Finding More than D.B. Cooper

It is the most frustrating thing and I think on today’s anniversary it is good to elaborate on it. Finding motive. After 40 to 50 years that is a hard thing to do in a villain’s crime.

It is especially difficult in the case of D.B. Cooper or just Dan Cooper. On the night of November 24, 1971, he pulled off the most daring crime in the 20th century. He skyjacked a Northwest Orient airliner in flight, let the other passengers go after it landed in Seattle, held it and the crew under threat of a bomb in his briefcase, then after the ransom money was paid by the executives, he let the plane take off from Seattle and soon thereafter he jumped out with a parachute and the ransom money.

What is going to make a man go to the lengths he went to get $200,000.00 smackerls? It’s more than just the need for money. The chances of surviving his escapade are slim, even for an experienced parachutist. His chances of not being identified would seem even slimmer.

Dan Cooper sat in a seat in the airliner, in a nice business suit, and was observed quite well by the stewardesses. He smoked his cigs, drank his whiskey, and appeared the most sophisticated criminal. Even if he got away with this, he knew his face had clearly been seen. What’s the point of pulling this off if you can be quickly identified? This certainly didn’t allow him to spend any significant amount of the money soon after the crime.

No mystery as to what “Dan Cooper” looked like. Thin, thin face, thin nose, close to 40 years old. He smoked Raleigh cigarettes.

Well, clearly the man using the alias Dan Cooper did it and pulled it off . . . halfway. He didn’t spend the money or most of it. While he was never found, some of the money was found years later in 1980 on Tina Bar on the Columbia River, an odd if not impossible place for it to have gotten unless it was intentionally dumped.

It’s not as hard to explain what must have happened after he jumped than to explain what his motive might have been for something so daredevil as the first skyjacking and parachuting from a jet airliner in history.

But let’s assume he fully intended to survive and spend his ill-gotten gains. From Portland he came, for this is where he boarded the Boeing 727 on the way north to Seattle, and before Portland he jumped on the return flight. That is the last ever seen of Dan Cooper. No body was found, no parachute, no chewed clothes, shoes, briefcase with the supposed “bomb” in it, no bag of money. Ironically, years later the placard from the back of the jetliner is found in the forest. It was ripped off the backdoor when the aft stairs were lowered and the suction pulled it out. But nothing of Dan Cooper despite a massive search in what was felt to be the most probable drop zone north of Portland.


The crew of the airliner discusses what happened.

Let’s think of logistics. Even if the theory is true that Dan Cooper had an accomplice on the ground waiting to pick him up, what are the logistics that he, on a stormy night, is going to hit his drop zone correctly from a jet airliner at 10,000 feet? Odds are slim. The alternative? Dan Cooper must have been prepared to spend some time in the forest working his way out, to a cabin or someplace where he had a change of clothes.

It would seem phenomenal that a local Portlander would take this risk. After all, his face had clearly been seen. To remain around Portland would be to invite disclosure and capture. Everybody knew this is where he boarded the plane north to Seattle. One might like to think he came from afar and simply boarded the plane here to skyjack it. However, since he jumped in the forests north of Portland, he must have felt he was fairly familiar with the location.  As unbelievable as it sounds, he seems to have been a local Portlander.

It must have taken him quite a while to get out of the forests and back to civilization. Perhaps as much as a couple of weeks. By the time he returns, he has a beard, a change of clothes, and a shock. He discovers through the press announcements of the FBI’s continuing investigation that the $20 bills that made up the ransom were photographed. The Feds know every serial number. The heist has been worthless. What to do? Dump it.

Sounds easy, but there is a problem. Remnants of the ransom were found where they really could not have been deposited if Dan Cooper had merely “splattered.” One of the easiest theories is that the wind drift would take him to east to the Washougal Valley. Here he died on impact. Over time the money was dislodged, drifted down the Washougal River to the Columbia, drifted through Portland and then some was deposited on Tina Bar during a flood. This explains why it was found in a sediment band that was deposited after the dredging that occurred in 1974. It must have been dislodged after this time during a flood, years after the skyjacking, years after the dredging in 1974. Yet it was later discovered that the winds were not favorable and the airliner had been further west than at first thought.  A parachutist could not have drifted that far.

The other explanation is that he himself dumped it in the Willamette River and it drifted to the confluence of the Columbia.

Manning search

Investigating and searching at the time; trying to figure the drop zone.

But you ask, why dump it so late? Why not in December when he finds out? Well, good question. He might have been afraid it could be found and he overestimated what the FBI would deduce. Yet he might, in fact, have dumped it quickly and a few of the bundles didn’t wash out to the Pacific. In a major flooding time after 1974 the 3 remaining bundles may have been washed out and then deposited on Tina Bar. They showed signs of having been in the water quite sometime before being embedded in the sand.


It remains a mystery, and that’s why we like it. There is so much that is unexplainable. It was daredevil and risky. Awfully elaborate. D.B. Cooper captured our anti-establishment attitudes of the time. He dressed in a  dark suit like Bond, smoked his Raleighs, drank his whiskey, and held up a corporation. He wouldn’t rob a citizen. He even offered to pay for his cocktail as he waited for the airline to get his ransom money. If D.B. Cooper survived, and so far I believe he did, his greed failed but his stunt succeeded.  The hunt for D.B. Cooper, the “Jesse James of the Jet Age,” continues.


*         *          *

For 25 years Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

One thought on “Finding More than D.B. Cooper

  1. Perhaps he laundered the money? This is a stretch, but what if a bank found a way to “accidentally” destroy the money or slip it past the inspectors at the Federal Reserve and they destroyed it? Another idea may be a foreign bank.
    Of course I know this isnt Monopoly money, smart people do track American dollars so it wouldnt be easy.


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