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D.B. Cooper: Rackstraw Revisited

Tom J Colbert (TJC), co-author of “The Last Master Outlaw” and the force behind what we can call the Robert Rackstraw theory, recently made a big splash in the media about a possible D.B. Cooper find, including the possibility of the first physical evidence recovered from the case in decades. The physical evidence will have to wait for a future post, but TJC released a new theory regarding Cooper’s possible escape from law enforcement, outlined in a pdf circulated to a few Cooper investigators. Information about the theory is available on his website, which is where I will take any quotes from, though I intend to summarize the theory instead of quoting.

Here is a summary of the escape theory sent to me: A small private aircraft was doing touch-and-goes at a remote airfield in Washington the day before the hijacking. This aircraft was later used during the hijacking. It had an oversized anti-collision light on the tail, making it visible from the 727 above. Cooper waited at the bottom of the stairs until he saw the red beacon, signalling that 305 had traversed the jump point. Cooper jumps, lands within 1300 feet of his target (!), and is whisked away by a ground crew driving a truck. Cooper is taken to the remote airfield and is picked up by the Cessna which received a signal from the truck. They (Cooper and the pilot) fly VFR, below radar, over the Lewis River to Lake Vancouver. They plant some of the ransom money ($50k) and the briefcase bomb in Lake Vancouver to make it look like Cooper drowned. Then they go to a final airport, and The Hijacker (who, as far as I can tell, is not named by the storyteller) flies out on another aircraft. Years later, a buddy of Rackstraw’s gives some of the ransom money to the Ingram family, who plant it at Tina Bar on the Columbia… which happens to be the same place that dredge spoils from Lake Vancouver ended up. And by some miracle, those spoils included remnants of the original 50k planted in Lake Vancouver the night of the hijacking.

There’s a lot to unpack here:

-A precision jump under these circumstances would have been impossible. Cooper may have manipulated the 305 crew to go south, but the actual route was chosen by ATC and the flight crew. In fact, 305 was given permission to go anywhere it needed to. Thus, *maybe* Cooper could have jumped within a few miles of his preferred latitude. Maybe. However, Cooper had no control of his longitude (east-west line). In this case the particular route was Victor 23 (which is eight miles wide), but there were other routes that could have been taken. Cooper provided zero instruction to the crew and would have had no idea where the plane was east-west, and no any control over where it was, when he jumped.

-The weather would have been a big factor, there was cloud cover at two different elevations (Weather from Hominid via Cooper Forum):


The maximum cloud coverage (“overcast”) was at a base of 5000′ for all three observations, from 8pm through 9:17pm. Over that time frame, the “broken” layer base rose from 2700′ to 3100′ to 3500′ (all AGL). In other words, the layer that (with any lower layer) provided over .5 coverage was rising over the period. The sky was clearing below 3500′ and a helo at 2500′ AGL would have been below most of the cloud coverage the entire time.

Over that same time sequence, an 8pm “scattered” layer at 1500′ AGL was gone at 9pm, but was then back at 9:17. In place of that scattered layer, a few “CUFRA” at 1500′ were reported at the intermediate time (when the scattered layer had disappeared). I believe from this that the CUFRA was the remains of the scattered layer of clouds rather than clouds that were ripped away from larger clouds by winds, or formed by the higher clouds. That is, the scattered clouds had shrunk to almost nothing and were identified as CUFRA because of their appearance. A 2500′ helo would be above this base in clear air or scattered clouds.

Also, the horizontal visibility (air “clear-ness”) peaked at the intermediate observation time. It was 7 statute miles (SM) at 8pm, went up to 10SM at 9pm (when the low clouds were disappearing), then went back to 6SM at 9:17. Light showers were reported at each time.

The existence of the data for 8pm and 9pm in the data Carr posted gives us an opportunity to fill in between the 7pm and 10pm data from WeatherUnderground. Combining data from the sources shows that the wind speed went from 4.6mph at 7pm, to 11.5mph at 8pm, to 12.67mph at 9pm, to 11.5mph at 10pm. The wind speed went abruptly up from nearly dead calm between 7pm and 8pm, then stayed approximately constant for the next two hours.

Similarly, the wind direction changed from 130° (SE) at 7pm (when there was barely any wind) to 270° (W) at 8pm to 190° (S) at 9pm and to 200° (SSW) at 10pm. The abrupt change of the wind to west at 8pm, then back to SSW at 9pm is intriguing. (BTW: wind directions are plus or minus 5°.)”


From 8pm to 9pm to 9:17pm the base of the sky obscuring (overcast) cloud layer rose from 4000′ to 6000′ AGL. At 8pm no lower layer was reported. At 9pm a layer of “broken” clouds (over .5 coverage) developed at a little under 2200′ AGL. It rose to 4000′ AGL at 9:17, at which time a “scattered” layer had developed at 1500′, the horizontal visibility had dropped to 7SM (from 10), and the wind direction had changed from 220° (SSW) to 270° (W). (wind directions ±5°) Over the period, wind speed had gone from 7kt to 21kt/24mph (9pm) to 12kt. Light showers at 8pm, very light at 9pm, and back to light at 9:17pm.

