The Hunt for DB Cooper’s Loot Part 4

Previously, in Parts One, Two, and Three, young reporter Bev Wikowski shows up at a bar looking for a loutish quote. Instead, she happens upon Andy O’Brien, who claims to be pals with the infamous hijacker DB Cooper. Cooper, says O’Brien, wants him to round up a posse to go dig up the loot he buried a year ago after parachuting from a passenger jet. If what he says is true, Bev anticipates instant fame. If what he says is false…well, reporters don’t rise to the top if they’re not willing to take a few chances… 

O’Brien dropped the smile, but he showed no anger. “How smart would it be for a man to lead folks into the woods looking for marked trees and digging holes, and all of it’s a scam? All he’d get is a bunch of pissed-off people.”

“Maybe you do think you know where the loot is, but maybe you’re a crackpot and all this talk about knowing DB Cooper is just your way of finding a bunch of fools to help you out.”

“No one’s twisting your arm, Ted. You’re free to go. I’ll still pick up the tab for your beer. Hell, have another one and go shoot some pool.”

“Now, wait a minute. Who said I’m not interested?”

“What a riot,” exclaimed the young woman by the wall, at O’Brien’s side. The smirk on her carnation lips gave the rest of her face a hard edge. Sandy blonde hair flowed halfway down her back. She wore bellbottom jeans, a lavender cashmere turtleneck, and a light blue knit cap. She had her arm around a young man bigger than anyone in the group, six-three or six-four, with thickly coiled dust-colored hair and a matching close-trimmed beard. He looked uncomfortable when Bev and the others turned their attention to the woman at his side.

“Suppose we find the money,” continued blondie. “Fifty thousand divided by six—that’s more than eight grand. I’ll bet that’s more than you make in two years, Tanya. You, too, Jim. But it’s not ours. Bet you I could make more than that selling the story to the National Enquirer.”

Everyone looked at O’Brien, who took a draw from his cigarette and let out a slow exhale of smoke.

“I tried to tell Cooper it’d be complicated to round up a search crew,” he said. “About the money—the airline will get reimbursed by its insurance company. As for selling the story, or telling it for free, Cooper and I talked about that, too. We don’t care who you tell, as long as you wait until the day after we return. Whatever you decide, assuming we find the money, it would be unwise to spend it or put it in the bank. Every financial institution in this country is looking for those twenties. Hang onto it for a few years. Wait for this whole DB Cooper thing to blow over.”

Bev let the smoke ease out her mouth.

For her, telling someone would be the whole point. It would be the biggest scoop of the year. Put that on her resume. She’d say adios to the Beacon and move up to a real newspaper like the Oregonian, and she wouldn’t be stuck on the women’s pages or the family section or whatever they wanted to call it. She’d cover real news with real impact.

Hell, maybe it would be her ticket to someplace even bigger, the New York Times or the Washington Post. That would take Sandra away from her grandmother, but with the salary she’d be making, Bev could hire an au pair, maybe a French girl, and Sandra could learn another language. She wouldn’t have to grow up in Troutdale, drab suburb where they lived now. In a year she’d start kindergarten, and she’d be around kids from all over the world.

And Billy—her heart felt squeezed again and she pressed her lips together—he’d be proud of the little daughter he’d never met. If there were an afterlife and he was watching them, he’d be pleased to watch her grow into a sophisticated young woman.

She decided, if anyone asked, that she was a secretary for a heating and air conditioning company. These people sure as hell wouldn’t want a reporter tagging along.

“Wow, man,” said blonde chick’s boyfriend, if that’s what he was. “You must be snorting some fine shit. You think you can walk in here and round up a posse, no problem. I’ll bet you everyone here has somewhere to be on Thanksgiving besides some logging company’s land.”

O’Brien put down the stub of his cigarette and picked up one of the topo maps.

“This wasn’t my idea,” he said, rolling the map. “I’ve got somewhere to be tomorrow, too. Tell you what. We all go to our families for Thanksgiving. Friday morning 5 a.m., anyone wanting a share of $50,000, show up in front of the hotel. You won’t see me, but I’ll be watching to see who shows up. If we have enough people, we’ll find a tree with one of Cooper’s marks. Like this young lady said, if there’s six of you, that’s over eight grand. If there’s four, that’s over twelve grand, and I’m guessing that’s more than three years’ wages for most of you. If it’s just me, I’ll do my damnedest to find one of those trees on my own and Cooper won’t have to share with anyone but me.”

