CBS NEWS-KOVR/Sacramento, CA; Rep. Steve Large; Feb. 2, 2018;

It’s a stunning update in a 46-year-old cold case mystery. A commercial airplane hijacker escaped with a daring parachute jump in 1971 and was never seen again.

Now CBS station KOVR’s Steve Large reports that a team of private investigators — led by former FBI agents — is claiming to have cracked a secret military code that shows the infamous D.B. Cooper is, in fact, a man with old ties to Northern California.

Robert W. Rackstraw Sr. is a former Stockton resident whose family also lived in Calaveras County at the time of the daring escape. He is now 74 and resides in San Diego.

Mark Zaid is the attorney who represents the 40 independent sleuths working on the seven-year cold case. The alleged breakthrough came from a series of taunting “Cooper” notes that the FBI held onto for decades — now released by the team’s court order.

“We showed the letters to a former member of an Army intelligence unit that Robert Rackstraw used to belong to,” Zaid said.

The lawyer says the retired service member, Rick Sherwood, recognized a set of digits in the five notes as a code he and Rackstraw used to share in their Vietnam War zone. Applying an old formula, new words appeared in each letter that investigators say all point to Rackstraw.

“One said ‘Can FBI catch me – SWS,'” Zaid revealed, “which stood for Special Warfare School, where Rackstraw went to learn coding” from Green Berets in 1968.

Team organizer Thomas J. Colbert told the Seattle PI that he now believes Cooper-Rackstraw was in fact a freelance operative for the CIA. His conclusion is based on multiple documents and testimony from veterans, including his former commander. They claim to have witnessed him heading out on unsanctioned jungle missions, for “several days at a time” with an agency spy.

Rackstraw’s continued black ops in the 1980s, involving hot spots around the globe, were also corroborated by two cold case members with deep sources in the military and intelligence communities.

“The new letter decryptions include a dare to agents, directives to apparent partners, and a startling claim that is followed by Rackstraw’s own initials: If captured, he expected a get-out-of-jail-free card from the CIA,” Colbert said in a news release.

Team founder Colbert, attorney Zaid, and a handful of other members handed out the press announcement to a dozen TV and print reporters on Thursday at a Washington, D.C., news conference — held directly in front of FBI Headquarters.

Since the day before Thanksgiving in 1971, the mysterious case of the Northwest Orient airlines hijacker has intrigued people around the world.

The man who called himself D.B. Cooper showed a flight attendant a bomb in a suitcase, asked for $200,000 and parachutes, allowed passengers to leave, revealed his aviation knowledge in crew discussions, and when the plane took off again, jumped out with all that cash strapped to his body and vanished.

Colbert said Rackstraw was an award-winning Vietnam pilot, explosives expert and paratrooper. When he was booted from the military for “conduct unbecoming an officer,” five months before the hijacking, he told his family he had work waiting for him in the Northwest. Years later, he admitted to the FBI and media that he was in the area at the time of the crime.

“I mean the odds of all this, and then when this code is applied, actually referring back to Rackstraw? I’d love to play the lotto,” Zaid said.

Rackstraw’s attorney says his client maintains he is not D.B. Cooper.

The FBI issued a statement after this development, claiming they still don’t have enough evidence to solve this case.

FYI: Here’s why this closing FBI statement is disingenuous:

In 2016, Seattle agents ignored our four-year collaboration agreement with Headquarters and refused to accept the team’s 100 pieces of new evidence on Rackstraw — including this Cooper letter trail and his DNA to compare to the old lick stamps and envelope flaps in the FBI’s possession.

In 2017, we turned over four pieces of fabric pulled from a remote dig site believed to contain the remains of the missing 1971 parachute. In the process, the location and contacts for two of Cooper’s alleged crime-partners were also forwarded.

No Bureau reaction to any of this. We believe the team’s newly-decrypted CIA reference in Letter #2 explains the silence. TJC

Post-Press Conference D.C. Event, the “Untouchables” Lunch (L to R): East Coast Cold Case Team members – Jim Christy, Erik Kleinsmith, Bradley Moss, Organizer Thomas J. Colbert, Mark Zaid, Courtney Lancaster & Andrew Bakaj