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Gunther versus Larry Carr’s Profile

In 2007, then Norjack case agent Larry Carr joined the DropZone forum as “ckret” and posted a profile of who he thought DB Cooper was based on the FBI files and investigation to that point. He challenged the forum members to find a candidate who fit his profile. Many of the Cooper sleuths on the current DB Cooper forum believe we don’t have any suspects who fit this profile. However, I believe “Dan Leclair,” as presented in Gunther’s book, is a good fit.

In italics is Larry Carr’s profile as it was posted in 2007 on the DZ forum. My responses, based on Gunther’s book, are in bold.

…who was DB Cooper?

-DB Cooper was not a drinker, he only had one drink and spilled a portion of that. If someone was a drinker, in a situation like this he would have had more than just one in the five hours he was on the plane.

Dan Leclair did drink socially, but there’s nothing in his background to suggest he abused alcohol. On top of this, Leclair actually becomes disillusioned with his new underclass companions, who were mostly bar hounds (p118). As for the hijacking itself, Leclair avoided drinking specifically for the purpose of avoiding inopportune trips to the lavatory.

-He was not a chain smoker, he was on the aircraft for five hours and only smoked 8 cigarettes. That would make him a smoker of less than a pack-a-day and this under normal conditions.

The book doesn’t mention Leclair’s smoking habits in any detail, if at all. Leclair is certainly not described as a chain smoker, which would have been an easy detail to add if Gunther was creating a character, rather than reporting on a real individual. As an author myself, I like having characters who smoke, since it gives them something to do during breaks in the story. Regardless, smoking was so common for men during this era that it would not have been seen as an important detail.

-He spoke in an intelligent manner and never lost his cool, he was always polite throughout the ordeal.

This is so close to the man written about in Gunther’s book that Carr could be summarizing the description from it. Leclair is described in the book as a college-educated sales executive, softly spoken and thoughtful. (p.26)

-He had brown eyes (Schaffner saw his eyes before he put on the glasses, he looked directly at her several times urging her to read the note)

I hesitate to make any claims about what Leclair looked like physically, since we have nothing more than Clara’s description to go by, and she never produced a photograph for analysis (for obvious reasons: she didn’t want the FBI going after her, or Leclair’s family). But Gunther relays a description of Leclair’s eyes as “piercing dark eyes that looked almost black” (p.24).

-He is 5’10 to 6’1 (Mucklow is 5’8 and spent 5 hours with Cooper, she would know if he was her height or taller. Have someone 5’8 stand next to someone 6 feet, the difference is obvious. Better yet, position yourself at a level of 5’8 and look at someone at a 6′ elevation. Now spend 5 hours with that person, you’ll know the difference. No one put Cooper under 5’10.

Same caveat here about Leclair’s physical description. Leclair is described as being around six feet tall.

-He had olive skin (no make-up, neither Mucklow, Schaffner or Hancock made comment on make-up which would have been very obvious. Again, do the math, put dark makeup on someone then sit next to them with your shoulders touching, you can see the make-up.)

Ditto the previous caveat, Leclair is described as having a complexion that turns to the color of “walnut wood” when tan (p 84). Leclair is a regular outdoorsmen, preferring long hikes through the woods of the northwest. He had also worked occasionally as an agricultural laborer in the year before the hijacking.

-He had dark hair, receding with sideburns (no wig, this would have been painfully obvious, if a man was wearing a wig with a receding hair line and side burns everyone would have noticed, especially Mucklow and Schaffner.)

Ditto the caveat, Leclair is described as looking a little like “Ben Gazzara” (p 59).

-He was med built (no one put him over 190 lbs, in fact most put him 180 or under. Find a man 6 foot 180 lbs, thats a med to thin build.)

Ditto, Leclair is described as having a long and lean build (p 24).

These are the facts on his physical make-up, if your suspect does not match these you may want to start looking at someone else.

DB Cooper had A.D.D, his attention to detail was poor. He got the big picture, but missed the brush strokes. He was also a “know-it-all.” The type of person who would learn a few facts and then become an expert on the subject. One of those people who has just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

This is another close match to Dan Leclair. At one point, Clara asked him how he got into Industrial Chemicals and his reply was “Oh, I read up on it.” (p 89). The profile of Leclair is as an ultra-handyman, as comfortable doing mechanical repairs as he was jet-setting across the country in a suit to make a major sale.

