Who Was DB Cooper, the Man Who Stole $1.4 Million and Vanished Without a Trace?

Getty / Bettmann

Netflix’s “DB Cooper: Where Are You?” is a deep dive into one of the most legendary unsolved cases in history. The four-part docuseries, which premieres later this summer, will examine the decades-old case of DB Cooper, an unidentified man who hijacked an aeroplane flying between Portland and Seattle in 1971. After escaping with $200,000, valued at nearly $1.4 million today, Cooper leapt from the plane and vanished without a trace. Over the past 50 years, investigators and crime specialists have worked to piece together Cooper’s identity – to no avail.

Theories suggest that Cooper could have been a Boeing employee, a skilled paratrooper, or even a notable serial killer. In 2016, the FBI officially suspended the active Cooper investigation and released evidence from the plane, including a clip-on tie, a mother-of-pearl tie clip, and eight cigarette butts, sparking even more theories about the skyjacker’s identity.

The Netflix series, coproduced with Fulwell 73 Productions and PMZ Pictures, will include interviews with top investigators on the case and detail their quest to iron out the only unsolved case of air piracy in commercial aviation history.

Who Is DB Cooper?

Image Source: Getty / Bettmann

On the afternoon of Nov. 24, 1971, a man in a dark suit purchased an airline ticket under the alias Dan Cooper. Due to a media miscommunication, his media epithet later became DB Cooper, a slight variation on his actual pseudonym. The plane, a Boeing 727 aircraft, took off for Seattle from Portland at approximately 2:50 p.m. PT. Shortly after takeoff, Cooper handed flight attendant Florence Schaffner a folded note. Assuming the note was the unidentified man’s phone number, Schaffner dropped the paper into her purse, only for Cooper to lean forward and whisper, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.”

Per the note’s instructions, Schaffner moved to sit next to Cooper and asked to see the bomb. Opening his briefcase, Cooper showed the flight attendant eight red cylinders attached to wires and a cylindrical battery before listing his demands: $200,000, four manually-operated civilian parachutes, and an aircraft fuel truck standing by in Seattle for use upon their arrival. Schaffner relayed Cooper’s demands to Flight 305’s pilot, William A. Scott, who told the other 35 passengers onboard that their flight to Seattle would be delayed due to “minor mechanical difficulty.”

As police assembled a group of emergency responders and gathered Cooper’s demands – including 10,000 unmarked $20 bills – the plane circled over Puget Sound, WA, for two hours. During this time, Cooper commented on the layout of the land below them, and witnesses claimed that he was calm, well-spoken, and polite, even going so far as to offer to request meals for the flight crew ahead of their arrival in Seattle.

When the plane finally landed at Seattle Tacoma Airport in heavy rain, Northwest Orient’s Seattle operations manager, Al Lee, delivered Cooper’s ransom and parachutes. Satisfied, Cooper let all the passengers and flight attendants off the plane. Once the plane was refuelled, they ascended back into the air, headed for Reno–Tahoe International Airport. Around 8 p.m., the remaining crew noticed a sudden change in air pressure, indicating that the aft door of the plane was open. A few minutes later, as the plane was flying over a heavily-wooded area, there was a sudden movement against the aircraft’s tail section, likely indicating that this was the moment Cooper jumped from the plane with his ransom. Available evidence suggests that Cooper landed somewhere near the Washougal River and did not survive the jump, but no body was ever found.

Investigators quickly gathered composite sketches, eyewitness reports, and physical evidence following the hijacking. Police also conducted aerial and ground searches, following countless leads with no luck. On Feb. 10, 1980, an 8-year-old boy named Brian Ingram discovered three packets of the ransom cash, totalling around $5,800, as he dug in the sandy riverbank on the Columbia River at a beachfront known as Tina Bar. Police analysis later confirmed that 10 bills were missing from one of the packets of heavily-deteriorated ransom cash and that the money had been buried in the riverbank several months after the hijacking. No additional bills from Cooper’s ransom have been discovered.

While the FBI officially suspended active investigation of the case in 2016, anyone who may encounter new physical evidence linked to the Cooper case is encouraged to submit it for further analysis. Ahead, learn more about the case’s top suspects.

“DB Cooper: Where Are You?” Release Date

The four-part docuseries will hit Netflix on July 13 and will take a look at the 50-year investigation into Cooper’s true identity. Ahead, see evidence pointing to 14 suspects, including several skydiving experts and Marvel’s Loki.

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