By Kayla Brantley & Luke Kenton / DailyMail.com and Ross Ibbetson / MailOnline; Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019
Court-released FBI documents and recovered emails from the former Comey Administration show his agents strongly believed Special Forces-trained jumper Robert Wesley Rackstraw was Cooper, and he admitted to having all the skill sets to pull it off.
- Last year, documentarian Thomas J. Colbert and his cold case team identified Rackstraw, 75, a disgraced vet with a murky past, as Cooper; he died of natural causes 2 months ago
- Through Colbert’s court order, FBI released Rackstraw’s “death file” dossiers that reveal his face’s “9 points of match” to Cooper sketch and having necessary training for hijacking
- Colbert now claims the FBI knew he was the daredevil and launched a scheme to ‘conceal, suppress and fabricate’ evidence because of his long CIA history — before and after jump
- When Rackstraw was publicly ‘dismissed’ as Cooper in 1979, 6 FBI agents boldly told their local newspapers that wasn’t true — the agency’s largest insurrection never reported
- Bureau brass declined to accept team’s forensic materials, including DNA, as promised; 3 network stories on hunt were also mysteriously shelved before their national broadcasts
A new report states that the FBI knew the true identity of the notorious skyjacker, but says senior executives from James Comey’s 7th floor offices were involved in a scheme to ‘conceal, suppress and fabricate’ evidence in the unsolved case.
In November 1971, a ‘non-descript man’ bought a $20 ticket for a Northwest Orient flight from Portland to Seattle, later demanding $200,000 ransom and a parachute in what would become one of the most infamous cold cases of all time. Identifying himself as Dan ‘DB’ Cooper, he would later vanish without a trace, skydiving from the rear of the plane with the cash in hand and prompting decades of debate and conspiracy over the brazen thief’s true identity.
A breakthrough came in February of last year when a documentarian, Thomas J. Colbert, and a team of private investigators held a news conference outside of FBI Headquarters and declared that Robert W. Rackstraw, a veteran with a dark trail who recently died at the age of 75, was the man responsible.
THE SECRET PRIME SUSPECT
Forty years ago, the Californian was ‘ruled out’ and ‘dismissed’ as a suspect by the bureau after a year inquiry, according to the Seattle Times [2/3/79 edition]. But that conclusion was strongly disputed in Rackstraw’s home state; the very next day, a half-dozen special agents there told reporters they were still door-knocking and new data was ‘being forwarded’ to Seattle Division.
Colbert confirmed the old clippings through the surviving agents; one joined his team.
Internal FBI documents from that period, just obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act following Rackstraw’s death, show the Vietnam soldier was in fact considered the perfect Cooper match. The 1978 dossiers say he was targeted because ‘he resembles the artist’s composite’ in nine facial points and for ‘his military background, particularly his paratrooper training.’
There was also the matter of his career timeline: The specialized HALO [High Altitude-Low Open] parachutist, forced to resign from the Army in 1971, just months before the crime, was ‘extremely bitter over his severance.’ Indeed, when the feds questioned Rackstraw years later, ‘he admitted to the arresting agent he would be fully capable of successfully effecting the NORJAK hijacking [FBI’s code-name for crime].’
Another FBI record states he received a less-than-honorable discharge ‘because of unfitness or unacceptable conduct’ involving lies about his medals, rank and attending two California colleges. The angry lieutenant then wrote his former commanders: ‘I can only hope that I will never use the training and education the Army gave me against the Army itself, as I would be a formidable advisary [sic].’
Rackstraw’s only sibling, Linda Lee Loduca, heard about that ‘angry letter.’ In a four-hour interview with Colbert, she said a visiting California FBI man, Warren Little, had brought the note up in 1978 while looking at her fugitive brother for bank fraud. The agent theorized ‘it was entirely possible, even plausible, this anger was at least part of the motive for the hijacking of Northwest Flight 305.’
The released files also reveal that Rackstraw had told Loduca he was working for a real estate firm in Los Angeles after ‘quitting’ the service. As part of his job he was selling land in Oregon, ‘back in an area so remote that there were no roads,’ Loduca relayed to the FBI, ‘and Robert had to fly prospect there to see the land.’
Colbert said this was one of two Rackstraw alibis uncovered by his cold case experts; a witness and records proved both false. [FYI: FBI recently offered a third controversial exoneration for Rackstraw; see it in the second-to-last agent memo at article’s bottom.]
