He disappeared with the money. That’s why the legend of D.B. Cooper endures.
He jumped out the back of a passenger jet with $200,000 — the money strapped to his body — and if he didn’t cackle as he leaped (“So long, suckers!”), well, he should have. He deserved that moment of satisfaction as he bailed out on civilization somewhere over the northwestern U.S. in 1971.
Raise your hand if a version of the D.B. Cooper moment exists in the recesses of your imagination, to be accessed, if only once and for a second, during trying times. Nothing criminal, of course, or dangerous, or even permanent. But plotting your well-funded escape and leaving them all to wonder? Could feel pretty good, if only for an hour or two. So long, suckers!
The FBI has spent these 45 years searching in vain for D.B. Cooper — long enough to finally acknowledge that the mystery may never be solved. As of this week, the agency announced Wednesday, it has “redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case to focus on other investigative priorities.”
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You can’t blame investigators for giving up. Cooper would be about 90 today if alive. There are no new leads to follow. Decide for yourself what may have happened on Nov. 24, 1971:
That afternoon, a man in his mid-40s wearing a dark suit and black tie settled into his seat on a Northwest Orient Airlines flight from Portland, Ore., to Seattle. He ordered a bourbon and soda and then, after takeoff, hijacked the plane, claiming he had a bomb in his attached case. He demanded $200,000 in $20 bills and four parachutes. After landing in Seattle to exchange the passengers for his loot and chutes, he ordered the plane to fly to Mexico City. Somewhere between Seattle and Reno he jumped.
In 1980, a young boy unearthed a package of the money — $5,800 with serial numbers matching the ransom loot.
In all likelihood, Cooper — he bought his ticket as Dan Cooper, but who was he? – did not survive his plot. He appeared to be an inexperienced sky diver: He made a foolhardy night jump into freezing wilderness in a business suit and loafers using a parachute that couldn’t be steered. In 1980, a young boy unearthed a package of the money — $5,800 with serial numbers matching the ransom loot — on the banks of the Columbia River near the Oregon-Washington border. No trace of a body was found, but likely it’s out there, in the river or at the bottom of a lake.
Ah, but Cooper was clever: He hijacked a Boeing 727, whose rear retractable door could be opened in flight. He ordered the pilot to fly slowly, below 10,000 feet in altitude, along flat terrain west of the Cascades. As for the stash of found $20 bills: Had Cooper been dead on arrival and the cash was mere debris, a relic? Or did Cooper shrewdly place this fraction of his haul there to confuse investigators?
At most, one person has firsthand knowledge. The feds looked at more than 800 suspects over the years and eliminated them all.
News accounts, T-shirts, public events and such have kept the spirit of D.B. Cooper alive. Last year, fans of the TV series “Mad Men” noticed that Don Draper, the show’s slippery protagonist, was the right age to be Cooper. He dressed, smoked and drank like Cooper, too. As the series finale approached, some viewers speculated that the New York ad man would be revealed to be D.B. Cooper. Alas, the Draper character turned out to be nothing more mysterious than the creator of a famous Coke commercial.
As for D.B. Cooper, he was the real thing: not a hero, but a criminal whose crazy, daring story appealed to many people’s escapist fantasies. He’s allowed a place in American mythology because he didn’t hurt anyone and got away. The FBI says the trail ran cold. True, but who knows?
Maybe he’s still out there all these years later, cackling, enjoying another D.B. Cooper moment.