D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?! (2022) s01e04 Episode Script


We would like to remind you
to fasten your seat belts securely
It's amazing to think about this.
1971, 2021, 50 years apart.
People are still chasing Cooper.
These Cooperites,
if you go on those websites
and watch them,
they're still going back and forth
with different theories and suspects,
still today.
Let's face it,
you have a 50-year-old legendary story,
and nobody really knows what happened.
It's infectious.
And people have this never-ending drive
without, really, any of the information.
This is something everybody
has followed over the years,
and now, the FBI is throwing in the towel.
There are a lot of mysteries out there,
there's no question about it,
and this is gonna be one of those.
People are still making original content
about Cooper 50 years later.
Once you get sucked in, you can't escape.
There's no ending,
there's no satisfaction.
You don't get to know the story.
The only Cooper story we know
is on the plane.
There's nothing before that
and there's nothing after that,
so I think that's what keeps
a lot of people in the vortex.
Who knows when or where
another piece of the puzzle could show up?
Hello, welcome to CooperCon.
I started doing the CooperCons
on an annual basis from 2018.
You know, D.B. Cooper is really a part
of this Northwest lore,
this Northwest legend,
along with, you know, Bigfoot and UFOs.
So it's just kind of a cool thing
to turn into a festival.
You wanna come get checked in?
We'll get you all set.
The CooperCon is basically
a gathering of the tribe.
I'm the owner and operator
of Northwest Escape Experience,
which has a D.B. Cooper escape room.
I kind of joined in on this game
coming from the Wikipedia page, myself.
I'm a historian that's been studying
the D.B. Cooper case
probably since I was
seven or eight years old.
My mother was actually
in Sea-Tac Airport,
waiting to catch a plane
to see my future father,
and When the hijacking ensued,
so her plane was delayed.
He almost interrupted my existence.
There's really something special
about being here in person.
Closing up the laptop, if you will,
and actually having some face-to-face
contact and communication with people.
I guess what makes it family
is that you got
You're all suffering
from the same ailment,
which is the inability to solve the case.
We've got the mayor
of Cooperville himself,
the man behind the curtain
at The Mountain News.
He will be joined
by the handsome organizer of this event.
My good friends,
Bruce Smith and Eric Ulis.
Was it just one guy
who wanted to make some money,
wanted a payday?
Or was there something else?
Coming down here, you're able to talk
to people that are familiar with the case
that were alive at that time.
I know all the greats here,
so as soon as they came in,
it's like, "Oh, my!"
Bill Mitchell's sitting over there.
He was on the plane.
He was, you know, five feet away
from D.B. Cooper, 50 years ago.
I mean, if they had to count on me
as an eyewitness to identify D.B. Cooper,
he could be here.
There's discussions
of random bizarre things
that only people in the case
would really care about.
Once we get these stubs,
we put them into an electron microscope.
This is my 1985 vintage
scanning electron microscope,
that I personally own.
Not very many people in the country own
their own personal electron microscope.
So I guess I'm one of the outliers.
- There's a little bit of a nerd family.
- Oh yes.
In the last 50 years,
there have been over 40 books
written on this subject,
but the case remains unsolved.
I think Robert Rackstraw might be one
of my top suspect contenders, personally.
Favorite suspect: Barbara.
I have a suspect, William J. Smith,
but there's other suspects
could have done this.
My uncle was Lynn Doyle Cooper,
who was the only suspect
to have never been ruled out by the FBI.
Will I be crucified if I say
Loki is my favorite suspect?
I mean, I hate to be
the spoiler here, folks.
D.B. Cooper's fucking dead.
If he is alive, he is 95 years old.
He smoked a lot of cigarettes.
He's not alive.
And we'll talk a little more about this
over the next couple days
There is a lot more to this case
than you can imagine.
The Cooper vortex is real.
Have you come across
the Dan Cooper comic book theory?
- Oh, yeah.
- Tell us about it.
I'm definitely interested
in the Dan Cooper comic book theory.
Dan Cooper is this comic book hero
who was a French Canadian
Royal Air Force test pilot,
who went on all these adventures
and did a lot of skydiving.
If you look at the covers,
or if you browse through it,
it's almost like D.B. Cooper
took that character
and brought it to life.
The Adventures of Dan Cooper
was the product of Albert Weinberg,
a Belgian artist who worked
under the legendary Hergé,
who created Tintin.
It was only written in French.
It was very popular in Belgium,
France, and French Canada
in the '60s and '70s,
and unknown-of in English-speaking places.
In the comic,
there were several stories
that paralleled the hijacking.
