Less Than Zero: History Channel Lays an Egg With Their ‘DB Cooper – Case Closed?’ TV Special

tomandbillyLMNO Productions out of Encino, CA ran commercials for weeks on History Channel about their upcoming four-hour special on skyjacker ‘D.B. Cooper.’ The commercials hinted strongly that not only did they have a suspect who was alive, but they were certain he was the man who pulled off the only unsolved skyjacking in U.S. history. They bragged about using a team packed full of ex-FBI agents and crime reporters, including Billy Jensen, a well-known crime reporter out of New York. They said they had been secretly working on the case for five years, and that the four-hour special for History Channel was the result. For D.B. Cooper fans, the anticipation built to a fever pitch as the show neared its premiere date.

The show, D.B. Cooper – Case Closed? begins with a basic history of the hijacking, and then moves on to interviewing both civilian sleuths of the case, as well as actual witnesses. The show was presented in two-hour increments over two consecutive nights. About halfway through part one, the show finally announces their Main Suspect – Robert Wesley Rackstraw. They show a filmed interview with him that was shot in 1979, when Rackstraw was being questioned for an unrelated crime.

At that point the wheels began to fall off on the whole thing.

Rackstraw? He’d been investigated by the FBI back in the 70’s and dismissed as the hijacker, although he is a bit of a shady character. Unbelievably, the show keeps trying to prove he’s DB Cooper when all the evidence shows otherwise. How bad was it?

The ‘expert investigators’ were chasing a DB Cooper suspect who was twenty years younger than ALL the witness descriptions.

Twenty-seven. That’s how old Rackstraw was at the time of the hijacking. Virtually every previous witness – from the stewardesses, the passengers, and even the guy who sold Cooper his plane ticket, pegged the hijacker in his mid-40’s. It’s even on the FBI’s wanted poster.

Five years of wasted work by guys who either ignored more viable suspects for one who was absolutely impossible, or when it suited them, trying to slant their investigation a bit by being deceptive with witnesses.

A six-picture photo array presented to witness Bill Mitchell contained only one suspect from the hijacking, and that was Robert Rackstraw. They did not present any of the other major suspects to him. He did not identify Rackstraw as the hijacker.

countercomparison
Robin Powell, husband of witness Carolyn Tyner. They lived with Cooper suspect Kenny Christiansen from about 1990 until Christiansen’s death in 1994. The arrow points to the countertops Kenny installed just after he bought the house. Scrap from the old countertops was used to construct a covered hiding spot in the attic, just above Christiansen’s bedroom. It was discovered in October 2010 by Scott Rolle, a member of the cast of ‘Brad Meltzer’s Decoded’.

They could have saved themselves five years of work simply by interviewing Flight 305 stew Tina Mucklow first, who told them ‘I don’t think so,’ after seeing their suspect’s photo and a video where the suspect speaks. To make matters worse, when they had their one and only good shot at the best witness…they wasted it by showing her a picture of only ONE suspect. That was exceptionally dumb, because even if she doesn’t ID their suspect, she might have picked out a different one as definitely being Cooper. And by doing this, they could have still taken credit for solving the case. They decided instead to waste the one final interview that Mucklow was ever going to give by presenting her with only their suspect. Did I say dumb? Yes, I did. It was the first interview granted by stewardess Tina Mucklow in more than thirty years, and she made it plain it was her LAST interview on the subject of Cooper. She rejected their suspect outright.

Who looked GOOD on the show: Cooperland folk. The civilians who have been following and sometimes investigating Cooper for years. Tom Kaye (his Citizen Sleuths team were allowed access to the physical evidence in the Cooper case by the FBI), Mark Meltzer, (expert parachutist who disputes some of the FBI’s assumptions on Cooper’s lack of expertise with a parachute) passenger Bill Mitchell, (who the investigative team BS’d with a deceptive photo array) stew Tina Mucklow, co-pilot Bill Rataczak, and yes, even the Formans, a couple who wrote a book claiming Cooper was a guy who later had a sex-change operation. Even the Formans came off better than the so-called ‘experts’.