In general, showers and vertical visibility diminished and wind increased for the intermediate observation. Then the wind direction changed and the horizontal visibility dropped a bit. The cloud cover heights increased, but a lower coverage layer appeared. A 2500′ helo could have been above a cloud base at any time after 8pm.

Generally mild weather at the mouth of the gorge, but the wind did pick up a bit after 8pm.


Much of the info for 8pm (just below the line for Yakima “YKM”) is illegible in the 8pm report. It appears that the wind was 9kt from 200°.

At 9pm there was a “scattered” cloud layer at 1500′ and a “broken” layer at an estimated 6000′ (AGL). Visibility was 15SM. 6kt wind from 310°. No precipitation was reported for 9pm, rain having begun at 8:04 and ended at 8:06 (2 minutes of rain).

At 9:17pm the scattered layer had risen to 2500′ and the broken layer had fallen to 4000′. Light showers, wind 15kt (17mph) from 270° (W). The 9:17 report included “chance of light XC” (whatever that meant).

For the entire day, the WeatherUnderground site indicates that The Dalles got only .08″ of rain.

In general, wind dropped and changed direction a bit at 9pm then went back some at 9:17. Cloud layer heights changed.

Mild weather at this point in the gorge, except that the wind did go up a bit at 9:17.


Toledo was not on the 9:17 report in image 1b, as far as I could tell. At 8pm its report said 3000′ AGL overcast (complete cover), 12SM visibility, very light showers, 5kt from 190°, and rain had begun at 7:35. At 9pm the report was 3000′ scattered, 3400′ measured ceiling/overcast, the same visibility, no rain, 6kt (virtually the same) from the same 190°, and rain had ended at 8:05.

Very mild conditions at both 8pm and 9pm a few miles north of Vancouver. A 2500′ helo would have been under the cloud base.

It *might* have been possible for Cooper to see a circling plane from the rear stairs, but by no means was this guaranteed. The weather was not good for a plan built on so much visual communication.

-Some more problems: To hit within 1300 feet of a chosen dropzone, Cooper would need a wrist altimeter. There’s no evidence Cooper had such a device. There’s no evidence Cooper had any specialized skydiving equipment. Cooper would also need radio equipment. Again, no evidence Cooper had such equipment. Cooper would have needed to be in constant contact with the cockpit to keep the plane on the right line, this didn’t happen.

-Meeting up with a getaway plane at an airport seems like a really bad idea. Once Cooper was picked up, he could have driven anywhere he needed to go, the police response to the hijacking was laughably thin, and law enforcement wasn’t even sure Cooper jumped until hours later in Reno.

-Why the VFR flight path over the Lewis River? On a moonless night over a rural area? It wouldn’t have been impossible, it would just be laughably difficult. Another “super spy” element of the story that serves no real purpose. There were lots of planes in the air, it was a busy travel day, another private aircraft coming and going would be less suspicious than a low-flying aircraft trying to follow a river in the dark.

-Three planes were used in this getaway? Again, why? You’re in an airplane, go where you need to go. Everytime you touch down at an airport you increase the chance of being discovered or caught.

-Throwing money into Lake Vancouver–What? This is perhaps the most unbelievable part of the story. The whole point of the heist was to secure the money, so throwing nearly $50k away on a ruse (about $250k in today’s money) is illogical; we’re looking at a four-way split, so surrendering any money, let alone $50k, is ridiculous.

-TJC suggests dredge spoils from Lake Vancouver ended up on Tena Bar, based on the documentation I’ve seen this would have been impossible as the lake wasn’t dredged until after the money was found.

-Lots of accomplices–a pilot, two ground crew, possibly an aircraft owner or two? All of whom never came forward, even after the statute of limitations expired?

-Rackstraw would never surrender the money. First of all, we’re looking at a four-way split, so surrendering any money, let alone $50k, is ridiculous.

That said, physical evidence is king. TJC is claiming pieces of a parachute harness and potentially money. The money is likely to be completely rotted away, and it’s unlikely the pieces could be linked to Cooper. So the key would be the totality of the find: parachute harness, clothing, the parachute itself, rotted currency, other evidence, location of the site.

Fearless predictions: No money, at least with serial numbers we can check, will be found. The parachute harness won’t be connected to the hijacking, and I’m guessing it will prove impossible to show it is actually a piece of an NB6/8 rig. However, I can’t be sure and look forward to finding out more.

In summary, here’s what we have: a third hand story from a deceased pilot. Some fabric and a possible dig site. Old reports from the FBI about a plane doing touch and goes the day before the hijacking. Another eyewitness report of a man wearing a suit walking along a road somewhere in the Lake Merwin area. The FBI did investigate these matters and it led to a dead end. I’m pessimistic; the escape plan is too convoluted to be true. The conditions during the jump would have made the plan completely untenable. I’m certain the FBI is going to pass on an excavation, so TJC and a TV crew are going to go in and do it themselves, hopefully they find more than garbage.



DB Cooper: Breaking News

Looks like TJC (Cooper investigator who believes Robert Rackstraw is Cooper) has released some new findings that he believes will solve the case.

