Good night, D.B. Cooper

It’s been nearly 45 years since a man known as D.B. Cooper hijacked a plane, exchanged passengers for $200,000 and parachutes, then leapt out of the back of the plane and into mystery. Now the FBI is finally closing the case in order to keep resources from being diverted on a fool’s errand. Peter Holley reports:

“Although the FBI appreciated the immense number of tips provided by members of the public, none to date have resulted in a definitive identification of the hijacker,” the FBI’s latest statement says. “The tips have conveyed plausible theories, descriptive information about individuals potentially matching the hijacker, and anecdotes — to include accounts of sudden, unexplained wealth.”

“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 statement adds.

In 2007, Geoffrey Gray wrote an in-depth piece in New York Magazine about a man by the name of Kenneth Christiansen, who many believed to be the real D.B. Cooper.

The Cooper file is now a morgue of dead-end leads. It sits buried in the basement of the FBI’s Seattle field office and occupies several shelves in long rows that open and close by spinning black plastic wheels. The belief among agents handling the case now is that Cooper died in the jump—the conditions were simply too brutal to survive, and the twenties would have blown away. When a new tip arrives in the mail, the Feds typically shrug it off and file it away.

One of those tips that came in was from Lyle Christiansen. In fact, he claims he told the FBI about his older brother several times. “Dear Good People,” a copy of one of his letters, written in November 2003, begins. “Here’s the story of how I began to suspect my brother was D.B. Cooper.” He was watching TV one night, he told them, and flipped on the show Unsolved Mysteries, which had an episode about the Cooper case. “I sat up in my chair,” he wrote, “because my brother was a dead ringer to the composite sketch of D.B.” Suspicious, he read up on the case. “There was so many circumstances that I became convinced my brother was truly D.B. Cooper!”

What crushed the validity of this promising lead were Christiansen’s physical features that didn’t match the profile of the suspect, and his expertise in skydiving. Investigators determined that Cooper was likely not an experienced skydiver, despite his daring jump from the back of a passenger airliner. Peter Holley continues:

Originally, FBI investigators believed Cooper must have been an experienced skydiver, possibly with military experience.

“We concluded after a few years this was simply not true,” Special Agent Larry Carr said in 2007. “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. 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.”

Though the most plausible theory is that D.B. Cooper never even survived the skydive, I’d like to believe he did manage to pull it off. This is a man whose heist survived more than four decades of research and technological advancement — a man whose identity we still don’t even know. His disappearance gives us something to ponder and fantasize about. We all need legends.

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