Aug. 7, 2022

DB Cooper // 123 // The suspects // Part 2

DB Cooper // 123 // The suspects // Part 2

On the afternoon of November 24th, 1971, a man that called himself Dan Cooper approached the counter of Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland, Oregon. He was wearing a business suit and raincoat and was holding a briefcase. He paid $20 for his one-way ticket in cash, and it was flight #305 for Seattle, Washington on a Boeing 727. After boarding the plane, he handed the stewardess a note and told her he had a bomb. He demanded 4 parachutes and $200k and released most of the passengers but kept the pilots and some crew members. He jumped from the plane and the only evidence left behind was 8 cigarette butts, a hair on the headrest and a clip-on necktie. The FBI has closed this case and it's up to the citizen sleuths to solve the mystery of the hijacking.




RECAP: On the afternoon of November 24th, 1971, a man that called himself Dan Cooper approached the counter of Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland, Oregon. He was wearing a business suit and raincoat, and was holding a briefcase. He payed $20 for his one way ticket in cash and it was flight #305 for Seattle, Washington on a Boeing 727. After boarding the plane, he handed the stewardess a note and told her he had a bomb. He demanded 4 parachutes and $200k and released most of the passengers, but kept the pilots and some crew members. He jumped from the plane and the only evidence left behind was 8 cigarette butts, a hair on the headrest and a clip on necktie. The FBI has closed this case and it's up to the citizen sleuths to solve the mystery of the hijacking. 

This case is truly a mystery. There are groups of people that check the internet for updates on a daily basis and talk about it non-stop. It got me thinking, what is so fascinating about this story in particular? I believe it's the fact that every aspect of the story is a mystery. Most people agree that DB Cooper got on the plane and later jumped off, but how did he plan this? Maybe it wasn't planned and he decided to do it right before he got on the plane. What happened after the jump? There are so many questions surrounding this story, so I wanted to know, why do we like mysteries so much? Mysteries stimulate our imagination and creativity. You can come up with conventional ideas or you can create ones that are so out of this world or unrealistic, but it all fits because there's no proof either way.

I read an article in Beyond Science and they used a quote from Albert Einstein, “Logic will get you from A to B; imagination will get you everywhere.” I think there's a thrill that comes with the DB Cooper case. The thrill of imagining what happened. The thrill of possibly solving the case, even though the FBI couldn't. And it's easier to let yourself get caught up in this without feeling guilty, because no one died, unless you believe that Cooper did, of course. 

-We are going to start going through the suspects and the stories are fantastic. I'm convinced that everyone in the 70's lived a double life. There is literally a DB Cooper for everyone, so take your pick! We will not be covering every single suspect and it's still going to take two episodes to get through the ones I researched. 

Richard Floyd McCoy Jr. was a Vietnam War veteran who was a demolition expert and pilot. He was wounded in action and was awarded the Purple Heart in 1964 and he was sent home, but later agreed to go back in the Army as long as they agreed to send him to Vietnam again. He was awarded an Army Commendation Medal for heroism. In 1968, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a rescue he flew as a combat helicopter pilot. Richard did consider doing a third Vietnam tour, but his wife was over it, so he ended up volunteering as a warrant officer in the Utah National Guard and took up skydiving as a hobby. He taught Mormom Sunday school and started taking classes to study law enforcement. He was trying to become an FBI or CIA agent. Unfortunately, money was really tight and Richard was only receiving $243 per month from the GI bill and he couldn't support his family on this. The news was going wild talking about the DB Cooper hijacking and Richard McCoy said he could have done the same thing and he would have asked for half a million dollars.

He was later arrested for a similar or almost identical airplane hijacking and he escaped by parachute less than five months after D.B. Cooper's flight. He was ruled out as a suspect because he didn't match the physical descriptions of Cooper that two flight attendants had provided AND he was at home with his family in Utah having a Thanksgiving dinner on the day after the hijacking, but this is actually disputed. There's an FBI agent that says Richard was absolutely not home for Thanksgiving dinner. On April 7th, 1972, Richard used the alias, James Johnson to board a Newark-Los Angeles flight. His wife, Karen, bought her husband's parachute, helped him prepare his disguise, typed the instructions that he read to the airline pilots, drove him to the Salt Lake International Airport, and she knew that he boarded the plane with a gun and a grenade. They believed he was overly prepared for this. He was going to give notes to the flight crew in stages and he brought his own parachute, jumpsuit, helmet, gloves, boots, altimeters, and stopwatches.

