by Bruce A. Smith
Flight attendant Tina Muckow is the primary witness to the DB Cooper skyjacking, the only unsolved skyjacking in the history of the United States. Not only did Cooper escape with his ransom of $200,000, he has never been seen since, and his identity has ever been discovered.
Ms. Mucklow earned her distinction by her lengthy interaction with Cooper, including being held hostage aboard Flight 305 as Cooper made his getaway by parachuting into the night sky, November 24, 1971- the day before Thanksgiving, almost forty years ago. In addition, during the ransom exchange and refueling at Sea-Tac Cooper had directed Tina to fetch his parachutes and money from the FBI, and prior, she had spent hours sitting next to him as they circled the airport. In fact, she had lit eight Raleigh cigarettes for him while he kept his hand on the bomb trigger, and she tried to extract important information from the skyjacker by engaging him in conversation.
The pilot flying the plane, Bill Rataczak told me, “I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it wasn’t for Tina. She kept Cooper cool, calm and collected.”
In addition, FBI agent, Cooper investigator and author Richard Tosaw described Tina as the “brains” of the flight crew.
However, Tina has been hiding from public view for the past 30 years, spending the first twelve years cloistered in a Carmelite convent and then vanishing entirely once she left the monastery in 1991.
However, that is all about to change.
Most notably, on August 8, 2011, the world is about to receive its first comprehensive overview of the DB Cooper investigation with the national release of Skyjack – the Hunt for DB Cooper, a compendium written by New York Magazine journalist Geoffrey Gray.
In Skyjack, Gray reveals detailed information on her whereabouts in central Oregon, and this is the first public announcement of its kind since Tosaw declared that he had interviewed Tina in the convent in 1985.
That has triggered a quickened response from me to speak with Tina before the horde descends upon her.
I believe the mystery of Tina Mucklow is woven inextricably into the DB Cooper case. Once we have an understanding of what happened to Tina, we’ll have a better sense of who DB Cooper is and what has happened to him.
As a result, over the past three years I have been looking for Tina, contacting family, friends and co-workers across the country.
Oddly, none have chosen to assist me. In fact, most of my interactions have been frosty or even down-right hostile, which only deepens the mystery of what has happened to Tina.
However, one thing I have learned from this process is that Tina is most likely fragile, and requires a heightened degree of family protection. Hence, I have been cautious in contacting her directly.
Unsolicitedly, though, a reader has assumed the job of assisting me in my search, and through genealogical records she has located Tina’s sister, Jane Dormuth, living with her husband Lee in the Puget Sound area.
Why they moved from earlier residences in San Diego and Pennsylvania to become denizens of Cooper County is unknown to me. Regardless, I welcome them to our neck o’ the woods.
I have traveled to their home twice, and as with my other contacts, I have asked them to partner with me in a kind of joint therapeutic-journalistic intervention, one where Tina remains safe but I can at least broach the subject of who she is and how her life has unfolded. My goal is that we can acquire a sense of what has transpired. It may not answer the question of who Cooper is and what happened back in 1971, but it could begin a healing process for I truly believe that the truth will make us free.
Whether Tina talks to me or not, it’s a story, so I have nothing to lose. Nevertheless, I do hope for a full disclosure and with it a measure of justice for those who have traumatized Ms. Mucklow.
Here is a recounting of my latest encounter with Tina’s family. It is a reflection of the dynamics that I have encountered in many places regarding the DB Cooper case, particularly in regards to Tina Mucklow.
On Monday, July 25, I traveled to the home of Lee and Jane Dormuth to ask for help in contacting Tina. Jane is the older sister of Tina, and has been married to Lee since before the skyjacking.
Lee Dormuth is a 32-year career FBI agent, and after my two visits with him – albeit brief chats on his front stoop – I’ve learned that he’s a nice guy.
One thing is for certain, maybe two. First, Lee is profoundly reluctant to close the door in the face of someone who is speaking to him. Secondly, Jane seems to have no desire to talk with me, and I wonder if she is the one who calls the shots in the family.
When I showed up at their home for the second time, I heard the deep, firm voice of an adult woman speaking just to left of the front door, presumably it was Jane and she was on the phone and talking from the kitchen. She had a lot to say and spoke nearly non-stop for a good 5-8 minutes in total when I was there, but I was unable to hear anything distinctly.
I rang the door bell and heard neither a break in her conversation nor any foot steps coming in my direction. After a lengthy pause I knocked loudly on the door, and I heard it echo throughout the large room directly behind the door, perhaps the living and dining area. Eventually, I heard someone approach and open the door. It was Lee, and he didn’t seem happy to see me, but he did crack it open a few inches and after a moment’s hesitation decided to slither out and talk to me on his little stoop.
