All true students of the Earhart disappearance are familiar with the July 24, 1949 Los Angeles Times interview with Amy Otis Earhart, Amelia’s beleagured mother. In the Times story, headlined “Amelia Earhart Killed in Japan, Says Mother,” Amy told an unidentified reporter, “I am sure there was a Government mission involved in the flight, because Amelia explained there were some things she could not tell me. I am equally sure she did not make a forced landing in the sea. She landed on a tiny atoll – one of many in that general area of the Pacific – and was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat that took her to the Marshall Islands, under Japanese control.”
Amy could have learned all of the above from an Associated Press story penned by reporter Eugene Burns and published March 21, 1944, which was then picked the next day up by many papers nationwide including the New York Daily News, New York Sun and Oakland Tribune. The 1944 story, which should have been a blockbuster, made no impression on a nation still locked in the grip of war, with no time to worry about what happened to Amelia Earhart — not much different than our current zeitgeist, come to think of it.
After Fred Goerner returned from his first Saipan visit in July 1960, he heard the story of Amelia’s Marshall Islands landing from former Navy men John Mahan, Eugene Bogan, Charles Toole and Bill Bauer, and he presented it to America in his 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart. Readers can find the details there or in “The Marshall Islands Witnesses” chapter of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.
Getting back to Amy Otis Earhart: Writing in May 1944 to Neta Snook Southern, Amelia’s first flight instructor, she shared facts and insights she didn’t get from Burns’ AP story of a few months earlier. Beginning with a reference to Marshallese native Elieu Jibambam’s account to Lieutenant Eugene Bogan via the Japanese trader Ajima, Amy launched into what has become a legendary diatribe, and one that emphatically reveals that the so-called “Earhart Mystery” held no such allure for Amelia’s good mother. I present it below, sans a few irrelevant paragraphs, for your edification.
Mrs. Amy O. Earhart,
2282 Union Street
Berkeley, 4, California
May 6, 1944
My Dear Neta,
I am sorry I have had to be so long in answering your letter — but whenever a new story or rumor about Amelia starts, I am simply lost under the letters that pour in from everywhere. This story came through the Associated Press whose representative here told me they stood ready to vouch for the story, had checked and rechecked on not only the Lieutenant, but had their representative in the south sea area where the native lived, see and talk with him also.
The Jap trader who is the weak link in the claim isn’t doing much trading around just now, so whether the story he told the native is really true, or was fact, rumor, or hearsay he was repeating, cannot be checked on now.
It does happen to fit in with information brought me by a friend a few days after Amelia’s S.O.S who was listening to a former schoolmate’s short-wave radio when a broadcast from Tokyo came in saying they were celebrating there, with parades, etc. because of Amelia’s rescue or pick up by a Japanese fisherman. That was before the war you know, and evidently the ordinary Jap had no knowledge of their military leaders’ plans so ’were proud of the rescue and expected the world to be. That young girl drove 27 miles at 11 o’clock at night, and through a horrid part of Los Angeles to tell me. It was too late when she arrived at my house in North Hollywood, but the next day I went with her to the Japanese Consulate in Los Angeles and asked him about it.
He was very pleasant and said he had been out the night before, so ’hadn’t heard the broadcast, and would take it up with the government at once, and it might take time to get the details, and we should come the morning of the second day, when he would tell me all about it, if it wasn’t in the newspapers by that time, and advised us not to tell it about, until we had seen him again. When we went back, a stranger was there — ’said he was the new Consul, had just come in via the boat the day before, and the former Consul had left via the same boat for Tokio [sic] that morning — He knew nothing about it — Mr. Putman came home the next day and finally got in touch the Jap, and not getting any satisfaction over the telephone, insisted on a personal interview and saw the Consul, but got nowhere and came home angry and mad.
We tried to get an inquiry made from Washington but could get no further than with the Jap, and they were all stirred up about the search order made for her, and getting that started. The search, when it finally arrived near the islands, were [sic] not permitted, any more than our small boats there, to search the Marshalls, Carolines, or Marianas groups under the Jap mandate, but were told the natives were not friendly, and that the Japs would man boats and search everywhere themselves, and they did, and in some cases received thanks for their cooperation.
Many other things have come to me from time to time from people interested and who no more believe she crashed into the sea than I did. I have thought for some time she was being kept a prisoner there, because of what she saw and which they knew would be reported if she didn’t have an accident happen to her, which did to several sent by the government to see if those islands were not being fortified.
It all fell together as small pieces came in and makes a story. I have said very little about much that I have gathered and especially about that connected with the Jap prisoner side of it, except to a very few close-lipped friends, not even telling Muriel for I couldn’t check up on it and had no desire to start rumors which would worry Muriel, as it often does me and Amelia’s friends, whom I sometimes think includes most of the world.
