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FBI Cryptic, Family More Vocal About D.B. Cooper 'Suspect'

Lynn D. Cooper's grave site in Pine Butte Cemetery in Bend, Oregon, about 22 miles from Sisters, Oregon.
David Nogueras
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Lynn D. Cooper's grave site in Pine Butte Cemetery in Bend, Oregon, about 22 miles from Sisters, Oregon.

The Oklahoma woman who sparked renewed interest in the 1971 D.B. Cooper skyjacking continues to provide new details about the uncle she identifies as the famous hijacker.

Marla Cooper also revealed plans to write and publish a book for release in November in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the skyjacking.

Cooper told News 9 reporter Havonnah Johnson in Oklahoma City that "long suppressed memories" about her uncle, Lynn Doyle or L.D. Cooper, suddenly surfaced after her mother mentioned the possibility that he was the skyjacker.

"Memories unfolded from my mind," Marla Cooper said, as she researched the D.B. Cooper case. She realized, she told Johnson, "These are my memories. This really happened to me. This is real."

Marla Cooper told CNN she was sworn to secrecy, as a child, to protect her uncle, who she described as a troubled veteran of the Korean War who died in 1999.

Marla Cooper's mother also spoke out Thursday in an interview with ABC News.

Grace Hailey told the network, "I've always had a gut feeling [D.B. Cooper] was L.D. I think it was more what I didn't know is what made me suspicious than what I did know, because whenever the topic came up it immediately got cut off again."

Hailey said L.D. Cooper grew up in Sisters, Oregon, and was a logger, outdoorsman and military veteran.

Veteran's records reviewed by the Northwest News Network and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) turned up a Lynn D. Cooper who served in the U.S. Navy in Korea and who died on April 30, 1999.

Lynn D. Cooper's grave was located by OPB's David Nogueras in the Pine Butte Cemetery in Bend, Oregon, which is 22 miles from Sisters.

Marla Cooper told the Associated Press that her two uncles returned from what they laughingly called a turkey hunting trip early on the morning of Thanksgiving. Uncle L.D. was bruised and bloodied, Marla Cooper said.

She described two very different responses in her interview with News 9, "My father was crying," Cooper said. "He was yelling and he was cussing out my uncle, well, both of them, for what they had done. He said 'You realize you have ruined your life.'"

Marla Cooper also told ABC, "I heard my uncle say, 'We did it. Our money problems are over. We hijacked an airplane.'"

And she told News 9, "I was skipping and jumping and happy because I didn't really understand. All I heard was, 'We are rich.' I was eight years old. We were extremely poor."

The timing of that early Thanksgiving morning encounter raises some logistical questions about the claim that D.B. Cooper is actually L.D. Cooper. The encounter took place in Sisters, Oregon, which is about 260 miles by road from the area where D.B. Cooper jumped. , author of Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper, says there's a consensus among those who've studied the incident that Cooper parachuted from the hijacked plane shortly after 8 p.m. local time on Thanksgiving eve.

Gray says there was enough time to return to Sisters if Cooper landed by a paved road where his waiting brother could quickly retrieve him. But the jump zone is marked by hundreds of square miles of thick forests, steep slopes and twisting and poorly marked dirt roads.

Gray is dubious about Marla Cooper's story for another reason. He quotes FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt as saying the evidence provided by the Cooper family, a guitar strap, "was not fully vetted" by investigators, suggesting the purported link was not taken as seriously as news reports suggest.

The FBI itself revealed a possible link that was worth investigating. An FBI spokeswoman first revealed the existence of a new suspect, new evidence and FBI lab analysis in an interview with a reporter. Then the agency sent mixed signals, saying this was not a high priority case.

Gutt told NPR yesterday that he could not confirm Marla Cooper as the source of the new information and guitar strap, or that L.D. Cooper was under investigation.

"We do not identify witnesses in an investigation," Gutt wrote in an email, as he declined to answer additional questions.

But there's this in the Seattle Times this morning:

"Steve Dean, the assistant special agent in charge of the criminal division of the Seattle FBI office, confirmed Wednesday that Marla Cooper had contacted the bureau and turned over items to assist in the investigation."

Gray remains skeptical that L.D. Cooper will be identified as D.B. Cooper. "It could be that Uncle L.D. is our guy," Gray wrote on his blog yesterday. "But proving it conclusively, especially considering the weak forensic evidence in the case, will be a burden that I'm not so sure Marla Cooper can overcome."

Marla Cooper also says that her uncle was a fan of the Dan Cooper comic books. The flight manifest for the skyjacked flight contains the name "Dan Cooper." The hijacker was referred to as "D.B." as the result of a reporter's mistake.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.