In the opening sentence of my critique about Ric Gillespie and The International Group for Historic Recovery (TIGHAR) in the final chapter of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, I wrote the following: “Nobody in the history of Earhart investigations has made so much from so little as Ric Gillespie.” With this new phony claim from the TIGHAR chief, Gillespie appears more determined than ever to prove the validity of that statement.
The 26-year assault against common sense, logic and worst of all, the truth, which has been the hallmark of Gillespie’s Earhart-Nikumaroro fundraising campaign since a USA Today headline screamed, “A piece for Earhart puzzle on Jan. 4, 1991, continued its seemingly unceasing refrain Oct. 28. All of a sudden, we were knee deep into another super media-hype prelude to what Gillespie ostentatiously labels “Niku VIII,” but which is, more accurately, TIGHAR’s eleventh trip to the long-picked-over island of Nikumaroro, formerly Gardner, in the Central Pacific’s Phoenix Chain.
As a result, I’ve been derailed from my track of highlighting Paul Rafford Jr.’s estimable and controversial theories about Amelia Earhart’s last flight, and forced to confront the latest affront to the truth in the Earhart case by Gillespie, unarguably among the greatest obstacles to public enlightenment in the history of Earhart research, perhaps second only to the U.S. government itself, which has been actively suppressing the truth since 1937.
This new outrage, which Australian researcher David Billings warned me was coming, began with Discovery News’ mistitled story of Oct. 28, “Amelia Earhart Plane Fragment Identified” by way of Rossella Lorenzi’s mendacious pen. “A fragment of Amelia Earhart’s lost aircraft has been identified to a high degree of certainty for the first time ever since her plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937,” Lorenzi’s story began. “According to researchers at The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating the last, fateful flight taken by Earhart 77 years ago, the aluminum sheet is a patch of metal installed on the Electra during the aviator’s eight-day stay in Miami, which was the fourth stop on her attempt to circumnavigate the globe.”
I need not repeat all the sordid details of the current iteration of this charade, or the disgusting phenomenon itself. Gillespie’s money-grubbing Nikumaroro boondoggles are well known to readers of this blog as well as anyone else with even a passing interest in the Earhart case. They also know his brainchild, TIGHAR, is the most inaptly named organization in modern aviation investigative history, and has never recovered and restored any aircraft, at least to this writer’s knowledge. For those few visitors who may be new and need more information to clarify all this, please see “June 2: Gillespie and TIGHAR — Again and Rossella Lorenzi, TIGHAR’s best friend” (Oct. 24, 2013).
Last year Gillespie was reported to be seeking $3 million to finance the high-tech submersible search operations off Nikumaroro, of which an unknown percentage goes to Gillespie’s “non-profit” organization and finances the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. But Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald reports that Gillespie’s new goal is a more modest $387,000 “to take an underwater vessel to Nikumaroro to get a closer look at that anomaly.”
(As an aside and something I shouldn’t have to say, neither I nor anyone else I respect who’s involved with Earhart research has ever been motivated by the remotest dreams of financial gain. My love and devotion to the truth in the Earhart disappearance is well known to those who have read Truth at Last and frequent this site, which had been as popular as a toxic waste dump before we broke all-time page-visit records Oct. 30. Clearly, many more discerning readers than usual, sick of reading Gillespie’s nonsense, went looking for an alternative – which, of course, would be the Marshall Islands, Saipan and the TRUTH. I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide what you think motivates Ric Gillespie in his Earhart work.)
Lorenzi, along with the Miami Herald’s Garvin (see his Oct. 28 “Piece of metal may offer clue to disappearance of Amelia Earhart’s plane” for an example of just how truly bad the media adulation of Gillespie can get) has risen to threaten all time-supremacy of the media hacks who shill for Gillespie. The AP’s Richard Pyle’s sendoff love letter to Gillespie in 2007 just before TIGHAR’s departure for NIKU V, “Search team hopes high tech will solve Amelia Earhart mystery” still ranks as the most oppressively biased of all the pro-TIGHAR propaganda in this writer’s memory.
