The resurgent investigation of DB Cooper – An interview with chief witness Tina Mucklow

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she was in 1971 when she spoke in TV interviews about the well-being of her passengers during the skyjacking has been replaced by the persona of a fierce, angry woman.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.


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©  2011 Bruce A. Smith


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41 Responses to The resurgent investigation of DB Cooper – An interview with chief witness Tina Mucklow

  1. carol wright says:

    Just read today in the TNT that the FBI has a new lead in this case and just sent an item belonging to DB to VA for forensic testing. CVW

  2. Bruce, this is a beautiful story even if you did not really get her to talk. I love it.
    Bettye Johnson

  3. edgar hansetti says:

    wow, Bruce Smith did what no one else in the world of journalism can do: get an interview with the primary witness of the DB Cooper saga. The very lady who saw old Coop for the last time on Flight #305. Tina Mucklow hasn’t been interviewed for over 30 years, so she must be hiding from something or someone. Her brother in law is a retired FBI agent. Some investigator from New York named Mr. Porteous and a writer named Mr. Blevins accuse a former Northwest Airlines employee named Kenneth Christianson of the skyjacking. Does this all mean that Tina Mucklow might have been an accomplice to DB Cooper (Christianson) because this makes it an “inside job” and Tina Mucklow was also an employee of the same airline as Christianson? Is that why she is still laying low and appearing hostile? That implication is made through the Porteous/Blevins investigation. Bruce Smith, you rock. Keep up the great work that you are doing on the Tina Mucklow angle of this case.

  4. Paula Morris says:

    I’m glad you found Tina. It must have been a satisfying feeling to locate her. However, I imagine after all these years trying to stay lost, she feels rather discouraged to realize that people are still looking for her; wanting to open up all those old cans of worms.

    You ask an interesting question: “Why is she so angry?” Putting myself in her place, I imagine I would be angry too if I tried to disappear and kept having to move to keep away from reporters/media…trying to reopen a “cold case.” We writers are a curious bunch of folks. Always trying to follow a lead, crack a case, solve a mystery, get a story.

    People who seek privacy do so with the intent of remaining private. I know the case is intriguing, but sometimes people just want to be left alone. I’m sure Tina did enough talking about it in her lifetime. Or, maybe she has secrets that she does not want revealed?!

    Guess we’ll all have to just wait and see what the FBI reveals? Maybe they have secrets that they don’t want Tina revealing?

  5. Tina, her family, and friends keep saying “No” in response to your requests. So why don’t we respect Tina’s boundaries and leave her alone? She has the right to her own boundaries and choices.

    Persisting in the face of “No” eventually = stalking. Plain and simple.

  6. leslie jenz says:


    Excellent work. The stalking accusations are bunk. You went to her door and she asked you to leave and you left. Happens all of the time to Jehova Witnesses and Mormons. You got to her first. Other journalists are just envious. You’ve got some journalistic courage.

  7. Galen Cook says:

    Richard Tosaw, my deceased friend and fellow DB Cooper hunter (Richard was an FBI agent and attorney) received an interview with Tina Mucklow in the early 1980’s. I made efforts to contact Tina through the Maria-Regina convent in Eugene, Oregon in the late 1990’s. Although those efforts were unsuccessful, I did learn that Tina, who was a cloistered sister, had left the convent in 1990 or 1991 with personal issues. The sisters at Maria-Regina were always nice to me, but wouldn’t reveal her new location. Through a complicated series of backtracking I was able to locate her with assistance from the Flight #305 co-pilot and Tina’s ex-husband who knew the co-pilot. I interviewed both extensively. I also give Jo Weber some credit for dropping me a few “hints” along the way. I finally met Tina on neutral turf and had a very pleasant conversation with her. What was discussed is confidential, and pertains strictly to my investigation into the DB Cooper mystery. I am an attorney and an investigator, not a psychologist or psychiatrist. Bruce Smith is a journalist and is perisitent to get an inside story. After he reached Tina Mucklow and was rebuffed, I advised Bruce not to try and contact her again, and I am confident that he will not.

