Aug. 21, 2022

DB Cooper // 125 // Theories // Part 4

DB Cooper // 125 // Theories // Part 4

On the afternoon of November 24th, 1971, a man that called himself Dan Cooper approached the counter of Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland, Oregon. He was wearing a business suit and raincoat and was holding a briefcase. He paid $20 for his one-way ticket in cash, and it was flight #305 for Seattle, Washington on a Boeing 727. After boarding the plane, he handed the stewardess a note and told her he had a bomb. He demanded 4 parachutes and $200k and released most of the passengers but kept the pilots and some crew members. He jumped from the plane and the only evidence left behind was 8 cigarette butts, a hair on the headrest and a clip-on necktie. The FBI has closed this case and it's up to the citizen sleuths to solve the mystery of the hijacking.




RECAP: On the afternoon of November 24th, 1971, a man that called himself Dan Cooper approached the counter of Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland, Oregon. He was wearing a business suit and raincoat, and was holding a briefcase. He paid $20 for his one way ticket in cash and it was flight #305 for Seattle, Washington on a Boeing 727. After boarding the plane, he handed the stewardess a note and told her he had a bomb. He demanded 4 parachutes and $200k and released most of the passengers, but kept some of the pilots and some crew members. He jumped from the plane and the only evidence left behind was 8 cigarette butts, a hair on the headrest and a clip on necktie. The FBI has closed this case and it's up to the citizen sleuths to solve the mystery of the hijacking. At the end of our last episode, we talked about a suspect named Dick Briggs and he was a drug dealer. He told people that he was DB Cooper and at a party, he mentioned that some of the money was going to be found in 3 days.

Many people, including the FBI, believe that DB Cooper did not survive the jump. It was night time when he left the airplane and jumped into a wooded area. It's widely believed that he never got his chute open. In 1980, three days after the party where Dick Briggs announced that money would be found, a young boy named Brian Ingram, was digging in the sand to make a fire on the banks of Washington's Columbia River in an area called Tena Bar, and he found a bundle of rotting twenty dollar bills totaling $5,800 that matched the ransom money serial numbers. The money was compressed and stuck together, like it had been weighed down and Brian Ingram said the rubber bands were intact, but crumbled when he touched them. This is really interesting and highly debated. Rubber bands sitting in a desk drawer will crack and disintegrate fairly quickly, so how would it be possible for the rubber bands to stay intact in the water and sand for so long? Could that indicate that the money wasn't there the whole time? Six years after Brian Ingram discovered the money, he was given some back. He got $2,760 and he sold 15 of the 84 fragmented $20 bills at an auction called Heritage Auction Galleries Americana Memorabilia in 2008 and got $37,433.38

The money had been examined and certified by Professional Coin Grading Services. They discovered that many of the pieces were actually multiple layers of notes that had gone unnoticed. By carefully peeling them apart and piecing the fragments together, they found 35 additional serial numbers that were not recorded by the FBI. Steve Ivy, Co-Chairman of Heritage, said the following during a press release, “Some of these notes have the initials of investigators who examined the recovered money after Ingram found it along the banks of the Columbia River near Vancouver, Washington in February 1980. The serial numbers all match the FBI's list of $20 bills given to the skyjacker known as D.B. Cooper who parachuted from a jetliner with the cash somewhere between Seattle Washington and Reno, Nevada during a rainstorm on November 24th, 1971. The 15 pieces consigned by Ingram include two Series 1963-A and four series 1969 Federal Reserve Notes.” 

The discovery of the money actually confused the FBI even more. They said it was found outside of the area that they had deemed the “search area”. It was more than 20 miles from Cooper's drop zone and it was in the opposite direction from where the wind was blowing. The money was sitting above an area dredged in 1974. This means that the money arrived at least 3 years after the hijacking in 1971. If the money had traveled through the river, it would be expected to get there much quicker than 3 years. Did Cooper return to bury the money to confuse the FBI? They dug up the area and couldn't find anymore money and there were no additional pieces of evidence. 

