Wednesday, August 4, 2021

MYSTERY SOLVED! D.B. Cooper was my friend

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D.B Cooper Depoe Bay
WOLFGANG GOSSETT upon his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1974, was the spitting image of D.B. Cooper, as described to FBI sketch artists.

He was the soldier who became a skyjacker, the skyjacker who became a priest, and the priest who lived and died in Depoe Bay. He was D.B. Cooper, the most famous fugitive on earth, and he was my friend.

Just another fantastic Beasley yarn, you say? Not according to Galen Cook, a Spokane, Wash. lawyer who is the nation’s leading authority on D.B. Cooper, the famous air pirate who skyjacked a Northwest Orient Boeing 727 from Seattle to Portland on the night of Nov. 24, 1971, and parachuted into the black night with $200,000 in ransom money. I followed the breathless newspaper stories from Ft. Benning, Georgia, where we all agreed in the grungy Ranger Bar under a white-linen officers club it had to be an Army paratrooper that pulled off the outrageous stunt.

FBI COMPOSITE SKETCHES (left and right) of D.B. Cooper, painstakingly drawn from over 40 eyewitnesses.
FBI COMPOSITE SKETCHES (left and right) of D.B. Cooper, painstakingly drawn from over 40 eyewitnesses.

The newspaper stories had disappeared like D.B. Cooper 40 years later as I was working late at my newspaper office in Depoe Bay when the push-button phone rang. Galen Cook, who I’d never heard of, called me out of the blue and revealed why he was convinced that the late Depoe Bay mystery man, Wolfgang Gossett, was the infamous skyjacker D.B. Cooper.

WILLIAM ‘BILL’ GOSSETT, war hero and expert parachutist, who later changed his name to Wolfgang and retired to Depoe Bay and the comfortable bar at Gracie’s Sea Hag (above.) — Photo by Rick Beasley
WILLIAM ‘BILL’ GOSSETT, war hero and expert parachutist, who later changed his name to Wolfgang and retired to Depoe Bay and the comfortable bar at Gracie’s Sea Hag (above.) — Photo by Rick Beasley

Galen Cook has been on the trail of D.B. Cooper since the 1980s and had interviewed hundreds of people close to the case, including eyewitnesses on the ill-fated flight, crewmembers, FBI agents, other suspects and parachuting experts — including my old jumping buddy, Portland-area DZ operator Ralph Hatley. The trail seemed to go cold at every turn until a break in the case in late 2007, thanks to the national radio show Coast-to-Coast AM, the popular late-night program for 2.5 million insomniacs. Host Ian Punnett was interviewing Cook when a caller — Gossett’s son, Greg, a corrections officer and one of five children — said he believed his father was D.B. Cooper.

Family members have helped the police solve thousands of important crimes such as the Unabomber case, so Cook took the tip seriously and began a six-month investigation that brought him on at least four occasions to Depoe Bay where he interviewed people who knew “Wolf” Gossett intimately. Among the people he spoke with were Depoe Bay resident C.J. Winter, Gossett’s caretaker in the last years of his life, a Newport attorney, Jim Bjornsen, who claimed to have known Gossett’s dark secret and, of course, me. I considered Gossett, a fellow veteran, a rare find among drinking buddies and wrote his obituary on the day he died, Sept. 1, 2003.

Dozens of other people who knew Gossett including family members and ex-wives, people with whom he served in the military, co-workers in the court system and law enforcement officials who knew him as a private investigator, cooperated and in many cases revealed their belief that Gossett carried an ominous secret that had something to do with the D.B. Cooper case. He often dropped hints about the skyjacking that some people took as merely a fascination for the topic.

HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MAN? Rick Beasley, Homepage columnist, has.
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MAN? Rick Beasley, Homepage columnist, has.

“He told his last wife, Elaine Hetschel, that he would write D.B. Cooper’s epitaph,” Cook recalled. “There were others that said he always talked about D.B. Cooper. There was all this third-person narrative, but he never told the people closest to him, ‘I did the job.’”

But Gossett did confess to at least two people, according to Cook. One is a retired Salt Lake City judge who was Gossett’s boss and close friend when he worked in the Salt Lake City public defender’s office.

“Wolfgang and I were on very good terms,” the judge recalled in his interview with Galen Cook. “In 1977 he walked into my office and closed the door and said he thought he might be in some trouble, that he was involved in a hijacking in Portland and Seattle a few years ago and that he might have left prints behind. He said he was D.B. Cooper. I told him to keep his mouth shut and don’t do anything stupid, and not to bring it up again.”

The other person who claims to have known Gossett’s secret was a retired Newport attorney who befriended Gossett and once took him on a mysterious trip to a Vancouver, B.C. bank where some of the ransom money may have been stashed in a lock box.