TinaorTena
Flight 305 stewardess Tina Mucklow, the witness who spent the most time with Cooper, told the investigators that Rackstraw wasn’t their guy. (the joke refers to the place where the Cooper ransom bills were found in 1980 – Tina Bar)

 

The investigators on this program resembled Keystone Cops trying to stuff a square peg into a round hole, but finally had to admit defeat in the end. The really bad part was when they tried blaming all of that on old, and possibly faulty memories of the key witnesses.

This is what I did after the show ended. I sent a polite message and the file on Kenny Christiansen (another Cooper suspect) to Billy Jensen, one of the main investigators on the show. We don’t think LMNO Productions person Avrielle Gallagher actually submitted it to the researchers. We were approached by Gallagher, and interviewed via Skype for the show, and asked to submit everything we had on Christiansen, and his alleged accomplice Bernie Geestman. They were provided the same 54-page illustrated report that had gone to the Seattle FBI a short time previously. Nothing was mentioned about it on the show, and they dismissed Christiansen in less than ten seconds, barely giving him a mention.

(We can’t say whether Ken Christiansen was Cooper for sure or not, but we think we did better than all those ‘experts’ did on their ridiculous ‘suspect’.)

We believe the whole show was just a prequel to a book release at Amazon that’s going to leave people disappointed in the results anyway. (Amazingly, the book is titled The Last Master Outlaw: How He Outfoxed the FBI Six Times But Not A Cold Case Team.) Virtually everyone who was an actual witness to the hijacking told these guys ‘not really,’ ‘no,’ or ‘I don’t think so’ about their suspect Robert Rackstraw. Laughable. We only spent about 18 months investigating Kenny Christiansen, and our evidence is better than this group of 40-plus ‘experts’ and former FBI agents. Doesn’t mean Kenny was the guy, of course. We don’t know for sure.

blastedlg
A cartoon by the author, in response to questions about the viability of Christiansen as the skyjacker.

I don’t feel so bad about our investigation now, after all. :)

If Tina Mucklow, Bill Mitchell, or Bill Rataczak ever read this post, I want to thank you for having the guts to appear on the show, and especially Tina, who checked those investigators and their so-called experts into the Reality Hotel, Penthouse Suite.

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Author: robertmblevins

Sci-fi writer and managing editor for Adventure Books of Seattle.

5 thoughts on “Less Than Zero: History Channel Lays an Egg With Their ‘DB Cooper – Case Closed?’ TV Special”

  1. I believe you have made as much of a case as possible for KC, and completely concur that the doc people could have done a much better job. Their biggest botch was on the Mucklow interview, and showing her only one suspect – the one, frankly, I feel it just can’t be. Witness testimony is not perfect, but they were pretty damned consistent on his age, and the young witness would not have seen a person within 7 years of his own age an old man. Rackstraw is just out.

    Their reasons for ditching Peterson were ridiculous – he wouldn’t have risked his blissful life for the caper? Really? But he did tow his kids to Saudi, China, and Iran through pivotal times in their history, witnessing massacres? He was a thrill seeker. I can’t say he did it, but it’s hard to see why they ruled him out over a never-ran like Rackstraw! Blue eyes – so? Color contacts. (That itched later, so on went the otherwise-useless sunglasses.) Those contacts were around in the early 60s, so not exactly a definitive -especially when he seems to make sure one attendant SEES his eyes. I DO think the guy was that smart, and wanted a false description out there before he was.

    But what really gets me is that 1960s magazine article where he’s in a biz suit, showing what jump poses look like – on page 123 of this FBI file that seems to have hit their desks in December 1971! If it’s a coincidence, damn it’s a huge one. He’s my fave for the job! That photo gave me chills and I wish I could see the original. file:///C:/Users/Grub/Downloads/D.B.%20Cooper%20Part%2012%20of%2012%20(3).pdf Of course, they say they eliminated him after taking DNA – problem is, the only positively-Cooper DNA they had was on those missing cigarette butts. I believe there are good cases to be made for almost everybody except Rackstraw, but do think SP’s the man. And they’ll never prove it.

