White’s Earhart story another in long Saipan list

It is nearly impossible to accurately quantify the number of eyewitnesses and witnesses to the presence and deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan following their arrival there sometime in the summer of 1937. I’ve never tried, having seen others’ unsuccessful attempts to capture an arbitrary number that seems as fluid as mercury.

First, we have the native Saipanese witnesses, led by Josephine Blanco Akiyama, whose eyewitness account ignited Fred Goerner’s early 1960s investigations on Saipan that revealed the undeniable, shocking truth. Next are the American GI witnesses, featuring the myth-busting accounts of Thomas E. Devine, Robert E. Wallack, Earskin J. Nabers and a host of others who saw or had firsthand knowledge of the Earhart Electra and other hard evidence of Amelia’s presence on Saipan prior to the war.

Many others were privy to information gleaned in the postwar years, and then we have the issue of defining what actually constitutes a witness, not to mention the entirely separate grouping of Marshall Islands witnesses, to whom I devote the longest chapter in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Today’s post concerns a relatively obscure American witness from postwar Saipan, and though Charlotte White’s story is insignificant in the big picture, it’s yet another of countless footnotes to the Earhart saga.

The colorized version of this classic photo of

The colorized version of this classic photo of Amelia graces the cover of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Was this the “leather flier’s jacket” Mrs. Charlotte White saw on Saipan?

In the Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune, of Dec. 27, 1990, Mrs. Charlotte White, of Burlington, Ky., described an incident that occurred while she was living on Saipan, from 1955 to 1961. Her husband, Edward, was a retired Army master sergeant and World War II prisoner of the Germans who was working for the CIA on Saipan. Mrs. White said she was being driven home one day when they were stopped by some reporters from Look magazine, who said they were doing a story about Amelia Earhart. Though White knew nothing about the Earhart disappearance at the time, she began asking questions, and soon she “met the police chief . . . who claimed to know Miss Earhart’s fate,” according to the Tribune.  “The chief showed Mrs. White a leather fliers’ jacket that he said belonged to ‘the lady flier.’ Following is the entire article, written by Jack Hicks, which also appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

BURLINGTON, Ky. — Few mysteries have intrigued the American public like the disappearance of flier Amelia Earhart. Speculation about Miss Earhart’s fate surfaces in books and the media from time to time. Recently the prime-time television show Unsolved Mysteries featured the 53-year-old puzzler. Charlotte White of Burlington, Ky., hasn’t solved the puzzle of Miss Earhart’s disappearance during a round-the-world flight in 1937. But Mrs. White can add a few pieces.

Mrs. White met a man on the Pacific island of Saipan who claimed to know Miss Earhart’s fate. The man, a police chief on the island, showed Mrs. White a leather flyer’s jacket that he said belonged to “the lady flyer.” In tropical Saipan, it’s unlikely a native would wear a leather jacket at any time of year. Mrs. White lived on Saipan from 1955 to 1961 with her husband, Edward, who has since died. A retired Army master sergeant and World War II prisoner of the Germans, White worked for the CIA.* “I’d heard about Amelia Earhart being missing, everybody in America had. But I never connected it with Saipan,” recalled Mrs. White, now 71. “Then one day I was being driven home, and we were stopped by some people who said they were from Look magazine, and were doing research on a story about Amelia Earhart.” 

Paul Briand Jr., circa 1959, who 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, presented the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama and initiated the modern-day search for Amelia Earhart.

Paul Briand Jr., circa 1959, whose 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, presented the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama and initiated the modern-day search for Amelia Earhart.

(Editor’s note: Edward White’s CIA affiliation was likely connected to the Naval Technical Training Unit (NTTU) on Saipan. In a  July 1961 memorandum from Brig. General Edward G. Lansdale, Pentagon expert on guerrilla warfare, to Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, President John F. Kennedy’s military advisor on Resources for Unconventional Warfare, SE Asia, Lansdale wrote: In 1948, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) closed off half of Saipan to islanders and outsiders, using the northern part of the island for covert military maneuvers. The end of WWII left a power vacuum that was being filled by communism; the Cold War objectives of the CIA’s covert facility on Saipan were to thwart communist expansion. The island’s remoteness and control by the military made it an ideal base for this training and the NTTU was established. The primary mission of the Saipan Training Station [was] to provide physical facilities and competent instructor personnel to fulfill a variety of training requirements including intelligence tradecraft, communications, counter-intelligence and psychological warfare techniques. Training [was] performed in support of CIA activities conducted throughout the Far East.”

