D.B. Cooper (although the incident is real, the story is purely fictional)
On November 24, 1971 a man known as D. B. Cooper hijacked Northwest Airlines Flight 305 as it was taxiing down the runway at the Portland International Airport. He showed one of the flight attendants a bomb he had inside his briefcase then handed her a note; when the flight touched down at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, four parachutes and $200,000 was to be brought onto the plane and the plane refueled. If not, he would detonate the bomb. After his demands were met, he released the thirty-six other passengers and two of the crew then requested flight to Mexico. Just north of Portland OR, at 10,000 feet, he parachuted out of the plane with the money and was never seen again. The man in seat 18C, dressed in a suit, tie and sunglasses, had just held a Boeing 727 for ransom and then disappeared without a trace. Although police from all levels of jurisdiction combed the woods below the calculated jump point, no trace of D.B. Cooper was ever found.
I was still in high school when the hijacking took place and was always fascinated by both the brazenness of the hijacker and the fact that he ‘disappeared’ so completely. When my local newspaper, The Del Amo Sentinel, posted a contest called ‘New Twist On A Cold Case’ I jumped at the chance to dig into this forty-year-old crime and maybe win $10,000 in the process. Initially I was focused on the massive list of suspects questioned by the FBI. But then my attention turned to Rita Murphy.
Rita was one of the flight attendants on Flight 305. She and three crew members were not released in Seattle. She had the most contact with the hijacker, delivering messages from him to the crew, and was the FBI’s primary witness. I tracked her down in Eugene, OR. Thankfully for me she had grown weary of carrying her secret.
This is Rita’s story..
At the time of her graduation in 1968, she was dating a boy named David Kent. Like many boys of that era, David was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Rita said that when he returned two years later, he was different; bitter, rebellious and couldn’t hold a job. But Rita never stopped loving him and vowed to do whatever was necessary to make a life together.
She told me that David was a paratrooper in Vietnam and devised the hijacking as a protest to American greed.Rita didn’t realize it at the time but David had taken advantage of her love for him. He needed her to be the go-between, help him secure the ransom and insure he was able to jump out of the plane at the designated point in the flight. After the heat died down, they would meet up at a pre-determined location and begin their new life.
So six months to the day Rita went to a spot on the Columbia River in Oregon where David was to leave a note of his whereabouts beneath the root of a tree which bore their initials. What she found was a bundle of money, $5,800 from the ransom, with a note that said he didn’t deserve her and wouldn’t allow her to spend the rest of her life on the run with him. Afraid of being caught with the money, she buried it and left. She waited for almost ten years but never heard from David. Then, when she saw on the news that an eight-year-old boy had found the money she’d buried on Tena Bar, she panicked. Rita left her job and entered a convent in Oregon where she spent the next twelve years of her life immersed in prayer and manual labor. One day, she’d had enough of hiding and walked out.
Rita has given up on finding David, if that is his real name, and wants to spend the remainder of her life in seclusion. She didn’t make me promise to not publish her story, only asked that I wait until she was safely out of the country. Today I got that message.
I left my apartment early one Saturday intent upon doing a bunch of small errands. My plans were derailed when I stepped off the front porch and noticed I had a flat tire. ‘Damn it!’ I thought, ‘This car is going to be the death of me!’
My latest acquisition was purchased six months ago, last October. The kid sold me a real lemon and the worst part was I’m pretty sure he knew it at the time. It was a lovely fall day when I acquired the Plymouth Valiant which stood before me now, crippled by either a rusty nail or a slow leak. For $700 what was I to expect but heartache and a worn out credit card.
When the weather turned I found out the heater didn’t work; something about a thermostat, hose and a couple of rusty wires. After that was fixed (thank you Visa) the car got exceptionally loud; new muffler and exhaust pipe. The radio never worked, I knew that up front, but figured I could live without one for a while. When the car started sputtering, new plugs and wires made it all better. Now I had a flat.
Since I was in the habit of ‘testing’ myself, I thought I would give it a go. What’s so hard about changing a tire? I’d watched people do it lots of times.
I opened the trunk where I’d seen a spare tire. Hopefully, it wasn’t flat also! A visual inspection let me believe it was usable so I pulled it out and rolled it over to the front wheel on the driver’s side. Then I took out the jack and wrench and noticed some papers beneath where the tire was. I thought, ‘What an idiot! He could have at least cleaned his bills out of the back before he sold me this heap.’
I set about changing the tire and was quite proud that I pulled it off; I put a boulder behind the back wheel, made sure it was in park, lined the jack up under the frame, loosened the lug nuts, jacked the car up and pulled the tire off. I struggled a bit but was able to put the ‘new’ tire on and replace the lug nuts. As I lowered the car I thought, just to be sure, I’d stop down the street and ask the mechanic to check it for me.
Before I put the old tire in the truck, I took out the trash left there by the previous owner. The paper was an estimate from a service station in Easton dated 8/12/98. On it was listed all the things that the mechanic found wrong, some I had not had the pleasure of fixing yet! People never cease to amaze me. He knew exactly what was wrong with the car when he sold it! Then I picked up a manila envelope and as I did, bundles of bills fell out.
My greasy hands trembled as I thumbed through the stack of money. There was over $27,000 in the envelope! An itemized list was also inside; 03/21/97 Mr. O’Toole’s Lawnmower $100, 04/01/97 Mary’s Drum Set $500, 04/15/97 Mom’s Necklace $250. The list went on and on. The last item was dated 09/30/98. The jerk had been selling stolen goods for well over a year and hiding the cash in his car! My guess is his ultimate goal was the red Ford Mustang which was depicted on a folded magazine page also found in the envelope.
