In Memoriam: Honoring the Earhart Truth Seekers

I don’t know why this page was so long in coming, or even why the idea finally dawned on me when it did, but the old cliché, “Better late than never,” just about covers it.  Shortly after this “Earhart Research Page of Honor,” as it were, is published, I’ll also convert it into a permanent page at the top of the blog that can be seen and easily accessed by all.  

Ironically, though several women have written fair to outstanding biographies of Amelia Earhart, not a single member of the fair sex can be found among the elite ranks of authors and researchers whose work, in its totality, has revealed the unvarnished Marshall Islands-Saipan truth about the wretched fates of Earhart and Fred Noonan at the hands of the pre-war Japanese military.

Some say this was the last photo taken before the flyers’ July 2 takeoff from Lae, New Guinea.  Mr. F.C. Jacobs of the New Guinea Gold Mining Company stands between Amelia and Fred.  Note that Fred looks chipper and ready to go, not hung over from a night of drinking, as has been alleged.

I can’t fully explain this phenomenon, but the nuts and bolts of genuine Earhart research have never been for the faint of heart.  And lest anyone misconstrue this as an attempt to rank or evaluate the habitués of this page in any qualitative sequence, this gallery of important, deceased Earhart investigators is presented alphabetically.  Their work speaks for itself, and any thorough examination of their fruits should engender a coherent understanding of their standing within this unique, distinguished group.  

You may disagree with one or more of these selections, and if so, your comments are welcome.  For those who think someone who belongs has been omitted, please wait until Part II has been published.

For your information and entertainment, I present the first of two parts of the “Earhart Research Page of Honor.”

“Earhart Research Page of Honor,” Part I

PAUL BRIAND JR.: Many observers of the history of investigations into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan believe that Fred Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart is the seminal work in the genre, and all that followed sprang from the San Francisco radio-newsman’s initial Saipan forays.  

But neither Goerner nor anyone else would have heard about Earhart and Noonan’s arrival at Saipan in 1937 if not for the 1960 book that started it all — Daughter of the Sky, by Paul L. Briand Jr., a Ph.D., Air Force captain (later promoted to major) and assistant professor of English at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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.

In the closing pages of Daughter of the Sky, Briand presents the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, who saw Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at Tanapag Harbor as an 11-year-old in the summer of 1937, as told in 1946 to Navy Dentist Casimir Sheft on Saipan.  Though few were even aware of it in 1960, as the revelations in Daughter of the Sky were suppressed throughout the establishment media, Briand’s book was the spark that exploded into the true modern search for Amelia Earhart. 

In 1967, the State University of New York, Oswego, appointed Briand as a full professor and he taught there until his death in 1986 at age 66.  For much more on Paul Briand Jr., please click here.

THOMAS E. DEVINE: When the Lord made Thomas E. Devine, He broke the mold.  What He said when Devine returned to Him in September 2003 at age 88, only He and Devine know.  But had I never met the Saipan veteran and author of one of the most important Earhart disappearance books, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident (Renaissance House, 1987), I wouldn’t have become involved with the Earhart story, and today I’d be doing something entirely different with my life.  I can’t imagine what it would be.

Thomas E. Devine, circa 1987, around the time that Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident was published and about four years before I met him in person and spent the day with him at his West Haven, Conn., home in early February 1991.

In Eyewitness, Devine, an Army postal sergeant who saw the Earhart Electra on three separate occasions on Saipan in July 1944, reached out to his fellow veterans, urging them to report their own experiences that reflected the presence and death of Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan in the years before the 1944 U.S. invasion.  Twenty-six former GIs heard and responded to Devine’s plea, and their stunning accounts were presented for the first time in With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, our little-known 2002 book.  

Devine passed away at his West Haven, Connecticut home on Sept. 16, 2003.  For much more on his eyewitness experiences and contributions to Earhart research, please click here.

JOE GERVAIS:  Gervais, whose important Guam and Saipan witness interviews in 1960 strongly supported Fred Goerner’s Saipan findings, was best known as the creator of the insidious Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth, forever immortalized along with other crackpot ideas in Joe Klaas’ infamous 1970 book, Amelia Earhart Lives. 

Joe Gervais, left, and Rollin C. Reineck, circa mid-1990s, overlooking Honolulu, Hawaii.  Still esteemed by some as the greatest of Earhart researchers, Gervais can count among his contributions the vile and false Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart theory, which his friend Reineck unsuccessfully tried to reprise in his unsuccessful 2003 book, Amelia Earhart Survived.

Gervais was a highly decorated veteran of World War II, Korean and the Vietnam War, serving as a command pilot of B-24, B-29 and C-130 aircraft with over 16,000 hours of flight time.

The man some called “The Dean of Earhart Research,” passed away at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 26, 2005 at age 80.  

For more on Joe Gervais, please click here.

FRED GOERNER: The author of the only bestseller about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart ever penned, The Search for Amelia Earhart (Doubleday and Sons, 1966), Goerner is generally considered by the informed to be history’s greatest Earhart researcher.  He was certainly not without his faults, however, and made several mistakes and misjudgments along the way.    

