This Thanksgiving marks the 40th anniversary of a legendary Northwest crime.
In 1971 skyjacker DB Cooper parachuted into the night sky over Washington and vanished.
Now, FBI agents have something they don’t often get in a 40-year-old criminal case: new physical evidence.
It comes from the clip-on tie left behind on the hijacked plane from the man known as DB Cooper.
For three years a team of private scientists has been studying evidence from the Cooper case, at the invitation of the Seattle office of the FBI.
“One of the most notable particles that we’ve found, that had us the most excited, was titanium metal,” said lead scientist Tom Kaye.
He said the team identified the titanium on Cooper’s tie using an electron microscope.
Titanium is used in things from golf clubs to cookware these days, but in 1971 it was extremely rare.
And, there’s another thing.
“In 1971 there was a big upheaval in the titanium industry with the cancelling of the SST project, which happened to be at Boeing, and that laid a lot of people off in the industry. So Cooper could have been part of the fallout,” said Kaye.
Boeing cancelled its Super Sonic Transport project, one of the first civilian planes to use titanium, just months before the 1971 hijacking. Washington state was suddenly plunged into an economic crisis.
Could Cooper have been unemployed and so desperate that he would threaten to blow up a passenger jet and then parachute with $200,000 in ransom money?
Cooper made the ransom demand on a Thanksgiving Eve Portland-to-Seattle flight, claiming he had a bomb in his briefcase. When the plane landed at Sea-Tac airport, the FBI delivered the money and four parachutes. Cooper jumped from the Boeing 727 soon after it was in the air again, headed south.
“Because he wore a tie, we think he was an engineer or manager who went out on the shop floor regularly,” said Kaye of Cooper’s position in life.
Cooper was likely was not a Boeing employee.
Kaye said the titanium is pure, not processed like the kind used in aircraft manufacture. Kaye’s team believes he was probably employed at a titanium production or fabrication facility or a chemical plant. Chemical plants used titanium mixed with aluminum for their anti-corrosive properties. Kaye said aluminum particles were also found on Cooper’s tie.
Kaye said the new details about Cooper are valuable to finding out the mysterious hijacker’s identity.
“Coming up with a profile that narrows him down to hundreds of people instead of millions we think is pretty significant,” he said.
Does the FBI feel the same way?
The bureau’s spokesperson in Seattle, Ayn Sandalo Dietrich, confirmed the FBI has received the team’s new evidence, but won’t say much else. The FBI says the case is a very low priority after all these years and points out the scientists are all volunteers who conducted their tests at no cost to the government.
Agents made world-wide news this summer when they said there was promising circumstantial evidence. It pointed to a deceased Oregon man named LD Cooper. His family provided personal items that were tested by the FBI. They did not provide any positive link to the hijacking.
Kaye doesn’t believe LD Cooper worked around titanium and he does not fit their profile.
Kaye’s team has posted its findings for all to see on a website www.citizensleuths.com.
They’re asking for input/information from members of the public.