Rick Sherwood, of Wheatfield, served in the Vietnam War with a man he says is D.B. Cooper, and he says he can prove it.
Robert W. Rackstraw, a mysterious military veteran who has been portrayed by some as the infamous airline skyjacker D.B. Cooper, died Tuesday in California, according to a filmmaker and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Rackstraw, 75, was the subject of a detailed Arizona Republic article last year describing efforts by a team of investigators to prove he was the 1971 skyjacker who vanished after parachuting from a Northwest Orient flight in Oregon with $200,000 in ransom cash.
Los Angeles filmmaker Tom Colbert, who was working on a documentary about Rackstraw and has sued the FBI for records of the case, contends the bureau flubbed its 48-year investigation.
In a message to The Republic, Colbert wrote: “I am in touch with Rackstraw family members in six states, and we have learned he died yesterday. While my cold case team believes he was Cooper, he was also a husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. Our condolences to the family.”
Rackstraw on some occasions flatly denied being the hijacker, but at other times offered enigmatic comments about the allegation.
In Colbert’s civil case against the FBI, Rackstraw submitted a rambling, 17-page brief demanding an arrest warrant for the filmmaker on a charge of “conspiracy to commit premeditated murder.” He alleged that Colbert and his team had defamed and harassed him, causing a heart attack. The judge took no action.
The D.B. Cooper mystery of 1971, which included letters from the skyjacker taunting FBI agents, became an American legend that inspired books, a movie and a music festival.
Over the years, the FBI and amateur sleuths identified scores of potential suspects. Many contend Rackstraw was just another name on that long list. But he resembled FBI sketches of the skyjacker, and he came with a colorful history even without the D.B. Cooper saga.
Records show the former Army helicopter pilot was charged with the murder of his stepfather in the 1970s, and forging checks with the victim’s signature. While awaiting trial, Rackstraw fled to Iran where he purportedly trained pilots in the shah’s air force. He later returned to the United States and was acquitted on the murder charge.
However, while awaiting trial on other charges, he flew an airplane over Monterey Bay and issued a mayday call over his radio. Rackstraw vanished again, only to be captured months later and sentenced to prison.
Colbert contends his team developed proof that Rackstraw was the real skyjacker.
Geoffrey Gray, author of a book on the hunt for Cooper, has said the filmmaker and his investigators are merely one “pocket of obsession” in a “sea of chaos.”
“While Rackstraw looked like an interesting suspect,” he added, “there were a thousand interesting suspects.”
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