D. B. Cooper Identified

Article by William Weston and Peter Heitmann

Skyjacker D. B. Cooper parachuted out of a commercial jetliner on November 24, 1971 and escaped with $200,000 in cash – a daring feat that immediately became a sensation in the news media. Ten days later, on December 4, 1971, Marie Vigil wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Authority identifying the air pirate as Jack Linkletter, the firstborn son of Hollywood entertainer Art Linkletter, and brother of Robert Linkletter, aka the Zodiac Killer. 

Jack Linkletter

Jack Linkletter was born on November 30, 1937 in San Francisco. In 1957 he married Barbara Mae Hughes and had three children. He was a popular TV personality for about 20 years, with shows on all three networks: On the Go (CBS), Here’s Hollywood (NBC), Hootenanny (ABC), The Rebus Game (ABC), and Life with Linkletter (NBC), which he co-hosted with his father.

Jack Linkletter (left) interviewing Ruth and John Conte in 1962 on Here’s Hollywood. Three years later Ruth Conte encouraged Robert Linkletter to do a countrywide singing tour in support of the war effort in Vietnam. Video is here.

He loved to fly and used his Baron twin engine aircraft to go on business trips around the country, such as to the Governors’ Conference on Agriculture in Jefferson City, Missouri on November 18, 1970. He also loved riding motorcycles. During the filming of the movie The Great Escape in 1962, he and actors Steve McQueen and James Garner rode Harley-Davidsons down the backstreets of Germany. In December 1970 he admitted to a reporter for The Buffalo News that he had been overweight at 202 pounds and that through dieting he hoped to get down to 175. An article in the Baltimore Sun, July 24, 1978 said that he “is going on 41 now and the spitting image of his dad, with his 6-foot-3 build, bright-as-sunshine smile, and his father’s gift of gab.” In 1978 he planned to return to television to co-host a new daytime talk/variety show called America Alive! According to the Baltimore Sun, he “had been out of the TV limelight for about eight years but he hasn’t been idle. He’s been running a big corporation, which he founded with his dad, traveling around the globe, and leading a sporting life.” His sporting life included such daredevil stunts as standing on the wing of a prop plane, as the picture below shows:

Jack Linkletter standing on the wing of a biplane as seen live on his America Alive! show in 1978. It took off from Meigs Field, Chicago’s lakefront airport. Sears Tower is in the background, the tallest building in the world.

On the eve of Thanksgiving 1971, Linkletter went to the Portland International Airport and used the name “Dan Cooper” to buy a one-way ticket to Seattle using cash. He was dressed in a black raincoat, black or brown business suit, white shirt, thin black tie, and brown slip-on shoes. He also wore dark sunglasses. An FBI description of Cooper said that he was a “white male, 6’1″ tall, 170-175 pounds, age-mid-forties, olive complexion, brown eyes, black hair, conventional cut, parted on left.” 

Artist’s sketch released by the FBI, November 27, 1971

After getting his ticket he boarded a Northwest Orient Airlines, three-engine jetliner, a Boeing 727, Flight 305, scheduled for departure at 2:50 pm with a total trip time of approximately thirty minutes. He was among thirty-seven passengers boarding the plane.

FBI photo of the airplane D. B. Cooper hijacked.

Carrying a dark briefcase and a brown paper bag, he took a seat in the last row. He chatted amiably with the stewardess as he ordered a bourbon and 7-Up. He was very polite at all times, spoke intelligently, and had no particular accent. He appeared to be quite relaxed as he drank his bourbon and smoked a Raleigh filter-tipped cigarette. Fellow passenger Robert Gregory who sat four seats from him said, “He was dark and had dark black hair and a swarthy complexion. He had very dark, black-colored glasses on. He was kind of slumped down in his seat.”

D. B. Cooper’s seat on the left

Soon after takeoff he handed a note to the stewardess, Florence Schaffner, who was sitting in the jump seat behind him. The note said: “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.” Schaffner moved to sit next to him, whereupon he opened his briefcase and showed her a bomb: two rows of four red cylinders wired to a large cylindrical battery. In a low voice so as not to disturb the other passengers, he told her that he wanted $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills and four parachutes. Schaffner wrote down his demands and carried them to the cockpit. Captain William Scott contacted Northwest Flight Operations in Minnesota and said that he had a hijacker with a bomb on board and that he would blow up the plane if he did not get what he wanted.

