by Bruce A. Smith
Ayn Sandalo Dietrich, the FBI’s public information officer in their Seattle office tasked with handling DB Cooper inquiries, has been a focal point of controversy in the past few weeks.
Ms. Dietrich prominence was the result of being cited in a feature article on DB Cooper written by British journalist Alex Hannaford and published by the London Sunday Telegraph, July 31. In the story Dietrich is quoted as claiming the FBI had their “most promising” lead in the history of the forty-year old investigation of the only unsolved skyjacking case in the history of the United States.
This declaration launched a world-wide media frenzy, which was fueled further by press revelations that an Oklahoma woman named Marla Cooper was claiming the subject of the Bureau’s investigation was her uncle LD Cooper, an Oregon man she says was DB Cooper.
Together, these announcements put LD Cooper and Dietrich on the front-page of newspapers across the globe.
Generating even more interest, author Geoffrey Gray had a treatise on DB Cooper heading to a national release just days after Hannaford’s story broke, which ignited concerns that the flap over LD Cooper may have been part of an orchestrated effort to boost Gray’s book sales.
Raising even more eyebrows, Ms Dietrich went on a vacation shortly after the Hannaford piece went planetary, leaving the FBI’s Fred Gutt to field innumerable media requests for information on the “most promising” LD Cooper.
Now, however, Ms Dietrich is back from her two-week vacation and the Mountain News was able to speak with her Thursday, August 18.
To begin, Ms. Dietrich picked up on the first ring and was gracious and professional. She apologized for not returning my phone call, saying she was still “digging out” from the pile of messages from journalists.
Ms. Dietrich addressed the flap head-on, and said that she and the FBI “didn’t intend” for the LD Cooper story to ascend to its exalted status.
She did confirm that she had spoken with Mr. Hannaford, saying that their interview lasted nearly two hours. She also acknowledged that she had used the words “most promising lead to date” in referring to the LD Cooper-as-DB Cooper.
“It was a blip in a long conversation,” she added.
Dietrich also spoke at length on the Bureau’s view of both the DB Cooper investigation and LD Cooper as a suspect. She again reiterated that the skyjacking is an open case, but it is not an “active investigation,” meaning that it is not a priority.
“We just respond to leads as they come in,” she declared, adding that agents do not conduct any independent investigatory pursuits.
“We aren’t pushing the story out there,” Dietrich said, referring to her “most promising” angle. “For instance, we didn’t issue a press release on it (the LD Cooper lead).”
As for spending a hefty amount of time with Mr. Hannaford, Dietrich said that she “took Alex’s interview request because it seemed like a good way to get the story out to a new audience.”
However, she said that in her conversation with Mr. Hannaford she never characterized the LD Cooper lead as being “on the brink of a breakthrough,” in the DB Cooper case.
In addition, she said that the flap over LD Cooper “really surprised us,” and she minimized the intended impact of her comments to Hannaford.
“I didn’t consider it really newsworthy. Maybe it was just a slow news cycle.”
Ms. Dietrich also described why she is able to discuss the DB Cooper case in detail, despite the Bureau’s policy on open investigations.
“It is FBI policy to not disclose any information in an on-going case,” Dietrich stated, “But the DB Cooper case is special because of overwhelming public interest. It is the 40th Anniversary, after all, so we’re relatively comfortable discussing it.”
Further, Dietrich said that the Bureau will share some information with reporters on other types of crimes, such as missing children, declaring that such releases may assist investigators and help rescue the victim.
Discussing the specifics of the LD Cooper tip, Dietrich said one of the critical elements of the lead that triggered FBI interest was that Marla Cooper’s allegations “did not have too many inconsistencies” despite the fact that the Bureau had not analyzed – or even obtained – materials to examine for fingerprints or DNA.
Regarding those specifics, Dietrich said that the FBI hadn’t found any fingerprints on the material sampled, and that the DNA profile showed “no significant match.”
In addition, Ms. Dietrich confirmed that the FBI’s DNA sample from DB Cooper’s tie contains genetic material from “three adult men.”
Dietrich also said that the FBI has only partial samples for both fingerprints and DNA.
When asked about possible DNA analysis of hair strands found on Cooper’s head rest, Dietrich side-stepped.
“We have only partial DNA samples from the entirety of the evidence.”
As for the timing of Geoffrey Gray’s book, Skyjack –The Hunt for DB Cooper, Ms Dietrich totally refuted the notion that there was any collusion between the FBI and Mr. Gray, and dismissed the incredible similarity in names between the suspect LD Cooper and the hijacker, DB Cooper.
“I’m not even familiar with Geoffrey Gray’s book,” she said, adding, “We’re looking at other individuals besides LD Cooper (in the DB Cooper case).”
Probing further, I asked Ms. Dietrich what the FBI’s relationship was with Tina Mucklow, specifically inquiring when the last time the FBI talked with their primary witness in the skyjacking. However, Ms Dietrich didn’t know whom I was discussing.
“Is she one of the flight attendants?”
After a brief description of Ms. Mucklow being held hostage by DB Cooper, Dietrich gave a boiler-plate response.
“All the flight attendants have been very cooperative with our investigation,” she said, adding, “They have been interviewed multiple times.
Continuing, Ms. Dietrich offered: “The flight attendants have been a great asset to the investigation.”
However, Dietrich could not say when the last time any FBI agent had spoken with Tina.
When informed that Ms. Mucklow has been hidden from public view for the past twenty years and prior had been in a cloistered convent, Ms. Dietrich announced, “That’s not surprising,” and speculated that Tina relished avoiding the swarms of media these kinds of events unleash.
Nevertheless, Dietrich seemed unknowledgeable about specific contributions Ms. Mucklow has made to the investigation, especially in recent years, which seems to be an issue since the FBI changes its Cooper case agents with some frequency; to whit: the current Cooper agent, Curtis Ng, only received the assignment about eighteen months ago. Prior, Special Agent Larry Carr had been the Cooper case agent for four years, and overall there have been close to twenty Cooper case agents since the time of the skyjacking.
To read more stories about DB Cooper and the resurgent investigation: https://themountainnewswa.net/db-cooper-stories/
To search other web sites for additional information on DB Cooper: https://themountainnewswa.net/db-cooper-links/
© 2011 The Mountain News-WA