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Minnesota Mysteries: Susan Swedell

Susan Swedell disappeared thirty years ago, January 19th 1988. She has not been seen since.

Susan Swedell is shown in a photo taken about a month before she went missing on January 19, 1988. Swedell left work at a Kmart in Oak Park Heights that night, bound for an evening of popcorn and movies with her mother and sister at home in Lake Elmo. Later, a gas station clerk let her leave her overheated car at the station, a mile from home. That clerk, peering through a snow-splattered store window, saw her get into another car with a man. That was last time she was seen. (Courtesy of the Swedell family)

It was a blustery January night in 1988 when Susan Swedell drove her car to a gas station about a mile from her home in Lake Elmo. The blizzard was dumping what would turn out to be about six inches of snow. An average winter storm, nothing to miss work over. Susan was coming home from her job at the local Kmart. The stop at the Clark Station wasn’t for gas or a snack. Her car was overheating; Susan asked the gas station attendant if she could leave her vehicle for the night. The attendant agreed as long as she moved it. A few minutes later, Susan left in another vehicle driven by a young man—early twenties with long sandy blonde hair and a leather jacket—who had followed her into the K station. Susan was never seen again.

Thirty years later, we have no answers. Susan may have voluntarily gotten into the car with the mysterious man in the leather jacket, but she certainly had no intention of absconding. She was just nineteen and had recently moved back home after a year at college. Susan was described as a homebody. To say she ran off and never looked back would be against everything we know about her. The family knows better. Her younger sister never really recovered from Susan’s disappearance, never marrying, she lives with her mother.

The list of suspects is short, and there aren’t many good ones. There was the high school boyfriend, whom she was going to meet that very night but cancelled on because of the weather. There was a guy she met at a dance club. Another suspect now lives out of state, an unlikely murderer but one who failed part of a polygraph exam. The man at the gas station has never been identified. Unfortunately, we can’t limit the suspects to those already known to investigators.

Susan Swedell had broken up with her high school boyfriend, who was three years her junior, and had aggressively put herself on the market, as it were. She would go out to dance clubs. She met people at her job at Kmart and her second job in a store at the same mall as the Kmart. Her Kmart coworkers said she would get lots of calls from men while working. And, she had racked up about a $400 phone bill calling into a teen-chatroom where young men and women would flirt for about 80 cents a minutes. Investigators might have identified a few of the men in her life, but it’s possible their list is short by a significant number.

Still more difficult is trying to understand Susan’s intention on that night. When she was done with her shift at Kmart, she changed into a sweater and a miniskirt, as if she was planning on meeting somebody. This was after she had called her mom to say she was coming home to watch a movie, and even asked about the best route to deal with the snow. Susan had already cancelled plans with her former boyfriend that night. Did she meet somebody while at work and decide to meet for a quick date? Did she get a call? She was afraid of snowstorms, according to her family, so any change of plans was out of character.

The mystery deepens. Her car problems might have been from sabotage. The petcock on her radiator had come loose, draining the engine of its coolant. This is unlikely to have happened on its own, and it’s very convenient that there was someone ready to help her in the middle of a blizzard. Someone who happened to be about her age, tall and good looking, with a leather coat driving a late model muscle car.

Within a week of Susan’s disappearance, the story gets stranger still. Susan’s little sister comes home one day to find the key to their home has moved from its normal hiding spot. Once inside, she finds dirty dishes in the sink. Susan’s red pant suit, the one she took off before she left Kmart, is found under Susan’s bed. Someone had been smoking marijuana in the house. Someone other than the Swedell’s had been in the house. Whoever it was, they knew about the house key and had Susan’s work clothes.

In her car, Susan left her glasses and purse. These were items she would need if she was going somewhere. Despite this, the police were forced to treat this as a missing persons case. Susan voluntarily got into the man’s car. Adults have the right to disappear. Law enforcement can’t assume she’s in danger if there’s no evidence a crime has been committed. The case stalls.

It doesn’t help that reports come in. Susan is spotted somewhere. The person is sure of it. She was the girl in the roadside diner. She was at a gas station in Fargo. Nothing comes of it. In 1990, her dental records are pulled to compare to a Jane Doe. Not a match. About a decade ago, there was activity on Susan’s social security number, but it was just a case of identity theft.

Sadly, it’s likely Susan was murdered by the man in the leather jacket.