The NTTU was established in 1953 and closed down in 1962.  Fred Goerner wrote at length about the NTTU and its role in discouraging media from visiting Saipan in search of Amelia Earhart. See The Search for Amelia Earhart and Truth at Last, pages 104, 105 for more.)

Mrs. White began asking some questions of her own, and ultimately talked with the police chief, named Gurerro [sic]. He had been on the island when it was occupied by the Japanese, before American forces captured it in 1944.He said he remembered the flyers, and he described Miss Earhart to a T,” White said. “She had curly brown hair. ‘They killed her,’ he said of the Japanese.” Gurerro told her that Miss Earhart’s plane had crashed near Saipan, apparently when it flew off course and ran out of fuel. “Her co-pilot [sic], Fred Noonan, was injured in the crash and soon died, the police chief said. He took me to Garapan, a large city which had been heavily damaged during the war, and showed me the place where he said they kept her in an underground cell. ‘She was very sick,’ he said.”

Miss Earhart was buried within the military’s postwar training ground, which is off-limits, according to Gurerro. Gurerro had the jacket hanging on a hook in his office. “He said it was the lady flyer’s jacket, but he didn’t say how he got it. I tried to touch it and he said, ‘No Missy, don’t touch.’ He let me look at it, but he wouldn’t let me touch it,” Mrs. White said. “I have absolutely nothing to authenticate any of this. All I know is what he told me all those years ago.” 

What began as another of hundreds of garden-variety biographies of Amelia Earhart became the 1960 book that ignited the modern search for the lost fliers. In the final chapter of Daughter of the Sky, the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama was introduced, which led to Fred Goerner's four early 1960s Saipan investigations and his 1966 bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart.

 In the final chapter of Daughter of the Sky, the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama was introduced, which led to Fred Goerner’s four early 1960s Saipan investigations and his 1966 bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart.

The memory comes back to her from time to time, especially when someone mentions Amelia Earhart or something appears in the news or on television, such as the Unsolved Mysteries segment. No investigator has ever contacted her since she met the Look magazine reporters. She didn’t know anything at the time, she said. Her husband, who may have known something he never told her, admonished her not to talk about it. Edward White, who worked as a security guard after the family returned to Kentucky, died in 1989. Mrs. White would like to go back to Saipan for another look, but she isn’t keen on a flight across the ocean. She had enough of that, she says, as an Army and CIA wife. (Jack Hicks is a reporter for the Kentucky Post in Covington.)

Perhaps the most curious aspect of this story is that the police chief’s name was “Gurerro,” according to Mrs. White, and he had been on the island when it was occupied by the Japanese. Could this have been the same Jesús De Leon Guerrero, also known as Kumoiwho terrorized his fellow Saipanese as a Japanese collaborator and police officer before and during the war years?

Paul Briand Jr., author of the seminal 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, which introduced the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama to the world, wrote in a 1966 essay, “Requiem for Amelia,” that Kumoi was 51 in 1937. In 1966, Briand wrote, Kumoi had “no official connections with either the American or Japanese government—he is a dealer in scrap metal.” Briand added that Guerrero was “still greatly feared and respected on Saipan as the man who could extract confessions out of anybody. For this reason he was very useful to the Japanese authorities on Saipan in dealing with the natives and getting necessary information out of prisoners.”

I haven’t been able to locate Jesús De Leon Guerrero’s obituary, and if any reader out there can help with that information, it would be most appreciated. 