Stewardess Tina Mucklow became the liaison between the flight crew and Cooper. Negotiations between them went so smoothly and quietly that the other passengers did not even know that the plane had been hijacked. As the plane approached Seattle, the pilot made an announcement over the intercom that landing would be delayed because of a “minor mechanical difficulty.”

A man wearing a cowboy hat approached Mucklow and tried to find out the specifics of the mechanical issue. Cooper, who was sitting nearby, was at first amused by the “cowboy’s” insistent queries but then became irritated and told him to return to his seat. The man ignored Cooper and continued to question the stewardess. Whoever the “cowboy” was remains a mystery to this day. Another passenger who exchanged words with Cooper has likewise never been identified. 

Cooper had a pilot’s knowledge of what the Seattle area looked like from the air. While looking out the window, he remarked, “Looks like Tacoma down there.” He was also familiar with Seattle on the ground. When Mucklow informed him that the parachutes were coming from McChord Air Force Base, he said that it was a twenty-minute drive from the air base to the airport.

Meanwhile, during the approximately two-hour period that the plane was in a holding pattern over Puget Sound and Seattle, the police and the FBI hurried to assemble the ransom money and parachutes. They went to Seattle First National Bank, where bundles of circulated $20 bills were kept in a safe as a contingency ransom fund with the serial numbers already recorded. The bundles were put in a white cloth sack. As soon as it was delivered to the airport, Scott landed the plane.

An airline official ascended a mobile staircase attached to the 727 and handed the money bag to Mucklow who stood just outside the front door. She carried the bag past seated passengers to the back row where Cooper was sitting. Upon receiving the money, he permitted the other passengers and two stewardesses to exit the plane. It was then that the passengers realized that the plane had been hijacked. After the last passenger had safely debarked, Mucklow brought in the four parachutes.

Cooper instructed the pilot via Mucklow to refuel the aircraft and begin a second flight to Mexico City with a refueling stop in Reno, Nevada. The pilot was to fly no higher than 10,000 feet, keep the cabin depressurized, and turn the cabin lights off. Airspeed could not be more than 150 knots, or 172 mph. This was slow enough for an experienced skydiver to make his jump safely. He gave orders to lower the landing gear after take-off and to cant the wing flaps at fifteen degrees to ensure a reduced speed.

Flight 305 took off from Seattle at 7:40 p.m. In the cockpit were Captain Scott, Co-pilot William Rataczak, and Flight Engineer Harold Anderson. Mucklow continued her role as liaison. Three military jets from McChord AFB, two F-106 fighters and a T-33 trainer, followed the slow-moving 727. Their orders were to be on the alert for any parachutist jumping out of the aircraft.

While Scott handled the task of communicating unfolding developments with the FAA and airline authorities, Rataczak piloted the plane. Normally, he would make a steep climb to 30,000 feet, where the atmosphere was serene and flying was easy, but at 10,000 feet a pilot could expect to find adverse weather conditions. As was typical for late November, a fierce storm from the Pacific Ocean pummeled western Washington. Low-hanging storm clouds, intermittent precipitation, and constant crosswinds gusting to 45 mph compelled Rataczak to disengage the autopilot and fly the big Boeing jet manually.

Alone in the cabin with Mucklow, Cooper examined the four parachutes. Using a pocketknife he cut the canopy off one of the reserve chutes and stuffed some of the money in the empty parachute bag. For his primary chute, he could have chosen either a superior performing sport chute with steering lines and toggle loops or a simple, non-steerable military backpack version. He opted for the latter after examining a record booklet that was kept inside a pocket. Mucklow was impressed by the deft way he donned the parachute and how quickly he adjusted the chest and leg straps. The remaining chute was a “dummy” unit, sewn shut to render it unusable. It was meant to be used only in classroom demonstrations. Nevertheless, he took it with him for some unknown purpose.

Cooper knew that jumping from a commercial jetliner was feasible only from a Boeing 727. Unlike other jetliners, the 727 had a rear stair ramp. Hanging vertically from the plane in flight, it was a safe place to make a jump, away from the flaps and engines. He instructed Mucklow to deploy the ramp, but she refused, fearing she would be sucked out of the plane. Cooper then said that he would do it himself. His final instructions to the stewardess were to close the curtain partition separating the coach and first class sections, go back into the cockpit, and not return. As he stood in the aisle tying the money bag around his waist, they both exchanged a friendly wave. Then she closed the curtain. 

