>> Who was D.B. Cooper? FBI theories, new evidence revealed in documentary
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
You tell people a story, chances are they're going to want to know the ending. In most circumstances, I try to provide updates as soon as possible after the initial columns run.
But today I offer an update on a story that ran a few years ago, about a mystery that stretches back to 1971.
The story may never have a satisfying ending, but it continues to provide interesting twists:
In August 2000, the D.B. Cooper case was exhumed in this column and readers still call and write to ask if the clues we provided have panned out.
Back then a Florida woman named Jo Weber called to say she suspected her late husband, Duane Weber, had been D.B. Cooper, the only man who ever hijacked a commercial airliner in this country and got away with it. He also got away with $200,000.
It's hard to believe anyone in the Northwest hasn't heard of D.B. Cooper, but for newcomers and young folks, here's a brief history: On Thanksgiving Eve 1971, a man who identified himself to the airline as "Dan Cooper" hijacked Northwest Airlines Flight 305, bound for Seattle. Dressed all in black and wearing sunglasses, he handed a flight attendant a note that said he had a bomb and wanted $200,000 to not detonate it. The plane landed in Seattle, Cooper was given the money, released the passengers and several of the crew, and directed the pilot to fly to Mexico.
When the plane hit 10,000 feet, in a fierce storm, Cooper put on a parachute, opened the rear door, and jumped.
His identity remains one of the 20th century's greatest mysteries.
Jo Weber has suspected for years she has the answer. Jo, a real estate agent who lives near Pensacola, Fla., contacted me four years ago, shared her suspicions and asked for help reaching people who had seen D.B. Cooper that day in 1971. She wanted them to look at photographs of her late husband, Duane.
Jo said Duane had made a deathbed confession that he was Dan Cooper. (The hijacker never called himself D.B. Cooper -- that name stuck after a reporter misreported the name.)
There were other strange clues, Jo said. In 1994 she'd discovered an old plane ticket from Portland to Seattle in Duane's tax papers. After she asked him about it, the ticket disappeared. And FBI sketches of Cooper resembled Duane.
Duane always had been vague about his past; it was only years after their 1977 marriage that Jo learned Duane had spent time in prison; some of that time was served in a federal penitentiary in Washington state. Duane once told her he'd hurt his knee "jumping out of an airplane." Another time he explained how flares could be made to look like a bomb.
And then there were the tickets and souvenirs from a trip to the Northwest in 1979, when Duane showed Jo around an area north of the Columbia River. He appeared to know it well, Jo said in 2000. At one point, she says, Duane "pointed to a logging road and said, 'That's where D.B. Cooper walked out of the woods.' I said to him, 'How do you know that?' And he says, 'Maybe I was on the ground.' I just took it as a joke."
For a long time, the FBI and others took Jo's theory as a joke. But there were others who thought she should be listened to. Ralph Himmelsbach, who headed the FBI investigation of Cooper from 1971 until his retirement in 1980, told me four years ago that he had had dozens of conversations with Jo and thought Duane was a credible suspect.
A few years ago an FBI agent visited Jo at her home in Florida and spent hours talking to her and examining Duane's possessions. When Jo heard nothing after his visit, she decided to continue her own investigation and contacted me.
After the column ran, a number of folks who had seen, talked to, or been on the flight with D.B. Cooper called and shared their recollections. All agreed to look at photos of Duane, to see if they recognized his face after nearly 30 years.
We were able to locate the agent who'd sold Cooper his ticket, and a man on the flight who'd remained in the cabin with D.B. Cooper after other passengers were moved away. We also located the flight attendant Cooper spoke with; she'd become a nun, and Jo had been looking for her for years.
Still, Jo could not get a conclusive answer.
But this case is not yet closed. The FBI came to Jo last year and asked for items that might provide DNA from Duane, she says.
The FBI will not comment on Jo Weber or the status of the Cooper investigation.
But on Aug. 7 the Discovery Channel will air a documentary titled "Flight From Justice: The Story of D.B. Cooper." Not only will Jo Weber be interviewed on the show, producers say FBI investigators will share their theories on who hijacked that plane nearly 33 years ago.
Some think Cooper died in his jump. A portion of the money -- a bundle of $20 bills -- was found in a Columbia River sandbar near Vancouver in 1980.
But there's another intriguing possibility raised in the show: In 1972 a United Airlines flight from Denver to Los Angeles was hijacked by a man named Richard McCoy Jr. McCoy was a former Vietnam vet and a pilot who extorted $500,000 that day. He later escaped from custody and was killed in a gunbattle with an FBI agent. Was McCoy actually D.B. Cooper, repeating his crime? Or was he a copycat? The documentary promises to reveal new evidence. <<
Here's another link: http://www.usnews.com/usnews/doubleissue/mysteries/cooper.htm
(This post was edited by NickDG on Aug 11, 2004, 11:45 AM)
Aug 11, 2004, 1:42 PM
Post #2 of 3
Re: [NickDG] "I was Married to D.B. Copper," Wife says.
[In reply to]
I saw that on Discovery... and had heard it on some other TV special a year or two back...
On this latest one, they seemed to portray him as the 'most possible' of all the guys that were looked at for the Hijacking... but on the program that aired a while back they gave evidence that was supposed to show it couldn't have been him.
(I think there were hard records of him being some where else that day)
But ya gotta question his response about 'forgetting where he hid the money'
Makes sense in one respect, in that the small buried pile was found. But on the other hand, with all the planning that went into the crime, I would think the perp would have a better system prepared than just digging a hole someplace in the Pacific northwest and walking away...
Aug 28, 2004, 11:17 PM
Post #3 of 3
Re: [NickDG] "I was Married to D.B. Copper," Wife says.
[In reply to]
If I'm not mistaken, Jo Weber's husband, who died of cancer, showed her a place in Washington state where the FBI now believes Cooper would've landed - dead or alive. It turns out they were looking in the wrong place for many years because the original investigation had no pilots among the FBI team, so there were some basic misunderstandings about the course of the plane through the air, compared with what the "whuffo" agents estimated. And the place Weber's husband pointed out to her was NOT the area that the FBI suspected at the time. It WAS however very very close to the location where the young boy discovered some of the cash from the hijacking, which has been traced beyond any shadow of a doubt by the serial numbers on the bills. Trouble is, he showed this place to his wife a year or two before the kid found the money.