Carl Laurin claims to know the true identity of D.B. Cooper, a man who pulled off a famous unsolved airplane hijacking in 1971 and made off with $200,000 in ransom money.
Laurin, a former Pinckney resident, says his pal, Detroit-born Walter R. Reca, of Oscoda, confessed to being the infamous skyjacker before he passed away.
“The D.B. Cooper mystery isn’t a mystery to me,” Laurin, 84, said, adding that Reca was he and his wife Loretta’s best friend.
Evidence collected by Carl Laurin and Grand Rapids-based Principia Media is the subject of a new four-part documentary series, “D.B. Cooper: The Real Story,” which is available on iTunes, Amazon Prime and Google Play.
In addition to sharing his story with documentary filmmakers, Laurin also authored a book published by Principia Media entitled “D.B. Cooper & Me: A Criminal, A Spy, and My Best Friend.”
The book is “my memoir of our friendship,” Laurin said. “He told me to write his life story, but we couldn’t come out with it until he died.”
As the unsolved true crime story goes, a man who identified himself by the name Dan Cooper boarded a Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727 in Portland on Nov. 24, 1971, according to the FBI. After take off, the mysterious man gave a flight attendant a note saying he had a bomb and demanded $200,000 and parachutes. The plane landed in Seattle, where 36 passengers disembarked, and the hijacker collected the ransom before the plane took off again.
The skyjacker, who would become known as D.B. Cooper, parachuted out of the back of the plane with the money and disappeared.
The FBI stopped investigating the cold case in 2016, according to USA Today.
In the decades since the hijacking, several theories of the true identity of D. B. Cooper have surfaced.
Laurin said he suspected Reca was “the real D.B. Cooper” before his friend fessed up to him in 2008.
He said he became suspicious because Reca had once held up a Big Boy restaurant in Detroit and tried to give someone some of the stolen money while apologizing for the stick up. To him, it sounded similar to details of the D.B. Cooper story.
“He basically did the same thing on the airplane, and after that, I shadowed him pretty close until I got all my facts down and then I hit him with (my suspicions),” Laurin said. “At first, he denied it, but finally he called me up about a day before Thanksgiving 2008 and he said, ‘I’m D.B. Cooper.'”
Reca told Laurin details of the hijacking, which were recorded on about 3½ hours of audio tape, and shared other supposed evidence before his death in 2014 at the age of 80.
Laurin said Reca was never caught or arrested “because he worked for the United States government as an operative.”
Laurin built homes and businesses in Livingston County when he lived in Pinckney in the 1970s and 1980s, including the now-closed Nero’s Pizza, which was located on M-36 in the village. He is a retired commercial airline pilot and parachutist who served as a paratrooper in the military. He now lives with Loretta in DeLand, Fla.
Dirk Wierenga, filmmaker with Principa Media and director of “D.B. Cooper: The Real Story,” said he started out skeptical of Laurin’s version but grew to be “100% convinced” Reca had been D.B. Cooper.
“Every step of the way, everything Carl told us in interviews, we double checked,” Wierenga said. “Carl came out as knowledgeable, accurate.”
Among several “pieces of evidence,” one that helped convinced Wierenga was how Reca’s recorded confession led them to track down a claimed eyewitness.
“We have Walter Reca talking in 2008 about how he landed in a town (following his leap from the airplane), but he didn’t know where he had landed,” Wierenga said. “He saw a light down the road and it was a restaurant and there was a man sitting there in cowboy attire who had a guitar with him, and helped him give directions during a phone call to the get-away driver.”
By 2012, Laurin had crafted a theory the town where Reca landed was Cle Elum, Washington, and after visiting the town, he tracked down claimed eyewitness Jeff Osiadacz, Wierenga said.
Osiadacz, who appears in the documentary, remembered the day, he said. “It’s very convincing.”
Beyond revealing evidence, the film and book also chronicle the strong friendship between the two men, Laurin said.
He said people reacted emotionally to the documentary when it debuted before a live audience earlier this month at an event in Cle Elum.
“It was a friendship that stood all the tests of time,” Laurin said.