D.B. Cooper

This site is about the 1971 hijacking of Northwest Airlines Flight 305. It originated as a site about a main suspect named William J. Smith and his potential accomplice Dan Clair. It also focused heavily on a 1985 book by Max Gunther called “DB Cooper: What Really Happened”

William J. Smith makes for a compelling D.B. Cooper suspect.

  • He had experience gained as a combat air crewman and reconnaissance photographer in the Navy during and after World War II. He was rated as an Aerial Gunner and Aerial Photographer.
  • Fits the description of the hijacker. He was 43 in 1971, and was approximately 5’10” and 170 pounds. Had olive skin and dark brown eyes due to his Hungarian ancestry.
  • Was well known to be a gentleman.
  • Scored extremely high on his Navy aptitude tests. Also took physics and Latin in High School.
  • Had a fold of skin on his neck and chin that would be noticeable, possibly from an accident or surgery. Witness Bill Mitchell described a “fold of skin” like look on Cooper’s neck. He also had a protruding lower lip, which was described by witnesses via the FBI sketch artist Roy Rose.
  • Understood aerodynamics of planes from his Navy experience, to include larger reconnaissance aircraft such as the B-24 variant (PB4Y-2 Privateer) used by the Navy.
  • When he joined the Navy he stated his reason was “a desire to fly.” He also listed his hobbies as model airplanes, photography, and printing. Could a printer have modified the stolen $20s and put those in circulation?
  • Familiar with parachutes and survival from his training in the Navy.
  • Understood maps and how to identify targets from the air due to his military training. He would have known his general location from the air.
  • Had a sudden need for money due to the Lehigh Valley Railroad bankruptcy that caused layoffs and loss of pensions. This bankruptcy was part of the Penn Central bankruptcy, the biggest in U.S. history up until that time.
  • Had a significant grudge against the airline industry for their role in bringing about the bankruptcies and downfall of the railroads. His father and many friends worked for the railroads too.
  • A fellow railroader once referred to him as “the mild mannered radical”.
  • Had the means to escape from the area where he landed, by boarding a train at a rail yard or at a station.
  • Was familiar with the Seattle area through his friend/co-worker and possible accomplice Dan Clair and an uncle who were both stationed at Fort Lewis during World War II. Another uncle was born in Portland, moved to Sacramento, and worked for the Southern Pacific Railway. Dan Clair was born in Canada (mother was Canadian), a possible connection to the Dan Cooper comic books.
  • Lived far enough away that he would not be a suspect to local and state law enforcement.
  • Familiar with refueling operations of airplanes from the Navy, and from diesel trains. He knew the fuel truck issues could have been to stall him on the tarmac in Seattle.
  • 1971 was high time for railroad furloughs, so being gone from work for a few days or weeks would not be unusual.
  • As a railroad Yardmaster would have been familiar with handling the many stressful situations on the plane. A Yardmaster is the railroad equivalent of an air traffic controller.
  • Had a childhood acquaintance named Ira Daniel Cooper who went by Dan Cooper and lived in his neighborhood in Jersey City, NJ and attended his high school. Both collected stamps and were in the orchestra. Ira Daniel Cooper was later killed in World War II.
  • Worked around machinery, to include drill presses as well as coal and freight that could account for particles found on the clip on tie.
  • Lived a normal life, not one of luxury. He would never have raised a red flag by spending the money.
  • Had access to railroad flares that could have been used to make a realistic looking fake bomb.
  • Familiar with the use of Benzedrine pills from his time in the Navy, to stay alert. It is believed D.B. Cooper had Benzedrine pills for the crew.
  • Could easily have used the anonymity of train travel to arrive in Portland and get back to the East coast.
  • Was skilled with knots (Navy training). Could easily have tied the money bag to his body.
  • Had a scar on his right palm, which may have been seen by the flight attendant Tina Mucklow while sitting to his left.
  • He had excellent cursive penmanship. The note handed to the flight attendant was written in very good cursive.
  • Was Catholic. One FBI profile suggested Cooper was Catholic and of Italian descent.
  • He is believed to be the man who communicated with author Max Gunther in 1972, claiming to be D.B. Cooper.
  • At a minimum I believe William J. Smith is the man who contacted Max Gunther for his 1985 book “DB Cooper: What Really Happened.” See my blog post here on the site for more info on that.
  • A common observation of Smith is that his nose appears wider in his picture than in the composite sketches. There are actually a number of witness statements that indicate the sketches should show a wider nose. This one below references the “B Sketch” which is the color sketch and indicates a wider and flatter nose, just like William Smith’s.

