Law in Popular Culture

Ex-military codebreaker: Hijacker DB Cooper revealed his real identity in hidden messages

  • Print

Wanted poster for D.B. Cooper/Wikimedia Commons.

The parachuting hijacker who may have escaped with $200,000 ransom in 1971 isn’t really D.B. Cooper, according to a team who obtained his letters to newspapers through the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the team, hidden code in the messages reveals that Cooper is actually Vietnam War veteran Robert Rackstraw, who briefly served in the same army security unit as one of the team members, former Army codebreaker Rick Sherwood. Rackstraw is now living in the San Diego area. Courthouse News Service, Seattle PI and the Indianapolis Star have stories.

Sherwood says he learned the code during his Army training, and Rackstraw would also have learned it. The code assigns numeric values to the alphabet (with A equaling 1, B equaling 2, and so on). Sherwood created numeric values for words, phrases and numbers that were repeated or didn’t fit, he told the Star.

For example, “Wash Post” in the fifth letter was the only newspaper that wasn’t fully spelled out. It has a numeric value of 121, which is also the value for “top secret.” Sherwood believes “top secret” refers to Rackstraw’s work on a top secret project.

According to the team, Cooper’s sixth letter had two references to “lackey cops” and two assertions that D.B. Cooper isn’t real. The phrase “and please tell the lackey cops” has a numerical value of 269, which has the same value as the phrase, “I’m LT Robert W. Rackstraw.”

Courthouse News Service says it pointed out some math errors. For example: Sherwood originally claimed that term “lackey cops” equated to “I am 1st LT Robert Rackstraw” because both had a numeric value of 269. CNS said the Rackstraw phrase actually added up to 287, spurring Sherwood to revise the phrase to read: “I’m LT Robert W. Rackstraw.”

The leader of the team pursuing the Cooper case is author Tom Colbert, who has copyrighted the encryption process, according to the Indianapolis Star. He told the newspaper his confidence level in Sherwood’s findings “is 110 percent.”

One skeptic is former investigative reporter Bruce Smith, who says the team’s code evidence is circumstantial. “Rather than conducting a legitimate investigation, Colbert and his cronies are doing a Hoo-Doo investigation of letters that have never been proven to be from the skyjacker,” he told CNS. “The decoding crapola is just icing on a cake of turd.”

The FBI had dismissed Rackstraw as a suspect in the 1970s. Rackstraw told Seattle PI last year that a reporter should verify the team’s earlier claims that he was Cooper.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.