Geoffrey Gray: "Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:55
Thanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Nearly 40 years ago, a man known as D.B. Cooper pulled off one of the most daring airline hijackings in history. An epic manhunt followed, but Cooper's true identity and what happened to him after that night have never been discovered. A new lead about a possible suspect emerged recently, but the case remains America's only unsolved hijacking.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:34
Journalist Geoffrey Gray got access to the FBI's confidential Cooper file and spent more than three years investigating the mystery. He's just published a new book, it's titled "Skyjack." Geoffrey Gray joins me in the studio to talk about the hunt for D.B. Cooper and the latest clues. If you'd like to join us, feel free to call us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to drshow@wamu.org, feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you.

MR. GEOFFREY GRAY

11:08:29
Good morning, Diane.

REHM

11:08:30
Good to have you here. Tell us who D.B. Cooper is, was? What do we know about his actions on that night of November 24, '71?

GRAY

11:08:46
There's two stories here. And there's the story of D.B. Cooper, who was really a myth, a legendary hero who is capable of all kinds of things in the imaginations of so many. And there's also the story of Dan Cooper, an unassuming man who boarded a plane on November 24, 1971, approximately 2:50 p.m. at Portland International Airport, sat in row 18E.

REHM

11:09:13
All the way in the back.

GRAY

11:09:15
All the way in the back behind the lavatory. He was alone in this row, on the starboard side. And he was dressed almost like a business man, but what we now know and what I was able to find in the files is that his outfit was a little bit peculiar. He wore, for instance, a suit jacket that was thought to be black, but one witness I found actually described the color as a russet, almost like a reddish brown sport coat. He wore a clip on tie that was a J.C. Penney's clip on tie, town craft model number three.

REHM

11:09:51
How do we know that?

GRAY

11:09:53
This was all reported in the FBI case files, which I was very fortunate to have access to. This tie costs a $1.50. He also wore sunglasses, which, I've found, were horn rimmed. And in the back of the row, as the plane was beginning to take off, he passed a stewardess a note and she thought it was a love note, so she dropped it into her purse, decided maybe she'll look at it at the hotel later, maybe never at all.

GRAY

11:10:21
And the flight proceeded to take off. And as it was barreling down the runway, he said, "Miss, you better take a look at that note." And she looked in her purse and she pulled out this envelope and she saw lettering, very fine lettering, almost like the work of an artist. A note printed in black felt tip pen. And she read the words and the words were, "Miss, I have a bomb here. I want you to sit by me."

REHM

11:10:53
Whoa. What did she then do?

GRAY

11:10:59
You got to be kidding. She didn't believe him. You know, this was a time when there was a hijacking once every week around the world. And people were pulling pranks all the time. Take me to Cuba became a popular catchphrase.

REHM

11:11:11
She really thought it was a prank?

GRAY

11:11:13
Of course. And he -- she said, you know, "Are you kidding?" And said "No, Miss." She didn't believe him again and he opened up his attaché case, which was imitation leather, and inside were cylinders and wires. Cylinders that were red that she thought were dynamite and wires that she thought connected these cylinders to the bombs and she freaked out.

REHM

11:11:37
And then?

GRAY

11:11:39
There was another stewardess next to her, behind her, the youngest on the crew and she turned around and her -- she said "Tina, Tina," and dropped the note and the note fluttered to the floor and Tina picked it up and read the fine lettering.

REHM

11:11:56
And she freaked out?

GRAY

11:11:58
And she freaked out and she grabbed the plane's inner phone and she called the cockpit and she said, "There's a man in the back, he's got a bomb. This is no joke."

REHM

11:12:06
Have we taken off yet?

GRAY

11:12:09
Eighty knots, 90 knots, we're off in the air, over -- banking over Portland on route to Seattle, a 28 minute flight. And as the pilots are in the air, they hear this, "He's got a bomb and this is no joke."

REHM

11:12:24
And then?

GRAY

11:12:27
And then the odyssey transpires, high over the air of Portland and Seattle. And what happens and what I was able to piece together for this book from the FBI files is a precise, detailed, accurate accounting of exactly what happened and when. From the transcriptions of the flight crew to, you know, statements by all the witnesses. Really able to get, actually onside -- inside the plane to hear witnesses report on thunder clapping and what they see out the plane and in essence, what transpires is a very successful hijacking.

