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

In July of 2016, History Channel aired its documentary, D.B. Cooper: Case Closed, in which an investigative team led by former FBI agents revealed who they believe is responsible for the notorious hijacking of a Boeing 727 in 1971. He is Robert W. Rackstraw Sr., a retired university instructor and arbitration expert, now living in San Diego, California.

The team’s award-winning book, however — The Last Master Outlaw — exposes a vastly different man in the 1960s and 70s. So who is 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. His military career was both courageous and audacious 

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Wife pins on his Army chopper-school wings in 1969

Rackstraw was a soldier with elite training. He was in the National Guard, the Army Reserve, the Regular Army, and then went to Vietnam in 1969 with the 1st Cavalry Air Mobile Division, one of the most decorated aviation combat units in the war. During his seven years of service, Rackstraw climbed the ranks as a Private, Corporal, Sergeant, Warrant Officer and eventually became a First Lieutenant.

But when the helicopter pilot was off duty, his former Vietnam superiors claimed he was a rule-breaker, con artist and a thief who road around in a stolen commander’s Jeep.

Army Captain Gary Moselle (ret.) wrote, “Nothing was too audacious for Bob. One time [while flying], he reported he had found and machine-gunned an elephant. Disgusting. He was that kind of guy.”

Lieutenant Colonel Ken Overturf (ret.) was asked if Rackstraw had the skills to pull off the high-flying robbery. “He had a basic knowledge and experience in parachuting, he appears crazy enough to do it and had nothing to lose by trying.”

Wait — does that mean Overturf thinks he’s Cooper?

“I do. Of the potential suspects identified by the FBI, Rackstraw fits the mold best.”

2. He was fingered as a suspect in 1978

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Fugitive Rackstraw (at 34) after 1978 capture in Iran

Rackstraw wasn’t a skyjacking candidate until seven years after the jump. Looking at the California veteran for a series of local crimes and fake identities, Stockton Police Detective-Sgt. Charles Buck and Fire Department Arson Investigator Michael Murray submitted his name to the FBI “because there were so many things that seemed to fit,” according to a February 3, 1979 Stockton Record news article.

Months later, KNBC TV reporter Warren Olney was given approval to interview Rackstraw, who earlier had admitted to the FBI of being in the Northwest at the time of the crime. He also had told Olney’s editor that, as a teen, he’d been introduced to parachuting by his skydiving uncle in Arizona — a one Ed Cooper.

When Olney finally sat down with Rackstraw at the jail, the newsman first asked: “Are you willing to state one way or the other whether or not you’re D.B. Cooper?”

According to the station’s archived video, Rackstraw responded: “Uh, I’m afraid of heights [smiling].”

Olney pressed the wily prisoner further: “You have parachute training, and as you mentioned yourself, your background suggests that you could have been D.B. Cooper.”

Rackstraw answered, “Could have been, could have been.” Then he struck a pondering pose. “You say with a story like that, should it be fiction or should it be fact? It’s primarily up to the American people someday, how that comes out.”

3. He was booted from the Army in 1971

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Military record red-highlighting two colleges that Army crossed out

Five months before the hijacking, Rackstraw was forced to resign from the military because he had lied about multiple medals, his true Army rank and attending two separate colleges when, in fact, he was a high-school dropout.

For cold-case team organizer and co-author Thomas J. Colbert, that compulsory discharge explained Rackstraw’s alleged motive for such a crime.

4. He attended jump, explosives and aviation schools

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Rackstraw attended the US Army Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Georgia, otherwise known as Jump School; then he underwent extensive demolition training at the Presidio of Monterey, California, and at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, where he also had taken classes at Special Forces School with the Green Berets and learned to fly both planes and helicopters. All of this verified he had the means of carrying out the skyjacking and parachuting which the daredevil is notorious for, said Colbert.

Among his many achievements, Rackstraw received two Distinguished Flying Crosses (military aviation’s highest medal), a Silver Star and 37 air medals. But later in court testimony, he falsely claimed to have 13 more awards – including five Vietnam Campaign Ribbons (He had one) and five Purple Hearts (He had none, never wounded).

5. His photo strongly resembles FBI’s best composite sketch

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11/24/71 FBI Sketch #2 and his 9/21/70 Army I.D. Photo

Cold case investigators located many old pictures of Rackstraw – including a forgotten ID photo from 1970 Army archives, which the FBI later requested a copy (above). One snapshot from relatives had been taken a year before the November 24, 1971 jump, and another just a month before. All three bear an uncanny resemblance to the FBI’s Cooper facial composite Sketch #2.

Colbert said this sketch was considered the Bureau’s most accurate, as it came from the testimony of an objective passenger, who like others, was not told of the ongoing bomb plot until after leaving the jet. At the time, the traveler was a university sophomore and he sat directly across the aisle from Cooper.

