The Strange Disappearance of D.B. Cooper

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20:01   |   Mar 10, 2017


The Strange Disappearance of D.B. Cooper
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  • - This week on Buzzfeed Unsolved,
  • we discuss the famous case of D.B. Cooper,
  • a case that the FBI's referred to
  • as one of the great unsolved mysteries in FBI history.
  • It's also considered one of the greatest
  • unsolved mysteries in US history.
  • It's a favorite of mine. - Ooh.
  • Yeah, I've heard of this one a little bit,
  • just a little bit.
  • - Oh you haven't heard it like I'm about to tell it.
  • - Oh boy, okay, strap in.
  • - Let's strap in baby, let's get into it.
  • On Wednesday, November 24th, 1971
  • the day before Thanksgiving, a man going by the name
  • Dan Cooper bought a $20 one way ticket
  • on NorthWest Orient Airlines with cash for flight number 305
  • from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington.
  • Cooper was described as being in his mid-40s
  • and wearing a business suit, a black rain type overcoat,
  • brown shoes, a white shirt, and black tie.
  • He carried a dark briefcase and a four inch
  • by 12 inch by 14 inch paper bag.
  • Before the plane took off, Cooper,
  • seated in seat 18C ordered a bourbon and soda.
  • - That's a big gulp.
  • - [Ryan] After the plane had taken off,
  • a little after three p.m.
  • Cooper handed the stewardess a note.
  • At first, she just put it in her pocket without looking
  • at it, but Cooper said,
  • quote, "Miss, you better
  • "look at that note. I have a bomb," end quote.
  • - "Thanks," and walked away.
  • And he was like, "Hey, ah, you might want to read that
  • "because I've got a bomb, oh god dammit
  • "Yeah, I got a bomb everybody."
  • - Cooper told her the bomb was in his briefcase
  • and asked her to sit next to him.
  • He opened his briefcase to show red colored sticks
  • surrounded by an array of wires.
  • After that, Cooper asked the stewardess
  • to write down what he was saying and take it to the captain.
  • Quote, "I want $200 thousand by five p.m.
  • "in cash, put in a knapsack.
  • "I want two back parachutes and two front parachutes.
  • "When we land, I want a fuel truck ready to refuel.
  • "No funny stuff or I'll do the job."
  • One odd detail was that Cooper asked
  • for the $200 thousand to be exclusively in $20 bills.
  • The flight landed in Seattle, and Cooper exchanged
  • the 36 passengers on the plane for the money
  • and the parachutes he had requested.
  • Cooper kept some crew members on the plane
  • and had the plane take off for Mexico City,
  • requesting that the plane remain below 10 thousand feet.
  • During the second half of the flight,
  • Cooper put on a pair of dark wrap-around sunglasses
  • with dark rims that would later become
  • part of the sketch that would become famous
  • for anybody familiar with the case.
  • - I'm just imagining a camera just pushing in on him
  • as he's just like. (blows)
  • (dramatic music)
  • - If we were in today's age,
  • this guy would definitely have headphones in
  • playing a Spotify playlist of epic soundtracks.
  • - He would have one of those shitty hover boards.
  • - Not an actual hover board, but a shitty.
  • - Yeah, he'd be like, "Or I'll do the job."
  • He'd take out his wheels, put em down,
  • start moving up and down the aisle.
  • (laughing)
  • Knapsack, or I'll do the job.
  • - A little after eight p.m. when the plane
  • was somewhere between Seattle and Reno, Nevada,
  • Cooper jumped out of the rear doors of the Boeing 727
  • with two of the parachutes and the money,
  • never to be seen again.
  • One thing worth noting is that Cooper took off
  • his black J.C. Penney clip on tie before jumping,
  • a piece of evidence that the FBI was able
  • to procure a DNA sample from.
  • - (blows) Clink.
  • (laughing)
  • - With the DNA sample from the tie,
  • let's jump into the investigation launched
  • to identify the man who called himself Dan Cooper.
  • The case was called NORJAK, standing for
  • Northwest Hijacking, and would last decades.
  • The plane was intensely searched for evidence.
  • Desperate to find Cooper's identity,
  • there was extra interest in $20 bills
  • because the FBI had released the serial numbers
  • of the bills stolen by Cooper.
  • Remarkably, in 1980, nine years after Cooper's escape
  • a young boy found a rotted package
  • filled with $20 bills that matched
  • the ransom money's serial numbers.
  • There was $5,800 in all.
  • The boy found the bills
  • on a beach at Tina Bar
  • while making a campfire with his father.
