HOLLYWOOD REPORTER; By Ryan Parker, August 9, 2018;
CBS News credits a veteran’s “fascinating” code-breaking skills for a “remarkable” case 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 13 former FBI agents.
Colbert has 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: The FBI traveled halfway around the world to capture fugitive Rackstraw in 1978, according to old embassy records and articles. But when Seattle Division leaked a year later he had been “ruled out” and “dismissed,” a half-dozen field agents investigating his background told several newspapers that wasn’t true. Colbert tracked down two of those dissenting G-men to verify it; one later joined his team.
In February of 2018, a D.C.-based Courthouse News Service reporter phoned the elderly Rackstraw in San Diego and pressed him to either confirm or deny he was the fugitive. For the first time, the elusive man with a documented 22 fake identities was straightforward:
“There’s no denial whatsoever, my dear.”