An amateur sleuth has put forward a new suspect in the infamous D.B. Cooper skyjacking case, saying he is convinced that a man the FBI interviewed in 2004 is the culprit.
Sheridan Peterson, now in his nineties and living in a California retirement community, is one of the few people that the FBI has tested for DNA against a clip-on tie the hijacker left behind.
Unlike the other suspects to be DNA tested, the FBI has never publicly cleared Peterson, according to amateur sleuth Eric Ulis, who is convinced that Peterson is the man who made off with $300,000 in ransom money after skydiving from a commercial jet near Portland, Oregon in 1971.
Yet Peterson – who came under FBI scrutiny within weeks of the daring hijacking of a Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727 – has rarely been mentioned in public speculation about potential suspects.
A new theory suggests that D.B. Cooper (left in composite sketch) is actually Marine veteran and experienced skydiver Sheridan Peterson (right around the time of the 1971 hijacking)
Eric Ulis (above) has proposed a new probably landing zone along the Columbia River, and says that he is ’98 percent’ certain that Peterson is actually D.B. Cooper
Ulis, an entrepreneur in Phoenix who co-created the defunct poker reality show High Stakes Hold’em, told The Oregonian that he is ’98 percent’ convinced that Peterson is D.B. Cooper after years spent scrutinizing the case.
Peterson served in the Marine Corps in World War II, and notably was an avid skydiver and smokejumper, the highly trained firefighters who parachute into wildfire zones.
He was even prone to quirky risk-taking, such as experimenting with homemade bat wings.
In the early 1960s, Peterson worked for Boeing in Seattle as a technical editor. In 1966 he moved to Southeast Asia to work as a refugee advisor during the Vietnam War. His tax returns show no record of employment August 1970 to March 1973.
Within weeks of the November 24, 1971 hijacking, FBI agents showed up to interview Peterson’s ex-wife at her high school counseling office in Bakersfield, California, Peterson revealed in a 2007 essay for the obscure trade publication Smokejumper.
Asked if her ex-husband could be D.B. Cooper, she replied: ‘Yes, that sounded like something he’d do.’
The notorious D.B. Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 (above) in 1971 and held its crew and passengers hostage at Seattle-Tacoma airport with a bomb until $300,000 ransom was paid
Peterson is seen in 1999. He is currently in his nineties and living in a quiet retirement community in California
D.B. Cooper (left) has never been positively identified. Peterson is seen right in 1976, five years after the daring hijacking of a plane flying from Portland to Seattle
Peterson seemed to revel in the speculation that he could be the culprit, writing in the essay that ‘the FBI had good reason to suspect me.’
‘At the time of the heist, I was 44 years old. That was the approximate age Cooper was assumed to have been, and I closely resembled sketches of the hijacker,’ he wrote.
‘But what was even more incriminating was the photo of me simulating a skydiving maneuver for Boeing’s news sheet. I was wearing a suit and tie — the same sort of garb Cooper had worn, right down to the Oxford loafers. It was noted that skydivers don’t ordinarily dress so formally,’ Peterson continued.
But for three decades, the FBI apparently lost track of Peterson, who moved frequently, including stints living in Saudi Arabia and Papua New Guinea
FBI Interviews Peterson And Takes DNA Sample
In 2004, then-FBI Mary Jean Fryar was tasked with interviewing Peterson, who was then 77 years old.
Fryar told the Oregonian that she has no idea why it took the Bureau so long to interview Peterson.
‘He was a charming guy,’ she recalled of the interview. ‘He had a lot of knowledge about the jump from the plane, because he’d been a smokejumper. And he was clearly interested in the case.’
‘I think he gets a kick out of it, the attention,’ Fryar added, saying that Peterson seemed to enjoy being treated as a suspect in the D.B. Cooper case.
During the hijacking, Cooper was wearing this black J.C. Penney tie, which he removed before jumping. The FBI recovered DNA from the tie, though it is unknown if the DNA is Cooper’s. An FBI agent collected DNA from Peterson but was never told if it was a match
But Peterson said that at the time of the skyjacking, he was living in a mud hut in Nepal, working on a ‘protest novel’ about his experiences in Vietnam. (Peterson eventually self-published a fictionalized account in 2018, titled The Idiot’s Frightful Laughter.)
The interview was Fryar’s first and last contact with the case. She says she never even heard back whether the DNA sample she took from Peterson was a match to Cooper’s tie.
Ulis, who has spent years investigating the case, says he spoke to Peterson on the phone several years ago, and exchanged several emails with him.
‘He told me he was radicalized while in Vietnam [assisting refugees],’ Ulis says, suggesting a possible motive. ‘What he describes as atrocities by U.S. soldiers radicalized him. I think he just snapped. He found himself out of a job and didn’t feel he owed American society anything.’
Peterson has never given any interviews, though in his 2007 essay he denied being D.B. Cooper and claimed to have proof that he was in Nepal around the time of the crime. He could not be reached by DailyMail.com.
New Theory About Cooper’s Landing Zone
Ulis also believes that he has discovered a crucial error in the FBI’s initial search for Cooper.
After meticulously analyzing wind speeds, ‘free fall’ data and other information, Ulis believes that the FBI misidentified the ‘jump zone’, and that Cooper actually would have most likely landed on Bachelor Island in the Columbia River.
Bachelor Island is several miles north of Tena Bar, a sandy strip of riverbank where more than $5,800 was discovered buried in 1980.
Ullis believes that Cooper landed on Bachelor Island, several miles from the original jump zone searched by the FBI in the weeks after the skyjacking
The bills had serial numbers that matched the ransom money in the Cooper case, and were still wrapped in the original rubber bands from 1971.
Ulis believes his calculations show that Bachelor Island would have been the likely landing spot after dropping cash on Tena Bar.
Cooper is known to have jury-rigged a reserve parachute bag to carry the cash for the jump after discovering that the bank bag it was delivered in did not close.
Ulis has made expeditions from Arizona to Bachelor Island to search for Coopers discarded parachute.
‘He wouldn’t have taken it with him. It’s here. I feel strongly something is here. We just have to find it,’ he told the Oregonian on one recent trip.
This weekend, Ulis will lead a guided boat tour to Tena Bar.
Part of the money that was paid to legendary hijacker D.B. Cooper in 1971 is shown during an F.B.I. news conference, Feb. 12, 1980, after it was discovered on Tena Bar
Fryar, the retired FBI agent, believes that the case will ‘never be solved.’
‘Which is sad,’ she said. ‘Unless he confesses.’
Peterson put forward his own theory of what happened to Cooper in his 2007 essay.
‘D.B. did everything wrong,’ he wrote. ‘As far as we know, he had neither an altimeter nor stopwatch, and besides he quite obviously had no idea what the elevation of the terrain was. Consequently he wouldn’t have known when to pull the ripcord.’
‘There was also an 18-knot wind. Not being a skydiver, he probably opened the chute immediately, and at 10,000 feet, the wind would have carried him possibly 30 miles out over the Columbia River. I’m assuming that there would be a downdraft over the river sucking him into the water,’ Peterson said.
But, asked in the FBI interview whether he would have survived the jump, Peterson replied: ‘Absolutely.’