At the core of the continuing obsession over D.B. Cooper is the following conundrum: With limited forensic evidence available in the case, the FBI can’t prove who the hijacker was, but they also can’t prove who he wasn’t. What’s so maddening about this situation is it leaves the barn door wide open for anyone with a Cooper story to lay a claim.
This morning, the AP confirmed reports that partial DNA samples discovered in saliva found on the hijacker’s clip-on tie did not match the DNA of the Bureau’s new Cooper suspect, Lynn Doyle Cooper, or “Uncle L.D.” as his niece Marla has been calling him. So, is the case finally closed on Uncle L.D.?
No way. Special Agent Fred Gutt said the DNA sample found on the tie had come from three different people and was not enough to rule Uncle L.D. out. In the past, other agents have used the partial DNA sample to rule out suspects, most notably Josephine Weber, who for the last fifteen years has been aggressively claiming her ex-husband Duane Weber (a career felon and con artist who also lived under the name John C. Collins until late in life) was Cooper. On his deathbed, Jo claimed that her Duane told her, “I’m Dan Cooper.”
Initially, Jo had no idea what he was talking about, and since she read about the actual alias the hijacker gave her (“Dan Cooper”) she’s been trying to prove her case. Agents took forensic samples from Duane, such as hair from his razor. Once the partial DNA sample was discovered on the tie in 2007, agents ruled Duane out, despite Jo’s shrill frustration about the quality of the sample. So if the DNA on the tie isn’t good enough to rule out Uncle L.D., is Cooper suspect Duane Weber back in? What about the others?
One reason to like Duane Weber as a suspect is his hair. One detail I found in the FBI’s confidential Cooper case file, never previously reported, is a statement from Robert Gregory, a witness who sat directly across from the hijacker during the flight. An owner of a paint store in Seattle, Gregory described the hijacker in far greater detail than any of the other witnesses, including the stewardesses, who the Bureau used to compose the first of many Cooper sketches.
Witness Robert Gregory was never interviewed by Bureau sketch artists, but he should have been. In interviews with agents, documents show he identified the sunglasses the hijacker wore as “horn-rimmed,” and his suit jacket was one with “wide lapels,” and a color that was not brown or black like the others said, but “russet.”
Most critically, Gregory identified the hijacker’s hair. It was not flat or straight, like the Bureau sketch. It was “marcelled,” he said, which jives with first-class stewardess Alice Hancock’s contention that Cooper had hair that was “wavy.”
It’s important to note that Duane Weber had wavy hair that looked marcelled. So did another Cooper suspect: Uncle L.D.
Above is a sketch that I’m calling the “Gregory” sketch, which utilizes the details of witness’s Robert Gregory’s interviews with the Bureau to supplement and reconsider the hijacker’s appearance. The artist is illustrator John Burgoyne.
DNA doesn’t link new D.B. Cooper suspect [LAT]
Geoffrey Gray’s SKYJACK:The Hunt for D.B. Cooper, published by Crown, is in bookstores today.
Related: The Unmasking of D.B. Cooper [NYM]