“A lot of credible people in his past told me that Gossett could have been D.B. Cooper,” Cook said. “They believe he could have gotten away with it. He had the training, the motive and the opportunity, and the more I got into this case, the more he started to become the most viable suspect ever. The circumstantial evidence is really strong. I feel we’ve got the right guy.”

Cook spent time at the C.J. Winter home in Depoe Bay where he went through the belongings of Gossett and collected a bandana with a set of Airborne wings that Wolfgang wore at all times. The bandana contained hair strands that could have provided conclusive DNA proof that Gossett was the hijacker. The only thing standing in the way was cooperation from the FBI, which claimed to have a DNA sample from the clip-on tie that D.B. Cooper left aboard the airplane, as well as a partial print from a cocktail glass. The much-vaunted federal agency remained silent on the issue until July, 2016, when it announced it was ending the investigation without a case.

Gossett’s personal history is eye-popping and could be ripped from the pages of a spy novel. Galen Cook’s research, documented by official records, revealed that he was born William Pratt Gossett in San Diego in 1930, the son of a Navy commander later stationed at Pearl Harbor. At the age of 11, ‘Bill’ Gossett witnessed Japanese bombers attacking the base. In 1946 at age 16, Gossett joined the Army Air Force, then switched branches in 1954 to become a U.S. Marine. After 10 years in the Corps, he transferred to the U.S. Army, serving one tour in Korea and two tours in Vietnam, where he earned a Purple Heart for wounds and several awards for valor. Throughout his military career, he attended dozens of elite Armed Services schools where he learned military law, fluent French — he did a tour at the U.S. embassy in France — and became a skilled survivalist and combat parachutist with hundreds of high-altitude and night jumps. He finished his career as an ROTC instructor and retired from the Army at Ft. Lewis, Wash., in 1973, less than two years after the notorious skyjacking.

Gossett’s personal history was eye-popping and could be ripped from the pages of a spy novel. In Vietnam, he earned a Purple Heart for wounds and several awards for valor.
Gossett’s personal history was eye-popping and could be ripped from the pages of a spy novel. In Vietnam, he earned a Purple Heart for wounds and several awards for valor.

Gossett returned to Utah, where he had inaugurated the ROTC program at Weber State College, and became a private detective specializing in money fraud, cults and missing persons. His biggest moment came when he assisted the FBI in rescuing a woman from the Bhagwan Rajneesh’s compound in Antelope, Ore. Among the documents Galen Cook found among Gossett’s personal belongings at the Depoe Bay home was a letter of commendation from the FBI.

Gossett also worked for the public defender’s office in Salt Lake City, where he was well-known and respected by police and court officials including the police chief of Ogden, Utah, who said Gossett “could eat bullets and call it a meal.”

In another amazing twist to Gossett’s life, he officially changed his name to “Wolfgang” and became a priest in the Old Catholic Church, SLC Diocese, in 1988 — a move that answered, according to family members, a spiritual calling that he’d always heard. Finally, in 1994, Gossett moved to Newport where he worked for the late attorney Dan Poling. As I recall, ‘Wolf’ did some paralegal work for the Siletz Tribe.

Gossett, before retiring to Depoe Bay where he became known as a man about town who had many friends, often won at the gaming machines at Gracie’s Sea Hag and spoke-out at City Council meetings on a variety of issues.

What many people didn’t know is that Gossett had a dark side, including four failed marriages, five children and money troubles from gambling. Cook’s research places Gossett in Ogden, Utah, around the time of the skyjacking. He was an ROTC instructor making $15,000 per year, and newly separated from his wife. Galen Cook said that Gossett chose the date for the heist because he had a week off from his Army duties.

“Opportunity, and a brilliant plan, was the key to the whole D.B. Cooper thing,” Cook said. “He didn’t have to be at work or at home. He had the level of skills and ability to plan the entire thing with military precision, and to not only parachute from the plane but to survive.”

According to Cook, Gossett took a flight from Ogden to San Francisco where he donned his Dan Cooper disguise. The name ‘Dan’ was Gossett’s inside joke. He had a brother, now deceased, named Danny. Growing up, he would always blame Danny whenever he got into trouble by declaring, “Danny did it!” The name Cooper appears to be randomly picked. Portland police mistakenly came up with the initials “D.B.” during their investigation, and the name stuck.

WOLFGANG GOSSETT upon his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1974, was the spitting image of D.B. Cooper, as described to FBI sketch artists.
WOLFGANG GOSSETT upon his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1974, was the spitting image of D.B. Cooper, as described to FBI sketch artists.

“My research indicates that the reason he avoided detection on the night of the jump and the following days was because searchers were looking in the wrong state,” Cook said. “D.B. Cooper cleared the Columbia River and landed in Oregon, where he made his way back to the airport and returned to Utah. It took him three days, in and out.”

