Fifty years on and we still don’t know the identity of D.B. Cooper. Under the alias “Dan Cooper” — a name misheard and later popularized as D.B. Cooper — he hijacked a Seattle-bound Portland flight on Nov. 24, 1971. After demanding $200,000 in ransom money, he parachuted out of the plane to an unknown destination. Neither a body nor the money was ever found.
HBO explored the mystery in 2020 with The Mystery of D.B. Cooper, and now Netflix is tackling the case with the limited series D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?!. It’s no surprise that the hijacker has inspired numerous true crime series, including pop culture references in shows like Loki and Mad Men. The scant facts about his identity have spawned countless theories about who D.B. Cooper was. The only information we have on him is from old FBI files, which described him as "a nondescript man" who was likely in his mid-40s and wore a simple black business suit.
On the day of the hijacking, he called over the stewardess around 3:00 p.m. and showed her that he had what looked like a bomb in his briefcase. His demand in exchange for their lives was four parachutes and $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills. When the flight landed in Seattle, he let go of the passengers and stayed on the plane with several crew members to Mexico City. On the way there, he jumped out of the back of the plane with the cash and disappeared.
The DNA they pulled from the plane was unable to positively identify someone, and the FBI screened over 800 suspects. They closed the case in 2016 and have consistently maintained that it’s likely the hijacker simply died after jumping out of the plane. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying to unravel the mystery behind the man who some have dubbed an “anti-hero individualist,” according to D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?!
To be clear, the series doesn’t answer who D.B. Cooper really was — and at this point, we may never know, as the suspect would be well into his 90s if he were still alive today. But the series does run through the most popular theories, just as The Mystery of D.B. Cooper did. There’s Duane Weber, a career criminal who claimed on his deathbed in 1995 that he was the man. Then there’s Barbara Dayton, a trans woman claiming she was friends with D.B. Cooper. Many theorized she was the hijacker; she died in 2002. The Netflix docuseries also proposes three other suspects who could have been the infamous mystery man.
A former Marine during World War II, Sheridan Peterson worked for aerospace company Boeing and was also a smokejumper — firefighters who are parachuted down. His experience with parachuting out of planes made him a primary suspect for a time.
“Actually, the FBI had good reason to suspect me,” Peterson wrote in a 2007 issue of Smokejumper magazine, per Oregon Live. “At the time of the heist, I was 44 years old. That was the approximate age Cooper was assumed to have been, and I closely resembled sketches of the hijacker. But what was even more incriminating was the photo of me simulating a skydiving maneuver for Boeing’s news sheet. I was wearing a suit and tie — the same sort of garb Cooper had worn, right down to the Oxford loafers. It was noted that skydivers don’t ordinarily dress so formally.” But Peterson didn’t outright claim he was D.B. Cooper, and the FBI never seriously looked into him. He died in 2021.
Another suspect is Dick Briggs, a drug courier who claimed he was D.B. Cooper. But the series discounts him for two reasons. He lied about serving in the Vietnam War, and he also falsely stated he knew how to parachute — one thing that the hijacker would’ve had to know how to do to survive.
The series’ final suspect is Robert Rackstraw, a former Army helicopter pilot. He was acquitted of murdering his stepfather in 1978 and was later accused of and served time for airplane theft. Per The Washington Post, the FBI briefly investigated Rackstraw but later dismissed him as suspect because he was too young at the time to fit the description. But the series also follows how TV/film producer Thomas J. Colbert became obsessed with proving Rackstraw was Cooper, even offering him $20,000 to admit to the crime. He denied it, and Rackstraw died in 2019. Colbert may have believed he was the most promising lead, but it looks like this is a mystery that will never be solved.