A woman claiming to be the niece of infamous skyjacker D.B. Cooper has spoken to ABC News in an exclusive interview about her role in the recently re-ignited 40-year-old cold case that has haunted the FBI for years.
Marla Cooper told ABC News that she has provided the FBI with a guitar strap and a Christmas photo of a man pictured with the same strap who she says is her uncle, Lynn Doyle Cooper.
After clarifying her childhood memories surrounding the incident and more recent conversations with her parents, she is now sure that her uncle is in fact the notorious man who hijacked and threatened to blow up a commercial plane flying to Seattle in 1971, then parachuted to the ground with $200,000 in hand.
"I'm certain he was my uncle, Lynn Doyle Cooper. Who we called L.D. Cooper," she told ABC News.
Marla Cooper is working on a book about her belief that her uncle is the hijacker, but that is not her main motivation for coming forward.
She said that L.D. Cooper was a Korean war veteran, but he was not a paratrooper. She thinks he lived in the northwest, had children and died in 1999. She said he remained isolated from his family.
He worked with leather and made the guitar strap that she has turned over to the FBI.
The FBI is now searching the guitar strap they received for fingerprints at their forensic lab in Quantico, Va., which will be checked against partial fingerprints obtained from the hijacking. Meanwhile they are hunting for evidence to prove L.D. Cooper was on that plane in 1971.
The real identity of D.B. Cooper has been a mystery since November 24, 1971, when a man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines plane bound for Seattle from Portland. He ordered the plane to land and demanded a $200,000 ransom and a parachute.
After he received the money in $20 bills and the parachute, he ordered the plane to take off for Mexico. Cooper then did the unthinkable when he lowered the back stairs and jumped out of a speeding 727, thousands of feet over the Pacific Northwest during a raging storm.
He disappeared, despite a massive manhunt that has become the stuff of legend and even a 1981 movie. Throughout the years many leads in the case have became dead ends, and it remains the only unsolved hijacking in U.S. history.
The case was reignited when a male suspect's name was given to the FBI by a law enforcement agent, as was a guitar strap. Sources familiar with the case confirm that it was Marla Cooper who prompted the latest flurry of investigation.
So far no fingerprints have been found on the guitar strap, and the F.B.I. will not officially comment on the case.
"It's a very unique case...Agents have been actively assigned to it and it's passed on from generation to generation...of agents that have worked leads as they have developed," said Brad Garrett, an ABC News consultant and former FBI profiler.
Garrett said the FBI is likely examining the life of Marla Cooper's uncle for more clues that he could be the infamous D.B. Cooper.
"Does this guy's background actually fit someone that could have pulled this off because this guy did have a proficiency in a 727 plane, how low it would fly, how slow it would fly and that you could jump out the back of it," Garrett said.
Marla Cooper says that as an 8-year-old she recalled her two uncles planning something suspicious at her grandmother's house in Sisters, Oregon -- not far from where D.B. Cooper jumped from a plane with $200,000 in cash one day later.
"My two uncles, who I only saw at holiday time, were planning something very mischievous. I was watching them using some very expensive walkie-talkies that they had purchased," she said. "They left to supposedly go turkey hunting, and Thanksgiving morning I was waiting for them to return."
A day later, Northwest Orient flight 305 was hijacked, and her uncle L.D. Cooper came home claiming to have been in a car accident.
"My uncle L.D. was wearing a white t-shirt and he was bloody and bruised and a mess, and I was horrified. I began to cry. My other uncle, who was with L.D., said Marla just shut up and go get your dad," she said.
Marla Cooper is now convinced there was not a car accident, but that her uncle was injured crashing to earth in a parachute. She says that she also remembers a discussion about the money that day.
"I heard my uncle say we did it, our money problems are over, we hijacked an airplane," she said.
It later became clear, however, that there was no money. It is believed that the hijacker lost much of the cash as he came crashing down.