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  2. Jimmy, I approved your comment, even though it was mostly negative and not related to the actual article. The reason I did is because you didn’t come after me personally regarding our investigation into Christiansen. And yes, I have seen these same points brought up about Christiansen before, and I have addressed them many times. Did you know that witness Bill Mitchell, who was sitting just across from the hijacker told the Feds that Cooper was no taller than five foot eight? I have pointed out to people that it might be hard to tell someone’s actual height in the confines of an aircraft cabin. (I once saw former pro baseball player Bret Boone several times on a flight to LA, and would have sworn to anyone he was six feet tall. When I saw him later at the luggage carousel, he turned out to be shorter than I was, and I’m five ten.) Just saying.

    I also have to apologize for not being able to release EVERYTHING we know about Christiansen, but I had to put a freeze on new information when I signed the option to make the movie about his life. The studio and the production companies involved do have this information, and that’s one of the reasons they decided to present KC as the hijacker not as a theory, but as historical fact. However, if the option ends up expiring and they don’t actually make the picture, then I will release all that information publicly. Until then, I am under an agreement of confidentiality, although if you dig deep enough, you’ll discover about 90% of what we currently have as evidence against KC, as well as his alleged accomplice, Bernie Geestman. It was actually Geestman and his family who more or less confirmed our suspicions on Kenny Christiansen.

    On a side note, I believe Geestman’s niece and her story about walking in on Kenny a couple of weeks before the hijacking, and her description of what he was doing in there. (making the phony bomb) The reasons I believe her are threefold. First, she presents very well as a witness. Rather ordinary, a mother of four, and she implicates her own uncle in the hijacking. Second, because her description of the ‘bomb’ matches what was found in the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s notebook, and third, because it also matches what is in the recently released FBI files from Geoffrey Gray. And her description came before any of those other sources were discovered. That’s pretty damning, and puts her story beyond the realm of coincidence. I get a second interview with her after our August eclipse campout in Oregon. I will publish the results of that interview, of course. For information on all that, see the article: https://wordpress.com/post/thedbcooperhijacking.wordpress.com/1370

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  3. Great points, all. This documentary was a clown-show. I thought Fuentes seemed very intelligent, but Jensen seems less than average and the combination of Forbes/Colbert is almost comical. Colbert’s reaction at the end, in particular, is sad. The title was very misleading — clearly referring to the FBI decision to ‘close’ the case (they’re doing no such thing, as Geoffrey Gray told NYTIMES, they’re just trying to ward off more lunatics’ with ‘tips.’). I’m new to this whole mystery but personally find Gray’s book, Skyjack, terrific. This documentary was really disappointing, though bravo to Mucklow and the co-pilot for having the guts to appear.

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  4. Total waste, you are 100% correct. They get an F for their interview with Tina. All this ‘new evidence’ was basically some story about a loser conman running around Oregon campuses begging for money and sleeping on sofas. I don’t know how many guys like that there were in 1971 but I’m willing to bet it was more than one LOL.

    And their whole case stems from some story an admitted drug runner tells about a party he was at 35 years ago, which was filled with anecdotal comments from a bunch of other scoundrels, liars, convicts and malefactors. I wouldn’t believe anything those guys told me, and definitely wouldn’t devote 5 years of my life trying to figuring it out LOL. The big mystery here is how he got 30+ other respectable people to work with him and convince the History Channel to air it.

    Their ambush paparazzi style attack of Rackstraw at the end was total amateur hour. I liked the way he screwed with them, I would too! D-bags have been hammering him for 45 years with the same stupid questions, he’s probably sick and tired of it.

    So I don’t know anything about the mystery, I just found your blog after the show. I’m not endorsing your theory (I look forward to reading it though!) or anyone’s for that matter. Maybe Rackstraw actually did it, but these dudes aren’t convincing me of anything. Anyways just wanted to agree with you that the show was a giant letdown from the History Channel which normally does a great job.

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    1. Honestly, Kenny Christiansen is just as lousy as Rob Rackstraw. This guy worked for NW Airlines. Seriously…

      I’m not one of the “Cooper Trolls” that used to bug you on dropzone. Hell, I don’t even have an account on dropzone OR DB Cooper forum. I am a just a 26 year old veteran from WA that has religiously studied all facets of the DB Cooper case for years. To me, the only thing suspect about KC is his odd behavior around young men throughout his life. Perhaps he was a homosexual, perhaps not. Who knows. But in my opinion, that’s most likely what his “deathbed” revelation to his brother was about. I remember reading somebody on one of the forums saying something like that. I agree.

