In what is likely the last push to solve one the most notorious crimes of this century, the FBI this week opened previously sealed files and unseen photos on the now 36 year old Dan (DB) Cooper hijacking case.
You may recall that in November 1971, between Seattle and Reno, Cooper parachuted out of the back of an airliner he'd hijacked with a bag filled with $200,000 in stolen cash. He's never been found, though some of the stolen money was recovered.
According to the FBI, the agency learned of the crime in flight and opened an extensive investigation that lasted many years. Calling it NORJAK, for Northwest hijacking, the FBI interviewed hundreds of people, tracked leads across the nation, and scoured the aircraft for evidence. By the five-year anniversary of the hijacking, the agency had considered more than 800 suspects and eliminated all but two dozen from consideration. Over years the case has mostly grown cold.
Even though it's a longshot, the agency has not given up on finding Cooper, or more likely, depending on what camp you fall into, finding out how he died.
This week the FBI Special Agent Larry Carr put out new information and a release looking for further public help in solving the 36-year old mystery.
"This case is 36 years old, it's beyond its expiration date, but I asked for the case because I was intrigued with it," Carr told the New York Times. Carr, a federal agent based in Seattle who usually investigates bank robberies, was 4 when the hijacking occurred. "I remember as a child reading about it and wondering what had happened. It's surreal that after 36 years here I am, the only investigator left. I wanted to take a shot at solving it."
The FBI said in its release: "Who was Cooper? Did he survive the jump? And what happened to the loot, only a small part of which has ever surfaced? It's a mystery, frankly. We've run down thousands of leads and considered all sorts of scenarios. And amateur sleuths have put forward plenty of their own theories. Would we still like to get our man? Absolutely. "
Some of the facts the FBI released:
* Cooper who would be 85 now, was no expert skydiver. "We originally thought Cooper was an experienced jumper, perhaps even a paratrooper," said 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."
* The hijacker had no help on the ground, either. To have utilized an accomplice, Cooper would've needed to coordinate closely with the flight crew so he could jump at just the right moment and hit the right drop zone. But Cooper simply said, "Fly to Mexico," and he had no idea where he was when he jumped. There was also no visibility of the ground due to cloud cover at 5,000 feet.
* We have a solid physical description of Cooper. "The two flight attendants who spent the most time with him on the plane were interviewed separately the same night in separate cities and gave nearly identical descriptions," says Carr. "They both said he was about 5'10" to 6', 170 to 180 pounds, in his mid-40s, with brown eyes. People on the ground who came into contact with him also gave very similar descriptions."
* And what of some of the names pegged as Cooper? None have panned out. Duane Weber, who claimed to be Cooper on his deathbed, was ruled out by DNA testing (we lifted a DNA sample from Cooper's tie in 2001). Kenneth Christiansen, named in a recent magazine article, didn't match the physical description and was a skilled paratrooper. Richard McCoy, who died in 1974, also didn't match the description and was at home the day after the hijacking having Thanksgiving dinner with his family in Utah, an unlikely scenario unless he had help.
"Maybe a hydrologist can use the latest technology to trace the $5,800 in ransom money found in 1980 to where Cooper landed upstream. Or maybe someone just remembers that odd uncle," Carr said in the release.
Over the years Cooper's antic made him somewhat of a folk hero. There have been a number of books and at least one movie on his crime. Then there is the annual DB Cooper Day at The Ariel Store to celebrate the man and the myth.
If you have information on D.B. Cooper, the FBI would over to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.