Fred Goerner-Leo Bellarts early 1960s letters: Revisiting roots of the real search for Amelia

During the course of his early Earhart investigations, Fred Goerner, author of the classic 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart, wrote several letters to Leo Bellarts, the chief radioman aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca on July 2, 1937, who retired from the Coast Guard as a lieutenant in 1946. Most of Goerner’s letter of Nov. 30,  1961, below, was initially published in the July 1996 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, as was Bellarts’ reply of Dec. 15, 1961.

Many of the Goerner’s questions are still relevant today, especially since the American public has been fed a steady diet of disinformation for many decades by a U.S. media that hasn’t shown the slightest interest in learning the facts since Time magazine panned Search as a book that “barely hangs together” in its 1966 review that signaled the establishment’s aversion to the truth the KCBS newsman found on Saipan. Goerner died in 1994 at age 69, Bellarts in May 1974 at 66. 

28 November 1961
1920 State St.
Everett, Washington

Mr. Fred Goerner,
% KCBS
San Francisco, Calif.

Dear Mr. Goerner,

I have just received a letter and an article from a San Diego paper relative to your attempt to establish identity of some bones and teeth you found on Saipan. Having a long time interest in the Earhart story I am curious just to know why you believe Earhart wound up on Saipan.

Last year I believe that you attempted to identify an airplane generator as belonging to the Earhart plane. I’m sure that if a search was made around Saipan that many planes could be found and parts by the thousands cold be located, but none from the Earhart plane.

Coast Guard Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts led the radio teal aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca Itasca during the final flight of Amelia Earhart.

Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts led the radio team aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca during the final flight of Amelia Earhart. (Photo courtesy Dave Bellarts.)

My curiosity stems from the fact that I believe I was one of the very few people that heard the last message from the Earhart plane. I was the Chief Radioman on the USCG Itasca at Howland Island during her ill-fated trip. Having heard practically every transmission she made from about 0200 till her crash when she was very loud and clear, I can assure you that she crashed very near Howland Island. The only island near Howland that it would have been possible for her to land would have been Baker Island and she didn’t land there.

Considering the increase in her signal strength from her first to her last transmission there leaves no doubt in my mind that she now rests peacefully on the bottom of the sea, no farther than 100 miles from Howland. If you could have heard the last transmission, the frantic note and near hysteria in her voice you also would be convinced of her fate but not on Saipan.

I firmly believe that she died a hero in the public eye and that is the way I believe that she would like it to be.

Sincerely yours,

Leo G. Bellarts
Lieut. USCG (Ret)

November 30, 1961

Leo G. Bellarts
Lieut. USCG (Ret)
1920 State Street
Everett, Washington

Dear Mr. Bellarts:

Your letter of the 28th just arrived, and I was delighted to receive it. I believe you may be able to answer a number of questions that have arisen from a thorough scrutiny of the official logs of the ITASCA and the Navy carrier, LEXINGTON. (Caps Goerner’s throughout.)

But, first, to answer your question: Why does CBS believe Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan?

Two expeditions to Saipan and three file cabinets filled with the most painstaking research concerning every aspect of the disappearance has given us very strong reasons to believe Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan for an indefinite period prior to the war. I might add that the Catholic Church authorities on Saipan and many of the Naval Officers at the Saipan facilities are also completely convinced. The Office of Naval Intelligence has admitted that their investigation of the testimony gathered from native Saipanese indicates that it cannot be discounted. Every attempt was made to puncture that testimony this last year, and in several cases it was impossible.

The main matter for conjecture is: How did Earhart and Noonan reach Saipan? Did they fly there in their Lockheed Electra, or were they taken to the Island by the Japanese after a landing in another area? 

Fred Goerner, circa mid-1960s, behind the microphone at KCBS in San Francisco.

Fred Goerner, circa mid-1960s, behind the microphone at KCBS in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

We have submitted the available information concerning the flight to a number of aviation experts familiar with that area of the Pacific, and all have said that it was physically possible for the plane to have flown to Saipan, but it certainly is not probable. The chances have been rated at one in a thousand to one in one hundred thousand.

The aircraft wreckage brought up from Tanapag Harbor during the expedition of June 1960 was almost an afterthought. Two native divers believed they knew where the wreckage of a twin-engine plane was in the harbor. We brought some of it to the surface with little hope it represented the Electra. The fact that a generator was a Japanese copy of the Bendix 50 amp which was carried on the Earhart craft gave hope for a brief time that it might be the proper one.

You are quite right in your assumption that the ocean floor surrounding Saipan is littered with wreckage, wreckage of every conceivable size and shape.

During my most recent trip to Saipan in September of this year, we further investigated the wreckage the generator was taken from, and definitely proved that the plane was Japanese and not Earhart’s Lockheed 10-E. A partially disintegrated name-plate on a direction finder had still legible Japanese markings.

The testimony about Earhart and Noonan being on the island, however, stood firm. The Navy had put two ONI men on the case, and their estimation was that the testimony from several reputable Saipanese in particular was irrefutable.

How then did Earhart and Noonan get to Saipan if they did not fly the Lockheed there. Commander Paul Bridwell,  Commandant NavAd Saipan, came up with the answer. The pair had gone down in or near the Marshalls and had been brought to Saipan, then the military headquarters for the Mandates, by Japanese ship to Yap, and then a flight by Japanese Naval Seaplane. Bridwell said there was proof to this theory contained in the logs of four United States Logistic Vessels, THE GOLD STAR, THE BLACKHAWK, THE HENDERSON, and THE CHAUMOUNT, which had been plying the Pacific in 193%38 and ’39 supplying the Far East Fleet. “Certain coded messages sent from Japanese vessels and shore installations,” said Bridwell, “were intercepted by these ships.”

The Japanese code was not broken until just before the war, so I gather these messages may not have been decoded until just recently. That’s the only reason I can imagine why these messages have not been brought to light before. (Editor’s note: At the time of this letter, Goerner lacked important information about U.S. code-breaking abilities in 1937.  See pages 263-264 of Truth at Last, Second Edition, for more on this complex issue.)

Cmdr. Paul W. Bridwell, chief of the U.S. Naval Administration Unit on Saipan, and Jose Pangelinan, who told Fred Goerner he saw the fliers but not together, that the man had been held at the military police stockade and the woman kept at the hotel in Garapan. Pangelinan said the pair had been buried together in an unmarked grave outside the cemetery south of Garapan. The Japanese had said the two were fliers and spies. (Photo by Fred Goerner, courtesy Lance Goerner.)

Cmdr. Paul W. Bridwell, chief of the U.S. Naval Administration Unit on Saipan, and Jose Pangelinan, who told Fred Goerner he saw the fliers but not together, that the man had been held at the military police stockade and the woman kept at the hotel in Garapan. Pangelinan said the pair had been buried together in an unmarked grave outside the cemetery south of Garapan. The Japanese had said the two were fliers and spies. (Photo by Fred Goerner, courtesy Lance Goerner.)

______________________________________________________________________________________

                                                                                               December 10, 1961

As you can see, there has been considerable delay in the completion of this letter. Dr. [Theodore] McCown’s findings regarding the remains has touched off a chain reaction that has kept me away from my office until today.

To say that McCown’s findings were a disappointment is an understatement; however, it in no way changes our basic hypothesis that Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan. As Dr. McCown put it,”It doesn’t mean you weren’t on the right track. You may have missed the actual grave site by six inches. That’s the way it is with archeology.”

(Editor’s note: Dr. Theodore McCown was the University of California anthropologist who examined bones excavated by Goerner from a Saipan gravesite in 1961. See pages 224-225 of Truth at Last for more.)

Along with this letter, I am sending you our most recent press release which details many of the things I have already discussed.

Now, if I may, I would like to ask you several questions. As you were present on the ITASCA the morning of July 2, 1937, perhaps you can clarify some points that seem most enigmatic to us.

Why do many people cling to the theory that the Earhart radio was incapable of transmitting more than 50 to 100 miles when the last check-in with Lae, New Guinea was 785 miles out at 5:20 in the afternoon?

Why was “30 minutes of gas remaining” changed to read “but are running low on gas”?

Why do many people say the Earhart radio receiver was not functioning when one of the messages received by the ITASCA states, “We are receiving your signals, but they are too weak for a minimum”?

Why wasn’t Earhart alerted to the fact that a special direction finder had been set up aboard the ITASCA?

Why was a Lt. [Daniel A.] Cooper of the U.S. Army Air Forces aboard the ITASCA the morning of the disappearance?

