Vietnam veteran Robert Rackstraw has long been suspected to be the real identity of skyjacker D.B. Cooper, and now a team of investigators says they have confirmation that this suspicion is correct. They’ve decoded a letter Rackstraw wrote to The Oregonian newspaper in 1972 that was never published. The New York Daily News reports that television and film producer Tom Colbert sued the FBI for Cooper’s files, and in those files, he found a letter that read, in part,
“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… 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 own some cash for a change. (And please tell the lackey cops D.B. Cooper is not my real name).”
Colbert says that no one knew about the letter until he found it in the materials sent to him by the FBI.
Rick Sherwood used to be a member of the Army Security Agency. He had decoded earlier letters from Cooper, so he was familiar with his writing style. He used knowledge from that experience to use military code to decipher Cooper’s letters and identified four phrases that were used multiple times – “D.B. Cooper is not real,” “Uncle” or “Unk” which referred to Uncle Sam, “the system,” and “lackey cops.” From there, he used a system of letters and numbers to decode those phrases. After about two weeks, he had translated “through good ole Unk” into “by skyjacking a jet plane” and “And please tell the lackey cops” into “I am 1st LT Robert Rackstraw.” Sherwood’s work was double-checked by another team member.
Earlier letters had also led investigators to Rackstraw. He was cleared by police but remains the main suspect. The Daily Astorian reports that he is now 74 years old and living in San Diego. Colbert describes Rackstraw as a narcissistic sociopath and served as a paratrooper in the Army. He believed himself smarter than everyone else and didn’t think he would ever be caught.
In 1971, D.B. Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 between Portland and Seattle, Washington. He escaped by parachuting from the plane with $200,000 in ransom somewhere around the Oregon-Washington border. The case is the only unsolved skyjacking in U.S. history.