Prime suspects behind mysterious DB Cooper heist that gripped the world – from daredevil war hero to convicted hijacker | The Sun

A NEW Netflix docu-series has examined the decades-old mystery of what happened to a hijacker who stole $200,000 and jumped out of a plane 10,000ft in the air.

DB Cooper: Where Are You?! takes a fresh look at the prime suspects believed to be the robber and explores what could have happened next.


The 1971 case remains the only unsolved airplane highjacking in US history

On November 24, a man – who known as Dan or DB Cooper – threatened to detonate explosives unless he was given $200,000 (£168,000).

The brave crew, from the flight between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, managed to negotiate the passengers being let off before they took to the skies again with the robber.

Cooper demanded the money in cash, four parachutes and to be flown to Mexico City – but while flying over southwestern Washington, he leapt out of the plane from 10,000ft.

The hijacker was never identified, his whereabouts remain a mystery and most of the cash has never recovered – to this day FBI remain baffled over the exact truth of what happened.

The DB Cooper case has been reexplored in the four-part Netflix doc and now, we look back at the suspects.

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With no trace of Cooper's body since, hundreds of theories have emerged over the years – along with a stream of suspects.

Previously, the BBC documentary The Hijacker Who Vanished: The Mystery Of DB Cooper looked at the story of one man called Duane Weber.

His wife, Jo Weber, revealed she was married to him for almost 20 years, until his death in 1995 – but they rarely spoke about his past before they met, in 1978, seven years after the hijacking.

However, on his deathbed he changed Jo's life forever when he said he “wanted to tell her a secret”.

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Much to Jo's bewilderment, she claimed he began repeatedly muttering about "jumping out of a plane". She then said he added to her: “I’m Dan Cooper."

"Those were his last words, except I love you," she said.

She began to piece together memories from their marriage, that had meant nothing to her at the time.

They included visiting a river once where some of the money was later found, and seeing her husband disappear for several hours, before returning "dirty" as if he'd been "digging".

She also recalled him throwing a bag in to the water on another occasion and watching it float off, but she had assumed it was trash at the time.

No strong evidence has ever connected Duane to the crime.

Skydiving suspect admitted 'coincidences'


Suspect Sheridan Peterson remained one of the FBI's prime suspects until his death last year, aged 94, but he was never charged.

His experience as a smokejumper – a firefighter who parachutes into difficult areas to tackle blazes – and love of skydiving left many convinced they had found the real Cooper.

Eric Ullis, an entrepreneur who investigated the case for years, was "98 per cent" certain he carried out the heist too.

Even Peterson himself admitted "there were too many coincidences" for it "to be a coincidence" but maintained his innocence throughout.

In an article for National Smokejumper magazine, he discussed the suspicions around him being DB Cooper.

"The FBI had good reason to suspect me… Friends and associates agreed that I was without a doubt DB Cooper," Peterson wrote.

"At the time of the heist, I was 44 years old. That was the approximate age Cooper was assumed to have been, and I closely resembled sketches of the hijacker."

Peterson claimed he was in Nepal at the time of the hijacking and he was eventually ruled out when DNA collected from DB Cooper's tie didn't present a match.

'Ex-paratrooper asked for help on night of the heist'

One of the most recent suspects to emerge was former military paratrooper Walter Reca in 2018, four years after his death.

His "best friend" Carl Laurin wrote a book based on audio recordings where he claimed Reca gave intriguing details about the skyjacking.

Vern Jones, who helped Laurin sift through the information, believed the suspect avoided detection by hiding the money in places that "routinely deal with large cash deposits".

He said Reca likely made a down payment for a house and bought a car before putting the rest of the cash in a Canadian bank.

In Laurin's book, DB Cooper & Me: A Criminal, A Spy, My Best Friend, Jeff Osiadacz claimed a man fitting the description of Reca asked him for help on the night of the heist.

It was also alleged that Reca confessed to being the hijacker shortly before he died in 2014.

When the new information was put to the FBI, they said it would be "inappropriate" to comment.

They claimed tips continued to pour in from the public but "none to date have resulted in a definitive identification of the hijacker".

They said all new information "conveyed plausible theories" but didn't provide "the necessary proof of culpability beyond a reasonable doubt".

Hijacker 'doppelganger' committed other crimes

Pilot and Army veteran Robert Rackstraw became a suspect after investigators noticed similarities between him and sketches of Cooper.

Investigator Thomas Colbert claimed he tried to fake his own death by jumping out of a plane over Monterey Bay, California.

Rackstraw was arrested on suspicion of possessing explosives and for using fake cheques in 1978. He was found in Iran and deported to the US.

In 2016, the FBI ruled him out as a suspect due to a lack of evidence.

Rackstraw maintained his innocence throughout and in the 2016 doc DB Cooper: Case Closed?, the 73-year-old denied being the hijacker.

"He's not DB Cooper," his lawyer, Dennis Roberts, said. "Everything I've heard is that DB Cooper died and [Rackstraw] is alive."

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Another major suspect is Barbara Dayton, who was formerly known as Robert before undergoing a sex change. She has since passed away.

