D.B. Cooper: 45 Years After Infamous Skyjacking, FBI Closes Case on Unsolved Mystery

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FBI drawings of the man who identified himself as Dan Cooper. (Credit: FBI/via Los Angeles Times)

The last time anyone saw D.B. Cooper, he parachuted out of an airplane with $200,000 in ransom strapped to his body, vanishing over the Pacific Northwest and initiating one of America’s greatest manhunts.

Forty-five years later, the FBI is closing the books on this unsolved case.

“On July 8, 2016, the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities,” the FBI Seattle Division said Tuesday.

The infamous hijacking that took place in 1971 became one of the bureau’s “longest and most exhaustive investigations,” the FBI said.

While the bureau has chased down an immense number of leads and tips from the public, including accounts of sudden unexplained wealth and detailed descriptions matching the hijacker, none has resulted in definitive answers.

“Unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips or applications of new investigative technology have yielded the necessary proof,” the FBI said. “Every time the FBI assesses additional tips … investigative resources and manpower are diverted from programs that more urgently need attention.”

The elusive case of D.B. Cooper

On November 24, 1971, a dark-haired man who called himself Dan Cooper approached the ticket counter of Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland, Oregon, and used cash to buy a one-way ticket to Seattle.

“Cooper was a quiet man who appeared to be in his mid-40s, wearing a business suit with a black tie and white shirt,” the FBI said in a summary of the case on its website. “He ordered a drink — bourbon and soda — while the flight was waiting to take off.”

After takeoff, he handed a flight attendant a note saying he had a bomb in his briefcase, opening it to show a mass of wires and red sticks, the FBI said.

When the flight landed in Seattle, the hijacker exchanged the flight’s 36 passengers for $200,000 in cash and four parachutes, the FBI said, keeping several crew members on board. The flight took off again after he ordered it to fly to Mexico City.

At an altitude of about 1.9 miles, Cooper made his dramatic exodus, disappearing into the night from the back of the jetliner, wearing a suit jacket and with the money strapped to his body.

The game of Clue

For years after the great escape, law enforcement and amateur investigators alike have chased theories regarding Cooper’s true identity and his whereabouts.

Whether “D.B.” — a name created by the press, according to the FBI — survived the 10,000 foot plunge into the wilderness has never been confirmed, and his true identity has never been determined.

The evidence collected over the years will now be preserved for historical purposes at the bureau’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., the FBI said.

One clue came in 1980, when a boy found a rotting package of $5,800 in $20 bills that matched the serial numbers of the ransom money.

Pieces of parachute debris and Cooper’s black tie, which he took off before jumping out of the aircraft, are also among the physical evidence being retained.

While the bureau is no longer actively investigating Cooper’s case, the saga that generated immense public interest will be sure to live on.

Even the FBI statement released Tuesday leaves a chapter of the story open-ended:

“Should specific physical evidence emerge — related specifically to the parachutes or the money taken by the hijacker — individuals with those materials are asked to contact their local FBI field office.”