[Music—Improvisation in D]
DIMITRI STAMATIS—James Johnston
I said I’d write again when I knew more about the mystery I was pursuing. And for the second time in the last several months, I’m reminded that knowing more comes with a steep price. Finding my answer has quite literally trapped me in a cage. I’ve been allowed to write this letter after begging for permission from my captors. Beyond that, no further communication will be allowed, nor will I be able to return home unless I make an impossible choice.
But first there is something I must confess to you, Leon, something I’m ashamed of. I told you in a previous letter that I have written to Nica. And I did. I wrote her a long letter that attempts to explain and apologize and beg forgiveness. But I have made an important realization in the time since I wrote it.
I realize that I lack the courage to send it. I have waited too long to contact her. I fear I’ve already missed the window within which she might have forgiven me. And I can’t bare the thought of coming up against that window only to find it barred and locked.
I know that I should have. I know that it was the right thing to do. But it has been so much easier to distract myself with mysteries. With suspicious old men carrying secrets and guns.
Do you remember the television special we watched as boys about the skyjacker in 1971 who boarded Northwest flight 305, Portland to Seattle? He claimed to be carrying a bomb, demanded $200,000, had the pilots land the plane, evacuated the passengers, received his ransom, returned to the air with a skeleton crew and parachuted into complete mystery, never to be heard from again? It’s that latter part that always fascinated me. I had no concern about the money, which was something you obsessed over, the disorder of that missing finance possibly out of circulation forever. The bills were marked, you said, so it was only a matter of time. But I wanted to know how a man could dive into the sky after pulling off such an insanely dangerous stunt, to never be seen again. How does a man everyone is looking for disappear? Where does he go?
[Music fades into Snow Ban]
As you’ve no doubt realized, Darby is none other than the legendary D.B. Cooper, or Dan Cooper as the name was meant to be reported. Fascinating how easily mistakes can deepen a mystery, isn’t it? Dan doesn’t sound nearly as mysterious as DB. What do both initials stand for? Combining them allows for infinite possibilities while Dan is just — Dan. Imagine the hours people must have spent speculating over an erroneous report of an alias.
After I found the stash of money, I decided to look for damning proof, something concrete I remembered from that old TV special. The one detail that stuck with me was the parachute DB used to escape, a military grade chute, the perfect choice for someone jumping out of a plane moving at the speed and altitude of Northwest 305.
I was making my way to the parachute cupboard when the power in the entire compound went out.
[Dogs bark, jump against chain fence. Icy wind blows.]
As I’ve written before, Alaska is dark in the winter, but saying “dark” doesn’t do it justice, Leon. I’d become used to the constant fluorescents brightening the fortress of solitude. When they abruptly cut out, I briefly thought I had died, instantly entering an austere void.
[Loud pop, followed by electrical buzz of heavy spotlight lighting.]
[Dogs grow more agitated.]
And that’s when Darby turned the spotlight on, standing in one of his guard towers with a rifle pointed at my chest. Of course I couldn’t see this at first. My retinas burned from the cruel seesawing illumination to the point where I threw my hand up to shield them, my body crumpling back into the cold, hard earth.
Darby spoke into a megaphone, asking me where I thought I was going. I saw no reason to lie. It was clear I’d been discovered. Irritating a man brandishing a weapon with complete untruths didn’t seem wise. I told him I was looking for a 1971-era military grade parachute.
“Wouldn’t find it in there,” he told me calmly. “Thing saved my life. You could say I’m quite attached to it. Use it as a bed-sheet now.”
At this point, Darby proposed we play a simple game. We’d take turns asking curious questions and receive honest answers. I saw no harm in this exchange. The more questions we asked of each other, the longer I might go without a bullet in my chest.
[Environment and music fade out.]
[Military drum march.]
I learned Darby was a paratrooper in the Korean War and a member of the 10th corps, one of the 20,000 Marines who fought in the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. On the retreat back from the Chosin, he developed frostbite from the negative thirty below temperatures that claimed two of his toes.
He was honorably discharged shortly after, then worked as a salesman for a while in a department store selling hunting gear.
In the 60’s, he quit the salesman gig and moved to a rural farming commune, making barrels to store and ship grains for his fellow hippies, a trade he’d learned from an old Army buddy. He hated the Government’s response to the growing conflict in Vietnam. He’d become bitter about his involvement in Korea and he imagined a lot of the soldiers fighting in Vietnam felt the same way.
As the 60s neared completion, the members of commune slowly drifted away. Alone and angry, Darby planned the heist of the century as some kind of retaliation. He planned it for years. He planned every detail and he actually pulled it off.
Only he didn’t know what to do with the money. He stuck around in a hideout in northern Washington, waiting for things to cool down. He eventually realized he was given marked bills, very easy to track. He hunted, fixed up his hideout and waited. For nine years.
