D.B. Cooper: FBI’s Strangest Case Closed After 45 Years

Official shield of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

On July 8, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation formally closed one of its most baffling unsolved cases. According to Rolling Stone, the bureau has decided to call off the 45-year investigation in order to allocate resources toward more pressing investigative priorities. A statement by FBI Public Affairs Specialist Ayn Dietrich-Williams on July 12 explains that the bureau admits to having exhausted all credible leads over the course of the decades-long investigation that bore the code name “NORJAK.”

“The mystery surrounding the hijacking of a Northwest Orient Airlines flight in November 1971 by a still-unknown individual resulted in significant international attention and a decades-long manhunt. Although the FBI appreciated the immense number of tips provided by members of the public, none to date have resulted in a definitive identification of the hijacker. The tips have conveyed plausible theories, descriptive information about individuals potentially matching the hijacker, and anecdotes—to include accounts of sudden, unexplained wealth. In order to solve a case, the FBI must prove culpability beyond a reasonable doubt, and, unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips or applications of new investigative technology have yielded the necessary proof. Every time the FBI assesses additional tips for the NORJAK case, investigative resources and manpower are diverted from programs that more urgently need attention.”

Even if you were not alive when the now notorious D.B. Cooper jumped out of an airplane with close to a quarter-million dollars strapped to his body, you’ve probably heard the tale. If not, hang onto your proverbial hat, because this story’s a doozy.

According to the FBI, the D.B. Cooper case began on November 24, 1971, when a “nondescript man” who appeared to be in his mid-40s purchased a plane ticket under the name Dan Cooper. He was wearing a business suit with a white shirt and black tie when he paid cash for his one-way ticket on Northwest Orient Airlines Flight #305, bound from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington.

Cooper sipped bourbon and soda as the plane waited on the tarmac for takeoff. Once the plane was airborne, at around 3 p.m., Cooper passed a note to flight attendant Florence Schaffner insisting that she sit with him. She did, and Cooper showed her the contents of an attache case he’d carried on board the one-way flight to Seattle. He told the stewardess the red-colored sticks and bundles of wires inside the case comprised a bomb and instructed her to write down exactly what he told her. Within minutes, the attendant delivered a note to the pilot in which Cooper demanded four parachutes and $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills.

Shortly thereafter, the plane landed in Seattle, where Cooper remained aboard the plane with the attache case and several members of the flight crew. The passengers were released, and the cash and parachutes were delivered to the plane. After takeoff, Cooper told the pilot to set a course to Mexico City. As the plane flew in the direction of Reno, Nevada, Cooper did the unthinkable: He jumped out of the airplane with the money and disappeared into the Pacific Northwest night. To this day, nobody is certain whether Cooper survived the leap or where he wound up.

At the time of the infamous D.B. Cooper hijacking, J. Edgar Hoover was head of the FBI. The bureau became aware of the incident as it unfolded, and Hoover started an investigation without delay. Dubbed NORJAK for “northwest hijacking,” the investigation involved thousands of man hours over the course of 45 years. Despite interviewing hundreds of individuals and following leads from coast to coast, the mysterious case of the D.B. Cooper hijacking was never solved.

Although the D.B. Cooper case is now officially closed, the FBI requests continued public cooperation with the investigation.

“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.”

[Photo by Richard Norwitz/Getty Images]