Earhart was “within 200 miles when she crashed,” Leo Bellarts tells Fred Goerner in 1961 letter

Today we return to the early 1960s correspondence between San Francisco radio newsman Fred Goerner and 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. My Feb. 6 post, Revisiting roots of the real search for Amelia,began with Bellarts’ November 1961 letter to Goerner, in which the nearly incredulous Bellarts asked, “why you believe Earhart wound up on Saipan”?

Bellarts’ certainly that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan rested “peacefully on the bottom of the sea, no farther than 100 miles from Howland,” was based entirely on the increase in Earhart’s signal strength in her last transmission. “She was so loud that I ran up to the bridge expecting to see her coming in for a landing,” Bellarts told Elgen Long in a 1973 interview.

In his reply, Goerner brought Bellarts up to date on his findings during to Saipan visits, including “three file cabinets filled with the most painstaking research concerning every aspect of the disappearance [that] has given us very strong reasons to believe Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan for an indefinite period prior to the war.” The KCBS newsman also posed several new questions for Bellarts, many about the Electra’s radio transmission capabilities, as well as those of Itasca and the high-frequency direction finder supposedly set up on Howland Island. Bellarts’ response follows.

1920 State Street
Everett, Washington
15 December 1961

Mr. Frederick A. Goerner
News Department
KCBS Radio
San Francisco 5, California

Dear Mr. Goerner:

Your letter of November 30th arrived December 13th, and I wish to thank you for your reply to my letter. I also wish to thank you for the additional papers you forwarded with your letter. They were very interesting.

First, I will attempt to answer your questions. I have kept a scrapbook on the Earhart case and it contains much information. Therefore, I will not have to rely on a memory of twenty-odd years. Your letter and enclosures will be an interesting addition to my scrapbook.

This candid photo

This candid photo of Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts was taken aboard Itasca on July 2, 1937, hour unknown, according to Leo Bellarts’ son, David Bellarts. (Photo courtesy David Bellarts.)

In answer to your first question regarding people stating that the Earhart radio could not be heard more than 50 to 100 miles. In my opinion this is someone talking about something they know nothing about. This is completely false. I agree with the statement contained in “Facts About the Final Flight” that a 50-watt transmitter airborne will certainly transmit dependably to 500 miles under normal conditions. During nighttime hours, this distance could be multiplied several times under favorable skip conditions. I did not notice any skip conditions during her flight and believe that her signals were copied “ground wave” as they continually built up to the time of her final transmission when she was very loud and could be easily copied on the ship’s loudspeaker. THIS WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN TRUE UNDER SKIP CONDITIONS. (Caps Bellarts’ throughout.)

At this point I wish to state that we were using a CGR-32-1 type receiver on Earhart’s frequency and by present day standards is a poor receiver. I am sure that if present day receivers were then available, we could have read her signals very much better and at an earlier hour.

As to the time and content of all messages changed in the July 5th messages from the contents of the July 2nd messages bewilders me. This point I was completely unaware of.  It appears that there was a bit of the “Press Reports” incorporated somewhere along the line. You may check the authentic receptions from the plane and draw your own conclusions.

In regard to the “30 minutes of gas remaining,” this will be answered in the listing of messages from the plane in the summation of her last messages.

The people stating that the Earhart radio was not functioning properly make such statements on pure guess work. Amelia never stated that our signals were too weak for a minimum, BUT “We received your signals but unable to get a minimum; please take bearing on us,” etc. No mention was made of weak signals or the reason she could not obtain a bearing: Too great a signal, too weak a signal, fading, night effect (which there were none), and other causes. As far as we knew on the ITASCA, Earhart encountered no equipment failure — at least she reported none. Actually, in this case, I believe that our signals were too strong.

In this undated photo from the mid-196s, Fred Goerner holds forth from his perch at KCBS Radio, San Francisco, at the height of his glory as the author of The Search for Amelia Earhart.

In this undated photo from the mid-196s, Fred Goerner holds forth from his perch at KCBS Radio, San Francisco, at the height of his notoriety as the author of The Search for Amelia Earhart. (Photo courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

Earhart was not alerted to the fact a special D/F had been set up aboard the ITASCA because there was none! No D/F was aboard during her flight that would cover her frequency of 3105 or 6210 KCS. The only D/F was a standard low frequency finder capable of taking bearings of broadcast stations and frequencies below 500 KCS.

There was, however, a high frequency D/F installed on Howland Island for the express purpose of taking bearings on Earhart. This equipment was set up and in operation during her flight, completely aligned and in position. This equipment was NOT ship’s property but was borrowed in Honolulu through the efforts of the C.G. District Radio Electrician, Mr. Anthony. I believe this D/F was actually Navy property.