In 1980, he took a short trip south and buried some of the money in a place he thought it’d be found, along the banks of the Columbia, a test to see if the money was still in the system, if his legend still resonated. Sure enough, a young boy found it and interest in finding DB Cooper reached an all time high.
[March fades out.]
[Snow Ban & compound environment resume.]
That’s when Darby crossed into Canada and never looked back, moving North until he found the compound. He settled down, worked at his coopering trade and dreamt of all the ways he’d spend that money if he could.
I asked him why he’d rescued me. He could have just let me drown out there and it certainly didn’t seem like he welcomed many visitors.
So why me?
He took a long time to answer. “Welp,” he said finally. “I took one look at that crazy flare you sent up and I said, there’s a fella who’s got himself a story. And I’m guessing it’s the kind of story he’s never had the chance to tell anyone else.”
He asked me questions about Atlantis, listening intently. Eventually he even lowered his rifle while descending the watchtower. In the end, Darby told me the worst part about what he’d done wasn’t that he couldn’t spend any of the money. It was that he couldn’t tell anyone about it.
They were all out there, looking for him, some wondering if he’d even survived the jump. He’d pulled off the crime of the century — but nobody knew it was him. Nobody knew what he’d done. They knew what DB Cooper had done but nobody knew who DB Cooper was.
I told him he still had time to tell people, but Darby shook his head.
“It’s your choice now.”
“My choice to what?” I asked him.
He stuffed a stack of bills into my hand and pushed me hard. I fell backward, arms flailing, into one of his barrels. Before I knew what had happened, he covered the top and hammered it down.
“It’s your choice to tell someone my story.” And with that, he hauled me onto the parachute gun and launched me into the sky.
[Music cuts simultaneously]
[Long moment of no sound but wind.]
I thought this may be his cruel way of killing me. Keeping me in suspense as I hurdled through the air, waited for the dreaded feeling of decline. I had no idea if Darby had attached a parachute to this barrel or not.
[Snow Ban cuts back in.]
But then I heard the chute bloom from the top of the barrel and I sailed to the ground safely. The landing wasn’t the gentlest and I certainly received some scrapes and bruises, but all in all, it was a surreally pleasant experience.
[Snow Ban fades into Improvisation in D.]
I walked in the dark a half mile towards the lights of Valdez, which has a small airport. Of course I had no money of my own, no passport or documentation. I’d foolishly left that behind in the sub. I had the cash that Darby had given me, but to use it would undoubtedly bring tremendous attention and eventually I would need to explain where it came from.
So I waited for a few days. I hung around bus stops shivering in the cold, unsure of what to do. Spend the money on food, shelter, a plane ticket home — and then be forced to explain where it came from? Or live in the cold, dark isolation of Alaskan winter, my own personal fortress of solitude?
I eventually caved. I went to the airport to purchase a ticket, purchased some food while I waited for my flight. I hoped to use the money to bribe my way onto the plane. A naive plan, I know, and one that of course led me to this cell. I thought perhaps it would take longer for them to track the marked bills I used, but in the end I suppose I was fooling myself.
I told them nothing at first, only that I needed to write you this letter. But unless I offer up an explanation, I won’t be allowed to return home, not without any ID or at least a convincing story. My captors know I am not DB Cooper, but they’re also aware I know something and they want that information. If I give it to them, Darby is done and I am free. But I rob the world of more mystery. I become more like you, Leon. It’s worse than solving a great riddle. I solve it for everyone, whether they want me to or not.
They are coming in to question me. I do not know if I’ll see you again, but if I do, you’ll know I told the truth. And if you don’t, well, I’ll be here, imprisoned in another man’s mystery.
Tell Nica I am sorry. And I’m sorry I could not tell her myself.
Greater Boston is written and produced by Alexander Danner and Jeff Van Dreason with recording and technical assistance from Marc Harmon.
Greater Boston relies on your support! You can contribute through our Patreon campaign, and gain early access to episode, transcripts annotated with creator commentary, and even bonus audio, including Mallory on Film, summing up the best and worst movies around in Mallory’s unique opinion.
This episode featured:
- James Johnston as Dimitri Stamatis (he/him)
Want to hear more James Johnston? Like video games? Check out the new Viewtiful Games podcast, in which James talks games with friends Jordan and Lexi. That’s “Viewtiful” – V-I-E-W – Viewtiful Games. Available on iTunes or any podcatcher app.
Improvisation in D by Tate Peterson
Snow Ban recorded by Adrienne Howard, Emily Peterson and Dirk Tiede.
Drums by Jim Johanson.
Transcripts will be posted online at GreaterBostonShow.com.
I always thought I could be a voice actor for, umm…Toad. From the Super Mario Series.
[Toad voice] Ohh nooo! Ahh, wa wa wa wa wa wa wa! [laughter] Hello!
- Falls from Height