I’ll have more later, but here are some links:



Slightly better pictures of the strap


Futurism and other Nonsense

One of my primary pet peeves is the hyperbolic rhetoric of technophile futurists who are convinced mankind is on the verge of some kind of technological utopia thanks to cell phones and machine learning. I admit, I’m a curmudgeon, but sometimes it’s more than I can take. Considering the zeitgeist of the age, these sorts of posts might start appearing more regularly.

There has been a particularly egregious clickbaity article circulating on social media, and after some digging I think I found the source. I figured I’d repost the entire thing and respond to each point of ridiculousness in turn. Taken from “Udo Gollub, the CEO of 17 Minute Languages“:

Into the future
By Udo Gollub at Messe Berlin, Germany

*I just went to the Singularity University summit. Here are the key points I gathered.
Rise and Fall: In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they were bankrupt. What happened to Kodak will happen in a lot of industries in the next 10 years – and most people don’t see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that 3 years later you would never take pictures on paper film again?*

There is a great bit by George Carlin about one hour photo printers where he asks “how can anybody be nostalgic about a little while ago? You just saw the f–ing thing.” (Couldn’t find the original bit, working from memory). So yes, the camera industry changed very quickly, but color me bewildered by modern personal photography. I don’t understand why people take so many photos, why they have them on their phones instead of in albums, and why all these photos are so terrible. I’m looking for a few good photos to keep, preferably framed, as a connection to the past. I have three or four photos of my maternal grandmother. That’s all I need.

*Yet digital cameras were invented in 1975. The first ones only had 10,000 pixels, but followed Moore’s law. So as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a long time, before it became superior and mainstream in only a few short years. This will now happen with Artificial Intelligence, health, self-driving and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and jobs.

Welcome to the 4th Industrial Revolution. Welcome to the Exponential Age. Software and operating platforms will disrupt most traditional industries in the next 5-10 years.*

It’s important to remember the pace of change he implies. It is simply impossible for humans to keep up with this pace. Human inertia will slow some of this down, which I think will be a good thing.

*Uber is just a software tool. They don’t own any cars, but they are now the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb is the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don’t own any properties.*

I think the effects of the “sharing economy” are being greatly exaggerated. This tools flourished during the great recession and have continued, and that’s a good thing. However, while I may appreciate a shared ride to the airport, I don’t want to share a wardrobe or kitchen utensils.

*Artificial Intelligence: Computers become exponentially better in understanding the world. This year, a computer beat the best Go player in the world, 10 years earlier than expected. In the US, young lawyers already don’t get jobs. Because of IBM Watson, you can get legal advice, (so far for more or less basic stuff), within seconds. With 90% accuracy, compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans. So if you are studying law, stop immediately. There will be 90% fewer generalist lawyers in the future; only specialists will be needed.*

The whole AI field is a mess. Some sensationalists suggest the human species will be obsolete and our extinction is assured (humans and AI computers presumably occupy the same space in the ecosystem, and biology demands only one species can survive in each niche). Other AI specialists say AI programming and computer learning is constrained by the fact computers process information differently than humans in ways that are not well understood. I am in the camp that believes there is a qualitative difference between machines and human minds. While computers will reach the processing power of a human brain, it will never interact with the environment the way a human does, saving us from absolute obsolescence.

As for lawyers, I have to ask, when was the last time you needed legal advice? Maybe to write a will or sign real estate papers. So sure, those tasks will be automated. But if you need to face a human jury and a human judge, you’re going to need a human attorney. (I wrote about my experiences on a jury a few years ago. There’s no way a robot could have handled the complexities to the case.)

The advice is still good though, don’t go to law school. There are already enough lawyers, the school is very expensive and the pay upon graduation is surprisingly awful.

*‘Watson’ already helps nurses diagnose cancer, four times more accurately than doctors. Facebook now has pattern recognition software that can recognize faces better than humans. By 2030, computers will have become ‘more intelligent’ than humans.*

The medical profession has been in desperate need of an information technology upgrade. An AI helping doctors diagnose patients, as well as leveraging the use of statistics and data, is a positive step. The human body is incredibly complex and the base of human knowledge about the human body has exceeded the mental capacity of any living person. That said, there is no way you can replace the role of human doctors. The first problem is aggregation; on average, humans have one testical and one ovary. A human knows this is a joke, a computer doesn’t. Computers will struggle with the innate individual differences found in humans. Smoking can give teenagers lung cancer but some centenarians smoke with no ill-effect. How do you reconcile that in a computer algorithm?

I recently had a medical scare. My symptoms were associated with cancer, but after many invasive tests I was diagnosed with something innocuous. As it turned out, my symptoms didn’t quite fit my diagnosis because symptoms are irregular. They fall on a continuum and the continuum between various diseases overlap. Diseases are found in clusters. Genetics play a role. Tests are subject to error. A computer might say “there was a 20% chance you had cancer” but it took a collaborative effort between several doctors to figure out I had non-standard symptoms and get me the right diagnosis.

Let’s also say there are epistemological problems with how we define intelligence. If we’re taking just operations per second and total memory, then yes, computers will surpass humans in the coming decade. However, that’s not really what human intelligence really *is*. Humans don’t process information like computers. We have a complex web of cells, each of which is connected to thousands of other cells, synapses have hundreds of neurotransmitters and all these processes seem to be self-directed by…something. It really is quite a mystery how the human being finds meaning from the inputs given it by the senses. How can all that a human being does, including stuff like figuring out special relativity or the rules of geometry, or catching a baseball without doing calculus, be programmed?

