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Code-Breaker Says He's Cracked the DB Cooper Plane Heist Mystery

Based on a string of numbers in one of Cooper's old letters.
Photo of Cooper by Time Life Pictures/Fbi/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. Evidence photo via Bettmann/Getty.

Ever since a nondescript man using the name "Dan Cooper" boarded a Seattle-bound flight, held passengers hostage for $200,000 in ransom money, and parachuted out of the plane somewhere over the Pacific Northwest, the FBI has been stumped about the mysterious hijacker's identity. But now, almost 50 years after DB Cooper's famous escape, an Indiana construction worker thinks he may have cracked the case.


According to the Oregonian, ex-Army code-breaker Rick Sherwood teamed up with a TV producer named Tom Colbert who's been leading a group of amateur sleuths in investigating the DB Cooper case, which the FBI closed back in 2016. After looking over some coded letters that Cooper—or someone claiming to be him—sent the media in the 70s after the heist, Sherwood and Colbert believe a former paratrooper named Robert Rackstraw is actually DB Cooper.

Colbert has been claiming that Rackstraw is Cooper's real identity for the past few years, and laid out the case against him in a History Channel documentary and a 2016 book. According to the Oregonian, Rackstraw was a suspect in the heist until the FBI ruled him out in 1979. Still, Sherwood argues that not only did Rackstraw have the training to pull off the heist, but that Cooper's old letter contains coded messages that point to Rackstraw's military units while in Vietnam.

"I think certainly there's a strong circumstantial case now, especially the link between the decoded messages and Rackstraw," former FBI agent Jack Schafer told CBS News after looking over Colbert and Sherwood's new findings.

"In order to solve a case, the FBI must prove culpability beyond a reasonable doubt, and, unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips or applications of new investigative technology have yielded the necessary proof," an FBI spokesperson told CBS. Regardless of the FBI's stance, Colbert and Sherwood are convinced they've blown the whole thing wide open.

"If I were him, I'd be extremely nervous," Sherwood told CBS News.

Rackstraw himself is still alive and living out his golden years in San Diego right now. If he really was DB Cooper, he's bound to be feeling a little excited, all things considered, since someone finally cracked his secret code after all these years. If it wasn't him, though, the old guy's probably not too pleased that he has to put up with a bunch of annoying-ass amateur detectives without a stolen $200,000 to show for it.

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