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Kenny Christiansen is Not DB Cooper

Kenny has gotten an inordinate amount of press coverage, including an episode of Brad Meltzer’s “Decoded” and he played a prominent role in Geoffrey Gray’s indispensable Skyjack. His brother, Lyle Christiansen, has been the primary source of speculation regarding Kenny’s involvement in this case. The full profile on Kenny can be found in Robert Blevins’ and Skipp Porteous’ book “Into the Blast; The True Story of DB Cooper.”

The bare-bones is that Kenny, then a purser for Northwest, planned Norjak with his friend [Bernie GeeMan] (“Bernie” is a living person and I choose not to name him). The mild-mannered Midwesterner was a former WWII paratrooper who had the prerequisite knowledge of the 727 and experience with the airlines and their operations. GeeMan was the wheel-man who would pick up Kenny once he reached the ground. GeeMan and Kenny’s whereabouts during the hijacking are known only to them, though the best explanation is that they were camping together.

After the hijacking, the claim is Christiansen experienced a lifestyle change. He bought property, a house, loaned $5000 to GeeMan’s sister, purchased expensive stamps and coins and otherwise lived a comfortable life after spending the previous decades just scraping by. The paradigm shift happened soon after the Cooper hijacking. Porteous and Blevins have produced plentiful speculation and circumstantial evidence to feed their thesis. Among the more entertaining finds was the Decoded team discovering a framed-out box in the attic of Christiansen’s old house.

It all makes for good theatre. And more than that. Christiansen’s aviation knowledge actually makes him a better suspect than some of the critics in the DB Cooper forums will admit. But there are some serious problems with the story. Physically, Kenny is too short. He has pale skin. In my opinion, he’s only vaguely reminiscent of any of the Cooper sketches. Most importantly, the primary circumstantial claims from Into the Blast about an unexpected surfeit of money right after the hijacking has been dismantled piecemeal over the last few years. Documents have come to light showing Kenny did not pay for his house in one lump sum of cash, but instead paid off a standard mortgage over many years.

Christiansen was a lifetime bachelor who did not have kids or anyone dependent on him. He lived a rather simple, even boring, life. It’s the sort of lifestyle financial planners would love. This leaves a lot of disposable income for other assets, like his coin and stamp collection. This piece of circumstantial evidence I find to be particularly specious. First things first, the value of Christiansen’s stamp and coin collection has never been confirmed. Estimates have ranged from $30,000 to $400,000. Without a full catalog, we can’t know for sure. But even a six-figure collection would have been within reach of a lifetime bachelor who purchased gold and silver coins throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s.

There are also problems with connecting Christiansen to Cooper in other ways. Obviously, there’s the tie issue. Kenny would not have been exposed to pure titanium and some of the other tie particles in his day to day life. Advocates who are cognizant of the tie evidence typically explain it away by suggesting Cooper’s tie was purchased at a thrift store prior to the hijacking. Not in this case. Blevins and Porteous suggest in their “General Overview of the Case” that they can connect the tie tack to Christiansen. However, we know from Tom Kaye’s analysis that the tie and tie tack were a mated pair. If Christiansen can’t account for the particles on the tie, then he can’t have owned it or the tie tack.

There are plenty of other problems with presented case. Firstly, any Cooper story involving an accomplice is suspect. Especially if the accomplice is said to have successfully rendezvoused with Cooper. Even Richard McCoy, who painstakingly ordered his hijacked plane along a very specific route and was able to to land very close to his chosen dropzone, failed to meet up with his getaway driver (his wife). Cooper was very hands-off when it came to the flight path; he directed the plane to fly south to Mexico, with a gas stop in Reno. That’s it. He never checked in with the cockpit for any information on the plane’s heading or location. If Cooper had an accomplice, they were playing Hide and Seek.

Another wrinkle: Christiansen continued to fly for Northwest after the hijacking. It is very probable he flew with at least one of the flight attendants from Norjak, who would have recognized him as the hijacker. Blevins and Porteous believe the fact Christiansen worked for Northwest was one of the primary reasons he was able to avoid detection. The FBI would never conceive of this hijacking as an inside job, they suggest. Once again, we don’t have access to the FBI files so we don’t know for sure, but this investigation was very thorough. Besides, you can’t escape the fact Christiansen could have encountered someone from the hijacking for years and years after the fact. It was a terrible risk to take.

Finally, this story leaves the Tena Bar money find completely in the air. Blevins and Porteous suggest the possibility of a plant. While I now believe the money found at Tena Bar got there through natural processes, I was once open to the possibility of a plant. For a variety of reasons I believe the money could arrived on the banks of the Columbia through natural processes. The primary reason is the report of a debris field from FBI agents working the find in 1980. There’s an economic reason too, $6,000 is simply too much money for a thief to throw away on a red herring. It would be about $30,000 in today’s money.

As always, we await the DNA from the missing cigarette butts to compare familial DNA from other members of the Christiansen family to completely eliminate Kenny from the suspect list. This is unlikely to ever happen. Still, we can fit suspects to the evidence and work from there. Christiansen has part of the background I would look for in a Cooper suspect, but he only fits part of the picture. Everything else, from his appearance to his life after the hijacking, points away from him being Dan Cooper.

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