11 April 2018

Who Was D.B. Cooper?

A man using the alias Dan Cooper (corrupted by the press to D.B. Cooper, the name of an early suspect who was ruled out) hijacked an airplane, got $200,000 of ransom money, and jumped off in a remote forested area of Washington State with a parachute in 1971. He has never been found and only a small portion of the ransom money was ever recovered.

Who are the top suspects in my view and why? 

In order of likelihood, the prime suspects in my view are:

1. Kenneth Christiansen. He was a former paratrooper familiar with the airline in question where he worked for some time, who smoked and drank bourbon and was left handed who looked somewhat similar to the perpetrator. He kept obsessive clippings about the airline until the incident happened, but not the incident itself or anything afterwards. He made suspicious statements and had unexplained wealth of about the right magnitude at about the right time. He died in 1994.

He is the prime suspect, in my opinion.

2. L.D. Cooper. He was obsessed with an obscure Belgian comic that the perpetrator appeared to be giving an homage to in his crime. He had a similar appearance. He was engaged in suspicious activity in the vicinity of the crime at the time it happened, coming home with injuries. His limited skydiving experience is consistent with the FBI's assessment of the perpetrator's skill level. He died in 1999.

He could have been a co-conspirator with Christiansen on the ground, or might have just been a casual acquaintance of Christiansen who provided the Belgian comic twist. He doesn't seem to have the right knowledge base or the right motive or the right personality to do something so nervy, however. There is no indication that he was a smoker and bourbon drinker, which would be surprising to fake.

3. Duane Weber. He confessed on his death bed to a wife who didn't know what he was talking about. He was an Army veteran with a long criminal record ending with release from prison in 1968. He made margin notes in a local library book about the case. He had nightmares about "jumping out of a plane and leaving finger prints on the "aft stairs" and a knee injury he claimed came from jumping out of a plane. He drank bourbon and chain smoked. In 1979 he took a trip to Seattle and walked where ransom cash was found a year later.

It is also quite plausible that he may have privately searched for the loot after the incident, intentionally took up smoking and drinking bourbon in imitation, made his statements to his wife informed by his reading about the case, found the small amount of the ransom that was recovered after being separated from the main stash while searching in the Washington woods, kept a few bills for posterity, and then buried the rest in 1979 where it would be discovered a few years later. He may have confessed on his deathbed as a way to boost himself up as a great man in the eyes of his widow.

4. Wiliam Gossett. He confessed to five people and was obsessed with the case and looked similar to the perpetrator including non-public matters. He appeared with wads of cash shortly after the crime and could have gambled the money away in Las Vegas. He had wilderness survival skills and jump training and was in the military in 1971. There are cryptic links between him and letters that were sent to major newspapers afterwards. He changed his name and became a Catholic priest in 1988 purportedly to hide his identity. He died in 2003.

Wads of cash wouldn't be too unusual for a gambler, and his obsession with the case and multiple confessions seem out of character for a true culprit. Also men in the military aren't desperate for cash, nor are they usually short of alibis. He sounds like someone who envied the perpetrator but wasn't him.

5. Robert Rackstraw. He faced explosives charges in Iran in 1978, made an attempt to fake his death with a false mayday from a plane, a vague physical resemblance (although he was 28 rather than in his 40s in 1971 and eye witnesses said he was not similar in appearance), he was tried but not convicted of murdering his stepfather, all of which are similar in character to this crime. He could have disguised himself, but that seems like a leap in this case. He had CIA and military experience which the crime suggested that the perpetrator might have had, a questionable statement made to reporters, and a potential link to coded messages send to major newspapers not long after the incident, support the theory He is alive and in now in his 70s. He is interesting as a suspect mostly because he is the only prime suspect who could be held accountable for the crime if something linking him to it were found. Also, there is no evidence that the letters to the newspapers, which he could have been behind, actually had anything to do with the crime itself.

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