In today’s final post of our four-part series, “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society,” we rejoin the litany of famed Earhart researcher Joe Gervais’ better known gaffes; following that, I will try to bring the entire mash pit of absurdities that characterized the Irene Bolam chapter of the Earhart saga into some kind of coherent perspective, and put this pest of a lingering Earhart myth to bed for now.
“What is the hardest task in the world? To think.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Item: In 1987, Joe Gervais led the voices claiming that the notorious “Weihsien Telegram” (later known as the “Love to Mother,” or LTM, message), a 1945 “speedletter” addressed to George Putnam and sent from a liberated Japanese internment camp in China, proved that Earhart had been held by the Japanese throughout World War II. In 2001, Ron Bright led an investigation that found the message had originated with Turkish author and world traveler Ahmad Kamal, who had known Putnam well enough to ask him to look in on his elderly mother before he left on a trip to China in 1939.
Fred Goerner, in a 1992 letter to Rollin Reineck, traced the discovery of what he called the “Weihsien Camp message” to Sandra Rangel, an archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in the early 1970s. Rangel found the telegram among State Department records that were being routinely declassified following the normal 30-year classification restrictions, and wrote to Goerner about it in March 1971, telling him she found it a file under the name of George Palmer Putnam, not Amelia Earhart. Goerner obtained copies of the Weihsien records in 1975 and shared them with an Earhart researcher, Patti Morton, in 1983.
In 1987 Los Angeles Times reporter Paul Dean contacted Morton after asking Goerner for leads about an Earhart story, and Morton told Dean about the Weihsien message. Dean then used it as a “hook for his article,” according to Goerner, which opened the floodgates to the knee-jerk Earhart theorists’ proclamations. “As I feared,” Goerner wrote, “Mr. Gervais and others immediately began to claim that the message proved Earhart had been a Japanese prisoner and to claim it as proof for their various theories. Within a few days, Mr. Gervais had given his claim to a Las Vegas newspaper. It proved NOTHING OF THE KIND. It only proved that SOMEONE had sent a message to George Palmer Putnam.”
Goerner went on to castigate Reineck for his insistence that Morton was withholding “secret information” from him (Reineck), and said Morton was “outraged by the Gervais statements,” among which was that Morton had agreed “to do a book” with Gervais. Morton thought Gervais was “totally unprincipled,” Goerner told Reineck, and reminded him of Gervais’ checkered history of phony Earhart claims, as well as Reineck’s role in disseminating them:
The incredible attempt to use the Weishien message by Mr. Gervais to support his scenario is but another in a LONG, LONG list of misinformation Mr. Gervais has presented to the media as fact; for instance, by my count, Mr. Gervais has presented at least three photographs to the media which he alleges as proof that Earhart was in Japanese custody and returned to the U.S. as Irene Bolam. All bogus. You, Mr. Reineck, were a part of the last photo fiasco, and you were quoted widely in the press claiming the photo showed Earhart after the disappearance.
. . . Now that you know the photo was taken in Hawaii in 1937, why have you and Gervais not released that information to the media? Shame on everyone.
Item: The Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam theory.
The preceding are hardly the only examples of Gervais’ penchant for creative research, whereby he discovered a vast array of conspiracies and Earhart connections where none existed, but they are among the better-known cases. Certainly the native interviews he conducted in the Marianas in 1960 with fellow Air Force officer Robert Dinger were enormously important in establishing the presence of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan. These seminal accounts remain invaluable, but something happened to Gervais after he concluded his Saipan investigations, and it manifested itself in disastrous fashion that August 1965 day on Long Island.
