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News >  Crime/Public Safety

‘Charming’ D.B. Cooper suspect Sheridan Peterson dies at 94, spent years dedicated to political causes

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 30, 2021

This artist’s sketch provided shows a rendering of the skyjacker known as “Dan Cooper” and “D.B. Cooper,” from the recollections of passengers and crew of a Northwest Orient Airlines jet he hijacked between Portland and Seattle, Nov. 24, 1971.  (Courtesy of FBI)
This artist’s sketch provided shows a rendering of the skyjacker known as “Dan Cooper” and “D.B. Cooper,” from the recollections of passengers and crew of a Northwest Orient Airlines jet he hijacked between Portland and Seattle, Nov. 24, 1971. (Courtesy of FBI)
By Douglas Perry The Oregonian

Sheridan Peterson, long considered a suspect in the D.B. Cooper skyjacking case, died Jan. 8 in California. He was 94.

The California native served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and later worked as a technical editor at Boeing, the aerospace manufacturer based in Seattle.

He also was an experienced smokejumper. He loved skydiving and taking physical risks, even reportedly “experimenting with homemade bat wings.” These were key reasons his name has flitted for years around internet message boards devoted to the D.B. Cooper case, the only unsolved skyjacking in U.S. history.

A man using the name Dan Cooper hijacked Northwest Orient Flight 305 out of Portland on Nov. 24, 1971. He parachuted out of the plane with $200,000 in ransom – and disappeared. This led to the skyjacker becoming a folk hero. The case has inspired books and documentaries and even a feature film starring Treat Williams.

Phoenix entrepreneur Eric Ulis spent years trying to figure out if Peterson was the famous criminal, ultimately deciding he was “98%” certain he was.

“Whether Sheridan Peterson was D.B. Cooper or not,” he said Thursday in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive, “may I suggest that he more than atoned for his life’s failings?”

Ulis said that, through his investigation, he had “learned to appreciate how deeply (Peterson) cared for those less fortunate. … Sheridan helped establish freedom schools in the Deep South in 1965 during the Civil Rights battles. He then spent years in Vietnam during the Vietnam War assisting refugees. Later he would witness and speak out against the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. And it didn’t stop there. Sheridan was very vocal about public policy until the very end.”

Ulis believes Peterson’s experiences in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War “radicalized” him, leading to the skyjacking.

The FBI showed an interest in Peterson soon after the 1971 crime, and in the years that followed the suspect often was coy about whether he was in fact D.B. Cooper.

“Actually, the FBI had good reason to suspect me,” Peterson wrote in a 2007 issue of Smokejumper, a magazine published by the National Smokejumper Association. “Friends and associates agreed that I was without a doubt D.B. Cooper. There were too many circumstances involved for it to be a coincidence.”

Those “circumstances,” he wrote, included:

“At the time of the heist, I was 44 years old. That was the approximate age Cooper was assumed to have been, and I closely resembled sketches of the hijacker. But what was even more incriminating was the photo of me simulating a skydiving maneuver for Boeing’s news sheet. I was wearing a suit and tie – the same sort of garb Cooper had worn, right down to the Oxford loafers. It was noted that skydivers don’t ordinarily dress so formally.”

A paid obituary for Peterson, published in the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press-Democrat on Sunday, stated that Peterson’s son Sheridan Jr. and daughter Ginger “were born in Nepal under very astir conditions.”

Peterson, when pressed by FBI agents, insisted he was in Nepal at the time of the skyjacking.

The FBI never detained or arrested Peterson in connection to the case. In fact, the federal law-enforcement agency didn’t even interview him until 2004.

“He was a charming guy,” former FBI agent Mary Jean Fryar told the Oregonian in 2019.Fryar and another agent questioned Peterson and took a DNA swab from him. (The FBI has never said anything about the sample, even though it publicly ruled out other Cooper case suspects via DNA.)

Peterson was interviewed for a 2020 episode of History Channel’s “History’s Greatest Mysteries” that was devoted to the D.B. Cooper case.

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