“I have a bomb here and I would like you to sit by me.”
That was the note handed to a stewardess by a mild-mannered passenger on a Northwest Orient flight in 1971. It was the start of one of the most astonishing whodunits in the history of American true crime: how one man extorted $200,000 from an airline, then parachuted into the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and into oblivion. D. B. Cooper’s case has become the stuff of legend and obsessed and cursed his pursuers with everything from bankruptcy to suicidal despair. Now with Skyjack, journalist Geoffrey Gray delves into this unsolved mystery uncovering new leads in the infamous case.
Starting with a tip from a private investigator into a promising suspect (a Cooper lookalike, Northwest employee, and trained paratrooper), Gray is propelled into the murky depths of a decades-old mystery, conducting new interviews and obtaining a first-ever look at Cooper’s FBI file. Beginning with a heartstopping and unprecedented recreation of the crime itself, from cabin to cockpit to tower, and uncanny portraits of characters who either chased Cooper or might have committed the crime, including Ralph Himmelsbach, the most dogged of FBI agents, who watched with horror as a criminal became a counter-culture folk hero who supposedly shafted the system…Karl Fleming, a respected reporter whose career was destroyed by a Cooper scoop that was a scam…and Barbara (nee Bobby) Dayton, a transgendered pilot who insisted she was Cooper herself.
With explosive new information and exclusive access to FBI files and forensic evidence, Skyjack reopens one of the great cold cases of the 20th century.
“Easily one of the most delightful books I’ve read in a long, long time. In his obsessive search for answers in the legendary case, Gray becomes a little unhinged himself as well as encountering an array of characters I haven’t seen the likes of since Mark Twain sent Huck down the Mississippi. His style fits the case, and Gray can be compared with Tom Wolfe and Evelyn Waugh in his talent for unearthing the eccentrics of the world and the bizarreness of life.” —John Bowers, Associate Professor of Writing, Columbia University, author of The Colony and Love in Tennessee
“SKYJACK tells the legendary story of D.B. Cooper in a way that’s as inventive and as engaging as the subject itself. Only a writer as talented as Geoffrey Gray could knit together the many strands of this mystery and the extraordinary characters who have dedicated, and in some cases destroyed, their lives in pursuit of the truth. Just as Gray finds himself sucked into the tale, readers will leap into the void alongside him, landing on their feet and smiling at the shared adventure.” —Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
“Who was D.B. Cooper? In SKYJACK, Geoffrey Gray lures in the reader with this iconic unsolved mystery, and for the next 290 pages explores a story as attention-grabbing as a bag of hot money. D.B. Cooper emerges as the great McGuffin of 1970s America, a prism through which Gray exploits to the fullest with his propulsive writing style, mad commitment to detail, and explores everything from the early years of gender reassignment surgery to the birth of airline security culture to the ghostly legends of the Pacific Northwest’s Dark Divide.” —Evan Wright, New York Times bestselling author of Generation Kill
Guest Reviewer: Benjamin Wallace on “Skyjack” by Geoffrey Gray
It seems like all the good mysteries are gone. We know who Deep Throat was. We know where Thomas Pynchon lives. The missing 18 minutes on the Nixon tapes have proved unrecoverable. But then, winking at us like one last taunting fossil from the violent, paranoid 1970s, there’s the baffling case of D.B. Cooper.
On November 24, 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727, demanded $200,000 and parachutes, and jumped out over the Pacific Northwest. At a time when the country was beset by war, assassinations, riots, a faltering economy, and the Nixon presidency, Cooper was heralded as a Robin Hood of the sky. Enormous investigative resources were marshaled. Ballads were written. Cooper was never heard from again.
Forty years later, Geoffrey Gray dives chute-less into the swirling abyss of Cooper mania and lands with a true non-fiction novel, with characters too eccentric to be invented and a hurtling pace rarely found in the world of fact. The writing is stylish. The reporting is unstoppable. Gray is sympathetic and funny and saucer-eyed–even, at times, unhinged. He wants to solve the unsolvable, and remarkably, for a famous cold case, his spadework turns up fresh material.
As much as Skyjack is about D.B. Cooper, it is also a searing group portrait of those who even today find meaning in his mystery, a travelogue through a tumultuous era in American history, and a study of the paranoid style in American obsession. Most indelibly, it is an exploration of the mystery within the mystery, the puzzle of why these unfilled blank spots in our past have such a haunting grip on our imaginations.
I’ve always been fascinated by the D.B. Cooper story. I’m not sure why since I wasn’t even born when he hijacked a Boeing 737 in the fall of 1971, then disappeared into the Washington wilderness. There’s just something incredibly compelling about the whole story. It’s so compelling, I couldn’t put Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper down. It arrived at 10:00am and, by 11:00pm the same day, I’d finished it.
