The Legend of D.B. Cooper
D.B. Cooper is the alias of the infamous skyjacker who pulled off America's only unsolved airplane hijacking in 1971. A man calling himself "Dan Cooper" boarded a Boeing 727 in Portland, OR on Thanksgiving Eve, 1971. During the flight, he took over the plane with what appeared to be a bomb in his briefcase. He demanded a $200,000 ransom before jumping out of the plane at 10,000 feet, never to be seen again. For 46 years, his case has stumped the FBI, private investigators, and the general public. No one could prove whether he survived the jump or had spent the money.
How the Truth Was Revealed
Founded in 2011, Grand Rapids, MI-based book publisher Principia Media identified its mission: to present books that intrigue and awaken curiosity in the reader. Publisher and CEO Vern Jones says, “I’d rather we publish just one great book a year than several mediocre ones.” And little did Jones know that his vision was about to come true in 2016, when the company began work on its latest title.
Principia’s catalogue features a wide range of subject matter and strives to contribute titles that are thought-provoking and compelling to the reader, including topics from investigative to memoir and beyond.
Introducing Carl Laurin to Principia Media
In the early part of 2016, Principia Editor Lisa McNeilley contacted Dirk Wierenga, its Director of Publishing, and explained that her uncle had a manuscript for them to consider publishing. He did not trust big publishers, from personal experience, and wanted to work with a small publisher he could have confidence in. Wierenga called Jones and explained the potential bombshell of a book to him: the manuscript not only purported to solve a decades old crime, but revealed a fascinating character that led a life of danger, deceit and intrigue.
Wierenga relayed the details of his hour-long conversation with the author, Carl, about his friend
- who happened to be D.B. Cooper, the famous skyjacker - to Jones. “I am a die-hard skeptic of anything that resembles a conspiracy or a miraculous discovery,” said Jones. Wierenga encouraged Jones to contact the author and to keep an open mind.
Reluctantly agreeing to do so, Jones called Carl, expecting it to be a very short conversation. They spoke for over two hours. Carl was convinced that his friend was D.B. Cooper, and said he had evidence to back up his claims. Jones later learned that he had been working on unraveling this mystery for nearly 20 years. The two arranged a face-to-face meeting at the author’s home, on April Fool’s day, no less.
The Plot Thickens
There, Carl gave Jones a tour of his home and “research” trailer. He learned of Cooper’s beginnings as a member of a crazy and reckless group of young men who pioneered the sport of recreational skydiving. He also learned of Cooper’s early brushes with the law, his time as an enforcer for the Teamsters under Hoffa, jumping bail after an armed robbery, and later hijacking a plane and parachuting out. Carl also revealed the identity of Jeff Osiadacz, later nicknamed Cowboy, who claimed to have met Cooper about 20 minutes after he landed near a town just over 90 miles southeast of Seattle. Cowboy was willing to speak with Jones about the events of that pivotal evening. The content of the conversation was also backed up by mounds of credible evidence.
Then, the story became interesting. Jones learned that the hijacking of a Boeing 727 on the eve of Thanksgiving in 1971 was the least dangerous, least interesting and least illegal thing that D.B. Cooper had done. He would go on to lead a life filled with duplicity, betrayal and deception, and integrated himself into the most notorious crime stories across the globe.
On April 2, 2016, Principia Media decided to take on the project. Contracts were written between Carl and publisher, and on May 6, the formal agreement was signed.
The Documentary Film
During a photo session with Carl and his wife, Jones and Wierenga noticed some audio cassette tapes lying around his research room. When asked what was on them, Carl casually said, “The conversations I had with Cooper about the hijacking and the activities following.” Jones says, “We now had the unbelievable opportunity to actually listen to Walt describe the hijacking, how he spent the money and his incredible life after.” Carl then provided an incredible trail of evidence, including passports, diaries, newspaper clippings, and address books.
That evening Jones and Wierenga decided that this project became much more than an interesting memoir, and decided to begin the pursuit of a documentary. “I wasn’t yet convinced that our story was about the real identity of Cooper,” says Jones, “but even if this man wasn’t him, it still was a story that captured my imagination. We wanted to pursue it.”
