Real Name: Unknown, Dan Cooper is believed to be an alias
Aliases: Dan Cooper
Wanted For: Hijacking, Theft
Missing Since: November 24, 1971
Details: At 2PM on November 24, 1971, a man purchased a one-way coach ticket on a Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. He paid in cash and claimed his name was "Dan Cooper". The only luggage he carried was an attache case. Once the plane was in flight, he handed a note to Florence Shaffner, a stewardess, who thought little of it at first, as stewardesses sometimes were slipped phone numbers by male passengers. At one point Cooper quietly told Shaffner "Miss, you better take a look at that note", which told that he had a bomb in his attache case.
Cooper opened his carry-on attache case to reveal sticks of dynamite, and ordered Shaffner to pass the note to the captain, but for her and the other crew members not to spread alarm; acting casual and behaving as if nothing was out of the ordinary. The note also ordered the captain to divert the plane to Seattle, which the pilots did, informing air traffic control of the hijacking. However, they told the passengers that they were diverting due to mechanical failure. Cooper also requested four parachutes (two front pack and two back pack) and $200,000 in cash, asking that the plane not land until the requests were met.
The FBI put together the ransom money. Each bill was photographed and the serial numbers were recorded. Cooper insisted that the plane be immediately re-fueled upon landing in Seattle. He wanted the plane to stay on the runway, and not be taxied to the terminal. He also did not want any of the passengers released until his demands were met. At 5:43PM, the plane landed at the Seattle airport. The plane was parked in a remote area of the field.
While the passengers grumbled, they never suspected they were hijacked until being on terra firma when they were interrogated by the FBI (for composite information about Cooper). Once on the ground, an FBI agent took the money and parachutes to one of the flight attendants, who then took the items to Cooper. No one knew that one of the parachutes was defective. The FBI was worried that he would use the chutes to take hostages.
Finally, he ordered the flight crew to release the passengers but continued to keep the captain and one of the flight attendants captive. He then had the plane take off again at 7:37PM, having it fly from Seattle to Mexico City at a height of 10,000 feet and a speed of 200 mph. He agreed to stop for re-fueling in Reno, Nevada. He also requested to have the back stairwell down. However, the plane could not fly in this condition, so it was not done. At around 8:10PM over the Lewis River in southern Washington, Cooper opened the rear exit door while in flight and jumped with the cash, no visible protective gear and only a parachute into obscurity. He, the money and parachutes were never seen again.
To date, this is the only unsolved sky-jacking in the history of aviation. The FBI thoroughly investigated the case, chasing several leads and suspects. The press dubbed this character "D.B. Cooper," who was only known on the flight manifest as Dan Cooper. No one could find a trace of him nor locate any of the stolen traceable cash.
In November of 1978, a plastic sign from a Boeing 727 was discovered in the woods near the bail-out area. Fifteen months later, on February 10, 1980, some of the marked cash was found dredged in the mud near the Columbia River, twenty-five miles from his apparent jump point. These clues suggest to some that Cooper either perished in the woods or landed in the Columbia and drowned. However, others believe from his coolness and planning that he actually survived and got away with one of the most daring crimes of the twentieth century.
Some believe that he would have been unable to navigate the difficult terrain that he landed in, especially if he was injured and wearing only a business suit. However, some have suggested that he may have been wearing more suitable clothing underneath that would have helped him.
There have been several theories as to who Cooper really was. One suspect was Richard McCoy, who hijacked a plane in April of 1972. He extorted $500,000, but was arrested during his hijacking attempt. After he escaped from prison several months later, he was killed in a gun battle with the FBI. Due to the similarities in the crimes and their photos, some believe that McCoy and Cooper are one in the same.
When Unsolved Mysteries re-examined the case, they had a new composite made of Cooper. Working with a new forensic artist, they gave Florence Schaffner, the stewardess to which he handed the note, a chance to recommission a new likeness. Most of the Americans who heard his voice said that he had a Mid-Western accent. It was also believed that due to Cooper's demand for parachutes and his escape that the man was a military veteran, likely certified as a paratrooper.