I am writing this to you because I realize that a great part of your heart is down that way, too, as your boy goes back and forth in his work for his country and know, too, how many the anxious days and hours you keep within yourself as you go about your duties, just as I have tried to do always. One learns to manage the outside, but the inside is something we cannot always do so well with for it takes a lifetime of experience and practice. It does give us something of that understanding heart, which is so sorely needed in the world and which, together with patience, will be a necessity of this new world we dream of making.
You know, Neta, up to the time the Japs tortured and murdered our brave flyers, I hoped for Amelia’s return; even Pearl Harbor didn’t take it all away, though it might have, had I been there as some of my dear friends were, for I thought of them as civilized. There were times when, inside, I was wild with anxiety as I thought what might be happening to her, but gradually quieted myself with the thought they would (be) more likely to hold her as a hostage, and exchange her for some of their own they wanted, maybe might let her come home after the war was over, well and unharmed, just to show they were not (to) [sic] the brutes we thought them — but, when that story came out from our own men who had seen it all with their own eyes, and afterward escaped from their prison camp to tell of it, I thought so no more.
So the hope is only the finding out what happened after the Jap fishing boat picked her up from the small island where she had landed. One can face anything she knows is so, but unless she goes through the torture of not knowing, it is not possible to understand the agony connected with uncertainty, nor the loopholes it leaves for the imagination to get in its work.
I often think of the lights kept burning in the windows along the New England coast, here and there, often for a lifetime, put there to guide the fishermen safely home, a goodly number for those who will never come, but uncertainty keeps it burning. One clings to hope or perhaps it is just the feeling she wants the welcoming light, or the sign of the welcoming hand there, while she is here. At any rate, mothers understand it and a good many fathers, too.
. . . This is growing into a booklet, and I must stop. I am glad to hear your mother keeps well, and I think she was not only a patriotic mother not to try the trip out here, but a very wise one. Some of my friends who were here from Boulder, Colorado last week as well as others, tell tales of very uncomfortable times even in the drawing room sleeping cars, and it is impossible to get a reservation on a plane. I hope you keep well yourself, and keep hearing good news from your boy.
Amy Otis Earhart
Amy’s letter was sent to Bill Prymak by researcher Art Parchen. After reading the full transcript of her Los Angeles Times interview, Parchen concluded that the source of Amy’s uncanny knowledge about her daughter’s death may have been Eleanor Roosevelt – who Parchen, among others, believes enjoyed a special relationship with Amelia Earhart. “Eleanor Roosevelt told Amelia’s mother what happened out of compassion for her anguish,” Parchen wrote in his August 1994 letter to Prymak and the Amelia Earhart Society. “It was her way of ‘giving something back’ to the mother of the woman who taught her how to fly. You cannot read the L.A. Times interview without being convinced that Amy Otis Earhart really KNEW and ‘had it on good authority.'”
Parchen, who passed away at 85 in 2012, may have nailed it. Eleanor Roosevelt could well have known of Amelia’s death or capture by the Japanese, and if so, it means President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew the truth long before U.S. military forces found Amelia’s Electra in a hangar at Aslito Field on Saipan in the summer of 1944, something many researchers have long suspected.
But Amy also made a few very questionable statements in that 1949 Los Angeles Times interview, fanciful claims that couldn’t possibly have originated with Eleanor Roosevelt. Amy’s insistence that she knew Amelia “was permitted to broadcast to Washington from the Marshalls,” and “Amelia’s voice was recognized in the radio broadcast from the Marshalls to the U.S. capital,” seems most unlikely, although Parchen uncritically accepted these statements as true.
Strictly from a layman’s perspective, I would think that a short-wave radio transmission powerful enough to reach Washington from the Marshall Islands should have been heard by more than the few who reported hearing messages over several days. And why would the Japanese allow Amelia to broadcast from the Marshalls, only to deny all knowledge of her whereabouts soon thereafter, and later were found to have lied about the role their seaplane tender, Kamoi, played in the initial search effort? Stranger things have happened, I suppose.
Many little mysteries can be found when one studies the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. But none of these puzzles can obscure the big picture, the one that so clearly reveals her landing at Mili Atoll and eventual death on Saipan. This is what our media refuse to acknowledge, and so they continue with their endless propaganda that so vexes the few of us who truly care.
Amy Otis Earhart passed away at age 92 in 1962 in Medford, Mass., but her 1944 letter to Neta Snook lives forever in Earhart lore as one of the earliest indications that the U.S. government was lying about what happened to Amelia from the earliest days.