A blurb in the newspaper and a TV news teaser I heard just the last several words of this past Monday evening did it to me again. Why am I so tied to this one weird event that I dig for every little tidbit I can find and watch every TV documentary on it that I can find? You tell me. I just can’t get enough of it.
It seems that the FBI is now investigating a “suspect” that died over ten years ago as the possible 1971 hijacker D. B. Cooper. Ole DB, can you believe it? He’s back in the news again. He became infamous some forty years ago come the 24th November of this year. Forty years is a long time to be a reoccurring infamous celebrity.
I remember the day well—24 Nov 71. Again, I ask you to tell me why? I had been in Alaska (US Army) a little over a year when we were alerted that we may be involved in a possible search and rescue mission due to a airline hijacking that had taken place in the Lower 48 with a possibility of heading our direction. It didn’t; but we were ready in any event. According to those flying the aircraft departing SEATAC, they headed to Mexico instead.
The hijacker, originally identified as “Dan Cooper” allegedly jumped out the back door ramp somewhere over western Oregon. A later goof-up or typo misidentified Dan as D. B. and that is what has stuck for ever more.
Original FBI sketch of hijacker
Any logical thinking individual might think a first lieutenant in the United States Army would never again become involved with the myth of D. B. Cooper. I went home to the family that night thinking that exact same thing—I would never hear another word or ever again be involved with D. B. Cooper, ever again. Well, maybe most of you reading this just might not fit that category. I’ll tell you why if you stick with me for a moment.
FBI wanted poster
I eventually finished my tour in Alaska (4 years) and rotated back stateside to Ft Lee, Virginia (4 months) and eventually landing up in the Corps Support Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina—December 1974.
Some two years later while serving as the Commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company of that same Corps Support Command my First Sergeant came into my office and alerted me to the fact that there was a FBI agent in his office that wanted to talk with me. 1SG Juntiff ask: “Have you been up to something?”
I responded: “No Top. I have no idea what he could want. Maybe it has something to do with Denny.” Denny (name changed to protect me from a long standing murder threat) was a soldier I was currently court-martialing primarily for lying to me. There’s more to that small world story I will have to tell another time, not right now.
“Show him in Top and let’s see what this is all about.” Juntiff went back to get the agent. Presently they came in; the agent sitting in the chair in front of my desk and Juntiff took a seat to my right. Immediately the agent asks Juntiff to leave stating that our conversation was to be confidential. Juntiff didn’t like this but complied.
Over the next thirty minutes or so this FBI agent relates the particulars of his investigation and the task he wants my help carrying out. It just so happens he’s the lead investigator on the D. B. Cooper investigation. Right! If I recall correctly when he told me this might open mouth, jaw dropping response was an extremely intelligent: “What?” I just sat there dumb founded for a minute, maybe more then I related my previous involvement to him. It was his turn to utter an intelligent response. He didn’t. He just lept moving forward with his plan, his thoughts and his request. He was an old hat at this. He had probably ran across smart guys like me before—maybe not many, but a few.
He explained the FBI’s current line of thought: (1) D. B. Cooper may have been in the military at some time or was still currently serving; (2) D. B. Cooper may have been jump qualified; (3) D. B. Cooper may have been active military at the time of the incident, but on leave from his current assignment; and (4) D. B. Cooper had a fairly rigid physical description—the aircraft crew had spent quiet a bit of time with him during the two flights involved in the hijacking. His task was to get a close-up look at a particular master sergeant (E8) within my company to determine his match to the situation or cross him off the list.
The subterfuge for getting close to the suspect required my assistance. Right, the FBI needed me to help find D. B. Cooper. Can you believe it? The FBI wanted me to lead them to D. B. Cooper.
The agent then told me who we were gonna go look over. I again donned my dropped jaw and open mouth attitude. I couldn’t believe it. I knew the guy well. I had worked with him previously several times in both garrison and on field exercises. He was probably the best thought of NCO in the Deputy Chief of Staff for Security, Operations, Training and Intelligence (SOTI) department. He wasn’t just well thought of; he was a great guy to work with.
It seems that MSG L*******, jump qualified and serving with an airborne unit in Germany was home on leave in the Pacific Northwest and the actual time of the hijacking. The FBI had made an extensive search of all military personnel records of those soldiers serving at that same period of time. MSG L****** fit the profile perfectly.
OK, so we’re gonna go scope him put. I could get us easily into the section where he worked, then what? We mutually agreed to work our way through the entire building (an old World War II style operations building) acting as though we were inspecting the air conditioning duct work along the room ceilings while taking notes on conditions and specifics as we moved through the areas.
We left my office and walked the ¾ miles down to the SOTI building and started our ruse. As you might imagine, not one sole questioned our presence or actions. We quickly went from room to room acting out our plan eventually ending up in the operations area where MSG L****** worked. As we worked our way around the office, we eventually wound up next to L******’s desk. I surprised my comrade by introducing him directly to MSG L******. He never flinched and actually asked several questions about the ductwork.
Soon we were back on our way to my headquarters and Juntiff. I asked the agent what his thoughts were at the time and he never gave any indication one way or the other as to what he might be thinking—he might have been mad at me for stretching the encounter out; he never said. As soon as we got to the HQ building, he broke off, went to his car and left; first giving me the warning that I was to talk with no one about the encounter we had just conducted.
Going inside, Juntiff followed me straight into my office and grilled me about what had taken place. I responded to his questions by commenting that the information was confidential, close hold and I was not at liberty to divulge. He understood—a NCO with 27+ years in the service knew when to let go.
Some four years later while I was serving as an adviser and consultant to the Army National Guard and Reserve units in New York City, on Long Island and eastern New York state and stationed at the United States Military Academy (West Point), I heard that an eight year old boy had found something like $20,000 (in $20 denominations) while hiking along a river bed of the Columbia River near Portland, Oregon.
Money recovered in 1980
Then for a long time I heard nothing, except maybe on every 5th or 10th anniversary of the hijacking. The national news broadcasts would run a short blurb and everybody’s brother would tip off the authorities on their dis-favorite brother-in-law.
That was the last I heard of D. B. Cooper until March 2008, the man who had found the cash as an eight year old decided to sell some of it and again in April of 2008 a decaying parachute was recovered in the presumed landing area.
Updated sketch with age added
Over the years D. B. Cooper has become an American Hero; even as a criminal he has a following. There are websites all over the net dedicating space to him. Here are a couple that I found interesting; not for their content but for the way they present the information: http://wn.com/D_B_Cooper (The greatest unsolved mystery.) and http://www.pakistan-karachi.info/D._B._Cooper (It connects all the dots). Check them out.
Composite of all sketches with color added
D. B. Cooper portrayed as an American Hero
Now we are being told that ole D. B. might have past away of natural causes some ten years ago. Can it be? I just know that it can be a small world when far flung events keep coming back right at you over and over.
I bet you a dollar to a doughnut that there’ not a man, woman or child out there that hopes that this claim is not true.