Mrs. Michiko Sugita’s 1971 letter to Tom Devine: “Amelia was so beautiful and fine a person”

In late 1970, Mrs. Michiko Sugita told the Japan Times that Japanese military police shot Amelia Earhart as a spy on Saipan in 1937. The story, headlined “Japanese Woman Says Police Executed Amelia on Saipan,” was released by the Tokyo office of United Press International on November 12:

Japan Times 11-12-70 b

Sugita’s account is the only known witness report from a Japanese national that directly corroborates Earhart’s presence on Saipan in 1937. Thomas E. Devine eventually obtained Sugita’s address from the director of Asian services for the Tokyo bureau of UPI, and they shared a friendly but brief correspondence that ended suddenly and without explanation.  In an Aug. 12, 1971 letter, Sugita described her childhood in the Caroline Islands where her father was chief of police, and on Saipan when he was promoted to district chief. 

Sugita recalled that she was made aware of Earhart on Saipan at “the time of the China Incident: the Pacific War had yet to be declared,” which was early to mid-July 1937, correlating perfectly with the date of Earhart’s disappearance.  Because Mrs. Ann Devine destroyed the entire collection of Devine’s papers only days after his death in 2003, I have only a copy of Sugita’s original letter to Devine, translated from Japanese. First published in Devine’s 1987 book, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, following is Sugita’s letter, slightly edited for clarity. My copy has no salutation, and begins thusly: 

I hasten to inform you that I received your letter with a great deal of surprise. How did you ever succeed in obtaining my address? I wonder. It must have taken you lots of patience to have been in search for it as long as ten months.

My Personal History and the Circumstances Surrounding the Amelia Incident

I was born in Tokyo and at the age of two moved to Ponape Island. My father [Mikio Suzuki] was then transferred to the island to serve as Police Chief. Later we moved from Ponape to Yaluta and finally settled at Saipan. I spent the next 12 years or so (including the time spent in the U.S. Military compound) on the Saipan Island. Since you indicated your desire to find out the details of the story of Amelia, I will relate the following account to you.

It was still the time of the China Incident: the Pacific War had yet to be declared. [Editor’s note: Sugita was undoubtedly referring to the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, July 7 to July 9, 1937, which is often used as the marker for the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War.] During that period we invited to our home some members of MPs for a sake party, and it was on this occasion when I heard their conversation on this topic. From what I heard, Amelia’s plane was forced to land due to some mechanical failure on her way to the Truk Island, and she was arrested then.

Mrs. Michiko Sugita, whose account as told to the Japan TImes in 1970 remains the only testimony from a Japanese national that attests to Amelia Earhart's presence and death on Saipan following her July 2, 1937 disappearance. Sugitia corresponded with Thomas E. Devine for a few years in the mid-1970s before Devine's letters were returned with the notation, "No such person. Return to sender."

Mrs. Michiko Sugita, whose account as told to the Japan Times in 1970 remains the only testimony from a Japanese national that attests to Amelia Earhart’s presence and death on Saipan following her July 2, 1937 disappearance. Sugita corresponded with Thomas E. Devine for a few years in the mid-1970s before Devine’s letters were returned with the notation, “No such person. Return to sender.”

She was suspected of and charged with spy activities in the region and sent to Saipan where her execution took place. Meanwhile U.S. Navy was engaged in search for her and her plane.  I recall seeing some U.S. Naval ships in the far distance with the aid of binoculars. This incident was kept a secret within the Police Department and the high officials of both Navy and Army. At the time there was a great deal of influx of soldiers into Saipan to prepare for the out coming war. My father was quite busy all the time and often out of the house. For the nature of my father’s occupation we knew a number of officers and MPs, and many of them had opportunities to visit our home for parties . . . etc.

On one of these occasions MPs were saying, “Amelia was so beautiful and fine a person that she did not deserve the execution.” Yet I was told by my father not to mention any part of the conversation outside the family so that until now I had never told this to anyone. The fate and place of her execution was never made clear to me even by my father. I recall my father’s words: “Since she came here to carry on her duties as spy, it cannot be helped that she be executed. But on the contrary the Geneva Convention rules against the killing of P.O.W. under any circumstances, which makes it hard to understand the course of action taken by the Military.”

I was young then (enrolled in Saipan Public High School for girls) and used to chat with my sister about Amelia — that she must have been an incredible character to fly all the way from America. The sister herself took her life in 1944 when Saipan was taken by the Americans.

Starting in October of 1944 I was engaged in hospital work for two years at U.S. General Hospital No. 148.