I satisfied my conscious with the knowledge that insurance had already covered the cost for the theft victims so decided to go car shopping. The dry cleaners would have to wait.
As I ascended the granite steps toward the post office entrance I noticed two men in Larry’s Landscape t-shirts. One of them abruptly put away his phone and approached me.
“Excuse me, ma’am, can I have a word?”
“I’m kind of in a hurry.” I said as I kept moving toward the door.
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a wallet, the gold badge gleamed in the sunlight. As he did this his partner approached and did the same.
“I need to make this quick. A woman has been kidnapped. Her kidnapper will be here in less than fifteen minutes to pick up the ransom money from her husband who is one of the clerks inside.”
“What!! I don’t have time for this. Are you guys running some reality show?” I kept moving toward the door.
The second guy stepped in front of me and said, “This isn’t a reality show, this is serious. We need to slow the line down, delay the payoff. Our surveillance team got held up behind a bad accident and we can’t let the transfer take place until they get here.”
Intrigued, I said, “So, you want me to get in line and keep the clerk busy so his line doesn’t move; delay the kidnapper reaching the counter window? It sounds dangerous…and how would I know when it’s okay to leave?”
“When surveillance arrives, one of the agents will come inside and drop her purse. When you see that, it’s okay to end your transaction and go. We’ll take it from there.”
The agent seemed sincere so I agreed. Actually, I was looking forward to the excitement; Saturday errands are so boring.
They told me to get in the line with the clerk on the right side; he was the husband. I had no idea of what I was going to do to slow the line down; I’d have to improvise.
I picked up a self-mailer box and a few labels before I got into line. When I reached the counter I noticed the clerk’s hands were a bit shaky but he seemed surprisingly calm. I asked him if he could look up the zip code for Spokane, WA. With that, I began assembling the box. I took the pen he had on his counter and glanced behind him. It looked pretty normal. You’d think if a kidnapper was going to walk in the post office demanding a ransom payment, they’d have more backup in the building.
After he gave me the zip code I slowly began to fill out the label while asking the clerk if he could give me the first class rate for that zip code. He apologized and said he couldn’t until the box and its contents were weighed.
“Weighed?” I asked. “Why? Isn’t it by distance?” I was quite proud of myself for coming up with this line of conversation.
The clerk started to explain and then I heard a ruckus behind me. I, as well as everyone in the post office, turned around to look at the blonde woman whose purse contents had spilt all over the tile floor. I turned back to the clerk, pulled the revolver out from my jacket and told him to put the ransom money into the now-assembled box.
He was shocked but obeyed me. I then slid the gun inside my jacket and walked out the front door.
Outside, I gave a slight nod to the ‘landscapers’, walked around the corner of the building and drove away $30,000 richer. I let the woman go unharmed. After all, I’m a kidnapper, not a murderer.
Some Of Us Have It…And Some Of Us Don’t
As a kid, drawing and painting was one of my passions, and since I couldn’t yet draw especially well, my medium of choice was paint by number. I spent numerous hours at the kitchen table honing my ‘staying inside the lines’ skill.
One of my fourth grade masterpieces was an 11×14 print of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I don’t know how many hours I toiled over Dopey’s hat, Doc’s glasses and Snow White’s yellow and blue dress, but I’m sure it was extensive. When complete, it was added to my ‘portfolio’ of other prestigious paint by numbers; “Two Horses”, “Spotted Puppy”, “Red Barn”. Soon, however, Snow White would be pulled from the pack and brought to my school for a very special ‘exhibit’.
It was a tradition in the city that the elementary school students make small posters which would be used for marketing the high school play. This particular year the high school play was “Snow White” and I so wanted to be included. I told my fifth grade teacher, Miss Fitzpatrick, about my Snow White painting. She said to bring it in as it could be used as a visual aid for the rest of the class.
The following day my feet never touched the ground on my way to school. Snow White was on my desk when Miss Fitzpatrick approached and I showed it to her, so excited I could not sit still. Before long my bubble burst. She looked down at my magnificent creation and made the most disgusting face. Then she told me it couldn’t be used because it wasn’t acceptable. Then the words I remember to this very day spilled like venom from her mouth; “Well, some of us have it and some of us don’t.” Then she turned and walked away.
Heartache and watery eyes soon followed. I was an extremely sensitive child and those words cut deep. Miss Fitzpatrick did not realize it then but she ruined my childhood dream of one day becoming an artist. Snow White, and the dream she stood for, were soon locked away.
I’m sure Miss Fitzpatrick is passed by now, but if she were alive, this is the dream journey I would like to send her on:
“She is standing in the center of an art gallery. Six of her prized paintings are on display and she is very proud her cherished work is featured on the gallery’s opening night. A world-renowned critic is coming to the reception. This critic’s review is critical in the art world; a negative one can ruin an artist for life. But Miss Fitzpatrick smugly states, “I’m not worried, my paintings rock!”
In the door walks a tall, ebony haired woman with flawless skin followed by seven little guys carrying miner’s picks; bluebirds circle about them chirping merrily. The art critic is Snow White. She smiles warmly at the various works of art as she makes her way to Miss Fitzpatrick. Suddenly Snow White turns into the evil queen and she turns her red, fiery eyes on Miss Fitzpatrick.
“What is this garbage!” she shrieks as she points her dagger-like nails at Miss Fitzpatrick’s paintings. “Be gone!” With that, each of her paintings burst into flames and disintegrates.
Then the evil queen turns her fiery eyes on Miss Fitzpatrick and approaches her menacingly. Just as the woman who ruined my artistic career begins to fear for her life, the evil queen, now nose to nose with her says coldly, “Some of us have it…and some of us don’t.”