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Richard McCoy is still not DB Cooper

Re: Mission Declassified

So I watched the Mission Declassified episode on DB Cooper from the Travel Channel and decided to come out of hibernation to discuss the show, which concluded Richard McCoy was DB Cooper. Here are my notes from the episode:

  • Amboy Chute: This is not a decoy parachute sent down by Cooper to throw off investigators. It’s just a surplus parachute that had the shroud lines cut. These parachutes were widely available for about 20 dollars in the sixties and thousands of them ended up in trash heaps all over rural areas. Farmers would use them to cover firewood or hay or equipment or whatever. They were used as temporary tarps. Cooper left the plane with two parachutes, the primary in the NB harness and the altered reserve in the belly pack. Neither could be the Amboy Chute.
  • Extra chutes thrown out as decoys? This is something other hijackers actually did (Heady) so it’s a viable hypothesis. Unfortunately, it’s not likely in this case. Cooper left two parachutes ON THE PLANE. This is not mentioned in the show. One of the “back” parachutes was left on the plane, unused and unaltered. Cooper opened one of the reserve containers to scavenge cordage to assist in securing the money to his person for the jump. The second, INOPERABLE, reserve parachute has always been a bit of a mystery, since there were no D rings to attach the reserve to the harness. However, the reserve container can clip on the harness across the waist, so it’s likely Cooper did just that. If Cooper tossed out the second reserve as a ploy to throw off authorities, that container has never been found.
  • The likely reason Cooper asked for two sets of parachutes was so he could threaten to take one of his hostages on the jump with him. This would guarantee he received good equipment that hadn’t been modified to be inoperable.
  • Precision jumping from a 727: Cooper had no way of knowing where he was with any precision, he didn’t even know what air route (there were two and ATC gave 305 open skies) the flight was on. Victor 23 is eight miles wide! Cooper would not have known the speed or altitude of the flight either. Cooper jumped blind. He would have been able to see city lights, and the Portland/Vancouver area would have been the only real target for him to shoot for.
  • Did Cooper jump near Reno? This bullshit again. It has to be remembered, Cooper didn’t suggest Reno, the pilots did. This was during a discussion between Cooper and the pilots while the flight was on the ground in Seattle. Cooper asked to go south to Mexico. The pilots informed him they couldn’t make it that far on one tank of gas given the flight characteristics Rataczak suggested a few. All of Rataczak’s suggestions were along the coast (Rat wanted to dump Cooper into the ocean.) Cooper, likely wise to Rat’s inclinations, rejected all the seaside locations.Finally, Rat suggested Reno and that’s where they settled on. All evidence in the case suggests Cooper wanted to jump early in the flight, and the fact money was found along the Columbia River in Washington state all suggest he did jump in that area.
  • That’s right, this documentary fails to account for the Tena Bar money find… in any way whatsoever. If McCoy jumped near Reno with the money, when did McCoy return to Portland? Even in their book on McCoy, Calume and Rhodes believe McCoy jumped in Washington and lost the money.
  • The Reno to Vegas cab ride: This is an interesting document, however it’s one of many. The FBI noted that there were people who looked like Cooper… everywhere. There was the guy in the suit walking along the road near Lake Merwin. There was the guy in Mexico buying a yacht in cash with twenties. There was high school swimming coach. The list goes on. There are literally thousands of pages of FBI documents, most of them dealing with potential suspects.
  • McCoy’s alibi: We know McCoy was in Vegas Thanksgiving evening as he checked into a hotel on 25 Nov 71, and purchased gas the same day in Vegas. And we know McCoy was done with his BYU classes at 0930 on 23 Nov. Calume and Rhodes believe McCoy left for Vegas on 23 Nov and got a flight into Portland, arriving in time to get his ticket as Dan Cooper. By 2020 hours on 24 Nov, DB Cooper was one the ground somewhere in Washington. Calume and Rhodes believe McCoy had enough time to travel back to the airport and fly into Vegas in time to fill up on gas and check into a hotel. It’s quite the schedule, though it is barely feasible. This is not what this documentary suggests, however. Calume and Rhodes had a workable hypothesis, this show does not. Regardless, the most likely scenario is McCoy spent Thanksgiving day with his family, then left sometime in the afternoon to spend some time in Vegas, which we know he did periodically.
  • Something else this documentary ignores is the trace elements found on Cooper’s tie. In their book on McCoy, Calume and Rhodes suggests members of the McCoy family identified the tie left by Cooper on the plane as belonging to Richard. We now know this simply isn’t possible. There was nowhere Richard McCoy could have been exposed to the exotic particles found on the tie. Nor did McCoy wear his ties often enough to collect the large number of particles Tom Kaye and his team found on Cooper’s tie. The tie did not belong to Richard McCoy.
  • The reason McCoy’s hijacking is so similar to Cooper’s is because it is a copycat hijacking, McCoy had months to plan it, months to gather information. Of course they would be similar. There were newspapers in 1971, there was television in 1971. This was not some antediluvian world where information couldn’t be transmitted over long distances.
  • There are important differences between McCoy’s hijacking and Coopers’: First, the big personality differences: McCoy was abrasive; Cooper was polite and relatively soft spoken. Cooper wore a nondescript dark suit and tie, McCoy wore brightly colored clothes as a distraction. Cooper did not wear makeup, McCoy tried hard to change his appearance. This is also important:
  • None of the primary eyewitnesses thought it was McCoy. Not Mucklow, Not Schaffner, not Mitchell.
  • Problems with photo-analysis, there are EIGHT sketches of Cooper. Not just the three used in the analysis. The computer also ignores the fact that McCoy had pale skin, whereas Cooper was swarthy. Calume and Rhodes believed Cooper was wearing heavy makeup, something the Stewardesses on 305 denied. I don’t know what goes into the computer analysis, but McCoy doesn’t look like Cooper to me or most other investigators. Regardless, we don’t know what a “96% match” actually means. Does this mean 1 in 25 male photos will match the sketch? Is this a Bayesian result? (Very doubtful). Was there a control photo or photos? Do we even know what the computer is measuring? What’s the distribution of results? The entire show essentially hinges on this analysis, and we have no tools to understand the analysis. We’re now at the point where a computer programmer can create a result that can’t be challenged since we don’t have any idea how the computer came to the conclusions it came to.

