Revisiting the ’82 Smithsonian Earhart Symposium

As we continue our trek through these ever-more interesting times, perhaps the most significant public discussion about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the June 1982 Amelia Earhart Symposium at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum, continues to fade from sight and memory.

Only the most well-informed even recall this event, or that it occasioned the great inventor Fred Hooven, after years of studying data from the Pan Am intercepts and other alleged post-loss radio receptions, to present his paper, “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight,” the first academic, objective analysis of the Earhart post-flight transmissions. 

Hooven’s thesis became better known as “The Hooven Report” and established him as the creator of the McKean-Gardner Island landing theory, soon to become TIGHAR’s infamous Nikumaroro hypothesis” that continues to haunt us to this day, long after Hooven abandoned it.  For more on Hooven’s work, see Truth at Last pages 56-57, 303-304 or click here.

For reasons clear to those of us who understand the truth, the symposium was not covered by Smithsonian Magazine or any other publications that I’m aware of, nor do I have a transcript or audio tape of it.  The only significant mention of the event that I have can be found in the July 1998 edition of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, which contains the below letter from little-known Earhart researcher Dean Magley to Joe Gervais, who needs no introduction to readers of this blog. 

Forthwith is the first of two parts.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout, underline emphasis in original AES article.

THE GREAT DEBATE of 18 June 1982
(A letter from Dean Magley to Joe Gervais, who could not attend.)


Dear Joe,                                                                                     6/25/82

I thought I should bring you up to date concerning my attending the symposium on A.E. in D.C. on 18 June 1982.

Earhart researcher Dean Magley, of Rockford, Ill., passed away in January 1991 at age 57.

I did make contact with Bob Jones and we were together the entire day.  Nice fella.  He is also very interested in the Lindbergh kidnapping, and a fellow named Olson, whom Bob had written but received no answer from, sat right in front of us for one session.  Bob was so excited he could hardly concentrate on the speaker.

The audience totaled around 400. The first 5 or 6 rows were reserved for various preferred
people.  I never learned how they were selected, but Bob and I weren’t included.  Those who [attended] were, included the afternoon speakers: Sally Chapman, granddaughter of G.P.P.  [George Palmer Putnam] who is writing a book on G.P.P.; Grace McGuire, A.E.’s look-alike who is to complete A.E.’s flight plan this year; Don Kothera and wife; Paul L. Rafford, Jr., who claims to be a close friend of Bill Galtin, the radio operator on Itasca; Milton R. Shils, an insurance man from Philly who had a picture taken of him at age 13 with A.E. and 4 or 5 others; Amy Kleppner, Muriel Morrissey’s daughter; [Evelyn] Bobbi Trout, charter member of the 99’s and her companion, Carol Osborne, who inherited some large collection of flying memorabilia; [William] Polhemus, the navigator on Ann Pellegreno’s  [June-July 1967] duplicate flight; Cmdr. H. Anthony who was in charge of the search for A.E. (who relieved [Itasca Cmdr.] W. K. Thompson?); and possibly 30-40 others who were not introduced and I did not learn their names.  One of these was a young lady of about 30 who had short cut hair like A.E., actually resembled her, and wore a new, shorter version of the leather coat A.E. wears in the first picture of your book.  She also audio taped the entire program.  She got out of the hall before I could talk to her.  Darn!

There were basically three types of people represented: Those who say A.E. was taken by the Japanese but is now dead; those who agree with you that she still lives; those who say she was lost in the drink.  One young man age 20-25, raised four or five questions with reference to your book.  I did not get his name.

Muriel Morrissey spoke first.   She spoke mainly of their childhood.  Muriel is getting a little senile, I think.  She did say the Lindberghs didn’t get along too well.  I don’t know how she got on that topic.  She also said, “We should have a true answer soon” (as to A.E.’s disappearance).  This brought a murmur from the crowd.  Questions from the audience asked for an explanation of her true answerstatement.  She flustered, then looked down at the front row of the audience and asked Elgen Long if she should say anything further.  He indicatedno.’  She then said more would be told in the afternoon session.

Fay Gillis Wells, circa 1930, who passed away in December 2002 at age 94, was an American pioneer aviator, globe-trotting journalist and a broadcaster.  In 1929, she became one of the first women pilots to bail out of an airplane to save her life and helped found the Ninety-Nines, the international organization of licensed women pilots.  As a journalist she corresponded from the Soviet Union in the 1930s, covered wars and pioneered overseas radio broadcasting with her husband, the reporter Linton Wells, and was a White House correspondent from 1963 to 1977.