But Lorenzi has been diligently practicing her agitprop, and she isn’t far behind Pyle. Playing the faithful stenographer, deeper in her story she loyally reported the latest and most egregious Gillespie whopper, as she quoted him saying, “This is the first time an artifact found on Nikumaroro has been shown to have a direct link to Amelia Earhart” in touting his fourth-hand piece of old aluminum found in 1991 as the closest thing to aviation’s Holy Grail ever found.
Not yet content, Lorenzi gleefully rubbed salt in the wound by adding, “In 10 archaeological expeditions to Nikumaroro, Gillespie and his team uncovered a number of artifacts which, combined with archival research, provide strong circumstantial evidence for a castaway presence.” The unwashed are expected to assume that Lorenzi’s so-called “castaway presence” is Amelia Earhart, but she declined to mention that none of the assorted crap dragged out of the Nikumaroro ground has ever been linked to Amelia or Fred Noonan. Lorenzi also conveniently forgot to mention the U.S. Coast Guard LORAN Station, with real, living Americans, that was operating on the island from 1944 to 1946, or the hundreds of Gilbertese settlers who also lived there from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. Details, details, details.
Once Lorenzi’s story hit the wires, nearly everyone in the mainstream horde broke their necks jumping on the TIGHAR bandwagon, among them ABC, NBC and CBS News, CNN, the Associated Press and on down the line to the major websites and newspapers in cities big and small. Even Joseph Farah’s normally conservative World Net Daily joined the party, which became a full-court press of TIGHAR propaganda worthy of the finest Joseph Goebbels production. I even heard it on news breaks between The Savage Nation on my local Jacksonville AM station. Everyone was gleefully announcing that a piece of the Earhart plane had been found, thanks to Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR, and we could all sleep better that night. For a while it was like the Second Coming, and I simply couldn’t take it.
But, as it turned out, these arrogant media types had stepped in it big time, proving yet again that investigative journalism has long been a dead art, replaced by political operatives who pretend to be journalists and have no hangups about ethics or honesty. Almost as quickly as Gillespie’s claim had been circulated throughout the media biosphere, one man stepped forward to pour ice water all over the TIGHAR parade.
Gary LaPook, an experienced celestial navigator, attorney, former airline pilot and member of the Stratus Project and Amelia Earhart Society, recalled this piece of aluminum from bygone days, and knew it possessed a characteristic that unequivocally rules it out as coming from the Earhart Electra. On Oct. 29, a day after Lorenzi’s proclamations were published, LaPook sent the below report to the AES online forum:
Aluminum used in manufacturing aircraft is known as “Alclad” and has specification “24 ST” and the aluminum sheets are marked. You can see on the surface of Ric’s piece of aluminum the “D” in the word “ALCLAD.” All the photos of Earhart’s plane and, other planes from 1937, show that the aluminum is marked “24 ST” and is was not marked “ALCLAD.” We know that the marking was changed by World War 2 but Ric claims that it is uncertain when the changeover was made and that some 1937 aluminum might have had the “ALCLAD” marking instead of the “24 ST” marking. Obviously, if Ric were to admit that this marking only happened after 1937 then his new fund raising piece is a scam. When confronted with all the photos of Earhart’s plane under construction showing “24 ST” he explains it away by saying the “patch” was applied in Miami and that Miami had a different batch of aluminum with the new marking.
O.K. Since Ric is proffering this aluminum as evidence of Earhart’s plane being on Nikumaro then he has the burden of proof that it was made in 1937 and not in WW2. He always tries to turn this around and demands that others disprove that it was 1937 aluminum but it is his piece of evidence so he has the burden of authenticating it. If 1937 aluminum was marked “ALCLAD” then why hasn’t Ric been able to come up with even one photo of it from 1937 to substantiate his claim?
LaPook sent a web link to a site that discussed aluminum markings from the 1930s: https://aluminummarkings.wordpress.com, as well the TIGHAR artifact that showed the “AD” of “ALCLAD,” adding that Gillespie even named the photo “AD on skin.”