GRAY

11:13:02
This man had very specific demands and all of them were met. The plane lands in Seattle at roughly 5 p.m., just like he wanted. The parachutes and $200,000 are brought on board, the passengers are all released. The plane takes up again, just as he wanted, and lands in Reno to refuel. FBI agents searched the plane in Reno, looking for the hijacker and they notice some things are missing, namely all of the money, two of the parachutes and him.

REHM

11:13:37
He's gone?

GRAY

11:13:40
Vanished into thin air.

REHM

11:13:42
You know, it's really the biggest question that comes to mind, for me, is that $200,000 in 1971 was a lot of money, not a great deal of money now. And yet, I gather, the FBI is still searching for D.B. Cooper.

GRAY

11:14:09
Right. You know, 200 grand in 1971 was a big load. It was worth roughly a million dollars today. And as to the question of whether or not the FBI is actually searching for Cooper, they are, but not in an active way like any other investigation. This is something in the corner that they have to tend to every once in a while and pay attention to, but it's not the focus of, in my opinion or from what I've been able to uncover, truly active investigative casework and I'm not sure it should be.

REHM

11:14:40
How active was it then?

GRAY

11:14:43
This was, from what I can tell, one of the biggest manhunts, if not the biggest, in FBI history. Truly extraordinary measures, just extraordinary measures were taken to find this guy. For instance, one of the things I found in the file was in the days after the hijacking, the feds were looking for a parachutist. So what did they do? They researched every registration card for every parachutist on the West coast, 14,000 cards.

GRAY

11:15:12
They sent agents undercover across the border into Canada to take photographs of parachutists at a parachuting contest. Then I found that they -- the military dispatched soldiers into the forest of Southwest Washington on three different occasions to look for him. And they even -- military dispatched the SR-71 spy plane used to conduct, you know, reconnaissance missions over Russia and other places, to look for this guy.

GRAY

11:15:45
And the SR-71 went up at least five times and wasn't able to get a good picture. So they did everything they could and more to find him and yet he continues to get away.

REHM

11:15:57
Wouldn’t there -- maybe back in 1971, this wouldn't have been required, but what about a photograph of this guy. Does one exist?

GRAY

11:16:14
We know a lot and yet nothing about what this man looked like. And one of the curses in the case is that the FBI very quickly tried to put a sketch together. And they put a sketch together, released it five days after the hijacking.

REHM

11:16:28
And this is on the basis of, perhaps, the stewards, the people around him, the pilot, whatever.

GRAY

11:16:37
This particular sketch was based on the descriptions of three people, three stewardesses on the flight. That's it. And the face that was put out was a face, when people saw it, looked very familiar. It's called the so-called Bing Crosby Sketch because immediately, when this face came out, people just saw who they wanted to see. And the FBI quickly became paralyzed by the amount of leads they received, claiming that their brothers, their uncles were the hijacker.

GRAY

11:17:06
So it really paralyzed -- you know, they couldn't do their work because so many leads were coming in. And one of the things that I was able to find in this file is that the FBI, while they used the stewardess to compose that first sketch and others, they actually didn't -- what they didn't pay attention to was a critical witness, in my opinion, was sitting right next to the hijacker the whole time who saw the guy as different. And one of the things that I was -- what I did was I hired an illustrator to compose an enhanced sketch using this never before made information.

REHM

11:17:34
Geoffrey Gray, he's contributing editor at New York Magazine. His new book is titled "Skyjack." And by the way, you can see this sketch we're talking about on our website, go to drshow.org. Why'd you get interested in this?

GRAY

11:18:00
I had no idea who D.B. Cooper was, I had no idea about the story. You know, I was running around New York looking for crime stories to write about and I am constantly fascinated by detective pieces, stories that don't have resolutions and a lot of my sources, covering the crime beat, are private investigators. And one day, I was completely starving, hadn't had lunch, the phone rang, didn't want to pick it up, did and it was Skipp Porteous, private eye friend of mine who said, hey, let's talk. I got something for you.

REHM

11:18:31
Interesting. We'll bring you more of the story about D.B. Cooper and the skyjacking that really has baffled people over the years. After we take a short break, you'll also hear one person's account.

REHM

11:20:03
And welcome back. Geoffrey Gray is with me, he's a contributing editor at New York magazine, the author of the new book, it's called "Skyjack." And it is the story about the mystery of a skyjacking that took place back in 1971. The man who got a $200,000 ransom and apparently parachuted from a plane, disappeared, has never been found. But recently, there has been someone who's come forward and said that her uncle was D.B. Cooper. Let's hear from her.

MARLA COOPER

11:20:59
My father made a comment about his long lost brother, my Uncle L.D., and said that he thought he was still alive, but hiding from the FBI and I questioned why he would be hiding. He said, 'Don't you remember? He hijacked that airplane.'