Lt. Cooper of the U.S. Army Air Force was aboard the ITASCA for two reasons that I know of.  Mr. Cooper was assigned the duty of surveying the airfield and placing the required markers, flags, etc.  He was also available for any technical assistance that Earhart might require after landing on Howland. Memory tells me he had two enlisted assistants.

Actually, the USS SWAN and USS ONTARIO were assigned as weather ships. The ITASCA never worked either ship and I must rely on my memory for that information because, as you say, there is nothing in the log regarding the ONTARIO. As for the reason the ONTARIO didn’t hear Earhart, it was very simple. The receivers aboard that ship could not receive on her frequency. The ONTARIO and the SWAN were small tugs and were one radioman ships, maintaining only schedules for weather through Navy radio Samoa or Honolulu. I was not familiar with their schedules. The equipment aboard the ONTARIO was low frequency rigs and could not operate on anything above 500 KCS for transmitting and could not receive above 3000 KCS. The SWAN was somewhat out of the picture, being stationed between Howland and Honolulu.

“Strength of Signal” certainly strengthened my conviction, and that of others who heard her last transmission, that she was very close to Howland Island. I started my radio career in the USCG in 1924, and believe that I can distinguish when a 50-watt transmitter is close aboard or not. Honestly, we in the radio room could actually hear her voice so near the breaking point that at any moment I expected her to go into an hysterical scream. Giving her plenty of leeway, she must have been within 200 miles when she crashed. Actually, I believe it was much less.

The 157-337 message regarding a position of the Earhart plane was taken as a sunline position, of course not complete. Actually, I believe that she became so upset that she failed to send the entire message which would have given the ITASCA something to go on in the search. As a result, we could only assume that she crashed somewhere before arriving at Howland. She certainly did not pass overhead at 1000 feet without seeing the large smokescreen the ITASCA was laying. I have a photo of that which also shows cloud formations.

I have no idea as to the assumptions of the LEXINGTON as to what Earhart’s speed was. As to the laying out of a search plan, I am sure that this was done as well as could be expected with the scarcity of information at hand.

Amelia with the Bendix Radio Direction Finder Loop Antenna, which replaced Fred Hooven's Radio Compass for use during her world flight attempt in 1937. Hooven was convinced that the change was responsible for Amelia's failure to find Howland Island, and ultimately, for her tragic death on Saipan.

Amelia with the Bendix Radio Direction Finder Loop Antenna, which replaced Fred Hooven’s Radio Compass for use during her world flight attempt in 1937. Hooven was convinced that the change was responsible for Amelia’s failure to find Howland Island, and ultimately, for her tragic death on Saipan. 

Yes, I know Bill Galten but I’m afraid there is a misunderstanding as to his rate at the time of the Earhart search. Galten was a very good and reliable radioman THIRD CLASS. Galten actually relieved me for breakfast that fateful morning. He also maintained the radio log from 0718 to 1035 when I assumed radio log and actual watch. From the first time we heard Earhart, to the last time at 0843, I don’t believe that I was out of the radio room more than 15 minutes, having heard all of her transmissions. I don’t believe that I have seen Galten for over 20 years. However, I believe that he is now a Retired Chief Radioman.

Now, if I may, I would like to make a few comments on portions of your letter and also the enclosure which I appreciate receiving.

On the main matter for conjecture, as you say, “How did Earhart and Noonan reach Saipan?” To me, there is only one answer, if there is an answer. They may have reached Saipan but certainly NOT on the Electra she flew from Lae. The only possibility as far as I’m concerned is that they crashed very close to Howland Island and were fortunate (?) enough to land near a Japanese fishing boat or other Jap vessel which was in that vicinity.

To all known information, no Japanese vessels were anywhere near Howland during that time. Considering the strength of her signals, she was certainly not near enough to any island (except Baker) that she could have possibly landed on. It must have been a sea crash. The Marshalls, Gilberts or Phoenix groups are definitely ruled out in my book.  (Editor’s note: At the time of this letter, neither Bellarts, Goerner or any other American researcher knew about Bilimon Amaron’s eyewitness account, nor those of any of the other Marshall Island witnesses to the crash-landing of the Electra off Barre Island, Mili Atoll.)

In quoting Time magazine of July 19, 1937, I would like to quote from an article regarding Earhart. “Several facts made it clear that much more than simple bad luck was involved. Before the hop off, when capable Navigator [sic] Noonan inspected what he supposed was an ultra-modem “flying laboratory,” he was dismayed to discover that there was nothing with which to take celestial bearings except an ordinary ship sextant. He remedied that by borrowing a modem bubble octant designed especially for airplane navigation. For estimating wind drift over the sea, he obtained two dozen aluminum powder bombs. For some reason, these bombs were left behind in a storehouse.