- In 1978, a placard printed with instructions for lowering the aft stairs of a 727 was found by a deer hunter near a logging road about 13 miles (21 km) east of Castle Rock, Washington, well north of Lake Merwin, but within Flight 305's basic flight path.
- Portion of Brian Ingram's 1980 discovery: In February 1980, eight-year-old Brian Ingram was vacationing with his family on the Columbia River at a beachfront known as Tina (or Tena) Bar, about 9 miles (14 km) downstream from Vancouver, Washington, and 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Ariel. He uncovered three packets of the ransom cash as he raked the sandy riverbank to build a campfire. The bills were significantly disintegrated, but still bundled in rubber bands FBI technicians confirmed that the money was indeed a portion of the ransom: two packets of 100 twenty-dollar bills each, and a third packet of 90, all arranged in the same order as when given to Cooper. In 1986, after protracted negotiations, the recovered bills were divided equally between Ingram and Northwest Orient's insurer; the FBI retained fourteen examples as evidence. Ingram sold fifteen of his bills at auction in 2008 for about $37,000. To date, none of the 9,710 remaining bills have turned up anywhere in the world. Their serial numbers remain available online for public search. The Columbia River ransom money and the air stair instruction placard remain the only confirmed physical evidence from the hijacking ever found outside the aircraft.
- In 2017, a group of volunteer investigators uncovered what they believe to be “potential evidence, what appears to be a decades-old parachute strap" in the Pacific Northwest. This was followed later in August 2017 with a piece of foam, suspected of being part of Cooper's backpack.
- Subsequent FBI disclosures
In late 2007, the FBI announced that a partial DNA profile had been obtained from three organic samples found on Cooper's clip-on tie in 2001, though they later acknowledged that there is no evidence that the hijacker was the source of the sample material. "The tie had two small DNA samples, and one large sample," said Special Agent Fred Gutt. "It's difficult to draw firm conclusions from these samples." The Bureau also made public a file of previously unreleased evidence, including Cooper's 1971 plane ticket (price: $20.00, paid in cash), and posted previously unreleased composite sketches and fact sheets, along with a request to the general public for information which might lead to Cooper's positive identification.
They also disclosed that Cooper chose the older of the two primary parachutes supplied to him, rather than the technically superior professional sport parachute; and that from the two reserve parachutes, he selected a "dummy"—an unusable unit with an inoperative ripcord intended for classroom demonstrations, although it had clear markings identifying it to any experienced skydiver as non-functional. (He cannibalized the other, functional reserve parachute, possibly using its shrouds to tie the money bag shut, and to secure the bag to his body as witnessed by Mucklow.) The FBI stressed that inclusion of the dummy reserve parachute, one of four obtained in haste from a Seattle skydiving school, was accidental.
In March 2009, the FBI disclosed that Tom Kaye, a paleontologist from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, had assembled a team of "citizen sleuths", including scientific illustrator Carol Abraczinskas and metallurgist Alan Stone. The group, eventually known as the Cooper Research Team, re=investigated important components of the case using GPS, satellite imagery, and other technologies unavailable in 1971. Although little new information was gained regarding the buried ransom money or Cooper's landing zone, they were able to find and analyze hundreds of minute particles on Cooper's tie using electron microscopy. Lycopodium spores (likely from a pharmaceutical product) were identified, as well as fragments of bismuth and aluminum.
