A four-hour documentary that aired on the History Channel this week suggests the infamous airplane hijacker known worldwide as D.B. Cooper may be living out a quiet retirement in a San Diego condominium.
The documentary, titled "D.B. Cooper: Case Closed?," is the work of Ventura County filmmaker Thomas J. Colbert, who says he spent five years with a team of 40 investigators to identify the enigmatic Cooper.
The film focuses on Robert W. Rackstraw, now 72, a former Army paratrooper.
Colbert said his team's analysis of handwriting samples, DNA and other evidence does not rule out Rackstraw as the man who hijacked an airliner in 1971 and then disappeared with a $200,000 ransom, but it does not confirm him either. He said the possibility should be reviewed by authorities.
"This has been a scab on the FBI for many years, and I have friends there," said Colbert, a former news and public-relations man who says he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the hunt. "I'm hoping the FBI opens up the case, but we will see."
Someone using the name of Dan Cooper — later popularized as D.B. Cooper — bought a one-way ticket on Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 from Portland, Ore., to Seattle on Thanksgiving Eve 1971. Once the plane was aloft he claimed to have a bomb, forced it to land, secured the ransom and a parachute, and then ordered it back in the air before finally taking the money and parachute and jumping out of the jet and into the annals of American pop culture.
FBI officials in the Seattle field office issued a statement to the San Diego Union-Tribune seven minutes after the documentary broadcast concluded.
The agency says the files on NORJAK — as the case is known — have been sent to Washington, D.C., for storage and historical value. Nothing short of a break on physical evidence will bring further investigation.
"Every time the FBI assesses additional tips for the NORJAK case, investigative resources and manpower are diverted from programs that more urgently need attention," the statement said. "Although the FBI will no longer actively investigate this case, should specific physical evidence emerge — related specifically to the parachutes or the money taken by the hijacker — individuals with those materials are asked to contact their local FBI field office."
Rackstraw did not respond to messages left by the San Union-Tribune. When Colbert's investigators approached Rackstraw outside his 45-foot yacht "Poverty Sucks" at the Navy Yacht Club in Coronado, Rackstraw would only say the evidence was intriguing.
The filmmaker offered Rackstraw $20,000 for movie rights to his story. The former paratrooper mulled the idea for a few moments, twice asking to see the check Colbert wrote out and brought with him.
Then Rackstraw said, "The problem is, I don't remember a lot of it."
Colbert plans a news conference in Los Angeles Wednesday to call for the FBI to reopen the case. The agency's initial reaction does not bode well for his effort.
"In order to solve a case, the FBI must prove culpability beyond a reasonable doubt," spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said. "Unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips reported have yielded the proof needed to resolve this investigation."