The Strange Disappearance of DB 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, 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.