Was William J. Smith the real D.B. Cooper?

At the request of William J. Smith’s family, I have removed his picture from this page.

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.