The Mystery of DB Cooper: Tiny Algae on Money May Lead to Crack in Case, Study Says

Investigators dedicated to solving the notorious 1971 hijacking of a Boeing 727 believe they have finally discovered the true identity of the air bandit known as D.B. Cooper.
FBI

A small microscope club could lead to a crack in the nearly 50-year-old D.B. Cooper mystery. Scientists looked at money which was buried and later found in Oregon’s Columbia River, and the “diatoms," or the small deposits of algae, on the cash.

"The Cooper bill contained diatoms from summer bloom species suggesting that the money was not directly buried dry and the immersion happened months after the late November hijacking," a study in Scientific Reports says. "This finding rules out of a majority of current theories related to the crime and proposes diatoms as a feasible methodology to constrain seasonal timelines in forensics."

The lead scientists and author of the report, Tom Kaye, spoke to NBC King 5 about the recent findings after first looking at them 12 years ago for the FBI.

“So, suddenly, the light bulb came on and we wondered if we could use these different species of diatoms that we found on the Cooper bills a long time ago to determine when the money got wet and when the money landed on [the bank of the Columbia],” Kaye said.

“The money was not floating in the water for a year, otherwise we would have seen diatoms from the full range of the year," Kaye continued. "We only saw them from the spring … the springtime bloom. So, this puts a very narrow range on when the money got wet and was subsequently buried on Tena bar.”

In November 1971, a man now known as D.B. Cooper climbed aboard Northwest Orient passenger jet, which was manufactured by Boeing and headed to Seattle from Portland, and told the flight attendant that he had a bomb in his suitcase.

He then demanded $200,000 and four parachutes.

The FBI handed over the money and the parachutes to Cooper as the plane landed at Seattle's Sea-Tac Airport. The aircraft then took off again, heading south.

At some point, he made his now-infamous escape by jumping out of the plane. Cooper, who was said to have been wearing a business suit at the time of the hijacking, was never found.

A minimal amount of the money that was given to Cooper was recovered, as was his airline ticket, which was issued to a "Dan Cooper."

The FBI closed the case in July 2016 after being unable to turn up any new leads on Cooper's identity.

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