VANCOUVER - The brazen hijacking of a commercial plane 40 years ago today is America's only unsolved hijacking, but one amateur sleuth is convinced a Canadian connection to the $200,000 in extorted cash will solve the puzzle.
The high-stakes heist was splashed across the front pages of the newspapers Galen Cook delivered as a boy and the Alaskan lawyer says the case never really left him, prompting him to follow a trail for years that he now believes leads to Vancouver.
Cook is convinced the outlaw stashed some of his cash in banks in the city in the days after the hijacker jumped out the rear stairs of a 727 jet with nothing but the money and two parachutes.
And the outlaw's son agrees with him.
It was the day before the American Thanksgiving, Nov. 24, 1971, when a man aboard a Northwest Orient Airlines flight from Portland, Ore., to Seattle, Wash., slipped a note to a flight attendant saying he had a bomb.
The 36 passengers were released when authorities in Seattle met the man's demands for $200,000 and four parachutes.
The plane was to then head towards Mexico City with a fuel stop in Reno, but about 45 minutes after leaving Seattle's airport, the pilots noticed an air pressure surge.
It's believed that's when DB Cooper lowered the stairs under the plane's tail and jumped out into a rain storm.
“This is one of the most intriguing unsolved crimes ever,” Cook said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“I think the answers are in Vancouver.”
Over the decades, Cook has narrowed his list of suspects down to one man; William Gossett, a U.S. military veteran, who died at the age of 73 in 2003. Gossett was a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars and had parachuting experience, Cook said.
His suspicions began when one of Gossett's sons contacted Cook after hearing him talk about the DB Cooper case on a radio show.
Greg Gossett said he's “totally certain” his father was DB Cooper.
He describes his father as a gambler, a womanizer, a military man, a lawyer and a Catholic priest who one day invited Greg into the basement for a chat.
Gossett said his father pulled the FBI sketch of DB Cooper from a locked file drawer and asked if Greg recognized the picture.
Gossett said he told his father it looked like him. His father, he said, acknowledged he was DB Cooper.
Gossett said he was so shocked, he could muster only one question: “What did you do with the money?”
The elder Gossett replied that he had stashed it in a safe deposit box in Canada and then he showed his son the keys - keys which Cook has spent years trying to hunt down.
“He always had a thing about Canada,” Greg Gossett said in an interview
“He always loved Canada and I never really knew why. But now I do.”
Another son of Gossett's told Cook that he and his father took a mysterious trip to Vancouver in 1973.
“(That) was the year Mr. Gossett retired from the military. The son had the presence of mind to use a brand new 8 mm movie camera and recorded the whole thing,” Cook said.
Greg Gossett said his brother was a young boy who hadn't had a close relationship with his father and was thrilled at news he would be taking a Canadian vacation with his dad.
“So they go up to Canada, they check into a motel room. My dad says 'Stay here, I'll be back in a couple hours.' He comes back in a couple hours and he says 'OK son, we're going back to the States,”' Gossett said.
“As it turns out, my dad told him later on that he just took him up there because it looked like a better cover to have a child with him.”
Cook has spent hours looking over the old film and is convinced Gossett hid his money in a safety deposit box in a bank in the city's Chinatown.
While Canada has defined guidelines for unclaimed cash in bank accounts, rules on handling unclaimed safety deposit boxes vary depending on the institution.
Police knew the serial numbers on the cash and none of it showed up after the hijacking, however almost $5,900 of the tattered and torn money was found in 1980 by an eight-year-old boy who stumbled on the cash on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington state.
Cook is convinced for another reason that Gossett or DB Cooper was in Vancouver in the days after the hijacking.
A picture of a letter sent to The Province, a Vancouver newspaper, in 1971 was published over top of an Associated Press story about the hijacking with the headline “Hijacker was here during Grey Cup?”
In the letter, the author complained that the composite drawing of the suspect handed out by the FBI wasn't a good likeness.
“I enjoyed the Grey Cup game. I'm leaving Vancouver now. Thanks for your hospitality,” the letter finishes.
It was signed DB Cooper.
Vancouver Police told Cook they no longer have the letter. A spokesman for the police department was unavailable for comment about the letter or Cook's theory.
While Cook had hoped to get a possible DNA match from the letter, he maintained the note adds more evidence to his claim that Gossett was in the city after hijacking.
The Calgary Stampedes beat the Toronto Argonauts in the 59th Grey Cup game played Nov. 28, 1971 in Vancouver's Empire Stadium, four days after the hijacking.
“I do believe I've found the real DB Cooper,” Cook said smiling as he took out a photo copy of the newspaper story from a file.
But while the legend of DB Cooper continues to grow, the FBI isn't interesting in fuelling more talk about the case, including commenting on Cook's suspicions.
FBI public affairs specialist Ayn Sandalo Dietrich said media coverage of the intriguing case seems to generate “considerable” new interest, which isn't proportional to the resources they have on the case.
“This is an open investigation, but it's not an active one,” she said. “We, long ago, did all the necessary searches, collected all the evidence that needed to be collected and interviewed all the witnesses.”
Because the case is open, if credible tips come in to the FBI, they'll investigate, Dietrich said, adding she understands the curiosity around the case.
The FBI said earlier this year that it had a promising lead on a suspect. In August, DNA tests on a necktie failed to link Lynn Doyle Cooper to the hijacking.
Cook, who is writing on book on his investigation, said he has spoken to FBI investigators over the years about his theories and said they've been receptive to listening to him and Greg Gossett said he has also been interviewed by investigators.
“When he died, I was looking through some of his pictures and I saw this picture that it dawned in my head that that is exactly what the FBI sketch looked like,” said Greg Gossett.
“I took the picture, I looked up the sketch online, I put them side-by-side and I got chills up my spine.”
Gossett said he isn't obsessed about the safety deposit box in Canada, the lost keys or the truth of his father's secret identity.
He said he's long ago decided his father is the notorious hijacker, a belief based on a vivid childhood memory.
“This (the hijacking) happened at Thanksgiving of 1971. I was four years old at the time because I'm 44 now. Thirty days later was Christmas Eve. It's the first Christmas Eve that I really remember,” Gossett said.
“My dad never had money. He never had a dime. It evaporated in his hand. For him to have $20 would be unbelieveable. So he shows up at Christmas Eve and he has this weird kind of sense about him. I remember this even at four years old. And he says I want to show you something. And he starts pulling out bundles and bundles of cash. I had never seen really any kind of money, let alone this was just handfuls and bricks of cash.”
Gossett said as a boy, he didn't know what to make of it. But it stood out and the puzzle pieces fell together for him after his conversation with his dad in his father's basement.
“I'm totally certain it was him.”