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D.B. Cooper Most Wanted photo

Clip-on Clue: D.B. Cooper’s tie may be biggest lead yet in hijacking heist

A team of scientists may have narrowed down the suspect by his line of work

Investigators had all but given up solving the decades-long mystery of D.B. Cooper,  the wily skyjacker who disappeared without a trace in 1971 — after demanding and receiving $200,000 and four parachutes from the FBI. But now, a department store tie he left behind has been found to contain possible evidence that significantly narrows the suspect profile.

D.B. Cooper — the epithet referring to the still-unidentified skyjacker — kicked off one of the most intense manhunts in U.S. history, and had remained one of the most enduring mysteries of American crime. On November 24, 1971, Cooper boarded a Boeing 747 from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. Dressed in a business suit and sunglasses, he told a flight attendant he was in possession of a bomb. He agreed to release the hostage passengers upon the Seattle landing in exchange for the parachutes and the money — at that time, the equivalent of over $1 million dollars.

After directing the pilot to resume the flight and head towards Mexico, Cooper parachuted out of the plane somewhere between Seattle and Reno, Nevada. He was never found, and it is not known if he survived the jump. Six thousand dollars of the ransom money, identified by serial numbers, was found nine years later. But while there have been countless theories about Cooper’s whereabouts and identity, there have been few meaningful leads, and the FBI officially closed the case this past July. 

But there was one more clue he did leave behind: The J.C. Penny clip-on tie he removed before parachuting out of the plane. A group of independent scientists have been examining this evidence, in cooperation with the FBI, since 2009. And just this week, they announced a big break: The tie has been confirmed to have over 100,000 particles of elements that can presumably help narrow the identify of the hijacker. According to a Washington-based news station, those particles included Cerium, Strontium Sulfide, and pure titanium — particles that are rarely found on their own in nature.

Lead researcher Tom Kaye told K5 News that these particles are found in high concentration in certain industrial environments — like aircraft manufacturing — leading Kaye to speculate that Cooper may have been a Boeing employee.

“The tie went with him into these manufacturing environments, for sure, so he was not one of the people running these (manufacturing machines). He was either an engineer or a manager in one of the plants,” Kaye said. Boeing laid of thousands of employees, including engineers, shortly before the Cooper skyjacking — suggesting the possibility that the hijacker was both financially desperate and familiar with the Boeing design.

Now, Kaye is appealing to people who were employed in the aviation field during that time to help put the pieces together. “Someone may be able to look at those particles and say ‘Oh my gosh. I know what that means having those particles on the tie,” Kaye said.

[Feature Photo: FBI Handout]