Favorite D.B. Cooper suspect resurfaces, leading to claim that FBI is reopening case


Richard McCoy is a name that’s well known to aficionados of the 52-year-old D.B. Cooper case, the only unsolved skyjacking in U.S. history.

The Vietnam War veteran was a suspect for a while — and he certainly proved he had the chops to pull off the audacious crime.

On Nov. 24, 1971, an unknown man who came to be called D.B. Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient flight out of Portland, parachuted from the plane with $200,000 in ransom and disappeared. Four months later, McCoy closely followed the Cooper skyjacking modus operandi when he took over a United Airlines Boeing 727 shortly after it took off from Newark.

McCoy later died in a shootout with law enforcement.

The FBI long ago concluded that McCoy was not D.B. Cooper, but in a new report, McCoy’s son now insists his father was responsible for the infamous Northwest Orient skyjacking.

The tabloid publication The Sun reported over the weekend that the FBI has “quietly” reopened the D.B. Cooper case and is focusing on McCoy. In the article, McCoy’s son Rick said he has turned over to the FBI an old parachute found in his late grandmother’s house and provided agents with a DNA sample.

The FBI, which closed the D.B. Cooper case in 2016, did not immediately respond to a message from The Oregonian/OregonLive.

But Larry Carr, the recently retired FBI agent who headed the D.B. Cooper investigation for years, told The Oregonian/OregonLive on Tuesday he was “not aware of the FBI conducting any type of investigation into McCoy.”

Carr added:

“I know [the Northwest Orient skyjacker] wasn’t McCoy, though. I’m sure it’s just more of the same with people wanting their 15 minutes [of fame].”

The FBI investigated hundreds of possible suspects over the years, and amateur sleuths fascinated by the case have continued to come up with people they believe might have been the skyjacker.

McCoy, the FBI acknowledges on its website, “is still a favorite suspect among many.”

There’s a good reason for that.

On April 7, 1972, Richard McCoy, wielding a hand grenade and a pistol, directed United Airlines Flight 855 to land in San Francisco, where officials provided him with the $500,000 and four parachutes he demanded – all very similar to the D.B. Cooper hijacking.

After the plane took off again, McCoy donned a jumpsuit, a helmet and a parachute – an upgrade from the D.B. Cooper job, where the parachute-wearing hijacker bailed out in a business suit and black brogans. McCoy jumped out over Utah.

The FBI quickly identified McCoy as a suspect in the United Airlines skyjacking and tracked him down. A jury convicted McCoy of air piracy, but he escaped from prison, leading to the 1974 shootout that killed him.

Ever since, he’s been discussed and debated by people in the large community of D.B. Cooper case followers.

A former federal agent wrote a 1991 book, “D.B. Cooper: The Real McCoy,” that claimed McCoy was Cooper. “The argument is convincing,” Publishers Weekly wrote.

The FBI disagreed, writing that McCoy was “ruled out because he didn’t match the nearly identical physical descriptions of Cooper provided by two flight attendants and for other reasons.”

The federal law-enforcement agency believes the Northwest Orient skyjacker likely died on the night of the crime, somewhere out in the vast Pacific Northwest forest.

McCoy’s widow, Karen, admitted in 1992 that she helped her husband with the 1972 United Airlines skyjacking but denied he was D.B. Cooper. Karen McCoy died in 2020.

Pilot and Cooper case devotee Dan Gryder told The Oregonian/OregonLive that he found the parachute in Rick McCoy’s grandmother’s house that Rick said he’s turned over to the FBI. (Gryder, who posts videos on YouTube about aviation issues, was ordered last year to pay $1 million in a defamation suit over online comments he made about a Texas pilot. He called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said he’s appealing the judgment.)

Gryder would not say whether Rick McCoy had provided DNA to the FBI or had handed over the parachute to the agency, stating, “I cannot comment on that.”

Rick McCoy could not be reached for comment.

Gryder said he was certain the recently discovered parachute, which he called a “green modified military surplus bailout rig,” was from the batch handed over to D.B. Cooper on November 24, 1971.

“That rig is literally one in a billion,” he said.

Is he also certain Richard McCoy was D.B. Cooper, despite the FBI concluding years ago that he wasn’t?

“Absolutely,” Gryder said. “No doubt about that.”