REHM

11:21:17
Now, I want to hear from Special FBI Agent Frederick Gutt. Good morning to you, sir.

SPECIAL AGENT FREDERICK GUTT

11:21:30
Hello, Diane. Nice to be with you (unintelligible).

REHM

11:21:31
Thank you. Tell me what the status is of the lead provided by Marla Cooper. What do you think about her comments? Do you believe her uncle was D.B. Cooper the hijacker?

GUTT

11:21:49
Well, I'm not really in a position to know at this point if it is or isn't. I mean, the case is unsolved, so, you know, we don't know as of right now who D.B. Cooper really was. It is, as you mentioned, a newer development. She came to us actually just over a year ago with that information. And since then, we've been, as time permits, doing some work to vet that and to see if there aren't obvious inconsistencies with that story.

REHM

11:22:16
Do you think that she has provided credible evidence?

GUTT

11:22:23
Well, I believe she genuinely believed that her uncle is -- was the hijacker. The storyline she presents on the surface, it does seem plausible and certainly worthy of a closer look, unlike, you know, many leads that we've received before with nothing more than it looks like the guy in the sketch, as Geoff was alluding to. But there's other, you know, suspects who have come forth before -- have been presented before and some of those remain possibilities as well. I mean, the reality is the case is unsolved, so it really could be anyone.

GUTT

11:22:58
This newer lead, I suppose, is interesting only in that because it's new, we haven't fully vetted it yet to the extent that we can, so some work remains.

REHM

11:23:07
What sort of physical evidence has the FBI pulled together?

GUTT

11:23:13
Well, that's really what has eluded us so far is physical evidence to tie anyone, for that matter, really, to the hijacking. There's a lot of circumstantial evidence and you can make a case on that, but you need a lot of it, you know, it has to be beyond a reasonable doubt. And, you know, a lookalike photo is something that's part of it, witness statements that corroborate other witnesses is part of it.

GUTT

11:23:38
But physical evidence has not emerged so far and, you know, that could include anything possibly from DNA evidence to fingerprint evidence to perhaps, you know, money -- additional money from the skyjacking resurfacing or surfacing at this time or maybe even the parachute. But none of that, except for some of the money that was recovered in -- back in 1980, has not allowed us to tie anyone physically to the hijacking.

REHM

11:24:05
How much of the $200,000 was recovered?

GUTT

11:24:10
Just over $5,000 was recovered on the banks there at the Columbia River back in the 1980 -- or early 1980 and that was known to be associated with the hijacking, all the serial numbers were recorded, but that is the only money that has surfaced to date, that we're aware of.

REHM

11:24:29
So the FBI got this lead, as you said, about a year ago. How come it's just coming to light now?

GUTT

11:24:40
Well, it came to light in a recent news report, I guess became news because it wasn't previously discussed in the public. For us, it's not a -- you know, a significant event. It's one of many leads that have surfaced over the years. It remains one of a handful, though, perhaps of what we would still consider credible leads in that, you know, more can be done and we haven't developed obvious inconsistencies yet with, you know, the suspect.

GUTT

11:25:10
But as to why it still remains open after a year, combination of things. There's more that can be done and we'll pursue it to its logical end, but also, frankly, it's not a high priority for the FBI. There are many events that impact our community today that certainly have a higher priority, including unsolved cases, missing children, homicide of a assistant United States Attorney. Things like that have -- I dare say, have a much more significant impact on our community today, so that's really where our resources go.

GUTT

11:25:44
But at the end of the day, this is still an unsolved open case and if new information comes to us that warrants follow up, we are obligated to do that and we certainly will.

REHM

11:25:54
Geoffrey Gray, I wonder what you think of the statement of Marla Gray (sic) that's just come through.

GRAY

11:26:04
You know, I -- to echo what Special Agent Gutt said, I do believe that she believes her uncle is L.D.B. and the power of belief, as we've seen, is very strong in this case. And that, to me, is actually what's so noteworthy is that despite the lack of any evidence directly linking him to the hijacking, we want to believe that the hijacker escaped. There's a fascination with it and that, to me, is noteworthy. Although in terms of evidence, in this case, there isn't much right now to connect -- or of anything at all to connect him to the hijacking.

GRAY

11:26:41
So this is a story -- you know, one of the things about the Cooper case is it questions the truth. What is the truth? Is the truth actually what happened or is it what people believe? And what's the difference between believing something and being able to prove it?

