ABOVE: Author Robert Blevins with the old Subaru wagon he used to hunt down and interview the witnesses against Christiansen and the Geestman couple.
In Part One, this writer detailed the early background of the relationships between D.B. Cooper suspect Ken Christiansen and his lifelong friend, Bernie Geestman, who is also suspected of being an accomplice to the crime. Part Two details the events leading up to the hijacking and what happened immediately afterward.
By the year 1968, Kenny and Bernie had known each other for about twenty years, after first meeting on Shemya Island in Alaska while working for Northwest Airlines. When Bernie married his long-term girlfriend Margaret Ann Miller in the same year, Kenny is shown with a smile on his face in the wedding photos. Both men had a lot in common.
But one thing they didn’t have in common was their financial situation.
Bernie was no longer with low-paying, strike-prone, Northwest Airlines. He had taken a job with Foss Tugs in Seattle as a diesel mechanic. He kept the yearly logbooks for the tug he worked on, and made fairly good money. Margie took a job as a bookkeeper, a career she would carry on even after her eventual divorce from Bernie Geestman.
Meanwhile, Kenny was still struggling to make ends meet. He had a lot of pride, and often told people he was doing well, when in reality he was earning about $512 a month (before taxes) working for Northwest Airlines. After the usual Federal withholdings, he probably took home about $450 a month. The typical rent on a two-bedroom apartment in the Puget Sound area ran between $100-$150 at that time, leaving Kenny roughly $300-$350 a month, or around eighty dollars a week for food, the light bill, clothing, transportation, and any other expenses. His yearly earnings barely meet the average wage for that time period, according to historical Social Security earnings tables. He was also in debt for a wooded lot he purchased on a promissory note some years before, and on which he made payments whenever he could. In other words, it was a living if you watched the dollars real closely. In letters home to his family in Minnesota, Kenny would complain about the strikes by Northwest employees that ate into the meager income he struggled to maintain. And more than once he talked about giving it all up and coming home to Minnesota. Then in 1969, Seattle was hit by one of the biggest recessions it ever suffered, due to Boeing laying off massive numbers of employees. Side jobs were now few and far between. There were stories in the newspapers about laid-off Boeing execs taking jobs at McDonald’s flipping burgers, losing their homes, or even committing suicide.
A famous billboard was erected off the Interstate 5 freeway in Seattle:
‘Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights…’
It was a grim situation indeed. Although Kenny kept up a good front with most people, the Geestmans’ knew the truth about him. In 1970, the year before the Cooper hijacking, they gave him a job.
Bernie and Margie Geestman decided to give Kenny a job digging a new septic tank ditch for them, and Margie even chipped in to help out, using a horse to help dig the ditch. This happened during the summer of 1970, and was the last year that life was anything like normal for any of the people involved with Christiansen. Kenny was still in poor straits financially, getting by on two or three flights a month for NWA, and whatever he could earn on the side. Northwest was still paying him $512 a month before taxes, which was enough to get by on back then, but not enough to do anything else.
The following summer in 1971, later reports given by members of the Geestman family said that Kenny started spending more and more time up the hill at the Geestmans’ place in Bonney Lake. It was at this time that someone came up with the idea to hijack one of the NWA flights for money. This author believes that Bernie Geestman was the catalyst for the idea, or at least went along with Kenny’s idea to hijack the plane. No one can be sure, but when Bernie Geestman’s niece (a mother today in the Bonney Lake area with four children) first saw the Brad Meltzer’s Decoded TV show on Christiansen, she was shocked. ‘Uncle Bernie’ hadn’t told anyone in his family he was going on television to talk about Christiansen and the hijacking.
BELOW: Dawn Androsko, sister of Bernie Geestman, and mother of Bernie’s niece. The niece told Adventure Books in 2014 that she had walked in on Kenny while he was working with materials that could have used to create the phony bomb used by the hijacker.
Geestman was the last person interviewed on the show, and it was a complete surprise to everyone in his family. Geestman agreed with the cast of the show that Kenny could be D.B. Cooper. Geestman’s niece was watching the show with a couple of her kids in attendance. They had tuned in because of the previews – some of them had known Kenny Christiansen – but Uncle Bernie’s appearance was a complete surprise. Geestman’s niece turned to her kids after the show ended and said:
“Why would Bernie say Kenny could be the hijacker? He was WITH Kenny that whole week…” (This same testimony had been given previously to this writer by Geestman’s ex-wife Margaret, as well as others.) Tossing Kenny under the bus like that on national television seemed a strange move – but then Uncle Bernie was not aware at the time of filming that several witnesses had already placed him with Kenny – and missing – for the entire week the hijacking occurred.
