Heavy.com; By Shannon Walsh; July 11, 2016; Updated December 4, 2016

In July of 2016, History Channel aired its new documentary, DB Cooper: Case Closed, in which a team of investigators revealed who they believe is responsible for the notorious hijacking of a Boeing 727 in 1971. He is Robert W. Rackstraw Sr., a 73-year-old retired university instructor and arbitration expert, now living in San Diego, California.

The team’s findings and alleged evidence are also featured in an investigative book, The Last Master Outlaw. But just who is Robert Rackstraw? What do we know about him, and could he be responsible for one of the most famous cold cases in history?

Read on to find out.

1. He Had an Illustrious Military Career

Wife pins on chopper-school wings, 1969

Rackstraw was a Vietnam veteran with elite military training. He was in the National Guard, the Army Reserve, the Regular Army, and went to Vietnam in 1969 with the 1st Cavalry Division, which is one of the most decorated combat divisions in the US Army. During his military career, Rackstraw climbed the ranks as a Private, Corporal, Sergeant, and eventually became a First Lieutenant.

Don Ray, an accomplished journalist and archivist featured in History Channel’s documentary, is an expert in public records. In the premiere night, he gave detailed accounts of Rackstraw’s accomplishments. “When I took a look at the copies of his file, I remember shaking my head and saying, ‘Woah, I’ve never seen one that had so much in it.’”

2. He Was Identified as a Suspect in 1978

DB Cooper - Robert Rackstraw - 1978
Fugitive Rackstraw after capture in Iran

In 1978, seven years after the hijacking, Rackstraw was first identified by the FBI as a potential suspect in the case. Then Stockton Detective Sgt. Charles Buck and Fire Department Arson Investigator Michael Murray submitted Rackstraw’s name as a potential suspect “because there were so many things that seemed to fit,” according to a February 3, 1979 Stockton Record news article.

In 1979, TV Reporter Warren Olney of KNBC spoke to Rackstraw, and asked him: “Are you willing to state one way or the other whether or not you’re DB Cooper?” According to the station’s archived video, Rackstraw responded: “Uh, I’m afraid of heights [smiling].”

Olney pressed Rackstraw further for details: “You have parachute training and, and uh, as you mentioned yourself, your background suggests that you could have been DB Cooper.” Rackstraw responded, “Could have been, could have been.”

3. He Was Released From the Army in 1971

Military record red-highlighting two colleges that army crossed out

Rackstraw was forced to resign from the military in 1971 because he had lied about attending two separate colleges when, in fact, he was a high school dropout.

For cold-case organizer Tom Colbert and his investigative reporter, Jim Forbes, this forced resignation explained Rackstraw’s motive. In the documentary, Forbes states, “He’s been in the army for 7-plus years. It’s the first thing he’s had stability in his life, and it’s suddenly snatched from him.”

4. He Attended Jump School


During his military career, Rackstraw attended the US Army Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Georgia, otherwise known as Jump School. For Forbes and Colbert, that suggests he would have had the means of carrying out the hijacking and parachuting that DB Cooper is notorious for.

Rackstraw also attended helicopter school, and among his many achievements, he received two Distinguished Flying Crosses (military aviation’s highest medal) and a Silver Star. When discussing the former Lieutenant’s time in service, cold case team member Ray said, “This guy was amazing. It’s like he found the way to go to every possible school you could go to.”

5. His Photograph Closely Resembles the FBI’s Composite Sketch

db-cooper-Rackstraw military-sketch
11/24/71 FBI Sketch #2 and his 9/21/70 Army I.D. Photo

Cold case investigators located many pictures of Rackstraw – including an ID photo from 1970 Army archives, which the FBI requested a copy (above). One picture from relatives was taken a year before the November 24, 1971 hijacking, and another just a month before. All three bear an uncanny resemblance to the FBI’s Cooper facial composite Sketch #2. Tom Colbert reveals this sketch was considered the most accurate, as it came from the testimony of a nearby passenger, who like others, was not told of the ongoing bombing plot. At the time, the passenger was a university sophomore and he sat directly across from Cooper on the plane.

Producers of the documentary tracked down this passenger, then presented him with several potential suspect photos – he immediately pointed at Rackstraw’s.

In Chapter 20 of The Last Master Outlaw, state investigator Jay C. Todd says, “If you compare the sketch to Rackstraw’s 1970 Army picture, there are nine absolute points of match – in the brown eyes, ears, noses, short mouths, frown lines, chins, brows, odd head shapes, and male-pattern baldness. Frankly, it looks like Mitchell’s sketch was traced from his photo.”

But when producers gave a handful of Rackstraw pictures to the flight attendant who sat next to Cooper, she failed to recognize him. Two former FBI agents who interviewed this attendant in the 1980s, however, told the media and authors that they believe the flight attendant suffered from permanent traumatic memory loss from the ordeal.


Get the full story on the D.B. Cooper investigation – Award winning book “The Last Master Outlaw available on Amazon:

Also available:  Cold Case Team’s 102 evidentiary facts, and the investigation’s key supporting materials (historic articles, photos, judiciary documents, military records, charts, theory summaries and maps).



  1. In the military they take your fingerprints. Why did no one compare Rackstraw’s military prints with those found on the plane?

    • I agree, I see too many suspiciously omitted details. The letters and stamps, the cigarette butts, fingerprints on the glass he drank from, or his boarding pass, why are these things not helpful? Was it really a bomb? That was never found, nor the parachute? Pilots are trained observers – did they not note things like his shoes and shoe size, or voice? How could he have lived his entire life with that money, and no one found the serial numbers?

    • Darn good point. Were fingerprinta recovered from hijacking? How stupid it would have been for him to plan so perfectly, but leave a fingeprint.

  2. Frankly- even though $200,000 is a substantial amount of money and huge then- I don’t think he did it for the money. I think he did it to prove he could. I think it was just to prove he could commit this crime right under their noses and then walk away from it and laugh. And that is exactly what he did. And he’s still laughing. And I also believe if you check you will discover that amount of money is related to something in his prior history. Somewhere in his life that amount of money is substantially a clue. Even if they catch him today- you got to hand the man his due on this one.

  3. I wonder how much of his military career is also fake? Or could be fake. Guys who have “issues” don’t suddenly have them once. It’s a pattern that repeats itself.

    I am not intimately familiar with this case like the author or other readers. But I would not take at face value that the only issue with his service record are the colleges he didn’t attend.

    Dive deeper on that subject for a minute and see what comes up: Citations. First hand accounts. Fellow soldiers or airmen. Course classmates. Fellow troops he deployed with. Performance record and evaluations at these military schools. Etc, etc.

    I bet there are more problems in his jacket than just what we are being told.