Advertisement
Walter Reca, suspected of being D.B. Cooper in a memoir written by his best friend, is seen in the mid-1970s in Detroit. (Courtesy: Lisa Story)

The search for D.B. Cooper, the infamous skyjacker who has eluded authorities for 47 years, has become a legend in and of itself. New suspects have appeared and been checked out, even decades after the daring heist over the darkened Pacific Northwest one night in November 1971.

The latest person of interest is a Michigan man, identified by his best friend of many years in a new memoir.

D.B. Cooper & Me: A Criminal, A Spy, My Best Friend claims that D.B. Cooper was really Walter R. Reca Jr., a former Army paratrooper and petty criminal who got away with the heist—but eventually died in Michigan in 2014, at the age of 80.

Reca was “foolish, but brilliant”—and only in later years reportedly confessed his heist to his niece Lisa Story and his best friend Carl Laurin, the author of the memoir, unveiled Thursday at a press conference in Michigan by publisher Principia Media.

Walter Reca is shown at home in 1984. (Credit: Principia Media)

Part of the reason Reca was never caught, according to the book: federal authorities purposefully provided a false flight route to preserve where Cooper landed as a crime scene.

The book goes further, saying that Reca was never prosecuted partly because he joined the intelligence community as an operative in the years following the infamous Nov. 24, 1971 heist over Oregon and Washington.

“We believe they had bigger plans for him than going to prison,” said Vern Jones, the CEO of Principia Media, who spearheaded the investigation of the materials that Laurin brought into the process of producing the memoir.

At least one member of Reca’s family agrees with the theory. Lisa Story, Reca’s niece, said he confessed his identity as D.B. Cooper to her. The authors also cross-referenced their timeline with a man who claims to have spoken with Reca back on the ground within an hour of his jump out of the Northwest Orient 727 jet into the night sky on Nov. 24, 1971.

Principia had first been contacted by Laurin through his niece—who happens to be one of the publisher’s editors, according to the company.

Among the “mounds” of evidence compiled by Laurin over about 20 years were audio recordings of Reca describing how he pulled it off—and how he stayed ahead of the law, according to the publisher.

The publisher also enlisted the help of Joe Koenig, a retired Michigan State Police investigator who was the lead detective on the Jimmy Hoffa case in the 1980s.

“I believe that Walt Reca is D.B. Cooper,” Koenig said at the press conference Thursday night, outlining his analysis of the documentary and timeline evidence amassed by the friend over many years.

So how did D.B. Cooper spend the money?

He deposited a great deal of it across the border, in Canada—and then used it to buy a house, some furniture, and a car, according to the Principia authors.

The case of D.B. Cooper was officially closed by the FBI in 2016. The skyjacker was dressed like a business executive, with a dark suit and black tie, the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. Once the Northwest Orient jet was in the air, he pulled out a suitcase that he said was a bomb, and commandeered the plane. Upon landing in Seattle, Cooper demanded $200,000 in cash, four parachutes and food for the crew, in exchange for the 36 passengers. Once again in the air, and bound for Mexico City, the skyjacker ordered the three pilots and flight attendant into the cockpit, tied the bank bag to himself, strapped the parachute on and jumped out into the night sky.

The clip-on tie he left behind on his seat was the focus of some forensic tests last year.

One of the big conundrums within the D.B. Cooper case is the discovery in 1980 of $5,800 in three bundles, buried along the Columbia River just north of Portland. The money could have washed down the river, been buried by someone at the location or been dredged from another part of the river entirely. The new book contends that, upon landing on his feet, Reca gave some bundels of cash to the man who gave him a ride back to his house. But that driver was a criminal himself who was terrfieid of returning to prison - and either buried the cash or just tossed it in the river to get rid of it.

Richard Floyd McCoy, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, was arrested for a similar skyjacking just months later, in 1972. McCoy was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison, but escaped by making a fake handgun out of dental paste, then ramming a commandeered garbage truck through the penitentiary gate, in 1974. He was killed three months later in a shootout with federal agents in his hideout. Due to the similar modus operandi, McCoy was one of the primary D.B. Cooper suspects named by the Bureau—though he was later ruled out because he did not match detailed physical descriptions of Cooper, among other unspecific reasons.

Advertisement
Advertisement