Bill Prymak, founder and first president of the Amelia Earhart Society (AES) of Researchers, a giant of Earhart research and a special friend whose generosity of spirit will never be forgotten, passed away July 30 in a Louisville, Colo. hospice. Bill had recently undergone surgery for colon cancer; he was 86. Bill joins his beloved wife of 60 years, Gloria, who died May 9 of this year, and is survived by his sons William, John and Paul, his daughters Anita (Langdon) and Linda (Coleman), and six grandchildren. Bill was born in Manhattan, N.Y., in 1928 to Ukrainian immigrant parents, attended the City College of New York and graduated with a degree in civil engineering. “He moved to Colorado in 1970, opened his own construction business and was very successful, building many large buildings in the Denver area and Colorado ski towns,” his daughter, Anita, said in an email.
But it was in the erudite, largely unknown circles of Amelia Earhart research – real investigative work, not the fabricated-for-public-consumption propaganda the media has force-fed the masses since the earliest days – where Bill left a lasting, indelible mark of excellence that will be always be remembered and honored by those who know and respect the truth about Amelia’s fate that he helped to establish. Never one to seek praise or publicity, Bill’s natural humility kept him from making noise about his work, and so he wasn’t as well-known as many far-less accomplished Earhart researchers with larger egos. Occasionally, however, reporters would somehow find their way to his home in Broomfield, Colo., and write stories that only hinted at the insights and passion he brought to his work on the Earhart case. In 2012, a local reporter named Megan Quinn was privileged to meet and interview Bill, and she wrote a story headlined “Broomfield man digs for truth in Amelia Earhart’s mysterious disappearance,” the last done about him while he was still with us.
Bill will be greatly missed by the many whose lives he touched, and I dedicated Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last to Bill and the great Jim Golden, who worked closely with Fred Goerner in the late 1960s and ’70s to find the secret Earhart files, once headed Vice President Richard M. Nixon’s Secret Service detail and was chief of security for Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, among other fascinating achievements, and who passed away at age 85 in 2011. These good men, who so revered the truth, were my best friends and collaborators in what has become my life’s work, and without their support and encouragement Truth at Last might never have been born.
Perhaps the first time I heard Bill’s name was during my initial visit to Thomas E. Devine’s West Haven, Conn. home in February 1991, about two-and-a-half years after I was infected with the Earhart bug. Devine told me that Prymak, a private pilot who had recently read Devine’s 1987 book Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, had called and asked if he could fly his plane out to visit Devine at his home and discuss his eyewitness account, as well as Prymak’s own findings in the Marshalls Islands.
Devine, of course, had his own problems, a malady known as “tunnel vision,” complicated by a severe case of egomania seasoned by a lack of imagination, and he always refused to consider that Earhart and Noonan could have landed in the Marshalls, in spite of the many witnesses who have attested to the fact that they did. Instead, Devine insisted that Amelia flew her Electra directly to Saipan, an impossible 90-degree mistake in navigation that no other researcher has ever thought was remotely possible. Devine rudely rejected Prymak’s suggestion, and though the two never spoke again, Bill always referred to the former Army postal sergeant and Saipan veteran with respect, calling him a “giant” in the Earhart saga more than once.I met Bill in August 2003, when I was visiting researcher Lily Gelb at her mountainside home in Boulder, Colo. Bill drove over from Broomfield, about 15 miles, and we enjoyed a few days together, talking and contemplating the state of the Earhart matter, even then neither of us optimistic about the possibility of any real breakthroughs in the case. He understood, far better than I at the time, the depths of the U.S. government’s commitment to deny the truth and misdirect the public– then and probably forever.
A “boots-on-the-ground” researcher
Bill firmly believed that serious Earhart researchers should put their money where their mouths are and their “boots on the ground,” so he made three trips to the Marshall Islands, in 1989, ’90 and ’97, and was a leading proponent of the Marshall Islands landing scenario, made famous by Vincent V. Loomis in his 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story. Bill interviewed many Marshallese witnesses, more than a few for the first time, and he added much to confirm Loomis’ findings. In 1989 Bill interviewed Bilimon Amaron, the Japanese-born hospital corpsman, whose eyewitness account of being called aboard a Japanese ship, undoubtedly the Koshu, at Jaluit in 1937 to tend to the injuries of Fred Noonan, while Amelia looked on, is the best known of all the Marshalls testimonies. Bilimon’s astonishing story is Exhibit No. 1 in the Marshalls evidence chest, and he achieved legendary status among his people. He died in 1996 at age 75.
An important witness discovered and interviewed exclusively by Bill in 1989 on the Mili Atoll island of Enajet was Joro, a village elder who told Prymak about the “American airplane with the lady pilot [that] crash-landed on the inner coral reefs of Barre Island.” Joro knew many of the villagers who were ordered by the Japanese to report to the site of the crash and assist in winching the Electra aboard the back of the ship, although Joro himself was not an eyewitness. Bill found others whose stories had never been told, and he recorded their unique experiences that pointed to Earhart and Noonan at Mili and the Marshalls, later reporting them in his newsletters, and the most notable of these accounts are presented in Truth at Last.
Through his networking skills and Earhart expertise, Bill was able to gather, evaluate and disseminate an impressive volume of information in an entertaining and enlightening format to the AES membership. Bill’s AES Newsletters totaled 421 letter-size pages of original Earhart research from countless sources of all stripes, which he meticulously compiled and snail mailed – at significant cost to himself — to the AES membership every few months from December 1989 to March 2000.
These priceless documents are among the most important ever produced in the search for the truth in the Earhart case, extraordinary in their variety and wealth of content – true collector’s items that will never be duplicated. Without these remarkable references, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, would have been a far lesser book. Along the rough road to its 2012 publication, I would send Bill my latest chapters and updates, and he would encourage me to continue despite the massive rejections I faced, and his kind words salvaged many a terrible day for me. On several occasions before and after publication of Truth at Last, Bill told me the book was the “best ever about the Earhart disappearance.” Until this cancer diagnosis struck from out of the blue, Bill was planning to attend the Ninety-Nines’ sectional conference in Wichita, Kansas this September, to lend his support for my Truth at Last presentation to this elite group of women professional pilots. Needless to say, these and many other of his kindnesses meant the world to me.
Bill formed the AES in 1989 in his Broomfield, Colorado study, to “seek the truth regarding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.” The original members of the AES numbered less than 20, but included some of the leading lights of the Earhart research community: Joe Gervais, whose Guam and Saipan witness interviews in 1960 strongly supported Goerner’s investigations, but who, unfortunately, is best known as the creator of the disturbing and troublesome Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart myth, who passed away in January 2005; Rollin Reineck, who died in 2007, a retired Air Force colonel and former Army Air Corps B-29 navigator who served on Saipan, flew against the Japanese mainland in 1944-’45 and wrote the 2003 book Amelia Earhart Survived; and the late Ron Reuther (died 2007), the eminent researcher who founded the Oakland (Calif.) Aviation Museum in 1981, directed the San Francisco Zoo from 1966 to 1973, and helped to catalog and prepare Fred Goerner’s papers for their placement at the Admiral Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Bill’s passing leaves only Paul Rafford Jr., 95, the former Pan American Airways radio flight officer and author of Amelia Earhart’s Radio: Why She Disappeared (The Paragon Agency, Second Edition, 2008) and Joe Klaas, 94, Gervais’ close friend and author of Amelia Earhart Lives (McGraw-Hill 1970), as the last of the old guard of Earhart researchers still with us. None will replace these men, who each left their own unique imprint on the record of the search for the truth in the Earhart disappearance.
May God Bless you, Bill, and I’m sure He has, and thanks so much for your kindness and friendship. I’ll always remember you with love, and I trust that someday we’ll meet again. Until then, my friend, Requiescat in pace.