*Cars: In 2018 the first self driving cars will be offered to the public. Around 2020, the complete industry will start to be disrupted. You don’t want to own a car anymore. You will call a car on your phone; it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and you can be productive whilst driving. Our kids will never get a driver’s licence and will never own a car. It will change the cities, because we will need 90-95% fewer cars for our future needs. We can transform former parking spaces into parks. At present,1.2 million people die each year in car accidents worldwide. We now have one accident every 100,000 kms. With autonomous driving, that will drop to one accident in 10 million km. That will save a million lives each year.*

Dumb question, if no one owns a car how will there be any autonomous cars to drive you anywhere?

This autonomous car idea sounds like a variation of the Personal Rail Transit that was fashionable in some circles a decade or so ago. It’s better because there are no rails to build. However, there are still a lot of problems. First, most people need to ride at the same time, weekdays from 6am to 9am and 4pm to 7pm. This system of magically ownerless cars works great for people with irregular schedules, but the 9-5 work crowd might as well own their own vehicles. And they’ll still need a place to park their cars because demand for autonomous cars will go down precipitously outside of rush hour. In order to change this situation, you have to change the way people work and are scheduled to work. If you’re going to do that, you might as well change it so everyone telecommutes.

*Electric cars will become mainstream around and after 2020. Cities will be cleaner and much less noisy because all cars will run on electricity, which will become much cheaper.

Most traditional car companies may become bankrupt by taking the evolutionary approach and just building better cars; while tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) will take the revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels. I spoke to a lot of engineers from Volkswagen and Audi. They are terrified of Tesla.*

I have no idea how the car companies are going to react to these changes. However, it still sounds like everyone at this futurist convention believed cars would still be a primary mode of transportation in the future. Maybe Google will create a smart car that does a better job spying on their passengers, but I would bet money on car companies being strong moneymakers in a world of cars.

*Insurance companies will have massive trouble, because without accidents, the insurance will become 100 times cheaper. Their car insurance business model will disappear.*

This assumes everyone rapidly gives up driving cars. More likely this will be a slow generational change. Insurance companies will have plenty of time to diversify.

*Real estate values based on proximities to work-places, schools, etc. will change, because if you can work effectively from anywhere or be productive while you commute, people will move out of cities to live in a more rural surroundings.*

Oh, that’s right, we’re not at the part where 80% of the workforce is unemployed. Author once again assumes everyone wants the same thing, in this case they apparently want to live outside of large cities. Which is weird, since people have been moving into big cities for decades now. Personally, I’d prefer a rural homestead, but until I can buy a 3D printer that makes good pho, well, you know…

*Solar energy production has been on an exponential curve for 30 years, but only now is having a big impact. Last year, more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil. The price for solar will drop so much that almost all coal mining companies will be out of business by 2025.*

Which is fine, coal mining is a relatively minor industry in the United States now. It’s been a decades-long process and people have had plenty of time to react to the changing job market.

*Water for all: With cheap electricity comes cheap and abundant water. Desalination now only needs 2kWh per cubic meter. We don’t have scarce water in most places; we only have scarce drinking water. Imagine what will be possible if everyone can have as much clean water as they want, for virtually no cost.*

This is great, of course.

*Health: The Tricorder X price will be announced this year – a medical device (called the “Tricorder” from Star Trek) that works with your phone, which takes your retina scan, your blood sample and your breath. It then analyses 54 biomarkers that will identify nearly any diseases. It will be cheap, so in a few years, everyone on this planet will have access to world class, low cost, medicine.*

And presumably they will also have access to all the misdiagnoses and mistakes inherent in trusting WebMD instead of a doctor. It’s great that diagnostic tests will be cheaper and easier to get, but I don’t see how it removes doctors from the equation. Something interesting I heard on Tyler Cowen’s podcast, access to medical care doesn’t necessarily produce better results. Amish and Christian Scientists have similar life expectancies to those of us who have access and use modern healthcare. I’ll have to delve into those studies sometime.

*3D printing: The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from 18,000$ to 400$ within 10 years. In the same time, it became 100 times faster. All major shoe companies started printing 3D shoes. Spare airplane parts are already 3D-printed in remote airports. The space station now has a printer that eliminates the need for the large amount of spare parts they used to need in the past.

*At the end of this year, new smart phones will have 3D scanning possibilities. You can then 3D scan your feet and print your perfect shoe at home. In China, they have already 3D-printed a complete 6-storey office building. By 2027, 10% of everything that’s being produced will be 3D-printed.*

I’m on the fence about 3D printed stuff. I need a small part for an unusual pistol, and the part costs more than the pistol is worth. It’d be great to 3D print the part instead of having an expensive paperweight. However, I’m very sure i don’t want to live in a 3D printed home. There’s an obvious lack of craftsmanship about 3d printing, and I hate cheap crap devoid of craftsmanship.

And let me say also, if 3D printing can get me a shoe that fits comfortably and lasts longer than three months, all is forgiven.

