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Skyjack: The Hunt for D. B. Cooper [Hardcover]

Geoffrey Gray


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Book Description

Aug. 9 2011
“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 the start of one of the most astonishing whodunits in the history of American true crime: how one man extorted $200,000 from an airline, then parachuted into the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and into oblivion. D. B. Cooper’s case has become the stuff of legend and obsessed and cursed his pursuers with everything from bankruptcy to suicidal despair. Now with Skyjack, journalist Geoffrey Gray delves into this unsolved mystery uncovering new leads in the infamous case.
 
Starting with a tip from a private investigator into a promising suspect (a Cooper lookalike, Northwest employee, and trained paratrooper), Gray is propelled into the murky depths of a decades-old mystery, conducting new interviews and obtaining a first-ever look at Cooper’s FBI file. Beginning with a heartstopping and unprecedented recreation of the crime itself, from cabin to cockpit to tower, and uncanny portraits of characters who either chased Cooper or might have committed the crime, including Ralph Himmelsbach, the most dogged of FBI agents, who watched with horror as a criminal became a counter-culture folk hero who supposedly shafted the system…Karl Fleming, a respected reporter whose career was destroyed by a Cooper scoop that was a scam…and Barbara (nee Bobby) Dayton, a transgendered pilot who insisted she was Cooper herself.
 
With explosive new information and exclusive access to FBI files and forensic evidence, Skyjack reopens one of the great cold cases of the 20th century.

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Review

“Out of the wild blue yonder comes this pleasing tale of obsession and mystery. Geoffrey Gray has essentially parachuted into the early 1970s and found a nearly forgotten episode that elucidates a swath of our cultural history. The result is a clean, smart whodunit full of quirky characters, imaginative sleuthing, and thrilling surprises.”
Hampton Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail

“Here is writing and storytelling that is vivid and fresh—a delectable adventure from a talented new author.”
—Gay Talese

“With verve and assurance worthy of his protagonist, Geoffrey Gray pulls readers along on a kaleidoscopic chase through the cult of Cooper. Both a masterful re-creation of the paranoid 1970s, and an exhilarating firsthand account of an erosive obsession, Skyjack takes us down the rabbit hole with Gray—and what a journey it is.”
—James  Swanson, author of Manhunt and Bloody Crimes

“Who was D.B. Cooper? In SKYJACK, Geoffrey Gray lures in the reader with this iconic unsolved mystery, and for the next 290 pages explores a story as attention-grabbing as a bag of hot money. D.B. Cooper emerges as the great McGuffin of 1970s America, a prism through which Gray exploits to the fullest with his propulsive writing style, mad commitment to detail, and explores everything from the early years of gender reassignment surgery to the birth of airline security culture to the ghostly legends of the Pacific Northwest's Dark Divide.”
—Evan Wright, New York Times bestselling author of Generation Kill

“SKYJACK tells the legendary story of D.B. Cooper in a way that’s as inventive and as engaging as the subject itself. Only a writer as talented as Geoffrey Gray could knit together the many strands of this mystery and the extraordinary characters who have dedicated, and in some cases destroyed, their lives in pursuit of the truth. Just as Gray finds himself sucked into the tale, readers will leap into the void alongside him, landing on their feet and smiling at the shared adventure.”
—Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II

“Easily one of the most delightful books I’ve read in a long, long time. In his obsessive search for answers in the legendary case, Gray becomes a little unhinged himself as well as encountering an array of characters I haven’t seen the likes of since Mark Twain sent Huck down the Mississippi. His style fits the case, and Gray can be compared with Tom Wolfe and Evelyn Waugh in his talent for unearthing the eccentrics of the world and the bizarreness of life.”
—John Bowers, Associate Professor of Writing, Columbia University, author of The Colony and Love in Tennessee

“…An exciting journey into the byways of popular culture. This is hardly the first book about Cooper, but it may be the first to treat his story for what it has become: an ongoing phenomenon, like the search for Bigfoot, with a remarkable ability to consume the imaginations and lives of generations of searchers.”
—Booklist
, Starred

“Gray organizes this, his first book, like a Tarantino film, cutting chronology into strips, then reassembling them in a sequence that readers may consider (pick one) eccentric, confusing, artistic, random, maddening, fun, revelatory. It's all of the above.”--Cleveland Plain Dealer

About the Author

GEOFFREY GRAY writes about crime, politics, sports, travel and food. He is a contributing editor at New York Magazine, covered boxing for The New York Times and for programs like This American Life, writes for other newspapers and magazines, and once drove an ice-cream truck. SKYJACK is his first book.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  126 reviews
28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Greatest Unsolved Mysteries June 24 2011
By Jonathan Bennett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I've always been fascinated by the D.B. Cooper story. I'm not sure why since I wasn't even born when he hijacked a Boeing 737 in the fall of 1971, then disappeared into the Washington wilderness. There's just something incredibly compelling about the whole story. It's so compelling, I couldn't put Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper down. It arrived at 10:00am and, by 11:00pm the same day, I'd finished it.

