Friday, January 4, 2008

The One That Got Away

While most people in America appreciate the protections of the law and the necessary existence of law enforcement and the courts, there is, it seems, a little bit of the rascal in many of us. Take, for example, our love affair with outlaws. It probably goes back to England – just as our law does. Don’t we view Robin Hood as the good guy and the Sheriff of Nottingham as his evil nemesis? Robin’s American heirs include such famous individuals as Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and John Dillinger. True, they may not have been as altruistic as Robin Hood, or even altruistic at all, but each of these villains rose to the status of folk hero. They have been the focus of books, magazine articles, movies, and term papers. Not too shabby for a bunch of gun-toting, hardscrabble ne’er-do-wells!

(Patty Hearst, during her bank-robbing, gun-moll days may have been motivated by altruism, but she was brainwashed, so she doesn’t count!)

My favorite modern outlaw is the one who got away: D. B. Cooper. He boarded a Northwest Orient flight from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, on November 24, 1971. After the flight was airborne, Mr. Cooper (or whoever he was) gave the flight attendants a note saying that he had a bomb in his brief case and demanding $200,000 in $20 bills and two sets of parachutes. The plane landed at Seattle where the ransom and the parachutes were delivered. The hijacker then released the passengers and followed up with a demand to be flown to Mexico City. The plane flew low (10,000 feet) with the landing gear down like Cooper had instructed. Two US military fighter jets followed the passenger plane through the stormy night. It was the storms that prevented the pilots of the jets from seeing exactly where the hijacker, with booty in tow, jumped into the night.

Some of the money was found eight years later by a young boy who was gathering wood for a campfire near the Columbia River in southeast Washington, but most of the cash as well as the famous outlaw remain missing to this day.

D.B. Cooper is the only hijacker of an American plane to ever escape punishment. On the night of his disappearance J. Edgar Hoover was alive and running the FBI, albeit occasionally in drag, Richard Nixon was in the White House happily taping all of his meetings and conversations, and Elvis was still the King. It was a long, long time ago.

This past week the FBI reopened the D.B. Cooper cold case. They are now suggesting that Cooper probably did not survive the jump into the storm that night. The new push is to get someone to come forward and provide a positive identification to the illustrious D.B. Cooper so that the FBI can have some closure on this on-going agency embarrassment.

Maybe the answer will reveal itself, or maybe Mr. Cooper was a loner with no relatives to miss him and rat out his identity to the feds. I’m a romantic at heart, and I would like to hold out hope that D.B. Cooper and his ill-gotten gains spent many years together on a beach somewhere under a smiling sun with an endless supply of rum drinks and good times! An occasional happy ending is good for the soul!

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