Stockton Record; By Columnist Michael Fitzgerald; Monday, July 02, 2018

In 2016, a jaw-dropping History Channel program made a convincing case that legendary skyjacker D.B. Cooper was a retired UC Riverside department head named Robert W. Rackstraw Sr., now in San Diego.

Documentarian Thomas J. Colbert also co-authored an award-winning book, “The Last Master Outlaw: How He Outfoxed the FBI Six Times, but Not a Cold Case Team.” In addition, he maintains a website,, featuring his volunteer cold case team’s seven-year hunt.

Strangely, the FBI never reopened its investigation against the four-time felon. The case of the “folk hero” who parachuted from a jetliner with $200,000 in loot over Oregon in 1971 and vanished remains officially unsolved, with its records locked away in a Washington, D.C. government archive.

Rackstraw, now 74, loves to tease and hang up on reporters. But he officially denies everything.

So Colbert and his team kept digging. He recruited a retired Army cryptographer in Vietnam, Rick Sherwood (below – in ‘Nam and now) to study the gloating letters that D.B. Cooper famously sent to several papers after the caper. Colbert had to fight the FBI for a half-year in federal court to get them.







Boom! “That’s when Sherwood spoke up and said, ‘Tom, there’s code-speak in all of these.’ ”

The letters, which say things like, “I am smarter than the system’s lackey cops and lame duck leaders,” contain lines of alpha-numeric gobbledygook. Sherwood recognized these as Vietnam-era code.

Rackstraw was a chopper pilot in ‘Nam. Colbert found his retired Army commander, LTC Ken Overturf, who ran a helicopter unit involved in an NSA operation called Project Left Bank (below). In Left Bank, pilots took covert choppers fitted with special antennae airborne over the war zone and triangulated enemy radio positions so they could be targeted for bombing. First technology of its kind.







It was top secret that Rackstraw had applied to Overturf to be a Left Bank pilot. Overturf gave him sophisticated flight training until, six weeks later, he was denied top-secret clearance by the Pentagon. Rackstraw’s time growing up as a teen in Santa Cruz was way too checkered.

Later, Overturf claimed to have witnessed the demoted Rackstraw heading out with a CIA man and explosives for off-the-book jungle missions, sometimes for “days at a time.“

After finding a copy of his 1950 Army code book, Overturf used its ancient formulas to confirm analyst Sherwood’s deciphered messages, hidden in parts of D.B. Cooper’s letters.

The gobbledygook first translated to the names of three specialized Army units (below) — Rackstraw’s three units in ’Nam. Two of which remained classified until the late 1980s.

Overturf verified his booted aviator was the only vet in the war to serve in all three of these unique divisions. Rackstraw’s DoD records also show he learned the code in 1968 while at Fort Bragg with the Green Berets.

Given this stunning evidence, you’d think the FBI would not only reopen the case but send Colbert flowers. But it adamantly refuses to investigate. Why? Why has the FBI, since 1979, been saying Rackstraw’s not the guy?

“We have deep sources in the military and CIA — former brass — who told us, ‘Yes, Rackstraw did that (the Cooper heist), but he also did a lot of other things and you don’t want to go there’,” Colbert said.

Colbert found Calaveras County court records and defense company security memos that suggest Rackstraw was contracted to fly in Laos on covert missions after Vietnam. Other sources sugggest he was involved in Iran-Contra and undercover operations in Mexico.

“That’s why we believe Rackstraw won’t be charged. He became a CIA black ops contractor after the war,” Colbert said.

Back to 1979: “That’s when The Agency walked into the bureau and said to the (FBI) director, ‘We like our boy. He’s been working with us since Vietnam in ’69. Look the other way.’

Why would Rackstraw add code to his letters and risk identifying himself? Who does that?

Colbert’s team includes former FBI Behavioral Analyst Jack Schafer, now a professor and a psychologist at the Law Enforcement and Justice Department at Western Illinois University.

“Narcissists often leave clever clues that identify who they are (because they think) authorities are not smart enough to crack them,” Schafer said in a statement. “Since they correlate with identifiers in Rackstraw’s (Army) life, I’m convinced this was written by Cooper.”

“The FBI’s been covering up, stonewalling and flat-out lying about the skyjacker’s identity for decades,” said Colbert. “Rackstraw is a scandal they don’t want to face, especially considering what’s all going on back east.”

He added that he’s not impugning the brave men and women who defend America in the shadows. “What we’re questioning,” Colbert said, “is when one comes home and flaunts the law and flaunts the system.

“Rackstraw earned more than 30 criminal titles in the 1970’s, like wife-beater, check-forger, dead-beat dad, vigilante, grifter, explosives hoarder, violent sociopath, and many say a killer. Family members told me he murdered his own stepdad and got away with it — the man who hid him after the jump. So now you know why I don’t call Cooper a folk hero.”

Rackstraw in Ft. Rucker photo ID, 1970
1971 FBI Cooper sketch