Home News Stories 2009 March In Search of D.B. Cooper In Search of D.B. Cooper

In Search of D.B. Cooper

In Search of D.B. Cooper
New Developments in the Unsolved Case

03/17/09

Did the famous hijacker take his name from a popular comic book hero? © Dan Cooper – Albert Weinberg – Le Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) – 2009.
Did the famous hijacker take his name from a popular comic book hero? © Dan Cooper –  Albert Weinberg – Le Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) – 2009.

Electron microscopes, dollar bills on a fishing pole, and a French Canadian comic book hero are providing tantalizing new insights into one of our greatest unsolved mysteries—the D.B. Cooper case.

We’ve told the story here before—how in 1971 a man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacked a plane from Portland to Seattle, demanded parachutes and $200,000 in cash, then jumped into the night with the money, never to be seen again.

Did he survive the jump? That is the subject of great debate. But as it turns out, a certain Dan Cooper is very much alive—on the pages of a French comic book series that was popular when the hijacking occurred. In the fictional series, Royal Canadian Air Force test pilot Dan Cooper takes part in adventures in outer space and real events of that era. In one episode, published near the date of the hijacking, the cover illustration shows him parachuting.

Seattle Special Agent Larry Carr, who took over the Cooper case two years ago, believes it’s possible the hijacker took his name from the comic book (the enduring “D.B.” was actually the result of a media mistake). That’s important because the books were never translated into English, which means the hijacker likely spent time overseas. This fits with Carr’s theory that Cooper had been in the Air Force (see sidebar).

Agent Carr’s Theory


Larry Carr thinks it’s highly unlikely that Cooper survived the jump. “But he came from somewhere and from someone. And that is what we want to know.” Based on what he has learned so far, here is Carr’s profile of Cooper:

- Agent Carr’s Theory Larry Carr thinks it’s highly unlikely that Cooper survived the jump. “But he came from somewhere and from someone. And that is what we want to know.” Based on what he has learned so far, here is Carr’s profile of Cooper: He served in the Air Force and at some point was stationed in Europe, where he may have become interested in the Dan Cooper comic books.

- He worked as a cargo loader on planes, giving him knowledge and experience in the aviation industry, which was in its infancy in 1971.

- Because his job required him to throw cargo out of planes, Cooper would have worn an emergency parachute in case he fell out. This would have provided him with working knowledge of parachutes but not necessarily the functional knowledge to survive the jump he made.

- He may have come from the East Coast, but taken an aviation job in Seattle when he got out of the military. It’s possible he lost his job during an economic downturn in the aviation industry in 1970-71. If he was a loner with little or no family, “nobody would have missed him” after he was gone.

Carr discovered the comic book connection on D.B. Cooper Internet forums, where fascination with the case is undiminished. The forums are also where Carr found the “citizen sleuths” who volunteered to help us reinvigorate the case.

Even though our investigation has remained open, it doesn’t make sense for the FBI to commit substantial resources to this nearly four-decade-old crime, Carr says. “So if the public can help, by whatever means, maybe we can shake something loose.”

Enter Tom Kaye, a paleontologist who usually searches for dinosaur bones in the Wyoming desert. With a team that included a scientific illustrator and a metallurgist, and assistance from a veteran Cooper searcher and Brian Ingram—who was eight years old in 1980 when he found $5,800 of the ransom money on a sand bar along the Columbia River (the only physical evidence in the case after Cooper jumped from the plane)—Kaye recently spent time conducting soil, water, and other experiments on the Columbia and some of its tributaries.

“The FBI threw out the challenge,” he said, “and we’ve taken the bait.”

Using technology unavailable in 1971, such as satellite maps and GPS, Kaye hopes to pinpoint exactly where Ingram found the money nearly three decades ago. He plans to retrace the plane’s flight plan to determine more exact coordinates for Cooper’s landing zone. 

Resources

- March 2009: New Developments in the Unsolved Case
- December 2007: Help Us Solve the Enduring Mystery
- November 2006: The D.B. Cooper Mystery

- Video: Scientists Hunt for D.B. Cooper
- FBI Vault: Documents About D.B. Cooper Case
- Gallery: The D.B. Cooper Case

And using an electron microscope, he wants to figure out if pollen found on a tie Cooper left behind on the plane came from a specific region of the country.

And that stack of dollar bills on fishing line? Kaye conducted experiments to help determine if the money Ingram found floated there over time, or was buried there shortly after Cooper jumped.

“After 37 years,” he said, “we’re trying to use science to narrow all the possibilities.”

It’s yet another twist in a case that continues to fascinate the nation.

If you have any information on Cooper, please e-mail our Seattle field office at Seattle.FBI@ic.fbi.gov.

Locations where Cooper was originally thought to have landed and where some of the ransom money was later found
Locations where Cooper was originally thought to have landed and where some of the ransom
money was later found
           Tom Kaye (center), Carol Abraczinskas, and Brian Ingram examine archival photographs
Tom Kaye (center), Carol Abraczinskas, and Brian Ingram examine archival photographs