*Business opportunities: If you think of a niche you want to enter, ask yourself: “in the future, do you think we will have that?” And if the answer is yes, then work on how you can make that happen sooner. If it doesn’t work via your phone, forget the idea. And any idea that was designed for success in the 20th century is probably doomed to fail in the 21st century.*

I like to think of “serial entrepreneurship” as the modern form of subsistence living. Everyone takes every side gig they can, just to break even. So sure, everyone is going to be doing some kind of non-salaried hustle, but it’s hardly going to make anyone rich. This point just admits that the employer/employee model of making a living is about dead (which I don’t think is necessarily true, but that’s a dark pit for another time).

Another aside: I got a smartphone about a year ago. I’m a Luddite, so I was actively avoiding it but circumstances demanded I get a new phone and the smartphone was free. Regardless, I’ve had a for about a year. I don’t understand the hype. I added a bunch of apps, most of them educational, and it’s nice. But I found that I spent most of my time scrolling through facebook and checking my email. I didn’t need a device to help me check my email more often. I guess we’ll see how people are going to leverage the ubiquitous pocket computing power in the future, but I don’t see how it’s going to revolutionize anything. As for me, I’ve caught myself checking my email so often, I’ll probably just get rid of the damn phone.

*Work: 70-80% of jobs will disappear in the next 20 years. There will be a lot of new jobs, but it is not clear that there will be enough new jobs in such a short time.

Where did that number come from? It’s well-known that driving jobs are at risk of automation in the next decade, and that’s about 45% of jobs. What else is going to disappear? Regardless, such a rapid transformation is unlikely, and we should be glad. The social unrest that would occur if 75% of the public were unemployed would be incomprehensible. During the industrial revolution, the majority of the populations in western countries went from rural agriculture to urban misery. The end result was 50 years of static wages, lower standards of living, lower quality of life, urban disease epidemics, two world wars and the rise of extremist political philosophies that resulted in the deaths of over a hundred million people outside of the world wars. When billionaires talk about Universal Basic Income, part of me wonders if they’re doing it out of self-interest.

*Agriculture: There will be a 100$ agricultural robot in the future. Farmers in 3rd world countries can then become managers of their fields instead of working in them all day. Aeroponics will need much less water. The first veal produced in a petri dish is now available. It will be cheaper than cow- produced veal in 2018. Right now, 30% of all agricultural surfaces are used for rearing cattle. Imagine if we don’t need that space anymore. There are several start-ups which will bring insect protein to the market shortly. It contains more protein than meat. It will be labelled as “alternative protein source” (because most people still reject the idea of eating insects).*

All positives. New technologies will allow more people to grow their own food on smaller and smaller plots of land. How many people will actually do that, I don’t know. From an economic perspective these changes will be difficult to predict. Having cheap robots lowers the barriers to entry, so everyone can afford to grow food commercially. This will increase demand on land, causing prices to rise. However, switching from cows to petri dish meat and insect protein will lower demand on land and demand for crops in general. Add-in all the various government subsidies and regulations and you have a mess.

*Apps: There is already an app called “moodies” which can tell the mood you are in. By 2020 there will be apps that can tell by your facial expressions if you are lying. Imagine a political debate where we know whether the participants are telling the truth and when not!*

Maybe. It’s very difficult to gauge whether a person is lying based on body language alone, and there are individual differences and contextual difficulties to deal with. Also, people can learn to lie better. A grad student I had as a teacher learned how to tell a lie and avoid detection despite being strapped into an fMRI machine. I can imagine a new industry where experts teach politicians to defeat these new technologies.

*Currencies: Many currencies will be abandoned. Bitcoin will become mainstream this year and might even become the future default reserve currency.*

These crypto-currencies are a joke. They have, in my estimation, been enjoying a rise in value thanks to speculation. Once people realize they are more devoid of value than fiat currency, they will die. I’ve never had anyone explain to me the appeal other than “computer stuff” and “anonymous transaction” both of which can be accomplished with cash. If fiat currencies fail, bitcoin will not be the saviour and it won’t matter because you’ll have lots of other problems to deal with, like war or civil unrest.

*Longevity: Right now, the average life span increases by 3 months per year. Four years ago, the life span was 79 years, now it is 80 years. The increase itself is increasing and by 2036, there will be more than a one-year increase per year. So we all might live for a long, long time, probably way beyond 100.*

This is a statistical misrepresentation. We’ve done a great job of reducing death at childbirth and death from childhood diseases. This is where a majority of the increase in life expectancy has come from. We have not appreciably increased the outbound limits of life expectancy. Basically, 0-60 years of age have seen huge gains. After 70+ years? The actuarial tables really haven’t changed. This was discussed on Tyler Cowen’s podcast with Atul Gawande

*Education: The cheapest smartphones already sell at 10$ in Africa and Asia. By 2020, 70% of all humans will own a smartphone. That means everyone will have much the same access to world class education. Every child can use Khan Academy for everything he needs to learn at schools in First World countries. Further afield, the software has been launched in Indonesia and will be released it in Arabic, Swahili and Chinese this summer. The English app will be offered free, so that children in Africa can become fluent in English within half a year.*

A lot of us have been waiting for a revolution in education. It should be here already. I’ve been self-educating on Khan Academy and studying Spanish on Duolingo for years and years now. I guess it’s personally enriching, but it hasn’t made a difference in my financial situation. I guess this is all good, but the skeptic in me doesn’t believe the hype. This goes back to the smartphone rant; yes, we all have access to an incredible vault of knowledge and endless educational opportunities. Yet, we still spend most of our time snap chatting or playing some worthless game. It’s not how many opportunities we are afforded, it’s how many we actually take.

