Airplane Heist – Thief Who Hijacked A Plane and Stole A Million Dollars


This episode is brought to you by Skillshare.
Get 2 months of Skillshare free and learn new skills by using the link in the description. The person known as D. B. Cooper may have
pulled-off one of the greatest feats of criminality known to man, not just because of the crime
but more the subsequent, literal, vanishing into thin air. Some criminals go down in history
as almost heroic, they become to the stuff of folklore. We have noble highwaymen; we
have people that robbed the rich only to share their spoils with the poor. We have bank robbers
such as John Dillinger, who became a legend after stealing from the big bad banks and
being very kind with the swag. Then we have outlaws such as Jesse James, whose legend
appears to be somewhat overblown in both books and movies. But in today’s show we will
focus on a man whose actions were certainly not fiction. Welcome to this episode of the
Infographics Show, Who was D.B. Cooper? Before we start sleuthing, we must know what
it is this man did. We should also tell you that the name D.B. Cooper was a given name
by the media, who he really was, is still up for speculation. We’ll get around to
the theories later. Twas the night before Thanksgiving, November
24, 1971, when through the doors of the busy Portland International Airport a man went
up to the check-in counter for Northwest Orient Airlines. Throughout the USA people were travelling
back home or already drinking the festive hooch; turkeys were thawing, corn pudding
had been made in the morning. The man checked-in under the name, Dan Cooper. He was to take
a half an hour flight to Seattle. A short trip home presumably, to spend time with loved
ones. That was far from the case. He was about to create criminal history. He walked onto a Boeing 727-100, some people
say he sat in seat 18C, but others dispute that. Whatever the seat, it seems our Mr.
Cooper was in the mood for merriment. He sat back, lit up a smoke and imbibed a bourbon
and soda. According to witnesses who were later interviewed, he wore a dark suit and
a black tie, decorated with a mother of pearl tie pin. From the sketches you could say he
looked not unlike Don Draper from the series Mad Men. And a madman the man known as Dan
Cooper certainly was. He was later described by flight attendants to be 5 feet 10 inches
(1.78 meters) to 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 meters) tall, 170 to 180 pounds (77 to 82 kg). It’s
said he had tanned skin and was likely in his early 40s. Not long into the flight this smartly-dressed
man handed a note to a flight attendant. Her name was Florence Schaffner and she was probably
used to single guys handing her phone numbers, so she just put the note in her purse. According
to New York mag this 23-year old “cute, perky,” and sexy stewardess was not unaccustomed
to guys hitting on her. This time was different. Cooper then leaned over to her and said, “Miss,
you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” She looked at him and knew that he wasn’t
fooling around. The note read, “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I want you to sit beside
me.” She did just that and the man showed he wasn’t kidding, offering her a glimpse
of some sticks of dynamite and lots of wires attached to a battery. He then apparently
told her, “I want $200,000 by 5:00 p.m. In cash. Put in a knapsack. I want two back
parachutes and two front parachutes. When we land, I want a fuel truck ready to refuel.
No funny stuff or I’ll do the job.” $200,000 in today’s money is about $1.2 million.
He wasn’t too greedy it seems. According to Schaffner, she was reeling with
fear. Was the plane about to explode; were a lot of people about to grilled in mid-air
before the turkey was even roasted? She was confused, too. This smartly-dressed guy had
been polite; he’d even given her a $20 bill for the whiskey and told her she should could
keep the 18 bucks change. He wasn’t a political terrorist, one of the sky-pirates she’d
heard about. Another flight attendant later remarked, “He wasn’t nervous. He seemed rather
nice. He was never cruel or nasty. He was thoughtful and calm all the time.”
