The Name Behind The Special Agent: D.B Cooper and Dale Cooper

The following is a guest post from our friend, Twin Peaks Scotia ( @TwinPeaksScotia on Twitter). Be sure to send him a tweet and let him know what you think!

 

In the Pacific Northwest, on Wednesday November 24th 1971, Thanksgiving Eve, at around 3pm PST, a smart business dressed man wearing a dark suit with a black tie on Flight 305, leaving Portland, Oregon and bound for Seattle Tacoma Airport, Washington, handed a stewardess a note.

 

The stewardess, Florence Shaffner, thinking it was a note from a lonely businessman with his phone number on it, dropped it into her purse unopened, only for the man to lean over and whisper to her “Miss, you better look at that note, I have a bomb.’

 

The Stewardess then read the note which read:

 

‘I HAVE A BOMB IN MY BRIEFCASE. I WILL USE IT IF NECESSARY. I WANT YOU TO SIT NEXT TO ME. YOU ARE BING HIJACKED.’

 

Florence then sat down beside the man who proceeded to open his briefcase, which contained eight red cylinders, attached to wires coated with red insulation and a large battery.

 

It definitely looked like a bomb. 

 

The man then demanded $200,000, four parachutes and a fuel truck standing by to refuel the plane in Seattle.

 

The stewardess then informed the pilot of the man’s demands. When she came back the man was wearing a pair of black shades.

 

The pilot then contacted ground control, to relay the hijackers demands, which were swiftly agreed to by the airline and to avoid mass panic on the plane, the pilot informed the passengers they were delayed due to a “minor technical difficulty”.

 

The plane landed at 5.39pm and the man received the money in 10,000 $20 unmarked bills with serial numbers, hastily arranged by the FBI so they could also detect the flow of the money. He also received four civilian parachutes, included in his demands, which were arranged from a local skydiving school in nearby Issaquah.

 

He then allowed for the passengers, who were unaware a hostage situation was taking place, to be released, apart from the pilot, co-pilot and another stewardess, Tina Mucklow.

 

The man then ordered the plane, to take off around 7.15pm and chart a course for Mexico City. The pilot suggested they didn’t have enough fuel to get to Mexico and the man agreed instead on landing in Reno.

 

At around 8pm, roughly 45 minutes into the flight, the pilot noticed the plane was de-pressurizing, the man had taken his black tie off and discarded it onto a seat and opened the rear stairwell.

After attaching his parachute and tying the ransomed money to himself, he jumped out of the plane, wearing his suit and a pair of loafers, with the bomb in tow, around the area between Mount St Helens and Ariel, Washington.

 

Never to be seen again.

At 10.15pm the plane landed at Reno with the air stairwell still opened. FBI agents, state troopers and sheriffs deputies surrounded the plane and after a quick search, determined it was empty.

 

The man who vanished, in the days before passports and security checkpoints at airports, gave his name as Dan Cooper, which was also the name of a popular fictional French-Canadian comic book character at that time, who was a military flight ace and rocket ship pilot.

 

One of the first suspects interviewed regarding the hijacking was an Oregon man with a small criminal record called D.B Cooper and a reporter, rushing to meet a deadline, mistook this for the hijacker’s given name and printed it as the suspects.

 

And from a reporters innocent error, the name D.B. Cooper passed into American Criminal Legend, a favorite

spooky tale to be told between families at Thanksgiving and an enduring mystery which, to this day, has never been solved.

 

It would also prove to be the inspiration behind the name of FBI Special Agent Dale Bartholomew Cooper, who like D.B, was polite and courteous and would also disappear, suffering a shadowy and debated fate, in very mysterious circumstances.

At least for 25 years.

 

When Mark Frost and David Lynch created their protagonist FBI Agent in the late 1980’s they blended much of their own characteristics , Frost’s sense of the rationale along with Lynch’s intuition and actor Kyle McLachlan also incorporated many of with his own natural mannerisms to create the on-screen Cooper of the original Twin Peaks series – the near perfect FBI Agent with a strong moral code. A mix of rational detective divided with a natural and profound intuition.

 

It appears Frost and Lynch, in creating their own unique Pacific Northwest mystery wrapped inside an enigma, studied up of the D.B. Cooper case (Lynch grew up in the region and would have been aware of the case and probably fascinated by its mystery) and named Dale Cooper as a nod to the disappeared hijacker.

 

The original descriptions given by both flight attendants of D.B. Cooper, which resulted in the infamous FBI composite sketches, mirrors the physical description of Dale Cooper down to the slick backed haircut, business suit (FBI black suit) and the black tie.

 

It’s also the attire a version of him wears while he’s sitting in the waiting room, trapped in the Black Lodge for 25 years.

 

Dale Coopers own polite mannerisms mirror the mysterious D.B. who, while quietly announcing and carrying out the plane hijacking, remained calm and pleasant throughout, being the perfect gentleman, so much so that the other passengers never suspected a hostage and ransom situation was ever taking place.