On the way to the airport, Richard and Karen argued about money, divorce, their children, and the $500 he spent to plan the hijacking. Karen didn't believe that her husband could really pull this off, but he was determined. Even though he had done a practice run a week prior, he barely made his connecting flight. The airport was chaotic and there was a severe snowstorm in Chicago which delayed flights, so there were long lines of people. Richard got to the ticket counter, gave his alias “James Johnson” and just made it to the gate. He had his carry on bags and an envelope that contained the typed hijacking instructions. The airport intercom paged James Johnson for a phone call and he thought his wife was calling, but it was actually for a different James Johnson. Richard boarded the plane, being sure to hold the boarding pass at the very edges to avoid fingerprints. He sat in the back, seat 20D and went to the bathroom to change into his disguise.

He essentially dressed like a clown. He boarded the plane wearing a brown suit and shoes, but changed into a green flowered shirt, an untied blue tie, a red and blue striped sports jacket, and black and white saddle shoes. He applied dark-toned makeup to his face and neck and put on a wig. He wanted to hide his ears, he had always been teased about the size of them and this would be a notable feature, so he wore his sister inlaw's elastic headband under the wig. The wig had been dyed black, so it was stiff. He tried to plaster it down with water and hairspray, but this resulted in black liquid running down his face and mixing into his makeup. As he's in the bathroom, scrambling to get his disguise together, there's an announcement. Ladies and gentlemen. Has anyone aboard Flight 855 left a manilla envelope in the boarding area? 

It was his hijakcing instructions. If he didn't claim them, someone might look inside the envelope, so he had to cover his face with towels and he was coughing and choking, and pretending that he was getting sick. He slid the bathroom door open and stuck his hand out and the stewardess gave him the money. It took Richard longer than he thought to get his outfit and makeup on. He darkened his mustache and sideburns with mascara and suddenly, a stewardess was knocking on the door repeatedly, telling him he needed to take his seat. He put on sunglasses and headed to his seat and he was wearing gloves. Once he sat down, he realized that he made a mistake. The flight crew looked familiar. He was with the same flight crew as his morning flight and he was on the same 727 plane. Meaning, they had all seen him sitting in the same seat earlier in his business suit, without the disguise, and his fingerprints were all over the seat. The captain was informed that the gentleman in seat 20D had very suspicious behavior, so he decided to head for Los Angeles, but arranged an unscheduled landing in Grand Junction, Colorado, where FBI agents would be on standby.

There were two businessmen sitting on either side of Richard and they were both extremely suspicious of him. Just a few minutes into the flight, the captain announced that they had a hydraulic issue that was not an emergency, but they needed to land the plane. Richard turned to the man next to him and said that's not why we're stopping and he pointed a .45 caliber handgun to his chest. He handed the man an index card that said “This is a hijack. Move forward and get a stewardess.” A stewardess arrived at the back of the plane and was handed an envelope with instructions and there was also a live 45 caliber cartridge, and a pin from a World War II hand grenade. The outside of the envelope said, “Grenade-Pin pulled. Pistol loaded.”

Once the safety pin is pulled from the grenade, you only have a few seconds before it goes off. So, he would need to be holding down the spoon the entire time, which would be pretty difficult when you're passing out notes and getting ready to jump. He obviously had a gun, so he was armed, I just wanted to point that out. The pilot announced that they were actually heading to San Francisco instead and this is when Richard moved all passengers in rows 19 and 20 to first class. The stewardess asked a doctor if he had his medical bag with because the hijacker had a grenade and he said he wouldn't be much help if the plane was blown up. 

One of the passengers was a correctional guard and he was escorting a fugitive to San Quentin. The fugitive new something was off right away. He saw Richard enter the bathroom in a suit and exit with a darker face. He kept looking back at him and was waving and nodding at him and the guard was getting irritated because he didn't know what was going on. Richard later told him that today was his big day because he was going to be on the news later. He handed instructions to the convict and said they needed to be delivered to the captain and he was going to be tasked with getting the parachutes and cash onto the jet. He had demanded $500k and 4 parachutes. He said he was a seasoned skydiver and helicopter pilot. If his demands weren't met, he planned to bomb the plane. This hijacking played out much different than Cooper's. His was calm and no one knew what was happening and that simply wasn't the case on this flight. The passengers did know what was going on and they were scared, so it was getting chaotic. One passenger was crouched in the aisle with a camera and he was trying to get a good shot for a magazine cover.

