FBI Gives Up On D. B. Cooper Cold Case

After 45 years of searching for the elusive man in the sky, the FBI has announced that it will be abandoning resources on the case of D. B. Cooper.

The unknown plane hijacker of Flight 305 in 1971 made off with $200,000. But now after decades of searching, the FBI has decided to call it a day and “focus on other investigative priorities.”

On its website, the announcement reads: “Although the FBI will no longer actively investigate this case, should specific physical evidence emerge—related specifically to the parachutes or the money taken by the hijacker—individuals with those materials are asked to contact their local FBI field office.”

The D. B. Cooper Story

On the day before Thanksgiving in 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper boarded a Boeing 727-100, Northwest Orient (now Northwest Airlines) Flight 305, at Portland International Airport in Oregon, on the 30-minute trip bound for Seattle, Washington.

The flight took off as scheduled at 2.50pm and was about a third full. The man calling himself Dan Cooper settled
into seat 18C, for which he had paid $18.52 plus tax. He was inconspicuous, if slightly overdressed in a dark suit, a white collared shirt, a black necktie with a mother of pearl tie pin and loafers. He was also carrying a briefcase. Once comfy, he ordered a bourbon and soda and lit a cigarette.

Shortly after take off, Cooper motioned to air hostess Florence Schaffner, who was sitting on a jump seat, and, as she approached, he passed her a piece of paper. Assuming that he was trying to slip her his telephone number, she put it into her pocket without looking at it.

Cooper then said to her: “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” With trembling hands, Miss Schaffner unfurled the note, which had the following information written in felt-tip pen in capital letters: “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.”

                                                   D B Cooper: The Investigation

2

 

What the FBI knew was that the man calling himself Dan Cooper walked through an airport lounge and boarded a plane with almost 40 other passengers. Witnesses described him as being in his mid-40s, about six foot tall, and wearing a black raincoat, loafers, a dark suit, a white shirt, a black tie, black sunglasses and a mother of pearl tie pin. When trying to discover where he landed, the FBI was hampered by the fact that even minor variations in wind speed could alter a possible landing ground by some miles.

The bureau used modelling to “suggest” where Cooper may have landed, and at first his descent was placed at Lake Merwin, a few miles south east of Ariel, Washington. Police carried out door-to-door enquiries, air searches as well as on foot and motorboats took to the lake. Nothing emerged.

SERIAL SEARCHES

Towards the end of 1971, the FBI released the serial numbers of all the ransom bills to banks, casinos, race tracks and anywhere else large sums of money might change hands. Northwest Orient offered a reward of 15 per cent of any recovered money, to a maximum of $25,000. However, again there were no leads. Then, in early 1972, Attorney General John Mitchell decided to release all the serial numbers to the public. Still nothing concrete emerged.

In March of that year, once the weather had improved, the FBI and 200 local soldiers from Fort Lewis plus assorted National Guardsmen and civilian volunteers began another search for the elusive Mr Cooper – or what was left of him. They spent 18 fruitless days searching and even took a similar amount of time the following month, with the same result. There had also been a false alarm when two women chanced upon a skeleton, but a post-mortem examination showed the body was a teenage female.

As time passed, it seemed less than likely that any money would be found, and so in 1973, The Oregon Journal republished all the serial numbers and offered a reward of $1,000. Another local newspaper, the Post-Intelligencer in Seattle, offered $5,000 as a reward to the first person who handed in just one of the notes. Nothing emerged.

Finally in 1975, Global Indemnity, Northwest Orient’s insurance company, paid the airline’s $180,000 claim.

HUNDREDS OF SUSPECTS

A proportion of the stolen money was discovered by eight year-old Brian Ingram in 1980 buried in the sand. The Federal government kept 14 of the 299 $20 notes found as evidence.

In the year after Cooper’s jump, 15 people attempted to hijack planes, all unsuccessfully. None of them were Cooper. There have been more than 1,000 suspects investigated by

he FBI including a World War II veteran, a mass murderer, a criminal and a university professor. All were ruled out but one recent name in the frame is Kenneth Peter Christiansen, a former Northwest Airlines employee.

Born on 17 October 1926, Christiansen joined the army in 1944 and was trained as a paratrooper. He joined Northwest Orient in 1954 and worked as a mechanic, an air steward and then a purser (responsible for handling money). He never earned more than $512 a month working at the airline before the hijacking. Afterwards, he loaned a friend’s sister, Dawn Androsko of Fox Island, Washington, $5,000 cash and then spent $16,000, paid at least partially in cash, for a house in Bonney Lake, Washington. This was all within eight months of the crime. Where did the money come from?

The FBI ruled out Christiansen as a suspect because he did not match the description provided by witnesses and had no criminal record. He was 45 in November 1971 but bald, shorter, thinner, and paler than Cooper. He did, however, smoke, drink bourbon and was, as was believed Cooper, left-handed. Florence Schaffner told a reporter she thought pictures of Christiansen looked like Cooper. Tina Mucklow, the other hostess, has never spoken to the press.

The FBI also discounted Christiansen because, as a former employee of the airline, he would almost certainly have been recognised by the staff. However, the hijacked flight was an internal one and Christiansen worked the international route. In that period, there was little or no mingling between staff.

Christiansen died of cancer on 30 July 1994 but as he lay dying, he told his brother, Lyle: “There is something you should know, but I cannot tell you.” Lyle remembered that although his brother wore a toupee before the hijacking, he never wore it afterwards. He also learned that his brother had $186,276.14 in a savings account and $20,541.92 in his current account – amazing figures considering Christiansen had often resorted to doing odd jobs to make ends meet. The FBI refuses to countenance Christiansen as a suspect.

You can read more on this article by ordering issue 10 online. If you love our cold case features you can also order our Unsolved Crimes bookazine here, featuring D. B. Cooper and much more!