Geoffrey Gray presents what can best be called the human side of the D.B. Cooper mystery. He's done incredible research into the lives of not only the likely suspects (he focuses on Kenneth Christiansen, Duane Weber, Richard McCoy, and Barbara (Bobby) Dayton), but also the pilots, flight attendants, FBI agents, and amateur sleuths involved with the case. The extent that the D.B. Cooper saga has impacted (and ruined) lives is simply incredible.

Gray also doesn't shy away from hard evidence and facts. He pursues and discusses countless leads, no matter how flimsy. He partnered with scientists, private investigators, experts of all kinds, FBI agents, and even the online community. He combined this information with new access to FBI files and other documents to provide the most up to date information about Cooper's motives, his possible identity, and where he may have ended up. He has a list of sources/references at the end of the book for those who may want to dig deeper.

In the end, however, the book is filled with a lot of "he might be or he might not be" with regard to Cooper's ultimate identity. Readers wanting a foregone conclusion should look elsewhere, but for those who want to decide for themselves based on the best information (count me in this category), Gray has done a fantastic job.

For a casual D.B. Cooper fan like myself, Skyjack was a treasure trove of new information. While there's no "smoking gun" fingering someone as a likely suspect, Gray does provide, based on scientific experiments, solid evidence that Cooper survived the jump, at least initially. He also relates some fascinating information linking Cooper to a clandestine government operation. Gray even hints that Duane Weber, with his connections to the CIA, James Earl Ray, and possibly even fellow suspect Richard McCoy, could be Dan Cooper.

Overall, I highly recommend Skyjack to anyone interested in D.B. Cooper, unsolved mysteries, or just history in general. Cooper engineered the perfect crime and stuck it to "the man," making him a folk hero to many. Although Gray can't tell us who he was with certainty (maybe no one can), he does a great job of capturing the mystery and the absurdity of D.B. Cooper, the man and, perhaps most importantly, the myth.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Worth Your Time Aug. 9 2011
By Sharon Beverly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
NO SPOILER ALERT NEEDED. THIS IS A REVIEW, NOT A SYNOPSIS.

Skyjack is the infamous story of the successful skyjacking of a commercial airlines flight in 1971. The hijacker demanded a ransom and parachutes. This teaser must suffice.

The upcoming 40th anniversary (Thanksgiving 2011) of the hijacking still holds America's fascination. We admire the guy with guts. And D. Cooper definitely had them. The author quotes a local Pacific Northwest newspaper, "...America canonizes its new patron saint of system f---ing." Everyone loves a hero--even one who's a bad boy.

The author, Geoffrey Gray, spent two years researching: reading, interviewing, and following leads. However, he failed to keep an unbiased point of view. He was caught up in the mystique. At one point, Gray states, "I can't remember what I am looking for." Gray gets lost within his own story. Distracting side stories of various characters detract from the plot itself.

Although this is Gray's first novel, he is a professional writer. He is a contributing editor for New York magazine. When dealing with character descriptions, he excels. We `see' as well as if we were looking at photos. He gives detailed accounts of the terrain; we are there with him. He writes dialogue fairly well, too. His tenacity to get the story and descriptive writing are his strengths.

Too bad he lacks others. Gray's Skyjack is a disjointed attempt to put together the puzzle in story form. He writes seemingly without an outline. Or, maybe he has ADHD. This jerkiness in storytelling is frankly, annoying. Instead of keeping the plot moving, we wander off the path with Gray as he presents multiple pages of anecdotes that do not enhance the story. As he attempts to get back on track, one almost hears him say, "Now, where was I?"

Gray's greatest crime, however, is Skyjack's abrupt ending. It's as sudden as a lightning bolt hitting without warning. It confounds me how his editor and publisher did not object.

Since this is non-fiction, a comprehensive bibliography would have been appreciated. As helter skelter as Gray writes this story, so too, is his bibliography. No attempt is made to categorize chronologically, alphabetically, or in any form that makes sense.

Don't bother with this one. It's not worth your time.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The old "New Journalism" Revisited Sept. 1 2011
By G. A. Jacobs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
I thought this would be a straightforward account of the case, with new information. Scratch the straightforward part. One of the first rules of traditional journalism is, "Keep yourself out of the story." The "there I was" tales of how the reporter got the story are seldom that interesting compared to the story. This one's a case in point. About the time the narrative gets interesting, there's a long meandering detour off into 70s angst, fashions of the day, and so on. After a while I wondered as well if this was padding for a book-length story. "New Journalism" is hard to bring off, as if the reporter is somehow as interesting as the story. If you're Tom Wolfe or Hunter S. Thompson, you've got a case. This author, being kind, not so much. Still undecided on the new information and its value.

