“AE’s Packard” claim dissolves under scrutiny

If ever a story published on this blog needed an update, it’s my March 15 post, Marshall seeking final proof on “Earhart’s Packard.”  I really stepped in this one, and so will now attempt to extricate myself from this muck, not only to debunk yet another false Earhart claim, but also to warn others who might be adversely affected in the future.

I wasn’t initially skeptical about Ross Marshall’s assertion that his 1935 Packard Super 8 Coupe once belonged to Amelia Earhart.  Some readers even could have understood my post as an flat-out, unadulterated promo supporting his boast about his car’s unique status as an Earhart heirloom, or even that Marshall and I are friends, which is absolutely not the case. I’ve agreed to further air Marshall’s story, I wrote in my March 15 post, “in the hope that he can somehow find the final proof the Packard was indeed Amelia’s, and thus increase its value and prestige,” which was Marshall’s stated goal from the jump.  

Actually the car wasn’t my main concern.  Marshall had contacted Marie Castro and expressed interest in helping her with the Earhart Memorial Monument project on Saipan, and my first instinct was to support her and the AEMMI.  “As you can see,” I wrote in conclusion — and here was my extremely stupid misstatement, which certainly could have been taken as an endorsement: “I have a personal interest in Mr. Marshall’s final success in nailing down his Packard as Earhart’s, about which no one should have any doubt to begin with. Should that happen, we have his pledge that he would build the AEMMI monument ‘personally.’ ”  (Italics added.)

Other than his potential contribution to the Saipan Earhart Monument, I didn’t care whether Marshall sold his car at any price.  But more importantly, I’ve never intentionally perpetrated any false claims about Amelia Earhart or anyone else.  Regrettably, I briefly suspended this ethical imperative in my haste to assist Marie Castro and her worthy cause.  This work has never been about money for me; my integrity and reputation are not for sale, and I’ve never knowingly written or uttered a lie in my Earhart work since my introduction to the story in 1988.

I soon experienced the truth of the old adage, “No good deed goes unpunished,” and not for the first time.  Longtime reader, pilot and friend William Trail quickly disabused me of any illusions I had about Marshall’s so-called “AE Packard.” 

“I’ve been chewing away on this and I’m highly skeptical of this whole Packard thing,” Trail wrote in a March 16 email and comment to this blog.  “Something’s just not right.”  Trail continued:

Ross Marshall alleges that the president of the Packard Motor Company (PMC) gifted AE a 1935 Packard Super 8 Coupe in February 1935.  Although not named by Marshall, the president of PMC at the time was James Alvan Macauley.  Macauley was president from 1916 to 1939.  At the time of the alleged gifting, AE and GP were residing in Rye, N.Y. Therefore, upon transfer to AE the vehicle would be registered to her in New York.  I would think that a check of the motor vehicle records for 1935 archived by the Commonwealth of New York Department of Motor Vehicles would be worth doing.

James Alvan Macauley Sr., president of Packard Motor Company from 1916 until 1939, graces the cover of the July 22, 1929 issue of Time magazine.

On 28 July 1935, AE and GP purchased a home and moved to 10042 Valley Spring Lane in North Hollywood, Calif.  If they possessed a 1935 Packard Super 8 Coupe it stands to reason that the vehicle would then be re-registered in California.  A check with the California DMV for archived vehicle registrations is worth looking into as well.

In the back of his book, Legerdemain [Saga Books, 2007], David K. Bowman provides a detailed, almost day-by-day account of AE’s life.  There is nothing for February 1935 about AE being gifted a Packard automobile, or having a photo op with the president of Packard — both fairly significant events if they actually happened.  I don’t see something that newsworthy falling through the cracks and beinglost to history.”  It would be the same if the Ford Motor Company had gifted a 1968 Mustang GT to Steve McQueen, and it wasn’t publicized.  No way!

Then, there is America’s Packard Museum in Dayton, Ohio.  Mr. Robert Signom III is Curator. . . . I would think that if Packard gifted AE a Super 8 Coupe the curator of America’s Packard Museum would surly know about it.  I would also think that Mr. Marshall would have contacted him by now.  The museum was easy enough to find.  It didn’t require Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.  I did it this morning. 

I wrote to Mr. Signom at Dayton’s American Packard Museum, which is now temporarily closed, and got no reply.  Another museum, the National Packard Museum, referred me to an expert in New York, but the email address they provided rejected my message and he hasn’t replied to the snail mail I sent.   

