History's Greatest Mysteries (2020) s04e14 Episode Script

Who Is D.B. Cooper?

Tonight, the only unsolved
skyjacking case in history.
Today, after hijacking
a Northwest Airlines jet,
the description on one
wire service, "master criminal."
The perpetrator leaps
from a moving plane
with $200,000 cash
and is never seen again.
There's a lot of variables.
When did he jump
out of the plane?
How long did he wait
before he pulled the ripcord?
What was the wind speed?
People don't just disappear.
He has to have gone somewhere.
Now, we explore the top theories
behind the world's
most elusive hijacker.
Investigators are looking
at a former cocaine dealer.
He's an ex-paratrooper,
looks a lot like
the D.B. Cooper sketch.
There are millions
of Caucasian men with dark hair,
but there's only
a few hundred thousand
that would have worked in
that kind of environment.
Can new evidence finally reveal
his true identity?
This is a better lead than they
could have ever anticipated.
Who is D.B. Cooper,
and will he ever be caught?
November 24th, 1971,
Portland International Airport.
A man named Dan Cooper
boards Northwest Orient Airlines
Flight 305 to Seattle.
The flight crew
and the passengers
describe him as an unremarkable
He's a Caucasian male,
he's got on a dark suit,
black tie, carrying a briefcase.
He's one
of the last to board the plane,
sits in the last row in 18E.
He orders a bourbon and soda
and dons a pair of sunglasses.
The plane takes off
at 2:50 p.m.
The flight
from Portland to Seattle
is a milk run flown
several times a day.
It's about an hour in the air.
This time around, the plane's
carrying 36 passengers
and six crew members.
Everything's going to plan,
everything's on schedule,
until the man
seated in the last row,
Cooper, hands a note
to the flight attendant,
Florence Schaffner.
She doesn't read it at first,
she puts it in her pocket.
And then Cooper says to her,
"You might wanna read that."
The note says "I have a bomb
and I'd like you
to sit next to me."
Florence Schaffner
understandably sort of loses it,
but she does comply and follows
his instructions.
Cooper opens his briefcase
revealing a makeshift bomb.
Schaffner describes the contents
of the briefcase
as something that looks like
eight sticks of dynamite,
a battery, and a bunch of wires.
Cooper has her attention.
She knows he's serious.
He demands four parachutes
and a ransom of $200,000
when the plane lands in Seattle.
Schaffner relays
the hijacker's commands
to Captain William Scott.
But since it's such
a short flight,
ground forces
need more time to react.
So, air traffic control
keeps the plane
circling around for two hours
until they can gather
the money and the parachutes.
Investigators write down
the serial number of every bill
and then bundle it up
into a bank bag.
The plane finally
lands in Seattle at 5:46 p.m.
Captain Scott parks the plane
away from the buildings.
Cooper sends out
a different flight attendant,
Tina Mucklow, and she goes out
and interacts
with the authorities.
There, she collects the money
and the parachutes,
and returns to the plane.
She also brings
printed instructions
on how to use the parachutes,
but Cooper tells her
he does not need them.
Cooper agrees to let
the passengers off the plane.
Two flight attendants,
Florence Schaffner
and Alice Hancock,
also ask to leave,
and Cooper allows them to.
But the ordeal isn't over
for the rest of the crew.
Cooper wants the 727
to take off again
and start to head
towards Mexico City.
He's going to keep the four
remaining crew members
as hostages
the flight attendant,
the flight engineer,
the first officer,
and the captain.
For this second flight,
Cooper makes more demands.
Cooper wants the pilots to fly
with the wing flaps
in an unusual configuration
a downward position.
Now, that's how a plane
normally takes off, but then
they raise the flaps.
You wouldn't fly a long haul
with the flaps down,
because it creates
enormous drag and means
it can't go very fast,
something like
200 miles per hour.
Cooper also asks that
they keep the landing gear down
and fly below 10,000 feet.
He wants them to be going
super slow and super low.
The pilots tell Cooper
it can't be done.
They're afraid the plane
might just fall out of the sky.
But the hijacker is adamant
that it will work,
and they need to comply.
At 7:40 p.m.,
the plane takes off
for Mexico City.
But 20 minutes into the flight,
Cooper does something
completely unexpected.
He lowers
the plane's rear airstair.
The 727 has a set of stairs
that can be lowered
out of the back of the airplane.
The pilot gets a warning light
when this happens.