Most observers of the Earhart saga are familiar with the statement allegedly made by retired Navy Adm. Chester W. Nimitz to Goerner in late March 1965, just before the radio newsman left San Francisco to interview Marine Commandant Gen. Wallace M. Greene at his Pentagon headquarters in Arlington, Va.  “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese,” Goerner claimed Nimitz told him.

In this undated photo from the mid-1960s, Fred Goerner holds forth from his perch at KCBS Radio, San Francisco, at the height of his glory as the author of The Search for Amelia Earhart.

Unfortunately, from the moment Time magazine ripped Goerner’s bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart in late 1966 as a book that “barely hangs together,” the sad truth about Amelia and Fred Noonan’s miserable deaths on Saipan in Japanese captivity was treated as a forbidden subject by the U.S. government and nearly all establishment media, and the Earhart Truth remains a sacred cow to this day.  

Fred Goerner passed away at age 69 on Sept. 13, 1994. 

For much more about Fred Goerner’ remarkable achievements, as well as his less well-known blunders, please click here; also see the index of Truth at Last.

JOE KLAAS: Probably the most talented writer of all Earhart researchers, Klaas, with the guidance of his longtime friend Joe Gervais, authored the most controversial — and damaging to the truth — Earhart book of all time, Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery (McGraw-Hill, 1970).

But Klaas accomplished far more in his remarkable life than pen history’s most scandalous Earhart disappearance work.  Besides Amelia Earhart Lives, Klaas wrote nine books including Maybe I’m Dead, a World War II novel; The 12 Steps to Happiness; and (anonymously) Staying Clean.

Joe Klaas, circa 2004, who survived a death march across Germany in 1945 and wrote Amelia Earhart Lives, passed away on Feb. 25, 2016.

He began his World War II service by flying British Supermarine Spitfires as an American volunteer in the Royal Air Force.  After Pearl Harbor, Klaas transferred to the U.S. Army Air Force and fought in the North African invasion of Morocco, as well as the Algerian and Tunisian campaigns, where he was shot down and captured by Arabs who sold him to the Nazis for $20.  

Klaas spent 25 months in German prison camps, escaped to be recaptured and worked for the X-Committee that planned “The Great Escape” from prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III.  The camp was known for two famous prisoner escapes that took place there by tunneling and were depicted in the filmsThe Great Escape (1963) and The Wooden Horse (1950).

Klaas died on Feb. 25, 2016 at his home in Monterey, Calif., at 95.

For much more on Joe Klaas, please click here.

OLIVER KNAGGS: South African writer Oliver Knaggs was hired in 1979 by a film company to join Vincent V. Loomis in the Marshalls and chronicle his search.  The Knaggs-Loomis connection is well known among Earhart buffs, but neither Loomis, in Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, nor Knaggs, in his little-known 1983 book, Amelia Earhart: Her last flight mentioned the other by name.  In Her last flight, a collector’s item known mainly to researchers, Knaggs recounts his 1979 and ’81 investigations in the Marshalls and Saipan, where his findings strongly supported those of Loomis, despite some unexplained disparities. 

Knaggs returned to Mili in 1981 without Loomis and armed with a metal detector in hopes of locating the silver container that the native eyewitness Lijon had described seeing a white man bury in 1937.

Oliver Knaggs, author of Amelia Earhart: Her final flight, at Garapan Prison, Saipan, circa 1981.

Knaggs found something metallic where nothing should have naturally been buried, brought it home to South Africa and had it analyzed by the Metallurgical Department of the University of Cape Town.  The results confirmed that “in section the sample revealed what is described as a pin cover, rivet and body of the hinge,” Knaggs wrote.  “In general the microstructures [sic] are consistent with a fine, clean low carbon steel . . . indicating that good technology was used in its manufacture. . . . The hinge could have come from something akin to a cash box and could therefore quite easily be the canister to which Lijon had referred.”  

Thus Knaggs secured his place among history’s elite Earhart researchers by finding that may well have been the only “hard evidence yet publicly uncovered.  For much more on Oliver Knaggs’ Earhart investigative work, please click here.

Special thanks to Les Kinney, who provided a biography of Knaggs that included the following:

He was born in Pretoria, South Africa on January 22, 1924.  He was educated at Kearny College in Natal. Knaggs was a combat veteran of WWII, serving in the Middle East and Italy.  Following the war, his writing career blossomed.  His articles were published in many of South Africa’s leading magazines.

His radio dramas were regularly featured on the national SABC network. His writing credits of 30 books, include Amelia Earhart: Her Last Flight, published in January 1983, 500 short stories, and thousands of magazine articles.  

Knaggs died at age 68 on September 8, 1992 in Cape Town, South Africa.  

DONALD KOTHERA: Kothera’s significant contributions to the Earhart legacy are among the least known and appreciated by Earhart aficionados.  Kothera, a former Navy man stationed on Saipan in 1946, along with “Cleveland Group” associates Ken Matonis, John Gacek, Jack Geschke and Marty Fiorillo, made investigative trips to Saipan in 1967 and ’68, producing important new witness information.

