(Note from the author: This series is drawn from research being done for the upcoming 2014 book Cooperland, which studies the people and events surrounding the D.B. Cooper case.)
It remains the only unsolved skyjacking in U.S. history and was pulled off on November 24th, 1971.
A man whose identity still remains a mystery hijacked a Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 during a routine flight between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. The F.B.I. threw every tool at their disposal into hunting down a man known only by the moniker 'D.B. Cooper'. After investigating more than a thousand suspects, they are no closer to solving the case than they were at the start. Along the way, they spent a great deal more money trying to close the case than the value of the items the hijacker received: $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills, and four parachutes. The case has not been closed, however. The Seattle F.B.I. still keeps at least one Special Agent in charge of the case, and depending on how you look at it, this could be bad fortune for the agent. Being the Special Agent in charge, you also become the recipient of phone calls, letters, and emails from everyone and his brother offering evidence or new leads. It's possible that any FBI agent who gets assigned to Cooper might wonder what they did to deserve such a fate. That was a joke, although there could be some truth in it.
The Cooper Cult
In the last forty-plus years, a cult of sorts has built up around Cooper. The word 'cult' itself has a negative connotation, so I choose to use the sociological definition:
'A self-identified group of people who share a narrowly defined interest or perspective...'
There are three basic types of people here. The first are the people who celebrate Cooper's life because he was the guy who 'stuck it to the man' for two hundred grand (just over a million in today's dollars) and never got caught. These are ones you mostly meet at the annual celebration in Ariel, WA on the anniversary of the hijacking. They gather on the Saturday before Thanksgiving Thursday at Dona Elliot's Ariel General Store and Tavern in Ariel, WA and party with a live band until late. Most of them don't want to know who Cooper was, because that would take the fun out of the whole thing. I understand this concept completely. In any case, a visit to this party is definitely worth the trip.
The second group are the unbiased civilian investigators, or writers with an interest in the case. This includes people like Wayne Walker, a retired nuclear consultant who maintains the best website ever created on Cooper. Or Geoffrey Gray, the author who wrote the most recent book on Cooper that was a New York Times bestseller. Another addition to the data on Cooper was the research done by the Citizen Sleuths. They are three people who were allowed access by the FBI to the physical evidence, and who later published their results on a comprehensive website. They are the finest that Cooperland has to offer.
The third group are the most dangerous type in this cult. They are the folks who either don't want to know who the hijacker was because they live solely for the discussion, or the people who push one suspect to the exclusion of all others. They can be mean, hateful, and will go to any lengths to convince you they are right, sometimes even lying if it suits their ends. If you aren't convinced of their viewpoint, they will occasionally take the low road and post the worst things imaginable on any article or forum regarding Cooper. This group includes people like Bob Knoss, who is the most famous of all. Knoss thinks the whole thing was a conspiracy created with the tacit approval of President Richard Nixon - with the goal being to force improvements in airline safety. Often these people try to remain anonymous on the internet and they are occasionally banned from websites and article comments. I call them Cooper Nuts. One good example is THIS article written by Regina Winkles via her Wordpress account. She had no idea what she was getting into by posting an article about Cooper. The next thing you know, there are nearly 400 comments and most of them were filthy beyond belief. In the end either Wordpress, or Regina herself, had to delete more than half of the comments. Otherwise Wordpress was going to close her account. But that's how it goes in Cooperland sometimes. Hatred and competition run rampant.
A Quickie Review of the Main Suspects Today
Duane Weber - His widow Jo Weber is convinced he was Cooper, but to date she has not been able to prove her husband knew how to use a parachute or was in the Northwest on 11/24/1971. Duane was a petty criminal and thief who served a few terms in prison and was dismissed by the FBI some years ago. Mrs. Weber remains undaunted, and continues her research over at the most famous discussion site on Cooper: The Dropzone thread on Cooper.
Kenny Christiansen - Investigated by yours truly, Geoff Gray, and others, a report on him with pictures and documents was sent to the Seattle FBI in December 2012. (View the PDF in Part 3) He was the subject of an episode on the History Channel show Brad Meltzer's Decoded. Although there is a fair amount of circumstantial evidence against him, as well as witnesses who are still alive today, he has not been proven to be D.B. Cooper.
Sheridan Peterson - An experienced skydiver who lives in California, he was once a serious suspect and was questioned by the F.B.I. However, it's been established that he was actually in Nepal with his wife and at least one young child the week of the crime. He still has his supporters, although there are a few problems with him as a suspect. His eyes are blue and the hijacker's were reported as brown. His personality in general doesn't seem to fit the profile, either. He's written an anti-Vietnam War book titled The Idiot's Frightful Laughter that runs 900 pages, and he once ran for a school board position in the Santa Rosa, CA area where he provided his entire history. Peterson once made a bit of a joke about being a suspect though, and it's unlikely he was the hijacker.
William Gossett - A former paratrooper and an ROTC instructor, Gossett is the main suspect of Spokane lawyer Galen Cook, who has been investigating Gossett's life for years. Cook has promised a revelatory book since at least 2005 that will prove Gossett was Cooper. He also continues to appear on Coast-to-Coast AM radio and in other media. But to date there is no book, nor any real evidence linking Gossett directly to the hijacking. More recently, Cook's claims on Gossett were damaged when he enthusiastically supported an article about a woman named 'Janet' who supposedly saw the hijacker in-flight tossing flares off the airstairs. Many Cooper investigators, this writer included, call it the Janet Fable. To Galen Cook's credit, he did create more interest in the case by successfully suing the FBI to make some Cooper files public. On the down side, he has been quoted as saying the FBI told him that a DNA test was done on suspect Kenny Christiansen, and that Christiansen was dismissed as a suspect. The FBI says, (according to Seattle media liaison agent Fred Gutt) that neither of those things is true.
There are other, more minor suspects of course. The most recent was L.D. Cooper, the uncle of Marla Cooper. Her claim has been roundly discounted, although for a while the F.B.I. took her seriously, as well as the media. Later, an interested publisher withdrew their offer, although she is allegedly still working on a book independently. This writer did an interview with her once for Newsvine.