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DB Cooper: The FBI’s Unresolved Suspects

Wow, I know it’s been awhile…

The latest (#52) FOIA document file the FBI gives insight into where the case was just after DNA was sequenced off the tie, but before Larry Carr took the case public and brought in outside investigators to help.

In 2004, in what appears as part of a last ditch effort to solve the case, the FBI Norjak Case Agent at the time (Eric Mueller, probably) presents a phased plan to gather evidence and follow up the last leads in the case. Phase II of this plan involved following up on the FBI’s “Unresolved Suspects” from the previous thirty years’ of investigation, and much to my surprise there are only three suspects listed:

1) “The Shelton Lead”

There were a lot of 302s in the FBI files regarding “The Shelton Lead”(TSL) and they start right after the hijacking itself. (The one difficulty here is that there is a correctional facility in Shelton, so we can’t be 100% sure every one of the documents I’ve reviewed apply specifically to the Shelton Lead.) Here’s a rundown on the lead as it developed in the files:

  • The FBI began looking at an Indian family living near Shelton, searching for names and nicknames. One of the early FBI files mentions “previous sub-sends” so there are other documents on this lead that have not yet been released.
  • Along with the nicknames, the FBI was looking for a physical description. We find out in a later release why: a Bethel, Alaska tipster told the FBI that “DB Cooper lives near Shelton” and was passing Cooper bills at a local “country” store. We find out the suspect was married and apparently matched the description of DB Cooper. “Identical to the composite.”
  • The Shelton Lead is initially described as 5’9” tall with a slender build and a “ruddy complexion” between 43 and 46 years of age. This description is further refined later: TSL is described as 5’10 or 5’11. We also get our first hiccup, as TSL is a strict non-smoker.
  • TSL had problems with alcohol, and this caused a great deal of financial hardship. He was an Army parachutist, originally from Woodland. He worked for Boeing.
  • The first alibi given for TSL’s whereabouts during the hijacking is that he was up in Enumclaw, WA, a mountain town near some ski resorts.
  • One of the FBI sources is a friend of TSL from the Army. This friend reports that TSL served in either the 82nd or 101st airborne division and was a Korean War vet. TSL and the source went to Pasadena City College together. The friend later worked for the LA County Sheriff’s Office but maintained contact with TSL over the years.
  • According to the LA Source, TSL trained in free fall parachuting a year before the hijacking. Then, six months before the hijacking TSL was practicing nighttime free fall jumps. At some point TSL talked about “The perfect crime” to someone, but the context is lost.
  • After Norjak, TSL was flashing a lot of cash and receiving checks from a Canadian Trust Company. We get another alibi mentioned in the 302s: TSL claimed to be in New Mexico with his brother during the hijacking. The brother did not corroborate the story.
  • At some point after the hijacking, TSL moves to Campbell, California. He attends an Episcopal church and works at Farmers Insurance Group.
  • TSL is interviewed by the FBI in 1972, 1977, and 1979. After his last interview, he lawyers up and stops cooperating. He refuses a polygraph exam. In 1993, he is identified by yet a third person as DB Cooper.
  • Still alive, he is targeted for a “discrete” DNA collection in summer of 2004. However, the 302 suggests “given the passage of time, it’s possible [TSL] will cooperate with a DNA sample.” He was known to be living in Shelton in 2003.

I would eliminate TSL based on him being a non-smoker and (probably) not matching any of the novel elements found on Cooper’s tie. The “ruddy” complexion description also doesn’t match the description of Cooper. If we could get his name and employment background, we’d have a better idea if he’s still somehow a viable suspect.

Unresolved Lead #2:

2) The Egg Harbor Suspect.

A former resident of Eugene, OR was linked to the crime by the FBI’s LA field division in 1972. At the time of the investigation, he was living in Egg Harbor Township in New Jersey. There are only a couple of places where the Egg Harbor Suspect (EHS) is referenced, so we have less information to go by than the other two unresolved suspects.

One of the witnesses on Flight 305 identified him as a strong candidate for Cooper. However, when this matter was referred to the local police chief in Egg Harbor New Jersey at the time (John Anderson), he and two others in the NJPD familiar with EHS said he didn’t resemble the description “in any way.” “Eliminate” is scrawled over this document.

Apparently, he didn’t stay eliminated. The FBI found out he was missing from work the week of the hijacking. It is implied EHS was employed at TWA at the time of the hijacking, the job title in the 302 is blank but it’s an 8 letter word. An engineer? We can’t be sure, but this is implied as EHS was trained as a pilot but was never hired as one. He was described as a “rebel” by one of his superiors. He also had money problems.