Once Cooper
lowers the aft stairs
around 8:00 p.m.,
he puts on his parachute,
grabs his $200,000,
and jumps out.
The hijacker
is never seen again.
At 11:02 p.m., the pilot
safely lands the plane in Reno.
At this point, the flight crew
has stayed in the cockpit,
and they're not sure if Cooper's
still in the plane or not.
But when the FBI
searches the plane,
Cooper is definitely gone.
Almost immediately,
the story spreads like wildfire.
D.B. Cooper bailed out
of a Northwest Airlines jet
going 200 miles an hour
at about 10,000 feet.
The best guess is he jumped
almost exactly over
La Center, Washington.
The FBI takes
the lead on the case,
with assistance from sheriffs
and state troopers
in Washington,
Oregon, and Nevada.
They have very little to go on.
This guy has committed an
incredibly well-planned crime.
Authorities need
to begin somewhere.
They start with his name.
They know he bought a ticket
under the name Dan Cooper.
The FBI doesn't really
suspect that's his real name,
but criminals
often choose an alias
that's very close
to their real name.
So, they run this idea
by the Portland police,
and as luck would have it,
they know of a petty criminal
who goes by D.B. Cooper.
D.B. Cooper lives
about an hour and a half
from Portland,
in The Dalles, Oregon.
And he's got a minor record,
so police have him
in the system.
It's a long shot, but they know
they have to start somewhere.
And they're hopeful
they can nab him on his way home
with $200,000 of stolen money.
A police officer
drives to D.B. Cooper's house
on the night of the hijacking,
planning to stake it out
until Cooper comes home,
and catch him red-handed.
But as soon
as the officer arrives,
he sees Cooper's already home.
It seems unreasonable
that D.B. Cooper
would have committed
the skyjacking,
jumped out of the plane,
and made it back home
to his house
in The Dalles that night.
The timeline doesn't fit
in any way, shape, or form.
So, despite having
a similar name
and a criminal record,
D.B. Cooper is quickly ruled out
as the hijacker.
Police may be done
with D.B. Cooper as a suspect,
but history isn't done
with his name,
thanks to an innocent error.
A reporter named James Long
for the Oregon Journal
is covering this story.
In all this chaos,
no one knows what's happening,
and Long makes a mistake.
The hijacker actually
identified himself
as Dan Cooper, but Long
puts the hijacker's name out
as D.B. Cooper,
and it's immediately picked up
by all the wire services.
And just like that,
D.B. Cooper becomes the name
on everyone's lips.
From that moment on,
the case is known
as the D.B. Cooper mystery.
Meanwhile, at Reno Airport,
authorities race
to gather evidence on the plane.
Inside the plane, FBI agents
find 66 latent fingerprints,
but can't identify any of them.
They also find Cooper's
black clip-on tie and tie clip,
some cigarette butts,
and two of the four parachutes.
That's it.
That's all they have.
In 1971, we don't have
fingerprint databases
like we do today.
We also don't have
DNA at this time.
The tie clip and the tie
are pretty unremarkable,
so they're gonna be hard
to trace.
There's nothing on the plane
that immediately tells us
who the hijacker is.
With little to go on,
a large-scale manhunt begins.
The FBI knows that
he jumped out of the plane
somewhere between
Seattle and Reno,
and now they need to know
where to look.
But it's hard to determine
Cooper's landing zone
because they don't know exactly
when and where he jumped.
There's so many variables
What was the wind speed?
When did he pull the ripcord?
When and where was the plane
exactly when he jumped?
It's next to impossible
to establish
an accurate search area,
but they start
with a massive section
of really thick forest
north of Portland.
This is a huge deal.
The Air Force actually
loans them an SR-71 Blackbird
to help them photograph
the entire flight area
in hopes of developing a clue.
Though the Blackbird retraces
the hijacked plane's
flight path five times,
their search turns up empty.
The Oregon National Guard
brings out helicopters
to search for Cooper.
They find some plastic
and broken tree limbs,
but it turns out it has nothing
to do with the crime.
And then,
200 U.S. Army soldiers
search the forest on foot.
There's also a private
salvage company
that searched Lake Merwin
with a submarine
looking for evidence of Cooper
at the bottom of the lake.
They don't find anything.
Despite all this effort,
no trace of Cooper is found.
People don't just disappear.
He has to be somewhere.
The FBI wants to get his face
out to the public,
hoping someone has seen him.
With no actual photo to go on,
the FBI enlists the help
of a sketch artist.
