Goerner appeals to Amelia’s sister in 1966 letter

The official record offers us little about what Amelia Earhart’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, thought and did about her older sister’s tragic disappearance.  In fact, Muriel was basically AWOL, at least publicly, and her few words and actions suggested that she likely accepted the government narrative.  

This letter appeared in the March 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and has been presented on this blog previously, in an Oct. 12, 2015 post titled, Goerner and Devine reach out to Muriel Morrissey: Did Amelia’s sister know more than she let on? I present it again because other relevant information, not presented here before, will be added following its conclusion, and it never hurts to re-examine salient clues about the Earhart saga, especially those that concern her family. 

Boldface emphasis is mine; italic emphasis is in the AES version, and I assume in Goerner’s as well, though can’t know for sure. 

Mrs. Albert Morrissey                                                  August 31, 1966
One Vernon Street 
West Medford, Massachusetts

Dear Mrs. Morrissey:

Your letter of the 27th meant a great deal to me.

I can’t begin to tell you how I have agonized over continuing the investigation into Amelia’s disappearance and writing the book which Doubleday is just now publishing.  I know how all of you have been tortured by the rumors and conjectures and sensationalism of the past years.

I want you to know that I decided to go ahead with the book last December at the advice of the late Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had become my friend and helped me with the investigation for several years.  He said, “it (the book) may help produce the justice Earhart and Noonan deserve.”  The Admiral told me without equivocation that Amelia and Fred had gone down in the Marshalls and were taken by the Japanese and that this knowledge was documented in Washington.  He also said that several departments of government have strong reasons for not wanting the information to be made public.  

Grace Muriel Morrissey Earhart, Amelia’s beloved “Pidge,” passed away at 98 on March 2, 1998. “She was really a very sweet, gentle woman and she was really devoted to Medford,” her son-in-law Adam Kleppner told the Atchison Daily Globe. “She embodied a lot of old-fashioned virtues, responsibility, loyalty — things we seem to be in short supply of today.”

Mrs. Morrissey, regardless of what the State and Navy Departments may have told you in the past, classified files do exist.  I and several other people, including Mr. Ross Game, the Editor of Napa, California REGISTER and Secretary of The Associated Press, actually have seen portions of these files and have made notes from their contents.  This material is detailed in the book.  I am sure that we have not yet been shown the complete files, and General Wallace M. Greene Jr., Commandant of the Marine Corps in  Washington, refuses to confirm or deny the testimony of many former marines that the personal effects of Amelia and Fred and their earthly remains were recovered in 1944.

Please believe what I am saying.  If justice is to be achieved, it may require your assistance.  You know I have the deepest respect for Amelia and Fred.  My admiration for their courage has no limits.  They should receive their proper place in the history of this country.  A San Francisco newspaper editor wrote the other day that Amelia and Fred should be awarded the Congressional Medals of Honor for their service to this country.  I completely concur.

I shall be in Boston sometime toward the end of September or early October.  I hope that I can meet with you at that time and bring you up to date on all of our efforts.

My very best wishes to you and Chief.” *

Sincerely,

Fred Goerner
CBS News, KCBS Radio
San Francisco 94105

Fred Goerner at KCBS San Francisco, circa 1966. (Courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

I have no response from Muriel in my limited files, but believe she probably did reply to Goerner’s cordial missiveMuriel’s role in the Earhart saga has always been a topic for speculation, especially considering her media silence about the overwhelming evidence Goerner brought back from Saipan.  Some have suggested that Muriel could have been informed of the truth by the U.S. government at some point, in exchange for her cooperative silence.  I think that’s possible, but we’ll probably never know for sure on this side of the Great Veil.

In a 1970 letter from Muriel to J. Gordon Vaeth, she thanked him for sending her a copy of the little known 1970 book, Before the Eagle Landed, an aviation history by the editors of the Air Force Times.  She told Vaeth that she appreciated his “factual, unemotional reporting, which will, I am sure, do much toward debunking the tales begun by Captain Paul Briand [Jr.] and continued with a sad, poorly written, unproven story, Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan [1969] by a Cleveland veterinarian [Joe Davidson].”

If Muriel’s letter to Vaeth, once a staunch Goerner supporter before inexplicably becoming a stubborn, confirmed crashed-and-sanker, is any indication, she clearly wasn’t moved by Goerner’s appeal, nor had she been informed about the truth by the U.S. government or anyone else, at least at that time.  Muriel made few public statements from then until her death in 1998, and what she may have learned or believed during the intervening years is anyone’s guess.  Her mother, Amy Otis Earhart, was far more forthcoming. 