Galen Cook has tied-up many of the loose threads of the case, such as the mystery over some of the ransom money that was discovered on a Columbia River bar in 1980. He also knows how D.B. Cooper selected the one parachute among the three brought to the aircraft that actually worked. But those details, and others, will have to simmer until the publication of his book. Cook left for Alaska, where he said he would sequester himself at his father’s home for three months to write the last chapter on the D.B. Cooper caper.

“It’s an incredible story,” he asserted. “The air pirate who became a priest and marries and buries people when he’s not out helping the FBI solve criminal cases. And in later life he becomes civic-minded by attending City Council meetings in Depoe Bay and becomes a late-life jogger who runs around town wearing his military parachute badge on his headband to remind himself of who he really is. This story is going to be a blockbuster.”

I never heard from Galen Cook again. But as the 49th anniversary of this record skydive looms, my memories of Wolfgang Gossett still resonate with obvious clues. Maybe I missed them because of the second martini, or maybe I knew it all the time: D.B. Cooper was a friend of mine.

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Rick Beasley
Rick Beasley is a simple writer who collects sniper rifles for a hobby. He has worked for numerous newspapers throughout his many years in the news business, including his own, the Depoe Bay Beacon.

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28 COMMENTS

  1. The sketch looks as much like him as the sketch of the Zodiac Killer does. That does not mean he is the Zodiac Killer as well, does it? So what, he committed a crime.

    All of us have broken “the law” at some point, right? Some have committed more terrible crimes than others, but, we all have done it. Let ye who have… enough about that.

    The guy had brains, he had guts and he was intrepid. Most people would have never taken a chance like that. For those reasons al;one I have to respect the man.

    No matter what motivated him, I will not judge the man a criminal. Let’s just say he made a decision to do something wrong for the right reason… because he could.

  2. “Personally, I can’t see how he could have survived the jump”

    I can. He actually knew *a lot* about the plane. Everything he needed to know, really. He even told the pilot exactly how to fly it, before the jump (they did due to potential hostage situation). He was a marine *at the time* (not even retired). A veteran, exceptionally experienced jumper in the military, who received many awards. He made many jumps in similar conditions. He would have known roughly whereabout the plane was, because he lived in the area, and pre-calculated the route based on time. No way he would jump over water, it was all calculated.

    Walking is no problem for marines. He was in exceptionally good physical condition, and used to walking/running long distances throughout his career, and life (as mentioned in the article).

    He wouldn’t be spotted – it was pouring rain, everyone was indoors. Even if there was a stray person outside, there is no way they’d care about him as they are trying to get indoors to avoid the rain. He wouldn’t need or want an accomplice – he doesn’t need help, that only severely complicates things.

    The cash – he buried $5,800, a small fraction of the $200,000 in the riverbank before crossing. Why? Simple – he needed to ensure that if he accidentally lost hold of the bag with the cash, or had to let it go, he’d be able to swim back across and at least recover enough cash to get home. This was considered a small loss, and an example of exactly how a marine would think.

  3. I don’t see him as any kind of hero, the guy allegedly had a bomb, that must have been terrifying for the crew.

    Personally, I can’t see how he could have survived the jump, it was cold and stormy, and surely he can’t have had any real idea where he was jumping because, according to reports, he jumped ABOVE cloud cover.

    Think about that. Any safe parachute jump requires the landing area to be known to be safe. If he landed in a river or large body of water, the water would bring his body temperature down pretty quick, also he could very easily drown as the parachute and clothing got wet: water landings always have parachutists release the parachute just as they hit for this reason.

    If he landed in forest at night, he’d risk breaking legs, or perhaps even stuck in a tree, so surely he’d have to have had a known area to land…which isn’t possible jumping from above the clouds!

    Then we have the fact that he’d have to walk an unknown distance – without being spotted when he got to civilisation – in ordinary shoes and clothing….seems improbable, as well as the fact that ordinary shoes could easily have come off his feet while jumping, and for sure increase the chances of damaging/breaking an ankle upon landing.

    He can’t have met up with an accomplice because how would he know when he jumped how close to where the accomplice was?

    I do not believe the found money was planted. It was buried, and by all accounts the rubber band wouldn’t last a year in the open environment, so it’d have to have been buried within a year of the jump. Cooper would surely not return to the general area just to bury some cash. Especially as if it is buried there is only a very small chance it would ever be found…unless he buried little bundles all over the place.

    Nope. For me he died that night or close to it. He parachuted in a storm, above cloud cover, with no idea where he was going to land…dressed inappropriately. If he hit water e likely drowned, because the cold water would incapacitate him within minutes, if he hit land he’d most likely hurt something, he had a military chute and no idea when he’d impact, he’d most likely hurt something if he hit level land like a field, if he hit some trees he likely died soon after.

