HBO's True-Crime Doc 'The Mystery of D.B. Cooper' Untangles an Unsolved Hijacking

We still don't know the person behind the only unsolved plane hijacking in the United States.


The legend of D.B. Cooper, a mild-mannered man who hijacked a Boeing 727 taking off from the Portland International Airport in 1971 and parachuted from the plane with $200,000 in cash, endures because of the metaphoric potency of the story. Depending on your vantage point, Cooper represents freedom, rebellion, ingenuity, or the outlaw spirit. His crime, which remains the only unsolved case of air piracy in the United States, inspired novels, movies, songs, and, in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, the name of a coffee-loving FBI Agent. He leapt from the sky straight into the cultural imagination, where he’s found a permanent home as the ultimate true crime cipher. 
On a fundamental level, The Mystery of D.B. Cooper, a new HBO documentary from filmmaker John Dower, understands Cooper’s appeal as a piece of American folklore, but that doesn’t mean the movie skimps on the specifics or the speculation that makes Cooper such a rewarding Wikipedia deep-dive. Dower’s approach to the material can feel scattershot: He interviews people involved in the hijacking (the pilots, a passenger, and the stewardess who lit Cooper’s cigarette), family and friends of people who claimed to be Cooper, and journalists who have sifted through the massive troves of information about the case. With so much material, it’s hard to steer the narrative. In its best moments, the movie provides an engrossing tick-tok account of the hijacking. Though some of the historical context, particularly the information about air travel and the economic climate of the ’70s, can feel surface level-just because an interview subject says “it was a different era” doesn’t mean you have to include a cliché like that in your film-the actual crime comes to life through a combination of contemporary interviews, slightly cheesy recreations, and archival footage of media coverage surrounding the event. Those stray bits of ’70s television, like a moment where flight attendant Tina Mucklow notes that Cooper was never “cruel or nasty or impolite,” have an immersive quality. 
The sections devoted to the possible suspects and their theories surrounding the case are trickier. Jo Weber, the widow of a man who claimed to be “Dan Cooper” on his deathbed, outlines her reasons for believing her husband committed the crime. She’s convinced, and so is the young “memory man” that assists her in piecing together her thoughts, recollections, and research on the case. But her story is quickly brought into tension with the other suspects the film introduces-Barbara Dayton, LD Cooper, Richard Floyd McCoy Jr.-and it’s apparent that Dower, tasked with “solving” a case that’s frustrated the FBI and amateur sleuths for decades, won’t be resolving that tension. He’s not building an argument that one person is more “correct” than another. He’s simply observing, using the testimonies to create a detached portrait of projection, belief, and paranoia.  
As viewers of Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries reboot can attest, there’s an inherent risk in telling a story that will inevitably build to an ambiguous ending. The qualities that make the Cooper case the perfect rabbit hole to get lost in-the open-endedness, the nebulous anti-authority energy, the sense of mystery-also make it challenging from a narrative perspective. The Mystery of D.B. Cooper skillfully sketches out the details of the crime without fully capturing what makes the case so appealing to obsessives. Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He’s on Twitter @danielvjackson.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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