Fay Gillis Wells — quite robust — speaks with authority.  She had her entire talk on 3 x 5 cards and read it word for word.  It was very well written and delivered.  She was a foreign correspondent in 1933 in Russia, and handled the logistics for Wiley Post on his world flight.  She also accompanied Nixon on his trip to China.  She said there will soon be three new books on A.E.  She vehemently denies that A.E. is alive.  You recall when I spoke to her on the phone a month previously and mentioned there are some who think A.E. lives, she broke in almost before I could finish my statement said, “THAT’S PREPOSTEROUS!  That poor woman in New Jersey should be left alone.”  I have just realized that Fay was asked if she knew Irene Craigmile by the young man I mentioned earlier.  Her reply was to the effect that she didn’t know what he was talking about but no, she didn’t know any Irene Craigmile.  The young fellow then said Irene Craigmile is now Mrs. [Irene] Bolam and is pictured in your book, “A.E. [Amelia Earhart] Lives.”  Fay said, “Oh, I’ve never read that book!”

Twice in her talk or in answering questions, Fay said, “A.E. would not throw her life away on a crazy spy mission.”  She also said a TV seriesdistorts history,and blasted an NBC three-hour production.  I’m not sure what she was referring to on the NBC bit.  She also stated that A.E. was born in 1897, and that Muriel Morrissey was here to back her up.  Mrs. [Florence] Kothera asked her about her letter to Gen. [Wallace M.] Green asking about Privates [Everett] Henson [Jr.] and [Billy] Burks.  Fay said she had never written to Gen. Greene.  Mrs. Kothera then opened her scrapbook and said, I have a copy of his answer to you, and if you would like me to read it, I will.”  Fay then said,Oh well, if I wrote a letter to the Marine Commandant, then I guess I did. (Nothing had been said about his title by Mrs. Kothera!!)  The Kotheras (who did the bulk of the research for Amelia Earhart Returns From Saipan), told me before the sessions started that they had letters from Henson and Burks stating that the government had NOT contacted them to ask about A.E.

Fay indicated throughout her talk that there is no way A.E. is alive, and tried to let on that she has not actively looked into her disappearance.  Fay called Amelia A.E.and G.P.P. Gyp.

Fay also said A.E. paid for publishing the 99’s Newsletter.  She mentioned Clara Livingston as helping Fay set up the 25th Anniversary Commemorative Stamp.  I asked her if she believed in ESP as did A.E. and Jackie Cochran.  Her answer was negative.  She announced that May 22-24, 1983, would be a super big get-together in Atchison, Kansas.  I can’t recall why she said it would be rated so highly though.

Undated photo of former Adm. Richard B. Black, who supervised construction of the Howland Island air strip for Amelia Earhart’s scheduled refueling stop.  Black was in the radio room of the USCG Cutter Itasca as he listened to Earhart’s last known radio transmission indicating that she was low on fuel and was searching for Howland island.

[Retired] Admiral [Richard B.] Black was introduced as having been given a medal for the Saipan-Tinian assault.  (This means he may have been privy to firsthand information.)  He said the H. Frequency D.F.  [high frequency direction finder] was offered to him by a young lieutenant whose name he can’t recall (or I may have misunderstood) on Oahu.  He told of the Itasca circling Howland on July 1 to calibrate it.  It worked free.  It was battery powered and they did lose some of their power so they were not at their best when they were needed.  His opinion is that she crashed in the ocean after running out of gas about 10 A.M.  He was on the Itasca until 5 A.M., when he went ashore to be with the H.F.D.F.

At the end of his talk (which seemed to be one he has given several times), he said:And now for the first time I have an addendum.  He then stated that a Capt. Carter (whom he cannot now locate) told him a Japanese ship entered Jaluit* Harbor (with a white man and woman as prisoners).  Black now believes they were A.E. and Fred Noonan.  He offered no further information. 

       *  The AES visited Jaluit and harbor in 1997.  (End of Part I.)

7 responses

  1. Dean Magley’s letter to Gervais is an outstanding summation of this June 1982 Amelia Earhart symposium. I have copies of the audio CD’s of all the presenters at this conference. Nothing earth shaken or new except for Magley’s mention of Black’s closing remarks.

