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Skyjacker

January DB Cooper Notes

  • Sales of the book have been pretty good, thank you all. However, no one has reviewed the book on Amazon.com yet, and that tends to be a really big deal when it comes to how Amazon cross-promotes products. If you’ve read the book, please give it an honest review on Amazon.com. Print Copy Here, Kindle Edition Here.
  • I purchased an NB6 container along with an old military reserve container. Playing around with the equipment, it looks like it would be an easy matter to store some of the money in the reserve container and secure everything with paracord. The Reserve container then could be easily clipped to the main harness. There’s room for about 130,000 dollars in the reserve container (not including the parachute). I’ll have to get a parachute to see how much money could be carried with the reserve parachute.
  • Geoffrey Gray recently released some of the FBI files he had which included interviews with 305 passengers. Of interest for me was Nancy House who reported seeing Cooper with a burlap or canvas bag about the size of the attache case.
  • Shutter at the DB Cooper Forum has run several flight path simulations which have shown that the FBI map is, while not perfect, pretty close. One of the controversies of the map are the timestamps, which are not spaced at regular intervals. If the timestamps are close, and the generally accepted time of 8:13pm for the jump is also close, Cooper landed around Battleground and no farther south than Orchards.
  • Important show on the Travel Channel (tonight). Tom Kaye has some new stuff, and the teaser trailer had Geoffrey Gray on it talking about some of the passenger interviews he has from the FBI files. I’ll be updating this post during and after.

Update

Kaye’s findings that Dan Cooper worked in CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) production is interesting. Anyone who has read my book will know that I make my case on Kaye’s earlier findings regarding titanium particles found on the tie. I await to hear Kaye’s interpretation. My suspect worked a sales job in Industrial Chemicals. As such, we would expect him to be exposed to a wide range of particles like the ones listed on Kaye’s website.

 

First, Do No Harm. A Rogue One Review

Here’s something a little different, I know it’s not DB Cooper but after two years I think I’ve covered the case pretty well, it’s time to move on. The Review contains spoilers, but spoilers won’t ruin the movie for you, I promise.

With any new Star Wars movie, the first question that needs to be asked is “did it do harm to the Original?” Did the filmmakers, for reasons of convenience or avarice or ignorance, harm in some way the memory of what made Star Wars the most beloved fictional franchise in history? To quickly answer this question in regard to Rogue One: No. Not only does Rogue One do no harm, it even fixes some issues with A New Hope. This is quite an accomplishment considering the movie ends minutes before the start of A New Hope. Rogue One is a good standalone sci-fi movie, which is an accomplishment for any Star Wars film, and more importantly, a worthy flag bearer in the growing Star Wars canon.

It will forever be difficult to make a new Star Wars movie because the filmmakers have to strike a balance between originality and mimicry. Make the movie too reminiscent of the Original Trilogy and it will be accused of plagiarizing and manipulating nostalgia for the sin of greed. If the movie is too original and fails to connect to what has come before, then audiences will accuse the film of infidelity. Over time. I believe this will become a larger problem, especially as audiences change over time with shifting technological culture. Thanks to the prequels, the bar is very low right now, and the folks at Disney have cleared it by miles.

Rogue One opens… somewhere. I’m not actually sure, as we visit so many planets in a short period of time. Regardless, the Empire has come for an engineer, Galen Erso. In the course of kidnapping Erso, Imperial agents kill Galen’s wife, and a young girl, Galen’s daughter, escapes. We shoot ahead about a decade and meet the daughter again, who is now serving a prison sentence for crimes we hear about, but never actually see.

The Daughter, Jyn Erso, is rescued by the Rebels. Based on her reaction. she was rescued against her will. The rebels need Jyn, I think, because Galen Erso is rumored to have sent a defecting cargo pilot with a message to warn the Rebellion about an Imperial superweapon. I’m not even sure how the Rebels know they need Jyn Erso or where to go to rescue her, since she’s living under an assumed name. This part of the film is painfully convoluted and reeks of poor writing or failed reshoots or corporate suits interfering with the movie. I’m not 100% certain what happened, but the end result is a mess. Even the witty dialogue and pumped up action doesn’t save this part of the film from being boring. In fact, the entire movie struggles to get its main cast into a position for the big ending. There are a lot of questions about these scenes, now that I have time to think about them.

What makes everything worse about these scenes is the movie is constantly throwing references for the diehard fans. Characters from the original trilogy get glorious cameos throughout, most of which work fine, especially in the third act. But…. This forty-five minutes of the movie, from Jyn’s jailbreak to the roundtable at Yavin Base, all I can remember is the bright green light from the emergency exit sign (which is, distractingly close to the screen at my theatre) and the sound of the family behind me assaulting their bags of popcorn.

Eventually, the film finds its mojo and the audience is treated to seeing the rebel base on Yavin IV. Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, our new cast of characters, the disparate members of the Rebel Alliance, they all get crammed into a roundtable discussion about the Death Star and the future of their resistance movement. It sounds like an awful scene, now that I write it down, but it worked. We see a Rebellion on the verge of collapse before it has really started. We understand the stakes, which are even bigger than losing a planet or two to the Death Star. We see the desperation and despair. Our main characters become the catalyst for the entire Rebellion through their resolve.

Here the Big Dumb Ending starts. And it is glorious. The story comes together, the characters begin to shine, we start to connect emotionally to the people and the story, the action was exciting and reasonable, no cartoon physics or poor effects. The movie even fixed some of the nitpicker objections sourpusses like to bring up to belittle the Original Trilogy.

Rogue One has wonderful cinematography, a serious tone that captures the uncertainty created by the modern war against terrorism, wonderful performances by a vast cast of characters, including some from A New Hope (Seriously). It suffers from some combination of poor writing or poor editing in post-production. It’s far from perfect, but for half the movie I forgot about that stupid Exit sign and I have no idea if those hogs behind me stopped eating or if I was just that absorbed in the story. That’s just about the highest praise I can give a film.

Print Edition Now Available: Finding DB Cooper

finding-cooper

Available now at Amazon.com

And Createspace

Cooper Book Update

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.

LD Cooper is still Not DB Cooper

*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.

New Book: Finding DB Cooper

finding db

Now Available on Kindle

Robert Wesley Rackstraw is not DB Cooper

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.

DB Cooper: The FBI Map

dropzonemap-1800

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:

56640534sage-terminal-crt

(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.

Random Thoughts on Finding DB Cooper

-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.