I had been expecting that, so I had backed off the little porch and stood on a lower step.
Lee’s a short guy, about 5’7” or so, and seems to be lost in his retirement. His beard was day-old and he ought to visit a dentist soon. At the very least he should begin brushing his teeth regularly.
As he was not too welcoming, I took the initiative.
“Hi Lee, I’m Bruce Smith with the Mountain News,” and I handed him my business card.
He glanced at it and handed it back to me.
“I’m back because I’m looking for a partner – someone to team up with and make a combined therapeutic-journalistic intervention with Tina.”
“Nope…no,” he replied immediately. “Like I told you, I don’t want anything to do with it.”
It, I thought, he’s made his sister-in-law an object?
Lee began backing into the house and closing the door.
“Can I at least tell you why I’m doing this?”
He kept retreating but I kept talking.
“It’s all going to change in about two weeks, Lee,” I said.
Then he paused. Slowly, he came back out as I continued speaking.
“Geoff Gray’s book is coming out August 8th and it’s the first major book on Cooper by a professional writer. It’s a comprehensive piece about the case and it’s gonna have Tina’s address in it and the whole world is going to know. In fact, her whereabouts is already on the Internet.”
Lee moved back into full view in the doorway.
“Do you know Geoff Gray?” I asked.
“Is he the guy sending me all those letters….from Alaska?” Lee said as he continued to move back outside.
“No, that’s Galen Cook,” I said. “Geoff Gray’s a writer in New York City. He writes for New York Magazine, and his book has a major publishing house behind it. It’s gonna get a lot of support.
“Why are people still interested in that?” Lee said. “I don’t understand it. It’s what? – thirty years since it happened? Yeah, thirty-some-odd years.”
“It’s the only unsolved skyjacking case in the history of the United States, Lee. A lot of people are interested in DB Cooper. In fact, the case is usually considered one of the top ten crime mysteries in the country.”
“Look, the night it happened, and right after, we were there,” Lee replied. “We knew what happened, what was going on. There wasn’t too much to it. She got the parachutes and money for him. They took off, and then he walked to the back and jumped out. That’s it. Why is there still all this interest in it?”
“Lee, there’s a lot of mysteries involved with the case. Why did Tina disappear for twenty years? Look – Bill Rataczak told me that he wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for Tina. She saved his life by keeping Cooper cool, calm and collected.”
“Another FBI agent wrote that Tina was the brains of the crew, so how could such a capable woman fall apart so bad? Why did she go into the convent – especially when the nuns down there say she never fit in? And for twelve years? Why did she move to Gresham, Lee? What happened there? Can you tell me about that?”
[Note: Tina moved to Gresham, Oregon in late 1979 and reportedly had a nervous breakdown there, precipitating her placement by Lee and Jane in the Carmel of Maria Regina monastery in Eugene in the spring of 1980. At the same time, $5,800 worth of Cooper’s ransom money was found ten miles away on a Columbia River beach named ‘Tina’s Bar.’]
“No! – No, I’m not going to get involved” he said. “Look, some woman called last night – she was married to him [again another indirect reference to a principal, this time Cooper himself, and the ‘she’ is presumably Jo Weber] and she kept my wife on the phone for forever. Look – we, ah, my wife – she just decided that we don’t want anything to do with it. I can’t help you and Tina. My wife doesn’t want to have anything more to do with her.”
“A lot of people are going to be knocking on her door, Lee, starting in two weeks. She’s not going to be protected anymore.”
“Well, let them knock on her door, then.”
“What do you think will happen? Why won’t Tina talk? Why has she stayed hidden for so long? What happened to her, Lee? What can you tell me?”
“No,” he murmured and waved me off, closing the door a second time.
“Look Lee, I’ll make you a deal.”
Lee paused again, and listened. So, too, perhaps, Jane, as I didn’t hear any more voices from the kitchen.
“Tell me what you know and help me get in touch with Tina. In return I’ll be your family’s press agent. I’ll even work for free, Lee. So, whenever someone calls – the TV stations or another reporter, you don’t have to say anything – you just tell them to call me – ‘Sorry, you’ll have to call Bruce, he’s handling all of these inquires. He’s our press agent and you can call him at, blah, blah, blah’ I said in a sing-songy voice. “Lee, that’s all you have to do.”
“No, that’s not going to happen,” Lee said matter-of-factly.
“But it’s a good deal, Lee. I’ll work for free – how can you turn down free?”
“No, no really. I don’t want to be part of any of it…any more.”
He closed the door a third time and was gone.
I walked away, drove to a local C-store, and wrote my field notes of this conversation.
© 2011 Bruce A. Smith
Tom Faubion, Attorney-at-Law
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