In the past few days, I have been contacted by two news agencies about the Dan (D. B.) Cooper case. A TV reporter, Joe English, was at Lake Merwin, one of Cooper’s alleged landing places, and talked with an acquaintance who, as I understand, said something about knowing a man who took Cooper to the airport.
It’s not true — but almost. Some of the details have become vague, but it has been 40 years and I only think about it once a year. Nevertheless, this is my story.
In 1971, I was married with three children and a student at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. On the evening of Nov. 23, I was leaving our student housing for a Boy Scout leader meeting when I was approached by a young man, early 20s by appearance, who asked for a ride to the bus station. It was not an unusual request because it was the eve of Thanksgiving break and hitching an in-town ride was a common student-to-student request. I just assumed him to be a fellow student. Neither was it unusual that he wore gloves and combat boots.
I was already tired from working a graveyard shift at an Ellensburg grocery store and attending classes most of the day. The Greyhound station was a little out of the way for me, but it would make me only a few minutes late.
As we neared an intersection in my Chevy Nova, he asked me to turn left. I told him that the station was straight ahead. He displayed a pistol. My military and other weapons experience helped me recognize it as a .22 automatic, perhaps a Ruger. The road he wanted would take us through the “canyon” to Yakima.
As I drove, I glanced at him to get a description in my mind. Each time, he told me to keep my eyes on the road. When we got to Yakima, I plotted an escape and told him that I was nearly out of gas. That was true, but I thought I could get to a well-lighted place with witnesses or help. He told me to keep going south to Union Gap and stop at the cash station. I had not seen one before, but as I remember, the pumps were set up to take fives or ones and dispense gas after the deposit. I planned to make a break for it if I saw an attendant, but there was none and the pistol was out the entire time I was outside the car. I thought he was going to take the car after I put gas in the tank, but he didn’t.
We went south on Highway 97. As we approached the toll bridge crossing to Biggs Junction, Ore., I planned to jump out and get help from the attendant. As we neared the booth and I slowed my car, my passenger hid the pistol under the military field jacket he wore. The man at the booth was what I considered elderly. For whatever reason, I thought it would not make sense to endanger him. There were no other cars stopped to pay a toll. In fact, traffic was light during the whole trip. In retrospect, if his intent was to get rid of me, it would have been done on one of the isolated roads we traveled.
We turned onto the interstate toward Portland and I developed another plan: I would speed and get stopped by the Oregon State Patrol. But as I gradually increased the speed, I was told to keep it at the limit.
I was not familiar with downtown Portland but his directions were explicit. I realized he knew exactly where he wanted to go. I’ll not forget where he got out of my car — Fourth and Jackson. I found a phone booth on the next block and called the Portland police. A car responded to my location within minutes.
I related my situation and gave a description of my abductor. The officer said it fit many young men they would see in that area. I did not know I was just a few blocks from Portland State University. Within a few minutes of his broadcasting a description on the radio, another patrol car brought someone for me to identify. Not him! Only the clothing matched.
We left my car on the street and went to the station so I could call my wife in Ellensburg and make a written statement. They brought in another young man. Again, only the clothing matched. I was told I needed to make another report in Ellensburg since the incident started there, and that the FBI would be contacted. When they took me back to my car, it would not start — dead battery. They gave me a jump and I was on my way.
I arrived home early on the 24th. Later that day I made a report at Ellensburg Police Department and they put together a composite picture (later published in the Ellensburg Daily Record).
That evening, an FBI agent contacted me at our apartment. He asked if we could talk in his car because he wanted to keep apprised of another situation being broadcast on his scanner. My story of the previous hours was frequently interrupted by radio updates about a Northwest Airline jet commandeered by a man who had apparently boarded in Portland.
The person to whom I gave a ride was young, and there were a few similarities but more things that were dissimilar. But the timing of my being taken on a road trip against my will makes this a good addition to all the myths about Dan Cooper.