They talk to people
who were at the Portland airport
who saw him buy his ticket,
and people who were on
the airplane.
Both sets of witnesses give
a near identical
description of the man.
He's a Caucasian man
in his mid-40s
with a somewhat dark olive
He has a receding hairline,
short dark hair,
and is wearing
a dark suit and sunglasses.
This sketch,
which has become world-famous,
comes out about a week
after the hijacking
on November 28th, 1971.
It generates hundreds,
if not thousands of tips.
Tips that will soon
break the Cooper case wide open.
When the FBI releases a sketch
of the unidentified hijacker
known as D.B. Cooper in 1971,
a flood of names
begins to pour in.
On April 8th, 1972,
one in particular
grabs their attention.
A concerned citizen
called the FBI tipline.
He said that him and his friend
were talking over a beer,
and his friend
outlined a detailed plan
on how to hijack an airplane.
The friend's name
is Richard Floyd McCoy, Jr.
At first, it may seem like
another one of these fake,
"My friend is D.B. Cooper" stories.
But as investigators dig deeper
into McCoy's background,
they realize, "This might
really be our guy."
Richard McCoy's a former student
at Brigham Young University
in Utah.
He drops out, he joins the Army,
he serves two tours in Vietnam.
He was a helicopter pilot
and demolition expert.
After his time in Vietnam,
he served with the Utah
National Guard,
where he became a skydiver.
Based on his background,
FBI agents believe he has some
of the skills that Cooper has.
He knows bombs, he knows planes,
and he's a skydiver.
There's a lot more
to it than that,
because according
to the tipster,
McCoy has just gotten away
with another hijacking.
On April 7th, 1972,
the day before the caller's tip,
United Flight 855 from Denver
to Los Angeles is hijacked.
This hijacking occurred
just five months
after the D.B. Cooper hijacking,
and the similarities
are uncanny.
This hijacker uses
the name of James Johnson
to buy his ticket.
Like Cooper, he gives
the flight crew a note
announcing his intentions.
He gives very specific
instructions to the pilot.
He asked them to fly
to San Francisco, and he has
a specific runway picked out
He wants $500,000
and four parachutes.
And if he gets that,
he'll let the passengers go.
It's just like D.B. Cooper,
right down to the number
of parachutes.
The parallels don't end there.
Johnson gets the cash,
he lets the passengers off,
and the plane goes in the air.
He tells them to fly low
and slow at 16,000 feet.
Then he takes the cash.
straps on a parachute,
and jumps out the back stairs.
But the Johnson
hijacking has something
the Cooper case doesn't
a prime suspect.
The first thing the FBI does
is a handwriting
and fingerprint analysis
of the note used
in the Johnson hijacking.
Both samples are a positive
match to McCoy.
And then, the FBI conduct
a search of McCoy's home,
and they find a duffel bag
full of cash
McCoy is caught red-handed
for the James Johnson hijacking,
and sentenced
to 45 years in prison.
But is McCoy
also D.B. Cooper?
unlike the Johnson hijacking,
there's no evidence
that ties McCoy
to the D.B. Cooper hijacking.
First of all,
none of his fingerprints
match the 66 latent prints
that were found
off of the D.B. Cooper
hijacking airplane.
are shown photos of McCoy,
and they say
it does not match Cooper.
Also, McCoy claimed
to be in Las Vegas at that time,
and that alibi
was actually verified,
in that his signature
appeared on receipts and forms.
None of this rules out McCoy,
but it makes it
a lot less likely
he is the Cooper suspect.
But there's one piece
of evidence
that could tie
McCoy to the crime.
McCoy's family's asked
to look at the tie clip
that D.B. Cooper left behind
on Flight 305.
According to the family,
that tie clip
belongs to Richard McCoy.
the FBI is never able
to interview McCoy
about the Cooper hijacking case.
On August 10th, 1974,
soon after he's sent to prison,
McCoy escapes.
When he's found,
he's shot and killed
in a shootout with the FBI,
and that kind of closes
the case on McCoy.
The evidence
against McCoy is thin,
so in order to ID him
as D.B. Cooper,
they would need a confession,
which they're never going to get
now that he's dead.
But the FBI agent, Nick O'Hara,
who shot McCoy,
was quoted as saying,
"When I shot McCoy,
I shot D.B. Cooper."
But without more
concrete evidence against McCoy,
it's impossible to make
a definitive ID,
and so the FBI
keeps investigating.
At this point, there's not a lot
the FBI can do on their own.
They find themselves
mainly running down tips
from the public, and there
are a lot of tips.
You have to understand,
D.B. Cooper almost becomes
a legend.
There's kind of
a Cooper mania surrounding him.
He's kind of like a Jesse James
or a Billy the Kid,
this kind of common man
who beats the system.
And in the 1970s,
that's the coolest thing
you can do.
Claiming to be
D.B. Cooper,
especially in
the Pacific Northwest,
is just a way to get
your 15 minutes of fame.
This is a nightmare
to these poor investigators,
'cause they have to sift through
all these false confessions.
After a few years,
many agents speculate
that they will never really find
the real Cooper.
The Bureau
continues its work for decades,
investigating some 1,000
serious suspects,
but none are proven
to be Cooper.
Eventually, the fame
surrounding this case
gets the public interested
in solving this case as well.
It spawned all these
armchair detectives
and independent investigators
to look at this case
for themselves.
Among them,
news researcher Tom Colbert
and his team
called the Case Breakers.
In 2011, they announce
a surprising new suspect.
Colbert has spoken
to an informant
named Ron Carlson.
In the late '70s and '80s,
Carlson said he worked
in the cocaine business
with Dick Briggs, and apparently
Briggs used to brag all the time
about being D.B. Cooper.
One night in 1980,
Carlson stated that Briggs
threw a party at Hayden Island,
which sits in the middle
of the Columbia River.
There, once again, Briggs brags
that he is D.B. Cooper.
This time, party guests
ask Briggs to prove it.
Carlson says that Briggs
points out a couple
at the party.
Their names are Dwayne
and Patricia Ingram.
Briggs says, "If you don't
believe me, just watch.
They're going to find
the Cooper money in five days."
Five days later,
Ingram's son Brian
finds two bundles
buried in the sand
on the banks
of the Columbia River.
Inside these bundles was $5,800
in decomposing cash.
My son ran up and said,
"Wait a minute, Daddy."
So, he raked a place
out in the sand there,
and there it was, it kinda
tumbled up on the top.
The bills have
deteriorated quite badly,
but the serial numbers
on the bills
match the ones
given to D.B. Cooper.
This is most definitely
the Cooper ransom money,
and it's found exactly
as Briggs described it.
This remains
the only physical evidence
ever found outside the plane.
And the FBI tries
to process the money
to lead them back
to the hijacker.
the bills are falling apart,
and there are no fingerprints
or any other evidence
to tie back to Cooper.
At the time
of the discovery in 1980,
the FBI has no reason
to suspect Dick Briggs.
The whole Briggs connection
doesn't come to light
until the Case Breakers
bring it up.
By then, the FBI
can't further investigate.
Dick Briggs dies
in a single car accident
December 12th, 1980,
and it's unlikely
that this drug dealer
was Cooper,
but with him gone,
we'll never really know.
Once again, we're left
with more questions
than answers.
How do Briggs, the money,
and D.B. Cooper add up?
Did Briggs plant the money?
Did he know about the couple
going to find it?
Fortunately, the Case Breakers
aren't done digging yet.
It's November 2011,
and while the FBI
has investigated
over 1,000 suspects
in the D.B. Cooper case,
none have panned out.
But a team
of amateur researchers
called the Case Breakers
have uncovered
a new person of interest.
The Case Breakers
have been looking
at a former cocaine dealer
named Richard Briggs who bragged
that he was D.B. Cooper.
Now, Briggs has been dead
for 30 years,
so there's no way
to prove his claim.
Plus, there's always
been some problems
about Briggs being the suspect.
First, he doesn't look that much
like the D.B. Cooper sketch.
Second, there's no known records
of him having any parachute
This isn't the end
of the story for Briggs though,
because the Case Breakers find
one of his associates,
former paratrooper
Robert Rackstraw.
When they look at the picture
of Rackstraw
and compare it to the sketch,
they think maybe this guy
could be D.B. Cooper.
This guy checks all the boxes.
He's an ex-paratrooper,
looks a lot like
the D.B. Cooper sketch,
and was even investigated
as a suspect in the late '70s.
The Case Breakers dig
deeper into Rackstraw's past.
Robert Rackstraw
joins the Army in 1969,
and he's assigned to
the First Cavalry
Airmobile Division in Vietnam.
In the service,
he gets extensive training
on skydiving, use of explosives,
and how to fly a plane.
He makes a name for himself,
and quickly rises to the rank
of First Lieutenant.
But this guy
is a total rulebreaker.
At one point, he even steals
his own commander's jeep.
In 1971, just five months
before the Cooper hijacking,
Rackstraw finally
gets kicked out
of the Army for insubordination.
From there,
his bad behavior continues.
In the 1970s
he racks up a lot of charges,
everything from check forgery
to domestic violence.
At one point,
he's actually charged
with killing his own stepfather.
He actually is acquitted
of that,
but still faces other charges
when he disappears.
While out on bail,
he fakes his own death.
He rents a small plane
and he fakes a mayday call
saying he's going down
in Monterey Bay.
find the plane intact,
repainted in a nearby hangar.
Rackstraw's eventually
rearrested a few months later
and receives a short sentence.
All this attention
with law enforcement
has an unintended consequence.
It puts him right on the radar
for the D.B. Cooper
In 1978, two Stockton,
California detectives
look at Rackstraw.
They look at his background
and criminal record,
and they can't help but notice
his similar appearance
to the Cooper sketch.
The detectives find
too many connections to ignore.
He knows bombs,
he knows skydiving.
He runs scams with airplanes,
he knows fake identities,
and by all accounts,
he has nothing to lose.
The Stockton
detectives tip off the FBI.
Rackstraw gives
a jailhouse interview
to the Stockton, California
newspaper, The Record.
In it, he says he identifies
with the spirit of D.B. Cooper,
a guy who challenged
the legal system and beat it.
In the interview, Rackstraw
switches to first person,
and he says, "I think I stand
for the American people."
Journalists find
some more circumstantial links
between him and D.B. Cooper.
He admitted to being
in the Pacific Northwest
during the time
of the hijacking.
They also learn that he was
introduced to skydiving
by his favorite uncle,
Ed Cooper.
In another sit-down interview,
Rackstraw is asked if he thinks
he's a good suspect
for D.B. Cooper.
He says, "If I was
an investigator, definitely so.
I wouldn't discount myself
or a person like myself."
Based on all this evidence,
the Case Breakers'
Tom Colbert and Tom Szollosi
publish a 2016 book
identifying Rackstraw
as D.B. Cooper.
But their biggest bombshell
has to do with the reason
that Rackstraw was never caught.
Colbert and Szollosi
believe that Rackstraw
was protected
by friends in high places,
possibly the CIA.
Colbert and Szollosi
have discovered evidence
that Rackstraw worked
for the CIA.
Court records show
that Rackstraw
flew for CIA's
Air America in Laos
shortly after
the D.B. Cooper hijacking.
And he may have
also been a pilot
during the CIA's
Iran-Contra Affair.
Colbert and Szollosi
believe that because Rackstraw
knows CIA secrets,
he is shielded
from the FBI investigation
into D.B. Cooper.
Despite this new evidence,
the FBI doesn't further
investigate Rackstraw,
because they officially
close the Cooper case
just days after
this revelation in 2016.
The FBI has spent 45 years,
countless man hours,
and millions of dollars
investigating this case,
and they don't have
any firm evidence
against any particular suspect.
He didn't kill anybody,
there's no families
clamoring for justice,
and at the end of the day,
he really only stole $200,000.
They really can't justify
spending all these resources
on this case anymore.
Robert Rackstraw
never confirms or denies
he's D.B. Cooper.
For the rest of his life
after the theory comes out,
he seems to like people
making their own assumptions.
Maybe he was a CIA operative,
maybe he wasn't,
or maybe he's just some old guy
having a bit of fun.
We'll never know either way,
because on July 9th, 2019,
he died of a heart condition
and took those secrets with him.
When the FBI officially closes
the D.B. Cooper investigation
in 2016, the government
assumes the public
will finally lose interest.
But in 2018, a new book reveals
a shocking new theory,
one that captures
the world's attention
and reignites speculation
about the case.
At this point, the FBI case
has been closed
for just over two years,
so the only new suspects
are coming by the way
of amateur investigators.
One in particular
comes from author Carl Laurin
in his book "D.B. Cooper and Me:
A Criminal, a Spy,
My Best Friend."
He alleges that his friend
and former spy Walter Reca
is D.B. Cooper.
When this theory comes out,
it makes huge headlines.
Carl Laurin
and his publisher Vern Jones
start a full-scale media blitz
to get their suspect's name
out there.
They make a documentary,
and they contact
the lead investigator
in the Jimmy Hoffa investigation
and ask him to write a book
about this case.
This book comes
to the same conclusion
that D.B. Cooper is Walter Reca.
It all starts with a phone call.
According to Laurin,
in 2008 Reca calls him.
Laurin can tell
that he has something
he wants to get off his chest.
And his best friend tells him,
"I am D.B. Cooper."
Reca is getting older,
he wants to share his story
with someone.
Why not his best friend?
Carl wasn't surprised by this.
In November of 1971
when he first heard the news
of the skyjacking,
he said out loud,
"I bet that's Walt."
He knows Reca's a trained
former paratrooper.
They were even
on a skydiving team
together in the 1950s with
the Michigan Air National Guard.
Other details line up as well.
In 1971, Walt would have been
37 years old.
He looks similar to the hijacker
and was living
in Washington State at the time.
Laurin thinks that Reca
has the personality for it.
He describes his friend
as fearless and brash.
Laurin states, "I knew
Walter Reca was D.B. Cooper,
because he was D.B. Cooper."
Before sharing more details,
Reca asks Laurin
to sign a notarized letter
stating he'll only release
the information
after Reca's death.
Laurin signs the letter,
and then they can begin.
Reca agrees to let Laurin
tape record
all their phone conversations,
where he will finally
reveal everything.
There's three hours
of recordings
where Walt
confesses to the crime
and describes exactly
how he did it.
If these tapes are true,
there are details in here
that only the skyjacker
would know.
Most importantly, Reca describes
precisely where he jumped
and landed.
Reca says he leapt
from the plane
about 50 miles
southeast of Seattle
just on the edge
of the Cascade Mountain range.
He chose a spot
where there was a highway
running through it
for an easier escape.
In order to verify Reca's claim,
Laurin goes to this location
and begins to ask around.
There, he's amazed to find
an eyewitness
named Jeff Osiadacz,
a former cop
who claims to have seen Reca
the night of the infamous
He stated that in
the small town of Cle Elum,
he saw Reca walking down a road
near a café.
Reca is wearing a black suit,
he's soaking wet,
and carrying a raincoat
wrapped up under his arm.
Reca seems disoriented
and asks where he is.
He calls an unidentified friend
and has Osiadacz give the friend
directions to their location.
Before Osiadacz leaves,
Reca offers to pay
for his coffee, and that's
the last of their encounter.
According to Osiadacz,
he didn't notify authorities
because he didn't think
this could be Cooper.
Osiadacz sees the news
about the hijacking,
but from what he saw,
the hijacker jumped out
in Oregon, not in Washington.
Plus, he didn't think Reca
looked anything like
the composite sketch.
Reca had a much rounder face,
a little bit thicker build,
and a more crooked nose
than what was observed
in the sketch.
Despite the claims
in Laurin's book,
the FBI doesn't reopen the case
to investigate Reca.
Besides the sketch, the location
also doesn't add up
to investigators.
Reca supposedly walks
to a town in Washington
called Cle Elum.
The town
is over 150 miles northeast
of the hijacked plane's
flight path.
Also, the only evidence
they have
that may implicate Reca
is hearsay.
The FBI isn't interested
in reopening the case,
so it's just
another deathbed confession.
But Laurin says
there's another reason
the FBI steers clear of Reca.
According to Laurin's book,
shortly after the hijacking,
two government agents
come knocking on Reca's door.
They give Reca a choice
come work for U.S. intelligence
or spend a long time in jail.
Laurin claims that
Reca then begins working
as a spy for the CIA,
as well as Israel's Mossad,
and even allegedly
the Soviet KGB.
Laurin has evidence for this,
'cause Reca gave him
a bunch of passports,
some of which have fake names.
He also has a variety
of covert identity cards
from spy agencies like MI6,
and a diary chock full
of assassinations
and covert operations.
I suppose that
all of these documents
could be forgeries,
but they really don't answer
the question
of if he's D.B. Cooper.
We'll probably never know
the answer to that question.
When the hijacker
known as D.B. Cooper
disappears with $200,000
in 1971,
he leaves behind
almost no evidence.
The only things we know for sure
that are left on the plane
is the black clip-on tie
and the tie clip.
You may be surprised
that he would leave
some things behind.
But back in the '70s,
nobody knows about DNA,
and nobody can test for it.
Criminals are mainly concerned
with not leaving behind
hairs or fingerprints,
neither of which
are found on the necktie.
But 50 years later in 2011,
technology evolves enough
to make a breakthrough.
Back in 2009,
a paleontologist named Tom Kaye
assembled a group of scientists
to investigate.