Soon after Mucklow seated herself in the cockpit, at approximately 8:00 p.m., a cockpit warning light flashed, indicating the aft door and ventral stairway were unlatched. The pilot used the intercom to ask the hijacker if he needed help with the ramp.  He said, “No.” While inside the back compartment, Cooper closed the door behind him and locked it – just in case anyone ventured into the cabin to see what became of him. According to The Oakland Tribune, “After take-off, the hijacker locked himself in the rear compartment where the stairwell is located and did not communicate any further with the crew.”

Interior cabin towards the rear of the Boeing 727 hijacked by D. B. Cooper. His seat is visible in the last row, second to the left from aisle.

At 8:13 p.m., as the plane was passing over the northern suburbs of Portland, the aircraft’s tail section suddenly pitched upward, forcing Rataczak to trim and return the aircraft to level flight. It is possible that the sudden upward motion of the tail might have been due to the rear staircase causing a drag in the wind. 

Although the F-106s caught up with the slow-moving airliner, they lacked visibility to discern a parachutist. When they reached the vicinity of Portland Airport, they were recalled back to base.

At 11:02 p.m., with the aft staircase still deployed, Flight 305 landed at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. FBI agents, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and Reno police established a perimeter around the aircraft. Below is an excerpt from a November 24, 2014 article in the Reno Gazette Journal, “A tale of the ’70s: When D.B. Cooper’s plane landed in Reno” by Guy Clifton and Emerson Marcus.

At the Reno airport, a cadre of local, state and federal law enforcement officers was waiting. A reporter from the Nevada State Journal, taking advantage of a short-wave radio operator’s capture of the conversation between the pilot and the Reno tower, monitored the conversation with the pilot.

“We will be landing with the airstairs down,” the pilot told the Reno tower. “We have not communicated with our passenger.” The pilot then said he would be landing the plane at 11 p.m. “straight up.”

“At this point, no one knew whether he was still on the plane,” said Joe Martin, a retired Washoe County Sheriff’s deputy. “We all took up positions. I was at the north end of the runway. The plane went right over us and landed. That’s when we found out he was gone.”

After landing, the pilot again radioed tower that the hijacker “took leave of us somewhere between Reno and Seattle.”

Law enforcement using police dogs searched the airport grounds. A search was also launched in a nearby Reno neighborhood.

A search inside the plane yielded the hijacker’s clip-on tie, a tie clip, and two of the four parachutes. Capt. Scott told investigators that he believed the hijacker “took leave of us” over Woodland, Washington, about 25 miles north of Portland. This would have been around 8:00 pm when he asked Cooper if he needed help with the aft staircase, and he said “No.” The next morning helicopters and airplanes crisscrossed over the brushy and timbered foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Officials told reporters that they concentrated their search around Woodland because that was the last place of contact between the crew in the cockpit and the hijacker in the cabin.

The meticulous attention to detail evident in the hijacking of the plane stands in stark contrast to the foolishness of the jump. FBI agent Larry Carr said, “No experienced parachutist would jump in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile an hour wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat.” Additionally, cloud cover down to 5000 feet gave him no visibility of the ground. The assumed area where he jumped was a tightly packed forest of Douglas fir and other conifers commonly growing up to 250 feet. The enormous risk he took of getting stuck in a tree, entangled in dense brush, or submerged in the Columbia River is hard to believe.

A theory more grounded in reality is that Cooper never did parachute out of the plane, as commonly believed, but rather he created the illusion that he did. When the plane landed at Reno, he simply hopped off the ramp as it dragged on the runway. According to a UPI article, Lt. Charles Williams said that Reno police had received a report that the hijacker was observed “sitting on the back steps” as the plane rolled along the runway. According to an Oregonian article entitled, “Bomber hijacks Portland jet flight: Man flees when plane reaches Reno”:

The trijet landed in a shower of sparks at Reno when the hijacker insisted that the pilot leave the rear door open as an escape route. . . . As the plane was taxiing toward the terminal, it stopped long enough for the man to escape safely through an emergency exit, the FAA said.