For example, we have Amy’s statement to the Los Angeles Times in July 1949, in which she revealed that she knew almost precisely what had happened to Amelia: “I am sure there was a Government mission involved in the flight, because Amelia explained there were some things she could not tell me. I am equally sure she did not make a forced landing in the sea,” Amy said.  “She landed on a tiny atoll – one of many in that general area of the Pacific – and was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat that took her to the Marshall Islands, under Japanese control.”

For much more on Amy, Muriel and Thomas E. Devine’s strange encounter with Amelia’s sister, if only as a reminder, please click here.

Amy Morrissey Kleppner at Purdue University, November 2018.  Photo courtesy of Purdue Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program.

(* “Chiefwas Albert Morrissey, a World War I veteran, who Muriel married in 1929 and passed away in 1979 at 81.  They had two children, David, now deceased, and Amy Morrissey Kleppner, 88, alive and well in Wardsboro, Vt.)  

Kleppner, a 1952 graduate of Smith College, continued her education while working various jobs, earning both masters and doctoral degrees.  She taught philosophy at several universities and later taught English at Walt Whitman High School, in Bethesda, Md., and has never spoken out on behalf of the truth about her famous aunt’s tragic fate.  

In a November 2018 interview by David Ching in Purdue University’s College of Liberal Arts THINK Magazine, Purdue students help Earhart’s niece explain aviator’s feminist legacy,” Amy explained her lack of interest in the Earhart disappearance:

“(Solving the mystery) never seemed that important to me,” said Kleppner, who only met her famous aunt a couple of times as a small child before Earhart’s disappearance.  “I know that lots of people are much more intrigued by it.  I have good friends who are really intrigued by it and really want to get to the end of it.  It hasn’t bothered me because, as I say, I think her legacy was her life and what she accomplished.  She was very lucky, but she seized the moment.  She had the opportunity and she did something with it, which had nothing to do with making money or being famous.  It had to do with promoting the causes that she thought were important.

Amy’s evasion in the THINK Magazine article is nothing more than a cop-out by a woman who apparently lacks the fortitude to deal with the Earhart problem in any forthright way.  While there’s still time, someone should ask Amy why she has so little interest about how, where and why her aunt died, and why she doesn’t seem to care that Amelia herself would certainly want the world to learn the ugly, unfortunate truth, which has been hiding in plain sight for decades.  I seriously doubt that will ever happen.

12 responses

  1. Why would she deny their place in history, and leave their story untold? A complete mystery to me, unless she was warned or advised to let it alone. To complete her legacy, why not let the truth come out? All those involved are long gone. Hard to fathom.

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  2. A little about Muriel or “Pidge” as Amelia called her sister:

    During the course of my research, I amassed a considerable amount of information about Muriel, most of it found stashed away in various archival files and libraries waiting to be read. There could be a book written (probably with little audience appeal these days) exploring the complex emotional and financial relationship between Amelia, her immediate family, and her husband, George P. Putnam. Muriel especially had an extremely contentious relationship with her mother. I am only touching on it in the book I am writing.

    Years ago, when I began serious research into the disappearance of Amelia and Fred, I believed Muriel and her mother must have known more than what they said to the press about Earhart’s disappearance. That opinion has changed. Muriel had extensive correspondence with Fred Goerner, Joe Gervais, Tom Devine, Don Kothera and others. She politely answered their letters and phone calls although reluctantly with Gervais whom she despised. Muriel never sought out information from the government except over the initial excitement by the discovery of the skeletal remains unearthed by Goerner on Saipan in 1961, and the limited publicity gained by Tom Devine, leading her to write a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

    One time, Don Kothera and his rag time group of four took it upon themselves to drive from Cleveland to Medford, Massachusetts and visit Muriel unannounced. They stopped at a convenience store near her home and carrying soft drinks, cheese and crackers knocked on her door. Muriel invited them in and they spoke about Amelia’s dental history and disappearance for several hours. Nothing new was discovered. She didn’t precipitate exchanges and never sought out new information as to the fate of her sister except when gathering information for the bio of her sister, “Courage is the Price.” On the last page of that 1963 bio, Muriel’s remarks says it all: “The manner of Amelia’s death is not a great moment to me now.”

    Because of the selfish and financial failings of Muriel’s husband, Albert, or “Chief” as the family called him, Muriel and her children were close to being destitute. Amelia disliked Chief. To put it more bluntly, she hated Chief and encouraged Muriel to seek a divorce, all the while handling out bits of money to keep her sister afloat.

    Following Amelia’s disappearance, there was the usual weekly letter exchange between Amy still living on the west coast and Muriel in Medford. Amy, of course was upset and hopeful her daughter would be found. Muriel’s responses to her mom not so much. Following Amelia’s fame the sisters grew apart. Amelia never understood why her sister couldn’t simply dump her husband and escape a marriage of abuse.

