Submitted by the staff of Adventure Books of Seattle:
UPDATE: November 25, 2014: A report on Kenny Christiansen was sent to the Seattle FBI in December 2012. A PDF of this report was released publicly, and then withdrawn in May of this year. Family members of the alleged accomplice to D.B. Cooper, Bernie Geestman of Port Angeles, contacted Adventure Books of Seattle staff. They told us that ever since they had seen the Cooper episode of the History Channel show Brad Meltzer's Decoded, they had wondered themselves if Bernie was involved. They are now working with us, and received a preliminary print copy of a newer, updated and expanded report on suspect Kenny Christiansen. What is this all about? Who exactly is Kenny Peter Christiansen? Well...the 2011 book, Into The Blast - The True Story of D.B. Cooper, alleges that Ken Christiansen, a former paratrooper and an actual employee of the hijacked airline was probably the infamous 'D.B. Cooper'.
This is a complex article that tries to cover quite a bit in a reletively short space. Our apologies for this, and our thanks in advance for your patience.
About D.B. Cooper: Boarding a Boeing 727 in Portland, Oregon for a quick flight to Seattle, he quietly made his demands known to flight attendant Florence Schaffner. Airline execs, fearing a major disaster from Cooper's threat to blow up the plane, quickly gave in to his demands for $200,000 in cash and four parachutes. He also had meals brought on board for the crew while they were refueling on the ground. After the plane took off again from Seattle, Cooper parachuted from the rear airstairs with the money and was never seen again. It was November 24, 1971. Since then, the FBI has investigated more than a thousand suspects without pinning the crime on anybody - yet.
In 2007, writer and journalist Geoffrey Gray was the first to break the story on Christiansen in his famous article from the New York Magazine. Some information for the article was provided by New York City P.I. Skipp Porteous, the founder of Sherlock Investigations. (Porteous is now retired and lives in California.) Gray's new book, Skyjack, is an overview of the crime, an exploration of all the main suspects, and with a particular focus on Christiansen. But back in 2007, the book was still a work in progress. Meanwhile, the investigation into Christiansen's life moved forward. Skipp Porteous approached Robert Blevins at Adventure Books of Seattle and asked him to attempt interviews with people Kenny Christiansen had known. Skeptical at first, Blevins finally agreed and spent the next 18 months traveling around the Northwest doing cold-call interviews. None of the people he interviewed had ever been approached before regarding the hijacking, and the results were surprising.
Blevins told the staff at Adventure Books that there was a possibility some of the people he was interviewing had actually been involved in the crime, or certainly knew the hijacker's identity. Some of these witnesses, he said, instead of throwing him off their property, began pointing fingers at each other immediately. Others seemed relieved and willingly provided key details that led to Christiansen as possibly being the hijacker - and the identity of an accomplice on the ground. After gathering a great deal of circumstantial evidence, documents, and witness testimony, Blevins and Porteous concluded that Kenneth Christiansen had motive, opportunity, and just the right amount of parachute experience to make him a solid suspect, no matter what the F.B.I. said. They also knew Kenny had never been officially investigated by the Bureau. Along the way, they also identified Christiansen's alleged accomplice. This man later agreed to appear on the History Channel show Brad Meltzer's Decoded.
Blevins has said on internet forums such as Dropzone that the F.B.I. has dropped the ball occasionally on the Cooper case. He cites the time the Bureau was sure it was a man named Richard Floyd McCoy. This was later proven wrong, since McCoy was having Thanksgiving dinner in Utah at the time of the crime. They could be wrong about Christiansen as well, he says. Blevins also points out that the more-recent claim regarding 'L.D. Cooper' by Marla Cooper was another example of this problem, since Marla Cooper had claimed her 'Uncle L.D.' was obsessed with the famous Dan Cooper comic. This comic link was only made public in 2008 by the F.B.I. on their website, and that Lynn Doyle Cooper died in 1999, before anyone had made the connection. The comic was a limited run publication, printed in French, and not normally available on bookstands in the United States. Marla Cooper's claim about her uncle was later dismissed by the Seattle FBI, who were a bit embarrassed after naming her a 'viable witness'. They are now much more reticent about answering publicly-submitted questions regarding the hijacking.
