Something that is very easy to do in this case is to get lost in conjecture. I have endeavored to stick as closely to the known facts of the case and not make any wild guesses about anything. However there is one area where the Gunther story and the Cooper story diverge, and that is in regards to how the money was lost, and what container it was in during the jump. In order to move forward with the Gunther Hypothesis we have to find some way to bridge the eyewitness testimony of Tina Mucklow, and that of Clara.
First, the best record of Tina’s account of this issue can be found in the summary of her debrief interviews in the FOIA documents available on the Cooper website (emphases mine):
It was also during this time that he complained to Mucklow that he had requested the money be delivered in a knapsack but instead it was delivered in a cloth type bank bag, which displeased him. It was at this time that Mucklow recalls he stated he would be forced to use one of the parachutes to rewrap the money since he had not been furnished the knapsack. At this same time Mucklow says she suddenly observed him having a small green paper bag, contents unknown. She states that she recalled no other packages or luggage belonging to the hijacker except for the briefcase and this small green paper bag. She says it was also about this time she again offered the hijacker something to eat or drink, which he refused.
Mucklow states that at takeoff from Seattle the hijacker was in seat 18-D or 18-E, occupying both seats at various times, and she was seated across the aisle in 18-C. Mucklow states that at takeoff the hijacker was using several seats and was occupied with opening one of the parachutes and attempting to pack the money in the parachute container and attach it to his body using the parachute (container’s) straps. Mucklow recalls that the parachute was a bright pink-orange color. Mucklow’s description is somewhat vague but she says he removed a small jack-knife from his pocket and he cut some portion of the outside container or the parachute in order to secure the money in ‘this’ rather than in the white cloth type bank bag which had been furnished him. She says that she did not see him tamper with the two large parachute containers other than to generally inspect them when she brought them aboard.
This is from her 2nd interview:
After the passengers left Mucklow asked the hijacker if he wanted her to get the other items waiting outside and he said “yes”, but he wanted the other crew members to remain seated. Mucklow then left and brought in one large parachute (back pack). The hijacker told her to lower the window shades, which she did. Mucklow then left again and brought in two small chutes (front packs). Her next trip she got the last ‘big chute’ and placed it with the others in Row 18. At this time Mucklow handed him a sheet of instructions on ‘how to jump and use a parachute’ and he said ‘he didn’t need that’. Prior to all of this Mucklow asked the hijacker if he wouldn’t rather have one of the cockpit crew (men) get the chutes, but the hijacker told her ‘they aren’t that heavy and she wouldn’t have any trouble’.
When Mucklow returned to the plane with the last back pack chute, she saw that the hijacker had one of the small chutes open and was cutting nylon cords out with his pocket knife. He took the nylon cord and wrapped it around the neck of the money bag numerous times and then he wrapped it a few times from top to bottom, and with the same piece (of cord) he made a loop like a handle at the top. This nylon cord was pinckish in color. He appeared irritated that they hadn’t given him a knapsack for the money as requested, and after trying to put the money in an unfolded parachute, he decided to leave it in the canvas bag (and fabricate a holding line for that, instead).
As soon as Cooper got the money, he was working on a solution to the problem of how to attach it securely for the jump. He apparently tried using one of the reserve parachutes as a container, and this didn’t work. He used paracord to wrap the bank bag tight and make a handle to secure it to himself. We don’t know exactly how he did this, but this is what Tina reported seeing. There is no reason to doubt her account.
One thing we do know is Tina said she saw a green paper bag. This is interesting because Clara says Cooper had stashed the money in a green canvas bag, which she later saw on the ground.
Here is what Clara relays to Gunther (p 155-156): “When his foot repaired itself they went looking for the money he had hidden. There was snow on the ground. This changed the look of the land and confused him to some extent, but he had been careful to take note of distinctive trees and other landmarks and had frequently rehearsed the route in his mind.” They were able to find the parachute, but the money bag was missing. They searched again but couldn’t find it. As they ate some food they brought along, a raccoon watched them from a safe distance. “‘That’s it!’ LeClair said. She frowned at him, not understanding. He said, ‘That’s where the money went! An animal dragged it off!'” LeClair had left some food inside the container with the money before he cached it.
A day or so later they returned to the original cache site and searched around the area. Eventually, Clara reports they found the green bag, which had been ripped open by an animal. There was money still inside, and they found some other bundles scattered on the ground nearby. The total, when they took it home and counted it Was about $87,000. Adding that to the $16,000 already in hand, they now had some $103,000. When I first read this part of the book, I thought for sure it implied that the other $97,000 dollars had fallen out of the bag and had been spread across the countryside by the wind. But upon re-reading it, that is clearly not the case. A few bundles fell out of the bag, nothing more.
When I first began investigating the Cooper hijacking, I felt Cooper lost the money when he pulled his ripcord, since it was unlikely he’d be able to tie a knot with paracord that would hold under the strain of a hard parachute opening. Other hijackers lost their ransom in the air, and it took careful planning (notably from hijackers Richard McCoy and Robb Heady) to secure the money properly. In the Gunther book, Clara claims that only half of the ransom was recovered. How is this possible? Either you lose the money, or you keep it. Certainly, losing half the money seems impossible.
According to Clara, Leclair brought a canvas bag, green in color, with him to help carry the money. Clara was sure Leclair had specifically requested twenty-dollar bills. She was mistaken, as Cooper made no demands regarding denomination. In fact, eyewitness reports show Cooper was flustered by the fact the money came in a bank bag instead of the requested ‘knapsack.’ Then there’s the green bag Cooper had with him. If Clara is right, Cooper brought a canvas bag for the money. If he assumed he would be getting fifties and hundreds (not the twenty dollar bills he received), Cooper would have brought a bag big enough for between 2000 to 4000 bills. He got 10,000 bills.
The money weighed about 10 kilos (22 pounds) and would have been bulky and difficult to deal with. His options improve if he splits the money between the two bags. About half was left in a bank bag, half was put into the green canvas container. When his parachute deploys, his canvas bag stays with him while the bank bag breaks away. Thus, the bank bag, wrapped in paracord, was lost somewhere in the Columbia watershed. It eventually gets sent down the river by the strong spring floods, possibly in 1977, and the money gets deposited by water flow on Tina bar. (The actual mechanics involved in getting the money to Tina Bar are a guess, and it’s such a huge point of contention in the Cooper forums I don’t want to state anything positively.)
The fact of the matter is the three or four bundles of money found on Tena Bar could not survive the elements unprotected for so long. they definitely wouldn’t stay together and end up one on top of one another on a sand bar without being together in the bag for a long time. The bills had to spend most of their time protected, and they must have traveled together in the same container to the Tina Bar area. The container breaks apart, and several bundles settle on top of each other. Cooper using two bags matches Tina Mucklow’s testimony about the green bag, it explains at least in part the Tena bar money find, and it aligns with Clara’s story. It’s conjecture but it provides the simplest explanation for all the data.