is the UnSub skyjacker from Norjak. Eric actually called me to ask about some of my own findings on Sheridan Peterson, and I will have some corrections to make to my book in later editions. Basically, he was able to show that there was overlap between when Sheridan Peterson was at Boeing and when the JCPenney #3 clip-on tie was available in stores, which I erroneously believed not to be true. He also let me know that the FBI has not officially ruled Peterson out as a candidate despite taking his DNA some years ago, something I said did happen. My assumption was that the DNA was not a match, but we simply don’t know. I stand corrected.

I don’t want to spoil the report by giving too many details, but I disagree with several of Ulis’ findings. Ulis believes flight 305 bypassed Portland to the west by travelling from the Malay to the Canby intersections, which is Robert “R99” Nicholson’s theory. Ulis suggests Cooper landed near Tina Bar and buried the money, losing some of it in the sand upon retrieval. I believe the evidence is now irrefutable that the money came to Tina Bar via the 1974 dredging operation, and that the published flight path is essentially correct (I believe the anomalies on the yellow FBI sectional came from the way the map was transcribed from its source). Even if Cooper had jumped directly over Tina Bar, he would have landed a good distance away had his parachute opened properly.

Regardless, I highly recommend the report. His research is extensive and his theories are interesting.

Podcast Appearance

I made a brief appearance on the Haughty by Nature podcast. We talked briefly about my two novels starting at around the 35-minute mark.

DB Cooper and the flap over Walter R. Reca – an interview with publisher Vern Jones

The Walter Reca story is, bluntly, pure nonsense. Bruce points out many of the problems in this write-up.

The Mountain News - WA

By Bruce A. Smith

Vern Jones and his Principia Media publishing company have just released a book that claims to identify the iconic skyjacker DB Cooper. DB Cooper and Me: A Criminal, a Spy, My Best Friend, is a memoir penned by an 84-year old Floridian named Carl “Charley” Laurin, and it traces the alleged exploits of Detroit native, Walter R. “Peca” Reca.

Laurin claims that Reca is DB Cooper.

View original post 1,729 more words

Walter Reca is not DB Cooper

I’ll try to do a full write-up later, but the big news in the Cooper world has been the release of another new suspect, Walter Reca.

The press conference was today and it took about five minutes to eliminate Reca as a suspect:

  • Reca claims he destroyed one of the back (main) parachutes for cordage. In fact, it was one of the reserves.
  • Reca used different nomenclature for the parachutes than Cooper did.
  • The description Reca gives of the money being a mix of new and used bills, is incorrect. Cooper got used bills.
  • The drop zone is wrong, Reca and Principia Media claim Reca jumped to the east of Seattle. This is very wrong for many reasons.
  • No explanation is given for the Tina Bar money find.

EARONS/Golden State Killer Caught

Joseph James DeAngelo, a seventy-two-year-old Sacremento resident, has been arrested in connection with two murders allegedly committed by the “East Area Rapist” (EAR) almost forty years ago. DNA linked the East Area Rapist to crimes committed by someone dubbed “The Original Night Stalker” (ONS) and was later labeled “The Golden State Killer” (GSK).

This is a breaking story but here’s some tidbits I’ve picked up so far:

  • DeAngelo was a police officer who was fired in 1979 for shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent.  The EAR must have encountered many dogs in his neighborhood stalks. At least once a dog was stabbed by someone believed to be the EAR.
  • Rumors are that DeAngelo admitted to being the Visalia Ransacker. DeAngelo lived about fifteen minutes from Visalia when the Ransacker was active, and he was a cop at that time. DeAngelo’s mother lived in Visalia. [DA confirms he was the Ransacker]
  • DeAngelo was a Vietnam vet, served in the Navy.
  • He had connections to Sierra Crane & Hoist, a company that a redditor linked to aviation repairs. Paul Holes, a cold case investigator, believed EARONS had a connection to aviation.
  • DeAngelo’s DNA was connected from a discarded item, police did not reveal why they had put DeAngelo under surveillance.
  • Still trying to find out what DeAngelo did after being fired from law enforcement. He married at 27 years of age and had a child in 1981.
  • The last known GSK murder happened in 1986, a few months before the birth of another of DeAngelo’s children.
  • Much of the conjecture about EARONS was true, he did have military and police experience, he did have a connection to aviation and the construction industry. Paul Holes was correct when he said he believed the suspect still lived in or near Sacramento.
  • DeAngelo was most recently working as a tuck mechanic and retired last year. He discussed the case once with an in-law. He collected guns and was a re-loader (recycled and made his own ammo). [Other Redditors say he was a motorcycle mechanic who retired only a few weeks ago, so waiting on sources]
  • It’s known tracking dogs had unusual reactions to the EAR scent (though they could normally follow the scent to its end point), now we know why: Dog repellent.
  • Anything not sourced came from Reddit
  • A supposed tip posted to Reddit says a DNA link was made from 23andMe or Ancestry.com databases. Such a link would be against the terms of service for those companies and who knows how that might play out in the legal world.
  • An interesting event to consider in light of the fact the GSK was a police officer: the 7-11 incident.
  • Reddit thread on what we know about DeAngelo so far…

