5th Update: Who Was Skyjacker D.B. Cooper? Jul 3, 2016 4:04:02 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Jul 3, 2016 4:04:02 GMT -5
Who Was, and What Happened to, Skyjacker D.B. Cooper?
On November 24, 1971, a mysterious man hijacked a flight from Portland to Seattle, demanded parachutes and $200,000, and skydived into folk-hero history. The identity of the man who came to be known as “D. B. Cooper” and his fate remain unknown, but theories abound.
Cooper – who actually purchased his plane ticket, which cost $20 including tax, under the name “Dan Cooper,” the “D.B.” was misreported early on and stuck – left very few clues. One clue was his clip-on tie, from which DNA was extracted in 2001 – a forensic advancement that has helped rule out a few promising suspects. He also left behind a parachute and its bag (he used part of the chute to tie up his money). In 1980, $5,800 of Cooper’s ransom money was discovered by an eight-year-old boy on a camping trip.
The Cooper case is a challenge to law enforcement. Special Agent Larry Carr of the FBI reignited interest in the case in 2007 and amateur detectives pore over its details in online message boards. Cooper is still a pop-culture touchstone; there’s even a music festival named for him. But who was he and what happened after he leapt from Flight 305? Following are some of the theories that have been considered over the past four decades:
He died in the fall. The first and most obvious conclusion is that D.B. Cooper, whoever he was, did not survive the jump. The FBI considers this a possibility: “We originally thought Cooper was an experienced jumper, perhaps even a paratrooper,” says Carr. “We concluded after a few years this was simply not true. No experienced parachutist would have jumped in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile-an-hour wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat. It was simply too risky. He also missed that his reserve chute was only for training and had been sewn shut – something a skilled skydiver would have checked.”
Even if he made it to the ground alive, it was winter and he was dressed for air travel, not forest survival. It’s almost certain he had no accomplices waiting to meet him. For instance, there would have been no way for anyone to track his location; his instructions to the pilot were simply “Fly to Mexico” and he jumped at a random location with zero ground visibility, according to Carr. Additionally, as many agents before him, Carr thinks it highly unlikely that Cooper survived the jump. “Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions, he probably never even got his chute open.” However, neither his body nor his parachute have never been found.
He was Kenneth Christiansen. In 2007, Geoffrey Gray’s New York Magazine article, “Unmasking D. B. Cooper,” and subsequent book, Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper, offered an in-depth look at the case. He was the first reporter given access to the FBI’s Cooper case files, so his perspective is unusually detailed. Gray’s article began with a New York private detective being contacted by an elderly man, Lyle Christiansen, who was convinced his late brother Kenneth, known as “Kenny,” was D B. Cooper and he was obsessed with getting Nora Ephron to make a movie – with the suggested title Bashful in Seattle – about how he “solved” the case.
Kenneth Christiansen had been a paratrooper whose first deployment came just after World War II. After leaving the military, he worked as a mechanic and flight purser for Northwest Orient Airlines, the carrier that Cooper chose for his hijacking. There were other eerie similarities, too, such as the fact that Kenneth loved bourbon and he’d bought a modest house not long after the incident. Gray showed Kenneth’s photo to the only hijacking witness still alive, a woman who had been a flight attendant that November night, and she acknowledged the resemblance, but with reservations. But most intriguingly, on his deathbed, Lyle remembers, his older brother pulled him close. He then said something that didn’t make sense to him at the time.
According to Lyle, his brother said, “There’s something you should know, but I cannot tell you!” Lyle didn’t want to know and replied, “I don’t care what it is you cannot tell me about. We all love you.”
But the FBI doubt’s Lyle Christiansen’s claims and its response to Gray’s initial article pointed to the fact Christiansen had been a paratrooper and the agency believed the hijacker wasn’t one. Second, Christensen was shorter and slighter than eyewitness descriptions of Cooper. Also, the hijacker had hair, while Christiansen was balding ... though, as one acquaintance of Christiansen recalled, “Kenny sometimes wore a toupee.”
