It was a pleasure working with the professionals at Netflix and Fulwell 73 Productions on “D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?!” But like all documentaries, it wasn’t possible to include all of the facts, historical footage and interviews involving Robert W. Rackstraw. To get a full grasp of the strong evidence and dozens of FOIA documents that made up our team’s case, I recommend reading through this entire thread.
If you’d like the full story of Rackstraw’s amazing life in 5 countries with 22 identities and 3 families, pick up The Last Master Outlaw (second edition, vetted by 2 literary attorneys). Among dozens of books on the 1971 hijacking, this is the the only one with true-crime awards and the highest number of Amazon 5-star ratings and reviews — thanks to co-writer Tom Szollosi and our retired FBI editors.
Take it from a new team fan, Gracy Harkwild: “The book is filled with compelling evidence after compelling evidence that Rackstraw not only was the crook, but he had the background and experience to carry out the hijacking. Rackstraw had multiple motives for pulling the stunt, as discussed in the book. In addition, old FBI memos state that agents had identified him as the probable suspect, but he was pulled out of the case by the CIA, for whom Rackstraw worked. When you understand that, you will understand why it was never officially “solved” and why the FBI had no interest in reopening the case, when all the team’s new evidence became public. This was your typical US government corruption, covering for its own.”
By the way, we learned that Rackstraw — a clinically-diagnosed narcissistic sociopath — had purchased our team’s book! We also found his online pleas to a half-dozen lawyers, trying to stop us from exposing his double life. But after fact-checking our pages, all the legal eagles flew the coop. The ultimate compliment!
But this outlaw wasn’t our greatest adversary.
THE COOPER COVER-UP
– Exec Summary –
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) memos reveal that Robert W. Rackstraw (RWR), AKA “D.B. Cooper,” outfoxed the FBI 9 times. But the further this elite team of investigators went down his trail, the more they exposed his shadowy world of espionage – and that made the intelligence community very nervous. RWR’s associates launched a secret MIGA (Make It Go Away) order; as a retired fed put it, “Rule #1 was you don’t embarrass the bureau.”
That led team founder Thomas J. Colbert (TJC) and his volunteer “Case Breakers” to ramp up the hunt.
When paratrooper RWR landed in Vietnam in 1969, the Army pilot was quickly drawn to covert work for the CIA. His freelance assignments in the jungles and in the air, before and after his hijacking, continued for decades, said his former commanders. But when he was booted from the military for lying about college degrees, rank and medals, RWR spent months planning his 1971 airliner robbery and getaway – with the help of 3 Army-veteran partners.
Senior agents were tipped that RWR’s Washington State drop zone was 20 miles to the south of the official ground search. But FBI brass oddly chose to keep his remote landing spot confidential – for 5 years.
In 1974, RWR opened an air taxi service in Northern California with a helicopter and two small planes. The FAA, however, said it had absolutely no record of any aircraft ownership under his name.
In February of 1979, the 4-time felon gave the Seattle FBI 3 separate hijacking alibis. Then the very next day, the feds leaked to the paper that RWR had been “ruled out” as D.B. Cooper. That angered 6 California-based field agents who were investigating his escapes and crimes for over a year. They all went to their separate town newspapers with the details – it was the biggest insurrection in bureau history that never went national.
In 2012, senior FBI executives on Headquarters’ 7th floor emailed TJC and his newly-assembled cold case team a collaboration agreement involving their planned RWR investigation. The Seattle-based Cooper case agent “welcomes any further information you uncover.” Three months later, TJC was alerted that 2 of the 6 taunting hijacker letters were mailed within 50 miles of RWR’s remote ’71 hideaway near the High Sierra. A retired senior agent called that news “an 8 out of 10.” But Seattle Division gave no response to the Case Breakers.
After RWR ignored the team’s phone calls, emails and letters for 6 months in 2013, TJC sent an armed surveillance crew and cameramen to San Diego Bay for 2 days of 60 Minutes-style encounters. Here’s 2 of his responses: 1) When told the world wants to hear his DBC story, RWR smirked: “Sure they would. So would the FBI and the secret [criminal] indictment in Washington, D.C.” 2) Just before driving away, the drained RWR was asked why the evasiveness: “Because you guys would make such a big deal out of it.” FYI: TJC secured RWR’s empty water bottle for a DNA comparison to a “Cooper” letter lick stamp. But the FBI refused to accept any genetic results.
In 2015, an FBI Assistant Director was recruited to be the agency’s liaison/inquisitor on the team’s coming documentary, now with almost 100 pieces of RWR evidence. After 3 days of study, the AD called it “the most outstanding example I’ve ever seen of a professional investigation.” But after a half-year of secret FBI talks with a documentary channel, the bureau canceled TJC’s 4-year partnership, declined to take the “tremendous circumstantial case” (AD’s words), and sealed the Cooper file. Then as cameras rolled, senior agents lied about reviewing all the team’s evidence – telling future viewers instead that there was “nothing new.”
When the show aired in 2016, the stunned sleuths noted their most damning 18 pieces of evidence had been edited out. TJC quickly sued the FBI in federal court for access to the Cooper case secrets. In 2017, a judge agreed. In monthly document dumps, the historic pages exposed the details of RWR’s daring escape, the burial site of his parachute, and the encrypted messages in all 6 Cooper letters – one including his confessed identity.
