No, that wasn't an obit for D.B. Cooper that ran this week in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber. It was another local keeping up the island's "weird" reputation after the death of his brother.
No, that wasn’t an obit for D.B. Cooper that ran this week in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber.
It was just in keeping with a slogan you see on bumper stickers around the island: “Keep Vashon Weird.”
When Alex Layhon walked into the offices of the weekly newspaper and said he wanted to buy a 3-by-7-inch funeral notice about his recently deceased brother, Michael Layhon, there wasn’t anything unusual about the request.
“I said, ‘Would you like to include a photograph?” remembers Nance Scott, marketing designer at the 3,700-circulation paper.
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“He gave me a sly grin and said, ‘Well … ,’ and pulled out this picture from his shirt pocket. ‘My brother would have loved this. He had such a great sense of humor.’ “
The picture is the by-now iconic FBI sketch of D.B. Cooper, who on “a dark and stormy night” of Nov. 24, 1971, hijacked a Northwest Airlines 727 after it took off from Portland for Seattle.
On that Thanksgiving eve, the man who bought a ticket as Dan Cooper collected four parachutes and $200,000 in ransom money after the jet landed in Seattle and then ordered it to fly to Mexico, leaping out the back stairwell as the plane flew over southwest Washington.
Searches for Cooper came up empty. He gained folk-hero status. In the sketch, he’s wearing wraparound sunglasses, a suit jacket, white shirt and skinny tie popular in the era.
Daralyn Anderson, the publisher of the Beachcomber, happened to be sitting nearby when Layhon pulled out the sketch, says Scott, and the two women decided, sure, why not, it’s Vashon.
As the obituary that Layhon, 58, wrote about his brother, who died July 19 at age 57, says, “… it was not uncommon for Mike to occasionally fuel the fires of the local rumor mill.”
Vashon, an island of 10,000 people about a 15-minute ferry ride from West Seattle, is an eclectic mix that includes artists, dot-com and software professionals, old-timers who remember its rural days, New Age types and the kind of guys who have a 12-pack in the back seat.
It’s also an island that loves its gossip.
“We’re a rumor-mongering place,” says Leslie Brown, editor of the Beachcomber. “Partly, it’s because we’re an island and have discrete boundaries in a very contained place.”
So what may not be exactly news in other places is news in Vashon.
Along with the Layhon obit, for example, in the same issue, the Beachcomber ran a story about the local Thriftway replacing its old-fashioned reader board by Vashon Highway Southwest with a digital electronic sign. It followed in the footsteps a few months ago of Island Lumber, the big hardware store, which erected a full-color electronic digital sign.
This stirred up passions from locals who don’t want this step into modernity.
Some of them created the Facebook page, “Vashon Thriftway & Island Lumber should take down their casino signs.” Current membership: 32 people.
Layhon says his brother had been a longtime Vashon resident, working at the now-defunct Beall Greenhouses and also at K2 Sports, when it was manufacturing there. Layhon says his brother, who never married and didn’t have any children, for two years “lived in the streets of Seattle.”
When their parents passed away, Layhon said, he and his brother bought a home in Onyx, Calif., where he’d be close to other family members. The brother lived there his last days, and he was supported financially from money from his folks’ estate.
He was found dead at his home in Onyx. The family is awaiting autopsy results, says Layhon.
The reason he put D.B. Cooper’s image in the obit, says Layhon, is that his brother was born on Nov. 25, the same day that Cooper would leap out of that airplane.
“We always joked about that,” says the brother.
Now, Mike Layhon is part of the Vashon legacy: Keepin’ it weird.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org