She went to the cockpit and told the news to the crew, after which the pilot informed
Seattle–Tacoma Airport air traffic control, and the authorities were alerted. The plane
circled in the air for around two hours, with the passengers not knowing what was going
on. They were told the plane was experiencing a “minor mechanical difficulty.” What
was really happening is that the authorities had decided to meet the hijacker’s demands
and they were putting together the list of things, including the money, he had asked
for. The man stayed calm and even started talking about what he could see down below,
meaning he obviously knew the area well. He ordered another bourbon and again told Schaffner
she could keep the change. Down below the money was being put together in unmarked bills,
although it’s said Cooper wasn’t happy with the military-issue parachutes. He wanted
civilian parachutes and they had to be taken from a nearby sky-diving school. The aircraft landed at 5.39 pm at Seattle-Tacoma
Airport. Cooper told the pilot to taxi to a brightly lit area of the airport and for
all the window shades to be lowered lest a sniper try and take him out. Northwest Orient’s
Seattle operations manager, Al Lee, delivered the cash and the parachutes to the aircraft.
Cooper then told the passengers they could go, as could two of the flight attendants,
including Schaffner. One remained. He then told the cockpit crew that they would all
be going on a trip to Mexico City, except he wanted them to fly at the lowest speed
possible. He also told them to fly at 10,000-foot (3,000 meters) altitude. The pilots told him
they would need to refuel once more, and Nevada was chosen. Cooper told them to keep the landing
gear down and for the cabin to remain unpressurized. He told authorities that no one could come
on board during the refueling while they were still in Seattle. And off they went, into the skies, bounty
in the bag, flying at a snail’s pace for the plane. They weren’t alone up there,
with five military planes following them. It’s said the last person to see Cooper
was a 22-year old flight attendant called Tina Mucklow. She said he told her to go back
to the cockpit and the last thing she witnessed was him tying something around his waist.
It’s said she later never talked much about that evening, and later in life became reclusive
and partly lived in a nunnery. With the crew all in the cockpit they heard an alarm indicating
that the aft airstair apparatus had been deployed. Apparently, the pilot sent a warning that
this was very dangerous. It was around 8 pm. Just over two hours later the aircraft landed,
and the mysterious bourbon-quaffing hijacker was not one of the occupants of the plane.
Here’s a little song about what likely happened sometime after 8: Out a little service doorway
In the rear of the plane Cooper jumped into the darkness
Into the freezing rain They say that with the windchill
It was 69 below Not much chance that he’d survive
But if he did, where did he go? Indeed, where did he go? The Feds looked all over for him, for the
parachutes, for anything. They went through every bit of forest where he might have landed;
a submarine scoured lakes, but the man had vanished. It was the largest search ever by
law enforcement and in the end all they found were the remains of a girl that had been abducted
and murdered. For years the police searched for the money as all the bills had serial
numbers, but that never showed up, either, except when a couple of swindlers tried to
get a $30,000 reward from Newsweek by counterfeiting bills with the serial numbers.
The press had a field day, and it was a mistake made by a reporter which gave him the name
D.B. Cooper. It stuck. As for the American people, most folks loved the story of the
handsome, well-spoken, James Bond-like character. People rooted for him, likely to the chagrin
of law enforcement. He was like a noble highwayman of modern times, a Robin Hood of the skies.
What the cops did know is that this guy knew how to parachute; he knew planes, he knew
the area. How hard could it be to put the pieces together? Very hard is the answer.
The FBI had lots of leads that came to nothing, changing their story a few times. For instance,
the FBI later said that he was likely not someone who knew a lot about parachuting,
“We concluded after a few years this was simply not true,” they said. “No experienced
parachutist would have jumped in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile-an-hour
wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat. It was simply too risky.” It was concluded
by some that the man had simply died, and authorities had failed to find the body. He even had copycats, such as Richard McCoy,
a former Vietnam helicopter pilot who tried to do the same. He was arrested in a matter
of days and he swore that he was not Cooper, just a guy trying his luck. But was it him?
While he was serving a 45-year sentence he made a courageous and cunning prison escape,
only later to be killed in a shoot-out with the cops. The agent that killed him said this.