The Coast Guard Cutter ITASCA, which had-been dispatched from San Diego to Howland Island solely as a help to the flyers, would have been able to take directional bearings on the Earhart plane if the latter could have tuned its signals to a 500 KC frequency. The plane’s transmitter would have been able to send such signals if it had a trailing antenna. Miss Earhart considered all this too much bother; no trailing antenna was taken along.” The ITASCA was entirely unaware of this and, as a result, did not know that she was unable to transmit on 500 KCS.

As to why the LEXINGTON was called into the search, I will quote from the above-mentioned magazine again. “When word that the Earhart plane was lost reached the U.S., husband Putnam wired an appeal for a Navy search to President Roosevelt. But even before the message reached Washington, Secretary of the Navy [Claude A.] Swanson had ordered the Navy to start hunting.”

To add a little sidelight to the search, were you aware that the U.S. Battleship COLORADO served as an oil barge for the USCG cutter ITASCA?

Under a New York dateline, Dec. 4, 1961, there appeared a story about a “Mrs. Clara [Trenckman] Studer, Rome, Italy, who has spent months here studying records of Miss Earhart’s last flight” etc. This same article contains the following: “Mrs. Studer, a writer who collaborated on a book with Miss Earhart’s husband, George Putnam, and helped form the woman pilots’ organization the “Ninety-Nines,” said Miss Earhart’s name and fate “must be cleared” before 1965 when she is eligible for election in the Hall of Fame. Mrs. Studer and other friends of the flier also fear chances of an Amelia Earhart stamp being published next year have been hurt by the story that she was spying on Saipan.”

Clara Studer

Undated photo of Clara Studer, who edited The Ninety-Niner newsletter in the early 1930s, and in 1937 wrote Sky Storming Yankee: The Life of Glenn Curtiss.

(Editor’s note: An online search shows no evidence of any book that Clara Studer and George Putnam wrote together. Studer did author a 1937 book, Sky Storming Yankee: The Life Story of Glenn Curtiss, and in 1933, Studer was the New York-based editor of The Ninety- Niner newsletter. To see the Jan. 15, 1933 edition, please click here.)

Now that I have answered your questions to the best of my ability, may I ask just what connection has Mrs. with CBS, and also the connection, if there be one, between CBS and Mr. Putnam? If Miss Earhart’s name was to be cleared of the spy charge, wouldn’t it be a logical conclusion that an intense investigation be made just how Earhart and Noonan arrived at Saipan (if they did)? My conclusion remains the same; that is, the Electra and its passengers are on the bottom of the sea west of Howland Island, yet very near the island.

In closing, I would like to add that you are quite the “Quiz Master.” However, if there is any doubt in your mind, I see no reason why you should be otherwise. In addition, the enclosure “Facts about the Final Flight” contains several remarks that I would disagree with, but I have never doubted that she crashed very close to Howland Island.

I hope that I have cleared up some points regarding this case. If I can be of any further assistance, don’t hesitate to “start quizzing.” THE INFORMATION THAT I HAVE GIVEN YOU IS FOR YOUR INFORMATION ONLY AND I DO NOT WISH ANY PUBLICITY ON MY PART.

Sincerely,

Leo G. Bellarts

Breaking News! Nauticos ends Earhart ocean search: No Electra found!

Stop the presses! On April 5, Dave Jourdan of Nauticos officially announced finis to the latest Earhart crashed-and-sank goose chase, when he announced on the group’s Expedition Portal, “Today the Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition 2017 comes to a close.”

As always, no hyperbolic headlines screamed for attention as another ocean-floor boondoggle came up empty, nor could the news of this crushing development be found anywhere else in our vast Internet media. Under the headings “Mission Conclusion” and the grammatically challenged “Nauticos Crew Head Home, Makes Plans,” Jourdan wrote, “As you may have gathered, I cannot announce that we found the Electra.” Who could have imagined!

Also as predicted, Jourdan claims that his crew’s latest high-tech achievements aboard “the good ship Mermaid Vigilance” made this most recent voyage highly successful:

We covered 725 square nautical miles this expedition, a record for Nauticos. Our tally in three expeditions is nearly 2,000 square nautical miles, and with the coverage by the Waitt Foundation in 2009 we’ve mapped an area the size of Connecticut at 1 meter resolution or better. This is one of the largest contiguous areas of the deep ocean mapped in history.

So now, thanks to Nauticos, anyone interested in touring the ocean floor near Howland Island should have a far-more detailed map to keep them from getting lost as they negotiate the “seamounts, calderas, and volcanic cones never seen before” in this area of the central Pacific. It’s encouraging to know that someone is concerned about resolving this pressing need!

David W. Jourdan’s The Deep Sea Quest for Amelia Earhart (Never Forgotten Book II), published by Ocellus in 2010, claims “there is no primary source to narrow speculation on [Earhart and Noonan’s] fate.” Really?

