Depending on your attitude or opinion on whether Ken Christiansen and Bernie Geestman were the actual perps in the D.B. Cooper hijacking, you might be ecstatic and wish us well…or hope I accidentally fall off a cliff on one of those camping trips to the Olympic Mountains I do occasionally. (We have our detractors, as well as our supporters.)
Yes, it’s true that a Los Angeles-based film production company has picked up the option for our book, Into The Blast – The True Story of D.B. Cooper. It’s the story of Kenny Christiansen, a former US Army paratrooper and an employee of the airline that was hijacked by Cooper. This doesn’t mean they will actually bring the book to market in a picture, of course. That remains to be seen. However, here’s how it all came about and where it’s going now –
About two weeks ago, I received an email from three people at the same time. They wanted to make sure any reply I made went to all of them. They told me they had been following me (and the investigation into KC) for quite a while and wondered whether the film rights to the book were still available. I said yes, but I also warned them that I wasn’t interested in doing a comedy on the Cooper story, or Kenny’s life, and that I had rejected a previous offer over that same point. (The inquiry by CBS Films, via their rep at Paradigm in New York City.)
The three men were execs from the LA film company, and came back with a message right away.
No, they said. They were not looking to do a comedy, but the first serious feature film on the DB Cooper case. And they wanted to name Kenny Christiansen as the hijacker, and present it not as a theory, but as historical fact. This surprised me, because I have stated many times for the record that I can’t be 100% sure Kenny and Bernie were the perps. Yes, I believe they are guilty as sin. Could I prove it today beyond a reasonable doubt? Maybe…if I had Bernie Geestman and a few other folks on a witness stand somewhere. Maybe.
I did the first in a series of conference calls with the three men, and the first thing I realized is that they were extremely well-informed on everything Kenny and Bernie. I mean they knew everything, right down to the smallest details. When I asked them about this, they told me they’d been following the story for about a year before they decided to contact me. They had read the book, seen the Decoded show, watched the YouTube video, reviewed the Newsvine and WordPress articles, and downloaded the report we sent to the Seattle FBI. About the only thing they DIDN’T know was the recent evidence presented by witness ‘Troy B,’ and I filled them in about that. (‘Troy B’ is an engineer working for the US Navy in a civilian capacity in the Washington, DC area. He and two friends claimed they were told by FBI agent John Jarvis in August 2016 that the REAL reason the FBI closed the Cooper case was because the FBI had discovered the identity of the hijacker, that the hijacker was dead anyway, and that he was none other than Ken Christiansen.)
I didn’t have to update them very much, to say the least. Discussing Christiansen with them was like discussing him with a member of the Adventure Books staff. These guys were educated very well on the current evidence. They told me two things flat out: First, they were convinced. Second, they wanted to do the picture. Even if I wanted to qualify the Kenny story a bit, they were having none of it. They were absolutely certain and ready to run with it…that Kenny Christiansen was the guy, and Geestman the friend who helped him. I took a day or two to consider all of this, and then started playing some catch-up. I went to the Christiansen family for their opinion. I asked them to pin down more accurately where Kenny was at certain times in his life. For example, when EXACTLY did Ken arrive at Shemya Island in the Aleutian chain to work for Northwest Airlines, and when did he leave? When exactly did he quit Northwest and go to his next job, and why did he end up returning to Northwest Airlines later? His next job was as a telephone operator down on Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, where the most powerful atomic device ever tested by the United States was exploded only a mile or two away. That was the Castle Bravo test, done on March 1, 1954. (Video below)
Why in the hell would the Atomic Energy Commission recruit Kenny for a six-month contract job to a place where the government had already evacuated the native islands for thousands of square miles around? What the heck was THAT about? Kenny later died of an aggressive form of colon cancer, and his family believes it was probably brought on by radiation exposure he suffered on Bikini Atoll.
I found out that the AEC used a front company to do the recruiting, and my theory is that they wanted ‘clean’ folks to take a visit there, while they monitored their individual exposures to the leftovers from Castle Bravo. For data, for future reference, whatever. That blast was SO much more powerful than anticipated that it destroyed most of the gear meant to measure it. A Japanese fishing boat almost 300 miles from the epicenter was hit by heavy fallout and some of the crew either got sick, or died. The fallout spread far beyond the ‘warning zone’ established by the government, so far in fact, that some natives on those islands actually thought the grey snow coming down WAS snow. They picked it up, some even tried to eat it. It was a human and ecological disaster whose effects are still felt today throughout the Marshall Islands chain.
