In 1971, a man going by the alias of Dan Cooper highjacked a Northwest Airlines flight under threat of a bomb in his suitcase. After collecting his ransom not to explode the plane—$200,000, which with inflation would now amount to about $1.2 million—and letting out the passengers, Cooper strapped on a parachute and jumped out somewhere north of Portland, en route to Reno. No one—except, perhaps, Cooper—was hurt.
For decades, Cooper’s identity—known thereafter as DB due to a media flub at the time—has been one of the most perplexing unsolved mysteries of the 20th century, with only a grainy witness sketch and scant physical details to go on. He was white, with a furrowed brow and wide-set eyes; he wore a black suit; he strapped the money to his waist and left behind his gold tie clip and JC Penney tie. Though initially the FBI had assumed Cooper did not survive the parachute, there were several theories and suspects in the coming years. In 1980, a boy dug up cash at the mouth of the Columbia River; its serial numbers matched the ones from Cooper’s haul, providing fuel for the death theory but also deepening the mystery of what could have happened to him. In 2011, a woman named Marla Cooper suggested her uncle, Lynn Doyle Cooper, could have been DB—a lead that was, like at least eight other suspects, debunked.
What happened to DB? His tale captured America’s imagination, not solely because he vanished seemingly without a trace, but because he did something bold and renegade in an era when the country felt like doing the same. His legend has resonated as the FBI has struggled to identify him, with songs, film, television and books memorializing the events that led to this perpetually unsolvable mystery. Peruse YouTube and you’ll find an abundance of videos exploring the topic, and amateur crime solving websites remain obsessed with the case.
But while armchair detectives and TruTV nerds bury their faces in the internet hoping to uncover something new to add to the Reddits et al, the one group of people that has given up is the one that’s theoretically the most capable of solving this crime: the F.B. mothalovin’ I. On Tuesday morning, the FBI announced it was closing the ice-cold DB Cooper case after 45 years, claiming it had “exhaustively reviewed all credible leads,” according to FBI Spokesperson Ayn Dietrich Williams. “Unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips or applications of new investigative technology have yielded the necessary proof.”
With respect to the FBI, this is total fucking bullshit; new investigative technology is being devised every single day—recall that the nation barely knew what DNA evidence was during the OJ Simpson trial, and 20 years later it’s seen as almost a necessity to close a case? There’s something heartbreaking about the knowledge that the Feds couldn’t even make it to a half-century before throwing in the towel on a lone man in Zootopia shades who may or may not have croaked en route to the ground.
While the government may have given up, rest assured that the rest of us couch-crimesolvers will not. DB Cooper is legend, and his memory will live on until we finally uncover his true identity, and what happened to him and his scrilla on that fateful parachuting day.