This article is a condensed version of the most important evidence against Christiansen. For the book, the witnesses' names were disguised. After it was released, their true names and addresses were given to the Seattle F.B.I. along with a PDF copy of the book. However, to this date they have not investigated Christiansen as a suspect. They dismissed him as not quite fitting the description of the hijacker. In his just-released book Hijack - The Hunt for D.B. Cooper, Geoff Gray relates the truth about the witness descriptions, which were different depending on who was doing the telling. The F.B.I. questioned everyone on the flight and people who had seen the hijacker said he was anywhere from thirty-five to fifty. He had a square jaw. Others said he had a sagging chin. Stewardesses Tina Mucklow and Flo Schaffner agreed he had brown eyes, although only Schaffner saw him without his sunglasses. Flo said he was six feet tall, Tina said maybe five-ten to six feet. Robert Gregory, a passenger on the flight, said no...he was shorter, no taller than five foot nine. None of them agree on the exact color of the hijacker's suit, or the hairstyle he wore, although they did agree he had very dark hair. Gregory thought it might have been dyed. The witness sitting directly across the aisle from the hijacker, Bill Mitchell, told the Washington State History Museum in a 2013 interview that Cooper may have been wearing a toupee - the same thing alleged by Robert Blevins two years previously. Eventually a few different sketches were created from the witness descriptions. Those sketches have taken on a life of their own, to the point where some Cooper investigators consider them photographs, which of course they are not.
Quick background: Ken Christiansen was a U.S. Army paratrooper at the tail end of World War 2. After the war, he went to work for Northwest Airlines, first on the remote Alaskan island of Shemya (where he met the alleged accomplice Bernie Geestman) and then he later worked out of the Seattle NWA hub serving as a purser on the Orient route. However, after almost twenty years with NWA, he was only making about $500 a month (before taxes) and living in a small apartment in Sumner, Washington. The allegation is that he got tired of this, and was talked into putting the screws to the airline by his good friend Bernie Geestman. We called him 'Mike Watson' in the book, but his identity was revealed by History Channel in January 2011.
1) The House - Although his tax records show Kenny Christiansen made an average of $6,000 a year or less prior to the hijacking, he paid at least partially in cash for a house in Bonney Lake, Washington within eight months after the crime. He bought this house from Joe and Ann Grimes of Puyallup, WA. His friend Bernie Geestman denied knowing the arrangements on the purchase. But in 2012, it was discovered that Geestman had served as Best Man at the Grimes' wedding. Geestman is suspected of being the 'Man on the Ground' for Kenny Christiansen. In mid-2014 it was discovered that Christiansen bought the Bonney Lake house by signing a promissory note with the Grimes couple for about $6,500, and used that as leverage to obtain a mortgage on the balance. He took 19 years to pay off a $7,500 mortgage with SeaFirst Bank - which amazingly was the SAME bank who paid out the ransom to the hijacker. Although the Grimes couple are deceased, Mr. Blevins interviewed their son in 2014. He said his parents would NOT have waited 19 years to get their money. So the question remains on how Christiansen paid them off. Blevins believes it was done in cash over a reletively short period. The son and daughter of the Grimes couple are currently researching family documents for more details.
2) The Loan - The sister of Bernie Geestman, Dawn Androsko of Fox Island, WA, admitted both to the authors and to the History Channel that she received a $5,000 cash loan from Kenny Christiansen only five months after the hijacking to put a down payment on her own house. Mr. Geestman has denied knowing any details about the loan to his sister, but his sister says it was HE who approached Christiansen for the money on her behalf, and HE who actually delivered the money to her. She used the money to buy a house in Buckley, WA. At the time, she and her four children were living with Geestman and his wife. The money enabled her to move out from his place.
3) The Lost Weekend - In October of 2010, Helen Jones of Sumner, Washington testified that both Kenny and Bernie Geestman were supposed to come to Thanksgiving dinner at her house the year of the hijacking, along with Geestman's wife. But only Mrs. Geestman showed up, and she was highly pissed at her missing husband. When Bernie Geestman returned a few days later, he said he'd been out camping, but wouldn't say who he was with. Helen Jones found out later that he was with Kenny Christiansen. When the History Channel interviewed Geestman in October 2010 for the show 'Brad Meltzer's Decoded,' they asked him where he was that weekend. He refused to answer. However, when he was asked his opinion on whether Christiansen could be D.B. Cooper, he told them "Sure...he looks just like him." (The FBI sketch) But multiple witnesses now place him WITH Kenny the entire week the hijacking occurrred. So why didn't he offer up an alibi for Christiansen instead?
