In 1971, hijacker D.B. Cooper vanished after he parachuted from a Northwest Orient Airlines jet with ,000 in extorted cash. He became a legendary figure, the subject of, among others, a feature film (starring Treat Williams) and at least a dozen books. Since the Cooper case is unsolved, what more is there to say? In October 2007, Gray wrote an article for New York magazine speculating that Cooper had been Kenneth Christiansen, a Northwest Airlines purser and former paratrooper who died in 1994. Now, in this full-scale probe of Christiansen and other suspects, Gray reconstructs the hijacking, the jump, investigations, and aftermath, interviewing retired FBI agents, Northwest officials, passengers, and one of the only living eyewitnesses, stewardess Florence Schaffner, who had direct contact with Cooper on the plane. The solid journalistic approach of the New York article is replaced by an annoying present tense and a fast-paced style with occasional padding, such as this description of Schaffner: "She is a specimen of red. Red lipstick. Red nail polish. Red uniform... the coral red you find on a necklace." But by introducing intriguing theories, curious clues, and a parade of characters who claim a Cooper connection, Gray successfully milks the mystery and generates suspense while adding fuel to Cooper's folk-hero reputation. (Aug. 9)
It seems like all the good mysteries are gone. We know who Deep Throat was. We know where Thomas Pynchon lives. The missing 18 minutes on the Nixon tapes have proved unrecoverable. But then, winking at us like one last taunting fossil from the violent, paranoid 1970s, there’s the baffling case of D.B. Cooper.
On November 24, 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727, demanded $200,000 and parachutes, and jumped out over the Pacific Northwest. At a time when the country was beset by war, assassinations, riots, a faltering economy, and the Nixon presidency, Cooper was heralded as a Robin Hood of the sky. Enormous investigative resources were marshaled. Ballads were written. Cooper was never heard from again.
Forty years later, Geoffrey Gray dives chute-less into the swirling abyss of Cooper mania and lands with a true non-fiction novel, with characters too eccentric to be invented and a hurtling pace rarely found in the world of fact. The writing is stylish. The reporting is unstoppable. Gray is sympathetic and funny and saucer-eyed—even, at times, unhinged. He wants to solve the unsolvable, and remarkably, for a famous cold case, his spadework turns up fresh material.
As much as SKYJACK is about D.B. Cooper, it is also a searing group portrait of those who even today find meaning in his mystery, a travelogue through a tumultuous era in American history, and a study of the paranoid style in American obsession. Most indelibly, it is an exploration of the mystery within the mystery, the puzzle of why these unfilled blank spots in our past have such a haunting grip on our imaginations.
--(Benjamin Wallace is a contributing editor at New York magazine and the author of The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine)
The only skyjacker never to be apprehended, D.B. Cooper commandeered a Northwest Orient airliner in 1971, demanded $200,000 and a parachute, leapt from the plane, and has never been seen again despite a massive manhunt. Granted access to the FBI files, Gray wrote a 2007 New York story that has reopened the case. Since Cooper has become something of a legend, there should be interest.
A nonfiction mystery revolving around the identity of a legendary criminal who has never been apprehended.
A few years ago, New York magazine contributing editor Gray heard a passing reference to the hijacking of a commercial passenger plane in 1971. When the author realized that the hijacker, who boarded using the name Don Cooper and because of imprecise media coverage eventually become known as D.B. Cooper, seemed to have committed the perfect crime, he began researching a feature story decades after the breaking news. After announcing the hijacking while the plane was airborne, Cooper demanded $200,000 cash and parachute equipment to make his eventual escape. Airline and law-enforcement authorities provided the money and the parachutes after the plane landed. Then those authorities allowed another takeoffafterthe passengersleft the plane safely. Gray located members of the crew from the flight as well as passengers, law-enforcement agents, amateur sleuths obsessed with the unsolved hijacking and experts of all sorts, especially regarding airplanes and parachuting. At first, the author fell under the sway of Lyle Christiansen, an octogenarian trying to sellfilm rights to the saga. Christiansen claimed he possessed documentation proving that his brother Kenny, deceased since 1994, had committed the crime.The narrative tension is built uponparallel story lines: Gray's re-creation of the crime (including the unsuccessful law-enforcement investigations) and his own investigation to learn Cooper's real name. It turns out that Kenny Christiansen is a credible possibility, but so are at least two other individuals out of thousands whose names have been bandied about. As the story unfolds, Gray becomesaware of his obsession with the search by himself and other sleuths, and his self-deprecation about hisunexpected obsession sets the tone.
A thoroughly researched, quirkily written saga suggesting that truth is, in fact, often stranger than fiction.
…Gray dives into the world of online sleuths, speculators and zealots as if he were Hunter S. Thompson hitting the road with the Hell’s Angels. There's a fair amount of gonzo in Gray's telling of the tale, which ultimately becomes as much about obsession and the kookiness of human nature as about the case itself…the one thing Skyjack makes entertainingly clear is that it's a weird, weird world.
The Washington Post
“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.”
“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.”
“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