REHM

11:26:55
Any final comment, Frederick Gutt?

GUTT

11:27:00
No, just that it does -- you know, there are -- there's more that we can do and we'll pursue that. For example, trying to find items that perhaps this latest suspect was known to have handled and have remained undisturbed since that time that we could test for fingerprints. But in the absence of that, you know, all we can do is, like I said, continue to accumulate possible circumstantial evidence. And -- but to date, we haven't really identified major inconsistencies with her story, which is more than most previous suspects.

REHM

11:27:34
Interesting. Stay on the line for a moment, I want to read to you an email we just had from Donna in Loudoun County, Va. She says, "As an airline historian, I've spent years working on the history of Northwest Airlines, the victim of the skyjacking, including interviews with crew members of the flight and perhaps just as important, crew members of later copycat hijackings.

REHM

11:28:12
I'm troubled by the ongoing glamorization of this one and this criminal perpetrator. Crew members and passengers were traumatized by these events. It's unfair to ignore the emotional trial that they have experienced." What do you think about that, Geoffrey Gray?

GRAY

11:28:36
Well, you know, I think it's fair. This was not a victimless crime. There was a lot of -- there was no blood spilled, but there was a lot of emotional turmoil over it, people's lives were placed in jeopardy, tremendous amount of government resources were wasted. This guy was a criminal.

GRAY

11:28:54
But in totality, sometimes we do glamorize criminals. Sometimes our culture is fascinated with criminals. We have "The Sopranos." We idolize people like John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde and there's a reason for that. They appeal to us in a certain kind of way. And so both things are true. The actual hijacker was a criminal and D.B. Cooper the myth, D.B. Cooper the legend is also a hero.

REHM

11:29:21
Frederick Gutt, do you think he's been glamorized?

GUTT

11:29:26
Oh, I think he has been. I guess maybe the better question would be should he have been and, you know, certainly not. As Geoff mentions there are victims in these kind of crimes. Any bank robbery where a bank robber passes a note, for example, you talk to the teller afterwards. They're not victimless crimes, just taking from a wealthy institution or a wealthy airline that can afford it, there's real people impacted by this stuff, which is why it remains an open matter.

REHM

11:29:50
Tell me, if you can, Frederick, what are the total number of suspects and persons of interest in the Cooper case over all these years?

GUTT

11:30:05
You know, I don't know with certainty the total number. I mean, obviously, hundreds of leads have come to us over the years. Today, I can tell you what remains kind of on the chalkboard for active consideration is a handful, less than five, you know, possible suspects or leads worthy of continued consideration, we believe, at this time, absent new information surfacing or possibly new technology that might emerge.

REHM

11:30:33
FBI Special Agent Frederick Gutt. Thanks for joining us. Would you like to ask him a question, Geoffrey?

GRAY

11:30:42
Indeed, indeed. Special Agent Gutt, can you tell us of those five suspects that may be still up on the big board for consideration, who are they?

GUTT

11:30:52
(laugh) No. I think you do a good job of -- although I haven't had the pleasure to read your work yet, I understand you cover some of the suspects that have emerged over time and do a good job with that. There are others, though. This latest one, of course, and even some evidence that suggests a possible additional person who hasn't even been identified yet.

GUTT

11:31:14
I think some stuff will come out maybe in the coming years about some work others are doing on trace evidence and maybe the technology today doesn't allow us to do enough with it, but it leads to perhaps something, but not necessarily an individual person yet, so...

GRAY

11:31:29
Now, Special Agent Gutt, this new possible one, can you tell us a little bit more about that?

GUTT

11:31:33
Well, I think it'll come out. There's some folks that we're also trying to assist and pursue in different angles, like trace evidence on some of the evidence that was collected and particles that are found on it, what that might suggest about, you know, the nature of the occupation of the person wearing them, things along those lines. But still, it doesn't identify the person, it just gives you another, if you will, tantalizing clue perhaps.

REHM

11:31:57
Now, one last point, hasn't the statute of limitations been passed on this?

GUTT

11:32:06
Not for the hijacker himself. He was indicted back at the time, so that preserves the statute of limitations on him. If he was alive today, he could be charged. Now, any accomplices or anyone else, yes, you're right, that certainly has passed.

REHM

11:32:20
But for the hijacker him -- or indeed herself, what you're saying is that continues?

GUTT

11:32:30
That's right, which is why, frankly, it remains an open matter. It is possible to still bring criminal charges and not just simply solve an interesting mystery.

REHM

11:32:39
FBI Special Agent Frederick Gutt. Thanks so much for joining us.