 

Without a care in the world, he smoked eight cigarettes and paid for two bourbons he drank on the plane while giving his change for his drinks back and also requested meals for the two cabin crew and stewardess who remained hostage with him while the hijacked plane was landed at Seattle Tacoma airport

 

In D.B. Coopers meticulous planning of and audacity in, carrying out the hijacking he shows elements of Dale Coopers dark doppelgänger and master career criminal, Mr C.

 

After instigating the hijacking on the flight, he remarked that the airport “looked like Tacoma down there” and also mentioned that McChord Air Force Base was a 20 minute drive away, suggesting familiarity with and careful planning in, the region he expected the first plane landing in his master plan to take place – in knowing how far away the Air Force Base was by road, it also suggested he had possible military aviation experience.

 

D.B. requested four parachutes, implying to the authorities ( and playing some Mr C style mind-games), that he might force one or more of his three hostages to jump with him.

He was also knowledgeable about the ability to drop the planes air stair out mid-flight, without it affecting the planes ability to maneuver, in fact he requested for the air stair to be opened on the ground in Seattle so it would be open while it took off and when questioned on this, countered that it was safe – a fact at that time only known by few in the military air force but not among public flight air craft pilots or personnel.

The parallels with D.B might not have been fully noticeable prior to Twin Peaks: The Return, but with Mr. C’s evil machinations – the shadow self to the classic Dale Cooper of the original Twin Peaks series, they can now be compared and contrasted, drawing parallels which would have probably been seen much earlier if Twin Peaks Season Three happened in 1992.

 

In their search for D.B. Cooper, The FBI concluded the most likely drop zone for the hijacker was in the area around Mount St Helens near Ariel, Washington.

FBI Agents and Sheriffs Deputies searched the wilderness in this region on foot and helicopter, while door to door searches were carried out along with searches of nearby farm houses, a Submarine was even deployed to dredge the local Lake Merwin, but all searches that were executed, turned up nothing.

1n 1976 A Portland Grand Jury on the case returned a verdict of “in absentia” meaning an indictment could be made if Cooper was ever identified and apprehended as the statue of limitations on such a case would be considered by a judge at a court hearing with a viable suspect.

 

While D.B Cooper, much like the original Dale Cooper, disappeared and hasn’t been seen in the world since, (Dougie Jones excepted) Mr. C has resurfaced in the present (or 2014 as The Return chronology likely goes), after his one photograph in Rio Di Janeiro in the early 1990s, as did some evidence of D.B Cooper’s crimes in Tena Bar, near Vancouver, Washington in February 1980.

 

While on holiday at Tena Bar, eight year old Brian Ingram was raking the ground at the beach front, near Columba River and uncovered three packets.

 

They were opened and while some were disintegrated, the packets were found to contain $100 bills, totaling around $4000 which were all arranged in the same order as the ransom money given to D.B. Cooper.

 

FBI technicians later confirmed that the three packets were indeed part of the Cooper ransom money. FBI agents then combed the beach looking for the rest of the cash but only small fragments of the money were found.

 

A geologist Dr. Leonard Palmer (spooky co-incidence?) of Portland State University joined the case to try and determine how long the notes had been in the area and concluded that they had drifted downstream to the area some time after the hijacking and were not natural to the area going by the timeline of the 1971 hijacking.

 

Over the years, The FBI have investigated the case thoroughly and by the five-year anniversary of the hijacking, they had considered more than 800 suspects and eliminated all but two dozen from active investigation, in total there have been over 1000 suspects in the investigation from 1971 to the present day.

 

These are 5 assorted suspects in the D.B. Cooper case:

Richard Floyd McCoy Jr:

McCoy was a Vietnam veteran who completed two tours as both a demolition expert and a helicopter pilot with The Green Berets. In April 1972 he hijacked a United Airlines 727-100 midflight after it left Denver, Colorado and after diverting it to San Francisco, he negotiated £500,000 in ransom money on the tarmac to be delivered to the plane.

He jumped out the plane over Utah, but left behind his written hijacking instructions and prints on a magazine he was reading. He landed safety with the money but was arrested two days later and received a 45 year prison sentence. 

In August 1974, (Mr. C esque) he escaped from prison after fashioning a fake handgun out of dental paste and with a crew of fellow convicts, commandeered a garbage truck and escaped by crashing through the prison gates.

Three months later the FBI tracked him down to Virginia Beach, Virginia. He entered the house he was hiding in where FBI Agents were hiding in wait for him and became engaged in a point blank shootout. He was killed by a direct shotgun blast.

McCoy is the most popular D.B. Cooper suspect, but was never considered a serious suspect by the FBI due to significant differences in age and description from D.B. Cooper as witnessed on the plane by the hostage cabin crew.

Ted Mayfield:

Mayfield was an Army Forces Veteran, pilot, skydiver, and a skydiving instructor. He had served prison time for armed robbery and had also flown stolen aircrafts before.

He actually assisted the FBI with advice on the day of the D.B. Cooper hijacking, which ruled him out as a suspect early on due to the FBI being his own alibi, eliminating circumstantial evidence due to the limited window of time in which he could have carried out a hijacking, jumped off a plane and then been there to help the authorities.

In later years He was found to be indirectly responsible for fifteen skydiving deaths under his supervision due to faulty equipment not being checked thoroughly.