The 3 bundles of ransom money found on the riverbank is huge because it's the only evidence of something that happened after Cooper left the plane. Paleontologist, Tom Kaye is convinced that the money came out of the river and was not buried by human hands. He and his team have visited the river where the money was located and they used land measurements, GPS, satellite, and archive photographs. They found out that the dredging of 1974 stopped 150 feet away from where the money was found, so the dredging sands did not interfere with the original burial of the money and the money arrived there within a few months of Cooper's jump. The money would have traveled over 20 miles from the drop zone, so it must have traveled by water. 

Scientist, Tom Kaye, believes the 3 money bundles are the best chance we have at figuring out what happened to DB Cooper. Apart from the $5800 found on the riverbank, none of the other bills have ever been found in circulation. Tom Kaye is convinced that the entire bag of money, all $200k, traveled by river to where the 3 stacks of money were found. The 3 stacks of money could not have traveled independently and arrived to the same spot. That means that the bank bag was holding the money. It's believed that the bag may have split open near the spot that the money landed. When Cooper jumped out of the plane, he was directly over the Lewis River. If the bank bag which was up against 200 mile an hour winds, detached from him, it would have dropped directly into the Lewis River and the fast current would have pushed it downstream. What if Cooper had secured the bag though? He had 30 feet of parachute cord to secure it. If he secured it properly and deployed his parachute, he would have to land wherever the winds blew because that parachute is not maneuverable. Scientist, Tom Kaye has run calculations to figure out where Cooper could have landed that night. If he pulled the parachute right away, he would have had a long drift and likely ended up in Lake Merwin. If he waited to pull the parachute, he would have likely ended up in the Lewis River. If he was heading towards water, he wouldn't have been able to change his path with the parachute he chose and the water would have been freezing and he had a lot of extra weight on him with all the equipment and money.

The money stacks were discovered a few miles from where the Lewis and Columbia Rivers meet, but the interesting thing is the few miles happen to be up river, against the natural flow. At the time of the hijakcing, the Columbia River was one of the busiest shipping lanes in North America. It's possible that DB Cooper died in the water, then his body and the money bag was snagged on the propeller of a ship and it was moved upstream with the ship, then the money bag got ripped open and the three stacks made it to the shore and got covered in the shifting sands. IF Cooper's body was in the river, it would only take a few days for it to end up in the ocean and we would never find his body. 

FBI agent, Larry Carr, has an interesting lead that he's been following. A European comic book series from the 60's, has a fearless pilot called Dan Cooper that carries out many missions, including parachuting from planes. Could the hijakcer be a fan of the comic? If so, maybe that's why he chose the name Dan Cooper? Larry Carr thinks it's important because someone may have had a family member that went missing in 1971 and you stumble across these comics and it may crack the case. If you look through the Dan Cooper comics, there are many similarities to the DB Cooper story. The comic shows the airline ticket with the name Cooper on it, a 727 plane, a hijakcing out of Seattle and the character had similar clothing with a black suit, tie and briefcase. 

Just days after the hijacking, the Royal French Canadian Airforce said they believed that DB Cooper was one of theirs. Cooper became the first and only person to successfully hijack a plane and parachute away from it without getting caught. His heist lead to better airport security and the Boeing 727 was redesigned. After the D.B. Cooper hijacking, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered that “Cooper vanes” be installed in all Boeing 727 aircraft. A Cooper vane is a small latch fitted to the outside of the planes with rear stairs. The latch would prevent anyone from opening the door mid-flight.

Bruce Smith was interviewed for the Netflix series, “D.B. Copper: Where Are You?!” and he is the author of D.B. Cooper and the FBI: A Case Study of America's Only Unsolved Skyjacking”. He says, “Our ability to solve cases like these keep getting better and better. Clearly the citizen sleuths have far outdistanced the FBI's ability to conduct an efficient, effective investigation. I think the reason they closed the case in July 2016 was they were getting shown up by a bunch of amateurs and it didn't make them look good.” When Bruce was asked about his theory about D.B. Cooper, he said: “My bet would be it's somebody that's involved in covert ops. He's a man who really does a good job of keeping secrets. And one of the problems that I've noticed with humanity and people who are interested in the case is that they have an unconscious or semiconscious bias that they think D.B. Cooper is probably somebody like them. And that's not the case. There are people in the world, and I think D.B. Cooper is one of them, who are very different than the average Joe. The way I put it in my book is D.B. Cooper came from nowhere and when he jumped he went back to nowhere.” 

