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DB Cooper suspect’s family has slammed me for my findings – but science backs up his link to the evidence and mystery

THE family of an engineer being investigated in connection with the DB Cooper heist are furious about their father’s associations with the decades-old mystery – but the evidence points to him, or at least very close to him, an investigator says.

Eric Ulis has been investigating Vince Petersen, a metallurgist from Pennsylvania who died in 2002, as the leading suspect in the DB Cooper case since late 2022.

FBI

The DB Cooper case remains the only unsolved skyjacking in American history[/caption]

Eric Ulis

Vince Petersen (seen in the 1990s), an engineer who worked for a Boeing subcontractor, has been named by independent investigator Eric Ulis as a potential suspect[/caption]

DB Cooper was the alias of a criminal who hijacked a commercial Northwest Airlines flight on Thanksgiving Eve in 1971 over Portland, held the plane for $200,000 ransom, and parachuted out of the Boeing 727 with his bounty, never to be seen again.

Ulis identified Petersen as his primary suspect in the case after discovering dozens of titanium particles on a clip-on tie left behind by the skyjacker that he says points to a specialist metals lab as Cooper’s likely place of work.

He believes the lab in question is the now-defunct Crucible Steel (formerly Rem-Cru Titanium) plant in Midland, Pennsylvania, where Petersen worked as a metallurgist.

Crucible Steel was a major supplier of titanium and stainless steel parts for Boeing during the ’60s and ’70s – and Cooper is long believed to have had ties to the aerospace industry because of his frequent use of aviation jargon during the heist and his knowledge of the 727.

Ulis tracked down a former supervisor at the plant, who, when informed of Cooper’s likeness and attributes, pointed him to Petersen, deeming him the only likely match.

Petersen – who would’ve been 52 at the time of Cooper’s skyjacking – was one of only eight engineers employed by Crucible in 1971.

Ulis then tracked down Petersen’s son, who didn’t believe his father was Cooper but agreed to share photographs of him and some other information to aid Ulis’ investigation.

Petersen’s daughter, Julie Dunbar, was only made aware of her father’s association with the case in January after her son sent her a news article from a local Pittsburg station, naming Petersen as an unofficial suspect.

Outraged, she reached out to Ulis over email to inform him there was, in her mind, absolutely no chance her dad was Cooper.


The pair eventually agreed to speak over the phone.

Julie told The U.S. Sun earlier this year she left that conversation intrigued by the case, and believes her dad may have known the real culprit, but he “most definitely” was not responsible and was unaware the crime had been committed.

To help Ulis and put any rumors or suspicions about her father to bed, Julie agreed to help lobby the FBI to release Cooper’s tie for DNA testing and gave Ulis an envelope containing her dad’s DNA for comparison.

However, by April, relations between the pair appeared to have soured, with Julie taking to a DB Cooper Facebook group to accuse Ulis of shattering his father’s “character and integrity.”

“I cannot google my father without DB Cooper appearing beside his name. What an insult to my father and my family,” wrote Dunbar.

“My father never received a pink slip from his employer. My parents were never in a bad financial situation. And he sure as hell would have not chose[n] to leave his family and fly across the US to highjack [sic] a plane on Thanksgiving! Seriously?? My father was not a stupid person!”

“Eric Ulis told me with the DNA sample I sent to him, the case would be solved in a couple months. With that being said, I am not assisting with this any longer. I have had my fill.”

Ulis told The U.S. Sun last month that he empathizes with the position he’s inadvertently put Dunbar in but insists it’s nothing personal.

He shared, “Before I went public with her father’s name I talked to her brother Jeff and I reached out to as many other family members as I possibly could.

“I really feel I did my due diligence as far as that is concerned, but beyond that, I have to say I’m not with the FBI or the Department of Justice, I’m an independent researcher, and the evidence in my mind points to either Vince Petersen or somebody very near to Vince Petersen.

“I don’t know if Vince Petersen actually was DB Cooper,” he added, “but he is very high on my list, and I have the science to back it up.

“Stories about how wonderful people were and all these things they did or didn’t do are great, but they aren’t great for trying to close a cold case that’s 53 years old.

“You have to rely upon the science, you’ve got to be objective about this – and, at the moment, the science points to Petersen.

“I know it’s an uncomfortable subject for his family to entertain, but there’s nothing I can do to assuage those concerns other than get to the bottom of this and determine if her father’s DNA is a match for Cooper’s.”

A ‘COMPELLING’ SUSPECT

Petersen worked at Crucible Steel for more than two decades.

Ulis and fellow Cooper investigator Tom Kaye recently unearthed more microscopic particles on Cooper’s tie that they believe fortify his links to Crucible.

The most telling discovery was the existence of titanium smeared with stainless steel, which the pair identified in January.

