The FBI announced in a statement on Tuesday that it has given up on one of the most notorious robbery cases in U.S. history after 45 years of inconclusive investigation. The mystery surrounds D.B. Cooper, who disappeared in 1971 after he hijacked an airplane, stole $200,000 and escaped via parachute, never to be heard from again.
“In order to solve a case, the FBI must prove culpability beyond a reasonable doubt, and, unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips or applications of new investigative technology have yielded the necessary proof,” FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement.
On Nov. 24, 1971, Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines flight traveling from Portland, Ore., to Seattle. Cooper, who boarded the plane in a suit and tie, passed a note to a flight attendant stating he had a bomb, then demanded $200,000, parachutes and a refueling truck on the ground at the destination. When the flight landed in Seattle, he let passengers safely deplane before telling the pilot to fly him to Mexico. However, 45 minutes into the flight, he exited the plane via parachute, the $200,000 strapped to his body.
Cooper was never heard from again, and his true identity remains unknown. The only remnants of the crime were stacks of partially decomposed $20 bills found along the Columbia River in Washington. Investigators also collected what they believed to be his pink parachute and black tie.
“The FBI exhaustively reviewed all credible leads,” Dietrich-Williams said.
Cooper’s story has become legend over the years, with many falsely claiming his identity. Cooper has even inspired fan fiction theories and characters on television shows. Throughout the run of AMC’s “Mad Men,” many fans speculated that Don Draper, the advertising exec played by Jon Hamm, would become D.B. Cooper in the series finale. After creator Matthew Weiner denied the theory, the show ended without Draper bailing out of a plane.
FX’s “Justified” took Cooper’s so-called perfect crime one step further with the character of Drew Thompson. Thompson, who was introduced in the show’s fourth season, shot an infamous mob boss and then faked his own death by pushing another man off an airplane. Thompson parachuted to safety and went incognito for 30 years, his identity finally revealed while working as a local sheriff. The show “Prison Break” also had a character based on the legendary hijacker.
There was no such conclusive revelation for the real-life Cooper, though. The FBI has reassigned the lone agent who had been tinkering with the mystery. The agency says it will still field any tips related to Cooper, his parachutes or the stolen cash.