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5 responses

  1. Philip Van Zandt | Reply

    There are a number of books written about the CIA on Saipan; one I’ve read is IMPOSSIBLE MISSION and covers much of (1) the base building there; (2) secluded airfield for training anti-communist soldiers from Taiwan & China mainland; (3) the actual operations of CAT (Civil Air Transport) that was in the process of transition to Air America (originally owned by Chinese nationals, founded by Chennault & Willhauer in 1946, it had fleets of small aircraft spy-planes at Yang Tang near Kweilin; on Hainan Is. and in Hong Kong. CAT flew guerillas in to Saipan & they landed both there and at old Japanese airfield on the bigger Island 3-miles below (where the bunkers for the “Little Boy” & “Fat Man” atomic bombs were loaded into ENOLA GAY & BOC’S CAR and another was readied). Notably, the only concrete structures that are considered typhoon-proof were those built by the an Aussie construction co.

    A certain New Zealander (name withheld) worked there and came upon at least a few items he was told belonged to Earhart & Noonan, which he took home in 1957; they have passed scrutiny, but after 55-years storage, no DNA-evidence remained – so there’s only minor confirmation of a certain small damage to one that AE described; and odd story-telling 2 – 1935 US $1-bills, series “A” signed by Henry Morganthau, Jr. Sec. of the Treasury; one containing (since new) a US customs stamp issued in 1936 for ‘import’ of an aircraft from the Territory of Hawaii; the other with a short message of “Best Wishes” & signed by ‘Tex’ (Mark) Walker, who met Amelia the night before she & Noonan left Lae, NG and noted in a log-book that she told him ‘they were not doing as advertised on the morrow’ w/o divulging exactly what mission they were on. You can read this in “Fix On The Rising Sun” by Chas. N. Hill (Walkers wife found this notation more than 50-years after the HI Clipper was hi-jacked by the Japanese and her husband, 1st. officer aboard, was among those murdered). There were some other coins (relatively un-circulated mid-1930s) in an old suede zippered wallet that came from a place Amelia frequented in CA near her home with Geo. Putnam. Also – an unusual German-made “Willow” folding, non-magnetic short tripod w/fixed head (purpose un-known).

    A US private collector has them now; along with a wealth of info on the Saipan reported seller (1957), a search by the CIA there as reported by a British journalist who somehow managed to convince the USN Commandant she was on an assignment at a different island and took the AM flights to & from Guam, noting that the CIA came up empty-handed. She did take a boat to her other destination; captured sunset photos & returned to a hotel at Saipan’s southern rim for just one night before returning to Guam w/same CIA personnel.

    This same ‘collector’ has additional items from Saipan, including some ‘short-snorter’ bills signed by several of the Marines and one Naval officer, who’ve stated they saw the AE-FN Lockheed Electra 10E flown and destroyed on Aslito airfield; a wealth of info on Minuro Genda (the Japanese Lt. Commander who dropped a bomb on the USS PANAY; failed to halt the search for the Hawaii Clipper & had it’s engine stripped & copied to power the Mitsubishi AN6 ZERO, which used the Howard Hughes “Racer” as its design basis – Genda is known in Japan as ‘the Father Of The Zero’)… but those are just some of his minor accomplishments… His carrier the Akaga (later the Kaga) was in the Marshall Islands when AE & FN crash-landed at Milli atoll; he was at Kwajelein when apparently they over-flew it, and from this carrier a pilot was dispatched to shoot at the Electra forcing the aircraft down (Story in Barry Bower’s book “… Suppositions”).

    However there’s much photographic evidence that Genda drew the plans for the Pearl Harbor attack; was aboard the carrier Kaga and assisted Adm. Yamamoto with torpedo re-design specifically for the US Fleet on “Battleship Row”. Post war Genda became a General in Japan, went into politics; became tech advisor for movies “TORA, TORA. TORA” and “PEARL HARBOR” where his name appears in the credits. In 1962 President John F. Kennedy personally awarded Genda the Medal of Merit, commander level (for lecturing at US War Colleges). Apparently Genda could keep a secret, but not so his friend Yamamoto who was shot-doun over Bouganville by a special squadron of P-38s “as revenge for the P-H attack”, but more likely so the secret of Earhart’s & Noonan’s disapearence remained a mystery!
    Just food for thought…

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  2. Hello Mike,
    I am on Saipan as I write.

    Great article. Its always been one of my favorite stories.