Geoffrey Gray presents what can best be called the human side of the D.B. Cooper mystery. He’s done incredible research into the lives of not only the likely suspects (he focuses on Kenneth Christiansen, Duane Weber, Richard McCoy, and Barbara (Bobby) Dayton), but also the pilots, flight attendants, FBI agents, and amateur sleuths involved with the case. The extent that the D.B. Cooper saga has impacted (and ruined) lives is simply incredible.
Gray also doesn’t shy away from hard evidence and facts. He pursues and discusses countless leads, no matter how flimsy. He partnered with scientists, private investigators, experts of all kinds, FBI agents, and even the online community. He combined this information with new access to FBI files and other documents to provide the most up to date information about Cooper’s motives, his possible identity, and where he may have ended up. He has a list of sources/references at the end of the book for those who may want to dig deeper.
In the end, however, the book is filled with a lot of “he might be or he might not be” with regard to Cooper’s ultimate identity. Readers wanting a foregone conclusion should look elsewhere, but for those who want to decide for themselves based on the best information (count me in this category), Gray has done a fantastic job.
For a casual D.B. Cooper fan like myself, Skyjack was a treasure trove of new information. While there’s no “smoking gun” fingering someone as a likely suspect, Gray does provide, based on scientific experiments, solid evidence that Cooper survived the jump, at least initially. He also relates some fascinating information linking Cooper to a clandestine government operation. Gray even hints that Duane Weber, with his connections to the CIA, James Earl Ray, and possibly even fellow suspect Richard McCoy, could be Dan Cooper.
Overall, I highly recommend Skyjack to anyone interested in D.B. Cooper, unsolved mysteries, or just history in general. Cooper engineered the perfect crime and stuck it to “the man,” making him a folk hero to many. Although Gray can’t tell us who he was with certainty (maybe no one can), he does a great job of capturing the mystery and the absurdity of D.B. Cooper, the man and, perhaps most importantly, the myth. – Jonathan Bennett, Amazon.Com Customer Review
Geoffrey Gray’s “Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper”
The Washington Post Book Review – August 12, 2011 (Excerpt)
It sounds like a conspiracy: A week before a new book about a 40-year-old mystery comes out, someone turns up with fresh evidence that splashes the case all over TV and gives the author priceless publicity.
Coincidence? Well . . . yeah, probably. But that’s typical for events surrounding the disappearance of airline hijacker D.B. Cooper, a case at the intersection of real life and weirdness.
Geoffrey Gray couldn’t have asked for better advertising than the emergence two weeks ago of an Oklahoma woman named Marla Cooper, who got the FBI interested in her late uncle as a suspect in the nation’s only unsolved hijacking. Gray’s book on the case, “Skyjack,” hit the stands Tuesday. And while Marla Cooper’s uncle was not one of the characters Gray encountered in his quest for the elusive fugitive, he finds plenty of other plausible suspects in this cockeyed tale.
It all goes back to the stormy night of Nov. 24, 1971, when a man using the name Dan Cooper boarded a plane in Portland, Ore., bound for Seattle. Just after takeoff, he handed a note to a stewardess, asking her to sit by him and saying he had a bomb. He chatted politely, then demanded $200,000 and parachutes.
In those days, hijackings were practically a fad. Seemingly any plane trip could wind up with an unscheduled stop in Cuba. So the flight crew and authorities on the ground were accommodating to the strange man, who was either tall or short, fair or dark, depending on who later recounted the incident. They landed in Seattle, got him the cash, cleared out the passengers and took off again. [Read the full article...]
‘Skyjack’: The Search For The Parachuting Fugitive
NPR Book Review – August 19, 2011 (Excerpt)
Confession, readers: This is my second go at Geoffrey Gray’s Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper. I’d already shaped my review ofGray’s exhaustive but ultimately inconclusive attempt to solve the mystery of the infamous 1970s airplane hijacking when, days before the book’s Aug. 9 publication date, news arrived that there was a break in the case. The timing was bizarre, but, to quote Gray fromSkyjack, “What about the Cooper case so far hasn’t been absurd?”
Let’s start at the beginning. The day before Thanksgiving in 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper boarded a Boeing 727 for the short hop from Portland to Seattle. He was the last of the flight’s passengers to purchase a ticket. Cooper ordered a drink before take-off and, as the aircraft accelerated down the runway, handed a stewardess (a “stew,” in Gray parlance) a note informing her he was armed with a bomb. “No funny stuff, or I’ll do the job,” he told her, while demanding $200,000 in cash and four parachutes. After touching down in Seattle to release passengers, refuel and secure the canvas bag containing his ransom, the plane was en route to Mexico when Cooper lowered its aft stairs and leapt into cold-case history.
Gray, a New York-based journalist, got involved in the case as a result of a tip from private investigator Skipp Porteous. Porteous had a client who claimed to be the brother of D.B. Cooper. The tidbit was alluring enough to hook the writer on the tangled story of the “gentleman thief,” a tale that, over the decades, has grown thick with glory hounds putting themselves forward as witnesses; numerous debunked deathbed confessions; incorrigible investigators working with scant and outdated information; and amateur sleuths who gather in online chat rooms to endlessly ponder the case. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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