At the FBI, Cold Cases Are Not a Thing of the Past

D.B. Cooper, Whitey Bulger. … As bureau turns 100, director mulls open cases.

ByPierre Thomas, John Parkinson and Emily Yacus via via logo

July 19, 2008 — -- The Federal Bureau of Investigation will turn 100 on July 26. Through the years the FBI has nabbed some of America's most notorious gangsters, but there are plenty of cold cases that have eluded them.

They are the mysteries, the unsolved cases that bedevil an agency that prides itself on capturing the fugitive. The most obvious is the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the Sept. 11 suspected mass murderer, who is at the top of the FBI's famed Ten Most Wanted list.

FBI historian John Fox said Bin Laden "is the first murderer on that scale" that's made the list.

But beyond Bin Laden, FBI Director Robert Mueller says there are many mysteries the FBI wants solved — such as the anthrax attacks. Five people were killed, 17 sickened and nearly seven years later no arrest appears imminent.

"I never give time frames, because you never know where you'll have sufficient evidence to go public with a prosecution," Mueller said.

Many of the unsolved cases are decades old, such as the one involving former Teamsters' president, Jimmy Hoffa. He hasn't been seen since 1975. As recently as 2006, the FBI was digging up a farm in Michigan, looking for Hoffa's remains.

Then there's the hijacking mystery that became a made-for-TV movie. In 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper, who later came to be known in the media as "D.B. Cooper," hijacked and threatened to blow up a commercial airplane if he did not get a $200,000 ransom and safe passage to Mexico. In a daring getaway, Cooper jumped out of a 727 plane thousands of feet over the Pacific Northwest during a raging storm. Cooper vanished with the cash.

Just this year the FBI examined an old parachute that was found not far from where Cooper disappeared — only to learn it wasn't his.

Mueller continued to list the FBI's unsolved case list. "You have Whitey Bulger out of Boston, whom we're still pursuing as a fugitive."

James J. "Whitey" Bulger is an alleged Boston mobster sought in connection with a series of vicious murders in the 1970s and '80s. On the FBI's Web site, you can find video of Bulger, as well as age-enhanced photographs and surveillance audio of Bulger's voice:

"How you doing? Did he order any sandwiches?"

If you visit the Newseum in Washington, D.C., you'll see a remarkably real looking wax figure of J. Edgar Hoover leaning over a desk. The FBI has tried to retain the bulldog, "never give up" attitude of the former director when it comes to unsolved cases.

In speaking about the unsolved case list, Fox said, "You can't forget these things. The crimes are horrendous. Justice needs to be served."

Mueller said there are "a number of the Civil Rights cases that we are taking another look at, with Civil Rights organizations, ones that I would love to see solved, even though maybe 40 to 50 years have gone since the incident."

The FBI recently saw one such case resolved. In 1967, a jury had found Edgar Ray Killen, among 17 others, not guilty in the murder of three Civil Rights workers, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. The case, which the FBI named "MIBURN" for "Mississippi Burning," finally ended with a manslaughter conviction for Killen in 2005, exactly 41 years to the day that the three men first disappeared.

Last year, the FBI announced it had identified 100 truly cold cases from the Civil Rights era for review.

"We have a very, very long memory," Mueller said.

And lots of unsolved mysteries: 100 cold cases for a 100-year anniversary.

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