Boeing 727 with aft ramp down

Contradicting these reports was special agent in charge (SAC) of the FBI office in Reno, Harold E. Campbell, who said “There’s no way he could have gotten off in Reno. We had the airport covered. We knew he didn’t get off that plane.” Notwithstanding, law enforcement authorities took reports of him getting off in Reno seriously enough to send sheriff’s deputies and FBI agents with dogs to search for him among the houses surrounding the airport as well as the sage brush wilderness. He of course eluded them and disappeared. He might have headed for a nearby safehouse or entered a getaway car driven by an accomplice.

A month after the hijacking, the FBI distributed lists of the serial numbers on the ransom bills to law enforcement agencies around the world and to financial institutions, casinos, racetracks, and other businesses that routinely conducted large cash transactions. None ever turned up.

Shortly after the spring thaw in early 1972, another extensive ground search near Woodland failed to find any trace of him.  In 1975, Northwest Orient’s insurer, Global Indemnity Co., complied with an order from the Minnesota Supreme Court and paid the airline’s $180,000 claim on the ransom money. In 1980 a boy camping with his family along the Columbia River near Vancouver, Washington (about 18 miles from Cooper’s reported jump location) found on a sandy bank three bundles of deteriorated twenty-dollar bills totaling $5800. FBI lab technicians confirmed that the money was a small portion of the ransom taken by Cooper. This finding seemed to suggest that the bulk of the money was lost and that the skyjacker did not survive.

A suggestion that the money was planted by Cooper or his accomplices after the event to confuse official investigators and amateur sleuths is given confirmation in an August 2020 scientific report by Thomas G. Kaye and Mark Meltzer in Nature entitled “Diatoms constrain forensic burial timelines: case study with DB Cooper money.”

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-70015-z

A study of diatoms, or photosynthetic eukaryotic algae, penetrating one of the bills, shows that the money was buried along the bank of the Columbia River sometime during the period of May or June. According to the authors: “A summer time immersion and subsequent burial moves the money find completely away from the hijacking event in November.”

In 2016 the FBI began releasing its records dealing with the D. B. Cooper case. Among them are three letters written by someone living in Woodland Hills. Although redacted by the FBI, the name undoubtedly was Marie Vigil:

1. A single instance of the pronoun “she” on page 23149 shows that the letter-writer was a woman. 

2. The writer had personal contact with members of the Linkletter family.

3. Marie Vigil sent two typewritten letters to Thomas Reddin, Chief of the LAPD, in June 1968. An examination of the style, shape, and spacing of the characters indicates a font identical to the one seen in the D. B. Cooper letters.

4. The 1968 letters have the lowercase  “i” going below the baseline five times, “o” once, and “e” once. A similar displacement occurs in the D. B. Cooper letters. The letter “i” goes below the baseline three times and “a” once.

Lowercase letters descending below the baseline is a consequence of someone working the shift key too quickly. Normally when pressing the shift key, the carriage rises to the upper position where the uppercase letter would be made. Upon releasing the shift key, the carriage returns to the lowercase position. If a typist types the next letter before the carriage had lowered completely down, then that letter will appear below the baseline. Vigil was prone to making this kind of error with often used words like “Hills” or “Linkletter.” See the samples below for comparison:

The opposite sequence occurred when she typed the word “Hijacker.” She tapped the “h” key as the carriage was still rising to the upper position and thus made a lowercase “h” below the baseline.  When she saw her mistake, she pushed the carriage back one space, and made the uppercase letter, thus creating a partial overlap of “h” and “H.”

On December 4, 1971, Marie Vigil wrote a letter to an FBI agent in Portland about the hijacking of Flight 305 by D. B. Cooper. What she had to say in that letter is unknown. Thanks to the skills of FBI document handlers, the text is so faded and blurred that it is virtually unreadable.

On the same day, she wrote a letter to the FAA:

Woodland Hills, Dec. 4, 1971

The F.A.A.

Seattle, Wash.

Attention Officer who spoke to the skyjacker.

There is something the brown makeup does not hide. It is the warts or moles on your skyjacker’s face, two more in the laughing lines near the mouth, also one or two others in the side of his face. You must have noticed those. You can find the same moles or warts in Jack Linkletter’s face, a master criminal who must have been in Newport Beach where he lives within the next four to five days. They do not have to run anywhere, just put on a tuxedo and have a dinner with some leaders of this nation.

