By Kayla Brantley / DailyMail.com and Ross Ibbetson / MailOnline; Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019
Court-released FBI documents and recovered emails from the James Comey Administration show Army paratrooper Robert W. Rackstraw was a prime hijacking suspect, and he told 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
- 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 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 hunt were also mysteriously shelved, 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.
A breakthrough came in February of last year when a documentarian, Thomas J. Colbert, stood outside of FBI Headquarters with a team of private investigators and declared that Robert W. Rackstraw, a veteran with a dark trail who died in July at the age of 75, was the man responsible.
Forty years ago, the Californian was ‘ruled out as a suspect’ by the FBI after a year inquiry, according to the Seattle Times [2/3/79 edition]. But that sudden announcement was controversial; a half-dozen surprised agents in his home state told reporters they were still under orders to forward his background to Seattle Division.
Bureau internal documents from that period — just obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act following Rackstraw’s death — show he was in fact considered a 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 agency questioned Rackstraw that year, ‘he admitted to the arresting agent he would be fully capable of successfully effecting the NORJAK hijacking [the FBI’s code-name for the 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 door-knocking California FBI man, Warren Little, had brought it 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 newly 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 the first of two alibis uncovered by his team and both were proven false. But in 2016, the Cooper case agent, Curtis Eng, reportedly submitted a ‘secret’ third one to the sleuths which had cleared Rackstraw.
That left one of Colbert’s investigators more than suspicious. ‘No lawman would give a two-time liar a third chance at an alibi,’ he noted.
In another 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.’
Between the start of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and Trump’s 2016 Russia probe, Colbert claimed his ‘national task force’ of 40 volunteers had told the FBI they had determined Rackstraw was the missing ’71 outlaw. Now the organizer is naming five of former Director James Comey’s senior executives who he believes, soon after, launched a plan to cover it up.
Retired Assistant FBI Director Tom Fuentes, now a CNN commentator, was allegedly one of the key figures in the scheme. He was commissioned in 2015 to study the team’s 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 the ten. Agents involved [should] sit with you and really start comparing notes.’
But Fuentes’ endorsement reportedly set off alarms at Comey’s headquarters. Colbert said the 7th floor staff quietly voided their written collaboration and canceled a coming 2016 meeting to accept his team’s forensic materials, including DNA and letter trails. Then all the Cooper folders 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 claims.
Dr. James T. Reese, Ph.D., 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.’
This may explain the “door-slam”: Rackstraw, a career soldier with extensive Special Forces training, served in the National Guard, Reserve, Regular Army and in one of the most decorated ‘Nam airborne combat units, the 1st Calvary Division, in 1969-70. But Colbert also has new documents and statements from former intel brass that reveal he freelanced on CIA missions for decades — before and after the hijacking [See last page].
Colbert cites 3 separate instances where the national news networks abruptly pulled stories that presented his experts’ latest Rackstraw developments, before they aired.
The first, he asserts, 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 broadcast, 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 updates, twice in 2018. But both taped meetings with the independent investigators — including one involving Today Show star Craig Melvin — were inexplicably shelved [FYI: Highlights of Melvin’s eye-opening exchanges are on page 15 of the 9/4/19 time-line at the “Smoking Gun” link].
The pilot was first considered as a Cooper suspect in 1978, seven years after the jump, with local California lawmen saying ‘so many things’ about him seemed to match the description and skill sets of the skyjacker.
A 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-TV: ‘Uh, I’m afraid of heights.’
The newsman then added that his parachute, explosives and aviation background 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 an L.A.-based FBI agent, Roger ‘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, the FBI allegedly asked Noyes to spike another NBC news scoop, this one involving a local angle to the breaking American hostage crisis in Iran and one of his former reporters, Doug Bruckner [who confirmed it]. Noyes recalled in an email that ‘the feds went crazy and put pressure on us not to run story. NBC legal agreed, we didn’t run [it].’
Colbert said he ‘can’t help but wonder’ if these extraordinary FBI interventions could explain why his three Rackstraw stories, decades later, didn’t make air.
The documentarian again pointed the finger at his suspect 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 more like it, after suing the FBI for access to the secret Cooper file. He gave all of them to Vietnam veteran Rick Sherwood, a 3-tour member of the National Security Agency, to decode. [FYI: Find the results of Sherwood’s decryptions in the 8/8/18 time-line at the “Smoking Gun” link.]
Colbert is adamant the FBI was too hasty to wrap up the investigation and now says the six unmasked messages, especially the links to the CIA, explain why the Bureau has been stonewalling on Rackstraw.
Two years ago, the team says it was tipped to the alleged forest burial site of Cooper’s parachute. Colbert’s experts dug up what appeared to be a strap and foam padding from a backpack – ten miles from the nearest home in 1971.
They turned over a total of five materials to the surprised FBI, along with the remote dig location and contacts for two of Cooper’s alleged living getaway partners. Colbert believes the Bureau still hasn’t taken action on any of the team’s efforts.
Colbert spent several years conducting his own investigation into the mysterious crime, co-writing an acclaimed narrative, THE LAST MASTER OUTLAW (with 3 national book honors), and co-producing a TV doc series in 2016. He’s now in discussions about doing a show update. ##
Four key docs from Rackstraw “death file” (via FOIA); CIA details on last page.
FYI: The two other discounted alibis are available upon request.