The media are always on the lookout for possible sightings of D.B. Cooper, the man who parachuted from a plane with $200,000 in ransom money in November 1971. But the truth is, the mystery man wearing dark sunglasses almost certainly died during the jump, according to the FBI agents on the case at the time.
Ralph Himmelsbach was the case agent from the moment Cooper boarded the Northwest Orient plane in Portland, Ore. and claimed to a flight attendant he had a bomb. Cooper demanded money and instructed pilots to fly to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where he received bills with serial numbers that had been recorded. For the next eight years, Himmelsbach remained in charge of the case.
“I chased his plane in an Army helicopter just for a while until the weather was so bad that they called us back, and then I continued working the case,” Himmelsbach tells Newsmax.“Then when the money was found on a river bank, it was turned in to me, and five years to the day after the skyjacking I testified before the grand jury, and they indicted him for aircraft piracy.”
|D.B. Cooper (Artist Rendering)
Himmelsbach says Cooper — who was listed on the Boeing 727’s manifest as Dan Cooper — “probably is still lying in the weeds where he fell.”
The latest rash of stories started with an FBI report of a woman who claimed to a law enforcement officer that she overheard her late uncle, Lynn Doyle Cooper, confess to the hijacking when she was 8 years old. But in 1980, a child digging in a sandbar on the north bank of the Columbia River uncovered a bundle of $20 bills from the ransom, which would indicate that Cooper’s jump went awry, Himmelsbach says.
“He had no way of knowing where he was, and he bailed out of that airplane at 10,000 feet at 196 miles an hour, and the outside air temperature was 7 degrees below zero,” he says.
Most telling, “Cooper never spent the money,” Himmelsbach says. “Not one of the bills in the ransom has ever turned up in circulation.”
The fact that bills were found on a river bank suggests to Himmelsbach that Cooper landed on the ground, but because creeks in the area overflow their banks in the winter, the water picked up the bills and carried them away.
As for any hope of tracing Cooper with DNA or fingerprints, “There’s no evidence available,” he says. In fact, no one knows if Cooper was the man’s real name. In those days, airlines issued tickets without requiring identification.
Himmelsbach’s conclusion is shared by former FBI agent Byron Sage, who also was on the case. “I feel very strongly that he is at the bottom of Lake Merwin, which is close to where they estimate he would have bailed out,” Sage says. “And I think the money that was found on the banks of the Columbia River actually comes very close to a river that comes off of the bottom of Lake Merwin.”
Sage remembers thrashing through the underbrush in the Pacific Northwest looking for Cooper just after becoming an agent in 1970.
“They developed some new information based on the reconstruction of the flight, and they know exactly when he went down,” Sage says. “We went out and did the searches in that area.” But under FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, agents were not allowed to wear anything but suits and ties.
“We searched in our polyester pants and wingtips, because we were not allowed to work in anything less business-like than that,” Sage recalls.
That was just one of Hoover’s quirks.
As noted in my new book “The Secrets of the FBI,” the FBI considered break-ins to plant bugging devices and steal codes at embassies so sensitive that no one would dare ask the director for permission to undertake them. If something went wrong, Hoover would not tolerate it, even if it was not the agents’ fault.
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So FBI agents broke into embassies, placed bugs or stole code books, then wrote a memo to Hoover asking for permission. At the end of the memo, they wrote, “Security guaranteed.” To FBI officials, that meant the job had already been pulled off without a hitch.
They could then sign off on the memo and forward it to Hoover without fear of a slipup.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is a New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. His latest, "The Secrets of the FBI," has just been published. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via email. Go Here Now.
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