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Understanding the Tina Bar Find

According to Gunther, Cooper lost nearly half of the ransom money in the jump. My theory as to exactly how this is possible based on Gunther’s text will be dealt with in a later post. My goal here is to give a general overview of the Tina Bar find and the current theories regarding how the money got from the dropzone to a popular fishing spot twenty miles away.

Firstly, it has to be remembered how unbelievably unlikely it was that this money was found. These three bundles had been in “the wild” for eight years. In all likelihood the money was protected from the elements by the bag or by sand for most of this time, but it was still outside of human control. After so many years, the money was so degraded that the Ingrams (the family who discovered the money) described several of the bills “dissolving” into mush as they tried to clean and break apart the money (it had compacted together into a solid wad). Brian Ingram, then just eight years old, stumbled upon the money while playing (or digging, or something, accounts differ and Brian has basically forgotten) in the sand. Finding the money under these circumstances was a million to one event.

Unfortunately, this means the money was not found under controlled circumstances. The Ingrams washed and dried and otherwise manipulated the money wad[s] before it could be studied scientifically. When the FBI was notified, they did their own recovery operation on Tina Bar, which included a bunch of agents haphazardly shoveling into the sand, further contaminating the scene. A scientist (geologist Leonard Palmer) wasn’t brought in until the second day of the FBI operation. Worse for amatuer Cooper slueths is, while pictures and reports of the FBI dig are with the Norjack case files, they are not available to the public. All of the analysis done by Cooper aficionados has been done with limited access to these resources.

The Tina Bar find is important to understanding what happened to Cooper after he left the airplane. If Cooper died in the jump, the simplest explanation for why he was not found is that he landed in the Columbia. However, money sinks once fully saturated with water. The money was found well above where the river levels were at the time of the hijacking. Since there is very limited real estate in the area where a body could rot and not get noticed, the “Cooper died” hypothesis requires a search for mechanisms to get stuff from the bottom of the river to Tina Bar.

Because the Columbia is an important shipping lane, the river is regularly dredged. And there was a significant dredging operation a few years after the hijacking in 1974. The big question is whether this dredging brought the money to Tina Bar. While a huge and ongoing topic of debate, the answer to this question is probably not. Leonard Palmer, from a large trench dug near the money location, determined the money was in a distinct layer that was well-above the 1974 dredge material. From “The Palmer Report” we get the “Washougal Washdown” theory that describes the money being somewhere upstream until the 1977 floods, which then brought the money to Tina Bar.

Tom Kaye re-examined Palmer’s report and believes Palmer misidentified at least one of the layers from his trench. Kaye found a base layer of clay material that runs along the entire length of the bar. This layer appears to match the description of Palmer’s clay layer, which Palmer concluded came from the 1974 dredging operation. Since Kaye found this clay layer along the entire length of Tina Bar (which was heavily eroded by this time), he concluded the clay layer was a natural formation and not from 1974 dredge operation.

Kaye also looked at old photos of Tina Bar from before and after the ‘74 dredging and concluded the money was found a significant distance away from the dredging spoils, eliminating the dredge as the mechanism for getting the money to the bar. From this and his other findings, Kaye believes the money found its way to Tina Bar before the dredging operation. He even speculates some of the dredge material could have been pushed north by natural processes and thus helped cover the money until it was found.

The money was found at what many forum members believe was a “collection point” on the bar, where debris would gather during floods. The money location was near heavy foliage which would act as a backstop for debris. Since sandbars are dynamic environments, debris could be deposited on top of the sand and later be buried by wave and tidal action.

Something we can be certain of is that the money was put where it was found by natural forces. The evidence is overwhelming; the money was not planted at Tina Bar. Several FBI agents reported finding fragments during the dig. The size and distribution of the fragments is open to considerable debate, but there were fragments and this alone contraindicates human action. The state of the money reflected long-term exposure to the elements. The money was found in a spot where we’d expect to find flotsam to accumulate, and it was found downstream from where the 727 flight crossed the Columbia.

The Tina Bar find has been the obsessive focus of most of the members of the Cooper Forum, and represents the plurality of the posts found there. The focus spins around the three main theories 1) the money landed near Tina Bar, somewhere uphill and upstream, 2) Cooper and/or the money landed in the Columbia, snagged somewhere underwater, and some of the money was deposited via dredge, or 3) the money landed farther downstream, possibly in the Washougal watershed, and was delivered during the 1977 floods.

What does this all mean for the Gunther Hypothesis?

Given the provisional assumption that Leclair lost *a bag* of money, we can deduce one of several possibilities: The money may have fallen off of Leclair right away as he tumbled from the plane; the bag of money could have torn away from him when he pulled the ripcord; or the money was lost at some point during Leclair’s hard landing and he was unable to locate it in the darkness. No claim is made regarding a plant, Gunther leaves us with the impression the money did not venture far from the dropzone. As a consequence, the Tina Bar find helps to indicate where Leclair either left the aircraft or where he landed or some point in between.

If the money lands near Tina Bar or Caterpillar Island, Leclair lands somewhere in Salmon Creek or even Whipple Creek (almost matching the description from the book).

If the money lands along the shores of the Columbia south and east of Tina Bar, Cooper lands in the Vancouver suburbs (not supported by the Gunther account).

If the money lands farther east, near Fifth Plain Creek, or Lacamas Creek, or somewhere in that watershed, Cooper lands in the same area or in even more remote areas of farms, forests and cabins (exactly matching the circumstances from the book).

We can’t be certain of any scenario since Gunther made changes to the story to protect Clara’s identity. It’s likely all the information regarding where the cabin was, how far Cooper traveled from his dropzone, how far the cabin was from any particular area, and where Cooper cached his equipment, are fabrications. This will make it nearly impossible to identify Clara from this information. However, based on the Tina Bar find, we can safely move Cooper’s dropzone well south of Ariel.

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