D.B. Cooper Season, Back for Another Year

Any guesses?

Starting tomorrow, Nov. 1, D.B. Cooper Month begins anew. Prepare for the annual rush of stories exposing someone's strange, oval-faced, and big-eared neighbor/husband/Army buddy (preferably a deceased ex-paratrooper) as this year's nominee to have been the legendary skyjacker in suit and shades. (Cut to eyewitness next door: "He was an odd guy, kept to himself, and whenever he drank, it was always a double bourbon. D.B., get it?")

His real fake name was Dan Cooper—something I was the first to report about 35 years ago, learning from the FBI that another reporter botched the name in the initial news story about Cooper's 10,000-foot in-flight departure from a Northwest Airlines 727. That bell was never unrung, and thus we have the endless police and journalistic manhunt for a parachutist named D.B., who stepped into the dark sky over southwest Washington the day before Thanksgiving 1971 and floated off to folklore, $200,000 to the good.

Like Christmas and property taxes, D.B. season arrives earlier each year. Jumping the gun this time is New York magazine. Its story last week, "Unmasking D.B. Cooper," tells us "a Manhattan P.I. may have cracked the case." Yes, the Big Apple, not the Big Apple State, solved our mystery. It's what N.Y.C. does best—brag.

The exposed skyjacker du jour is named Ken Christiansen, and he is—ta da!—a deceased ex-paratrooper. He once lived in Bonney Lake, which the magazine calls "a small mountain town, in the Cascades," even if we might call it a small Tacoma suburb in the Puyallup Valley. Christiansen joined the D.B. suspect list after the magazine heard his brother had written to a New York private investigator, asking him to contact writer/director Nora Ephron. The brother had an idea for a new film, playing off the movie Sleepless in Seattle. It was about a mystery skyjacker who'd lived around here. Working title: "Bashful in Seattle."

Looking further into the brother's claims, New York informs us that Christiansen was a former mechanic, flight attendant, and purser for Northwest. He was mysterious and amusing, as any good D.B. should be. He also looked vaguely like the Cooper most-wanted sketch. And retired FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach, the longtime Cooper hunter, sort of agreed: "Not bad," he said. "Except for the hair." The FBI nonetheless "must investigate," he added, as it has investigated perhaps thousands of others. Further proof? Christiansen died in 1994 of cancer, and apparently left behind no solid evidence—or money—linking him to the heist. But on his deathbed, he told his brother: "There is something you should know, but I cannot tell you!" There you have it, Cooper unmasked.

Frankly, I thought a few earlier D.B. Coopers were better perps, especially one that New York mentions only in passing—a look-alike Florida antique dealer named Duane Weber who is, as required, dead. He did seem to have some inside info, was an ex-con from McNeil Island, and, though he supposedly planned to take the secret of his infamous skyjacking to his grave, he, too, had a deathbed confession: At the last moment, he summoned his wife to his side and whispered, "I'm Dan Cooper." Unlike a lot of other D.B.s, he at least got the name right.

 
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