DB Cooper: FBI Vault

TJC continues to get hundreds and hundreds of pages of FBI documents on the DB Cooper case released through a tenacious use of FOIA requests, all can be found here:


DB Cooper Podcast

I made an appearance on the GravityBeard podcast talking about DB Cooper (and a brief peak at my political eccentricities).

Part of the interview was my response to D. Godsey’s appearance on the same podcast a few months ago.

D.B Cooper’s Tie (Again)

I got a great comment on the last post and wanted to dedicate a post to answering it as it covers a lot of topics pertinent to the Cooper case.

*I finally read your book a (couple of months ago) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would strongly recommend it to anyone. By the way, it is an excellent value at only $9.99.

Shameless book plug

*The biggest takeaway I get from your work is your optimism that we are closer to solving NORJAK than ever before. With the digitization and databasing of Census, dead S.S. #’s and military/enlistment records this is entirely possible and gives all Cooperites hope.

You made a very good case that Dan LeClair was Cooper but I must ask for some clarification.

You give many good reasons why this is so but it seems that your main and most compelling reason is LeClair’s job description as described by Clara. Now I know the raw titanium on Cooper’s had to come from someplace but is industrial chemical salesman/manager synonymous with titanium? Especially in 1971? Ashford’s Dictionary of Industrial Chemicals lists over 9,000 such chemicals. Marty, you seem to like probability theory. What do think would be the probability that a industrial chemical salesman in 1971 would be selling product that contains titanium? My guess is pretty low, I am not trying to be critical, but I think Clara’s description is too vague to make a strong connection.*

In Max Gunther’s book, “Clara” gives a description of Dan LeClair (who she claims is DB Cooper) as working in the chemical industry. LeClair started as a salesman, and over a career spanning nearly two decades, he moved up from sales to middle management and finally landed a lower level executive position (probably an account manager). So you’re presenting me with a strawman.

Here is what Tom Kaye has to say about the titanium: “Chemical plants used pure titanium and other corrosion resistant metals. Pure titanium and 5000 series aluminum found on the tie have high anti-corrosive properties. In 1971 the most common place these two metals were found together would be chemical plants or the metal fabrication facility that built the components for the plant.” Thus, it’s perfectly plausible a middle manager in a chemical plant would encounter these anti-corrosive metals at some point while walking the shop floor. In all likelihood, a chemical factory would machine parts and do simple repairs to their equipment and this would be the source for the titanium and the 5000 series aluminum. The tie was sold sometime in the late 1960’s, and was worn very often. It had ample opportunity to be exposed to all sorts of stuff, including some of the unusual chemicals found by the McCrone group (which we’ll get to in a bit).

*I recently discussed your book with my son-In-law who has a PhD in Medical Physics from Duke. At one point, I asked him what industries were using titanium (besides aerospace, metallurgy and industrial chemicals) in 1971. His immediate response was “prosthetics” I don’t know if the Kaye group explored the prosthetics industry but I did find a business that may be of interest to some. T. I. Medical is a medical/prosthetics company headquartered in Rockaway N.J. The first line on their home page proudly proclaims them to be “providing the world with titanium products since 1972”. This is pretty close to the Cooper timeline don’t you think? In 1971, they could be conducting product testing & development. Also of interest is the fact that they have a service/sales office in St. Laurent, Quebec (Cooper was French-Canadian). Just saying.*

It would be very unlikely that unalloyed titanium was being used for this application (anyone who knows for sure, please comment), and some of the other chemicals like yttrium and the CRT phosphors would not be found in a prosthetics lab.

*On another matter, I am confused by the McCrone Group findings. Correct me if I am wrong but didn’t they initially say that the tie contained particles synonymous with the production of CRT tubes? I seem to remember that they found 23 out of 26 materials found in CRT production on the tie. Recently, the tie emphasis is with the raw titanium and other rare metals. What am I missing? Did Cooper work in both industries? Could he have worked at one place and been exposed to both groups of particles at the same time or did he work in each industry at separate times but still wore the same tie?*

Tom Kaye appeared on the DB Cooper forum and responded to a similar reaction I had to the sudden shift in his thinking by saying both findings are valid, there was titanium and other metallic particles, and there were chemicals from CRT production on the tie. So did Cooper work in both industries? Did he move from one company to another? We can’t be sure.

Here is my opinion: CRT production is where a person could be exposed to yttrium and some of the phosphors the McCrone lab found. However, there are videos showing how these chemicals were used in CRT production, and the people most likely to be exposed to them would be in full coveralls with masks. Not a likely source for yttrium on a tie. Thanks to the number and variety of chemicals found on the tie, there are more than a few places where families of chemicals could have been picked up. The problem seems to be the number of chemicals found, there are a large variety of chemicals. Steel production has also be mentioned as a vector, as has dentistry. In my mind, the most likely place to be exposed to a wide variety of industrial chemicals AND the anti-corrosive metallic particles is in the chemical industry. A long career with several different companies and different jobs within those companies helps a lot.

