Monday, August 12, 2013

"Skyjack" by Geoffrey Gray: A Review

I don't have a grudge against your airline, Miss, I just have a grudge.

I have said before that good non-fiction is better than fiction. Occassionally I enjoy leaving theology behind and engaging in a good (true) story usually related to the Presidents or to a certain crime. One of the most intriguing crimes committed, still unsolved, in my estimation is the Dan (D.B.) Cooper hijacking of 1971.

I'm sure most are at least familiar with the story. Shortly after takeoff, a man in a black suit orders one of the stewardess to read a letter he has written warning that he was hijacking the plane and he has a bomb with him. He wants money, some parachutes, and food for the crew. After receiving the ransom money (totally over $1 million in today's money), he jumps out of the plane never to be seen again. The only real development in the story forty years later is the discovery of some of the ransom money.

I have seen a number of documentaries on the story but never read a full account before. Thus I combed through our local library and found Geoffrey Gray's book Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper. Unlike any other work of non-fiction I've read before, the writing style resembles more fiction than anything else. The author frequently plays on imagery, expressions, and other traits of storytelling. He tries to make the historic account read like a tale as he does history. For those who read a lot of fiction, this will be a big plus. However, I prefer "just the facts, ma'am." Good history is compelling enough and I found Gray's style a bit too much.

The book is broken down into a three parts: the hijacking, the hunt for Cooper, and the ongoing theories as to his identity. The author begins his personal story of investigation with the belief that Kenneth Christiansen was the hijacking and seeks out the opinions of Cooper experts. He weaves the story of the hijacking with his own personal investigation (which at times made things confusing) leading to the probability that other suspects could have been the allusive hijacker.

In the end, Gray suggests the hijacking could be a number of people. He never surrenders his initial belief in Christiansen, but concludes other suspects are viable candidates. These include Richard Floyd McCoy, Jr. who successfully hijacked a plane shortly after Cooper in very much the same style, Duane Weber who was a lifelong criminal who was able to hide his own past from his wife and supposedly confessed his identity as Cooper on his deathbed, and Barbara Dayton who prior to the hijacking was Bobby Dayton before going through a sex-change operation. I find Dayton's story the strangest of them all. The author seems to conclude that these three in addiction to Christensen could be the hijacker.

But that is not all. There is another possibility that I suspect will grow in popularity: conspiracy. The theories here abound and most are elaborate and improbable. The basic theory is that the US government wanted to increase airport security and thus had the CIA hijack a plane. Cooper, then, is a CIA operative. Remember that at this time, hijackings were very common throughout the world and in the United States and President Richard Nixon was in office. If any US President screams "conspiracy," it is him.

The book ends on this strange note of conspiracy. The author finds himself scared of the dark as he digs deeper into all supposed leads of conspiracy. Instead of offering a satisfying conclusion the author leaves us with a cliffhanger. That's fine if your into that I guess. Overall, the book is intriguing though not exactly what I was looking for. I was hoping to read the story of the hijacking, the hunt for him, and where the case stands today. I got that with Gray's book, but got lost in the process. Perhaps there are better books out there. Perhaps sometime in the future I will invest in them.

For more:
"Manhunt" by Peter Bergen: A Review
"Manhunt" by James L. Swanson: A Review
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