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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.

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

The Hunt for DB Cooper – an interview with retired FBI agent, Ralph Himmelsbach

Just looking at some older Cooper research, here is an interesting interview with Ralph Himmelsbach, one of the FBI agents most associated with the case.

The Mountain News - WA


On January 30, 2011, I interviewed Ralph Himmelsbach, the now-retired FBI agent who had been the lead agent for the Bureau’s Portland, Oregon office in the DB Cooper case.  Mr. Himmelsbach, a career FBI agent, served as Portland’s lead Cooper investigator from the time of the skyjacking on November 24, 1971 until his retirement from the Bureau in April, 1980.

Ralph is very easy to find, suggesting that he is comfortable with his public persona., and in addition he has a book for sale on the skyjacking titled, NORJAK: the Investigation of DB Cooper.

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DB Cooper – Cooperites celebrate the 47th Anniversary of the skyjacking with conference

Detailed report on the DB Cooper Forum last week in Portland:

The Mountain News - WA

By Bruce A. Smith

The 47th Anniversary of the DB Cooper skyjacking was celebrated with a gathering of experts and aficionados to discuss the details of the case, and ponder new evidence and suspects.

On November 24, 1971, DB Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient 727 enroute to Seattle from Portland, and after he jumped from the aft stairs with $200,000 in twenties tethered to his waist, nothing has ever been discovered – neither his identity, fate, or any of his gear or booty. However, $6,200 of ransom money was found on a Columbia River beach in 1980, but that discovery also defies explanation. DB Cooper’s daring-do has been feted every since, and this anniversary was no exception. The DB Cooper heist, known to law enforcement as NORJAK, remains the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. Nevertheless, the FBI officially closed the case in 2016.

Approximately 100 people gathered Saturday…

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DB Cooper: The Restaurant


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:


Personal Update

It’s been a very busy summer for me and I haven’t had much time to write. I’m helping with a house remodel, I have a lot of professional obligations right now, and what little time I have to write is being spent on a book project. I am keeping up-to-date on the DB Cooper case and hope to publish some more articles on it in the coming year. Almost every aspect the Cooper mystery is solvable, and I want to present the case as it stands today. I am also collecting more data on WWII parachuting and will likely write a paper on survivability based on one of the chapters from my book on Cooper. Then there’s my perennial promise to try out podcasting (I swear, this year is the year!)

A lot of prep work for a future series of articles on the Golden State Killer had to be trashed thanks to the fantastic work of law enforcement who tracked down and caught Joe DeAngelo. I am currently looking for new mysteries to investigate. I want to thank everyone who has read, commented, sent me messages and followed the blog since I started working on the Cooper case. It has been quite an adventure and quite a surprise for me. I’m not done, but neither am I devoting the resources to the case that I had in the past.

DB Cooper: Sheridan Peterson Revisited

Eric Ulis, a longtime DB Cooper sleuth has released a report detailing his investigation into the skyjacking, now available for purchase at: https://thecoopercase.com/ In the report he discusses the hijacking, the Tina Bar money find, the tie particles, and the flight path. He comes to the conclusion that Sheridan Peterson is the UnSub skyjacker from Norjak. Eric actually called me to ask about some of my own findings on Sheridan Peterson, and I will have some corrections to make to my book in later editions. Basically, he was able to show that there was overlap between when Sheridan Peterson was at Boeing and when the JCPenney #3 clip-on tie was available in stores, which I erroneously believed not to be true. He also let me know that the FBI has not officially ruled Peterson out as a candidate despite taking his DNA some years ago, something I said did happen. My assumption was that the DNA was not a match, but we simply don’t know. I stand corrected.

I don’t want to spoil the report by giving too many details, but I disagree with several of Ulis’ findings. Ulis believes flight 305 bypassed Portland to the west by travelling from the Malay to the Canby intersections, which is Robert “R99” Nicholson’s theory. Ulis suggests Cooper landed near Tina Bar and buried the money, losing some of it in the sand upon retrieval. I believe the evidence is now irrefutable that the money came to Tina Bar via the 1974 dredging operation, and that the published flight path is essentially correct (I believe the anomalies on the yellow FBI sectional came from the way the map was transcribed from its source). Even if Cooper had jumped directly over Tina Bar, he would have landed a good distance away had his parachute opened properly.

Regardless, I highly recommend the report. His research is extensive and his theories are interesting.