The Coast Guard Cutter Itasca, anchored off Howland Island on July2, 1937, for the explicit purpose of helping Amelia Earhart find Howland and land safely at the airstrip that had been constructed there.

The Coast Guard Cutter Itasca was stationed next to Howland Island on July 2, 1937, for the explicit purpose of helping Amelia Earhart find Howland and land safely at the airstrip that had been constructed there.

Why is there a complete absence of any mention of the Coast Guard Vessel ONTARIO in the log of the ITASCA? The ONTARIO was a weather ship stationed at the half-way point of the flight. Didn’t the ONTARIO ever read the Earhart plane during the flight? If the ONTARIO didn’t read Earhart, why not? The flight plan would have taken the Electra fight over the ONTARIO.

Why wasn’t the emergency 3105 direction finder set up on Howland Island able to cut in the Earhart plane if the plane was as close to the island as everyone supposed?

Was there anything else beside “strength of signal” that lead those aboard the ITASCA to believe Earhart was within 50 to 100 miles of the vessel?

What was the first reaction of those aboard the ITASCA to “We are 157-337, running north and south”? Did they think it a radio bearing or a sun line? Certainly no one could have believed it a position that an experienced navigator such as Noonan would send if he knew where he was.

Why did the LEXINGTON base its search on the July 2 group of messages rather than the July 5 group? The July 5 group paint an entirely different picture, especially 0515: “200 miles” and 0545: “100 miles.” If the plane made 100 miles in 30 minutes, it’s quite obvious Earhart and Noonan figured their air speed at 200 miles per hour, which is far different than the 111 miles per hour the LEXINGTON assumed. The Electra was capable of 200 miles an hour top speed, but Earhart, conserving gas, would have been at cruise speed of 155. They must have picked up a tail wind, and the ITASCA log indicated the wind had shifted from the southeast.

I know these are a lot of questions, but there is so much that is inexplicable. Would you be so kind as to clarify some of these points for us? We will be most grateful.

Thank you so much for your time and interest.

Sincerely,

Frederick A. Goerner
News Dept., KCBS Radio
San Francisco, California

In future posts, thanks to the generous contributions of Dave Bellarts, of Lakewood, Wash., son of Leo, we’ll continue this fascinating correspondence between history’s foremost Earhart investigator and arguably the most reliable eyewitness aboard Itasca when Amelia sent her final “official” message that fateful July morning.

“The Psychic World of Amelia Earhart”

David K. Bowman, 70, of Auburn, Wash., is a Vietnam veteran who retired from the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1991 after 25 years’ service, including 10 years in Naval Reserve Intelligence. In 2002 he retired from a 31-year civilian career with the State of Washington.

Since his retirement, Bowman, 70, has been busy with his longtime preoccupation with the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and has written more titles in that vein than anyone.  Bowman’s books include Legerdemain: Deceit, Misdirection and Political Sleight of Hand in the Disappearance of Amelia Earhart (First Edition 2005, Second Edition published by Saga Books in 2007); The Story of Amelia Earhart (2012); SAIPAN: A Search for Amelia Earhart in Modern Saipan (2015); and Amelia Earhart Philately (Enlarged Second Edition): The World’s First Book on Amelia Earhart Philately (2016). 2012 was especially busy for Bowman, as he published two books unrelated to his Earhart work: Tales of Westpac: Memoirs of a Carrier Sailor of life on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, and  The Forgotten Stars: Great Forgotten Talents from the Golden Days of Motion Pictures.  He tells me he’s working on yet another new book, A Waiting Dragon. To visit Bowman’s website, please click here.

Bowman’s story, “The Psychic World of Amelia Earhart,” initially appeared in the June 21, 2009 edition of Wings over Kansas website, and he’s kindly allowed me to offer it to you today.  All the photos, with the exception of the small shot of Amelia in white aviator’s togs, have been added here. 

“The Psychic World of Amelia Earhart”
by David K. Bowman

Merciless life, laughs in the burning sun, and only death, slow circling down, Shadows.”
Amelia Earhart

On a stormy day in June 1928, the Fokker tri-motor Friendship dipped down out of a leaden sky to land in the bay near Burry Port, Wales. The airship taxied through the pouring rain to a nearby buoy and cut its engines. A moment later, crewman Louis “Slim” Gordon, opened a door in the fuselage, hopped out, and moored the ship to the buoy.

At the controls of the airship was Wilmer “Bill” Stultz, and in the passenger compartment was a woman, who up until that flight, had been a recreational aviator and a social worker in Boston. On that rainy morning, however, she was catapulted to international celebrity. Her name was Amelia Earhart.

A few months before, the young, boyish woman with tousled hair, had been asked to an interview by George Palmer Putnam, the wealthy and powerful head of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, publishers. An athletic adventurer, writer, and promoter, Putnam had been asked by wealthy New England socialite Amy Guest, who had purchased a Fokker tri-motor aircraft from Admiral Richard Byrd, to find a woman to fly across the Atlantic in that aircraft. Initially, Mrs. Guest planned to make the flight herself, to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, but had been pressured out of the flight by her worried family.

A masterful promoter, George Palmer Putnam, or “G.P.” as he liked to be called, immediately seized upon the young Amelia Earhart at their first meeting. Earhart was tall, slim and had a remarkable physical likeness to recent aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, whose nickname was “Lucky Lindy.” Putnam instantly christened her “Lady Lindy,” a nickname that Earhart deplored.

Wilmer Stutz, Amelia and Louis Gordon bask in glory in New York after their transatlantic flight in 1928.

Wilmer “Bill” Stultz, Amelia and Louis Gordon bask in glory in New York after their transatlantic flight in 1928.

When asked if she wanted to make the flight, Earhart unhesitatingly jumped for it, as she was plucky, adventurous, and ambitious. She knew an opportunity when she saw one. As she said later, “You don’t turn down an opportunity like that!”

The rest was history. Immediately after the flight of the Friendship, commemorative medals were struck and sold, and the young aviatrix embarked upon a number of product endorsements.

At the same time, GP hustled his young protégé off to his luxurious estate, Rocknoll, in Rye, N.Y., so that she would have the privacy and peace to write an account of her famous flight. This she did, and before the end of 1928, 20 Hours, 40 Minutes was published. To this day, it is an important historical source and a sought after collectible.

Earhart then embarked upon a lucrative and busy lecture tour to discuss her new book. Upon her return to New York, she was appointed Aviation Editor for Cosmopolitan Magazine. By then, in 1929, she was all the rage.

Dissatisfied with being just a passenger on the first transatlantic flight — mere “baggage,” as she called it — Earhart determined to pilot the Atlantic Ocean herself and spent the next four years in preparing for this. Preparations were set back by a crash during a practice flight in Norfolk, Virginia in 1930, which necessitated lengthy repairs that weren’t completed until 1931. Shortly after the Norfolk crash, GP obtained a divorce from his wife, Dorothy, and the following February, in 1931, he and Earhart were married in a quiet ceremony.

In May 1932, the aviatrix took off from Newfoundland and successfully crossed the Atlantic in 15 hours, 18 minutes, landing in a pasture in Londonderry, Ireland, and becoming the first woman to successfully pilot the Atlantic.

Another great photo of Amelia, as she prepares to take off from Derry, Northren Ireland, and fly on to London, where worldwide fame awaited. After a flight lasting 14 hours, 56 minutes during which she contended with strong northerly winds, icy conditions and mechanical problems, Earhart landed in a pasture at Culmore, north of Derry, Northern Ireland. The landing was witnessed by Cecil King and T. Sawyer. When a farm hand asked, "Have you flown far?" Earhart replied, "From America." The site now is the home of a small museum, the Amelia Earhart Centre.

In May 1932, Amelia soaks up the acclaim of the Irish as she prepares to take off from Derry, Northern Ireland, and fly on to London, where worldwide fame awaited. After a flight lasting 14 hours, 56 minutes during which she contended with strong northerly winds, icy conditions and mechanical problems, Earhart landed in a pasture at Culmore, north of Derry, Northern Ireland. The landing was witnessed by Cecil King and T. Sawyer. When a farm hand asked, “Have you flown far?” Earhart replied, “From America.” The site now is the home of a small museum, the Amelia Earhart Centre.

Over the next five years, under GP’s guidance, Earhart set more aviation records, participated in various aviation events, continued to tour the lecture circuit, was the spokesperson for a multitude of products, and lent her name to several businesses. One of them was a line of women’s clothing, which she personally designed. Another was a high-quality line of luggage that continued be manufactured for years after her disappearance.

