The Cooper Case has generated an endless crop of suspects, over a thousand individuals were investigated by the FBI. Now there are a dozen or so favorite suspects that are talked about on forums, in books and on the Cooper Wikipedia page. While there is some interesting circumstantial evidence for each of the suspects, no one has really created a checklist of necessary characteristics and details to really pin down if any of the suspects make any sense. At least, not from what I can find. (I would wager that the FBI had their own checklist at some point.) So I gave it a shot. Here is my list of features that any Cooper Suspect needs to address:
1) Parachute/Harness; Cooper was able to put on his parachute with relative ease. He checked the packing card on his chosen chute, and refused a note on how to use a parachute. Any Cooper suspect needs to have a background that adequately explains why they were so comfortable with the parachute harness, and how they knew to inspect the packing cards.
2) “Negotiable Currency“; Cooper at one point asked for “negotiable” currency, which is an odd thing for most Americans to say. Any Cooper suspect would have to be well-traveled or have above average financial knowledge, or be from Canada. He did not have a noticeable accent, which further limits the pool of suspects who would use this phrase.
3) Knowledge of the 727; Somehow, Cooper knew the flap settings on the 727, he knew there was no locking mechanism on the doors (where other airliners had locks on their aft stairs), he knew what the phones on the plane were called, and was familiar enough with flying to know you could submit a flight plan after takeoff. That’s too much knowledge to “luck” into.
4) Matches Physical Description; Cooper was definitely taller than one of the stewardesses. Probably around six feet. Middle age. He had a medium build, olive complexion and dark hair.
5) Reminiscent of Sketch; The FBI composite sketches are not perfect, but any Cooper candidate should be vaguely reminiscent of them.
6) Eyewitness affirmation; There are still several living witnesses to the hijacking. Two of the stewards and one passenger had extended contact with Cooper. They should be able to give a thumbs up or down on any suspect. [None of these living witnesses speaks openly about the case, so it will be impossible for amateur sleuths to get such affirmation.]
7) Knowledge of Sea-Tac area; Cooper could recognize Tacoma from the air, and he also knew the travel time between McChord Air Force Base and the SeaTac airport. While it’s possible Cooper could have gotten this information through intense planning and scouting, it’s more likely he already knew the area. He probably lived or worked in the area at some point in his life.
8) Unknown whereabouts during hijacking; Goes without saying, any Cooper suspect must have had an opportunity to commit the crime.
9) Smokes, preferably Raleigh Cigarettes; Cooper was at a minimum a casual smoker, a pack a day or less. He was probably not a heavy smoker. Tie evidence suggests he had been a smoker for a long time.
10) Dan Cooper reader; Some explanation for the Dan Cooper alias would be nice. Currently, the prevailing theory is Cooper had read the Franco-Belgian comic book series called “Dan Cooper.” An American GI could have encountered the comic while serving overseas as early as 1957. The comics were written in French, so that would make Cooper bi-lingual (though he had no accent in English). This is highly speculative, and as such is the least important item on the checklist. One of the anecdotes FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach gives in his book Norjack is investigating a Cooper suspect, who was a jumper, had circumstantial evidence of involvement in the case, and his real name was “Dan Cooper.” Cooper could have gotten has alias from a phonebook. We don’t know.
In addition to the above checklist, there was evidence recently found on the tie that was probably left by Cooper on the airplane (though there is no way to prove the tie was his). Since the tie can’t be proven to have belonged to Cooper, and since there is a strong possibility of cross contamination, all the clues found on the tie should be considered speculative. (Tie evidence was collected and analyzed by Tom Kaye’s Cooper team.)
Clip-on tie user
The tie is a clip-on. As a general rule, people are either clip-on tie users or not. While it is completely possible someone who wears regular ties would use a clip-on tie (perhaps as a safety measure for a parachute jump) for a skyjacking, I tend to think Cooper was a regular clip-on tie user.
Pictures with similar tie clip
The tie clip found on the tie was a common design, sold for decades, so not a definitive test. However, the tie clip had been on the tie for a long time, in exactly the same spot, which would make photo-matching a suspect a possibility.
Pure titanium particles were found on the tie. An unusual thing in 1971, Cooper could have only been exposed to it at a few factories and chemical plants across the country. This means Cooper likely worked in those places, and as a tie wearer, he was likely a manager or an engineer.
Particles consistent with packing materials from prescription drugs were found on the tie, suggesting Cooper regularly took prescription medication for some condition leading up to the hijacking.
Partial DNA Match
Some DNA was found on the tie. I believe the tie is likely contaminated by being handled by numerous FBI agents after being collected (these were pre-DNA times). But, getting a match from a suspect to this DNA would disprove my theory and confirm a suspect.
Over the coming year, I hope to apply this checklist to all the existing Cooper suspects and see if any come close to matching the evidence.
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