He was Lynn Doyle “L.D.” Cooper. In 2011, a woman named Marla Cooper publicly suggested her late uncle, Lynn Doyle Cooper (or “L.D.”), pictured above, was D. B. Cooper. Her mother, Grace Hailey, was L. D.’s sister. She agreed with her daughter’s theory and had some interesting evidence to back up the family’s claims.
According to an ABC News report, Hailey didn’t remember much about Thanksgiving 1971when her brother-in-law returned to the house in Sisters, Oregon, but believed he could be the hijacker. Hailey’s statements were one reason the FBI thought the tip from Marla Cooper was credible. “I’ve always had a gut feeling it was L.D.,” Hailey told ABC News. “I think it was more what I didn’t know is what made me suspicious than what I did know, because whenever the topic came up, it immediately got cut off again.”
Hailey said that L.D. grew up in Sisters and was familiar with the area where the hijacker jumped – a fact consistent with the FBI’s theory that D.B. Cooper knew the Pacific Northwest. He was also a war veteran, which matches the theory that the hijacker had a military background, [and he] was a logger and an outdoorsman – tough enough, Hailey believed, to leap out of plane into the wilderness. He also showed up to a family Thanksgiving gathering in 1971 looking quite beat-up and claiming he had been in a car accident. For purposes of fingerprint identification, Marla Cooper gave the FBI a guitar strap that L.D. left behind, but it was found “not conducive to lifting fingerprints.” DNA evidence taken from the sample pulled from the hijacker’s tie, assumed to be that of the elusive Cooper – but a matter of some contention – did not match L. D.’s DNA. However, according to Special Agent Frederick Gutt “has not been ruled out as a suspect.”
He was Duane Weber. The FBI contends DNA testing ruled out “Duane Weber,” pictured below, who confessed on his deathbed that he was D.B. Cooper, but in 2000, he was a promising suspect. According to a CBS News report at the time, Weber was hospitalized with kidney disease in Florida. As he lay dying, he motioned to Jo Weber, his wife of 17 years, to come close. “Come here. Come closer,” he instructed. Then he said, “I have a secret to tell you. ... I’m Dan Cooper.”
After her husband’s death in 1995, Mrs. Weber started piecing together the hints her husband had dropped over the years. She recalled the sleep-talking nightmare Duane had about “leaving fingerprints on a plane,” an old knee injury he claimed he got from jumping out of a plane, the local library book on D.B. Cooper with Duane Weber’s handwriting in the margins .... “I can’t walk away from it,” she said. “Why would he have an old Northwest Airline ticket? Why would he take me to a place where eventually the money was found. Why all of this? There’s too many pieces of the puzzle that fit.”
At the time, the lead FBI agent on the case, Ralph Himmelsbach, believed her story, citing Weber’s physical resemblance to Cooper and his criminal background. As for DNA testing ruling him out – as Skyjack author in his magazine article, “inconclusive” is kinda “inconclusive” unto itself. Special Agent Fred Gutt said the DNA sample found on the tie had come from three different people and was not enough to rule Uncle L.D. out:
“In the past, other agents have used the partial DNA sample to rule out suspects, most notably Josephine Weber, who for the last fifteen years has been aggressively claiming her ex-husband Duane Weber (a career felon and con artist who also lived under the name John C. Collins until late in life) was Cooper ... Initially, Jo had no idea what he was talking about, and since she read about the actual alias the hijacker gave her (“Dan Cooper”) she’s been trying to prove her case.
“Agents took forensic samples from Duane, such as hair from his razor. Once the partial DNA sample was discovered on the tie in 2007, agents ruled Duane out, despite Jo’s shrill frustration about the quality of the sample. So if the DNA on the tie isn’t good enough to rule out Uncle L. D., is Cooper suspect Duane Weber back in? What about the others?”
He was Richard McCoy. D.B. Cooper’s daring (and apparently triumphant) escapade inspired more than a few copycats. The most high-profile was perpetrated by a man who some suspected wasn’t a copycat at all, Richard Floyd McCoy, Jr., a Vietnam veteran, former Green Beret helicopter pilot and avid skydiver, who was studying law at Brigham Young University. McCoy hijacked a plane in 1972 and parachuted to freedom with half-a-million dollars, but he was captured days later, having left behind way more evidence than who committed the 1971 heist. Convicted of the 1972 crime, McCoy busted out of jail in August 1974 and was killed three months later in an FBI shootout. Though his age – 29 at the time of the Cooper hijacking – and the fact he had an alibi cast some serious doubts, a 1991 book concerning his exploits raised his ranking on the “Who Was D.B. Cooper?” matrix.