Earhart also became actively involved in establishing commercial air routes and founding airlines. Beyond that, she was an ardent feminist in the best sense of the term, a public figure who radiated strength and independence, who eschewed the conventional female role and forged a new one for herself. On her passport, under “occupation,” she had entered “flyer.” And whenever she was on an airfield, she habitually wore custom tailored gabardine slacks, an open-throated man’s sport shirt with a knotted silk scarf, and a leather flying jacket. They became her trademarks. She was one of the most talked about, fashionable, admired, beloved and emulated women of the 1930s. She was an icon. Her name was a household word. Even the press referred to her more often as not as just “Amelia.” Everyone knew they were talking about the one and only Amelia Earhart.

During her brief career, she was always thinking about the next flight, because these flights kept her in the public eye. During her preparations for the round-the-world flight, she told a friend, “I think I’ve only got one more good flight left in me.” That remark turned out to be more prescient than Earhart could know.

Nine years later, in July 1937, the famed aviatrix suddenly vanished without a trace on the Lae to Howland leg of her round-the-world flight.

Many have tried to discover the ultimate fate of this charismatic flyer, but there is an aspect of Amelia Earhart’s life and disappearance which nobody has explored. I discovered it during my research for my book LEGERDEMAIN: Deceit, Misdirection and Political Sleight of Hand in the Disappearance of Amelia Earhart (Author House 2005). This aspect is almost more interesting than her aviation career and even her disappearance.

For, aside from being the First Lady of Aviation, as she was dubbed, Amelia Earhart was also a considerable psychic, or so some believed.  Since she almost never discussed this side of her life publicly, information regarding it is scarce. However, through the use of an online newspaper database, I was fortunate enough to uncover a few accounts not seen for nearly 70 years.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Washington Commentators Elmer Davis, H.V. Kaltenborn and Drew Pearson appear as themselves when an alien spaceship lands in Washington D.C.

Washington Columnist Drew Pearson appears as himself in the popular 1951 science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. 

The first is a lead item in a column entitled “The Washington Merry-Go-Round” by legendary journalist Drew Pearson and his partner, Robert S. Allen, in the Feb. 16, 1937 issue of the Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune.  It reported as follows:

One development in connection with the recent air crashes which has been intriguing air officials is the way Amelia Earhart has gone psychic. America’s foremost woman aviator has now become the No. 1 seeress of the air. She believes she has developed a contact with the occult world by which she knows what happens in air crashes.

Her latest prediction is that May 10 she will make a startling discovery regarding the crash of the Western Air Express plane lost over the Wasatch Mountains on Dec. 15 between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, and not yet located.

Officials at first were inclined to laugh at Miss Earhart’s psychic messages. But her accuracy now has them mystified. When a United Airlines plane was lost just outside of Burbank, Calif., Dec. 27, Miss Earhart called the United Airlines office and told them to look on a hill near Saugus, a little town north of Burbank.

There the wreckage was found.

Again when the Western Air Express plane carrying Mr. and Mrs. Martin Johnson crashed Jan. 12, Miss Earhart reported the plane to be near Newhall, 15 miles north of Burbank, where it was found.

In the earlier crash of the Western Air Express in Utah, Miss Earhart had a vision to the effect that the bodies of the dead had been robbed by a trapper. Two days later, a trapper near Salt Lake City reported finding the wreckage, but then suddenly disappeared without giving the location of the plane.

This is the unfound plane regarding which Miss Earhart expects to make a startling discovery on May 10.

Two days later in the Elyria, Ohio Chronicle-Telegram, for Feb. 18, 1937, an interview with Earhart in Cleveland was published. In part of the interview, she commented on the Drew Pearson column. Given the details of the Drew Pearson column, it was quite clear that Earhart was trying to completely downplay her psychic ability. That portion of the interview ran as follows:

A few days ago a Washington columnist reported Washington agog over Amelia’s “psychic” ability to predict the location of lost planes. Commenting on the story today, Mrs. Putnam said:  “I suppose the story got started when I was searching north of Salt Lake City when all the others were searching south. The reason I went that way was not because I had been visited by spirits, but because that plane had a 50 mile tail wind and I reasoned it had been further along than the others thought.”

MASTERS OF DESTINY The Hands and Careers of Seventy-Five Famous Men and Women 1932

This alluring newspaper advertisement, featuring the alleged right-hand print of Amelia Earhart, calls readers to partake of the services of Joef Ranald, author of the 1932 book, MASTERS OF DESTINY: The Hands and Careers of Seventy-Five Famous Men and Women.

A check of newspapers for later in the year revealed news releases in June regarding the missing plane. The Hammond (Indiana)  Times for June 8 reported on operations to remove the bodies of the crash victims and retrieve the mail and valuables from the wreckage. Evidently the craft had been discovered within the previous day or so, and interestingly, there was no mention of Amelia Earhart or the trapper who had reported the downed aircraft.

The two events are the only ones of Amelia Earhart’s psychic ability to be found in the records so far. They seem to represent the only instances in which Amelia Earhart’s psychic side was revealed.

It’s understandable why Earhart would have all but debunked herself in the manner she did, as in a conservative era such as the 1930s a celebrity wouldn’t want to be stigmatized in this way. In those days, to be known as a psychic carried the risk of being thought of as a “kook,” and Earhart’s ambitions allowed no room for distractions such as this. Not long after her interview in the papers, another editorial confirmed Earhart’s concern, when it remarked that it was pleasant to hear that Miss Earhart has denied the reports of her psychic ability.

A remarkable article, entitled “Is Amelia Earhart Still Alive?” was published in the December 1939 and January 1940 issues of Popular Aviation. It described the communications from psychics received by GP, and also gave further hints regarding Earhart’s own psychic side. The relevant portion ran:

In looking back through the bright pages of Amelia Earhart’s adventurous life, George Putnam remembered something that might explain the curious fervor of all those men and women who wanted to help in his hour of despair. It was simply that Amelia Earhart herself had a fragile psychic quality, some strange susceptibility to conditions beyond understanding. She rarely mentioned it to friends, never discussed it publicly. But whenever AE participated in mental telepathy or psychic experiments to further her curiosity, observers were astonished at the results. And yet she never involved or followed the advice of countless clairvoyants and astrologers who besieged her at every stage of her great flights.

She used to say, laughing gaily: “I haven’t the courage to tell people my plans in advance. A pilot shouldn’t worry and if I listened to every prediction I’d probably never leave the ground.”

And, indeed, Earhart received profuse advice from psychics before her various flights. The feedback was usually in the form of warnings to her not to attempt her flight. And of course, each flight had been successful after all. That’s probably the reason that, despite her knowledge of the reality of psychic phenomenon and her own psychic ability, Earhart disregarded all psychic warnings just before her round the world flight.

After Earhart’s disappearance, psychics entered the picture again, via huge numbers of telegrams, letters and phone calls to G.P. Commendably, he gave impartial consideration to every communication, even occasionally spending considerable sums to follow out promising leads.

Of all the strange communications that Putnam received after his wife’s disappearance, the telegram he received on a late July morning at his Hollywood home in 1937 may have been strangest. It ran:

Amelia Earhart alive on coral shoal on one of Gilbert Islands latitude 2 above equator 174 longitude. This message received by Mr. L— New York Medium.

An hour later, Putnam received a short note from a Captain T__ M__ of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia:

 . . . I am the retired captain of a copra boat that used to trade in the South Seas. I just happened to remember an uncharted island that we frequently visited for turtle eggs. The Gilbertese natives know where it is, too. The island is at—

Here Putnam stopped in surprise and called his son David to locate the telegram he had received earlier that day. A few moments later, David returned with the telegram and the two compared the position given in that document with the position given in the note from Nova Scotia. Amazingly both positions were the same!

Amelia poses with her husband, George Palmer Putnam in a 1935 photo that must have raised some eyebrows, given the idea, popular among some, that their marriage was simply one of convenience. Putnam was actively engaged in the search for Amelia for years, even after he had her declared legally dead in January 1939.

Amelia poses with her husband, George Palmer Putnam in a 1935 photo that must have raised some eyebrows, given the idea, popular among some, that their marriage was little more than a convenient business arrangement. Putnam was actively engaged in the search for Amelia for years, even after he had her declared legally dead in January 1939. He married Jean-Marie Consigny James in May 1939, who filed for divorce in 1945. Putnam married his fourth wife, Margaret Havilland, shortly thereafter, and he died on Jan. 4, 1950.

Putnam called the captain in Nova Scotia and the medium in New York for additional details. The details seemed sufficiently promising that the publisher immediately left for New York City, where two days later, he was able to arrange a check of the island by British authorities. A ship dispatched from Makin Island a short while later steamed for the location given in the two communications to Putnam.

