More than forty years and a thousand suspects later, the F.B.I. is still unable to put a lid on the only unsolved skyjacking in U.S. history - the case of 'D.B. Cooper'. For those of you unfamiliar with Cooper, he was the guy who hijacked Northwest Airlines Flight 305 - a Boeing 727 - while it was enroute from Portland to Seattle. After threatening to blow up the plane with a bomb, he demanded $200,000 and four parachutes. Once the money and the chutes were provided, he released the passengers, kept most of the crew aboard, and the plane took to the Northwest skies again. Somewhere over Western Washington (best analysis says between Ariel and Woodland, WA) he used the rear airstairs to leap from the jet with two of the parachutes and all of the money. He was never seen again. That was November 24, 1971.
Five Years Later in 1976: As the Statute of Limitations approached, the F.B.I. managed to obtain a restricted 'John Doe' warrant aimed solely at the hijacker himself. That warrant is still viewable at their website. (Congress later extended the statute on air piracy, but that did not apply at the time Cooper hijacked the plane.)
Nine Years After the Crime: In 1980, a young boy named Brian Ingram found $5,800 of the ransom money along the banks of the Columbia River, more than twenty miles west of the flight path of the jet, near a place called Tena Bar. It was at this point in the case that the F.B.I. changed their official stance on Cooper. They said they now believed he was dead, and the found money was reasonable proof of that conclusion. They theorized the hijacker lost the money on the way down, or landed in a river and the money either washed up later on the banks of the Columbia, or was pulled from the bottom and deposited by dredging machinery where it was found. However, an amount equal to at least THREE bundles of the ransom was discovered in the same spot MILES from where Cooper jumped. This makes the idea that they floated down the Columbia River from the Portland area extremely unlikely. In addition, the dredging process itself would have damaged the bill bundles, which were found with their rubber bands still intact.
More recently, Tom Kaye, a researcher at the University of Washington's Burke Museum, and his team of experts were allowed to examine samples of the Tena Bar money and they came to a different conclusion. Kaye believes the money arrived at Tena Bar by what he calls 'non-natural means'. (You can read the Citizen Sleuths complete research on all the Cooper evidence HERE.) In a nutshell, Kaye's water tests with identical bundles of money do not support the F.B.I.'s theory on how the money arrived at Tena Bar. Kaye also mentions that 'human intervention' was involved, when he spoke to Geoffrey Gray, the New York reporter who wrote the NYT best-seller 'Skyjack'.
2008: A parachute is found buried just outside Amboy, WA only a couple of miles off the hijacked plane's flight path. Amboy is north of Woodland, WA and near the village of Ariel - a heavy favorite among Cooper sleuths as the point where Cooper actually leaped from the jet. Several news articles were published about the discovery of the parachute in March and April of 2008, and for a short time there was much speculation it could have been Cooper's. It was a military-type chute, meaning chances are good it was originally stuffed into a 'Navy Backpack 6' container, same as the one used by the hijacker. No container and harness were found with the parachute when it was unearthed, which means someone disconnected it before burying it.
Soon afterward, the F.B.I. went public with a story on the Amboy chute: The parachute wasn't Cooper's, they said. They brought in the man who originally packed the Cooper parachutes, Earl Cossey, to back up that statement. Cossey claimed that the chute couldn't be Cooper's because the one he gave the hijacker was ripstop nylon and the one the F.B.I. found was made of silk. The F.B.I. also said they believed the found parachute actually belonged to one Lt. Floyd Walling, a Marine pilot who bailed out in the same area on December 27, 1945. Walling was flying a Corsair between Portland and Seattle, and developed engine trouble. In addition, it was later discovered that for decades Earl Cossey had lied to the media, telling them in mulitiple articles over the years that he not only OWNED the parachutes given to Cooper, but had delivered them to SeaTac Airport the night of the hijacking. But retired FBI agent John H. Detlor, who was assigned to the case early on, tells a completely different story about the parachutes in his official report. (link leads to PDF) The parachute actually used by Cooper was owned by Kent, WA resident Norman Hayden and one of the chutes was eventually returned to him, which he donated to the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, where it resides today. This calls into question the idea of the Seattle FBI relying on Cossey for any identification of a chute brought to him in the case. Although he did pack at least some of the chutes some months before the crime, he also lied about his role in the crime to media. And over a period of many years. In his statements to media regarding the Amboy chute, Cossey is quoted saying many times in media regarding the Amboy chute that 'he knew it wasn't the chute in less than ten seconds'.
Earl Cossey, who remains a respected, and well-liked junior-high science teacher in his hometown of Woodinville, WA, was beaten to death in his own garage in the spring of 2013. The murder remains unsolved, although the police believe he was the victim of a burglary. His death is not believed to relate to the Cooper case.
