“D.B Cooper: What Really Happened” by Max Gunther. (1985)

Max Gunther


In February 1972, just four months after the hijacking of Flight 305, a man claiming to be D.B. Cooper contacted author Max Gunther.  Research suggests that it was William J. Smith who contacted Max in 1972.  See the letter Max received here.

Max Gunther was a very successful author and magazine editor. In 1985 he published a book entitled “D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened.”  In this book he chronicles the tale of D.B. Cooper and his rescuer Clara.  He based his book on letters and conversations he had with a man claiming to be D.B. Cooper.  He also used information gained from conversations with the woman named Clara who claimed to be D.B. Cooper’s wife.  The book was well researched and factual in regards to the hijacking.  The details of the character’s lives were changed for their protection.  The parts of the story that the characters changed is still an unanswered question.

This post will be updated at some point with more information on the book and how it is connected to a real group of people: Dan Clair, William J. Smith, William’s wife Dolores, and Dan’s wife Jeanne.  A majority of Gunther’s book describes events and people in the life of William J. Smith.  There are simply too many similarities between the book and the lives of William J. Smith & Dan Clair to be a coincidence.  Some of those similarities include:

  • The main character is named Dan LeClair who was born in Ontario, Canada and moved to Newark, New Jersey.  Just like Dan Clair.
  • His rescuer was named “Clara” which sounds very similar to Clair.  William J. Smith had a cousin named Clara as well.
  • His wife’s birthday was March 2nd.  Just like Dan Clair’s wife.
  • The character was a photographer in high school.  Just like William J. Smith was at Lincoln High School in Jersey City, New Jersey.
  • The character had an alias of Paul Cotton (the real Paul Cotton lived as a child down the street from William J. Smith’s wife).
  • He visits a skydive center near Los Angeles in the summer of 1971.  FBI documents released in 2017 describe this visit almost exactly.
  • He had a scar on his hand, almost exactly like a scar that William J. Smith had.
  • He works for a company, moves to another similar company, only to have it go bankrupt soon after.  Likely a reference to the Lehigh Valley/Pennsylvania/Penn Central Railroad mergers/bankruptcies.
  • The letters to Max were all postmarked New York City, one train stop away from where William J. Smith and Dan Clair worked.
  • Has heart disease later in life and eventually dies of it.  Just like Dan Clair.
  • Had a son who lived in Boston.  Dan Clair’s son lived in Boston at the exact same time as listed in the book.
  • Clara’s family had a cabin by a lake.  William Smith’s wife’s family had land on a lake in New Jersey.

Timeline and Details of Max Gunther’s Characters

November 24, 1971: Hijacking of Northwest Orient Flight 305.

November 30, 1971: Elsinore Skydive Center near Los Angeles calls the FBI to say that a man closely resembling the sketch of the hijacker skydived there in the summer of 1971.  This same man wore military style paratrooper boots and asked questions about jumping from a passenger airliner.

December 1971: FBI reviews jump records from Elsinore Skydive Center.

February 10, 1972: D.B. Cooper sends first letter to Max Gunther (postmarked New York, NY).  He asks Max to place an ad in the Village Voice (a New York City paper) if he would like to communicate.

March 2, 1972: Max places ad in the Village Voice.

March 10, 1972: D.B. Cooper sends second letter to Max. Phones Max a few weeks later.

Spring-Summer 1972: Max Gunther informs FBI about the letters and calls.

April 1982: Clara tells Max that D.B. Cooper has died.  Clara and Max speak about a half dozen times.

1985: Max Gunther publishes his book entitled “D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened.” In the book the man claiming to be D.B. Cooper describes a visit to a skydive center near Los Angeles in 1971.

2017:  FBI documents regarding the hijacker’s visit to Elsinore Skydive Center are released.  Somehow Max Gunther wrote about this event 12 years before the FBI files were released.  Either Max had an inside source, or he was in fact talking to the same man who visited Elsinore in 1971.


Max Gunther’s book is available on Amazon.com.  Below is a link to the used copies, which can usually be purchased for less than $10.

D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened.  By Max Gunther.



Images are from the book “DB Cooper-What Really Happened, by Max Gunther.”  Published in 1985.  All images are for informational purposes only and are not intended for commercial use.


One thought on ““D.B Cooper: What Really Happened” by Max Gunther. (1985)”

  1. Some of those similarities are very convincing. I look forward to hearing what the FBI says about the prints.

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