But eerily, there was no island at the given location. This baffled Captain M— and his former crew members, who all swore they had visited the island a half-a-dozen times. The only explanation that could be put forth was that the island had suddenly been sunk by volcanic activity. G.P. spent $1,000 on that adventure.

In September 1937, Putnam was contacted by a friend who was prominent in literary circles, and who was a serious student of psychic matters. Putnam considered his friend of unimpeachable character and integrity. His friend told him that he had encountered a medium of amazing ability, whose performance was yet to be explained.  According to Putnam’s friend, the medium in question was a woman who had two voices, her own and another, which came from someplace in her chest.

“Ventriloquism, perhaps?” Putnam interjected.

“No — I’ve already eliminated that possibility. The point is, George, she gave me a brief message from AE the other night.”

There was a moment of surprised silence.

“Oh . . . ” GP said.

“And there may be more. I just thought you’d like to sit in for a demonstration.”

“Of course,” GP agreed, and a date was set for the next night at 7:30 p.m.

The next night the medium appeared at the home of Putnam’s author friend in Los Angeles. Before the séance started, the woman was thoroughly examined for items hidden on her person and mouth taped shut. Untypical of such events, the lights were all kept on, with all participants crowding close to the medium. After just a few moments, a strange voice, like a soft whisper, erupted from the woman, although there wasn’t a sign of motion in the muscles of her throat or chest.

The following is the portion of the transcript of the séance which Putnam had recorded, including some of his responses, in parentheses) to specific statements the medium.

Voice: Fred was not at fault. It was unavoidable.

Putnam: Were they killed instantly?

Voice: No, on a reef…

Putnam: What direction from Howland?

Voice: Almost directly north. (There are no islands north of Howland.)

Putnam: Is it Kingman Reef?

Voice: Near there. There are Navy planes flying near there now. (This is November. The Navy search ended in July.)

Putnam: What will they find?

Voice: They will find wreckage, in the water near the island. (Nothing was ever found.) Putnam: What did Fred Noonan call his wife?

Voice: Fred want you to tell B. that it was not his fault… He is living. (Evasive answer)

Putnam: Who is living? Noonan?

Voice: He is not dead. He wanted you to know there is no death… Maitland. He is here.

Putnam: Is Kingford-Smith there?

Voice: Yes. Maitland and Kingsford-Smith.

Putnam: Wiley Post? And Will Rogers?

Voice: Yes. Yes. Amelia is among a lot of friends.

Putnam: What about her mother?

Voice: She has not given up hope. (That was true.)

Putnam: Can you ascertain from Amelia what word she used in addressing me? Does the name begin in with the letter “K”?

Voice: No, “P”.

Putnam: This is important; I want to get this right.

Voice: Pug, Pug or Pugsy. (AE actually gave me a nickname similar to this, although only one or two intimate friends knew it.)

Putnam: What was it Amelia always carried with her that she didn’t take this time and left it with me?

Voice: Her bracelet. (This is true. No one knew but myself.)

Putnam: What country did the bracelet come from?

Voice: Africa. (Only AE and I knew that.)

Putnam: What would she like me to do with the bracelet?

Voice: Keep it. You gave it to her, so you keep it.

Putnam: Will any of Amelia’s things, like her watch, ever be found?

Voice: No. Parts of the plane.

Putnam: Will you ask Amelia, please, if she had the Seagraves watch.

Voice: She did not. (Wrong. She did have it.)

Putnam: Where is her will?

Voice: In the safe-deposit box. With the watch. (Wrong).

Putnam: Ask Amelia if she knows about the trip I am contemplating. [In December 1937, Putnam left on a trip aboard the yacht Athene, owned by film producer Tay Garnett.]

Voice: Yes. That is very good. By all means go. (I was planning a cruise. I did go later.)

Abruptly, the séance ended, and George Putnam went home, puzzled by the experience. He was never able to explain the correct information presented by the medium. Had the medium merely read Putnam’s mind, or had she really relayed messages to the publisher from his deceased wife?

The first woman to fly faster than Mach 1 was a famous female aviator named Jacqueline Cochran. Better known as Jackie, Cochran was born in 1906 and became one of the pioneering women of aeronautics. Jackie originally worked in the cosmetics industry and was encouraged to pursue a pilot's license by her husband in order to travel more efficiently. Always a quick learner, Cochran managed to complete her pilot training in 1932 in just three weeks! She quickly realized that flying was her passion and set about becoming one of the most accomplished pilots in history. In 1935, Jackie was the first woman ever to enter a prestigious annual event known as the Bendix Transcontinental Race. Jackie was the first woman to win the Bendix Race in 1938 and also set several aviation records before 1940, including three speed records and a world altitude record.

Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran, the first woman to fly faster than Mach 1, was born in 1906 and became one of the pioneering women of aeronautics. Cochran originally worked in the cosmetics industry and was encouraged to pursue a pilot’s license by her husband in order to travel more efficiently. Always a quick learner, Cochran managed to complete her pilot training in 1932 in just three weeks! She quickly realized that flying was her passion and set about becoming one of the most accomplished pilots in history. In 1935, Cochran was the first woman ever to enter a prestigious annual event known as the Bendix Transcontinental Race, and she was the first woman to win the Bendix Race in 1938. A close friend of Amelia Earhart, she also set several aviation records before 1940, including three speed records and a world altitude record.

Probably the most famous psychic incident involved Jackie Cochran, one of Amelia Earhart’s closest friends, who was said to have psychic abilities of her own. After Earhart’s disappearance, Cochran contacted G.P., telling him that she had received strong psychic impressions that Earhart was floating at sea at a particular location northwest of Howland Island. Putnam practically moved heaven and earth to get the navy and coast guard to search that location. But the search was, unfortunately, fruitless, and two days later Cochran told Putnam that it was too late, that AE had perished.

Some 25 years after Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, a strange psychic postscript occurred on the Island of Saipan. Researcher, Eugene Sims began employment on Guam, from which Saipan could be reached by air in thirty minutes. As a part of his business activities, he began making weekly trips to Saipan.

Sims soon made friends with numerous families on the island, frequently discussing the disappearance of Amelia Earhart with the older members. He soon noticed that few people were comfortable openly discussing the aviatrix’ disappearance.

On one visit, Sims brought his wife with him and as part of a tour of the island, the two were shown Garapan Prison. They were taken to a cell that they were told once held Amelia Earhart. Sims took copious photos of the jail. A few days later, when Sims got the photos back from the processor, he was stunned to see, in one photo of Earhart’s cell a ghostly white figure standing in the metal door frame.

Thinking the photo to be some sort of laboratory error, Sims had another print made. It came out exactly the same. In an article in the Kwajalein Hourglass for Jan. 7, 2003 , Sims reminisced that as far as he was concerned, the image was a message from Earhart. For more on the Sims story, please see “Eugene C. Sims and the “Ghost of Amelia Earhart.”

Had Gene Sims captured the restless spirit of the long-missing aviatrix on film? And what could she have been trying to tell him?

The 80th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance approaches, and after all those years, we are left with more than just the mystery of her last flight. We are left with the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s remarkable ability and the even more profound mystery of the human psyche.

Weishien Telegram: Another sensation that fizzled

We begin 2017 with a look at the notorious Weishien Telegram, as it was known, one of the more sensational claims we’ve seen in recent years.  In 2001, this hot potato was relegated to the dustbin of dead-end myth, when researcher Ron Bright definitively disproved the idea that Amelia Earhart had been confined at the Weihsien, China civilian internment camp during World War II.  This notion sprang from the 1987 discovery in State Department archives of an unsigned telegram, or “speedletter” to George Putnam from Weihsien in 1945; Amelia Earhart was soon “identified” as its sender by a group heavily invested in the Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam canard.  The unsigned telegram reads, “Camp liberated — all well — volumes to tell — love to mother.” Sent from Weishien, north China, and dated Aug. 28, 1945, this document created a huge buzz among researchers who speculated it could have been sent by Amelia herself.

During the ensuing debate within the Amelia Earhart Society, Bright, working with Patrick Gaston, an Overland Park, Kansas, attorney, obtained key documents, witness accounts and other evidence that helped put the lie to this lingering pest of a theory. Before we get to Bright’s findings, which hammered the final nails in the coffin of the Weishien falsehood, we’ll hear from others involved in the promotion and debunking of this once-popular idea.

Longtime researcher Ron Bright, of Bremerton, Wash.,

In 2001,. longtime researcher Ron Bright, of Bremerton, Wash., with a few associates, debunked the Weishien Telegram theory, which proponents claimed showed that Amelia Earhart was alive in a Japanese civilian internment camp in 1945.