Six high-ranking leaders from various intelligence branches quietly approached the Case Breakers and confirmed RWR’s double-life. So in 2018, TJC and his PI volunteers ended their long quest outside of FBI HQ, boldly stating that the feds were “covering up, stonewalling and flat-out lying” about RWR’s CIA days.
When the 74-year-old RWR passed away in 2019, memos in his thick “death file” revealed the ripcord to the truth.
HOW SKYJACKER OUTFOXED THE FBI 9 TIMES
– But not the Case Breakers –
1) 11/24/71: After receiving his ransom, RWR orders the pilot to fly jet at 10,000 feet, with wing flaps at 15 degrees and air speed of 250 mph. That left only 2 routes for his slow-moving flight to Mexico: over ocean (ruled unsafe) or along “Victor-23” – an 8-mile-wide mountain corridor ending at Portland. A newsman wrote: “Cooper’s simple instructions to the crew were brilliant because they forced [Flight] 305 to fly over” terrain he’d studied for months. By not giving “a specific flight plan,” the FBI had no time to figure out where he’d jump.
2) 11/29/71 to 3/28/72: In 6 follow-up “Cooper” letters, the Vietnam-trained RWR uses secret encrypted coding (just like the WW II Navajos) to 1) fool the FBI, 2) reach his 3 vet- partners, 3) flaunt his CIA creds, and 4) brag about being hijacker “DBC.”
3) 5/4/73: While delivering a new Michigan-built helicopter to a California boss, RWR (29) crash-lands on an Iowa farm. The 2-man crew is fine, but RWR orders his younger co-pilot “not to say a word.” FYI: When the FBI showed up, they bought vet’s elaborate story and left.
4) 7/1/74: Court records, family members and witnesses reveal that RWR exchanged most of his illicit “Cooper cash” for Kruggerands – burying them at times to avoid FBI search warrants. RWR ended that hassle by converting the gold coins to property, “divorcing” his wife, then giving her all of his real estate “assets.” A half-year later, she sold the land and bought a million-dollar condo in San Diego – and that’s where her “ex-hubby” lived until his death.
5) 2/18/75 to 1/26/78: 22 cases of dynamite are stolen at Felton quarry, where RWR (31) worked as a teen. The FBI told everyone — his Santa Cruz family, work partners, cops & reporters – that he sold 100s of pounds of it to radical-bomber groups. But the feds couldn’t prove it.
6) 2/20/78: After the FBI arrested RWR (34) in Iran on a fed fugitive warrant (CA bank robberies), the angry outlaw “refused” to exit with agents at JFK Airport – so he “had to be carried from the plane.” But when asked if he was Cooper, RWR freezes and demands a lawyer. That ends the subject – nobody wants to jeopardize his pending CA felony cases. FYI: After hearing he also faced a murder charge, the FBI let local police have him first. But 5 months later, the shrewd suspect easily beats the small-town murder rap and bails out.
7) 10/11/78: With his CA bank “check-kiting” arraignment a day away and the FBI finally coming in for Cooper “questioning,” pilot RWR (35) calls in a distress signal from a small rental plane, 12 miles out in Monterey Bay. He claims his aircraft is on fire and full of smoke: “Mayday, Mayday! I’m going to ditch!” He flies below radar and vanishes – for 4 months.
8) 1/27/79: At a Fullerton, CA, print shop, police detain a scruffy-bearded RWR as he makes illegal copies of his federal pilot’s license and medical certificate – under the alias of “Robert C. Eastman.” They ID him through state prints and a “bullet scar on his left side.” FYI: FBI gets RWR’s fingerprints to compare to those found on D.B. Cooper’s airliner. But Reno FBI agents’ released “302” reports show that “no prints of value” were found in the rear of plane (Cooper had a half-hour to wipe everything down). Same fingerprint results with the 6 DBC letters.
9) 2/7/80: At a cocaine party on the Columbia River’s Hayden Island, a Portland trafficker (who is posing as “D.B. Cooper”) points out “a hippie couple” to 2 of his drug runners. Then he brags “in a few days, they and their son will find some of my [DBC] money” along the river shoreline. FYI #1: Four days later, this hippie-couple family joins the FBI for a river news conference where some of the hijacker’s 1971 money was found in the sand. A senior agent states “this is strong evidence that Cooper didn’t survive.”
FYI #2: A half-year later, RWR finishes a bank-felony sentence & walks out of a CA state
prison – cleared as Cooper (BTW: Portland trafficker was his secret 7-year crime partner).
FOR THE STILL-CURIOUS OR SUSPICIOUS: Amateur sleuths can get immediate access to the background materials on this investigation by going to the bottom of the home page. Click on “D.B. Cooper — Official Correspondence,” then pick your study direction from the three levels of free research.
FOR SCHOLARS, ASSOCIATIONS, WRITERS & PRODUCERS: The 10 years spent researching and tracking Rackstraw around the globe wielded more than 100 pieces of physical, forensic, direct, testimonial, foundational, documentary and hearsay evidence. TJC utilizes these original materials for exclusive public-speaking events, consulting projects and licensing opportunities. He can be reached by email or phone through the “Contact Us” menu on the home page. Thanks for your interest in bonified history.