DB Cooper most likely served in the military and upon leaving used his technical training as a contractor in the airline industry, in and around Seattle. He rose to a mid-level management position but when he could rise no further or his project never got off the ground, he quit or was fired, “because no one understood him or were just to stupid to get it.”

Leclair did serve in the military, used the GI bill to get a college education, and got into business as a salesman, and did indeed work his way up to middle management. This isn’t a perfect match, but it’s close.

Soon thereafter he ran into big financial problems that had a set deadline for resolution. Just as always he developed the “big picture” for getting the money but the escape was very poorly planned.

Leclair’s financial problems were a product of his new life, and it’s obvious the grind of making a living under the table as a transient weighed heavily on him. The book describes over several chapters his elation at his new-found freedom from an unhappy life and marriage, balanced by his frustration with trying to make a life for himself on the run. As an intelligent man accustomed to a middle-class existence, struggling to get money for housing and meals must have been quite a shock.

And the escape? Leclair expected to walk out of the drop zone. He lived in the Portland area and was a regular hiker, so he would have been comfortable with a 15-20 mile walk. Given a full day to do it, such a hike was within his abilities. However, his injury upon landing prevented this and caused him to ask for help, which is how he met with Clara.

Gunther… Again.

I read through the Gunther book a second time, making copious notes of all the connections to the accepted story and all the problems and contradictions. I wrote a more extensive and definitive version of my original post, outlining the important connections in Gunther’s interpretation to later investigative findings. [I’m going to combine the two posts to make an introductory chapter of the book I hope to edit on the DB Cooper case.]

The most important adjustment I had to make was concerning the suit, which is center stage when discussing Kaye’s tie evidence. In the Gunther book, “Leclair” leaves his wife wearing his everyday work suit. Cooper wore a suit during the hijacking, and from the tie we have evidence of Cooper being in the industrial chemical field. (With the caveat that it’s entirely possible the Real Cooper purchased the tie from a thrift store, and Gunther just picked a random industry and the two just happened to match. However, this is extremely unlikely.)

I assumed Cooper wore his work suit to the heist. However, according to Gunther, “Leclair” eventually either lost, sold, or wore out his suit because he needed to buy one just before Norjack. Originally, I missed this key passage. At first I was despondent, since no suit meant no connection to the Kaye evidence. Then I realized it was the tie we cared about, not the suit. In my mind a “suit” is a single piece of wear rather than several independent articles of clothing. (Forgive me, I never wear one.)

Thankfully, it’s fairly reasonable to assume Leclair would keep his clip-on tie as he got bounced around after absconding. It was small and light, he had worn it nearly everyday for at least a decade. He even applied for jobs that would require a tie. I have the same tie that I wore in high school, it’s the only one I wear (during those rare times I need a tie).

More Tie Talk

This tie business is important, so I want to spend some time on it.

Let’s take the thesis that the Real DB Cooper got his tie from a thrift store. There is a small possibility he picks out a tie that was once owned by someone who worked in Industrial Chemicals. Very small. However, we can’t say this is important, since the odds are low for any particular tie representing any particular profession. However, one tie has to be picked. Maybe two ties over, there was one belonging to a dentist that had silver, gold and mercury on it. We would then be looking for suspects who were dentists. In this case we’d be wrong, the tie was just one selected at random.

However, things change once we match a suspect to the tie. If we get a suspect who matches the evidence on the tie, the odds of the tie being selected at random from a thrift store goes down considerably. Since there were only a few hundred people who we would expect to have such exotic particles on their ties, the odds against Gunther and the Real Cooper randomly aligning is thousands to one.

If there were no suspects available to us that explained the particles on the tie, then we’d be safe in saying the tie might have been picked up at a thrift store. This is not the case, so we have to take Gunther’s suspect seriously.

[I intend to expand on this probabilistic case in a later post, and actually do the math. Basically, the odds Gunther picked a profession that matched the tie evidence is thousands to one; the odds the Real Cooper randomly picked a tie from the thrift store that was from someone in Industrial Chemicals is thousands to one. The odds these two independent events match just really unlikely. I’m still looking for exact numbers.]

