To D. B. Cooper, whatever you are:
You've got to realize, first off, that Ralph Himmelsbach does not look kindly upon you at all.
"Sleazy" is the word the he uses, acutually." A sleazy, rotten criminal." (Ralph turns downright eloquent when he gets going on this subject.) "Nothing heroic about him, nothing glamorous, nothing admirable at all. He jeoparcized the lives of 40 people and I have no admiration at all. He was a stupid selfish. man . . ."
You may not know about Ralph. He's the FBI man who got stuck with your case the night you bailed out. If that's what you did. We still aren't sure what you did, but we figure that after you handed the Northwest Orient stewardess the bomb note (which she stuffed absently into her purse, assuming it to be some kind of indiscreet suggestion -- that must have unsettled ed you, and after the airline had handed over the $200,000 you demanded, and after the 36 passengers climbed out in Seattle -- sometime after all that, you seem to have grabbed that bundle of $20 bills and jumped down into the darkness someplace over Washington State, so that all they found when the plane finally touched down in Reno was an open rear door and the winter night air.
Anyhow, Ralph got called out that night back in November 1971, and this poor Northwest G-man has spent the last eight years nosing around all over creation in search of a dark-skinned, middle-aged, thin-featured white man who knows how to parachute and may be passing a certain sequence of $20 bills. Ralph takes calls from around the country, answers mail from Germany, examines pants found slung on Washington treetops (hoax), chases after men too short and men too young and men whose alibis place them firmly far away from the Northwest skies that night.
"Well over a thousand," Ralph says, adding up his Cooper suspects over the years. "Real, real good ones; real, real poor ones. A lot of both. And many in between."
So Ralph, naturally enough, is in charge of this latest flap. An 8-year-old found some of your money, up on the north bank of the Columbia River. Twelve piles of $20 bills. "Here's some more wood for the fire, daddy," the kid said.
Ralph sent his boys up there fast and the next day they found a few more fragments, badly decomposed.
It's all at the crime lab. Ralph thinks this is fine. Sort of a grand finale. He's going to retire in a couple of weeks. But the papers keep calling him up. Television. Magazines. Ralph hangs up by saying, "Sorry, I have four calls waiting." And every time he talks to one of these people, Ralph has to listen to the one part of your case that he just can't stand anymore. You turned into an American folk hero the night you jumped out of that plane.
Americans are not big on killing each other, generally, but they love a clever outlaw. All the reports kept talking about how polite you were, how calm, how you sat there chain-smoking Raleighs in your overcoat and your dark glasses, how you appear to have chosen the one commercial jet plane that can be safely abandoned from out the back door, how you let all the passengers get off and then carefully instructed the pilot to fly no higher than 10,000 feet.
And then you vanished.
No bones, no shredded parachute nothing.
Just once, during the flight, the cockpit crew noted a slight change in cabin pressure. If you were sitting back there in the darkness, poised on the rear step, your jump might have snapped up the steps -- and that might have altered the cabin pressure.
They studied the log, and figured the prevailing wind, and pinpointed your drop site at a God-forsaken swath of rugged Washington forest country that one FBI man describes so: "If there's any place around you wouldn't want to jump into, that'd be it."
The only other thing they ever found -- and they never could make much of it -- was a small plastic card containing instructions on operating the rear stairwell door of a 727.
People started hoping you would stay vanished, so they could keep making things up.
Jesse James meets the Loch Ness monster.
A geologist studied your money and decided it had been deposited on the river bank in August, 1974. It was a little way south of where they figure you jumped, so the river could have carried it.
Probably the river carried it.
But they don't know that, either.
D. B. Cooper, where are you now?
We're looking for you high and low
With your pleasant smile
And your dropout style,
D. B. Cooper, where did you go? (c) 1971 Fremont West Music
The song never was a wild success, partly because the airplane pilots got ticked off, which is not too hard to understand. This was after the T-shirts came out, with "D.B. Cooper, Where Are You?" There was some trouble about that, too, but the T-shirt manufacturer was cool. "They're sized only for teen-agers and older," he said. And of course the novel "Free Fall" by J. D. Reed.
Up in ariel, Wash. where you're supposed to have landed, there's an annual D. B. Cooper celebration, with Bluegrass and Budweiser and all. The bartender, a young fellow named Dave Fisher, keeps a wall full of articles about you. He has that nasty police composite sketch of you looking anemic under your little dark glasses.
"It's a small one; I'd like to get a bigger one," Fisher says. "You have a bigger one?" There's also a stone across the river from the bar -- not in real good taste, but then none of this is -- which reads, "Here Lies D. B. Cooper. We spent his money wisely."
In Ariel people turn up all the time with stories about you. There's a fellow who swears he heard an airplane door slam shut that November night. There's a man who says his daughter was startled in the darkness by a "strange-looking" man who was hurrying along the highway with a package under his arm. They talk about a hunchbacked old man, over in the next town, who had a big dream of opening up a D. B. Cooper Gift Shop, but never quite made it, and the woman from Oregon who walked into the Ariel Tavern one day with a D. B. Cooper scrapbook so complete that she had records of all the $20 bills' serial numbers.
You brought in, at various intervals, a 100-man posse, 10 patrol cars, six helicopters, skindivers, truckdrivers, storytellers and a little retired man from Portland who used to spend every summer combing the woods around Ariel in his Japanese pickup truck. One Ariel fellow is tearing up the walls of his house right now, partly because it needs remodeling, but partly because he has this feeling that somewhere in the basement, or under the insulation, he's going to find the Cooper fortune and settle back for life.
You ought to know, also, that you started a lousy trend. There were a half-dozen skyjackings in the months after you jumped; none of them worked, and one of the skyjackers got killed by an FBI sharpshooter in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
It's your fault, when you get right down to it, that we have to stand in those Do Not Make Jokes baggage inspection lines at the airport.
The airline people do not think you're any kind of hero at all.
Ralph Himmelsbach thinks you're scum.
He also thinks you probably never survived the jump.
Dave Fisher, in his heart of hearts, would like to believe youRe out there, somewhere, wondering why it took him eight years to find the money you buried. "You know," he says. "Try to throw the FBI off the track.
"He put Ariel on the map," Fisher says. "He was the first guy to do it. He got away with it, apparently. He didn't hurt anybody in the process."
If you happen to be up in Washington next November, Fisher wants you to drop on by. "Come down anytime," he says. "If it's past closing time, knock on the door. We'd like to talk. No strings attached."