In the September 1993 issue of Omni Magazine, Amelia Earhart Society President Bill Prymak offered an informed rebuttal of the false claims by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) that Earhart crashed-landed on Nikumaroro Atoll, formerly known as Gardner Island, in the central Pacific’s Phoenix Chain. As for her true fate, Prymak said he had “tantalizing evidence but nothing concrete. We do have a telegram from her to her husband, George Putnam, which was dated Aug. 28, 1945, from a prison camp in China.” Thus, Joe Gervais’ long-discredited claim in Amelia Earhart Lives that Earhart had lived in the Emperor of Japan’s palace before returning to the United States as New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam was transformed into an equally implausible — if less glamorous — scenario. Bright’s findings would later force Prymak and most others to admit their errors, but not before several years of confusion had passed.

Though Prymak and many of his AES associates believed that the telegram sent to George Putnam “informed Putnam that his wife was alive” in a Japanese internment camp in 1945, others with knowledge soon attempted to debunk this notion.  In late July 1993, Devine sent me a copy of a recent letter from Langdon Gilkey, 73, author of Shantung Compound (Harper and Row, 1966) to retired New York Police Department forensic specialist and Earhart theorist Jerome Steigmann, who died in 2003, as did Devine.  

In 1943 Gilkey was an American bachelor teaching at Peking’s Yenching University, a privately owned Anglo-American school and one of 10 “Christian Colleges” in China. Gilkey was advised by the Japanese that he and other American and British nationals then in Peking would be sent to a “civilian internment center” for their “safety and comfort.” Many people, including doctors, professors, instructors, businessmen, missionaries and travelers were incarcerated in the facility in Weishien. Shantung Compound is Gilkey’s account of his experience there. Gilkey was released from captivity on Sept. 25, 1945.

Undated photo of Langdon Brown Gilkey....

Undated photo of Langdon Brown Gilkey, author of the 1966 book Shantung Compound, his first-person account of American and British nationals in China who were incarcerated by the Japanese at the Weishien, China civilian internment center for several years during World War II. Gilkey, who authored 20 books, has been called “one of the most influential American Christian theologians of the 20th century,” by a colleague who taught alongside him at the University of Chicago for 20 years. Gilkey passed away in Charlottesville, Va., at 85 in November 2004.

In his letter to Steigmann, Gilkey says, “I have never heard of the Yank female, nor of her solitary captivity in Weishien. I am also as positive as I am of anything in my life that this story is fiction, that, in other words, it did not and could not have happened without one hearing or knowing of it. I am, as I say, as sure of this as I am of anything in my past.”

“Not one person of the hundred or possibly thousands of internees held at Weishien has ever reported Earhart’s presence at the camp,” Devine wrote in “The Concealed Grave of Amelia Earhart,” his unpublished manuscript. “Langdon Gilkey certainly would have known, as he emphatically states.”

Responding to my July 2001 letter asking his clearance to quote him in my 2002 book, With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, Steigmann provided more evidence against the idea that Earhart spent time at Weishien. He sent copies of a few introductory pages to The Mushroom Years: A Story of Survival (Henderson House Publishing, 1998), by Pamela Masters, another veteran of the Weishien “Civilian Assembly Center.” Masters, who was held at Weishien with her family, briefly discusses the alleged Earhart-Weishien connection and says she recently located the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) major who commanded the operation to liberate Weishien in 1945.

“The first time he heard of Amelia Earhart supposedly being in Weishien was in December of ’97,” Masters wrote in her opening note to The Mushroom Years. “And to all those souls who want to find closure regarding Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, I empathize with you, but all I can say is: Forget Weihsien — look somewhere else.”

Steigmann also sent Devine a copy of a letter from former Col. John A. White of Millbrae, California, who wrote, “I have never heard anything about Amelia Earhart being a prisoner in China.” White told Steigmann a friend of his had been interned in Weishien during World War II. Devine wrote to this woman, who informed Devine, “I have asked old friends whether the rumor was true about Amelia Earhart coming into the camp at the end of the war, and protected by Catholic priests and sisters. NO is the big answer.”

This is the story of one such group of American, British, and Allied nationals who were caught in North China and imprisoned in Wei-Hsien (Way-shen) Prison Camp in Shandong Province.

Pamela Masters’ 1998 memoir, The Mushroom Years, is “the story of a group of a group of American, British, and Allied nationals who were caught in North China and imprisoned in Wei-Hsien (Way-shen) [sic] Prison Camp [sic] in Shandong Province,” according to Masters’ website.

Gilkey did not respond to Devine’s correspondence, but in another letter to him, Steigmann wrote, “In addition to the Gilkey letter, I have been in contact with other former internees of the Weishien, China Camp. They all agree Amelia Earhart was never in the hospital or any other part of the camp.”

In late August 1993, Steigmann took his information to the Amelia Earhart Symposium, sponsored by the Amelia Earhart Society and held at Morgan Hill, Calif.  There, amid a gathering of AES luminaries including Gervais, Prymak and Reineck, Steigmann ripped a gaping hole in the Weishien Telegram theory: “The ‘Heavy Hitters’ of the AES were putting the audience to sleep,with their boring discussions about fuel, navigation, radio messages, etc.,” Steigmann wrote. “Ann P. [Pellegreno] persuaded the ‘Good Ole Boys’ to let me speak, and I ‘Awakened Them’ very fast, and even though there was a time limit, the audience insisted that I have all the time I needed to finish my scenarios. The AES ‘Clique’ [sic] were upset that they were upstaged by an ‘outsider!’ During the breaks, I was surrounded by publishers, authors, members of female flying groups, etc., who wanted me to speak at other events. Rollin Reineck, of Hawaii, who still claims Amelia was ‘interned’ at Weishien, China, was not too happy when I produced additional letters from former camp residents that AE was never at the camp.”

Steigmann’s derailing of the telegram theory was convincing enough for Prymak and company to rethink their ideas. In the Dec. 3, 1993 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, Prymak wrote, “Steigmann’s conclusions seem most logical.”

Meanwhile, Steigmann had other ideas about the Earhart disappearance, strange flights of fancy far removed from logic. In Steigmann’s world, Amelia was a “double agent, working simultaneously for the U.S. Marine Corps, the ONI and the Japanese from the early 1920s through her contact with Admiral Yamamoto and Japanese Naval Intelligence: As an agent for Japan, Amelia Earhart rendered technical assistance to the Japanese Naval air forces and in the development of their fighter plane, the Zero. She furnished Japanese Naval Air Intelligence photos of U.S. Army and Navy airfields in Hawaii as well as their schedules.”

The infamous Weihsien Telegram, which caused such an uproar in the Earhart research community during the 1990s.

The infamous Weihsien Telegram, which caused an uproar in the Earhart research community during the 1990s.

Steigmann also advocated the Joe Gervais-Joe Klass idea that Earhart lived in the Japanese Imperial Palace during the war: “When Amelia was liberated from ‘guest status’ at the Imperial Palace, she was secretly repatriated to the U.S. by the unseen hand of the Secretary of the Navy Forrestal. It was Forrestal who had inherited the Amelia Earhart mission from his predecessors, who was the prime architect when Amelia was facially renovated at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.”

Steigmann concluded his fantasy by claiming Earhart “is still alive, at 96, awaiting the appropriate time to emerge from her long exile.” Steigmann sent Devine a copy of an unidentified tabloid with a picture of Earhart, Fred Noonan and the Electra. The story is headlined “Amelia Earhart’s Plane Is Found — In Japan” and subtitled “U.S. knew it for 48 years.” As if this validated Steigmann’s ideas, he wrote over the headline, “It was never on Aslito Airfield, Saipan!” and under the subtitle he wrote, “So did Jerry Steigmann.”

Devine had no use for such delusions, nor did he need Steigmann to shed the light of truth on the Weishien Telegram theory. He already possessed decades-old information that strongly suggested the possible identity of the telegram’s originator, and it certainly wasn’t Amelia Earhart.

“Many years ago, during my early investigation, I had located the son of George Putnam. David Binney Putnam was in the real estate business in Florida,” Devine explained. “During our phone conversation, he was a bit cool regarding Amelia since it was Amelia who parted his parents. I questioned as to which branch of the service he may have served in during the war. He immediately responded he had spent most of the war years in a prison camp in China. I did not want it to appear that I was about to cross-examine him so I did not press on which branch of the service he may have served in. But he may have been incarcerated as an American citizen, or he could have been employed in clandestine activities involving our secret Office of Strategic Services [OSS].”