So…why would they send people like Kenny to the very center of it all, and only 14 months later? We discovered a timeline, using Kenny’s many letters home to Minnesota to his family:
1) September 1949: Kenny arrives on Shemya Island to work as a laborer for Northwest Airlines. Bernie Geestman, who is already there, is assigned as his boss.
2) March 1, 1954: Castle Bravo test is conducted.
3) April 1955: Kenny is recruited from Shemya for a job working on Bikini Island. (Geestman had ended his tour on Shemya and returned to work in Seattle, first for Northwest, then later for Boeing on the 727 program.) This recruiting was done by a company called Holmes and Narver, who walked hand in hand with the AEC for many years. They were an engineering firm who performed all kinds of duties for the AEC in regard to atomic testing and nuclear facilities both in and outside the United States. We don’t know whether Kenny saw an ad in a newspaper, or was recruited by a rep of the company. We only know that the job somehow originated on Shemya.
At the same time this was all happening, the government was doing secret research among the Marshall Islands native people, testing and recording their exposures to the many tests that were going on down there at the time. Later, this research was made public, but at the start, it was a secret program. Kenny would not have known about the possible dangers of even going to Bikini, although he may have been warned a bit, and they were probably monitoring everyone on Bikini Atoll at that time. Anyone still foolish enough to BE there, that is. It’s nearly certain the government would downplay the danger anyway, and the pay was extremely good. Kenny signed a six-month contract. He returned to Seattle first and lived there for a couple of months, waiting for a ride to Bikini Atoll. When he gets there, he becomes more guinea pig than telephone operator. Some payback for a decorated WW2-era Army paratrooper, who was gay and kept it hidden to serve his country.
That’s right. Christiansen was gay, and his family knew it when he told them he was joining the Army in his senior year of high school. They warned him what could happen. If he were discovered it could mean anything from a dishonorable discharge to prison in Leavenworth. He joined anyway and the Army never found out a thing. Kenny had told his family he could do it, and he did, passing some of the toughest training ever done with US Army paratroopers, because they were preparing for an invasion of mainland Japan. Very few knew the atomic bomb was coming and would soon end the war. Kenny was one out of less than eighty who passed training, out of a group of nearly three hundred men. He was certainly no slouch, and after the Japanese signed the surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri, Kenny was sent to serve in Occupied Japan. He did parachute jumps to qualify for the extra pay, and an occasional jump for the civilians as well while he served in Japan. His letters home to his family in Minnesota are clear.
4) June 20, 1955: Kenny arrives on Bikini Atoll. He works as a telephone operator for six months on contract. When the contract ends, he goes back to Seattle.
5) Novemeber 19, 1955: Kenny returns to Seattle. Over the next four months, he takes odd jobs to get by, living partially on the money he made at the atoll.
6) March 19, 1956: After a two-week training course, Kenny re-hires with Northwest Orient as a purser. Northwest decides to ‘count’ his previous service on Shemya as still valid, and discards the time he was either between jobs or on Bikini Atoll. Because of this, Kenny actually receives a congratulatory letter from the CEO of Northwest and a silver bowl on the same day the FBI bypassed the Statute of Limitations on the Cooper hijacking: November 24, 1976. Five years after the hijacking. The letter notes his failure to attend the banquet held in Minneapolis for the other 25th-anniversary-with-the-airline employees. The famous ‘John Doe’ warrant was obtained by the FBI on the very last day before the Statute was due to expire, and is available at FBI dot gov. (The Federal judge who made the ruling restricted the warrant to only the hijacker, and did not extend it to any possible accomplices. It can be viewed at FBI dot gov/DB Cooper Vault files) If Kenny was the hijacker, it was probably the lowest day of his life, since this news was broadcast and printed all over the Northwest when it happened. If Kenny was Cooper, it must have been crushing, to say the least.
One minute you think you are free and clear, the next you realize you will be hunted for the remainder of your life. It’s no surprise he didn’t attend the banquet in Minneapolis, even though a flight would be free and his family lived nearby.
At this point, between March of 1956 and November of 1971, we have a pretty good timeline of Kenny’s life with Northwest. The occasional trip on their famous Orient Route to Japan and the Philippines, the strikes, the once-in-a-while temporary layoffs, the odd jobs to keep going when this happened, and being paid a paltry $512 a month before taxes, which even for 1971 was not good. After years of all this, we believe Kenny just got tired of the whole program. He still had nothing to show for nearly twenty years with the airline except an old car and a cheap apartment in Sumner, WA. We also think that in the summer of 1971, either he or Bernie Geestman first proposed the idea of sticking it to the airline somehow. Geestman, having worked on the Boeing 727 program (his admission in an interview from 2009) likely knew that a 727 CAN be flown with the airstairs down. These tests were done while he was at Boeing in the early 60’s. Now that newly released evidence about tests done on the hijacker’s tie show the owner may have worked at Boeing Aircraft, this points even MORE to Geestman’s possible involvement. Cooper was very careful to either toss out, or retrieve any physical evidence while he was on the plane that night, except for the tie, which he casually tossed over one of the seats. This could indicate Cooper borrowed it from someone else, and wasn’t worried it could be traced to him.
