"The crime that spawned an obsession." This is The Mystery of D.B. Cooper. This documentary film written and directed by John Dower. The film brings to life the stories of four individuals fervently believed by their family and friends to be "D.B. Cooper", the mystery man who hijacked a 727 flying out of Seattle, traded the passengers’ lives for $200,000 and four parachutes, lept from the jet over some of Washington state’s roughest terrain, and was never heard from again. Almost fifty years later, the case continues to confound the FBI and inspire wild speculation as it remains the only unsolved airplane hijacking in United States history. The film draws from a combination of recreated and archival footage, as well as exclusive interviews with those most connected to the infamous case and its likeliest culprit, and explores how the heist inspired copycat hijackings around the world and elevated Cooper to "legend" status before his plane even touched back down on land.
Despite an extensive manhunt and protracted FBI investigation, the perpetrator has never been located or identified. It remains the only unsolved case of air piracy in commercial aviation history. Many FBI agents are of the opinion that Cooper probably did not survive his high-risk jump, but his remains have never been recovered. The FBI maintained an active investigation for forty-nine years after the hijacking. Despite a case file that has grown to over sixty volumes over that period, no definitive conclusions have been reached regarding Cooper's true identity or whereabouts. Numerous theories of widely varying plausibility have been proposed over the years by investigators, reporters, and amateur enthusiasts. A young boy discovered a small cache of banknotes from the ransom along the banks of the Columbia River in February 1980. The find triggered renewed interest but ultimately only deepened the mystery, and the great majority of the ransom remains unrecovered. In July 2016, the FBI officially suspended active investigation of the case, but the agency continues to request that any physical evidence that might emerge related to the parachutes or the ransom money be submitted for analysis.
The film might not be a perfect documentary, but it gets us inside the hijacking, by hook or crook, and lets us examine what dark secrets they are hiding. While the film provides a very entertaining tour of some of the questions that swirl around D.B. Cooper, viewers who've followed the story through the decades will find little that's new or unexpected. There is little factual revelation here but by the powerful conclusion, you do feel that Dower has uncovered something of the dark side of the nation's obsession. The lack of answers here is frustrating but understandable, and the journey to find them provides an entertaining look at the nature of mysteries and legends. However, the film is an illuminating insight into the hijacking, the man and the aftermath and subsequent birth of the Robin Hood-like legend, but one that must settle for walking the perimeter fence, looking in.