Devine said that when he first heard about the telegram, he was merely amused. He recalled visiting Muriel Morrissey in Boston in 1961: “She was pleasantly surprised when I mentioned David Binney Putnam, and asked me for his address, which I forwarded to her on a later date. She had lost track of him for many years. He was, she said, in a prisoner-of-war camp, which she thought was in China. When I first saw the news item of a woman in Washington who had found the cablegram, unsigned, I thought it may have been one that he had sent to his father. I never realized that Gervais and his cohorts would stipulate it was from Amelia. I had nothing in writing to refute them, only a phone conversation.”

Seeking to confirm his theory, Devine tried to contact David Binney Putnam in 1993, but learned he had passed away in May 1992. Hoping David’s brother, George P. Putnam Jr., could help clear things up, Devine was initially disappointed. Finally responding to Devine’s inquiries, Putnam told Devine he hadn’t the “faintest idea” what he was talking about. “No member of our family was ever in prison in China during the WWII era,” Putnam told Devine.

“If Putnam had received a telegram from his wife Amelia in 1945, he would have announced it to the entire world. Since it was unsigned, Putnam would know it was from his son of a prior marriage,” Devine wrote. “‘Love to mother’ was indicative of this association. Prymak’s remark, ‘We do have a telegram from her to her husband George Putnam which was dated Aug. 28, 1945 from a prison camp in China’. . . perpetuates the three-ring atmosphere, rather than the authenticity of the tragedy that befell Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Perhaps the general public is receptive to some of the rumors peddled by these individuals, since they are so succinctly resolved. But because of my firsthand knowledge and eyewitness involvement, I feel it is sickening.”

The Weishien Telegram’s true author found

As it turned out, Devine’s best guess was wrong. Ron Bright and Patrick Gaston initiated a well-executed investigation aimed at nailing the source of the Weishien Telegram, the details and results of which were initially published in the May 2001 TIGHAR Tracks newsletter. As I’m not a member of TIGHAR, Bright kindly provided a copy for my use, and it was included in With Our Own Eyes.

Ahmad Kamal, circa 1935, who sent the "Love to Mother" speed letter from Weihsien, China, to George Putnam in August 1945.

Ahmad Kamal, circa 1935, who sent the “Love to Mother” telegram from Weihsien, China, to George Putnam in August 1945. The speedletter created a sensation among Earhart researchers when it was discovered in U.S. State Department archives in 1987.

Bright found that the author of the controversial telegram was Turkish author and world traveler Ahmad Kamal, who was interned at Weishien from summer 1943 to August 1945. Kamal knew George Putnam well enough to ask him to look in on his elderly mother, who apparently lived in the Los Angeles area, while he was away. Bright also secured what he called “the entire list of the 1,800 plus internees at Weishien” from former camp administrator Desmond Powers, a Canadian.  Needless to say, Amelia Earhart’s name wasn’t on the list.

(Editor’s note: A google search reveals a site that contains a spread sheet that claims to be said list of Weishien internees.  Neither Amelia Earhart nor any Putnam is on it. To view the list, please click here.)

Kamal died in 1989, but Bright found his son, Turan-Mirza Kamal (1951–2004) an American-born classical guitarist and composer, in Southern California, and the veil on the Weishien mystery was finally lifted. Kamal told Bright his father was a pilot, and kept his airplane at Burbank Airport in the early 1930s, where he met Howard Hughes, George Putnam and Amelia Earhart.

Bright’s investigation finally put the Weishien speculation to rest. Here is the former ONI agent’s summary of his findings:

Sometime about 1939–1940, Kamal returned to China where he met and married his wife at Tientsin, China. The war broke out in December 1941 and, soon afterward, the Japanese Secret Police captured him and his wife. Refusing to cooperate, they were transferred to Weishien Camp in the summer of 1943. There they remained until liberated in August 1945.

Turan-Mirza Kamal (1951–2004) an American-born classical guitarist and composer, in Southern California, and the veil on the Weishien mystery was finally lifted. Kamal told Bright his father was a pilot, and kept his airplane at Burbank Airport in the early 1930s, where he met Howard Hughes, George Putnam, and Amelia Earhart.

Turan-Mirza Kamal (1951–2004) an American-born classical guitarist and composer, in Southern California, and the veil on the Weishien mystery was finally lifted. Kamal told Bright his father was a pilot, and kept his airplane at Burbank Airport in the early 1930s, where he met Howard Hughes, George Putnam and Amelia Earhart.

According to his son, shortly after the camp was liberated, Kamal sent out two radio messages: One to Scribner and Sons about publishing a book, and one to George Putnam. His son said he has seen either notes or a journal of that message and could repeat it almost by heart — something like “camp liberated, all was well, volumes to follow and love to mother.” The “love to mother” was added, said Kamal’s son, because Putnam had agreed to look after Kamal’s aging mother when Kamal left for China. Mrs. Kamal lived nearby and Putnam was to look in on her. It was an informal caregiver arrangement.

Kamal said his father often discussed Amelia Earhart and the mystery of her disappearance, and believed she went down in the sea. The elder Kamal had also told his son that Earhart was not at Weishien while he was there, from 1942 until August 1945.

Kamal was an American, and probably a convert to Islam, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ian Johnson, author of A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). Johnson obtained Kamal’s FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, which reveals that Kamal was born on Feb. 2, 1914, in Arvada, Colo., and his birth name was Cimarron Hathaway; his mother was Caroline Grossmann Hathaway, his father, James Worth Hathaway. According to an interview Johnson obtained with a daughter, James was a stepfather and Cimarron’s biological father was Qara Yusuf, a Uyghur from Turkestan who was much older than Caroline – he was 64 and she 16 when they married.

This lengthy story by Ahmad Kamal appeared in the Sept. 26, 1953 Saturday Evening Post.

This compelling first-person account by Ahmad Kamal appeared in the Sept. 26, 1953 Saturday Evening Post.

Kamal’s 1940 book Land Without Laughter, was “one of those fascinating, slightly archaic, offbeat adventure books set in that mysterious region, Chinese Turkestan,” wrote Leslie Evans, whose review of A Mosque in Munich and more on Kamal can be found online at The Strange Career of Ahmad Kamal and How He Helped the CIA Invite Radical Islam into Europe.Kamal also wrote Full Fathom Five (Doubleday & Co. 1948), “a wonderful story of the sponge fishermen Americans of Greek ancestry of Tarpon Springs, Florida, their strange and beautiful customs, and the warmth and goodness of their way of life,” according to the book’s paperback description on Amazon.com. “It is a story told by Alek Paradisis, a man who believed he could solve any problem with his fist.”

Paul Rafford Jr., “Elder Statesman” of Earhart researchers, dies in Florida hospice at 97

Paul Rafford Jr., the “Elder Statesman” of Earhart research and the last of the original members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, passed away on Dec. 10 in a hospice in Rockledge, Fla., at 97. Michael Betteridge, Paul’s nephew and general manager of WTHU AM 1450, a talk radio station in Thurmont, Md., said his uncle passed peacefully with his daughter, Lynn, at his side. “We lost a great man on that day,” Betteridge said in an email.

Earhart fans will recall Paul’s name from Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story (Random House), wherein he presented his then-current ideas about the Electra’s radio propagation capabilities and Amelia’s strange decisions during the final flight. In 2006, Paul’s book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, was published by the Paragon Agency, and though it wasn’t a commercial success, it remains a treasure trove of invaluable information unavailable anywhere else.

Paul Rafford Jr., circa early 1940s, who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, is among the foremost experts on radio transmission capabilities during the late 1930s.

Paul Rafford Jr., circa early 1940s, who worked at Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer from 1940 to 1946, is among the foremost experts on radio transmission capabilities during the late 1930s. He wrote more than a dozen unique, scholarly articles for the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter between 1989 and 2000.

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with Paul’s fascinating and inventive work. In the past few years, I’ve written three lengthy pieces that brought new focus on his important contributions to the modern search for Amelia Earhart: “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change”: Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga; Rafford’s “Earhart Deception” presents intriguing possibilities; and  Rafford’s “Enigma” brings true mystery into focus: What was Earhart really doing in final hours?

Paul was a regular contributor to the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter between 1989 and 2000, expounding his theories about radio deceptions and plane switches, some of the most imaginative and compelling possibilities ever advanced to explain what could have happened during those final hours of July 2, 1937, before and after Amelia’s last officially recognized message was heard at 8:44 a.m. Howland Island Time. He even wrote two pieces with the nearly the same title, “The Amelia Earhart Radio Enigma” in 1997, and “The Earhart Radio Enigma,” in 2000, as if to emphasize the major problems and unanswered questions that still stumped him – and continue to baffle Earhart researchers.

