By Kayla Brantley / and Ross Ibbetson / MailOnline; Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019

Documents from the former James Comey Administration show Army paratrooper Robert W. Rackstraw was the hijacking prime suspect and he told special agents that he had all the necessary skill sets to pull it off.

  • Last year, documentarian Thomas J. Colbert identified Rackstraw, 75, a vet with a murky past riddled by fraud and con-artistry, as Cooper; he died of natural causes 2 months ago
  • Through Colbert’s court order, the FBI released secret dossiers following Rackstraw’s death which reveal they believed him ‘fully capable’ of carrying out the daring hijacking
  • Now Colbert claims the FBI knew Rackstraw was Cooper but were involved in a scheme to ‘conceal, suppress and fabricate’ evidence in the cold case because of his CIA background
  • When his cold case team found the smoking gun evidence, Colbert said Comey’s senior executives ‘discretely shipped off the Cooper file to a locked archive’ in D.C.
  • Bureau brass declined to accept sleuths’ forensic materials, including DNA, as promised; 3 network stories on the hunt were mysteriously killed just before national broadcast

A new report claims that the FBI knew the true identity of the notorious hijacker, 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 – and the only unsolved skyjacking in US history. 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.

An unexpected breakthrough came in February of last year, outside of FBI Head-quarters: Police trainer and exec producer Thomas J. Colbert and members of his cold case team publicly identified Robert W. Rackstraw, a military vet with a dark trail who died in July at the age of 75, as the man responsible.

Old Bureau documents, just obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act following Rackstraw’s death, in fact show he was always the prime suspect [See memos at bottom].

Rackstraw, who served in Vietnam, was forced to resign from the Army in 1971 and according to FBI dossiers from 1978, he was ‘extremely bitter over his severance.’ Indeed, when the Bureau questioned Rackstraw that year, ‘he admitted to the arresting agent that he would be fully capable of successfully effecting the NORJAK hijacking [the FBI’s code-name for the crime].’

According to one FBI record, Rackstraw had written angrily to the military following his less-than-honorable discharge ‘because of unfitness or unacceptable conduct’ — involving lies about medals, rank and attending two California colleges. He then wrote: ‘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 Loduca, heard about that “angry letter.” In an interview with Colbert, she revealed a local FBI man, agent Warren Little, had brought it up in 1978 while looking at her fugitive brother for bank fraud. The G-man stated “it was entirely possible, even plausible, this [note’s] anger was at least part of the motive for the hijacking of Northwest Flight 305.”

The newly released files also reveal that Rackstraw had told Loduca he was working for a real estate firm in L.A. after ‘quitting’ the service in 1971. 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 the first of two alibis uncovered by his team and both were proven false. The last Cooper case agent, Curtis Eng, later offered the sleuths a third that allegedly cleared Rackstraw.

But one of Colbert’s investigators was more than suspicious. ‘No lawman would give a two-time liar a third chance at an alibi,’ he noted.

In one previously classified paper, an agent typed: ‘Rackstraw has been suggested as a suspect in this matter because he resembles the artist’s composite … and because of his military background, particularly his paratrooper training. He appears to be fully capable of successfully affecting the NORJAK hijacking.’

Now Colbert is naming at least four of former FBI Director James Comey’s senior executives who, he claims, knew Rackstraw was the infamous Cooper but were involved in a scheme to cover it up.  He also alleges that between the launches of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and Trump’s Russia probe in 2016, his 40-member national team alerted the FBI it had determined Rackstraw was the missing 1971 outlaw.

Colbert said that retired Assistant FBI Director Tom Fuentes, now a CNN commentator, was a key figure in the alleged cover up. He was commissioned in 2015 to study the team’s evidence for three days, and he was impressed with their research – stating in a recorded transcript that it was ‘a tremendous circumstantial case’ and ‘very probably is [Cooper]. I would give it an eight or nine out of the ten. Agents involved [should] sit with you and really start comparing notes.’

But Fuentes’ strong endorsement reportedly set off alarms at Comey’s HQ. Colbert said the 7th floor staff quietly voided their written five-year collaboration and canceled a long-planned 2016 meeting to accept the team’s forensic materials — including DNA and letter trials. Then the Cooper file drawers were ‘discretely shipped off to a locked [D.C.] archive.’

