On November 24, 1971, a man who had purchased a ticket under the name “Dan Cooper” hijacked a plane and demanded $200,000. With the money, he parachuted out of the Boeing 727 and was never seen again. Now known as “D.B. Cooper,” the FBI kept an active investigation on him going for 45 years and filled 60 volumes. However, they never found out who he really was or what happened to him. Today, a former TV reporter and amateur investigator believes he knows the truth.
A coded confession
Experts on the case believe D.B. Cooper did not make it away with his extorted cash, which totaled to over $1 million of today’s money. He either did not survive the fall or became lost in the wilderness. However, an extensive search did not uncover a body or the money. The official case finally closed in 2016. Amateur sleuths have not slowed down, however. Thomas Colbert has been investigating with a team for a few years and after working with Rick Sherwood, a code-breaker, he believes he knows who D.B. Cooper is.
About a month after the Cooper hijacking, a bunch of newspapers received letters supposedly from the man himself. Most of them were hoaxes, but one letter caught the FBI’s attention because it made references to case details not released to the public. However, it also contained random numbers that the FBI couldn’t decipher. Sherwood says the reason he figured it out is because he already had a suspect in mind: Robert Rackstraw.
A Vietnam vet, Rackstraw was actually a suspect in the original case, but was cleared in 1979. He was also known to have 22 different aliases at one point. Sherwood thinks they got the right guy, though, and discovered ciphers used by the Army in the letter. He was able to figure it out because Sherwood served in the same outfit as Rackstraw. Using his code-breaking skills, Sherwood says that Rackstraw confessed to being D.B. Cooper.
In 2016, Thomas Colbert published a book on the theory that Robert Rackstraw was D.B. Cooper with the title The Last Master Outlaw. Rackstraw, who is still living, says he lost his job over the allegations.
There’s more than that one letter to back up the Rackstraw theory, according to Sherwood and Colbert. In 1972, The Oregonian received a letter it turned over to the FBI. The letter says he (D.B. Cooper) is living the life in the Bahamas, so “your silly troopers up there can stop looking for me.” When examining this letter earlier this year (2018), Sherwood picked up keywords used in the 1971 letter, and translated the code into “1st LT Robert Rackstraw.”
Problems with the Rackstraw theory
The biggest problem with this theory is that Sherwood worked backwards. He already had a suspect in mind, so critics are saying he’s simply seeing what he wants to see. There’s also the matter of D.B. Cooper’s age – according to witness testimony, Cooper was middle-aged. Rackstraw would have been just 28. When shown a picture of Rackstraw in 1971, a flight attendant on the hijacked plane says she saw no resemblance. Colbert counters this criticism by saying Rackstraw was in disguise. Right now, the FBI has no interest in reviving its investigation and does not take Colbert and his sleuth team seriously.
The D.B. Cooper case is the only unsolved case of skyjacking in commercial aviation history. It’s also one of the most famous unsolved mysteries. Click here to read about others like the Black Dahlia murder.