August 4, 2011 in Nation/World

Woman claims uncle is hijacker

Mysterious actions, comments may link man to Cooper case
Steve Miletich Seattle Times
 

SEATTLE – His last name is Cooper. And a woman calling herself his niece says he acted suspiciously before suddenly disappearing.

But it remains to be seen if Lynn Doyle Cooper – the deceased man the FBI is investigating in the 40-year-old D.B. Cooper skyjacking – will be positively tied to the fabled case.

ABC News first revealed the name Wednesday in an interview with Marla Cooper, of Oklahoma City, who said she is Cooper’s niece and is cooperating with the FBI.

Steve Dean, the assistant special agent in charge of the criminal division of the Seattle FBI office, confirmed Wednesday that Marla Cooper had contacted the bureau and turned over items to assist in the investigation.

Cooper, citing childhood memories, told ABC News she is convinced her uncle was the man who hijacked a Seattle-bound jet on Thanksgiving Eve in 1971 and parachuted over southwest Washington with $200,000 in cash.

“I’m certain he was my uncle, Lynn Doyle Cooper, who we called L.D. Cooper,” she told ABC News, offering tantalizing details of his life.

Although some investigators concluded the legendary skyjacker likely died in the jump, a body was never found in what remains America’s only unsolved hijacking.

The FBI, which has chased more than 1,000 leads over the years and checked out countless names, revealed earlier this week “a promising lead” had led them to a man who had died about 10 years ago. The bureau said it has been investigating the lead for more than a year while cautioning that a major break in the case wasn’t imminent.

Cooper told ABC News her uncle vanished after the hijacking. She said she was later told he died in 1999.

In the interview, Cooper said she was 8 at the time of the skyjacking. She said she is working on a book about her uncle, which is bound to raise suspicions about her credibility. But she told ABC News a book wasn’t her primary motivation for coming forward.

“I contacted the FBI as soon as I was sure that what I was remembering were real memories,” she said. “There’s a crime that’s taken place that hasn’t been solved, and I’m the only one, as far as I know, who knows what happened.”

To back her claims, she said she recalled her uncle and a second uncle planning something suspicious at her grandmother’s house in Sisters, Ore.

“My two uncles, who I only saw at holiday time, were planning something very mischievous,” Cooper told ABC News. “I was watching them using some very expensive walkie-talkies that they had purchased. They left to supposedly go turkey hunting, and Thanksgiving morning I was waiting for them to return.”

After Northwest Orient Flight 305 was hijacked, L.D. Cooper came home claiming to have been in a car accident, Cooper told ABC News.

“My uncle L.D. was wearing a white T-shirt and he was bloody and bruised and a mess, and I was horrified. I began to cry. My other uncle, who was with L.D., said, ‘Marla just shut up and go get your dad,’ ” she said.

She said she is now convinced the car accident was a ruse and that her uncle was injured in a parachute jump.

Cooper also told ABC News she remembers a discussion about the money.

“I heard my uncle say, ‘We did it, our money problems are over, we hijacked an airplane,’ ” she said.

Cooper said her two uncles wanted to return to search for cash apparently lost in the jump.

She said her father refused, likely because the FBI was beginning to search the area where the hijacker was believed to have landed.

Cooper said she never saw her uncle again after that Thanksgiving. She said she believes he lived in the Northwest and had children.

In the ABC News interview, she displayed a 1972 Polaroid picture of her uncle, whom she identified as a Korean War veteran. She said the picture is similar to the composite sketch of the hijacker.

FBI spokesman Fred Gutt said Monday that little contradictory information has emerged that would rule out the possible suspect.

The FBI has determined a guitar strap that belonged to the man is not conducive to lifting fingerprints. But the case agent is trying to obtain other items with better surfaces to lift fingerprints, Gutt said.

Gutt said Wednesday the case isn’t a high priority, but the information can’t be ignored.

The FBI said the initial tip came from a retired law enforcement officer, who referred the bureau to a credible person with information on the case.

Marla Cooper told ABC News she provided the FBI with the guitar strap and a Christmas photo of a man pictured with the same strap.

She said two conversations with her parents initially made her suspicious. Cooper said the first occurred in 1995, just before her father died.

“My father made a comment about his long-lost brother, my uncle L.D. … he said, ‘Don’t you remember he hijacked that airplane?’ ” she said.

She said she had difficulty believing her father, but in 2009 the subject came up again while speaking with her mother.

“A couple years ago my mother made a comment, another comment, a similar comment that she had always suspected that my uncle L.D. was the real D.B. Cooper,” she said.

She also said her uncle was obsessed with the Canadian comic-book hero Dan Cooper, with one comic book thumb-tacked to the wall.

Cooper gave a similar account to CNN on Wednesday, saying her father “swore me to secrecy” at the time of the hijacking because her uncle’s life could be at stake.

The passenger who parachuted from the rear of the Boeing 727 on Nov. 24, 1971, identified himself as “Dan Cooper.” A day after the skyjacking, FBI agents checked out a Portland man with the name “D.B. Cooper.” Although that man was quickly cleared, the name stuck in the media.

The tall, dark-complected man paid $20 cash for a one-way flight from Portland to Seattle. After takeoff, he told a flight attendant he had a bomb and showed her a briefcase holding red cylinders and a nest of wires.

When the plane landed in Seattle, passengers were exchanged for parachutes and ransom money paid by the airline. The plane took off toward Mexico, with the hijacker and the flight crew.

Authorities estimated the hijacker jumped near the small community of Ariel, Cowlitz County, in a rugged, wooded region.

Only $5,800 of the ransom money – whose serial numbers the FBI had recorded – turned up when a child digging in a sandbar on the north bank of the Columbia River west of Vancouver in 1980 unearthed a bundle of $20 bills.

Seattle-based FBI case agent Larry Carr was tasked with reigniting the case five years ago and the agency posted a “D.B. Cooper Redux” on its site in 2007, urging the public to help solve the enduring mystery.

In the FBI’s recounting, it quoted Carr as saying he thought it was likely that Cooper didn’t survive the jump. But Carr still sought the public’s help.

“Maybe a hydrologist can use the latest technology to trace the $5,800 in ransom money found in 1980 to where Cooper landed upstream,” Carr said. “Or maybe someone just remembers that odd uncle.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.


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