  • People theorize that when Cooper jumped out,
  • the money possibly fell into the Washougal River
  • before eventually making its way to Tina Bar.
  • That's basically all they've theorized.
  • - I'm just imagining him just jumping out
  • and immediately just losing grip of all the bags.
  • Just a man plummeting to earth with a bunch
  • of money flying around, and him being like. (yells)
  • - [Ryan] Though this discovery would ultimately lead
  • to nothing as the FBI scoured the surrounding beaches,
  • finding nothing else.
  • In the year that followed the hijacking,
  • several letters were sent to the FBI,
  • The New York Times, The Washington Post,
  • The Los Angeles Times, and The Seattle Times,
  • either confessing to the crime,
  • eulogizing a recently-deceased D.B. Cooper,
  • or claiming to be his brother.
  • In fact, in November 1972 two men,
  • Donald Sylvester Murphy and William John Lewis
  • were taken into federal custody
  • on charges of extortion for impersonating Cooper
  • and selling his tell-all story to a tabloid.
  • - "Ha, ha, hey it's me the Zodiac Killer.
  • "I'll tell you a story.
  • "What? Oh, oh."
  • - Leads were tracked all over the country
  • and more than 800 suspects were considered
  • over the first five years of the investigation.
  • All but 24 suspects were eliminated from consideration.
  • One peculiar fact is that the initials D.B.
  • have no actual relevance to the case,
  • and the FBI isn't sure where they came from.
  • It was reportedly a mistake from a wire service
  • that caused him to be called D.B. Cooper
  • instead of Dan Cooper, which is how he presented himself
  • when buying the plane ticket.
  • The physical description of Cooper
  • is thought to be very accurate.
  • Two flight attendants spent hours with him on the plane,
  • and were interviewed separately
  • the night the hijacking occurred.
  • They gave nearly identical descriptions of Cooper,
  • saying that he was five feet 10 to six feet,
  • 170 to 180 pounds, in his mid-40s, and brown eyes.
  • People who interacted with him on the ground
  • gave similar descriptions.
  • His voice was described as low, no particular accent,
  • but spoke with an intelligent vocabulary.
  • The charge against Cooper was originally air piracy,
  • but that had a five year statute of limitations
  • and as time went on, with no suspects being found guilty,
  • a grand jury later indicted Cooper
  • for violating the Hobbs Act.
  • The Hobbs Act is a federal statute
  • designed to prevent extortion.
  • It has no statute of limitations,
  • meaning if Cooper was found tomorrow
  • he could be charged even though
  • the FBI investigation has since been called off.
  • Before we jump into suspects, I'd like to point out
  • that the pilot told officials that he himself
  • chose the route the plane took, not Cooper.
  • Cooper only requested his end destination of Mexico City,
  • a decision that is a bit puzzling
  • when you consider the fact that Cooper
  • knew he intended to jump out of a plane.
  • This seemingly eliminates the possibility
  • of Cooper having an accomplice,
  • as there was no coordination about the route from Cooper,
  • and therefore, no coordinated
  • drop point.
  • With that, let's jump into the suspects.
  • The first suspect is Richard Floyd McCoy,
  • who is the favorite suspect of former
  • FBI agent Russell Calame and former
  • federal probation officer Bernie Rhodes.
  • The two men even wrote a book about the case.
  • In April 1972, five months after Cooper's escape,
  • the FBI arrested Richard Floyd McCoy
  • for hijacking an airplane.
  • When examined, the McCoy heist
  • is definitely similar to the Cooper heist.
  • Like Cooper, McCoy hijacked a plane
  • and parachuted off of it.
  • McCoy jumped out the back rear staircase
  • of a Boeing 727, the same plane Cooper
  • jumped out of, using the same method.
  • Also like Cooper, McCoy requested four parachutes
  • and was calm during the heist.
  • Reportedly, both of the men passed notes
  • to the flight attendants claiming a bomb was on board.
  • A detail that becomes more compelling
  • when you learn that both Cooper and McCoy's notes
  • reportedly contained the phrase, "No funny stuff."
  • Another suspicious coincidence is that both crimes
  • reportedly occurred while Brigham Young University,
  • where McCoy was a student, was on break.
  • "Spring Break!"
  • As he just falls down to his death?
  • - "Spring Break!" (grunts)
  • - Perhaps the most riveting detail
  • is that according to Calame and Rhodes,
  • members of McCoy's family identified
  • an object left on the plane by Cooper,
  • an object that was never publicly identified.