Dick Lepsy: Not DB Cooper

One of the few “good” candidates for Cooper from the missing persons database is Dick Lepsy. He absconded from his wife and children a couple of years before the hijacking, and was never heard from again. Because he absconded, he was not listed as a missing person for many years. In Norjack, Himmelsbach says the FBI took a very close look at all the missing persons who disappeared before the hijacking and came up with nothing. However, since Lepsy (and another Cooper suspect, Mel Wilson) weren’t listed as missing at the time, the FBI never investigated either one as a potential Cooper suspect. (Wilson is an interesting case, one we’ll investigate later).

Ross Richardson’s book “Still Missing” gives an overview of the Lepsy case, including potential links to DB Cooper. Primarily, the case is based on Lepsy’s resemblance to the early Cooper composite drawing, and his physical description generally matches Cooper’s.

Lepsy went missing a couple of years before the hijacking. He was a grocery store manager who he might have been cheating on his wife. He was probably experiencing some form of quarter or mid-life anxiety. He got married very young, worked an unremarkable job and was leading a very mundane existence. An escape with a young woman to somewhere exotic would be an attractive proposition for any man, particular one drifting through life, slowly approaching middle age.

Lepsy has not been seen or heard from since the day of his disappearance. It’s possible one of his friends, named in Ross’s book, might have known part of the story. However, he never said anything, even when asked long after the disappearance. The rumor was Lepsy flew to Mexico; his car was found in an airport parking lot. His actual destination has never been known. It’s possible he never got on a flight, as no one matching his description was a passenger on the day of his disappearance (though I’ve read differing information on this).

Other than matching the general physical description, what other elements of the Cooper hijacking does Lepsy account for?


Lepsy had no knowledge of aviation, he did not work in any industry that used unalloyed titanium, and thus he could not have been the original owner of the tie found on Cooper’s seat. Lepsy was not French-Canadian, he had no experience in parachuting, skydiving, or even wearing a harness. He was much younger than the median reported age for Cooper, he smoked the wrong brand of cigarettes, and he was not from, nor had he lived in the Pacific Northwest.

Lepsy’s “Black Box.”

Any criticism of Lepsy as a suspect is generally answered with the “Black Box.” Lepsy did not have a background in aviation, he was not a regular airline traveler. He would not be so familiar with all the technical details about the 727 that Cooper seemed to know. However, he had two years in Mexico (or wherever) when he could have planned out all the details and done all the necessary research.

Thus, to answer any objection to the Lepsy hypothesis, all one needs to say is “he learned it in Mexico.”

Lepsy would not use the phrase “Negotiable Currency.” –“He learned it going into and out of Mexico.”

“Lepsy looks too heavy to be Cooper.” –“He lost weight in Mexico, and got a really deep tan, and learned a little bit about skydiving, all in Mexico…”

“We have no evidence that he ever got to Mexico.” –“We have no evidence he didn’t get to Mexico”

We can fill the two years between Lepsy’s disappearance and the Cooper Hijacking with whatever we want or need to align him with Dan Cooper.

So is that the end of it? Maybe there’s some way to close the empirical gap through something other than the “black box.”

The Secret Intellectual

At first it doesn’t look likely. Lepsy was an uneducated store manager who had no prior history of criminal activity. He looks like an especially bad fit for a crime such as an aviation hijacking. Norjack involved incredible panache and style, chutzpah, and loads of technical detail and careful planning. Cooper remained calm during the hijacking, he had a lot of technical knowledge about aircraft and airline flying, and he seemed completely comfortable wearing a parachute and jumping out of an aircraft.

Well, to give Lepsy the “benefit” of the doubt here, we have to note that he did embezzle $2000 from his store before leaving. Thus, he had begun a life of crime the moment he absconded from his wife and kids. Most importantly, while Lepsy was uneducated, he was very well read. According to transcripts published in Ross’s book (his wife later tried to declare him dead for insurance purposes), Lepsy’s most prized possession was a series of books by Will and Ariel Durant that gave a detailed survey of Western Civilization from an historical and philosophical perspective. (The last book in the series won a Pulitzer Prize.) Lepsy regularly read ancient Greek myths and plays to his children, and was otherwise a regular reader of classic (read: brainy) books. This demonstrates Lepsy wasn’t a dullard but a very intelligent and well-read person capable of thinking such a crime through in advance.