I joined a Packard information forum on March 17.  My query has received 338 views to date, ostensibly from Packard experts and enthusiasts, and not a shred of evidence has been forthcoming to support either Earhart’s connection to the 1935 Packard or that the two fires described by Marshall ever occurred.  I did learn that Marshall himself is associated with at least one well-known contributor to this Packard Information site, who informed him about my query to the forum.  This may be why I’ve heard nothing of substance from this bunch, as Marshall’s Packard has apparently been accepted on the site as once belonging to Earhart, basically on Marshall’s say-so.  Sometimes no reply is itself an answer.  

Considering the dystopian nightmares the California and New York state governments have become, I don’t want to get involved with their DMVs and don’t believe it’s necessary.  I’m certain I’d find nothing if I ever gained access to reliable records, and the fact that Marshall has not mentioned them as two agencies that would support his story tells us plenty about his credibility, or lack of same.

Original photo, titled “1935 Packard Phaeton with aviator Amelia Earhart, in Brooklyn Day opening ceremonies.”  The caption read, in part, “A 1935 Packard three-quarter right side view, parked on street, crowd in background, at the Brooklyn Day opening ceremony. Inscribed on photo back; 1935 Packard super eight, model 1204, twelfth series, 8-cylinder, 150-horsepower, 139-inch wheelbase, 4-person phaeton. . . . Amelia Earhart participating in the Brooklyn Day opening ceremonies.  (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection.)

Marshall’s statement that we can confirm . . . AE and The President of Packard were pictured together is Manhattan New York in Feb 1935, announcing the new Packard range of Automobiles for 1935is his only claim that can verified, as the above photo testifies, although the president of Packard is not named in the caption.  Marshall has nothing more than this, an accidental confluence between the Packard company and Amelia Earhart, yet he’s bent on transforming his 1935 Packard into a cash cow and a fat payday through sheer effrontery and chutzpah, more commonly known as BS.

“Marshall’s story is a load of bull,” William Trail wrote in a March 19 email.  “AE’s life has been so meticulously researched, minutely scrutinized, and painstakingly documented, that if James Alvan Macauley, President of Packard Motor Cars had authorized a specially built automobile to be gifted to her there is no question in my mind that we’d know about it.  Packard aficionados would know about it.  It would be well documented.”

Among the experts I’ve contacted in search of their informed opinions is one Arthur Einstein, author of Ask the Man Who Owns One”: An Illustrated History of Packard Advertising (McFarland; 1st edition September 2, 2010).  Most of the Packard historians I’ve contacted have not seen fit to answer my queries, but Trail bought the Kindle edition of Ask the Man on March 21, and spent the afternoon “pouring  through the relevant chapters covering the 1920s up to the 1950s,” he said.  “I also carefully reviewed the Chapter Notes, Bibliography, and Index.  Bottom line:  No mention of Amelia Earhart whatsoever.”

Two catastrophic, record-destroying fires?

My BS alarm was not functioning the day I read Marshall’s first email to me, as it should have loudly screamed upon reading his two incredible whoppers below.  Subsequent research showed that no evidence whatever exists for these two statements Marshall presented to explain the lack of documentation linking Earhart and the Packard:

The sad part about the critical documented history of our Packard was No. 1, The Department of Roads in Dallas had a fire in the early ’50’s which destroyed all the files and records of ownership of The City beyond the early forties.  The late ’40s title we hold shows the last time our car was registered was 1948, the original license plates are still on our car to this day! 

Then, No. 2, we have the history of The Packard Motor Company with a similar problem.  It appears when Packard was amalgamating with Studebaker in the late 60’s the two opposing Sales Directors had such a dislike for each other, the Packard man destroyed by fire, all the build records and buyers of Packard going back more than 50 years of corporate history!

I’m not the only one who’s been fooled by Ross Marshall’s tall tales about his 1935 Packard.  The above is a screen shot of an October 2018 New Zealand News Hub video story,Amelia Earhart’s custom-built final car on show in Auckland.  In the interview, Marshall tells unsuspecting listeners, “Theoretically she got out of that car and into the aircraft, and this really was her last living asset in the world today,” and finished his pitch with, “It brings tears to your eyes.”