Knowing all of these things, and coupling that with the latest admissions and testimony from Geestman’s own family, the film producers told me they were absolutely convinced Kenny was Cooper. Even if I had doubts they said, they had none. And they were determined to move forward with the story. Okay, so I decide maybe they’re right and it’s time to stop waffling on the matter. We will go with that, I said. I convinced myself this was the right thing to do because even with the off-chance that we’re wrong, a picture like that on Christiansen would certainly force people (possible witnesses) out of the woodwork, same as the Blast book did, and the picture would reach a much larger audience. The truth, I thought, would certainly emerge on Kenny and Bernie one way or another as a result of the film.
Some other things made me go along as well. I had some evidence leading me to believe that the Seattle FBI may have contacted some of the people I named in the report on Kenny, after all. There were other things, too. Geestman’s niece testifying that just two weeks prior to the hijacking, she walked in on Kenny in a shed out back of the Geestmans’ place in Bonney Lake and saw him wrapping filled coin rolls with red electrical tape and attaching wires to them. I took that story semi-seriously until I saw the original notebook from the hijacking from the Cowlitz County (WA) sheriff where one entry says ‘Stick(s) wrapped in red plastic’. It contains his notes from information provided to him by FBI agent Thomas Manning. You can see the images HERE. (One is shown below with a highlight in red, added by the author.)
Then we have Bernie Geestman’s extensive history of lying, or giving an inappropriate answer to a question, especially with the cast from Brad Meltzer’s Decoded. All three cast members, after working through the evidence back in 2010 concluded that Kenny was probably Cooper, but that Geestman did not help him. Ask them TODAY what they believe. All three cast members, most recently Christine McKinley, now say they believe Geestman was involved in the hijacking. This came after they saw additional evidence against Geestman that was in two halves. First half was breaking his lies on Decoded to them, and presenting them with the truth. Second half were things like testimony from Geestman’s own family, and the testimony from ‘Troy B’. Christine McKinley, a real skeptic if there ever was one, made her opinions known less than a month ago to me via Facebook. She, like her two companions on the Decoded show, now believed Geestman lied to them during his appearance, and was probably involved in the hijacking.
The film production execs in LA, already as schooled as I was on the whole story, finally convinced me. There was just TOO much evidence against these two men to continue qualifying it with a ‘maybe’. It was time to present the case on film that Kenny and Bernie were guilty, how they planned it, and how they pulled it off. There are also the OTHER things along the way, including the hiding spot constructed in Christiansen’s attic using 2×6 boards and an old countertop piece, (found by Decoded cast member Scott Rolle) his loaning of $5,000 in cash to Geestman’s sister Dawn Androsko after the hijacking, and many other things. Too many coincidences, and way too many lies by Geestman to simply ignore.
For example, when Geestman told the Decoded cast on-air that yes, Kenny could be Cooper because ‘he looks just like him’. (The FBI sketch) Overwhelming evidence shows that Geestman was WITH Kenny the entire week the hijacking occurred. Instead of offering Kenny a quick alibi, (“He was with ME.” for example.) he just tosses Kenny under the bus on national TV. We have no doubt that Kenny and Bernie went missing together for the entire week of the Cooper hijacking.
