Minnesotan searches for infamous skyjacker: Was it his brother?
A few years ago, on a hunch, a Morris man started to seek help in finding out if his late brother could be one of the most infamous criminals in U.S. history.
Since then, a book, news and magazine stories and TV programs have attempted to determine if Lyle Christiansen's belief that his brother and fellow Morris farm boy, Kenny, was the famed skyjacker D.B. Cooper.
The latest attempt at solving the only unsolved skyjacking in U.S. aviation history was made by the History Channel series, "Brad Meltzer's Decoded."
The program's episode on the Cooper case aired twice this month, and the video also can be viewed online at www.history.com/shows/brad-meltzers-decoded.
Meltzer is a best-selling author of "The Book of Fate" and six other novels. His team of investigators on "Decoded" has delved into several mysteries since the series began late last year.
The team was in Morris last summer to meet with Lyle Christiansen, who began to pursue information about his brother and the Cooper case after noticing parallels on a TV program about the case. In 1971, a man skyjacked a Northwest jet, said he would blow up the plane if he didn't receive a $200,000 ransom, then later parachuted with the money into the wilderness between Seattle and Portland, ostensibly never to be heard from again.
The program features conversations with Lyle Christiansen at his Morris home, a brief segment filmed at Don's Café, and shots and interviews with others involved in the case.
"When someone commits the perfect crime," Meltzer says in the program's introduction, "I want to know who he is."
The FBI until recently had never investigated Kenny Christiansen as a potential suspect. The agency still considers the case open and states that some evidence would seem to dismiss him as a suspect and it is skeptical of some information that points to Christiansen as the skyjacker.
Ralph Himmelsbach, a retired FBI officer who was the original lead investigator on the Cooper case, said Christiansen was not a suspect and still isn't convinced he's the man.
In the "Decoded" episode, Himmelsbach takes the team through a 727 Boeing jet identical to the one Cooper skyjacked, and said he doesn't believe the skyjacker would have survived the jump into minus-69 degree wind chills, from an airplane traveling almost 200 miles per hour at a height of about 10,000 feet, and into rugged forested terrain.
But after reviewing written and photographic evidence and speaking to researchers and Christiansen's family, friends and acquaintances, the "Decoded" team of engineer Christine McKinley, professor and journalist Buddy Levy and attorney Scott Rolle concludes -- somewhat apprehensively -- that Christiansen was D.B. Cooper.
"At the end of the day," Levy says on the program, "what we have here is a ton of circumstantial evidence. None of Kenny's papers or personal effects point directly to him being D.B. Cooper, but when you stack them all together, you have to wonder, 'Can they all be coincidence?' "
In addition to now well-known facts about the case, the "Decoded" team uncovered a hinged box concealed in the roof above what would have been Kenny's bedroom in the building that had been his Bonney Lake, Wash., home.
The team also interviewed Bernie Geestman, Kenny's long-time friend who is by some believed to have been his accomplice in the skyjacking. Geestman denied being a party to the crime but did say he believes his friend committed it.
In wrapping up their investigation, McKinley said, "If I had to bet my own money on it, I'd say yes (Christiansen was D.B. Cooper). If I was on a jury and was asked to convict him, I'm not sure I'd feel certain enough to convict him."
Rolle, the attorney, echoed McKinley's assessment: "I'm not sure I'd convict beyond a reasonable doubt in this case, but I'd take it to court."
Levy said that, based on all the evidence the team reviewed, "Kenny Christiansen fits the profile and he's the best history has at the moment ... If there's a better suspect, I'd love to see him."
The team members all said their best hunches are on Christiansen as the skyjacker. While one said it might not be right, they closed the show by raising their coffee cups to toast him. Meltzer agreed with their findings.
"In all likelihood," Meltzer said, "Kenny Christiansen, a humble airline employee, committed the perfect crime. He got what he wanted and, most importantly, he got away with it."