GUTT

11:32:45
Thank you.

REHM

11:32:46
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got lots of callers, but I want to go back to what you were saying just before the break, Geoffrey. You said you got a telephone call from this guy, Skipp Porteous. Tell us about that phone call and what happened thereafter.

GRAY

11:33:09
Well, he called and he said, you know, I got something I want to talk to you about and I couldn't really under -- pay attention to anything 'cause I was so hungry. He was on one side of town, I was on the other. We just met in the middle for lunch and he told me a story about a gentleman who had contacted him from Minnesota, in a very remote part of Minnesota. And this gentleman was elderly, a retired postal worker, and had become an inventor in his retirement.

GRAY

11:33:38
And one night, he was up watching unsolved mysteries and watching a story about the Cooper case and he sat up in his chair and he thought to himself, I know that guy. I know that person in the sketch. He's my brother. So he contacted this private eye and the private eye began to do some work on it and he contacted me. And what was interesting to me about the story, in addition to being fascinated and the desire to close this case -- I mean, the hunt for Cooper is an elephant hunt. You know, for investigative reporters, I mean, this is big game and I like to hunt big game.

GRAY

11:34:16
But from a narrative point of view to me was most interesting was this phenomenon about a brother late in life convinced that his older brother, someone he loved, somebody who he knew better than anybody, could potentially be this man. And one of the things that I found in the FBI file later on was that this was very common. And the FBI file, in a way, was a depository of paranoia, just people projecting each other's fears and anxieties about the world into this sketch.

GRAY

11:34:48
And, you know, the FBI file on Cooper runs some 40 feet long and a good number of those feet, if not more than half of them, are all letters, photos of family members, et cetera.

REHM

11:35:00
Wasn't there at least one from a woman who said it was her ex-boyfriend?

GRAY

11:35:08
Well, you know, there was -- there's one letter I found. I mean, I found...

REHM

11:35:12
Yeah.

GRAY

11:35:12
...all kinds of things. You know, a photo of a man carving up a pumpkin for Halloween, a neighbor drinking on somebody else's couch a can of beer. You know, all different kinds of just mementoes of normal daily life. And one letter I did find was from a man who had written to his ex-girlfriend breaking up with her and she sent the letter in for fingerprint testing.

REHM

11:35:36
'Cause she thought it might be her ex-boyfriend.

GRAY

11:35:39
Absolutely.

REHM

11:35:40
Tell me what you mean when you write about the so-called Cooper Curse?

GRAY

11:35:48
The Cooper Curse is something that's very real in this case. You know, we all -- we don't like to believe in the paranormal, and certainly I don't. I like to think that I am -- you know, I'm a logical person that follows different clues and tries to lead them to their logical end, as Special Agent Gutt said, but this case is different, you know. It has different elements to it. And for 40 years, this hijacker, whoever he was, whether he planned it or not, is able to elude not only the FBI, but treasure hunters, reporters, sleuths, widows, anybody who gets involved in the game.

GRAY

11:36:24
And one of the reasons why is something that's called the Cooper Curse and this is what people call it who are – in this little Cooper hunters call it. And the curse is something that just as you're zeroing in in the crosshairs on your Cooper suspect, just as you're about to close the deal, the curse strikes. And it comes either under the floorboards or in the form of any number of things that derail the investigation and allow the hijacker to get away one more day.

REHM

11:36:50
Here's what I don't get. How if -- how many pilots were there? Were there two on the plane?

GRAY

11:37:00
There were two pilots and one flight engineer...

REHM

11:37:04
One flight...

GRAY

11:37:04
...in the cockpit.

GRAY

11:37:05
All three in the cockpit and Cooper, or whoever he was, is still back there in...

GRAY

11:37:15
Seat 18E.

REHM

11:37:16
...seat 18E. He, alone all by himself, opens this door and parachutes?

GRAY

11:37:27
Well, you know, at the time, the planes were -- this particular kind of model of Boeing 727 was made with airstairs, rear stairs that descended down. And what's really interesting in looking at the Cooper file is that Cooper actually didn't know how to use the airstairs. He needed the stewardess' help.

REHM

11:37:42
Geoffrey Gray, he's a writer for New York Magazine.

REHM

11:40:04
Welcome back. We're talking about the most infamous skyjacking case in the country's history, one that has never been solved. Jeffrey Gray of New York Magazine has written all about it in a brand-new book called "Skyjack." And we're going to open the phones now. There are so many details in this case, but I want to make sure to get our callers in. First to Donald in Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, you're on the air.

