Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Pursuit of Dan Cooper RCAF: FBI explores link between DB Cooper and comic book hero

© Dan Cooper – Albert Weinberg, Le Lombard
(Dargaud-Lombard s.a.), 2009.

In 1971, a nondescript man calling himself Dan Cooper paid cash for a one-way ticket from Portland to Seattle aboard Northwest Orient Airlines. Shortly after take-off, Cooper informed a stewardess that he had a bomb with him and wanted her to sit by him. He opened his briefcase long enough for her to catch a glimpse of red sticks and wiring inside and made her write down his demands. He wanted four parachutes and $200, 000 cash in twenty dollar bills.

In Seattle, Cooper exchanged 36 passengers for his parachutes and money but kept the flight crew aboard to fly him to Mexico. But somewhere between Seattle and Reno the bold criminal leapt out of the plane with his parachute and his ransom money and disappeared into American legend. A comic book escape, for sure. but what if a comic book inspired Cooper's plan in the first place?

I used to joke that famous air pirate, D.B. Cooper, was probably Canadian comic book test pilot Dan Cooper. Maybe he'd been drummed out of the Royal Canadian Air Force for going AWOL one too many times to fight off spies and invading aliens. After a dishonorable discharge with no pension the once heroic Dan was forced to use his aeronautical skills to stage a daring robbery so he could have a proper retirement fund.

Who knew that years later my tenuous link between fact and fiction would get a confirmation from no less than the FBI?

FBI sketches of air pirate Dan Cooper (left, centre)
Artist rendition of air pilot Dan Cooper (right). Hmm.

Two years ago the FBI reopened the Dan Cooper case (internally referred to as the NORJACK case, for Northwest hijacking) and posted what few details they could on their website here (also referring back to an earlier posting on the case found here). It was a calculated appeal to the public for help with one of its most famous unsolved cases.

The agent assigned to the case, Larry Carr, was inspired by the amount of speculation the robbery continues to create on chat rooms, websites and internet forums. Though the FBI had interviewed hundreds of people and found what evidence they could, most of the FBI case fits into a small file box according to this LA Times article on the announcement.

Previous agents failed to turn up many additional leads over the years (they were able to extract a DNA sample from the hijacker's tie, which he removed before leaping out of the plane), so Carr got creative and opened the case up to Joe Citizen, offering up evidence that until then had remained under wraps in the FBI files. Since the FBI couldn't commit resources to a long-cold case Carr began to think outside the (evidence) box. If he could harness these interested people and create an army of investigators, more clues could be found.

So far, it seems to be working.

Tom Kaye, a paleontologist, has been working with a team of scientists and Cooper searcher Brian Ingram, who found $5,800 of the ransom money along a Columbia River sandbar when he eight years old. The team is conducting various experiments, like examining pollen found on Cooper's tie to see if it is found only in certain parts of the country. They are also trying to pinpoint exactly where Ingram found the money and, using satellite maps, determine if it was buried there by Cooper or floated to the location over time. As Kaye put it on the FBI's latest update:

“The FBI threw out the challenge,” he said, “and we've taken the bait.”
But what of our potential link to our comic book Canadian? The FBI update knows a good hook when it sees one.

© Dan Cooper – Albert Weinberg, Le Lombard
(Dargaud-Lombard s.a.), 2009.

Here's how the Bureau website explains the connection, accentuating the fun aspect to encourage press write-ups and intrigue. It's a tease to get people interested and helping. it turns out, Dan Cooper is very much alive-on the pages of a French comic book series that was popular when the hijacking occurred. In the fictional series, Royal Canadian Air Force test pilot Dan Cooper takes part in adventures in outer space and real events of that era. In one episode, published near the date of the hijacking, the cover illustration shows him parachuting.

Seattle Special Agent Larry Carr, who took over the Cooper case two years ago, believes it’s possible the hijacker took his name from the comic book (the enduring “D.B.” was actually the result of a media mistake). That’s important because the books were never translated into English, which means the hijacker likely spent time overseas. This fits with Carr’s theory that Cooper had been in the Air Force. Carr discovered the comic book connection on D.B. Cooper Internet forums, where fascination with the case is undiminished.
So, the potential for a legitimate connection is there.

This post was inspired by the delightful, improbable story that appeared here in yesterday's National Post under the headline "Did a Canadian comic book inspire the FBI's greatest mystery?". Technically, the answer to writer Randy Boswell's question is no, since Dan Cooper is, in fact a French comic book series created by Belgian artist Albert Weinberg. But the character of Dan Cooper is, indeed, a strapping Canadian.

