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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.

DB Cooper: AMA

Summer’s are busy with my day job so I don’t know when I can post anything substantive. I’m working on several Cooper-related pieces and some larger projects. However, if you have any questions you want me to address regarding the DB Cooper case, I’m opening this thread for that reason. Thank you.

DB Cooper Vortex Podcast

You can listen to the Cooper Vortex Interview here.

As some of you can probably tell, my voice doesn’t sound great. This winter I caught some kind of megabug. I’ve never been sicker. Three months later and I’m still not a 100%. Regardless, listening to the interview I think I made the points I wanted to make about the case. Thanks to Darren for having me on, and kudos to his producer who edited the interview to make me sound as good as I did.

DB Cooper: New Suspects

The last year has seen numerous new DB Cooper Suspects, needless to say I don’t think any of them are Cooper, here are my profiles:

“The Tektronix Lead”—When Tom Kaye announced that he was looking at sources for the particles on Cooper’s tie, and that among the possible manufacturing environments was the electronics manufacturer Tektronix (Tek) it didn’t take long for the internet sleuths to swarm Tek’s digital footprint to find a Cooper suspect. The end result, for me at least, was spending a couple of weeks going through the Tek company photo album. Twelve thousand pictures of Tek employees, nearly every employee from the early 1960’s to May of 1970. I found no one of interest. I did share the photo album with others, and a few suspects were fingered. Chief among them was Harold Fritzler. He was ex-military, managed the waste disposal units (or something like that), and looked absolutely nothing like the Cooper sketch. I know almost nothing about him, other researchers are looking into him. However, I have emailed many Tek alumni from this era and every single one of them is adamant that there was no way DB Cooper could have worked at Tek. At the time, Cooper was a major story, the source of endless gossip and intrigue, and anyone who was a good fit for Cooper would have been reported on immediately for the reward money. There is no reason not to believe these recollections, as nearly everyone I contacted said the same thing. In fact, based on these testimonies, I believe it would be impossible for DB Cooper to return to work anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.

Walter Reca–I have written briefly on Reca before. It took about five minutes for Reca to be ruled out as a suspect based on the press conference announcing him as a suspect. I guess parts of his story are entertaining, like many other Cooper suspects he’s a notable character with a big personality, however he’s definitely not Cooper. His background does not match the particles found on the tie. His flight path and LZ are too far away from where we know the plane was. His story does not include an explanation for the Tena Bar money find. Unfortunately, in the Cooper world it is the loudest and best financed who get media attention. This episode of the Cooper drama teaches the wrong lesson.

Ron Terry–A Korean War-era Paratrooper who became an early pioneer in sport skydiving, Terry made claims about being DB Cooper during his life, and in the months before his death, even getting interviewed by the FBI. Terry actually has a few things going for him as a suspect. He has the background in skydiving and the military. He had the motive and a criminal mindset. Terry would become a drug smuggler in the 70’s and later serve time in prison for his activities. He was also a pilot who would have been familiar with some of the aviation protocols Cooper seemed to know. I would reject Terry on several grounds: First, the story doesn’t explain the Tena Bar find (shocking, I know). There is a comment in the linked article about how Terry buried the money “on his property in Saratoga”—but this would not be upstream from Tena Bar. He also claimed to know where Cooper jumped, which is something Cooper certainly couldn’t know. I’m sure there are other contraindications, and this story is definitely at odds with the Tie Analysis (Shocking, I know). The fact the FBI didn’t seem to have any interest in him after the last interview before his death tells me they also eliminated him as a suspect.

James Klansnick--A Boeing engineer who worked on the 727 and WWII vet who parachuted from a B17, Klansnick was another larger than life figure. However, he almost certainly wasn’t Cooper. He had a good job at Boeing so he had no motive, and he was a family man who would have had plenty of obligations over the Thanksgiving holiday. There are other problems too, Kaye’s research shows the particles on the tie were likely “upstream” from Boeing; it’s very unlikely the tie came from someone working at that company. Finally, the piece of evidence we would absolutely expect from any owner of the Cooper tie is a photograph of the suspect wearing the tie. Based on every photo I’ve seen, Klansnick wore regular ties, not clip-ons.

Dan Clair/ William J. Smith–Okay, this one is my fault. Let me confess that I rushed my book on Cooper into print a few months early in an attempt to secure a spot on one the TV shows being produced on DB Cooper at the time. In the book, I suggest that we can find Gunther’s Dan LeClair through forensic genealogy. Unfortunately, I also felt the need to show how this might work. According to Gunther, DB Cooper was a Canadian-borne WWII Army enlistee from New Jersey whose first name was “Dan.” Guess what? According to the 1940 Census (along with the WWII enlistee records) there is exactly one person who matches all those criteria. I named him the book, Dan Clair, born 1919. At the time I published the book, I couldn’t find any information on Clair. Later on I found an obituary which conclusively eliminated Clair as a suspect. After the book was published, several independent researchers contacted me about their pet Cooper suspects. A few offered to help me find my suspect, and I was very excited. I think I made the mistake of mentioning Clair in these email exchanges, I don’t remember. I do remember one person becoming focused on Clair, and later a person connected to him named William J. Smith And that’s fine, I’m not here to attack others who offered to help me just because I don’t like the conclusions they’ve drawn. I would be ecstatic if Clair or someone connected to him were Gunther’s DB Cooper suspect. I also wouldn’t particularly care about credit… if anything, I want out of the DB Cooper world and a solved case would make a perfect exit. My problem with the Clair/Smith hypothesis is neither person worked in Industrial Chemicals, which is the one fact that HAS to be true from Gunther’s book based on Kaye’s tie evidence. The Gunther Hypothesis is falsifiable, and no number of coincidences can change the necessary preconditions for a Gunther suspect.

In essence, Smith becomes an input/output error. The Gunther text is an input. It produces a suspect as an output. The suspect doesn’t match the other criteria from the input. But if you stick with the output and change the input, all you’re doing is invalidating the entire process. You get stuck in a loop. If the input is wrong, that invalidates the output. Period. If you have confidence in the input, you are limited to its criteria and must reject anything else. To use a bad output to “massage” the input criteria is fallacy; it allows any conclusion to follow.

The Gunther hypotheses has a few simple criteria: Cooper must be living on the East Coast in the 1940s. He HAD to work in Industrial Chemicals. He HAD to be a paratrooper. He HAD to be at the Elsinore Paracenter in August of 1971. If we could get Gunther’s original notes, we could establish more criteria but until then these are the immovable premises of the theory.

Mark Metzler on DB Cooper’s Parachute

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.

DB Cooper: Tina Bar Revisited

Eric U, a Cooper researcher, has tried to locate the original position of the money as it was found by Brian Ingram in February of 1980. As I noted on the DB Cooper forum, several thousand posts have been devoted to locating the original position of the money. I’m not sure any consensus was ever made, however Eric’s estimate puts the money a significant distance away from Tom Kaye’s findings… and I can’t figure out why. Regardless, the location of the money is not as important as the nature of the “shard field” and the actual layer of sand the money was found in. All indications based on the FBI’s examination of the sand, the distribution of the money fragments and a re-interpretation of “The Palmer Report” suggest strongly the dredging operation in 1974 brought the money to the surface.

DB Cooper: Tom Kaye Talks Tie Particles

New DB Cooper Podcast

Currently at two episodes, including a long winding conversation with Bruce Smith:


2018 DB Cooper Conference

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend, but it looks interesting, details: