In 1971, a man using the alias D.B. Cooper boarded a Boeing 727 at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport and held the crew and passengers hostage with a bomb threat. He forced the pilot to land for fuel, then demanded $200,000 in ransom (which is equivalent to about $1.2 million today). Once the money was transferred onto the plane, Cooper forced the crew to take off once again. He then parachuted out of the plane over the Pacific Northwest woods with the money. He was never seen again.
The case of Cooper’s identity and whether or not he survived the jump has been one of the most prolific mysteries in recent decades. And just this week, we have learned who D.B. Cooper really was.
Tom Colbert, a television and film producer, has been studying the case with a team of 40 private investigators. After successfully suing the FBI for files related to D.B. Cooper, Colbert and his team obtained previously undisclosed information, including a confession letter that was written in code. It was sent to the Portland Oregonian newspaper in 1972, just months after the hijacking, and reads:
“This letter is too (sic) let you know I am not dead but really alive and just back from the Bahamas, so your silly troopers up there can stop looking for me. That is just how dumb this government is. I like your articles about me but you can stop them now. D.B. Cooper is not real. I want out of the system and saw a way through good ole Unk. Now it is Uncle’s turn to weep and pay one of it’s (sic) own some cash for a change. (And please tell the lackey cops D.B. Cooper is not my real name).”
Colbert noticed the letter was typed much like a different Cooper letter and gave this new one to Rick Sherwood, a former member of the Army Security Agency. Sherwood had previously decoded letters in various notes that were reportedly sent by Cooper.
Over the course of two weeks, Sherwood was able to decode the letter, which seems to confirm the identity of the infamous plane hijacker as 74-year-old Robert W. Rackstraw, a living Vietnam War veteran who has been a longtime suspect. In fact, his initials were decoded in several other letters involving Cooper sent to newspapers shortly after the heist.
Sherwood identified several phrases in the note that were used multiple times, and he used a system of letters and numbers to decode those phrases and reveal “by skyjacking a jet plane” and “I am 1st LT Robert Rackstraw.” This finding was confirmed by another member of the investigation team.
Colbert has been investigating Rackstraw for years and has claimed that several documents written by him contained coded taunts daring the FBI to catch him. Rackstraw was questioned in 1978, but was ultimately released due to lack of evidence.
Rackstraw enjoyed a successful military career as a pilot in the 1st Cavalry Division, where he learned to parachute. He was later kicked out once the army found out he had lied about his schooling. However, Colbert believes that the military provided Rackstraw with all the necessary skills to pull of the heist.
In the summer of 2016, the FBI closed the D.B. Cooper investigation on the belief that whoever Cooper was, he likely died of exposure in the woods after he landed. It was only after the case was closed that Colbert sued the FBI for the files and discovered the coded letter that might have proved his theory to be correct.
Rackstraw is alive and well, living in the San Diego area. He could not be reached for a comment when the news broke this week.
What do you think? Has this mystery finally been solved? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.