© Dan Cooper – Albert Weinberg,
Le Lombard

(Dargaud-Lombard s.a.), 2009.

After studying law, Weinberg entered comics and spent his early comic book career as an assistant for Victor Hubinon before flying solo on Hubinon's Joe la Tornade, then drawing Luc Condor for Héroïc Albums. In the 1950's he worked for Tintin magazine, for whom he created the heroic Dan Cooper of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Cooper starred in a lengthy run serialized in the weekly Tintin in 1954 according to the awesome site,

The series always dabbled with sci-fi but Weinberg also made an effort to link his tales with the news of the day, even stationing his hero at the real RCAF Station in Marville, France while serving in 1(F) Wing, Canada's first NATO fighter wing. The character proved enduring enough to remain in print for decades. Long enough to potentially inspire one of the world's most famous hijackers, it seems.

If you read French you can enjoy an entire Dan Cooper adventure here, thanks to this 1(F) Wing home page in memory of former RACAF Ren L'Ecuyer.
© Dan Cooper – Albert Weinberg,
Le Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.), 2009

Although I think the real Dan Cooper would have learned about parachutes from any number of sources, being inspired to take the name of a comic character is quite plausible. It certainly fits the cheekiness of the hijackers style. Heck, Elvis Presley's performance outfits (with the capes etc.) were inspired by Captain Marvel Jr.! And the link is government approved, so you now have your newest bit of party trivia ready to go.

As for me? I wonder why an FBI agent would give such credence to a theory that, really, is a bit of a reach. Then I realized the answer was staring me right in the face. I am convinced that Dan Cooper the comic character is alive today and searching for the man who muddied his name... as FBI Special Agent Larry Carr!

Don't believe me? Check out the proof and decide for yourself!

FBI Special Agent Larry Carr, assigned to the
Norjack (Dan Cooper) case two years ago...

...Comic book test pilot Dan Cooper,
forever linked to a popular criminal

Special Agent Carr, Dan Cooper. Separated at birth?

I wonder.

*The speed of the internet never ceases to amaze me. Less than a day after mentioning this to Comic book Resources' Brian Cronin, a link to this article appeared in his terrific Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed column. Brian does a great job of exploring those dark corners of the industry where innuendo, assumption and tall tales diverge from or converge with the truth.

For a new blog like this, a tip of the hat from Brian means a lot. Thanks so much!

Beavers Up!


  1. The comic book link is plausible. Almost too
    close a fit. Larry's reference to the audacity
    element is good. Wouldn't it be funny if Cooper
    tipped his hand - he left his tie! He also left a legend which will haunt him dead or alive, until something turns up. In time something will. Legends travel in a circle.

  2. Dan Cooper the pilot is Canadian (originally British-Empirish), Dan Cooper the comic is Belgian, not French, so the profile of Cooper the Criminal would be somebody familiar with comic characters published in French AND Dutch...
    I know that French is more common, but still it is a possibility that...

  3. In May of 2010, Adventure Books of Seattle is releasing 'Into The Blast - The True Story of D.B. Cooper'. This book presents evidence that former Northwest employee Kenny Christiansen was the famous skyjacker. NOTE: Christiansen saw this comic in the Day Room at Shemya Island, Aleutians, while he did maintainence for NW. Pilots from all around the world touched down in Shemya, leaving whatever books and magazines they had in the Day Room at the station. The comic link is mentioned in the book.

  4. Wouldnt DNA and fingerprint testing prove Christiansen to be DB Cooper. This is all a waste of time and read

  5. Anonymous asks:

    'Wouldnt DNA and fingerprint testing prove Christiansen to be DB Cooper. This is all a waste of time and read?'

    The possibility of a DNA link being used to prove the identity of DB Cooper did not work. Although the FBI tried going back and taking DNA from the discarded tie and the cigarette butts Cooper left on board Flight 305, they were unsuccessful. The main reason was because the original evidence was thrown together in a series of plastic bags and handled by many people for a period of about 35 years. Back in 1971, no one had a clue that DNA testing would become reality. So the samples were useless, although they (FBI) did try. Much of the book I mentioned above is based on direct NEW evidence and witness testimony. The book will be available at Amazon and elsewhere by April 15, 2010.

    Robert M Blevins
    Co-Author of 'Into The Blast' and managing editor for Adventure Books of Seattle

  6. The new book by Blevins is a load of "hui." In other words, a pile of "........." Not a very good read, either. I'll lay claims that the real DB Cooper will be outed by the end of the year by an attorney/investigator from WA state.

  7. This is one mystery tha until now keeps amazing us. I wonder if this D.B Cooper were still alive if he would dare show his face and tell the story.