William J. Smith was born in 1928 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He died in 2018 in Bloomfield, New Jersey. He is survived by two children and a number of grandchildren.

In 2022 I began to modify the site due to concerns from relatives of William J. Smith. If you have information that exonerates William Smith (pictures, etc). please let me know.

Click on the Menu to explore the site.

17 thoughts on “D.B. Cooper”

  1. I just now watched some of a new Netfilx series about the famous DB Cooper hijacking of an airliner a while back and it brought me back to the time on the late Nov., 1971 night I was working part time in a Vancouver, Wa. convenience store while attending grad school classes at PSU. Outside there was a raging rainstorm and a Wash. State Patrolman came in for coffee and a break from cruising around the area searching vainly for any signs of DB Cooper, as were all law local area enforcement officers at that moment.

    The patrolman told me as he sipped his coffee that he and most of the other officers on the lookout for the hijacker were convinced that Cooper had not survived the jump from the plane carrying his 20 pounds of loot while in a business suit and wearing leather shoes as he jumped into freezing rain and high winds. As the officer explained to me, Cooper leaped into total darkness over thousands of square miles of lakes and deep forests waiting for him below that entire airplanes have disappeared in for decades after they crash landed. The stolen cash was probably ripped away from him immediately after his jump from the plane, the officer added.

    The Netflix special on DB Cooper interviews an array of dedicated hijacking “investigators”, each with complicated theories of who Cooper was and where he went, convinced was a genius criminal who planned out his heist so expertly that he surely must have parachuted to safety! They point out his meticulous planning right up to when he exited the plane.

    My theory on DB Cooper has remained the same all the years since the night in 1971 when the state cop explained to me why he and his fellow officers thought he was dead and gone, after he got swallowed up by one of the many large lakes or dense forests in the area, and who’s body would likely never be found.

    I refer my opinion on Cooper to what I’ve always considered the clearest way to look at a mystery, which is Occam’s Razor (see below). Thus I never believed that any amount of investigating would ever answer the question on Cooper, since the easiest theory is that he probably had a death wish and wanted to go out with a blaze glory by getting away with $200,000 and then disappearing. Had he cared at all about surviving the jump he’d have dressed the part for it.

    Occam’s razor
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    It is generally understood in the sense that with competing theories or explanations, the simpler one, for example a model with fewer parameters, is to be preferred. The idea is frequently attributed to English Franciscan friar William of Ockham ( c.  1287–1347), a scholastic philosopher and theologian

    1. Thanks for the comment Doug. I’ve been a fan of Occam’s
      Razor for a while. I find it more philosophical than mathematical though. There are definitely counters to it out there. I think they are called anti-razors?? I guess I see the option for a number of scenarios, all of which don’t require a lot of assumptions. But regardless, why would him dying be the most likely using the razor, versus him living? I sort of see Occam’s
      Razor coming in more handy after the landing.

    2. I looked up the site, any site really, about the DB Cooper case because I’m watching it right now on Netflix. My question is who cares?
      $200,000 right now just not that much money and consider also how much money the government has spent keeping this case alive!! How much time and energy people have spent keeping this case alive the sky could be dead and bury 30 years ago from natural causes. Nobody knows it’s really doesn’t matter anymore. It’s a costly time-consuming venture for egoists who want to be named for being the guy who are the person who solved this case. That’s all it’s insane to even be it’s just not that interesting, truth be told.

