The Perfect Crime: 5 Criminals who Disappeared Without a Trace

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It is the great dream of the criminal. The perfect crime, getting away with murder, solving your problems with a bank heist or a daring robbery. I would have gotten away with it to, if it weren’t for those meddling kids. Thankfully, for decent society at least, heinous acts are invariable punished and their perpetrators brought to justice. Even outside of the criminal fraternity, there is a grudging respect for those who manage to evade the authorities, as well as a public fascination with the mysterious and the maniacal methods by which they fool those tasked with catching them.

Some use daring and deception, avoid the long arm of the law through cunning and calmness, while others go to the other end of the spectrum, using brutality and violence to cow those who might stand in their way. We bring you tales of those who committed crimes and then got away with it – some who were captured after years, some who remain at large to this day.

FBI

1 – D.B. Cooper

The top of the tree in terms of disappeared felons is occupied by the mysterious D.B. Cooper, the skyjacker who remains at large over forty years after he committed his crime. Few criminals can rank alongside him for audacity, for ingenuity and for the way in which they have captured the public imagination over the decades that have elapsed since they first came to prominence. The facts of the case are clear and simple, though the basic outline is just about the only thing that Cooper has afforded any notion of clarity.

The gist is as follows. Around lunchtime on Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday November 24, 1971, a man in a dark colored suit and tie, a grey waterproof jacket and carrying a black briefcase bought a one way ticket from Portland International Airport to Seattle. He gave his name as Dan Cooper and paid the $20 fare in cash. He boarded the plane, ordered a drink – bourbon and soda – before lighting up a cigarette. The man with the name Dan Cooper then dropped a note into the purse of a flight attendant, Florence Schaffner, and when she ignored it, called her above and softly told her that she should read the note, as he was carrying a bomb. He gave her a glimpse of his briefcase, which contained, as Ms Schaffner later explained, something that certainly looked like what she thought could be an explosive.

The note – of which nobody knows the exact wording, because Cooper later retrieved it – stated that he required $200,000, four parachutes and a refuelling for the plane once it landed in Seattle. Schaffner, who had taken a seat next to Cooper, walked to the cockpit and informed the captain of the situation, and concurrently he radioed ahead to the Air Traffic Control at Seattle-Tacoma Airport to explain that there was a hijacking in progress. The captain, William Scott, then circled around the city for two hours while the crew on the ground acceded to the demands of the hijacker. During these period, the overwhelming review of Cooper’s behaviour from the aircraft crew was that he was unnaturally calm, ordering (and paying for) drinks and discussing the local landmarks that could be seen from the plane. The other passengers, who had been told that the extension to their flight was due to a mechanical problem, were unfussed and calm.

When the plane eventually landed, Cooper was provided with his requested money and parachutes. He then allowed all passengers and crew to leave, save for those directly responsible for flying the plane. As the plane was refuelled, he informed the captain and the flight crew of the second part of his scheme. They would set a course for Mexico City and head directly south at the slowest possible speed. The cabin was to remain unpressurized and the landing gear to stay extended.

A second refueling was arranged for Reno, Nevada. Some two hours after the plane had landed at Seattle, it took off again, with delays only while Cooper and the head of Northwest Airlines debated whether a final demand, to take off with the rear doors still open, was viable. Cooper accepted that it wasn’t, and endeavoured to open them himself while the aircraft was in the air. At 7-40pm, the plane was airborne for a second time, at 8pm the rear stair doors were opened at sometime shortly afterwards Cooper jumped from the plane. Two fighter jets, which had been scrambled from a nearby Air Force base and were flying above and below the passenger plane, saw nothing.

The news of the hijacking made headlines around the world. A man was questioned in Oregon with the name of DB Cooper, and a sub-editor’s mistake lead to his name being linked with the crime. To this day, the name DB Cooper has stuck. The whereabouts of the hijacker remain totally unknown. FBI agents determined that at the time of the parachute jump, the plane was flying over the wilderness of southern Washington state around the Lewis River. Ground searches were made, but nothing was ever found. Later, it was thought that a slightly different flightpath might have been followed and thus the jump occurred 40 or so miles to the south around Washougal, WA, but searches there also came up blank.

The next logical path was to track the cash. Serial numbers were tracked and alerts sent out across the region. Nothing would appear until 1980, when a child found a portion of the bills, still wrapped in rubber bands, though attempts to link them to back to any individual were unsuccessful. The flight staff were interviewed and a profile of the hijacker emerged. He was assumed to be an experienced airman – his knowledge of the specific plane and its capabilities was extensive – though not an experienced parachutist, as he chose the poorer of the chutes offered to him and jumped into conditions that any regular jumper would have known to be very hazardous, not to mention that he was wearing a suit, tie and trench coat rather than jumping gear. Many thought that he might have been Canadian, as he had no discernable accent, referred to “American currency” and chose the assumed name of Dan Cooper, a Canadian comic book hero.

Thousands of suspects were considered but none were ever charged, and the perpetrator remains the only air hijacker in the history of civil aviation in the United States to evade justice. In the process, he captured the imaginations of millions, spawned a cottage industry of amateur sleuths and became a synecdoche for the mysterious.

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