[signature redacted]

Enclosed with the letter was a newspaper clipping of a composite sketch of D. B. Cooper over which were the typewritten words “Pilot, parachutist.” Below the sketch was the name “Jack Linkletter.”

The above letters are dated two weeks after Vigil’s attempts to intervene on behalf of James Frazier, who was on trial in Redwood City for murdering five people at Dr. Victor Ohta’s house in Santa Cruz. The actual perpetrators in that case were two men and a woman, among whom was Jack’s brother, Robert Linkletter. In a letter to the judge, Vigil said that Robert had gone to Redwood City on November 18 and could be seen in the back of the courtroom snickering over how his murders were being covered up. The final arguments of the prosecution and defense began on November 23 and continued through to Thanksgiving Day, November 25. That same day, seven hundred miles to the north, a massive search was underway for D. B. Cooper among the forests of southern Washington. The jury in Redwood City began deliberations on November 26 and came back with a verdict of guilty on November 29. 

Seven months later, Marie Vigil wrote a letter to American Airlines regarding the skyjacking of an airliner on June 23.

Woodland Hills, June 28, 1972

American Airlines,

St. Louis, Missouri

Attention FBI

Re: Hijacker

Here is a pretty picture of two smart birds plus a few other interesting people I could identify.

Robert Linkletter has had complexion problems that comes and goes, then return. Is about 6 feet tall, 180 to 200 lbs. Is a master of disguises, changes his appearance constantly.

Enclosed with the letter was a photograph with the following information typewritten on it:

This picture was taken May 15 1972 in Wheaton. Does include Jack and Robert Linkletter who have gone into the skyjacking business to finance gunmen, bombings, etc. They use a small jet as backpack for a soft and controlled landing. Are both bold.

Most of the details in the photo have been obscured by the photocopier. Nevertheless, an individual identified in the photo as “D. B. Cooper” might be Jack Linkletter. The redacted caption identifying a second individual is probably Robert Linkletter, the skyjacker of American Airlines Flight 119. It was the tenth skyjacking demanding a ransom since the disappearance of D. B. Cooper, and it was the sixth one involving a parachute to bail out of the plane.

Robert Linkletter in 1966

On Friday, June 23, 1972 (four days after the Watergate break-in), Linkletter went to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in St. Louis, Missouri and boarded American Airlines Flight 119, a Boeing 727 jetliner. On a previous day he used cash to purchase a half-fare round-trip ticket to Tulsa, Oklahoma using a fictitious military identification card bearing the name of “Robert Wilson.”

According to police and FBI descriptions of him, he was between 25 and 30 years old, 5 feet 11, 160 to 180 pounds, swarthy complexion, short dark black hair, covered by a dark brown, bushy wig. His face was noticeably marked with pimples, and around a large round nose were open sores. His upper lip had a shape typical of trumpet players. His bottom front teeth were crooked, one of them possibly chipped. He wore a brown suit, green pants, and purple-tinted dark glasses, the kind a jazz musician would wear. He carried a black trombone case, as he took a seat in the forward part of the coach section. A passenger named Jerry Stewart moved into the seat next to him and engaged him briefly in some small talk. The musician asked where the men’s room was, and Stewart indicated the back of the plane. As he watched the musician get out of his seat to go to the restroom, he thought it was odd that he took his case with him. The musician got a seat in the back row, where he was seen slouching into it.

FBI sketch of skyjacker of American Airlines Flight 119

At 2:40 pm the pilot taxied toward the runway with ninety-four passengers, two other crew members, and four stewardesses. He accelerated the plane down the runway, climbed into the skies, and headed for Tulsa. Five to ten minutes before reaching their destination, at 3:15, the jazz musician beckoned to stewardess Janet Furlong, saying, “Step back here, miss.” When she obeyed, he opened the trombone case and showed her a 45-calibre submachine gun, otherwise known as a “grease gun,” because of its resemblance to a tool used by mechanics. He was also armed with a hand grenade, a pistol at least 15 inches long, and a small bag of dynamite. He handed her two folded notes and asked her to deliver one to the captain and to bring back the copy.

“Tell the captain,” he said, “I want to go to St. Louis.” 

