The Films of 2020: The Mystery of D.B. Cooper (dir by Jon Dower)


The story of D.B. Cooper has always fascinated me.

D.B. Cooper is the name assigned to a man who, in 1971, hijacked an airplane, demanded $200,000, and then jumped off the plane after he got the money.  Reportedly, he was well-dressed and unfailingly polite during the entire hijacking.  When he jumped off the plane, he was about 10,000 feet over the Washington wilderness.  After he jumped, no further trace was found of him.  Nearly 50 years after the incident, the identity and the location of D.B. Cooper remains a mystery.

It’s been said that, even though Cooper had a parachute with him when he jumped, there’s no way that he could have survived the fall.  And yet, no body has ever been found.  (Of course, finding a body in the wilderness is not as easy as some people tend to assume.)  Nine years after the the skyjacking, some of the money that Cooper received was found on the banks of the Columbia River, which was several miles away from the area that Cooper jumped over.  Did Cooper survive the jump and lose the money?  No one can say for sure.

Over the years, many people have come forward to say that they know the identity of D.B. Cooper.  Many distant fathers and secretive boyfriends and long lost friends have been accused of being D.B. Cooper.  Some of those suspects are more likely than others.  Even John List, the murderer who inspired the Stepfather films, was suspected at one point.

D.B. Cooper remains a fascinating character precisely because he’s never been captured and the mystery itself will probably never be solved.  Because he remains an enigma, it’s easy to project your own pet obsessions on him and his story.  Myself, I always imagine D.B. Cooper as being some sort of clever, fun-loving international rogue, even though there’s not really any evidence to back that up.  But, the fact of the matter is that I have a weakness for clever, fun-loving international rogues so, of course, that’s who I’m going to imagine D.B. to be.

The Mystery of D.B. Cooper is a documentary that takes a look at both Cooper’s crime and his subsequent fame.  Both a flight attendant and the pilot of Cooper’s flight are interviewed and they both provide vivid memories of both the skyjacking and D.B. Cooper himself.  (They both describe Cooper as being well-spoken and polite.  The flight attendant even says that he seemed like a rather nice man.)  We also get plenty of contemporary news footage of the subsequent search for D.B. Cooper.  One man says that he likes Cooper because Cooper fought the system.  Another one says that he admires Cooper for having a plan and sticking to it.

Meanwhile, in the present day, we are introduced to several different people who are all convinced that someone from their life was D.B. Cooper.  To me, this is the most interesting part of the documentary.  Some of the people are more convincing than others.  The friends of Barbara Drayton talk about how she always claimed that she disguised herself as a man so that she could get revenge on the airline.  The ex-wife of Duane Webber talks about how he always said he injured his knee jumping out of a plane.  L.D. Cooper’s niece makes a somewhat compelling that her uncle could have been D.B. Cooper, though one can’t help but wonder if she would feel the same if the man’s name as L.D. Smith.  Perhaps the most convincing argument is the one that Richard Floyd, who was captured after skyjacking another plane and who was subsequently killed by the FBI after he escaped custody, was also D.B. Cooper.

In the end, though, the documentary is less about who D.B. Cooper was and more about what he means to people and why he remains an obsession for many.  It’s a fascinating look at a cultural phenomena and one to keep an eye out for.

And, if you’re reading and you are D.B. Cooper — way to go and Merry Christmas!

One response to “The Films of 2020: The Mystery of D.B. Cooper (dir by Jon Dower)

  1. Pingback: Lisa’s Week In Review: 12/21/20 — 12/27/20 | Through the Shattered Lens

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