There are a few holes in the F.B.I.'s explanation of the Amboy parachute. Special Agent Robbie Burroughs admitted that the Bureau was wrong about there being no identifying marks on it. On closer inspection, a serial number '307551' and a date of manufacture were found. The manufacturing date is February 21, 1946 - a couple of months AFTER Lt. Walling made his jump. In addition, the claim of 'this chute is silk and not nylon' makes little sense either. Silk is a biodegradable material, and the Amboy parachute shows no sign of rotting, even after being buried for decades in the cold, wet ground of Washington State. The parachute is almost certainly made of nylon.
The Lt. Floyd Walling story doesn't make sense, either. Unlike the D.B. Cooper case, there are known facts about what happened to Walling. In a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from December 1945, Walling says he landed in the woods at night, used a cigarette lighter to start a fire, and wrapped his chute around him to stay warm. In the morning, he walked out about eight or nine miles until he reached the town of Yale, Washington. The idea that he would bother to remove the container and harness, and then take the time to bury the chute is hard to believe. It was winter, and Walling's only logical goal would be to get out of the woods as soon as possible. Walling is quoted in the old PI article as saying he hiked out in the morning and followed a creek for the last mile or so, before reaching a place called Reese's Store in Yale, WA.
But the most important reason why the chute can't be Lt. Walling's is easily seen by checking a map of the area where the parachute was found. Walling was rescued at Yale, Washington. The parachute was found in Amboy, Washington. Between those two points lie the Lewis River, Yale Lake, and the Merwin Lake Dam. There are also two paved roads between where the chute was found and the place where Walling finally made it out of the woods. In order for the F.B.I.'s explanation to work, Walling would have had to cross these paved roads without seeing them, and then somehow make his way across Merwin Lake as well. (see larger map at the bottom of this article)
It wasn't long after the parachute was discovered when Robbie Burroughs at the Seattle F.B.I. declared they were no longer going to investigate the Amboy parachute. And when Tom Kaye and his Citizen Sleuths team examined all the available evidence on Cooper in 2010-11, they were not allowed access to it, or even told where it was being stored. Why would the Seattle F.B.I. sweep a piece of evidence under the rug using a story with more holes than a ten-pound block of Swiss cheese? In the end, the only reason the Seattle FBI ever gave for dismissing the chute was 'by a preponderance of the evidence,' but they never said WHAT evidence, and relied on Cossey for the ID...a guy who had lied for decades about his role in the parachutes given to Cooper.
One reason the FBI might have taken that line is because of their official position on Cooper and what happened to him. The general consensus at the Bureau is that due to the money found at Tena Bar, they now believe Cooper died in the jump. They don't have an answer on exactly HOW three bundles of the ransom ended up parked in the same spot more than six miles from the flight path of the jet. Theories about floating down the Columbia River, or being dredged up onto the riverbank don't make sense, either.
Researcher Tom Kaye's water tests with similar money bundles show that these bundles would have 'fanned' within seconds of being exposed to water. The samples of the ransom money from Tena Bar that were examined by Kaye and members of his team showed absolutely no signs of fanning apart. In fact, Kaye and his team discovered the bills were almost perfectly aligned, something they wouldn't do if they had been washed down a river or dredged from the bottom of the Columbia. This is part of the reason he believes the bills ended up on Tena Bar by non-natural means, or in other words, perhaps placed there by human hands.
On a less scientific note, there are other questions. For example, the Amboy chute was missing the container and harness. If the chute were Cooper's, there could be a very good reason they were missing. Cooper was given the $200,000 ransom in a canvas bag marked 'Seafirst Bank'. He may have disconnected the container for the parachute after landing, and transferred the money to the container. Walking along with a marked bank bag full of cash might draw a bit of attention. Also, what possible motivation could there be for someone to bury a parachute in the first place? There had to be a reason, and the usual reason is because you want to make sure no one finds it, at least for a while.
And lastly, how many parachutes do you believe are buried near the flight path of the hijacked jet and in the same area where the hijacker probably made his exit?
In this writer's opinion, the Seattle F.B.I. has not been forthcoming in their explanation about the Amboy parachute, and they need to provide a better one. It's been suggested that independent parachute experts in the Puget Sound area be allowed to re-examine that parachute and make their findings public. Researcher Tom Kaye has expressed an interest in taking a look at it as well.
Wrong witness, incorrectly saying the chute was silk and that's why they dismissed it, claiming they consulted 'outside experts,' but admitted none of them were allowed to examine the chute, cutting out the Citizen Sleuths from looking at it when they had already allowed this team to examine the OTHER evidence...means that the FBI's explanation on the chute has more holes than a termite-infested house.