D. B. Cooper: The Real McCoy, co-authored by an ex-FBI agent named Russell Calame, was published in 1991. The book speculated that Cooper and McCoy were really the same person, citing similar methods of hijacking and a tie left by Cooper similar to those worn by Brigham Young students. The author claimed McCoy “never admitted nor denied he was Cooper,” and when asked directly whether he was Cooper, replied “I don’t want to talk to you about it.” The agent who killed McCoy is quoted as saying, “When I shot Richard McCoy, I shot D.B. Cooper at the same time.” McCoy’s widow, Karen Burns McCoy, sued and won a settlement paid by the book’s co-authors and its publisher.
Was D.B. Cooper a He/She? Could D.B. Cooper have been a woman? Pilots-turned-authors Pat and Ron Forman believe so, citing a confession, later recanted, made by their friend Barbara Dayton – a World War II veteran who was born Robert Dayton. In 2008, the Formans spoke about their book, The Legend of D. . Cooper: Death by Natural Causes, to fellow author and Cooper enthusiast Bruce A. Smith, who wrote:
“The Formans say Dayton told them bits and pieces of her famous story over a life-long friendship that began in 1977. Perhaps even more startling than the notion that DB Cooper was a woman, the Formans verify Dayton’s claim that she received the first sex-change operation in Washington, which was performed in 1969. Thus, the Formans say, Dayton donned the supreme disguise by reverting to her male persona to become DB Cooper.
“One indisputable fact is that Barbara Dayton was a highly skilled pilot and parachutist, showing a fearlessness that bordered on reckless. In addition, she was a proficient machinist and explosive expert, all skills that DB Cooper displayed during his hijacking.
“... The Formans also say that Dayton never spent the money, and only did the crime to satisfy personal issues relating to her sex-change operation.
“Barb was a woman who always lived on the edge,” said the Formans. “She was a fascinating and remarkable woman.”
He was William Gossett. Described as a “quirky guy” with a military background and the necessary physical characteristics, college instructor Gossett, who died in 2003, told both his sons several times he was the hijacker. His son, Kirk, recalled taking a “strange trip” to Vancouver (Canada) with his father two years after the hijacking, possibly to stash the ransom money in a safety-deposit box.
The FBI was skeptical of Gossett’s claims, indicating t here wasn’t a single link to the Cooper case other than Gossett’s statements. However, others disagree. Galen Cook, a lawyer in Spokane, Wash., who has been investigating the Cooper case for more than two decades, said he submitted one of Gossett’s fingerprints to the Seattle FBI office and hopes it will confirm his theory, which he plans to publish in a book. Gossett had military experience, including wilderness survival training, and resembled the FBI composite sketch of Cooper, Cook said.
He was Family Killer John List. This irresistibly insane theory is included because it’s so improbable? John List killed his entire family in 1971, the same year D.B. Cooper took to the air. He was captured in 1989 after living under a false identity for 17 years until someone called in after he was featured on America’s Most Wanted.
Could he have been Cooper? Probably not, but just about anything is possible. According to the Los Angeles Times: “John List is one of any number of people suspected in the D. B. Cooper case,” FBI spokesman John Eyer said. ‘He will be investigated until he is eliminated.’”
Ralph Himmelsbach, a retired FBI agent who investigated the hijacking, believes Cooper died, but said List warrants an investigation. Himmelsbach, who now lives in Portland, Ore., said List and Cooper have similar descriptions. Cooper was described as in his mid-40s. List was 44 at the time of the slayings. Both were about the same height and weight and wore glasses. Himmelsbach also said List had spent the last $200,000 of his mother’s savings account shortly before the killings. Cooper demanded and received $200,000 before parachuting from the plane near Mount St. Helens in Washington state.
Sources: Cheryl Eddy, io9, April 23, 2015, and CBS News.