Among them was Anna Diaz Magofna, who claimed to have witnessed the beheading of a “tall, good-looking man with [a] long nose,” a white man who was probably Fred Noonan.  Through an interpreter Magofna recalled that as a seven-year-old in 1937, she watched with about five other children as two Japanese soldiers oversaw two white people digging a hole outside a cemetery.  

Don Kothera’s often-overlooked contributions to Earhart research were chronicled in Joe Davidson’s Amelia Earhart Returns to Saipan. (First of three editions, 1969.)

“When the grave was dug, the tall man with the big nose, as she described him, was blindfolded and made to kneel by the grave,” author Joe Davidson wrote in Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan (First Edition 1969).  His hands were tied behind him.  One of the Japanese took a Samurai sword and chopped his head off.  The other one kicked him into the grave.”

Magnofa didn’t know what happened to the other white person, whom she didn’t identify as a woman.  She fled after watching the beheading, but the experience haunted her for years afterward. “I still remember the American man and how they cut his head off,” she told Kothera.

Four years after Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks shared their memories of the Saipan gravesite dig Marine Captain Tracy Griswold ordered them to do in late July-early August 1944, the Cleveland Group compared the gravesite location information provided by the former Marine privates with Anna Magofna’s harrowing childhood account.  The spot Magofna recalled closely corresponded to the one described by Henson and Burks, but the former Marine privates did not return to Saipan to confirm it. 

In Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan (First Edition 1969), Texas veterinarian Davidson chronicled the group’s investigations, aided by thousands of feet of film shot by photographer Fiorillo.  Overlooked by most researchers, Amelia Earhart Returns offers a wealth of new eyewitness information, in addition to Magofna’s. 

Kothera passed away on June 14, 2013 at his Las Vegas, Nevada home.  He was 85.  For more on Kothera and the Cleveland Group, please see Truth at Last, pages 245-251 or click here.

End of Part I.  Your comments are welcomed. 

12 responses

  1. Well done, Mike.

    Les Kinney

    Like

  2. Excellent Mike- well done

    Like

  3. “The first duty of man is the seeking after and investigation of truth.”
    –Marcus Tullius Cicero

    All best,

    William

    Like

  4. Robert the Wallace | Reply

    Absolutely Awesome Mike; plainly stated, all you’ve assembled here ultimately proves: ” YE SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE!”

    Like

  5. Hi Mike, Excellent work! Thanks for putting together these wonderful people who cared. Little did they know how difficult it would be to find out what really happened to Amelia and Fred, Never give up! Look forward to your next posting.
    Best to you, Toodie…. former Lake Tahoe 99.

    Like

  6. Below is from Dave Bellarts, son of Itasca Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts, via regular email:

    Hello Mike,

    I’m sure that you are aware of the letter Harry Balfour
    sent to my father in 1970. He stated in hat letter AE asked him
    if he would like to go along with her the night before
    the takeoff.

    This is my feeling, that AE was not on any spy mission. Why would
    she ask Harry to go along if there could be any danger in
    not returning, if she flew over any Japanese Island there would
    have been lots of radio traffic. The US has stations within this area
    and would have picked up any traffic concerning the AE flight, they
    did not

    My father always believed if AE flew over any Japanese Island they
    would have had planes looking for her and would have shot her
    down.

    Also, enjoy reading your articles…………

    Your Friend

    Dave Bellarts

    Dave,

    I have no doubt that your father heard heard her last message loud and clear. To me, this is an unarguable fact. I have NEVER stated that I thought she was on a spy mission, my goal has been to inform others about everything relevant to the Earhart disappearance, as you well know. I do think it’s most likely that she decided to go north and west when she couldn’t find Howland, and thus landed at Mili. But we don’t know that for sure. Other possibilities do exist.

    Mike

    Like

  7. Excellent work, Mike. It now explains to me who these characters were and what they wrote, which I do not always know when their names pop up.

    Like

  8. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All:

    Paul Briand, author Paul Briand, Jr.’s son wrote an interesting 16 July 2017 article about his father, and “Daughter of the Sky” for Seacoast News. Here’s the link:

    https://www.seacoast.com/news/20170716/elusive-truth-behind-amelia-earharts-disappearance

    All best,

    William

    Like

    1. William,

      When I click on the link the only thing that comes up is the headline and a page full of ads.

      Tom

      Like

      1. William H. Trail

        Tom,

        I just clicked on the link and that’s what I got too. Using Duck duck go as your search engine just type in “Paul Briand, Jr.” and scroll down. You’ll find it.

        All best,

        William

        Like

    2. thank you for mentioning my dad, he rarely gets the nod he deserves. AE was his life’s work and passion, he hung on to her story and researched until the day he died, and you are so right about the government resistance at the time

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is a good idea to present each author. Looking forward to Part 2.

    Like

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