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.


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.


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

What really happened
to D.B. Cooper? Pick a theory

For more than 40 years, amateurs and pros alike have put forward dozens of theories, many quite plausible and backed with some evidence. But the story seems destined to remain a delicious historical mystery.

<<First | <Previous | —This story is Part 4 of a 4-part series on the D.B. Cooper mystery.— | Next> | End>>
This hard-to-find book, written by an anonymous person claiming to
be D.B. Cooper in 1983, was printed at the Portland Daily Journal of
Commerce. Three copies are currently listed on Amazon for roughly
$160. (Image: Signum Press)

D.B. Cooper vanished on Thanksgiving’s eve like a well-dressed ghost, leaving behind only a legend — driven by questions that seemed to cry out for answers.

So let’s cut to the big set piece here: What really happened?

That all depends on whom you ask. There are at least a dozen different explanations that have been offered, by various people claiming to either be or know the real D.B. Cooper. So, who’s right? Does anyone really know?

Here are a few of the theories that have gotten the most exposure:

1. “D.B. Cooper was the rakish rascal who wrote Ha Ha Ha in 1983.”

Ha Ha Ha is one of the earliest books to have come out claiming to tell the story of what really happened to D.B. Cooper. It is, unfortunately, anonymous, but it was published by the Daily Journal of Commerce in Portland. It describes Cooper — its writer — as a hard-drinking former businessman who decided to become a crook, and embarked on a wild crime spree, pulling heists, having reckless sex with bold and bodacious women, and eventually getting sentenced to prison for a crime he didn’t commit — a technical injustice that he avenges by escaping from custody and hijacking the airplane and disappearing into the forests of Canada with gallons of $20 bills.

It’s really fun to read, actually. Unfortunately it’s out of print and very hard to find.

2. “D.B. Cooper was a guy named Paul LeClair, who died of a heart attack in the late 1970s.”

A spot-color house ad for True Magazine, which author Max
Gunther wrote articles for at the time of the skyjacking.

This claim is made by Max Gunther in D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened. Max Gunther was a staff writer for True Magazine — one of the famous “stag magazines” of the 1960s that were more or less rendered obsolete by Playboy. Classic “stag mags” were pulps for men, full of swaggering, hard-punching fiction about pirates and adventurers and stuff like that, in which hard-fisted Indiana Jones types battle their way through hordes of bad guys to rescue busty young women in skimpy, ripped-up outfits.

Gunther claims he was contacted by the hijacker in 1972 and, after winning the confidence of the hijacker and his girlfriend over a period of many years, finally learned the truth.

3. “D.B. Cooper was a transsexual dude named Barbara Dayton.”

A side-by-side comparison of Barbara Dayton, before her gender-
reassignment surgery when she was still known as Robert, and the
artist’s sketch of hijacker D.B. Cooper. (Image: Pat and Ron Forman)

This theory is put forth in The Legend of D.B. Cooper: Death by Natural Causes. This book is self-published by a couple in Washington State who make the case that D.B. Cooper was, in fact, their now-dead friend Barbara. You see, Barbara was, at birth, a gent named Bobby Dayton, and in the late 1960s he had one of the first-ever gender reassignment surgeries.

So, the theory goes, while the authorities scrounged all over southwest Washington looking for some dude in a suit, Barbara, having ditched her man-duds and wriggled into a skirt and pumps, strutted right on by with the money in an extra-large purse or something. And that, as the authors rather hilariously put it, is why the FBI “never got its man.”

Yes, this is by far the craziest D.B. Cooper origin story I know. But if you look into it, it’s actually a fairly robust theory.

4. “D.B. Cooper was a real-life Rambo named Richard McCoy.”

Two years after D.B. Cooper’s caper, an ex-Green Beret named Richard McCoy pulled a heist that was eerily similar to Cooper’s, except this one was over Utah and involved more money — and also, McCoy got caught. While McCoy was in prison afterward, a Utah state prison official named Bernie Rhodes started getting curious about some of the parallels between the two cases. After he retired, Rhodes started examining the evidence seriously and thoroughly, and came to the conclusion that McCoy wasn’t just a copycat hijacker — that he was the same guy, who, having gotten away with it once, thought he’d try again. Rhodes makes the full case for McCoy as Cooper in his book, D.B. Cooper: The Real McCoy.

5. “D.B. Cooper was ‘Rambo’ McCoy’s buddy, Duane Weber.”

On his deathbed, a man named Duane Weber confessed to his wife (whom he’d married after the hijacking) that he was D.B., and then died; she, looking into it, found a number of spooky coincidences: Weber was an old friend of Richard McCoy (Suspect No. 4, above), and he had a criminal record she didn’t know about. She remembered him waking up from a nightmare ranting about "aftstairs," and an old airline ticket she found in his sock drawer. Could it be ...?

6. “D.B. Cooper was an inside job by an airline employee named Kenny Christensen.”

This theory was suggested by private detective Skipp Porteous and book publisher Robert Blevin in their book, Into the Blast. The idea is that Christiansen, a poorly paid Northwest Orient Airline worker who happened to be an ex-paratrooper, used his inside knowledge of airline procedures to plan and execute the job. Their theory is compelling, plausible, and backed up with plenty of circumstantial evidence — something big happened to change Kenny’s bank balances right around the time of the skyjacking — but once again, there just isn’t solid proof.

7. “D.B. Cooper was a comic-book fan from Sisters, Oregon.”

This theory comes to us from the niece of the suspect, an articulate and outgoing woman named Marla Cooper, who says her uncle L.D. Cooper — a great fan of a series of French graphic novels about a paratrooper named Dan Cooper — told her he did the job and swore her to secrecy after he returned on Thanksgiving Day of 1971 all banged up and bloody.

8. “D.B. Cooper fell in the Columbia, drowned, washed out to sea and was eaten by sharks.”

This is the conventional wisdom on Cooper, if there is such a thing. Except that it’s physically impossible given where Cooper jumped and what direction the winds were blowing. It is, however, entirely possible that Cooper died in the jump, landing on somebody’s farm, and the person who found him quite sensibly buried his body and equipment, retrieved the money and threw a handful of it into the river to lead investigators to think he’d drowned in it.

A good scrounge on Google will turn up lots of other attempts to claim a solution to the D.B. Cooper mystery — ranging from somewhat plausible to straight-up goofy. There’s a book by George Nuttall, which makes the case that Cooper owed money to the mob and that J. Edgar Hoover himself stymied the investigation because he was being blackmailed by Charlie "Lucky" Luciano; a slim self-published volume by one “Mr John Fredrick James jr.” claiming to deliver “The End of the Legend” (some guy named Larry C. Lufkin); a few blog posts and forum threads that claim he was a CIA agent or a secret FBI guy; and, well, the list goes on.

Today, almost 45 years after the skyjacking, there’s not much reason to suspect that D.B. Cooper speculation will be falling out of fashion anytime soon.

(Sources: Books mentioned above by Pat and Ron Forman, Max Gunther, D.B. Cooper, Bernie Rhodes, George Nuttall, and “Mr John Fredrick James jr”; http://n467us.com; http://dropzone.com; Porteous, Skipp & al. Into the Blast. Seattle: Adventure Books, 2011; Gray, Geoffrey. Skyjack. New York: Crown, 2011)

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