After thirty years in hiding, Tina Mucklow, the primary witness to the DB Cooper skyjacking, had a face-to-face interview with me, which is the first time she has spoken in person with a working journalist since 1982.
Last Sunday, July 31, I traveled to Ms. Mucklow’s home in central Oregon and spoke with her, albeit briefly. Her whereabouts were discovered several years ago by investigator Galen Cook, who kept her exact location confidential. Nevertheless, her address will reportedly be released in the forthcoming book by New York Magazine author Geoffrey Gray
Tina has earned her distinction of chief witness by spending more time with Cooper than any other crew member. She also did most of the skyjacker’s bidding, such as retrieving the money bag and parachutes from the FBI at Sea-Tac airport, and sat next to him for hours during which time she lit eight of his Raleigh cigarettes while he kept his right hand on the bomb trigger. Tina was also the only flight attendant kept on board by Cooper as he made his getaway, and he insisted that she help him lower the aft stairs in preparation for his parachute jump.
When my encounter with Ms. Mucklow is coupled with other breaking news in the Cooper case, most notably the announcement by the FBI that it has a “most promising” lead, this has certainly been a momentous time in the investigation of America’s only unsolved skyjacking.
In addition, the release of Gray’s comprehensive treatise on the Cooper story next week truly makes the DB Cooper case resurgent.
As for my conversation with Tina, it was short, lasting no more than a few minutes during which Ms. Mucklow closed her door twice in my face and only spoke five words: “You need to leave, now.”
Nevertheless, much was learned about her, not the least is the notion: You don’t mess with The Tina.
Clearly, Tina Mucklow does not wish to assist with the DB Cooper investigation in any manner. Nor is she willing to share any information about her life in general, including any insights regarding how she has coped with her experiences.
Further, the caring, compassionate, and gracious flight attendant she was in 1971 when she spoke in TV interviews about the well-being of her passengers during the skyjacking has been replaced by the persona of a fierce, angry woman.
The question, now, is: what has triggered the rage? And who caused this change of demeanor?
However, I do salute Ms Mucklow for her icy, cold response because it shows a splendid degree of emotional depth. I was worried that she might greet me at her front door as a psychological zombie, too haggard and burnt-out to show any emotion – neither anger or joy, or even intellectual curiosity about my questions.
Rather, Ms Mucklow displayed a wonderful range of affect and emotion, starting with surprise and confusion, then moving through an uncertainty as to who I was and why I was standing at her front door; her response then transitioned quickly to a realization that I was an unwanted reporter worthy of exquisite scorn, and lastly, she delivered a verbal command that was directive and utterly hostile.
Clearly, Tina Mucklow knows how to take care of business, and she is a very capable woman. Nevertheless, why was she so angry? Was her anger personal to me, or did I receive a generic rebuff given to all journalists?
I don’t think Tina was personal. She did not register any specific acknowledgment of me by name when I introduced myself, nor did I see any flicker of knowledge of me or the Mountain News when I showed her my business card.
Hence, I believe I was treated as any journalist would be if they knocked on her front door, and in fact, other journalists who have contacted Ms. Mucklow by phone or post report that she refrains from any discussion of the case whatsoever. I intuit from these reports that the journalists quickly end their conversation when they are rebuffed, graciously signing off and hoping for further contact at a more propitious time.
But I wanted more – I was willing to not discuss DB Cooper, and instead I asked Tina to talk about herself and her life. In essence, I took our media encounter to a new level, one that was more personal, and I suppose much more threatening.
Nevertheless, here’s what happened:
I drove to Tina’s house, located in a run-down suburban, working class part of her town, a section where not everyone has a job or money. Many of the homes are unkempt, with the scattered detritus of raising kids, fixing cars or aimless living scattered about.
However, Tina’s place is a jewel, an oasis of greenery and horticultural attention in the trampled gray of her neighborhood. Her home is small, and the front yard smaller – the grass is finely kept, as if it was a putting green at a stately golf club, and it is shielded from her neighbors by a lush growth of shrubbery.
It was a gorgeous summer day when I arrived, with temperatures in the mid-80s and the front door was open while the screen was closed. I could feel a cool breeze blowing through the house and out the front.
I couldn’t find a door bell, so I knocked loudly on the door panel. There was no response, and after a couple moments I knocked again.
The interior of the house is beautiful, reminding me of a tasteful, professional décor that relies heavily on Ikea products. Directly ahead of the front door lies the kitchen, and a long-stemmed wine glass was perched on the counter top, filled with cubes of ice. Alongside the glass was an open bottle of white wine.
Nice, I thought. I’m glad she drinks wine. At least she’s not caught up in some religious dogma about enjoying a glass or two of wine.
After the second knock I waited again, with no response.
Is she in her back yard? Ug. That’ll be tough if I have to go around and seek her there. That could be scary.
So, I called out: “Hello, anybody home?
Pause, no answer. A few more minutes of waiting.
“Tin-!” I began, and just as I was ending my call-out, Tina Mucklow appeared from the back of her house and saw me. She stopped and was startled, gasping in her breath and putting a hand to her chest.
“Sorry, Tina, I didn’t mean to startle you,” I said.
With a confused look on her face she walked to the screen door and opened it slightly.
“Hi, Tina, my name is Bruce and I’m a writer,” I said as I extended my business card towards her.
She bent down slightly to read it and looked up quickly. She made no indication that she wanted to take the card.
“I write for the Mountain News; it’s an online news magazine.”
Tina’s shoulders began to slump, just a little. A realization of who I was began to settle in.
“I understand that you don’t want to talk about the skyjacking, but….”
Tina displayed a look of disgust and closed the screen door.
“…I thought we could just talk about who you are. As a person.”
Tina stepped back and closed the main door.
I raised my voice and spoke through the wooden structure.
“Arlene says that we have a lot in common – like how you took care of your father..”
Tina quickly re-opened the main door and gave me a sharp look in the eye. She spoke decisively, saying, “You need to leave, now.”
She closed the main door for a second time, and I left.
I retreated to my vehicle, parked on the rubble of busted asphalt lying on the shoulder of her street, and I began to write my field notes. I debated about driving away and giving her privacy.
No, I want her to know exactly who I am. Let her see my ‘Mountain News’ signs on the pick-up truck. She didn’t take my business card, and I want her to be able to contact me, just in case. Whenever. Plus, I don’t feel like leaving. I don’t like being pushed around.
I was angry, too. How many doors-in-my-face does this make? Hmmm. Two here, two last week at her brother-in-law’s. That’s four. Then, the first time there, that was one, which makes five. Plus, the door that never got opened at Arlene’s and I shouted through it. That makes six, metaphorically, if not technically; and then there’s Sister Theresa up at the convent – but again that’s a metaphorical closing of the door – but at least she didn’t throw me through it, so that makes, what? Seven? Do I wait until the cops come?
I continued writing, and listened for sirens. I didn’t hear any. A few minutes passed and I then heard commotion at Tina’s door.
Does she have one more thing to say? Maybe now, she wants to talk?
Nope, she apparently wanted to bolt down the screen door and needed to open up the main door first.
Wow, Tina. You think I would barge into your house? You gotta be kidding me.
To read more stories about DB Cooper and the resurgent investigation: https://themountainnewswa.net/db-cooper-stories/
To search other web sites for additional information on DB Cooper: https://themountainnewswa.net/db-cooper-links/
© 2011 Bruce A. Smith
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