He put a rubber band around the topo map and picked up the other one.

“Don’t be blabbing about this and don’t bring anyone else with you,” he said. “If I see someone different with any of you, I’ll leave all of you in front of the hotel and go looking on my own. Don’t bring any kind of weapon. People can get a little funny when they’re carrying large quantities of cash.”

“How about grass?” said blondie’s boyfriend. “I’ve got some righteous weed.”

Under-ager guffawed. “I knew it,” he said before spitting.

O’Brien stood. “Just don’t bring any hard drugs,” he said. “I’ll be driving, and there will be no smoking dope in the vehicle. Now. Let me ask.”

He scanned the faces of everyone around him.

“Anyone here know for sure that you won’t be here Friday morning?”

Bev scanned the others, who were busy scanning the others, too. Nobody raised a hand. She wanted to raise hers—the whole proposition was ridiculous—but for some reason, she couldn’t.

And here ends the Cooper’s Loot excerpts. I’m more than a third finished with the second draft of the full work. If I’m fortunate, it’s a novel that someday will wind up on a bookstore shelf. Thanks for reading!

The Hunt for DB Cooper’s Loot Part III

Young reporter Bev Wikowski happens upon a man who claims to know where the infamous hijacker DB Cooper buried his loot. He’s got a half dozen patrons at the Spar Pole Saloon enthralled with the tale of the missing $200,000–but is he a nutcase? Bev takes out a cigarette and settles in with the group. If he’s telling the truth, she’d have one of the biggest stories of 1972.

This is the third installment of the first chapter of my work-in-progress, Cooper’s Loot. You can read the first installment here and the second installment here.

“You’re saying the money’s still out there?” Bev tried to keep the cynicism from her voice.

“Exactly.” O’Brien nodded his head for emphasis.

“The army, the cops, the FBI, and everybody’s uncle combed the woods, and none of them found a trace.”

“That’s because they were looking in the wrong places. Cooper—we might as well call him that—had quite a few chuckles hearing where they put all their manpower. I had no clue, because I didn’t know he was him, not until a week ago. He fooled them in every way. Fooled me, too.”

He channeled smoke up over his face. Shallow wrinkles etched his forehead, and he had bags beneath his eyes. But the eyes, deep brown like mahogany, struck her as ageless.

“Why doesn’t he just go get it himself?” Bev asked.

“We already asked that,” said a man with crewcut blonde hair who looked too young to be in a bar. He spat tobacco juice into a Styrofoam cup. “He said DB figures he’d get busted. But the feds won’t bother with a bunch of Looney-Tunes poking around.”

O’Brien sat down. Counting the waitress, three females and three males comprised his audience.

“It was dark and it was raining when DB hit the ground. Everyone knows that. He told me he built a small fire and waited out the night. It was cold, but nothing like what he and I endured in Korea. He wasn’t sure exactly where he was, just that it was in the mountains south of where they’d think he landed, and he was damn lucky he didn’t have to cut himself loose from the top of a tree.

“In the morning he walked south. When he hit a logging road he followed it to a bigger dirt road that eventually connected to another road pointing south. He spent another night in the woods and the next day he hit a gravel road, and a Forest Service sign told him where he was.”

“He must have been hungry,” said Bev.

“He had C-rats,” said under-ager impatiently, his eyes still fixed on Andy.

“Tanya,” a male voice called from behind them. The waitress stepped back, picked up her tray, and moved toward the bar.

“What, he just stuffed them in his pockets?” asked Bev.

Under-ager turned to her and scowled. “He had a knapsack.”

“A knapsack?” Bev didn’t remember reading anything about DB Cooper having a knapsack. The reports—the whole nation had been fascinated—depicted him having a briefcase with a bomb that was probably fake. Dressed in a white shirt and a black clip-on tie, he was polite, paying for his bourbon and water and offering a tip. They landed in Seattle and after several hours, the airline’s owner personally delivered a duffel bag containing $200,000 in a hundred bundles of twenty-dollar bills. They gave him a choice of parachutes.

