Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

DB Cooper: The Legendary Daredevil

'I'm Dan Cooper. So Am I.'

Over the years, thousands of Americans have dropped dimes on friends, relatives and colleagues who resemble the famous "Bing Crosby" Cooper sketch. The FBI says some 10,000 names have been whispered to the agency. Many of those fingered were experienced skydivers with vaguest likeness—especially if you squint.

Some of those fingered missing persons, but no lead ever panned out. It seems unlikely that someone could disappear and not leave a single friend or relative wondering—a parent, spouse, child or sibling. But the FBI says that may have been the case with Dan Cooper, if in fact he splattered. The agency says Cooper may have been a loner who had isolated himself.

Dozens of men have confessed to loved ones that they are Cooper, and the FBI has quietly checked out a number of them. The identities of a few have made their way into the media, often posthumously.

Duane Weber headshot
Duane Weber headshot
 

In 1995, for example, Duane Weber, a Florida antiques dealer who was dying of kidney disease, told his wife, "I'm Dan Cooper." After Weber died, his widow found a hidden wallet that indicated the man had had a previous life as one John C. Collins. His resume of wrongdoing included a bad conduct discharge from the Navy and six prison sentences, one of them served 20 miles from Sea-Tac Airport. The widow claimed Weber took her on an unexplained "sentimental journey" in 1979 to a remote place in the woods of Clark County, Washington. She said the husband looked like the Cooper sketch, knew Seattle well, smoked cigarettes, drank bourbon, and sometimes talked in his sleep about aft stairs and fingerprints.

Another Cooper claim involved a San Diego cabby who stepped forward in 1986. He said a friend who died that year of a cocaine overdose had recited intimate details of the Cooper skydive and survival. The man said he landed in a tree near a river and suffered knee and rib injuries. He managed to crawl to a cave and then hitchhike to Portland, where he recuperated before moving to San Diego. He said he laundered the cash on a Montana Indian reservation in 1978. The cabby said the Cooper claimant explained that the cash found on the Columbia River fell from his money pouch during his parachute descent.

But the FBI rejected the story for lack of evidence, just as it rejected Duane Weber's. For example, no fingerprint found on the jet matched either man's.

As Himmelsbach, the retired FBI man, put it, "Every so often one (of these) would come along, and I'd get the rush of adrenaline. There's a guy in a bar with a bunch of $20 bills, he's limping on one leg and someone asks where he got the roll, and he says he might have hijacked an airplane. You track those things down, and they just burn out."

One of the more peculiar Cooper stories involved Elsie Rodgers, a grandmother from Cozad, Nebraska. She enjoyed telling her grandchildren about the day in the 1970s when she found a human head near the Columbia River in Washington. The kids thought she was crazy—until she died in 2000 and they found a skull in a hatbox in her attic. The FBI conducted DNA tests but reported it was unable to prove that the skull was Cooper's.

Perhaps the most elaborate claim was laid out in "D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened," a 1985 book by Max Gunther based on six telephone conversations in 1982 with a woman who identified herself only as "Clara." She explained she discovered an injured Cooper holed up in her garden shed near rural Longview, Ore., on Nov. 26, 1971, two days after the hijacking. She nursed his broken foot, and they fell in love. She said Cooper was an affluent family man from Connecticut who abandoned his family and moved west, fell in with a group of skydivers and conceived his plan. She claimed he had read books to become an aircraft expert and studied air routes and boarding procedures as his scheme began to take shape over many months. She said they settled on Long Island, New York, after the hijacking, and Cooper took jobs under assumed identities. The woman said they laundered the loot in Atlantic City and Reno casinos. The woman said Cooper died of natural causes in 1982.

The FBI once again rejected the account. There were at least two problems with the story: the laundered bills never turned up, according to the feds, and her account of Cooper's meticulous planning relegates the Montana hijacking two weeks before Cooper's to an astonishing coincidence of timing.

If Gunther was hoodwinked by a Cooper tale, he wasn't the first. Not long after the hijacking, Newsweek magazine reportedly nearly published a cover-story exclusive featuring an interview with Cooper. It turned out the magazine was the victim of two hoaxers who were later convicted of fraud.

 

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