Who was D.B. Cooper? Suspects, theories and what happened to the money
The Netflix docuseries looks at the unsolved mystery behind D.B. Cooper – a man who hijacked a plane and jumped out with a $200,000 ransom.
Netflix docuseries D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?! arrived on the streamer today, becoming the latest unsolved mystery for true crime fans to dive into.
The four-parter looks at the baffling case of D.B. Cooper – a man who hijacked a plane flying from Portland to Seattle in 1971 and demanded a $200,000 ransom before parachuting out over Washington.
While the FBI spent over 45 years investigating the case, Cooper's identity is still yet to be confirmed with many sleuths unsure whether he even survived the jump, and yet the mystery has popped up in pop culture ever since, from Mad Men to Loki.
With the Netflix show looking into the theories and possible suspects around one of the biggest mysteries in US crime history, here's everything you need to know about the D.B. Cooper hijacking.
Who was D.B. Cooper?
D.B. Cooper is an unidentified man who in 1971, hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines Flight, extorted $200,000 in ransom money and then parachuted from the plane. The unknown man, who booked the flight under the alias Dan Cooper, has never been caught by the FBI despite a 45-year investigation.
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On 24th November 1971, the hijacker, who used cash to purchase his one-way ticket to Seattle from Portland under the name Dan Cooper, took a briefcase containing explosives onto the plane. He passed a note to air hostess Florence Schaffner, claiming to have a bomb, and then gave the instructions: "I want $200,000 by 5:00 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," according to New York magazine.
After landing in Seattle, Cooper asked for passengers to be released and was handed the ransom. He then asked the captain to fly him to Mexico City and during the flight, he strapped the cash to himself and jumped out with the parachute above southwest Washington.
While the FBI searched for him/his body, they discovered that the name Dan Cooper was fake. Then, in 1980, $5,800 in bills was found on the Columbia River by an eight-year-old boy on holiday with his family. While they had disintegrated in part, the FBI identified them as money from the ransom.
Over the years, the FBI has looked into over 1,000 suspects who could be D.B. Cooper but hasn't been able to confirm his identity.
The headline-making crime also led to D.B. Cooper gaining a cult following, with t-shirts featuring the question, 'D.B. Cooper, Where Are You?' being sold across the country and a shop in Washington holding an annual D.B. Cooper Day.
D.B. Cooper suspects and theories
A number of suspects have been suggested over the years, including the likes of Barbara Dayton, William Gossett and John List, however the most convincing theories are detailed below.
World War II veteran Duane Weber was a suspect in the D.B. Cooper case, after the 71-year-old told his wife, Jo, on his deathbed: "I am Dan Cooper."
After Duane revealed his secret, Jo remembered that he would sleep-talk about "leaving fingers prints on a plane" and had an old knee injury from jumping out of a plane, while a book in the local library about D.B. Cooper had notes in the margin in her husband's handwriting.
She told CBS News in 2000: "I can't walk away from it. Why would he have an old Northwest Airline ticket? Why would he take me to a place where eventually the money was found. Why all of this? There's too many pieces of the puzzle that fit."
Meanwhile FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach, who was assigned the case 29 years prior, added: "He does fit the physical description. He does have the criminal background that I have always felt was associated with the case."
However, the FBI eliminated Weber as a suspect, noting that his fingerprints did not match those on the plane or on Cooper's tie, and there was no other direct evidence implicating him.
Himmelsbach also said that he believed Cooper most likely died of the injuries he would have suffered when jumping out of the plane.
Kenneth Peter Christiansen
Army paratrooper Kenneth Christiansen, who was also a Northwest Orient Airlines flight attendant, became another suspect after he tried to make deathbed confession to his brother Lyle in 1994.
According to Lyle, Christiansen told his brother: "There is something you should know, but I cannot tell you!"
As for other evidence, Lyle Christiansen wrote in a letter that he was watching an Unsolved Mysteries episode about the Cooper case in 2003 and was convinced that his brother was a "dead ringer" for the sketch of D.B. Cooper.
New York magazine found that Kenneth Christiansen was able to purchase a house and some land in October 1972 – a year after Cooper's jump – paying $14,000 for the ranch and $1,500 for land despite earning a "notoriously meagre" salary.
