One of the most intriguing and controversial criminal cases in American history is the mystery surrounding the hijacking of Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305, popularly known as the DB Cooper case. On November 24, 1971, a nondescript man in his mid-forties, who called himself Dan Cooper but later mistakenly identified as DB Cooper by the media, hijacked the Seattle-bound passenger plane and demanded $200,000 in ransom money and four parachutes. After the plane landed in Seattle, he released the passengers and most crew members and instructed the pilot to fly to Mexico. Somewhere over the Cascade Mountains in Washington, he jumped out of the plane with the ransom money and disappeared, never to be seen again.
For over 50 years, this bizarre skyjacking case has fascinated the public and baffled law enforcement agencies. Despite an exhaustive search and numerous leads, the hijacker’s true identity and fate remain unknown. Nevertheless, amateur sleuths and professional investigators have continued to delve into the case, hoping to solve the enduring mystery.
Recently, one amateur investigator has taken it upon himself to challenge the FBI’s handling of the case and obtain crucial DNA evidence to solve the mystery. In August 2021, Eric Ulis, a DB Cooper researcher and organizer of Cooper-oriented conventions, announced that he would sue the FBI for access to the discarded cigarette butts and drinking cups used by the law enforcement officials who handled DB Cooper’s clothes after he jumped from the plane. Ulis argues that the items could contain overlooked DNA samples from DB Cooper that could help identify him or his associates.
Ulis’s quest for DNA evidence is not without precedent. In 2011, author and TV producer Thomas J. Colbert spearheaded a citizen-led investigation of the DB Cooper case that resulted in the discovery of trace DNA on the clip of a tie worn by Cooper, which was thought to have been used as a tie-up device. The DNA belonged to an unknown male, which fueled speculation that Cooper was not acting alone, and that his accomplices may have left DNA traces as well.
However, despite the promising lead, the FBI has yet to confirm or deny the significance of the DNA sample or pursue new leads based on it. Ulis, who draws inspiration from Colbert’s efforts and the NYPD cold-case unit’s successful use of discarded DNA evidence, believes that the FBI has been negligent in preserving and testing potential sources of DNA evidence in the case.
According to Ulis, he seeks to bring the lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, which would force the FBI to disclose any pertinent files or documents that could shed light on the DNA evidence that Ulis believes is crucial to solving the case. Although FOIA lawsuits are not unusual, the novelty of the case and the nature of the evidence requested would undoubtedly make it a landmark case in FOIA history.
Ulis, who is a former entertainment executive and graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law, acknowledges the uphill battle he faces against the FBI, which has repeatedly stated that the case remains open but inactive. Nevertheless, he is hopeful that his lawsuit will create public awareness and pressure the FBI to reconsider its approach to the case.
Furthermore, Ulis’s lawsuit touches on the broader issue of accountability and transparency in federal law enforcement agencies. Critics have accused the FBI of mishandling or covering up evidence in other high-profile cases, such as the JFK assassination and the Oklahoma City bombing. By pushing for access to potential sources of DNA evidence, Ulis hopes to challenge the FBI’s authority and inspire other citizen-led efforts to hold law enforcement accountable.
In conclusion, the DB Cooper case remains one of the most fascinating criminal mysteries in American history, and the quest for answers continues. Eric Ulis’s decision to sue the FBI for access to potential DNA evidence highlights the importance of persistence, transparency, and accountability in solving cold cases. Whether his lawsuit yields results or not, it demonstrates the power of citizen-led investigations to challenge official narratives and inspire new leads in unsolved crimes.