Food & Culture

The Great Northwest Mystery Anthony Bourdain Forgot to Ask Me About

D.B. Cooper's unsolved caper would've been right up the CNN host's outlaw alley.

By Knute Berger November 22, 2017

Jet aircraft planes taking off from an airport with magestic Mount Hood in the background at sunset

Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode on Seattle that aired last sunday dwelled on the idea of serial killers, but absent were other regional enigmas that capture the public’s imagination: Bigfoot and D.B. Cooper.

Cooper, you would think, might appeal to Bourdain who has a taste for the dark side and outlaw behavior.

In 2016, the FBI said it had ended its active search for Cooper, who hijacked a commercial jetliner on Thanksgiving eve in 1971 for ransom. He jumped from the plane with $200,000 in loot and a parachute into the woods between Seattle and Portland. Whether he survived is unknown, though in 1980 some of his money—still as bundled when given to the hijacker—was recovered from the bank of the Columbia River.

If the FBI has given up the search, their files continue to yield interesting tidbits of information for unofficial Cooper hunters—and they are legion. For example, a recent article in Newsweek revealed a previously undisclosed letter purportedly from Cooper in the FBI files. In it, Cooper talks about his motives:

“I didn’t rob Northwest Orient because I thought it would be romantic, heroic or any of the other euphemisms that seem to attach themselves to situations of high risk.

“I’m no modern day Robin Hood. Unfortunately do have only 14 months to live.

“My life has been one of hate, turmoil, hunger and more hate, this seemed to be the fastest and most profitable way to gain a few fast grains of peace of mind.”

Some believe Cooper survived. If this letter is genuine, he did make it safely to the ground, but seems to reveal a terminal illness.

These days, folks can make a conspiracy of anything—Obama’s birthplace, the moon landing. The fact that this letter is only being revealed now has some people calling it an FBI cover-up. Many people believe Cooper is still alive or are trying to identify, alive or dead, just who he was or is. The list of suspected Coopers is long.

In the letter, the supposed “outlaw” says, “Neither am I a psycho-pathic [sic] killer. As a matter of fact I’ve never even received a speeding ticket.”

That would mean his memorable skyjacking was the dramatic gesture of an angry, sick, law-abiding guy with less than a year to fulfill his bucket list and gain “peace of mind.” No word, though, about the money he lost. His peace of mind likely remained unfulfilled.

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