by Bruce A. Smith
A small group of fishermen may have found pieces of DB Cooper’s ransom money on the banks of the Columbia River weeks before 8-year old Brian Ingram found his famous three bundles of twenties, investigator Galen Cook has announced this week.
Cook’s claims cast a harsh light on the FBI’s subsequent investigation of the area known as Tina’s Bar and the many fishermen who frequented the popular fishing spot, as it generates suspicion regarding the Bureau’s thoroughness in following up on leads.
The Ingram money find at Tina’s Bar, totaling $5,800, is the single confirmed recovery of physical evidence from the DB Cooper caper, the only unsolved skyjacking case in the history of the United States.
Cook says that in the summer of 2012 he spent a week at Tina’s Bar, located about six miles downstream from Vancouver, WA, talking with fishermen, boaters and river lovers. After dozens of pleasant conversations and many discussions on the finer points of Cooper lore, he eventually met a fisherman who had indirect knowledge of a money find that pre-dated Brian Ingram’s discovery in early February, 1980.
The fisherman, unnamed by Cook, says that he knew of two other fishermen, now adults but teenagers in 1980, who say that they had found money along the Columbia in the vicinity of Tina’s Bar.
Cook located the two gentlemen and corroborated the story of the first fisherman.
Cook says that the two boys – now in their mid-to-late forties and living in the Portland, Oregon area, but then aged 12 and 14 – had been fishing at Tina’s Bar for steelhead in January, 1980, one month prior to Brian Ingram’s discovery.
The two teens say they found about a dozen pieces of 20 dollar bills buried in a small hole at a site the Cook later determined was about three feet away from the spot where Ingram found his money.
The teen fishermen told Cook that the shards were all corner pieces of twenties, fairly similar in size, and that they knew the shards came from a twenty because each piece had the numerals “2” and “0” on it.
Cook also says that the lads told him that they found a handful of similar pieces the following weekend about 100 yards downstream from their first find, and that the shards were lying on the surface of the sand, as if they had been washed there by the river current.
At the time, the teens did not know the significance of their find and did not save the shards. Only later, after the Ingram discovery, did they understand the nature of their encounter. However, Cook has not disclosed why the teens did not tell authorities of their own money find.
However, if this story is true it indicates that the FBI did not follow up with Tina’s Bar fishermen once they knew about the Ingram recovery. Part of the reason may be how the FBI structured its investigation.
The DB Cooper investigator for the Portland office, Special Agent Ralph Himmelsbach, retired two weeks after the Ingram find. His replacement in those duties, Dorwin Schroeder, told the Mountain News in 2009 that he and the FBI did not initiate any investigation into Cooper in the following years, and “only followed-up on leads as they came in from the public.”
Nevertheless, the Bureau may have blown an ideal opportunity to break the case open by not canvassing the people who may have found other bits of money. Also, if they had surveyed the beach goers they may have discovered individuals able to offer other kinds of clues, such as descriptions of folks burying money on the beach.
Despite that tepid long-term response, the FBI’s search of Tina’s Bar immediately after the Ingram find was substantial, and included scores of agents and volunteers digging in the sand for days, along with back hoe support from the Fazio Brothers, whose family owns Tina’s Bar.
Based upon what the teens told him, Cook believes that the corners of the Cooper ransom money were purposefully torn, and deliberately buried in at least one site and possibly two, for reasons that are wholly speculative.
Further, Cook has commissioned an extensive river hydrologic study and soil analysis, and he believes the ransom money had been buried in a damp environment prior to discovery at Tina’s Bar.
However, Mr. Cook did not share any details that illuminated his hypothesis.
Nevertheless, Cook says that his special investigation also suggests that the money arrived at Tina’s Bar in the year preceding discovery, and possibly in the summer or spring of 1979.
Cook’s perspective adds weight to the speculation put forth by Jo Weber that her husband Duane, a self-confessed DB Cooper suspect, threw a brown paper sack filled with unknown contents off the Quay in Vancouver in late September or early October 1979.
This possibility is supported by the widely held conclusion established by the FBI’s hydrology expert Leonard Palmer, whose findings state that the money could not have arrived at Tina’s Bar prior to 1974 when the last known dredging of the Columbia occurred in the channel fronting Tina’s Bar.
Cook’s announcement, just one week prior to the 41st anniversary of the skyjacking, is sure to cause a sizeable buzz at the Cooper Daze festival, held annually at the Ariel Tavern, the center of the FBI’s ground search for Cooper back in 1971 and 1972.