DONALD

11:40:45
Good morning, Diane. It's great to be on your program.

REHM

11:40:47
Thank you.

DONALD

11:40:48
My -- my question is twofold and it had to do with the money. Me thinks it may have been better asked of the FBI agent, nonetheless, was any of the money ever identified other than what was found on the Columbia River? And the follow up question or the secondary question to that is, would it have been possible to reintroduce the money into circulation and have it go unnoticed?

GRAY

11:41:20
Hey, Donald, thanks for your question. As to the first part, none of the money other than what was found on the banks of Tina bar, the sandy riverbank between the states of Washington, Oregon, was reidentified or identified. It's still missing. And to your second question, yes. You know, I think it was possible for a lot of people to reintroduce these bills and a lot of the conspiracy theorists or Cooper speculators think that it could've been just as easy as a ride to Las Vegas or the closest casino to get chips, cash in the money, get some chips, play a couple hands of blackjack and walk right out.

REHM

11:41:55
And it's gone.

GRAY

11:41:56
Washed.

REHM

11:41:57
Okay. Now, we have to go back to what's happening inside the plane. You told me there were three in the cockpit, but there was also a stewardess sitting right next to him. She had been actually offered money...

GRAY

11:42:19
Right.

REHM

11:42:20
...from D.B. Cooper.

GRAY

11:42:22
So here we are in this empty plane. The passengers have all been released and there are two stewardesses in the front and one in the back. And the hijacker is given this bag full of money. And his behavior -- one of the things I found in the file was that his behavior, as originally recorded by these witnesses, was bizarre. They noticed that he acted childish, very giddy, almost surprised to get the money.

GRAY

11:42:50
And so he reaches his hands into these stacks of $20 bills and he offers them to the stewardesses. Here, have some. And they say, no, sorry, sir. No tips, Northwest Orient policy. And two stewardesses scurry off the plane, leaving the youngest, Tina Mucklow, with him in the back. He then offers her money. Sorry, sir, no tips. And the plane takes off once again.

REHM

11:43:18
She, Tina, shows him how to lower the steps on this Boeing plane. Tell me about that.

GRAY

11:43:30
Right. Well, one of the first theories in this case as to who Dan Cooper really was, was a rogue military dude. And they thought that he was potentially involved in some black ops because the Boeing 727 plane with its airstairs was actually used in the secret war over Louse and Indochina during the Vietnam War.

REHM

11:43:50
Had he asked for that plane?

GRAY

11:43:54
Yes. He specifically checked to make sure the Boeing was a 727. However, what suggests that the hijacker was not familiar with the airplane or the airstairs is that he didn't know how, according to the file, use the airstairs. He had to ask the stewardess for help and how to show them as they were flying above the air. She was paranoid that once they opened that seal, she would get sucked right now and spit over the forest of the great northwest. But Cooper, in his genius or stupidity, who knows, demanded that the flight be flown at 10,000 feet where there would be no pressure seal.

REHM

11:44:32
Oh, I see.

GRAY

11:44:34
And finally, after pleading with him, he let her go back to the cockpit and he said, ah, I'll just do it myself. And still, you know, as the plane was flying through the night sky, Cooper was calling himself up to the cockpit saying, I can't get the airstairs down. And they were yelling back, everything okay back there?

REHM

11:44:56
Wow.

GRAY

11:44:58
But finally, you know, in the cockpit, they saw a blinking light and it was the airstairs' light.

REHM

11:45:02
It was open.

GRAY

11:45:03
And they heard a pressure bump and all of a sudden, poof.

REHM

11:45:09
He was gone. All right. Here comes another caller, Randy in High Point, N.C. Good morning to you.

RANDY

11:45:21
Good morning, Diane. Say, I tend to believe that D.B. Cooper was a very well-read, intelligent individual, far from being stupid, vis-à-vis the fact that he's never been caught. And in fact, I was working as an air traffic controller that evening in the San Francisco bay area when we are alerted to the fact that the Northwest Airlines's 727 had been hijacked.

RANDY

11:45:51
And we were just incredulous about that. And then later the following day, when the details started to emerge, you know, it was brought to our attention, as your esteemed guest is pointing out, that D.B. Cooper seemed to be very well versed in the performance characteristics of a Boeing 727. He knew exactly at what altitude to have the flight crew level off, below the 14,500 feet, you know, where pressurization would be necessary. And he also had asked for, you know, more than just one parachute, so authorities couldn't rig the parachute.