While this helps close the gap between Cooper and Lepsy, it also poses a problem. As a reader of ancient wisdom literature, Lepsy suddenly becomes a bad psychological match. Even if Lepsy was going through a midlife crisis, he wasn’t the kind of person to hold people hostage with a bomb. I, as a reader of the ancient Greeks, know there’s one consistent message in those tragedies: you do not tempt Fate with foolishness. These stories are filled with ancient codes for proper behavior. For example, in the Iliad, the Greeks murder Trojans who had sought refuge in the temple of Athena. Despite the fact Athena was a protector of the Greeks, this blasphemy doomed most of them from ever returning home. Athena, insulted by the Greeks refusal to keep the sanctity of her temple, conspired with Poseidon to punish them. These moral lessons would have been ingrained in Lepsy, and would have been an everyday part of his life.

Yes, these stories are filled with tales of great adventures and war, and the moral message isn’t entirely consistent across the literature as a whole. But I would say, based on my own experience with this literature, that any devoted reader would see these stories as imploring moral action, rather than as celebrating immoral action.

And, even though Lepsy took $2000 dollars from his employers, he could have stolen much more than that. He showed great restraint, and likely only took the bare minimum he needed to abscond. It’s even likely he only took money he felt was owed to him, for whatever reason, by the store. My guess is Lepsy rationalized the theft as some form of severance for the decade or so of dedicated service to the company.

Since the Lepsy hypothesis is wrong in almost every way, other than his resemblance to the sketch and physical description, and the fact Lepsy’s candidacy fails to account for any of the pieces of evidence associated with the Cooper hijacking, I have to reject him as Cooper. My conclusion, based on Richardson’s book, is that Lepsy met with foul play sometime soon after he absconded. Lepsy was a committed father and it would have been, in my estimation, unlikely that he would have gone two years without trying to make some contact with his children.

To move his candidacy forward, there has to be some accounting for where he was in the interim years. At some point, Lepsy would have needed to fly into SeaTac. At some point, Lepsy would have needed to either skydive or interact with skydivers. Lepsy would have needed to do research, so what reference material could Lepsy have found on the 727? Does that reference material tell him what the flap settings were, or that there even was an aft staircase? Richardson, posting on the Cooper forum, believes Lepsy “read up” on skydiving. Again, read what? What could you find in a bookstore or library that would teach him how to put on parachute harness with such ease?

Since both the Lepsy case and the Cooper case remain unsolved, it’s alluring to try to solve one mystery with another. Unfortunately, there is simply no evidence linking Lepsy to Cooper.

Weekend Reading

Two really good essays, first from Lee Sandlin is Losing the War, a remarkable essay, perhaps the best available in English, about WWII. I copied the text and made a pdf, and read it off of an e-reader (it’s about 70 pages in MS Word). The second essay is about soil conservation and its role in human civilization (hint: more important than anything else). It was written by former asst. chief of the Soil Conservation Service Dr. WC Lowdermilk, titled “Conquest of the Land through 7000 years” and it chronicles the role soil conservation has played in the history of the rise and fall of empires. It’s eye-opening.

Smaller Sample Size, Please

This is an interesting tidbit from David Lykken’s “Professional Autobiography” that was once available on the webpage of the U of MN’s Psych department website:

When I was a graduate student circa 1950, I had a job for several months in the Student Counseling Bureau analyzing the returns from a “After High School What?” survey that one of the counseling faculty had administered to 57,000 seniors in Minnesota high schools. In the basement of Eddy Hall, I would run boxes of IBM cards, each bearing the responses of one student, through the IBM sorting machine. A few years later, when I was on the faculty myself, Paul Meehl and I used those data for our unpublished “crud factor” study in which we showed that, in psychology, everything is related to everything else, at least a little bit. We cross-tabulated all possible pairs of 15 categorical variables on the questionnaire and computed Chi-square values. All 105 Chisquares were statistically significant and 96% of them at p less than 10-6. Thus, we found that a majority (52%) of Episcopalians “like school” while only a minority (47%) of Lutherans do. Fewer ALC Lutherans than Missouri Synod Lutherans play a musical instrument.

What this silly-sounding study implies is that Group A is bound to differ from Group B on Variable X so that, if your theory predicts that A > B, you have about a 50:50 chance of confirming that prediction empiricallyat least if you have a large enough sampleeven if your theory is dead wrong.

