(ABOVE: Promotional photo done by the author, prior to sponsoring the final ‘D.B. Cooper Days’ party at the Ariel Tavern. Bryan Woodruff is center in blue shirt. After his mother died and left him the store, we worked together to hold a fundraiser to save the store.)
The last time I ever saw Bryan Woodruff was at the final Ariel Party, the one we organized together after his mother died, and in which Adventure Books of Seattle had a large role. Unfortunately, it DID turn out to be the swan song for the annual (and world famous) party called Cooper Days. After original owner Dona Elliott died the year previously, the store was turned over to her son Bryan. But at the same time, the State of Washington and Clark County (in a move that eventually doomed the store) pulled the licenses for the business, and demanded expensive renovations and upgrades…none of which Bryan could afford. When Bryan passed away from cancer in August 2020, the store was still unlicensed and not open to the public, although until his final days in hospice, Bryan used it as his full-time residence. After his death, the property was sold and latest reports indicate it is not being used for any Cooper-related activities. So far.
The end of an era. A bummer for D.B. Cooper fans.
This article is a tribute to Bryan Woodruff, and to an extent, his mother as well. To enjoy the article more fully, you may want to click on the song below, which this writer dedicated to him.
The amount of money we raised during that final party in August 2016 (in attempts to bring the store up to state and county codes) wasn’t much more than what we spent on the party itself, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. (In other words, some folks said later that AB of Seattle could have saved themselves the trouble simply by writing Bryan a check.) Travel Channel showed up via their TV show Expedition Unknown with Josh Gates after my request to them, and we cooked at least 500 hot dogs and hamburgers. There were several local volunteers who brought food as well, and everyone moved a few cords of wood off the main stage for the auction and the music. I snapped hundreds of pictures, shot a couple of videos, and I still have them all on a memory card. The day before the party, I helped Bryan raise the store building with screw jacks while we toured the crawlspace. I thought we should do an inch to a half inch. Bryan did four inches and scared the crap out of me. The store held, and the building didn’t fall on our heads.
One thing I can tell you about Bryan is that he was worried about the DB Cooper paraphernalia, probably the largest collection in the world. HIS wish was that the store be turned into a DB Cooper museum. This was a project I encouraged, and yes, I did try to help him with that but it never got past the discussion stage. Maybe he put something in his will designating these Cooper items to the WA State History Museum or something. I hope so. They once did a D.B. Cooper exhibit there, and still have one of the parachutes from the hijacking on display.
I have said occasionally that Cooperland (my nickname for some of the amateur sleuths and fans of the case) shoot themselves in the foot so much, I’m surprised they aren’t shopping for wheelchairs.
Bryan forwarded me several emails right after that last party saying SOME people weren’t in favor of me trying to help him ‘restore the store,’ and turned him against ideas I had regarding all that. There is no use in them denying this, because I still have the emails. I am no longer angry about it, but I find it regrettable that people would hate ME so much…that they would take it out on Bryan. As some of you know, my mother in Arizona was willing to put up the money to have the store restoration done, after I told her it was a good cause. My parents lived in Washington for many years and were familiar with both the store and the Cooper case. They also knew I had written a book on the case as well, and had been on television a couple of times about Cooper. For these reasons, they were ready to support a renovation if I asked them to do it.
If I could speak to these so-called ‘D.B. Cooper Experts’ in person who turned their backs on Bryan, I can only say this:
Karma is a bitch, and what goes around eventually COMES around. You will have to live with what you did regarding Bryan and the store, and no amount of spin will ever change that.
I wonder if any of them regret interfering now. This list of jerks includes people like Bruce Smith of the Mountain News blog, who considers himself the King of D.B. Cooperland, and Dave Brown (aka ‘Shutter 45’), the founder of the D.B. Cooper discussion forum. After Bryan died, both had the absolute gall to post their ‘condolences’ on Bryan Woodruff’s obituary. Smith even listed the title of his Cooper book in an effort to generate sales. These two are the biggest phonies I have ever had the displeasure of knowing. My thought is that it is better to support people while they are still alive, and not come out of the weeds with mealy-mouthed justifications and expressions of admiration about someone once they are gone.
Just to make yourself look good.
I’ll admit I was bitter about that for a long time, but I got over it. I attended three of the Ariel Store Cooper Days parties over the years and had fun at all of them. Especially the final party, where we did something good for Bryan and his dreams for the famous store. I am PROUD of my efforts on that, no matter what people have said about it. A few things about the party itself:
Everyone worked their asses off for two days prior, but everyone had fun and it went off smooth as silk. I remember cooking food and hustling people up to the store building to drop a few bucks donation on a special PayPal site we created where they could use their credit or debit cards to do so. (Many just brought cash, but we knew cards could work as well, so we brought a couple of computers and hooked them up for just that purpose.) Then the Travel Channel film crew showed up and told me later they had the most fun at Ariel that day than they had during all the other episodes of the show that season.
The craziest thing I did was to haul a triple stainless-steel sink (with legs) all the way there from our office in Auburn (about 130 miles each way), so we could meet Health Department hand washing requirements. The sink was a gift from the Auburn Days Festival. It was so dangerous to haul in my little truck that I ended up giving it to Bryan, rather than trying to haul it home. The trip down was tough enough. I made a total of five trips to deliver the free food, donated items for the auction, and other supplies before it was all over. The final tally was about $2,500 raised for Bryan at a general auction of donated items, and by direct cash donations. The PayPal site raised additional money, we don’t know how much but it seemed a lot of folks were using the two computers we had set up for that purpose. I wish we could have done better, but we did the best we could and Bryan was happy.
And we did this with virtually ZERO support from many in the known DB Cooper community, who were simply jealous and angry that we were involved, and able to pull it off even WITHOUT their support. They even made posts at the famous ‘D.B. Cooper Forum’ run by Dave Brown making fun of the whole thing, and saying they wouldn’t support our effort.
The famous Rainier Beer neon sign in the window of the store. Custom made for Bryan’s mom, the late, great Dona Elliott.
After everyone finally headed home, Bryan, me, and a couple of other people hung out in the bar most of the night and talked about the future for the store. Bryan had a lot of plans going, and many detailed drawings showing what he wanted to do and how he was going to do it. The only problem was he didn’t have the money, and he couldn’t get a loan to do it on his own. Still, over the next couple of years I know he did as much as he could, and cleaned a lot of things up as well as doing some repairs to the building.
Below: One of the things Bryan and I did prior to the last party was to finish cleaning THIS up.
It’s an amazing collection for sure. RIP Bryan. You and your mother will be missed.
Submitted by Robert M. Blevins, Adventure Books of Seattle
(This article was updated in April, 2021.)