Mention the name D.B. Cooper and most people immediately think of an unsolved hijacking in the early 1970s that has been the subject of investigations, theories, books, movies and magazine articles.
Cooper (or someone using that name) parachuted from the rear of a Boeing 727 somewhere over Washington State on Nov. 24, 1971, with $200,000 attached to his body. Although some of the money was found near the Columbia River in 1980, Cooper hasn't been located and today remains one of the most fascinating stories in U.S. criminal history.Mention the name of Richard Floyd McCoy and Utahns with good memories will remember a similar crime. McCoy hijacked a Boeing 727, ransomed it for $500,000 and parachuted over Utah County on April 7, 1972. McCoy was arrested a short time later at his Provo home, and all but $30 of the money was recovered.
McCoy's arrest was widely publicized because he was majoring in law enforcement at Brigham Young University, was a decorated Vietnam veteran and a helicopter pilot in the Utah National Guard.
He was convicted in U.S. District Court for Utah and sentenced to 45 years. He later escaped from federal prison at Lewisburg, Pa., and was killed in a shootout with FBI agents Nov. 9, 1974, in Virginia Beach, Va.
Is there a connection between these two crimes? Bernie Rhodes thinks the two men are one and the same, and he's written a book to prove it.
Rhodes has nearly finished his book, tentatively titled "D.B. Cooper: No Longer A Mystery," in collaboration with Russell P. Calame, a retired FBI agent who directed the Salt Lake FBI office at the time of the McCoy hijacking.
Rhodes, a transplanted Missouri resident who spent several years as the chief federal probation agent in Utah, has spent more than $10,000 of his own money, conducted dozens of interviews, filed a lawsuit and traveled extensively to prove his thesis.
After five years of research and writing, Rhodes is working on the final chapter dealing with McCoy's death and where the situation with Cooper stands today.
He has an appointment with a literary agent in San Diego later this month and hopes to have his book published soon.
By the time Rhodes retired from federal service March 31, 1983, the McCoy case had been forgotten because of the shootout. The D.B. Cooper case has never been solved, but Rhodes had the idea McCoy was Cooper and set about to prove it.
Having been a probation and parole officer his entire working life after graduation from the University of Houston, Rhodes didn't know how to write much more than pre-sentence reports on convicted felons. So he read Truman Capote's book "In Cold Blood" three times to get a feel for writing.
To supplement his experiences as the probation agent who interviewed McCoy at length following the conviction, Rhodes asked for some information from the FBI and started writing. He wrote the first 40 manuscript pages on a tiny island near Greece, wrote some in San Diego, but has done most of the work in Salt Lake City.
Rhodes has interviewed 75 people, some several times; filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to get more information from the Justice Department; and spent his own money on travel, telephone calls, secretarial work and supplies.
He also spent time with Melvin Walker, one of three felons who broke out of the Lewisburg prison with McCoy and was arrested a short time after McCoy was killed. Rhodes said he had some reservations about sleeping in the same apartment with Walker, since he served many years in prison for bank robbery and once was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.
Rhodes said Walker claimed to be a "born-again Christian" and gave a lengthy interview in addition to some notes that he had about the prison break and McCoy.
It wouldn't be fair to Rhodes to reveal too much information contained in the unpublished book, except to say that it outlines 20 pieces of physical or circumstantial evidence linking Cooper to McCoy. If McCoy was D.B. Cooper, he took the secret to his grave; McCoy apparently never admitted to such a charade.
The reader will have to decide if Rhodes has presented enough evidence to provide a link beyond a reasonable doubt.