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.
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 being “lost 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.
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 1935” is 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!
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.
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.”