Mysteries, Oddities, and Everything Strange: D. B. Cooper

Bridget Vaughan, Staff Writer

B. Cooper: Hijacking Connoisseur

One of the longest standing unsolved mysteries in all of American history is the conundrum surrounding D. B. Cooper. A mysterious man who boarded a plane Seattle-bound ended up parachuting out of it in a less-than-regal fashion. But the shroud surrounding Dan and his excursion has stumped even the FBI for almost 50 years. But what exactly happened on November 24, 1971, and will we ever know who the real D. B. Cooper is?

On that fateful day, a man wearing a trench coat, black tie, black overcoat, and white shirt used exclusively cash to purchase a plane ticket from Portland International Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. He boarded the Boeing 727 in seat 18-E and ordered a drink as the plane took off at its scheduled time. The people around him described him as a mid-40’s white male around 5’ 10” to 6’ and 170 to 180 pounds. Only after a couple minutes of the plane being in the air, Cooper requested the flight attendant to read a note he provided her stating that he had a bomb in his briefcase. The attendant, Florence Schaffner, bore witness to countless wires and a couple of cylindrical red sticks. Schaffner was instructed to write down the man’s demands, where he requested $200,000 in 20 dollar bills and 4 parachutes (2 back and 2 front). To conclude his demands, he stated “No funny stuff or I’ll do the job.”

Once the plane landed in Seattle, the money and parachutes were brought on board while the passengers of the plane left. It refueled and charted a course for Mexico City, with the crew members remaining onboard. The trip went smoothly until around 8 PM that day, where Cooper opened the door and leaped out of the plane with a parachute and only a fraction of the ransom money. All the crew members were able to land and exit the plane safely, but the fate of D. B. Cooper is one of the greatest mysteries in American history. 

The FBI immediately launched an investigation known as NORJAK (Northwest Hijack). They had released the codes that corresponded with the various $20 provided as ransom money, and some were discovered nearly a decade later in 1980 along the Columbia River at a spot known as Tena Bar. Many different newspapers were showered with letters with authors claiming to be the criminal, with two men brought into custody because they had sold the tell-all story to a local paper. Over the course of their investigation, the FBI noted nearly 800 different men as potential Coopers, but only 24 had serious leads that were valid enough to be questioned.

Cooper had left his clip-on tie on the plane when he jumped, which included DNA samples. An online group called Citizen Sleuths had deduced that his tie had traces of elements that were associated with plane development at Boeing. They theorized that Cooper was likely an employee or ex-employee of the corporation, but the theory did not gain any traction. The most popular suspect of the hour at this point in time is Richard Floyd McCoy. McCoy was a veteran of the Vietnam War and wanted to be a Utah State Trooper after his period of service in the state’s national guard. In 1972, McCoy hijacked a plane with a method nearly identical to Cooper’s, requesting money and four parachutes in an unnaturally calm manner. The detail that hammers in the resemblance, though, is that both events happened while Brigham Young University was on hiatus. As long as the case remains a mystery, the public will never know whether D. B. Cooper was a true Mormon or not.

Despite the similarity, McCoy is likely not responsible for the Cooper heist. McCoy and Cooper apparently did not fit the descriptions that the flight attendants provided in both incidents. McCoy was also apprehended after the incident had occurred and condemned to half a century in prison, but escaped from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and eventually succumbed to injuries in a gun fight on Virginia Beach in 1974. On the night of Cooper’s infamous hijack, McCoy was reportedly at home with his family enjoying a hearty Thanksgiving dinner.

There are countless more suspects with enthralling tales that I could not possibly go into detail on, but I encourage anyone who is curious to do your own research about the massive rabbit hole that this case exists in. If Cooper were to be alive today, he would be well into his 90s—but it’s likely he’s not. One of the most popular theories declares that Cooper passed because of his jump, whether it be the force of impact or sustained injuries. Whether he survived until today or died shortly after his leap, the identity of the mystery man will likely never be uncovered, and with hundreds of people claiming to have been him, the true D. B. Cooper has escaped consequences for good. One day, his identity might finally be revealed, but for now we can only ponder the ultimate fate of the American legend.