Readers of this blog will be forgiven if they’re unaware that Jourdan actually wrote a book on his Earhart search, The Deep Sea Quest for Amelia Earhart (Never Forgotten Book II), yet another misnamed and thoroughly forgettable tome, published in 2010 and obviously read only by the most clueless and incorrigible crashed-and-sank enthusiasts. 

A description — or more accurately, a warning about this book’s vapid contents can be found on its Amazon page, on which we find:

“The disappearance of Amelia Earhart is possibly the greatest aviation mystery of the twentieth century. Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan, vanished without a trace in the vast Pacific near tiny Howland Island during their attempt to circle the globe on July 2, 1937. No wreckage, oil slick, or floating debris of any sort was ever found. Other than a few fleeting radio messages, there is no primary source to narrow speculation on their fate.”

“No primary source”? Yes, you read that correctly. I suppose that would depend on how one defines “primary source,” wouldn’t it?  Jourdan, along with the indefatigable crashed-and-sanker Elgen M. Long, who was also aboard Mermaid Vigilance, is among the most visible of the hopeless crashed-and-sank wing of the Earhart community. Neither Long nor apparently Jourdan consider Paul Briand Jr., Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Oliver Knaggs, Thomas E. Devine, Bill Prymak or anyone else who ever painstakingly labored in the service of the truth and at the risk of their personal peace and reputations to bring back solid, eyewitness evidence of the presence and deaths of Amelia and Fred Noonan in the Marshall Islands and Saipan as “primary sources.” The same can be said of any of the scores of witnesses these men interviewed, beginning with Josephine Blanco Akiyama, still alive in San Mateo, Calif. 

Not a single mention of any of them, or even the possibility of Saipan, can be found in Long’s Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved, and I have no intention of purchasing Jourdan’s book so that I can make a similar statement about that fish wrapper.  An old quotation comes to mind and seems most appropriate here: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” 

Jourdan concluded his announcement by writing, “We will take another look at all of our work, and have already made a to-do list. We will return home, take a well deserved rest, then get back to it!” Of course they will; there’s too much money yet to be made from the fat contracts the U.S. Navy happily awards to those willing to get underway in these continuing voyages into insanity.

Nauticos continues Earhart ocean-search insanity

One of the better-known definitions of insanity has been attributed to Albert Einstein, who described it as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I wonder how many times it would take Nauticos, or the rest of clueless crashed-and-sankers to search the Pacific floor without finding the Earhart Electra before they admitted they might be wrong about what happened to Amelia and her plane. Based on past performances, the answer is, sadly, “Never.”

I didn’t even know about the current search until today, when David Billings told me about it in an email from his home in Nambour, Australia. Billings, of course, has his own, far more credible theory about where the Earhart Electra lies, and it’s certainly not on the bottom of the Pacific. More about David in a moment, but this latest from Nauticos is just a bit too clever, a bit too slick, and more than a bit too much.

Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Thanks to Nauticos, we have a brand new example of modern-day insanity at work in the latest underwater search for Amelia Earhart in the vicinity of Howland Island.

Nauticos has fancied up its website for the new search, with lots of bells and whistles, and even sports a special Expedition Portal, wherein fans can get near daily updates on this latest foray into crash-and-sank futility, dubbed the Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition.” Rather than further comment on this inane voyage, I’ll quote Dave Jourdan, Nauticos’ coordinator and publisher, as he describes his latest boondoggle in the lead paragraph on Nauticos’ Amelia page:

On February 18, 2017 a team from Nauticos with stratospheric explorer Alan Eustace and aviation pioneer Elgen Long departed Honolulu for the vicinity of Howland Island, 1,600 miles to the southwest, to complete the deep sea search for Amelia Earhart’s lost Lockheed Electra. Adding to the work conducted during prior expeditions in 2002 and 2006, the team plans to complete a sonar survey of about 1,800 square miles of seafloor, an area believed to contain the aircraft. The expedition will use autonomous underwater technology provided by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to image the ocean floor nearly 18,000 feet below.

“We left Honolulu February 18 and expect to be at sea for 30-45 days,” Jourdan writes. “I hope you enjoy sailing with us. This portal will be updated frequently and will be the best way to keep abreast of the progress of the expedition.” 

What is really going on here, one might ask. Can these otherwise well-educated, highly skilled men be so stupid as to actually believe their own press releases about the Electra lying on the bottom of the ocean? Not likely. As I wrote in Truth at Last (page 304 Second Edition), “Is it coincidence that the majority of Nauticos’ lucrative contracts accrue from the largesse of the Navy, whose original Earhart search report remains the official, if rarely stated position of the U.S. government? Here we see yet another establishment effort to maintain and perpetuate the myth that Earhart and Noonan ‘landed on the sea to the northwest of Howland Island’ on July 2, 1937.”