“Let me go backwards for a second.” O’Brien took a drag from the half-smoked cigarette. “Cooper had a knapsack. It was in an overhead bin several rows in front of him.”

“And I suppose he told you that, too?” Bev pressed her lips together to rein a mocking grin that threatened to show itself.

“He did,” said O’Brien, his voice unruffled.

Under-ager scowled again. “Ma’am, some of us want to hear the story. You don’t want to listen, you go back to wherever you come from.”

She met his glare with an impassive face. At least she didn’t need a fake ID to get inside. At least she knew how to ask questions, instead of swallowing whatever load of crap some too-old hippy decided to unload.

O’Brien’s beard widened with a half-smile, and his eyes gleamed.

What if he were right, and he knew how to find the money, and she wasn’t there when she could have been?

She reached into her jacket pocket and retrieved a cigarette from her pack of Salem 100s.

“Once he knew where he was,” O’Brien resumed, “he backtracked the dirt road what he guessed to be about three miles. He came to smaller road that cut into the woods, overgrown, like a logging road that hadn’t been used in years. He cut a certain mark on a tree, and he took the road and walked a while, almost all of it switch-backing up a mountain. When he came to a creek that crossed under the road, he marked a tree, and then he went off the road, going uphill and marking trees along the way. He found a spot he liked, marked three trees to form a triangle, and he used a folding spade to bury almost all the money. Buried the clothes he wore on the plane, too.”

Most all the money?” asked the man in the black cowboy hat.

Behind them on the other side of the saloon, a thwack indicated that the rack of balls on the second pool table was now broken.

“Later that winter he buried a couple of bundles in a place where he figured someone would find them. I have no idea where that was. Fact is, he never told me anything ’til last week, and I was just like you, Miss”—he nodded toward Bev—“thinking he was bullshitting me. By the way, you want a beer or whatever, just let Tanya know. Everything’s on my tab.”

“Well, hell,” said under-ager. “It’s all marked. He knows which road. You could find it yourself.”

“That’s what he thought, and that’s what I meant to do yesterday. But I ran into some difficulty. First off, the bigger logging road ended up very, very rocky. It reached the point where I had to get out and walk. The mark’s not easy to find, and there are several logging roads with green gates. Once I found the right one, I didn’t get more than a quarter mile up it, and guess what I ran into?”

He paused and grinned. Bev leaned forward to flick her cigarette over an ashtray next to the maps. She glanced at the circle someone had drawn–it encompassed a lake and a town named Ariel in tiny lettering. When she leaned back she noticed O’Brien watching her.

“Don’t go tellin’ us Bigfoot,” said under-ager.

O’Brien shook his head. “A fucking clear-cut.” 

Cowboy man chuckled until a coughing fit choked away the amusement.

“No shit. When I got back last night I called Cooper and he started laughing, too. All that planning he did, risking his neck to pull it off, staying the hell away for a solid year, and for what? A bunch of loggers cut most all the trees that mark the path. But it looked to me like the back end of the clear-cut wasn’t as far as he said he’d hiked before he buried everything, and so I kept going on the little logging road. I crossed four culverts beneath the road from one side of the clear-cut to the other.”

“And any one of them could’ve been where he marked the next tree,” said under-ager.

O’Brien took another drag from his cigarette. “Now you know why I’m here. Cooper said find myself a down-to-earth tavern and see who I could round up. Said to split twenty-five percent among our little search party, and I’m supposed to bring him back seventy-five percent. If we find it. First big snow of the season is supposed to hit Saturday night, so we’ll have Thursday and Friday and then maybe that’s the last anyone’s going to be poking around in there ’til spring. Cooper—you know that’s not his name, right?”

Bev and the others nodded.

“Cooper said he knows for a fact that he walked at least half a mile off the logging road into the woods, so it wouldn’t be in the place they clear-cut.”

Under-ager swirled the cup of spittle, gazing at it as though considering a sip. “People think they’re walkin’ a straight line when they’re in the trees, but they’re not,” he said.

“I suppose that’s right,” said O’Brien. “Anyway, this morning I called the company that owns it, the Cowlitz Lumber Company, and they told me they’re going to start logging next spring where they left off.”

