Have You Seen This Man? On Reno's Link To Skyjacker D.B. Cooper

Jul 18, 2016

A sketch of D.B. Cooper, who vanished in 1971 with $200,000.
Credit FBI

The FBI announced this month it would finally end its 45-year search for D.B. Cooper, a man notorious for jumping out of the back of a passenger jet with $200,000 in ransom money. 

Just because the case is closed, however, doesn't mean it will end the curiosity over the identity of Cooper, or whether he survived that infamous jump, which is believed to have occurred somewhere between Seattle and — where else? — Reno.  

In fact, the plane Cooper hijacked made its final stop in The Biggest Little City. Only, when FBI and law enforcement stormed the plane, Cooper was nowhere to be found.

The understandably shaken flight crew and pilot were put up in the now-demolished Mapes Hotel, where they were interviewed by special agents.

Local author and history buff Guy Clifton says that's not the only connection. 

“Five days after, on November 29, 1971, a letter arrives at the Reno newspapers. It’s one of those where the words are cut out from a magazine or newspaper. It said: “Thanks for the hospitality, was in a rut. D.B. Cooper.”

He says a second, similar letter came a few days later. You can see copies of both letters in this news article from the Reno Gazette-Journal.

“I’m not sure the FBI took them totally seriously,” says Clifton of the veracity of those letters, who spoke to an FBI spokesman about it on the case's 40th anniversary.

While Cooper has never been found, the FBI has fielded hundreds of calls and leads on those who claim to know the whereabouts of the skyjacker. The only physical evidence ever recovered was nearly $6,000 of the ransom money, identified by its serial numbers, found on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington state in 1980.

Clifton says the case launched copycats, including a man in Washoe County, who hijacked a plane a year later, demanding the same sum of money.

“It was a professor’s son, and he was in the parachute club at the university,” says Clifton. “He jumped out around Washoe Lake. They ended up catching him because he had parked his car not too far off 395 down south, and it had a parachute club sticker on it.”

If Cooper were still alive, he’d be about 90 years old today. Many believe it is unlikely he survived the jump, but Clifton says that won't end speculation. 

“It’s probably one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history, along with Amelia Earhart. “One of these days, somebody’s going to find something I hope.”