So what we have, in my view, is just another Earhart disinformation exercise wrapped up in a glorified ocean floor mapping project. Don’t forget, we’re rapidly approaching the 80th anniversary of Amelia’s disappearance, and the sheeple must be kept misinformed, lest they get any funny ideas.

Now, thanks to Nauticos and its intrepid team of high-tech adventurers, we have a new example of modern-day insanity at work — in the latest Pacific-floor quest for Amelia Earhart’s Electra. If anyone out there can tell us how many of these ridiculous searches have been undertaken since 1960, you not only have too much time on your hands, you’re a far better researcher than I’ll ever be.  With the exception of TIGHAR, of course, and its 11 fruitless excursions to Nikumaroro, it doesn’t get any worse than this in the Earhart hunt. 

The offshore supply ship Mermaid Vigilance, currently searching for Amelia Earhart’s Electra in the waters off Howland Island.  Don’t expect to see headlines when she returns empty-handed, with Nauticos members claiming to have made great progress in mapping the ocean floor. But Amelia’s plane will have eluded the intrepid Nauticos team once again, for the glaringly obvious reason that it’s never been there. 

On the other hand, David Billings and his New Britain theory stand alone among all so-called theories, in that it poses a real, unanswered question about a credible scenario, one that needs to be resolved with finality before we can proceed without second thoughts.  Let’s briefly return to my Dec. 6, 2016 post, New Britain theory presents incredible possibilities,” so that new readers can better understand:

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.

Amazing, is it not? How can we possibly explain this C/N 1055 inscribed on a map case, and the string of numbers and letters, “600 H/P. S3H/1 C/N1055,” which remains the most significant historical notation found to date in the search for Earhart’s aircraft?

In an email today, Billings sounded more optimistic than ever, and says he’s getting closer to the plane wreck in the remote jungles of East New Britain that he’s been unable to locate in 16 searches thus far.

“We are in the middle of the planning stage for June this year,” Billings wrote. “The main target is a bare patch of earth I saw in late 1996 which wasn’t significant to us at that time, when we were looking for a wreck ‘on the ground.’  Now we know it is buried, and as the bare patch is in a very likely area from the description of the site by the Vets, it now becomes a principal target.  If not there, then we spread outwards East and West in this likely area. 

David Billings, an Australian adventurer of the old-school variety, is planning a June 2017 return to the remote jungles and waters of East New Britain in search of the wreck of Amelia Earhart’s Electra.

“One of my team keeps a diary,” Billings continued, “and he recorded that in late 1996 he cut his knee with his bush knife and I restricted him to the camp until the wound knitted, while we went out without him.  It reminded me that when he was not with us, we saw the bare patch where a bulldozer had been working and we remarked on it at the time but thought no more of it.  We now have been told that a bulldozer driver buried it out of ‘Tribal Jealousy’ (as described by the local people).  Different picture now. The diary, which I was transcribing into MS Word, jogged my memory about the bare patch.  There will be trees on it now, of course, but I will be able to find it as I know where it is.  I have already got quite a collection of SAT photos and they’re graded into Lat/Long very accurately.  I’ve had some help with that so our GPS units will be able to direct us to the plotted Waypoint.”

Billings said that donations to his cause can be made through the PayPal button on his website.

“Whatever the wreck is, it has to be eliminated,” he concluded. “If it is not the Electra, well, it will be someone else that has been found. That’s the pragmatic view I take on the matter.  If not hers, whose is it?”

Whose, indeed? We wish David Billings all the luck he’ll need to be successful in his forthcoming search, so that once and for we might answer this nagging question, one of the true “mysteries” in the Earhart saga.

Jim Golden and FDR’s Amelia Earhart “Watergate”

In a March 2, 2015 post titled Jim Golden’s legacy of honor in the Earhart saga,” I introduced the late Jim Golden, a close friend of Fred Goerner and, in the day, a near-legendary figure in Earhart research circles. Golden, whose unique career included eight years as a Secret Service agent in the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, two years as Howard Hughes’ chief of security in Las Vegas, and a stint in the U.S. Justice Department, from where he tried to help Goerner search for the elusive top-secret Earhart files that President John F. Kennedy had allowed Goerner and California newspaperman Ross Game to see briefly in 1963, just before JFK’s assassination in Dallas.

Among the secrets Golden shared with Goerner was the revelation that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were brought to the islands of Roi-Namur, Kwajalein Atoll by air from Jaluit Atoll by the Japanese in 1937, a fact he learned from Marine Intelligence officers during the American invasion of Kwajalein in January 1944.

Private First Class James O. Golden, circa 1944. As a photographer assigned to independent duty in Marine Intelligence on Kwajalein in January 1944, Golden read a report by officers of the 24th Marine Intelligence Unit about a native on Roi-Namur who told them of two white people, a man and a woman, brought by Japanese airplane to Roi, the man with a white bandage on his head and the woman with short-cut hair wearing men's pants.