RANDY

11:46:28
And then the fact that he ordered the crew to extend the flaps, maintain a certain air speed, et cetera. So while he may not have been well versed in the door, and I don't know how many rated pilots would be well versed in operating that rear door on a 727 or a DC9 or any other aircraft of that type, it's certainly understandable. So we just thought it was rather fascinating since that's the first time a hijack had ever occurred.

REHM

11:46:54
What's your theory?

RANDY

11:46:58
That he got out, but time has passed, obviously, and it's a possibility that, you know, he's no longer around. Take a look at the number of years. I think this was in November of...

REHM

11:47:11
'71.

RANDY

11:47:13
...19 -- pardon me?

REHM

11:47:15
'71.

RANDY

11:47:16
Yes, of 1971. So quite a few years have passed and I know that some of the money, and maybe your guest can shed some light on that, was turned up by someone, which was turned over to the government many, many years ago up in (unintelligible) river country. He might want to comment about that because I never saw much more about that if any of the loot was ever recovered and traced back to this specific individual hijacking.

GRAY

11:47:47
Well, speaking of the money that was found, I mean, one of the mysteries of this mystery is that there's more mysteries in it. And the money is one of them. There was money found on the sandy river bar, but the location of the river bar was miles away from the outer rim of the flight path. So how did the money get there?

GRAY

11:48:06
You know, in our minds, it's easy to see the money floating down through the night sky and just landing on this sand bar and discovered nine years later, but it didn't happen. It would be impossible for that to happen. And it would be impossible for the hijacker to actually float in his parachute all the way over there because the distance was just too far.

REHM

11:48:25
How much does 500 -- or $200,000 in a case actually weigh?

GRAY

11:48:35
Approximately 20 pounds.

REHM

11:48:37
Okay.

GRAY

11:48:38
And the bag itself was almost like a mail bag. It didn't have a drawstring. It was loose at the mouth. And one of the things that the hijacker did onboard the plane, and one detail that I was able to discover in these files, is that he cut one of the parachute shrouds and he tied the parachute shrouds and wrapped the money almost like a birthday gift. And then he tied a knot -- a noose with this parachute shroud, which are very durable, on top of it with a handle so he could hold.

REHM

11:49:10
So you would think that money would not separate out of this pouch.

GRAY

11:49:19
One would think. And what he did was he then tied the noose to his waist. And one would think that, you know, for somebody who carried a pocket knife and, you know, this guy was prepared, so you would think he would what he was doing. But once you jump out of that plane, anything can happen and our imaginations take over. I mean, he could've landed on that sandy bar or near it and, you know, bears could've gotten to him, bears could've carried the money. I mean, who knows what happened. And in the absence of any real information, the legend is alive.

REHM

11:49:49
What happened to Tina, the airline stewardess?

GRAY

11:49:56
Tina Mucklow, the youngest stewardess who spent the most time with the hijacker and who engaged in small talk throughout the plane, so where are you from, she said, you know, do you want a smoke? You know, she was lighting his cigarettes. I mean, they had this almost peculiar friendship that developed, according to the FBI file, that transpired.

REHM

11:50:15
You never talked to her?

GRAY

11:50:18
I spoke with her, but I didn't interview her. You know, over the years, a lot of the witnesses in the Cooper case have been, you know, ripe targets for journalists and TV people or storytellers or anybody trying to take a part of the legend. And she is very rare or has not given interviews.

GRAY

11:50:38
One I found in a book in the '80s, but she didn't want to talk about this case. And she actually, after the hijacking, disappeared. And when the FBI wanted to interview her to look at new suspects, they found her in a convent in -- near Eugene, Ore. where she had become a nun.

REHM

11:50:55
And that is the end of her contribution to this whole story, as far as you're concerned?

GRAY

11:51:07
Correct.

REHM

11:51:08
All right. Let's go back to the phones to West Hyannis Port, Mass. Good morning, Ann. Thanks for joining us.

ANN

11:51:18
Hi, Diane, love your show. I just wanted to ask your guest if he was aware that there's a restaurant in Nashua, N.H. and the name of it is D.B. Cooper's. And the logo's all over the place and on the menu, a parachute. And they definitely glorified the man. I didn't know if he was aware of that. I don't think it's a chain.

GRAY

11:51:39
How's the food?

ANN

11:51:39
But we used to bring -- have you heard of it?

GRAY

11:51:41
No, I haven't. But how's the food there?

