Fifty years ago today, a new chapter of Pacific Northwest folklore was written.
On Nov. 24, 1971, just before Thanksgiving, a man calling himself D.B. Cooper bought a one-way ticket from Portland to Seattle and boarded a Boeing 727 just as dozens of other passengers did. Cooper, of course, wasn’t just any passenger. He hijacked the aircraft — demanding parachutes and $200,000 under the threat of detonating a bomb. Cooper took the money he received, grabbed a parachute and jumped out of the plane and into the pages of disputed history.
The hijacking itself isn’t so unusual. This event stands out in local and international history because D.B. Cooper has still never been identified, let alone charged, resulting in an abundance of conspiracy theories and stories alike surrounding the crime. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the hijacking, here are four books that focus on this strange, eerie incident. Sort through the facts and fiction yourself to follow Cooper’s long-cold trail.
“D.B. Cooper and Flight 305: Re-Examining the Hijacking and Disappearance” by Robert H. Edwards (Schiffer Military Books). The newest addition to the family of books dedicated to D.B. Cooper is out today on the 50th anniversary of the hijacking. Edwards’ release looks at the case from the perspective of a mathematician and pilot. Using previously unexamined data and original source documents in addition to mathematical tools like statistics and meteorology, the hope of “D.B. Cooper and Flight 305” is to show how the FBI could reopen the cold case and find the mysterious man. It isn’t too crazy of an idea; the Golden State Killer, aka the East Area Rapist, was found after Michelle McNamara’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” was published, raising awareness of the serial killer anew.
“Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper” by Geoffrey Gray (Crown). In this New York Times bestseller, journalist Geoffrey Gray takes a deep dive into the infamous mystery with a critical eye. Gray consults a series of people who were tied to the event, including a former stewardess who was on the flight (and who later became a nun), the man who found some of Cooper’s ransom money, and the widow of a man who claimed he was Cooper in his final moments. Along with a look at Cooper’s FBI file, “Skyjack” is an excellent place to start if you are new to the case or simply looking to learn more. A key takeaway: “[Gray] believes Cooper survived the jump,” says a 2011 NPR story about the book. “In the FBI files, he found that agents interviewed experts who said surviving the jump was possible.”
“D.B. Cooper & Me: A Criminal, A Spy, My Best Friend” by Carl Laurin (Principia Media). While most of us still have no idea who Cooper is, count Laurin among those who claim to know who Cooper is — and, allegedly, it was Laurin’s best friend, a man named Walt. Starting with background information on Walt and then backing up his claim with hard evidence, this book is a slow but informative look at a man who may have pulled off one of the most mysterious plane hijackings in history. Whether you believe Laurin’s claims is up to you, but either way, the book is a great choice for those who would like to dip into different, possibly unprovable theories surrounding the case.
“Into the Blast: The True Story of D.B. Cooper” by Skipp Porteous and Robert Blevins (Adventure Books of Seattle). Just like Laurin, Seattle-based Porteous and Blevins have their own idea as to who Cooper was. The authors believe Cooper was Kenneth Peter Christiansen, a former World War II paratrooper. Using interviews with witnesses, photos, and a healthy portion of conjecture and food for thought, “Into the Blast” argues there are too many coincidences for Cooper to be anyone but Christiansen. Maybe you won’t come to the same conclusion as the authors — but if the Cooper case is of any interest to you, it’s always fun to dive into new ideas and information surrounding the case.