- 1D.B. Cooper vanished after hijacking a Northwest Orient Airlines jet in November of 1971. Cooper, who gave his name as "Dan Cooper," demanded $200,000 and two parachutes from the U.S. government, which he received.
Then, as the plane flew over the Pacific Northwest, Cooper strapped on his parachute, secured the ransom money to his person and jumped from the Boeing 727, into the cold, night sky over the Cascade Mountains. In the years since the hijacking, the FBI pursued literally thousands of leads without ever making a single arrest. Some believe Cooper couldn't possibly survive the jump he made; others theorize that Cooper did escape, possibly with the help of an accomplice. Either way, Cooper mysteriously vanished. And yes, this is definitely the stuff that movies are made of!!
To date, the D.B. Cooper case remains the only unsolved skyjacking in history. HOWEVER, in late-July of 2011, nearly four decades after Cooper's daring skyjacking, news broke that the FBI might have a promising new lead in the case. Could this be the break law enforcement needed? Maybe. Apparently, the feds are trying to match fingerprints taken from the hijacked plane (Cooper's?) to those of an as-yet-unidentified man who died a decade ago. The FBI says a witness came forward with information that this man might indeed be D.B. Cooper. Apparently a "retired law enforcement officer" helped get this info to the feds.
So there you go. After four decades of stories, we may finally learn the identity of one of the most elusive criminals in U.S. history!
Joseph ShexniderWhen 26-year-old Joseph Shexnider vanished in January of 1984, his family suspected he was on the run from the law. (He'd missed a district court hearing for possession of a stolen vehicle.) Shexnider had also disappeared a few times before, including one incident when he had run off to join the circus (as one does). But was he truly running, or was he the victim of foul play? For 27 years, the Shexnider disappearance was a mystery - he'd simply vanished.
Then, in May of 2011, Joseph Shexnider's remains were found inside a brick chimney at a bank in Abbeville, Louisiana. Police say they aren't sure why Shexnider climbed into the chimney - and they aren't sure exactly how he died, though they suspect starvation/dehydration. Did Shexnider get stuck during a bank robbery attempt gone horribly wrong? Was he practicing for the all-important role of Santa at the following year's Christmas Pageant? We may never know.
Frank Morris, John and Clarence AnglinNo list about criminals who mysteriously vanished would be complete without including three names: Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin.
Names don't ring a bell? They should. These three men were prisoners at San Francisco's famed Alcatraz maximum security prison who somehow managed to escape. Yes, Morris, along with the Anglin brothers, plotted their daring escape for years before carrying the plan out on June 11, 1962. (Too bad they couldn't wait a few decades and just rent "The Rock," but it seems like they were in a hurry.)
They crawled through air vents to reach the prison's roof, where they shimmied down a large smokestack to eventually reach the shoreline. Where they went from there is the mystery, though many believe the men died before they reached freedom, drowning in the swirling currents of San Francisco Bay. A massive manhunt ensued, of course, but their bodies were never found. The story is related in the 1979 Clint Eastwood movie "Escape from Alcatraz." (Eastwood played Frank Morris, Jack Thibeau played Clarence Anglin and Fred Ward played John Anglin).
- 4Political activist Abbie Hoffman already had a rap sheet (for political protests) when he mysteriously vanished in 1974, skipping bail after his arrest on drug charges. Hoffman was not seen for seven years, though investigators tried to find him and various sightings were reported. Hoffman went to great lengths to conceal his identity, changing his name to "Barry Freed" and even having plastic surgery to change his appearance. He kept right on supporting causes, however, and even wrote a travel column for "Crawdaddy!" magazine. (I knew I shouldn't have let that subscription expire!)
Finally, in 1980, Hoffman/Freed turned himself in to police andgave an interview to Barbara Walters. He was sentenced to one year in prison but was released after 4 months, probably because the warden really wanted to catch up on that Crawdaddy travel column.
Hoffman remained involved in activist causes and progressive politics for the remainder of his life. He committed suicide in April of 1989.
Boston CorbettThomas P. "Boston" Corbett was the Union Army soldier who shot Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, to death in April of 1865. Corbett, a member of the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment, and other soldiers were assigned to apprehend Booth, but not to kill him, based on strict orders from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.
Instead, when Booth was discovered in a Virginia farm, the regiment set the barn on fire and then Corbett shot Booth through a crack in the wall. (How many times do I have to tell Virginia tobacco farm owners...make sure your barn is tightly sealed to prevent gunfire from getting in there!) Corbett was arrested for violating orders, but he by that time had become something of a national hero, so the charges were eventually dropped. Corbett's share of the reward money worked out to a whopping $1,653.84. Enough to make sure he never has to pay for mustache wax again!
Corbett didn't really get to enjoy his earnings or newfound fame, though, as his life slowly began to unravel. Some have theorized that his regular employment as a hatter and ensuing exposure to high amounts of mercury led to his madness. But it's also possible that the fame and notoriety of being Booth's killer got to him. Either way, over the following years, his behavior became increasingly erratic, and it's said he threatened several people over the years with guns. While working as an assistant doorman at the Kansas House of Representatives (apparently something of a hotspot for opening doors), Corbett got upset and brandished a firearm, which tends to be frowned upon by professional legislating bodies.
Next thing you know, he's committed to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane, from where he escaped the following year. (Remember? That's what this list is about!)
Corbett was never officially heard from again. He told a fellow inmate that he planned to head for Mexico, but it's believed he may have moved into a cabin in the woods near Hinckley, Minnesota, only to then die in a fire a few years later. This has never been proven, but local records do indicate that someone named "Thomas Corbett" perished in the area.
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