Filed under: Dan Cooper

Yet Another D. B. Cooper Suspect: William Pratt "Wolfgang" Gossett

William Pratt “Wolfgang” Gossett died of a stroke on September 1, 2003 in Lincoln City, Oregon. He’d led a long, fascinating life. Gossett had been an expert in military law, a teacher and assistant principal, a private investigator, a corrections officer and then administrator, a radio personality and a vicar general in the Old Catholic diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah. And if attorney Galen Cook is to be believed, Gossett was also Dan “D. B.” Cooper, the infamous skyjacker who ‘got away with it.’

The Depoe Bay Beacon is a little paper serving the folks of Depoe Bay, Oregon. It isn’t your average small-town paper; the Beacon consciously, perhaps a little cheekily, styles itself as a tabloid. Much of the paper’s content is straight-up small town news coverage, though — articles about local fishing and even the new postmaster, who began her job on April 21 this year.

But the issue that hit the local news stands and the Web on May 28 contained a big, big scoop for such a small paper, one any big tabloid specializing in celebrity scandals or stories about aliens might be proud to have — if the story ends up being true. Beacon editor Rick Beasley told the story of Wolf Gossett and how one of Gossett’s sons may have outed his father as the ultimate big one that got away.

From Beasley’s article, “Investigator Claims Depoe Bay Man Was Infamous ‘D. B. Cooper!‘” (link will take you to a PDFMeNot.com rendering of the paper — the article is on pages 9 and 10):

In an exclusive interview with the Beacon, [Galen] Cook revealed how he became convinced that former Depoe Bay mystery man Wolfgang Gossett was, in fact, the infamous skyjacker D. B. Cooper.

[…]

[Cooper’s] trail seemed to go cold at every turn until a break in the case in late 2007, thanks to the national show Coast to Coast AM, the popular late night program for 2.5 million insomniacs and other night people founded by Art Bell and hosted now by George Nouri [sic: the host’s name is spelled Noory ~ S. H.] and on Saturday nights by Ian Punnett. Punnett was interviewing Cook when a caller — Gossett’s son, Greg, a corrections officer and one of his five children — said he believed his father was D. B. Cooper…

Cook began interviewing people about Gossett. Ex-wives — Gossett was married several times — family members, former colleagues from various professions and military buddies, just to name a few.

According to Galen Cook, Gossett allegedly told his last wife that he’d “write D. B. Cooper’s epitaph.” He often talked about Cooper to others, but they usually figured he was just fascinated with the case. Two people, however, said that Gossett actually confessed. One was a Salt Lake City judge for whom Gossett worked in the 70s. Galen Cook related his interview with the judge to the Beacon. The judge allegedly said, “In 1977 he [Gossett] 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 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.”

Cook also told of a retired lawyer from Newport, OR who once traveled with Gossett to Vancouver, B. C., where some of the $200,000 from the Cooper skyjacking ‘may have been stashed in a lock box.’

Galen Cook is apparently now in Alaska, at work on a book about everything he’s discovered — even though he’s run into some roadblocks during his investigation. One big obstacle he’s encountered is the FBI. Even though Cook claims to have samples of hair from Gossett that could be used to match DNA from Cooper, the Bureau has been slow to cooperate. This may be because he has sued the agency in the past in order to acquire information under the Freedom of Information Act.

*****

Gossett had documented connection with a horrifying crime that occurred in Ogden, Utah in 1974.

The “Hi-Fi Murders” were committed on April 22, 1974. Pierre Selby and William Andrews, two 19-year-old USAF Airmen, entered the Hi-Fi Shop at closing time and took five people hostage. What followed was too brutal for words; it involved torture, rape, and cold-blooded murder. In the end, three hostages were dead and two were fighting for their lives.

Selby and Andrews both received the death penalty for their crimes.

In August, 1989, William Andrews was before the Utah State Board of Pardons, trying to get his death sentence commuted to life in prison.

According to the Deseret News, Reverend Wolfgang Gossett, a “recently ordained a Roman Catholic priest,” was there to testify on Andrews’s behalf.

Gossett said, “It is I who failed to provide thorough and adequate investigation to this man.” From the Deseret News:

Andrews’ trial attorney, John Caine, had worked as a public defender less than a year when he was assigned the case. Only Andrews’ testimony was presented as mitigation in the penalty phase of the 1974 proceeding.

If Caine had been provided information from Gossett or others about Andrews’ dirt-poor upbringing in rural Louisiana, lack of formal education and broken family, he could have used the information in the sentencing phase of the capital murder case.

Gossett said Thursday he also bears the blame for not advising Caine to seek a jury instruction that they could find Andrews guilty of a lesser included offense if the state’s evidence did not warrant a capital homicide conviction…

Gossett went on to say that he knew “within a day or so” who had been the main actor in the Hi Fi Murders — Pierre Selby. About Andrews, Gossett said, “This man (Andrews) never killed anyone. He never raped anyone.”

Selby was put to death by lethal injection in 1987. Gossett’s efforts on Andrews’s behalf were futile; Andrews was executed in 1992.

