HA-HA-HA and D.B Cooper

In 2011, the newspaper formerly operating as the Oregonian published an installment of my Lost Pacific Northwest Books Column. Outside of my writing about euthanizing my dogs, I received more reader response to this piece than any other newspaper piece I have ever written and the responses I received came from all over the world and continue to this day. I just got another one this week.

Here is that column, slightly edited and updated:

In 1983, a publisher from Jefferson, Oregon called Signum Books Ltd. released a 330-page soft cover book titled HA-HA-HA. The cover features a drawing of a man in a suit holding a briefcase while parachuting from a commercial jetliner. The back cover features a graphic of a certificate announcing a contest called “Your Big Score.” The certificate’s first sentence reads: “It’s true. In this book are seven clues. By reading it carefully and discovering the clues, one could receive as much as $200,000 in twenty dollar bills.”

The book’s author is D.B. Cooper.

As every sentient Pacific Northwesterner knows, on November 24, 1971 a man who gave his name as Dan Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 from Portland to Seattle, extorted $200,000 from authorities, had the jet refueled, and then somewhere between Seattle and Reno, jumped out of plane with a parachute. His body was never found nor was an arrest ever made. In the subsequent 40 years, D.B. has gone onto become, alongside Bigfoot, the greatest legend in Pacific Northwest History.

Not only could Cooper successfully hijack a plane and elude the FBI, he also was (is?) an excellent writer. HA-HA-HA is a lively, often hilarious memoir that recounts his hard luck life before the hijacking, (failed real estate developer, boozer, petty thief) describes in serious detail what really happened that night (he smoked Raleigh cigarettes to deflect suspicion), how he made his escape (he rented a house and gassed up vehicle not far from where he landed near Pyramid Lake), and how he shrewdly invested the ransom money (in Boeing and silver!) and became very wealthy. He may yet be alive and reading this.

Besides writing well, Cooper also seems to have invented a new literary genre: a cryptic yet lucrative contest within a book written by a criminal mastermind who practically dares the law to locate him. Unfortunately, finding this Lost Northwest book is about as easy as finding D.B. Cooper. A recent search on the most comprehensive used/rare book site turned up only three copies for sale, each for around $30. I have never seen the book in a library.

HA-HA-HA originally retailed for $3.95. I bought mine for $6 at a used bookstore in Lincoln City a decade ago and never bothered to read it until the summer 2011 release of the latest D.B. Cooper book, Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper byGeoffrey Gray, and the revelation that the FBI had a new lead in the case. As it turned out, the lead went nowhere and the mystery remains, which begs the question: Did Gray and all the other D.B. Cooper buffs bother to read HA-HA-HA. I doubt they knew of its existence.

Wouldn’t it be something if D.B. Cooper did write this superb book and the Big Score was (is) for real? What better ingenious way to throw off the FBI? Tell everyone what happened and everyone thinks you’re a nut. And then to top it all off, stage a contest!

Whoever owned HA-HA-HA before me made an active effort to discover the clues and left behind outstanding notes. Is $200,000 just sitting somewhere in a safety deposit box or storage facility?

Back to 2021. I never followed up this story or exerted any effort to solve the mystery. But over the years many, many D.B. Cooper nuts or freaks or experts have contacted me wanting to know if I still have the copy I wrote about. I do not. I gave it away on a Portland street to a woman who came up to me after a wild D.B Cooper event at a bar and said she had to have it. Why not? It’s yours. I never wanted to discover the identity of D.B Cooper although 200 hundred grand would have been nice.

As I said, another D.B. Cooper tracker contacted me this week because of the column. He’d nailed the son-of-bitch down, an art dealer or something from Arizona. I don’t really know. But the sleuth maintains D.B. Cooper really did write Ha-Ha-Ha and I am the only writer who ever caught on to it.

So there is that to my resume.

Oh yeah, I’ll add it it to my other scoops, like the real story of the drowning-under-the-log scene in Sometimes a Great Notion (book and movie), the secret weapon of Bill Walton’s MVP performance against the Philadelphia 76’ers in the 1977 NBA championship for the Portland Trail Blazers, why Neil G really didn’t run for a second term as Oregon governor, why Conde McCullough really built those alcoves on his Oregon Coast bridges, and of course, the real story of Vortex I, which I spent 250,000 words to explain.

Do I have anymore up my sleeve?

Yes, and his name is Zane Grey.