CBS News (WBBM, CHICAGO) – By Investigative Reporter Brad Edwards, 8/8/18
It’s one of the most baffling unsolved crimes in FBI history.
In 1971, a man, later known as D.B. Cooper, hijacked a Seattle-bound flight and parachuted out of the airplane with a ransom totaling $200,000. He was never seen again.
Now, as 2 Investigator Brad Edwards reports, a retired Indiana construction worker might have cracked the case the FBI never could.
Rick Sherwood served three tours in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, earning two Bronze Stars for his code-breaking work.
“I never in my wildest dreams would have ever thought that I would ever use Morse Code, or any kind of code breaking or anything again,” the 70-year-old veteran said.
That changed when Thomas J. Colbert came calling.
The California-based police trainer, author and TV producer was investigating the D.B. Cooper case, and he asked Sherwood to review lines of potential code in letters sent by D.B. Cooper.
Colbert suspected the daredevil was a California man by the name of Robert W. Rackstraw Sr. Sherwood and Rackstraw served in the Army together.
Using the code-breaking skills he honed in the military, Sherwood believes he definitively connected D.B. Cooper to Rackstraw, uncovering his name and other details in the letters.
Edwards ran Sherwood’s findings by Jack Schafer, a retired FBI agent and behavioral analyst.
“I think certainly there’s a strong circumstantial case now, especially the link between the decoded messages and Rackstraw,” he said.
Observers have said Rackstraw had the training and the motive to pull off the heist. He left the Army for “conduct unbecoming an officer,” months before the hijacking. Edwards reached Rackstraw by phone. He declined to answer questions, saying he would only speak face-to-face.
“How confident are you that D.B. Cooper is Robert Rackstraw?” Edwards asks Sherwood.
“If I were him, I’d be extremely nervous,” Sherwood said.
A FBI spokeswoman said the agency is no longer actively investigating the case, and declined to confirm if Rackstraw was ever a suspect.