After that, ‘senior agents – including Fuentes – proceeded to down-play, hide and lie about the ”tremendous” Rackstraw evidence in the national media,’ Colbert’s report claims.

Doctor Jim Reese, one of the private team’s 13 retired FBI agents, summarized it best in an email: ‘Rule #1 was you don’t embarrass the Bureau. This door-slam was politics, pure and simple.’

The exec producer named three separate instances where national news networks abruptly pulled stories that presented his experts’ latest discoveries, before they aired. 

The first, he asserts, came in September 2016 when ABC’s Good Morning America reporter Adrienne Bankert phoned Colbert for an interview about his recent Cooper court case filing. The package was edited and set for broadcast, but an email later stated that “legal snags overnight” had inexplicably shelved it.

“How does quoting court documents cause legal snags?” chirped in Colbert.

NBC News showed interest in the story twice in 2018 and had members from the independent investigation interviewed. But again, both stories — including one involving Today Show star Craig Melvin — were oddly killed before airtime [FYI: The Melvin-member interview transcript is on p. 14 of the 9/4/19 time-line at the “Smoking Gun” link]. 

Rackstraw was a veteran with extensive training, serving in the National Guard, the Reserve, the Army and in one of the most decorated ‘Nam combat divisions in the US Army, the 1st Calvary Division, in 1969-70.

He was first considered as a suspect seven years after the hijacking in 1978, with investigators saying ‘so many things’ about him seemed to match the description of Cooper.

A reporter interviewed 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 visible across his face, he told KNBC TV, ‘Uh, I’m afraid of heights’.

The reporter added that his parachute, explosives and aviation background meant he ‘could’ve been DB Cooper.’

‘Could have been, could have been,’ Rackstraw responded.

Colbert recently tracked down the former NBC desk editor who had arranged this exclusive 1979 interview. 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 reportedly told Colbert that a Los Angeles-based FBI agent, Roger ‘Frenchy’ LaJeunesse, had in fact tried to convince NBC not to put Rackstraw on camera. ‘This guy is a con man,’ the G-man said, ‘he’s not D.B. Cooper. You know, you’re off on the wrong trail, Noyes.’

Eight months later, the FBI again allegedly asked Noyes to kill another news exclusive — this one involving an L.A. angle to the breaking American Embassy Hostage Crisis in Iran. The editor emailed Colbert that ‘the feds went crazy and put pressure on us not to run story. NBC legal agreed, we didn’t run [it].’

Nothing came of the FBI’s suspicions of Rackstraw. But Colbert again pointed the finger in June of last year, wielding a 1972 letter sent to the Portland Oregonian newspaper at the time, said to reveal Rackstraw to be Cooper in Army cryptography coding.

‘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 said he obtained the taunting note, and five others like it, after successfully suing the FBI for access to the secret Cooper files. He gave this typed one to Vietnam veteran Rick Sherwood, a 3-tour member of the National Security Agency, to decode. [FYI: Find Sherwood’s decryptions in the 8/8/18 time-line on the “Smoking Gun” link.]

Colbert is adamant the FBI was too hasty to wrap up the investigation and now says the unmasked letter messages, especially the links to the CIA, prove why the Bureau has been stonewalling.

Two years ago, Colbert’s team was tipped to the alleged forest burial site of Cooper’s parachute. They dug up what appeared to be a strap and foam padding from the backpack – ten miles from the nearest home in 1971.

They turned over a total of five materials to the FBI, along with the dig location and contacts for two of Cooper’s alleged getaway partners. Colbert believes the FBI still hasn’t taken action on any of the team’s efforts, despite what they provided them.

Colbert has spent several years conducting his own investigation into the mysterious crime, co-writing an award-winning book, THE LAST MASTER OUTLAW, and co-producing a documentary series on it in 2016. A second program is in the works. ##

FBI Rackstraw docs (4 of 14) obtained in FOIA court; more on CIA in the last page

FYI: The two other discounted alibis are available upon request.