DB Cooper News: Flap over letters sent to FBI makes headlines nationwide

By Bruce A. Smith

Headlines this week ranging from Fox News to the Seattle Post-Intelligence have proclaimed the FBI has just released a letter from DB Cooper that they received shortly after his iconic skyjacking in 1971.

This news item was introduced to the world’s media by Los Angeles film and TV producer Thomas J. Colbert, who is best-known for appearing in the 2016 History Channel documentary on DB Cooper. In the broadcast, Colbert vigorously promoted Robert Rackstraw as the skyjacker DB Cooper, but was unable to prove it to the FBI’s satisfaction nor the public’s.

The flap over the DB Cooper letter appears to be the latest in a promotional campaign by Colbert to promote Rackstraw, apparently to build momentum for a docu-drama filmed by his colleagues in Hollywood.

Besides the lack of any definitive proof linking Rackstraw to the skyjacking, the primary eye-witness, Flight Attendant Tina Mucklow stated on-camera for the History Channel (HC) that a photo of Rackstraw from that era was not a picture of the skyjacker.

But Colbert was not dissuaded. In the aftermath of his rebuff by the HC, Colbert sued the FBI in federal court and demanded that they dismiss his 100-plus pieces of circumstantial evidence against Rackstraw. The FBI, so far, has refused.

In turn, Colbert filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding that the FBI turn over copies of all their DB Cooper files. It is my understanding that again Colbert was refused, but he gained access to 3,000 FBI field notes from other researchers who had successfully filed FOIA requests with the FBI.

It is believed that there are over 70,000 pages of DB Cooper files that may be eventually delivered to Cooper historians, so this initial grouping of 3,000 is just the start of a major investigatory project. In turn, Colbert has made them available to many Cooper sleuths, including leading researchers at the DB Cooper Forum.

In that initial pile of documents, however, Colbert apparently found the letter that is now being called the “I Knew” letter because its opening sentence begins: “I knew from the start that I wouldn’t be caught.” The letter is several paragraphs long and filled with numerous spelling and grammatical errors. It is signed, “DB Cooper,” and Colbert believes it is legit.

However, the skyjacker never called himself “DB Cooper.”

In fact, the individual who hijacked the airplane identified himself as “Dan Cooper” at the Portland, Oregon airport when he bought his one-way ticket to Seattle. Minutes later he hijacked the plane, then released the passengers at Sea-Tac when his ransom demands for four parachutes and $200,000 in cash were met by Northwest Orients officials and the FBI. Soon afterwards he parachuted out the rear of this 727 aircraft, disappearing with all of his gear and money except for about $6,000 that was found in 1980 buried on a Columbia River beach.

But within hours of the skyjacking Dan Cooper received a name change. When the passengers deplaned in Seattle, FBI agents realized their hijacker was “Cooper, D,” which was what NWO recorded in its flight manifest. Authorities in Seattle then contacted Portland police and asked if they had any robbery suspects named “D. Cooper,” and one detective said they had a serial burglar named D.B. Cooper. Hearing that the FBI said, “Pick him up.”

An Associated Press journalist standing nearby heard the conversation and informed his editors that the copse were looking for a DB Cooper, which was true but misleading. Nevertheless, the AP put out the moniker and the world then accepted the smooth alliteration of DB Cooper as the name of the skyjacker. Even the FBI began called the skyjacker “DB Cooper” in the days that followed.

But is it likely a skyjacker would called himself Dan Cooper would adopt his new name when he wrote a taunting letter to the FBI? Why not use his “real” hijacking name to solidly prove his authenticity?

Regardless, Colbert accepts the notion that a letter signed “DB Cooper” must be from the skyjacker. Colbert makes that claim because the letter states that he did not leave any fingerprints, and Colbert accepts the FBI’s claims that no usable fingerprints were retrieved from the aircraft after the hijacking, despite many conflicting statements from FBI officials concerning the fingerprints.

Further, Colbert is intimating that the FBI has covered-up this letter until now.

But those charges are bogus. The “I Knew” letter has been known publicly for years, and was discovered in 2011 by an Internet Cooper sleuth known as Snowmman, and posted at the DropZone chat room and elsewhere.

Further, I wrote extensively about the “I Knew” letter and many others collected by the FBI in the weeks after the skyjacking and all signed “DB Cooper.” In my book: DB Cooper and the FBI – A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking, I devote an entire chapter to an examination of these letters, most of which were sent to newspapers in the Pacific Northwest and eventfully delivered to the FBI.

The only thing that is really new is that Tom Colbert has finally read the “I Knew” letter.

But cover-ups and mysteries do surround the letters received by the FBI. In the amalgam of these letters four stand out and they are often called the “Core-Four.” The “I Knew” is not one of them, and most Cooper researchers and journalists dismiss it as a crank, pedestrian missive.

But the Core Four are very interesting, They are mostly cut and paste jobs, and cryptic. Letter #3 is the most unusual and has gained the most attention from investigators.

Additionally, the actions of an individual named Al Di has drawn exceptional attention to Letter #3. In August 2011, Al Di released a statement to the Oregonian and Cooper chat rooms claiming that he had “decoded” the so-called Letter #3.

In Letter #3, all the letters, words, or sentence fragments are cut from either the June or July 1970 Playboy magazine. This decoding was revealed by Al Di, but whether he did it or discovered who in the FBI had originally performed that analysis is unknown. Regardless, Al Di told the world about it, and prior it had been a big secret at the FBI. In fact, FBI agent Ralph Himmelsbach lied to Galen Cook, a leading DB Cooper sleuth, about its presence in the FBI files.

So, we do not know if Letter #3 is legitimately from DB Cooper, or why the FBI has wanted to keep it under wraps until now.

Plus, we don’t know who Al Di is, nor do we know how he gained access to Letter #3 when the rest of the world didn’t know about it.

As a result, Al Di is widely believed to be an FBI agent or a group of agents. Ever since Al Di surfaced DB Cooper researchers suspected Al Di was Cooper Case Agent Curtis Eng. One of the reasons for that belief is that Eng had just taken over the case from the innovative Larry Carr, and Eng seemed eager to capitalize on Carr’s tremendous relationships with online sleuths and journalists. In late 2011 and early 2012, Eng contacted several Cooper researchers, especially one attorney long-active in the case, the aforementioned Galen Cook.

In fact, Cook reported that Al Di also began emailing him, stating that during this period of time he received sixty emails from Eng and Al Di in total, and both lines of communication abruptly ceased in June 2012. Cook also reported that the communication from Al Di were well-informed, insightful, and clearly from someone who had an advanced knowledge of the case.

Al Di also participated in a DB Cooper chat room known as “websleuths,” posing as “IDLA,” which is Al Di spelled backwards. At the websleuths, IDLA seemed to be probing Cooper sleuths for a deeper level of information. Perhaps he was also trolling for the real DB Cooper.

Reportedly, Al Di was also a voracious reader of Cooper news at the Mountain News-WA and the DB Cooper Forum, the leading source of in-depth information on the DB Cooper case.

Currently. some sleuths, including Cook, have come to believe that Al Di is a collective of at least two FBI agents lead my Eng who are trying to smoke-out the hijacker. However, this scenario accepts the notion that DB Cooper survived the skyjacking, is still living, and the FBI knows it – but can’t find him.

Or is accepting of those possibilities and is seeking to rule them out in some fashion.

Cook also states that the FBI believes that Letter #3 is from the skyjacker and that it is a “major cipher.” In addition, he says that it has received the full attention of a team of cryptographers from the FBI, who apparently haven’t cracked the code yet.

Another hypothesis is that Curtis Eng didn’t trust the FBI and conducted an end-run investigation around the FBI, posing as Al Di to procure Cooper information free of federal interference.

Nevertheless, the investigation into Letter #3, Al Di, and the behaviors of the FBI continues.

To that end, here are the letters in question:

Letter #3:

“Am alive and well in hometown P.O.

The system that beat the system

DB Cooper”

As for the “I Knew” letter, initially Snowmman found it at the New York Times. Now, we know from the FOIA files that it was also sent to the LA Times, the Seattle Times, and the Washington Post. In addition, the “I Knew “ letter was mailed from Seattle, and was received by the FBI from the newspapers three weeks after the hijacking.

Further, the FOIA documents show that the letter had a mysterious list of numbers, “717171684,” typed next to the notation “Wash Post” in the bottom left corner of the page.

Here is the letter in full:


I knew from the start that I wouldn’t be caught. I didn’t rob Northwest Orient because I thought it would be romantic, heroic or any of the other euphemisms that seem to attach to situations of high risks.

I’m no modern day Robin Hood. Unfortunately I have only 14 months to live. My life has been one of hate, turmoil, hunger and more hate; this seems to be the fastest and most profitable way to gain a few fast grains of peace of mind. I don’t blame people for hating me or what I’ve done nor do I blame anybody for wanting me to be caught and punished, though this can never happen. Here are some (not all) of the things working against the authorities:

I am not a boasting man

I left no fingerprints

I wore a toupee

I wore putty make-up

They could add or subtract from the composite a hundred times and not come up with an accurate description; and we both know it. I’ve come and gone on several airline flights already and am not holed up in some obscure backwoods town. Neither am I a psycopathic [sic] killer. As a matter of fact I’ve never even received a speeding ticket.

Thanks for you attention.

DB Cooper”

Lastly, tomorrow, Wednesday November 22, 2017 is the 46th Anniversary of the DB Cooper skyjacking. Happy Anniversary Everyone!


Letter #3 Decoded by Al Di


Letter #3, color, from Al Di, 6.19.12




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21 Responses to DB Cooper News: Flap over letters sent to FBI makes headlines nationwide

  1. Galen G. Cook, Attorney at Law says:

    Bruce, I sent you an e-mail today detailing more explanation about AlDi, IDLA, and Letter #3. The most recent letter that Tom Colbert retrieved from the FBI’s garbage can is a canard. It wasn’t from the real hijacker. Fake. Wannabe. There are actually several other fake DB Cooper letters that never made it into the news world. Letter’s #1- #4 are much more likely to be from the real hijacker. Letter #3 is the crown jewel of crime cyphers. It has never been cracked and the FBI withheld comment about it until 2011. In that year, it was finally outed by AlDi and posted on the Portland “Oregonian’s” web page, with partial analysis. AlDi was the NORJAK case handler in 2011 trying to muster up some attention, just as Larry Carr did in 2007 posting as CKRET. Ralph Himmelsbach certainly knew about Letter #3 in 1971. Letter #3 was postmarked from the Portland area. It contains simple words and phrases from two Playboy magazines published in 1970. It’s a coded letter and it carries enough weight in its message to potentially resolve NORJAK. AlDi, and the FBI knew that. They just couldn’t crack the code. Clever hijacker, creating more confusion for law enforcement.

  2. This “letter” has all the credibility of claims that Elvis is managing a 7-11 store in Butte, Montana.

  3. Galen G. Cook, Attorney at Law says:

    Interestingly enough, Letter #3 did reach Montana. The Montana Gazette, actually. In early December 1971, the FBI sent a copy of Letter #3 to the Montana Gazette for publication. And they did. It was an attempt by the Bureau to flush out an “alleged” hijacking ring in the Big Sky state, thinking this is where the hijackers originated. Cooper never saw the letter, though. He was hoping that the Portland “Oregonian” would publish it, but they didn’t. Himmelsbach prevented publication. The agents from that era knew all about Letter #3, and while it stayed out of the mainstream for 40 years, a few agents knew they had been had by Cooper and honestly believed that “he beat the system.”

  4. Albert Lanier says:

    Having been interviewed about this case on a radio show in the past, this emphasis on these letters being from “Cooper” by Colbert strikes me as just plain silly.

    1. Cooper identified himself as “Dan Cooper” and not DB Cooper, a mistake made by a wire service reporter

    2. The “I knew” letter reads as pure crazy/false confession BS. “Im not a boasting man” yet the writer goes on to note “I left no fingerprints”. Contradictory nonsense.

    3. As I noted in a previous interview about this case, the flaw most have made is trying to take a “suspect” and prove he is Cooper. This doesn’t work because we still know very little about Cooper himself more than 45 years later. The best approach it seems to be is to examine and investigate the details and aspects of this case and let evidence and facts dictate-deductive reasoning as opposed to inductive reasoning.

    4. If Colbert is trying to get a film-TV or theatrical- out of this promotion of Rackstraw, then he is barking up the wrong tree.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      I concur, Albert. Thanks for posting.

      • Galen G. Cook, Attorney at Law says:

        #3 above, as to deductive reasoning is the logical approach taken by good detectives. However, it doesn’t work in the DB Cooper case for many reasons. Here, deductive logic can be applied to provide motive and opportunity. A character profile can be crudely constructed. However, Cooper doesn’t fit the profile of the stereotypical hijacker of the 60’s and 70’s. His physical profile is of the average white male in that era. His age is at least 40, which clearly rules out Christianson and Rackstraw. What you have left is a guy in a suit and tie, clean-cut, and somewhat relaxed. There is no previous profile of this type of hijacker. Additionally, there is mounting evidence to show the hijacker was clever AFTER the hijacking, that is, his mission became one to confuse and throw-off law enforcement. If the FBI can be confused and thrown-off, as they certainly were, then you are left with a guy who is hard to find. And you have to resort to inductive reasoning to chase him down. No easy task, and I agree with you, that most persons spinning a candidate are just angling for a quick movie and book. Their stories are nonsense.

  5. brucesmith49 says:

    EdItor’s note: Galen Cook has been a leading DB Cooper researcher for several decades, and his comments are always welcome here.

