Aug. 14, 2022

DB Cooper // 124 // The suspects // Part 3

DB Cooper // 124 // The suspects // Part 3

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.



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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. In this episode, we are going to cover more suspects. 

Jack and Bud Collins: In 1971, Jack said he was going to visit Bud for Thanksgiving and when he left, he was wearing a suit and a tie. He told his wife that he might go parachuting if the weather was nice enough and this was the morning of the hijacking. He showed back up on the 28th. As the story was unfolding on the news, his wife and son immediately believed it was Jack. He was a safety officer for his parachute club and he had 8 kids. Money had always been tight, but after this time, the family no longer had money issues.

Walter Reka: was a multi-lingual military vet and daredevil sport parachutist who was often in trouble with the law. He used aliases and confessed on tape to committing the hijacking to his best friend, Carl. Walt says he was a spy for the government for years after the hijacking. His home was raided by ATF where they found a bunch of weapons, including a grenade launcher. Even though he was a convicted felon, charges weren't filed and many people find this strange. After he passed away, his friend Carl Laurin announced that Walter was DB Cooper. The two of them were both skydivers in the 50's and kept in touch. Walter was a military paratrooper and he was actually born Walter Pika, but later changed it to Reka. He said that during the hijacking, he had no idea that the aft stairs could open during flight, but the flight attendant told him it was possible. He originally planned to use the side door. He broke his leg during the jump and got picked up by a friend afterwards and he got the tie from a thrift store. 

Ed Edwards: He was orphaned after his mother's suspicious suicide. He joined the marines, but was dishonorably discharged after going AWOL. He escaped from jail and was placed on the FBI's most wanted list. Ed spent a few years in prison in Levonworth and was eventually paroled in 1967. He began traveling the country and was saying he was a reformed criminal. His autobiography was called Metamorphosis of a criminal and it features a photo on the front with a guy wearing a suit and tie and he's holding a briefcase. The book was released in 1972. Ed Edwards died in prison a convicted serial killer and people believe that he is DB Cooper and the Zodiac killer.

LD Cooper: In August of 2011, Marla Cooper claimed that her uncle L.D. Cooper was the hijacker. Marla says that her uncle was an Army Veteran. In the HBO documentary, she mentions that her family got together in Oregon around Thanksgiving of 1971 and she was 8 years old. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, Marla recalls seeing her two uncles, LD Cooper and Dewey Cooper planning something. They were walking through the woods, discussing a plan, and she kept asking what they were talking about, so they jokingly said it was Turkey hunting. On the morning of Thanksgiving, her two uncles arrived at their mother's house and LD could hardly walk and he was bloody and bruised. They initially said they were in a car accident, but Marla overheard Dewey announcing to the adults that they did it, they hijacked a plane and Marla's father swore her to secrecy and LD stopped coming to family gatherings shortly after this. Marla was young, so she said she forgot about the incident for a long time. At Christmas, in 1995, her father confessed shortly before his death that her uncle was DB Cooper. He told her that she knew what happened and she would eventually remember and Marla said it pretty much “unlocked a secret box” in her mind.

Marla says that both LD and Dewey planned the hijacking, but LD was the one that went through with it. When he parachuted, he lost the money and the two of them searched the woods and Marla believes that her uncles would have stayed at the home of a third uncle for several months while LD recovered from his injuries. Dewey worked for Boeing for a few years in the late 60's, but there isn't any evidence that he would have worked on a 727 or had special knowledge of them like Cooper did. Marla says that her uncle Dewey and his children fled to British Columbia after they were questioned by the FBI. LD and Dewey never found the money that was lost during the jump and spent the rest of their lives searching for it.

Sheridan Peterson: became a suspect about a week after the hijacking, but the FBI didn't interview him until decades later. He served in the Marines during World War II and he was a former Boeing employee and worked in the department that wrote the flight manual for the Boeing 727 jet that was hijacked. This could explain how the man knew that the aircraft had back stairs that he could open during flight. Sheridan was a very accomplished skydiver and he actually worked as a smokejumper in Montana for awhile which is a firefighter who parachutes to a forest fire. He was a civil rights activist, overseas aid worker and a high school teacher. He also worked at a Skydive . Center in the early 60s which happened to be the same place that later provided the parachutes used in D.B. Cooper's escape. During a Boeing promotional exercise, he parachuted while wearing a business suit and he had a 50 pound sack of white flour strapped to his legs. Sheridan doesn't match the description because he has blue eyes, not brown. It was said that D.B. Cooper was chain smoking on the flight, but Sheridan didn't smoke. Sheridan Peterson told authorities that he was living with his wife and family in Nepal, so that was his alibi for the hijacking. 

