The mysterious plane hijacker known as "D.B. Cooper," who has eluded authorities for more than 45 years, was an ex-military paratrooper from Michigan who boasted about the daring heist to a friend, a publisher plans to reveal Thursday.
Michigan publisher Principa Media says Cooper was former military paratrooper and intelligence operative Walter R. Reca, and Principa worked with Reca's best friend, Carl Laurin, in compiling the evidence. While the publisher did not disclose if Reca was still alive, an obituary online lists Reca, of Oscada, Mich., as having died in 2014 at the age of 80.
"Evidence, including almost-daily discussions over a 14-year period and 3+ hours of audio recordings featuring the skyjacker, was compiled by Reca’s best friend. It was then analyzed by a Certified Fraud Examiner and forensic linguist," the publisher said in a news release. "The audio recordings, created in 2008, include Reca discussing skyjacking details that were not known to the public prior to the FBI’s information release in 2015."
The publishing company worked with Laurin for the memoir "D.B. Cooper & Me: A Criminal, A Spy, My Best Friend," and plans to present evidence at a press conference on Thursday in Grand Rapids linking the crime to Reca. Evidence includes:
- Witness testimony from an individual who spoke with Reca within an hour of his jump
- Documentation concerning how the $200,000 in stolen cash was spent
- Confessions from Reca to two individuals at two different times
- An article of clothing Reca wore during the jump
In 1971, on the night before Thanksgiving, a man calling himself Dan Cooper, wearing a black tie and a suit, boarded a Seattle-bound Boeing 727 in Oregon and told a flight attendant he had a bomb in a briefcase. He gave her a note demanding ransom. After the plane landed he released the 36 passengers in exchange for $200,000 in ransom money and parachutes. The ransom was paid in $20 bills.
The hijacker then ordered the plane to fly to Mexico, but near the Washington-Oregon border he jumped and was never seen or heard from again.
In one of the audio recordings provided by the publishing company, Laurin is heard asking Reca about how he felt going through life knowing he was D.B. Cooper and if he ever had second thoughts about the heist.
"Never even a second thought," Reca says.
After the heist, Reca said he put the money in the bank, and that he had "family to take care of" before jobs "overseas" came up. The daredevil said he treated it as any bank heist.
"It was no [big] deal really, it was done," Reca is heard saying. "It was done, and I lived through it."
After the skyjacking, Reca later became a high-level covert intelligence operative, according to the publishing company.
Reca possessed skills to survive jumping out of the plane because he was on the Michigan Parachute Team, according to the publisher. He attended the team reunion in 2000 and was pictured in a photo released by the publisher.
Despite the claims of the publishing company, the FBI has never ruled out the possibility that the hijacker was killed in the jump -- which took place during a rainstorm at night, over rough, wooded terrain. The hijacker's clothing and footwear were also unsuitable for a rough landing.
Over the years the most lasting image of Cooper, who became somewhat of a legend, may be the two sketches the FBI released of the suspect.
Many investigators have come forward with their theories for who the infamous hijacker may be. Earlier this year, the leader of the private investigative team who has spent years trying to crack the D.B. Cooper hijacking case claimed he believes the mysterious criminal was a CIA operative whose identity has been covered up by federal agents.
Thomas Colbert, a documentary filmmaker who helped put together the 40-member team, said in January his team made the connection from work a code breaker uncovered in each of the five letters allegedly sent by Cooper.
Since last January, the FBI has released more than 3,000 documents to Colbert's team investigating the hijacking. The FBI said in court papers that it has more than 71,000 documents that may be responsive to Colbert’s lawsuit.
Fox News' Ryan Gaydos and Robert Gearty contributed to this report.