As stated above, I find no evidence supporting these alleged fires.  Was Marshall repeating stories told to him by the Dallas judge, who he does not identify, or did he invent these two ridiculous yarns on his own?  I don’t know, and it makes little difference.  These stories are phony as a three-dollar bill, I should have called him out on them, and the more I looked at this, the more embarrassing it became.  Not only that, the Dallas judge segment of Marshall’s story is irrelevant, as William Trail pointed out in a March 19 email:

Marshall’s story about documentation obtained from the Texas judge is inconsistent.  The excuse that there was a fire at that destroyed records in Dallas has no bearing.  It is a misdirection, a dodge.  Official Texas motor vehicle documentation would not establish AE’s ownership of the vehicle.  Archived New York and California DMV records would be the logical place to look.  Marshall hasn’t done that because he knows his claim is false.  Likewise, Marshall’s claim that the Packard records that would prove his claim were deliberately burned is also a misdirection.

Longtime Packard expert Dwight Heinmuller, of Sparks, Md., a Packard historian and co-author of Packard: A History of the Motorcar and Company (Automobile Quarterly, 1978), joined Trail in rejecting Marshall’s claims that fires have destroyed all evidence that his car once belonged to Earhart.  

“The owners claim that Studebaker-Packard was formed in the 1960s and that two employees hated each other and destroyed files, etc.,” Heinmuller wrote in a March 20 email: 

All of that is nonsense.  S-P was formed in October 1954.  There were no clashes between employees at that level that would have resulted in files being destroyed!  Records were NOT destroyed.  Further, only the dealer would have records as to whom cars were sold except for factory delivered cars.  Those records may exist but their whereabouts is unknown.

It appears to me that there is no way to confirm that AE owned this Packard unless some document(s) is produced for verification.  So, anyone that says this was AE’s Packard cannot prove it, so why perpetuate the rumor?  I remember seeing this and thought at the time that these people’s claims are questionable.” 

I’ve contacted more than a handful of authors and other experts in seeking some dispositive statements that might put this issue to rest.  Thus far, only Heinmuller has been civil enough to respond.  Some of these automotive history types are rude elitists who refuse to soil themselves by mixing with a “conspiracy theorist,” while others may consider the answer to the question about Earhart’s alleged ownership so obvious that it requires no confirmation — maybe both apply!  For whatever reasons, that aspect of the basic research hasn’t been easy, but in the end the truth requires no snooty verification.  Neither William Trail nor I have found a single reference that places a 1935 Packard in Amelia Earhart’s name, or any Packard of any year, for that matter.  This itself is definitive. 

Brass date plate from Ross Marshall’s 1935 Packard Super 8 Coupe.  Though photo quality is lacking, it shows the vehicle number is 858 230, and that it was delivered by Packard to Dallas, Texas on Feb. 2, 1935.  How could this have been designated for Amelia Earhart?

On March 19, Trail found more helpful data on the Packard Information site whose forum I discussed above.  Buried among numerous photos of infinite Packard-repair minutiae is the brass date plate from Ross Marshall’s 1935 Packard Super 8 Coupe.  The photo quality isn’t good, but the vehicle number is 858 230, and it was delivered by Packard to Dallas, Texas on Feb. 2, 1935.

“If this automobile was built especially for AE, why would Packard ship it to Dallas?” Trail asked.  “Why wouldn’t the data plate indicate that this vehicle was built especially for AE as Marshall claims it was?”

Unmentioned until now, but far from the least of countless discrepancies is Marshall’s claim that “Our Packard has her AE’ initials still permanently displayed today,” yet he’s offered no photo to support that contention.  Moreover, even if the “AE” were somewhere on the car, anyone could have put it there, least of all Earhart herself, who was not the type to do such a thing.  An entirely accurate description of this entire tawdry matter isn’t appropriate for a family blog like this, but Marshall’s contentions add up to a huge, steaming pile of you know what.

Finally, as a condition of my writing and publishing Marshall’s story, and not contingent on selling his car or results of any kind, he pledged to make a donation to the AEMMI when the March 15 story went up on this blog.  In a March 18 email to Marie Castro, Marshall told her that it is impossible to do business overseas these days when you are attempting to do a cash transfer.”  He then promised to send her a check “via registered mail in a few days.”  Marie, ever hopeful, is still waiting.