Sheridan didn't deny being Cooper and seemed to be flattered that people thought he was. In 2007, Sheridan wrote to Smokejumper, a magazine published by the National Smokejumper Association. He said, “Actually, the FBI had good reason to suspect me. Friends and associates agreed that I was without a doubt D.B. Cooper. There were too many circumstances involved for it to be a coincidence. At the time of the heist, I was 44 years old. That was the approximate age Cooper was assumed to have been, and I closely resembled sketches of the hijacker.” There was a photo that surfaced of Sheridan dressed in the same formal attire that Cooper had on and the photo was from his time at Boeing. Sheridan admitted that he didn't do himself any favors by denying it when the photos came out, but he says he was living in Nepal at the time of the hijacking.

Sheridan himself started a rumor that he was ruled out as a suspect due to his DNA, but this isn't true. He was in Nepal in 1971 and didn't have a job for two years and opened a numbered account. This is a bank account, especially in a Swiss bank, where the account is only identified by a number, not the owner's name, and you need a lot of money to do this. On the day of the hijacking, Sheridan told the FBI that he was in the Philippines with his wife. The FBI says cool, we need to talk to your wife and he says, you can't because she died in 1977. It turns out, this may not be true. There is reason to believe that she is actually still alive, but hiding.

Sheridan interviewed with FBI agents in 2003 and they asked if he believed Cooper survived and he said no. He said the missing dummy reserve parachute was daisy chained inside. If you're not familiar with this term, it's used to keep your lines organized, especially when you're carrying the parachute. You grab the entire line, make a loop and pull it through and you keep repeating as you go up the line. It basically ends up looking like a braid when it's done. How could Sheridan describe the inside of a missing parachute if he had never seen it? We obviously don't know if this information is correct, but it's sure interesting.

Kenny Christiansen: he worked for Northwest which is the hijacked airline. He was a mechanic, flight attendant and a purser. A purser would be a cabin director, so they are responsible for the cabin crew as a team leader. He was notably upset with his company about redundancy and pay cuts. He had a low salary of $150 per week, but he was able to somehow buy a home in 1972. He was a regular smoker and a Bourbon drinker. Flight attendant, Florence Schaffner was shown a picture of Kenny and she said it was the closest to Cooper than any other photo she had seen. I have to wonder how he could pull this off if he really was Cooper. If he worked for Northwest Orient, how would no one identify him? Kenny continued working for the airlines for many years after ther hijacking, wouldn't the flight crew or ticket attendant see him at some point? 

Kenny used to wear a toupee, but apparently stopped wearing it after the hijacking. His sister needed a $5k loan and somehow, Kenny was able to give the money to her. If he was making a $150 per week, it would take quite a long time to save that much money. He gave his sister the loan 5 months after the hijacking happened. Prior to Thanksgiving of 1971, Kenny had been writing letters home saying he had no money and things were so bad that he could only afford to eat peanut butter sandwiches, but 3 months after these letters, he was able to buy a house for $15k and he did not pay cash like most articles state. He financed half through the same bank that the ransom money came from and the rest was done with a promisary note to the owner.

Kenny's brother, Lyle says that on his death bed, in 1994, Kenny told him, “There is something you should know, but I cannot tell you!” At the time of the hijacking, he had been a military paratrooper. Some kids were later playing in the woods behind Kenny Christiansen's former home and they stumbled across $1400 in $20 bills that were buried in a neatly dug square hole, lined with thin boards. Kenny's home was actually explored in a 2011 episode of Brad Meltzer's Decoded. The team was doing an investigation and they discovered a similar space constructed between the attic joists and it was concealed by insulation. There wasn't anything inside, but whatever it was used for could have already been moved. The money in the woods was mostly 1984 and1985 series notes which means they were printed more than a decade after the D. B. Cooper hijacking. Kenny lived a very frugal life, but he had a lot of money in assets after his death.

