2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)
z

you just might ALSO
enjoy ...

The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

The bank robber who became vice-president of the bank he robbed

After he got out of prison, Dave Tucker spent 30 years rebuilding his reputation in his hometown of Joseph, and it seems he succeeded.


The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

The Rise and Fall of the House of Klux in Oregon

A slick marketing campaign and a taste for political power marked the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, which spread through Oregon like a racist virus — and then collapsed.


The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

Massive ocean liner won its race with fiery death

Calm seas, a cool-headed skipper and a hard-working crew brought the burning S.S. Congress to safety just in time. All 428 aboard made it.


This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

"I can make a
six-shooter sing 'come to jesus'!"

Meet Robert Gordon Duncan, the pioneering Portland shock-jock who was the first person ever sent to prison for cursing on the air, in 1930.


This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

When prineville was ruled by masked vigilante riders

In Crook County, the early 1880s were like a Louis L'Amour novel. And it all started with the lynching of an innocent man.


The classic melodrama villain, with sleek silk hat and waxed handlebar mustache, in the act of evicting the poor widow and children from their freshly foreclosed family homestead. Except for the mustache, Oregon's longest-serving 19th-century senator fit the trope with remarkable precision.

Senator John H. Mitchell: Oregon's own real-life Snidely Whiplash

He abandoned his family, changed his name, moved to Oregon, bilked widows and orphans in two big real-estate swindles ... and was promptly elected to Congress.


The skull of the skeleton found in the Odd Fellows hall in Scio, which is now at Oregon State University. The skeleton was that of a hard-working man who died sometime between 1860 and 1890.

Mysterious skeletons of Oregon: If these bones could talk ...

A long-dead dry-land homesteader ... a medical specimen in an Odd Fellows lodge ... what are their stories? We'll never know.


Oregon inventor Victor Strode’s revolutionary boat, the 'aerohydrocraft,' made the front cover of the March 1931 issue of Popular Science. The design didn't prove a useful one for the City of Portland, though, and the larger model the city commissioned to function as a harbor police boat didn't work out.

Buck Rogers-style police boat didn't work out for city of Portland

A local inventor developed the "aerohydrocraft" design in the early 1930s. But when the city built one as an ambulance boat, it flopped.


The remains of the barque Peter Iredale as they appear today, jutting out of the beach sands on Clatsop Spit at Warrenton as they have since 1906. In 1960, the wreck nearly was lost to a man who claimed he owned it.

How the Oregon Coast almost lost the Peter Iredale to a scrap-metal shark

An Oregon City man claimed he'd inherited the rights from his father, and demanded to be allowed to cut it up and haul it away. He almost got away with this little swindle.


Commander Dave Scott salutes the U.S. flag, which has just been planted on the surface of the moon. A small piece of Oregon lava rock, carried to the moon by Scott's fellow astronaut Jim Irwin, lies within this photo, next to one of the many bootprints. (Image: NASA)

There's a piece of lava from central oregon in this photo, on the moon.

It was left there by astronaut Jim Irwin at the request of a friend from Bend — who gave him a sliver of Oregon lava to leave on the moon's surface. And so he did.


The Motel 6 on Mission Street in Salem as it appeared in the mid-1970s, when Carl Cletus Bowles made his run from its back door. Don't laugh, at least not too loudly ... two innocent people would die before Bowles was back in prison.

During a conjugal visit at a cheap motel, the prisoner escaped

It had to be the most awkward prison-break scenario in the history of the universe. But it really did happen. Here's the story.


James Lappeus, former Portland Chief of Police. He eventually was fired over allegations that he'd offered to 'accidentally' leave the jailhouse door open for a convicted murderer if his wife paid a $1,000 bribe.

gambler, swindler, gunfighter, liquor man ... oh, and also police chief.

James Lappeus came to Portland to open a saloon and "theater." Despite his checkered past — or maybe because of it — he was named city marshal and, later, Chief of Police. Here's the story.


This postcard picture of Cannon Beach was created in 1966, which means just off to the left of the frame is a beach with a fence around it and "no trespassing" signs.

HOW OREGON ALMOST LOST PUBLIC ACCESS TO ITS BEACHES

A Portland real-estate guy found a loophole in the law and claimed a patch of beach for his own, and his friends in the state Legislature tried to keep it that way. Here's the story.


A color lithograph of George and Kate Ann Williams’s Victorian  mansion, located at 18th and Couch streets downtown.

This spooky-looking Portland mansion was home of a 'starvation cult'

A prominent Portland socialite led a sect called "Truth," with the motto "Pray and Be Cured," that required 40-day fasts. It vanished after its leader starved herself to death during a 110-day fast. Here's the story.


The archway monument leading up to the Wallowa County Courthouse,  built in 1936. The bronze plaque on the inside left of the arch includes  the name of murderer and horse thief Bruce “Blue” Evans.

A monument in honor of a horse thief and mass murderer?