  6. Galen G. Cook, Attorney at Law says:

    Thank you, Bruce. I made an error on the above post. As to age, I meant that Richard McCoy and Rackstraw would be ruled out, not Christianson. McCoy and Rackstraw were both under age 30 in 1971, too young to be the hijacker according to all eyewitnesses. The reasons I ruled out Christianson: (1) height too short, (2) no regular steward/flight attendant would be stupid enough to hijack a plane of their own employer, then go back to work, and (3) Christianson’s brother told a radio talk show host that he really didn’t believe Christianson was the hijacker, but he liked the story nevertheless and hoped to make big money in movie rights in his dreamed-up plot.

  7. ‘EdItor’s note: Galen Cook has been a leading DB Cooper researcher for several decades, and his comments are always welcome here…’

    Robert says: We have screenshots of Cook’s bogus threats posted at the DB Cooper Forum Dot Com regarding Bernie Geestman and the Auburn Avenue Theater. He quit the site soon after he became aware of them. We have a PDF document verified by Matt Mullenweg’s office at WordPress (he’s the co-founder of WordPress) where Cook makes obscene comments under false usernames with his IP address attached. We have a copy of a complaint readied for the Washington State Bar Association in Olympia with his name on it, which was the only way we could get him to back off the obscene comments and the BS posts he made at the DB Cooper Forum dot com.

    It’s just a thought, but you could find better friends I think.

  8. Bruce may be this or that, just like anyone else exploring the Cooper case. He’s never lied to me, that’s all I know. I have seen zero evidence on Klansnic, and your opinion of me is moot.

  9. Galen G. Cook, Attorney at Law says:

    I have never met, nor have I ever spoken to Mr. Blevins whether it involves my work on the DB Cooper case, or any other subject matter I’ve been involved in. But I will address the issue above this one time only in order to clear the air for Mr. Blevins. You have made an unsubstantiated allegation against me. I suggest that the culprit you are actually seeking is Mr. Jerry Warner, aka, Georger. Georger uses, with frequency, a tactic of false impressions, inuendo, and outright fabrications to imposter others on the DB Cooper sites. I know that Mr. Warner hates Mr. Blevin’s guts and goes to extreme lengths to cause Mr. Blevins to hate others who pursue DB Cooper. I do not support Georger’s tactics of blind hatred and revenge internet postings. The fact of the matter is, I hold no personal grudges or ill will towards Mr. Blevins. He has the right to comment all he wants on his version of the DB Cooper events.

  10. Galen: Look…I never intended to go through with the WSBA complaint anyway. I know about Georger, yes. I will also believe what you say. Your posts at the Cooper Forum aka ‘Coopsnoop’ are well-documented, but they were more funny than actually vindictive or anything. I will accept your explanation and leave it at that. No big deal…Sincerely, Robert

  11. You know how it is at the Cooper Forum anyway. Sometimes they post up some frankly amazing stuff. Other times its almost like they want to eat each others’ young. No middle ground at that place. For the most part, the general content of the site is informative and good.

  12. Derek: I can understand why you believe Klansnic might be Cooper, but you’re way off base. The guy was a family man with six kids, a churchgoer, active in his community, and worked for Boeing for 37 years. That means when he retired, he had more money by far in his retirement account than Cooper obtained in the hijacking. By far and away, too. Maybe twice that much at least, plus whatever assets like a home, investments, etc. Why in the heck would a war hero, without a single financial problem (his wife was a tennis pro, too) and a HUGE family like that, decide to hijack a plane for money at age 51?

    It doesn’t make any sense. And with a family that big, how in the heck could he have kept such a thing (hijacking) secret for so many years. Nothing in this guy’s life…not a single thing…points to any possible motivation to risk his life for a mere $200,000 and a jump out of the back of a jet at night over the forests of Western Washington.

    You are certainly barking up the wrong tree here. He wasn’t even a victim of Boeing layoffs, which might be one motivation. Instead he retires from the company after almost forty years. Six kids. A loving wife. Churchgoer all his life. Does not make sense. He isn’t anywhere near matching any profile for the hijacker. I can understand why his family blew you off. Just accusing him publicly was an insult to the family. A big one. If you were going to investigate him, the BEST way would have been to interview the people he knew, and nail down where he was on Thanksgiving 1971…BEFORE going to family members with any evidence.

    Besides, with a family like that, don’t you think he would have been missed over any Thanksgiving? If he were Cooper, it would have come out long ago. You can’t keep a secret like that in families. Not forever. Ask me sometime and I’ll tell you how I know this. 🙂

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