I understand that you were a sergeant stationed at Aslito Airfield, and you must know how difficult it was for us to live in the military compound as prisoners. On that airfield, we, the girls, used to work almost every day, picking up rocks and grass and leveling the ground for the sake of country — or was it for the United States? It’s just part of my memory now.

My reply to your questions numbered 1 and 2 in your letter.

It was speculated here last spring that Amelia had lived in the court of the Royal Family and that she was released in return for the favor of having the Emperor not guilty of any war crimes. As I inquired further into this matter, it was discovered that the person named Amelia, who said to be living in the U.S., was an imposter. [Editor’s note: Because of the approximate date of this letter, circa 1970, Sugita could only have been referring to the Irene Bolam fiasco.]

Mikio Suzuki, the district chief of police, poses with his family on Saipan circa 1938. Mikio’s daughter, Michiko, is standing to his immediate left, and was about 12 years old in this photo. Michiko became Mrs. Michiko Sugita, and remains the lone Japanese national to come forward with the truth about Amelia Earhart’s death on Saipan. (Courtesy Thomas E. Devine.)

Mikio Suzuki, the district chief of police, poses with his family on Saipan circa 1938. Mikio’s daughter, Michiko, is standing to his immediate left, and was about 12 years old in this photo. Michiko became Mrs. Michiko Sugita, and remains the lone Japanese national to come forward with the truth about Amelia Earhart’s death on Saipan. (Courtesy Thomas E. Devine.)

Some German journalist visited me to borrow the photograph related to this matter and carelessly misplaced it. It then took almost 40 days to get it back to me. This photo [of Sugita?] is as precious as our family treasure, and I can only send you a copy of it upon receipt of the payment.

And please let me know what your occupation is.

My father was “poisoned to death” at the U.S. Public (General?) Hospital on October 10, 1944 when the U.S. took over Saipan. This was perhaps because he had served in the Police Department.

The above is to the best of my knowledge what happened surrounding the incident of Amelia. I do hope to hear from you further upon this matter.

Sincerely,

Michiko Sugita

P.S. It was difficult and too a while to have your letter translated in Japanese. Please pardon the delay in my reply. It would be helpful if you could write in Japanese next time.

Post Scriptum No. 2.

I shall add here parts I’ve failed to include in my letter.

In response to your question whether I attended the Second National Nippon School: by the time I was graduated from primary school, the war was not in progress and the school in which I was enrolled was simply called GARAPAN-PONTAM Primary School. I spent six years there and then proceeded to attend Saipan High School for girls from which I graduated in March of 1944. At that time the war was well into the last stage.

Another thing to jot down. I am in possession of a few photos of myself which were taken during this period. Also kept are the picture of my family and that of my father in uniform photographed along with the members of the Police Dept. All these were given to me by friends and, needless to say, are my treasure. I have only once corresponded with you and am not sure if I should (let you use them). As I explained to you the case of a German journalist, carelessness has caused a great deal of anxiety on my part. Should you wish to use them, however, it would be possible for me to send you a copy of each photo. Please let me hear from you on this in your next letter.

By the way the postage on the last letter was short by about 20 cents.

This has certainly become a long letter.

Take care and goodbye,

Sugita

Michiko Sugita’s letters to Devine ceased sometime in the mid-1970s, and Devine’s were returned with the notation, “No such person, unknown.” Devine asked UPI in Tokyo to help locate Sugita, but received no response; a few researchers have also tried to locate her without success. It appears that the Japanese government may have reached out to silence and “disappear” a voice of truth from 1937 Saipan—a singular, courageous woman whose fortitude in the face of her nation’s denials should never be forgotten.

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13 responses

  1. The only statement that does not mach other eye witness testimony is the date of her death in 1937. Others seems to say that it was close to the invasion in 1944.

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    1. Dave,
      We have no definitive date for AE’s death. It could have been anytime in 1937 or in the few years following. No witnesses other than Buddy Brennan’s, Mrs. Nievas Cabrera Blas, puts her death at any specific date, and Mrs. Blas said it was shortly before the 1944 invasion, meaning that Amelia was kept alive for seven years. I simply reject that idea. Who else says it was 1944?

      Mike

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  2. Mike,
    I was quite taken aback when I read that Mrs. Devine had destroyed his papers. Why couldn’t/didn’t she just give them to someone (you), or an org that is also working on this? Oh, how valuable they might have been in the future. I’m so glad you have what you do.
    Donna

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    1. Donna,
      Thanks for your kind message. Although I do have Tom’s unpublished manuscript that he left to me in June 2001, when it appeared to be curtains for him, who knows what I might have discovered in his office? It’s clear that Ann Devine hated Amelia Earhart to the depths of her soul, and this was her way of getting back at Tom and Amelia for robbing her of so many years. That’s my theory, anyway.
      Mike

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  3. Tom Devine should have been more *careful with his first correspondence with Michiko and used a 3rd party correspondent. Tom must have known *Intelligence was keeping a close eye on him & his *interest in Amelia Earhart.

