Folk hero to some, 'sleazy, rotten crook' to others


PORTLAND, Ore. -- Skyjacker D.B. Cooper may be a folk hero to some, but to retired FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach, he was just a 'sleazy' con man out to make one more big score.

Himmelsbach, 61, spent much of his FBI career trying to solve the mystery of what happened to Cooper, who disappeared on Thanksgiving Eve 15 years ago after he parachuted out of a jet over southwest Washington with $200,000 ransom.


Six years after his retirement, Himmelsbach is now giving inside details of the case in 'NORJAK: The Investigation of D.B. Cooper' a 135-page book he wrote along with Thomas K. Worcester. NORJAK was the FBI code name for 'Northwest Airlines Skyjacking.'

'I have always very bitterly resented this guy being considered a folk hero,' said Himmelsbach. 'He was a very common, desperate criminal with nothing to be admired.'


'I still think he is a sleazy, rotten crook.'

Several books and songs have been written about Cooper over the years and a bar in Salt Lake City bears his name. Dozens of T-shirts have immortalized the crime and a bowling alley in Seattle has sponsored a 'D.B. Cooper Bowling Sweepstakes.'

Himmelsbach's book is touted as the first insider's account of the investigation into the takeover of Northwest Airlines Flight 305 by a swarthy passenger who showed a stewardess a 'bomb' in an attache case.

Cooper parachuted out of the Boeing 727 as it passed over the Columbia River north of Portland after receiving $200,000 and four chutes at Seattle-Tacoma Airport.

Himmelsbach's goes over the details of the crime starting Nov. 24, 1971, when a man believed to be about 48 years old bought a ticket at Portland International Airport with a $20 bill for the flight to Seattle. The passenger used the name 'Dan Cooper.'

He said the name 'D.B. Cooper' was attached to the case after an FBI agent told UPI the night of the hijacking that law enforcement officials were checking up on a man with those initials in the Portland area. The man was questioned and dismissed as a suspect, but the initials stuck.


'From the moment that reporter's story hit the UPI wire, the magical combination of initials took over,' wrote Himmelsbach. 'The skyjacker ... was known to eternity as D.B. Cooper. Through the power of the press, a legend was born.'

Even the FBI uses the initials when referring to the case.

'I'm almost convinced he was an old, burned out ex-con with nothing left to lose, so he went for the big one,' said Himmelsbach. 'One doesn't get to be 48 years old and a law-abiding citizen, and then ask for $200,000 and hold some 40 people hostage for it.

'It is not the rational act of an ordinary citizen. This guy was a sociopath all of his life.'

Himmelsbach thinks other clues to Cooper being an ex-convict were the 'atrocious foul language' he used in talking to a stewardess and the way he smoked his cigarettes. Cooper was a heavy smoker and was indifferent to the fact that the smoke curled through his fingers and left nicotine stains, a trait Himmelsbach said is common among prison inmates.

Himmelsbach said there is a chance the FBI might eventually identify Cooper through fingerprints. There were 66 separate fingerprints taken from the plane that have never been matched with anyone.


Himmelsbach's own view is that Cooper probably died when he parachuted from the airliner, somewhere southwest of Mount St. Helens. He very much doubts that Cooper, even if he lived, ever got to spend the 10,000 $20 bills he got.

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