When the F.B.I. or any law enforcement agency investigates a major crime, one of the things they do is to hold back a known fact or two from the public. They do this to weed out false confessors to the crime, or to eliminate (or confirm) suspects. The D.B. Cooper hijacking case was no different. It has recently come to light that the F.B.I. decided to hold back a key bit of evidence about the bomb the hijacker used to force Northwest Airlines to hand over $200,000 in cash and four parachutes.
Over the last forty-six years, only four things have ever been revealed about the bomb itself. First, that it was housed in a briefcase. Second, that there was a battery inside similar to the one in the picture. Third, that there were wires attached to both the battery and the bomb. Fourth, that the bomb was composed of red sticks. This last bit originated from stewardess Florence Schaffner, who was allowed a quick glance inside the briefcase. Schaffner was passed a note from the hijacker shortly after takeoff from Portland, OR that read:
Miss. I have a bomb here and I would like you to sit by me.
As soon as Schaffner did as she was told, the hijacker opened the briefcase for a quick moment. She later told the flight crew what she saw. Red sticks, lots of wires, and a battery bigger than one you would put into a flashlight. That’s been the story for several decades now, although FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach has said occasionally that he was sure the bomb was phony because dynamite sticks are generally tan in color, and not red.
Red sticks. Could they have been road flares? The problem with road flares isn’t that they are red. It’s that they have an ignitor on one end, and a lot of instructions printed on the outside. Even a stewardess who only got a quick look would be able to tell the ‘dynamite’ was phony. So if they weren’t dynamite, and they weren’t road flares, then how could they pass for a real explosive? If the F.B.I. had even a clue that the bomb was a phony, they probably would have stormed Flight 305 right on the tarmac after it reached Seattle. But something created doubt in their minds about the whole thing, and somehow they assumed the bomb could be real, even if the alleged dynamite was the wrong color.
The answer was both simple – and a brilliant move by the hijacker. He not only fooled the F.B.I. and the flight crew, but the bomb itself had a purpose beyond just being a bomb.
Bernie Geestman, a guy who lives in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains of Washington State, is the man alleged by Adventure Books of Seattle as being the main accomplice in the D.B. Cooper hijacking. We believe he not only supplied the vehicle used to take Cooper suspect Kenny Christiansen to the Portland Airport, but provided key information regarding the Boeing 727 that was hijacked by Cooper. His story has already been told at length. He and Kenny served together on Shemya Island in the Aleutians for Northwest Airlines for a few years. Basically, Bernie was the mechanic and Kenny his assistant. They oiled the planes, cleaned out the interiors, and did occasional repairs if needed. Kenny’s job was mostly the labor stuff, and Bernie was the boss.
I only interviewed Bernie Geestman once in person. I showed up on his doorstep one day and got thirty minutes from him. In order not to put him on the defensive, I told him at first I was there gathering information on his friend Kenny for a biography on Kenny’s life. Geestman bought into that fib for twenty-five out of thirty minutes. He went on about their friendship, working for all those years off and on for Northwest, and some of the things they had done together.
LMNO 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.
While Flight 305 was on the ground at SeaTac Airport, hijacker ‘D.B. Cooper’ requested that the airstairs be left DOWN on takeoff. This was refused on the grounds of safety. The stairs would drag on the tarmac and possibly cause the jet to crash before it could even leave the ground. Here at Adventure Books of Seattle, we’ve always wondered WHY the hijacker wanted them left down. Seemed a bit premature, since he told everyone he wanted to go to Mexico, and there was going to be a refueling stop in Reno, NV along the way. The only good answers we could think of were that the hijacker didn’t plan to stay aboard the aircraft very long, and had no intention of trying for Mexico. And that he had a plan involving someone on the ground a little closer to home. The idea that he would try jumping from a jet at night without a ride home seems unlikely, unless he was planning to just stick his thumb out while packing a bank bag full of cash.
And…if Cooper had help somewhere on the ground…that both men would know where that help was waiting. And that this help would probably come via a payphone, which were virtually everywhere back in 1971.
