Ariel, Wa.: Whatever Happened To D.B .Cooper?

Sketches of the 1971 hijacking suspect known as Dan 'D.B.' Cooper.

Sketches of the 1971 hijacking suspect known as Dan "D.B." Cooper. FBI hide caption

itoggle caption FBI

There were celebrations over the weekend in rural Ariel, Wash., to recall the country's most famous unsolved hijacking. Thirty-seven years ago, a man known as D.B. Cooper seized a jetliner, received a ransom and parachuted out somewhere over southwest Washington. He disappeared along with most of the $200,000 in cash.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In rural Washington state people gathered this past weekend to celebrate the country's most famous unsolved hijacking. Thirty-seven years ago, a man known as D.B. Cooper seized a jetliner, received a ransom, and parachuted out somewhere over the southwestern part of the state. He then disappeared along with most of the $200,000 in cash. Harriet Baskas visited the town of Ariel, Washington, and has this report on the party.

HARRIET BASKAS: On my way there, I checked in with FBI Special Agent Larry Carr. The D.B. Cooper caper is his case now, and I thought we could carpool to the party. But Carr said, thanks, but no thanks. I was on my own.

Special Agent LARRY CARR (FBI): Go, see what you see, and then bring that report back to me. And we'll vet out what's important or not.

BASKAS: Besides, Carr suspects Ariel's D.B. Cooper event is mostly about throwing back beers, throwing down theories, and gloating.

Mr. CARR: You know everyone loves a story where someone got one over on the man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BASKAS: He was right. By the time I find the town, an hour's drive north of Portland, the festivities are under way and the place is packed. Tavern owner Donna Elliott is hustling between an ancient cooler and a crock pot, slicing up ingredients for the D.B. Cooper stew.

Ms. DONNA ELLIOTT (Proprietor, Ariel Store and Tavern): I can't tell you all that's in it, but it's good. We go through about - probably about 40 gallons.

BASKAS: She puts in one last potato and then hustles out front to mix it up with a guy convinced he's met the real D.B. Cooper.

Ms. ELLIOTT: You were saying he was D.B. Cooper?

Unidentified Man #1: I just talked with a man who has a very, very, very colorful past who has a - who had some very interesting opinions about D.B. Cooper...

Ms. ELLIOTT: There, there. That's what I like to hear. I don't want to hear you knowing D.B. Cooper, because it's not a proven fact yet.

BASKAS: A few tables away, Tammy Foreman Oaten(ph) holds court beneath a vintage parachute that's stapled to the ceiling. Her family is here peddling a book about their unusual D.B. Cooper theory.

Ms. TAMMY FOREMAN OATEN: She grew up as a man and had gender reassignment surgery and committed the crime soon after the surgeries were complete. So she was able to commit the crime looking like a man, and change her clothes, put on a wig, and walk away as a woman.

Mr. CLIFF KLUG(ph) (Airline Pilot): D.B. Cooper's like trying to find Big Foot. It's theories and what not.

BASKAS: Airline pilot Cliff Klug buys their theory, but he's open to hearing other scenarios. There's plenty of time for that in between the music and the D.B. Cooper lookalike contest. This year there are only two entries.

Unidentified Man #2: Are you ready for a show of hands and clapping and screaming and yelling for contestant number one right here with his hat on backwards.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BASKAS: Over by the bar, there are more theories. Kevin Sutherland(ph) thinks Cooper never made it.

Mr. KEVIN SUTHERLAND: He fell out of that plane and landed on a tree somewhere and died.

BASKAS: And Jeremy Arionas(ph) thinks he did make it.

Mr. JEREMY ARIONAS: I think that D.B. Cooper is sitting on the beach in Mexico, drinking and having a good time, yes.

BASKAS: And while no one can agree on the real identity of D.B. Cooper, Arionas and pretty much everyone else here seems to feel Cooper was some sort of hero.

Mr. ARIONAS: He's a hero because he made it. Yeah, he got away with something.

BASKAS: But just in case didn't, Arionas says when he's out hunting for elk and deer, he's also on the lookout for bits of old parachutes and some of that missing cash.

(Soundbite of people cheering)

BASKAS: For NPR News, I'm Harriet Baskas.

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