THE TEAM APROACHES
Between the start of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and Trump’s 2016 Russia probe, Colbert’s ‘national task force’ of 40 volunteers reported to the FBI that new evidence suggested Rackstraw should be reconsidered. Now the organizer is naming nine of former Director James Comey’s senior executives and Seattle Division brass who he believes, soon after, launched a plan to cover this up.
Retired Assistant FBI Director Tom Fuentes, a CNN analyst, was allegedly one of the key figures in the scheme. He was commissioned in 2015 to study the team’s mountain of evidence for three days, and in a recorded transcript, he declared: ‘This is just the most outstanding example I’ve ever seen of a professional investigation. A tremendous circumstantial case, very probably is [Cooper]. I would give it an eight or nine out of ten. Agents involved [should] sit with you and really start comparing notes.’
But a trail of FBI emails and transcripts, recently recovered by Colbert, suggest Fuentes’ conclusion set off alarms at Comey headquarters. Shortly after, the director’s 7th floor staff reportedly voided Colbert’s 5-year collaboration and canceled a 2016 meeting to accept his team’s forensic materials on Rackstraw — almost 100 samples, including DNA. Colbert said the Cooper file was then ‘shipped off to a locked [D.C.] archive.’
Dr. James T. Reese, Ph.D., one of the private team’s 12 retired FBI agents, summarized these turn of events best: ‘Rule #1 was you don’t embarrass the bureau. This door-slam was politics, pure and simple.’
Colbert stated that ‘senior agents – including Fuentes – then proceeded to downplay, hide and lie to the national media about the ”tremendous” Rackstraw evidence.’
The alleged ‘disinformation’ campaign included the internet. Colbert noted a purported sample at Dropzone.com, a popular blog for amateur hijack researchers, which records show was emailed by an FBI NORJAK agent: ‘There are 1057 sub files in the [Cooper] case, each representing a subject that’s been investigated. There is not one piece of verifiable evidence linking a subject to the case.’
Colbert has also cited three instances where broadcast networks abruptly pulled news stories that presented his experts’ latest Rackstraw developments, before they aired.
The first, he asserted, came in September 2016 when ABC’s Good Morning America reporter Adrienne Bankert phoned Colbert to arrange a studio interview about his recent Cooper case filing. The package was edited and set for air, but Bankert later messaged that ‘legal snags overnight’ had killed it.
‘How does quoting official court documents cause legal snags?’ asked Colbert.
NBC News also showed interest in Rackstraw’s news updates, twice in 2018. But both recordings with Colbert’s independent investigators — including one involving Today Show star Craig Melvin — were inexplicably cut. [FYI: Transcript of Melvin’s “a-hah!” excitement is on page 15 of the 9/4/19 time-line at the “Smoking Gun” link.]
THE DOOR-SLAM’S DEEP ROOTS
The FBI first considered Rackstraw a prime suspect in 1978, seven years after the jump, when local California lawmen tipped the bureau that ‘so many things’ about him seemed to match the description and skill sets of Cooper.
A TV news reporter at that time talked to Rackstraw about his link to the case, where he was asked explicitly to state whether he was or wasn’t the daredevil. With a wry smile across his face, he told KNBC: ‘Uh, I’m afraid of heights.’
The interviewer added that his parachute, explosives and aviation history meant he ‘could’ve been DB Cooper.’
‘Could have been, could have been,’ Rackstraw responded.
Colbert tracked down the former NBC editor who arranged this exclusive sit-down, one of two with the sly subject. The revered Pete Noyes, still sharp in his nineties, was the bulldog journalist that the decade-long TV character, Lou Grant, was based upon.
Noyes gave Colbert several jail letters Rackstraw had mailed him. The editor also recollected that an L.A.-based FBI agent, ‘Frenchy’ LaJeunesse, had called and fervently tried to convince him not to put the man on camera. ‘This guy’s a con man, he’s not Cooper,’ the G-man reportedly said. ‘You know, you’re off on the wrong trail, Noyes.’
Eight months later, Noyes said the FBI asked him to spike another NBC news scoop — this one involving a local angle to the (11/4/79) Iran hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy. Noyes and his former story reporter, Doug Bruckner, emailed that ‘the feds went crazy and put pressure on us. NBC legal agreed, we didn’t run [it].’
When Colbert first heard about these extraordinary FBI interventions, including the Seattle Times article ruling out Rackstraw, he ‘couldn’t help but think’ they were connected to the fate of his three recently shelved network stories.