Or when Geestman claimed he had been at Kenny’s deathbed in 1994. Another lie. According to three witnesses, (a woman we interviewed for the FBI report, and Kenny’s brothers Lyle and Oliver) Geestman only called the house, and that just a few days prior to Kenny’s death. We think that Geestman, who had not contacted Kenny in years, was simply trying to find out whether Kenny was going to spill the beans before he died. The next day, Kenny makes his famous ‘There is something you should know, but I can’t tell you,’ statement to his brother. We think Geestman reminded Kenny that he would get not only himself (Bernie Geestman) into trouble, but Geestman’s ex-wife Margie into trouble as well. So at the critical moment, Kenny decided to remain silent about his involvement in the hijacking. Probably not because Bernie Geestman asked him to, but because he was much better friends with Geestman’s ex-wife. We already knew that Kenny and Margie were lifelong friends, and the last trip Kenny ever made by car (he was already sick by this time) was to visit Margie up at her ranch in Twisp, WA. (See picture below)
About a month after Kenny dies from the cancer, Bernie Geestman made a 500-mile round trip to his ex-wife’s ranch in Twisp, WA and kicked in the back door. She lived alone, and it was easy to tell from the road if her truck was in the driveway or not. Bernie knew that if the truck was gone…so was Margie. He takes every photo he can find of he and Kenny together, some personal papers, and a few other things, but nothing except papers and photos. No TV, no VCR, no money, even though some was around. Margie slapped padlocks and hasps over all the doors after that, even some of the INTERIOR doors, and got herself a shotgun. But Bernie never returned. She moved about 30 boxes of personal papers into a separate room and put a lock on that door as well. But the most important item he stole was his 1971 logbook from his days working as a diesel mechanic for Foss Tugs in Seattle. All the other logs were there for the other years he worked for them. (He worked at Foss the year of the hijacking) The log could have proven he was NOT working over the date of the hijacking, as he had previously claimed he was in an interview. He made it disappear.
I did at least seven interviews with Margie Geestman. In every one of them, she pointed to her ex-husband Bernie as an accomplice in the hijacking. But she was also terrified of the FBI, and was a bit dodgy on the details. During her next-to-last interview, she told me to speak to family friend Helen Jones back in Sumner, WA about the whole thing, so I did. Jones said that Kenny had told her just six weeks after the hijacking that he and Geestman had been together over the Thanksgiving week in 1971, but he wouldn’t give any details. And all this time, Margie is trying to name anyone else she can think of as Cooper…anyone EXCEPT Ken Christiansen. I went to see her one last time before my last shoot with the Decoded people. I laid everything we had in the way of evidence on her dining room table, as well as the testimony from Helen Jones, who had sought out the Decoded people and told them she remembered that Kenny did smoke Raleigh cigarettes (same as the hijacker) because ‘he (Kenny) saved the coupons.’
Faced with the evidence, Margie Geestman admitted that yes, it was Christiansen who went missing with her husband that entire week. I warned her she was now naming Kenny as DB Cooper, and her ex-husband as the accomplice. I made a recording of her statements. She said yes, she understood. More importantly, it wasn’t long after the Blast book and the Decoded show came out that Margie Geestman grew wings and vanished. She suddenly sold her ranch to the Washington State Fish and Game Department, and then told her lawyer and the bank officer who handled the sale to not reveal to anyone where she was going.
Some time later, Bernie Geestman’s family, now having read the Blast book and seen the Decoded show, contacted me as well. I ended up meeting with some of them at a local restaurant in Sumner, WA. They provided more information, and the testimony from Geestman’s niece about what she saw Kenny doing in that shed. However, Geestman’s family has been reticent to come forward publicly, although if a film comes out I think they will. The niece said this regarding the family’s attitude about their ‘Uncle Bernie’:
“We’d rather wait until he (Geestman) is gone (dead) before saying anything…”
I did warn her that once the Seattle FBI got the report on Christiansen, that the FBI might not accept that. You can download the report that went to the FBI here: http://www.adventurebooksofseattle.com/FinalReportChristiansen2015.pdf
And now it’s looking as if the FBI did at least a cursory check on the people named in that report. The report was subbed to them in late July, 2015. Exactly a year later, the FBI announces it is ‘closing’ the Cooper case. A month after they do, ‘Troy B’ came forward and offered evidence on why that may have happened. And that the statements were allegedly provided by a senior FBI agent named John Jarvis who works out of Quantico in Behavioral Profiling. He’s been with the Bureau for over fifteen years.
Too much. Too many coincidences. Too many broken lies by Bernie Geestman in an attempt to distance himself from the Cooper hijacking. Too many people coming forward. I finally agreed with the production company execs, who urged me to take the deal they offered. After some last-second jitters, I signed the option deal to make the picture. It will be based not only on the Blast book, but all our investigatory files on KC and Geestman and the witnesses. These files are extensive and go back almost eight years.
I have to admit my hand was shaking a bit when I signed on the dotted line with the company, but I did it anyway. We will see where it goes from here. Maybe these guys in LA were right. They said, “You can only hide the truth for so long on something, and then it’s going to come out.”
I agree. A feature film on the Kenny and Bernie story may or may not be the final answer to the D.B. Cooper hijacking, but it will certainly bring the truth to the surface one way or another. More witnesses will probably come forward. Perhaps members of Geestman’s own family will finally go public as well. Chances are, discounting that one or two small details might be wrong – it is certainly the basic truth, and the final answer to what History Channel once called, ‘The sixth biggest unsolved crime of the 20th century.’