Sunday, August 14, 2011

Was America's most wanted fugitive a Provo resident?

I love when the past and present come together at the same time.  While traveling around Provo taking photos of historical places, I came across an incredibly interesting story about a fugitive named D. B. Cooper.  Interestingly enough, this fugitive has ties to Provo, and stories about his real identity have surfaced over the past couple of weeks.

On November 24, 1971, a man named Dan Cooper (later referred to as D. B. Cooper) approached a Northwest Orient Airline desk and purchased a one way ticket to Seattle, Washington.  After takeoff, D. B. Cooper passed a note to the airline stewardess, which she put in her bag, assuming it was his number.  Cooper leaned over to the stewardess and told her to read the note, which stated, "I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked."

After showing the stewardess the bomb, he stated, "I want $200,000 in unmarked 20-dollar bills.  I want two back parachutes and two front parachutes. When we land, I want a fuel truck ready to refuel. No funny stuff or I’ll do the job."

The FBI quickly gathered the money and parachutes.  Cooper rejected the army parachutes initially given and the FBI retrieved civilian parachutes from a local sky diving school.  After the money and parachutes were brought to the Seattle-Tacoma airport, the plane landed, the items were given to Cooper, and the passengers were released.  While the plane was refueling, Cooper instructed the pilots to fly towards Mexico City.  It was determined that the plane must refuel once during the flight and Reno was selected as a destination. 

That evening, the plane took off, followed by two F-106 fighter air crafts, one above and one below the plane, so that Cooper could not see them.  The pilots in the cockpit were ordered to stay where they were.  About 20 minutes after take off, pilots noticed the rear plane door had been opened.  The pilots offered assistance but were told that everything was OK. Upon landing more than 3 hours later it was found that D. B. Cooper was not on the plane.  He had jumped out shortly after takeoff. 

It was assumed that Cooper jumped out somewhere north of Portland.  Some of the money given to Cooper was eventually found along the Columbia River.  However, even after years of investigation, Cooper's identity remained a mystery.

So what does this have to do with Provo.  One theory was that D. B. Cooper was actually a Provo resident, named Richard McCoy.  On April 7, 1972, McCoy boarded a in Denver, heading towards San Fransisco.  Armed with a paperweight which resembled a grenade, McCoy demanded $500,000 in ransom and 4 parachutes.  After receiving the ransom and parachutes in San Francisco, he ordered the planed back into the air, and jumped above Provo, Utah.  He was found two days later with the money and arrested after the FBI was able to track him down using his fingerprints he left on a magazine.  He was convicted to 45 years in prison, although he died in a shootout with FBI agents when he escaped after only serving two years of his sentence.

One of the most interesting photos that I came across was McCoy's house in Provo.  It is located at 360 S 200 E.  Here is a photo of it from around the 1980s and what it currently looks like:

Photo courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

As you can tell, little has changed about the house and it probably appears today much as it did for the two days when McCoy was hiding as a fugitive there for two days.

While there have been books written about the connections between the two men (D.B. Cooper: The Real McCoy), several people who claimed that they were the same person, and similarities between the two hijackings, it was doubtful that McCoy was the actual D. B. Cooper.  Major flaws in any theory connecting the two men are differences in their ages and appearances and evidence that McCoy was in Las Vegas the day of the Cooper hijacking and in Provo the next.

 The D. B. Cooper case recently came to the public view again when a woman named Marla Cooper claimed that her uncle, Lynn Doyle Cooper, was the hijacker (you can read about it here).  Lynn Doyle died in 1999.  At the same time, the FBI claimed they had a new witness in the case, and although they said that the witness had passed away more than 10 years ago, they did not confirm if it was Lynn or not.  However, other recent news reveals that the FBI's new witness's DNA did not confirm that it was D. B. Cooper, although it did not deny it either. 

Ultimately the case of D. B. Cooper remains a mystery.  Was D. B. Cooper Richard McCoy, Lynn Doyle Cooper, or someone else?  It is an extremely interesting part of US history, and luckily for all of you Utah history fans, one that has a cool connection with Utah.


  1. My mom was an acquaintance with Richard McCoy back before his hi-jacking and shoot-out. She used to tell me about him and his possible DB Cooper connection. Now that she's gone, I wish I could remember more of her details about him, but she was always fairly convinced he had as good a shot as anyone to be DB.

  2. This story has had me fascinated. Thanks for giving the details; I have read in several places that D B Cooper might have a "Mormon" connection and this explains it. I've walked by that house several times, it's right across the street from where our best friends live.