D. B. Cooper and his forgotten, hapless imitators

FBI composite sketch of "D. B. Cooper"

FBI composite sketch of "D. B. Cooper"

“He seemed rather nice,” Northwest Orient flight attendant Tina Mucklow later recalled. “He was never cruel or nasty. He was thoughtful and calm.”

A rather odd way to describe the man who had hijacked her airliner and threatened to blow up the two of them, and everyone else on Northwest Orient Flight 305, on Nov. 24, 1971.

The drama had started in the mid-afternoon as the three-engined Boeing 727 was on the final leg of a milk run route from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Seattle, with stops en route in Great Falls, Missoula, Spokane and Portland. With only 36 passengers aboard, there was plenty of room for everyone to spread out.

Fellow flight attendant Florence Schaffner had been handed a note by a middle-aged man sitting alone in row 18, by all appearances a business traveler with his suit, tie and briefcase.

Being young, single and attractive — literally a job requirement at the time — Schaffner was used to being hit on. So she did what she usually did with such notes: she stuffed it in her pocket, intending to dispose of it later.

The man in row 18 was having none of it. “Miss, you should read that note I gave you,” he quietly told her minutes later. “I have a bomb in my briefcase.”

After he opened his briefcase and showed her a jumble of red canisters and wires, Schaffner sat next to him and took down his demands: $200,000 cash in $20 bills, and two sets of parachutes.

“No funny stuff, or I’ll do the job,” he warned her grimly.

After circling overhead under the pretense of a ground delay while the needed cash and parachutes were rounded up, Flight 305 finally landed in Seattle at 5:40 p.m., nearly three hours after leaving Portland.

It was only when they left the aircraft in a remote parking area and were met by FBI agents that many passengers realized that they had been hijacked. Few had taken much notice of the man sitting in row 18, who had boarded the flight in Portland using a one-way ticket made out to “Dan Cooper”.

Only Cooper, Mucklow and the three pilots were still aboard when the flight took off after 7 p.m. with instructions to fly to Reno, Nev. at a low airspeed and altitude.

After sitting next to the hijacker and showing him how to operate the rear airstairs, a built-in stairway under the tail which could be used to board and disembark passengers at small, poorly equipped airports, Mucklow was told to go to the cockpit and stay there.

Shortly after 8 p.m., while flying over southwestern Washington State, a warning light and sudden drop in cabin pressure told the crew that Cooper had successfully lowered the airstairs. At 8:13 p.m., an unsettling bounce caused by the airflow forcing the stairway to bounce back up as Cooper jumped clear of the aircraft indicated that the hijacker was gone.

Whatever happened to Dan Cooper — or D. B. Cooper, as he became known due to a misunderstanding in the confusion that followed — remains a mystery. None of the $200,000 has ever re-entered circulation, though some of it was later found, waterlogged and too damaged to be used, on the banks of the Columbia River in 1980.

An instruction card on how to operate the rear airstairs, confirmed to have come from a Northwest Orient Boeing 727, was found in the woods under Flight 305’s flight path in 1978, but further searches of the area yielded nothing.

Various possible suspects were suggested over the years, including:

  • Duane Weber, who was nominated by his widow on the basis of a supposed deathbed confession in 1995 but later cleared of suspicion by fingerprint and DNA testing
  • Murderer John List, who bore a resemblance to the flight attendants’ description of Cooper, but is not considered a suspect
  • Sex-change recipient Bobby/Barbara Dayton, who later claimed to be Cooper, only to recant
  • Disgruntled Northwest Orient purser Ken Christiansen, suspected by his own brother but dismissed as a suspect due to lack of evidence and Christiansen’s relatively short stature, compared to the crew’s description of Cooper as being about six feet tall.

Now comes the latest nominee, an Oregon man named Lynn Cooper. Cooper, who died in 1999, is being named as a suspect by his niece, Marla Cooper.

Though it’s a possibility that’s being taken seriously, careful examination of the evidence against Lynn Cooper needs to be done before the book can be closed on the 40-year mystery of D. B. Cooper.

Forgotten in the story over the years was the rash of imitators who followed in D. B. Cooper’s footsteps, some of whom generated more snickering than mystery in their ham-handed efforts to get rich quick.

There was Richard McCoy, who hijacked and bailed out of a United Airlines Boeing 727 in April 1972. Unlike the “thoughtful and calm” Cooper, McCoy was somewhat absent-minded. He accidentally forgot a manila envelope containing his typewritten hijacking plans in the boarding area, which an airline employee helpfully brought aboard in search of its owner.