  • Some parts of the internet seem to believe
  • that this object was a Brigham Young University
  • medallion, with McCoy's initials on it,
  • but this seems to stem from the Wikipedia page
  • of the case, which makes this
  • most likely complete horse shit.
  • Regardless if McCoy is Cooper or not,
  • the FBI eventually ruled out McCoy as a suspect
  • for the Cooper case, mainly because he didn't match
  • the descriptions of Cooper given by the flight attendants.
  • Though, Calame and Rhodes listed
  • the two men as looking similar.
  • Additionally, according to FBI archives,
  • McCoy was home with his family for Thanksgiving dinner
  • in Utah the day after the hijacking.
  • Unlike Cooper, McCoy was actually caught after his heist
  • and sentenced to 45 years in prison.
  • McCoy would actually escape from prison
  • in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and would later die
  • in a gunfight with FBI agents in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
  • I just love how that story has so many like oh.
  • - He's out. - He's like, "Yeah."
  • - He's not out. - Oh.
  • - He's out. - Ah?
  • - Shot to death. - Oh.
  • - That was a roller coaster of emotions right there.
  • The second suspect is Duane Weber,
  • who claimed to be D.B. Cooper on his death bed.
  • His wife Jo claims that in the hour of his death,
  • Duane pulled her close and said, quote,
  • "I have a secret to tell you, I'm Dan Cooper."
  • (laughing)
  • - I was trying to take a drink
  • and I just imagined.
  • - "Closer, closer, closer."
  • - "I have a secret to tell you."
  • - "I'm D.B. Cooper."
  • - "I'm the phantom of the sky."
  • I bet she did not see that one coming.
  • - No, she's probably gonna be like.
  • - Did he cheat on me? - Exactly.
  • "Did you cheat on me?"
  • - "I'm a man of myth."
  • - This revelation led to Jo revisiting
  • what should have been clear clues.
  • According to Jo, Duane had nightmares
  • where he'd sleep talk about, quote,
  • "Leaving fingerprints on a plane."
  • He also had a knee ailment that he claimed
  • he got jumping out of a plane.
  • Duane's handwriting was reportedly found
  • in the margins of a library book on D.B. Cooper.
  • Jo also claims Duane took her to the place
  • where the money was eventually found on Tina Bar beach.
  • And finally, Jo claims that Duane
  • had an old NorthWest Airlines ticket for no apparent reason.
  • 29 years after he left the case,
  • here's a quote from former lead FBI agent
  • Ralph Himmelsbach on Duane Weber.
  • Quote, "He does fit the physical description.
  • "He does have the criminal background
  • "that I've always felt was associated
  • "with the case," end quote.
  • Himmelsbach also believed that Jo Weber's story
  • may have credibility, but ultimately
  • did not believe it was him.
  • The third and final suspect is Kenneth Christiansen,
  • the favorite suspect of the author Geoffrey Gray.
  • The theory began
  • when Lyle Christiansen,
  • the brother of Kenneth Christiansen,
  • saw an episode of Unsolved Mysteries
  • and became convinced that his brother was D.B. Cooper.
  • Lyle also cites a deathbed confession
  • from his now late brother Kenneth.
  • Kenneth reportedly said, quote,
  • "There is something you should know,
  • "but I cannot tell you," end quote.
  • Kenneth was a flight purser for NorthWest Orient Airlines,
  • the same airline that Cooper hijacked,
  • which would support online suspicion
  • that it was an inside job.
  • Kenneth also loved bourbon and bought a house
  • shortly after the crime,
  • though it was apparently unassuming.
  • Perhaps the most enthralling part of Gray's theory
  • is that fact that when he showed a picture of Kenneth
  • to a flight attendant who'd interacted with Cooper,
  • she agreed that of all the suspects she had seen,
  • Kenneth was the closest.
  • Though, she also said, quote, "I can't say yea," end quote.
  • Bizarrely, the FBI debunked Kenneth
  • on the basis that he didn't match the description.
  • So once again the FBI coming in hot
  • with some weird contradictions, I don't know.
  • You're cool, FBI, I'm just saying.
  • - You don't wanna make enemies of the deep state.
  • - No I don't especially now with, nevermind.
  • - Yep.
  • - Another reason the FBI discredits
  • Kenneth as a suspect is because Kenneth
  • was a paratrooper just after World War II.
  • A detail that is damning, according to the FBI,
  • who believes that Cooper was not a skilled jumper.
  • Which brings us to our next suspect,
  • or rather theory, from Special Agent Larry Carr,
  • that D.B. Cooper did not survive the fall.
  • Agent Carr took over the D.B. Cooper case in 2007.
