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.

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

  1. 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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  2. 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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