Private First Class James O. Golden, circa 1944. As a photographer assigned to independent duty in Marine Intelligence on Kwajalein in January 1944, Golden saw a report by officers of the 24th Marine Intelligence Unit that remains hidden in top-secret government files. 

During several telephone conversations I had with Golden in the summer of 2008, he recalled his experiences as a 19-year-old enlisted Marine photographer in the intelligence section of the 4th Marine Division during the Kwajalein campaign.

“The Marines wrote up a detailed report capturing the info that related that in 1937 two white persons, a male and female were brought by plane to Roi,” Golden told me, “the man with a white bandage on his head and the woman with short-cut hair wearing men’s pants, who were taken across a causeway to the Namur Admin building. Three days later taken out to a small ship in the lagoon, which then departed. I read the report myself. This report would routinely be forwarded to 4th Div. Intel, then on to the U.S. Navy. This report must have been the first sighting [sic] of her capture by the Japanese by U.S. forces at that time.”

The following story, “FDR’s Amelia Earhart ‘Watergate,’ by one Leon Freilich, appeared in the Jan. 3, 1978 issue of the Midnight Globe tabloid newspaper, which at some later date changed its name to the familiar Globe that adorns check-out racks in supermarkets and other retail stores nationwide, along with its better-known rival, the National Enquirer.  It first appeared in the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter’s June 1992 issue. 

“FDR’s Amelia Earhart ‘Watergate’”

The late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt covered up the truth behind aviatrix Amelia Earhart’s mysterious disappearance and created his own Watergate — nearly 40 years before Richard Nixon.

Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She tried in 1937 to fly around the world and disappeared into the Pacific. Now a top-level Justice Department official, James Golden, charges that FDR withheld the facts of her disappearance for his own ends.

This is the Jan. 3, 1978 Midnight Globe story on Jim Golden's

This is the headline of the Jan. 3, 1978 Midnight Globe story on Jim Golden’s bold charges of cover-up in the Earhart disappearance by Franklin D. Roosevelt as well as every subsequent administration to protect FDR’s checkered legacy, which would have never survived public knowledge of his failure to come to the aid of Earhart and Fred Noonan when they were in Japanese hands in 1937.

“Amelia Earhart was killed in the line of duty, and President Roosevelt refused to let it get out,” Golden, director of enforcement for the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in Washington, D.C., told MIDNIGHT GLOBE.

She was a spy for the Navy. She didn’t just ‘disappear,’ as Roosevelt led the press and public to believe. Amelia Earhart was taking reconnaissance shots of Japanese naval facilities when her plane was forced down. She died at the hands of the Japanese.”

Similar accusations of a cover-up have been leveled in the past, and a book [The Search for Amelia Earhart]  detailed some of the charges several years ago. However, this is the first attack on Roosevelt’s credibility by a top figure in the federal government.

Why did FDR stonewall the facts? “Amelia Earhart was a glamorous aviatrix and America’s favorite woman adventurer,” Golden said. “For some reason, she’d agreed to use her round-the-world flight as a mask for a spying operation. In those days spying was considered the lowest of the low in this country. So when she lost her life, Roosevelt was afraid he would lose millions of votes in the next election. Consequently, he stifled the truth.”

How does the high-level government prober know this? “There’s a top-secret file with all this information in the White House,” he revealed to MIDNIGHT GLOBE. “It can’t be released, except by the President. “But two of my friends in the intelligence community have seen it. I consider them wholly reliable. They told me the file includes a four-page summary of Japan’s secret report on the Amelia Earhart case.

“This summary relates that she and her €co-pilot [sic], Fred Noonan, were captured by Japanese forces on July 2, 1937, near Saipan, the Central Pacific headquarters for Japanese ships. The Japanese took the two there and kept them under heavy interrogation for a year and a half. Then they beheaded Noonan. Amelia Earhart died the very next day. The records said the cause of death was dysentery, but even if that’s true, the blame belongs on her captors, who kept her penned up in primitive conditions.”

Jim Golden, Washington, D.C., circa mid-1970s. As a highly placed U.S. Justice Department official, Golden joined Fred Goerner in the newsman's unsuccessful search for the elusive, top-secret files that would finally break open the Earhart case. During his amazing career, Golden led Vice President Richard M. Nixon's Secret Service detail and directed the personal security of Howard Hughes in Las Vegas.

Jim Golden, Washington, D.C., circa mid-1970s. As a highly placed U.S. Justice Department official, Golden joined Fred Goerner in the newsman’s partially successful search for the elusive, top-secret files that might have finally broken open the Earhart case. During his unique career, Golden led Vice President Richard M. Nixon’s Secret Service detail and directed the personal security of Howard Hughes in Las Vegas.

