The particulars of D.B. Cooper's clever airborne crime and daredevil getaway have been pondered, picked over and recapitulated for over three decades now. Today marks the 35 anniversary of this mystery.
On November 24, 1971, D.B. Cooper hijacked and threatened to blow up an airliner, extorted $200,000 from its owner, Northwest Orient, then leaped from the airborne 727 with 21 pounds of $20 bills strapped to his torso.
He was never seen again—dead or alive. The crime was perfect if he lived, perfectly crazy if he didn't.
In July 2000, U.S. News and World Report ran an article about a widow in Pace, Florida named Jo Weber and her claim that her late husband, Duane Weber, had told her "I'm Dan Cooper" before his death in 1995. She became suspicious and began checking into her late husband's background. Duane Weber had served in the Army during World War II and later had served time in a prison near the Portland airport. Mrs. Weber recalled that her husband had once had a nightmare where he talked in his sleep about jumping from a plane and said something about "Leaving my fingerprints on the aft stairs." She had once found an old plane ticket in his papers for Northwest Airlines that said SEA-TAC (Seattle-Tacoma Airport). Jo recalled that shortly before his death, Duane had revealed to her that an old knee injury of his had been incurred by "jumping out of a plane."
Mrs. Weber also recounts a 1979 vacation the couple took to Seattle, "a sentimental journey," Duane told Jo Weber, with a visit to the Columbia River. (Vancouver Lake?) She remembers how Duane oddly walked down to the banks of the Columbia by himself just four months before the portion of Cooper's cash was found in the same area. One of the most convincing pieces of evidence Mrs. Weber related was the fact she had checked out a book on the Cooper case from the local library and saw notations in it that matched her husband's handwriting.
Mrs. Weber began corresponding with FBI Agent Ralph Himmelsbach, the chief investigator of the Cooper case. Himmelsbach has said Weber is one of the best suspects he has come across. Although the match between the composite drawing and pictures of Duane Weber must be considered inconclusive, recently, facial recognition software was used on 3,000 photographs (including that of Weber and two other suspects) to identify him as "the best match" of the 3,000.
The case remains unsolved more than 35 years later, and D. B. Cooper has become the Bigfoot of crime, evading one of the most extensive and expensive American manhunts of the 20th and 21st century. The whereabouts of the man (or his remains) is one of the great crime mysteries of our time. No innocent bystander was injured, during his crime, although law enforcers argue that he put several dozen lives at risk.
Cooper's crime also was unusual in that it helped rally critical support for sweeping air travel security initiatives, including passenger screening. Until D. B. Cooper's skydive, it was entirely possible to walk aboard a jet.
Several men have stepped forward claiming to be Cooper, although none convincingly so. Some believe Cooper is alive and well and living on a beach in Mexico. Others say he slipped back into an obscure Portland life and grins like a Cheshire Cat at premature reports of his demise.
The D.B. Cooper Cash Box:
Make your way to Vancouver Lake Park. Take I-5 to Mill Plain Road. Go West towards NW Lower River Road (I-501). Mill Plain will dump into Lower River Road. Continue North West until you come to a big bend in the road (20 m.p.h.) Do Not follow the bend but go straight. Pass the white metal gates that remain open from dawn to dusk. Directly after the "Three" Caution signs, Pedestrians, Bikes, and Horses on the right, there is a "Free Fee" parking area.
If you choose to go the "Free Fee" way and walk into the park turn off at the first small parking area to the right. This area is gravel but if you pull your car up to the paved walk way this would allow for a Wheel Chair, Bikes, and Big Wheel access. A nice walk into the park, plus you can see the "Grass Knoll" with the Green box from this location.
If you choose to drive into the park, continue down the road to the blue Vancouver Lake sign. A park fee is charged from Mid-May through September.
There is picknicking, play sturctures, on the north side of the park windsurfing, swimming in the middle part of the park, and D.B. Cooper's Letterbox on the south side.
From inside the Vancouver Lake park walk to the last Bathroom on the south side of the park (Lake on the left) continue to the "Grassy Knoll" just outside the boundery of the "proper" park. You'll see it. One huge green "Power Glass" Electric box with a green and five white tank tops keeping each other company. (septic?) The Grassy Knoll is not Wheel Chair friendly, but just steps away from the box. From the top to this hill, Green electric box to your back, look towards the Lake. Do you see the Six thorny trees to the left? Watch the thorns!!! Push back those low branches.
D.B. Cooper's Letterbox is "IN" the 2nd out of 6th tree trunk from the left or 4th from the right (looking towards the lake). Covered by a small rock, big piece of decomposing wood, and a huge rock. Once again, you can't miss it. You'll be asking yourself "What's that Rock doing in a tree trunk?" If you feel that the rock just is a dead give-a-way, then just drop and leave it at the base of the tree.
There are some picnic tables about 100 feet north of the box. Good place to journal and take in the view of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. (That is if it's clear.) Pack a lunch to take to the park or.....
Travelin' Light and I only Letterbox if there is either a wonderful lunch prior to letterboxing or a "Happy Hour" waiting for us at the end of a fun filled afternoon. If you don't pack your lunch may I suggest off of Mill Plain a couple of places. There is a lovely little Thai food place directly North across from Ester Short park (Columbia and 8th) in downtown Vancouver. The Farmers Market is on Ester Street (Ester and 8th) just west of Ester Short Park, and to the South of Ester Short Park is the new Hilton, (6th and Columbia)"Grey's" (pricey but you're worth it) which has an lovey bar and a happy hour. Dulins is located on Main street and 17th serving only breakfast and lunch.
If you travel South on Columbia Blvd. and pass under the I-5 Bridge (fun to look under the I-5 bridge) there is Woo-Song & Larry's for Mexican & Margarita's. OR Continue down Columbia Blvd to Columbia River Drive and you'll find Beaches (Bar with a view of the river) and next door McMinnimums Brewery (on the river) for Burgers and Beer.
Letterboxes in the area: "Bookworm", "Fort Vancouver", "Rookery" 1/2 mile up the road from D.B. Cooper's Box (we haven't found this one yet), "Got Peanut Butter?", "You May Be Good, But I'm The Best", "Alians Have Landed", and a new favorite/Diamond status Box "Bikini Bottom Neighborhood" at David Douglas Park, (Haven't located that one either but I loved the walk in the cedar grove.