4 Responses

  1. Wonder analysis! You hit the biggest nail on the head – the Travel Channel show inexcusably did not even attempt to explain how the money ended up on the bar, despite McCoy jumping in Reno. The ages also do not match up. McCoy was too young to be Cooper. Informative show, but not even close to what happened. I believe Cooper had a plan and a conspirator. No way he plans the highjacking with military precision and then blindly jumps out, during a storm, into rough terrain wearing a suite and loafers. The guy did his homework planning and executing it, so I have to think he also did his homework concerning the escape plan. I believe he died during the jump. Probably drowned and washed out to sea.

  2. ” I believe Cooper had a plan and a conspirator. No way he plans the highjacking with military precision and then blindly jumps out, during a storm, into rough terrain wearing a suite and loafers. The guy did his homework planning and executing it, so I have to think he also did his homework concerning the escape plan.”

    Unfortunately, there was no way Cooper would have been able to connect with a co-conspirator. He did not talk to the cockpit to confirm the plane’s position, nor did he give a detailed flight path. Cooper’s partner would have been cleared from prosecution by the statute of limitations, but has never stepped forward with a story that would be worth a lot of money. Cooper’s escape plan may not have been as elegant as the hijacking plan itself.

    ” I believe he died during the jump. Probably drowned and washed out to sea.”

    A lot of people believe this, but this doesn’t help us solve the case. There are no missing people that come close to qualifying as legitimate suspects. Cooper may have died, but that doesn’t solve the mystery of his identity. Indeed, this case is even more perplexing if he died.

    Thank you for visiting.

    • Cooperation would require some kind of ground communication. Is there any indication Cooper jumped with a radio? That would be ideal.

      Next option is Cooper hikes to closest pay phone and calls conspirator for a ride, but this is a pretty open ended time frame with two people likely being missed for Thanksgiving and giving FBI time to coordinate search/road blocks.

      • Not to mention having a ground operative doubles the chance someone eventually steps forward, especially since the ground man was not included in the John Doe indictment and is thus protected from prosecution by the statute of limitations.

        There is no indication Cooper had radio equipment, any concern for the position of the aircraft, or was trying to time his jump. Cooper did not provide a flightpath, and 305 was given an open sky by ATC.

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