“Not if I buy it,” said cowboy man. He stood over six feet tall, wide-shouldered with a slight paunch, bald atop his head, with thin black and gray hairs forming a horseshoe around the sides and back.

O’Brien gave cowboy a questioning look and waited.

“I’m Ted Martin,” proclaimed cowboy, reaching a hand which O’Brien shook.

Martin lifted his hat an inch and set it back on his head. “I’m in town to negotiate the purchase of the Cowlitz Lumber Company. I’m meeting with the owners on Monday. I’ve been scouting their land for three days.”

“Best of luck to you,” said O’Brien.

“Two hundred G’s. That’d help pay for the purchase. And it’d be my land it’s buried in. Maybe I’d let the rest of you split twenty-five percent. How ’bout that, Andy?”

O’Brien nodded. “How many miles of logging road you figure you’re buying? I’d guess pretty near all of it’s on a hillside. How much of it have they logged in the last year?”

“So good luck to me, huh? I’ve got a question for you, too, Andy. Suppose my brother’s a county sheriff?”

O’Brien widened his smile. Bev noticed she wasn’t the only one shifting her eyes between the two men.

Tanya stepped quietly next to her. “What can I get you?” she asked.

“A screwdriver, and tell your bartender not to water it down.”

Tanya nodded, but she stayed with the group.

Under-ager filled the silence. “You’re goin’ to be my new boss. I’ll be one of your worker bees. I’m a choker. Jim Rossi.”

Martin kept his eyes on O’Brien. “Well, Jim, everybody’s got to start somewhere. Both my boys worked as chokers. Even now they don’t set foot in the office. As for my brother, his jurisdiction is two states away. None of this is his business.”

“Then why’d you bring it up?” asked O’Brien, still smiling.

“I don’t like con artists.”

Next week: A man in a cowboy hat claims he’s going to buy the land where a too-old hippy says his war buddy buried $200,000. Is this going to be a big news scoop for Bev–or a matter of lunacy?

 

The Hunt for DB Cooper’s Loot Pt. 2

Looking for a community reaction quote regarding a high school basketball star, young reporter Bev Wikowski enters a local tavern. In a corner, the bulk of the patrons surround a bearded man who says he knows where the infamous hijacker DB Cooper buried his loot. Bev decides to keep her occupation secret and to listen, because–well, if it’s true, this is a story that would launch her career into the big-time.

If you missed part one, click here.

Only eight feet from the entry, an almost-empty bar stretched left and right in front of Bev. The place smelled like an ocean of beer fogged over with cigarette smoke and a slight breeze of whiskey. Two men parked on stools made no motion to assess who’d walked in. On the other side of the bar, a thirty-something cocktail waitress with slightly Asian features and shaggy brown hair glanced at her before lifting a tray of beers. She walked the length of the bar out the right side, where six people leaned forward around two pushed-together tables.

On the left side of the tavern was a pair of pool tables, one unplayed and the other scattered with a half-dozen balls, as through the game had been abandoned. Waylon Jennings was finishing a song on the jukebox—“How I love that Mississippi woman, but her heart does not belong to me”—but there was no one next to it poised with quarters.

Something had everyone’s attention over there against the wall where the waitress was distributing beers. As Waylon’s hollered lamentations ended in a fade-out, a man’s voice became audible where the group leaned forward, all men except for one young woman at the far end. The waitress set her empty serving tray on a table and joined them, squeezing next to a middle-aged man wearing a black velvet cowboy hat with a gold band. Another man, wearing a denim jacket, turned and teetered away from the group, shaking his head and exhaling smoke. Through the gap where he’d been standing, a man holding a cigarette sat with his back against the wall, facing the group. Dark hair hung to his shoulders. A black beard thick with corkscrew curls obscured most of his face and drooped to his chest.

None of the other men had hair like that. No one had a beard that long or shaggy.

At a place like this, men would pound the shit out of a man like that, and then they’d return to the pool table, twelve ball in the corner pocket, and what the fuck was that pansy-ass doing in here? They wouldn’t be listening as though one word away from hallelujah conversions.

Noticing her, long-hair nodded, as though she, too, belonged with the group.