4) The Tie-Tac - Witness 'Dawn J,' the recipient of the five thousand dollar loan from Christiansen, identified a tie-tac from an FBI picture as one she had seen Christiansen wear sometimes. The picture shows the famous J.C. Penney clip-on tie and a tie tac (not from JC Penney) left behind on the plane by the hijacker. And she identified it before she was told that Kenny was being investigated, or before anything regarding D.B. Cooper or the hijacking was discussed. She also added that Kenny sometimes wore a toupee, but never at work. A witness to the hijacking, Bill Mitchell, sat directly across the aisle from Cooper and told the Washington State History Museum in a 2013 interview that he thought Cooper could have been wearing a toupee.
5) Chute Selection - Just before the hijacker jumped from the plane he made a choice. There was a newer sport chute available to him, and an older, military-type chute packed in an NB-6 ('Navy Backpack 6') container. He chose the NB-6, which points more to a man who hadn't jumped in a very long time, and who was probably ex-military. This would describe Christiansen very well. He served in the US Army as a paratrooper at the tail end of World War 2. After the war, his first job for Northwest Airlines was fueling and oiling planes on the remote island of Shemya in the Aleutian chain. There is no doubt that Kenny was a tough guy, as well. While the usual tour on Shemya was a year or so, Christiansen worked there for over three years. Shemya Island, called 'Schmoo,' or 'The Rock,' by the people who served there, is little more than a freezing rock in the middle of the Bering Sea. During his paratroop training in 1945, Christiansen was one of less than a hundred men in his outfit who completed training, out of a starting class of 278. Night jumps, water jumps, and jumps with loads so heavy the men had to be pushed aboard the aircraft were common.
6) The Picture - After Kenny's death, a strange picture was discovered in one of his old photo albums, hidden behind another picture. It shows Kenny walking in through the front door of his apartment in Sumner dressed similarly to the hijacker, and carrying a briefcase and a paper bag, the same type of items carried on board the flight by the hijacker. A time stamp on the front by the developer reads 'February 1972'. The wreath on the door indicates it was probably snapped around Christmas 1971 - or about three weeks after the crime. We believe it is a sort of staged mememto.
7) The Clippings Folder - One of the things the Christiansen family found after Kenny's death in 1994 was a folder full of newspaper clippings about Northwest Airlines. The first one is from his early days on Shemya Island. The last is an article from the summer of 1971, about five months before the hijacking. Although the Cooper hijacking was the biggest thing to ever happen to the airline, Kenny clipped nothing about it.
8) Dear Mom and Dad - Kenny's letters home to Minnesota were examined. Many contain the same theme. He was unhappy with the airline. He was broke all the time. He was out on strike again. He was digging ditches or picking apples to make ends meet. Literally.
9) Smoking Is Bad For You - During the filming in Bonney Lake for History Channel for the Decoded program, Robert Blevins did two interviews with Helen Jones, a woman who had known Kenny very well. She said she remembered he smoked Raleigh cigarettes. 'I know because he saved the coupons...' Although Jones didn't realize it, this was the same brand of cigarettes smoked by the hijacker. The F.B.I. saved the butts from the ashtray he used, although the F.B.I. said later they had lost them somehow.
10) Easy Money - A lot of people have asked how come the ransom money hasn't turned up except for the $5,800 found in 1980 on the banks of the Columbia River near Tena Bar. Easy answer: No one was actually looking for it. In a radio interview from 2008, Special Agent Larry Carr admitted that most banks found it overwhelming to compare their incoming twenties from the 34-page list of 10,000 non-sequential numbers. The majority of them abandoned this effort within three-to-six months after the hijacking. This means the money was more-or-less cold, and would be easy to launder after that time.
11) Don't Piss Off Your Ex - Part 1 - We alleged that Geestman was Christiansen's accomplice, and at the time of the crime he was married to Margaret Ann Miller (Geestman). In five interviews between January and August of 2010, she consistently pointed to her ex-husband as an accomplice in the hijacking. However, she was very good friends with Ken Christiansen, and denied that he could have been involved. But after Robert Blevins presented her with a photo collage that contained famous pictures of the hijacking combined with pictures of Christiansen, she hung it in her kitchen. During a final interview in August of 2010, Mrs. Geestman finally admitted that Christiansen could have been the hijacker, and suggested we talk to her friend Helen Jones. Later, Jones turned out to be a very good witness.
12) 'Kenny Left Us HOW Much?' - When Kenny's estate was settled after his death, he had $186,276 in savings at the West One Bank in Sumner, Washington. He had an additional $24,501 in his checking account. His tax records from after the hijacking show that although he was making more money than before the hijacking, he never filed more than $20,000 a year on his tax returns. The authors don't think these funds were the actual ransom, but more from land investments using the money he extorted from the airline. He also left behind a coin and stamp collection which was auctioned off later for about $30,000.