There was an airline ticket
with the name Cooper on it,
a 727,
there was a story of hijackings
out of Seattle,
and there was similar clothing.
A black tie, a dark suit, and a briefcase.
When this hijacking took place,
in French Canada,
there was also tremendous paranoia
and revolt.
It's more important to keep
law and order in society,
and I think that goes to any distance.
And in this environment,
Dan Cooper was a hero.
Dan Cooper was our guy.
He was Canadian.
And in the 1960s and '70s,
aviation was big.
This character was flying the latest jet.
It was introducing all kinds of aircraft
in the comic strip to its readers,
and gave all the Canadian kids
who could read French
this ideal hero who was flying jets.
And who doesn't like to fly jets
when you're a young boy?
We all want to be fighter pilots.
It doesn't start with Tom Cruise
and the movie Top Gun.
I feel the need
- The need for speed.
- The need for speed.
I read it as a teenager.
I was fascinated by the imagination
into the stories of Dan Cooper.
You could fly to Yemen.
You could go into the Colombian jungle.
You could discover Canada.
It was beautiful.
Albert Weinberg published
41 albums, which is huge.
There was an album shown
as a possible link
in the stories of this album
with the question of the hijacking.
That's the one.
The techniques could be similar
between the album
and the way D.B. Cooper
escaped from the plane.
I first met Albert Weinberg
in our Air Force base.
Albert always came to Canadian bases
to research new material.
His first trip in Canada was in 1966
at the Canadian Forces base
Portage la Prairie.
And he got the red-carpet treatment,
'cause he did so much
for recruiting with his books.
So basically, he had pretty well
unrestricted access on the base.
He would take pictures, lots of pictures,
of the buildings,
the airplanes, the people.
He would say, "This guy looks
like a real fighter pilot."
And he would actually draw that
into his graphic novels.
When I first looked at the comic book
and started going through the sketches,
it did become clear to me
that there was a relationship
between the derring-do
of this hero pilot
who jumped out of airplanes
and loved to fly,
and potentially, the aspiration
of a man with a grudge,
and a man who wanted
to complete and do one fine thing.
One thing Albert Weinberg told me
was that after the hijacking happened,
like not weeks after, days,
his sources in the Royal
French Canadian Air Force called him,
and they said, "He's one of us.
This guy is one of us."
Albert Weinberg didn't want
to have his hero
linked to a hijacker.
So every time some journalist
wanted to question him about that,
he was pushing back.
Dan Cooper is the knight
in shining armor in that comic strip.
He is the man who hijacked the plane
trying to send us a message.
Or maybe the hijacker had no idea
that a famous French Canadian
comic book fighter pilot
was using the same title
as the one he chose.
Who knows?
If I boarded and robbed a train
using the alias Tony Hawk,
and escaped on a skateboard,
would you consider me choosing
that alias a coincidence?
I wouldn't!
I mean, the link
is just too obvious to me.
Plus, it's so exciting,
so I want it to be this comic-book angle.
In the 1950s,
the Canadian Air Force was at its peak.
But starting in the '60s,
they went down in size.
They saw their role diminish.
In 1965, the Royal Canadian Air Force
decided to get rid of 500 pilots,
experienced pilots, and aircrew,
and it continued the trend
in the early 1970s.
People were forced to leave,
and they were very bitter.
There was no transition program
in those days
for those who leave the Air Force.
They're on their own.
It's up to him to decide
what he's gonna do with his new life.
Maybe he'll become
a Robin Hood of hijacking planes
and steal thousands of dollars,
and that will be his retirement.
Maybe he could have been a ground crew,
a technician in the military.
Especially because of what
was discovered about his tie.
The old clip-on tie from JCPenney
is said to be spotted with evidence.
When the plane landed in Reno,
there was a skinny black clip-on tie,
along with a mother-of-pearl tie clip
attached to it,
that had been left on the plane.
A tie accumulates all the particles
from everywhere you've ever been.
So we were able to go in
and take sticky samples off the tie,
and look at the particles.
The most notable particle was titanium.
And it wasn't titanium
like in the white paint.
That's titanium dioxide.
It has oxygen in it.
It was pure titanium metal,
and it actually looked like
a microscopic leaf spring
about the size of a blood cell.
We also found a second titanium particle
that had a piece of stainless steel
smashed into it.
Those two particles,
in 1971, were very rare.
Where the hell did he come across
commercially pure titanium
and rare earth elements
on his clip-on tie?
Really, two industries
that did use it in '71.
One, the aerospace sector,
and also the chemical industry.
So it gives you an idea
of perhaps where D.B. Cooper was,
what kind of circles this guy walked in.
The other interesting thing
about the titanium
is that it was commercially pure titanium.