This police sketch, drawn by an artist working for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, was created on Oct. 13, 1998, based on a description given to investigators by the gas-station attendant who was the last to see Susan Swedell, 19, of Lake Elmo, on Jan. 19, 1988. (Courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office)

Whoever this man was, Susan was comfortable around him. She probably encountered him before, either at a dance club or at the mall. He might have been one of the guys she talked to on the phone all the time. Maybe she changed into “date” clothes because she knew he was going to meet with her, probably in the parking lot, and that they were going to go someplace nearby for a quick date or a dance before she would continue home. The man was mechanically inclined and drained the engine’s coolant system, causing the engine to overheat—a problem he likely helped her notice—before convincing her to get into his car.

Wherever her body is, it hasn’t been uncovered in thirty years of development and suburban sprawl. It’s unlikely she will ever be found. The only way this case will be solved is if her murderer or someone who knows the murderer, comes forward. Whoever the man in the leather jacket was, he was within her social network at the time. Somebody knows something.

There is a $25,000 reward for information in this case.

Still Missing Podcast
Pioneer Press


Living with Reasonable Doubt: Chandra Levy

I’ll be moving beyond the Cooper Case, hopefully, over the next year. This is the first in a series dealing with reasonable doubt in notable murder cases. I’ll also be looking at some other unsolved and unusual crimes as well. Happy New Year!

On May 1st, 2001, Chandra Levy left her apartment in Washington DC for a run through Rock Creek Park. A computer recovered from her apartment showed she had researched the park online. The 24-year-old Levy was also having an affair with Gary Condit, a socially conservative Democrat from California. Over a year later, her body was found by a dog in Rock Creek Park. The state of her remains made it impossible to conclude much about her death, but it looked like she had been restrained with her own jogging pants.

Ingmar Guandique was an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who assaulted two women in Rock Creek Park in the months preceding Levy’s disappearance. A jailhouse informant fingered Guandique for the Chandra Levy murder when he supposedly bragged about doing it (after getting paid by Congressman Condit no less). This informant/confession was not taken seriously, and the case went cold.

Long story short, a shakeup at the D.C. police chief office and a series of articles run by the Washington Post gave the case new life, and the result was a re-examination of Guandique, including a search of his federal prison cell. Guanadique had a picture of Chandra Levy in his cell, and a tattoo on his chest bared close resemblance to the deceased Levy. Other witnesses were talked to, and Guandique was charged with Levy’s murder.

At the trial, the prosecution’s entire case rested on the testimony of a jailhouse informant who said Guandique admitted to the murder of Levy but denied any sexual assault (Guandique was worried about reprisals from other inmates as rapists are not looked up to in the prison hierarchy). The defense did their best to discredit the testimony of the informant and presented another cellmate of Guandique’s who testified he heard nothing from the defendant about the Levy murder. The Jury found Guandique guilty, and he was sentenced to 60 years.

Of course, it didn’t end there. Later revelations would show the jailhouse informant perjured himself, not about Guandique’s confession but about other elements of his testimony. Guandique’s defense team asked for a new trial based on this information, and a judge granted that request. With their star witness completely discredited, prosecutors were forced to drop all charges. Guandique was deported to El Salvador. Officially, the Chandra Levy case remains unsolved.

So how do we deal with such a result?

First, let’s understand that Guandique is almost assuredly the killer. He did confess to a jailhouse informant, and that informant never changed his story concerning the confession. In fact, the perjury charge against the informant deals with only one thing: that the informant lied about not previously being an informant (and maybe exaggerating his level of “reform”). Of course the informant is going to say he’s not being an informant for selfish reasons, and of course a convict is going to claim to be “reformed.” Unfortunately, no matter what, a jailhouse informant is just a bad source in the eyes of your average juror.

Because the case against Guandique was so thin, any corruption of the primary witness is going to create problems for a prosecutor.

How thin is the other evidence? Remarkably.

Guandique was absent from work the day of Levy’s disappearance; Guandique had scratch marks on his face; he robbed two women in the same park. And, he had a picture of Chandra in his cell. It’s not 100% definitive how Levy died. Perhaps she was choked, as her manubrium was damaged, however the only real evidence we have of a homicide is the presence of her pants near being inside-out, with knots in them. This suggests a lot, that she was tied up and sexually assaulted, but that’s all inference. Otherwise, no forensic or physical evidence in the case can be linked to Guandique, or anyone else for that matter.

The MO evidence is the most interesting. In two previous instances, Guandique would follow women to a secluded part of the park, and jump them. Levy’s body was found in a secluded area off one of the park’s rougher trails. The MO fits. However, Guandique didn’t kill any other victims, in fact, one of his victims successfully escaped him. He also didn’t sexually assault the two other women. Chandra might have been an escalation for Guandique, or everything could be one big coincidence.

