Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part III of IV

“What is the hardest task in the world? To think.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

In August and September 2006, David Billings, 76, an Australian researcher who has drawn attention in the United States as well as Down Under with his own controversial Electra-at-New Britain theory, took up the baton from Alex Mandel and launched a series of pointed attacks against the Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart doctrine. But unlike the conciliatory and diplomatic Mandel, Billings went straight for the jugular, tying his assault to revelations released more than a year earlier in The Atchison Report, to be discussed shortly.

The information was provided by Gertrude Hession, a former friend of Irene Bolam and sister of Monsignor James Francis Kelley, Reineck’s incoherent main witness, and Diana Dawes, another longtime Bolam friend. It all concerned one Mary Eubank, whose association with Bolam could be traced with certainty back to their high school days, through the war and up until Bolam’s death in 1982. This evidence alone was absolute proof of the theory’s falsehood. In a September 2006 message to the AES Forum, Billings addressed the Mary Eubank connection, the redoubtable Monsignor Kelley’s dementia, and made a revelation of his own:

Earhart Group, 

Joseph Klaas and Joseph Gervais compiled a book “Amelia Earhart Lives” in 1970.  I do not know whether you have read it but if you have not, I suggest that you may like to read it.  It costs around $1 on abebooks.com and the postage is $4. That alone should tell you something.

A recent photo of David Billings at his home in Nambour, Australia. (Courtesy David Billings.)

A recent photo of David Billings at his home in Nambour, Australia. (Courtesy David Billings.)

I am at around page 80 in that book and I have tagged all the inaccuracies, inconsistencies and all the plain mistakes that are blatantly obvious in that book written by Joe Klaas. Joe Klaas, it seems to me, should be ashamed that he ever wrote that book. I have not yet got to the part where Gervais “recognized” Irene Bolam as Amelia Earhart. Gervais and Klaas and the publisher McGraw-Hill had to pay Irene Bolam as they lost the case.

In 2003, The Colonel, Rollin C. Reineck, goes through the same motions and resurrects the Irene Bolam MYTH. He uses Gervais’ supposed “recognition” of Irene Bolam as AE and he also uses the words of a Catholic Priest, Monsignor James Francis Kelley in support of the myth, the story, the fable, the whatever.

I have here an audio tape of Colonel Rollin C. Reineck interviewing the Monsignor in September 1991. It is not pretty. The Monsignor is obviously suffering from senile dementia at age 90.  

He (the Monsignor) speaks of Eisenhower leaving the troops behind, of his meeting with Emperor Hirohito to discuss Amelia being freed, of Hirohito not agreeing to free Amelia and of the Monsignor finally getting a General Keane to freedom along with Eamon de Valera who was later to become the “Emperor of Ireland.” Amelia appears and stayed at his house at Rumson, N.J., for around three or four weeks, after that she went out and got injured.  He doesn’t say by what. He then rambles on about having to go to Le Bourget field to meet Lindbergh because there was no one else there to meet him. The Monsignor also captured Bruno Hauptmann and when in London helped with the administration of that city for three years. There was more. I take it that you have the tape?  

So, really, Reineck should have stopped the interview but he did not.  Reineck even says on 1st January 1992, that he found nothing “valid” in what the Monsignor said, but in 2003 he publishes the drivel that the Monsignor said in support of his contention that AE returned to the United States.

In 1992, Joseph Gervais and Bill Prymak interviewed Gertrude Hession, the sister of Monsignor James Francis Kelley. Gertrude told them that she had been trying to put the Monsignor away for some time due to his dementia. She also told of a Mary Eubank who had known Irene Bolam from their teenage years and that Joe and Bill should meet with Mary Eubank and discuss Irene. Gervais declined the offer even though the trip back by car from Delaware to New Jersey took them past Eubank’s home town and they had PLENTY of time.  Bill Prymak told me all this himself. You wanna question Bill Prymak, be my guest. 

Undated photo of Monsignor James Francis Kelly

Undated photo of Monsignor James Francis Kelley, who suffered from dementia at age 90 in 1992 and whose incredible statements were quoted by Rollin Reineck in Amelia Earhart Survived Kelly died in 1996 at age 94.

Gervais swore Bill Prymak to secrecy because if it got out that Irene Bolam had been known by any one person since teenage it meant that she could not possibly be Amelia Earhart. This meant that Klaas’s book was false and it also means Reineck’s book is false. There have been many inside mails telling Bill Prymak that he was weak not to face up to Gervais and let the MYTH continue.

Billings should never have been let in and others who question the armchair researchers should never be let in. Someone said some time back, that Bill Prymak would regret recommending me for membership of the AES. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.

Billings and Mandel, those two non-Americans, who question authors of books supposedly written as FACT should NEVER, EVER, question those American authors and should not have the temerity to question senior members of the AES Forum AT ALL. Billings and Mandel have no right to question historical authors.

Forum Members: We do not live in a perfect world, there are things which happen out there over which we have no control whatsoever and there is ZILCH that we as ordinary citizens of our various countries can do in the short term.  However, when we do have the opportunity to correct a wrong, there should be no hesitation on any citizen’s part to do that very thing.

I do not hesitate, you should not hesitate.

Bill Prymak supplied me with information, as did other members of this AES Forum, which made it obvious to me that Klaas, Gervais and Reineck are completely and utterly incorrect in the Irene Bolam as Amelia Earhart Theory.

I did broadcast that information with the approval of Bill Prymak.  He repeatedly praised me for outing the lie. Now Bill Prymak has done the dirty on me and wrung his hands and now he and Reineck and Co. are all friends again. Well good on them but it still does not make the whole thing right.

Joe Gervais, the father of the Earhart-as-Bolam theory, and Joe Klaas, his right-hand man and author of Amelia Earhart Lives, in a typical news photo from 1970, when Amelia Earhart Lives was creating an international sensation.

Joe Gervais, left, the father of the Earhart-as-Bolam myth, and Joe Klaas, his longtime friend and author of Amelia Earhart Lives, in a typical news photo from 1970, when Amelia Earhart Lives was creating an international sensation and before Irene Bolam sued McGraw-Hill and the authors for defamation and the book was pulled from bookstore shelves without explanation.

Bill told me — I have the letter here — that Gervais was a very shaken man after speaking with Gertrude Hession and he “made” Bill Prymak promise never to release the information about Mary Eubank and that was in 1992. . . . Gervais was too concerned with himself and that he would be seen as an idiot if the word got out. Of course, Gervais would also be concerned about Klaas, as he had dragged Klaas into the mire with the “recognition” of IB as AE, and Klaas would not be pleased at this new revelation. Bill Prymak said to me, “That’s why” the release never appeared in the AES Newsletters about the interview with Gertrude Hession by Gervais and Prymak. . . . You can paint me as black as you like, but don’t put the lid on the paint pot yet, there are others who need a lick of paint too.

I am already receiving private mail over tonight’s postings to the AES Forum. I should not be receiving private mail, put it on the Forum. If you have something to say, say it.  Spit it out.

Best Regards,

David Billings
Nambour, Queensland
Australia (Sept. 16, 2006)

Billings was ejected from the AES forum by moderator Michele Cervone in late September 2006 for posting third-party e-mails – messages from nonmembers — to the Yahoo! Earhart Group Web site without prior approval. Although that justification may have been technically valid, Cervone’s sanction was, in fact, a case of shooting a messenger who had delivered a most unwelcome message – the unvarnished truth about how the Bolamite falsehood was protected and perpetuated by longtime members of the AES inner circle.

Other members had violated forum rules regularly and with impunity, including Reineck himself. Nearly a year before Billings’ revelations to the group, the 1992 incident that brought Gervais face-to-face with the truth was disclosed by Prymak to several of his AES associates. Moreover, the Mary Eubank-Irene Bolam connection had already been well established in The Atchison Report released to the AES forum and publicly disseminated in July 2005 – with information provided by Prymak.

Mandel, among the scant few voicing support for the beleaguered Billings in the days following his bombshell, characterized the Aussie’s blunt missives as “reasonable, competent, proper and legitimate on-topic questions to Rollin Reineck.” I expressed full concurrence with Mandel’s summary, depicting Billings’ postings as “tough but fair . . . not personal attacks against Rollin, but [against] his theory and his book although many cannot see the difference.” In several on- and off-forum messages to Prymak, Billings and the AES, Mandel expressed his disdain for the pernicious notion, accepted in some quarters, that certain reputations must be protected at all costs, rightly attributing the decline of the AES to the proliferation of this unethical practice. A few others agreed, and after many rancorous off-forum message exchanges copied to a handful of insiders, Mandel’s laconic response to an unfriendly e-mail from Prymak brought the situation into stark focus:

Read my lips. The “collapse of AES” started just in moment when you agreed to be manipulated by Gervais, who wanted to use you for [sic] to hide the information that would discredit his theory.

The Gervais-Prymak-Mary Eubank incident was a paradigm that revealed the true nature of what most “Earhart research” had become, and not only in the AES. Integrity, full disclosure and accountability about the discovered truths or falsehoods are mission statements rarely found, and even less frequently actuated nearly everywhere one finds public discussion of the Earhart disappearance. 

Mantz purchased the Lockheed 12A in 1946. When he purchased it, it was registered as N60775. Mantz was able to secure the tail number of Amelia Earhart's fateful Electra 10E, N16020, and had it assigned to his airplane. The airplane was used for several filming projects in the 1950s. Mantz sold it in August 1961 to an investment group, but it crashed and was destroyed in December 1961 near Barstow with the loss of both crewmembers. The registration number? It is now permanently reserved by the FAA in the name of Amelia Earhart and not available for assignment any longer. (JD Davis photo)

This is the Lockheed Model 12A Electra Junior, also known as the Lockheed 12 or L-12, registration N16020, originally purchased by Paul Mantz in 1946, that crashed into California’s Mount Tiefort (not Tierfort as it was misspelled in Amelia Earhart Lives) in December 1961 with the loss of two crewmembers. This plane was the object of grossly imaginative speculation by Joe Gervais in Earhart Lives, and of scorn by David Billings in his missives to the Amelia Earhart Society in 2006.  (Courtesy JD Davis.)

“Joe Gervais is on your trail, Amelia,” Joe Klaas the mythmaker wrote in the closing sentences of Amelia Earhart Lives. “There’s no use trying to die, for he’ll follow you wherever you go, and as long as he shall live, you shall live.”  Thus began the cult of Joe Gervais,  “the Dean of Earhart research,” according to his acolytes in the AES. But was Gervais’ exalted status an honest reflection of his achievements, or mere hyperbole designed not only to mythologize Gervais, but to enhance the reputations of his associates, as well? A brief review of a few of Gervais’ more notable “contributions” to Earhart research, with thanks to David Billings for his input, should be instructive:

Item:
In Chapter 5 of Amelia Earhart Lives, Gervais implied that an Electra 12A, registration number N 16020, which crashed into Mount Tiefort in California in 1961 could have been Earhart’s lost Electra 10E. Gervais based his belief largely on the fact that the plane’s exhaust manifold had been delivered on May 13, 1937, a few weeks before Earhart began her second world-flight attempt.  Gervais’ suspicions were aroused despite the fact that he knew the plane belonged to Charles Kitchens, who had bought it from Paul Mantz, a director who had planned to use the 12A in a movie about Earhart (thus the N 16020, as close to Earhart’s as possible).  Later in the book, Klaas flatly states, “It was Joe Gervais who climbed a mountain in California to find the wreckage of a plane supposed to be at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.”

“Gervais, the trained aircraft crash investigator, finds it incredible that exhaust manifolds built in 1937 could last until 1961,” Billings wrote in a December 2006 e-mail. “There is nothing unusual in this at all. The aircraft could have had any number of manifolds fitted in its life and ALL of them could have been made in 1937 and stored.”

Item:
In Amelia Earhart Lives, Gervais said there was no record of what became of the Lockheed XC-35 Electra, the first successful enclosed-cabin, pressurized airplane, capable of altitudes up to 40,000 feet, and suggests it could have been used by Earhart during her last flight.  Klaas then theorized that Earhart could have “switched” from her own Electra to the XC-35 to fly a photographic spy mission, and that Lockheed could have built two XC-35s, one of which Earhart and Noonan flew on their special mission.  In fact, the only Lockheed XC-35 ever built, with commercial serial number 3105 and military serial number 36-353, was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1948, and has remained there until this day. Billings said Klaas was still advocating this idea in recent years, and message records bore out his contention.

“Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais (the two Jo-Jo’s) proposed that Amelia Earhart espied the capabilities of this XC-35 and requested this experimental aircraft for her own use,” Billings quipped. “The Jo-Jo’s, in realizing that the United States Army Air Force and the Unites States Navy had ‘helped’ Amelia at various stages, now proposed that the U.S. Army Air Force would now get into the act and help her out by ‘lending’ her the XC-35.

“Back around 2003,” Billings continued, “Joe Klaas was still peddling the nonsense about Earhart using the XC-35, as he wrote to the AES forum:  ‘The XC-35 was flown to an airfield to the north of Lae and after she took off from Lae, Earhart went to that airfield and exchanged the Lockheed 10E for the XC-35. I have the name of the airfield in my notes.’. . . To the north of LAE there were no airfields and it was very hilly and up to 10,000 feet into the Saraweged Range. So which airfield did he mean?  Klaas could not answer and instead now offered that the airfield must be to the south of Lae but he did still have the name of the airfield. I pursued Klaas for over two years as to the name of the airfield and whether the three aircrew from the XC-35 had caught a Number Nine bus back to the United States or were they still at the airfield together with the Electra 10E? Klaas went silent for some three or four weeks. . . . Rest assured, the one and only XC-35, built at a cost of some $120,000 in 1936 rests at the [Smithsonian’s] Garber facility [in Suitland, Maryland]. Klaas’s postulations about the XC-35 are absolute nonsense and rubbish.”

Item:
In Chapter 9, we see that Gervais claimed a photo of Earhart, anonymously mailed to him in 1980, was taken while she was in Japanese custody. The photo was determined to have been taken in Hawaii, following Earhart’s aborted takeoff at Luke Field on March 20, 1937. 

 Flying in Comfort 75 years ago, the Army Air Corps’ XC-35 launched the pressurized cabin. image: http://thumbs.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/Moments-Milestones-XC-35-1-flash-631.jpg__800x600_q85_crop.jpg XC-35 The XC-35 (in flight near Wright Field in August 1937) earned the U.S. Army Air Corps the 1937 Collier Trophy for its substratospheric design. (NASM (A-2168-B)) By George C. Larson Air & Space Magazine | Subscribe November 2012 0 0 0 0 20 0 90 0 0 0 200 90 Just 75 years ago, the Lockheed XC-35 made its first research flight, taking off on August 5, 1937, from the Army Air Corps’ Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, thereby launching a series of tests of the airplane’s major innovation: a pressurized cabin. Although it wasn’t the first airplane to feature pressurization, it was the only one until that time with room in the pressurized capsule for a couple of passengers, in addition to the crew of three. (Germany’s Junkers Ju 49 had a pressurized compartment, but only for the crew; France’s Farman F.1000 had one too but with a seat that lifted the pilot up so he could see to take off and land; at high altitude the pilot would be sealed inside the compartment.) The XC-35 test program was so successful that the Army felt confident in specifying a pressurized cabin for the planned Boeing B-29, and later, Boeing’s 307 airliner flew passengers in pressurized comfort (see “Above It All,” Sept. 2009). Early on, aviators learned that the thin air at high altitudes could not sustain them, and if they lingered too long above about 15,000 feet without extra oxygen to breathe, they’d lose consciousness. Face masks to deliver pure oxygen were helpful to a point, but in September 1934, aviation pioneer Wiley Post demonstrated that a full-pressure suit similar to what astronauts wear today would enable pilots to fly to 40,000 feet, well beyond the altitude at which airliners cruised. Airline passengers could hardly be expected to don bulky pressure suits, and military flight crew would be hampered by their bulk. The only answer was to provide the equivalent of a low-altitude environment in the cabin so passengers and crew could work in their shirtsleeves. Advertisement The XC-35, in flight near Wright Field in August 1937, was an Electra 10-A similar to Amelia Earhart’s but reconfigured by Lockheed engineers working with a team from the Army Air Corps

The XC-35, in flight near Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, in August 1937, was an Electra 10-A similar to Amelia Earhart’s but reconfigured by Lockheed engineers working with a team from the Army Air Corps.  According to Joe Gervais and Joe Klaas in Amelia Earhart Lives, another  XC-35 was produced and exchanged for Earhart’s Electra 10E at an airfield north of Lae, New Guinea, shortly after takeoff July 2, 1937, as part of a spy mission.

Item:
Perhaps the most preposterous idea among many presented in Amelia Earhart Lives – other than Earhart as Bolam – is that the location of Earhart’s final landing could be determined by the discovery and breaking of a secret code, which Gervais decrypts in Chapter 18, “The Code.” Billings discussed this legendary contribution to the annals of Earhart research in a colorful essay he coined, “The Blind Leading the Blind,” which he wrote, on the spot, during our private online discussion, and sent me in December 2006:

According to Joe Klaas, Joe Gervais called him on the telephone from Las Vegas in March 1967 and excitedly told Klaas that he would show Klaas a picture of the Earhart wreck, and where it went down. Presumably, this time Gervais was actually referring to the Lockheed Electra 10E, Construction No. 1055.  Gervais, on the telephone added that he had “broken” something called The Earhart Code.

Klaas and Gervais arranged to meet at Gene Autry’s Continental Hotel in Hollywood. Klaas took his son Tony along to the meeting. Tony, who was 16 years of age, was taken along so that he could record the conversation during the meeting between our two “experts.” If that tape, recorded by Tony Klaas still exists, its value is priceless for what you are about to read. If [it’s] on tape, it would be concrete evidence of the insanity which evolved during the meeting, if Klaas’s book has recorded the freakish content of that conversation correctly.

Gervais began by informing Klaas that he knew that the 1943 RKO Movie Flight to Freedom had been produced by Floyd Odlum, whose wife Jackie Cochrane was a friend of Amelia Earhart’s. The flight in the film taken by a character bearing a similarity to Earhart, named “Toni Carter” (played by Rosalind Russell), had ended on a fictitious island named in the film as “Gull Island.” Gervais then produced a film of Hull Island in the Phoenix Group of islands in what is now Kiribati. This film had been taken by the U.S. Navy during the search for Earhart and Noonan in July 1937. Gervais now proclaimed Hull Island to be Gull Island, the fictitious island from the film. Gervais proceeded to pull the film through a projector so that each frame in the film could be examined one by one.

The object in this action was to introduce to Klaas and his son (who it is presumed had managed to stay awake so far) to one frame in the film where it appears a similarity to a Japanese “meatball” flag is flying over the beach on Hull Island in the U.S. Navy black and white film.  The Japanese flag that Gervais insists is shown is a complete white background with a red circle (a so-called “meatball”) in the centre of the white background field. In fact the naval ensign of Japan in 1937 was the same basic design, i.e., a white background with the red circle, but it also had 16 “rays of the sun” radiating out from the central or offset circle which went equally spaced out to the edge of the flag. Whatever Gervais thought he saw in the single frame was not the Japanese naval ensign. 

Now, let us suppose, if the Japanese did go to Hull Island for whatever reason, those Japanese would have been naval personnel in naval ships, and therefore if a flag had been left behind it would have been a naval flag and at the time the naval ensign had the representations of the sun’s rays (16 rays), which would have not shown up in a photograph or film frame as a white flag with a red blob on it.  If the Japanese had gone to Hull Island for whatever reason, it is extremely unlikely that they would advertise their presence there by leaving a Japanese naval ensign. Hull at that time in July 1937 was populated by Gilbertese plantation labourers with a Captain Jones as an overseer.  Jones did have a radio and the first thing he would have done would have been to contact Tarawa, the headquarters of the British Colonial Service in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands as the Phoenix Group was British territory.

Another of the many provocative headlines from the Wood

One of the several provocative headlines published by the Woodbridge (N.J.) News Tribune during its December 1982 series of investigative stories about the false Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart allegation, conceived solely by Joe Gervais, who some still mistakenly lionize as the “Dean of Earhart research.”

Gervais, Klaas and Klaas Junior then can see something else on the film frames as they were drawn through the projector.  Amazingly, they can see aircraft wreckage and murmur that they can see a wing section, a tyre [sic], an engine and incredibly they can see a “salvage hook.” Now hallucinatory drugs were not banned in 1967 to the extent that they are now, and one has to wonder whether these two gentleman had discovered a new line in potent licorice at pharmacies or whether it was a new line in “magic spectacles” in that they and they alone could see aircraft wreckage on the beach at Hull Island where Lieutenant [John] Lambrecht and his fellow experienced aviators had not seen anything at all, and had in fact landed on the lagoon at Hull to ask Captain Jones if he had seen anything. Neither Lambrecht or the other aviators from the USS Colorado or Captain Jones had seen wreckage on Hull Island or any sign of Earhart and Noonan.

We now come to the most weird outpouring from a supposed expert on Earhart that defies all logic and surely must be classed as one of Gervais’ best faux pas. The “breaking” of what he called The Earhart Code. This supposed code is related to the use of the name Guy Bolam in a sequence which defies logic, for Amelia Earhart never did know Guy Bolam, the husband of Irene Bolam.  How could Earhart compose a code using Guy Bolam’s name if she did not know him and the names of the islands in the Phoenix Group of islands? The short answer is that she could not.

This is how the imaginative brain of Gervais received a mind-compelling injection of fantasy which resulted in derived figures which represent the latitude and longitude position of Hull Island, or, I should say, the figures derived roughly locate to within a few nautical miles, the position of Hull Island. This is why Gervais torturously managed to come up with Hull Island as Earhart’s final landing place. . . . This is how Gervais came upon what he called The Earhart Code. 

The name GUY BOLAM has eight letters and each of the islands in the Phoenix Group contains one letter of the name Guy Bolam In Gervais’ convoluted mind, the positioning of those letters within the island name is then given a number according to the position. … Therefore if as Gervais does we lay out the numbers horizontally we get: 1, 7, 2 (or 6), 1, 3, 4 (or 3), 2 and 1. Looking at the alternatives we can get 17213421 or 17613321.  Gervais said in 1967 that this first string of numbers, 17213421, represents the longitude and the latitude of Hull Island by saying this string represents 172° 13′ W, 4° 21′ S. The latitude and longitude of Hull Island is 4° 30′ S 172° 10′ W.  So, The Earhart Code has Hull Island 3 nautical miles to the West and 9 nautical miles to the North of where it actually is. Now what of the other possibilities in the other string of numbers? The alternative is 176° 13′ W, 3° 21′ S.  This would put the position way to the west of the entire Phoenix Group by close to 200 nautical miles.

Orona atoll, also known as Hull Island,[1] is one of the Phoenix Islands in the Republic of Kiribati.

Satellite view of Hull Island, known as Orora Atoll since 1979, one of the Phoenix Islands in the Republic of Kiribati, and the object of one of Earhart researcher Joe Gervais’ most imaginative fantasies, The Earhart Code.

What of this Earhart Code? Does it exist? The answer is no, it cannot possibly exist and is a very weird figment of Joe Gervais’ imagination, and Klaas swallowed it. Amelia Earhart did not know Guy Bolam. She did know Irene Craigmile Heller, but she did not know Guy Bolam. He did not enter Irene Craigmile Heller’s life until 1957, so how could Earhart have possibly made up a code before she disappeared in 1937 incorporating Guy Bolam’s name into a sequence which also had the Phoenix Islands names in that very sequence? The answer is that Earhart did not make up this supposed code and it is sheer fantasy and absolute rubbish.  It just so happens that the numbers as Gervais brought them out using Guy Bolam’s name fell into a sequence which very closely matches the position of Hull Island, nothing more, nothing less, just sheer coincidence.

Gervais says, through Klaas, that he did spend three years of his spare time trying to discover a code.  He also discovered not only the supposed tripe he called The Earhart Code but fostered and encouraged the finding of a thousand and one conspiracies mainly perpetrated by the United States Government and its agencies.  There are those who spend their whole lives inventing conspiracies and myths which are always there to confuse and confound genuine people trying to research the truth and to discover the fate of the two American aviators.  

Gervais and those of his ilk would have been far better off and more gainfully employed planting turnips in their spare time. That occupation would have been more suited to the level of intelligence displayed in that dreadful book which, in all honesty, should never have been published. (End of “The Blind Leading the Blind.”)

It’s doubtful that any reviews of Amelia Earhart Lives were more amusing than the foregoing by David Billings.  Joe Klaas, a talented writer with 12 books to his credit, wove an enchanting spell in the latter chapters of Amelia Earhart Lives, but he fell victim to the absurd delusion that struck Joe Gervais and, amazingly, spread to many others over the years. It was a shame, because the eyewitness interviews conducted by Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam and Saipan in 1960, on the heels of Fred Goerner’s arrival on Saipan during his own investigation, were some of the most important ever done.

In our final installment of Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society, we will continue with yet more of the Joe Gervais Follies, and conclude by attempting to put the whole sordid mess into some kind of coherent perspective, a daunting prospect in itself.

Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part II of IV

(Editor’s note: Some of the more perspicacious readers of this blog know that the very same day Part I of  Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society was published, Dec. 29, 2015,  the UK’s Daily Mail, followed by Fox News ran stories promoting a new book that, unbelievably, attempts to re-resurrect the absurd Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart lie, as if this is something new and important that the world needs to know about! “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous,” is a statement attributed to Albert Einstein, and I suppose it’s more poignant than simply saying, “There are no such things as coincidences.”  Could anyone be so clueless as to write a book in 2015 based on 50-year-old, discredited garbage, unless this is the latest government disinformation effort in the Earhart case, mixing the Marshalls-Saipan truth with the Bolam falsehood in order to discredit all three elements?

The Daily Mail will not allow anyone to post a comment that names this blog, my book, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last or even my name, and with one recently reported exception, Fox News has been equally exclusionary, so determined are they to keep readers ignorant about the truth, and this has been going on for many years. This should tell even the minimally observant where the truth can actually be found, and it’s nowhere near the “fair and balanced” place on your cable TV news lineup. With that said, I present Part II of Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society for your information and entertainment.)

What is the hardest task in the world? To think.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Those of us concerned about the damage that might accrue as a result of the National Geographic Channel’s revival of the Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart canard didn’t wait long to see our fears realized. Less than a month after the Earhart special’s first airing, a glance at the Internet site Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia that’s not always credible, revealed the first ripple in the new wave of media attention that the National Geographic Channel had instigated. In late December 2006, the Wikipedia entry for Amelia Mary Earhart featured a new subhead, “Planned disappearance and paranormal explanations,” wherein Wikipedia informed readers:

In November 2006, the National Geographic Channel aired … the theory that Earhart survived the incident near Howland Island, moved to New Jersey, changed her name, remarried, and became a person named Irene Craigmile Bolam and lived the remainder of her life in relative peace and quiet (a book published in 1970 called  Amelia Earhart Lives by Joe Klaas detailed this theory). Bolam denied being Earhart and filed a lawsuit requesting $1.5 million in damages. One source stated that five years later, the book’s authors offered to settle for the requested amount if Bolam would agree to provide her fingerprints to establish her identity in front of the judge. Bolam declined and later dropped the suit. This source also stated that Bolam died in 1982, was cremated, and that her death certificate listed her parents as “unknown.”

By now a collector's item, this is the back of the booklet Rollin Reineck sent to those who bought Amelia Earhart Survived to so that they might be kept current on the latest insanity ton the Irene Bolam

By now a collector’s item, this is the back of the booklet Rollin Reineck sent to the few, including this observer, who bought Amelia Earhart Survived,  several months after publication of the book. By then it was clear that Reineck had become thoroughly unhinged over this ridiculous idea.

Note that unlike National Geographic, which exposed the photo overlays purporting to prove that Bolam and Earhart were the same person, advanced by Reineck and his associate, Tod Swindell, as bogus junk, Wikipedia simply repeated the original theory without mentioning that it had been thoroughly discredited many times. Ukrainian researcher Alex Mandel, Ph.D., contacted the owner of Wikipedia’s Earhart page in December 2006, and urgently needed counterbalance was soon added to the Bolam material. By February 2007, much to Wikipedia’s credit, the entire Bolam entry was rewritten in a shorter, more concise form under a new subhead, “Assuming another identity.” The false claim that Bolam dropped her suit over the fingerprint issue was deleted, as was as the dubious statement about her “unknown parents” on her death certificate. In Wikipedia’s new version, its conclusion was emphatic, succinct and most importantly, accurate:

Bolam’s personal life history was thoroughly documented by researchers, eliminating any possibility she was Earhart. Kevin Richlin, a professional criminal forensic expert hired by National Geographic, studied photographs of both women and cited many measurable facial differences between Earhart and Bolam.

Beginning in late 2002 and continuing until about mid-2006, the growing Bolamite wing of the AES, by far its most vocal subgroup, became increasingly more emboldened in its asseverations against those who dared offer solid research findings that questioned their dogmas.  In early 2005, Reineck’s literary misadventure reached its final frontier, culminating in the publication of “The Last Chapter, also known as “Chapter 13, a small booklet produced as a supplement to Amelia Earhart Survived, an update, as it were, of the latest “innovations” in Bolamite thinking. 

In “The Last Chapter,” Reineck levels the most outrageous allegation yet conjured against Earhart – that she secretly gave birth in 1924 at the age of 27 to a girl he identifies as “Irene Jr.,” whom, he says, was adopted by Irene Bolam’s aunt, attorney Irene Mary O’Crowley, and O’Crowley’s mother, Sara Rutherford O’Crowley, who “became the little girls [sic] childhood Nanny” in Sara’s Newark, New Jersey home

Are you following this? As evidence for this incredible claim, Reineck cites a 1984 letter from family friend Lucy McDaniels, 83 at the time, to Diana Dawes, a close friend of Irene Bolam, recalling that in 1928 she “saw a baby in a crib” at Sara’s apartment. According to McDaniels, Irene Senior, i.e., Irene Mary O’Crowley, told her the baby was the child of her deceased sister, at which point Reineck interjects an author’s note informing us that Irene Senior did not have a deceased sister. “Of course I don’t know who the baby in the crib grew up to become,” McDaniels wrote, according to Reineck.  As if to lend credence to this bizarre fantasy, Reineck presents an inscrutable diagram on the booklet’s next-to-last page, purporting to illustrate the family tree into which Earhart’s imaginary child was adopted. Needless to say, the person “Irene Jr.” never existed.

In mid-December 1982, the Woodbridge (N.J.) News Tribune published a series of investigative stories by Lois DiTomasso, News Tribune managing editor, that fully exposed the obvious truth about the Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart myth. Irene Bolam herself died of cancer earlier that year, in December 1982.

In mid-December 1982, the Woodbridge (N.J.) News Tribune published a series of investigative stories by Lois DiTommaso, News Tribune managing editor and other staff members, that fully exposed the obvious truth about the Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart lie. Irene Bolam died of cancer earlier that year, in July 1982.

In the booklet’s opening pages, Reineck credits the “investigative efforts” of Tod Swindell for this latest revelation, which isn’t the only new discovery he unveiled for befuddled readers. Inside “The Last Chapter” Reineck inserted a four-by-five slip of paper, titled “Preface,” in which he advises, “For ease of understanding ‘The Last Chapter’ (13),” there were “three Irene Craigmiles, two of them became Irene Craigmile Bolam.” The third Irene Bolam, Reineck wrote, was “the face on the 1982 [Irene Bolam] Memorial Dinner cover. . . . We can only speculate who she really was.” In fact, Reineck’s third Irene Bolam is none other than the first and only such woman, photographed at a younger age.

The torturous logic through which Reineck declaims the existence of two Irene Bolams, the first of whom vanished without a trace to be “replaced” by Amelia Earhart, is already far beyond our ken. But in “The Last Chapter,” Reineck asks us to take complete leave of our senses and accept three such discrete persons. Further exploration of the preposterous Bolamite delusions advanced in this absurd addendum would be pointless.

Sad indeed was the state of affairs within the AES in the years following the release of Amelia Earhart Survived. If the Bolamites weren’t busy launching vitriolic attacks and accusations of “intolerance” against non-believers, they were ignoring the most recent submissions in the ever-growing mountain of evidence laying waste to their claims. I experienced my own rude introduction to this “collegial” group in late 2002, when, before publication of With Our Own Eyes, I sent the forum its most important chapter, “More GIs Step Forward,” which presented the never-before-published accounts of two-dozen Saipan veterans that revealed the presence and deaths of Earhart and Noonan there prior to the 1944 invasion.

The wall of silence that greeted this important new evidence told me all I needed to know about the AES and its so-called search for the truth.” It was then that I realized any findings associated with Devine’s eyewitness account would be roundly rejected by this agenda-driven group, which, with few exceptions, is populated by non-contributing pretenders and aging cynics unwilling or incapable of adding anything of substance to their decades-hardened biases. During the 14 years since I freely shared the new chapter of eyewitnesses in an open spirit of cooperation, that opinion has been borne out in spades.

"Pat O'Brien, Wiliard Reineck (father of) and Maj. Rollin Reineck at Columbia Pictures Studios soon after WWII. Willard was an Assistant Director on over four dozen films; Rollin was 25 here."

On the last page of “The Last Chapter” booklet, Rollin Reineck brings out this treasure in an apparent attempt to lend credibility to his Irene Bolam fantasies. The cutline reads, “Pat O’Brien, Willard Reineck (father of) and Maj. Rollin Reineck at Columbia Pictures Studios soon after WWII. Willard was an Assistant Director on over four dozen films; Rollin was 25 here.”

Soon after Reineck’s posting of his Chapter 13 on the AES forum in late February 2005, Alex Mandel wrote a rebuttal of the latest despicable allegations laid at Earhart’s feet. Mandel called it, Amelia Earhart’s Survival and Repatriation: Myth or Reality? and it later became known as The Atchison Report, the most comprehensive deconstruction of the IB theory extant.  Mandel’s paper, nine single-spaced pages of unassailable logic, was met with abject silence on the forum, a certain indication of its efficacy. From the first rumblings of the IB theory’s baneful resuscitation in early 2002, to its unfortunate materialization in Survived, Mandel, trained in rigorous scientific logic, untiringly and enthusiastically deconstructed the steady stream of irrational Bolamite claims.  More than anyone in the AES, Mandel did the hard things necessary to keep the IB myth in its proper perspective, inspiring others, who, while not in sympathy with the Bolamite faith, lacked the will or resources to confront it directly.

In addition to the The Atchison ReportMandel’s other contributions to Earhart research include  “Amelia Earhart: Unusual Celebrity,” a meticulous day-by-day timeline of Earhart’s activities from mid-1928 through May 1937, which Mandel composed in 2006 by drawing upon his near-encyclopedic knowledge of Earhart biographical literature; and his 2004 essay, “Amelia Earhart: The Mystery of the Queen of the Air: Dispelling the Myths.” Throughout the protracted conflict fueled by the Bolamite ascension, Mandel, who speaks and writes English as a third language, continued to tread the ethical high ground he has held since joining the AES in 2002, always respecting his ideological opponents despite constant provocations and frequent insults. He also retained a wry sense of humor, as this message to Reineck suggests:

You wrote, “Some researchers believe that Amelia entered the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston sometime in late July and gave birth to a daughter which she subsequently turned over to Denison House for foster care.” Dear Rollin, generally – please why are you using at all this unclear and a bit foggy formula. “Some researchers believe” – as it is pretty well known that it is Tod Swindell’s theory, that Tod presented to the Forum several times? About the theory itself – sorry, but am forced to repeat that it is purely artificial invention, created specially for to “support” in some way the IB theory. Please see above for argumentation.

  … Mainly, as I can see, this theory is supported now rather by the ‘power of faith’ of the people who are reluctant to abandon this belief, against many already presented arguments conclusively showing that it is baseless.

At Amelia Earhart Airport, Atchison, Kansas, in July 2004, Alex Mandel, Ph.D., stands near the 1935 Lockheed Electra 10E piloted by Linda Finch during her “World Flight ’97,” in which she successfully retraced Earhart’s ill-fated final flight. A leading light in the Earhart community since 2002, Mandel’s significant contributions to Earhart research include The Atchison Report “The Atchison Report,” a complete debunking of the Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth; “Amelia Earhart: Unusual Celebrity,” a virtual day-by-day timeline of Earhart’s activities from mid-1928 through May 1937; and “Amelia Earhart: The Mystery of the Queen of the Air: Dispelling the Myths.” (Photo courtesy of Michele Cervone.)

At Amelia Earhart Airport, Atchison, Kansas, in July 2004, Alex Mandel, Ph.D., stands near the 1935 Lockheed Electra 10E piloted by Linda Finch during her “World Flight ’97,” in which she successfully retraced Earhart’s ill-fated final flight. A leading light in the Earhart community since 2002, Mandel’s significant contributions to Earhart research include The Atchison Report, a complete debunking of the Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth; “Amelia Earhart: Unusual Celebrity,” a virtual day-by-day timeline of Earhart’s activities from mid-1928 through May 1937; and “Amelia Earhart: The Mystery of the Queen of the Air: Dispelling the Myths.” (Photo courtesy of Michele Cervone.)

Mandel’s thorough dismantling of Chapter 13″ was ignored by IB partisans on the forum, nor could a single expression of agreement or support be heard, which also wasn’t surprising. For the most part, I had been observing the spectacle silently, in near-helpless wonderment at the return of this long-slain monster from the pit of obsolescence, while privately praising and encouraging Mandel in his yeoman efforts. But Mandel’s devastating critique and the stony silence that greeted it inspired me to go on the record on his behalf in this March 3, 2005 message:

Rollin, Alex and Forum members,

The silence on the forum following the introduction of Rollin’s Chapter 13″ and Alex’s lengthy rebuttal is deafening. With so much material to discuss, I wonder why this could be? Is the polarizing nature of this issue such that some are compelled to hesitate in expressing their thoughts because they may offend one or the other parties, who have staked out such dichotomous positions?  We’ve all been watching this circus for several years – most, like me, mainly from the sidelines – as the AE as IB idea rose from the ashes to dominate the forum.   Nature abhors a vacuum, so I’ll jump in now since no one else will.

In contrast to the tiny, parochial and extremely politicized atmosphere of the AES forum where the IB/AE theory has been resurrected and enjoys a thriving existence, acceptance in the “real world,” which after all is the goal of the Bolamites (to use a clever AES researcher’s term), has not proceeded apace. Indeed, another deafening silence has intruded itself into our awareness – that of the media and the reading public in the year following publication of Amelia Earhart Survived.  (Full disclosure time: The book I co-authored with Mr. Thomas E. Devine, With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, hasn’t made too much noise or sold many copies either, but it has received several excellent reviews and is the partial basis for Rich Martini’s movie in the works – “EARHART.”)

The abject failure of Amelia Earhart Survived to impress or move anyone in the literary marketplace is compelling evidence of the academic and intellectual bankruptcy of its propositions. Although the ideas it presents have been consistently and convincingly debunked within our closed society by Alex Mandel and Ron Bright, their dedicated and protracted efforts weren’t necessary to condemn this book to obscurity in the real world, where it failed miserably due to its own lack of any redeeming merit.

There is no light in the IB theory, which to those who love and can discern truth, is an extremely revealing attribute that identifies and marks it as blatantly false in virtually all its claims.  Dark and ugly in its vile allegations against a defenseless Amelia Earhart, the IB theory, if its proponents had their way, would forever stain and besmirch the Earhart legacy to the point that her name would become a national embarrassment and an international joke.  If the Bolamites are to be believed, AE is guilty of so many amoral and treacherous acts that her infamy would rank her among the most sociopathic personalities of the 20th century.  Are we to believe this is what the “best evidence available” has to tell us? Please. (To Fred Goerner and Thomas E. Devine, not to mention AE herself: Don’t bother to roll over in your graves. It will never get that bad.)

Longtime researcher Ron Bright, of Bremerton, Wash.,

Longtime Earhart researcher and retired Office of Naval Intelligence agent Ron Bright, of Bremerton, Wash., along with the late attorney Patrick Gaston, of Overland Park, Kansas, located the 1971 defamation lawsuit filed by Irene Bolam against McGraw-Hill, publishers of Joe Klaas’ Amelia Earhart Lives, requesting $1,500,000 in actual and punitive damages.

The absurd and ridiculous speculation they engage in – which has been granted currency by many within the forum – defies credulity. Ironically, despite the grave serial depravity the book falsely accuses AE of engaging in, Amelia Earhart Survived was doomed from the start by its own sheer weightlessness.  Like its creators and adherents, who grasp at every wispy straw to support their delusions but refuse to recognize, admit or correct even their most obvious, egregious errors as they build their house of cards, “AE Survived” is an utterly unserious book, a parody of academic inquiry, laughable in its pretentiousness and pathetic in its presentation. 

Alex Mandel’s comprehensive and erudite rebuttal of Rollin’s “Chapter 13” is a clear reflection of his ongoing passion, attention to detail and unselfish willingness to do the hard things necessary to produce true research and oversight based on established biographical and historical facts, irrespective of the outcome.  Alex is also a serious, highly respected academician with a Ph.D. in physics (a rigorous science with little or no tolerance for speculation), an author of several Russian books about the U.S. Navy, and a longtime Earhart devotee and bibliophile with no horse in this race. His ideological opponents will downplay and deprecate his achievements while extolling their own, but along with Ron Bright, Alex has been a beacon of reason and light who performs an invaluable service for all in the AES forum who are solely interested in searching for and discovering the truth about the fate of AE. The success of that search, by necessity, also means the abandonment of falsehoods, regardless of who is perpetrating them – or how long they may have been engaged in such counterproductive pursuits.

Of course this letter, like Mandel’s extensive trashing of the latest IB cant, also fell on deaf ears. Soon the relentless Bolamite gibberish resumed, utterly impervious to reason. Any random scan of message traffic on the forum during virtually any period between late 2002 through 2005 would likely reveal a sampling of the anti-intellectual, invective-laden discourse that was common fare in the AES during the height of the Bolamite incursion. Since the group site is accessible only to AES members, it’s not possible for most readers to see these shabby missives; however, though apparently no longer available, in early 2007 three pages of the most refined sophistry yet spun in support of the Bolamite movement was available to the public on John Stossel’s Message Boards at ABCNews.com, under the heading, “New controversial material sparks more Earhart interest.”

The “controversial material,” of course, was the IB theory, and its main expositor was Reineck’s associate and technical advisor, Tod Swindell. On June 14, 2005, Swindell posted a message regarding the Joe Gervais Memorial Dinner that several AES members, including Prymak, were planning for Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas on June 25.  Swindell ridiculed the event, and called it a “mock lionizing tribute” to Gervais, because some of those in attendance, notably Prymak, did not embrace the IB theory, despite the fact that it was solely Gervais’ creation and Prymak was a close friend of Gervais. 

For Prymak, Swindell’s characterization of the memorial dinner for his longtime amigo was reportedly the last straw, though five full months would elapse before he sent his official notice of resignation to the AES forum. In his letter, Prymak called Swindell’s remark “truly shameful and disgraceful,” and reminded Reineck and the Bolamites that the Amelia Earhart Society name was his creation and remained his property.

In my next post, we’ll continue our Irene Bolam retrospective and delve more deeply into the rotten core of this absurd canard, and pile plenty more facts on the growing heap of evidence that leaves no doubt as to its falsehood.  I’ll also present some of the most humorous missives ever penned about the Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart fantasy. Be sure to tune in!

Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV

(Editor’s note: In early 2007 I wrote  Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society,” conceived as an additional chapter for the second edition of  With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart. When the revised edition’s publication was cancelled, I began work on an entirely new book, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, though its original title was The Earhart Deception. The Bolam chapter never quite fit in a work that was entirely focused on establishing the Marshall Islands-Saipan truth in the Earhart case, but I’ve finally dusted off one man’s chronicle of the internal unrest that bedeviled the Amelia Earhart Society in the years between 2002 and 2006, effectively ending its existence as a viable entity — if it ever was such. Today I present part one of Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society.”  Your comments are welcome.)

“What is the hardest task in the world? To think.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Amelia Earhart Society of researchers was launched in 1989 by longtime Earhart devotee Bill Prymak in his Bloomfield, Colorado study, to “seek the truth regarding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart,” according to Prymak. Its original members numbered less than 20, but included some of the leading lights in the Earhart community: Joe Gervais, still considered the greatest Earhart researcher by a few misguided souls, who passed away in January 2005; Joe Klaas, Gervais’ close friend and author of the 1970 book, Amelia Earhart Lives: A Trip Through Intrigue to Find America’s First Lady of Mystery, still with us in his 90s; the late Rollin Reineck, retired Air Force colonel and navigator who served on Saipan shortly after the 1944 invasion; and Ron Reuther, who founded the Oakland (California) Aviation Museum in 1981, directed the San Francisco Zoo from 1966 to 1973 and died within a few weeks of Reineck in 2007.

For many years, thanks to his networking skills and Earhart expertise, Prymak collected, gathered, evaluated and disseminated an impressive volume of information in an entertaining and enlightening format to the AES membership. Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, which he diligently compiled and mailed every few months from December 1989 to March 2000, are extraordinary in their variety and wealth of content – true collectors items that will never be duplicated.

AES Cover

Prymak ceased writing the newsletters shortly before the Yahoo! Earhart Group forum went online on August 9, 2000, and though this enhanced communications among the widely scattered membership, his newsletters were sorely missed and often requested. In 2003, bowing to the demands of new AES members clamoring for the unique information contained in the old newsletters, Prymak recompiled the entire collection into two nicely bound volumes titled, “An Assemblage of Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters,” and offered them at basic cost to AES members only, which makes the two-volume set a rare commodity.

The AES, which never had a strong public presence due to the many different beliefs of its members, is now virtually invisible and of infinitely less consequence than the largely forgotten American icon whose true fate the organization was chartered to discover. With the exception of the annual Amelia Earhart Festival at her Atchison, Kansas, birthplace, where AES members have occasionally made statements or presented books, the group’s public profile has been nonexistent.  

But within the closed confines of this international group of about 75 Earhart aficionados, the years between 2002 and 2006 were anything but uneventful. In fact, the re-emergence of the most preposterous notion ever conceived about the fate of Amelia Earhart, and the bitter internecine conflict that ensued, reduced the AES to little more than a shadowy parody of its former self.

The source of contention was Rollin Reineck’s 2003 book, Amelia Earhart Survived. Incredibly, what Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais had strongly suggested in Amelia Earhart Lives, pulled from circulation 33 years earlier – that Amelia Earhart, having been held captive by the Japanese since July 1937, had returned to the United States sometime after World War II and assumed the identity of a New Jersey woman named Irene Bolam – Kailua, Hawaii’s Reineck stated as unequivocal fact. “An objective look at all the evidence seemed to point to the one conclusion that Major Joe Gervais had been right, Irene Bolam was in fact Amelia Earhart,” Reineck wrote in Survived. Reineck’s problem, never acknowledged by neither he nor his supporters, was that nobody has ever provided the slighted shred of credible evidence to support this fantastic claim.

The book that started it all: Amelia Earhart Lives: A Trip Through Intrigue to Find America's First Lady of Mystery

The book that started it all: Amelia Earhart Lives: A Trip Through Intrigue to Find America’s First Lady of Mystery, by Joe Klaas, published by McGraw-Hill in 1970.

The intellectual bankruptcy of the Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam theory (henceforth the “IB theory”) did not dampen the enthusiasm of its devotees.  Although few in number, these true believers loved to preach their gospel at every opportunity, and were equally willing to heap all manner of invective upon those with the temerity to question their false doxies.  This hostility toward non-believers is characteristic of behavior commonly found in religious cults, so it wasn’t surprising that the IB zealots within the AES came to be known as Bolamites by their non-subscribing brethren, and as its biblical tone suggests, the term was not one of endearment.

The Bolamites’ dogmatic insistence upon the reality of the Earhart-as-Bolam fiction violently conflicted with the inconvenient fact that none of the theory’s wobbly underpinnings could stand up to even the slightest scrutiny, and ignited the explosions that drove some longtime members over the edge and out of the AES, some permanently.  Bill Prymak was among them, and though the organization had lost its moorings long before Prymak decided to leave, his departure was a milestone that marked finis to the AES as a viable entity.

As conspiracy theories rank, Amelia Earhart as Irene Bolam stands among the all-time whoppers, calling its supporters to extremes of credulousness that make the tenets of the Flat Earth Society seem reasonable. As a book, Amelia Earhart Survived was a resounding failure – a nonselling, badly written, poorly edited presentation of a slanderous series of allegations against one of the greatest American women of the 20th century. This may seem harsh, but how else should we characterize the charge, made of whole cloth, that Amelia Earhart, well known for her loyalty and integrity, would forsake her husband, mother, family, friends and country, as well as her own past, to assume the identity of another woman for a reason that remains unknown?

To credit this idea as even remotely possible boggles the rational mind. Consider the logistical and security nightmare of returning Earhart to the United States from either Japan or China, depending on the myth’s latest iteration, and all that would entail. Once in the states, establishing her new identity, home, job and circle of friends would have required a conspiracy of hundreds, if not more, sworn to eternal secrecy – an oath no one has yet violated.

AE Survived Cover

Unlike most fables handed down from murky, indistinct origins in the distant past, the IB theory can trace its lineage to one specific event in fairly recent times. Had Joe Gervais not been in East Hampton, Long Island on August 8, 1965, he would not have met Irene Bolam at the Sea Spray Inn, and Earhart researchers would have been spared the onerous task of attempting to undo the grave mistake Gervais made that day.  But Gervais, who had been invited to address several hundred members of the Early Fliers Club, saw Bolam wearing what he mistakenly thought was a Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon and miniature major’s oak leaf (which Gervais erroneously believed was presented to Earhart), and became so sure Irene Bolam was Amelia Earhart that two years later he wrote Bolam a letter begging her to prove she was not the lost aviatrix.  

Bolam’s written denial to Gervais and Klaas, “I am not she,” was apparently too short and unassertive to convince them of her veracity. For the record, Irene Craigmile Bolam (October 1, 1904 – July 7, 1982) was a New York banker and resident of Monroe Township, Middlesex County, New Jersey, no more, no less, but this prosaic fact seemed always to evade the Earhart-addled Gervais, who never accepted it, at least publicly. 

Thus the Earhart-as-Bolam heresy was born, and persists, like a mutating virus, to this day, though currently it seems relatively dormant. In fact, the countless transformations the IB theory has undergone since the day Joe Gervais met Irene Bolam are its only constants – other than its pure whimsy – as its proponents have been forced to fabricate new and ever more bizarre scenarios to explain the unending contradictions and overwhelming illogic of their theory.

Shortly after publication of Amelia Earhart Lives in 1970, Irene Bolam held a well-attended but brief news conference in which she spoke only a few sentences, although these were most emphatic, according to observers. Holding an upside-down copy of the source of her consternation, she labeled it a “cruel hoax,” slammed the book on a table and roared, “I AM NOT AMELIA EARHART!” and left the room.  Seven weeks later, McGraw-Hill ceased sales of Amelia Earhart Lives and pulled it from shelves nationwide; no official explanation was ever given.

This is the famous Sea Spray Inn photo of Irene Bolam, with her husband John, that launched the 1970 book "Amelia Earhart Lives," by Joe Klaas, and created a sensation among so many who actually believed the ridiculous claim that Amelia Earhart had returned to the United States as Irene Bolam.

This is the famous 1965 Sea Spray Inn photo of Irene Bolam, with her husband John, that launched the infamous Amelia Earhart Lives and created a sensation among so many who actually believed the ridiculous claim that Amelia Earhart had returned to the United States as Irene Bolam. (Photo courtesy Joe Klaas.)

On May 26, 1971, Irene Bolam and attorney Benedict Ginsberg filed suit against McGraw-Hill, Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais for defamation. The suit quoted extensively from Amelia Earhart Lives, saying it was false and defamatory, and requested $500,000 in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages. Researchers Ron Bright and Patrick Gaston traced the official record of the lawsuit to the New York County Courthouse in New York City.   TIGHAR’s Richard Gillespie visited the courthouse, copied the file and posted a brief synopsis of the suit’s highlights on TIGHAR’s public Website on February 15, 2004.  Gillespie’s review of Bolam v. McGraw-Hill was among the final entries of what he then titled “An Ongoing Discussion with Col. Reineck,” an online exchange of e-mail messages between Reineck and Gillespie “in the interest of open-minded consideration of all theories regarding the fate of Amelia Earhart.”

Gillespie, of course, has his own erroneous ideas, but he was well prepared, evidence in hand, to systematically expose the falsehoods Reineck championed in Survived. Though it was difficult to muster any sympathy for Reineck and his scandalous ideas about Earhart, the ease with which Gillespie skewered and surely embarrassed him during this spectacle was almost painful to watch. Shortly after Reineck’s last entry, in which he complained that Gillespie had “invalidated our agreement by making statements in the form of questions reflecting pre-conceived answers,” Gillespie focused on Reineck’s patently false statement in Survived that Bolam had dropped her lawsuit when asked to produce her fingerprints by the judge. Gillespie asked Reineck if he knew the case file was available to anyone, implying that Reineck had not even read it, and then proceeded to review the court’s ruling in the suit – that there were “triable issues” in the case – which was later upheld by the appellate court on May 4, 1976. At that point the file ends.

“There is nothing about a settlement offer, nothing about ordering fingerprints, nothing about Bolam dropping the case,” Ron Bright told me in a September 2006 e-mail.  “The file ends there, but obviously there was some kind of out-of-court settlement. And I believe IB was awarded a substantial amount. Probably sealed. No one really knows how much she got. Irene Bolam, the sister-in-law [a different Irene Bolam], thinks it was substantial.”  Gillespie said much the same thing, and told Reineck, “It’s fine to repeat your friends’ stories but don’t present them as fact without checking them for accuracy first.” Reineck had no response for Gillespie, as he had disappeared from the discussion.

In a Nov. 10, 1970 press conference in New York, an irate Mrs. Irene Bolan, holding an upside-down copy of Amelia Earhart Lives, vehemently declares, "I am NOT Amelia Earhart!"

In a Nov. 10, 1970 press conference in New York, an irate Mrs. Irene Bolam, holding an upside-down copy of Amelia Earhart Lives, vehemently declares, “I am NOT Amelia Earhart!”

Curious to learn if Reineck had finally accepted the inescapable reality that his fingerprint claim had been exposed as yet another Bolamite myth, I asked him about it in October 2006. His response was unsurprising. “What I say on page 180 is basically and fundamentally accurate,” Reineck told me in an e-mail. “Mrs. Bolam dropped the legal suit and settled out of court when she became aware that she would be required to submit her fingerprints.  In other words she was not willing to go ahead with the suit so it was dismissed.  There are no inaccuracies in my book.”  (Italics mine.)

So, which is it? Was Bolam’s lawsuit settled out court, or dismissed? Reineck, the author and expert, flatly states that his book contains no errors, but can’t seem to elucidate the correct answer to the most basic of questions about the outcome of Bolam versus McGraw-Hill. This incoherence typified the disorder inherent in the IB theory. Contrary to Reineck’s assertions, his entire disquisition comprised one falsehood after another – none more egregious than his reaffirmation of Gervais’ infamous blunder in mistaking Irene Bolam for Amelia Earhart in 1965, the hollow foundation upon which the entire fantasy is built.

In the final chapter of Survived, Reineck unveiled his coup de grace, “forensic science methodology” by way of “transparent photographic overlays” – high-tech sleight-of-hand designed to convince the suggestible that Earhart and the “Gervais Irene” i.e., the Irene Bolam that Gervais met at the Sea Spray Inn, were identical. Reineck then introduced Tod Swindell, his photo technician, whose “tireless efforts have successfully produced outstanding results that are acceptable to the scientific community as proof that Irene Bolam and Amelia Earhart were the same person.” Reineck continued his campaign by invoking the imprimaturs of forensic anthropologists Walker H. Birkby and Todd W. Fenton, who, said Reineck, had evaluated Swindell’s photo overlays, and found it “hard to disagree” with his astounding conclusion: “The case of the missing person Amelia Earhart, surely has been solved by virtue of forensic science,” Reineck wrote.

At this point, readers seeking visual confirmation of the Earhart-Bolam confluence were greatly disappointed, as no trace of these revealing photo overlays could be found in Survived.  But even cursory inspection of the many photos of Bolam and Earhart on display in the book leaves no doubt that these were  two distinct individuals bearing little resemblance to one another. As for high-tech imagery, Reineck actually presented only a police forensic artist’s imaginary, computer-generated portrait of a seventy-five-year-old Earhart displayed side-by-side with a similarly aged Bolam, leaving us with the same verdict: not even close.

Joe Gervais, left, and Rolling Reineck, circa mid-1990s, overlooking Honolulu, Hawaii. Still esteemed by some as the greatest of Earhart researchers, Gervais can count among his contributions the vile and false Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart theory, which his friend Reineck unsuccessfully tried to reprise in his 2003 book, Amelia Earhart Survived.

Joe Gervais, left, and Rollin Reineck, circa mid-1990s, overlooking Honolulu, Hawaii. Still esteemed by some as the greatest of Earhart researchers, Gervais’ legacy includes many false claims, including the vile Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart theory, which his friend Reineck unsuccessfully tried to reprise in his 2003 book, Amelia Earhart Survived.

The unconvincing photos spoke for themselves, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Not so the pesky reality soon brought to bear on the colonel’s claims of professional validation for his overlays, when Gillespie, in the final stanza of their online discussion, announced he had cornered Doctor Birkby at a February 2004 forensics association meeting in Dallas. Birkby told Gillespie he wasn’t aware that his name was being invoked to bolster Reineck’s contentions; moreover, Birkby said he wasn’t even familiar with Reineck’s book. “You can’t prove anything from photos,” Gillespie said Birkby told him. “He showed us a bunch of overlays but the photo quality is so poor and they’ve been blown way up – you can almost make anybody look like anybody.”

“Once again, Col. Reineck, the facts appear to be very different from the information presented in your book,” Gillespie told the long-departed colonel in concluding their one-sided conversation. “It’s one thing to present folklore as fact, but falsifying the endorsement of respected professionals is serious business.”

Eighteen months after Survived was published, Birkby and Fenton reportedly issued their report on Swindell’s photo overlays of Earhart and Bolam. Reineck, who had assured AES members he would produce the document in its entirety, never did so, but in May 2005, he acknowledged that the forensic specialists had refused to confirm, officially or unofficially, that any exact similarities exist between photographs of Amelia Earhart and Irene Bolam. It was the only time Reineck would make such an admission, and he soon returned to insisting that Earhart and Bolam were the same person. But it wasn’t only Reineck who remained steadfast in his Bolamite faith when confronted by clinical rulings against its heresies, and despite productive research efforts that further revealed the IB theory’s fraudulence, newly energized and ever-more-devout IB zealots were seeking and gaining admission into this once-respected group of researchers.

In late November 2006, the National Geographic Channel dragged out the Bolam theory as a segment in its Undercover History series, a program simply dubbed Amelia Earhart,  which its producers likely believed would be a ratings grabber. After Reineck and Joe Klaas completed their on-camera bloviations, National Geographic presented detective and criminal forensic expert Kevin Richlin, of the Sunnyvale, California Police Department. Richlin, needless to say, doesn’t play in the same high-end league as Doctors Birkby and Fenton, but National Geographic’s budget allotment for forensic specialists may have been more limited than Reineck’s. Salaries notwithstanding, the street-smart Richlin eviscerated the Bolamite deception far more effectively than the doctors had apparently done, and Richland’s report was available to the public, not stashed way in their private office in Hawaii.   

Amelia Earhart in 1935, and Irene Bolam in 1970. How could anyone believe these two were the same woman?

Amelia Earhart in 1935, and Irene Bolam in 1970. As incredible as it may seem, many believed these two were the same woman, and it’s quite possible that some still do.

“In comparing Bolam and Earhart there are numerous differences,” Richlin began.  “The age line on Earhart starts at her nose, proceeds down past the edge of her mouth, and there is a second groove that goes from her mouth down. In Bolam, the age line starts at the nose, but only goes down part way, and stops well short of the edge of her mouth, and there is no second groove.” Richlin went on to show how Earhart has a mole and freckles, whereas Bolam has no mole and no freckles. “Furthermore, their eyebrows are different, their noses are different, and their mouths are different,” he continued, illustrating these distinctions by using a pointer to trace them in the comparison photos. “These are two different people,” Richlin stated emphatically, and completed his brief by saying that if someone came to him with these photos and said they were the same person, “They should find work elsewhere, as this is not where their talents lay.”

“They built the Bolamite stuff up like a straw man, and then cut it down at the very ankles,” said Rob Ellos, whose passionate embrace of the truth presented by Thomas E. Devine, Robert E. Wallack and Earskin J. Nabers earned him an invitation to speak at the annual Midwest Regional Conference of the Ninety-Nines in Duluth, Minnesota, in the fall of 2007.  The group later withdrew their offer, citing internal administrative problems, but in early March 2007, Ellos filled a 30-minute, late-night segment on the number one talk-radio station in the Twin Cities with the facts about Earhart’s presence on Saipan, much to the chagrin of the program’s cynical host, who couldn’t accept the idea that the American or Japanese governments would ever withhold this information from their people.

Speaking of reviews, in contrast to what normally could be expected after the home team suffers a severe thrashing, the mood on the AES forum was decidedly upbeat in the days following the National Geographic Channel’s dismantling of the IB theory. Anyone familiar with Bolamite behavior, however, would have been surprised by anything other than the barely controlled glee punctuating the online message traffic. Indeed, for the Bolamites, inclusion of their ideas in a legitimate venue such as the National Geographic Channel, alongside those of approved “mainstream” theorists such as Elgen Long and Richard Gillespie, was a stupendous achievement. In the deluded minds of the Bolamites, it marked their de facto resurrection from the ashes of the McGraw-Hill settlement debacle three decades earlier. Most importantly, this attention from the heretofore esteemed National Geographic Channel filled the Bolamites’ deepest need – it gave them validation.

The fact that their manifesto was exposed as rubbish was merely an insignificant detail. In typical happy talk a day after the program’s premiere, Reineck told one well-wisher, “It was a good show. They presented both sides of the theory.”  Several showings of the Earhart special were scheduled in the weeks following its November 29, 2006 debut, and even more potential converts and recruits would be exposed to the Bolamite delusions. The program continues to be aired periodically.

In Part II of “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society,” we’ll look at some of the most incredible contortions of logic and fact imaginable as the Bolamites build the IB myth into a full-blown travesty, one that dragged many otherwise intelligent people into the Bolamites’ bottomless swamp of delusion.

Bill Prymak analyzes Earhart-as-spy theories

To anyone familiar with this blog, the late Bill Prymak needs no introduction. Prymak the founder and first president of the Amelia Earhart Society (AES) was a great researcher and good friend whose significant contributions to the repository of Earhart knowledge continue to resonate.

For those new to this blog, this page of posts will give you an idea about Prymak’s legacy, which included three trips to the Marshall Islands, where he interviewed Bilimon Amaron in 1989 and found a previously unknown witness on Enajet Island, Joro, whose knowledge of the July 1937 landing of Amelia Earhart and Electra NR 16020 off Barre Island was considerable.

As one might imagine, Prymak had some very definite opinions about what happened to Amelia Earhart, and he wasn’t shy about airing them when asked. Today I present a previously unpublished commentary, from February 2011, in which he looks at perhaps the most popular of the so-called “conspiracy theories” that have attached themselves to the Earhart phenomena. The opinions expressed in the following essay are not necessarily those of this blog’s owner, but they do make sense. 

Bill Prymak, a veteran pilot with more than 6,500 hours in private aircraft since 1960, studied the messages for years before presenting his conclusions in his December 1993 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter analysis, titled Radio Logs - Earhart/ITASCA."

The late Bill Prymak, founder of the Amelia Earhart Society, was a veteran pilot with more than 6,500 hours in private aircraft since 1960.

“A DISSECTION OF EARHART SPY THEORIES”
By Bill Prymak

I wish to put to rest the following spy theories that have been circulating around for so many years, to wit:

  • Was she on a spy mission?
  • What did the government want her to do?
  • Was there a second Electra involved in her around-the-world flight?
  • Was the engine changed at Bandoeng?

(To save space, I will hereafter call U.S. government intelligence “GI.”)

The Spy Mission

Did GI put surveillance cameras on board, in violation of her granted permission to fly over 14 countries if she possessed no cameras other than a hand-held?

If GI did install cameras, where? There are only six inches between the floorboards and the belly skin. No surveillance cameras circa 1937 existed to fit those dimensions. Besides, a camera-control panel would of necessity be in the cockpit or on Fred’s table — pretty obvious to customs or mechanics working the aircraft.

So what could she photograph on her 1,800-mile-flight Hawaii to Howland??  The nearest Japanese Mandated island, Mili Atoll, was 2,250 miles direct Hawaii to Mili, then another 800 miles back to Howland for her necessary landing there.  Mili Atoll in 1937 had no military fortifications to photograph, and, in that time period, only Jaluit Atoll, some 100 more miles farther away, had something for the camera– the seaplane base at Emidj. 

Kwajalein, 250 even miles farther, could not be considered in range for her aircraft. I have hydrographic maps of Mili and Majuro entitled SKETCH SURVEY FROM THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT CHART of 1928 — plenty of details, non-military of course, and certainly available to GI. This was much more detailed than what any aerial photos would show. 

Another popular theory making the rounds: GI orders her to “get lost so U.S. planes can scour the area, including the Japanese Mandates, for much-needed intelligence information.”  But everybody believing this loses sight of the fact that this order is a virtual death warrant! In the vast Pacific Ocean, there is very rarely a Captain Sully-Hudson River dead-calm water landing available, and no beaches, no flat, open land areas anywhere in range.  Pacific open waters are nearly always rough, too rough for a safe airplane landing.

This section of the "Sketch Survey" of Mili Atoll taken from U.S. and Japanese charts focuses on the northwest quadrant of Mili Atoll, where Barre Island is clearly noted. Witnesses saw the Electra come down off Barre, and Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were seen embarking the Electra and seeking shelter in the tiny Endriken Islands just off Barre, where the current search in ongoing.

This section of the “Sketch Survey” of Mili Atoll taken from U.S. and Japanese charts focuses on the northwest quadrant of Mili Atoll, where Barre Island is clearly noted. Witnesses saw the Electra come down off Barre, and Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were seen disembarking the Electra and seeking shelter in the tiny Endriken Islands just off Barre, where the current search in ongoing.

(Editor’s note: Chesley BurnettSullySullenberger III, 63, is a retired airline captain and aviation safety consultant. He was hailed as a national hero in the United States when he successfully executed an emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River off Manhattan, N.Y., after the aircraft was disabled by striking a flock of Canadian Geese during its initial climb out of LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009. All 155 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft survived.)

Would Fred Noonan, Harry Manning and Amelia approve of such a PLAN? Would [her husband] George [Putnam] and Mother [Amy Otis] Earhart approve?

We can’t compare Capt. Sully to Amelia. He was fresh, beginning a new day, highly skilled while Amelia was some 18-plus hours  in the air and dog tired — not a good candidate for a much-needed precision water landing, if they could find some flat water. I personally have compelling evidence of where she did land, but that issue is not within the province of this report.

And if the GI plan was to get her “lost” and scour the area with U.S. search planes, why wasn’t the USS Lexington deployed earlier to Hawaii instead of laying in shore leave mode on the west coast?

Outside of the usual request to international pilots to LRR — LOOK, RECORD, REPORT — not considered spying,  I see no merit or need for AE being on a spy mission, and I will prove it in the next segment.

The Hawaii Crash 

This event has engendered more hype, speculation and fantasy tales than any other aviation mystery.  Let’s for the moment assume that she really was on a spy mission, totally planned and controlled by GI. First scenario: She gets to the airport on March 20, ready to go, when she receives a phone call from GI: ABORT, RENDER AIRCRAFT INOPERABLE.  She is furious and shouts over the phone, “This is crazy!! We’ve planned this trip for months, have cached thousands of gallons fuel all over the world with spare parts, and now you tell me not to go?”

Amelia Earhart's Electra 10E, March 20, 1037, following her near disastrous ground loop that sent the plane back to the Lockheed plant in Burbank for months of costly repairs,

Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E on March 20, 1037, following her near disastrous ground loop that sent the plane back to the Lockheed plant in Burbank for months of costly repairs.

Bottom line: Obey orders, tell the press that the flight crew is unfit or the aircraft un-airworthy. She certainly would not have fired up the engines.

Second scenario: She fires up the engines, and while taxiing for takeoff, receives the same order to abort.  So she ground loops the aircraft, rendering it un-airworthy.  So much easier (and safer!) to run a wingtip into a truck, run a wheel into a ditch, or a dozen safe ways to inop [sic] the aircraft. 

The above scenarios never happened. What proves this is the fact that both Amelia and George, after the crash, scratched, clawed, begged and borrowed the $30,000 to pay the repair bill. These efforts are well chronicled in various research books (see Elgen Long’s book, Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved, for details of their efforts.)

If this was a spy mission, George Putnam, ever the astute businessman, would have written to GI, stating, “It was your order to abort, causing the crash. Bill from Lockheed herewith attached. Please take care of it.”

What really happened is what Harry Manning stated: ”SHE SIMPLY JOCKEYED THE THROTTLES AND LOST IT.” A bad day like this happens to every good pilot once or twice in his/her lifetime.  Happened to me once. Amelia Earhart was destined to have two bad days.

In conclusion I must add my personal experiences with Art Kennedy. I spent a week with him in Portugal, in 1992, he telling stories about his experiences in the aviation world.  Art showed me test cell papers proving that AE had more than six hours reserve when she called near Howland — six hours plus if the engines were flown properly.

Amelia Earhart with Harry Manning (center) and Fred Noonan, in Hawaii just before the Luke Field crash that sent Manning back to England and left Noonan as the sole navigator for the world flight.

Amelia Earhart with Harry Manning (center) and Fred Noonan, in Hawaii just before the Luke Field crash that sent Manning back to England and left Noonan as the sole navigator for the world flight.

Art was a lonely man, and privately admitted that his manuscript, given to JoAnn Ridley (a sweet lady who died last year [2010], and who knew nothing about aviation) was rife with bursts of imaginative stories, all to be included in their book [High Times: Keeping ’em Flying, 1992] to boost his recognition and sell copy. Some of his imaginative tidbits that ran wild:

1. Amelia suggested to him that she was on a spy mission

2. He helped Amelia adjust the broken landing gear before the CAA inspector arrived.

3. He stated that Lockheed engine installers Firman Grey & Carl Leipelt and a crew went to Bandoeng to install fresh engines. (See below.)

A Second Airplane Involved in the RTW Flight?

I can only state no such airplane ever existed, and I have absolute irrefutable photographic proof that ONLY ONE AIRCRAFT, NR 16020, was used for the entire flight.  Discussion on this issue ends right here.

The Infamous Engine Changes (How Silly Can You Get?)

First, AE arrived at Bandoeng with less than 120 hours on engines that were overhauled to new factory specs rather than service limits (Art told me this) — engines barely broken in and good for some 500 hours. Did some brain trust at GI feel these engines were inadequate for the Lae takeoff? Did they claim that [Pratt 7 Whitney] S1H1 engines with 12:1 blowers [an aircraft engine compression ratio] instead of the typical 10:1 blowers would reduce the risk, thus sending out the order to change engines?

A chronology of this entire circus act blows the claim apart, to wit:

1. AE was on American soil until June 1. It is quite apparent that GI would have wanted these engines installed on U.S. soil by American technicians. So decision date on new engines had to have been made after June 1.

2. Art stated that bigger blowers alone (for more horsepower) would be very difficult to install in the field because of the complex internal changes on the engines. Further, bigger blowers meant bigger cowlings.

3. Everything and everybody had to be in Bandoeng by the third week of June, her estimated time of arrival. Those big engine crates could not fit and be carried in any known air carrier of the day, so they had  to be shipped by tramp steamer. Pratt & Whitney engines from Hartford factory to Boston, catch a freighter to Lisbon, then through the Suez Canal, on to Singapore, then by mule or truck to Bandoeng. Run a time frame on the above and you see it is impossible to meet the schedule. And when and how did the new cowlings from Lockheed (West Coast) arrive at Bandoeng?

Art Kennedy, Alverca, Portugal, circa 1991. According to Bill Prymak, who knew him well, Kennedy fabricated stories about what Amelia Earhart told him after she crashed the Electra on takeoff from Luke Field in March 1937. These tales from Kennedy have been cited by some as strong evidence that Amelia was ordered to ground loop her plane, change directions of her world flight and even embark on a spy mission.

Art Kennedy, Alverca, Portugal, circa 1991. According to Bill Prymak, who knew him fairly well, Kennedy fabricated stories about conversations he had with Amelia Earhart after she crashed the Electra on takeoff from Luke Field in March 1937.  Kennedy’s statements have been cited by some as strong evidence that Amelia was ordered to ground loop her plane, change directions of her world flight and even embark on a spy mission for the U.S. government.

4. To clinch the fantasy, my very good friend Dave Kenyon, now living in Eugene Oregon, worked on her repair  at the Lockheed factory, and ultimately rose to rank of vice-president of engineering. We spent many pleasant evening discussing Earhart and her final voyage, and every time the engine-change story came up, he made the same statement: “[Carl] Leipelt and Firman [Gray] could never have left for such a lengthy time as they were the only ones at Lockheed who installed, fine tuned and signed off on the engines coming off the production line. I believe they were the only ones with CAA certification to do this.”  Ed Cooper and Art Kennedy certainly would have been called in to fill the gap.  They never mentioned this issue. Art Kennedy’s imagination just out-finessed himself on this one.

Conclusions

To all the pundits out there who claim AE was on a spy mission, I ask the questions: What were her orders from GI? What were the GI agency’s mission objectives?  I haven’t the slightest clue towards answering any of the above.

Let’s try, “Get lost, dump into the ocean, and a sub or surface vessel will pick you up.” Impossible. The precise navigation (GPS) tools required for such a rendezvous did not exist in 1937.

The GI (knowing how the government works) must have comprised a sizable group of men dedicated to successfully completing her “spy mission.” And yet there has never been a single peep out of anybody claiming to be part of this unique group. Amazing, when you consider the tabloid value (millions, in today’s dollars) that one could reap if he were part of this group, revealing a crucial part of America’s greatest aviation mystery. (End of Prymak analysis.)

The possible Truk Lagoon scenario

One possible Earhart-as-spy scenario not mentioned by Prymak has been suggested by some: Earhart overflying Truk Lagoon to observe “the number of airfields and extent of Japan’s fleet-servicing facilities in the Truk complex,” as Fred Goerner wrote in the closing pages of The Search for Amelia Earhart.

Before and during World War II, Truk Lagoon, now known as Chuuk Lagoon, part of Chuuk State within the Federated States of Micronesia,  was the Japan’s main base in the South Pacific theatre, a heavily fortified base for Japanese operations against Allied forces in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, serving as the forward anchorage for the Japanese Imperial Fleet. 

In 1937, U.S. intelligence would have been extremely interested in the status of this naval base, once known to Allied forces as Japan’s “Gibraltar of the Pacific,” and Amelia might have been asked to observe and possibly even take some photos with her small, hand-held Kodak camera. The Electra would have arrived over Truk at about 7 p.m. local time, with plenty of daylight left.  Of course, we have no proof that Amelia attempted to perform such a mission, but her actions during the final flight suggest something very strange was afoot, and she had two meetings with top U.S. officials during April 1937, according to Margot DeCarie, her personal secretary. (See Truth at Last for more.)

Stewart Map

As seen in the above map, found on the Mystery of Amelia Earhart webpage, created by William H. Stewart, a career military-historical cartographer and foreign-service officer in the U.S. State Department and former senior economist for the Northern Marianas, the distance from Lae to Truk is 1,022 statute miles, from Truk to Jaluit 1,223 statute miles, and from Jaluit to Howland (via Great Circle), 1,010 miles.  While shorter, this route would require Earhart to be in Japanese airspace and over several populated islands in the Marshalls for a longer period of time, which would give the Japanese more time for interception should the flight be discovered.  The total distance is 3,255 statute miles as compared to 2,556 miles when flying direct to Howland from Lae, and indeed pushes the range limits of the Electra, said to be 4,000 miles in the absence of headwinds.

“The only serious problem with such a supposition,” Stewart, the author of the 1993 book, Saipan in Flames: Operation Forager: The Turning Point in the Pacific War, wrote, “is that a position report received from Earhart while in flight occurred at 5:18 p. m. (Lae time) and indicated her position as “4.33 SOUTH 159.7 EAST HEIGHT 8000 FEET OVER CUMULUS CLOUDS WIND 23 KNOTS,” which would place the aircraft in the vicinity of Nukumanu Island, northeast of Bougainville and in the area where it should have been assuming the original flight plan was being followed. This fix would place the aircraft on a track from Lae to Howland Island some 742 nautical miles [854 statute miles] or about one-third the distance between the two points which are separated by 2,227 nautical miles [2,563 statute miles].

“This radioed position is far to the southeast of Truk and almost due south of Ponape (Senyavin Island, now Pohnpei) and north of Guadalcanal,” Stewart continued. “That the transmission was picked up in Lae is strange indeed, since the Electra’s radio range was said to be (although not confirmed by this researcher) not much more than 400 miles. If this was in fact true, how is it that the signal was picked up from almost twice the distance? Was it a hoax? Was it a deceptive position directed to confuse any Japanese radioman at Truk who might have been monitoring the much publicized flight path (presumed to be from Lae to Howland) and the radio frequency of 6210 KHz? If so, the report was received at Truk only a short time before the aircraft could have roared over the encircling reef at Truk to carry out its assignment of aerial espionage before turning east to fly toward Jaluit and thence southeast to Howland.”

Was Amelia Earhart  on some kind of intelligence mission that went wrong? Goerner later changed his mind about the mission to Truk he proposed in Search, instead adopting the idea that Amelia had been asked to simply collect what was known as “white intelligence,” meaning that “she simply observed things during the course of her flight,” according to Goerner, who could hardly have been less specific.  Goerner also changed his mind about the Mili Atoll landing scenario he proposed in Search, and made other serious misjudgments as well, so despite his great contributions to the Earhart saga, Goerner’s work is no longer the ultimate source for answers in this and other areas.

Like many things about the Earhart disappearance, the answers are buried deep within top secret, eyes-only federal archives, where only a scant few even know of their existence. Until the contents of these files are revealed to the public, the question of whether Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were lost while engaged in an intelligence mission for FDR will continue to be discussed and argued about by those who seek the truth.

Returning to the roots of the search for Amelia: Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s eyewitness account

Occasionally it behooves us, as students and enthusiasts of the Earhart saga, to return to the very roots of the matter, and to examine some of the original accounts that sparked the seminal investigations that paved the way for seven decades of research that now so emphatically reveals Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s Mili Atoll landing and subsequent deaths on Saipan.

Today we offer the first-person account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, as presented by Josephine herself in Family Weekly, the San Mateo Times Sunday magazine, on July 3, 1960.  In all fairness, we should note that  Josephine was not the first Pacific islander to share her knowledge of the post-July 2, 1937 survival of the American fliers with outsiders.

In my Feb. 16, 2015 post, Marshall Islands ‘fishing boat pickup’ update,” we saw the March 1944 story from AP correspondent Eugene Burns, “Clue Obtained To Mystery of Amelia Earhart,” that appeared in the Benton Harbor (Mich.) News Palladium and a few other newspapers across the country.

In his story, Burns reported the account of Marshall Islander Elieu Jibambam as told to Navy Lieutenant Eugene Bogan in early 1944. “A Jap trader named Ajima three and a half years ago on Rita island told me than an American woman pilot came down between Jaluit and Ailinglapalap atolls,” Elieu reportedly told Bogan. “She was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat and the trader Ajima heard that she was taken to Japan.”

Elieu told other American military men the same story, but Burns’ report caused nary a ripple in the United States, largely because it was ignored by most papers and buried in others.  The nation was focused on far more pressing wartime business in early 1944, and the Earhart story had no legs. But by 1960, the world had changed immensely, and when Linwood Day of the San Mateo Times was alerted to Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s childhood story as revealed by Paul Briand Jr., in his 1960 book Daughter of the Sky, the real modern search for Amelia Earhart began.

This is the story that appeared in the San Mateo Times' Family Weekly on July 3m 1960, the paper's Sunday edition.

This is the story that appeared in the San Mateo Times’ Family Weekly on July 3, 1960, the newspaper’s Sunday edition.

Without further background already available in several other posts on this blog, the following story, bylined “Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama” appeared in Family Weeklythe July 3, 1960 Sunday magazine of the San Mateo Times, and begins with the following introduction:

On July 1 [sic], 1937, Amelia Earhart, at 39, America’s most famous aviatrix, disappeared without trace while on the last lap of a round-the-world flight.      

Accompanied by her navigator, Capt. Fred J. Noonan, she had set out from the East Indies toward Howland Island in the West Pacific. It has been variously speculated that they perished at sea, were made prisoners of the Japanese, were cast away on an undiscovered island, even that they are still living in Japan under assumed names!

Now an eyewitness claims that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were shot by the Japanese as spies in her native Saipan.  Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama, who was 11 years old when she witnessed Miss Earhart’s crash landing on the beach of her homeland, taught school and worked as a dental assistant for the U.S. Navy in Saipan before she came to the United States three years ago. She now lives in San Mateo, Calif., with her husband and eight-year-old son.

Josephine’s San Mateo Times account:

I SAW AMELIA EARHART crash on Saipan in the summer of 1937. I know that Miss Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were executed as spies by the Japanese a few days later.

I was 11 years old then and probably the only civilian witness because they crashed in a restricted zone of the island. But I had a special pass to let me bicycle through this area because my brother-in-law worked as a mechanic for the Japanese Navy, and I was permitted to bring him his lunch every noon.

That day the sky was not particularly clear. There were clouds hanging over the beaches.

About three or four minutes after I entered the restricted zone, I heard a plane. I looked up and saw a twin-engine plane cut through the clouds. The motors seemed to be functioning all right, but I was too young to know much about that.

The plane circled briefly, disappeared, same back into view, and dived toward the beach. It seemed to level off at the last moment.

I was not close enough to see how badly it was damaged. Nor did I dare go closer. I had been raised to curb my curiosity about anything military. And everything that happened in a restricted zone was military.

But my curiosity was too great to overcome, so I waited around to see what would happen. After a few minutes I saw soldiers rush to the scene. They surrounded the plane and, a little later, escorted two people past me: a fairly tall slim woman with a short haircut and dressed in man’s clothing; and a tall man who was wearing dark trousers and a light shirt with short sleeves.

Josephine Blanco circa 1960. Few photos of Josephine are available. She never sought fame, money or publicity for sharing her momentous story with Paul Briand Jr, the San Mateo Timeattention for

Josephine Blanco, circa late 1940s. She never sought fame, money or attention for sharing her momentous story with Paul Briand Jr., Linwood Day, the San Mateo Times, Fred Goerner and others, and is largely forgotten by all except Earhart devotees. She’s still alive at age 89 in Foster City, Calif.

I could tell that both were terribly exhausted. But they didn’t appear to be hurt. Nor were their clothes torn.

When I saw my bother-in-law a few minutes later, I tried to tell him what had happened. There were so many people around that I didn’t dare speak up. But I did tell my parents as soon as I got home.

I can still hear their reaction. “Don’t tell anyone, Josephine, or we’ll all be in serious trouble,” my father pleaded.

“We might get shot,” my mother cried out. “Forget what you saw!”

They were scared. All of us on Saipan were scared, for we had come under Japanese control when the island became its mandate shortly after World War I and was turned into an important naval base. Before, it had belonged to Germany and before that to Spain.

I was born there and, like most natives, was taught early to respect, obey, and fear the Japanese. At least the military. Socially, we got along quite well with them, and there were many intermarriages. My own family was so prominent that whenever a Japanese dignitary came to Saipan, he would be taken to our house for a native meal.

WHILE WE HAD a lot of Japanese civilian friends, we knew only a few of the military. I asked one of them repeatedly what happened to the man and woman who were captured. At first he kept evading the issue, but finally he told me they both had been shot as spies.

Again my parents warned me never to mention what I had seen or heard, or all of us would surely be killed. This time I put it out of my mind till after World War II.

Dr. Casimir Sheft and Josephine Blanco, far right, Saipan, circa 1946. It was Josephine's childhood memory of seeing Amelia Earhart's arrival at Tanapag Harbor as told to Sheft when she worked for the Navy dentist on Saipan that ignited the true modern search for Amelia Earhart.

Dr. Casimir Sheft and Josephine Blanco, far right, Saipan, circa 1946. It was Josephine’s childhood memory of seeing Amelia Earhart’s arrival at Tanapag Harbor as told to Sheft when she worked for the Navy dentist on Saipan that ignited the true modern search for Amelia Earhart.  (Photo courtesy Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama.)

When the Americans captured Saipan, a Navy dental clinic was established on the island. I was trained and then hired as a dental assistant. I worked with a Navy lieutenant, Dr. Kasimir Sheft. It was to him that I mentioned one day the Americans who had been captured and killed in 1937.

His curiosity about them was immense. He asked me to describe the people, the plane, and the time it happened. He was very excited about what I told him.

A few days later he showed me a picture of a man and woman whom I identified as the same two who had crashed on the beach when I was 11.

“That’s Amelia Earhart!” he exclaimed, pointing at the lady.

“Who was Amelia Earhart?” I asked.

It was only then, after he explained, that I realized I had been an eyewitness to a momentous and fateful event in aviation history.

(End of July 3, 1960 Family Weekly story.)

On one of the copies of the story I have, Fred Goerner scribbled, “Who was ghost writer?” directly under Josephine’s name in the byline. It was a natural question, as the story was clearly edited, if not completely written, by a professional. Since Linwood Day penned all the Earhart stories presented in the San Mateo Times that summer (see Linwood Day: Forgotten hero of the Earhart saga), it’s likely that Day also worked with Josephine on this one.

Goerner wrote other interesting comments as well, numbering them from one to 13 across the top of the page. Number one for the KCBS radio newsman who was soon to become a national celebrity, was “Lady Pilot and Her Navigator — Who told her?”

The quality is grainy, but this is the original photo and caption that appeared in Josephine's Family Weekly story.

The quality is grainy, but this is the original photo and caption that appeared in Josephine’s July 3, 1960 Family Weekly story.

Other comments included “Originally said man was injured,” “Told Briand she heard shots,” a “few days later” and “a few weeks later,” and other discrepancies Goerner found in the Family Weekly story as compared with Josephine’s account to Dr. Casimir Sheft and related to Paul Briand Jr. in his 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, and later as seen in Linwood Day’s San Mateo Times stories of May through July 1960.

When we consider the many and varying witness accounts given to investigators over the years, we can also be fairly certain that, contrary to Josephine’s original story that the fliers were shot by the Japanese soon after their arrival on Saipan, Amelia and Fred did survive for a still-undermined time before meeting their ends.

Whether the plane that “belly landed” in Tanapag Harbor, as Josephine described it to Sheft, who was later indirectly quoted by Briand in his book, was a Japanese seaplane or land-based aircraft is still not known, and remains one of the more nagging of many unresolved questions in the Earhart-arrival-on-Saipan scenario.

But these are the natural problems that arise when a 34-year-old woman is relating an incident she witnessed as a youth of 11.  Josephine Blanco Akiyama will always be remembered as the first and best known of the Saipan witnesses,  whose account as initially reported by Briand spurred Goerner’s four highly publicized investigative trips to Saipan, and without which Goerner’s blockbuster The Search for Amelia Earhart would never have been written.

In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it was Josephine’s story that made it possible for a few intrepid truth seekers to break through the decades-old establishment truth embargo and set out upon the real modern search for Amelia Earhart. It is no small distinction.

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