In Egg Harbor, EHS was working at NJ Auto Inspection station in Atlantic City. Maybe. Redactions make it impossible to know for sure. 

EHS is never interviewed. He did not know he was a suspect as of Phase II in 2004. He was targeted for a discrete DNA collection, and an interview was suggested in the FOIA documents.

And that’s it. We just don’t know that much about him.

We do know the LA division was in charge of investigating the “Elsinore Paracenter Incident” where someone in August of 1971 was asking around the paracenter to see if jumping out of a jet airliner was possible. This is a big piece of speculation on my part, but it’s possible EHS was one of the people investigated in connection with this incident. We don’t know for sure. But in a small way, this connects to the Gunther book. That’s not all.

Egg Harbor is right next to Atlantic City. Max Gunther’s source claims Atlantic City was one of the places Dan LeClair was laundering his money. This is a deep rabbit hole to get into, however if the Egg Harbor suspect was the man from the Elsinore Paracenter, and therefore he and his lady friend were the source for Max Gunther, then it’s possible the entire Gunther text was a ruse to try to cover their tracks and let the FBI think Cooper had died of natural causes.

Further investigation could still be possible with this suspect. I would want to compare EHS’s background in light of Tom Kaye’s research on the tie, as well as get a good look at his military service. If a connection can be made, EHS becomes, in my opinion, our leading candidate for DB Cooper.

Unresoved Suspect #3: Richard Floyd McCoy

The FBI documents say “but the speculation continues” when it comes to whether Richard McCoy was DB Cooper suspect. They list a few reasons why Cooper was probably not DB Cooper, including the fact there was no evidence linking him to the crime, there was no evidence he left Utah the day of the crime, and lots of evidence that he was in Provo on Thanksgiving with family and friends. 

However, the FBI document suggested DNA could be collected in relation to the case. They hoped McCoy’s former wife would be cooperative with this final attempt to eliminate McCoy as a suspect. Not surprisingly, considering the FBI all but murdered her husband, McCoy’s widow refused to cooperate with the investigation. A DNA sample was not obtained.

My father and I looked at the alibi, and there is a chance McCoy could have committed the crime in the time his whereabouts are not accounted for, between when he left class on the morning of the 23rd, to the time at 10am on the 25th that his alibi is confirmed by eyewitnesses. He would have to fly out from Salt Lake City, (flight records where checked with no result) and he would have about 13 hours after he landed in Washington state to find his way back to Provo, Utah. He wife would almost certainly had to have helped him with the hijacking.

Our investigation has looked into Richard McCoy before, and found he is almost certainly not the hijacker since he has no connection to the tie thanks to Tom Kaye’s particle analysis.

If you want to read more on the DB Cooper case, please buy my book. Our family has recently come on hard financial times and we could really use your help. Thank You.

11 Responses

  1. Listened to your interview on the Cooper Vortex podcast last night. Well part of it! Will finish the rest of it tonight probably. Great job! I liked hearing you talk about your Dad and the humorous parts about selling windows and what it’s like doing all that research are making me smile. I like to write and I like to do research. You might feel like it’s futile sometimes but I’m actually pretty inspired! I’m working on a master’s degree now and when I do my thesis it will be my first book. Listening to you talk about your writing makes me even more eager to do it! Looking forward to seeing what’s on your blog,

  2. Marty,
    Your work on this case is awesome. Really appreciate the time and effort you put into it.

  3. Great info! I live in Egg Harbor Twp, NJ, am a former Army parachutist, and a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. Feel free to contact me if you need boots on the ground assistance.

  4. The first 2 are very interesting POIs. McCoy …. in some ways, yes. in most ways no. And the fact they still aren’t sure means the whole family-identified-the-tie story seems unlikely.

    • Tom Kaye’s research eliminates the claim the tie belonged to McCoy. As far as I’m concerned, McCoy is out.

  5. Thanks so much for all your work on the case. I’m very intrigued by TSL as I’ve always felt
    DB could be an American Indian based on the description and very few of any suspects of Indian descent are ever discussed. Is there enough information here to find the name of this person? I feel like there should be but don’t know where to start. I did a few google searches but came up empty.

    • Not sure, the bottom line is we would need either the suspect or family member to come forward and give us a name, I doubt we could get it otherwise.

  6. EHS is fascinating…especially with the potential connection to the Gunther book as well as the Elsinore event. In addition, you have the William J Smith suspect from Anonymous also being from NJ. I was going to ask if EHS could be William J Smith, but I believe Smith is purported to be from norther NJ and NOT Egg Harbor. Appreciate the investigation you put for forward and share, unsolved mysteries are an addiction for me. Looking forward to more…

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