In San Francisco, everyone was told to remain on the jet until the money and parachutes had arrived. There were some passengers that didn't realize there was a hijacking, so they were getting really upset that they couldn't leave the plane and the pilot finally had to announce that there were armed people aboard and the demanded items were on the way, please stay calm! Skydiver and rigger Perry Stevens was contacted by the FBI to provide the requested gear and he could tell this was the request of an experienced jumper. He prepared the two backpack rigs and two belly mount reserves and inserted radio transmitters that the agents gave him. The money was obtained from Wells Fargo and the serial numbers were recorded. The plane remained locked for 2 ½ hours before the money and parachutes arrived and the fueling hadn't even started because they were trying to stall. The captain got angry and wanted to get this over with, so they sent the 85 passengers off the plane. A stewardess noticed that Richard forgot to ask for one of the notes back, so she hid it. 

The jet took off at 7:30 PM and the skies were dark. Per Richard's request, the cabin was also dark, but a small light was on near the bathroom. The parachute that he brought himself was borrowed from a friend and the spring loaded pilot chute popped out and smacked the stewardess. He never planned to use the rigs from the FBI because he figured they would be bugged, so he was going to use his own and throw the others out of the jet to throw them off. Now he had no choice, he was using the ones from the FBI. He crawled through the aisles with a penlight and his gun and searched for agents that may be hiding. He assumed someone could have snuck on the plane when the passengers got out. He put the crew members in the cockpit and closed the door. Due to the DB Cooper hijacking, all 727s had a peephole installed in the cockpit door, but Richard just put a piece of tape over it.

The captain flew the plane according to Richard's detailed instructions: 180 knots at 14,000 to 16,000 feet and he had him fly in a zigzag pattern to make sure planes weren't able to trail them. Two Coast Guard C-130 Hercules planes followed from a distance and they were in contact with the captain, but they were also struggling with the low airspeed. Federal agents were closing in, but the captain was scared that Richard would throw the grenade in the plane when he jumped, so he asked them to back off. A transmitter that they put in one of the parachutes indicated that it had left the plane. Agents asked if they could close in and the captain said no. The crew could see a shadow of movement in the back of the plane and they believed he was still on board. Also, he could have forced a stewardess to jump first, the agents had no idea. Richard had actually tossed the parachute with his duffle bag that had his makeup, wig, and glasses.

During this whole ordeal, Richard kept one stewardess with him and he had her go to the cockpit at this point. He changed back into his white shirt and brown pants. Shaved his mustache and sideburns and put an olive green thermal jumpsuit over his clothes. He put on lace-up army boots, a helmet, and gloves. He loaded the money into a bag with handles and added in his gun, the fake grenade, and his friend's parachute. The bag weighed about 70 pounds and was hanging between his legs. He opened the door and the wind was freezing. As he stepped out, the entire stairway dropped two feet under his weight and this knocked him off balance. He had to grab the handrail and wrap both arms around it to hold on. His penlight was gone and he became disoriented. 

The plane landed safely and the FBI collected seat belts, gum wrappers, cigarette butts, and a copy of the Mainliner Magazine in the seat next to the hijacker's. The one note that the stewardess didn't give back, happened to have his handwriting on it. The police were out searching for Richard, but they weren't looking in the right spot. He was on National Guard duty and flew one of the helicopters involved in the search for himself. That friend that he bragged to earlier in the story, when he said he could pull off the heist, but he'd ask for half a million....well, the friend thought it was too much of a coincidence, so they called in the tip. A motorist said they picked up a hitchhiker wearing a jumpsuit and carrying a duffel bag at a hamburger stand. The FBI brought Richard in for questioning, he denied the whole thing, and gave them samples of his handwriting. The Army was like, hey, we can help too, here's his fingerprints and we also have handwriting samples on file. Three days later, he was arrested at his home on a charge of air piracy. His home was searched and they found $499,970 wrapped in bank bands in a cardboard box. Two months later, he was found guilty and sentenced to 45 years in prison.