Bruce "Blue" Evans led the gang that slaughtered over 30 innocent Chinese miners in 1887. So why is his name celebrated on a monument to Wallowa County Pioneers? . Here's the story.


Title screen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mel Blanc, the legendary Looney Toons voice man, grew up in Portland.

The voice of Bugs Bunny went to high school in Portland

Legendary Hollywood voice man Mel Blanc's teachers weren't too impressed with his voice talents, but Oregon radio listeners and cartoon fans sure were. Here's the story.


Three Rocks Beach, Camp Westwind, the mouth of the Salmon River and Cascade  Head as they appear today.

Is there pirate loot buried at this YWCA youth camp?

The discovery of a giant skeleton in the 1930s suggested that the old Indian legend of a pirate ship sinking in the Salmon River might be true ... or maybe not. Here's the story.


This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose? Here's the story.


The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.

sHE DIED AROUND 1874. SO WHY DOES THE GRAVESTONE SAY SHE WAS A SLAVE?

Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.


Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).


Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

central oregon's most fabulous homesteader ever.

Homesteader Kitty "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, retired from the bright lights of Vaudeville, often wore full costume just to weed the garden. Here's the story.


Goal of Oregon whale hunters: Grow fur coats, and put a man on the moon.

helping put a man on the moon, one dead whale at a time?

Whale oil is special stuff, and NASA needed it for the space program. So an Astoria group launched a whaling venture in the early 1960s. Here's the story.


Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

It started out as a church seeking perfect holiness and Godliness. It ended in murder, insanity and chaos — and, yes, rumors of naked ladies. Check out the full story (in two parts).


Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

was this shipwreck insurance fraud or just drunken incompetence?

On a beautiful clear October day, astonished beach-goers watched a big windjammer simply turn and sail straight into the side of a mountain. Why would her crew do such a thing? Here's the story.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers saveD sailors' lives, were rewarded with prison.

In the early years of Prohibition, a Canadian rumrunner entered U.S. territorial waters to save the lives of nine castaways — and got caught and sent to jail anyway. Here's the story.


Steamer Admiral Evans, f.k.a. Buckman, which the two would-be pirates tried to hijack

THE dumbest would-be pirates in the history of the universe.

Their plan: Hijack a passenger steamer (that's it, in the thumbnail above), run it aground and sneak off into the bushes with 3 tons of gold. Do I need to mention that it didn't work out? Here's what happened.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

The hunt for D.B. Cooper: Searching for the drop zone

The hunt for the man who called himself Dan Cooper started just hours after he disappeared into the night sky with a bag of $20 bills tied to his waist. Did he get away? Did anyone find him? The search continues to this day.

<<First | <Previous | —This story is Part 3 of a 4-part series on the D.B. Cooper mystery.— | Next> | End>>
This is the FBI bulletin sent out after the skyjacking.

Thanksgiving Day of 1971 was a very unusual one for F.B.I. agent Ralph Himmelsbach. He spent it flying a grid pattern over southwest Washington in his Taylorcraft, staring at the ground.

Himmelsbach was hoping to spot a parachute canopy down there — a parachute that would mark the landing spot of the man who’d hijacked Northwest Orient Flight 305 the previous evening.

It was the beginning of the hunt for D.B. Cooper — a hunt that still continues to this day.

Looking for the drop zone

Investigators were already starting to zero in on the most likely spot for Cooper’s jump. A strange change in cabin pressure in the plane was reported at 8:13 p.m., and the working theory was that this was caused by Cooper jumping off the back stairs. (Investigators later confirmed this by having Marines drop a 220-pound weight off the back stairs of a 727 in flight, a job that has to have tested the nerves even of U.S. Marines.) Based on the prevailing wind direction and the location of the plane at that moment, they came up with a diamond-shaped area in which Cooper probably landed.

So the next day, the search began in earnest. Law enforcement agencies, search-and-rescue units and county sheriff’s mounted posses collected at the Woodland police station and launched a grid search of the target area.

A few days later, the searchers were joined by 400 soldiers from nearby Fort Lewis. But even so, they were probably a small minority of the people actually on the ground looking for Cooper.

This is the FBI’s map of the flight path of the airplane Cooper jumped out
of. The numbers written on the map in pencil are times of day — 20:05
means 8:05 p.m. and 20:10 means 8:10. Image is from Sluggo’s hijacking
research Website: http://n476us.com. (Image: U.S. Government)

Searchers get lots of “help”

Remember, this was Thanksgiving weekend. Virtually everyone in Oregon and Washington had the weekend off from work, and by the day after Thanksgiving thousands of locals knew exactly where authorities thought Cooper had landed. The news seemed to inspire a sudden mania for outdoor recreation. After all, chances seemed pretty good that Cooper had died in the attempt, which would mean somewhere in the hills of southwest Washington there was a monster bag of money just lying there, tied to a corpse, up for grabs.

