Recently, I was asked by the film producers I am working with in Los Angeles to create an outline (limited to two pages for print in 8.5×11) laying out the case against Kenny Christiansen and Bernie Geestman.
Well, boiling down a multi-year investigation where you interview dozens of people and take page after page of notes isn’t an easy thing. However, this was the result, shown below:
The Case Against Kenneth P. Christiansen
An outline based on the book, Into The Blast – The True Story of D.B. Cooper, by Skipp Porteous and Robert Blevins, and the discoveries by Sherlock Investigations and the staff of Adventure Books of Seattle.
The famous ‘D.B. Cooper’ airline hijacking, pulled off on November 24, 1971 remains the only unsolved hijacking in U.S. history. In the forty-five years since, the F.B.I. questioned over a thousand suspects, and pursued endless leads before finally announcing in July 2016 they would no longer actively investigate the case.
However, no sooner had the F.B.I. made that announcement when a witness named Troy Bentz (a civilian worker for the U.S. Navy with a security clearance) contacted Adventure Books and claimed that he and two friends knew the real reason the case was closed. According to Bentz, he and his friends (also government workers with clearances) were told this by Special Agent John Jarvis, a 15-year veteran of the Bureau who works in Behavioral Profiling at Quantico. Jarvis allegedly said the Cooper case was closed because the F.B.I. had discovered the identity of the hijacker, that the hijacker was dead anyway, and he was none other than Kenneth Christiansen. This claim only serves to provide additional support to what Adventure Books has known all along, i.e. that Christiansen was almost certainly the hijacker and that he was assisted by another man, Bernard Wayne Geestman.
The book Into The Blast is merely a primer course in the truth regarding the Cooper case. In other words, it is not perfect, although it lays out the basic facts against these men very well. But at the time of publication (December 2010) there were still many unanswered questions and missing pieces to the puzzle. What the book really accomplished was to force more facts to the surface, and some of those facts came from Geestman’s own family. For example, two months before the book was published, Bernie Geestman had already seen proof copies and he knew what was coming. He then agreed to answer questions on the History Channel program, Brad Meltzer’s Decoded, which focused one particular episode on Kenny Christiansen as the hijacker, and Geestman the man who not only helped plan the crime, but assisted Christiansen in laundering at least some of the ransom money.
When Geestman (referred to as ‘Mike Watson’ in the book) came on Decoded, he made several statements that were either proven false, or implicated him further in the hijacking. For example, the cast asked him if he thought Christiansen could be the hijacker. Geestman said, “Are you asking me for MY opinion? Sure. He looks just like him.” By ‘him,’ Geestman meant that Christiansen looked like the FBI’s sketch of Cooper. But Geestman had not told his family he would be on the show, and several of them made a point to watch the show because they had known Christiansen when he was alive. (Christiansen died in 1994) Several of Geestman’s family members immediately questioned Geestman’s statement because they knew that ‘Uncle Bernie’ had gone missing with Christiansen, allegedly ‘camping’ for the entire week of the hijacking. In other words, they wondered why their uncle would throw Kenny under the bus instead of giving him an alibi.
To make matters worse, Geestman’s own niece came forward in 2011 after the Decoded show aired, and requested a meeting with yours truly. Several family members had already read the book, watched the Decoded program, and now suspected that ‘Uncle Bernie’ was indeed involved in the hijacking. The niece, one of her sons, and another family member met with me for a three-hour meeting in a local restaurant. The niece claimed that when she was thirteen years old, she had been living with the Geestman couple in Bonney Lake, Washington. Two weeks prior to the hijacking, she said, she had walked into a shed out back of the property and saw Kenny Christiansen doing something strange. Until she heard her uncle on the Decoded show and read the book on Christiansen, she had not given it any thought since. She said that Christiansen was taking filled, quarter-size coin rolls and taping them end-to-end in twos with red electrical tape. He was also taking cut pieces of wire and attaching those to the coin rolls.