Examining the Evidence
During a family trip to climb Mount St. Helens in August 2016, Jones and step-daughter, Julie Hurley, arranged a meeting with Cowboy, the man who observed Cooper walking down the road the night of the hijacking, and then later at a diner. During the taped interview, Cowboy was very open and convincing. He appeared to speak freely, spoke in the first person past tense and didn’t appear to be exaggerating, as he recalled the chance meeting that night.
Throughout the months of April through July, Jones and Wierenga were diligently working to investigate all corners of this unbelievable story. They matched Carl’s claims with newspaper clippings, Freedom of Information Act documents and all other correlative documents they could locate. As they dug deeper, they kept discovering more and more astonishing details about Cooper’s life. They needed help.
Principia author Joe Koenig, who wrote Getting The Truth, is a retired Inspector from the Michigan State Police, and was the lead investigator in the James R. Hoffa case. His career also included investigations of homicides, organized crime, nancial crime, computer fraud and public corruption. He is a private investigator and forensic linguist expert. He agreed to help the Principia team.
While Koenig was meticulously reviewing all of the evidence, Wierenga was traveling the country to shoot footage of people, places and things that the evidence connected to Cooper. The book manuscript was coming along, and an editor was brought on board to refine the story.
As completion of the book and documentary were nearing their end, the Principia team knew that a project of this scope and public interest needed to be presented in a very careful way. They retained the Bultema Group of Grand Rapids, Michigan, to handle media relations and the public roll-out. Though Principia Media has investigated this story for two and half years and spent hundreds of hours fact-checking every possible detail, Carl has labored for 20 years. He’s been duped by industry professionals and was hesitant to work with another publisher. However, as with many Principia authors, Carl has become a friend to the Principia team. For Jones, his singular hope for this project was for Carl to see his book become a reality.
Significant People in the Life of D.B. Cooper
Walter “Walt” R. Reca Jr., Alias - D.B. Cooper
The real D.B. Cooper. Former military paratrooper, orphan, daredevil, and sometime clandestine agent. Believed it was “better to be dead than poor.” Polish heritage with Catholic roots. Former barber. Chain smoker. Born September 20, 1933. Went to his grave with secrets untold, beloved and mourned by his best friend Carl.
Carl “Charlie Brown” Laurin, Best Friend to Walter Reca
Best friends with Walt; trusted with Walt’s confession to the D.B. Cooper hijacking. A former military paratrooper, Carl shared Walt’s love of parachuting and his daring, foolish stunts. Carl was a founding member of the Michigan Parachute Club, of which Walt was a key member. Risking their lives together, Carl and Walt were like brothers.
Vern Jones, CEO of Principia Media
Vern is a multi-business entrepreneur, speaker, and author. He was first introduced to Carl in 2016, where the unusual story of Walt’s secret identity caught his attention. Vern, initially skeptical, has led his team on a two-year investigation of Carl’s story and found it to be truthful.
Dirk Wierenga, Director of Publishing Services at Principia Media
After selling his own publishing house, Dirk joined the Principia team to help craft new stories. He brings years of publishing experience to the table, in addition to expertise in filmmaking and producing documentaries. Dirk played a central role in the investigation.
Lisa Story, Niece to Walter Reca
Walter Reca’s niece by his sister Sandy, and one of two people to whom Walt confessed the hijacking. Now a PR professional in the Western United States, Lisa has decided to honor her uncle’s memory by sharing his story with the world.
Jeff “Cowboy” Osiadacz, Eyewitness
The first person to interact with Walt immediately after the hijacking. After landing near Cle Elum, Washington and walking to a nearby cafe, Walt asked Jeff to give directions over the phone to Don Brennan so that Walt could get a ride home.
Joe Koenig, Forensic Linguist
Joe is a Certified Fraud Examiner and was brought into the D.B. Cooper investigation by the Principia Media team. Joe spent 26 years working for the Michigan State Police and has 45 years of investigative experience. He is past president of the Michigan FBI National Academy Associates.