    Amelia’s husband, kept in touch with Muriel every few months mainly to appease Amelia’s mother, whom he was obligated to support financially per the agreements set forth in Amelia’s will. Ann Morrissey Kleppner was just a mere child of five when Amelia disappeared.

    George Putnam is another story. Did he know what happened to his wife? It’s just an opinion, but the few years following Amelia’s disappearance , I don’t believe he knew. Later, he may have been told. As to the story he was shown the gravesite on Saipan by military officials in 1944 – it is not true. Putnam wasn’t ever on Saipan.

    Les Kinney

    Liked by 1 person

  3. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All:

    Since reading this blog post I’ve given it considerable thought, and for the life of me I just can’t understand why anyone who is aware of who Amelia Earhart was, especially if they are related to her, could NOT want to know, or could be so seemingly unconcerned about what actually happened to AE (and Fred Noonan). Everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions. It’s a free country. But you just have to wonder about this. There must be some underlying reason for Ms. Kleppner’s unconcern; however, I’ll leave it to others to speculate upon her reasons.

    All best,

    William

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  4. David Atchason | Reply

    Saludos a todos:

    William I like your style, so I am borrowing your salutation today. But my first question is for Les, which is why did you “change your mind”? Was there some reason you first were convinced her family did have inside knowledge? Or, how do you determine someone doesn’t have knowledge? Was there some revealing incident?

    However, a condition which I have a lot of knowledge about and which is almost never mentioned in AE’s story is alcoholism. My experience with my ex-wife’s family and other families has demonstrated to me that the alcoholism of a parent (Amelia’s father) has a dire effect on the relationship of the children’s siblings relationship. It sometimes or often leads to irrational feuds between siblings in my view more pronounced among sisters than brothers from what I have seen.

    So, looked at in that light, there may have been permanent resentments between Amelia and Muriel. Sometimes this is even passed to the children of the adversaries. To me, this could explain the lack of interest Muriel would have in her sister’s fate. Evidently Muriel married a man like her father and Amelia picked a navigator like her father. Muriel might have indoctrinated Amy in her disapproval of Amelia. So I believe their behavior regarding Amelia might have much more to do with family jealousies than inexplicable callousness. Who knows, Amelia may have had a few character flaws that helped produce such resentments.

    It may have been that Muriel’s animosity was well known to the authorities at the time,and some were worried that Muriel would let the cat out of the bag in a weak moment with some visitor. How they would prevent this in a case like Devine’s visit I can’t quite visualize, but it looks like some authorities were clearly concerned. They surely knew that DEvine’s account of Amelia’s plane on Saipan might elicit some revealing sympathetic reaction from Muriel. Perhaps the authorities had a little chat with Muriel when they saw Devine was going to make it to her house. I’m just speculating that Amelia’s family’s reaction might have more to do with family animosities than their control by the authorities although I’m sure there was that, too.

    Su amigo,

    Dave

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    1. William H. Trail | Reply

      David,

      You make an excellent point regarding the possible source of the discord between the sisters as well as other family members.

      All best,

      William

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  5. William –

    They *knew what happened to Amelia & Fred. The government had to have told Amy, what took place with her daughter and to keep in under the table. It must have been a nightmare for the family, advised not to speak of the sorted details and for of the government’s intelligence work, to keep tight lips. I see this as, the government’s retrieval of Amelia’s personal items & remains, which were given back to the family; in return the family avoids any detailed discussions on the matter.

    It’s quite straight forward to me, in that sense. This doesn’t alarm, surprise nor keep me up at nights wondering.

    We helped you’s, you’s now help U.S. To break that *TRUST or embarrass the U.S./Intelligence, means we embarrass Amelia….that simple. Muriel & daughter Amy’s thoughts, reveal just that.

    Doug

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  6. William H. Trail | Reply

    Doug,

    You may have something there. It’s entirely possible that AE’s mother was briefed under the strict condition of her remaining absolutely silent. However, I seriously doubt if any of AE’s personal items recovered from Saipan were returned to Amy Otis Earhart. Those things would have constituted physical evidence of AE’s capture and subsequent death while in Japanese custody. That’s not something the U.S. Government would risk being brought out at a future date to the general public.

    All best,

    William

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  7. David,
    Your comment is insightful. Your thoughts on Amelia and Muriel’s relationship ring true.

    There was jealousy on Muriel’s part, subtle but there. You can see it in her early writings. There’s no question, Amelia had a stronger intellect, was more athletic, and certainly more daring. You are right; Amelia revered her father even though in her formative years, she lost trust in him because of his drinking.

    To the best of my knowledge, Muriel’s husband Albert, or “Chief” as he was called (from his time in the Navy) wasn’t a drinker, although from reading Amelia’s letters you would have thought so. Chief was a miserable man, domineering, and selfish. He kept most of his salary for his personal pleasure, forcing Muriel to scrimp by on a few dollars a month. He neglected his children, rarely spent time at home except to sleep, and never let Muriel make a decision.