DB Cooper, carrying a black attache case and a brown paper bag, boarded Flight 305, took his seat in the last row, and ordered a bourbon and 7 Up
AP1971
Eric Ulis

Vince Petersen is pictured in the 1950s[/caption]

AP

Northwest Orient Flight 305 was hijacked on November 24 shortly after taking off from Portland, bound for Seattle[/caption]

That particle comes from a process known as cold rolling, in which a sheet of titanium is rolled between two stainless steel rollers to thin and strengthen the metal.

Cold rolling was seldom practiced in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ulis says, but Crucible was among the few who did.

He said Crucible had two US patents for the kind of titanium identified by Kaye, making the specialist plant ground zero for where DB Cooper likely worked.

Earlier this month, Ulis and Kaye identified more particles on the tie that they believe further enhances their hypothesis.

“New analysis by McCrone Labs of data related to a scan of particles from DB Cooper’s clip-on tie have uncovered some new particles, including a spectacular alloy containing both Uranium and Thorium,” shared Ulis.

“The particle does not suggest DB Cooper worked on atomic weapons or nuclear energy. Rather, it appears that the alloy was one developed as part of metallurgical [research and discovery] to find alloys with improved irradiation.

“Additionally, the new data uncovered three more Titanium Antimony particles, bringing the total to six. This, of course, is the particle that appears to point specifically to Crucible Steel as the source of the tie particles.

“Moreover, other new tie particles discovered include Neodymium, as part of Mischmetal used in lighters, and Samarium, which may have come from [research and development] on high-powered magnets.

“In summary, the new data is perfectly consistent with a specialty metals environment.”

Stories about how wonderful people were and all these things they did or didn’t do are great, but they aren’t great for trying to close a cold case that’s 53 years old […] the science points to Petersen.


Eric Ulis

Theorizing a potential motive for Petersen, Ulis notes that Crucible and Boeing both experienced mass layoffs in 1971 because of a sharp downturn in the aerospace sector that year.

Cooper also famously told one of the stewardesses aboard Flight 305 of his reasoning for carrying out the skyjacking, “I don’t have a grudge against your airline, miss. I just have a grudge.”

Speaking in January, Julie Dunbar said the theory is all well and good but Ulis is overlooking crucial details about her father’s character.

“I told Eric I understand all the evidence he’s gathered and that he’s claiming the research leads to where my dad worked and everything and that’s fine,” said Dunbar.

“But it’s my dad’s character you really need to rely on because this is not something he would’ve done.

“He wouldn’t have dived out of a plane. He wouldn’t have abandoned the family the day before Thanksgiving and flown out to Washington, decided to hijack a plane and asked for four parachutes and $200k, and then jumped out of the plane in the dark of night when it was raining.

“That’s just not my dad. He was a very well-educated man, he didn’t do anything on the spur of the moment, and something like this is just so far out of his character.”

Dunbar added, “Eric’s story is very compelling, I’ll give him that.

“But it does not change my point of view that my dad was not DB Cooper.”

‘A NORMAL DAD’

According to Dunbar, her father didn’t have any experience flying a plane or jumping out of one.

He did serve in the Merchant Marines, she said, but otherwise had no additional military experience.

“He was just a normal everyday father,” said Dunbar.

“He enjoyed being with his family, going on trips with us, going finishing, or playing golf.

“He was exactly what you would want him to be as a dad.”

Imagining how her father would react to insinuations he was DB Cooper, Dunbar said he’d be stunned.

She continued, “He would be totally shocked; he’d be flabbergasted, to say the very least.

“He would say, ‘Well that’s stupid’. He’d call DB Cooper stupid and ask what that person was thinking.”

The DB Cooper Mystery

DB Cooper hijacked Northwest Orient Flight 305 on November 24, 1971, during a short trip between Portland and Seattle.

Shortly after take-off, Cooper handed a note to a flight attendant sitting behind him, informing her he had a bomb in his briefcase.

In exchange for the lives of the 36 other passengers and six crew on board, the mild-mannered hijacker demanded $200,000 in stacks of $20 bills and four parachutes.

When the flight landed in Seattle, the cash and parachutes were exchanged for all of the passengers and some of the crew.

Following Cooper’s instructions, the Boeing 727 was refueled and took off for a second time – this time in the direction of Mexico City.

But around 8pm, somewhere over southwest Washington, a light flashed up on the instrument panel in the cockpit, indicating the rear exit door had been opened.

With that, Cooper was gone, parachuting out into the stormy night sky with his ransom in tow.

Virtually all traces of Cooper vanished therein.

The only item left behind on Flight 305 by Cooper was a black, clip-on JCPenney tie with a gold pin.

Investigators later yielded a DNA sample from the tie and other items of evidentiary value, but they don’t believe the DNA sample belonged to Cooper.

The only other trace yielded of Cooper since came in 1980 when a young boy digging along the banks of the Columbia River in Tena bar unearthed $5,800 in $20 bills buried in the earth.

The serial numbers of the bills matched those issued to Cooper during the skyjacking but the discovery failed to bring any new leads.

Despite the lack of progress in the case, investigator Eric Ulis believes he can solve the case by the end of the decade.

