At a time when airport security was far more lax than it is today, a man now known only as “DB Cooper” somehow managed to hijack a Boeing 727 aircraft and make off with $200,000 in ransom money. 50 years later, we are no closer to identifying the culprit. Read on for an inside look at this insane mystery that continues to enthrall true crime aficionados across the world.
What Is the Mystery of DB Cooper?
The DB Cooper mystery began on November 24, 1971, when a middle-aged man carrying a briefcase entered Portland International Airport and purchased a one-way ticket to Seattle. He gave the name “Dan Cooper,” though it would soon become apparent that this was merely an alias.
“Cooper” boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 305. When the flight was cleared for departure, he handed flight attendant Florence Schaffner an envelope, inside which was a note reading, “Miss I have a bomb here and I would like you to sit by me.”
With no other option, Schaffner did what the note commanded and sat beside Cooper. He opened his briefcase and revealed to her what looked to be eight sticks of dynamite. He then gave her further instructions: “I want $200,000 by 5pm 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.”
The Demands of DB Cooper Are Met
As soon as the flight departed, Schaffner informed the flight crew of the situation. Federal authorities were then notified, and the ransom money and parachutes were procured for Cooper by the time the plane landed in Seattle. The flight’s passengers exited without the faintest clue that they had just been in danger. Cooper stayed on board.
After receiving the ransom and parachutes, he told the flight crew to take him to Mexico City. However, they argued that such a trip would be impossible without first stopping to refuel. The flight crew and Cooper agreed to land in Reno, Nevada to refuel.
However, by the time they landed in Reno, there was no trace of Cooper. The plane’s aft stairway had been opened, indicating that somewhere along the way, he had abandoned ship. The only physical evidence he left behind was a black tie and eight cigarette butts, which were unfortunately lost by authorities. (Using modern technology, the DNA on these cigarette butts could have revealed his identity.)
Crew members reported feeling an oscillation in the aircraft at around 8:05pm, so it was assumed that this is the time Cooper had jumped ship. At that time, the plane was flying about 25 miles north of Portland, Oregon. Consequently, authorities conducted massive searches of the area where Cooper likely landed, but no sign of him—or the money—was found.
Has the DB Cooper Money Been Found?
Before addressing the question as to whether or not the ransom money was ever found, we must note that, when federal authorities procured the money, they collected bills with specialized serial numbers that made them easy to trace. The FBI requested that people who came into possession of these specialized bills report their findings to authorities. However, nothing came to fruition until a decade later.
In 1980, an eight year-old child named Brian Ingram was digging a hole in the sand at Tina Bar Beach, located in southern Washington. It was then that he discovered three bundles of cash, totaling $5,880. His parents reported his findings to the FBI. Miraculously, the bills contained serial numbers that matched those of the ransom money.
This begs the question: how did the ransom money end up so far from Cooper’s supposed drop zone? The only logical explanation is that someone—most likely Cooper himself—buried it there. If this is true, then it is clear that Cooper survived the jump.
What Happened to DB Cooper?
Despite the money found at Tina Bar Beach, many still argue it is unlikely that Cooper survived the jump. Proponents of this theory claim that perhaps the money was found by someone else, who then buried it in southern Washington. Three critical facts are used to back up their assertion that Cooper did not survive:
- He jumped into a harsh rainstorm that would have been difficult to navigate via parachute.
- The ground was obscured by clouds, so he jumped without knowing where he would land.
- Even if he did survive the landing, he would have had to traverse a vast forest, in a rainstorm, wearing only a trench coat and loafers.
Who Are the DB Cooper Suspects?
Ultimately, there is no hard evidence that Cooper survived or didn’t. But there is a laundry list of people who Cooper may have been, a few of which we will go over below. It must be noted that none of these people have been proven beyond reasonable doubt to be the culprit.
Rackstraw has been thought to be Cooper for the following reasons.
- He had a military background, indicating that he would have been comfortable parachuting.
- He was discharged from the army five months before the hijacking, providing a possible motive for the crime.
- When questioned about whether or not he was Cooper, he would not give a straight answer, just repeating, “I would not discount myself.”
Still, Cooper was reported to be in his 40s, while Rackstraw was only 28 at the time of the hijacking.
Christiansen has been thought to be Cooper for the following reasons.
- He served as a paratrooper in WWII and worked for Northwest Airlines before and after the hijacking.
- He was 45 at the time of the crime.
- Before dying, he confided in his brother, “There is something you should know, but I cannot tell you.”
- After passing, his family discovered over $200,000 in his bank accounts.
- Photographs of Christiansen bore resemblance to the composite sketch of Cooper.
Weber has been thought to be Cooper for the following reasons.
- In 1995, he made a deathbed confession to his wife that he was Cooper.
- His widow recalled finding a bank bag in their house. She said that he had a knee injury, which he claimed he got from “jumping out of a plane.”
- His widow also said he would have nightmares about “leaving fingerprints on the stairs.”
- He visited Tina Bar in 1979.
- He had a WWII background and criminal record.
His wife’s claims set aside, however, there is no hard evidence that Weber was indeed Cooper.
Do you have theories on the DB Cooper case? Let us know in the comments!