DB Cooper has long been a legendary name. If you’re not familiar with it or need a refresher, he was the man who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft in the northwest of the United States. The plane was traveling from Portland to Seattle on November 24, 1971. And at the time, he received $200,000 in ransom, which is about $1,210,000 today. And then he parachuted away with all the glory of the crime.
Although the FBI failed to identify this man back in the 1970s, he continued to have a place in air travel legends. His was the only case of air piracy ever unsolved in the history of commercial aviation. Until now? A team of Los Angeles sleuths think they’ve been able to identify DB Cooper correctly. And the suspect is not the person you’d suspect.
The team of code breakers who took up the cold case examined six letters that the hijacker allegedly wrote. And as they carefully examined the letters and looked for clues, they were able to make headway. And they recently published the name of the person they thought perpetuated the crime – the former United States military pilot Robert Rackstraw.
In 2016, Thomas J. and Dawna Colbert took the FBI to court to gain access to the stockpile of evidence in the DB Cooper case. They then scoured all the evidence and contracted the help of a Vietnam War veteran skilled in breaking codes and pointed the finger at another United States veteran.
They released their accusation in February but have recently published their method of reaching the damning conclusion.
DB Cooper was the name the FBI gave the hijacker who took the plane hostage and threatened the lives of passengers and crews with a bomb. Authorities transferred his requested $200,000 onto the plane. Then he ordered the crew to take off, and he parachuted over the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest.
Thomas Colbert wanted to identify the hijacker once and for all. Although the FBI did their due diligence, Colbert, a TV researcher, thought he could do one better. He launched his investigation in 2011 and assembled a team of ex-FBI agents. He struggled to find any substantial leads – but then they got a breakthrough when he obtained six letters in 2018.
Rick Sherwood, 70, was an ex-Army code breaker. And the Colberts hired him to examine the letter, which was signed by DB Cooper. The letter mocks the police.
Sherwood broke the code rather easily because DB Cooper used a rudimentary number counting system. That means each letter corresponded to a number.
Although the FBI couldn’t crack the code, Sherwood made quick work of it and found “coded identifiers” that signaled Rackstraw as the author of the letter.
At the time of the hijacking, the FBI investigated Rackstraw but cleared him. In 2016, Colbert suggested Rackstraw was DB Cooper. The ex-military man’s attorney laughed it off claiming it was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Rackstraw is alive and well in California.
In the letter, Sherwood found coded references to three units where Rackstraw served. He was the only one to serve in all three, so Sherwood believes he is the author.