The Man Who Got Away

Above image: Medical examiner Larry Lewman holds a skull found by Forest Service employees in the Mt. Hood National Forest 10 miles east of Estacada, Oregon, 1975. FBI and local authorities investigated the find to determine if the skull was D.B. Cooper’s. Bettmann//Getty Images


FBI Wanted Poster of D.B. Cooper

A significant clue has emerged in the D.B. Cooper airliner hijacking case, leading some folks to believe that the year 2024 could be when the notorious folk hero’s true identity might finally be revealed.

I won’t get into the details of the story here, except to say that D.B. didn’t hurt or kill anybody during the caper. In brief, he threatened to blow up the plane, demanded, and received, $200K cash plus parachutes, then vaulted himself and his loot into the pitch-black sky above rural Washington state. That was the end of D.B., or at least it was the last known sighting of him.

The name D.B. Cooper itself is an epithet born from the foggy aftermath of the only unsolved hijacking in aviation history. It happened long ago enough that D.B. was able to purchase a one-way ticket from Portland to Seattle with a twenty-dollar bill, board the plane without ID or security scans, and chain-smoke his way to folk-hero infamy.

Ah, the good ol’ days.

Every so often in the fifty-plus years since, tantalizing clues pop up and once again D.B. makes the news. In this latest instance, an amateur sleuth used two small but important artifacts to trace D.B. to a particular steel manufacturer and thence a Boeing connection, thereby raising hopes that a positive ID will soon be made. Here is this latest story.

Is it a sin to root for a criminal? The story and the action was so brazen that D.B. attained folk hero status even before he hit the ground. The internet is full of fact, legend and theory surrounding this case, which kept the country glued to their television sets and newspapers for days, back when I was a mere pup. In no time at all the case became irresistible fodder for pop culture. One such odd addition to the D.B. legend is a song on YouTube – “The Ballad of D.B. Cooper,” covered by numerous artists.

A second pop culture reference involves the rarified horse-racing industry. Not too long after Cooper’s escapade, one horse-owning D.B. yarn aficionado wanted to name his horse D.B. Cooper. This caused a problem with the Jockey Club because, at that time and perhaps still, a horse can be registered with the name of a real person only with the legacy in question giving their permission via signed affidavit. Due to extenuating circumstances (i.e., the man so named had vanished literally into thin air), permission was granted and D.B. Cooper the equine went on to a racing career. A quick internet search uncovers other, more contemporary examples of a race horse named DB Cooper. See above-named horse, this one racing in Ireland.

FBI Composite illustration of D.B. Cooper

A search of the FBI database dredges up a few good, fairly recent reports and at least one YouTube video. The last FBI update is from 2016, where they claim the need to divert resources to other matters. To wit:

Every time the FBI assesses additional tips for the NORJAK case, investigative resources and manpower are diverted from programs that more urgently need attention.

The FBI may have put the case in deep freeze, but dedicated members of the public continue to investigate the remaining, tantalizing, clues. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if we the folks are the ones to finally discover once and for all who DB really is…was, and it might just be these latest developments that sew the case shut. My money’s always on the people. Besides, I see D.B.’s positive ID as a segue into a whole new slew of stories for popular consumption.

As for me, I hope D.B. ended up combing a remote tropical beach somewhere, living off the remainder of the 200K as of yet unrecovered by the FBI. If he’s still with us, maybe he’s selling t-shirts and guzzling cold, frothy ones. If not, and DB has passed into that great jump seat in the sky, well, perhaps he spent his last days on said beach.

I’ll leave you with this, my favorite D.B. meme. It might be my favorite meme of all time, anywhere:

And this hollow plea from the FBI:

Although the FBI will no longer actively investigate this case, should specific physical evidence emerge—related specifically to the parachutes or the money taken by the hijacker—individuals with those materials are asked to contact their local FBI field office.

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