The stewardess walked down the aisle to the cockpit, opened the doors, and said to the flight crew inside, “You’re not gonna believe this, but we’re being hijacked.” 

Captain Ted Kovalenko unfolded the two notes. Both were typewritten in red ink, and both had identical messages: “Do not panic. This is a ransom hijacking. If the following demands are met, no one will get hurt.” The hijacker wanted $502,500 in cash, five parachutes, three parachute harnesses, an army-type collapsible shovel, goggles, and a radar scanning device. The money was to be divided into two parts: $500,000 in one bag and $2500 in the other. (FBI agents speculated that he was going to use the shovel to bury the larger portion of the money and use the $2500 to finance his escape.) 

The pilot gave back one of the notes to Furlong. When she returned with the requested copy, she saw that the hijacker was out of his seat and was standing at the rear of the cabin. He was wearing rubber surgical gloves, and he was holding his machinegun against his chest. The stewardess became the liaison between the hijacker and the crew in the cockpit. 

The pilot radioed the skyjacker’s demands to Lambert’s air control tower and turned the plane around to fly in the opposite direction. Speaking on the intercom to those in the cabin, he said: “There’s a guest on board who asks us to return to St. Louis.” When a passenger, F. B. Boyle, asked what was going on, the stewardess said there was a man in the back with a gun.

After landing in St. Louis at 4:25, the skyjacker released eighty-one passengers, including all women and children. He then ordered the pilot to refuel the plane and take off for Fort Worth, Texas. They were back in the air at 5:25 with thirteen passengers, the flight crew, and four stewardesses. The plane almost reached Fort Worth, when at 8:00 the hijacker directed the pilot to turn around and go back to St. Louis. The pilot obeyed. At 9:28, the plane was back at Lambert Field.

The next three hours were tense as the plane was prepared for the hijacker’s escape. During the refueling, Kovalenko radioed the tower that the skyjacker wanted to fly to Toronto, make a low pass to make sure it was Toronto, then continue on to New York City. 

Refueling hijacked jetliner after it returned from Fort Worth. A fuel truck moves into position (left).

At 10:45 the ransom and the parachutes were brought into the plane by Aubrey Mallory, age 47, a passenger randomly selected by the hijacker for the task. Mallory made four trips in and out of the plane, carrying the stuff down the aisle, and depositing them at the service alcove in the back. Most of the money was in a 45-pound canvas bag. In a zippered case with a leather top was the $2500. Mallory also brought in five back-pack type parachutes that came from Scott Field. The hijacker rejected three of them, so the Air National Guard at Lambert Field had to send two more.

The hijacker next ordered the control tower to send someone who could teach him how to operate a parachute. An American Airlines parachute expert (actually FBI agent Robert H. Meredith wearing the grey suit of an American Airlines ramp attendant) came on board to show him what he needed to do. The hijacker made him pop two of the chutes open to see if they were okay, which left him two to choose from. He then had the expert show him how to get into the harness. Apparently, he was a slow learner. Mallory was amazed by how long it took him to grasp basic concepts of opening a chute. Twenty minutes passed before the expert was satisfied that he had everything right. At 11:55, the gunman dismissed the expert and released all the  remaining passengers except for one whom he wanted to keep as a hostage.

The skyjacker had more demands. He wanted a right-handed glove (believed by some to protect his hand holding the ransom during the jump). An airline official had to bring him an altimeter so that he could measure the height of the plane above the ground. Altitude must be no more than 10,000 feet, and the plane depressurized. All interior and exterior lights must be turned off, and the radar in the cockpit disconnected, so that it could not be detected in flight. He also wanted a fresh crew to fly the plane. 

When the second crew boarded the plane at 12:20 am, led by Captain L. F. Berkebile, the hijacker released the original crew and two stewardesses. Everything was ready for departure, and hundreds of spectators were watching the proceedings. Ten minutes later, the plane was ready for take-off at the eastern end of the runway, its three engines screaming at full power. At that moment, the control tower heard the voice of the pilot on the radio.

“My God, there’s a car on the runway!”

A car painted black crashed through a heavy chain-link fence on the southeast end of the field, headed toward the hijacked plane, veered toward the left, drove to the western end of the field, and moved into position facing the plane. It looked like a showdown in a Western movie, according to one journalist. Racing toward the black car in hot pursuit were four airport security vehicles and several fire engines. Suddenly the black car accelerated, drove the length of the main runway, heading straight for the plane. 

