BY ERIC ULIS
The precise spot that three packets of Cooper's ransom were found has finally been accurately identified.
On February 10, 1980, exactly 3,000 days to the day after the DB Cooper skyjacking, an 8-year old boy named Brian Ingram discovered approximately $5,800 of DB Cooper’s ransom buried just below the surface at a beach on the Columbia River named Tena Bar. Specifically, he found three rotting packets of $20 bills, still bound by rubber bands that immediately crumbled to the touch. The packets were found stacked upon each other. How these three packets of DB Cooper’s ransom arrived at Tena Bar and when they arrived has been a matter of significant controversy and debate since the money was found.
Upon being notified of the discovery, the FBI immediately cordoned off the area and excavated the beach for nearly a week looking for additional cash or anything else related to the DB Cooper mystery. In fact, only small bits and pieces of additional money were found during this search. Moreover, everything that was found was unearthed in the immediate vicinity of the original money find.
Remarkably, the FBI did not record the location of the money find. Therefore, for decades researches were not certain as to the precise location of the money find spot. However, in 2009 the Cooper Research Team pointed to a money find spot that was 260 feet from the actual spot.
As I reviewed the Cooper Research Team data, old footage from 1980 taken during the FBI search of Tena Bar, contemporary images of the area—which now looks very different primarily because of beach erosion—as well as personally walked and analyzed Tena Bar, I determined that I could, in fact, pinpoint the precise location of the money find likely within 10 feet.
By utilizing photographic evidence of trenches cut into the beach by the FBI during their 1980 search that were in 20-foot intervals, Google Earth measurements of the beach, and Google Earth measurements of the money find spot in relation to the small dirt access road and other identifiable landmarks I was able to triangulate the precise spot.
Upon completion, I was able to pinpoint the money find spot at 45.718588° N, 122.759453° W. In fact, today the precise location of the money find is approximately 10 feet offshore and suspended in the air approximately five feet above the surface of the Columbia River under normal conditions. (NOTE: The above GPS coordinates were derived by locating the spot on Google Earth utilizing my iPhone after leaving the area.)
The reason identifying the precise money find spot is important is because it helps determine the likelihood that the three packets of Cooper's ransom ended up on Tena Bar as a result of a dredging procedure. With the spot now identified it has been determined that the cash was buried approximately 400 feet from the edge of the dredge spoil spreading process. This tells us that it is highly unlikely that the packets of cash were deposited upon Tena Bar via the dredging operation because it was simply too far away.
Below you will see several images that will give the reader an idea of what Tena Bar looked like at the time of the money find in 1980 and as it looks today. You will note that significant erosion has taken place over the last 39 years primarily because dredge spoils are no longer dumped upon beaches in the area as of 1974 which used to mitigate the effects of beach erosion at Tena Bar and other areas along the Columbia River.
Image 1 above is a satellite (or high altitude) image of Tena Bar taken September 29, 1979 approximately 4½ months before the money was discovered. NOTE: It is unclear what the pencil circle highlights, nonetheless, it is not the actual money find spot.
Image 2 above is the same as Image 1 but modified to illustrate a few points. First, the black $ symbol denotes the spot where the money is buried but yet-to-be discovered. Second, the series of dark blue dots denotes an angled dirt road that no longer exists but is prominent and recognizable in much of the 1980 footage of the area. Thirdly, the series of red dots is used to denote a small dirt access road (not visible in this image) that partially exists today and is quite prominent in the 1980 footage. This road was used to access Tena Bar by the FBI during their 1980 search.
Image 3 above is a contemporary Google Earth screenshot of Tena Bar. The white $ symbol denotes the location of the money find—note it is no longer onshore. The series of yellow dots denotes where the above noted angled dirt road—Image 2 (dark blue dots)—used to exist. The series of white dots denotes the small dirt access road noted by the red dots in Image 2 above.
Image 4 above was taken by me on January 19, 2019. The series of white dots denotes the small dirt access road—noted in Image 2 by the red dots and Image 3 by the white dots. In fact, a significant portion of the road today no longer exists due to beach erosion. Furthermore, because the road is no longer utilized much of it has been taken over by small vegetation. Nonetheless, when walking the road in person, the portions of the road that exist today are still quite noticeable and recognizable.
Image 5 is a fascinating picture taken from a helicopter during the FBI’s search of Tena Bar in 1980. Note that the transparent pale yellow circle with the white $ symbol notes the spot of the money find. The red dots indicate the small dirt access road which is noted in Image 4 with the white dots.The black dot to the left of the money find spot is the spot that the above Image 4 was taken from in 2019. Additionally, the black arrow points in the direction that the above Image 4 shot was taken. The white dots in Image 5 denote the angled dirt road which is referenced in a couple of the images above.
Image 6 provides a side-by-side comparison of the above Image 5 and a picture from nearly the same spot nowadays. If you look closely at the very top of both images you can see a few things to provide some prospective including a gravel road, small intersection of two gravel roads and a retention pond (dry in both photos). Additionally, note that the string of white dots in the picture on the left from 1980 highlights the angled dirt road referenced above in other photos, while the string of white dots in the picture on the right highlights where the angled dirt road used to exist but is no longer around. The string of red dots (left pic) and yellow dots (right pic) both highlight the position of the same gravel road. Of course, the pale yellow dot with white $ sign marks the precise money find spot in both pictures.
Image 7 displays a yellow dot which denotes the precise money find spot (river level) as it appeared on January 19, 2019 when the picture was taken. This spot is about 10 feet offshore and in actuality should be raised approximately five feet above the surface of the river. Also, the boulders you see in the picture were placed there in recent years to combat erosion. They were not in place in 1980.
It should also be noted that I walked Tena Bar with Richard Fazio on November 23, 2018. Richard and his brother Al own Tena Bar and the land that the money was found on. In fact, they owned the land at the time of the money find and were retained by the FBI to use their backhoe to dig trenches along the beach during the FBI search.
Richard described to me that on February 11, 1980, the day after the money was discovered, the FBI showed up to ask him to identify whose property a certain spot on the beach was located. At this time the FBI did not tell him what they had found or why they wanted to know who owned that portion of the beach. Richard was then taken to the money find spot and identified it as being on his property. The following day the FBI arrived enforce and notified Richard that a portion of DB Cooper’s ransom had been discovered at the spot he identified as being on his property, and that the FBI would be closing off and extensively searching the area. In fact, the money find spot is approximately 30 feet from the property line of the land owner to the north.