Paul began his aviation career with Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer in 1940, flying with Pan Am until 1946. He worked with crew members who had flown with Fred Noonan, and talked with technicians who had worked on Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E. After a promotion with Pan Am, he continued to fly as a technical consultant before transferring to the U.S. Manned Spaceflight Program in 1963. During the early space shots he was a Pan Am project engineer in communications services at Patrick Air Force Base, and joined the team that put man on the moon. He retired from NASA in 1988.

Paul Rafford Jr., now 95, the elder statesman of Earhart researchers. As a Pan Am radio flight officer from 1940 to 1946, Rafford is uniquely qualified as an expert in Earhart-era radio capabilities.

A recent photo of Paul Rafford Jr., the “Elder Statesman” of Earhart researchers. As a Pan Am radio flight officer from 1940 to 1946, Rafford was uniquely qualified as an expert in Earhart-era radio capabilities.

“I know of no person more qualified than Mr. Paul Rafford to present to the American public the most probable cause of Earhart’s failure to find her destination island,” Bill Prymak wrote in 2006. “Mr. Rafford is world recognized for his astute radio propagation analysis and is THE man to contact re: radio problems. We are proud to have him as an AES member and radio consultant.”

With Paul Rafford’s passing, we can now mark the end of the “Greatest Generation” of Earhart researchers, an exclusive club whose members include Paul Briand Jr., Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Bill Prymak, Thomas E. Devine, Almon Gray, Joe Gervais, Joe Klaas, Rollin Reineck, Don Kothera and of course, Paul himself. If there were an Earhart Research Hall of Fame, Paul Rafford Jr. would have been inducted long ago on the first ballot. He was a fine and decent man, admired and respected by his peers, and loved by many. He made many significant contributions to the Earhart saga, and he will be missed.  May he Rest in Peace.

New Britain theory presents incredible possibilities

Like the recent Earhart timeline, this is another piece that’s long overdue. David Billings, a retired Australian aviation engineer, has worked intensely for over two decades on a project that, if successful, will turn nearly everything we assume about Amelia Earhart’s final flight on its head. I’ve known Billings casually through countless emails since about 2004, a year or so before his membership in the Amelia Earhart Society online discussion forum was revoked on a technicality by a hostile forum moderator.

Despite our vastly different beliefs about the Earhart disappearance, we’ve maintained a cordial communication. To me, Billings exemplifies the best in what some might consider the old-school Australian male, in that he’s forthright, with a sharp, wry sense of humor, unafraid to speak his mind, and dependably honest – a trait becoming increasingly rare in this day and age. His work is admirable and worthy of our attention.

Chris Billings (David's son), Claire Bowers and David Billings in the jungles of East New Britain, circa

Chris Billings (David’s son), Claire Bowers (his step-daughter) and David Billings in the jungles of East New Britain, circa 2002.

The evidence that motivates Billings, 76, who works in relative obscurity out of his home in Nambour, Australia, where he often flies gliders to relax, is real and compelling. Unlike our better known, internationally acclaimed “Earhart experts,” whose transparently bogus claims are becoming increasingly indigestible as our duplicitous media continues to force-feed us their garbage, David is a serious researcher whose questions demand answers. His experience with our media is much like my own; with rare exceptions, his work has been ignored by our esteemed gatekeepers precisely because it’s based on real evidence that, if confirmed, would cause a great deal of discomfort to our Fourth Estate, or more accurately, our Fifth Column.

Rather than waste needless effort trying to describe Billings’ New Britain Theory in my own words, we will now turn to the home page of his comprehensive website, which provides a thorough introduction. The site, titled Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project and subtitled “Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain: Second World War Australian Patrol Finds Tangible Evidence presents a wealth of information in nine separate sections, is presented in a reader-friendly, professional style and is must reading for the serious Earhart student.  We begin at the beginning; the following inset material is direct from the home page of the Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project:

Of all the various theories and searches regarding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, and their Lockheed Electra, only one endeavor has the tangible documentary evidence and eyewitness accounts to buttress the conclusion to their final resting place – the jungle floor in Papua New Guinea. In 1945, an Australian infantry unit discovered an unpainted all-metal twin-engine aircraft wreck in the jungle of East New Britain Island, in what was then called New Guinea.

The Australian infantry patrol was unsure of their actual position in the jungle and were on site for only a few minutes. Before they left the site they retrieved a metal tag hanging by wire on an engine mount. The Australians reported their find and turned in the tag upon return to base. The tag has yet to be recovered from the maze of Australian and American archives, but the letters and numbers etched upon it were transcribed to a wartime map. The map, used by the same Australian unit, was rediscovered in the early 1990’s and revealed a notation “C/N 1055” and two other distinctive identifiers of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra Model 10E.

This map illustrates the Lae-to-Howland leg (green) that Electra flew in almost 20 hours. A postulated return route (dotted red) to New Britain Island would have consumed the last bit of fuel and 12 hours.

This map illustrates the Lae-to-Howland Island leg (green) that the Electra flew for about 20 hours. David Billings’ postulated return route (dotted red) to New Britain Island would have consumed the last bit of fuel and 12 more hours.  Could this radical turn-around by Earhart have actually occurred, or is there another explanation for the existence of her Electra on New Britain Island? (Courtesy David Billings.)

On July 2, 1937, while en route to Howland Island from Lae, New Guinea, pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared shortly before they were to arrive at Howland Island – up to 2,600 miles and 20 hours after take-off. They were flying a modified Electra aircraft built specifically for the around-the-world journey. Had they arrived at Howland Island, their next stop would have been Hawaii, and finally California. A flight around the world would have been the first by a woman pilot. They undoubtedly encountered headwinds on the flight. The widely accepted last radio voice message from her was “. . . we are running on line north and south . . . manually recorded 20 hours and 14 minutes after take-off by a United States Coast Guard ship at Howland.

This project theory holds that Earhart and Noonan, after flying some 19 hours should have “arrived” close to Howland, but after an hour of fruitless searching for the island, Amelia invoked the Contingency Plan she had made and turned back for the Gilbert Islands. While there were no known usable runways between Lae and Howland except for Rabaul, there was at least the opportunity to ditch the aircraft near to or crash-land on the numerous inhabited islands in the Gilberts along the way if needed, and there was more than sufficient range to reach Ocean or Nauru Islands. Earhart carefully husbanded the engines to extract the maximum range from the remaining fuel.

The aircraft had an advertised range of some 4,000 miles in calm air; there should have been plenty of fuel to retreat to the Gilberts at a minimum. Among the myriad of alleged radio calls from Earhart after her last confirmed message were four radio calls heard by the radio operator on Nauru Island…one call was heard just under two hours from her “final” transmission, and some 10 hours later, three more final calls on the pre-selected frequency were heard by the Nauru radioman. The Nauru radio operator was one of only a few radio operators who had reliably monitored Earhart on her outbound leg to Howland – he knew the sound of her voice over the radio. In any event, her aircraft has been projected to have run out of fuel some 50 miles south of Rabaul, New Britain Island, and then crash into the jungle.

 The stunning evidence that suggests Amelia Earhart's Electra was found in the Papua New Guinea jungle is in the area in yellow, above, which is the lower section of the tactical map maintained by "D" Company, 11th Australian Infantry Battalion in 1945. The Map was in possession of the unit's administrative clerk from 1945 until 1993. (Courtesy David Billings.)

The stunning evidence that suggests Amelia Earhart’s Electra was found in the Papua New Guinea jungle is in the area in yellow, above, which is the lower section of the tactical map maintained by “D” Company, 11th Australian Infantry Battalion in 1945. The Map was in possession of the unit’s administrative clerk from 1945 until 1993. (Courtesy David Billings.)

David Billings [sic], a now retired aircraft engineering professional, has been analyzing the flight and searching for Earhart’s Electra for more than 20 years in the jungle of East New Britain. Dense jungle, harsh terrain, poor maps, imprecise archival information, personal resource limitations, and possible natural or manmade burial of the wreckage, have thwarted success. He has led many expeditions into the search area, and has refined his analysis to the likely wreck site using terrain mobility studies, geospatial analysis of aerial and satellite images, custom-built maps, and re-analyzed archival maps and documents. As an example, the Australian-held wartime map is authentic, and the handwriting reflects unmistakable discreet data points and little known references of military operations in 1945 East New Britain.