Florence Schaffner – the stewardess who received Cooper's note on the plane – also recognised photographs of Kenneth Christiansen, telling the publication: "The ears, the ears are right. Yes, thin lips. And the top lip, kind of like this, yes. A wide forehead, yes." While Christiansen looked the most like Cooper out of all the suspects she had seen, Schaffner was unable to definitively say that it was him.
However, the FBI determined that Christiansen did not match the physical description of Cooper, with agent Ralph Himmelsbach telling New York magazine: "Well, he’s too short, not heavy enough, and has got the wrong colour eyes."
Richard McCoy Jr
Richard McCoy was a Vietnam helicopter pilot and former Sunday-school teacher who, five months after the D.B. Cooper hijacking, took over a plane flying over Utah and demanded a $500,000 ransom. He jumped out of the plane and was caught by the FBI a few days later with $499,970 of the money.
The FBI believed he was Cooper and he was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Two years into his sentence, he escaped from prison with a few other convicts and was killed in a shoot-out with federal agents.
Robert Rackstraw was a pilot and army veteran who became a suspect in the D.B. Cooper case after investigators noticed a resemblance between him and the drawings of Cooper whilst investigating him for another crime in 1978.
Rackstraw served on a helicopter crew during the Vietnam War and after being discharged in 1971, tried to fake his own death by jumping out of a plane over Monterey Bay, according to Thomas Colbert – the author of The Last Master Outlaw, a book arguing the case that Rackstraw was D.B. Cooper.
He was later arrested on suspicion of possessing explosives and fraudulent cheque charges in 1978, where he was found in Iran and deported to the US.
In 1979, the FBI no longer considered him a suspect after direct evidence of his involvement was not found.
In the 2016 documentary D.B. Cooper: Case Closed?, Rackstraw – who was 73 at the time – denied being Cooper, while his lawyer Dennis Roberts told Mercury News: "He’s not D.B. Cooper. Everything I’ve heard is that D.B. Cooper died, and he (Rackstraw) is alive."
A more recent name that was suggested to be D.B. Cooper is Walter Reca – a former military paratrooper who died in 2014.
According to the Detroit Free Press in 2018, Reca's best friend Carl Laurin compiled audio recordings which featured Reca discussing details from the skyjacking and wrote a memoir called 'D.B. Cooper & Me: A Criminal, A Spy, My Best Friend'.
While Vern Jones, who worked with Laurin to analyse the evidence, told MLive that Reca's main motivation for the hijacking was that he needed money and that he spent the ransom at places that "routinely deal with large cash deposits" to avoid detection, such as putting a down payment on a house and buying a car before putting the rest of it in a safety deposit box in a Canadian bank.
The book also contained witness testimony from Jeff Osiadacz, who said that a man that looked like Reca approached him in a Washington coffee asking for help on the night of the hijacking, and said that Reca confessed to two people before he died.
However, the FBI had officially abandoned the case in 2016 and released a statement after Reca's name was suggested saying it would be "inappropriate" to comment on specific tips.
They added that suggestions still pour in but that "none to date have resulted in a definitive identification of the hijacker", although the new information has "conveyed plausible theories" but nothing has so far netted "the necessary proof of culpability beyond a reasonable doubt".
Lynn Doyle Cooper
In 2011, Marla Cooper suggested that her late uncle Lynn Doyle Cooper was the man behind D.B. Cooper, claiming that he grew up in Sisters, Oregon and was therefore familiar with the area in which the hijacker jumped.
According to ABC News, Lynn Doyle Cooper was also a war veteran – which fits the FBI's profile – and could have been tough enough to jump out of a plane into the wilderness as he was a logger and outdoorsman.
He also allegedly turned up to a family Thanksgiving in 1971 looking unkept and claimed there had been a car accident.
However, after Marla Cooper gave the FBI one of her uncle's guitar straps for testing, they found it was not conducive to lifting fingerprints but according to CNN, FBI Special Agent Frederick Gutt said in 2011 that Lynn Doyle Cooper had "not been ruled out as a suspect".
Theory: D.B. Cooper died in the parachute jump
A conclusion that many draw from the fact that D.B. Cooper has never been found is that he may not have survived the jump from the plane.
FBI agent Larry Carr wrote in 2007 that it is highly unlikely that Cooper made it safely to the ground.
"Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions, he probably never even got his chute open," he said.
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