    Muriel was not without her own faults. She could be frivolous, had a tendency to exaggerate, and sometimes was untruthful. Some of the material in her bio of Amelia is untrue. Many of the childhood escapades she writes of with her sister were really Amelia’s.

    Amelia was abandoned for several years during her early childhood. Amy was not a good mom and had trouble performing routine household responsibilities. Amelia lived with her grandparents in Atchison, while Muriel lived with mom and dad in Kansas City. Did Amelia feel a sense of abandonment? I bet she did.

    Edwin apparently started abusing alcohol during Amelia’s early teens. Until that time, he seemed to be an exemplary father. Both Edwin and Amelia played the piano quite well. On Sunday evenings in Des Moines, they shared a piano bench and bellowed out songs for hours. Three years later, Edwin had hit bottom. He lost his job as a claims attorney and eventually found work as a railroad clerk in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Earhart’s continued to live beyond their means and rented a classic Victorian. When winter came, several of the rooms had to be shut because they couldn’t afford the heat. By then, Edwin had turned into a classic drunk.

    One story you might know involved a church dance. Amelia had made her own dress and several teen agers in the church group were invited to the Earhart home afterwards where cocoa and marshmallows would be waiting. As was the custom in those days, the father would drop the daughters off at the dance and pick them up afterwards. Three hours after the festivities began, Edwin came home dead drunk. Muriel cried and ran upstairs. Amelia said nothing, turned out the lights, and went to bed.

    Obviously, Amelia learned to disassociate. The level of psychological traumatization a person has endured will likely be a motivating factor in determining their future behavior. In some respects, Amelia never healed from these early wounds. She liked be alone. Stoic and a fatalist, she took chances, and often said she didn’t fear dying.

    As to your question why I changed my opinion whether Muriel and Amy were told by some government authority of Amelia’s fate. I spent several days at Schlesinger reading the hundreds of letters between Amy, Muriel, and their friends from the time of Amelia’s disappearance and continuing over the next 20 years. There isn’t a hint of knowledge in the correspondence that makes me suspicious.

    Les Kinney

    Liked by 1 person

  8. William H. Trail | Reply

    Les,

    While reading all of those letters at the Schlesinger Library was there anything that stood out among them — something that struck you as particularly interesting or noteworthy?

    All best,

    William

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    1. Only if you were writing a bio of Amy or Muriel. I found a couple shocking statements made about family members, but nothing noteworthy about Amelia’s disappearance.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. William –

    I think some of Amelia’s personal items were returned to Amy, whereas the more sensitive materials were not. I think U.S. *Intelligence more or less gave Amy the answers to her daughter’s fate, but asked for her to help, by saying as little as possible. (Don’t let the cat out of the bag.)

    Sure it was painful, for Amy to lose her daughter and then asked to keep quiet about the sordid details. If Amelia’s remains were cremated, there would be no body, no grave, no stone. The family may have some of Amelia’s personals under lock & key and nobody is to have access to. Yes most normal people or family members would want answers & explanations, but we didn’t see those feelings or questions come from Muriel or Amy Morrissey. Secrecy that continues to this very day.

    If I had a sister, who was helping the U.S. Government with some Intelligence work, then something went wrong in that activity of it; I think I would want to know what happened. Later I was given the answers, and asked to remain *silent in the *INTEREST & *SECURITY of my country & the American Public; I would play dumb and say as little as possible, in that *respect.

    I now understand, why Amy, Muriel & Amy Morrissey said as little as possible.

    Doug

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    1. William H. Trail | Reply

      Doug,

      We could debate at length the issue of what and how much, if anything, Amy Otis Earhart may or may not have been briefed on regarding the disappearance of her daughter Amelia and not arrive at a consensus. I seriously doubt if the U.S. Government told Amy anything of any substance. Most likely, what she got was false sincerity and comforting lies and assurances along the lines of, “She ran out of gas, ditched, and sank quickly. Amelia didn’t suffer.” No truth, just something to soothe and bring closure to achieve the most important goal from the government’s perspective — silence. Now, what she may have been told by others outside of official channels, possibly even by Eleanor Roosevelt (see TTAL 2nd Ed. pages 142-144) herself, is anyone’s guess. I still maintain, however, that the government would not under any circumstances have returned any of AE’s possessions recovered on Saipan or elsewhere in the Japanese Mandates, no matter how small or innocuous as that would constitute prima facie evidence of Japanese capture, which is vigorously denied by the government to this day. Governments always look to their own self interests and do not put themselves at risk of exposure in a lie just to give an old lady some modicum of peace and closure.

      All best,

      William

      Like

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