The former student, now in his 60’s, was tracked down for History Channel. He revealed the FBI brought him “hundreds” of candidate pictures to review in the early 1970’s, and he rejected all of them. But when one of Colbert’s investigators presented him with mug shots of six suspects to choose from in 2015, the former passenger pointed right at Rackstraw.

In Chapter 20 of The Last Master Outlaw, senior state investigator Jay C. Todd says, “If you compare the sketch to Rackstraw’s picture, there are nine 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 the sketch was traced from his photo.”

But when a flight attendant who sat right next to Cooper was handed several pictures of Rackstraw, she failed to recognize any of them. However, two former FBI agents that separately interviewed this attendant in the 1980s told reporters and authors that they believed she had suffered permanent traumatic memory loss from the ordeal.

Seeking a more current opinion on the controversy, Colbert approached one of the nation’s “Top 15” CSI professors. After studying all the old materials and viewing the attendant’s interviews, Forensic Scientist Thomas P. Mauriello agreed with the agents’ conclusion.

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, court documents, military records, witness transcripts, charts, theory summaries and maps).

http://heavy.com/news/2016/07/robert-rackstraw-db-cooper-case-closed-documentary-culprit-who-is/

18 COMMENTS

  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.

    • The military will not release DNA or fingerprints for any service member. It was collected expressly for the purpose of casualty identification, and it would be inadmissible in court.

      If they wanted to get his prints without his permission they’d have to follow him around and collect something he discarded.

  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.

    Marky

  4. There used to be “D.B. Cooper” jumps made from a 727’s aft door at Quincy every year at the World Free-fall Convention. It’s a very survivable jump with the equipment that was used at the time. WW2 crews made thousands of that type of jump with little or no training. DB Cooper had been drinking so the mistake of the training reserve could have been due to that and nerves of committing a crime. But then he could have done the jump on a dare also. The skydiving community can be pretty perverse at least when I was jumping. Rackstraw seems like the type that would do this type of jump on a dare. But no money serial numbers showing up anyway? with 1.4 trillion in cash in circulation and another 70 million counterfeit that’s a long shot to find. No one really knows his motivation and if he survived the jump. I say (with no evidence) that he survived the jump and lost the cash but won the dare. And he could be Rackstraw.

    • I dont think people comprehend what you would have to go through to scan all bills. We were operating mostly on bills at the time. A reliable source suggested people were diligent for maybe 6 months then went back to their normal routine. And the Federal Reserve (or whoever destroys old bills) wouldnt have taken the time to check each one.

  5. I believe he wore gloves and he was good about keeping all the stuff on his, the note, etc. He did leave his clip on tie behind though and that was tested and was found to have chemicals related to the tv building industry back then. I don’t know what to think.

  6. I was Bob Rackstraw’s commanding officer in the 11th General Support Aviation Company, First Air Cavalry Division in Viet Nam in spring 1970. I was the Aircraft Maintenance Officer and chief test pilot for the company. About a half-dozen officers and warrant officers (pilots) and about 100 enlisted men were in my platoon. Bob Rackstraw was one of the platoon warrant officers and a pilot. I put Bob in charge of the company motor pool because he showed interest in working with Army vehicles. But I also had Bob’s help in test flying the approximately 10 UH-1 and 12 OH-6 helicopters we maintained. What I remember of Bob Rackstraw: He was a good pilot, both in UH-1 and OH-6 helicopters. But he was seldom interested in the routine work of our maintenance platoon. He was usually working on some special project that required him to be elsewhere. Bob was proud to show me his achievements. For example, somehow he got permission to mount a M-134 6-barrel minigun on an OH-6 helicopter. The OH-6 was unmanageable when the gun fired – the pilot ran out of left pedal. But Bob was proud to show me what he had done. Another time, Bob reported that he had found and machine-gunned an elephant. According to Bob, he could smell the rotting carcass at 2,000 feet. Disgusting. One afternoon Bob reported that he was going to be outside our fortified perimeter that night in a spider hole along a trail, waiting in ambush for VC he hoped would come by before dawn. As I recall, nothing came of it. Bob’s best friend in the 11th GS was another of my pilots, Joe Schlein. The two were always working on some project – such as trading “liberated” Army materiel for something they needed or wanted. For example, Bob showed up one day driving a classy jeep he had bargained for. As I recall, the Company Commander, Major Smith, ordered Bob to get rid of the jeep. Bob sling-loaded it under a helicopter and dropped the jeep from several thousand feet over an isolated spot in the Viet Nam jungle. Bob was that kind of guy. Nothing was too audacious for Bob. I left Viet Nam in June of 1970 and didn’t hear from Bob again until the early 1980s when he called me at the office. Bob was starting a construction company and needed liability insurance. He asked if I had any connections. I did. But none wanted Bob’s business. And that was the last time I talked with Robert Rackstraw.

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