      What annoys me is that you legitimately think that you have solved the case. You’re willing to overlook glaring issues about KC and yet when others do this about their suspect, out comes the attack. For the record, I think all the commonly talked about suspects are WAY left of the mark (When I was a kid I used to think it was Duane Weber though).

      Kenny does have a very mild, passing resemblance to the artist renderings. He did that ironically work at northwest. He was a paratrooper, yes. He was familiar with the 727. That’s all compelling stuff. But. That’s where the circumstancial evidence ends. Despite what you’ve claimed, he didnt make any lavish purchases. He was well under the eye witness height for DB and of course, it doesn’t at all fit with the profile of Dan Cooper.

      In my opinion, DB was most likely a casualty of the airline industry drawdown of the early 70s. He probably had been unemployed for months, which directly coincides with the cancellation of the Boeing SST program. He could have been somehow tied in with that. Whatever he was- desparate is definitely at the top of the list. You don’t just hijack an airplane because you’re frustrated with your purser job. This man, whoever he was, most likely had no friends, no family, no job and little to no regard for his own life. Kenny had friends, co workers a good job and family.

      DB most likely was also affiliated in some way with the military at some point in his life. Id go one further and say he was probably a flight engineer and perhaps even a pilot. We know he had a grudge and my guess is that he probably felt entitled after years serving his country for little to no benefit. After all, this man was quite possibly fired and disposed of after X years working in the aviation industry.

      So his motive is money. But his motive is also to beat the system that pushed him to the brink. DB Cooper in 1971 has had it with everything and now he wants something in return for the years he spent working in the 9-5 rat race.

      So he hijacks a fuckin’ plane and ransoms a shitload of money. How poetic. He’s an intelligent, trained man and now he’s going to use those tools against the very “system” that wronged him.

      But he doesn’t plan it very well.

      Yes, he’s calm under pressure and has excellent ability to maintain composure but there’s something that he lacks. Perhaps this very thing is the reason he needs 200k in the first place.

      He asks for maps (says so in the FOIA docs). He also doesnt designate a specific landing location. These items are evidence that he didn’t plan it as precisely as I think people suggest he did. He had it 98% down, but perhaps as he had done with other things in his life, he said “to hell with it” and figured he’d either die or he wouldn’t.

      Anyway, I do think he was a smart guy. But I don’t think he had planned it as masterfully as many others seem to think (left his tie on the plane which was a big goof, even if he found it at a goodwill). I think he was not a prior criminal but was definitely a risk taker and a gambler. He was a very good planner but rushed the details. Still, his poise under the circumstances was/is remarkable to me.

      At the end of the day, I think DB cooper died in the jump. I am new to this theory, beinf that Ive always wanted to believe he lived. I think he probably landed in the Columbia River and drowned. The FBI flight path is most likely a little bit off, as is the approx. Jump time. Either way, once they found money it was almost a sure indication that he died. It’s not a fun, romantic ending, but it’s the most logical and probably. The most reasonable or logical thing is usually the correct thing.

      I think his case is endlessly fun and exciting. He’s the perfect nobody- 5’10-6′ white collar guy, no stand out markings. Brown hair, brown eyes, mid 40s. He could literally sounds like a description of the most common looking person in the world. An average joe with a few little above average skills.

      KC isn’t db cooper. Neither is Weber, Cofelt, rackstraw, Melvin, peterson or gossett (who absolutely is the best suspect. Looks very similar to sketch, was an army guy stationed at Ft Lewis, etc).

      But. I will say that I do respect you, Mr. Blevins. I have read your posts for years and think you’re a very smart guy with a good wit and intellect.

      I think deep down we all know DB is not Ken Christensen. Or Rackstraw. Or any of the others. If by some miracle he did survive, he was probably never told anybody about it and died in the years following. However, I think some day somebody WILL find his identity. It will probably be a guy that got laid off from Boeing, standing off center in a black white photograph looking completely unassuming in every way imaginable. His old coworkers, if alive when questioned, most likely won’t even remember his name. They’ll just say “oh, yeah. I remember that guy. He was a smart fella. Didn’t say much. I think he got laid off at some point in the early 70s.”

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