13) Don't Piss Off Your Ex - Part 2 - In her second interview up in Twisp, Washington, Margaret Geestman pulled out a box of tugboat logs that came from a tug her ex-husband had worked on from about 1968 to 1975. The log from 1971 was missing. When Robert Blevins asked her where it was, she said her ex had broken into her home a few weeks after Kenny's death and stolen it, along with some photo books and personal papers. Coincidentally, the log could have shown that Geestman was not at work the weekend of the hijacking - and he drove nearly 400 miles each way to get it. Mrs. Geestman still had hasps and padlocks installed on some of the interior doors of the house, even all those years later. She named her ex-husband Bernie as an accomplice in the hijacking in six interviews, but denied Kenny was involved. On the final interview, she admitted it WAS Kenny who went missing that Thanksgiving week with her husband. She and Kenny were close friends, and when he was dying, the last trip he ever made was from Bonney Lake to Twisp, WA to see her one last time.
14) Are You Sure This Will Work? - How did the hijacker know that dropping the rear airstairs in flight would not change the flight characteristics and cause the jet to roll, invert, or crash? Because Boeing Aircraft tested this before the 727 was released. Bernie Geestman worked at Boeing during this time. Before that, he worked for Northwest Airlines, and later he went to Northwest again for a while. And at the time of the hijacking, he was working for Foss Tugs, but he may have offered Kenny a little advice on how a mid-flight escape could actually succeed. On a side note, it is known that DB Cooper requested that the jet take off from Seattle with the rear airstairs down. And although this was refused, it may point to a hijacker who was very local to Seattle and had no intention of remaining aboard the plane any longer than it took to reach enough altitude to jump. Since the hijacker had to wait until the plane reached 10,000 feet and was depressurized before opening the door - this means that jumping over the forests of southwest Washington was probably not his original plan.
15) Kenny Who? - Although Mr. Geestman gave extensive details on the relationship between he and Christiansen to the authors, he tried to change his story after History Channel contacted him. He told them he hardly knew Kenny and thought he was a dishwasher. Then he called up his sister Dawn Androsko of Fox Island, WA and asked her to deny everything she had testified for the book. When the producers of Decoded discovered what he was doing, they presented photographs and other evidence to him. He admitted he was friends with Christiansen for more than thirty years and that Kenny had attended his wedding in 1968. He agreed to go on television and was interviewed for Decoded. He called Robert Blevins a liar, the book 'a work of fiction,' but refused to reveal his whereabouts over Thanksgiving 1971. Witnesses have said he was with Christiansen. In 2014 members of his own family contacted the author and asked to see the evidence. They were provided with a 76-page confidential report from Adventure Books of Seattle detailing the evidence and showing all images and documents. After reviewing it for a day or two, one of them who was actually AT the Jones' home the day of the hijacking said: "We'd rather wait until he (Bernie Geestman) is gone (passed away) before saying anything..." (Regarding his involvement in the hijacking) The attitude of the Adventure Books staff on this is simple. The Seattle FBI, if they question these folks, might not accept that answer.
16) The Lifestyle Change - Before the hijacking, Kenny dressed neatly and conservatively. For the rest of his life after the crime, he mostly dressed in coveralls when he was off-duty at the airline. Most people in Bonney Lake thought he was a farmer.
17) The Silent One - For the next year after the hijacking, everyone at Northwest Airlines was abuzz about the taking of Flight 305. Everyone except Kenny, that is. Interviews done with his co-employees had a common theme: He never said a word about it, and stopped attending the union meetings as well. Christiansen was a no-show to his own 25-years-of-service banquet, although he did accept a silver bowl and a letter from the head of the company sent through the mail.
18) It's For Camping, Dear - Shortly before the hijacking, Mr. Geestman purchased a station wagon from a car lot in Elma, Washington and an Airstream trailer at a bank repo sale. He only used it once, and that was when he and Kenny vanished on the Thanksgiving weekend of the hijacking. It sat on his property until a year later, when he lent it to Helen Jones' family to use after they had a house fire. When the Jones' house was repaired, he sold it to a buyer who took it to Arizona.
19) Just Doing His Job - When Margaret Geestman finally saw the book 'Into The Blast,' and realized the extent of the evidence against Christiansen, she sent a strange letter to the office of Adventure Books of Seattle. In one paragraph, she claims that even if Kenny were aboard Flight 305 that day, he wasn't hijacking the plane. He was probably just doing his normal job as the purser. The AB staff had no clue what to make of her statement, but they kept the letter.