Pat and Ron Forman revealed how they struck up a friendship with her when she began visiting their small airfield.

They said how many of the pilots at the airfield would discuss DB Cooper's heist, and whenever they criticised it, Barbara would get angry.

Having grown suspicious that she may in fact be the hijacker, Ron confronted her.

While she furiously denied it at first, he eventually persuaded her to have a photo taken, with her hair swept to the side.

He compared it to the composite sketch of Cooper and recalls the massive similarities.

“All of a sudden she said, ‘Okay, I am Dan Cooper’," he told the BBC. In fact, she went into even more detail about what allegedly happened, claiming she'd jumped at 10,000ft and pulled the parachute at 1,000ft.

She also claimed when she landed, she changed out of the tie she was wearing and put on a blonde wig.

The family of Barbara – who married before she transitioned and had a daughter – said they truly believed she was Cooper.

Niece 'overheard uncles boasting about hijack'


Another key suspect is Lynn Doyle 'LD' Cooper, whose niece recalled seeing him bloodied and semi-conscious after what she believed was his successful hijacking.

Marla Cooper recalled staying at her gran’s home in Oregon in 1971 for Thanksgiving aged eight when her two uncles were there.

“I had a great affection for [LD], he was a very sweet man and always my favourite in my dad’s family," she said.

She first grew suspicious that he was hiding something on Thanksgiving Eve, when he became secretive about a 'hunt" he was going on.

The next day, she recalled her other uncle driving up to the house. Having run down to see him, she claims she also spied LD in the car in a “white T-shirt with blood all over it… he was nearly unconscious”.

Having alerted her father, she said she overheard them saying: "We did it, we hijacked the plane. We’re rich, our money problems are over.”

She only saw LD once after that, the Christmas after, and while Marla claimed her father swore her to secrecy at the time, he later told her a month before he died that LD "hijacked that airplane".

Daredevil war hero committed 'copycat heist'


Many people have thrown their support behind the theory that Cooper may have been a daredevil war hero who pulled off a second hijacking months later.

Richard Floyd McCoy was convicted of hijacking a United Airlines passenger jet for ransom in 1972, in what appeared to be a 'copycat' heist.

He reportedly produced a note and demanded four parachutes, as well as half a million.

But the strong similarities between the two led some to claim he may have been Cooper all along – and carried out the second hijacking after somehow losing the money in the first.

McCoy's former friend Ben Anjewierden, who was in the National Guard with him, said: “McCoy was a fun one to fly with, he was very adventurous.”

Asked about rumours he was a war hero, Anjewierden added: "I understand he… saved a few in Vietnam."

Anjewierden said McCoy appeared "fascinated" by the Cooper case, which ultimately led him to alert police when he heard about the second hijacking. Cops then found the $500,000 hidden in McCoy's attic.

He received a 45-year jail sentence for the hijacking, but managed to escape prison twice. On the second occasion, he was killed in a stand-off with police.

Bernie Rhodes, the retired chief probation officer in the case, recalled meeting McCoy in prison and said: “From where I sat that day, the face across from me seemed identical to the composite drawing [of DB Cooper].”

Flight attendant's 'suspicious purchase' months after hijacking

Another suspect was flight attendant Kenneth Christiansen, who worked for Northwest Orient Airlines at the time of the hijacking and was also a former paratrooper and mechanic.

He became linked to the crime after relatives grew suspicious that he was able to buy a house with cash – several months after the hijacking.

That theory was later debunked but his brother Lyle was so certain that Kenneth was DB Cooper that he contacted the FBI and hired a private investigator.

However, after further investigation, Kenneth was ruled out because he was shorter and had lighter skin than the man described by witnesses.

Despite the lack of incriminating evidence, Lyle continued to insist his brother was the elusive DB Cooper.

Did he survive or die in the fall?


In 1980 a young boy digging in sand north of Portland unearthed bundles of cash that matched the serial numbers of Cooper’s ransom money.

This led to the “Washougal Washdown Theory,” which held that the money fell in the Columbia River and washed downstream.

However, it also fed into Jo Weber's memories of visiting the area with her husband, and remembering him throw a bag in the water.

Experts claimed they didn't appear to have become submerged until months after the hijacking.

But one man who has dedicated his life to locating evidence of Cooper's whereabouts, Jerry Thomas, is convinced he died.

Thomas spends every day trekking through the dense woodland in the area, and has done for years, and says the chances of surviving a parachute landing there – as well as an escape afterwards – are slim.

“He didn’t make it out alive that night, that’s an impossible thing for him to do. He died that night," he says.

FBI agents believe this theory is likely too, despite Cooper's body never being found.

They said: "The parachute he used couldn’t be steered, his clothing and footwear were unsuitable for a rough landing.

"He had jumped into a wooded area at night – a dangerous proposition for a seasoned pro, which evidence suggests Cooper was not.”

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In July 2016, after “one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history”, the FBI admitted defeat and closed the case.

DB Cooper: Where Are You?! is available to stream on Netflix.

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