“We’re dealing with a very small universe of people,” said Ulis of the remaining suspect pool.

“I know there are others who have combed through north of 100 men [who] worked for Crucible and other similar facilities but nobody checks the Cooper boxes like Vince Petersen.

“That doesn’t prove he was DB Cooper, of course, but it is compelling.

“Given time, I think I’ll come up with something that’s going to seal the deal one way or the other.

“But we are sniffing around the right neighborhood.

“There’s just no doubt about that at this point.”

Dunbar said she never heard of the name DB Cooper growing up and only became aware of the case four years ago when a documentary about the unsolved hijacking happened to come on TV.

She didn’t give the case a second thought until January, when her son sent her a news article from a local Pittsburgh news station, naming her father as an unofficial suspect in the case.

Dunbar said she was initially very shocked, upset, and slightly angry at the insinuations Ulis was making.

She reached out to him over email and the pair arranged to speak on the phone.

While Ulis didn’t convince her that Petersen could’ve been the skyjacker, she said his investigation as a whole was interesting and she believes her dad may have known the real culprit – though he was almost certainly unaware they’d pulled off the heist.

“Anything is possible,” said Dunbar, who would’ve been 7 years old at the time of Cooper’s feat.

“I spoke to Eric about this clip-on tie. As far as I know, my dad didn’t have one in his wardrobe. Maybe it was something that he kept at work […] and someone else could’ve borrowed it and not returned it.

“But as far as my dad being DB Cooper himself, definitely not.

“He would’ve returned home late on Thanksgiving [if it was him] and he was in charge of carving the turkey every year.

“My mom would’ve been furious if he wasn’t home and my dad wouldn’t have left on a holiday like that unless it was absolutely mandatory for work.”

FBI ROADBLOCK

Seeking to clear her father’s name, Dunbar agreed to team up with Ulis to lobby the FBI to release Cooper’s tie so it can be tested for DNA.

While the tie has twice been tested before to no avail, Ulis believes investigators overlooked a key component that may still hold Cooper’s DNA: a small spindle hidden in the back of the knot.

To help Ulis, Dunbar provided him with a letter sealed and stamped by her father in 1961 to use for DNA analysis should the FBI decide to grant his request.

Eric Ulis

Eric Ulis has been investigating DB Cooper for 14 years[/caption]

FBI

Cooper left behind a clip-on tie that Ulis believes could be key to identifying him[/caption]

Eric Ulis

A metal clasp built into the knot of Cooper’s tie (detailed in a replica above) may still hold Cooper’s DNA[/caption]

Courtesy of Tom Kaye and The McCrone Group

A new particle discovered on the tie fortifies Cooper’s links to a specialist metals lab[/caption]

Last year, he unsuccessfully sued the FBI for access to Cooper’s tie to conduct independent DNA analysis on the spindle.

The suit was thrown out by a judge because a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request only compels government agencies to turn over records, not physical items of evidence.

In a second attempt, Ulis filed another FOIA in May, seeking DNA data from any prior Cooper tests logged in the bureau’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).

However, Ulis’ latest request was rejected by the FBI on June 10.

The reason stated was that any information within the bureau’s CODIS database is specifically exempt from FOIA.

Ulis understood the ruling but was nonetheless disappointed.

However, all is not lost, as he and Tom Kaye – who previously tested the Cooper tie for the FBI in 2009 and 2011 – believe they have a partial DNA profile of their own.

That sample was captured during tests to analyze the tie for traces of certain metals, chemicals, and pollen.

The device used by Kaye for those tests is also capable of capturing DNA, a realization only recently made by Kaye and Ulis.

The two men are now in the process of sending their sample to a specialist lab to conduct metagenomic DNA analysis, an advanced kind of analysis that enables scientists to separate individual strands of DNA.

Kaye and Ulis are hoping to use those strands to build a genetic profile of Cooper to compare with outstanding suspects and also use the profile for forensic genealogy.

But the painstaking efforts the two men are going to feel somewhat unnecessary, Ulis said.

He said it’s unbelievable that the FBI is still refusing to play ball with him in any capacity, considering the Cooper investigation is supposedly closed and now over 50 years old.

“It’s ridiculous that Tom Kaye and I would have to go through the red tape and the expense to take the DNA that he has in the filter and attempt to sequence that and separate it from all the other DNA on the filter, in the hopes that we come up with something we can work with.

“It’s ridiculous to have to go through that when the FBI already has this information in their possession – and I’m primarily interested in whatever they garnered in 2023 because presumably that came from the spindle.

“They may have something pretty darn close to a full profile if not a full profile that’s likely uncontaminated […] so why are we reinventing the wheel here?

“It just doesn’t make sense.”

FBI

The above image shows the row of seats Cooper was sitting in aboard Flight 305[/caption]

Getty

Almost $6,000 of Cooper’s money was found along the Columbia River river in 1980 – but the lead led nowhere[/caption]

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