There is a tendency for us modern folk to think that we invented everything. Remember the safe old days of the 70s? The comfortable security of the 80s? It was so safe before the world went nuts, with all those mad left/right wing idiots. Oh give me the good old days!
Ok so this list goes back to the good old 70s, when men were men and women made sandwiches and there was no terrorism. Right?
Well there was a deadly terrorist incident in almost every month of the decade that was the 70s so…..
But the first plane hijacker to really get the attention of the media was the person who came to be known by the name DB Cooper.
Cooper hijacked Flight 305 from Portland, Oregon, forced a landing of the plane, let the passengers and some crew go, got $200,000 of marked American bank notes and some food for the crew, refuelled and then flew off into the darkness towards Mexico, at some point jumping out of the plane with a parachute - never to be seen again.
So who was DB Cooper? And how did he hijack a whole plane armed only with bellbottoms and John Lennon glasses? (Hint. He had a bomb.)
Now that over 40 years have elapsed since the events of the fateful night of November 24 1971, the FBI have classified the DB Cooper case as a cold case, and are no longer investigating it – however there are some amateur detectives who are still keen on solving the case, such as a group of scientists called the Citizen Sleuths who have published a website of their findings, which is worth a look if you are interested in forensic science.
15 Who Was Dan Cooper?
When a man who gave the name Dan Cooper purchased a one way ticket from Portland, Oregon to Seattle in Washington, there was no indication that anything out of the ordinary was going to happen. This was the carefree 70s and no one even thought to check passengers luggage, which was going to prove a big bad mistake in the decades to come.
Well, it turned out that ‘Dan Cooper’ was not his real name, and after the hijacking event was all over detectives searching for Mr. Cooper questioned a Portland local called DB Cooper. Journalists then released his name as a person of interest and the name stuck in the public mind.
So from the very beginning, there was no DB Cooper, just a Dan. However afterwards no one wanted to come forward and correct the wrong false name.
14 When He Handed The Note To The Flight Attendant She Thought He Was Trying To Pick Her Up
Florence Schaffner was a 23 year old air hostess who was so cute and appealing that she wore a wig on board to disguise her appearance from eager suitors. When Cooper handed her a note from a nearby seat she just put it in her purse and ignored it.
“Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb”
The note told her that there was a bomb in his briefcase and asked her to sit beside him, which she did, asking to see the bomb. He showed her what appeared to be a bomb and the hijacking had begun. He told her to speak to the captain and organize for him to have $200,000 in American banknotes in a knapsack and four parachutes. He demanded that they land and refuel.
13 There Were No Casualties
In fact while the plane circled Tacoma for two hours, to allow the police to gather the money, the passengers reportedly thought that the plane had a mechanical problem. Cooper himself sat quietly in the plane with dark glasses on and chain smoked. He communicated only with Florence Schaffner, who communicated to the pilot on his behalf.
As well as the money, he ordered that he be given four parachutes.
When the plane landed all the window shades were put down so that there was no danger of snipers taking a shot at Cooper – the money and the parachutes were loaded. The passengers, Schaffner and senior flight attendant Alice Handcock were all allowed to leave the plane.
12 DB Cooper Had Very Specific Flight Instructions
The only people left on the plane were Cooper and four crew members. Cooper instructed that the plane fly towards Mexico City at 10,000 feet at 200 miles an hour and the cabin not be pressurized.
The remaining flight attendant saw Cooper tie something around his waist shortly after takeoff. Cooper then demanded that all crew go into the cockpit and stay there. 20 minutes after takeoff those in the cockpit noticed that the rear staircase was being lowered. 45 minutes after takeoff, with no witnesses, Cooper jumped out into the wet and cold night somewhere near Lake Merwin in Washington and was never seen again.
11 Who Followed The Plane?
Not only was DB Cooper never seen again by human eye, but he was also not seen on the radar of the three planes that were following flight 305.