‘Whenever I want you around, yeah…
All I gotta do, is call you on the phone, and you’ll come running home,
Yeah, that’s all I gotta do…’
Now we do know a couple of facts regarding Bernie Geestman from our investigation, the man we allege was Kenny Christiansen’s guy on the ground. For example, we know Geestman bought an Airstream trailer approximately six weeks prior to the hijacking, and instead of bringing it home to Bonney Lake, he parked it down at his shop property in Oakville, WA. We also know he took the station wagon he used to haul the trailer back to Bonney Lake. (And that his wife Margie did serious bitching about him leaving the trailer in Oakville unattended. He told her ‘Don’t worry about it’.) We also know Mr. Geestman left Bonney Lake in the station wagon a day or two PRIOR to the hijacking. And since he told his wife he was going camping in his Airstream (over the Thanksgiving holiday no less) that he ended up at Oakville, at least initially. She did some serious bitching about that, too…reminding him that they were supposed to attend Thanksgiving dinner at Helen Jones’ place down in Sumner, WA that year. As they had the previous year, and DID do the year AFTER the hijacking. Coincidentally, so did Kenny Christiansen, although the year of the hijacking, he told several people he was planning to take a free NWA flight back to Minnesota to do the family thing for Thanksgiving.
(His family said he never did.)
Witness Helen Jones stated that Kenny Christiansen told her a few weeks after the hijacking that the reason he hadn’t attended Thanksgiving dinner at her house, as he usually did, was because he was with Geestman. (He didn’t give details, of course.) She ran into him at the Sumner Laundromat, she said in her interview. Jones also noted how angry Mrs. Geestman was when SHE turned up at Jones’ place for Thanksgiving and had to tell Jones that her husband skipped the dinner to go camping over the holiday week.
So…we can place these men together in Oakville before the hijacking.
We HAVE done this.
Okay, let’s say for the sake of argument these guys pulled it off. We don’t know for sure, we will just theorize here. We think they stayed at the trailer in Oakville overnight, made last-minute plans (probably over a bourbon and a road map of Washington State) and Kenny told Geestman where he would try to jump. And that spot was probably NOT down by Ariel, Amboy, or Woodland, but further north. Maybe within the area shown by the circle on the map below. That area, especially back in 1971, was not heavily populated. A lot of empty space, lightly -traveled country roads, and the landing zones mostly not too dangerous. The next morning, Geestman drops Kenny Christiansen off at the Portland Airport and returns to the shop property in Oakville, which may even have had a phone installed.
But not everything went according to plan. For example, when the ground folk at SeaTacsaid ‘No way’ to leaving the airstairs down. Now, the door has to be opened in flight, and that took a bit of time with the jet cruising along at three miles a minute. And the hijacker had to take time to secure the money bag and put on the parachute. By the time Cooper was ready to jump, the jet was far south (we think) of the jumpzone he had originally planned, and that’s why he ended up down there.
It’s just a theory, but IF Christiansen was really Cooper, and Geestman his buddy on the ground, we think the map shown below is a good rendition of what really happened that night. And then a long walk out of the woods to a payphone.
Geestman on the telephone with Kenny a day or two later: “You’re WHERE?” Kenny tells him where he is. “Oh, crap. How the hell did you end up clear down there? Okay. I’ll be there in about 90 minutes. You’ll have to tell me what happened…”
Today, Bernie Geestman lives in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State, near the town of Sequim. (pronounced ‘Sk-wim’) Over the years, he has become a strong suspect as not only an accomplice to the Cooper hijacking, but helping hijacking suspect Kenny Christiansen to purchase a house a few months after the crime.
(If you’ve already seen Part One, you can skip to Part Two HERE.)
Much of this suspicion Mr. Geestman brought upon himself with his dishonesty in dealing with both this author, and people working with the History Channel show, Brad Meltzer’s Decoded. (Link leads to the full episode done on Christiansen, in which Mr Geestman appears as the last guest.)