Clara’s description of “Dan LeClair” background fits. He started in a sales position for a chemical company on the East Coast (at some point moving away until returning to New York area before absconding). Starting in sales, LeClair worked his way into middle management before ending up in an executive spot (again, guessing an account executive). He was then laid off, and was hired at another chemical company before also getting laid off and finding himself at a third, much smaller company. If LeClair had worn the same tie for the last five or so years of his career, it seems to me ample opportunity to be exposed to the wide swath of chemicals and metals found on the tie. This is just my opinion. As I’ve presented my research it seems like everyone disagrees with me so I have to accept the possibility that I’m wrong.

Something I talked about in my book, I believe a suspect should emerge from the evidence, not the other way around. We should not focus on one aspect of the evidence, search for a suspect that is a best fit, then suggest that individual was D.B. Cooper. You will get a lot of false positives. It is likely that every place where a person could have been exposed to CRT phosphors or unalloyed titanium or stainless steel or spiral aluminum will have someone of the right age and look to match D.B. Cooper, and a background that includes military service or skydiving. This is “suspect mining” and it does more harm than good.

The tie analysis is good because it happened only recently, so it can be retroactively used against previous stories and suspects. Which is what I have done over the last few years, and the Gunther story emerged as a possibility and I pursued it from there.

What if I’m wrong about Gunther? Doesn’t that mean I have to go “suspect mining”? The short answer is “no.” There has to be some kind of story or rational suspicion relating to any suspect before an investigation. This is why media coverage will be very valuable and why the Kaye/McCrone findings need to be broadcast to the world at large. In all likelihood, the family of the real D.B. Cooper has no idea their relative was the hijacker, but if they hear that Cooper was a manager or engineer in a certain field, be it CRT or industrial chemical or whatever, and they remember their relative having an injury during Thanksgiving of 1971 (or some other “hit” with the case is realized), they will hopefully be compelled to share their story. That will be the key to solving the case.

*One last thing. Could you give some clarification about the paper bag Cooper carried onto the plane. The FOIA information gives the dimensions of this bag as being 4″X12″x14″ (this would be too big to be the green bag you described in your book). These dimensions are very close to the size of your standard paper bag you get at the grocery store. One of the biggest paradox of this case Is why Cooper make the jump wearing loafers. Hiking boots could easily have been concealed in a grocery bag. Again, just saying. Thanks to everyone who has read this! The answers to my questions are probably easy to answer. I just don’t know what they are.*

There are several different descriptions of this mysterious bag. One of the passengers described it as a yellowish burlap about the size of the briefcase. Tina thought it was a green paper bag. The size varies. I believe SA Larry Carr suggested it was just a small bag from a bakery while on the DropZone forum. Regardless, the bag must have been inside Cooper’s jacket or inside his briefcase since he wasn’t seen with it until he was on the plane. It is very unlikely he had a spare set of shoes with him since those couldn’t fit inside the briefcase with the bomb. I know Clara from Gunther’s book believes LeClair brought the bag specifically for carrying the money, we can’t be sure of her story. I do speculate on this topic in my book but all the conflicting information that has come to light since the recent dump of FBI files from the case makes me hesitant to come to any solid conclusions about the bag.

As for the Loafers, this tidbit comes from the second Tina Mucklow debrief done about a week after the hijacking. We have no reason not to believe her, but several other Cooper investigators on the Cooper forum recalled there were other descriptions of Cooper’s footwear. I went looking, but couldn’t find them from the FBI witness documents I have. I’ll do some more digging, but in the end I’m not overly concerned with Cooper’s footwear. If he lost his shoes, he lost his shoes. It would have very little impact on his survival.

Thanks for the great comment.

DB Cooper: Things We Know Didn’t Happen

The Cooper Caper breeds a lot of idle speculation, some of it is interesting but most of these theories end up being a real drag on those of us who know the case. So here are three theories regarding DB Cooper that need to die.

  • ”There Was No DB Cooper”  –This particular theory suggests the flight crew invented the entire story, stealing $200,000 from their own company (technically, the company was on the hook for only 20% of the ransom). Cooper was invented, and after the flight left Seattle, the crew divided the money and kept it for themselves. I’ve heard this dreck more than once now on various forums, and it deserves to die. The flight crew weren’t the only people to encounter Cooper. A ticket agent, and boarding gate agent, and several passengers all saw Cooper. The flight recorder showed a pressure bump when Cooper jumped, which could not be faked. The hijacking really happened.
  • ”Cooper Hid Inside the Plane” –When N567US landed in Las Vegas, no sign of Cooper was found on the aircraft. Some believe there are spaces on the plane Cooper could have accessed to hide himself from the FBI. And perhaps there were a few places the FBI and the maintenance crews missed… this is conceivable. However, the pressure bump was confirmed with instruments on the aircraft. Those could not be faked. Cooper jumped. This also means Cooper jumped somewhere near where the FBI believes he jumped, so you can also throw out theories involving Cooper jumping near Las Vegas.
  • ”The Money Was Planted at Tina Bar” –This theory will persist forever, or at least until the case is solved. In fact, I once believed it was impossible for three bundles to end up together on a random sandbar along the Columbia River. However, after years of examining the evidence, it is clear the money arrived at Tina Bar by natural means. The bills were exposed to the elements for a very long period of time. There is no way the money was buried on Tina Bar in late 1979 in order to fool the FBI into believing Cooper died in the jump.