They dub themselves
as Citizen Sleuths.
Their plan is to use
the up-to-date
scientific techniques
that have not been used
in this case.
In 2011, they're allowed
by authorities
to test the black clip-on tie.
Kaye and his team
feel that the tie
is a great piece of evidence
for one specific reason.
You don't usually wash ties.
There's a chance
that this tie was worn
in many different situations,
picking up various particles
and fibers along the way.
The team uses
an electron microscope,
allowing them to look closer
at the tie than ever before.
They're shocked to find
rare Earth minerals on it.
Specifically, these are cerium,
strontium sulfide,
and pure titanium.
These aren't just
lying around your house.
These elements are used
for very specific situations.
Of course,
they were hoping for a lead,
but this is a better lead
than they could have
ever anticipated.
In 1971, these materials
would only typically appear in
aerospace maintenance facilities
or cutting-edge
electronics labs.
This narrows
things down tremendously.
There are millions
of Caucasian men with dark hair,
but there's only
a few hundred thousand
that would have worked
in that kind of environment.
Was D.B. Cooper
an engineer or a scientist?
Did he sweep up the lab
at the end of the day?
After the team
releases its findings,
engineer Bill Rollins
joins the hunt.
Rollins goes through the records
of people who were employed
by these companies in the 1970s.
He compares these with thousands
of persons of interest
that the FBI looked at.
He believes he finds
the perfect candidate
for D.B. Cooper,
a production supervisor
at an electronics factory
names Joe Lakich.
Joe Lakich is a retired
U.S. Army Major and war veteran.
And at the time
of the hijacking,
he works at a technology plant
in Nashville,
where he could easily
come in contact with
the rare earth elements.
But there's something else
that catches Rollins' eye.
He thinks Lakich
committed the hijackings
not for money, but for revenge.
When the FBI
originally questions
flight attendant
Tina Mucklow in 1971,
she mentions a conversation
that investigators
don't pay much attention to
at the time.
She asked Cooper
why he's hijacking the plane.
"Do you have something against
Northwest Orient Airlines?"
He responds,
"I don't have a grudge
against your airline, Miss,
I just have a grudge."
For Rollins, that grudge
is a critical detail.
Rollins believes Lakich
has a serious grudge
against the FBI.
In 1971, the same year
as the hijacking,
Lakich's daughter Susan
dies in a tragic accident
involving the Bureau.
Susan is kidnapped by
her estranged husband George.
He drags her on board
a private plane
against her will
at gunpoint in Nashville.
He demands the pilot
fly them to the Bahamas,
but this requires
a refueling stop
at Jacksonville
International Airport.
The FBI is waiting
for them in Jacksonville,
and they end up shooting
the tires out on the plane.
But before they can rush
on board,
George has killed everyone
on board, including himself.
Lakich files
a wrongful death suit
against the Bureau.
And just two months later,
D.B. Cooper hijacks the plane,
creating a years-long headache
for the FBI.
For Rollins, the timeline
of Susan's murder
and the Flight 305 hijacking
points directly to Lakich
as a suspect.
In some warped sense of justice,
he decides to stick it
to the FBI
by hijacking a plane himself.
And Lakich seems to be
one of the few suspects
who was ever on the FBI's radar
who could have had access
to the rare metals
found on the tie.
Unfortunately, Lakich dies
before Rollins can question him.
But Rollins hasn't given up.
He's still trying
to track the ransom money,
which he believes will lead
to Lakich's home town
of Nashville.
Maybe if he finds it,
we'll finally know
D.B. Cooper's true identity.
As amateur
investigators continue to study
the D.B. Cooper case
in the late 2010s,
some focus on one detail
that he's a man with a grudge.
At some point during the flight,
flight attendant Tina Mucklow
asked D.B. Cooper
if he had a grudge
against her airline.
And Cooper's response was no,
that he just had a grudge.
Now, if we could just figure out
exactly what D.B. Cooper's
grudge was,
it would be a huge clue
to ultimately solving this case.
In 2018, a reporter
for the Oregonian newspaper,
Douglas Perry,
announces he's found the answer.
The reporter has been handed
a treasure trove of research
that an army analyst
had put together.
The analyst
wants to remain anonymous,
and is hesitant of the publicity
that the case might bring him.
He's right it makes
international headlines.
The analyst has done years
of research, and shares it
with both Perry and the FBI.
According to him,
D.B. Cooper didn't act alone.