Though it’s impossible to quantify the damage Amelia Earhart Survived inflicted upon the public’s perception of Earhart researchers, the popular idea that most who pursue the solution to the so-called Earhart mystery must be cranks or otherwise marginal individuals can, for the most part, be laid at Gervais’ doorstep, and Klaas’ too, as David Billings explained:
Joe Gervais convinced Joe Klaas that the woman he had seen at the Sea Spray Inn in 1965 WAS Amelia Earhart based on a spiritual feeling he had experienced which was influenced by a couple of adornments that the woman wore which were not what he thought they were. Klaas did not go and look at the lady himself, nowhere does he say that he did that, therefore he accepted what Gervais said holus-bolus. Now, if it were you or I and we wanted to be sure, we’d go and have a look. He never did. He never researched what Gervais told him, he never questioned Gervais, he wrote it down because as he often says, “I am a journalist.” What are journalists always after? A scoop. Klaas believed he had a scoop and he went off half-cocked and published that dreadful book. That dreadful book has affected every Earhart researcher since to one degree or another.
The unregenerate Klaas, now 95, has never publicly disavowed what he has described as the strongly “implied” contention in Amelia Earhart Lives that Earhart assumed the identity of Irene Bolam, though occasionally he has admitted the book contained other, less-serious errors. In an April 2007 message to the AES forum, Klaas reasserted his long-held, fence-straddling position on the Earhart-Bolam issue, cloaking it in the same quasi-legal terminology that failed to sway a New York court in the 1970s, and ended with McGraw-Hill’s substantial out-of-court settlement award to Irene Bolam:
My book, which was first published by McGraw-Hill, never stated outright that Irene Bolam was Amelia Earhart. We presented all the evidence … and left it up to the reader to speculate.
But the vigilant Mandel was having none of Klaas’ hair-splitting Bolamite doublespeak that April day, and immediately brought the matter to the attention of those forum members who might, understandably, have been confused by Klaas’ statement:
As it follows from Mr. Joe Klaas’ message, his book “never stated outright that Irene Bolam was Amelia Earhart,” and the ones who think otherwise make “understandable misunderstanding.” Sorry but it is difficult to agree with this statement, because of following facts. Mr. Joe Klaas’ book was actually. . . how the IB theory was revealed to public – that knew nothing about this theory before this book. And the book’s title was: “AMELIA EARHART LIVES.”
The book clearly proclaimed the concept of the author (Mr. Klaas) and his friend who proposed the theory (Mr. Gervais) that she “lives” in another, living (then) real person – Irene Bolam. Let’s just see the real things: it is exactly what the book proclaimed, not anything else. The name of the author, Mr. Joe Klaas, was on the cover of the book, and it is still my firm opinion that the writer is fully, unconditionally and personally RESPONSIBLE – before the readers, the public, the society, and the history – for the information, concepts and statements made in the book. Always and without exceptions.
The concept of the real, national and international, historical mysteries about the very real people to be considered as just a “fascinating game of research and deduction,” completely ignores this important aspect of public and social RESPONSIBILITY of the ones who make the public statements, and it is why I always definitely disagreed with this concept.
From the period well before the book’s publication and until today – for all these decades – Mr. Joe Klaas apparently did never claim that he is not sharing the theory generated by his friend, Mr. Gervais. His own support of the theory is obvious and clearly visible from the contents and tone of his own comments in the book, particularly its final phrase: “Joe Gervais is on your trail, Amelia. There’s no use trying to die, for he’ll follow you wherever you go, and as long as he shall live, you shall live.”
If it is not the full and unconditional support of the Mr. Gervais concept, then it is very hard even to propose any definition (of) what else it is. It is far more than can be expected or demanded from “just the hired writer” – and clearly represents Mr. Klaas’ own position – that he never rejected btw, neither publicly nor (as far as I know) on the “closed forums” like AES. The proof is just below, in Mr. Joe Klaas’ today’s message, where he clearly states that he still believes in “Joe’s and my theory of what actually happened to Amelia Earhart.”
Sorry dear colleagues, but “JOE’s AND MY theory” in this quote is not my words. And for all the following period after 1970, including the current times, Mr. Joe Klaas made it maximally clear for everybody that he still supports his theory and believes in it – as he did when writing the book.
