D.B. Cooper suspect was surveyor; brother worked for Boeing
The deceased man the FBI is investigating in the D.B. Cooper case was a surveyor whose training might have enabled him to scout locations to parachute from the Boeing 727, and his brother once worked at Boeing.
Seattle Times staff reporter
1971 Seattle Times skyjacker coverage
The deceased man the FBI is investigating in the D.B. Cooper case was a surveyor whose training might have enabled him to scout locations to parachute from the skyjacked Boeing 727.
Lynn Doyle Cooper, who has been linked by his niece to the 1971 skyjacking, worked as an engineering surveyor, according to an Oregon death certificate.
His brother, Dewey Max Cooper, who also has been implicated by the niece in the skyjacking, once worked at Boeing, his former sister-in-law, Grace Hailey, said Thursday. He also is deceased, Hailey said.
Hailey, 67, who lives in Oklahoma, said she did not know precisely when Dewey Cooper worked at Boeing, but that it was roughly during the same period as the hijacking.
A person by that name worked briefly for Boeing in the late 1960s, a Boeing spokesman said Thursday, but no other information was available. It's not known if his job would have given him knowledge of the skyjacked airplane.
Hailey's daughter, Marla Cooper, in television interviews on Wednesday said she believes her two uncles were involved in the fabled skyjacking on Thanksgiving Eve 1971.
The FBI said earlier this week that it had been investigating a "promising lead" for more than a year and confirmed that Marla Cooper, who lives in Oklahoma City, had provided information. The bureau also said it was working with the family to obtain items from which fingerprints might be lifted to compare to partial prints obtained from the Boeing jet.
The skyjacker parachuted from the Northwest Orient Airlines plane with $200,000 in cash paid by the airline as ransom money. It remains the nation's only unsolved skyjacking.
"We did it"
Marla Cooper, 48, citing memories from when she was 8 years old, first told ABC News this week that she recalled her uncles planning something suspicious just before Thanksgiving 1971 at her grandmother's house in Sisters, Ore. The two used walkie-talkies and left supposedly to go turkey hunting, she said.
On Thanksgiving morning, Lynn Doyle Cooper, known to the family as "L.D.," returned to the home bloody and bruised, claiming he had been involved in a car accident, Marla Cooper told ABC News.
Marla Cooper, who lived in Spokane at the time, said she overheard L.D. Cooper say, "We did it, our money problems are over, we hijacked an airplane."
In an interview with The Seattle Times on Thursday, Marla Cooper reiterated her account and corrected one aspect of the ABC News report that left the impression she did not see L.D. Cooper again after the Thanksgiving gathering. She said she saw him in mid-1972 and at Christmas that year, then never saw him again, not even at her grandmother's funeral.
The FBI told her he died in 1999, she said.
"I didn't know where he was," she said. "I didn't know if he was alive or dead. I hadn't seen him since I was a little girl."
An Oregon death certificate shows that L.D. Cooper, 67, died in Eugene, Ore., on April 30, 1999, and was buried at the Pilot Butte Cemetery near Bend, Ore. His occupation is listed as engineering surveyor.
Marla Cooper said she did not remember her uncles' occupations, except that L.D. Cooper was a "blue-collar worker" who liked to hand-tool leather objects. She also has described him as a Korean War veteran.
Hailey, who in 1971 was married to another of L.D. Cooper's brothers, Donald, said Thursday she recalled that L.D. Cooper returned only once for a brief visit the next year.
Dewey Cooper died of lung cancer 12 to 15 years ago, Hailey said. Donald Cooper died in 1996. He and Hailey had divorced in 1980.
Hailey said she did not witness the Thanksgiving morning events described by her daughter because she had left the house to make pies at the restaurant where Marla Cooper's grandmother worked.
But Hailey recalled that the grandmother, Irene Cooper, was contacted by the FBI shortly after the hijacking. Because of that, Irene Cooper called Donald Cooper to ask about L.D.'s whereabouts, Hailey said.
FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt, a bureau spokesman in Seattle, said the FBI does not discuss specific contacts made during investigations.
"I understand after the hijacking, anyone with the name Cooper in the Northwest was canvassed," Gutt said. "So that wouldn't be surprising."
"It was your uncle"
Hailey said that two years ago, in a discussion with her daughter about the D.B. Cooper case, she remarked: "I always did think it was your uncle."
Her daughter then began researching the hijacking and "all these memories started coming back to her," Hailey said.
In her interview with The Seattle Times, Marla Cooper confirmed news accounts that she is working on a book about L.D. Cooper, but said that wasn't her motivation for coming forward.
Hailey backed her daughter, saying she contacted the FBI long before she started working a book.
"She started checking out all the chain of events and everything before she ever talked about a book," Hailey said.
Hailey said the two uncles were among five brothers, all deceased, who were outdoorsmen who hunted and fished. She said L.D. Cooper had the physical capability to parachute into the rugged forests of Southwest Washington, where investigators figure the hijacker landed.
The hijacker jumped from the rear of the Boeing 727 on Nov. 24, 1971. Authorities estimated he jumped near the small community of Ariel, Cowlitz County.
The man identified himself as "Dan Cooper," but when FBI agents checked out a Portland man with the name D.B. Cooper, who was quickly cleared, the name stuck in the media.
Marla Cooper said her father was very angry about what her uncles had done, and that the use of the name Dan Cooper "fueled his anger and outrage."
But her father swore her to secrecy, Marla Cooper said, telling her: "Marla, this is very serious. You can never tell anybody what you have just seen."
She said her father told her that L.D. Cooper had done something "really, really bad," but that no one had gotten hurt. Her father also said that her uncle "didn't get away with it," an apparent reference to losing most of the money in the jump, she said.
Cooper said she was pretty sure her uncles abandoned thoughts of returning to the jump site to retrieve the money.
As for the hijacker using the name Dan Cooper, she said her uncle was a big fan of the comic-book hero Dan Cooper.
The hijacker paid $20 cash for a one-way flight from Portland to Seattle. After takeoff, he told a flight attendant he had a bomb and showed her a briefcase holding red cylinders and a nest of wires.
When the plane landed in Seattle, passengers were exchanged for parachutes and ransom money paid by the airline. The plane took off toward Mexico, with the hijacker and the flight crew.
Only $5,800 of the ransom money — whose serial numbers the FBI had recorded — turned up when a child digging in a sandbar on the north bank of the Columbia River west of Vancouver in 1980 unearthed a bundle of $20 bills.
Seattle Times reporter Dominic Gates and news researchers Miyoko Wolf and Gene Balk contributed to this story, which includes information from the Times archives.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published Aug. 4, 2011, was corrected Aug. 5, 2011. The first name of Dewey Max Cooper was misspelled in a previous version of this story.
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