“We tried to intercept him,” said William Wells, an airport policeman, “but he was really moving. We were doing 80 and falling behind.”

The car slammed into the nose landing gear and spun around into the left landing gear. Those inside the plane felt the impact as “a big jolt.” Subsequent examination of the damaged landing gear showed that the plane was not going anywhere. 

First on the scene was Officer Wells, who said, “He [the driver] creamed into that plane something awful. There was blood all over the place.”

A view of Hanley’s car beneath the left wing. Firefighters had covered the car in foam.

The driver was in serious condition with multiple face and head lacerations. Police identified him as David J. Hanley, 30 years old, and the father of two young girls. A former insurance salesman, Hanley lived in Florrisant, a northern St. Louis suburb. He ran a small firm which specialized in marketing new inventions. For a long time, at least a month, he laid unconscious. When he opened his eyes and could speak, he said he had no memory of what happened. The car was a 1972 Cadillac convertible that he bought for his wife on Mother’s Day. (Four years later, he entered the presidential race, campaigning as a Democratic candidate.)

Police and emergency vehicles converged on the scene, their headlights and spotlights illuminating the darkened plane. Hanley was hustled into an ambulance while firemen sprayed the wrecked car and plane with fire-extinguishing foam. 

Berkebile called on the radio: “Don’t open any doors. Don’t attempt to board the plane. He thinks we’re trying to pull some shenanigans.” Moments later, he said, “He wants another 727. He says if the transfer to the new plane is not on the up and up something bad is going to happen. He wants that plane.” As the backup plane was being fueled, three FBI agents armed with rifles crept slowly toward the jetliner under the direction of SAC William A. Sullivan of the St. Louis office (not William C. Sullivan, former head of the FBI’s domestic intelligence operations, who in June 1972 became the head of the Office of Narcotics Intelligence). The riflemen stationed themselves on the south side of the plane. 

The hijacker instructed the pilot to inform the tower to have the backup plane move in front of the crippled plane and open the rear ramp. The single crew member moving the plane was instructed to leave it. 

The ransom, parachutes, and other paraphernalia were hoisted aboard the second plane. At 1:35 three white-shirted crewmen led a procession from the first plane to board the second plane. Next in line was a stewardess walking in front of the hijacker, who crouched low behind her. The hostage passenger shielded his side, while a stewardess walked closely behind. The FBI riflemen watched helplessly as the hijacker made his way safely to the second plane. Thirteen minutes later, at 1:48, the plane departed, bound for Toronto.

The hijacker took $1500 from the $2500 purse and divided it between stewardesses Jennifer Dumois and Diana Rash as a parting tip. Then he herded them and the unidentified male hostage into the cockpit and told them to stay in there. Co-pilot Art Koester was the last one to see him as he closed the curtain separating the coach and the first class sections.

One hour after take-off, at 2:53 am, those in the cockpit sensed the opening of the rear door. According to co-pilot Art Koester, “When the skyjacker went through the door it was like popping a cork from a bottle, and the cabin pressure gauges immediately showed the change in pressure.” At that point in time, they were flying over the neighborhood of Peru, Indiana. Since the skyjacker was alone in the cabin, those in the cockpit were unable to determine at what point in time he made his jump. They continued to follow their flight plan to Canada, circled back, and landed at O’Hare Airport in Chicago at 4:02 am. Dragging on the runway was the rear stair ramp. An American Airlines official announced that the six persons who had been held hostage – three crew members, two stewardesses, and one passenger – were all safe.

Believing that the skyjacker made his jump as soon as the rear door was open at 2:53, an air-land search was mounted in the area of Peru, which consisted of dense foliage and rolling terrain. More than 200 lawmen and two helicopters participated in the search but could find no trace of him.

Considering the huge risk of jumping from a jetliner in the dark over potentially hazardous terrain, it is quite probable that the hijacker followed the easier method of an earlier hijacker and merely hopped off the ramp as the plane taxied around the field at O’Hare Airport.

Over the next few days, farmers near Peru, Indiana were finding things thrown out of the plane by the hijacker. (1) greenish gold trousers, size 33 or 34, found in a pumpkin patch on the southeast edge of Grissom Air Force Base; (2) brownish gold two-button sport jacket found in a corn field; (3) ransom money bag, still containing $500,000, found in a soybean field; (4) submachine gun found in a corn field. No trace of a parachute was found.

