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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The true, unsolved story of D. B. Cooper’s 1971 airplane hijacking, one of the greatest cold cases of the twentieth century
“Here is writing and storytelling that is vivid and fresh—a delectable adventure.”—Gay Talese
“I have a bomb here and I would like you to sit by me.”
That was the note handed to a stewardess by a mild-mannered passenger on a Northwest Orient flight in 1971. It was also the start of one of the most astonishing aviation whodunits in the history of American true crime: how one man extorted $200,000 from an airline before parachuting into the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, never to be seen again.
The case of D. B. Cooper is a modern legend that has obsessed and cursed his pursuers for generations with everything from bankruptcy to suicidal despair. Now, with Skyjack, Geoffrey Gray obtains a first-ever look at the FBI’s confidential Cooper file, uncovering new leads in the infamous case.
Starting with a crack tip from a private investigator, Gray plunges into the murky depths of the decades-old mystery to chase down new clues and explore secrets of the case’s most prominent suspects, including Ralph Himmelsbach, the most dogged of FBI agents, who watched with horror as a criminal became a counter-culture folk hero; Karl Fleming, a respected reporter whose career was destroyed by a D. B. Cooper scoop that was a scam; and Barbara (née Bobby) Dayton, a transgender pilot who insisted she was Cooper herself. With explosive new information, Skyjack reopens one of the great cold cases of the twentieth century.
In 1971, hijacker D.B. Cooper vanished after he parachuted from a Northwest Orient Airlines jet with $200,000 in extorted cash. He became a legendary figure, the subject of, among others, a feature film (starring Treat Williams) and at least a dozen books. Since the Cooper case is unsolved, what more is there to say? In October 2007, Gray wrote an article for New York magazine speculating that Cooper had been Kenneth Christiansen, a Northwest Airlines purser and former paratrooper who died in 1994. Now, in this full-scale probe of Christiansen and other suspects, Gray reconstructs the hijacking, the jump, investigations, and aftermath, interviewing retired FBI agents, Northwest officials, passengers, and one of the only living eyewitnesses, stewardess Florence Schaffner, who had direct contact with Cooper on the plane. The solid journalistic approach of the New York article is replaced by an annoying present tense and a fast-paced style with occasional padding, such as this description of Schaffner: "She is a specimen of red. Red lipstick. Red nail polish. Red uniform... the coral red you find on a necklace." But by introducing intriguing theories, curious clues, and a parade of characters who claim a Cooper connection, Gray successfully milks the mystery and generates suspense while adding fuel to Cooper's folk-hero reputation.