  • Here's a quote from him on the matter.
  • Quote, "We originally thought Cooper
  • "was an experienced jumper, perhaps even a paratrooper.
  • "We concluded after a few years
  • this was simply not true," end quote.
  • Here's some details that support that narrative.
  • Cooper jumped carrying two parachutes.
  • However, only one of them was a functioning chute.
  • The other was a training chute that was sewn shut.
  • Furthermore, the shoot that was functional
  • was a military chute that was not steerable.
  • He's kinda starting to sound like an idiot.
  • - A little bit.
  • - The whole time, he's like,
  • "Yeah, bourbon soda, mm bomb.
  • "Here's your note.
  • "I'm a cool guy, sunglasses."
  • Jumps out the plane. (screams)
  • (screams)
  • Splat.
  • - It's not a splat, I think a pine tree just.
  • Just, "No, no, no, no." (grunts)
  • - "Kill me."
  • - Little squirrel comes up to him.
  • "Get out of here."
  • - Here's some more details from Agent Carr.
  • Quote, "No experienced parachutist
  • "would have jumped in the pitch black night,
  • "in the rain, with a 200 mile-an-hour wind in his face,
  • "wearing loafers and a trench coat," end quote.
  • Other reasons he possibly died in the fall
  • include him jumping into a wooded area at night,
  • and there was no visibility of the ground
  • at the time that he jumped as there
  • was a cloud cover at 5,000 feet.
  • Obviously, this theory loses a bit of credence
  • due to the fact his body or chute were never found.
  • The last theory we will discuss comes
  • from a group of amateur scientists
  • that refer to themselves as Citizen Sleuths.
  • I got you guys, don't worry.
  • He's gonna be floored.
  • Citizen Sleuths employed the use of an electron microscope
  • to discover north of 100 thousand particles
  • on D.B. Cooper's tie.
  • Among these particles, they discovered
  • cerium, strontium sulfide, and pure titanium.
  • According to lead Citizen Sleuth's researcher Tom Kaye,
  • quote, "These are what they call rare earth elements.
  • "They're used in very narrow fields,
  • "for very specific things," end quote.
  • Kaye stated that although these elements
  • were rare during 1971, one place they
  • were being utilized was at Boeing,
  • where they were developing an advanced,
  • supersonic transport plane.
  • Kaye and the Citizen Sleuths posit
  • that Cooper may have been a Boeing employee,
  • explaining the rare materials found on his tie.
  • Quote, "The tie went with him into these manufacturing
  • "environments for sure, so he was not
  • "one of the people running these manufacturing machines.
  • "He was either an engineer or a manager
  • "in one of the plants," end quote.
  • Kaye believes the key to identifying Cooper
  • rests with the memory of perhaps one person
  • in the Pacific North West who was involved
  • in the aerospace industry at the time.
  • If that person is you, all information
  • can be relayed to the Citizen Sleuths
  • via the contact tab on their website, citizensleuths.com.
  • The FBI called their search for D.B. Cooper,
  • "One of the longest and most
  • "exhaustive investigations," in its history.
  • As of 2011, the FBI case file
  • measured 40 feet long,
  • and covered more than 1,000 suspects,
  • so what we presented here is only the tip of the iceberg.
  • The case was open for 45 years before the FBI
  • finally closed it in 2016, though they
  • are still willing to listen to possible leads.
  • What do you think happened?
  • - I'm gonna go Occam's Razor on this one
  • and just assume that he rocketed to the ground.
  • A little juxtaposition of him being on the plane like,
  • "I'll have a bourbon,"
  • and then two hours later. (yells)
  • - After all these years, people are still transfixed
  • on the identity of the cunning crook
  • known as D.B. Cooper.
  • But for now, and perhaps forever,
  • the case of D.B. Cooper will remain unsolved.
  • What if the trench coat was like Batman
  • where it was like a flight activated suit
  • that allows him to fly around like a flying squirrel?
  • - In my mind though, I don't imagine him
  • being like, "Oh here comes the tree line."
  • I imagine him being like, "Oh, I can't see
  • "through the clouds, oh now I can."
  • - It's just. - Wile E. Coyote.
  • - Plume of smoke. - Yeah.
  • - Oh hey there, didn't see you walk in.
  • That does it for this season of Buzzfeed Unsolved,
  • but we will be back with a new season soon, I promise.
  • Now I'm gonna get back to this case file.
  • - That's bullshit.
  • (wolf howling)
  • - [Ryan] Look out for a brand new season
  • of Buzzfeed Unsolved Supernatural coming soon.

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