ANN

11:51:44
It's kinda mediocre, but we used to bring -- we used to bring our granddaughters there when they were very little and it did cross my mind that I was kinda glad they weren't old enough to ask, who's D.B. Cooper, because I don't think it would've been a very good example that he was a hijacker. But I just thought that was an interesting aspect to your story.

GRAY

11:52:03
Yeah, no, it's an interesting detail and to me, it's an example of how powerful this story is, how iconic that sketch is and that name, D.B. Cooper.

REHM

11:52:15
Here's an email, let's see. This is from Dave in Bel Air, Md., who says, "I've made 500 sport parachute jumps and can say that the exit from an airliner would've been a very risky affair. The wind blast could easily break limbs, to say nothing of the chance of hitting part of the plane's tail. It's hard to imagine D.B. Cooper survived the exit." What do you think?

GRAY

11:52:51
I think if you're not intimately involved in the details of the case, it's logical to assume that this attempt was very risky. But the truth was that the Boeing 727 was used for parachutists to jump out of over Vietnam. It was designed in a particular kind of way where when the stairs descended into the air, they actually provided a shield for whoever was on them.

GRAY

11:53:17
So the FBI trying to test this question actually conducted an aerial, a test in the winter of 1972 and they had Army parachutists test the stairs high above the Pacific northwest and they dropped weights to simulate the weight of the hijacker's weight plus his bundle.

REHM

11:53:38
Plus the bundle.

GRAY

11:53:39
Plus the booty.

REHM

11:53:40
Right.

GRAY

11:53:41
And what they found was it was kinda peaceful down there.

REHM

11:53:46
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's see. Peter in Tarrytown, N.Y. wants to know, do we know that D.B. or Dan Cooper was his real name? And if so, how do we know that?

GRAY

11:54:06
Right. We don't know who and what truly Dan Cooper means or is, but one detail and clue that's come to light in the last couple of years, and I think it's one of the most promising clues and most important in the case, is the discovery of a French comic book character named Dan Cooper who flies airplanes and jumps out of them and parachutes.

GRAY

11:54:29
And for years, the FBI had no idea about the existence of this comic book. They thought the name Dan Cooper was a very main street like alias tantamount to a Mike Smith or something, but Dan Cooper, this French comic book character, very rugged, macho hombre is now perceived to be the inspiration for the hijacker's alias. But what that means is yet another mystery.

REHM

11:54:56
Richard in Miami wants to know, was it ever determined if the bomb was real? Did he take it with him or leave it behind?

GRAY

11:55:10
Right. The bomb -- the briefcase bomb was never found, so presumably he either took it with him, which he claimed he might, according to the FBI file, or he chucked it out, who knows. As to whether it was real, yet another mystery. One of the interesting details about the red cylinders that the stewardess saw is that she described them as being coral, like red in color, and dynamite. FBI agents thought it's actually not coral, it's more salmony or beige. But what is red and coral are highway flares.

REHM

11:55:40
Highway flares. Geoffrey Gray, are you going to keep working on this story?

GRAY

11:55:47
How could I not? You know, it's irresistible. You know, when I first heard about this new suspect, Uncle L.D., I was back on the phone with my sources. I'm trying...

REHM

11:55:54
Really.

GRAY

11:55:54
...to figure out, you know, what is it, where did he work, what were his physical descriptions, going through the checklist of things that I knew about the case. And so, yeah, I'm still working on it.

REHM

11:56:05
Does her story -- Marla's story sound credible?

GRAY

11:56:10
What's credible is that she believes it, but what's not credible is we just don't know if her uncle has anything to do with this or could have anything to do with this. You know, some of the things that I found in the file suggest to me that the hijacker was Canadian. I'm interested in people from Canada at this point because a very slight clue. But in the hijacker's note and his demands, he demanded $200,000 in American currency. He was very specific he wanted American currency.

REHM

11:56:43
Hmm.

GRAY

11:56:44
So if somebody was from the United States...

REHM

11:56:46
Yeah.

GRAY

11:56:46
...why specify? Another clue is that 10 days before the Cooper hijacking, another man, a Canadian, hijacked another plane. His name was Paul Cini and he tried to parachute out of a DC9, but was clubbed in the head with a fire axe by one of the crew. And that story played in all the papers. So was Dan Cooper really Dan Cooper or was he just another imitator?

REHM

11:57:09
The book is titled "Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper" by Geoffrey Gray. He's a contributing editor at New York Magazine. Thanks for being here. It's a fascinating story. Come back if you get the answer.

GRAY

11:57:28
Will do.

REHM

11:57:29
Thanks. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

ANNOUNCER

11:57:34
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