i have always been a fan of true crime, and unsolved mysteries in particular. while i have no desire to be a part of any criminal activity, (and openly admit to occasionally absconding with an extra fine chocolate or two from a hotel lobby), i have always been fascinated by the criminal mind and the planning and execution of their crimes. i love putting the puzzle pieces all together, the wild goose chase, the wrong turns, and the process of finally solving a case. today is the anniversary of the day in 1971, when one of my favorite cases ever took place, and one that remains unsolved to this day: the d.b. cooper case.
D.B. Cooper: Everything you need to know in 20 sentences and 5 minutes of your time.
One afternoon a day before Thanksgiving in 1971, a guy calling himself Dan Cooper (the media mistakenly called him D.B. Cooper) boarded Northwest Airlines flight #305 in Portland bound for Seattle. He was wearing a dark suit and a black tie and was described as a business-executive type. While in the air, he opened his brief case showing a bomb to the flight attendant and hijacked the plane. The plane landed in Seattle where he demanded 200K in cash, four parachutes and food for the crew before releasing all the passengers. With only three pilots and one flight attendant left on board, they took off from Seattle with the marked bills heading south while it was dark and lightly raining. In the 45 minutes after takeoff, Cooper sent the flight attendant to the cockpit while donning the parachute, tied the bank bag full of twenty dollar bills to himself, lowered the rear stairs and somewhere north of Portland jumped into the night. When the plane landed with the stairs down, they found the two remaining parachutes and on the seat Cooper was sitting in, a black tie.
Jets, a helicopter and a C-130 aircraft had been scrambled from the closest air force base to follow Cooper’s plane. The military was called in days after the hijacking and approximately 1,000 troops searched the suspected jump zone on foot and in helicopters. The Boeing 727 used in the hijacking was flown out over the ocean and the stairs lowered and weights dropped in an attempt to determine when Cooper jumped. The SR-71 super-secret spy plane was sent in to photograph the entire flight path but no sign of D.B. Cooper was ever discovered.
Nine years later in 1980 just north of Portland on the Columbia River, a young boy named Brian Ingram was digging a fire pit in the sand at a place called Tena Bar. He uncovered three bundles of cash a couple inches below the surface, with rubber bands still intact. There was a total of $5800, the Cooper serial numbers matched, and the first evidence since 1971 came to light. The FBI searched and analyzed the beach, the river was dredged by Cooper Hunters and the theories on how the money got there supercharged the Legend of D.B. Cooper.
Decades passed, D.B. Cooper became famous in book, movie and song. In 2007, Special Agent Larry Carr took on his favorite case with the restriction not to waste government time or money pursuing it. Agent Carr brilliantly decided the way around the problem was to treat the hijacking like one of his bank robbery cases – to get as much information out to the public as possible. He released previously unknown facts about the case and the D.B. Cooper frenzy started anew.
In 2008 the Cooper Research Team came together to take up the challenge and was given special access to investigate the case. This website is the result of that three year investigation.
The Public Debates:
The D.B. Cooper case continues to be debated in forums and chat rooms around the world. Most of the conversation (and arguments) center around a few ideas outlined below. The ‘Debate Factor’ is the level of interest for that theory among Cooper followers.
Did Cooper die in the jump? It is a huge public debate if Cooper died in the jump or not. Experienced skydivers say he would have died if it was his first jump but if he was an expert, no problem. One experience parachutist believed that anyone who had six or seven practice jumps could accomplished the jump. The cold weather may or may not have killed him in the woods even if he landed ok. No body or parachute was ever found. Debate factor* = 9 of 10
Was Cooper an experienced skydiver? He requested “front and back parachutes” = novice. He turned down instructions on how to use the parachute = experienced. He picked the non-steerable military parachute = novice. The military chute could better withstand the exit speed of the plane = experienced. He put the parachute on like he knew what he was doing = experienced. He took the reserve chute that was sewn closed and non-functional = novice. Debate factor = 7 of 10
The Tena Bar money find is problematic because it is 20 miles away from the town of Ariel, Washington where the drop zone analysis completed in 1971 said he jumped. In order to get the money on to Tena Bar, several theories are in play. First is the Washougal Washdown Theory, based on the idea that the money had to wash first down smaller rivers, then into the Columbia River in order to end up on Tena Bar. Second is that the FBI flight path was incorrect and Cooper actually landed on Tena Bar and buried the money. Third is that Cooper or someone else buried the money on Tena Bar to throw off the FBI. Debate factor = 10 of 10
The “Palmer Report” stemmed from the FBI bringing in Portland State University geologist Dr. Leonard Palmer to analyze the sand bar where the money was found. In between the 1971 hijacking and the 1980 money find, the Columbia River was dredged and sand was deposited on Tena Bar in 1974. Palmer’s report determined that the money was in a layer of top sand laid down by the dredging. This implied that the money was somewhere else upstream for years before coming to rest on Tena Bar. The counterpoint was that the delicate rubber bands were still intact on the bundles when found. The bands pointed to an earlier time frame for the money coming to rest on Tena. Debate factor = 9 of 10
Where was the real flight path? The flight path map in the FBI archive has no information on who drew the flight path or when it was created. The flight path as drawn is thought to be from the detailed analysis of radar data and flight recorder discussed in the FBI transcripts. The FBI path does NOT fly over Tena Bar or the Washougal area. The money found on Tena Bar forces the flight path debate because it would be much easier to explain the money find if Cooper flew over Tena Bar and jumped, or flight #305 flew over the Washougal River and Cooper’s ransom money ended up washing down stream. Debate factor = 7 of 10
How did three loose bundles of money stay together for years and then get buried together? Several possibilities have been put forth. The bank bag protected them for years in the river and then rotted away before the bills did. Cooper lost the money when he landed on Tena Bar in the dark. Someone else buried the money there. Debate factor = 5 of 10
Was Cooper from the area? He recognized Tacoma from the air = local. He would be an idiot to hijack an airplane where he could possibly be recognized = not local. He made the very unusual request for “negotiable American currency” unlike most Americans = not from this country. Debate factor = 3 of 10
How did the money degrade around the edges and get holes in them? Roots, tumbling downstream, dredging? Debate factor = 3 of 10
Are any of the current crop of suspects the real D.B. Cooper? Debate factor = 13+ of 10
source: fbi archives