She also remembered walking in on Kenny in a shed out back of the Geestmans’ place in Bonney Lake only a couple of weeks prior to the hijacking. She was 13 years old at the time. She told her family that she had seen Kenny doing something, but she hadn’t associated it with anything until she saw the TV show – almost forty years after the hijacking. The following is drawn from Adventure Books of Seattle’s confidential report to the Seattle FBI on Christiansen and the Geestmans’:
‘That at the time just before the Cooper hijacking, Geestman’s niece was one of four siblings living with Margaret and Bernie Geestman up in Bonney Lake, WA.
Bernie Geestman’s sister, Dawn Androsko, was their mother and had recently divorced, moved to Washington from Minnesota with her children, and moved in with her brother and his wife. The niece says she was about 13 years old at the time. She said that not long before the hijacking, she walked into a shed on the Geestmans’ property and Kenny Christiansen was inside. He was working on something, and he turned to her and said, “You’re not supposed to be in here.” So she turned and left the shed. But before she did, she says, she got a good look at what he was doing. Allegedly, she saw Kenny wrapping red electrical tape around filled paper coin tubes, the type used to store quarters.* In addition, she says he was attaching wires to the coin tubes at the same time. But she never associated what Kenny was doing with anything Cooper-related or the hijacking until she saw the TV program on Christiansen. After the show aired, she began relating this story to her children and other family members.’
(*It is known that Christiansen was a coin and stamp collector and left a large collection to his brother Lyle Christiansen in 1994 that was auctioned off for about $20,000.)
But this story is getting ahead of itself. It is both complex and convoluted, and somewhat difficult to explain sometimes. So many people, so many angles, so many questions. As well as so much truth hidden for so many years. The final report to the Seattle FBI, including copies of documents and pictures, ran on for more than 70 pages and a cover letter.
The most likely scenario for the hijacking goes like this, and is included in both Adventure Books’ public releases on Christiansen, as well as the Seattle FBI report:
- Ken Christiansen and Bernie Geestman planned the hijacking over the summer and fall of 1971, and that this planning occurred mostly at the Geestman house in Bonney Lake, WA.
- That Christiansen constructed a phony bomb made from filled quarter-sized coin rolls, red electrical tape, wires, and a battery, and then placed these items into a briefcase.
- That two days before the hijacking which occurred on November 24, 1971, Geestman picked up Christiansen at his apartment down the hill in Sumner, WA and traveled south to a shop building and property Geestman owned in Oakville, WA. (See map below)
- That on the Wednesday morning of the hijacking, Geestman drove Christiansen to Portland International Airport and dropped him off.
- That Christiansen then purchased a ticket to Seattle for twenty dollars, boarded the flight, but did not make a decision to hijack the plane until he was sure he would not be recognized by the stewardesses. He was almost certainly wearing a toupee, which several family witnesses testified he had owned.
- The plane was hijacked enroute to Seattle. The money and parachutes were delivered, and the plane took off for Reno. Somewhere between Seattle and Portland, Christiansen jumped from the plane, probably near Ariel, WA.
- That Christiansen hiked out of the woods, found a pay phone, and called Geestman for a pickup.
- The two men returned to the Bonney Lake/Sumner area the following Monday after the hijacking.
- It was at this time that Bernie Geestman’s wife was told what the men had done.
- Within a few months after the crime, Christiansen purchased a house in Bonney Lake for himself, and loaned Geestman’s sister Dawn Androsko $5,000 in cash so Geestman could get she and her four kids out of his house and into their own place.
- That Christiansen escaped the notice of law enforcement because no one at the FBI even considered the idea it could have been an inside job.
- That Kenny eventually hid the ransom money in a secret spot that was built into the attic of his new home in Bonney Lake, and that this spot was discovered by the cast of the Decoded show in October 2010.
That is a very simple version of what this writer and others involved in the investigation believe is what happened. But how did all of this come out after nearly forty years? Why wasn’t Christiansen ever found out before that time? How did he do this to his own airline and get away with it?
And most importantly…how did the people who were accused of all this respond, and what did they do about it? What did they say when they came forward, or were interviewed by either people from History Channel or this author?
The amazing answers are in the conclusion of this article.