  8. Lorraine Benedict says:

    Yes, this does make sense and Bruce was only doing what a hungry journalist will do……..pursue a good story as far as he can. Bruce beat the other journalists on this one. Thanks, Galen for clarifying this story.

  9. William DeSoto says:

    No matter what people will say about Bruce’s methods of getting a very difficult story, he was the first journalist in almost 38 years to do what no other journalist was able to do…………confront Tina Mucklow face-to-face with some important questions that might help in solving this old case. And we have Bruce and the Mountain News right here in Washington state. Yeah………..

  10. jeri lynn stalder says:

    Bruce, is it possible to find any recent photos of Tina? I always though she was beautiful in her crisp stewardess uniform. The last photos of her were taken almost 40 years ago. I think her story about the entire hijacking would probably be the best one……………..ever. Thanks, Bruce.

  11. Ange and Don says:

    Bruce, nice story. Maybe a box of chocolates or flowers first before trying to ‘take it to the next level’ next time. You could always slip your business card in with the bon-bons 😉

  12. brucesmith49 says:

    I suggested the very same to Galen. I laughed, he didn’t. I also thought some vino might help, but…..I guess not so much, eh?

  13. Don and Ange says:

    Perhaps you could go incognito as Sister Doubtfire? =D Just kidding! 😉

  14. Jerald W Thomas Sr. says:

    Come on guys Leave Tina alone she is not the one that can positively Identify Cooper. Jerry Thomas

  15. John Alen says:

    To anyone’s knowledge, have any big news outlets tried PAYING TINA FOR HER STORY? Getting her to talk may be as simple as that, especially if she’s in any financial need, as people often are (Brian Ingram auctioned off some of his “Cooper bills” because he needed money for alimony payments).

    I imagine it would be worth a few buck to Dateline NBC or 20/20 or one of those shows for such an exclusive interview.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      As far as I know, John, no major news organization has approached Tina or her family members. From what I know of Tina, money is not the issue, privacy is. Tina does not appear poor or desperate. She seems to have the comfortably modest life of a working professional, such as a social worker or counselor.

      That said, the pressure on principals in the Cooper case can be enormous, and I have had a wee bit o’ taste of it, and it’s not fun. Ralph Himmelsbach complained bitterly to me of news organizations taking great amounts of his time and not paying for it, so now he charges a reported $600 for a print intervew and more for a film session.

      It is my understanding that payment for an interview is rare, and I have never done it. In fact, my observation is that the only time payment is made is when the individual is uniquely placed in a story, is famous and known to the public, and has an internal support system to handle the coverage, ie; press agent, attorneys, security, etc.

  16. John Alen says:

    Thanks for the reply, Bruce.

    I think the main question for Tina at this point would be how clearly she remembers what Cooper looked like. As you probably already know, a few years ago Flo Schaffner was shown a picture of Kenneth Christianson and couldn’t definitively say one way or another if he was Cooper. Of course she had far less interaction with him than Tina did.

    One wonders if Tina’s could look at pictures of Christianson, Duane Weber, William Gossett, etc, and know whether one of them was Cooper or not. Of course, if she was inclined to do a few web searches, she may have already seen the pictures of these men on her own and may already know the answer.

    Wouldn’t that be something?!

    • brucesmith49 says:

      You raise a good point, John. Where is the intellectual curiosity or the social commitment to justice on the part of Tina and Flo? Why haven’t they perused the Internet and taken a look at the Cooper gallery? Or Alice Hancock and Billy Mitchell, for that matter; it seems as if everyone on 305 that night who got a good look at Cooper has abandoned the hunt. Why?

      Perhaps it’s time to post the Cooper gallery of suspects on the Mountain News. Soon, in a couple of days.

  17. Vickie says:

    This is such an interesting story. Throughout history, there have been many people who have committed illegal acts, and then later escaped and successfully changed their names. It’s what really great stories are made of.. Keep up the great work, Bruce!