One possibility is that there was another guy on the ground waiting for Cooper after the hijacking. In the air traffic control report, lit flares were seen in the sky, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. It would certainly help explain why we never found a body, a parachute, a money bag, or anything else besides the 3 money stacks.


-An accurate passenger list doesn't actually exist. The Seattle Times posted a list 1 day after the hijacking, but it's not accurate and the Northwest Orient list is wrong. We know it's wrong because the number of people in each family is different. For example, one list has a family of 3 people, but on the other list, there are only two of them. Why on earth has the FBI not been able to figure out who the hell was on the plane that day?

-Passengers have different stories than the crew members. The crew says that during the hijacking, everyone was moved, so they were sitting forward of row 14 and the crew told them they were dumping oil. The passengers say this is not true, in fact, they were moving freely on the plane, using the bathroom, and one guy says he was even joking around with Cooper while waiting for the bathroom. The passengers agree that they were moved forward, but it was right before they landed. This makes more sense because it's more likely that they would have figured out they were hijacked if they were moved early. Hijackings were happening so often, so it was all over the news, and it was a popular movie plot line at the time. The passengers say that they all thought Cooper was VIP because flight attendant, Tina Mucklow was sitting next to him, lighting his cigarettes the whole time. So, they were trying to figure out if he was a celebrity. While the plane was flying in circles, they tried to keep everyone happy by offering them free drinks. A man got super drunk and Cooper actually had to get involved to calm the situation down.

-When the plane finally landed, it's always been stated that Tina Mucklow exited the plane briefly to pick up the parachutes and the money, but passengers say Tina NEVER left the plane and 2 men entered the plane to hand everything to her and that's when everyone realized it was a hijacking. A passenger named Larry said the men were two FBI agents and they walked towards the back of the plane and Larry recognized one agent as John. He says John leaned towards him and said the hijacker is on board. All passengers exited the plane and another FBI agent that was waiting outside, lead them to the bus. If two FBI agents were inside that plane, why would that be different than the story we originally received? Is more going on? 

-A story has come out where it's rumored that Cooper sexually assaulted flight attendant Tina Mucklow and they had 45 minutes of undisturbed time together in the plane. If this comes from Tina herself, I'll believe it, but I can't find any reason that this fits. Not only has she stated that he was calm and nice, but how did the crew not hear this? When the plane was getting ready to take off, Cooper insisted that they fly with the stairs down, but he was told that wasn't an option. Cooper said that Tina Mucklow had to stay with him if they wouldn't allow the stairs down. Other crew members decided to stay on the plane to protect Tina. If they are specifically choosing to stay on the plane with her, I'm not sure how they would leave her unattended for 45 minutes with him. 

-Tina Mucklow was hospitalized in a long term care facility in 1979, the rumors are that she had a nervous breakdown, but I'm not sure. She was in the facility when the money was found by Brian Ingram at Tena's Bar, which was 20 miles away, so people wonder if there was a connection. Maybe she planted the money?

-DB Cooper paid for the drinks he had on the plane, which is interesting. He's hijacking the plane, but he wanted to make sure he paid for his alcohol before jumping out. He also ordered food for all the crew members. At one point, Tina Mucklow was joking around with Cooper about how much money he got and he tried to give her 3 bundles of cash, but the airline had a strict policy about not being able to accept a tip, so she had to refuse it. Three bundles of cash is the exact amount that was discovered on Tena Bar. What if Cooper put the three bundles of money somewhere else after offering it to her. Maybe he already had the money bag closed up, so he stuffed it in a pocket and it flew out when he jumped? One of the problems with this theory is the rubber bands. Brian Ingram says they were intact, but crumbled when he touched them. This almost points to the money not being at Tena Bar the whole time. Rubber bands typically crumble in 6 months to a year, so how could they have lasted that long? Experts say that if the money was in circulation, we would have found some of it by now, but what if the numbers were changed? Or, is it possible that Cooper was holding the money until the statute of limitations was up? He could have never predicted that they would never run out. A John Doe indictment was used which basically stops the clock from running out while evidence or DNA is being gathered. The statute of limitations doesn't expire on this case. 