The file confirmed what Golden had learned first-hand during World War II.  “I was a Marine intelligence officer [actually a private first class] and landed on Saipan [actually Kwajalein] in January 1944,” he said. “Some of the elders described to me in minute detail how a white woman and man had been seized from a fallen giant bird.

“That would be their plane. And the pair were kept on the island as prisoners until the Japanese chopped off the man’s head. The woman — Amelia Earhart, of course — was never seen again.

“The natives’ testimony plus the secret file fit together too neatly to spell anything but the full story. I’m telling you this not to embarrass the U.S. government. My motive is simply this: Amelia Earhart gave her life for her country, and it ought to have the good grace to thank her for it.” (End of Midnight Globe article.)

In an October 1977 Albuquerque (New Mexico) Tribune story on Golden, “Prober says Amelia Earhart death covered up,” Golden, then with the U.S. Justice Department, told reporter Richard Williams that President Franklin “Roosevelt hid the truth about Miss Earhart and Noonan, fearing public reaction to the death of a heroine and voter reaction at the polls. . . . What really bothers me about the whole thing is that if Miss Earhart was . . . a prisoner of the Japanese, as she seems to have been, why won’t the government acknowledge the facts and give her the hero’s treatment she deserves?” Golden asked.

Sadly, Golden passed away unexpectedly at his home on March 7, 2011 at age 85. As I wrote in closing Jim Golden’s legacy of honor in the Earhart saga, in 2015, “We’ll never see the likes of Jim Golden again, and I hope someday we’ll meet in a much better place.”

More on Jim Golden’s amazing life and contributions to the Earhart saga can be found in the pages of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. 

White’s Earhart story another in long Saipan list

It is nearly impossible to accurately quantify the number of eyewitnesses and witnesses to the presence and deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan following their arrival there sometime in the summer of 1937. I’ve never tried, having seen others’ unsuccessful attempts to capture an arbitrary number that seems as fluid as mercury.

First, we have the native Saipanese witnesses, led by Josephine Blanco Akiyama, whose eyewitness account ignited Fred Goerner’s early 1960s investigations on Saipan that revealed the undeniable, shocking truth. Next are the American GI witnesses, featuring the myth-busting accounts of Thomas E. Devine, Robert E. Wallack, Earskin J. Nabers and a host of others who saw or had firsthand knowledge of the Earhart Electra and other hard evidence of Amelia’s presence on Saipan prior to the war.

Many others were privy to information gleaned in the postwar years, and then we have the issue of defining what actually constitutes a witness, not to mention the entirely separate grouping of Marshall Islands witnesses, to whom I devote the longest chapter in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Today’s post concerns a relatively obscure American witness from postwar Saipan, and though Charlotte White’s story is insignificant in the big picture, it’s yet another of countless footnotes to the Earhart saga.

The colorized version of this classic photo of

The colorized version of this classic photo of Amelia graces the cover of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Was this the “leather flier’s jacket” Mrs. Charlotte White saw on Saipan?

In the Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune, of Dec. 27, 1990, Mrs. Charlotte White, of Burlington, Ky., described an incident that occurred while she was living on Saipan, from 1955 to 1961. Her husband, Edward, was a retired Army master sergeant and World War II prisoner of the Germans who was working for the CIA on Saipan. Mrs. White said she was being driven home one day when they were stopped by some reporters from Look magazine, who said they were doing a story about Amelia Earhart. Though White knew nothing about the Earhart disappearance at the time, she began asking questions, and soon she “met the police chief . . . who claimed to know Miss Earhart’s fate,” according to the Tribune.  “The chief showed Mrs. White a leather fliers’ jacket that he said belonged to ‘the lady flier.’ Following is the entire article, written by Jack Hicks, which also appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

BURLINGTON, Ky. — Few mysteries have intrigued the American public like the disappearance of flier Amelia Earhart. Speculation about Miss Earhart’s fate surfaces in books and the media from time to time. Recently the prime-time television show Unsolved Mysteries featured the 53-year-old puzzler. Charlotte White of Burlington, Ky., hasn’t solved the puzzle of Miss Earhart’s disappearance during a round-the-world flight in 1937. But Mrs. White can add a few pieces.

Mrs. White met a man on the Pacific island of Saipan who claimed to know Miss Earhart’s fate. The man, a police chief on the island, showed Mrs. White a leather flyer’s jacket that he said belonged to “the lady flyer.” In tropical Saipan, it’s unlikely a native would wear a leather jacket at any time of year. Mrs. White lived on Saipan from 1955 to 1961 with her husband, Edward, who has since died. A retired Army master sergeant and World War II prisoner of the Germans, White worked for the CIA.* “I’d heard about Amelia Earhart being missing, everybody in America had. But I never connected it with Saipan,” recalled Mrs. White, now 71. “Then one day I was being driven home, and we were stopped by some people who said they were from Look magazine, and were doing research on a story about Amelia Earhart.” 

