Diatoms on DB Cooper's Cash
By: ERIC ULIS
In 2020 an academic article was published by Tom Kaye that documents a certain species of Columbia River diatom that was found affixed to at least one of the DB Cooper twenties recovered in 1980. It also points—quite convincingly—to contact between the Cooper bill and Columbia River water during the May-June time frame of some year, and that time frame alone. In other words, the bill was not exposed to Columbia River water during any other time of the year.
Now, considering the manner in which the bills were found—specifically, three straps immediately adjacent to each other, 50 feet from the water’s edge and at a point approximately 7 feet above the normal Columbia River water level—I am still convinced that the only possible way for the money to have arrived at Tena Bar was via human intervention.
Therefore, factoring in Tom’s work and my belief that the money was buried by human intervention, I look at Tom’s discovery as helping answer a question that I’ve pondered many times. Specifically: When was the buried ransom retrieved from Tena Bar?
Let me explain.
I firmly believe that Cooper landed near Tena Bar and buried the ransom at Tena Bar before walking into town (Vancouver). I also believe that Cooper retrieved the ransom at some point, however, have never had any ideas at what point.
I now think it is entirely possible that the ransom stayed buried at Tena Bar for several months while Cooper observed the activity of the FBI and others in law enforcement. Perhaps, Cooper was a suspect as part of this FBI activity—as a Boeing employee, former Boeing employee, or Boeing subcontractor—and therefore decided to lay low and not immediately retrieve the ransom. After all, if Cooper was at all concerned about being observed by the authorities, the last thing he would want to do is direct the authorities to the ransom by way of attempting to retrieve it.
However, something changed in June of 1972.
It would have been in June of 1972 that Cooper may have learned that the Columbia River was at near-record water levels. Indeed, June of 1972 was one of only two high water events between 1971 and 1980. This was one of only two times that the river level actually reached the money burial site which, as previously mentioned, was 50 feet from the water’s edge and at an elevation about 7 feet above the normal surface level of the river.
With this in mind, I propose that Cooper recognized the need to retrieve the ransom so as to prevent it from being swept out to sea. Moreover, I propose that Cooper made his way to Tena Bar and retrieved the ransom while the money burial spot was actually under a foot or two of water. This would explain how it is that the three straps left behind were exposed to the Columbia River during the diatom bloom, and only during that diatom bloom.
To reiterate, the importance of Tom’s paper in my mind is that it helps answer a question I’ve had for some time—that is: When did Cooper retrieve the buried ransom from Tena Bar?
I now think the answer to that question is June of 1972.