There is an FBI agent that firmly believes Richard is DB Cooper and they released a book that includes many quotes from his wife, Karen MocCoy, implicating herself in the hijacking and she says she conspired with the FBI to have her husband killed. 

One of the mysteries surrounding this story is how the FBI knew that they would find Richard at his home in Virginia Beach, but it's believed that his wife may have turned him in, even though she was involved herself. 

On August 10th, 1974, Richard and some other inmates hijacked a garbage truck and escaped from the Pennsylvania penitentiary. He made a fake handgun out of dental paste that he stole from the prison's dental office. When the FBI tracked him down in Virginia, three months later, there was a shoot out and he died. 

Ted Mayfield: was a really high profile Oregon skydiving instructor and the finger was pointed at him right after the hijacking. His daughter Gwen doesn't believe he was Cooper though. She said that she lived in Bellevue with her mother at the time and the skyjacking was all over the news. She told her mom about it and said she wanted to call her dad to see what he thinks. Gwen called her dad, Ted and he was sitting at his desk. He said the FBI called him looking for parachutes and he told her that he needed to hang up because the FBI had just arrived and they wanted to go through his records. At age 79, Ted died from an aviation related accident at his home in Sheridan, Oregon. He was hand starting his plane and said he was trying to listen to the engine, but his arm got caught and was nearly severed. Unfortunately, he was taking Warfarin, which thins your blood, so he bled out in minutes.

Duane Weber: was a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars and he was in the hospital with a kidney disease in 1995 and was given a few days left to live. When the nurses left, he told his wife, Jo, that he had a secret and he had jumped out of a plane years ago. Before he died, he said, I'm Dan Cooper. His wife said she called the FBI after hearing this, but he was ruled out by DNA testing. A DNA sample was taken from Cooper's tie in 2001. After he died, his wife found that he had been in prison under the name John Collins. He had been known for being a smooth-talking salesman and he was an antiques dealer with a military background. He handed her his will and safety deposit box key in the hospital. Inside the box was a soldier magazine that said the man who held the secrets. Duane's wife said one time he was acting strange and he threw a paper bag into the water and it was 9 miles from where money was later found and we will talk more about the money find in part 3 of this story because we're going to get real in depth with it. 

Ted Braden: certainly had the credentials and his resume was posted in an article in a magazine called Ramparts in 1967. It says, “Mercenary soldier. 14 years' military service, available for position immediately. Qualifications: 101st airborne Division, WWII: master parachutist. 911 logged jumps including 695 free falls: ex-lietenant and ex-sergeant U.S. Army; operated in 4 countries in Southeast Asia and 2 in Africa; experienced in use of U.S. Weapons, demolitions, sabotage, infiltration; specialty is training and directing “hunter-killer” teams; 23 months of jungle operations in and out of Vietnam. Willing to organize and/or direct insurgency or counterinsurgency teams, whichever is appropriate to non-CIA supported employer. References can be checked with U.S. Army, U.S. Special Forces, CIA, and 5 Commando (Congo). Other talents by confidential inquiry only. Absolute loyalty guaranteed to highest bidder.”

A prisoner rescue operation was being planned utilizing HALO parachuting techniques which stands for high altitude, low opening. It means your free-falling from high altitude and pulling low. Ted Braden was one of the pioneers of this method, so he was recruited to train others for the mission. The project was made up of Special Forces and they worked closely with the CIA. The article explains that Ted Braden appeared to have a secret death wish, coupled with well-trained instincts for survival. He continually placed himself in unnecessary danger, but always managed to get away with it. At one point, he was actually forbidden to free-fall due to violations of safety regulations. The rules state that a jumper must pull and be in the saddle before they reach 2000 feet, but Ted liked to wait until he was below 1000 feet. If your main chute malfunctions and you pull the reserve, there's just not much time to save yourself. There were no safety regulations on jumps in Vietnam, so it sounds like Ted was thriving. Special Forces loaned Ted to the CIA for their SOG project which is Special Operations Group, but the CIA realized the name was too obvious, so it was later switched to Studies and Observation Group. Ted was part of this work in Vietnam for 23 consecutive months and he was involved in shady deals to make money and was also a suspect in a murder case. 

