It’s almost summer, which means vacation, travel, and of course – airplanes. This week, we’re looking at perhaps the most infamous aviation-related unsolved mystery that still puzzles the FBI to this day.
For the sake of brevity, this post will only go over the necessary basics of the case, but many web sleuths have done their own detailed research on this case. My favorite is this one from CitizenSleuths.
It was 1971 on the day before Thanksgiving, and a man named Dan Cooper (later bastardized to D.B. Cooper) boarded a plane in Portland that was bound for Seattle. He appeared normal, wearing a dark suit and sunglasses as he boarded.
Everything seemed normal, but after the plane took off, things quickly changed. Cooper opened his briefcase, revealing a bomb inside, and quickly hijacked the plane. When the plane landed in Seattle, he demanded $200,000 in cash, four parachutes, and food for the crew before he released all of the scared passengers at their intended destination. After the passengers left the plane, he closed the doors, and the plane took off with three pilots and one flight attendant.
Forty-five minutes after takeoff, Cooper put on one of the parachutes, tied the bag of $200,000 to himself, and told the flight attendant to go into the cockpit. Somewhere north of Portland, Cooper jumped out of the plane, never to be seen again.
The government was in a fury attempting to find Cooper. The military was called in to track him and to reenact the hijacking to see where he may have landed. Even an SR-71 spy plane was called in to cover the flight path of the original plane. Despite all of these efforts, Cooper was never found.
However, the money was a different story. In 1980, a young boy was digging a fire pit just north of Portland when he found three bundles of cash, all still wrapped in rubber bands. Although there was only a total of $58,000, the serial numbers on the bills matched those that were given to Cooper as ransom. Even though the evidence didn’t turn up any other clues, the fact that the money was buried added another layer to the mystery.
Who was B.D. Cooper, and why did he hijack that plane?
There have been a number of theories that have emerged from this case. Since much of it is speculation, here’s a brief overview of many of the most popular ideas on who Cooper was, and why he committed the crime.
HE PROBABLY WORKED AROUND PLANES
One of the most recent revelations in this case showed that particles found on Cooper’s clip-on tie, which he left in his seat before he jumped, suggest that he was part of a “limited number of managers or engineers in the titanium field.”
Recently, scientists working with CitizenSleuths found that Cooper’s tie had titanium particles on the fabric, suggesting his occupation led him to be around the material often. At the time, titanium was used heavily in military aircraft. While some speculated that this meant Cooper worked for aircraft manufacturer Boeing, it is more likely that he actually worked for Tektronix, an electronics company that was doing contract work for Boeing at the time of the hijacking.
HE WAS AN EXPERIENCED SKYDIVER
As CitizenSleuth notes, Cooper requested front and back parachutes and turned down directions for their use, suggesting he was familiar with and had used parachutes before. He also knew to choose the Military-strength parachute to finally use to jump out of the plane, which suggests he knew which type of parachute would best withstand an aerial exit from the plane.
HE WAS A LOCAL
According to witnesses, Cooper recognized Tacoma, WA from the air, suggesting that he knew the area – or at least, had flown over it many times. However, some say that his locality is debatable, since it’s unlikely someone would hijack a plane in an area where they could possibly be recognized.
Over the years, there have been plenty of suspects brought up in this case. At any one time, there were at least ten, or more, suspects who either supposedly confessed to the crime, or fit the profile of the hijacker. This post by The Mountain News blog dives into many of them thoroughly, but for the sake of brevity, here’s a quick overview of just some of the suspects from over the years:
- Bobby/Barb Dayton: A woman who confessed to having committed to the crime to several of her friends, and had the first gender reassignment in Washington State.
- Duane Weber: Attempted to confess to the crime on his deathbed; had an alternate identity as “John C. Collins” who was considered a suspect by the FBI.
- Kenny Christiansen: A flight attendant on Northwest Orient airlines, whose brother is convinced that Kenny was the hijacker.
- William Gossett: On a radio show, Gossett’s sons revealed that their father had confessed the crime to them, and had served in the military.
- Sheridan Peterson: Founding member of the Boeing Employees skydiving club; has been investigated twice by the FBI.
- Don Burnworth: Was a United Airlines employee; had legal troubles with an ex-wife and family.
- Ted Braden: A rogue SOG trooper who served during Vietnam; went missing after being incarcerated for trying to join commando forces in the Congo war.
- L.D. Cooper: A niece of his claims that she saw him emerge bloody from a car, talking about a skydiving accident and how the family’s money troubles were “over.”
It’s clear that there have been many confessions, suspicions, and suspects in the decades since the case – the list above isn’t even halfway down the list on The Mountain News blog.
With such little evidence – and no one actually hurt or killed in the hijacking – should the investigation continue?
The D.B. Cooper case is the murphy’s law of unsolved mysteries – if there’s a theory out there about the case, someone has already thought of it.
While we’ll never know for sure what actually happened to ol’ D.B., I’d like to think that he’s somewhere tropical, still alive, and spending the last of the money he had left. I don’t think that the hijacker was a spy, or a criminal – rather, I think it was a man in the aviation industry with a little military experience who wanted a deviation from the norm, didn’t want to hurt anyone, but wanted to do something to radically change his life. I’d like to think Cooper’s living a life like Andy from Shawshank Redemption – spending the rest of his days drinking out of a coconut and fishing, leaving the FBI and true crime nuts to scramble back home.
On July 12, 2016, the FBI issued a formal statement that they would no longer be investigating NORJACK – or the Northwest hijacking – in order to refocus their resources in more pressing cases.
While I can’t say I blame the FBI for moving on, I – and plenty of other crime buffs invested in this case – will always want to know what the real story was behind D.B. Cooper, and where he ended up.
For now, D.B. Cooper will remain just as he began, and always has been – a mystery.
P.S. A Note on Analytics
This week, the #SMPASocial blog challenge was to reflect on our blog’s analytics since it began.
I use the WordPress.com built-in analytics to monitor how my site is performing. From time to time, I check the views statistics that WordPress includes on the CMS dashboard to see how my content is doing.
Within this data, I can see which posts and pages perform well on each day. Typically, I get the most views on my homepage, with an exception of when I promote a new blog post on its own through my own social media channels. The spikes (March 22, March 28, April 5) are all days that I either publish a new post.
WordPress also gives me insight into how users are finding my blog, who is leaving the most comments, and what the most popular posts are. All of my site visitors thus far have been within the U.S., and I’ve primarily been found through search engines (thanks to good tagging, perhaps), Twitter, and the SMPA Social Tumblr blogroll.
It’s also interesting to see who comments the most on my blog (and if you’re in SMPA Social and reading, maybe you’ll see yourself!). I know I personally have certain blogs in the class that I like to follow, and sometimes it’s nice to see a familiar name pop up when someone I know leaves a comment.
In terms of engagement, my posts get a relatively even amount of comments. However, I’ve noticed that more exciting posts, like the update to the Tara Grinstead case, and cases that people already know about, like the missing D.C. girls, tend to do slightly better in terms of comments.
Taking this all into consideration, here’s the three step game plan for boosting engagement in the future:
- Continue to use effective tags on my posts, and make sure that I am tagging content in a way that maximizes SEO
- Draw out cases and facts that resonate with my classmates, like local DC cases or updates to cases I’ve covered, as more people may have thoughts on those cases than on ones they’ve never heard of.
- Promote more on social media. Sometimes, I hesitated to promote my blog on social media in fear of ruining my “personal brand”, but some things have changed for me, and I feel a little more comfortable sharing these on social at this time.
That’s all for now – thanks for reading!