      1. Well, $200,000 in todays money is about $ 1.1Million or there about. For me Jimmy Hoffa- Amelia Earhart are interesting stories. It is a mystery – they only difference between them and DB Cooper is that we knew who they were “before” they disappeared – with Cooper he arrived unknown was valid for 5 hrs or so and then vanished back to the unknown. Seems your not intrigued with these types of things -for me it’s human nature to want to know answers.

  2. Oddly enough the father of the 8year old boy looks like DB Cooper was he ever considered?

  3. Oddly enough the father of the boy who found the money looks like DB Cooper. Hiding in plain site???

  4. I watched the neflix documentary really enjoyed it not really knowing anything about DBCooper. The one thing that occurred to me was that someone who obviously planned everything to the last detail apparently with parachute training etc would plan such a thing when it was a stormy night. What was the weather forecast leading up to the day when he executed his plan if it was forecast as stormy why would he do it then? I am sure that this has already been explained but did he really jump out the plane or was this a mis direction? Surely it would be much easier to plan getting off the plane when it was on the ground then trying to jump out of a jet plane and land in a certain area at night and with bad weather. Maybe a stewardess or someone working on the plane was in on it with him?

    1. The rain guarantees that any evidence immediately disappeared. Probably as soon as he met his partner he was shot and the money was stolen. Certainly by now, none is left.

  5. I respect most opinions and don’t get emotional about this. For me it’s all in good fun. In this context, anyone could be right at least partly. It could be that he jumped much later than everyone thinks – he could have easily jumped up and down on the stairs to make them think he jumped at a certain time. He could’ve waited a while and jumped somewhere in Nevada where it is mostly flat. He may have lost some of the money in the jump or planted some. Colbert’s case for Rackstraw just doesn’t fit the facts. Most importantly Tina saying he doesn’t resemble Cooper. Have you had anything traumatic happen to you? Well trust me – you don’t forget moments like that and Tina still remembers Cooper and will never forget. I like William J. Smith but need more information on him. The tie has a 50/50 chance of meaning anything. It may simply have been purchased at a Goodwill store along with the rest of his outfit. Further – he could’ve been wearing thick long johns under his suit. He was very careful to collect all of his notes – I think if the tie or pin were important to him he would not have left them behind. He may have smoked just so people would think he was a smoker – or smoked a brand he doesn’t usually. He also may have drank something different than his usual. He wasn’t stupid – that we know for sure. He may also have had lifts in his shoes and dye in his hair. He also may have worn makeup. Anything is possible – that’s what makes it so interesting to me. Thanks for this site – it’s fun.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I agree, there are a lot of options. That’s one reason I recommend that people don’t get too hung up putting all their money on the tie or the jump spot, etc. The tie simply might not have been his.

    2. likely, as is human nature, the minute she read the note her subconscious switched her into preservation mode which, in that moment, likely caused her to look away. 40 years later, my mind sees memories and faces differently. Every life experience has the potential to alter short-lived memories. Not to mention what decades of age does to your eyesight. The same photos, different optic ability.

  6. Has anyone ever become suspect due to a sudden increase of cash flow? I sure wish that there had been computers and data bases then, with records of credit card spending and bank deposits! One of the suspects brought up in Brad Meltzer show bought a house shortly after the hijacking, but it wasn’t an especially nice one……If we could examine the finances of some of the suspects, it would be interesting to see who bought a new car or house, or paid off debts, or sent a kid to college.

    1. The FBI files have mention of suspects who were reported for that reason. My feeling is that Cooper did not make any major purchases, but if someone could see his tax return history they might see anomalies in how his lifestyle matched up to his income.

  7. I really enjoyed listening to you on the Cooper Vortex. Smith looks more like the sketch than anyone else I have seen, though I realize that sketches are based on people’s memories, which are not always reliable. Smith fascinates me more than any other person of interest. Do you know where he was in late November of 1971? Are there any pics of him from that time? He checks a lot of boxes as a suspect.

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