20) Coins and Stamps - One of the things Kenny had in his estate was a large collection of stamps and gold coins. It was left to his family in Minnesota. The authors discovered that most of it was ordered by mail through a P.O. box down in Sumner, although Kenny had moved to Bonney Lake shortly after the hijacking and got his other mail there. After he died, the collection was auctioned off and the proceeds given to his family.
21) No, Margaret...We're Not - At the end of her second interview in Twisp, Margaret Geestman ran out to Robert Blevins' car as he was leaving. She stopped him and said: 'You're not going to make Kenny look bad, are you? No matter what he may have done, he was still a nice guy...' We didn't. We considered Christiansen a basically nice guy who had taken enough from the airline, and just decided to stick it to his employer.
22) An Airline Employee? Certainly not! - At the beginning of the Cooper investigation, the F.B.I. arbitrary decided it couldn't have been done by an airline employee, so they never tried looking to see if it could have been an inside job. Back in 1971, airline employees were viewed like the people who worked for Pan Am in the film Catch Me If You Can. It just never occurred to the Bureau that anyone from the airline could have been involved. Even witness Helen Jones said she was surprised Bernie Geestman and Kenny Christiansen were never questioned. This scenario turned out to be a good thing for Christiansen.
23) The Role of the Accomplice - On the Decoded program, we demonstrated how Bernie Geestman and Kenny may have pulled off the crime using a station wagon and an Airstream trailer purchased six weeks before the hijacking by Geestman. Instead of bringing the trailer to his home in Bonney Lake, Geestman parked it on property he owned with a shop building (but no house as yet) in Oakville, WA. They probably drove to Oakville the day before the crime, made final plans, and then Geestman dropped off Kenny at the Portland Airport. Then Geestman returned to Oakville and stayed in the trailer waiting for a phone call from Christiansen once he was able to hike out and get to a phone. Most of the estimated drop zones are less than twenty miles from the interstate, and there are scores of Forest Service roads, river trails, and paved roads leading back to the freeway. Once Kenny was able to contact Geestman, it's likely Geestman used the trailer and wagon to rendezvous with Christiansen and return to Bonney Lake. Geestman's wife reported he was missing from either the Monday or Tuesday before the hijacking until the following Monday, when he returned home. He would not say who he was with, or where he allegedly went 'camping'. But six weeks after the hijacking, witness Helen Jones saw Christiansen at the Sumner Laundromat and asked him where he was for Thanksgiving. He said he was with Bernie Geestman, but wouldn't provide any details.
24) I Have An Alibi - During the first half of his interview with Robert Blevins, the alleged accomplice thought Blevins was only doing a general bio on Christiansen and not investigating the hijacking. When Blevins revealed the true nature of the book, Geestman claimed that when he worked for Foss Tugs in 1971 that he was gone 'ten or eleven months' out of the year. However, a senior executive at Foss said this was impossible, and that employees worked a week or two at a time, and then received compensatory time off. It is interesting to note again that Mr. Geestman allegedly drove hundreds of miles each way to his ex-wife's house within weeks of Christiansen's death in 1994. Items taken: Some photo albums, and a log book from Foss from 1971, which could prove he was NOT at work the week of the hijacking, as he has claimed.
25) The Description - One of the big knocks on Kenny as a Cooper suspect has been the eyewitness descriptions. Although they varied a bit, most people thought he was five-ten to six feet, and weighed about 180. Kenny was five-eight and weighed about 170 pounds. Also, the hijacker had hair, while Kenny was very thin on top. But in her 2010 interview, witness 'Dawn J' testified that Kenny sometimes wore a toupee. Not on the job, she said. Just socially. She added she never saw him wear it again after the hijacking.
UPDATES: After the book and the History Channel program came out, Mrs. Geestman sold her ranch in Twisp to the Washington State Game Department for $491,000 and moved. She instructed her lawyer and the bank officer who handled the sale to not reveal her present whereabouts.
Even with all these things, which only cover a portion of the evidence, we cannot say with certainty that Ken Christiansen was D.B. Cooper. When asked to put a number on it, Blevins has said he's 80-90 percent sure Kenny was the hijacker. He says that all the evidence is there for the F.B.I. to explore:
"They could pull his Army induction records and compare his full set of prints to the ones they have in evidence. We are also providing them with a full DNA profile from Christiansen's brother for comparison to the partial DNA profile they have from the tie worn by the hijacker. Or they could just pay a visit to some of the witnesses. They're all still alive..."
Related Links of Interest:
Author Geoff Gray's new book (The man who first broke the Kenny Christiansen story) Skyjack - The Hunt for D.B. Cooper.