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D.B. Cooper: Volunteer sleuths find potential evidence in unsolved 46-year-old hijacking

Published: Thursday, August 10, 2017 @ 3:14 PM

Who Is DB Cooper?

A group of volunteer investigators believe they have found a piece of potential physical evidence in the D.B. Cooper case, the only unsolved airliner hijacking in American history.

Fox News reported Thursday that Thomas Colbert, head of the team of amateur sleuths, said his group has found what “appears to be a decades-old parachute strap” during a dig in the case. Colbert declined to tell Fox the location of the dig, but said it took place where a “credible source” revealed that the parachute used by Cooper, and the remainder of the $200,000 ransom he got away with, could be buried. 

The only sign of Cooper ever found was $5,800 of the ransom money, which was uncovered by a young boy playing on the banks of the Columbia River near Vancouver, Washington, in 1980. 

D.B. Cooper is the pseudonym given to an unidentified man who, using the name Dan Cooper, boarded a Northwest Orient flight on Nov. 24, 1971. During the flight, which departed Portland, Oregon, for a short, 30-minute trip to Seattle, Cooper passed a note to a flight attendant and told her he was carrying a bomb. 

Pictured is some of the ransom money given to D.B. Cooper, who hijacked an airliner flying from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle on Nov. 24, 1971. The cash, part of $200,000 in ransom that Cooper was given before he parachuted from the plane, was found on the bank of the Columbia River near Vancouver, Washington, in 1980 by 8-year-old Brian Ingram. Ingram in 2008 decided to auction off some of the money that the FBI allowed him to keep.((AP Photo/Nick Ut))

Cooper, who showed the woman what looked like dynamite in his briefcase, demanded the $200,000 ransom, four parachutes and that the plane refuel upon its stop in Seattle, according to the FBI. Upon receiving his demands, he released the 36 passengers, but kept a few crew members on board and demanded that the pilot fly him to Mexico City.

Just after 8 p.m. that night, Cooper did the unthinkable -- he strapped a parachute onto his back and, with the ransom money in hand, jumped from the plane’s rear stairs into the night. 

Despite an extensive investigation, code-named NORJAK, Cooper was never identified or arrested. Over the next four decades, there were theories that Cooper died in his plunge to the ground, which took place in cold, stormy weather over the rugged terrain of the Washington-Oregon border. 

There were also theories that, if Cooper survived, it meant he had the specialized training and experience to withstand the difficult jump.  

Many amateur sleuths tried to solve the case, in some instances, sharing their information with the FBI. The FBI also allowed testing of some of its own evidence, including the cheap, black JC Penney clip-on necktie Cooper wore on the flight.  

No closer to a solution, the FBI officially closed its investigation in July 2016

Pictured is the clip-on tie that the hijacker calling himself "Dan Cooper" left behind after he parachuted from Northwest Orient Flight 305 on a cold night in November 1971. The tie is one of few pieces of evidence that Cooper left behind.((Federal Bureau of Investigation))

Two months later, Colbert and his company, TJC Consulting, sued the FBI for access to the entire NORJAK case file.

Colbert told Fox News that details in those archived case documents helped him corroborate information his group received in a tip. That tip and corroboration led to the dig that uncovered the parachute strap, he said. 

He told the news station that he planned to forward the potential evidence to the FBI on Friday, and to offer the federal agency the dig site on Monday. 

Colbert, a former media specialist, is behind the documentary “D.B. Cooper: Case Closed?” that aired on the History Channel last July, the same month that the FBI ended its 45-year search for Cooper. In the film, Colbert and his team of investigators, which includes journalists and retired FBI agents and police detectives, claim they have identified the man who hijacked Northwest Orient Flight 305 that frigid November night. 

The two-part documentary focuses on former U.S. Army paratrooper Robert Rackstraw Sr., who is now 73 and living in California. According to a news release Colbert issued on his website, DBCooper.com, in January, Rackstraw is also a retired university teacher, a former Vietnam pilot, an explosives expert and a four-time felon. 

