Whenever the discussion turns to the subject of the possible existence of “hard evidence” of Amelia Earhart’s presence on Saipan or the Marshall Islands, the metal door from the Garapan prison (or jail) with the provocative etching that suggests Amelia Earhart herself was the author is often mentioned.
In With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart (2002), written with much help from Thomas E. Devine, we introduce a fascinating object that captured the imagination of Earhart fans, at least for a time. Since this potential evidence, if confirmed as legitimate, would have placed Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan, the public was never informed about it by our trusted media.
In May 1994, Deanna Mick, of Arlington, Kansas, contacted Devine about an artifact that had recently come into her possession. Deanna and her husband had established an air charter service at Saipan’s International Airport in 1978, flying the neighboring islands in a single-engine 180 Cessna.
When they decided to return to the United States several years later, a former employee and one of their best friends, Ramon San Nicholas, presented her with a small steel door, 7-by-8 inches and about a quarter-inch thick, with broken hinges on one side and a hasp on the other. On one side of the door is this inscription:
July 29 1937 A. Earhart
“Ramon said the door came from the Japanese prison on Saipan, and that it was used to pass food and other articles to and from the cell,” Mick wrote, and enclosed a photograph of the door. In a subsequent letter she told Devine that Ramon died in 1986, and that she had no idea when the door was taken from the jail.
Ramon felt Deanna should have the door, Mick recalled, since she was the only woman pilot to fly the Marianas since Amelia Earhart. Ramon said he received it from a cousin on Saipan, who was positive Earhart was in the Garapan jail during the time indicated on the door, and that the etching came from her own hand.
Devine wrote to Mick, asking permission to conduct tests to determine when this inscription was made on the door. After his second letter, Mick responded, saying she would like to certify that the door came from the Garapan jail on Saipan, but she was not interested in giving up the door at that time. She enclosed a sheet of paper with a pencil tracing of the door, telling Devine, “The hinges are broken off and if the other part of the broken hinges are still on the cell at Saipan, which they could very well be, it would certify its authenticity.”
Devine believed the inscription may be authentic, and offered to pay Mrs. Mick for temporary custody of it. He would then have tests made to establish the approximate date of the inscription. When the tests were completed, he would return the door. “If a forensic test establishes an approximate date coinciding with the year of the Earhart disappearance, and with Mrs. Mick’s permission, I shall then compare this small door with the opening in the bars of the jail cell I had entered in 1944,” Devine wrote.
Mick told Devine she was leery of writing to anyone on Saipan about the door or of taking it to Saipan herself. “I am afraid the information could fall into the wrong hands and the door possibly confiscated — or worse,” she wrote. “Simply put, I don’t know anybody on Saipan at this time I would trust. Especially not the government.”
In an undated letter than appeared in the November 1997 edition of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, Mick described the basic history of the door, much as she had with Devine. She also sent Prymak a tracing of the artifact, and urged him to “send the picture to your man on Saipan. I would be interested to know if there is even a possibility of a match on Garapan.”
In the same November 1997 AES Newsletter, Prymak reported that AES member Bill Stewart, who resided on Saipan, “was given exact dimensions of the pass door, and a personal visit by Stewart to the GARAPAN PRISON confirms the size; it fits perfectly!”
The door and its inscription prompted Devine to recall other details of his visit to the Garapan jail in 1944, further increasing the probability of the door’s authenticity. “I must report this,” even though I may be called a storyteller, or my veracity may be impugned,” Devine wrote in his unpublished manuscript, “The Concealed Grave of Amelia Earhart,” circa spring 1995.
“On many occasions I have glanced at the photo of the door submitted by Deanna Mick. It has stirred my memory, and I do recall a door of that type on the bars of the cell that I had entered. As I lifted myself from the depth of the jail-cell floor, and grasped the swinging iron gate, I observed a few dark numbers on the dark metal opening. I believe this may be a coincidence, therefore I am seeking through Deanna Mick the names, addresses and any information that may ascertain that this may have been retrieved from the same cell.
“If this can be verified,’ Devine continued, “I am willing to visit the cellblock on Saipan to certify the door hinge matches the opening of the cell. This would establish another certainty: that Amelia Earhart was imprisoned in a filthy unsanitary cell on the island of Saipan.”
The food door evoked another revelation by Devine concerning his 1944 visit to the Garapan jail, another piece of the puzzle he kept to himself, hoping that someday he might testify before Congress in a investigation aimed at getting to the truth in the Earhart case. Devine’s recollection continues:
Since Deanna Mick has brought forth her artifact, perhaps I should no longer withhold what I had observed in the first cell from where we had entered the prison block, while investigating the pungent odor in 1944.
In 1944, after having climbed up to the walkway of the cellblock with the pungent odor, I looked into the first cell and was very surprised at the depth of the cell, perhaps six feet down from the walkway. Facing directly into the cell, and about two feet from the dirt floor, were two letters on the wall.
They were not Japanese letters, but they were English letters, an F and an N. They were very bright red, which I thought may have been paint. But where would a prisoner get paint? Since this was a Japanese prison, the English letters seemed out of place. If the letters had been placed there by a serviceman, he would usually include his rank, except of course when it was designated that “Kilroy was here.”
In 1944 I was fully aware of the presence of Amelia Earhart’s airplane on the island of Saipan, and assumed this incident was a top government matter and none of my business whatsoever. I never for a moment thought that Amelia Earhart had been a prisoner of the Japanese, and the name of her navigator had been relegated to secondary publication over a period of years. I never for a moment connected the letters “F N” to Fred Noonan, in 1944.
Since I did not go down into this cell, I am unaware of any additional lettering that may have been placed upon the wall below the iron grating, unseen by the Japanese guards. It is quite possible that the lettering may have been blood, sustained by an injury, or it may have been a finger rubbing against the wall to induce bleeding. Rain would produce a dripping effect, and over a period of time perhaps eliminate the letters. That is, if it were blood. At any rate, the letters appeared to be finger width, and about four inches high.
Of course the investigation that Devine dearly hoped would shine the spotlight on his extraordinary experiences on Saipan never happened, and is unlikely to happen in our lifetimes, or anyone’s lifetimes, for that matter, barring some kind of a miraculous intervention. That’s the view from here, anyway.
As for the metal door, though it remains a unique curiosity, there’s no way to determine who actually did the etching, or even when it was done. “Whether Amelia did the etching or someone sympathetic to her plight,” Mick wrote to Prymak circa 1997, “I would have no way of knowing, nor do I think does anyone else.”
In a recent e-mail, Mick said there’s “nothing new for me to add to the information you already have about the door. It is such a unique item though and keeps us asking, ‘What if?'”