There actually has been some movement on this in the past two years. Tom Kaye used his microscopes to identify diatoms on the money which are tiny deposits of algae. Oddly enough, the diatoms are a spring species. Tom said, “They bloom in the spring. They do not bloom in November when Cooper jumped.” This proves that the money ended up in the river months after he jumped. The money only had one season of diatoms on them and did not have the ones that bloom in the winter. The money could not have been floating in the water for a year or it would show all seasons of diatoms. It's possible that the money holds the key to solving things if we figure out how the money got there in the spring.

-Many people believe Cooper died during the jump and this is the narrative the FBI really pushed. Most people point out how difficult the jump would be, but is it really? All of the copycats that jumped from the plane after Cooper, survived...including, Martin McNally. He was inspired after hearing about Cooper's hijacking on the radio. Martin went to the library to learn how parachutes work and to figure out terminal velocity. He spent months going to airports to determine which one was his best target and he chose Lambert Airport in St. Louis. On June 23rd, 1972, he bought a ticket with forged military papers and boarded the plane with a sawed-off rifle, a pitsol, and a smoke grenade. Martin had never put a parachute on and even had to ask the flight attendants for help. He tied the $502k ransom money around his leg, but it did fly off once he made the jump. He survived and was caught, but he had never touched a parachute before and he made it. 

We haven't found the rest of the money, but he could have done some money laundering. It wouldn't be easy to watch for the money to show back up, it could be anywhere and no one is truly checking every bill to see if it matches the numbers. The FBI didn't even get a full list of every bill that they gave him. If Cooper was alive when he parachuted, we have to keep in mind that it was winter and he was not properly dressed to survive. He jumped at a random location with no visibility. He didn't have the proper equipment and the conditions were not ideal. His body and parachute have never been found though. Experts go back and forth on this. Some say he absolutely survived and others say it's impossible. If he landed in the water, he could loosen the harness before landing, so he could get out without drowning. An expert talked bout this on the Cooper Vortex podcast. 

-If Cooper died after he parachuted from the plane,who the hell went missing and matches his description? Who didn't show up to Thanksgiving? Who didn't show up to work? What family member fell off the face of the planet? 

There were no missing persons reported Thanksgiving week in 1971 that would fit the hijacker's description, but what if it's someone that was already missing? In 1969, Robert Richard Lepsy was a grocery store manager in Grayling, Michigan and he disappeared. He left work for lunch one day and was never seen again. His car was found later at an airport and it was unlocked, with the keys in the ignition, and there was a half pack of cigarettes on the dashboard. One employee remembered seeing Robert buying a ticket to Mexico. An investigation revealed that some money was missing from the store and the police decided not to pursue things because it looked like he planned to disappear since he took money with him. After the hijacking, Robert's family noticed that he looked similar to Cooper, he wore a similar tie to work and he liked to wear loafers.

Theory: Cooper never jumped from the plane and he hid inside and waited for it to land. One problem with this theory is the plane was searched immediately after landing. The FBI was swarming it and they had search dogs. I think it would be pretty difficult to stay hidden during that. They even unbolted the seat he had been sitting in and took that off the plane. I think I mentioned that it was seat 18E in the first episode, but this is debatable. It could either be 18C or 18E. Does that mean Cooper found a panel and somehow hid inside the wall of the plane and the dog's didn't smell him? The FBI says it's not possible to take the panel off, get inside, and put the panel back on from the inside. 

THEORY: Some people believe that the tie left behind was not actually Cooper's. Maybe he bought it from a Goodwill? He could have intentionally left it on the seat to throw off the investigation. If this is true, it would be one hell of a coincidence that the tie happens to have all sorts of rare elements on it. It had Titanium which has been one of the biggest clues because it narrows down the areas this person could have been. Titanium in aircraft is alloyed and the titanium on the tie is not, meaning this person didn't HAVE to work at Boeing, which is the original belief. Titanium was very rare in the 70's. There was also chlorine and salt on the tie, so this person could have worked at RMI Titanium Company, which had all these chemicals.

