In 1980, 8-year-old Brian Ingram found the sole link to the only unsolved airline hijacking in U.S. history buried in the sandy banks of the Columbia River, where it divides Washington state from Oregon near Portland.
Now 36, Ingram hopes to auction the weathered bundle of $20 bills as the FBI launches a new effort to find the unknown hijacker who parachuted into the night after taking over the 1971 Northwest Orient Airlines flight.
"Think about it; it was the biggest manhunt. They never found any clues to this man," Ingram, who lives in Mena, Ark., said Wednesday. "The money that I found in 1980 is the only evidence ever linked to this guy that jumped out of the 727 at the altitude that he did, with the weather."
A man calling himself Dan Cooper, also known as D.B. Cooper, boarded a flight in Portland for a flight to Seattle the night of Nov. 24, 1971, and commandeered the plane, claiming he had dynamite.
In Seattle, he demanded and got $200,000 and four parachutes and demanded to be flown to Mexico. Somewhere over southwestern Washington, he took off his tie and jumped out the plane's tail exit with two of the chutes.
Police and FBI agents never found Cooper in the dense forest of pine and Douglas fir below.
Firewood search uncovers cash
During a family vacation nine years later, Ingram was scrounging for firewood in the sands along the Columbia River when he uncovered three bundles of deteriorated $20 bills. He said the rubber bands around the money "turned to powder" when touched.
The family called the police the next day and gave them the serial numbers off the $5,880. The numbers matched the bills given to Cooper.
The discovery propelled Ingram into newspapers across the Pacific Northwest.
"When I was younger, it was exciting. I was the ugly duckling, but I had more girlfriends after that than I could shake a stick at," Ingram said, laughing. "I went through the time really realizing the historics on the case. ... People are going to know about it, read about it, really for a long time, forever."
A court forced Ingram to split the find with the airline's insurance company, which put up the ransom. Now, Ingram said he wants to sell his two envelopes with scraps as small as pennies, along with the 13 half-bills and nearly 20 full bills he owns.
Ingram said he'd like to keep at least one of the bills for his family and maybe offer one to the Smithsonian Institution or another museum. However, he said he thinks auctioning the bills off could raise enough to put a child through college.
New FBI effort to solve case
Ingram's plans come as the FBI announced a new effort to solve the hijacking. The bureau says it found DNA evidence on the clip-on tie Cooper wore. However, Steve Frazier, a spokesman for the FBI's Little Rock field office, said local agents had no plans to look again at Ingram's $20 bills.
The latest bulletin from the FBI points out how Cooper likely wasn't an expert skydiver and probably perished after jumping into 200-mph winds wearing only loafers and a trench coat. But Ingram would like to believe otherwise.
"I like the idea he's off on some Caribbean island, which he didn't take off with enough money to be able to do something like that," he said. He's "laughing at this whole thing, going, 'I made off with the loot but the kid got the joy of it.'"