DB Cooper Update

I was directed to a Facebook group of older skydivers who were talking about DB Cooper and saw these two gems:

Jon Reinschreiber:

The FBI came out to our DZ to nose around. They were fish out of water.
FBI: “You have to help us find him. We know that he’s injured and needs help”
Us: “How do you know that he’s injured?”
FBI: “He wasn’t wearing jump boots.”
Us: looking at our tennis shoes, “HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA!”

 

Gene Bland:

You know what you know, and what you don’t know you just don’t know.

I was brought into the investigation the day after it happened by the FBI in Carson City NV. I inspected the parachutes he left in the B-727. I talked with Causey [presumably, Earl Cossey–ed] in their office on the phone to the Bureau office in Portland about the chutes that he jumped with. We reviewed the routes.

I helped them purge the files at USPA Hq in Monterey while I worked there in the summer of ’72.

From the FBI profile and the short list compiled we went through the possible suspects.

I jumpmastered on[e] of them on his first FF and later made his first hook up. He was a USAF Survival Instructor at Stead AFB. He met the physical profile. He bought some property on an airport in KS.

Some of the jumpers that knew him there agreed.

We’ve discussed this several times before on Oldschool Skydiving.

I also participated in the investigation of two more skyjacking cases where we had convictions.

Found on November 19, 2017 on a public Facebook group

Media Alert

I will be on After Hours AM talking DB Cooper at 7:10pm PST on February 28th.

http://www.americas-most-haunted.com/after-hours-am/

  • An archive of my posts relating to the Cooper Case can be Found Here
  • You can buy my book on DB Cooper Here.
  • Here is a list of people I’m researching to find a possible connection to the Max Gunther book. (List was downloaded from FamilySearch.org, it is all the Canadian-born US Army WWII enlistees.) Any information on any of the people on the list would be helpful.
  • My Data on no-pulls during WWII and in skydiving.

Twitter: @martyandrade

Update: Podcast is up, my interview begins in the second hour.

Minnesota Mysteries: Susan Swedell

Susan Swedell disappeared thirty years ago, January 19th 1988. She has not been seen since.

Susan Swedell is shown in a photo taken about a month before she went missing on January 19, 1988. Swedell left work at a Kmart in Oak Park Heights that night, bound for an evening of popcorn and movies with her mother and sister at home in Lake Elmo. Later, a gas station clerk let her leave her overheated car at the station, a mile from home. That clerk, peering through a snow-splattered store window, saw her get into another car with a man. That was last time she was seen. (Courtesy of the Swedell family)

It was a blustery January night in 1988 when Susan Swedell drove her car to a gas station about a mile from her home in Lake Elmo. The blizzard was dumping what would turn out to be about six inches of snow. An average winter storm, nothing to miss work over. Susan was coming home from her job at the local Kmart. The stop at the Clark Station wasn’t for gas or a snack. Her car was overheating; Susan asked the gas station attendant if she could leave her vehicle for the night. The attendant agreed as long as she moved it. A few minutes later, Susan left in another vehicle driven by a young man—early twenties with long sandy blonde hair and a leather jacket—who had followed her into the K station. Susan was never seen again.

Thirty years later, we have no answers. Susan may have voluntarily gotten into the car with the mysterious man in the leather jacket, but she certainly had no intention of absconding. She was just nineteen and had recently moved back home after a year at college. Susan was described as a homebody. To say she ran off and never looked back would be against everything we know about her. The family knows better. Her younger sister never really recovered from Susan’s disappearance, never marrying, she lives with her mother.

