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D.B. Cooper hijacking mystery is revived with a 'credible' new tip

A retired law enforcement official reportedly tipped the FBI to a connection between a man who died a decade ago and the man known as D.B. Cooper, who leaped from a jetliner he skyjacked in 1971. An FBI official tells a Seattle newspaper the tip is "pretty interesting."

August 01, 2011|By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • A 1971 artist's sketch released by the FBI shows the skyjacker known as "D.B. Cooper."
A 1971 artist's sketch released by the FBI shows the skyjacker known… (FBI )

D.B. Cooper, the infamous hijacker who leaped to fame from a jetliner nearly 40 years ago, may, in fact, be a man who died of natural causes a decade ago, according to a "credible" tip under investigation by the FBI.

The Seattle Times reported Monday that FBI agents requested the personal effects of a possible suspect after receiving a tip from a retired law enforcement official. So far, efforts to connect the dead man to Cooper include attempting to match fingerprints found on the clip-on tie left behind on the aircraft, although nothing conclusive has been discovered, according to the newspaper.

Cooper vaulted into urban mythology by parachuting out of a jetliner over the Pacific Northwest with a $200,000 ransom on Nov. 24, 1971.

PHOTOS: Vanished into thin air

His case remains the only unsolved airline hijacking in U.S. history. Cooper jumped from a Boeing 727 into the skies between Portland, Ore., and Seattle. He disappeared with the ransom he extorted -- 10,000 $20 bills.

The case has remained open, but the trail has been cold despite hundreds of tips, thousands of theories and dozens of breakthroughs in scientific investigation. Now the FBI, which has previously said that Cooper is likely dead, is looking at fresh evidence, according to weekend reports in the media in Seattle, the epicenter of the story that seemingly can never die. The FBI's recent tip in the case was first reported by the Telegraph newspaper in London, a testament to the story's international appeal.

"With any lead our first step is to assess how credible it is," Sandalo Dietrich told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Saturday. "Having this come through another law enforcement [agency], having looked it over when we got it -- it seems pretty interesting."

Dietrich was on vacation Monday, according to a message on her FBI voicemail.

FBI agent Fred Gutt told the Seattle Times on Monday that the bureau's tip came from a retired law enforcement source. He said the family of the dead man was cooperating with authorities.

It is not surprising that the Cooper story has spawned a dozen books and at least one movie. It combines elements of mystery (what happened to…), adventure (man jumps from plane into rugged terrain…), but above all, the romance of an unknown person getting away with something and vanishing to possibly enjoy the ill-gotten gains.

According to reports, a man calling himself Dan Cooper purchased a one-way ticket to Seattle the day before Thanksgiving, 1971, at the Portland airport counter of Northwest Orient Airlines. He was somewhere in his mid-40s, between 5-10 and 6-2. He wore a black raincoat, a dark suit, white shirt and black necktie. He could have passed for a funeral director or a banker with his mother-of-pearl tie pin.

He ordered a bourbon and water and lighted a cigarette (in those days one could smoke on an airplane). He called over a stewardess and handed her a note, printed in all capitals: "I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked."

By late afternoon, the plane had landed in Seattle, had been refueled and passengers taken off. By evening, the ransom and parachutes were delivered and the plane took off for Reno. At 8:13 p.m, the aircraft's tail section sustained a sudden upward movement.

When the craft landed at 10:15 p.m, authorities searched but Cooper was no longer on board.

PHOTOS: Vanished into thin air

michael.muskal@latimes.com

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