After McGraw-Hill returned the rights to Amelia Earhart Lives to Klaas after many years, the book was republished as an Authors Guild Back-In-Print Edition by iUniverse, and has been available on the Internet for purchase since 2000. As for Prymak, it’s hard to know the extent of the damage he could have prevented by revealing the details of the 1992 Gervais-Mary Eubank incident to the Earhart community in the years immediately following it, but he might have disabused Reineck of his ill-advised impulse to write Amelia Earhart Survived. Prymak eventually admitted his role in keeping the lid closed on the blockbuster Eubank-Bolam connection, but he never quite publicly apologized for it.
Although Gervais might even now be considered as “the Dean of Earhart research” by a remaining few who lack all discernment, Fred Goerner rightly earned the honor that some of the good old boys of the AES once so cavalierly accorded Gervais. As Ron Bright, no advocate of the Earhart-on-Saipan scenario that informed Goerner’s vision and investigations, once wrote, “No one did more research than Goerner.” Goerner’s findings remain treasures; many of his letters are more important and germane than ever, because they direct us toward the truth, unlike the charlatans and government apologists dominating the popular media culture during the past few decades, or the obtuse Bolamites.
Thomas E. Devine, whose experiences on Saipan launched him upon a lifetime quest to establish the truth and whose influence on this writer’s early Earhart education was immense, lacked Goerner’s creative abilities, national connections and imagination, but his contributions to the Earhart investigation were significant and lasting, and no one was ever more driven or dedicated than Devine. Like Goerner, Devine was fallible and wrong in some of his key conclusions, and even dishonest on occasion, but he never approached Gervais’ notoriety, and unlike the notorious Gervais, his positive contributions to Earhart research far outweighed his failings.
By September 2006, the escalating conflict between the forum’s Bolamite faction and its reality-based counterparts reached critical mass, apparently precipitated by Billings and Mandel’s continuing demands that Reineck produce his long-promised forensic evidence. On September 10, Jo Ann Ridley, the genteel co-author of High Times Keep ‘Em Flying: An Aviation Autobiography (Fithian Press, 1992), set the day’s tone by announcing her withdrawal from the AES. Citing the “inexplicable toleration of schoolyard bullies in what should be friendly exchanges,” Ridley expressed her regrets that “the AES is no more, in its original sense,” and concluded by observing that “personal attacks, harassment and grudge-holding do not lead to truth-finding.” Taking Ridley’s cue, the conscientious Reineck soon declared his resignation, as well. “The crude and ungentlemanly behavior of David Billings and Alex Mandel towards me and my research goes well beyond any measure of common decency and certainly beyond my tolerance level,” Reineck announced, astonished that he might be asked for any evidence to support his incredible claims.
Joe Klaas soon followed suit, complaining that the forum “has deteriorated to mean-spiritedness,” which inspired several others in the flock to join the exodus. But like everything else in Bolamville, nothing was quite as it seemed, and the mass resignations proved to be little more than theatrics. No one, including Ridley, ever removed their names from the online membership roll, and all posted occasional messages to the forum in the months following their grand withdrawals. Not surprisingly, of all who had announced their departures, only Reineck returned to regular forum participation, and fairly quickly, as if nothing had ever occurred to keep him away.
More serious researchers had sought greener pastures years earlier, most while continuing their AES affiliation. Ron Bright, once a dues-paying member of TIGHAR, formed the Electra Research Group in 2002, “primarily to approach the various theories from a different standpoint,” he said. “We found about ten guys that seemed fed up with TIGHAR and AES, and wanted to exchange opinions and criticisms without the rancor.” By July 2006, Alex Mandel, starved for reasoned discussion after years of fruitless debate, established the Amelia Mary Earhart Research International Club and Association, also known as AERA. Mandel’s group, though small, continues as a viable forum for Mandel’s vision of “serious scholarly study of the life and career of the pilot Amelia Mary Earhart, the research of her disappearance in 1937, promotion and protection of her legacy, and providing exact and accurate information about Amelia Earhart for everybody interested.”
