On Nov. 24, 1971, a man identified himself as “Dan Cooper” to an agent at the Northwest Orient Airlines counter in Portland International Airport. He boarded a flight to Seattle. Once on board, he claimed to have a bomb, hijacked the flight, freed the 36 passengers aboard, demanded a ransom of $200,000 and four parachutes, directed the plane to fly to Mexico and then parachuted out of the back of the plane somewhere over Washington.
He’s never been found, nor has any of the money — save for $5800 in rotting $20 bills found by a child digging along the Columbia River in 1980. While law enforcement planes were following the plane he hijacked, no one even saw the jump.
His case — dubbed the D.B. Cooper case after a misspelling that stuck — has captivated the nation since.
The FBI called off the search for Cooper last year, reassigning the lone agent on the case, according to the New York Times. They say they did so because the decades-long investigation was taking “investigative resources and manpower” from “programs that more urgently need attention.” Effectively ending the investigation was “really an attempt by the bureau to spare the office from irritating calls, wacky emails and more,” said Geoffrey Gray, a journalist who’s written a book on the investigation.
While the FBI would still follow a specific lead if one turned up, there is no longer a dedicated agent assigned to the crime.
Now, on the week of the 46th anniversary of the hijacking, a newly revealed letter from the infamous case is raising new questions about the unsolved mystery — and an eerie opening line is raising questions about an FBI cover-up from at least one Cooper sleuth.
The letter, which was mailed to the Washington Post, Seattle Times, New York Times and Los Angeles times in just weeks after the hijacking, opens with: “I knew from the start that I wouldn’t be caught.”
“I didn’t rob Northwest Orient because I thought it would be romantic, heroic or any of the other euphemisms that seem to attach themselves to situations of high risk,” the writer adds. “Unfortunately [I] do have only 14 months to live.”
He also lists a few “things working against the authorities,” including:
- “I’m not a boasting man”
- “I left no fingerprints”
- “I wore a toupee”
- “I wore putty make-up”
Finally, he offers clues to his trajectory — “I’ve come and gone on several airline flights already and am not holed up in some obscure backwoods town” — before signing off with “Thank you for your attention.”
That letter was part of a batch of documents won in court in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit filed by Thomas and Dawna Colbert, two investigators who run a website dedicated to finding the answers to the mystery and boast of an investigative team of over 40 people.
An excerpt of an FBI memo also unveiled in the FOIA release is proof of a conspiracy to hide the identity of D.B. Cooper and the FBI’s own management of the case, according to Thomas Colbert. The excerpt, published in the Daily Mail, ties a letter from the Airline Pilots Association to the just-revealed letter published in the FOIA release. That memo dates to Dec. 29, 1971.
But the released memo redacts the name of the individual who connects the Airline Pilots Association to the Cooper letter. And that, says Colbert, is everything — and combined with the FBI’s move to cease the investigation last year, proof of a cover-up, he says.