The longtime map holder, the Second World War Infantry Unit clerk, Len Willoughby, retrieved the map from a map case on a pile of discarded equipment in 1945, and kept the map until he mailed it to former-Corporal Don Angwin in 1993 (and who revealed it to Mr. Billings in 1994). Neither of these former infantrymen had the motive nor “insider” expertise to create or introduce details concerning the Electra’s obscure component identification or situational nuances. The string of numbers and letters, “600 H/P. S3H/1 C/N1055,” remains the most significant historical notation found to date in the search for Earhart’s aircraft. This alpha-numeric sequence almost certainly mirrors the details on the metal tag recovered from the engine mount by one of the Australian soldiers on 17 April 1945. This three-group sequence translates to 600 Horsepower, Pratt & Whitney R-1340-S3H1, airframe Construction Number 1055. This airframe construction number IS Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E Electra aircraft, and the engine type exactly matches as well. The eyewitness visual descriptions from three of the Australian veterans at the scene also strongly support this supposition. The date on the map, 24 May 1945, refers to the return answer to the Australians from the American Army, who did not believe it was “one of theirs.”

The foregoing should give you a fairly good snapshot of Billings’ New Britain Theory. Much more can be found in the pages of the Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project.

In Fred Goerner’s 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart, the author recalled his first meeting with the famed Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, an interview arranged by Cmdr. John Pillsbury, public information officer for the 12th Naval District, in connection with Goerner’s work on a 1962 radio documentary The Silent Thunder.

A look at the East New Britain Island Mountains. (Courtesy David Billings.)

 A look at the East New Britain Island Mountains, where David Billings’ search for the possible wreckage of the Earhart Electra has been focused. (Courtesy David Billings.)

The meeting was the beginning of a friendship Goerner treasured, but it wasn’t until about a year later that Nimitz shared some of his inside knowledge about the Earhart case with Goerner. At Pillsbury’s retirement party at the Fort Mason Officers Club in San Francisco, he passed an incredible message to the KCBS newsman. “I’m officially retired now,” Pillsbury told Goerner, “so I’m going to tell you a couple of things. You’re on the right track with your Amelia Earhart investigation. Admiral Nimitz wants you to continue, and he says you’re onto something that will stagger your imagination. I’ll tell you this, too. You have the respect of a lot of people for the way you’ve stuck at this thing. Keep plugging. You’ll get the answers.” (Italics mine.)

Nimitz’s statement to Goerner through Pillsbury was a stunner, and it immediately found a permanent place in my memory when I read it for the first time so many years ago. Just what could the great Navy warrior have meant when he said, “You’re onto something that will stagger your imagination”? The answer has been elusive, but if Billings can locate the wreck, and it proves to be Earhart’s Electra, we’ll have a strong clue and a new place to start looking for that special something that Pillsbury hinted so strongly about.

In closing “Chapter II: The Final Flight” in Truth at Last, I cite some of the many questions that remain unanswered about those final hours: “What was Noonan, Pan Am’s best navigator, doing as their hopes of securing a safe landfall were evaporating before his eyes? Why the forty-minute void between Earhart’s 8:04 and 8:44 a.m. transmissions? Why couldn’t she hear Itasca on 3105 kc? Why did she ask for 7500 kc for bearings, when her direction finder could not home in on that frequency, instead of asking for 500 kc? Earhart never stayed on the air more than seven or eight seconds at a time, preventing the Itasca radiomen from taking bearings. Why? If the Electra was running out of fuel or experiencing another emergency, why didn’t she send a Mayday message?

“Did her transmitter break down after her last broadcast, as Prymak suggested?” I continued. “Was she really trying to reach Howland, or was her peculiar behavior simply part of a deception to make it appear she was lost?” Bur one question never occurred to me: “Why was Amelia Earhart in a different Electra than the one she flew from Oakland, Calif., when she set off on her second world flight attempt on June 2, 1937?” 

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What would it mean if Billings finds the original Earhart Electra, NR 16020? First of all, the discovery should be, at minimum, the biggest story of the week worldwide, with virtually all media organizations in the West giving it top billing (no pun intended). If past is prologue, however, any news that reflects the truth in this longstanding cover-up will be universally ignored, though a few exceptions might occur with a story of this magnitude. Billings needs to find the wreck and identify it in a way that’s forensically conclusive.

Remember, the metal tag recovered from the engine mount has vanished, likely joining the Earhart briefcase discovered by Robert E. Wallack in a Japanese safe on 1944 Saipan, the photos of the fliers in Japanese custody that several GIs claimed they found but lost on Saipan, and whatever else might be squirreled away in top-secret hidey-holes. Assuming Billings is finally able to locate the wreck, how will he determine beyond doubt whether this is the long-lost Electra, and not just another World War II casualty?

“I have always been good at ‘aircraft recognition,’ seeing an aircraft and immediately recognizing the type of aircraft it is, particularly WWII military types,” Billings told me in an email. “After being with the Electra 10E for 20 years and looking at the pictures and three-view drawings, it would be easy to recognize from certain aspects; for instances: the look of the six window panels surrounding the cockpit and the twin tails, the cabin door, the fuel filler panels, the step in the setting of the horizontal stabilizer are all recognition features. We are, however, speaking here of a damaged Electra, from the sighting in 1945, said to be with the cockpit smashed back to the heavy main spar, so the cockpit with the DF loop on top is effectively ‘not there’ and no description of the twin tails was given suggesting the empennage [tail assembly] is not there either.”

Billings says information he’s gleaned since 2011 indicates that the plane was purposely buried, though not too deeply, by someone using a bulldozer, so the use of metal detectors will be critical to a successful search. “When we get a strike with a metal detector then we follow the continuing strikes to map out the extent of what we have in the ground following the metal detector beeps,” Billings continued. “We mark a rough plan on the ground.   From that, firstly I would then be looking away from the ground plan for a distance, for the left hand Engine Serial No. 6150, said to be 30 meters away from the airframe and it will be a lump on the ground, if the bulldozer driver missed seeing it.  If we find that engine, then it will have a Pratt and Whitney Data Plate on the back of the blower housing with “6150” stamped on it.  At the airframe, if we have a rough ground plan we can dig where the right hand engine is as it too will have a Data plate showing “6149.”  One of these would be proof positive.”

A look at the East New Britain Island Mountains. (U.S. Geological Service map.)

An overview map of East New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Note location of Lae to the far left, bottom third. (U.S. Geological Survey map.)

Though I admire Billings’ work, we certainly don’t agree on everything. The idea that Earhart turned around and landed in the jungle of Papua New Guinea after nearly reaching Howland Island is unacceptable to me — and every other Earhart researcher I know.  But the existence of the original Electra at East New Britain and the Marshalls-Saipan truth are not mutually exclusive, as would appear at first glance. Both can be true, and assuming Billings’ evidence isn’t some kind of bizarre hoax or misunderstanding, both must be true.

How can two scenarios that appear so radically different be part of a coherent series of events in the summer of 1937? One possible answer immediately suggests itself: Amelia Earhart changed planes somewhere along the line of her world flight route, and we already have some evidence to support the idea. Please see my earlier post, “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change”: Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga for the entire confusing discussion. It’s not conclusive, of course, and it raises many more questions than it answers.

The successful location and identification of the original Earhart Electra in East New Britain would be earth-shaking news, but it would also create a new Earhart “mystery,” a real one in this case, not the fabricated myth the establishment wants us to buy. If it’s ever discovered, the truth that explains the Electra’s presence in East New Britain could indeed “stagger our imagination.” In any event, a plane change and eventual crash of the original Electra in the East New Britain jungle under other circumstances makes far more sense to this observer than the dramatic turn-around Billings proposes.  The Mili Atoll and Saipan evidence are just too overwhelming to support the entirety of Billings’ theory, in my view.

An example of the dense jungle that covers the area where David Billings' search for the Electra is focuses on Papua New Guinea. (Courtesy David Billings.)

An example of the dense jungle that covers the area where David Billings’ search for the Electra is focuses on Papua New Guinea. (Courtesy David Billings.)

Billings has made 16 trips to the Papua New Guinea jungle since 1994, and plans his final foray into East New Britain sometime in the spring of 2017, the 80th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance. Funding is always a problem, but he says a recently completed road will allow vehicle access and eliminate the exorbitant helicopter costs previously incurred. Billings has always borne the heaviest part of the money burden, but if you’d like to help his cause, here’s a page with donation information.

In a recent email, I told Billings that I wanted to do a post about him and his work, writing, “We both want the truth, and if the original Electra is in the PNG jungle, so be it. IF and when you can prove it, we can then worry about how and why it got there!”

“Exactly!” he replied. “My same thoughts all along.”

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