Bev had learned not to fly into every crowd carrying a camera around her neck and waving a press pass. Muteness could strike like a sudden epidemic. Her journalist’s instinct recommended a low profile. She could get her basketball quote later.

She walked to the group and stood on the periphery, just behind the waitress’s left shoulder.

Long-hair turned his look to a short thin man with thick eyelashes and a cleft chin. “No,” said long-hair, exhaling smoke onto the table, where a large Forest Service map lay partially open, with a smaller topographic map next to it. “It’s not even close to where the FBI’s been looking.”

Cleft-chin placed his index finger in the middle of a large circle drawn on the Forest Service map.

“I’m not jumping out the door tomorrow morning to go bushwhacking with the likes of you after a bunch of money no one else could find.” He put a half-smoked cigarette in his mouth and turned away. “Buncha shit,” he muttered.

“Suit yourself,” said long-hair. “I can’t take all of you with me anyway. A group size of six to eight ought to get the job done.”

Bev took the spot left by the vacating man. “What job?” she asked.

Now everyone diverted attention her way, annoyance in their eyes. 

Long-hair stood, set his cigarette on an ashtray, and leaned forward. Bev accepted his offer of a handshake.

“Name’s Andy O’Brien,” he said. “I’m here on behalf of the man people call DB Cooper. I know him, and I know approximately where he hid the money, because he told me.”

Bev’s heart quickened. That would be a hell of a story. Front page. Not just The Beacon, but The New York Times. In the next instant, reason stepped into her brain. This guy was probably a nut job.

Next week: Should she stay or should she go?

 

The hunt for DB Cooper’s Loot

On a cold overcast night the day before Thanksgiving in 1972, a young reporter named Beverly Wikowski walks into the Spar Pole Saloon. All she wants is a quote from a male chauvinist pig. She has no idea that she’ll end up on a quest to find the extorted loot of the infamous skyjacker DB Cooper.

In my last three posts, I’ve recounted the actual hijacking and its aftermath. Today, it’s time for fiction. Below is the introduction of my current work in progress, Cooper’s Loot.

Chapter One

On a cold overcast night the day before Thanksgiving in 1972, Beverly Wikowski stood in a dim phone booth outside the Spar Pole Saloon. Illuminated only by parking lot lights, she counted the change in her coin purse. She paused a moment to add her own smoked Salem to the three cigarette butts floating in a Styrofoam cup half-filled with old coffee on a metal shelf. It smelled as though drunks regularly urinated in the booth.

“Two dollars thirty-five cents,” said the operator.

Bev deposited nine quarters and a dime. She waited four rings before her mother answered the phone, and, god, it was loud in the house, her twenty-three year-old brother Alex from Grants Pass hollering and kids shrieking in the background.

“You’re working late again,” said her mother.

“I’m in Kelso working on a story.”

“Kelso, Washington?”

“No, Kelso, Scotland. What do you think?”

“That’s fifty miles from here.”

“There’s a really good player on the Kelso girls basketball team.”

“What’s that got to do with the Women’s Section?”

“As long as I avoid politics and crime, the editors don’t care what I write.”

“You want to talk to Sandy?”

“Please.”

“She’s having fun with her cousins, but I’ll get her. You’re not working tomorrow, are you?”

“No, of course…”

“Sandy!” Her mother called before Bev could finish. “It’s your mom!”

She turned and glanced across the shadowy parking lot. The saloon looked as though it had claimed its spot not long after Lewis and Clark paddled by on their way to the Pacific. Brown planks pocked with paint blisters covered the exterior, except for a boot-scuffed white door placed exactly in the center.

She’d spoken to the coach, interviewed and photographed the player. What would the men inside the Spar Pole think of their hometown hero—a girl, for Christ’s sake? One of them would blurt out some salacious or otherwise empty-headed reaction, and she’d have everything she needed to write her story.

Her readers would understand exactly what she was trying to say.

“Mommy!”

“Hey, little goose.” She turned away from the Spar Pole and pictured her girl standing beneath the avocado-colored wall phone at the edge of the kitchen. Her long hair of brick red curls, her eyes aglitter with life, just like her daddy’s had been. For an instant it felt like someone had grabbed her heart and squeezed, but Bev let the feeling pass.

