A woman named Marla Cooper recently came forward claming that her uncle, who the family called “L.D. Cooper,” was in fact the man who committed the only unsolved airjacking in U.S. history. This comes just days after the FBI reported its most credible lead in the case in years, a lead Marla Cooper claims came from her.
What’s particularly strange and entertaining is that, while L.D. probably looks like the now-famous sketch of D.B. Cooper, so does my uncle. And probably many people’s white uncles. And, honestly, he looks a lot like Jimmy Stewart, America’s cinematic everyman who both redeemed his family structure in 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life and became unwitting pawn in a game of false identity and murder in 1958’s Vertigo. Stewart as George Bailey finally settles into a secure family structure, the Building and Loan Association saved while Stewart as Scottie Ferguson is a jobless, agoraphobic detective who inadvertently has the blood of two dead women on his hands.
Both versions of Stewart’s everyman to some extent play into the narrative of someone whose life spins out of control after financial and employment issues; the everyman is then trapped in a very strange place, be it the afterlife or driving a car through San Francisco chasing a woman who thinks she’s possessed by a dead person.
The myth of D.B. Cooper is so strong in part because it’s centers around the anonymous everyman taking his life and finances into his own hands — and getting away with it. And it’s particularly poignant that the new FBI lead comes at a time when unemployment is at a particularly scary high, creating a new class of chronically jobless citizens, including many white uncles who never dreamed they would be deemed expendable. And that’s one reason why the search for D.B. Cooper is so fascinating, but why finding out who he really is is could be so disappointing — if someone is (or was) D.B. Cooper, then D.B. Cooper can’t be you (or your uncle). If his narrative becomes known, it’s almost like the moment in Vertigo when the viewer, along with Scottie, realizes that the story you think you know isn’t real at all.
And what a disappointing ending it would be if Mr. Cooper, in his infinite everyman wisdom and daring, jumped from a plane to his death — or jumped from a plane and lost the money, or jumped from the plane and invested it poorly. This leaves no “gotcha” moment directed at Gavin Elster. And, sadly, it leaves an obligatory and unfortunate “angel not getting its wings” joke here, too.