All About D. B. Cooper

FBI Composite Sketch of D. B. Cooper
FBI Composite Sketch of D. B. Cooper. Public Domain. Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation

On Nov. 24, 1971, a man using the name Dan Cooper paid $20.00 cash to purchase a one-way ticket for the thirty-minute flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington on Northwest Airlines Flight 305. 

Cooper was dressed in a black overcoat, a dark suit with a white dress shirt with a clip-on tie and was carrying a black attaché case when he boarded the flight. The crew consisting of at least five people along with 36 passengers.

Cooper sat in a seat near the rear of the plane, lit a cigarette, and ordered a bourbon and soda.

The flight took off at 2:50 P.M. on schedule. Shortly after take-off, Cooper handed a flight attendant, Florence Schaffner, a note that she dismissed without reading. Cooper then stated “Miss, you'd better look at that note. I have a bomb." Cooper next told Schaffner to take a seat beside him, and he opened his attaché case showing her that it contained what she would later describe as a bunch or wires and some red sticks. Cooper demanded $200,000.00 in cash and four parachutes.

The plane landed at Seattle-Tacoma airport where the ransom and parachutes were delivered to Cooper. Cooper ordered the crew to then fly him to Mexico City, Mexico. Prior to take-off, he released all 36 passengers and two of the flight attendants. Cooper also demanded that the rear door to the aircraft needed to remain unlocked and that the pilot fly slowly at a low altitude.

The plane then took off from Seattle and flew to Reno, Nevada to refuel. However, somewhere on the way there Cooper parachuted from the plane. Even though there were five different planes carrying officers from various law enforcement agencies following the airplane, no one saw Cooper parachute from flight 305.

Since a person did not need to show any identification to purchase an airline ticket or to even board a plane for a flight in 1971, it is unknown whether Dan Cooper was his real name. Further, he is commonly called D.B. Cooper because a local reporter misheard an FBI Agent pronounce the hijackers first name as “D.B.” The name “D.B. Cooper” stuck with the national media, and he has been known as this ever since.

One of the few clues that Cooper left behind was his clip-on tie that in 2007 was used to obtain DNA. The DNA was found to have come from three different people. Although the DNA from the tie has supposedly been used to rule out a number of suspects, critics claim that there is not enough of a DNA profile to completely rule out individuals who have been alleged to have committed the crime.
In the more than four decades since the hijacking, D.B. Cooper has never been found, but there are numerous theories about what happened to him. At first, the FBI had believed that Cooper was most likely an experienced jumper, but over time they concluded that someone experienced would not have jumped wearing a suit and loafers on a cold, rainy night with a 200 mile an hour wind in his face.

However, neither his body nor parachute has ever been found.  In 1980, an eight-year-old boy who was camping found $5800.00 which turned out to be part of the Cooper’s ransom money near Mt. St. Helens in Washington.

Theories About D.B. Cooper's Identity

It has long been the position of the FBI that there was no way that Cooper could have survived the jump, but a number of people have come forward offering some type of proof that D.B. was a friend or family member.

Some other theories that have risen over the years are:

  1. In 2011, Marla Cooper asserted that her deceased uncle, Lynn Doyle Cooper was actually D.B. Cooper. Grace Hailey (Marla’s mother and Lynn’s sister) agrees, having recalled that on Thanksgiving weekend 1971 Lynn showed up at a family gathering and looked like he had been beat up claiming that he had been in automobile accident. Lynn was an outdoorsman from an area near where the money was found and was a veteran.
  1. Duane Weber made a deathbed confession to his wife, Jo, in 1995 that he was Cooper, but the FBI claims he was ruled out by DNA. Jo claimed that Weber had a knee injury that he claimed he received from jumping out of an airplane; he had a book about D.B. Cooper with his handwritten additions in the margins; he had kept an old Northwest Airlines ticket, and he had taken her to the area near where the money had been located. 
  2. William Gossett had a military background and matched the sketch artist depiction of the hijacker. Before he died in 2003 told his two sons that he was Cooper. 
  3. At first, the FBI included John List on its list of suspects. In 1971, John List had killed his entire family and then lived under a false name until captured in 1989 after a tip from America’s Most Wanted. List and Cooper had similar physical descriptions, height, weight and age.