It wasn't alloyed titanium,
which you would see
primarily in the aerospace sector.
I think that's a pretty strong indication
that he came from Boeing,
because there were some R and D divisions,
and other divisions in Boeing,
that did use and experiment
with commercially pure titanium.
A lot of speculation
was done about Boeing.
But then we have Canadair in Montreal.
They had that expertise
to work with titanium,
and they included it in two trainers.
The CT-133 Silver Star,
and the CT-114 Tutor aircraft.
So, we can extrapolate
that if we have a ground crew
that work on those planes of that type,
he would have had direct contact
with the titanium.
There's a good chance
he might have met Mr. Weinberg himself,
maybe fallen in love
with the comic book strip,
and decided to adopt the name later on
when he hijacked
the aircraft in the United States.
It's an interesting hypothesis.
During that time,
nobody was talking too much
about obfuscation,
about deception and illusion.
He's got the FBI over here
with the micro-bits of titanium
from his tie,
when that's probably not even his tie.
We don't know.
He probably doesn't wear a tie.
Maybe that's what D.B. Cooper
was going for.
So there's still plenty
of mystery in this story.
At the beginning of the D.B. Cooper case,
the FBI went
to the Royal Canadian Air Force
to see if they could investigate
on the Canadian bases.
But during the Cold War,
nobody wanted that.
Starting around 1959,
all the way to the '70s,
relations were very sour
between Canada and the United States.
Living next to you is, in some ways,
like sleeping with an elephant.
No matter how friendly
or even-tempered is the beast,
one is affected by every twitch and grunt.
We were starting to separate
or detach ourselves
from a North American defense structure
that a lot of Canadians felt
was controlled by the Americans,
and we wanted to regain our independence.
So if, in 1971,
the FBI would have asked
the Canadian Forces,
"Could we check some individuals
who might have committed this hijacking?"
there is a strong possibility
that the Canadians said, "No."
"We refuse to let you
investigate on Canadian soil,
or even to have access
to Canadian military records."
It could be plausible
that both governments did not cooperate
in the case of Dan Cooper.
There's many great clues
that lead to Canada
that have never been properly picked over.
On the night of the hijacking,
D.B. Cooper requested American currency.
If you're an American,
why would you request American currency?
Dan Cooper might have used that phrase,
"in negotiable American currency,"
because English was
not his first language,
and those are the initial words
that came to his mind
in a moment of tension,
a moment of rush.
Because I was thinking this morning,
"I've never heard that expression."
It's not a French expression.
It's bad English.
If he's not American,
he wants to be sure
that he can change the money.
I saw it like that. But that's my opinion.
So this is just my opinion.
You do a robbery,
you're a French Canadian,
you're in a rush,
you want to make sure they give you
US dollar bills that are small bills.
I would say that.
"I want a negotiable American currency."
I'm not 100% sure on "negotiable,"
because Cooper is relaying
his demands to the flight crew,
who are then relaying them
to Air Traffic Control.
So I don't know 100%.
Did Cooper say "negotiable"?
Or as it got relayed,
was "negotiable" thrown in there?
But, uh, it's totally possible
he was a Canadian.
I don't see much evidence
on any of these other folks
that have Cooper theories.
We all have different views on this.
But we're the only ones
that have evidence.
And it just keeps coming.
After the Freedom
of Information Act lawsuit,
the FBI identified 80,000 pages
of documents on this case
of which they're giving us
500 pages per month.
So we're talking 12 years,
it's going to take.
So I filed a motion with the court
to expedite the files
pertaining to Bob Rackstraw,
because we want his files first.
Rackstraw opposed it.
He submits this rambling, page after page,
of, "I'm not D.B. Cooper,
and I don't want my files released."
He also adds this drawing
saying this is all a bunch of shit.
It was harmful, obviously, to us.
The court did rule
against us at that stage.
I'm a stubborn SOB.
I wasn't going to let that stop us.
We decided we had to go through with this.
But it was a very difficult time.
There was one point I'll never forget.
I was always an early riser.
I sleep five hours a day, that's all.
But while I was working Cooper,
I thought I could shave it a little,
maybe getting four hours of sleep.
There was one point, I was sitting
in front of the computer,
and I forgot how to push the keys.
I called out to my wife, and I said,
"Honey, I don't even know
how to use this."
And she took me by the hand
and put me in front of a TV.
I sat in front of the TV,
and my brain came back.
Took about six hours. Was a little scary.
But I realized I had reached
my limit at that moment.
But we were not going to give up.
A man who claimed he was one
of the most infamous fugitives
of the last century, then took it back,
has died.
