Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Cold Case Turns 40

It was 40 years ago today that a man known to history primarily as D.B. Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines 727, demanded $200,000 and parachuted from the plane into legend somewhere between Portland, Ore., and Seattle.

The conventional wisdom for these last four decades has been that Cooper (who actually purchased his ticket under the apparent alias of Dan Cooper, but, because of miscommunication, is remembered almost exclusively as D.B. Cooper) couldn't have survived the jump, given the terrain and the weather at the time — and the fact that he was wearing an ordinary business suit that offered little protection against the subzero temperatures.

But, if he did not survive, no sign of his remains have been found, and neither has any sign of the money he jumped with — except for a few thousand dollars found in 1980 that are said to have been part of the ransom that was paid to Cooper.

The balance — nearly $195,000 — remains unaccounted for.

So, 40 years later, Cooper still commands the attention of the FBI, which has maintained an active investigation and continues to follow up on leads, however remote they may seem. Special Agent Larry Carr has been heading a citizens' research unit for nearly five years; that unit recently caused a bit of a stir when it was revealed that traces of pure titanium, aluminum, stainless steel and bismuth had been found on the neck tie Cooper left on the airplane.

There was also a claim made by a woman that Cooper was her uncle.

As Gar Swaffar of Digital Journal writes, those traces did provide some clues — not about where Cooper was when he leaped into popular lore on that cold, stormy night 40 years ago but where he came from.

"The primary use of pure titanium at the time was in the chemical industry," notes Swaffar, "and the other place it would be found was in the facility producing the titanium."

Swaffar doesn't really talk about bismuth, which may be the least familiar to most people. It has recently been found to be slightly radioactive, but that would not have been known to the people of 1971 — so, while the introduction of radioactivity into the conversation may invite all sorts of sinister thoughts, one must remember to focus on how bismuth was used in the early 1970s if one expects it to serve as a legitimate clue to Cooper's origin.

Its presence on anything in 1971 suggests to me a link to possibly cosmetics and some over–the–counter medicines like Pepto–Bismol (in which small traces of bismuth can be found).

Anyway, the examination of that trace evidence appears to have yielded nothing that could help close the book on the story of D.B. Cooper — and the woman's claim to be the niece of a man her family always called "L.D." appears to have been discredited as well.

Today, 40 years after his daring jump, D.B. Cooper's fate is still as mysterious as it was in 1971. Did he survive the jump? If he did, did he get away with the rest of the money? And, if he did not, what happened to the money? And what happened to his remains?

The world may never know.

No comments: