Suspected murder of Phillip Rackstraw by DB Cooper suspect Robert Rackstraw examined on Buried in the Backyard

Robert Rackstraw mugshot
Robert Rackstraw was suspected but never convicted of the murder of Phillip Rackstraw. Pic credit: FBI

Buried in the Backyard is examining the murder of Phillip Rackstraw, who was killed with two bullets to his head and buried in his parents’ backyard in Valley Springs, California.

The main suspect in the murder was Phillip’s stepson, Robert Rackstraw, better known for being one of the suspects in the infamous DB Cooper plane hijacking of 1971.

In November 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines flight from Portland to Seattle, claiming he had a bomb. On arrival in Seattle, Cooper received $200,000, and the plane was refueled.

The hijacker ordered the flight crew to take off again and fly towards Mexico City, but about 30 minutes after take off, Cooper jumped out of the plane with a parachute and the money. He would have landed somewhere in southwest Washington but has never been found or identified.

Robert Rackstraw became one of the prime suspects in this elaborate heist because his past military career had seen him trained in parachuting and flying. He had all the necessary training to be able to pull off the robbery and was disgruntled after being kicked out of the military.

Robert was also an ex-convict, and he looked remarkably similar to the composite sketch created by the FBI based on a description of the hijacker by the flight crew.

Composite sketch of DB Cooper
Investigators flagged similarities between Rackstraw and the description of hijacker DB Cooper. Pic credit: FBI

However, prior to the FBI trying to pin evidence for the hijacking on Robert, the family of Phillip Rackstraw had become concerned about his welfare.

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Phillip Rackstraw disappeared and Robert Rackstraw appeared to flee

Phillip had vanished from his home without a trace. His wife, Robert’s mother, had had multiple children from two different marriages, and he had a good relationship with all his stepchildren, including Robert.

When the family asked Robert if he knew what happened to his stepfather, he climbed he’d gone on vacation to Hawaii. The family sent a private investigator out to Hawaii who concluded Phillip had never been there.

In the meantime, Robert faked his death by pretending to crash his plane in the ocean at Monterey Bay, Ca.

But he had actually fled to Iran, where he spent much of the late 70s teaching the Shah’s men to fly helicopters. He eventually lost that job and was forced to return to the USA when he was arrested for check fraud and the suspected murder of Phillip.

The police had found Phillip’s remains at his parent’s property. The cops had also searched storage units belonging to Robert and found 14 rifles and 150lbs of dynamite.

Robert Rackstraw was put on trial for Phillip Rackstraw murder

Robert was put on trial for murder but was eventually acquitted. He played up to the jury by attending court in a wheelchair and exaggerated his Vietnam War service. He also convinced the jury he was determined to find the real killer.

Robert was released and eventually moved to Riverdale, where he became a law instructor at the University of California. He died in 2019 at the age of 75.

Buried in the Backyard airs Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.

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