  18. Kathy M says:

    What do you think she’s going to tell you that you already don’t know or can surmise? We can all surmise the terror she went through, so why drag her into present time to go through it again for your entertainment?

    You should leave this woman alone. Would you do this to your sister or mother? Hardly. Do you have any idea what a traumatic experience it was for her to have gone through all that? My God! She joined a convent afterwards! She left and apparently gort married and then divorced. She had ‘issues’. So what! Who doesn’t?

    She’s under no moral or legal obligation to tell you anything and you act like a 3rd rate reporter tracking her down and trying to make a story out of the few mninbutes you had with her where all she told you was that she wanted to be left alone. Get over the fact that there is no story here for you to get. Try to find some decency and respect her wishes. Leave the woman alone.

  19. Rose says:

    year’s ago I heard that the owner of the Shaggy Dog resturant in KENT WA.was thought to be DB Cooper. My old male friend told me that? Hes passed away now tho? I don’t follow that story but I met TED Bundy there.It was when he escaped from Co jail I think but I got away from him,he wanted me to go out the back door to his car. My step daughter saw Ted close up at at the Shadow lake.A few people I know worked at Kenworth with the green river killer who carried a bible.

  20. Rose says:

    it was lake Wilderness.

  21. 1000things says:

    How desperate are you dude that you are calling “get out of my face” an interview?? Its because of swines like you that she has to recluse. Make yourself capable of some real journalism than hounding innocent people so you can get a few likes. I am glad those people consider you 3rd grade enough to turn down your so called “free service” offer. You are an ambulance chaser!

    • brucesmith49 says:

      Greetings 1000 things-

      I approved your comments eventhough I usually require a full name be used, and not a code name.

      Neverthess, you were geneally polite so I approved.

      So five words from a recluse is not an interview? I admit it’s not much, but it’s a start. The bigger issue is why Tina has her knickers in a twist. How did a former nun get so grouchy?

      • 1000things says:

        Forget former … even current nuns are known to have what is known as “feelings”. You push and people react … having said that please list down all the people that you have ever slept with … I have an article to publish on D.B.Cooper case and I have a hunch the info is useful. You are investigative yourself so I am sure you’ll cooperate!

  22. brucesmith49 says:

    Greetings 1000,

    So you want to know whom I’ve had sex with? Wow. All in a good cause, I suppose, but here’s the deal. I tell you the names if you tell me your name.

  23. Sam Shultz says:

    Bruce Smith? As a journalist, you’re a joke. As a person, you’re an asshole.

  24. Janet says:

    Oh, poor you. How many pushy supposed “journalist” do you think approach(harass) her?

    • brucesmith49 says:

      I really don’t know how many people have approached Tina, but clearly it is more than she desires. As such, I have offered my services as a publicist to the family, gratis, so that they may avoid the media hordes, but to date they have not accepted my proposal. All I asked for was to talk once with Tina with full disclosure.

  25. Pingback: db: Character Facts, Fiction & Speculation - CoHo Productions

  26. Mike Hubbell says:

    I know where a parachute was hanging in a tree up the washougal river in do my mom and sister.

  27. Jack Straw says:


    Why are you harassing Tina? These DB Cooper geeks need to get a real life. Stop harassing people like Tina. Your derogatory description of her neighborhood and home is classless writing. Are you just another DB Cooper psycho? Take a deep breath…..

    • brucesmith49 says:

      How am I harassing Tina? I went to her house on a Sunday afternoon because she is the principal witness in an unsolved crime and I’m a journalist covering the story. I knocked on her front door, we exchanged a few words, and when she asked me to leave I did so.

      What I wrote about her home is not derogatory, in my view. In fact, I called it a “gem,” as I recall. It was a charming, well-cared-for home. Yes, her neighborhood is a poor, working-class kind of place filled with junked cars and potholes, so the beauty of her property stood out in stark contrast.

      Since you’re giving me mental health advice, Jack, tell us about yourself and why we should listen to you.

  28. brucesmith49 says:

    WOW. The email address posted by Jack Straw above is bogus. Thanks, Jack. for nuttin’.

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