On November 24, 1971, a man who came to be known as D. B. Cooper hijacked a plane, jumped out after receiving $200,000 in ransom, and was never seen nor heard from again – kicking off perhaps the greatest manhunt and missing person case in U.S. history. Clues have been uncovered, a small amount of the ransom money was found, a number of people have confessed to being D.B. Cooper (or Dan Cooper, the hijacker’s actual alias), and even more have claimed to know his true identity. Since that identity is still not confirmed 51 years later, we come to the yet another investigator who claims to have proof of the real D. B. Cooper. The investigator has been fairly certain before about a different person, so keep that in mind as we find out who Eric Ulis now thinks is the real D. B. Cooper.
“(This is) a compelling new person of interest.”
Oregon Live reports that the focal point of this year’s 4th annual CooperCon convention – scheduled on November 18 – 20 in Vancouver, WA, near where the skyjacking saga began and where that small amount of ransom was found in 1980, will be Eric Ulis’ explanation why he believes the person he is now identifying as D. B. Cooper is even more compelling than Sheridan Peterson – the person Ulis claimed in 2019 that he was 98% certain was D. B. Cooper. While Peterson himself often claimed he was Cooper, he died in 2021 without anyone confirming it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Ulis himself gave up on Peterson when he could not find a single source who could confirm that Peterson ever smoked – Cooper had chain-smoked cigarettes on the plane he hijacked before jumping with the money.
In addition to the Raliegh brand cigarette butts, the man who would be D. B. Cooper left behind on the plane a hair on his seat’s headrest, a mother-of-pearl tie clip and a black clip-on necktie. It is the clip-on tie that Ulis – an entrepreneur and longtime Cooper investigator -- focused on next. In prior investigations of the tie, two small and one large DNA samples were obtained, but the FBI was unable to link them to a person. (Note: the hair sample was destroyed or lost before it could be DNA tested, as were the cigarette butts.) In 2009, an investigation detected and identified hundreds of organic and metallic particles on the clip-on tie. The organic materials included Lycopodium spores which are from ground pines or creeping cedar plants and often sold in a powder form to treat – either orally or topically - disorders of the locomotor system, skin, liver and bile, kidneys and urinary tract, infections, rheumatism, and gout.
The Lycopodium spores didn’t help identify Cooper, so the investigation turned to the metallic particles. Minute particles of unalloyed titanium, bismuth, antimony, cerium, strontium sulfide, aluminum, and titanium-antimony alloys led investigators to believe Cooper may have worked for Boeing, another aeronautical engineering firm, a chemical manufacturing plant, or at a metal fabrication and production facility in the same area. The pure titanium was the most unusual particle. In the 1970s, it was combined with aluminum to store extremely corrosive substances. This was used by Boeing along with the cerium and strontium sulfide, and were used by Boeing's supersonic transport development project, and by other Portland factories such as Teledyne and Tektronix.
“I’m satisfied D.B. Cooper came from this company.”
Boeing? Teledyne? This week, Ulis revealed the name of the company he suspects was the employer of the man who became D. B. Cooper -- Rem-Cru Titanium, better known as Crucible Steel. Founded in 1900, it was the leading producer of crucible steel - steel made by melting pig iron (cast iron), iron, steel, sand, glass, ashes, and other fluxes, in a crucible to produce high quality steel for knives, tools, and machinery. According to Oregon Live, Ulis contacted the company, now known as Crucible Industries, and was able to talk to former employees still alive who worked at Crucible Steel in Pittsburgh in the 1960s and ‘70s. Ulis’ research narrowed his list of suspects down to one individual – a Vince Petersen. Now deceased, his name is ironically one letter different than previous “98% convinced” suspect Sheridan Peterson.
“I consider it a substantive break in the case.”
What makes Eric Ulis pretty convinced – no percentage of confidence given this time – that the late Vince Petersen was hijacker D. B. Cooper? Petersen worked at Crucible Steel in Pittsburgh prior to the hijacking in the titanium research laboratory. That links him to the titanium particles. The steel industry in the early 1970s was going through massive changes due to foreign competition and Western Pennsylvania, a hotbed of steel and steel-related companies, had around 47,000 layoffs in 1971 according to a New York Times article. The fear of losing his job could have given Vince Petersen a motive to hijack a plane for ransom. Petersen died in 2002 but Ulis talked to his son, who doesn’t believe his father was D. B. Cooper – primarily because he was “honest” and had no experience in skydiving. On the second point, some other investigators believe Cooper was not experienced either, which led to him possibly dying after the jump.
Is that enough evidence to convince anyone besides Ulis that Vince Petersen was D. B. Cooper? Speculation on the D. B. Cooper” Mystery Group Facebook page runs in favor of Ulis based on his extensive investigative experience on this case. Also, photos of Vince Petersen show facial features – especially the lips - that bear a close resemblance to the famous D. B. Cooper drawing. (Photo comparison here.) He is approximately the right age and height to be Cooper. He made trips to Boeing which would have put him in the area. However, some note their eye colors and skin tones are different and the facial features are far from an exact match. Then there are the cigarette butts – there is no evidence Vince Petersen was ever a smoker. All of this does not seem to phase Eric Ulis.
“Unless someone can explain how these (titanium) particles got on this tie.”
He is convinced the titanium particles on D. B. Cooper’s clip-on necktie build a strong case that Vince Petersen, a titanium researcher at Pittsburgh’s Crucible Steel, was the hijacker. It is expected that this will be THE hot topic at CooperCon beginning on November 18 and Ulis will present his case and potentially provide more evidence. Until then, do you think the titanium on the clip-on tie is enough evidence to make Vince Petersen the real D. B. Cooper? We’ll keep our eye on this case as more updates are released.