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FBI investigating 'credible' lead in skyjacker D.B. Cooper case from '71

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PORTLAND, Ore.

Packets of rotten $20 bills, parachutes and a clip-on J.C. Penney tie.

Those are just three of the items linked to D.B. Cooper, the infamous skyjacker who jumped from Northwest Orient Airlines 727 flight with $200,000 in ransom somewhere between Seattle and Portland on Nov. 24, 1971.

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And now two paragraphs in a 40th anniversary story by The Telegraph of London newspaper have reignited the D.B. Cooper flame: They said the FBI was investigating a tantalizing new clue.

That led to reports over the weekend in Seattle quoting FBI officials saying they had a "credible" lead in the form of physical evidence and a name in the case.

And then Monday, Seattle FBI spokesman Fred Gutt said the bureau is investigating whether a man who died more than 10 years ago is the elusive Cooper.

Gutt said the bureau received a tip from a retired law enforcement source and has requested personal effects of the possible suspect, who died of natural causes.

The FBI is trying to find fingerprints or DNA on the effects to compare with items the hijacker discarded. The FBI said three years ago that it found DNA evidence on the clip-on tie Cooper left on the plane before he jumped.

Gutt said the FBI has already tested one item of the dead man's belongings for fingerprints, but it wasn't conclusive. Investigators are now working with surviving family members to gather other items for further testing.

"It's one of a number of active leads we are still pursuing," Gutt said. "This one is a year old, and we're not imminently about to conclude the case. There are a lot of other leads."

The man who jumped gave his name as Dan Cooper and claimed shortly after takeoff from Portland that he had a bomb. When the plane landed in Seattle, Cooper exchanged 36 passengers for four parachutes and 10,000 $20 bills.

The flight then took off for Mexico with the suspect and flight crew on board before the man parachuted from the plane near Ariel, Wash., about 40 miles north of Portland, jumping into a raging rainstorm and sub-freezing temperatures.

Cooper disappeared and his caper became the stuff of folklore. Then in 1980, an 8-year-old boy was tossing a Frisbee with family members on a sandbar along the Columbia River when he discovered three stacks of $20 bills totaling $5,800. The serial numbers matched Cooper's ransom cash.

Over the years, federal investigators have pursued more than 1,000 leads with new ones popping up every several years, but going nowhere.

The FBI's own website sets out some particularly interesting theories about what happened.

FBI agent Larry Carr, who took over the case in 2007, said he believes Cooper took the name of a popular French comic book character when he bought his $18.52 one-way airplane ticket from Portland to Seattle. (The name "D.B." Cooper came from a reporter's mistake and it stuck.)

Carr theorized that Cooper served in the Air Force and at some point was stationed in Europe, serving as a cargo loader on planes and making him familiar with parachutes. He thinks Cooper worked in the aviation industry in Seattle, but lost his job and was a loner who would not be missed when he disappeared.

He told the Seattle PI when Cooper jumped from the plane, "He just started tumbling, right then, tumbling, panics and once you panic you can't do anything. He's out of control ... and can't pull his chute, and hits the ground without opening his chute.

"But he came from somewhere and from someone," Carr said. "And that is what we want to know."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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