The list of suspects is short, and there aren’t many good ones. There was the high school boyfriend, whom she was going to meet that very night but cancelled on because of the weather. There was a guy she met at a dance club. Another suspect now lives out of state, an unlikely murderer but one who failed part of a polygraph exam. The man at the gas station has never been identified. Unfortunately, we can’t limit the suspects to those already known to investigators.

Susan Swedell had broken up with her high school boyfriend, who was three years her junior, and had aggressively put herself on the market, as it were. She would go out to dance clubs. She met people at her job at Kmart and her second job in a store at the same mall as the Kmart. Her Kmart coworkers said she would get lots of calls from men while working. And, she had racked up about a $400 phone bill calling into a teen-chatroom where young men and women would flirt for about 80 cents a minutes. Investigators might have identified a few of the men in her life, but it’s possible their list is short by a significant number.

Still more difficult is trying to understand Susan’s intention on that night. When she was done with her shift at Kmart, she changed into a sweater and a miniskirt, as if she was planning on meeting somebody. This was after she had called her mom to say she was coming home to watch a movie, and even asked about the best route to deal with the snow. Susan had already cancelled plans with her former boyfriend that night. Did she meet somebody while at work and decide to meet for a quick date? Did she get a call? She was afraid of snowstorms, according to her family, so any change of plans was out of character.

The mystery deepens. Her car problems might have been from sabotage. The petcock on her radiator had come loose, draining the engine of its coolant. This is unlikely to have happened on its own, and it’s very convenient that there was someone ready to help her in the middle of a blizzard. Someone who happened to be about her age, tall and good looking, with a leather coat driving a late model muscle car.

Within a week of Susan’s disappearance, the story gets stranger still. Susan’s little sister comes home one day to find the key to their home has moved from its normal hiding spot. Once inside, she finds dirty dishes in the sink. Susan’s red pant suit, the one she took off before she left Kmart, is found under Susan’s bed. Someone had been smoking marijuana in the house. Someone other than the Swedell’s had been in the house. Whoever it was, they knew about the house key and had Susan’s work clothes.

In her car, Susan left her glasses and purse. These were items she would need if she was going somewhere. Despite this, the police were forced to treat this as a missing persons case. Susan voluntarily got into the man’s car. Adults have the right to disappear. Law enforcement can’t assume she’s in danger if there’s no evidence a crime has been committed. The case stalls.

It doesn’t help that reports come in. Susan is spotted somewhere. The person is sure of it. She was the girl in the roadside diner. She was at a gas station in Fargo. Nothing comes of it. In 1990, her dental records are pulled to compare to a Jane Doe. Not a match. About a decade ago, there was activity on Susan’s social security number, but it was just a case of identity theft.

Sadly, it’s likely Susan was murdered by the man in the leather jacket.

This police sketch, drawn by an artist working for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, was created on Oct. 13, 1998, based on a description given to investigators by the gas-station attendant who was the last to see Susan Swedell, 19, of Lake Elmo, on Jan. 19, 1988. (Courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office)

Whoever this man was, Susan was comfortable around him. She probably encountered him before, either at a dance club or at the mall. He might have been one of the guys she talked to on the phone all the time. Maybe she changed into “date” clothes because she knew he was going to meet with her, probably in the parking lot, and that they were going to go someplace nearby for a quick date or a dance before she would continue home. The man was mechanically inclined and drained the engine’s coolant system, causing the engine to overheat—a problem he likely helped her notice—before convincing her to get into his car.

Wherever her body is, it hasn’t been uncovered in thirty years of development and suburban sprawl. It’s unlikely she will ever be found. The only way this case will be solved is if her murderer or someone who knows the murderer, comes forward. Whoever the man in the leather jacket was, he was within her social network at the time. Somebody knows something.

There is a $25,000 reward for information in this case.

Sources:
Still Missing Podcast
Pioneer Press (Source for pictures and captions, as well as other details)

Living with Reasonable Doubt: Chandra Levy

I’ll be moving beyond the Cooper Case, hopefully, over the next year. This is the first in a series dealing with reasonable doubt in notable murder cases. I’ll also be looking at some other unsolved and unusual crimes as well. Happy New Year!

On May 1st, 2001, Chandra Levy left her apartment in Washington DC for a run through Rock Creek Park. A computer recovered from her apartment showed she had researched the park online. The 24-year-old Levy was also having an affair with Gary Condit, a socially conservative Democrat from California. Over a year later, her body was found by a dog in Rock Creek Park. The state of her remains made it impossible to conclude much about her death, but it looked like she had been restrained with her own jogging pants.