    We all are learning how MURDEROUS & VICIOUS the Japanese were during this period.
    They only abided by THEIR RULES & WAYS with no concern for others.

    Japan – SPARE US of your CONCEIT, CONTEMPT and lack of concern for Amelia Earhart & Fred Noonan’s deaths. We all know of your Military’s past, it’s EVIL, SINISTER, VILLAINOUS WAYS!

    Isn’t it a damn shame, the LACK of empathy for Amelia Earhart by the Japanese.

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  4. Is there any chance at all that she am was able to return to live as a different identity (I don’t mean as I.B.; just SOMEONE with another name)?
    It makes me so sad to know they probably executed her that I guess I am just hoping she could have made it out of there alive…..

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    1. Sorry Gene. Not a scintilla of evidence exists to support the idea that Amelia returned to the United States under another identity. George Putnmam filed her will in 1938, so certain he was of her fate. If only Joe Klaas had paid more attention to Putnam and less to Joe Gervais, he might have restrained himself and spared us from Irene Bolam and Amelia Earhart Lives.
      MC

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  5. Re: Mrs. Devine — WOW! That’s some pretty heavy-duty attitude, when you think of all those years of work & info. Sometimes the greater good should prevail. History, and in this case, justice, might have been helped. How sad.
    Donna

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    1. Very much so, Donna. She apparently couldn’t do without Tom, either, and she passed away about a year following his death in September 2003. I was in touch with his niece, who also lived in West Haven, Conn., for a time, but she disappeared without explanation. He was certainly a unique man whose eyewitness experience motivated him to write one of the most important Earhart disappearance books ever. But his refusal to consider anything but his own ideas about how she got to Saipan — flatly ignoring all the Marshalls evidenc, for example — isolated him and greatly limited his effectiveness as an advocate for the truth. My opinion, of course, but nobody in the Earhart community was closer to him than I, and he was the most important influence in my early Earhart schooling.

      Mike

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  6. Yes, Ann Devine did all of us Earhart Researchers a big disservice by destroying Tom’s Valuable work. And she knew very well that it would be in good hands with Mike Campbell. If I recall right, Captain Laurance Safford’s book was pulled from a GARBAGE CAN by Cam Warren and Robert Payne, who then had it published. The book, “Earhart’s Flight into Yesterday, ” has some very helpful research in it. Rob Ellos

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  7. I am very new to this Earhart investigation, and am becoming more and more confused the more I read. It is difficult to discern fact from supposition, and I wonder how one gets the real facts, eg the transcripts from the radio reports. Cans someone recomend some accurate factual reading for me? Thanks.

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    1. David,

      You’ve come to the right place if you want to learn the truth about the Earhart disappearance. The best radio transcript analysis is probably Bill Prymak’s, and but that’s one of many that this blog offers. You can find it here:
      https://earharttruth.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/bill-prymak-radio-experts-analyze-amelia-earharts-bizarre-radio-behavior-during-her-last-flight/

      Unfortunately only the first edition Kindle version of Truth at Last is available from Amazon in Australia, as the second edition has not been done in Kindle, but Sunbury Press will send you the second edition paperback if you contact them: http://www.sunburypress.com. I’m here anytime to answer your questions.

      Welcome aboard.
      Mike C.

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  8. HI Mike,

    Sorry only just got this. I would love to help in some way, I simply want to find the truth, not bothered what that is, I have no barrow to push, just feel that EA deserves to be represented by the truth. I’m not a government hater, etc. From my reading your theory seems the most likely, but cant understand why she was up where she was, if Mili was her forced landing site. I have no doubt that if she was there, it was not an accident, as Noonan would have been pretty accurate until sunrise. I have problems finding out the technical side of the plane. I have heard that she was carrying around 5,100 litres of fuel, and that would equate to a range of around 26 hours, but at what speed, I have no idea. around 100 litres per engine per hour is low, but not impossible.

    My Grandmother had a friend who she introduced me to in the late 70’s, who had been in aviation in the US (was a wing walker) when AE was around, had met her and was a great fan. I remember her talking about her with great fondness.

    Would love to have a chat, there are a few ways I may be able to help to get evidence for your theory, I will ask and see if I can get some help.

    Like

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