Ordinarily, this might not mean much, since all reports released by the F.B.I. regarding the nature of the bomb used by Cooper have all said the same thing: The bomb was described as ‘red sticks with wires and a battery’. But no one, until recently, has ever said they were wrapped in red tape. That discovery was made when the original notebook kept by the Cowlitz County Sheriff was released. He was working with the F.B.I. during the early ground search for the hijacker. In that notebook the sheriff describes the bomb as ‘sticks wrapped in red tape,’ which serves to bolster the niece’s claim. The sheriff’s notes say his information came from F.B.I. agent Thomas Manning, who was also involved in the early search for Cooper on the ground. In addition, recently released F.B.I. files now confirm that the F.B.I. had been keeping the ‘wrapped in red tape’ fact about the bomb a secret for decades. Their purpose was to use that information to weed out false confessors.
The case against these men snowballed after Geestman’s appearance on Decoded. Ever since the start, Geestman has either lied to distance himself from any involvement, or as his ex-wife Margaret did, try to name others as being involved. Nine years later, the evidence has become too great to ignore. Some of Geestman’s lies were broken by former History Channel researcher Marisa Kagan, who is now a lawyer in the Los Angeles area. She leveraged this information into convincing Geestman to appear on the Decoded show, where he angrily denied being involved, but points to Christiansen as the hijacker even though multiple witnesses have placed him with Christiansen (and missing) during the time of the crime.
Our story is simple: Christiansen, the ex-paratrooper, the gay soldier who successfully hid that fact from the Army and served honorably, but who ended up working decades for an airline that constantly kept him poor, finally took some payback. Geestman, his straight friend, his co-worker at Northwest Airlines who helped plan the crime and then forced his wife Margaret to stay silent for almost forty years about it, was the guy who helped him. He may have even encouraged Kenny to do it. This is the story of Kenny, who spent five years on Shemya Island in the Aleutians working for Northwest, and when that ended, tried selling books, being a telephone operator on Bikini Island when they were testing A-bombs nearby, digging in construction for the Seattle World’s Fair, picking apples, or taking any work he could find during Northwest’s numerous layoffs and strikes. In the end, Kenny got a measure of revenge against a company he loved and hated at the same time. His many letters home to Minnesota over the years prove that. He never admitted to the hijacking in letters, but they certainly prove his desperation and unhappiness with Northwest. After he died, his family found a folder of newspaper clippings about Northwest dating from the 1940’s. They stop just before the date of the Cooper hijacking, even though the hijacking was the biggest thing to ever happen at Northwest.
Christiansen slipped through the cracks and remained unnoticed by the F.B.I. They never bothered to check to see whether the hijacker could have been an unhappy employee of the airline, and that’s why the case was never solved. The first agent assigned to the case, Ralph Himmelsbach, has admitted as much. Had the F.B.I. checked Christiansen and discovered he was a former paratrooper, looked at some of his letters home, or checked on how he financed a house and loaned Geestman’s sister Dawn Androsko $5,000 in cash just a few months after the crime, Christiansen would soon have been discovered, or at least brought in for questioning. No one did any of that, which is how Christiansen went to his grave without being found out. The day before he died, Christiansen told his brother Lyle, “There is something you should know, but I cannot tell you.”
We know why Christiansen didn’t completely admit he was Cooper on his deathbed: Bernie Geestman, who had not contacted Christiansen in years, called him TWO days before Christiansen died. He undoubtably reminded Kenny that if he made a deathbed confession, that he would not only get him into trouble, but his ex-wife Margaret as well. In any case, within eighteen months after the book and the Decoded show emerged, Margaret Geestman cashed out her ranch in Twisp, WA for $461,000 and told her bank officer and her lawyer not to reveal where she was going. She died in September 2016. She remains the one person who fully confirmed that her friend Kenny was D.B. Cooper, and her ex-husband Bernie Geestman as his accomplice. There has never been a serious feature film done on the Cooper case.
After nearly half a century, and the truth now available on Christiansen’s amazing story, perhaps it is time.