“Mommy’s going to miss dinner with you, but I’ll be home to read a story before bedtime.”

“That’s okay.”

“I’m fifty miles away, but I’m still close to the river.”

“Are you on a boat?”

“No, honey.”

“Would you, could you, with a goat?”

Bev grinned. “Not on a boat, not with a goat. Not on a float, but I’m wearing my coat.”

“Mommy! That’s not how it goes.”

“Oh. Maybe you’ll have to show me when I get home.”

“Goody!”

“Love you, little goose.”

“Love you, too, Mommy.”

In a moment, her mother took the phone. “When can we expect you?” she asked.

“Let’s say seven-thirty,” said Bev.

One. Minute. The phone company voice interrupted.

“We’re having spaghetti. You want me to hold a plate for you?”

“Oh, Mom. You’re the best. Yes, please. And I’ll be there to help in the kitchen tomorrow.”

After the call Bev lingered, despite the smell of piss, as though proximity to the phone represented proximity to her daughter. Then she stepped out into the pulp fumes and the night chilled with saturated air. She tugged down on her skirt, brown and cotton, professional, well below the knees, and strode toward the door.

If it got a little too rough in there, she’d skedaddle straight out to her Volkswagen Beetle, parked right by the entry. She’d hop in, lock the door, spit rocks on her way out the parking lot. If someone jumped in front to stop her, he’d be taking a mighty big risk.

Next post: Bev encounters more than she expects.

 

DB Cooper’s loot found! (Well, some of it…)

I’m almost twenty thousand words into the second draft of Cooper’s Loot. In this literary suspense novel, a young reporter joins an odd group of characters searching for ransom money stolen by the infamous airline hijacker DB Cooper. In real life, a boy raking sand on the Columbia River found some of that cash more than eight years after Cooper’s jump. That discovery is the subject of this post.

Although the FBI officially believes that DB Cooper’s parachute jump resulted in his death, the discovery of three bundles of his stolen loot makes it a near certainty that the infamous hijacker survived.

In February 1980, more than eight years after Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727-100 flight from Portland to Seattle, nine-year-old Brian Ingram found the bundles on Tena Bar nine miles downstream from Vancouver, Washington. The FBI devoted many resources to investigate this find and to develop an explanation on how the money could have ended up buried in sand more than twenty miles southwest from the area where Cooper would have landed.

Despite their efforts, the FBI failed to develop a plausible theory.

Some investigators hypothesized that the money could have drifted down the nearby Washougal River into the Columbia River, from which a dredging operation in 1974 could have deposited the cash onto the beach. But extensive testing by citizen scientists have disproved that possibility. The two biggest debunkers of that hypothesis were: 1) the rubber bands holding the bundles together would have all but disintegrated before the money could ever reach Tena Beach; 2) the flight path of the jetliner made it impossible for the money to have ended up in the Washougal or anywhere near the Columbia River by natural means.

The most reasonable explanation for the cash being found buried in sand at Tena Beach was that a human being put it there. Nobody knows why–except perhaps the man known to the world as DB Cooper.

For more on this real-life, unsolved mystery, an group called “Citizen Sleuths” has conducted scientific examinations of all available evidence and detailed its findings on an excellent website.

Returning to the world of fiction–how does a twenty-two year-old reporter grieving for a husband killed in Vietnam end up on the hunt for DB Cooper’s loot? That will be the subject of my next post.

Who Is DB Cooper–for real?

Today is the 46th anniversary of the notorious DB Cooper hijacking. But who was DB Cooper–for real?

My first DB Cooper blog post revealed that DB Cooper was the name given to the only individual whose hijacking of a U.S. jetliner was never solved. 

According to a Wikipedia article, the FBI investigated many suspects, including individuals who tried to con people into believing they were the real DB Cooper. Amateur investigators zeroed in on several potential perpetrators, all leads that the FBI pursued in detail before concluding none were the actual hijacker. Numerous “copycats” hijacked airliners using means similar to DB Cooper, but they were all caught, and the FBI determined none of those imitators had also successfully hijacked the  infamous Northwest Orient 727 flight from Portland to Seattle. My favorite among these was Robb Dolin Heady. According to Wikipedia, Heady “stormed a United Airlines 727 in Reno in early June, extorted $200,000 and two parachutes, and jumped into darkness near Washoe Lake, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Reno. Police found Heady’s car (sporting a United States Parachute Association bumper sticker) parked near the lake and arrested him as he returned to it the next morning.”