“When I shot Richard McCoy. I shot D.B. Cooper at the same time.” However, that
doesn’t quite work as McCoy’s family told police while Cooper’s air heist was going
on McCoy was with them having a party for Thanksgiving eve. Then in 1980 an 8-year old boy on holiday
made a discovery when he was on the riverbank of the Colombia river. The boy pulled $5,800
from the bank all in $20 Federal Reserve notes. This was part of the ransom. Many theories
were put forward as to how the bills ended up there. Did they float there, were they
buried there? No one really knew. Some people thought it was Ted Mayfield, a
skydiving teacher with a history of criminality including stealing a plane and armed robbery.
Mayfield even called the FBI four hours after the heist to give them a list of skydivers
who might have done it. But there is no cogent evidence to say Mayfield was D. B. Cooper. What about Kenneth Christiansen? He was a
spitting image for the sketch of Cooper; he was a former paratrooper and he’d even spent
time working as a flight attendant on Northwest Orient. He was usually broke, but then in
1972 suddenly had bags of cash and bought a house. It gets better. On his deathbed in
1994 he told his brother, “There is something you should know, but I cannot tell you.”
The brother then discovered that in his bank he had around $200,000 and he had also been
left gold. Meanwhile, Flight attendant Schaffner said he was a dead ringer for Cooper. The
brother wrote in 2004, close to death himself, “Before I die I would like to find out if
my brother was D.B. Cooper. From what I know I feel that he was and without a doubt.” We very much doubt it was Barbara Dayton,
a trans woman who had once said she did it to get back at the airline for not being able
to get a commercial pilot’s license. She changed her tune anyway when she found out she might
actually be charged for the hijacking. What about William Gossett, an ace parachutist
who had survival training? According to an attorney named called Galen Cook, Gossett
had admitted he had done it. Gossett’s son believes his dad did it, saying he got very
rich in 1971 and then went on a gambling spree in Las Vegas. Still, the evidence is weak. The there’s Robert Richard Lepsy, whose
car was found nearby the airport and who suddenly decided to take off to Mexico. When his daughter
saw the sketch of Cooper, apparently, she shouted, “That’s dad!” She gave the
FBI a DNA sample some years later, but it seems they didn’t think Lepsy was their
man. Still we might wonder if he’s sipping on Pina Coladas right now basking on an Acapulco
beach at the expense of an American insurance company. Or could it have been Duane Weber, who told
his wife just before he died, “I am Dan Cooper.” He was seen near to where the kid
had found the money and he also looked like Cooper. Again, the DNA wasn’t a match, but
it was also inconclusive as it was with others. They got the DNA by the way from Cooper’s
tie, which he kindly left behind before he leaped. Jack Coffelt also claimed he was Cooper, to
a cellmate no less. He apparently suffered broken legs around the time of the hijacking
and was also in the right place. Despite his cellmate swearing it was him, and trying to
make a few bucks from TV and movies, no one really thinks it was Coffelt. It was just as unlikely to be L.D. Cooper,
a war veteran whose niece believed he had done it. Again, there are some interesting
implications but nothing solid. Former-pilot and war veteran Robert Rackstraw
had all the skills to pull off such a job, and his face looked the part. Rackshaw denied
it, his attorney said it was ridiculous, but many believe it was him and that the FBI wouldn’t
release Cooper’s case file under the Freedom of Information Act because they were embarrassed
some amateurs had uncovered the case. War veteran Walter R. Reca also said he was
D. B. Cooper. Before he died in 2014 he gave details to his friend about the crime that
had not been heard before. A fraud examiner and forensic linguist examined the evidence
the friend had, and it seemed it all pointed to the fact that Reca could have been D. B.
Cooper. Is this the most likely candidate? The Washington Post in 2018 wrote about this,
saying while the friend may have had compelling evidence in regard to how the crime took place
and the details the friend knew, the FBI would not re-open the case if the money or the parachutes
were not given to them. And so, D. B. Cooper could have been one of
those people, or someone else. He could have died in the fall, or there could be a totally
different story behind what happened after that eventful flight on Thanksgiving eve. We love that you enjoy our videos, but maybe
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you who you think D. B. Cooper was. Tell us in the comments. Also, be sure to check out
our other video This is how Warren Buffett Made $85 Billion. Thanks for watching, and
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