Barbara Dayton: What if DB Cooper wasn't a man, but a woman disguised as a man? It gets more confusing. Barbara Dayton was born as Bobby Dayton and she says she has always identified more as female. She had a real love for flying and tried to join the Air Force at age 18, but ended up being disqualified due to an eye condition, so she joined the Merchant Marines instead.

Barbara Dayton took flying lessons in the late 1950s and got her private license in 1959. She wanted to get a commercial license, but failed the written test twice. She got gender reassignment surgery in December of 1969 and the second surgery was scheduled 8 days prior to the hijacking. Barbara had to meet with hospital staff for an evaluation and she was lonely and depressed, having suicidal thoughts, and didn't have much money. Two weeks after her surgery, she went to an appointment, and a physician noted that her mood was way better, she was happy, and she was “strangely unworried” about her financial situation now. Barbara did find some friends that were also interested in flying and the couple would invite her and some other pilots over for meals and one time while they were hanging out, the Cooper case came up. The group noticed that Barbara got very defensive when she didn't believe their opinions on the case and they believed there's no way Cooper could have survived the jump. 

Her friend, Ron, joked around and said that Barb was probably D.B. Cooper because she knew so much about it and she told him he better not ever make a joke like that again. At this time, her friends didn't know about her surgeries, but she did later tell them about this and the Formans say that Barb also admitted to being D.B. Cooper. According to their book, The Legend of D.B. Cooper, Barbara told them that she was feeling resentful of the FAA and she was in a depression after her gender reassignment surgery, so she decided to do a hijacking. She drove to a bus station in Woodburn, Oregon, wearing a suit and tie, and she had a blouse on underneath. She put shoe polish in her hair to make it look darker, there was a wig in a paper bag, and a makeshift bomb rigged with dynamite in an attache case. At the bus station, she parked her car, took public transportation to Portland International Airport, signed a fake name to her boarding pass, and got on the plane and demanded ransom.

Barb told her friends that she dyed her hair with black shoe polish. One of the passengers on the plane said that Cooper's hair was matted and shiny. After parachuting out, she navigated towards a landing area near a hazelnut orchard in Woodburn by using lighted checkpoints visible in the night sky. She walked an irrigation cistern, stashed the money and suit, put on the wig, and went home. Babara had blue eyes, not brown like the witnesses have stated. She was also 5'8” and most people believed Cooper was over six feet tall. Eye witnesses can be very inconsistent with descriptions and the cabin lights were dimmed on the plane, so that could explain the eye color being wrong and Cooper was sitting, that could make the height difficult to determine as well. 

Barb later changed her story and said she was not DB Cooper, but there's also an explanation for this. The statute of limitations for this case was supposed to expire in 1976, but officials managed to get an indictment for a John Doe that kept the case open and charges available indefinitely. The Formans believe that Barbara didn't know about this when she made her confession in 1979. She was a lifelong smoker, and we know that Cooper was a smoker on the plane. People that knew Barb said she was a minimalist and she kept cash in her pockets because she didn't trust banks. 

She slept on a lumpy mattress and would not allow anyone to sit on it, so it's believed that she was hiding money inside. She inherited money when her parents died and she gave two people $10k each and refused to put the rest in the bank and continued to live on the bare minimum. She died in 2002 and that's when the Formans went to the FBI with the information. They pretty much said she was the wrong height and left it at that. The Formans gave them DNA samples from her belongings, but the agency only had incomplete samples from the clip-on tie to compare it to. They did look at the irrigation cistern where Barb claimed the money was, but nothing was there. 

Barbara's mother kept a diary and documented every single year where Barb would be for the holidays and on this ONE occasion, there was no mention of Barb for Thanksgiving in 1971. In fact, her mom wrote that she didn't know where she was and hadn't heard from her. 

The Forman's do speeches for the LGBTQ community. Barb was the first person to get gender reassignment surgery in Washington. The doctors had never done it before and she convinced them. At the time, doctors were performing the surgery in Maryland and she spent 4 months there, but they refused to do the surgery because of her age, she was in her 40's at the time, and because of her structure, she was covered in tattoos and she was muscular. 

