Thanksgiving weekend 1971. A man called D.B. Cooper boards a plane in Portland, hijacks it for $200,000 at the SeaTac Airport, then parachutes into a snowstorm over Mount Rainier, never to be seen again.
As the only unsolved hijacking in the history of U.S, aviation, Cooper’s actions have turned him into an unlikely American folk hero, a Robin Hood who stole from the rich (but gave to none). Not all found Cooper’s antics so amusing: Stewardess Tina Mucklow, who dealt with Cooper during the grueling day-long hijacking, went into a convent then seclusion directly following the crime.
Regardless, Cooper was a pop culture meme before the internet, appearing in dozens of movies, novels, songs, television shows, even inspiring a line of grow lamps. Throughout the years, the enduring myth of Cooper has led hundreds of regular Americans to believe that members of their family and friends may indeed be the legendary criminal.
Here are some of the more colorful suspects:
A former Northwest Airlines mechanic and veteran Army paratrooper, Christiansen perfectly matched the physical description of Cooper. Like Cooper, he smoked cigarettes, loved bourbon, and was left handed. Christiansen’s brother Lyle hired a private eye to explore his mysterious sibling’s life and the truth behind his secretive, reclusive nature. The private eye found that Kenny purchased his home just months after the hijacking, and left over $200,000 of unaccounted-for cash in the bank after his death.
When she was a young girl, Marla Cooper remembers that her uncle L.D. came home on the night of D.B.’s hijacking wearing a shirt covered in blood. Spurred on by a visit to the hypnotist, Marla’s “recovered memories” of her uncle’s planning and execution of the sky crime made national news until a DNA test matching L.D. to D.B. came up inconclusive.
Excused from the American military after going AWOL with a jungle tribe while on a tour of duty, Bobby “Barbara” Dayton was a violent-tempered ex- soldier who discovered after coming stateside that he’d been a woman all along. As legend goes, Dayton committed the crime to undergo a sex change, an expensive operation in 1971 at the price of around $200,000. Barbara then settled down in the Washington wilderness, where she befriended Ron and Pat Forman, a couple who became fascinated with Dayton’s sordid past. After their friend Barbara died, the couple published a book, Legend of D.B. Cooper: Death by Natural Causes, proving that their transsexual friend was secretly the escaped hijacker.
Gossett’s was a radio talk show host in Salt Lake City. His show focused on discussions of the paranormal and unexplainable. Gossett was known to be particularly obsessed with Cooper’s crime, amassing a huge store of information about the case. He reportedly admitted to one of his sons that he was the hijacker himself, and the son even claims that Gossett, a compulsive gambler, showed him wads of cash shortly after the hijacking and claimed that the remainder of the ransom money lay in a safe deposit box in Vancouver, British Columbia.
John List was a WWII and Korean War vet who went insane and murdered his mother, wife, and children in their New Jersey home before disappearing a couple of weeks prior to Cooper’s hijacking. His whereabouts after the death of his family — and before he appeared under a new name in Denver six months later — are unknown. At the time of List’s disappearance, he was $200,000 in debt and on the run from the law. List was captured in 1989 and admitted to murdering his family, but never confessed to Cooper’s crime.
Duane Weber — literally on his deathbed — confessed to his wife Jo that he was responsible for the hijacking. Then memories flooded back to Jo, linking her late husband to the crime: a library book about Cooper that Duane annotated in the margins, his excessive drinking and smoking, a camping trip to a site where $5,880 of Cooper’s money was found, a limp he had developed after November 1971. Like all these suspects, the real truth remains forever hidden.