Paul Briand Jr., circa 1959, who 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, presented the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama and initiated the modern-day search for Amelia Earhart.

Paul Briand Jr., circa 1959, whose 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, presented the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama and initiated the modern-day search for Amelia Earhart.

(Editor’s note: Edward White’s CIA affiliation was likely connected to the Naval Technical Training Unit (NTTU) on Saipan. In a  July 1961 memorandum from Brig. General Edward G. Lansdale, Pentagon expert on guerrilla warfare, to Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, President John F. Kennedy’s military advisor on Resources for Unconventional Warfare, SE Asia, Lansdale wrote: In 1948, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) closed off half of Saipan to islanders and outsiders, using the northern part of the island for covert military maneuvers. The end of WWII left a power vacuum that was being filled by communism; the Cold War objectives of the CIA’s covert facility on Saipan were to thwart communist expansion. The island’s remoteness and control by the military made it an ideal base for this training and the NTTU was established. The primary mission of the Saipan Training Station [was] to provide physical facilities and competent instructor personnel to fulfill a variety of training requirements including intelligence tradecraft, communications, counter-intelligence and psychological warfare techniques. Training [was] performed in support of CIA activities conducted throughout the Far East.”

The NTTU was established in 1953 and closed down in 1962.  Fred Goerner wrote at length about the NTTU and its role in discouraging media from visiting Saipan in search of Amelia Earhart. See The Search for Amelia Earhart and Truth at Last, pages 104, 105 for more.)

Mrs. White began asking some questions of her own, and ultimately talked with the police chief, named Gurerro [sic]. He had been on the island when it was occupied by the Japanese, before American forces captured it in 1944.He said he remembered the flyers, and he described Miss Earhart to a T,” White said. “She had curly brown hair. ‘They killed her,’ he said of the Japanese.” Gurerro told her that Miss Earhart’s plane had crashed near Saipan, apparently when it flew off course and ran out of fuel. “Her co-pilot [sic], Fred Noonan, was injured in the crash and soon died, the police chief said. He took me to Garapan, a large city which had been heavily damaged during the war, and showed me the place where he said they kept her in an underground cell. ‘She was very sick,’ he said.”

Miss Earhart was buried within the military’s postwar training ground, which is off-limits, according to Gurerro. Gurerro had the jacket hanging on a hook in his office. “He said it was the lady flyer’s jacket, but he didn’t say how he got it. I tried to touch it and he said, ‘No Missy, don’t touch.’ He let me look at it, but he wouldn’t let me touch it,” Mrs. White said. “I have absolutely nothing to authenticate any of this. All I know is what he told me all those years ago.” 

What began as another of hundreds of garden-variety biographies of Amelia Earhart became the 1960 book that ignited the modern search for the lost fliers. In the final chapter of Daughter of the Sky, the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama was introduced, which led to Fred Goerner's four early 1960s Saipan investigations and his 1966 bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart.

 In the final chapter of Daughter of the Sky, the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama was introduced, which led to Fred Goerner’s four early 1960s Saipan investigations and his 1966 bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart.

The memory comes back to her from time to time, especially when someone mentions Amelia Earhart or something appears in the news or on television, such as the Unsolved Mysteries segment. No investigator has ever contacted her since she met the Look magazine reporters. She didn’t know anything at the time, she said. Her husband, who may have known something he never told her, admonished her not to talk about it. Edward White, who worked as a security guard after the family returned to Kentucky, died in 1989. Mrs. White would like to go back to Saipan for another look, but she isn’t keen on a flight across the ocean. She had enough of that, she says, as an Army and CIA wife. (Jack Hicks is a reporter for the Kentucky Post in Covington.)

Perhaps the most curious aspect of this story is that the police chief’s name was “Gurerro,” according to Mrs. White, and he had been on the island when it was occupied by the Japanese. Could this have been the same Jesús De Leon Guerrero, also known as Kumoiwho terrorized his fellow Saipanese as a Japanese collaborator and police officer before and during the war years?

Paul Briand Jr., author of the seminal 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, which introduced the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama to the world, wrote in a 1966 essay, “Requiem for Amelia,” that Kumoi was 51 in 1937. In 1966, Briand wrote, Kumoi had “no official connections with either the American or Japanese government—he is a dealer in scrap metal.” Briand added that Guerrero was “still greatly feared and respected on Saipan as the man who could extract confessions out of anybody. For this reason he was very useful to the Japanese authorities on Saipan in dealing with the natives and getting necessary information out of prisoners.”

I haven’t been able to locate Jesús De Leon Guerrero’s obituary, and if any reader out there can help with that information, it would be most appreciated. 

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