One of the principal investigators of the case believes Cooper must have been someone with a criminal background, an “old con” looking for one last big score. Few serious Cooper suspects have had Himmelsbach’s requisite profile. And only one, as far as anyone knows, has been missing since the hijacking. In 1971, just weeks before Norjak, Mel Wilson left his family home in Minnesota to travel to a sentencing hearing for a counterfeiting conviction and disappeared forever. He was never on the radar as a suspect in this case until one of his daughters started posting his story online. Which makes him, along with Dick Lepsy, among the handful of serious suspects to come to light in the last ten years.
Wilson is a fascinating study, he was a man right out of the movies. Physically imposing, intelligent, charming, he was smooth-talker who was always working an angle. His preference was counterfeiting, and the descriptions available to us say he was very talented in his art. He was a classic confidence man. If you watch the Unsolved Mysteries episode on Wilson, you will find out he was also a ladies man. After he first went missing, his family found out about another family he had also abandoned.
As for being a viable Cooper suspect, I’m skeptical but here’s the case: Wilson was intelligent, a fugitive from justice who went missing right before the hijacking, he fits the physical description and he smoked and drank. His charm and personality seem to match Cooper’s disarming personality. Wilson wore suits and he preferred loafers. Superficially, he looks like a decent candidate. It seems unlikely he could have planned this heist while in the middle of a legal battle, but it’s possible.
The case against Wilson is based not on his inability to plan such a heist, nor whether he would commit such a crime. Instead, it’s based simply on his lack of knowledge and skills. He did not have any previous parachuting experience, that we know about. Parachuting experience is not a prerequisite for a Cooper suspect, and the FBI now believes Cooper had very little knowledge about skydiving at all. I believe the FBI is simply wrong, we know Cooper felt comfortable putting on a parachute harness, which is not normal and I invite any neophyte to try on a parachute harness without instruction. Wilson also doesn’t have any of the aviation knowledge Cooper apparently had. Finally, Wilson is yet another suspect who doesn’t explain the particle evidence found on Cooper’s tie.
What really makes me skeptical is Wilson was a counterfeiter. Why would someone who prints his own money jump out of an airplane for $200,000? People stick to their habits, and I believe Wilson left his family for Las Vegas (or somewhere else) and continued his career printing money and running cons. Dan Cooper was the first hijacker to leave an aircraft, had he been the second or third then perhaps Wilson could have been a possibility; without an existing modus operandi there are a lot of logistical holes for an amateur like Wilson to fill. Finally, if Cooper was a criminal known to law enforcement, it is my belief the FBI would have solved the case, regardless of whether he lived or died in the jump.
Still, there’s no reason not to do a full vetting. Since so few serious suspects have come to light, there’s certainly no harm, especially considering Wilson fits the FBI view that Cooper was an amateur who died in the jump. It thus beggars belief that the FBI has refused to consider Wilson a suspect. One of Wilson’s daughters spoke with the FBI and pursued this through multiple agencies, but got a tepid response, later receiving a letter stating “During any given investigation, the FBI receives many tips, … In accordance with DOJ policy, we cannot discuss details of ongoing investigations. This includes not disclosing subjects considered and/or excluded, and investigative techniques that may be used … rest assured that the FBI pursues all leads that we believe will provide us with information of investigative value. I apologize that we are unable to disclose the nature and extent of our investigative response.”
This was in response to a woman looking for her father. I do not believe Mel Wilson is Dan Cooper. However, there is no reason not to have his DNA compared to the sample from the tie, or to check his fingerprints against those collected from the plane after the hijacking, and relay this information back to Wilson’s surviving family.