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Rackstraw was also a suspect early on in the hijacking investigation. The FBI cleared him in 1979, in part because he was only 28 in 1971, much younger than the description flight attendants gave of a man between 35 and 45 years old.

Colbert said in the news release, which accused the FBI of withholding some case documents from the public, that he believes Rackstraw was wrongly exonerated. He also detailed his circumstantial case against Rackstraw in a book, “The Last Master Outlaw.” 

Rackstraw’s lawyer, Dennis Roberts, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last year after the documentary aired that Rackstraw was considering suing Colbert and his team. 

“It’s all conjecture,” Roberts told the newspaper. “They tortured him for five years. He is not D.B. Cooper. He was never D.B. Cooper.”

Precious photos show Santa visiting infants at Ohio hospital

Published: Saturday, December 16, 2017 @ 5:36 AM

Santa Claus and friend.
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
Santa Claus and friend.(Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Santa Claus made a special trip to an Ohio hospital to spread Christmas love to babies in the newborn intensive care unit.

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At Akron Children’s Hospital, 66 families received a special visit from St. Nick, who held the infants and chatted with the babies’ older siblings, WJW reported.

The hospital posted some of the photographs on its Facebook page. 

Baby’s first Christmas! Santa made the holiday season much brighter for 66 families and their precious babies in our...

Posted by Akron Children's Hospital on Thursday, December 14, 2017

The touching photos were courtesy of Simon Says Smile, a volunteer program provided by Black Dog Photo Co., and started by Ashley Smas and Molly Conger.

The program was started as a result of Molly’s son, Simon, who spent 82 days in Akron Children’s NICU due to an esophageal atresia and prematurity.

Simon is now a healthy 5-year-old, WJW reported.

“When your child is in the NICU you don’t have the opportunity to get regular hospital photos as you would at an adult hospital. I treasure the photos they [Black Dog Photo Co.] took for us that day and wanted to share that gift with others in the same situation,” Conger told WJW.

The photos show Santa bonding with the babies, some of whom are wearing their Christmas outfits.

Community offers support as 94-year-old Florida woman arrested during eviction celebrates birthday

Published: Friday, December 15, 2017 @ 11:50 PM

Juanita Fitzgerald (WFTV.com)
Juanita Fitzgerald (WFTV.com)

After spending two nights in jail in Lake County, Florida, on a trespassing charge filed when she refused to leave her apartment during an eviction, Juanita Fitzgerald was glad to spend her 94th birthday somewhere else.

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Fitzgerald was placed in a Eustis patrol car Tuesday after repeatedly refusing to leave the lobby of Franklin House.

At one point, she reportedly told officers that if they wanted her to leave, they would have to "carry me out of here."

>> Read: Eustis woman evicted days before her 94th birthday, jailed when she refuses to leave, police say

Fitzgerald, who turned 94 Friday, spoke to WFTV from jail before she was released on her own recognizance Thursday.

“There’s no reason for me to leave. Not one,” said Fitzgerald, who was sitting shackled in a wheelchair wearing an orange jumpsuit.

Fitzgerald said she lived at Franklin House, an affordable housing facility in Eustis, for nearly eight years.

She said she couldn’t understand why she was being evicted, but court records show she owed rent and would not pay.

Bodycam footage released by Eustis police shows officers taking a screaming Fitzgerald to jail. At one point, she slides out of her wheelchair onto the ground to avoid arrest.

Police said they offered Fitzgerald assistance from nearly a dozen agencies to avoid arresting her, but she refused, so they had no choice but to place her under arrest for trespassing.

Franklin House resident Dave Howell didn't understand why Fitzgerald was so resistant to accepting help.

"Everybody here has attempted to help her," he said. "And one thing's that unique (is) she refuses all help."

After spending two nights in jail, Fitzgerald said she’ll bounce back.

“I’m a born-again Christian and I’m spirit-filled,” she said.

Fitzgerald also said she would like to go back to Franklin House, if possible.

"Yeah, I'd go back there and live," she said. "You know, that's all the people I know."

Since she was released from jail, members of the community have offered support to Fitzgerald. They include a Mount Dora dentist who offered to make her a new set of dentures as a Christmas present.

She is currently staying in a Tavares hotel room, which is being paid for with donations.

Fitzgerald's story was shared extensively on social media, with several people offering to pay her $500 bond to get out of jail and many others saying they were working to find her a permanent place to live.

Young entrepreneur arrested for allegedly selling pot brownies at Walmart

Published: Friday, December 15, 2017 @ 9:39 PM

Pot brownies a Georgia teenager was allegedly caught selling at a Douglas County Walmart store.
WSB-TV
Pot brownies a Georgia teenager was allegedly caught selling at a Douglas County Walmart store.(WSB-TV)

Georgia authorities said they seized pot brownies and crispy treats outside a Douglas County Walmart store – and they said a teenager was selling the potent marijuana edibles. 

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Douglas County investigators said they received a tip that 19-year-old Addae Simmons was selling brownies and other treats through posts he put on Instagram.

“People would friend him on Instagram, and he would do a little check on them, make sure he felt comfortable, and if he felt comfortable they would make a purchase and he would deliver for them,” said Douglasville Police major J.R. Davidson.

Undercover officers placed an order with the teen and agreed to meet him twice in the parking lot of the Douglasville Walmart

After they second purchase, they arrested Simmons.

Police said they seized pot-infused brownies and other THC-laced treats. They suspect Simmons had a thriving illicit bakery business.

“It appeared he may have been targeting high school students on his Instagram account. There was a link to a survey and it asked questions such as what high school you attend, how and stuff like that,” Simmons said.

Police charged Simmons with five felony counts.

>> Related: 10-month-old baby hospitalized after eating marijuana-laced gummy bear

Some people WSB-TV talked with said the charges were too severe, but others said the teen knew the risks of illegally selling marijuana.

“If some out there is selling it, they get caught, they need to go to jail,” said resident Lorraine Mitchell. “You think this is serious stuff? Oh yeah, especially if you're giving it to kids,” she said.

The WellStar Douglas Medical Center medical director cited the tragic death of a college student in 2014. He jumped off a balcony after consuming six times the recommended doses of a marijuana cookie.

>> Related: Boy accused of selling marijuana gummy bears at middle school

The autopsy stated marijuana intoxication as a significant contributing factor. 

“He became psychotic, another bad side effect of that, and leapt four stories to his death,” Dr. Tayari Mchezhai said.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort released from house arrest on $10 million bail

Published: Friday, December 15, 2017 @ 9:56 PM

Paul Manafort’s home in BallenIsles, Fla. , where he’s heading after posting bail for release from house arrest.
R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post
Paul Manafort’s home in BallenIsles, Fla. , where he’s heading after posting bail for release from house arrest.(R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is one step closer to being released from house arrest in Virginia and waiting out his trial at his home in Palm Beach Gardens.

>> Read more trending news 

In an order signed Friday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said she was satisfied that the $10 million in property Manafort agreed to forfeit would be available if he failed to appear in court. Before Manafort can travel to his Palm Beach Gardens home, he and his wife and daughter must complete paperwork regarding the forfeiture of the properties.

Under the terms of his release, Manafort must live at his home in BallenIsles and will have a curfew of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Manafort must continue wearing an electronic monitoring device but will be allowed to travel in Palm Beach and Broward counties and to Washington, D.C. for court hearings. He must also stay away from airports, train and bus stations and report weekly to a federal probation office in West Palm Beach.

>> Related: Mueller investigation: Paul Manafort, 2 other former Trump campaign staffers charged

Manafort and longtime associate Rick Gates were indicted by a grand jury Oct. 30 in an investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. They face charges of laundering millions of dollars through overseas shell companies and banks.