His name is Robert Rackstraw,
and to this day, we still don't know
whether he was also
the hijacker known as D.B. Cooper.
When he died, I told the papers,
when they called,
"I respect, as a family man,
what he did for his children."
But I did say that I still feel
he was breaking the law.
To me, I think what is so fascinating
is that he had this period
where, in the '70s,
he was not a law-abiding citizen,
he was this kind of con man.
He does go to prison for his check kiting,
and stealing planes,
and keeping explosives.
But he gets out,
and then he leads a totally normal life.
He pulled it together,
and nobody would know
if they didn't dig into the records.
He was trying
to live his life as a ordinary guy,
in a marina, fixing boats, you know?
There's character, there's tapestry.
There are layers to him as a person.
He's damn interesting.
He was damn interesting.
He's still very interesting,
even in his passing.
It was stunning, the consistency
of everything
anyone had ever said about him.
I had noticed Bob,
every time he goes out of town,
he takes this dark briefcase.
Well, one day, I see the briefcase again,
and it was unlocked.
I open it very gently.
And here it was, a toupee.
A toupee and a mustache.
Now, Bob wore a mustache all the time.
But sometimes, he would come back
and it was shaved.
He was wearing a toupee when he wanted to.
In disguise for someone else.
I don't know.
Bob was a member
of the Playboy Club in LA.
And he said,
"Come on, I'll take you guys to the club."
We pull in behind a limousine
with a little rent-a-car.
There's got to be
a hundred people in line.
We walk up,
and the doorman's standing there,
and he says,
"Right this way, Mr. Rackstraw."
They have a bunny waiting for us.
What he had done was,
he called the club,
told them that Governor Reagan's
personal pilot was coming over there,
Bob Rackstraw, and, "Please extend
all the courtesies possible."
And they did.
I mean, we got a front table
for the floor show.
He was introduced by the MC.
He gets up and waves to the crowd.
He's got his wings on his jacket,
his flight wings.
And that was my first experience
with how Bob could manipulate people.
Rackstraw was a brilliant guy.
He was an extremely talented individual.
I think he was
a cold-blooded person, however.
I don't believe
that he had a lot of empathy.
I felt bad, of course,
when he passed away,
but we got access
to all of the FBI files on Rackstraw.
If you don't believe
it was Rackstraw, fine.
Here's the original documents.
"Thank you very much."
"You're very welcome."
I truly believe Robert Rackstraw
was D.B. Cooper.
There are factors, critical factors,
which I think all dictate
that Rackstraw was Cooper.
Robert Rackstraw was your man.
Yeah, he died.
Certain things will probably
never be known.
But there is a closure here.
I've never said this before,
but I'll do it for you.
I think that, as a result
of the cold case team's investigation,
Robert Rackstraw is D.B. Cooper,
or was D.B. Cooper.
Does the FBI agree with you?
I don't know. I don't know.
There have been many FBI agents,
some in very responsible positions,
that agree with me.
And there are others who don't.
I'm not absolutely certain,
but it's the best thing
that anybody's come up with yet,
and it certainly looks like it.
There are, no doubt,
people within the D.B. Cooper
family of researchers, who
There is nothing we could do
that would persuade them
that their theory is not correct.
But that is damaging to the truth.
And that was never what was motivating us,
as part of the cold case team.
I would've happily walked away and said,
"Yeah, we tried, we were wrong."
"But you know what? We contributed,
because, hey, Rackstraw's off the table."
"Focus on these other guys."
But we never got to that point.
We never had a piece of evidence
that said, "You know what?"
"We're wrong, Rackstraw's not the guy."
It was, "Oh, here's another piece
of evidence that tends to prove
that maybe he is the guy."
And every step of the way,
that's what we were finding.
Colbert, in a sense,
is one of those people
that's done a really good job,
in some respects,
in terms of pulling out data
and introducing stuff
to the D.B. Cooper case.
But looking at the files,
I do not think
Robert Rackstraw was D.B. Cooper.
He was investigated by the FBI
and was eliminated as a suspect.
And I think anybody who is focusing
on Robert Rackstraw as D.B. Cooper
would be well-served
to abandon that notion
and start looking at some other people.
Tom loves a good story,
and I think Rackstraw is his good story.
It's easier to sell if he's D.B. Cooper.
That's the name people know.
That's what you put in your title.
And then you tell this great story
of this con man, right?
And I think Tom really thinks
that he could be D.B. Cooper.
What do you think?
I think Tom has done a great job,
but I would not risk my reputation
on saying Rackstraw was D.B. Cooper.
I applaud Tom.
I so applaud Tom.
Because that cost a lot of money
out of his pocket.