And there is a solid reason Guandique might have made a false confession (assuming he really did make a confession): because people who are rapists tend to get targeted for rape while in prison. So he needed to confess and say it was a robbery that ended in murder, and not a rape. (Why confess at all? Well, it depends on whether Guandique thought they would believe him if he claimed innocence.) (Of course, the informant also had significant motivation to deliver false testimony if it helped him serve less time.)

What a mess. The defense had very little work to do to prove reasonable doubt. Once they discredit the informant, their narrative is simple: Levy googled an unfamiliar site because she was meeting someone there for a run. At some point, her jogging partner took advantage of the remote location and murdered her. It could have been anybody. The other evidence against Guandique is either coincidence or misinterpreted. It’s even possible he became obsessed with Levy after becoming a suspect. Odd? Yes, but it’s not murder.

It makes sense the charges against him were dropped, the case was thin to begin with and the testimony of a single jailhouse informant didn’t help matters. It’s unfortunate, and there was a major missed opportunity: the police did search the park about ten months before Levy’s remains were found. There would have been soft tissue to examine, and other evidence might have still been recoverable at that point. Instead, they found her over a year later, and nothing forensically useful was found. We have to live with the result, but the silver lining is the fact Guandique will never to the US, though that likely gives little comfort to Levy’s parents, who deserved better.

DB Cooper news: Interview with author Martin Andrade

My interview with Bruce Smith, more thoughts later.

The Mountain News - WA

By Bruce A. Smith

With the 46th Anniversary of DB Cooper’s skyjacking approaching us – Cooper hijacked his Northwest Orient jetliner on the evening before Thanksgiving in 1971 – it is certainly timely to discuss this iconic crime with another DB Cooper author, Martin Andrade, Jr.

View original post 1,445 more words

Joseph Lakich is not DB Cooper

Bill Rollins, author of a very speculative book on DB Cooper, has come up with a new suspect in the case: Joseph Lakich. Bill makes the case for Lakich in a press-release pdf that made the rounds among Cooper researchers a few months ago. To try to make a long story short, Joe Lakich was related to one of the victims in the FBI-botched 58 November hijacker (which took place October 4th, 1971). There’s no physical evidence linking the two events, and I would say there’s nothing of substance to Rollins’ claims. He makes a statistical argument that Lakich had the looks, demeanor, grudge and background that we think DB Cooper had.

Unfortunately, Rollins’ statistical analysis is flawed. Rollins states there’s a “1 in a billion” chance Lakich isn’t Cooper. I would say Lakich is a member of a large group of people who could be Cooper. We’re going to stay away from the math and just focus on Rollins’ inputs. First, I agree for the most part with his assertion that about 1 in 10,000 men in 1970 could have had the background to commit the Cooper hijacking. It’s a rough guess but likely accurate.

Where Rollins goes wrong is in his other attributes. Rollins severely underestimates the number of men who resemble the physical description of DB Cooper as a dark-haired middle-aged man with a slim build. He suggests 1 in 600, I would say it’s closer to 1 in 40. Recently, I and another Cooper researcher went through the entire Tektronix employee album, about 12,000 total people. We found about a dozen guys who looked like the sketch, and one guy with the right background (ex-military man with a white collar job in a blue collar industry). If anything, we keep finding more and more people who fit the description and have the right background to be Cooper, which is frustrating and shows why this case may never be solved.

Rollins goes on to commit more egregious errors. Rollins links Lakich to the “Dan Cooper” comics despite zero evidence showing Rollins spoke any of the languages the comic was printed in. Besides, the “Dan Cooper” comics “clue is pure speculation in this case anyway; we don’t know how Cooper picked his alias. It could have been a random name, a name of a friend, his middle name or some edited version of his real name, or it could have been the comic book character. We don’t know. If Cooper had instead used “Tony Stark” or “J. Bond” or another less common name, the relationship to the fictional character would be much more obvious.

Rollins next attribute in his press release is “grudge intensity.” Since Lakich lost his daughter in a hijacking botched by the FBI, he has an obvious grudge against them and would therefore want to embarrass the agency with a successful skyjacking. However, the very idea of a “grudge” is vague and ambiguous. Everyone has some kind of grudge, it’s hardly a rare thing and isn’t a limiting factor in this case.

Joseph Lakich is no more likely to be DB Cooper than the dozens of other marginal suspects the FBI had decades to investigate over the years.

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


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.