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Week ahead of Vancouver’s CooperCon, new D.B. Cooper suspect emerges

Amateur sleuth: Particles on skyjacker’s tie are key

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
2 Photos
A hijacked Northwest Airlines jetliner sits on a runway for refueling at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on  Nov. 25, 1971.
A hijacked Northwest Airlines jetliner sits on a runway for refueling at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Nov. 25, 1971. (Associated Press files) Photo Gallery

Nearly 51 years after D.B. Cooper skyjacked a Boeing 727, parachuting out with $200,000 in ransom money, Cooper researcher and investigator Eric Ulis has identified a new suspect based on particles analyzed from Cooper’s tie: Vince Petersen.

The mystery over Cooper’s identity has spawned a niche community of amateur sleuths and detectives attempting to solve it, including Ulis, who has been featured on the History Channel, Discovery Channel and Netflix to discuss Cooper.

Ulis’ newest theory — until 2017 he was nearly certain that Cooper’s identity was Sheridan Peterson — comes a week ahead of CooperCon, a three-day event in Vancouver dedicated to the theories and lore surrounding the infamous event.

“(W)e still do have a few firsthand witnesses around,” Ulis said. “So my hope is that maybe somebody comes out of the woodwork.”

The skyjacking

On Thanksgiving eve 1971, a man under the name Dan Cooper, made D. B. Cooper due to a press miscommunication, skyjacked a plane flying from Portland to Seattle, claiming to have a bomb in a briefcase. Cooper held the passengers and crew hostage for $200,000 and multiple parachutes.

If You Go

What: CooperCon 2022

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 18-20

Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver

Admission: $39 for one day; $99 for all days

Information: coopercon2022.com

Upon receiving his demands, he let the passengers go and forced the flight crew to take off and head south. He parachuted off the plane somewhere over Southwest Washington with the money, never to be found.

Nearly $6,000 of the ransom money was found partly disintegrated in 1980 on Tena Bar, northwest of Vancouver.

The FBI ended its investigation in 2016 after 45 years of searching, concluding that Cooper likely did not survive the jump. A body was never found, however.

The case for Petersen

Cooper left behind four things on the plane: cigarette butts, a black clip-on tie, a tie clip and a hair taken from Cooper’s headrest.

A 2017 analysis of Cooper’s tie, which was only sold at J.C. Penney between 1962 and 1965, revealed more than 100,000 particles on it, including the uncommon titanium alloy. Nearly every industry phased out its use of titanium alloy in the 1950s, Ulis said, but one company did not: Rem-Cru Titanium in Pittsburgh, now Crucible Steel, which filed a patent associated with the alloy in 1965.

Photographs of Rem-Cru Titanium’s research lab show engineers wearing ties. The former Rem-Cru supervisor of the research lab from the ’50s to the ’90s told Ulis that the only person that matched Cooper’s description was Vince Petersen.

“All roads seem to indicate that Mr. Petersen was D.B. Cooper,” Ulis said.

Ulis said he was told that Peterson traveled to Washington on occasion for his job, although it’s unknown if he was in the state at the time of the skyjacking.

Ulis points to the decline of the aerospace sector in the late 1960s and early ’70s as a potential motive. Nearly 50,000 steelworkers were laid off in Pittsburgh, where Petersen lived, although Ulis is uncertain if Petersen was laid off. Petersen died in 2002.

Ulis acknowledges that there are some missing pieces. Petersen’s son doesn’t think his father was Cooper and doesn’t remember his father ever skydiving. There is also no hard evidence linking Petersen to Cooper.

In spite of this, Ulis believes he’s on to something.

“I think the evidence clearly points to him and he is definitely worthy of serious consideration,” said Ulis.

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