FBI Reportedly Claims New Lead in Mysterious ‘D.B Cooper’ Case

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FBI sketch of hijacker D.B. Cooper

It may well have been the perfect crime. Until now.

Four decades after the infamous “D.B. Cooper” hijacking and escape took place, the FBI reportedly said it has a “significant lead” in the investigation of a man who successfully pilfered $200,000 in ransom and seemingly disappeared without a trace.

“We do actually have a new suspect we’re looking at. And it comes from a credible lead who came to our attention recently via a law enforcement colleague,” Ayn Sandolo Dietrich told the Telegraph. “It would be a significant lead. And this is looking like our most promising one to date.”

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She added that in cases like these, many subjects have been deceased because of the amount of time passed since the incident, although the investigation is still considered open. Dietrich also warned that the new lead does not necessarily mean they are close to cracking the case.

Cooper’s story has evolved into the stuff of crime legend over the years. In 1971, an unassuming man calling himself “Dan Cooper,” now depicted only through an artist rendering, hijacked a Northwest Airlines jet and demanded $200,000 and four parachutes for the exchange of 36 passengers. The FBI complied with him and completed the exchange when the plane landed in Portland.

Once the plane took off again, with Cooper, the pilot and co-pilot and one flight attendant on board, the hijacker donned a parachute, opened the aft door and leaped into the night somewhere over the Cascade Mountains, never to be seen again.

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The man’s name, due to a reporter’s error, morphed into “D.B. Cooper” and it’s been anyone’s guess as to what happened to him. But since then, about a half dozen people claimed to be Cooper on their deathbeds, 17 books (including one soon to be released) and a 1981 film about the case. There’s even a “D.B. Cooper Day” in Ariel, Wash., which is the area where Cooper is said to have jumped.

However, author Geoffrey Gray does not believe that the lead the FBI has will pan out. On the website promoting his upcoming book, “Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper,” he says evidence being sent to agency labs wouldn’t provide conclusive proof.

“There were so many prints for agents to dust on the plane it was impossible to tell which were the hijackers and which were passengers,” he wrote. “The Bureau itself might be onto something promising indeed, but with so many promising leads that have come in on the case, what’s looked good before has often come up short.”

Madison Gray is Homepage Producer at TIME.com. Find him on Twitter at @madisonjgray. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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