FBI agent James Martin holding m0ney bag found in a soybean field

Trousers, jacket, money, and gun, cast out in that order, were all located on roughly a straight line following a southwest to northeast direction which coincided with the path of the plane going from St. Louis to Toronto. Each item was separate from the next by a distance of approximately five miles. The total distance from trousers to gun was sixteen miles. 

FBI agent examines hijacker’s submachine gun. Clip was removed from gun by hijacker and was found elsewhere.

In spite of assertions by the pilot and co-pilot who said that no one, no matter how experienced, could survive a jump from a jetliner going 350 miles per hour, the possibility existed nonetheless that he succeeded. The FBI therefore expanded their search north to South Bend, Indiana and northeast to Detroit. Eventually they found – not the culprit – but a hapless patsy.

Below is an excerpt from Andrew Tully’s book Inside the FBI:

It was in Detroit that the FBI hit paydirt. By sleuthing methods never made public, but probably through the use of an undercover agent or informant, its investigators were put in touch with an individual who was rumored to be a friend of the skyjacker’s. The man talked freely. He identified the fugitive as Martin J. McNally, who lived in the Detroit suburb of Wyandotte, Michigan. He said he had been with McNally prior to the skyjacking and that McNally had talked of commandeering a jetliner – preferably a 727 because it had a rear door from which to parachute.

The informant also claimed that he met McNally after the skyjacking and that McNally had said he was “sorry” that he lost the $500,000 ransom money. FBI Agent Lawrence Bonney asked if McNally had told him any details of the skyjacking. He “sure did”, the informant replied. He went on to say McNally had told him that the bag containing the money had been strapped to the skyjacker’s body and that McNally had worn two sets of clothing and had discarded a jacket and a pair of slacks during the jump.

FBI photo of Martin J. McNally in 1972

McNally was an unemployed service station attendant in Detroit who happened to be in the area of Peru on the night in question. FBI agents arrested him on a street corner in Wyandotte late Wednesday night on June 28. He was a slender man with a longish face marred by a fresh bruise on one cheek. Evidently, his face had no pimples or open sores. The FBI also arrested Walter J, Petlikowski, age 31, who walked into a police station in River Rouge, Michigan and confessed that he drove McNally to St. Louis before the skyjacking and that he picked him up in Peru.

When McNally was on trial, Aubrey Mallory and another passenger David Spellman, testifying for the defense, said they could not positively identify McNally as the man who hijacked the plane. Nevertheless, the prosecution had a trump card: a single fingerprint on one of the torn up pieces of the typewritten note passed to the pilot at the onset of the hijacking. McNally was convicted and sent to prison.

SAC William A. Sullivan declined to check into the lead proffered by Marie Vigil and instead forwarded her correspondence and other documents to the SAC in Los Angeles to see if she were a “chronic letter writer.” An interview might have occurred to see if she had additional information, but no record of the interview seems to have surfaced.

What the motivations were that prompted the bizarre chain of events that occurred during the seizure of Flight 119 belong to the realm of speculation. However, the fact remains that Marie Vigil identified Robert Linkletter as the one who committed the skyjacking. Like his brother Jack he was too wealthy and too well-connected to be troubled by the law.

They do not have to run anywhere, just put on a tuxedo and have a dinner with some leaders of this nation.

William Weston has been researching and writing articles on conspiracies and assassinations for various periodicals and websites for the past thirty years. He has been a featured guest on Jim Fetzer’s The Real Deal and on Len Osanic’s Black Op Radio.

Peter Heitmann is an analyst and writer researching the national security state and its partnership with academia, military, and intelligence communities in pioneering breakthroughs for physical, psychological, and atmospheric sciences. His research shows that important and highly advanced scientific discoveries and resulting data are controlled by a small group of individuals and hidden sponsors. Instead of sharing these discoveries with the general public, they prefer to hide them behind official narratives that induce fear and even work against the public’s own best interests.

Author: William Weston

Researcher of conspiracies for over 25 years. Among articles written are "On the Death of JFK: Spider’s Web at the Trade Mart" and "The USS Indianapolis Conspiracy."

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