On the Cooper Vortex podcast, the Forman's read a diary passage from Barb and she wrote this prior to her gender reassignment surgery. “After 43 years, I continue to live with obsession that has ruined not only my life, but the life of others I have loved. I cannot understand myself, nor can I reason why I must be tormented until I die. I did not ask to come upon this earth and I have never thanked God for the breath of life. My health is excellent and my appearance is normal enough. A normal male that should find a place in this world, marry, and live out a reasonably happy life. If only it were that simple. I'm a female and I continue to live as such, regardless of type of clothing, kind of work etc. Society dictates that I live and work as a male, but laws cannot bend deep feelings and belongings that tear me away from the maleness they stab me with. As I write this, I am dressed as a female, my true identity. If I seem rough and course, blame it on society. They force me to live in a man's world. A world I have despised from the beginning. I no longer care what people think when they meet me, for I choose to stay that way I am now. When I venture out into the world again, it shall be as a female.” 

The Forman's have Barb's ashes and they still take her out for airplane rides. They say that in a way, Barb has been a bit of a hero in the LGBTQ community and they're happy to share the stories about their friend.

Robert Rackstraw: was definitely doing a lot of things. He was in trouble for grand theft, writing bad checks, and the possible murder of his stepfather. Robert claimed that his stepfather, Phillip, was in Hawaii, but he certainly was not. There was an indentation on the family's property and they found Phillip's remains and there was a bullet in the back of his head. Robert Rackstraw was showing up to court in a wheelchair and he claimed he had injuries from Vietnam, but there wasn't any injuries that had been documented. After being acquitted of the murder charge, he was awaiting sentencing for check fraud, and keeping explosives. He was sentenced for writing $46k in bad checks and a jury convicted him. He faked his own death in 1978 by logging a false mayday call from a rented plane in northern California. While the coast guard rescue plane was searching the sea, Robert landed in Orange County, re-painted the plane and altered the identification numbers. He spent two years in prison for check fraud and theft of an aircraft. In 2016, a book was released called The Last Master Outlaw. The authors did a five year investigation into Robert Rackstraw's past and concluded that he was D.B. Cooper, but Robert's lawyer said it was “the stupidest thing I've ever heard.” Robert died from a heart condition on July 9th, 2019.

Robert Rackstraw would have been 28 in 1971, which is quite a bit younger than Cooper was believed to be. If he was Cooper, it's believed that he wore a toupee and heavy makeup to make himself look older. Tina Mucklow sat next to Cooper for hours, would she not be able to notice if he was wearing makeup? His ex-wife says that he would always leave the house with a briefcase and one day, she noticed that it was unlocked, so she peaked inside and found a toupee and a mustache. Several letters have been sent to the papers claiming to be from Cooper. A letter that was postmarked December 11th, 1971, was signed D.B. Cooper and it was sent to the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Seattle Times and the Washington Post. Agent's collected every copy of the letter. The letter provided details about the hijacking case that hadn't been released to the public, such as the fact that the FBI wasn't able to get any useable fingerprints from the plane. The writer said they wore a toupee and “putty makeup” and “left no fingerprints”. The writer also mentioned that they had feelings of hate, turmoil, hunger, and more hate. There are a random string of numbers and letters at the bottom of the page. 717171684 appeared next to the copy count in the lower left corner on the face of the letter and it remained a mystery for 46 years.

Rick Sherwood served in the Army Security Agency during the Vietnam War and Robert Rackstraw briefly served as a chopper pilot in the ASA at the same time. When the FBI released the letter, Rick Sherwood used the ASA code to crack it. It ended up being Robert Rackstraw's Vietnam military units: the numbers 71 appeared 3 times, the 371st Radio Research Unit and the 11th General Support Company. Each letter of the alphabet, corresponds with a number. A=1, b=2, and so on. The letter has been sent to specialists and they do not believe that the code has been cracked. When you use the number system, you can kind of make anything fit. For example, in the documentary, there was a line that they claimed said I am Lieutenant Robert Rackstraw, but you can also make it say, I am Sponge bob.

In the 1970s, Robert Rackstraw said that given his skill set, he should be on the FBIs list of suspects. He enjoyed toying with reporters. A reporter asked him if he was Cooper and he said, “Could have been. Could have been. I can't commit myself on something like that.” He said, “They say that I'm him. If you want to believe it, believe it.”