“Before you send any money to TIGHAR ask Mr. Gillespie to produce a piece of 1937 aluminum bearing the markings “ALCLAD,” LaPook wrote on TIGHAR’s Facebook Page. “He claims that his “patch” was installed on Earhart’s plane in 1937 but it clearly shows the “AD” in ALCLAD that wasn’t used until 1941. . . . Aluminum was not marked with the word “ALCLAD” until 1941 so the “AD” on Mr. Gillespie’s piece of aluminum disqualifies it as coming from Earhart’s plane. It is Mr. Gillespie’s burden to prove that this marking was used in 1937 and he has never been able to find any such proof or to produce an authentic piece of 1937 aluminum with this marking on it. Demand that he do so before you send him any of your money.” LaPook said these posts were gone from the TIGHAR Facebook page the next morning.
LaPook told Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald and Bruce Burns of the Kansas City Star about this, and it forced Garvin to write another story, “Investigators search for Amelia Earhart’s ghost in old Miami Herald” Oct. 30, and its title did nothing to indicate the grave nature that message’s effect might have on Gillespie’s fund-raising efforts. In his story, Garvin saved the most important fact – the “money quote,” so to speak, for the end of the story:
The most important evidence, however, is the linkage of Gillespie’s scrap to Earhart’s plane through study of the photo. And it’s on that point that LaPook and other his other critics insist most adamantly he’s wrong. They says [sic] telltale evidence on Gillespie’s scrap of wreckage prove it wasn’t manufactured until several years after Earhart crashed. The scrap bears a visible stamp of an A and a letter D — probably part of the label 24ST Alclad, the type of aluminum its [sic] made from.
But, LaPook says, Alcoa Inc., the company that manufactured the aluminum, didn’t start stamping it with the 24ST Alclad designation until 1941. Before that, it used the abbreviation ALC. “There are hundreds of photos of aluminum pieces stamped ALC,” LaPook said. “It’s just beyond doubt.”
Ron Bright of the AES, a former TIGHAR member who knows Gillespie and keeps much closer tabs on developments at TIGHAR than this writer, shared some perspective on the origin of the object of this controversy, the rectangular piece of aluminum found on Nikumaroro in 1991. This itself begs the question: Why did Gillespie wait 13 years to come out with his claims about the provenance of the aluminum sheet?
“At this time in 1991, Ric claimed that the piece fit exactly the underbelly of the Electra that suffered the damage at the March 1937 ground loop,” Bright wrote in a Nov. 1 email. “He said the airplane skin revealed that the type of aluminum, the thickness, and the size and style of the rivet ‘matched perfectly with an area on the underside of the Electra.’ The rivet pattern ‘was close,’ he wrote, and the repair at Burbank would account for the differences. The manufacturer’s label on the artifact (D?) established that it was a grade of aluminum authorized only for repairs [see “News Alert” from TIGHAR, July 2007].
“So in July 2007 this was the origin and analysis of the piece,” Bright continued. “Then came along that pesky Miami ‘patch’ that now he thinks fits the aluminum piece. How it got on to Niku is another fascinating story.”
Further confusing the matter, “In TIGHAR Tracks of 2001,” Bright wrote, “he [Gillespie] indicated that the damage to the piece ‘is consistent with being torn from the aircraft by powerful surf action. The piece has no finished edges and was literally blown out of a larger section of aluminum sheet from the inside out with such force the heads popped off the rivets. The artifact was found on the islands southwestern shore in the debris washed up by a violent storm.’ You have to say that TIGHAR can spin the bottle many ways!”
Woody Rogers, another AES member, was slightly more succinct in summarizing his views on the evolution of this particular piece of aluminum as it advanced through various stages of significance in TIGHAR’s collection of alleged Earhart artifacts. “I have the photo series from 1991 showing the controversy about this piece of skin, including the retired Lockheed Engineer that said that piece didn’t come from anywhere on an Electra,” Rogers wrote in a Nov. 1 email. “A few months later Ric moved the patch location to the rear of the bottom fuselage that had been extensively patched. The engineer pointed out that the repair patches were drilled in the same location where the original holes in the stringers [a strip of wood or metal to which the skin of an aircraft is fastened] were drilled.
“Unfortunately,” Rogers continued, “I’m on the road in Pennsylvania and will be traveling for a few months so I don’t access to any of my research, so this is from memory. So now we have three locations that this piece of aluminum supposedly can from. IMO, it’s just another bottle of snake oil for public consumption so Ric can garner more donations to pay himself his outsized salary. It’s beyond me why people financially support this guy.”
