Greetings again from the darkness. Nearly 50 years have passed and it remains the only unsolved Air Piracy case in America. For HBO, documentarian John Dower (MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE, 2017) chronicles the investigation and four main suspects in the mystifying D.B. Cooper case. It’s a case that has fascinated people and frustrated authorities for five decades.
On November 24, 1971 – Thanksgiving Eve – a man using the name Dan Cooper (a communication mix-up caused him to be later identified as D.B. Cooper) boarded a Northwest Airlines flight in Portland. Once in the air, he handed Flight Attendant Tina Mucklow a note informing that he had a bomb and was hijacking the plane. His demands were simple: $200,000 in cash and 4 parachutes. In Seattle, his demands were met. He released the passengers, keeping only the crew on board. At an altitude of 10,000 feet, Cooper jumped from the Boeing 727 under the cover of darkness and rain over a heavily forested area. As far as authorities are concerned, he’s never been seen again.
Some presume he died on the jump, while others turned him into a folk hero. He was credited with an act of defiance during times of economic hardships for many. The “Cult of Cooper” was born, as was one of the great mysteries of the 20th century. Director Dower interviews some key folks and shows clips of interviews and statements of interested parties who have since passed. The structure of the film revolves around the four main suspects … those who have not been ruled out. Segments are devoted to each of the four: Duane Weber, Robert/Barb Dayton, LD Cooper, and Richard McCoy.
Personal testimony and recollections from relatives and associates of these four leave us with little doubt that a case can be made for each, and those going on camera absolutely believe “theirs” is the infamous DB Cooper. We hear from Duane Weber’s wife who states her husband confessed, “I’m Dan Cooper” on his death bed. Robert/Barb Dayton was one of the first me to have a sex change operation, and his neighbors provide details on Dayton’s own confession, “I am Dan Cooper”. Marla Cooper was 8 years old when the hijacking even took place, and she recalls specifics of her Uncle LD Cooper, and being told “We hijacked the plane” and “We’re rich!” Lastly, Richard McCoy was arrested 5 months later for a copycat hijacking. His pattern was quite similar and his facial features almost identical to the DB Copper sketch.
Tina Mucklow was the flight attendant on the hijacked flight and she provides details of that fateful event, as do other members of the flight crew, a passenger who observed most of what happened on the first flight, and a retired FBI agent who worked the case. Two authors, Bruce Smith (“DB Cooper and the FBI: A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking”, 2016) and Geoffrey Gray (“Skyjack: The Hunt for DB Cooper”, 2011) provide significant insight into the research they have conducted into the investigations. There seems to be plenty of criticism of the FBI in regards to lost evidence (cigarette butts from the flight, fingerprints), and a delayed ground search that gave Cooper a 40 hour head start.
Some reenactments are used here, but a significant portion is filmed interviews with those who have something to say about the investigation, or who DB Cooper might be. The 1980 discovery of 3 bundles of cash with matching serial numbers on the banks of the Columbia River is discussed, and a possible explanation is provided in one of the segments. It’s likely you’ll come away from this as baffled as the authorities have been for 50 years, but also loaded with some good fodder for holiday conversation (via Zoom, of course).
Premieres November 25, 2020 on HBO