He believes
there's a co-conspirator.
The analyst claims
his research began
in the early 2000s.
The analyst
reads an obscure book
that was written in 1985.
The book was titled
"D.B. Cooper:
What Really Happened."
In the book,
the author, Max Gunther,
claims that he received
a phone call from D.B. Cooper,
and later, D.B. Cooper's widow.
These people outline to Gunther
the real story of what happened,
and the name they give him
is Dan LeClair.
The book gives further details
such as biographical information
and birthdays,
so the analyst is able
to connect Dan LeClair
with a very real
former Army veteran
named Dan Clair.
He thinks
that's who called Gunther.
Clair died in 1990,
and he doesn't resemble
the Cooper sketch.
But a colleague of his does.
The analyst looks
into Clair's family and friends,
and while doing so,
he believes he's come up
with a match, a man
named William J. Smith.
Smith is a manager
at Clair's railyard.
Smith is a New Jersey native
who graduates high school early
to join the Navy.
Smith trains as an aerial gunner
and photographer.
His job is to take
reconnaissance pictures.
He gets an honorable discharge
in 1947,
where he makes his way home
to Jersey City
and begins his job
at Lehigh Valley Railroad.
In the 1960s,
he befriends Dan Clair.
After working for the railroad
for over 20 years,
Smith is eventually promoted
to the position of yard master.
It's a management position.
It oversees everything
that's going on in the railyard.
There are two key reasons
why this is important.
First, Smith would have worn
a tie to work.
Second, he would have been
wearing that tie
near the exotic metals
present in the railroad's
repair facilities.
This could explain
the rare materials
found on D.B. Cooper's tie.
Could the duo's
work with railroads
motivate Cooper's
alleged grudge?
In the late 1960s
and early '70s,
the railroad industry
is in shambles.
The rise in airplane travel
and air freight
has crushed their bottom line.
Railroads nationwide are plagued
with wage reductions
and furloughs.
In 1970, this comes to a head
when Smith and Clair's railroad
files for bankruptcy.
It ends up being
the biggest bankruptcy
in history up till that time,
until the Enron collapse
in 2001.
Thousands of people
lose their jobs,
and many of them lose
their life savings and pensions.
The analyst believes
this incites the hijacking.
He doesn't believe
Smith and Clair got laid off,
but he does believe that
seeing all their coworkers
get laid off
did inspire their revenge.
They decide to attack
the air industry
because that's what's ruining
their business.
The analyst
suggests that Smith and Clair
planned the hijacking together.
He thinks they make
D.B. Cooper's so-called bomb
out of railroad flares.
These could look
a lot like dynamite
when they're wrapped in wire.
Then, they study rail maps
of the Pacific Northwest
to plan the hijacking route.
It's possible D.B. Cooper
chose that flight path
due to his knowledge of where
the railroad tracks were
to make an easy getaway.
Smith and Clair prep together,
and Smith is the one
that actually does the crime,
based on his aviation training.
Smith does look a lot like
the sketch of D.B. Cooper.
He may be one
of the closest resemblance
of all the suspects.
Maybe even Clair is out there
on the night of the hijacking
helping Smith escape.
The analyst noted
that Clair retired
a year and a half
after the hijacking,
and he was only 54 years old.
Maybe he got his share
of the ransom money.
When Perry writes his story,
he asks the FBI for comment.
The FBI has received
the analyst's file
on Smith and Clair,
that much we know.
But as far as how seriously
the FBI takes them as suspects,
we actually have no idea,
because they give
a strangely cryptic response.
They officially close
the investigation in 2016,
so they could have
just said that,
"We're not looking into them."
Or, like many candidates
before him,
they could say
Smith isn't the guy,
that he's not D.B. Cooper.
But that's not what they say.
Instead, they said, quote,
"It would be inappropriate
to comment on tips
related to Smith."
What does that mean?
That's usually the language
used in an active investigation.
Sadly, it turns out
that Smith died
in January of 2018,
just 10 months before
the article was published.
So, we may never know the truth.
Maybe the FBI is still
looking at William Smith.
Or maybe it's just
another red herring
in a case full of red herrings.
The unsolved case continues
to captivate the public
five decades after
the skyjacking took place.
Perhaps someday, one of
the many passionate sleuths
still investigating this mystery
will help us discover
D.B. Cooper's real name.
I'm Laurence Fishburne.
Thank you for watching
"History's Greatest Mysteries."
Previous EpisodeNext Episode