Anyone who has ever become obsessed with the D.B. Cooper hijacking is well aware of the Tena Bar find, when $5800 dollars in the ransom money was found by eight-year-old Brian Ingram on Tena Bar in 1980, about 3000 days after the hijacking. The find presents a plethora of problems to Cooper sleuths. The big problem is it is very far away from Cooper’s calculated landing zone near Ariel, Washington. There are no watersheds that could conceivably bring the bills to the Columbia River at Tena Bar, suggesting the landing zone was wrong. Unfortunately, no other evidence supports the landing zone being wrong.
The other problems deal with the bills themselves, their condition and location. Packets of American currency that are thrown into water sink. The bills themselves fan out. Tom Kaye, on his Citizen Sleuths website, and in interviews in other books I have read, has shown, rather conclusively, that there are no natural means by which the money could have gotten to the Tena Bar in the condition they were in, the location they were in.
If you are not aware, the bills were found stacked on top of each other, with the rubber bands still attached. The bills were so perfectly aligned, the ink from their serial numbers bled into each other without variation in location. To have three stacks of money land on top of each other, somehow bury themselves in the sand on a popular fishing location, in less than a square foot of space, by natural processes alone, beggars belief. They had to have been buried there by human hands (Kaye, again).
Then there’s another problem, where’s the rest of the money? Cooper stole $200,000 dollars. The money was in a big canvas sack. The bills were all twenties, so we’re talking 10,000 notes. Only the three Tena Bar packs of money were ever found, and people were looking. Did Cooper, or a third party, somehow leave the three packs there by accident, when they came to recover the money? Just, forgot? Cooper probably had to cache the money upon landing. But why would he cache it so far away? at a popular location? and then lose three packs that should have been in the bag?
Many Cooper Aficionados believe the Tena Bar money is a bigger mystery than anything else about the hijacking. It presents an apparent paradox (the context of which can be understood by watching a long playlist regarding Dan Cooper on YouTube). To explain how and why the money got there is a central question in Cooper Lore.
So what is my answer?
If you read descriptions of the actual hijackings, it is universally accepted that Dan Cooper offered at least two, and possibly all three stewardesses, a stack of money as a tip. And all refused to take any money. Cooper spent five hours practically alone with one of the stewardesses, Tina Mucklow. He even waved goodbye to Tina before jumping, she was the last person to ever see him. His behavior was quite empathetic through much of the hijackings, he even ordered food for the flight crew, and supposedly brought OTC amphetamines for the crew in case they got too tired.
So what does a sophisticated hijacker do with three bundles of money he offered as tips to the young stewardesses whom he knows he scared and consequently feels guilty about? He leaves the money behind, almost as an offering to Karma. An expression of guilt. A nice gesture. And what better place than Tena’s bar (which, incidentally, has a sign at the entrance that spells it “Tina’s Bar”)?
This explains why the money was left by the hijacker, where it was left, and explains the amount of money left behind. Cooper felt guilty, probably because after talking with a stewardess for five hours, he made an emotional connection to her (Mucklow), and by association Flo and Alice (the other two stews). They wouldn’t take his money, so once he came back to the area to recover the loot, he left their tips behind, at the not-too-subtle location of “Tina’s” bar.
Like all Cooper theories, there are problems with my hypothesis. Cooper offered stacks of 100 bills, worth $2000 each, to the stewardesses. So Ingram should have found $6000. His find was $200 short. Turns out, that money might have been lost to the elements. PCGS found evidence of 35 additional serial numbers in the fragments. That’s an additional $700. Which is great, it closes the gap on my theory, and presents another problem: there’s no reason for that extra $500 to be there.
The Cooper mystery is something else…
Update: It looks like my theory could still hold true, from n467us.com: The money was provided by Seafirst bank which is now Bank of America. The money had been earmarked for situations such as these and was always on hand. It had been photographed and serial numbers recorded by their security so the FBI did none of this.
“The money was then transported by SeaFirst bank security to a Seattle police detective who then drove it to the airport and handed over to NWA. The money was bundled in various counts so that no bundle was the same. Each bundle was secured by rubber band and different counts so that it appeared the money was hastily gathered.”
Update II: It should be noted, after I poked around a bit, several others on the Drop Zone Cooper forum have also theorized the location of the money on Tena’s bar was symbolic.
Update III: After doing extensive research for an upcoming paper on Cooper, I did find FBI testimony stating money fragments were found three feet deep in the sand. This would mean it was not intentionally buried.