The cabin crew detected a shift in the plane’s tail when Cooper jumped out of the plane, but no one ever picked him up on their radar. The three pursuing planes not only saw nothing jump or fall from the plane, but also saw no parachutes open. So where did Cooper go?
Later in the investigation, authorities did a re-enactment of the trip and pushed a sled of roughly the same size and estimated weight as Cooper out of the plane and the plane tail lifted just as it had reportedly done so when he jumped out. But then why did he not appear on radar?
10 The Possibly Fatal Jump
There is a lot of conjecture that the reason no one found Cooper was because he died in the fall. FBI agents on the case at the time determined that this was most likely the reason that he was never found again. Ralph Himmelsbach, the case agent for the first eight years of the investigation was also following the plane in an army helicopter, but had to turn back. The weather was so bad that the helicopter was not safe.
Himmelsbach is sure that Cooper didn’t survive the jump, because of the -7 degree cold, the wind and rain and his inability to predict a safe landing in the darkness. He believes that Cooper is at the bottom of Lake Merwin, but that the FBI was unable to conduct a proper search because at the time the rule was that FBI agents were meant to always be dressed immaculately in suits. Which makes it hard to search wilderness.
Some expert parachutists disagree, and believe that Cooper could have made the jump safely if he had experience in parachuting.
9 The Reward Inspired A Scam of Its Own
Of course it did. People are people and if there is something to scam they will scam it. After the FBI released the serial numbers of the ransom money, financial institutions were on the lookout all over the world. A 25% reward was offered of the value of any bills that turned up with the serial numbers of the ransom money.
In 1972 two scam artists counterfeited $20 bills with the same serial numbers and sold them for $30,000 to a journalist from Newsweek. The enterprising crims promised him an interview with the real DB Cooper, but obviously that didn’t happen and they got caught.
Despite there being further rewards published for even one genuine note, none ever came to light beyond the cache that was found in 1980.
8 The Boy Who Found Some Of The Money
In 1980, eight year old Brian Ingram found three bundles of money at Tena Bar, a sandy beachfront twenty miles from where Cooper probably jumped. The money was loose in three bundles, but was degraded and starting to disintegrate. Pretty fair after 9 years of being in the wilderness. Except that the elastic bands holding the money were intact and usually rubber degrades much more quickly than bank notes.
What complicates things even more is that when Dr. Leonard Palmer, a geologist, examined the sand bar where the money was located, he found that the money had been somewhere else and had been moved to the sand bar by dredging. So where did the money come from and why were a few notes missing but the elastic bands still intact?
7 Cooper May Have Just Gone To Work On Monday
When DB Cooper left the plane, he left behind some fingerprints and a tie and tie clip with DNA on it. Now no one can determine who the tie clip DNA belonged to, so that evidence is reasonably unhelpful, but the Citizen Sleuths group found titanium particles on the tie that Cooper left behind. These particles TIE the TIE to a company called Tektronix, who were working on the supersonic transport jet – a Boeing project that never got off the ground. Literally.
Tektronix doesn’t have employee records that go back far enough to check out who was working there in the 70s but as no one remotely matching the widely distributed description of Cooper went missing the weekend of the hijacking, if he did work there then there might not be anything to see anyway. He might have just turned up to work on Monday as if nothing had happened.
6 Was Cooper A Woman?
One of the major suspects in the DB Cooper case was a trans woman, Barbara Dayton.
("But it was the 70s. There were no trans people!" History, peeps, read it.)
Barbara was a Merchant Marine and a WWII army veteran. She then worked with explosives, became a librarian and had a recreational pilots licence.
Because she changed her name and had gender corrective surgery, she was not allowed to follow her dream and become a commercial pilot.
Barbara claimed that she was furious at the industry and their restrictive rules and regulations and disguised herself as a businessman to hijack flight 305. She claimed that she hid the money in a cistern, but she said the event wasn’t about the money at all.
She recanted her story before she could be charged, but who knows whether she was telling the truth or not, and when she died in 2002 her truth died with her, however there is no doubt that Barbara was a daring and skilled parachutist.
