The FBI has closed its investigation into a notorious 1971 skyjacking conducted by a man who came to be known as D.B. Cooper.
Over 45 years, the hunt for the mysterious man who got away with $200,000 in ransom money after parachuting out of a plane has sparked a slew of books, songs, amateur theories, and even a deathbed confession by a man who claimed to be the hijacker.
But despite an ongoing search, which a Washington Post reporter once described as “Jesse James meets the Loch Ness monster,” the FBI declared the investigation to be essentially over on Tuesday.
“During the course of the 45-year NORJAK investigation, the FBI exhaustively reviewed all credible leads, coordinated between multiple field offices to conduct searches, collected all available evidence, and interviewed all identified witnesses,” the bureau said in a statement, using an acronym for the phrase “Northwest hijacking.”
After Cooper disappeared without a trace into the mountains, “somewhere between Seattle and Reno,” according to the FBI, he became a Robin Hood-like legend for devotees of the case.
“He beat the man. He’s not just a folk hero, he’s a folk genius,” Bruce Smith, a contributor to an online forum called The Dropzone who lives northeast of Portland, told the Telegraph in 2011. “He’s a master criminal in the tradition of Robin Hood and other gentleman bandits.”
The case began on the afternoon of Nov. 24, 1971, when a man described as being in his mid-40s wearing a suit, raincoat, and dark sunglasses boarded a flight from Portland, Ore., to Seattle. He bought his $20 ticket using the name “Dan Cooper,” but an early wire-service report misidentified him as “D.B. Cooper” and the name stuck, the Associated Press reports.
After boarding the plane, he ordered a bourbon and soda, lit a cigarette, and coolly handed the stewardess a note. In capital letters, it read, “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," the Telegraph reports.
He then demanded $200,000 and four parachutes. In Seattle, he received them, releasing the 36 passengers and two flight attendants. The plane then took off again, setting a course for Mexico City at Cooper’s direction, the FBI said in a statement.
Somewhere between Seattle and Reno, the bureau said, the hijacker jumped out of the back of the plane with a parachute and the money strapped to his body, “disappearing into the night – and his ultimate fate remains a mystery to this day.”
Originally, FBI investigators thought Cooper must be have been an experienced skydiver, possibly with military experience, in order to potentially survive the jump, the Washington Post reports. But they eventually scrapped that theory.
“No experienced parachutist would have jumped in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile-an-hour wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat,” Special Agent Larry Carr said in 2007. “It was simply too risky. He also missed that his reserve chute was only for training and had been sewn shut – something a skilled skydiver would have checked.”
Mr. Carr eventually came to question whether the skyjacker survived the plunge, as his parachute wasn’t steerable.
In 1980, an 8-year-old boy found weathered $20 bills along the Columbia River, but this lead too eventually dried up, the New York Daily News reports. Now, the snippets of money, a pink-hued parachute, and a black tie will be stored at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC.
One amateur theory called “promising” in a 2011 book about the case suggested Cooper was simply a persona.
A scientific illustrator at the University of Chicago posited that Cooper may have taken on the character from a French comic called “Dan Cooper,” which was about a test pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Associated Press reports.
For now, however, the FBI says it is “redirecting resources” to focus on other cases, though it will continue to field tips related to the parachute and stolen cash, spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement.
The case is the last unsolved skyjacking, with the spectacle of Cooper’s actions long holding the public’s attention, Geoffrey Gray, who wrote the 2011 book “Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper,” told the AP.
“The fascination with Cooper has survived not because of the FBI investigation, but because he was able to do something that not only captured the public imagination, but also maintained a sense of mystery in the world,” he said.