There was another bit of good news for the home team during this latest episode of TIGHAR media mania. The Kansas City Star contacted me and asked for my thoughts, a stunning surprise and the first time any establishment newspaper has asked my opinion since Donna McGuire, of the same Kansas City Star interviewed me over 11 years ago not long after With Our Own Eyes was published. On Aug. 3, 2003 “Chasing Amelia,” McGuire’s six-page cover story for the Sunday Star Magazine discussed the ideas of the late Thomas E. Devine and David Billings, who believes Amelia turned around and landed in the jungle of New Britain, an island off the coast of Papua New, Guinea.
Brian Burns story, “Has the key to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in the Pacific been found in Kansas?” was a far more even treatment of Gillespie’s ideas than the pro-TIGHAR puffery the Miami Herald pushed on its helpless readers. Besides presenting Gary LaPook’s information in a way that laymen could quickly understand, Burns talked to Lou Foudray, curator of the Earhart Birthplace Museum, who was quite kind to Gillespie, and myself, who, after watching this spectacle for 26 years now, was in no mood for such political niceties.
I vented to Burns as long as he could stand it – about 10 minutes — and in his story he tried to be fair, considering that his assignment was to feature Gillespie. “Others, like Florida researcher Mike Campbell, denounced the latest news as one more example of the wide-eyed treatment Gillespie routinely has received from a media establishment eager to play up his Earhart disappearance scenarios at the expense of others,” Burns wrote. “Every time he goes over there, he grabs whatever he can find and then tries to link it up to Earhart,” said Campbell, author of ‘Amelia Earhart: The Truth At Last.’”
Later in his story, Burns returned to this writer, and gave the truth a rare public airing:
Gillespie’s fundraising efforts, meanwhile, bother Campbell, who believes that Earhart and Noonan never landed on Nikumaroro but died in Japanese captivity on Saipan after first landing in the Marshall Islands. President Franklin Roosevelt, upon learning of their imprisonment, declined to intervene, he said.
“Today the media establishment is still protecting Roosevelt,” he said. If stories spread of Roosevelt’s refusal to help Earhart, Campbell said, “his legacy would be ashes.”
Burns promised that the title of Truth at Last, as well as my FDR quote would be in his story when it reached his editor’s desk, and so it was. He even called me the next day to make sure my quotes were accurate, a gesture of professional courtesy I had never experienced from a newspaper. I was amazed that this unnamed editor, who I later learned was Donna McGuire, who had interviewed me for a story in 2003 following publication of With Our Own Eyes, let my indictment of FDR stand, and thanked Burns for his efforts. Although its coverage of the Earhart situation was greatly welcomed, this was an anomaly, a one-off phenomena that tells us only that the Kansas City Star does not share the establishment’s aversion to the truth in the Earhart disappearance, and will treat the story unencumbered by political considerations. The sad, inescapable truth is that this policy, once taken for granted, is so rarely found in today’s ultra-politicized “news rooms.”
Will any in the media print retractions or apologize for their massive, irresponsible blunder? Of course not. They’ve never admitted error in their coverage of the Earhart story; it’s rare enough when they print a retraction about anything else. Where Earhart is concerned, nothing is off limits and the truth remains a sacred cow and an orphan. But word will get around about this, and perhaps they won’t be quite as fast to pull the trigger when Gillespie issues his next grand proclamation. How many times must a TIGHAR cry wolf before he’s ignored? Who knows, but why should we think the limit has been reached now?
They’ll be back as soon as Gillespie comes up with another sellable (note I didn’t say “plausible”) reason to go back to his ocean-bound piggy bank, telling us all once again to pay attention, the answers to the “Earhart Mystery” are within reach, just over the horizon. If the TIGHAR boss can just get the funds he needs, he’ll soon find aviation’s Holy Grail.
Despite the recent revelations that exposed Gillespie’s aluminum sheet as a pretender, don’t be surprised if he continues to push the same story despite all evidence to the contrary. The rest of the media, based on their past complicity in their shameless promotion of Gillespie’s agenda, may well simply ignore the facts and continue to push falsehoods down the throats of an ignorant, basically unconcerned public. Failing that, who knows what he might next come up? With Gillespie, it’s always something.