Clearly, Marshall thinks that Marie and I are morons, and he was right about me, at least briefly.  Whether he is a con man or simply a naive victim himself — can we even consider the latter a possibility? — is irrelevant in the end.  He’s abused Marie Castro’s goodwill and mine as well — not to mention our readers’ time and attention.  As I told Marie as this sordid incident was playing itself out, “This Ross Marshall is some piece of work.”

13 responses

  1. William H. Trail | Reply

    Mike,

    BRAVO ZULU.

    All best,

    William
    Semper Verum Quaeritis

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike, so sorry you got pulled in to this mess. Thanks for a detailed and well-researched update, however, I would expect nothing less with a researcher of your integrity. Keep up the great work.

    Like

  3. Sorry if this is was posted already, but as Jimmy Durante used to say “Everybody wants to get into the act”

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  4. I just wanted to get my 2 cents in to add further confusion if nothing else. I found it curious that Packard, Studebaker, Hudson-Essex and Nash all wound up amalgamated into American Motors. At least I think that’s true, I would have to check again. However, Amelia was gifted a car and this is it. https://www.hemmings.com/stories/2014/08/05/another-amelia-earhart-mystery-could-this-1932-essex-terraplane-have-been-hers
    So there is a connection and maybe it has something to do with the legend of a gift Packard. My Aunt Audrey worked at the Hudson-Essex dealership in the Somerville/Medford area in the 30s so she might have run into Amelia if Amelia brought her Hudson Terraplane to the dealer back then. I don’t know when her sister Muriel moved to Medford or if and when Amelia visited if indeed Muriel lived there in the 30s. Anyway, there was never a mention by anyone in my family that they ever ran into Amelia whie they lived in Somerville, Mass. the next city to Medford. In the meantime I will keep my eye out for a 1932 Terraplane and if I see one that might have been hers I will post that right here.
    A. B.,
    David

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    1. Read the story you linked carefully and you’ll see it’s far from certain that the 1932 Terraplane belonging to Jim Somers actually belonged to Earhart. This sounds like more of the same BS to me. Everybody wants a piece of Amelia, any way they can get it.

      MIke

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  5. Mike, I didn’t go back and reread the posting on trying to document the Packard but what I remember from it you were just trying to try and help him document it if possible, I didn’t interpret anything you said as being a challenge to your credibility. You are the most thorough researcher I have ever read. By the way I have a Packard too but I can guarantee AE didn’t own it.

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    1. Daniel,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m really only a mediocre researcher and have never claimed to be anything more than that. Organizing, writing and presenting the work of the important Earhart researchers is what I do best. It’s a niche I feel blessed to occupy, and will continue to do what I can for the Good Cause.

      Mike

      Like

  6. David Atchason | Reply

    I didn’t read the story thoroughly, my only point was that Hudson did give her a car, and I know mt point is irrelevant but it was just fun to read the story. Amelia was probably annoyed she didn’t get a Packard and had to settle for a Hudson. I know I would be if I were her.
    David

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    1. I didn’t write that nobody ever gave her a car, only that Packard never gave her one.
      MC

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  7. The more I hear about this Packard story, the less interest I have in it.

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    1. I hear you, Ken. I’m sure you speak for others as well. I shouldn’t have written the first post, but once that had been done, I had no choice except to make it right when I realized my mistake. I hope you can appreciate that. Will get something new up soon, and hope to regain your interest.

      MC

      Like

  8. If she had been given a Stutz bear cat or a Bugati, it would have been more interesting.

    Like

  9. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All:

    This was not about old cars. This was about debunking disinformation and upholding truth. I freely admit that I have a penchant for the weird, the obscure, and the arcane, not to mention an abiding interest in anything Earhart. Needless to say, I found Mike’s 15 March post not only interesting, but important. Mike put out the story in a straightforward manner as it was presented to him by Ross Marshall, with all of it’s faults and foibles.

    Mike neither condemned nor endorsed Marshall’s dubious claim. However, he did provide all of us an opportunity to use our heads, think deeply, do some small modicum of simple research and discern the truth for ourselves. To paraphrase the tagline of a certain cable news operation, “Mike reported, We decided.”

    Mike also provided what should have been the catalyst for much informed, serious discussion among the readership. Maybe that was his whole intent?

    By the way, I spent some time pouring through “Packard: The Complete Story” by Michael G.H. Scott (1985) Tab Books, Inc. No mention of AE whatsoever.

    All best,

    William

    Semper Verum Quaeritis

    Like

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