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:
“Am alive and well in hometown P.O.
The system that beat the system
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.
Lastly, tomorrow, Wednesday November 22, 2017 is the 46th Anniversary of the DB Cooper skyjacking. Happy Anniversary Everyone!
Letter #3 Decoded by Al Di