    The only thing that puzzles me is the fact that he seemed to have everything figured out: why was the jump phase so full of dangerous unknowns?

  4. At least he still is having his name and image bandied about..And people are arguing and casting aspersions..He would love it.. whoever he was..

  5. Interesting account, and I hope I get to read the book.

    But there’s no way he’s the “spitting image” of the artist’s sketch. The sketch features a thin now and pointed chin, whereas the photo shows a wide nose and a rounded chin.

    Not saying he couldn’t be Cooper though

  6. Doug – the Attorney did not plant the money – Cooper/Gossett planted it there to throw the FBI off his trail – Within a year another guy hijacked a 727 and bailed out – and he survived – but he as not very smart and kept the money with him that’s why he was caught. D>D> Cooper was much smarter then that –

  7. Kevin the money that was found – was many miles up river on the Columbia – it could not have floated up there – I suspect it was buried there to throw the FBI further off the trail. As for dying during the jump I don’t buy it. do i think he could be DB Cooper – oh yes – he had the skills and the balls to do it. And yes he was a friend – however he never told me he was DB Cooper. 2021 is the 50th Anniversary of the Hijacking – I suspect the book will be out by November.. You have to understand the FBI – since the days of J Edgar Hoover – the FBI is Legend in their own minds. To have someone besides the FBI solve this crime – is a big hammer on them. Remember sketches of the suspect are never close to what the person actually looks like.

  8. An interesting article, but why has the FBI aborted their investigation of the D.B. Cooper case ??? This case is the only case that the FBI has discontinued, I’m sure the feds would have loved to have announced that they had “solved” the case. The legend of D.B. Cooper will continue to grow until someone or some institution solves the riddle of “who was that guy”.

  9. Great Article. Had a Friend that worked the Case. I believe that the money was planted by a befriended retired Newport attorney. He knew where the rest of the money was but also knew he could not spend marked money.

  10. Cooper took off the tie he was wearing and left it on the airplane he jumped out of. Cooper’s DNA was successfully from the tie. Was the DNA from Wolfgang Gossett obtained? If it was obtained and matched Cooper’s DNA then we would know that Gossett and Cooper were the same person.

  11. Rick,
    Fascinating article! My mom ‘Gracie’ would be proud to know he was drinking one of her famous Bloody Mary’s. I might mention Carrie, this man did NO harm to anyone…just saying!

    Nansee Strom-Bruce

  12. Carrie. Good point. The fact a judge told him to stay quiet is pretty bad. I hate when people make criminals into heroes because the story is interesting. Although when they do that to serial killers it’s far worse…………… This article gets a lot of things wrong like the where the plane was headed, the Portland Police getting DB’s name wrong when it was the news paper, and making it sound like the FBI didn’t bother to test his DNA (they tested everybody they could). They also didn’t mention the titanium alloy particles found on his tie that could only be traced to a few places in 1970. This is even more damning than a DNA hair sample they only think might be his.

  13. Great article. Thank you. As a kid growing up in Salem at the time of DB Cooper’s jump, the whole saga captured the imagination – a thrilling adventure in boring old Oregon. It was fascinating then and again years later when the story would resurface every decade or so. This time is no different, except the mystery may finally be solved. Enjoy read. Thanks again.

  14. Yes he was a criminal but in life he made amends spiritually, had many friends, and oddly worked with folks in law enforcement. Who knows why he did the crime; the article lists all his Military perhaps he snapped from all the child support he had to pay plus alimony to 4 ex-wife’s. I pray he was right with God before he breathed his last breath. Sure is a great store and I want to buy the book!

  15. Ron, You win the asinine comment of the week. “Power to judge and assume”, you say. Assume what? That a crime as been committed? No assumption there, it’s a fact – theft and hijacking a plane are crimes. And your justification for letting a criminal off the hook is “meanwhile american leaders are enslaving and stealing from us all via terrorism”. Really? A worse wrong (happening in your mind, anyway) makes other wrongs ok? If you were Chinese, you’d probably justify an assassin because, after all, the Chinese government disappears people quite regularly, so who are we to judge?

    So as you told Carrie, “get a clue!” “Fact. Not an opinion.”

  16. The guy died parachuting. They found some of the money years ago
    at the mouth of a river.
    He was a criminal, and basically a terrorist, he’s dead.
    Now we can get onto looking for Bigfoot.

  17. Carrie… being the classic merican.. self made power to judge and assume..meanwhile american leaders are enslaving and stealing from us all via terrorism.. get a clue!
    P.S. Rick Beasley is a far better man than most! World needs more like him! Fact. Not an opinion.

  18. He was not Robin Hood… He was a criminal who was assisted by those who knew. How do you brag that “He was my friend..a good old boy!” You should say “I aided and abetted a thief and that makes me ?”

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