Meehl used these data as illustrations in a 1967 paper in Philosophy of Science. He pointed out that the physical sciences, whose theories are strong enough to permit point predictions (Group A will average 125% of Group B’s score, rather than merely A > B), use significance tests in a way that is obverse to the way they are used in the soft sciences. Psychologists say, e.g., that X and Y will be correlated positively and, if that much proves true, then we try to “reject the null hypothesis” by showing that the correlation is so far above the zero or null point, that there is less than one chance in 20 (or more) that the true value of the correlation (which our obtained value estimates) could be as low as zero.

One unhappy consequence of this way of proceeding is that our conclusions become more suspect as our experiment gets better! If we use good, reliable measures of X and Y, then we are more likely to detect the (almost inevitable) correlation between them, and the larger our sample, the more likely it is that this detected correlation will be statistically significant, i.e., have a small enough sampling error and be far enough from zero to believe it really is not zero. A cheap, crappy experiment with poor measures and a small sample that can report a statistically significant result is therefore regarded as more persuasive than a good, big study!

I’ve added some bolding for emphasis. This form of data-mining isn’t really discussed anywhere, from what I can tell, in the popular press or even in academic settings.

Professor Lykken’s autobiography is worth a read.

DB Cooper: J’accuse

Originally, I was going to save this reveal for a book, but after thinking it over I decided to fully present my case on the blog. This will come in the form of several posts over the next few months. So here it goes…

When first reading through the Kaye evidence, I figured it would be an easy matter to eliminate all the publicly known suspects. I figured I’d find a bunch of dead ends, and that would be that. I could move on with nothing more to add to the Cooper literature.

I set about doing just that.

Well, Cooper Curse. The first “obviously not Cooper” suspect ends up matching with the Kaye evidence, and my plans on extricating myself from the case is out the window. Cooper Curse meets Cooper Vortex.

Who is this suspect? “Dan LeClair”, the pseudonym for an anonymous suspect presented in a book by a long-deceased author about a much-lampooned love story involving a lonely divorcee and D.B. Cooper. Somehow, this much-maligned mystery man has ended up being the strongest candidate not fully vetted with a proper investigation.

Max Gunther, best known as a financial writer (Zurich Axioms) wrote a book called “D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened” in the mid-80’s. In it, he describes being contacted by someone claiming to be D.B. Cooper shortly after the hijacking. This individual later flaked, and Gunther forgot about the whole affair for more than a decade.

However, he was later contacted by a woman claiming to know the real Dan Cooper who said the mysterious hijacker had recently passed away. After a few letter exchanges, Gunther interviewed the woman six times over the phone for about an hour a session. Then she, too, flaked. Gunther was able to put together the story into the form of a book, and it was immediately considered a hoax by the FBI.

Later, Jo Weber read the book, and it somehow convinced her that her former lover, Duane weber, was Dan Cooper. Over the course of a decade, or so, on the original Cooper thread on the DropZone website, Weber presented her case and was excoriated for her ambiguous statements and shifting positions. And rightly so. But along with attacking Weber, the forum members also tore down the Gunther book, almost solely by association.

To my knowledge, no one has fully investigated Gunther’s candidate.

I’ll be looking more closely at the book and examining all that can be examined over the next series of posts.

Here, I’ll quickly present the reasons why I think “Dan LeClair” deserves a closer look. Of most interest are those items that match with revelations about the case that didn’t become public, or where even discovered, until long after the book was published:

1) LeClair worked in the industrial chemical industry for more than a decade, as a salesman and manager, and possibly an executive. This coincides with the most important evidence found by Tom Kaye: the presence of unalloyed titanium on Cooper’s tie.

Max Gunther died in the late 90’s, and he would not have known how important Cooper’s actual profession would be in identifying a suspect.

2) “LeClair” absconded just before the hijacking. He told his wife he was going on a trip for work, and he told his employers he was going on vacation. He left his home wearing his work suit. This was the suit he later wore on the airplane. Gunther would not have known how important it was that Cooper was wearing his work suit and not something cheap purchased at a thrift shop.

3) “LeClair” was French-Canadian. There were several clues from the hijacking that suggested Cooper was Canadian (mostly phrases he used).

4) LeClair was a paratrooper, but not a skydiver. Gunther may have picked this up from the FBI, or not, but it is generally recognized that Cooper was not a skydiver.

5) LeClair read male action-adventure literature. Thus he might have been familiar with the comic “Dan Cooper” which was a French-only adventure comic produced from the late fifties to the hijacking.