In November 2011, Kaye announced that particles of pure (unalloyed) titanium had also been found on the tie. He explained that titanium, which was much rarer in the 1970s than in the 2010s, was at that time found only in metal fabrication or production facilities, or at chemical companies using it (combined with aluminum) to store extremely corrosive substances.The findings suggested that Cooper may have been a chemist or a metallurgist, or possibly an engineer or manager (the only employees who wore ties in such facilities at that time) in a metal or chemical manufacturing plant, or at a company that recovered scrap metal from those types of factories. In January 2017, Kaye reported that rare earth minerals such as cerium and strontium sulfide had also been identified among particles from the tie. One of the rare applications for such elements in the 1970s was Boeing's supersonic transport development project, suggesting the possibility that Cooper was a Boeing employee. Other possible sources of the material included plants that manufactured cathode ray tubes, such as the Portland firms Teledyne and Tektronix. Agents theorized that Cooper took his alias from a popular Belgian comic book series of the 1970s featuring the fictional hero Dan Cooper, a Royal Canadian Air Force test pilot who took part in numerous heroic adventures, including parachuting. (One cover from the series, reproduced on the FBI web site, depicts test pilot Cooper skydiving in full paratrooper regalia.) Because the Dan Cooper comics were never translated into English, nor imported to the U.S., they speculated that he may have encountered them during a tour of duty in Europe. The Cooper Research Team suggested the alternative possibility that Cooper was Canadian, and found the comics in Canada, where they were also sold. They noted his specific demand for "negotiable American currency," a phrase seldom if ever used by American citizens; since witnesses stated that Cooper had no distinguishable accent, Canada would be his most likely country of origin if he were not a U.S. citizen.
According to the FBI Internet website on the Cooper case: Seattle FBI agent Larry Carr theories:
- Carr believes that Cooper was inspired by a French language comic book "Dan Cooper."
- Carr thinks it’s highly unlikely that Cooper survived the jump. “But he came from somewhere and from someone. And that is what we want to know.” Based on what he has learned so far, here is Carr’s profile of Cooper: He served in the Air Force and at some point was stationed in Europe, where he may have become interested in the Dan Cooper comic books.
- He worked as a cargo loader on planes, giving him knowledge and experience in the aviation industry, which was in its infancy in 1971.
- Because his job required him to throw cargo out of planes, Cooper would have worn an emergency parachute in case he fell out. This would have provided him with working knowledge of parachutes but not necessarily the functional knowledge to survive the jump he made.
- He may have come from the East Coast, but taken an aviation job in Seattle when he got out of the military. It’s possible he lost his job during an economic downturn in the aviation industry in 1970-71. If he was a loner with little or no family, “nobody would have missed him” after he was gone.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the October 12, 1988 episode. It was also profiled on Brad Meltzer's Decoded on the History Channel, and Unsolved History on the Discovery Channel. It also inspired the movies The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper (1981) with Treat Williams and Without A Paddle (2004) with Seth Green and Matthew Lillard and influenced an episode of the TV-Series, "Leverage." It was also parodied in the series "Drunk History" along with the Agatha Christie and Circleville Writer cases.
Results: Wanted. Due to the high publicity of the case, several suspects were considered, which was fueled by multiple widows claiming their late husbands confided to them on their deathbeds that they were "Dan Cooper." John Emil List, a man who murdered his wife, children, and mother in 1971 and ran wild before being arrested in 1990, was also considered a suspect on the basis that those murders were committed in 1971, the same year as the Cooper skyjacking, and that Cooper demanded $200,000, which was about the same amount as the mortgage on List's property and other debts. However, after imprisonment List denied his involvement with the Cooper affair, and he was eventually ruled out as a suspect.
Reports in 2011 have said that the FBI has put their focus on a new suspect, a man by the name of Lynn Doyle Cooper who passed away in 1999. Due to a lack of leads, the FBI closed their investigation into the case in 2016. However, since then, there still have been new leads and possible suspects identified, including Robert Rackstraw and Walter Reca. The FBI has not made a comment on these individuals.
- D.B. Cooper on Unsolved.com
- D.B. Cooper on Wikipedia
- D.B. Cooper Wikipedia
- FBI website on D.B. Cooper Case
- D.B. Cooper on the FBI Website
- Hijacking by D.B. Copper still a mystery
- The FBI Agent Who Has Tracked D.B. Cooper for Nine Years Retires
- Suspect in Family-Slaying May Be Famed D.B. Cooper
- FBI working new lead in D.B. Cooper hijacking case
- The FBI closes D.B. Cooper case
- The D.B. Cooper case baffled investigators for decades. Now, scientists have a new theory.
- A new ‘D.B. Cooper’ suspect? Yet another possible identity for the elusive hijacker