Robert Rackstraw had SO much military training and could have easily made a career out of it, but he was disciplined for domestic violence and it was also discovered that he had falsified some of his military records. He was livid when they kicked him out and he wrote a letter to the military that basically said he would hate to use the talents the military gave him. So, he's saying you guys trained me, you know what I'm capable of. Robert's ex-wife, Linda said that he wasn't the typical husband that would work a 9-5 and come home expecting dinner on the table. He was obsessed with thrills, excitement, and adrenalin rushes. He would take her to all these places like they had money. Robert started a small print shop and he forged his wife's name so he could get the loan. Linda didn't know what her husband's salary was, but you wouldn't expect it to be very much from a small print shop. 

Some people believe that the FBI actually figured out that it was Robert Rackstraw and had to let it go because he had associations with the CIA on black ops missions. There was a man from the CIA that Robert met when he was in the military and the two of them hit it off immediately and this may have been how he got in. Robert did work for Bell helicopter in Iran in 1978 and in the 70's you needed to have formal CIA clearance for this. So, if he was CIA, they would certainly make sure the FBI doesn't go after him because they would risk him spilling secrets that aren't supposed to get out. This could also explain why the 8 cigarette butts that Cooper smoked on the plane have disappeared. We could obviously test them now if they were available.

Robert's sister does believe that he could be DB Cooper. In May of 2013, investigators and cameramen approached Robert Rackstraw and asked if they could interview him. He initially agreed to the interview, but got real dodgy when they tried to set up a time, so they just showed up and surprised him. The team wanted to offer an interview and book deal type thing and offered him $20k if he told his story and he would get more when the movie was released. Robert Rackstraw said he was not DB Cooper and he had lead a very clean life after serving time for his checkered past. The next day, when the crew tried to talk to him again, Robert was hiding inside storage bins, but to be fair, they were hurling questions at him and he didn't want to answer. 

Tom Colbert (Cole-bear) worked hard to put together a documentary about the DB Cooper case and he finally got the green light, but nothing went as expected, so they got an attorney to sue. The lawsuit says the DB Cooper case is not unsolved and they were suing the FBI to release their entire investigative file. The judge agreed and they have been getting about 500 pages per month of new information. It was stated in the paperwork that the cigarette butts that Cooper smoked on the airplane, had been destroyed years earlier in Las Vegas. 

There is an interesting story that was told on the Netflix series D.B. Cooper: Where are you?! A man named Ron Carlson said he met DB Cooper in 1978 and he was his cocaine supplier. The supplier's name was Dick Briggs and he kept saying he was DB Cooper, but no one believed him. At a party in 1980, Dick Briggs said that he could prove he was DB Cooper. He pointed to a couple at this party and said they would be the ones to find his money with their son in 3 days. Dick Briggs was a special forces soldier during the Vietnam War, he was familiar with the area, and he was an accomplished parachutist. He was a weightlifter and he was very smart, but he felt that he was bipolar and a lot of people were afraid of him because he had such a hot temper which only got worse when he drank. In the Netflix documentary, Connie Hunt, said the first time she met Dick Briggs, her husband offered him a cocktail, but he did a shot of Bourbon instead. Then, he started to eat the glass and had blood pouring down his face. 

Ron Carlson was given a lie detector test and he passed, so it looks like he was telling the truth about his friend. When Dick Briggs was just 41 years old, he died in a car accident, but it's widely believed to be a murder. It was a one car accident in the middle of nowhere in Portland. Before his death, he had talked extensively about his time in Vietnam, but it turns out, it was all a lie. He was a part time weekend warrior for the airforce, so he never went to Vietnam and he was not a skilled parachutist. Ron Carlson felt horrible when he found out that it was all lies because he was the one that called the tip in and sent investigators down the wrong path. It was a dead end.......except it wasn't.

Tom Colbert (Cole-bear) wondered if DB Cooper could have had an accomplice. So, he called the Portland police department and he was like, hey, do you have some old narks that remember Dick Briggs? A week later, he gets a call from a guy in his 80's and they provided a list of Dick's old friends. Tom went through each one and the last person he called was Pudgy Hunt and he had a story. He said that one time, Dick Briggs introduced a friend of his and the guy pulled out clippings from local newspapers and it was stories about him being a green beret and how he earned medals in the service. The man was Robert Rackstraw, the last suspect we discussed.

In the next episode, we're going to discuss the money that was found and we'll break down theories and conspiracies.