He went AWOL in Vietnman and was later captured. He was lead to a room in a hotel where he was stripped, searched, photographed, and chained to a bed. He went through an interrogation for 3 ½ days, then he was forced to sign a transcript when it was done. He was chained in the room for an additional 3 days. The CIA put him on a plane to return to the U.S. And he spent the next 123 days and 14 hours in solitary confinement. He signed many statements saying he was sworn to secrecy about the CIA and Special Forces operations in Southeast Asia and he was discharged for honorable conditions. 

William Wolfgang Gossett: The college instructor who allegedly confessed to his sons before he died in 2008. ABC News reported that William “had military experience, including wilderness survival, and resembled the FBI composite sketch of Cooper.” He was a former paratrooper and a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars. When the DB Cooper case hit the news, William became obsessed with the story and told his sons that he was the mystery man behind the hijacking. His son, Greg said that he was always strapped for cash, but had tons of money to spend just before the Christmas of 1971, which was weeks after the skyjacking. In his confession, William said that the money was in Canada in a safety deposit box. He did two tours in Vietnam, worked for a public defenders office after the military, had a law degree, and later became a priest. He was a radio talk show host for a paranormal show, performed exorcisms, and he was a police officer for a small period of time. His son says he showed him a key to a safety deposit box where the money is hidden.

James Klansnic: World War II pilot, whose B17 was shot down by the Germans. He successfully bailed out, but was captured right away and spent over a year in a Nazi labor camp. He became a hydraulics and numatic engineer for Boeing and worked on the 727 and later the Super sonic transport project which was canceled by Boeing, just months before the hijacking. He's been photographed wearing a tie similar to the one found on the plane and he worked with many materials that were found on the tie.

William Smith: WWII veteran of the navy combat air crewman, aerial photographer and gunner. He had parachute and survival training and it's known that he had a grudge against the airline industry due to the Penn Central Railroad bankruptcy where he was employed. William believed this was caused by the airlines taking freight and passengers away from the railroads.

Joseph S. Lakich: He was angry at how the FBI handled a small-plane hijacking in October 1971 that resulted in his daughter's death. Joseph's daughter, Susan Giffe, was dragged onto an airplane, screaming, by her husband, George Jr. and he was posing as a doctor with his patient. Susan and George Jr. boarded a flight to Nashville and George forced the pilot to change routes and go to Jacksonville. Then, he killed his wife, the pilot, and himself when the FBI cornered him. A US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the FBI negligent in the case regarding the two people that had been allowed off the plane to do the negotiations before the shootings happened. Co-pilot Randall Crump, testified that FBI agents actually refused to speak with him when George allowed him off the plane. Joseph Lakich was obviously a grieving father after this tragic incident and it's believed that he may have wanted to embarrass the FBI by pulling off the perfect hijacking to get back at them. He was a military man who later worked as a production supervisor at Nashville Electronics, which fits with the necktie. Citizen Sleuths discovered that the necktie left on the plane contains “more than 100,000 particles of rare-earth elements.” We will dive into that more in depth later.

John List: Is a convicted murderer. On November 9th, 1971, he murdered his wife, and three children in their New Jersey home and went on the run and wasn't caught until 1989. The murders were just 15 days before Cooper hijacked a Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 at Portland International Airport and parachuted into the dark and subzero temperatures over Southwestern Washington with $200,000 in cash. John List was a successful accountant and insurance salesman and he was captured 18 years later. He fits the description of Cooper and he had nothing to lose by pulling this off. He was eventually convicted for murdering his family and he died in prison in 2008.

E. Howard: WWII veteran of the US Navy and Army aircor that has a habit of planning things on holiday weekends. He is an author that is known for his work as a CIA spy and leading member of Nixon's Plumbers. The White House Plumbers was a Special Investigations Unit, established within a week after the Pentagon Papers in June of 1971, while Richard Nixon was president. The group was tasked with stopping or responding to the leak of classified information. E. Howard was a leading member of this group and they plotted and executed the Watergate Scandal. His sons claimed that he confessed to being involved in the JFK assassination as well. 

According to a man named Wally, there were four people involved in the escape of DB Cooper. Wally says that Cooper landed about 1,300 feet from Goheen Airstrip. 3 men were waiting for him and they got in a small plane with $50k, dumped the money and bomb into Vancouver Lake to make it look like he drowned and Cooper switched outfits, and boarded a flight at Scarpoose airlines. He was flown back into Portland International where he boarded a flight for Las Vegas. The rest of the money and the parachute, was loaded into a pickup and transported to a specific location to be buried.