One of the few “good” candidates for Cooper from the missing persons database is Dick Lepsy. He absconded from his wife and children a couple of years before the hijacking, and was never heard from again. Because he absconded, he was not listed as a missing person for many years. In Norjack, Himmelsbach says the FBI took a very close look at all the missing persons who disappeared before the hijacking and came up with nothing. However, since Lepsy (and another Cooper suspect, Mel Wilson) weren’t listed as missing at the time, the FBI never investigated either one as a potential Cooper suspect. (Wilson is an interesting case, one we’ll investigate later).
Ross Richardson’s book “Still Missing” gives an overview of the Lepsy case, including potential links to DB Cooper. Primarily, the case is based on Lepsy’s resemblance to the early Cooper composite drawing, and his physical description generally matches Cooper’s.
Lepsy went missing a couple of years before the hijacking. He was a grocery store manager who he might have been cheating on his wife. He was probably experiencing some form of quarter or mid-life anxiety. He got married very young, worked an unremarkable job and was leading a very mundane existence. An escape with a young woman to somewhere exotic would be an attractive proposition for any man, particular one drifting through life, slowly approaching middle age.
Lepsy has not been seen or heard from since the day of his disappearance. It’s possible one of his friends, named in Ross’s book, might have known part of the story. However, he never said anything, even when asked long after the disappearance. The rumor was Lepsy flew to Mexico; his car was found in an airport parking lot. His actual destination has never been known. It’s possible he never got on a flight, as no one matching his description was a passenger on the day of his disappearance (though I’ve read differing information on this).
Other than matching the general physical description, what other elements of the Cooper hijacking does Lepsy account for?
Lepsy had no knowledge of aviation, he did not work in any industry that used unalloyed titanium, and thus he could not have been the original owner of the tie found on Cooper’s seat. Lepsy was not French-Canadian, he had no experience in parachuting, skydiving, or even wearing a harness. He was much younger than the median reported age for Cooper, he smoked the wrong brand of cigarettes, and he was not from, nor had he lived in the Pacific Northwest.
Lepsy’s “Black Box.”
Any criticism of Lepsy as a suspect is generally answered with the “Black Box.” Lepsy did not have a background in aviation, he was not a regular airline traveler. He would not be so familiar with all the technical details about the 727 that Cooper seemed to know. However, he had two years in Mexico (or wherever) when he could have planned out all the details and done all the necessary research.
Thus, to answer any objection to the Lepsy hypothesis, all one needs to say is “he learned it in Mexico.”
Lepsy would not use the phrase “Negotiable Currency.” –“He learned it going into and out of Mexico.”
“Lepsy looks too heavy to be Cooper.” –“He lost weight in Mexico, and got a really deep tan, and learned a little bit about skydiving, all in Mexico…”
“We have no evidence that he ever got to Mexico.” –“We have no evidence he didn’t get to Mexico”
We can fill the two years between Lepsy’s disappearance and the Cooper Hijacking with whatever we want or need to align him with Dan Cooper.
So is that the end of it? Maybe there’s some way to close the empirical gap through something other than the “black box.”
The Secret Intellectual
At first it doesn’t look likely. Lepsy was an uneducated store manager who had no prior history of criminal activity. He looks like an especially bad fit for a crime such as an aviation hijacking. Norjack involved incredible panache and style, chutzpah, and loads of technical detail and careful planning. Cooper remained calm during the hijacking, he had a lot of technical knowledge about aircraft and airline flying, and he seemed completely comfortable wearing a parachute and jumping out of an aircraft.
Well, to give Lepsy the “benefit” of the doubt here, we have to note that he did embezzle $2000 from his store before leaving. Thus, he had begun a life of crime the moment he absconded from his wife and kids. Most importantly, while Lepsy was uneducated, he was very well read. According to transcripts published in Ross’s book (his wife later tried to declare him dead for insurance purposes), Lepsy’s most prized possession was a series of books by Will and Ariel Durant that gave a detailed survey of Western Civilization from an historical and philosophical perspective. (The last book in the series won a Pulitzer Prize.) Lepsy regularly read ancient Greek myths and plays to his children, and was otherwise a regular reader of classic (read: brainy) books. This demonstrates Lepsy wasn’t a dullard but a very intelligent and well-read person capable of thinking such a crime through in advance.
While this helps close the gap between Cooper and Lepsy, it also poses a problem. As a reader of ancient wisdom literature, Lepsy suddenly becomes a bad psychological match. Even if Lepsy was going through a midlife crisis, he wasn’t the kind of person to hold people hostage with a bomb. I, as a reader of the ancient Greeks, know there’s one consistent message in those tragedies: you do not tempt Fate with foolishness. These stories are filled with ancient codes for proper behavior. For example, in the Iliad, the Greeks murder Trojans who had sought refuge in the temple of Athena. Despite the fact Athena was a protector of the Greeks, this blasphemy doomed most of them from ever returning home. Athena, insulted by the Greeks refusal to keep the sanctity of her temple, conspired with Poseidon to punish them. These moral lessons would have been ingrained in Lepsy, and would have been an everyday part of his life.
Though Lepsy took $2000 dollars from his employers, he could have stolen much more than that. He showed great restraint, and likely only took the bare minimum he needed to abscond. It’s even likely he only took money he felt was owed to him, for whatever reason, by the store. My guess is Lepsy rationalized the theft as some form of severance for the decade or so of dedicated service to the company.
Since the Lepsy hypothesis is wrong in almost every way, other than his resemblance to the sketch and physical description, and the fact Lepsy’s candidacy fails to account for any of the pieces of evidence associated with the Cooper hijacking, I have to reject him as Cooper. My conclusion, based on Richardson’s book, is that Lepsy met with foul play sometime soon after he absconded. Lepsy was a committed father and it would have been, in my estimation, unlikely that he would have gone two years without trying to make some contact with his children.
To move his candidacy forward, there has to be some accounting for where he was in the interim years. At some point, Lepsy would have needed to fly into SeaTac. At some point, Lepsy would have needed to either skydive or interact with skydivers. Lepsy would have needed to do research, so what reference material could Lepsy have found on the 727? Does that reference material tell him what the flap settings were, or that there even was an aft staircase? Richardson, posting on the Cooper forum, believes Lepsy “read up” on skydiving. Again, read what? What could you find in a bookstore or library that would teach him how to put on parachute harness with such ease?
Since both the Lepsy case and the Cooper case remain unsolved, it’s alluring to try to solve one mystery with another. Unfortunately, there is simply no evidence linking Lepsy to Cooper.
*Based on the criticism I received, I’m no longer holding those views in the section of the above article I’ve striked out.