In late summer 2006, but unknown to me until much later, the hardcore AES Bolamite faction, led by Reineck and Klaas, formed their own private online forum, the “AESurvived” Yahoo! Group, where they could freely discuss the latest developments in their constantly evolving fantasies without the distractions of inconvenient reality. Since then, virtually nothing of this group’s activities or correspondence has come to my attention.
Irene Madeline O’Crowley Craigmile Heller Bolam was born on Oct. 1, 1904 in Newark, New Jersey, and died of cancer on July 7, 1982 in Edison, New Jersey. With few exceptions, nothing else written about this poor woman was either true or necessary. We can only wonder, in light of the lucrative financial settlement Bolam received from McGraw-Hill after Joe Klaas only implied she was Amelia Earhart in Amelia Earhart Lives, whether Reineck and his publisher would have dared to publish Amelia Earhart Survived if Bolam were alive today.
One might reasonably question the need to engage in a lengthy discussion of such an illogical notion as the IB theory in a blog purporting to present the truth about the Earhart matter. The time and effort spent in deconstructing this odious fantasy could be more wisely spent elsewhere, it can be argued, and focusing on the Bolamite credo grants it a legitimacy it could not otherwise achieve. If only this were so, speeding the eradication of this pox on the Earhart legacy would be so much easier – it could simply be ignored. But as we have seen, despite the theory’s abject lack of merit, producers of the National Geographic Channel’s History Undercover series devoted an entire segment of their Earhart program to the IB theory in 2007. If a book as feckless as Amelia Earhart Survived can persuade the National Geographic Channel into re-introducing the Bolamite thesis to millions of uninformed viewers, what damage might a cleverly produced tome by a creative, newly inspired Bolamite protégé yet inflict? We also have the recently published book, so shamelessly and irresponsibly promoted by the UK’s Daily Mail and Fox News, that has already outsold Reineck’s fish wrapper, and reintroduces the same Bolamite folderol to a public that remains largely ignorant about the Bolam lies.
Many demonstrably false and damaging ideas are granted currency by those who cultivate and embrace the politically correct mindset of “tolerance” for all “sincerely held” beliefs. This so-called open-mindedness and respect for “individual rights,” especially in regard to the weird and aberrant, is normally an innocuous conceit when the opinions in question are confined to the occasional eccentric or misfit. However, when these pernicious ideas are allowed to be broadcast to an uninformed public as facts, as was done in Amelia Earhart Survived, still being sold on the Net, and the new book that I refuse to even name, those who can do something about it are bound to act – as decisively as possible – in the service of truth and justice. All ideas are not equal.
Since Joe Gervais embraced his misbegotten conviction that Amelia Earhart “became” Irene Bolam more than 40 years ago, an ersatz mythology complete with its own dogmas and history evolved in support of the Bolamite belief system. It has not been my purpose to examine, item-by-item, ad nauseam, every precept of this phantasmagoria. Rather, I have attempted to describe a phenomenon that nearly defies understanding, not only in its own bizarre and fantastic essence, but in the inexplicable thrall by which it captivated and bound its adherents.
In 2005, Alex Mandel collaborated with Ron Bright, Bill Prymak, and Patrick Gaston to write “Amelia Earhart’s Survival and Repatriation: Myth or Reality?” Mandel’s 12,000-word paper, which I completely re-wrote for public presentation because English is Mandel’s third language, came to be known as “The Atchison Report,” and is the most comprehensive examination and systematic debunking to date of the myths, deceptions and lies that animated the IB theory and continue to be propagated by its remaining adherents. Some 50 copies were distributed to researchers and other interested parties at the annual Amelia Earhart Festival in Atchison, Kansas, in July 2005, with the hope that armed with this in-depth study, serious Earhart students can help to exterminate any vestiges of this stubborn parasite wherever it raises its ugly head. Sadly, the perfidious Bolamite Creed still lives, despite our best efforts.