After takeoff, McCoy drew attention to himself by going into the washroom and emerging wearing a wig and sunglasses. A convict being transported by a police officer tried to point out the oddly behaving passenger, but was told to “forget about it”.

McCoy was soon arrested and imprisoned. He escaped, but was killed in a shootout in 1974. Rumours circulated for years that Cooper and McCoy were the same man, but have been dismissed as unsubstantiated.

Twenty-two year old Vietnam vet Robb Heady botched a June 1972 United Airlines hijacking by accidentally letting go of the bag containing the ransom money during his nighttime jump from a Boeing 727 over Nevada.

With no time to search for the loot which had plunged to earth without him, Heady went off instead in search of the car he had left parked in a remote area a few miles from where he touched down. Police had swarmed the area and found the car, however, and had put it under constant surveillance on suspicion that it might be the hijacker’s getaway car.

Heady was arrested as he approached the vehicle.

Then there was 49-year-old engineer Frederick Hahneman, who parachuted out of an Eastern Airlines Boeing 727 over Honduras in 1972 with a $303,000 ransom. Eastern offered a $25,000 reward for his capture — the equivalent of $129,000 in 2010 dollars, and a fortune by Honduran standards. Hahneman pondered his dilemma and came to the conclusion that he would be better off in American than Honduran hands. He turned himself in at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Or how about Frank Sibley? Sporting a rifle and a ski mask, he pedaled a bicycle on to the airfield in Reno, Nev. on Aug. 18, 1972. He proceeded to haul his bicycle up the stairs into a United Airlines Boeing 727 preparing to depart for San Francisco, stormed the cockpit — and then became angry when he discovered that the passengers and flight attendants had all gotten off and returned to the terminal while he was busy dictating his demands to the pilots.

Sibley was able to get the remaining crew to fly him to Vancouver, however, where he ranted about the Vietnam War while being interviewed by a reporter from CJOR radio (a step down from his original demand of a full press conference). They were then off to Seattle, where he was shot and wounded by FBI agents posing as a United Airlines relief crew.

And perhaps most bizarre — and sad — was the July 1980 hijacking of a Northwest Orient Boeing 727 in Seattle by 17-year-old Glen Tripp, who started out with a demand for $100,000 and a parachute. By nighttime, the increasingly tired and hungry hijacker had reduced his demands to a rental car and some cheeseburgers.

After his arrest, it was learned that Tripp was mentally challenged.

Tripp tried to hijack another Northwest Orient flight while out on probation in 1983, only to be shot dead by an FBI agent when he made a threatening gesture with a shoe box in which he claimed to have a bomb. Investigators later discovered that the box contained nothing but paper.

The seemingly less bumbling Cooper, if he survived parachuting into rugged terrain on a cold, stormy November night in 1971, would be the only person to hijack a U.S. jetliner and get away with it.

Yet, if the now-deceased Lynn Cooper turns out to have been “D. B. Cooper”, don’t expect to hear much about it from Tina Mucklow Larson, the former Northwest flight attendant who sat next to Cooper on Flight 305 and showed him how to operate the airstairs after leaving Seattle for Reno.

Mucklow, now in her early sixties, does not do interviews. She has maintained a low profile over the years, reportedly not out of fear of Cooper, who would now be in his mid-eighties if still alive, but out of exasperation with reporters, writers and “Cooper buffs”. Since 1971, her single-minded focus has been on getting on with life.

This past weekend, a U.S. writer claims to have tracked the elusive Mucklow down at her home in an undisclosed location in Oregon, wondering if the passage of time might have made her more receptive to speaking publicly about her life since Nov. 24, 1971, if not about the hijacking itself.

He got his answer in the form of a door being slammed in his face.

A reminder that even though D. B. Cooper might have been a Robin Hood-style hero to some, others are still dealing with the consequences of his crime, 40 years later.

Related: Unsolved Mysteries re-enactment of the hijacking (1988, 17 mins.)

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

One Response to D. B. Cooper and his forgotten, hapless imitators

  1. Dave B says:

    I uncovered a lot of problems with the LD Cooper story, first of all we have a birth issue, the grave says 9/17/1931 and a marriage certificate states 9/17/33 signed by Lynn, his brother was born 8/11/31? so how could this be, Military records show him entering in 1951 at the age of 18, subtract 18 years and again you have 1933, this makes him only 38 in 1971, Marla has given different locations on the landing site and other things she has said turned out to be untrue.

    feel free to contact me about further information

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