CJR Looks Into the Etymology of D.B. Cooper

It all tracks back to a pre-Thanksgiving UPI shift.

The famous case that was closed last week by the FBI centers around a man who, most certainly, used a fake name. However, as Columbia Journalism Review contributor William Browning very entertainingly lays out in a piece posted today, how the perpetrator of a daring 1971 commercial airliner hijacking came to be known as D.B. Cooper remains up in the air. (The ticket for the Northwest Orient Airlines Seattle-Portland flight was issued in the name Dan Cooper.)

The UPI journalists who crafted the original coverage of the incident on Nov. 24, 1971 from the wire service’s bureau in Portland, Ore., Clyde Jabin and B.J. McFarland, are no longer alive. In their place, Browning spoke to Jabin’s widow, several former co-workers and an FBI spokesperson. From his piece:

Jabin never felt sure enough to give a definitive play-by-play of what happened, according to [former UPI colleague Roberta] Ulrich. The accepted version around the UPI office was relayed to me by Ulrich and Barney Lerten, a reporter who came to the bureau as a college intern in 1976. It goes like this: The FBI agent said the suspect was “D. Cooper.” Jabin responded, “D as in dog or B as in boy?” To which the agent responded, “Yes,” or, “That’s right.” And the call ended.

This is different from the version offered to Browning by Jabin’s aforementioned widow Joan, now 80. There’s also some funny Wikipedia page perspective from Lerten. For those details, please read on.

In 2014, Michigan author Ross Richardson posited that D.B. was Richard Robert Lepsey, a resident who disappeared in 1969. In the wake of the FBI decision to close the case, a reporter for the Traverse City Record Eagle looped back to Richardson over the weekend to get some thoughts on the matter.

Finally, in this day and age, the case closing would not be complete without a bit of fan fiction. For those who like that sort of thing, there is “My Grandfather Was D.B. Cooper” by Victor Lana.

Addendum (July 23):
On July 10-11, The History Channel aired a two-part documentary, D.B. Cooper: Case Closed? The four-hour investigation presents evidence that may point to a San Diego retiree and former paratrooper Robert W. Rackstraw as the mysterious Dan Cooper. The San Diego Union-Tribune followed up a few days after the program aired. Read that fascinating report here.

Image via: fbi.gov