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.
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.
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.
It’s a strange deal for sure, and the details are only slowly coming together. LMNO Productions, creators of content for cable television such as The Little People and Killer Confessions, put together a team to investigate a new suspect in the unsolved ‘D.B. Cooper’ hijacking. This team consisted of more than forty people, many of them ex-FBI agents and other Federal officers. They recently completed their work, and the end result was a four-hour special for History Channel that will premiere on Sunday, July 10th at 9PM-11PM, and conclude on Monday the 11th at 7PM-9PM. (All times Pacific) There is also a book on their investigation, which will be released in paperback and Kindle on July 12. The show is titled, D.B. Cooper – Case Solved?
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…”
In Parts One and Two, this writer laid the foundation on why Bernard Wayne Geestman of Port Angeles, WA became a strong suspect as a direct accomplice to alleged Cooper hijacker Kenneth Peter Christiansen. In the conclusion of this series, I present the theory from Adventure Books of Seattle staff on how the hijacking actually ‘went down’ in 1971, the events immediately afterward, and how we came to the final conclusions we did.
I became involved in the investigation about 18 months after author Geoff Gray published the first-ever article on Ken Christiansen, which appeared in October 2007 at New York Magazine. At the time, I was writing a sci-fi novel about every other year, helping run Adventure Books out of two spare bedrooms in a condo, and editing books for other writers. I knew nothing more than the average Northwest person about the Cooper case, although I did grow up in Sumner, WA – the same place Kenny lived at the time of the hijacking. (I was a sophomore in high school at the time.)
(BELOW: Picture found in one of Kenny Christiansen’s photo albums after his death in 1994. Stamp on front from developer says MAR 72, or about three months after the hijacking. The Christmas wreath on the door tells another story. Christiansen lived alone at #J-3, Rainier View Apartments in Sumner, WA. The apartment still exists there. Picture shows Christiansen carrying a briefcase and paper bag, just like Cooper, and dressed somewhat similarly. We believe this is a staged mememto, taken by Bernie Geestman a short time after the hijacking. We do NOT believe the items in his hands are the same exact ones used in the hijacking. The wreath indicates it was probably snapped after Thanksgiving of 1971 and before New Years Day, and then developed in March of 1972.)
The first time I heard of Ken Christiansen was when New York private investigator Skipp Porteous announced he was working on a book about the case, and since his suspect came from the same town where I had grown up on a small farm, I was naturally interested in helping him. He sent me the manuscript. I told him he needed more proof, and that meant interviewing not people who knew Christiansen decades AFTER the hijacking, but people who were closest to Christiansen either AT the time of the crime, or before that time.
BELOW: Margie Geestman from her third interview at her ranch in Twisp, WA. After the books on Christiansen came out, and the Decoded TV show aired, she sold her ranch for $491,000 to the State of Washington’s Fish and Game…blew town…and told her lawyer and the bank guy who handled the sale not to say where she was going.
Porteous asked if I would assist him in this, since I was in Washington State and HE was in New York. He sent me a confidential package of files and reports on a number of people who knew Christiansen. These included people like Bernie Geestman, his ex-wife Margie, Bernie’s sister Dawn Androsko, and others. None of these people were known to Geoff Gray or are mentioned in his famous article. Porteous wanted me to go around and do interviews with these people if possible. I rearranged by work schedule to take off weekends over the next few months, climbed into my little Subaru 4WD wagon with a camera and a notebook, and started hunting down these folks for cold-call interviews.
ABOVE: Author Robert Blevins with the old Subaru wagon he used to hunt down and interview the witnesses against Christiansen and the Geestman couple.
In Part One, this writer detailed the early background of the relationships between D.B. Cooper suspect Ken Christiansen and his lifelong friend, Bernie Geestman, who is also suspected of being an accomplice to the crime. Part Two details the events leading up to the hijacking and what happened immediately afterward.
By the year 1968, Kenny and Bernie had known each other for about twenty years, after first meeting on Shemya Island in Alaska while working for Northwest Airlines. When Bernie married his long-term girlfriend Margaret Ann Miller in the same year, Kenny is shown with a smile on his face in the wedding photos. Both men had a lot in common.
But one thing they didn’t have in common was their financial situation.
Bernie was no longer with low-paying, strike-prone, Northwest Airlines. He had taken a job with Foss Tugs in Seattle as a diesel mechanic. He kept the yearly logbooks for the tug he worked on, and made fairly good money. Margie took a job as a bookkeeper, a career she would carry on even after her eventual divorce from Bernie Geestman.