THEORY: Depending on your source, there were about 35-38 passengers on the plane during the hijacking. This was one of the busiest days of the year for flying and it wasn't anywhere near full capacity. Cooper was sitting in row 18 and they moved everyone before row 14. That's a lot of empty space. Some people believe this points to the CIA being in on the whole thing and making sure it was easy for the hijacker. It's been mentioned that there may have been 2 government workers on the plane that day, maybe Cooper had accomplices?

THEORY: Cooper is criticized for wearing loafers when he jumped and it leads people to believe that he wasn't a professional parachutist. It may not be ideal footwear, but parachutists say this can be done. I think it's one of those things that could either mean he's not experienced, or he's got crazy amounts of experience and was confident that he could pull it off, regardless of his shoes. On the Cooper Vortex podcast, a parachutist said he did jump in street clothes and loafers one time and he had to arch his feet to keep the shoes on. It made things more difficult, but he did it.

THEORY: Cooper never existed and the flight crew faked the hijacking to split the money. When you commit a crime with more than one person, it's very tough to make sure everyone keeps their mouths shut and all of the crew members continued working for Northwest Orient after the hijacking. The ticket attendant had a similar description of Cooper as the flight crew AND the passengers saw Cooper. 

THEORY: Over the years, conspiracy theorists have pointed the finger at a man named Najeeb Halaby. If you ask yourself, who would benefit from the hijacking, it would be the people that are trying to sell airport security. Najeeb Halaby was CEO of Pan American Airlines and he went on a world tour to sell airport security, but he does have a pretty good alibi for the day of the hijacking. He met with President Nixon about 3 hours prior to it. This could also be a cover up story though. Najeeb was a big proponent of the Boeing SST Project which is the Boeing 2707 Supersonic Jet, but Nixon canceled the project in 1971, so maybe his motive would have been to make sure the airport security didn't get stopped. 

THEORY: DB Cooper was a man named Paul LeClair who died of a heart attack in the late 70's. Max Gunther was a very successful author and magazine editor who published a book in 1985 called D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened. The book is based on letters and conversations that he had with someone who claimed they were Cooper and he talked to Clara and she was Cooper's wife. There were certain details that were changed to protect the individuals, but no one knows which parts they were. The book says that Clara found Cooper hiding on her property and he had a sprained ankle from the jump. She took care of him and they ended up falling in love. The two of them laundered the money in Atlantic City casinos and moved to New York. 

Was the bomb that DB Cooper had on the plane real? I know nothing about bombs, but whatever was in that case, looked real enough. The bomb was described as having 8 red cylinders, which sounds similar to road flares. You might think it must be real. If it's not real and someone were to call him out, what's the plan? But, in the 70's it was widely known that flight crews were told to comply with every demand during a hijacking because planes were expensive they didn't want them to be harmed in anyway. It cost less money for an airline to fork over the ransom, than to have a plane decommissioned. 

The first sketch of Cooper, Composite A, was done immediately after the hijacking. This is the one most people are familiar with, and it's referred to as the “Bing Crosby” sketch. This was drawn from the accounts of the three flight attendants. Florence Schaffner was the only crew member to briefly see Cooper without his glasses as he handed her the note, so she had a strong influence on the drawing. A ticket agent, gate agent, and 5 passengers all claimed they got a good look and were able to provide input as well. 

In 1972, (so this is about 9 months later) the FBI decided they needed to get Composite B going and this is referred to as the “Cary Grant” sketch. One passenger, Bill Mitchell, said “I didn't agree with the first sketch. It was missing the jugular thing.” Bill was the passenger that sat closest to Cooper and he said there was a loose fold of skin under his chin which has been referred to as a turkey neck, The second sketch looks very different from the first one. All of a sudden, he looked older, had an olive skin tone and the lower lip was protruding. The FBI says that the second sketch is the best likeness of the skyjacker, but the first sketch was done directly after everything happened, when it would be fresh in everyone's minds.

