Heavy.com; by Reporter Shannon Walsh, July 11, 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?

To find out, see the original “Five Fast Facts” article at Heavy.com. For the latest compelling evidence (2018) from the archived FBI Cooper files, released by a judge’s order, read on.

1. His military career was both courageous and “audacious” 

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In 1969, wife pins chopper wings on her pilot (at 25)

Rackstraw started in the National Guard, moved to the Army Reserve, then switched to the Regular Army where, in 1969, he joined the famed 1st Cavalry Air Mobile Division in Vietnam. During his seven years of service, Rackstraw climbed the ranks as a Private, Corporal, Sergeant, Warrant Officer (helicopter aviator) and First Lieutenant.

But when the chopper pilot was off duty, former superiors said he was a rule-breaker, con artist and a thief who road around in a stolen commander’s Jeep. Captain Gary Moselle (ret.) wrote, “Nothing was too audacious for Bob. One time [while flying], he reported he’d found and machine-gunned an elephant. Disgusting. He was that kind of guy.”

Army 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. FBI first learned of him in 1978

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Fugitive Rackstraw (at 34) after 1978 capture in Iran

In the 1970s, Rackstraw earned more than 30 criminal titles — check-forger, dead-beat dad, vigilante, grifter, identity thief, explosives merchant and violent sociopath, just to name a few.

Holding the California veteran for local charges and fake identities, two Stockton detectives decided to submit his name to federal agents “because there were so many things that seemed to fit,” according to an article in the February 3, 1979 Record.

Three days after the story published, Rackstraw gave his own interview. The paper stated he “identifies with the spirit of D.B. Cooper, a person he says ‘challenged the legal system and beat it.'” The subject then switched to the first-person: “I think I stand for the American people, I really do.”

The Record also found out that Rackstraw had admitted to the FBI he was in the Northwest at the time of the skyjacking. That detail helped capture the interest of a Los Angeles TV news station, KNBC. And in a phone call with the staff, the prisoner shared another tidbit: As a teen, he was introduced to parachuting by his skydiving uncle in Arizona — a one Ed Cooper.

Two weeks later, the station was given approval for a sit-down. According to its archived news video, the reporter asked him: “Do you think it’s legit that you could be one of the [Cooper] suspects, one of the thousand?”

Rackstraw toyed with the newsman: “Oh yes, if I was an investigator, definitely so. I wouldn’t discount myself…or a person like myself.”

Months later at his court sentencing for unrelated crimes, another KNBC reporter pushed him for the truth. The new convict 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.”

Rackstraw’s “someday” finally came on February 9, 2018, during a media phone call propelled by the investigative team’s latest revelations. Pressed by a Courthouse News reporter to confirm or deny he was the elusive fugitive, the ex-con, now in his mid-seventies, was unequivocal in his answer:

“There’s no denial whatsoever, my dear.”

3. Five months before hijacking, he was booted from Army

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Military record red-highlighting two colleges that Army crossed out

According to Pentagon records received through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Rackstraw was compelled to leave his military career in the seventh year because he had lied about multiple medals, his true Army rank and faking attendance at two California universities (crossed out in red). In fact, he was a high-school dropout.

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

4. He went to paratrooper, explosives and aviation schools

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Rackstraw attended the US Army Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Georgia, otherwise known as Jump School; he underwent extensive demolition training at the Presidio of Monterey, California; then at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, he took classes at Special Forces School with the Green Berets and learned to fly both planes and helicopters. All of this verified he had the particular skill sets which the daredevil is known for.

In Vietnam, pilot Rackstraw received two Distinguished Flying Crosses (military aviation’s highest medal), a Silver Star and 37 air medals.

But years later in court testimony, he falsely claimed to have earned many more awards — including five Vietnam Campaign Ribbons (He had one) and five Purple Hearts (He had none, was never wounded in battle).

5. His picture has “nine points of match” to Cooper sketch

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

Cold case investigators dug up many old pictures of Rackstraw, including a forgotten ID photo from 1970 Army files which the FBI later requested a copy (above). There is an undeniable likeness to the Bureau’s Cooper facial composite Sketch #2.

Colbert said this sketch was treated as the most reliable one, as its details came from an objective passenger, who like the rest, was not informed of the ongoing bomb plot until 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 approached for History Channel. He revealed the FBI brought him “hundreds” of candidate pictures to review in the early 1970’s, and he rejected them all. But when one of Colbert’s investigators presented him with mug shots of six men to choose from in 2015, the former passenger pointed right at Rackstraw.

In Chapter 20 of The Last Master Outlaw, South Carolina Senior Investigator Jon Campbell stated, “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.”

In 2016, a flight attendant who sat next to Cooper was tracked down by History Channel and handed several decades-old photos of Rackstraw — and she failed to recognize him. But official FBI memos written days after the hijacking revealed this attendant had in fact admitted, “because of her emotional state,” she may have forgotten a half-dozen key interchanges with Cooper.

In addition, two former Bureau agents that tried to interview her in the 1980s came away believing the traumatic ordeal had left her with permanent memory loss. One told an investigative reporter that she “would never be a credible witness in any Cooper trial.”

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

6. Letters & Secret Army Codes

A series of intertwining letters from two crooks were mailed immediately after the hijacking (See the letter map at “Research” menu, six documents from the bottom).

The first group of envelopes (above-left) came from a Swiss pilot named Norman de Winter, a grifter that more than a dozen witnesses from two Oregon towns claim lived among them in the months prior to the skyjacking (also documented in articles). After the con-victims were shown a 1979 TV interview of Rackstraw (See #2), the residents fingered him as their Swiss mystery man — who happened to vanish the day before the jump.

The second group of envelopes (above-right), six in total, held taunting letters from a writer claiming to be D.B. Cooper. According to multiple FBI memos, “excited” senior agents hunted for the author because they firmly believed he was the missing hijacker.

In early 2018, one of Colbert’s team members — an elite Army code-breaker in Vietnam — spotted encrypted messages hidden within the writing/printing of these old notes. And independent experts claim all the statements, such as the two posted above, have firmly implicated veteran Rackstraw W. Rackstraw (AKA “RWR”) as the writer.

FYI: A coming second documentary will feature the investigative discoveries since 2016 — Cooper’s elaborate escape (with help of 3 planes and 3 partners); the team’s dig for the parachutes and money; the two Cooper-cash stunts along the Columbia River (narrated by former 1980 FBI agents); the letter trail, to and from his house; and the breakdown of all his secret Army coding. For more, watch “New Doc Video Pitch” at top of the homepage.

Get a taste of Rackstraw’s full life story at Amazon (Click on the book).

 

19 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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