No money was ever found in a cistern.
5 Who Was LD Cooper?
In 2011 a woman named Marla Cooper proposed that her uncle was the real DB Cooper. Lynn Doyle Cooper was a Korean War veteran who loved a comic book series about a paratrooper called Dan Cooper.
Marla remembered her uncle and his brother planning something just before the day of the hijacking and then going hunting. They came home and LD Cooper was bloodied from what he said was a car accident. Marla’s parents came to believe that her uncle was the hijacking Cooper, but he died leaving no fingerprints to match to those lifted from the plane.
LD Cooper died estranged from his family in 1999, disappearing from them the Thanksgiving after the hijacking.
Marla claims she heard her uncle say "We did it. Our money problems are over. We hijacked an airplane."
The FBI remain unconvinced.
4 Did Cooper Confess On His Deathbed?
Duane Weber was a WWII army veteran who turned to a life of crime after the end of the war. He served time in prison from 1945 until 1968 and then seemed to go ‘straight’. One of the crimes he went to jail for was forgery.
Before he died in 1998 he told his wife ‘I am Dan Cooper’. She had no idea what this meant and looked up Dan Cooper to try to get to the bottom of what he had meant.
She found a book in the local library about DB Cooper with her husband’s writing in it, and as she researched she made several connections – her husband had told her he had jumped out of a plane. He had had nightmares about jumping out of a plane and leaving fingerprints behind on the ‘aft stairs’. He chain smoked like Cooper and he drank bourbon like Cooper. He had visited Tena Bar four months before the money was found there.
There was no DNA or fingerprint evidence to match what was found in the plane.
3 Was DB Cooper A Paratrooper?
Well it rhymes doesn’t it? In 2003 Lyle Christiansen became convinced that his brother Kenneth had been DB Cooper.
Kenneth Christiansen was a paratrooper, and though he did not see active service he did make some jumps in his military career. He then became a mechanic for Northwest Orient, the owners of Flight 305, then a fight attendant and then a purser. He was based in Seattle.
The similarities are striking – like Cooper, Christiansen was left handed, a smoker and drank bourbon.
When he died, Christiansen had more money than his family thought he really should have had, and made a big purchase just after the hijacking. An avid collector of newspaper clippings relating to Northwest Orient, he stopped just before the hijacking and never collected any more.
The FBI does not consider him a strong suspect.
2 DB Cooper Inspired Other Hijackers
The success of DB Cooper (at least his escape) inspired a whole spate of early 70s ‘skyjackings’. While previously plane hijackings had been mostly for political reasons by Americans who demanded to be flown to Cuba, now came the rise of the Hijacker For Profit.
None of them were successful. Garret Trapnell, a master bigamist who maintained six simultaneous marriages, was shot on landing, then arrested. He died in custody years later. Richard LaPont copied Cooper almost exactly but was tracked after landing in the snow. Robb Heady (who BYO’d his own parachute) was found with a United States Parachute Association sticker on his car. Heady was trapped in the Washoe Valley at the time, and when he finally got out he was arrested unlocking the car.
There were 15 copycat hijackings in all. Air travel in the 70s was NOT where I would want to be at.
1 Did DB Cooper Even Exist?
There is an argument to be made that there was no DB Cooper. That this whole hijacking was an inside job by the cabin crew.
To begin with, Cooper was allegedly friendly and calm and tipped the pretty flight attendant even though she was his hostage. The passengers did not know that they were hijacked – they thought there was a plane mechanical problem.
The crew of flight 305 has not been very forthcoming on the events of that night, and eyewitness accounts from the passengers have been very varied in their descriptions of Cooper.
What if he never existed? What if he was another crew member, or even the First Officer Bill Rataczak?
Without access to the original case notes and witness statements it is hard to know, but the idea of a Swinging 70s air crew pulling off a faked hijacking with a non-existent DB Cooper is appealing. No one saw him jump and no one saw him after. Maybe he simply never did.