FBI: DB still MIA

Almost four decades after the most infamous skyjacking in the nation’s history, the FBI is still chasing the elusive D. B. Cooper.

The chase began on November 24, 1971, when Cooper, flying to Seattle on Northwest Orient, passed a note to flight attendant Florence Schaffner.  Assuming the note was a come-on, Schaffner ignored it, prompting Cooper to lean over and whisper, “Miss, you’d better look at that note.  I have a bomb.”

The hijacker, according to most descriptions, was between 5’10” and 6’0” and wore a black tie with a black suit.  Or perhaps it was dark brown or even a russet color, accounts vary.  Composite sketches suggest he resembled, in the words of author Max Gunther, a “middle-aged Bing Crosby in a seizure of profound boredom.”

Composite Sketch of D. B. Cooper

He drank bourbon and Coke while negotiating for parachutes, $200,000 in cash, and a plane ride to Mexico.  Tellingly, he ordered the pilot to fly below an altitude of 10,000 feet, which would permit the cabin to remain unpressurized—the latter provision allowing the aftstairs to remain in the down position during the flight.

It was from these aftstairs that Cooper jumped, somewhere over the Pacific northwest.  The only traces of him were the murky descriptions of witnesses, the clip-on tie that he left behind, and a few cigarettes butts.

Shortly after the hijacking, Clyde Jarbin, a reporter for UPI, heard reports of the crime over police scanners.  Although the suspect was named “Dan Cooper,” Jarbin misheard the name, and identified the suspect as “D. B. Cooper” across the wires.  The legend of D. B. Cooper took flight.

The manhunt centered on a two-county area in southwest Washington, with local law enforcement, the feds, and, later, the Army conducting the search.  When asked by a reporter what they were looking for, Clark County Deputy Sheriff Tom McDowell responded, “Either a parachute or a hole in the ground.”

They found neither.  In 40 years of searching, only a few thousand dollars of Cooper’s ransom was found, and that was discovered by a family on a picnic in 1980.

Despite such scant evidence, the number of suspects has proliferated.  There’s Duane Weber, who offered a deathbed confession to his wife in 1995, but no direct evidence has tied him to Cooper.  There’s also Richard McCoy, who staged a similar hijacking a few months after Cooper’s but who, at 29, was a decade-and-a-half younger than the “real McCoy.”

But 15 years is nothing compared to the discrepancies in the Barbara Dayton case.  Born “Bobby Dayton,” she underwent a sex-change operation in 1969, and then, according to claims she made to friends, disguised herself as “Cooper” in the 1971 hijacking.  To add to the confusion, she later recanted this story, perhaps after learning that she could still be charged with the crime.

Geoffrey Gray, author of the recently-released Skyjack: The Hunt for D. B. Cooper, found Kenneth Christiansen a compelling suspect for a while and, as recently as this month, Marla Cooper stirred the alphabet soup when she notified the FBI that she believed D. B. Cooper to be her uncle, L. D. Cooper.  When DNA evidence came back negative, the FBI released a rather awkward statement, saying, in effect, “D.B. Cooper is still missing.”

In all, the FBI has investigated more than 1,000 suspects in the case.  As Ralph Himmselbach, one of the lead FBI agents on the case noted, “We don’t know who he was, but we know a whole of people who he wasn’t.”

Whoever he was, he has become something of an anti-hero.  According to Gray, Cooper was asked by a flight attendant whether he had a grudge against the airline. “I don’t have a grudge against your airline,” he responded.  “I just have a grudge.”

In an age leery of authority, Cooper’s hijacking spoke for others with grudges.  His crime prompted a series of copy-cat hijackings.  It also prompted the town of Ariel, Washington to initiate an annual celebration for the hijacker, with parachute décor, D. B. Cooper stew, and an emphasis on celebration.  And it spurred a number of songwriters to pen odes to Cooper.  Perhaps the best is by Todd Snider, whose lyrics dwell on the possibility of escape: “some people say that he died up there somewhere in the rain and the wind / Other people say that he got away but his girlfriend did him in / The law men say if he is out there someday they’re gonna bring him in / As for me, I hope they never see / D.B. Cooper again.”

According to newspaper editor Bob Reed, Cooper “symbolized…the idea of an ordinary guy breaking out.  Just a plain, lone, middle-class guy like you and me—that’s how he struck people.  He broke loose from the system and got away with it.”

More than four decades after the hijacking, Cooper remains as elusive and as intriguing as ever.  He symbolizes the “everyman” who beat the system, and that symbol still animates those with anti-establishment leanings, and perhaps those who would simply like to get away.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “FBI: DB still MIA

  1. Jo Weber

    In 1996 I contacted the FBI about the things my husband told me when he was dieing and the things he told me over the 17 yrs we were married…but I knew little about Cooper so I never made the connection until 1 yr and 3 months after he died…I didn’t know who DAN COOPER was until a man I was dating told me….I then contacted the FBI in 1997 – but, they never really investigated Weber to the extent they should have…I am the one who continued to investigate AFTER the FBI walked away..

    The FBI did not do a proper investigation of Weber and I have dedicated my life basically to the search…This yr 2017 – I found things I could NOT deny and knew the truth. I therefore will meet my maker knowing I did the best I could – but, for some reason the FBI just ignored me…yet the evidence and the things I did over the last 17 yrs – proves Duane was Cooper. But, who am I? Just the woman who spent 17yr of her life with him and now 17 yrs trying to prove what he told me.

    I will swear to you or anyone reading this – I have told the truth and I know the truth and the FBI did NOT do their job or they were told to back down on Weber…WHY? I now know the answer to WHY – but, no way to prove it & no place to tell the story…I am not a writer and I have not much time left on the face of the earth…therefore the truth will die with me…but Duane will be there waiting for me.

    Weber was really a very nice man who gave of himself to others and did things for others he could not afford to do…I also know the motive for the skyjacking and it was NOT personal….and I wish certain individuals who are living & had access to the truths would come forward with what they know, but they are already in deep water for making the public aware of OTHER hidden issues.

    SECRETS our Dirty Government does not want the public to know…and I applaude both Daniel Ellsberg now age 86 yrs of age – still fighting to clean up our Government and Edward Snowden – he is NOT quilty of a crime….Both of these men are WHAT being an AMERICAN should stand for!.

    IF our government has to keep secrets – then perhaps we the public need to change our GOVERNMENT…Frankly I am no longer am proud to be an American!

    AMERICANS stand up & be heard. Don’t let those who try to divulge the DIRTY secrets & actions done in the name of AMERICA to continue. Ellsberg was a hero and Snowden is a hero…they did what REAL AMERICAN’s should do – Make the Government TRANSPARENT & STOP the secrets WASHINGTON keeps from the public.

    AMERICA was created by those who fought oppression and risked their lives to cross the sea to build AMERICA….now in 2017 – Americans who built this country are the OPPRESSED.

    WHY should someone be persecuted or put in prison for TELLING the truth and TRYING to keep the AMERICAN GOVERNMENT clean – WHY did our ancestors come to this County? THINK – dear public – THINK and remember your heritage and WHY America came to exist in the first place!

  2. Jo Weber

    Please clean up my mistakes – as I am not a writer – but what I said is the truth – and AMERICA needs to MAKE things right…I am glad I won’t be around much longer – but what about my Grandchildren – what kind of WORLD will they live in if oppression of those who stand up against the wrongs are being persecuted by the FREE Goverment our ancestors created.

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