“No one readily admitted to be looking for the ransom money,” Himmelsbach later wrote, “but many 1971-style gold rushers were tempted by the lure of a 21-pound package of $20 bills lying somewhere out there in the wilds, and were undaunted by the long odds.”

Time went by. The “gold-rushers” gave up and went home. The soldiers spent 18 days on their grid search through some of the most rugged country in the West, bivouacking each night in the field so they could pick up again the next day. They found the body of a hiker who had broken his leg and died, and other searchers found the body of a murder victim — a college girl who’d disappeared a couple weeks before while hitchhiking. But of Cooper or his parachute or the money — nothing.

By the way, they never figured out who murdered the college girl, either.

There were a couple red-hot leads that seemed to dissolve like a mirage upon first contact: a report of a big white thing floating in Lake Merwin that subsequently vanished, and a mysterious small aircraft taking off and landing by the light of someone’s car headlights near the drop zone. Nothing came of either one.

Hot tips from the public

Almost immediately, people started calling the F.B.I. with tips. Some of these were people who noticed neighbors suddenly spending lots of money; others were clearly just trying to make trouble for their personal enemies by reporting them. Investigators tried to check out each lead, but soon found themselves inundated.

And it got worse. Within a month or two, the volume of tips coming in to the FBI had gone up, and the quality had gone down. The legend of the cool-cat suit-jacketed skyjacker had fully blossomed, and many people were starting to think of him as a sort of folk hero — sticking it to The Man and getting away with it. People were writing songs, making T-shirts. Every half-drunk high roller flashing a roll of twenties at the local bar seemed to think it would be hilarious to pretend to be D.B. Cooper, and somebody at the bar would call the cops from a pay phone, and then Himmelsbach would get a call at 2 a.m. And it happened again and again.

Typed-out letters signed “D.B. Cooper” started showing up at newspaper offices, and there may actually have been several different people writing them. In any case, they didn’t lead anywhere either.

Hot tips from crackpots

And then there were the funny ones — the tips called in by self-described psychics and paranormal investigators, and by straight-up nutters and swindlers. Himmelsbach remembers one who built a black box covered with dials and switches, which he claimed functioned as a sort of mechanical bloodhound (quite what the advantage was in a bloodhound with no legs and, as soon became obvious, a non-functioning nose, was never made clear). Another got Himmelsbach’s attention by claiming to be skilled in water-witching, but subsequently rang the loony bell good and loud by revealing that he did his water-witch dousing over a topo map on his coffee table before going out to a scene to dig.

But did they search the wrong place?

The soldiers and posses came back in the spring for another go, and again found nothing. Other searchers got involved as well. A man named John Banks, convinced that Cooper landed and drowned in Lake Merwin, made a deal with the insurance company and spent two years and $15,000 exploring the bottom of the lake in a little submarine. He, too, found nothing.

Then one day, late in the 1970s, Himmelsbach was talking about the case to an airline pilot who said he’d been in the air just behind the hijacked aircraft that night. The pilot chanced to remark on how nasty the weather was, with an 80-knot wind coming right out of the south.

The south. Not the west-southwest, but the south.

The news hit Himmelsbach like a rock. If true, that meant the F.B.I. and its friends had spent the previous eight years meticulously looking in the wrong place.

But then, if the wind had shifted that way, wouldn’t the pilots of Flight 305 have noticed as well? Investigators were left wondering what to think.

Money in the riverbank

Then, in 1980, a third-grade boy named Brian Ingram, digging a flat spot for a campfire by the Columbia River on a beach known as Tena Bar, stumbled across $5,800 in water-worn $20 bills — which were immediately confirmed as the bills from the skyjacking.

The cash was bound together with rotting rubber bands, and the corners were rounded off as if they’d been tumbling in the water for some time.

But they were found upstream from the jet’s flight path and upwind from where Cooper apparently jumped. How could they have gotten there? If dropped into the river, why didn’t they get separated? Did someone stash them there? Who knows?

What really happened?

So that’s what we’re left with: A tantalizing smattering of confusing and sometimes contradictory evidence — just enough to keep the intrepid D.B. Cooper sleuths busy for decades trying to solve the case.

So, what really happened to D.B. Cooper that night? There are at least five thoroughly thought-out, highly plausible theories. Then there are another dozen or so that, although not as robust, are highly appealing as stories. For the time being, though, the question is one big mystery.

But then ... there are those of us who kind of like it that way.

Next week’s column will take a look at several of the most plausible theories about what happened to Cooper and the money.

(Sources: Himmelsbach, Ralph & al. NORJAK: The Investigation of D.B. Cooper. West Linn: Norjak Project, 1986; Gray, Geoffrey. Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper. New York: Crown, 2011; Porteous, Skipp & al. Into the Blast: The True Story of D.B. Cooper. Seattle: Adventure Books, 2010)

<<First | <Previous | —This story is Part 3 of a 4-part series on the D.B. Cooper mystery.— | Next> | End>>