HOLLYWOOD REPORTER; By Ryan Parker, August 9, 2018;
CBS News credits a veteran’s “fascinating” code-breaking skills for a “remarkable” development.
It was one of the most mysterious unsolved crimes ever committed, becoming a cultural phenomenon and spawning books, films and numerous mentions in TV shows — and an Army veteran may have just made a significant break in the investigation.
In 1971, a well-dressed man with a briefcase bomb took over a Seattle-bound flight and proceeded to parachute out of the airplane with a ransom totaling $200,000. He was never seen again.
The mystery has inspired such works as 1981’s The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper, starring Robert Duvall, as well as a character on the 1990’s Twin Peaks being named after Cooper, among multiple other nods and plot lines in assorted shows.
Now a retired construction worker and Vietnam-era military analyst who specialized in code decryption believes he has found a key clue in the dormant case. According to CBS News, it involves secret Army-coded messages unmasked in a series of taunting Cooper letters mailed right after the hijacking (More in this video package).
“I never in my wildest dreams would’ve thought I’d ever use Morse code or any kind of code-breaking again,” said Rick Sherwood, who served 50 years ago in three top-secret tours during the Southeast Asia war.
Sherman’s unique expertise was requested by Thomas J. Colbert, a California author and documentarian. He and his wife, Dawna, have been investigating the mystery for years with a national cold case team led by former FBI agents.
They have long suspected the daredevil is Robert W. Rackstraw Sr., now 74, a retired University of California law instructor who in fact had served in Sherwood’s same covert units, CBS News reports.
An FBI spokeswoman informed the network that the agency would not reveal if Rackstraw was ever a suspect. ##
FYI from team: According to old embassy records and articles, the FBI chased down the fugitive twice in the late 1970s — and when asked if he was Cooper, he lawyered up both times. But when Seattle Division leaked a year later that Rackstraw had been “ruled out” and “dismissed,” a half-dozen field agents investigating his background told newspapers it wasn’t true. Colbert located two of those dissenting G-men to verify it; one later joined his cold case team.
In February of 2018, a D.C.-based Courthouse News Service reporter called the elderly Rackstraw in San Diego and pressed him to either confirm or deny he was the skyjacker. For the first time, the man with a documented 22 fake identities was straightforward:
“There’s no denial whatsoever, my dear.”
On July 9, 2019, Rackstraw died of natural causes.