I had the audiobook, which the author reads himself. Usually that's a mistake, too. Scott Brick or some really good reader can help move a story. Do-it-yourself narration is like do-it-yourself surgery. Only a few can bring it off really well. Everyone else sounds like who they are, someone reading ... and reading ... and reading, minus the tone and inflection of the pros.
17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The mystery of how this book got published rivals the mystery of D.B. Cooper. Oct. 22 2011
By Jake Aurelian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First, I cannot believe that there are so many positive reviews for this book (24 five-star reader reviews as of this writing). I wish I could give Skyjack a negative rating, because it's most certainly deserved. This book illustrates the sorry shape of contemporary publishing; how this book was ever accepted, edited and published (by a mainstream publisher no less) is really a question that I'd like answered. Alas, how this book got published rivals the mystery of D.B. Cooper. I'm sorry to be so critical but it's a point of fact: I've seen better writing from freshmen Rhetoric students, and the present tense narrative (even while discussing the Cooper hijacking) is amateurish, juvenile and embarrassingly bad. The writing is indicative of a pathetic, unprofessional self-published book versus a book from a major American publisher. (On the positive side, the cover is well done as is the typesetting.)

I can't help but wonder the journalistic standards of those dishing out the positive comments, because I wanted to retch at page one, line one: "Skipp Porteous wants to talk and says we can meet and I say fine." I suppose you know you're in trouble when the author's entry in the Index is approximately the same size as the books' subject, D.B. Cooper. I'm an author of fiction and non-fiction, and this clustered, rambling, ego-driven atrocity is an insult to my craft, an insult to authors and journalists and an insult to anyone who ever received a rejection slip from an agent or publishing house.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars TABLOID journalism in book form--and that's the BEST I can say about it. Sept. 4 2011
By P. Eisenman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
My mother always told me, "If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all." Unfortunately, I'm obligated to write a review of SKYJACK: THE HUNT FOR D. B. COOPER.

Let me first say, I don't mind cheesy, tabloid "history". If there was ever a real-life "mystery" that could fill hundreds of books with all kinds of theories, the D. B. Cooper skyjacking case is probably it.

Unfortunately, I really can't say I'd recommend THIS book to anybody. I managed to force myself to read the WHOLE thing, in the vain hope it would somehow get better. But, in the end, it never did. :>(

This is NOT a serious investigation into the case as one might surmise from the blurb. In spite of that, it might have been palatable, even entertaining--IF it didn't read like an old "Dick and Jane" reader and wasn't peppered with gratuitous profanities.

Told in the PRESENT tense (why remains a mystery to me), the disjointed, confusing narrative of three or four (maybe more) wholly unrelated "suspects" told in non-sequential order just made for a completely confusing read. And, worse yet, was the overly simplistic writing. Here's a random sample (taken from uncorrected proof): "The marriage was tense. Money was tight. Richard was in school. He had National guard duty." CHOPPY. Reminds me of, "See Spot. See Jane. See Spot run to Jane. Spot barks...." Hard to maintain ANY train of thought when reading such sloppy, shoddy writing.

Having actually read the author Goeffrey Gray's notes and acknowledgements, which are written in a coherant and well-developed manner, I'm thinking that instead of thanking his editor "...who has an extraordinary sensibility on how to make a book work...", he SHOULD have asked the publisher to give him another! UGH.

LOTS and LOTS of totally off topic information about people's lives which has NOTHING to do with D.B. Cooper or anything else related to the case. LOTS of salacious material about the suspects and all the sordid details of their lives. Boatloads of pop psychology regarding their possible motivations. Lots of things I'd rather NOT know and which have ZERO to do with the subject. Sorry, but I haven't the slightest interest in the dysfunctional family relationships of somebody who just happens to have hiked around in the woods for the last 20 years looking for the money.

Last, but not least, for some reason author Gray likes to pop in an occasional "F-bomb" into the narrative. WHY? I have NO idea! Takes whatever credibility the book might have had and drops it right into the gutter.

I really don't like being so negative about somebody's work and I'm sure Mr. Gray devoted much effort to his task, but, in all honesty, I've can't say I've read anything as poorly written (or edited?) as SKYJACK. I said it before and I'll say it again, I couldn't recommend this book to ANYBODY and my copy is going straight into the vertical file. JUST AWFUL. ONE STAR, only because I can't give it ZERO.

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