For the law enforcement community, especially the Feds, Dan Cooper is like a wart right on the tip of your nose. No matter where you go, all folks see is that damn wart. Even after it’s removed, no one can ever forget it. They still stare at the end of your nose, just waiting for it to reappear. When you look in the mirror, there it is, even when it’s gone. That wart may not change your essential nature but it sure redefines what others see in you. And it does so for a long, long time.
For many people, Cooper is a folk hero, a man who has become myth over the years. He’s one guy in American history who was able to leave behind a truly unique legacy – the only unsolved airline hijacking since the Wright brothers started the big bang. There’s always something special about being first, always something that folks seem to admire, or hate. When you’re first, and break the law, and walk away from it, well, that’s what makes for warts or myths. It all depends on your point of view. Whatever you’ve done becomes a piece of history and people are bound to talk about it, even when they don’t know what they’re talking about.
The truth about Dan Cooper, wrongly called “D. B. Cooper” by an enthusiastic reporter with a half-glass of facts, is very different. He’s neither wart nor myth. Cooper put his pants on one leg at a time, although he may have done so with more bravado than the usual fellow. He was a man on a mission, whether or not it was crazy, inspired, or just plain weird. He was an original. There’s no getting around his place in history, whatever you may think of him. The trick is to put Cooper in the right place, somewhere between wart and myth.
If you live in Southwestern Washington, Cooper lurks behind every tree. He’s occasionally seen on the rural roads near Mt. St. Helens, and talked about over beer in the dozens of one-room, smoky bars that dot the plains and foothills. Someone’s cousin knew a woman who once knew Cooper. One of the old timers had a beer with him back in the late 1980s. He looks a heck of a lot like the rancher’s cousin who lives up in the foothills, somewhere north of Lake Merwin. It goes on and on. In fact, Cooper even has his own special day in the small town of Ariel. Out in these parts, his legend just grows with the years. It ripens and becomes unnecessarily bountiful. It remains a fascination.
But what about Cooper himself? He’s the one person who has never told his own story. He’s the silent Buddha sitting in the middle of a noisy, confused folk legend, grinning. Everyone who even thinks about Dan Cooper for more than a minute, or talks about him over a drink, can guarantee you he would have a hell of a story to tell.
So, Dan, what’s taken you so long? Let’s get this wart thing cleared up and meet down the road for a beer and a good story.