About a year after the original hijacking, a pair of con men bilked Karl Fleming, editor-in-chief of a Los Angeles tabloid, LA Weekly, out of $30,000. One of the men, 49-year-old Donald Sylvester Murphy of Bremerton, Washington, convinced Fleming that he was the real DB Cooper. Fleming spent hours recording interviews with the fake Cooper and ran a series of three front-page articles entitled “The DB Cooper Story–the Skyjacker Who Got Away with It.” The FBI determined that Fleming had been suckered by the two twenty-dollar bills the con men provided as “proof” of their authenticity. True, the serial numbers on the twenty-dollar bills matched those of the ransom money, but the men had doctored the money to make it appear that way.

Although the FBI officially closed the DB Cooper case in 2016, various amateur detectives have continued the quest for the hijacker’s true identity. One cold case team with numerous ex-law enforcement individuals, led by Tom Colbert, believes it has  figured out who Cooper actually is–a man named Robert W. Rackstraw, Sr. Within the past couple of months, two former FBI agents who worked on the DB Cooper case have expressed a belief that the FBI should follow up on the Colbert team’s evidence.

So who’s the real DB Cooper? Well, I’m not going to make any claims to authenticity, but my current work in progress, Cooper’s Loot, will provide what I hope to be an entertaining fictionalized account.

One finding that is real–some of the stolen loot actually did get found, almost nine years after the hijacking. More about that will come in next week’s post.

 

What happened to DB Cooper’s Loot?

DB Cooper–mention that name and folks who were around in the 1970s know you’re talking about the only airline hijacking in U.S. history that to this very day remains unsolved.

We’re nearing the 45th anniversary of this mysterious event, which took place November 24, 1972, the day before Thanksgiving. On a Northwest Orient Airline flight from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, a well-dressed middle-aged man handed a note to one of the flight attendants. She figured he was yet another man hitting on her, and so she put the note unread into her purse.

Thus rebuffed, the man–dark-haired, clean-shaven, wearing a dark suit, white dress shirt and clip-on black tie–called her again and said she should read the note, because he had a bomb. The note, which the man later reclaimed, instructed her to sit next to him. When she did, he opened a briefcase, revealing eight red cylinders, wiring, and a large battery.

He demanded $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills and a parachute. This differed from the demands of a rash of hijackers that plagued the airlines in those days. A great deal of them ordered that the pilot fly the jet to other nations, often Cuba. They didn’t jump from the plane.

But that’s what DB Cooper did. He turned down military parachutes offered by nearby McChord Air Force Base and instead selected civilian parachutes. Once the money was delivered, he released all the passengers and two members of the crew. He gave specific orders on  the degree of angle for the wing flaps, the speed, and the elevation the jet was to maintain after takeoff, and at 8:13 p.m. they departed from Seattle toward Reno, Nevada.

When the jet landed, DB Cooper, the money, and two of the parachutes were gone. While the plane was in flight amid a heavy rainstorm, Cooper had opened an aft staircase and jumped. Evidence indicated he had parachuted out over the Cascade Mountains east of Woodland, Washington, and south of Mt. St. Helens.

Nobody ever found this man, whose name nobody actually knows. He used the name “Dan Cooper” when he bought the flight ticket. Subsequently, a newspaper reporter mistakenly referred to him as DB Cooper, and the name stuck. 

In the spring of 1972 hundreds of army soldiers, law enforcement personnel, and volunteers combed the mountainous region where it was believed he had to have landed. They found no trace of him or of the money.

At approximately the one-year anniversary in November 1972, an odd collection of individuals happened to meet in a bar in Kelso, Washington, before setting out to search for the missing loot–well, let’s just say something like that might have happened. That’s the subject of my current novel-in-progress, which I’ve entitled Cooper’s Loot.

In future weeks, I will share more about what is known about the DB Cooper hijacking, as well as offer some sneak previews of my book, which is now at the revision stage.

 

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