A new development appears to have provided the last piece of Colbert’s puzzle: The team was separately approached by three military intelligence officers, all retired and bearing old documents. They alleged the Special Forces-trained Rackstraw, a 1st Calvary Division pilot in ‘Nam (1969-70), was also secretly conducting CIA missions — before and after the hijacking, for decades. And the intel brass ‘knew he was Cooper.’
Colbert now believes the dead man’s 40-year outlaw trail, coupled with his valuable covert history, has left the bureau with an embarrassing ‘monkey on its back.’ The documentarian, however, stressed his Cooper hunt wasn’t about black ops. ‘We’re not questioning what our warriors do overseas to keep us safe. We’re only questioning why one man was allowed to ignore our domestic laws and earn 32 criminal titles.’ [FYI: Last page has CIA details; more in 2/1/18 time-line at “Smoking Gun” link.]
DIRECT EVIDENCE SILENCES FBI
The team organizer again pointed a finger at his suspect in June of last year, wielding a 1972 letter from a taunting ‘D.B. Cooper’ author sent to the Portland Oregonian newspaper at the time. It is said to expose Rackstraw as the skyjacker – in Army cryptography coding that he was trained to use.
‘This letter is too [sic] let you know I am not dead but really alive and just back from the Bahamas, so your silly troopers up there can stop looking for me. That is just how dumb this government is. I like your articles about me but you can stop them now. D.B. Cooper is not real,’ the letter reads.
‘I want out of the system and saw a way through good ole Unk,’ he writes. ‘Now it is Uncle’s turn to weep and pay one of it’s [sic] own some cash for a change. (And please tell the lackey cops D.B. Cooper is not my real name).’
Colbert obtained the suspicious note, and five more like it, after suing the FBI for FOIA access to its closed Cooper file. He then gave them all to a retired decryption expert named Rick A. Sherwood, an acclaimed member of the National Security Agency who did three tours in Southeast Asia. [Above: his covert headquarters in 1968.]
Colbert said Sherwood’s six cracked Rackstraw messages, especially the links to the CIA, revealed what the FBI’s stonewalling was all about. [FYI: See all the letters’ unmasked results in the bulleted 8/8/18 time-line at the homepage’s “Smoking Gun” link.]
In 2017, the team was reportedly tipped to the Cooper escape story and the alleged forest burial site of his parachute. The crew dug up what appeared to be a strap and foam padding from a backpack – ten miles from the nearest home in 1971.
A total of five materials were turned over to the surprised FBI, along with the remote dig location and contacts for two of the jumper’s alleged living getaway partners.
After landing both of these evidentiary blockbusters, Colbert gathered neutral opinions from three retired bureau members with ‘impeccable’ records:
Former FBI Behavioral Analyst Jack Schafer wrote that the cracked Rackstraw codes are ‘the tipping point. Since they correlate with the identifiers in Rackstraw’s [Army] life, I’m convinced they were written by the hijacker.’
Former Portland Special Agent in Charge Dorwin Schreuder, the man who led the 1980 Cooper cash recovery along the Columbia River, said the decryptions and parachute investigation were ‘nice work. No one, yes I admit it, no one has come up with a more complete explanation and thorough documentation of this. You have gotten very near the finish line, while I and my [FBI] colleagues did not. Congratulations.’
Former Assistant Director Bill Baker, once head of Criminal Investigative Division, stated that Rackstraw had ‘all the attributes of someone to do this successfully. These are issues that have to be examined and weighed’ by the bureau, and ‘I’m all for that.’
But the endorsements on Colbert’s likely ‘direct evidence’ — also sent in a lawyer’s letter to current Director Christopher J. Wray — were completely ignored by the FBI in 2018.
Nevertheless, the optimistic sleuth feels it’s only a matter of time.
‘I look forward to caging that monkey.’
FYI: In 2016, Colbert co-wrote an investigative narrative on Rackstraw, THE LAST MASTER OUTLAW [3 true-crime awards], and exec-produced a related History Channel program. He’s now in discussions for a second doc, limited series and two final book chapters on everything that’s occurred since — including the FBI’s Cooper cover-up.
See 4 key docs from Rackstraw “death file” (via FOIA); CIA details on last page.
FYI: The two other discounted alibis are available upon request.
FYI: This longer feature version of the original 9/17/19 Daily Mail story (link below) has incorporated details from the publisher’s 7/9/19 article on Rackstraw’s death. If you have any questions, please contact NYC-based Asst. Editor Wills Robinson at DailyMail.com. TJC