6) As a Canadian who probably had to travel a lot, he would be more likely to use the phrase “negotiable currency” than your typical American. (And as a frequent traveler, he would have been familiar with much of commercial aviation procedures, equipment and lingo)

7) The story matches what we know from parachuting data (something I still haven’t published here yet, I’m working on it): Pulled ripcord, injured but mobile on the ground. Also, the drop zone isn’t moved either, which is common in most self-confessed Cooper stories.

I’ll be hitting each of these bullet points in-depth, as well as looking at other details from the book, answering objections, and I might even go through the other popular suspects. This is only an introduction.

DB Cooper: What I think Happened

When I first started looking into this case, my opinion was that whoever DB Cooper was, he was not one of the suspects regularly talked about online or on TV. So I took the available evidence, read as much as I could, and created a rough overview of all the evidence. I also wanted to look at what might have happened to Cooper after he left the 727 with his bag of money and a parachute. I outlined everything I thought happened, within a reasonable level of confidence. [I posted an abbreviated version of this on the DB Cooper Forum.]

Since starting out, I have found the case to be much more complex than I first thought. I have also found out that, like others, I do have a favorite Cooper suspect. However, I feel it would still be valuable to go over my initial conclusions, with a revision or two based on exchanges with other Cooper researchers on the forum.

Who was Dan Cooper?

First and foremost, Cooper was not a criminal before hijacking the airplane. The FBI had Cooper’s fingerprints (almost assuredly), and had years to look into suspects with a known criminal history. When Himmelsbach says Cooper was “an old con,” he’s making a fundamental error. In all probability, the hijacking was Cooper’s first crime.

From Tom Kaye’s analysis of the tie, we get a different picture of Dan Cooper. He was educated, worked as an engineer or manager. He could have even been a metallurgist. Cooper possibly worked at Boeing on the 727, which would explain some of his knowledge of the airplane’s rear stairs and flap settings. The timing of the hijacking is also of interest, as it took place just after the supersonic transport (SST) program lost its federal funding. Lots of workers lost their jobs.

Since the tie did not have any wild pollen on it, we don’t know where exactly Cooper lived. The FBI took a long look at Boeing, so Cooper was not a current or recently released employee there. Parts of the SST program were being worked on all over the country, so we again can’t pinpoint Cooper’s hometown. We do know, based on the knowledge he displayed during the hijacking, that Cooper lived in the SeaTac area at some point in his life, probably before leaving Boeing and pursuing a job in aviation at some other company.

Cooper was ex-military. He was either a paratrooper or a loadmaster. He was literate, well-spoken, and level-headed. He was a casual smoker and a light drinker. He was taking some form of prescription medication, probably for heart disease. Since he asked for “negotiable currency” and his name “Dan Cooper” might have come from a French-language comic book hero, Cooper could have been born and raised a French-Canadian before emigrating. Cooper was either a lifelong bachelor or recently divorced (he made his jump the day before Thanksgiving, so it’s unlikely he was worried about needing to be somewhere the next day.) He need not have been a loner, as Cooper remained quite calm and conversed for hours with a complete stranger, showing a high degree of social skill.

Much has been made of Cooper’s “olive” skin tone. It could mean he was of Hispanic descent, or he might have been an avid outdoorsmen or golfer. Hang around a golf course in late August and early September, plenty of guys sport a deep tan. I mention golf because it’s a universal business sport, and Cooper was a white collar guy.

What of the Jump?

Having now spent several months reviewing hundreds of combat jumps made by RAF airmen during nighttime missions in WWII, I believe I have a solid dataset to make some reasonable inferences about what happened to Cooper between the 727 aftstairs and the ground [I intend to publish these findings at a future date].

To put it simply: If an airman was able to get out of his stricken craft in a conscious state and with enough altitude to deploy his parachute, there was an almost 100% pull rate. Some of the interesting jumps I’ve read about include: an RAF airmen who had to attach his parachute in freefall, in the dark; another who had a 20mm cannon round sticking out of his thigh; a successful jump with a parachute clipped to a harness on only one d-ring; not to mention dozens of guys thrown from exploding airplanes. Taken together, we can conclude that even inexperienced jumpers find a way to deploy their parachutes.