Tom's efforts and work to get here,
great for him.
I just feel that there's a lot
of chasing of windmills.
How much money have you spent on this?
Well, let's just say,
it's close to the reward.
The amount of money Cooper took
was 200 grand.
I would tell you, we've spent
about that much on this investigation.
And frankly, we didn't plan to.
We usually do
one-to two-year investigations.
This spiraled into a seven-year,
and then a ten-year,
because of the FBI.
They wouldn't cooperate with us.
Tom had a lot at stake.
He is driven for his own personal reasons,
a yearning for justice.
But there's a big danger in that.
You can fall into the trap
of looking to prove a point
rather than ferret out
the facts of a story.
And so you can be very clouded
in your judgment.
Jim Forbes was a good friend.
Jim was one of my mentors,
but Jim made a decision,
at the end of History Channel,
to change to the other side.
I think, most likely,
he's not D.B. Cooper.
- You truly don't think it's him?
- No. No.
When he changed his mind,
it shocked the team.
And unfortunately,
we haven't spoken since.
It's very hard
when the stakes are so high.
Relationships, money, lives.
So the case becomes this jungle.
You're trying to prove your suspect
and solve the case,
but also protect yourself from ridicule.
All these things happen in Cooperland.
If it is Bob Rackstraw,
then, wow, he should stand
on the mountaintop and yell
to the end of his life,
"I was right. You all doubted me."
I've moved on from the D.B. Cooper case.
I'm now working on Zodiac.
We have also found
what we believe is the killer's trail
and the location of Jimmy Hoffa.
We have all these lined up,
and again, it's because the team.
My 15 minutes of fame
have lasted 50 years.
I think most people think
that they can solve it.
I mean, they really do think
that they can get on the Internet
and google something
that's going to solve it.
There's been so many, like,
historical reenactments
and that kind of thing.
Have you seen yourself
portrayed in these documentaries?
And who would you want to portray you?
Go with George Clooney.
You know what?
I'll let my wife answer that.
It's kind of entertaining.
I get to meet people.
It's just really fascinating
to get to meet you.
But the Cooperites,
they want to tell me their theory,
even now, which is crazy.
I mean, I get pictures mailed to me.
"Do you recognize this guy?"
And it's this Cooperite's cousin's
uncle's brother's sister's husband,
on his deathbed, said he was D.B. Cooper.
As time goes on, it gets more difficult.
All witnesses have memory decay.
People just plain forget.
Any crime scene evidence
that existed is certainly gone by now.
Even the shore of the Columbia River
has changed horrendously.
So you can't even go back there
and recognize where you were,
or where you dug.
He was with the money
when he went out of the plane,
and if he lit in the river, uh,
maybe he got out and maybe he didn't.
The longer it goes, the harder it gets.
When the FBI announced that the case
was closed, I didn't believe it a second.
I just don't think the FBI can kill
an open indictment.
They just don't want to touch it anymore.
They get calls every day,
and it saddles agents with stuff,
and the PR people are forced
to make statements.
But the case, really,
I don't believe is closed.
The indictment is still open,
and there's a man at large.
It's interesting to me that D.B. Cooper
has remained so prevalent
in so many different types
of popular culture.
And I do think, for the most part,
it's that he is this kind of antihero,
outlaw, individualist figure.
You can draw lines from the cowboys
and the dime novels of the 1890s,
through someone like Don Draper,
through somebody like Walter White
from, you know, Breaking Bad.
It's a very particular type
of gendered and raced male figure.
Cooper is a singular case.
It clearly speaks to a yearning
of some type in the American soul.
The romance of a skyjacking,
a guy who puts on a parachute
and leaps into the darkness.
I hope he's never found.
People ask me all the time,
"Well, who's D.B. Cooper,
if you've done so much research into it?"
I have no idea.
When I started the podcast, I thought,
"It's got to be one of these suspects."
But now that I've read 30 books,
and talked to 45 different people
about the case,
it seems like I know less now
than I did when I started.
As time has gone by,
it's become this ever-larger mystery.
The thing I don't understand is,
why he didn't fly a flag somewhere
or leave a note and say,
"I am D.B. Cooper."
Now a number of people have done that
but they're not D.B. Cooper.
But the real one,
he had the rest of his life to figure out,
"How shall I reveal myself
to be the genius that only I know I am
right now?"
We live in a culture now
where we know everything.
You can't even have a debate,
because the truth is found in two seconds.
The Cooper case defies that.
It forces us to continue to search
for something we may never know.
And the fact that we can't know,
I think, secretly, we like it.
The longer Cooper gets away,
the more we can live
vicariously through him.
And the legend goes on.
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