    Black’s comments on Captain Carter is intriguing. Several years ago, I did some research about Black’s “Carter” comments and shared them with you. Captain Carter was legitimate and had a well known and deserved reputation. Following the invasion of the Marshall Islands, Black was invited to dinner by a Captain Carter whose ship was anchored at Majuro. While sitting in the wardroom mess, the subject of Amelia Earhart came up. Captain Carter was familiar with Black’s earlier role in arranging the landing strip for Earhart at Howland Island. Captain Carter then told his own story. Carter said that a few days earlier on a smaller island where Marshallese had been gathered by the American administration to wait out the war, he talked to a young man who spoke some English and had been to a mission school. The young man said several years earlier on Jaluit, a Japanese ship came in for water, and while assisting in resupplying the ship, he saw on board a white man and a white woman. Black said he had never told this story to anyone before except for the Columbia University oral history program. Later in life, Black said he tried to find Captain Carter but had no success. More than likely, Black did not want to further identify Carter.

    What is important about this story is that it precedes anything we have known about Earhart being in the Marshalls except for the suitcase discovery by W.B. Jackson on Roi Namur told to Fred Goerner. It wasn’t much later that Lieutenant Eugene Bogan retold another account from a Marshallese native that a white woman and man had been in Japanese custody in the Marshalls. That story made it to the press. But Black’s story is early – shortly after the capture of Kwajalein and of course it corroborates Bilamon Amaron’s account of treating the white man accompanied by the white woman on board a ship at Jaluit. Why Black decided to keep this quiet is anyone’s guess – he never offered this information to Goerner which I find quite surprising since he corresponded and spoke with Goerner many times.

    Fay Gillis was just a casual acquaintance of Amelia Earhart and gained notoriety for baling out of an airplane as a young 19 year old pilot. Later in life, she remembered herself as one of Amelia’s close friends. Not true. Several years ago I had a series of heated arguments with Susan Butler, author of “East to the Dawn” about Gillis. Butler used Gillis as a primary source throughout her book. Several accounts of Gillis used by Butler in her Earhart bio of Earhart simply weren’t true. Except for a few months in 1929, about the time the ninety-niner’s were formed, Gillis was outside the United States for the next six years living with her dad in Russia while he performed geological explorations. Earhart had no contact with Gillis. Magley’s characterization of an opiniated Gillis is uncannily accurate.

    Joe Gervais, Don Kothera, and Vincent Loomis all asked to speak at this symposium. All were denied. Only Fred Goerner represented the Japanese capture theory.

    Fred Goerner refused to discuss the Earhart disappearance with Don and Florence Kothera at the symposium.

    As part of their June 1982 trip to Washington, D.C., the Kothera’s tried to get Marines Headquarters to interview Billy Burks and Ev Henson on the record about their grave digging episode on Saipan directed by Marine Captain Tracy Griswold. The Kotheras even had signed affadavits from Henson and Burks. The Marines refused the Kothera request. I wonder why?

    Les Kinney

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Les,

      Thanks for sharing your expertise and filling in the blanks on this fascinating event that’s been all but forgotten by time and natural attrition. Do you know who made the decision to reject Gervais, Kothera and Loomis as speakers? Was it Tom Crouch, or was someone else calling the shots then?


      Liked by 1 person

      1. William H. Trail


        From what I’ve been able to find on line it looks like at the time of the Amelia Earhart Symposium, Dr. Crouch was an Assistant Curator at the National Air and Space Museum. I’ve not been able to pin down who the Senior Curator of the Division of Aeronautics was. The Acting Director of the NASM was Walter J. Boyne.

        All best,


        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks William, most likely it was Boyne who made the call against Gervais and company. Makes little difference, Crouch would have done the same thing. All these rats are on the same team. They must have known they couldn’t get away with keeping Goerner, the well-known author of a bestseller, out of the spotlight.


        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike, I have a couple of the rejection letters, I’ll look for them and send one off by email.

    Les Kinney

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Les, much appreciated.


  3. It would seem from this account, that Muriel Morrissey bought into the Elgen Long crashed and sank story. I heard that one myself in Oakland, California sometime in the 90s near Oakland International Airport. It appeared that everyone there was buying into it as well, as Long and his wife kept justifying his theory by repeating”because we believe Amelia”(refrerring to her radio transmissions), followed by the audience repeating this mantra. Even then, I was skeptical as I had read Fred Goerner’s book and it just made so much sense.


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