So Cooper pulled the ripcord. It would have been a hard opening for Cooper. He might have lost his shoes (reported to be slip-on loafers) and I think he also lost the bag of money. Paracord is difficult to tie into knots, and the amount of force involved in a parachute opening is not kind to improvised anything. At least one of Cooper’s copycats lost their money during the jump, and most of them put more planning into their capers.

Cooper pulled the ripcord early, likely as soon as he stabilized into freefall (it was dark, and Cooper had no way to judge altitude). So Cooper was pushed by the wind for a very long time and might have traveled up to seven miles (but more likely around 4 miles). If the published FBI flight path is accurate, he landed a few miles east of Battleground, WA. This was mostly farming country, and pretty flat.

It would have been a blind landing (no moon light, totally dark) with a fifteen mile per hour wind. Try jumping from the top of a car moving 15mph with your eyes closed. It would hurt. Paratroopers are taught how to land in ways that minimize injury, but this would still be a tough landing. There’s a very good chance he was injured, a broken ankle or a fractured spine. About half of RAF airmen were injured in their jumps, but almost all of them were mobile and had the ability to evade capture for a little while after their jumps. So Cooper was probably capable of moving away from his landing zone. In the dark, with at least ten hours before an air search would be able to find him, Cooper would have plenty of time to make his escape.

His Escape:

Landing in a field somewhere, Cooper would move quickly to either a road or shelter. He probably buried his gear or just tossed it somewhere into deep brush. It’s possible he was able to get a ride from someone, likely telling a story about a car accident or something. Since the FBI checked all the hotels and motels right after the hijacking, Cooper probably either stayed with his helpers for the night, or was able to get transportation out of the area.

What about the manhunt? What about the roadblocks? Cooper landed farther south than the FBI thought. The actual manhunt was very pathetic, and was in the wrong area. If Cooper was able to go south into Vancouver, or hitch a ride east, there were no roadblocks to worry about. If Cooper was living in Portland, it’s completely possible he got a ride all the way home.

Cooper paid for his plane ticket with a fresh $20 bill, and later used another $20 to pay for a drink on the airplane, getting about $18 in change. So he had money on him. If I were planning this caper, I would have plenty of cash on me. So even if Cooper lost the ransom money, he was not without resources. If anyone did help Cooper and later came to be suspicious of the shoe-less and injured man they drove to Portland, they might have been afraid to talk about it, lest they be arrested as accomplices. Chances are, Cooper’s story stuck and they never even considered the stranger they met 12 miles south of the FBI search zone to be anything other than the world’s unluckiest dude.

The Money:

Three bundles of money were found on a sandbar about twenty miles away from the drop zone, and there’s no reasonable way to explain how the money traveled so far with rubber bands still attached. The general conclusion I draw from everything I’ve read about the Tena Bar money find is that it is indecipherable. So far, no explanation presented comes close to explaining the details of how the money got there.

If Cooper lost the money in the jump, like I suggest above, then someone else must have found the money. Greed would keep the find secret. While there were rewards for helping to apprehend Cooper, they did not add up to the $200,000 in the bag. Even after the statute of limitations had expired, the people who found the money would still owe taxes on their windfall. Not too shocking, then, that these people never talked.

The FBI revealed a couple of years later that all the serial numbers on the bills had been recorded, and they gave the impression that the money was therefore unspendable. If someone had found the money and was given the impression they would go to jail (or owe a ton of money to the IRS) if caught with it, I’m sure they would have disposed of it. Like by throwing it into a river. Or maybe they buried it near the Columbia. Some of the forum members have suggested the money looks like it was burned. It’s possible someone tried to completely destroy the bills by throwing them in a fire, not noticing the several bundles that weren’t completely burned.

These are all just guesses, and details surrounding the Tena Bar find are among the most speculative to be found in this case. Regardless, Cooper lost some or all of the money, and some of it ended up at Tena Bar. Anyone who might have found the money would have little incentive to talk about it, and we’re all waiting on some deathbed confessions to move the case along in this area.

And The Rest

Cooper, injured and broke, probably watched the news non-stop for the next couple of weeks. After making his escape, he might have taken all his available resources and left the area for good. Or, he could have stayed and returned to his regular life. He did his crime on a four day weekend, so his coworkers would have assumed he was with family. He comes in on Monday with a new tie, new shoes, and maybe a limp from a “car accident.”

