The true story of Northwest Orient Airlines’ Flight 305 skyjacking in 1971 seems to be a lot like buying a brand-new sweater. On the surface level, the well-established facts may be familiar as something warm and fuzzy, but it could take a little time to get beyond the random itches coming from the new product. And those little itches seem to be random factoids that have arisen throughout the years, begging authorities to end the only unsolved case of air piracy in the history of commercial aviation.
For 51 years and counting, the mystery man has eluded the FBI, but the new documentary film, I Am DB Cooper, aims to reveal the master criminal’s identity once and for all and possibly prove his claims to be true.
As the story unfolds, two bounty hunter bail bondsmen encounter Rodney Bonnifield. Upon paying off his bail for getting involved in a knife fight, the ailing old man reveals to the brothers that he is, in fact, D.B. Cooper. Threads of truth are slowly extracted from his mysterious backstory and with time running out before his pending imprisonment, the group embarks on a wild treasure hunt to recover the stolen money that was buried somewhere along the Columbia River many years ago.
Through a combination of archive footage, reenactments and interviews with the titular subject, the audience learns a little bit about Bonnifield. For the last 35 years he’s been living incognito on a dairy farm with a friend before his violent temper got the best of him. Could the man who claims to have been born a gangster, one who lived as a thief throughout his whole life later becoming a Teamster, actually be the lone wolf who hijacked a 747 and held a flight crew hostage?
After watching this movie, I honestly don’t know if Rodney Bonnifield is D.B. Cooper. And we may never know the whole story of the elusive celebrity criminal.
At the conclusion of the film, the team runs out of time and Bonnifield gets sent away to Walla Walla State Penitentiary, where he is currently serving four years for aggravated assault. But he plans to dig up the money as soon as he’s released in order to prove he pulled off the greatest aviation heist in history… but only if he lives long enough.
“Either he’s a psychopath, liar and narcissist… or it’s true.”
What interests me the most about this story is that the man known as D.B. Cooper remains on the FBI’s most wanted list all these years later — even though the case may be currently closed — and that it’s still an unsolved case. Because crime-scene technology was still being developed back then and procedures have improved in order to prevent future similar situations, it seems like the secret identity of the pirate of the sky may never be known. And as the years progress, many persons of interest in this case have since passed away, somewhat letting the government off the hook.
Ryan Cory does a great job harnessing the suicidal tendencies of the young Cooper, with his fanatical behavior while looking quite scary, as if he’s about to explode in just about every scene. He really sold the role and I look forward to seeing more from the filmmaker in the future. The overall production value of the film is top notch, too. Bringing the ’60s and ’70s back to life isn’t an easy task, looking really great here.
The unsolved D.B. Cooper case has definitely made the rounds on many of my favorite shows, including Expedition Unknown, The UnXplained and many other programs featuring lost or unknown history. It seems like the original person claiming to be D.B. Cooper was an intelligent hoodlum, but I’d guess you’d have to be in order to be such a high-profile criminal on the lam. I believe the truth is still out there, and hopefully it will eventually surface. But without actual DNA evidence, there will always be doubters.
Regarding the buried loot, I’ve got a feeling much of the missing $193,000 has either been washed away by the Columbia River or it disappeared during previous dredging sessions. And unless the private property owners of the alleged area allow for a full-scale scavenger hunt, I’m guessing we may never truly know the buried treasure’s fate.
I Am DB Cooper premieres in movie theaters and will be available On Demand starting on Friday, December 9th. For more information, visit the film’s website.