Geestman, as Decoded cast member (and former state prosecutor) Scott Rolle once said to this writer, is ‘a tough nut to crack’. When the show first aired on January 11, 2011, the cast agreed that Christiansen was probably Cooper, but that Geestman didn’t assist him. But at the time, they were not provided with all the facts, due to timing issues with filming. (This means that this writer, who had just received important information about Geestman, was busy collating this information at the time of filming.) When the cast were later provided the preliminary public report on these men that was later sent in an expanded version to the Seattle FBI, both Rolle (now an elected judge) and WSU professor Buddy Levy changed their minds in email messages to this author. Cast member Christine McKinley had no comment. Later, all cast members received the complete report on Christiansen that was sent to the Seattle FBI, which strengthened their opinion even further. If anything can be said about the six-year investigation done by the staff of Adventure Books of Seattle, it is that their investigation has always been an ongoing process. Figuring out exact details and events that happened forty to sixty years ago was both complex and difficult – especially when people sometimes try to take the easy way out by lying.Continue reading “D.B. Cooper – An In-Depth Look at Alleged Accomplice Bernie Geestman – Part One of Three”
Christiansen soon turned out to be one of the most viable suspects in the case, despite detractors. After the book Into The Blast emerged detailing the initial evidence, History Channel produced and aired an episode on Christiansen for their show Brad Meltzer’s Decoded. Not only was a hiding spot discovered in his attic by former prosecutor and now-judge Scott Rolle, but alleged accomplice Bernard Wayne Geestman of Port Angeles, WA was later found to be lying to the cast of the show on key points. Geestman pointed to Christiansen as the hijacker, but witnesses verified he was WITH Christiansen for the entire week the hijacking occurred. Geestman also claimed to be at Ken Christiansen’s deathbed in 1994, when in reality he merely called on the phone. Since he hadn’t contacted Christiansen in many years, the most likely scenario is that he wanted to see if Christiansen planned on a last-minute confession. His ex-wife Margie pointed to him as an accomplice in a half-dozen or more interviews, and admitted in her final interview that it was Christiansen who was with her husband the week of the crime. After all of this emerged, she sold her ranch in Twisp, WA for a half-million bucks to Washington Fish and Game and told her lawyer and bank officer to not reveal where she was headed next.
Shortly after Bernie Geestman’s phone call to him, Christiansen told his brothers Lyle and Oliver while he lay dying:
“There is something you should know, but I cannot tell you…”
Four and a half years after the Decoded episode aired, a 74-page illustrated report file containing names, witness testimony, pictures, and key documents was submitted to the Seattle F.B.I. by the staff of Adventure Books of Seattle. It was the end result of an investigation that took years and included multiple interviews in the Northwest USA.
The public version of those files can be seen HERE.
In the picture below, Christiansen is shown walking into his apartment in Sumner, WA between the Thanksgiving and Christmas of the hijacking. The picture is dated by the developer, as pictures were back then, and was found after Kenny died. He lived alone at the Rainier View Apartments, number J-3, which still exists today. Picture shows him having less hair than the hijacker, but witnesses who knew him for years testified he owned a toupee and sometimes wore it socially, although not on the job. One of the passengers who had seen Cooper extensively during the flight told the Washington State History Museum recently in an interview that he thought the hijacker may have been wearing a toupee. Christiansen is also carrying a paper bag and a briefcase, the same type of items carried on board the hijacked aircraft by Cooper.
Cooper was careful to take back any notes and dispose of certain evidence before he jumped from the Boeing 727 on the evening of November 24, 1971. But he discarded a JC Penney tie on the back of his seat. If NWA purser and former paratrooper Ken Christiansen was Cooper, we think we know where he got it. Where? At the JC Penneys in downtown Auburn, WA. He would have gone right past it on his way to work at the SeaTac Airport. The only other nearby Penneys in 1971 was miles SOUTH of his apartment. His alleged accomplice Bernie Geestman, who lived in nearby Bonney Lake, also worked up north and would have taken the same route. We think that either Kenny was provided the tie by Geestman, or that Kenny bought it himself. But that in either case, the tie originated at the Auburn Penneys.