He makes no large purchases. His lifestyle doesn’t change. There’s no way to connect him to the crime. For whatever reason, the artist sketch doesn’t quite look like him (much like the Unabomber case) and there’s simply no one who can put him on that airplane. Besides, Dan Cooper was a white collar guy, a regular Joe Doakes, he was boring. No one would believe the metallurgist on the shop floor was jumping out of airplanes. And above all, Cooper doesn’t talk to anyone. Ever.

Long suffering from a chronic medical condition, Cooper dies sometime before Unsolved Mysteries airs its DB Cooper episode (October, 1988), the one with the new and improved artist sketch. Some of his coworkers mourn his passing, maybe he had a few close friends. A nephew shows up to his funeral. His ex-wife skips the whole affair. It turns out to be the greatest adventure never told.

Interesting Abstract

Aspartame consumption is implicated in the development of obesity and metabolic disease despite the intention of limiting caloric intake. The mechanisms responsible for this association remain unclear, but may involve circulating metabolites and the gut microbiota. Aims were to examine the impact of chronic low-dose aspartame consumption on anthropometric, metabolic and microbial parameters in a diet-induced obese model. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were randomized into a standard chow diet (CH, 12% kcal fat) or high fat (HF, 60% kcal fat) and further into ad libitum water control (W) or low-dose aspartame (A, 5-7 mg/kg/d in drinking water) treatments for 8 week (n = 10-12 animals/treatment). Animals on aspartame consumed fewer calories, gained less weight and had a more favorable body composition when challenged with HF compared to animals consuming water. Despite this, aspartame elevated fasting glucose levels and an insulin tolerance test showed aspartame to impair insulin-stimulated glucose disposal in both CH and HF, independently of body composition. Fecal analysis of gut bacterial composition showed aspartame to increase total bacteria, the abundance of Enterobacteriaceae and Clostridium leptum. An interaction between HF and aspartame was also observed for Roseburia ssp wherein HF-A was higher than HF-W (P<0.05). Within HF, aspartame attenuated the typical HF-induced increase in the Firmicutes:Bacteroidetes ratio. Serum metabolomics analysis revealed aspartame to be rapidly metabolized and to be associated with elevations in the short chain fatty acid propionate, a bacterial end product and highly gluconeogenic substrate, potentially explaining its negative affects on insulin tolerance. How aspartame influences gut microbial composition and the implications of these changes on the development of metabolic disease require further investigation.

Low-dose aspartame consumption differentially affects gut microbiota-host metabolic interactions in the diet-induced obese rat.

Weekend Reading

Robot Nation:

…the workplace of today is not really that much different from the workplace of 100 years ago. Humans do almost all of the work today, just like they did in 1900. A restaurant today is nearly identical to a restaurant in 1900. An airport, hotel or amusement park today is nearly identical to any airport, hotel or amusement park seen decades ago. Humans do nearly everything today in the workplace, just like they always have. That’s because humans, unlike robots, can see, hear and understand language. Robots have never really competed with humans for real jobs because computers have never had the vision systems needed to drive cars, work in restaurants or deliver packages. All that will change very quickly by the middle of the 21st century. As CPU chips and memory systems finally reach parity with the human brain, and then surpass it, robots will be able to perform nearly any normal job that a human performs today.

A number of my friends have suggested the coming robotic/AI revolution will be similar to previous technological innovations, like the Ford factory line or the personal computer; implying that the worst case scenario is just obtuse Luddite thinking from the anti-technology crowd. I am not so sure.

Read the whole thing.

Wisconsin or Minnesota

A common meme among my liberal friends is that Governor Scott Walker has taken Wisconsin to the brink of disaster with his right-wing public sector union busting. And that billionaire 70’s star child Mark Dayton, who has raised taxes and spent a bunch of money and raised the minimum wage, has led a miracle of liberal utopianism in Minnesota.

What’s the reality? Well, I decided to take a look at the BLS to see how much truth there was to this meme. And I found the following graphs.

Without cheating, can you tell which of the below is Minnesota, and which is Wisconsin?



While it looks like the recession hit one state a lot harder than the other, the employment recoveries look very similar.

Because they are. Here is the graph from the Star Tribune that normalizes the job recoveries of “selected” Midwest states:

Midwest Job Growth Strib

While Minnesota is doing a little better than Wisconsin, it’s the real-world equivalent of a rounding error. The real Midwest miracle has been North Dakota.


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