*****

I have to wonder — if Gossett was Cooper after all, did he spend much of the rest of his life trying to atone for his actions? His career trajectory (fudging dates of service in the 40s notwithstanding) after the Cooper skyjacking (November 24, 1971) makes me wonder, especially his entrance into the priesthood. Gossett became a priest in the Old Catholic Church. Gossett’s chosen denominations split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1800s. There are many differences between the two: the Old Catholic Church rejects the idea that the Pope is infallible; Old Catholic priests like Gossett do not have to be celibate; and in general the Old Catholic Church has been more liberal, allowing women to be ordained and taking a less narrow view of homosexuality.

Wolf Gossett knew the law, too, and he’d worked on the right side of the law. His conscience seems to have plagued him where William Andrews was concerned; wouldn’t a man who testified in favor of commuting a death row inmate’s sentence to life have been scored by being the most well-known fugitive of the last 40 years or so? Or was that somehow different, to him?

So far, I have to admit there really isn’t a lot to convince me that this most recent in a long line of Cooper suspects might be the real deal. I mean, as much as I love Coast to Coast, it’s still… Coast to Coast. The show trades in barely believable (and frequently unbelievable) stories. I’ve been utterly fascinated with the show since 1996 or so and consider myself a fan, but I also take most of what I hear on Coast with a grain of salt.

Coast has, with Galen Cook’s cooperation, posted a number of images of Gossett on the show’s website. They show a man who fits Cooper’s description in many respects… but not as well as other disproven suspects. Duane Weber, for instance, looked a great deal like the sketches of Cooper. His wife says he confessed to being Cooper. DNA tests say he was just Duane Weber.

Also, on December 31, 2007, the FBI published new details about the Cooper case. Some of those revelations fly in the face of William “Wolfgang” Gossett being a good suspect.

Galen Cook says Wolf Gossett had some pretty advanced jump training. Gossett could be seen still wearing his “combat jump wings” in photos taken near the end of his life.

But here is what the FBI now says about Cooper’s supposed parachute training:

Cooper was no expert skydiver. “We originally thought Cooper was an experienced jumper, perhaps even a paratrooper,” says Special Agent [Larry] Carr. “We concluded after a few years this was simply not true. No experienced parachutist would have jumped in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile-an-hour wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat. It was simply too risky. He also missed that his reserve chute was only for training and had been sewn shut—something a skilled skydiver would have checked.”

A certain dismissive attitude towards the Bureau has been evident when Cook was interviewed on Coast to Coast and also in the article published by the Depoe Bay Beacon.

I hate to admit it, but when it comes to choosing between the FBI and a dude on Coast to Coast, I still tend to go with the Bureau for veracity.

I mean, we could even try and pin the Zodiac murders on Gossett while we’re at it. His obituary states that he was stationed at Fort Ord in Monterey Bay, CA in the late 60s. Most speculation about the Zodiac seems to agree that he was either military or ex-military, most likely an Air Force man. Fort Ord was less than 100 miles from the the Zodiac’s stalking grounds. Zodiac and Gossett were both between 5’8″ and 6’0″ and the most famous suspect sketch of the serial killer is a better fit for Gossett as he looked nearly 40 years ago than the Cooper sketches — in my opinion.

Talk about taking out two birds with one stone.

Of course, it won’t be that easy. If finding these faceless, mythical criminals decades after their crimes was so easy, it obviously would have been done already.

Galen Cook may churn up a publisher for his book with publicity about Gossett. He may already have a publisher. The finished book might even convince me.

But I must admit, I don’t convince so easily any more.

Dan Cooper’s Parachute

He said his name was Dan Cooper. Someone mistakenly reported the name as “D.B. Cooper” later and it stuck. But the name he gave was Dan. He said he had a bomb, and to the flight crew on the Northwest Orient flight from Portland to Seattle, it looked like he was telling the truth. Dan Cooper wanted $200,000 and a parachute or he’d set off the bomb.

Cooper got the ransom, got the parachutes, and on November 24, 1971 he jumped from the rear stairs of the 727 he’d hijacked, into the freezing night and into history.

Authorities think Cooper was killed that night. They say he was an inexperienced criminal who overreached, bit off more than he could chew. The conditions for the parachute jump were terrible, the terrain below was wild and unforgiving. Even a paratrooper would have been intimidated by the conditions surrounding Cooper’s jump.

Others are not so sure. After all, nearly $6000 of the ransom money was recovered in 1980. It was found by a kid playing on the banks of the Columbia River. Did Cooper bury the loot? If he did, what happened to the rest of it? The FBI recorded the serial numbers on the bills. They’ve never been put into circulation.

There may be a new clue. From the AP and FBI Agent Larry Carr: “Children playing outside their home near Amboy found the chute’s fabric sticking up from the ground in an area where their father had been grading a road […] They pulled it out as far as they could, then cut the parachute’s ropes with scissors.”

Agent Carr checked the site where the parachute was found against a map made during the early days of the investigation into Cooper’s crime. It was easily within Cooper’s likely “landing zone.”

No one can say that the buried parachute was Cooper’s. Not yet. But if it is, so many questions arise: did he bury it, or was the area where it was found wild in 1971? If it was wild, the parachute could have simply been buried by time, already invisible by the time developers started building in the area. The parachute could even mark the site of Cooper’s demise. But if he buried it, that means he got away. He may have even buried the $5800 found in 1980.

All of this again prompts a version question that has kept people interested in this case for 36 years — if Dan “D.B.” Cooper did make it safely to the ground with his money in hand, what happened after that?

Consider it an open thread from here on out. Please keep the discussion on-topic and civil. Also, please remember I reserve the right to delete comments for any reason.