L D Cooper:

 Lynn Doyle Cooper, a Korean War Veteran, was put forward as a suspect in July 2011 (he passed away in 1999) by his nice Marla Cooper.

When she was eight years old Marla recalled she heard him and another uncle planning an event on expensive walkie-talkies – straight after the D.B. Cooper hijacking happened.

Her parents also came to believe that he was the hijacker and she also recollected that her uncle was obsessed with Dan Cooper, the comic book character.

The FBI managed to obtain a DNA sample from Marla but it didn’t match up with the disputed one they would take from the black tie that D.B. Coopers discarded before exiting the plane (more on that later).

Barbara Dayton:

Dayton was born Robert Dayton in 1926, who served in the Marines and then the Army in World War 2. After he was discharged he worked with explosives and wanted to be an aircraft pilot but couldn’t obtain a pilot’s license within the 1950’s US Aviation rules and guidelines.

In 1969 he underwent gender reassignment surgery, changing his name to Barbara. In 1971 she claimed to have staged the hijacking, with D.B Cooper as a male disguise in order to get back at the Federal Aviation Authority for not being able to obtain a pilots license.

She claimed she hid the ransom money in a cistern near her local aircraft hanger in Woodburn, near Portland, but after learning she could still be charged with the crime due to the statue of limitations possibly still being active, she claimed the entire story was a lie. She passed away in 2002.

Richard Lepsy:

Robert Richard Lepsy, a married father of four, who ran a local grocery store in Grayling, Michigan, vanished in October 1969.

Three days later his vehicle was located at a local airport and a man fitting his description was spotted boarding a flight to Mexico.

The FBI and police concluded that he had left of his own volition and closed the case with Lepsy being declared legally dead in 1976.

After the hijacking, his children and other family members were watching Walter Cronkite and the D.B composite came up on screen and Lisa, his daughter and her brothers all agreed it was their dad.

Lepsy wore business dress similar to Cooper’s while he ran his grocery score while wearing loafers, which Cooper wore during the hijacking.

Lepsy was declared legally dead in 1976, a DNA sample was submitted by his family, but proved inconclusive as D.B. Coopers DNA has also not been legally determined.

The D.B. Cooper hijacking, along with a number of other high profile hijackings in the United States that year – 31 in total with most having political motivations, signaled the end for un-scrutinized air travel and would lead to the start of security checks and barrier controls on all aircraft at public airports.

From 2006, FBI Agent Larry Carr took over supervision of the case and due to limited resources, appealed to the public for information by continuously releasing snippets of previous classified Federal information on the case in the hope it would produce leads to help solve the mystery. In 2007 Cooper’s tie was analyzed for DNA strands but the tests proved inconclusive as it couldn’t be determined legally if the DNA found was definitely the hijackers. Also that year the FBI revealed that the parachute used by Cooper in 1971 was a “dummy” unusable parachute with an inoperable ripcord and had been marked as such, that an experienced skydiver would know it on sight – it wouldn’t work if he used it.

In 2009 a civilian team of scientific specialists were formed to support the FBI Investigation – the “Citizen Sleuths” headed by a paleontologist Tom Kaye to reexamine the existing evidence with modern scientific and tracking methods being employed such as GPS, Satellite imagery and DNA.

The Sleuths concluded the flight path and the drop zone determined in 1971 to be accurate and also made progress on examine Coopers Tie, finding minerals within it, containing materials a Boeing employee would come in contact with and also determined that the money recovered at Salt Lake might have been native to the area and been left there by Cooper providing an alternative to Dr. Palmer’s theory that it drifted downstream.

On July 8th 2017 the D.B. Cooper case was suspended from active FBI investigation due to the need to place resources elsewhere, but with the understanding that if the public had any more information, specifically on the parachute used or the rest of the ransom money, that they could contact their local FBI field office, who would decide if it was worth further investigation.

The Citizen Sleuths team, in their summation on D.B. Cooper commented, to keep an eye out for a suspect from Canada, with military experience in airplanes. He would have come to this country to work in or around titanium metal fabrication. He was a gentleman, well dressed and smoked cigarettes. He was not the type to shy away from medication and knew his way around machinery, as well as the woods. Most notably, he probably lived a normal life and had one big problem that required about $200,000 in cash to solve.”

In Ariel, Washington, the area of the drop zone, every year, there is a D.B. Cooper day at the Ariel General Store and Tavern where Cooper fans and theorists meet up to discuss and celebrate the mysterious outlaw, with food, beer and a costume contest.

The D.B. Cooper mystery, due to the length of time and the lack of physical evidence, will most likely never be solved now, but jumping out of a plane using a defective parachute with no sky diving layers on most likely means he didn’t survive the jump when he escaped.

No one really knows the truth, no one fitting his profile of appearance was reported missing around the weekend or days after the hijacking and no body has ever been recovered, but with a mind that audacious to commit the hijacking in the first place, he might, like Mr. C, have had a stunning Plan B.

D.B. Cooper – a real Pacific Northwest Mystery and the inspiration for the name of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper.

There is still plenty of mystery surrounding the character of Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks: The Return and hopefully we will get the see the original good Cooper by it’s conclusion. 

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