    A few years ago, I spent a lot of time trying to determine whether Mrs. White’s account could be true. Like so much of Earhart lore, its basked in intrigue.

    Jesus “Kumoi” Gurerro was indeed the chief of police in the mid to late 1950’s. As you know, the island was under U.S. Navy administration, so in a sense Gurerro worked for the Navy. As you mentioned, he also dealt in scrap metal. In 1950, he was part of a police unit acting under US supervision that brought back the last Japanese holdout who had been hiding on Tinian. I have a picture of Gurerro with the prisoner getting off a Navy helicopter. Briand is in error. Gurerro was not 51 in 1937.

    Interestingly, Gurerro tells Mrs. White, that Earhart was buried in the “military’s post war training ground which is off limits” For your reader’s information, the former post war training ground was on the eastern side of Saipan. There was a female Chamorro witness who told a U.S. Navy officer at Camp Susupe in 1944 that Earhart was buried in that same area. If that’s the case, then all my research into Liyang Cemetery is for naught.

    Jesus Gurerro’s children, whom I have interviewed, scoff at the idea their father had anything to do with Earhart. They are so quick to deny, I don’t believe them. The Gurerro’s were quite well off and active in the local government here for years. Everything previously reported about Jesus Gurerro from Goerner, Gervais and others is true. People were intimidated by him.

    I never could find a Look Magazine feature about Saipan during the 1950’s. Maybe Mrs. White was confusing it with some other publication. For that matter, I didn’t find any articles from Life, Time, or any other major magazine featuring Saipan in the 1950’s. It’s possible Look canned it before it went to print. Maybe one of your readers could do some research on that.

    Did Gurerro have Earhart’s jacket on a hook in his office? Again, it’s possible. I’m sure you recall Joaquina Cabrera account on page 101 of your second edition. She is one of the Chamorro witnesses, who remembers washing the white lady’s clothing at the Royal Kobayashi Hotel. Cabrera mentioned having to clean the woman’s heavy cloth or leather jacket by rubbing it rather than washing it in water. That’s a significant memory and quite detailed. Its something a woman would remember. Cabrera told this account to Goerner in front of two Catholic priests in her home. It’s just not something a devout Catholic would lie about.

    Amelia always must have thought she would wake up from her nightmare and need that jacket. There a good chance, somewhere on Saipan, someone has an old leather jacket pictured on the cover of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Can you imagine what that piece would sell for at Christie’s auction?

    PS. There’s also another Jesus Gurerro/Earhart account mentioned in a Guam newspaper article from 1970. That one is also true.

    Les Kinney

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    1. Fantastic stuff, Les, thanks so much for your learned contribution. Do you know when Kumoi died? Also, you seem to agree with Charlotte White’s spelling of this name, but this Gurerro, is not in agreement with the way this name has been spelled by everyone else since Goerner, Guerrero. As an editor, I’m naturally obsessed by these small details.

      Good luck on Saipan.

      Mike

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  3. Hi Les –

    Keep up your *GREAT research and attention to *details. Investigate this EAST side for US and see what’s there? It seems hard to believe, and you wonder if this female witness knew EAST from WEST?
    Les, look around the base of that jail, cell wall or ask Dick to metal detect around there?
    I have this strange feeling, something lays there buried in the ground?
    Les KEEP US POSTED and we are ROOTING for *YOU. Tell Dick we said HI and keep metal detecting the ground!

    Doug

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  4. Although overwelming signals from 1944 up till today are pointing to Amelias last station as Saipan, people still don’t believe it. Somebody declaring a body with an American shoe found in 1940 on Gardner Island is Amelia’s and a pocketknife found at a campsite far from the place where her plane crash-landed and close to the U.S Loran station 1944-1946 is of course also of Amelia.

    The only thing point to Gardner are the radio direction finding signals. This sombody named Mr Gillespie wipes “That Saipan story and some books haha” out in half a second. But everybody believes him. How come?

    Let’s find the missing 170 pages of Amelia’s file in the National Archives, bones brought from Saipan to Ohio and start digging in dumpsites at Saipan. There are plane engines [buried there].

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