DB Cooper Podcast

Busy with real life, but I thought I’d share this podcast on DB Cooper from the guys at Confluence of Events. Unfortunately, the guys make several factual errors about the case and don’t go into a lot of depth, but they’re entertaining.

D.B. Cooper Notes: March 2017

Slow month in the Cooper world. Nothing earth-shattering.

  • For those interested, TJC (Co-author of The Last Master Outlaw) has been releasing hundreds of pages of FBI documents received through FOIA requests. According to rumors, there may be many hundreds of pages more coming soon.
  • It looks like there is a small chance some of the CRT-related particles found by the McCrone group analysis could be linked to specific CRT tubes.
  • The DB Cooper Forum has been pretty quiet, a lot of focus lately has been on the Dan Cooper comic books. The comic was translated into several other languages from the original French. The problem still remains: finding a group of people who are bilingual and have no accent. French-Canadian is still the big favorite. What’s being ignored is the fact the Dan Cooper connection is tenuous. Dan Cooper is such a common name, it’s very possible it was just an alias picked at random for being remarkably unmemorable.
  • I’ll be going through the FBI files for some time, and I’ll be sending in my own FOIA request for FBI files relating to Max Gunther’s role in the Cooper case. I’ll keep everyone posted.

Redesigning Scientific Literature

Scientific literature has a traditional style and format, which evolved over many years and likely has its merits, but this no longer reflects how people read these papers:

“I start by reading the abstract. Then, I skim the introduction and flip through the article to look at the figures. I try to identify the most prominent one or two figures, and I really make sure I understand what’s going on in them. Then, I read the conclusion/summary. Only when I have done that will I go back into the technical details to clarify any questions I might have.”

– Jesse Shanahan, master’s candidate in astronomy at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut

Shanahan’s habit reflects nicely the theme from most of the people quoted in the story linked above. As it turns out, few people—especially the target audience of professional researchers—read a study the way it’s presented, which means the presentation is wrong. Scientists, researchers, academics and intellectuals now have to deal with a flood of papers as human knowledge expands. The outline of these papers should reflect this reality.

Here is how a standard paper is organized:

Materials and Methods

It should be an easy task to rearrange the sections of a scientific paper in such a way as to match the needs of the primary readership. The first change that’s required is very easy: Don’t bury the lede, the conclusions of the paper should not be buried somewhere in the middle of the latter third of a paper. Abstracts normally state the conclusions of the study, and I believe the abstract as it exists is pretty much perfect. A well-written abstract is one of the most wonderful experiences in a world of technical literature that is generally dreadful as the phrase “technical literature” implies. Therefore, the abstract remains at the top.

Next would be a “select” graphic, preferably just one graphic but two or three would be fine. A graphic is perhaps the most important element of a study, as it turns data into something visual, which is easier to grasp. If warranted, a select graphic should appear just below the abstract. Properly captioned, this should assist the readers in understanding the magnitude and importance of the results of a paper. Some papers won’t have graphics, and in its place we could perhaps find a table or equation.

The results of the paper, written in clear language, is perhaps the most important part of the paper. It is very important to not overstate the conclusions, and to make any issues of context clear and explicit. It should be the first thing people read, after the abstract. In all likelihood, the conclusions section will end up being the only section of the main body of the text to be read.

Following this should be the discussion section, including clear references to previous research in the topic (I would even bold those references to make them easier to find). These references are important—several researchers mentioned it—because it allows them to immediately see the study in relation to previous literature and they can even see any bias (such as avoiding an important previous study). The introduction section is eliminated, any concepts that have to be introduced to understand the problem or study can be mentioned in the discussion.

The actual methodology of the study is only useful to those trying to replicate the study or specialists in the field and we therefore put it at the end. It will contain all the nitty gritty details of how everything in the study was done, with all the excruciating minutiae and jargon and acronyms a subfield specialist would demand. Personally, I would still attempt to make everything in the paper accessible to non-specialists. Ideally, even the methodology section should be written in clear enough language that someone outside the field can understand how the research was done. However, as long as the conclusions and discussions are clear, the methodology section can be as incomprehensible as the authors feel is necessary to communicate their own expertise.

Finally, all the tables and graphics should come at the end, including a reproduction of anything used at the top of the paper.  A standard reference section should follow, with any acknowledgments coming at the very end. Here is the final outline:

Select Graphics or Tables
Results or Conclusions
Discussion (with any introductory material and a select summary of previous research)
All graphics and tables

A physicist friend of mine from college (we shared an addiction to handball) told me “If it’s not in the first or last sentence of the abstract, it didn’t happen.” So maybe this was all for naught.