All three flight attendants said they thought the second sketch was a good likeness, but Tina Mucklow thought the first sketch was a better portrayal and Florence Schaffner didn't think either one was right. So, she drew her own sketch which is Composite C and is referred to as “Sluggo's”

There are generally 3 different jump zones that have been theorized for Cooper's landing. The pilots did announce when they felt that pressure bump and they assumed that's where he jumped, but that may not be accurate. The aft stairs are extremely heavy and there's a bump when they're fully opened. They could have assumed that was the jumping point, but we do know that no one checked. I have never skydived, but I watched a video on YouTube and no one jumped, they gently let their bodies glide off the edge. If someone crouched and jumped, I could understand a big bump from the stairs, but why wouldn't he eased himself off the stairs? The plane continued the flight to Reno airport and no one actually verified that Cooper was gone for a few hours after they felt the bump. 

In 2009, the FBI announced that they located a parachute that was buried in Amboy, Washington, which is in the DB Cooper jump zone. A landowner was grading a road and a blade got caught on the edge of a parachute that had been there for a very long time. It was initially ruled out because it was too large and it was made with silk, not nylon. However, the locals in town aren't sure if this is true. I read an article where a local named Dona said she believes Cooper survived the jump and flew away. On the night of the hijacking, she heard a plane fly over her home in Amboy. She was baking pies for Thanksgiving and she remembers the plane being so loud and low, she thought they were going to crash. She was used to hearing planes because they lived near the Portland airport, but she didn't know what was going on until she turned the news on that night.

Earl Cossey was the one that has always said he packed Cooper's parachutes, so the FBI brought him the one that was found in Amboy. Reporters called him often and on April Fools Day, he told a reporter that the parachute was actually Cooper's and the reporter ended up getting fired for writing the fake story. Unfortunately, Early Cossey was murdered and died of blunt force trauma to the head on April 23rd, 2013. Police say they don't believe that this has anything to do with the Cooper case, but others aren't so sure and wonder if he ended up with information he wasn't supposed to. Earl Cossey originally said he was the owner of the back chutes, but it was later revealed in federal documents that this wasn't true. The parachutes were owned and delivered to Sea-Tac airport by a Kent pilot named Norman Hayden. So, when the Amboy chute was discovered, all questions were directed to Earl and this was in 2009, so the lie went on for a VERY long time and he could have been wrong when he said it was the wrong type of chute. 

Earl also gave very conflicting information about the parachutes when he was questioned. He claimed to have provided an NB-8 chute, but also stated it could have been an NB-6 and in one interview, he called it a Paradise chute, but in another, he said Pioneer. When he was asked for clarification on this information, he said he stuffed a 28 foot canopy into an NB-6 rather than the larger NB-8 sack. Earl was never able to explain why he modified the pilot's emergency rig to make it more difficult to use. He said that he re-located the rip cord on the chute and tucked the handle into a pouch under the right arm pit, making the chute a “double-pull”. This means that when Cooper jumped, he would need to tug on the rip cord twice to deploy the rig. One out of the pouch and the second up and away to free the canopy. Basically, the parachute had been modified for one person and that would be the owner of the chute. Earl also sent the two back chutes to Boeing Field first and not to Sea-Tac where the hyjacker was waiting. To be clear, Earl was involved in packing the chutes, but it looks like he didn't own them. 

A book was written in 1993 called Ha Ha Ha by DB Cooper and some people believe it was really him that wrote it. The book claims to tell the story of what really happened and it describes Cooper as a former businessman who decided to go on a crime spree where he pulled off heists and ended up in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He was able to escape from custody, hijacked the Boeing 727 and disappeared into the forests of Canada with the money.

You might be asking, how on earth can I learn more about Cooper? For starters, you can listen to the Cooper Vortex podcast to get the in depth details and you can also like them on Twitter and join the DB Cooper: Mystery Group on Facebook. This year, CooperCon will be November 18th-20th in Portland, Oregon and there will be three days of presentations and discussions. You can meet all the people that have put a lot of time and effort into researching this case. 

I think the best way to end this is to circle back to the quote from author, Bruce Smith, D.B. Cooper came from nowhere and when he jumped he went back to nowhere.