Ingmar Guandique was an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who assaulted two women in Rock Creek Park in the months preceding Levy’s disappearance. A jailhouse informant fingered Guandique for the Chandra Levy murder when he supposedly bragged about doing it (after getting paid by Congressman Condit no less). This informant/confession was not taken seriously, and the case went cold.

Long story short, a shakeup at the D.C. police chief office and a series of articles run by the Washington Post gave the case new life, and the result was a re-examination of Guandique, including a search of his federal prison cell. Guanadique had a picture of Chandra Levy in his cell, and a tattoo on his chest bared close resemblance to the deceased Levy. Other witnesses were talked to, and Guandique was charged with Levy’s murder.

At the trial, the prosecution’s entire case rested on the testimony of a jailhouse informant who said Guandique admitted to the murder of Levy but denied any sexual assault (Guandique was worried about reprisals from other inmates as rapists are not looked up to in the prison hierarchy). The defense did their best to discredit the testimony of the informant and presented another cellmate of Guandique’s who testified he heard nothing from the defendant about the Levy murder. The Jury found Guandique guilty, and he was sentenced to 60 years.

Of course, it didn’t end there. Later revelations would show the jailhouse informant perjured himself, not about Guandique’s confession but about other elements of his testimony. Guandique’s defense team asked for a new trial based on this information, and a judge granted that request. With their star witness completely discredited, prosecutors were forced to drop all charges. Guandique was deported to El Salvador. Officially, the Chandra Levy case remains unsolved.

So how do we deal with such a result?

First, let’s understand that Guandique is almost assuredly the killer. He did confess to a jailhouse informant, and that informant never changed his story concerning the confession. In fact, the perjury charge against the informant deals with only one thing: that the informant lied about not previously being an informant (and maybe exaggerating his level of “reform”). Of course the informant is going to say he’s not being an informant for selfish reasons, and of course a convict is going to claim to be “reformed.” Unfortunately, no matter what, a jailhouse informant is just a bad source in the eyes of your average juror.

Because the case against Guandique was so thin, any corruption of the primary witness is going to create problems for a prosecutor.

How thin is the other evidence? Remarkably.

Guandique was absent from work the day of Levy’s disappearance; Guandique had scratch marks on his face; he robbed two women in the same park. And, he had a picture of Chandra in his cell. It’s not 100% definitive how Levy died. Perhaps she was choked, as her manubrium was damaged, however the only real evidence we have of a homicide is the presence of her pants near being inside-out, with knots in them. This suggests a lot, that she was tied up and sexually assaulted, but that’s all inference. Otherwise, no forensic or physical evidence in the case can be linked to Guandique, or anyone else for that matter.

The MO evidence is the most interesting. In two previous instances, Guandique would follow women to a secluded part of the park, and jump them. Levy’s body was found in a secluded area off one of the park’s rougher trails. The MO fits. However, Guandique didn’t kill any other victims, in fact, one of his victims successfully escaped him. He also didn’t sexually assault the two other women. Chandra might have been an escalation for Guandique, or everything could be one big coincidence.

And there is a solid reason Guandique might have made a false confession (assuming he really did make a confession): because people who are rapists tend to get targeted for rape while in prison. So he needed to confess and say it was a robbery that ended in murder, and not a rape. (Why confess at all? Well, it depends on whether Guandique thought they would believe him if he claimed innocence.) (Of course, the informant also had significant motivation to deliver false testimony if it helped him serve less time.)

What a mess. The defense had very little work to do to prove reasonable doubt. Once they discredit the informant, their narrative is simple: Levy googled an unfamiliar site because she was meeting someone there for a run. At some point, her jogging partner took advantage of the remote location and murdered her. It could have been anybody. The other evidence against Guandique is either coincidence or misinterpreted. It’s even possible he became obsessed with Levy after becoming a suspect. Odd? Yes, but it’s not murder.

It makes sense the charges against him were dropped, the case was thin to begin with and the testimony of a single jailhouse informant didn’t help matters. It’s unfortunate, and there was a major missed opportunity: the police did search the park about ten months before Levy’s remains were found. There would have been soft tissue to examine, and other evidence might have still been recoverable at that point. Instead, they found her over a year later, and nothing forensically useful was found. We have to live with the result, but the silver lining is the fact Guandique will never to the US, though that likely gives little comfort to Levy’s parents, who deserved better.