Today we leave the sordid world of bogus claims about antique cars and enter the bizarre realm of fringe Earhart lore to hear from the “other Irene Bolam,” Irene E. Bolam, who gained her last name through an accident of marriage and was a sometime, little-regarded member of the Amelia Earhart Society whose total contributions can be found in the below essay. I have no photo of her, can’t find this her maiden name, and know almost nothing of her, or whether she’s even still alive.* But she did have a few opinions, not all coherent, about the better-known Irene with the same last name, and she voices them in the below essay for the AES readership.
Shortly after publication of Joe Klaas’ Amelia Earhart Lives * in 1970, Irene Bolam held a well-attended but brief news conference in which she spoke only a few sentences, although these were most emphatic, according to observers. Holding an upside-down copy of the source of her consternation, she labeled it a “cruel hoax,” slammed the book on a table, roared, “I AM NOT AMELIA EARHART!” and left the room. Seven weeks later, publisher McGraw-Hill ceased sales of Amelia Earhart Lives and pulled it from shelves nationwide; no official explanation was ever given.
lrene’s written denial to Klaas and Joe Gervais, “I am not she,” was apparently too succinct and unassertive to convince them of her veracity. For the record, Irene Craigmile Bolam (Oct. 1, 1904 – July 7, 1982) was a former aviatrix who claimed to know Amelia Earhart and other celebrities, but in middle age had morphed into a devoted wife, financial manager, world traveler and resident of Monroe Township, Middlesex County, New Jersey, but these real and verifiable facts evaded the Earhart-addled Gervais, who never accepted them, at least publicly.
For anyone who would like to learn or get reacquainted with the odious details of the long-debunked, worm-eaten Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth, please see “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV,” on Dec. 29, 2015, the first of a four-part series I wrote on this dark chapter of the Earhart saga, as well as the 2005 jointly written “Amelia Earhart’s Survival and Repatriation: Myth or Reality?” also known as “The Atchison Report.”
The following essay by the “other Irene Bolam” appeared in the December 1993 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
“A Personal View of Irene Bolam”
By Irene E. Bolam
Irene O’Crowley Craigmile Heller Bolam acquired her name the same way I did: by marrying one of the Bolam brothers. Her husband, Guy Bolam, was the first son of their father, born in England at the turn of the century. My husband, John was the last son, born in the U.S., 31 years later. So Irene became-a sister-in-law in the family when she married Guy in 1958, albeit more than a generation from us in age. John and I first met her in 1964 when we returned from Germany. She and Guy picked us up at JFK airport and took us to their home in Bedford Hills, N.Y. for several days. Irene was gracious, friendly, generous, helpful, funny, intelligent, worldly, and very much in charge of things. Guy was charming, intelligent, worldly, dapper, opinionated, but a stubborn Englishman who was hard to live with.
Regardless of what the New Jersey psychic said about Irene’s problems with love, marriage and grief during the first half of her life, she and Guy finally found true love when they married in their 50s. She was a perfect asset for his worldwide business dealings. They made friends easily, loved to travel, and people were delighted to be with them. Yet we believe that foremost they were friends and protectors of each other, and perhaps the keepers of each other’s secrets.
Guy and Irene traveled extensively and often, because he worked with Radio Luxembourg. Since he was born and raised in England, they spent much time with friends there. They met the author Lady Mary Stewart (from Scotland) on a train in southern Europe. Later while dining at their hotel they saw her sitting alone in the same dining room. Guy asked her to join them, and a very deep and lasting relationship continued between their families for the rest of their lives. Guy and Irene knew people all around the world, some of which were well known figures in high places. We can’t say there was anything odd or deceptive about this. Irene, especially, was very outgoing and friendly. If she liked you, you were a friend forever. People liked her immensely, and would proudly introduce her to others. She was intelligent, articulate (except for occasionally salty and sometimes acerbic language), and had a commanding presence. She knew a lot of important people, including many high ranking military officers, astronauts, and flyers.
Irene and Guy made the trip to Boston once a year for physical checkups at the Lahey Clinic. During the last three years of Guy’s life, John was working near Boston, so we were able to visit during their week-long stays. It has been written that Irene didn’t really do much flying, became inactive in 1933, and let her license lapse in 1937. However she knew a lot about early flying and spoke fondly of it. One night in 1969, when Guy was in the hospital and Irene was very worried about him, we spent a long evening in a restaurant atop one of the insurance buildings in downtown Boston. Since John and I were taking flying lessons at the time, we were delightfully entertained by Irene’s stories of learning to fly.
When she was ready for her first solo flight in an old biplane with an OX-5 engine, the instructor gave her careful instructions about flying once around the field and landing again. She took off OK, but as she leveled off at pattern altitude her plane started to trail a plume of smoke (apparently the water-cooled engine had a leak in the radiator). While the instructor waved frantically for her to cut the flight short and land immediately, she doggedly continued to follow his original instructions and made a long leisurely downward leg and approach. As luck would have it, she landed safely amid a cloud of smoke and wondered what all the fuss was about.
Irene related other interesting anecdotes, including the fact that she knew many of the famous flyers of the time, including Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart, and that she had indeed flown with some of them. She appeared to be completely familiar with any subject we might bring up about flying in the old days, such as types of planes, instruments, early airports, etc.
Irene also loved to go shopping and buy whatever she pleased with little regard to the price. Not everything she bought was for herself, however. She also showered gifts on her friends, often bringing back woolen items from Scotland, and linens from Ireland to give away. One time in their Boston hotel room, she was trying on a lounging outfit to show another friend and me. The friend asked how old I was, and I told her. Irene came storming out of the bathroom and said, “Don’t EVER tell anyone how old you are!” She managed to get away with that philosophy throughout her life; perhaps there’s a lesson here for all of us?
After Guy died in 1970, she continued to manage the Radio Luxembourg accounts while trekking around the world. She rarely traveled alone, always talking one of her women friends into accompanying her on interesting adventures. Her Christmas cards told of the places she had been that year, or the ones she intended to visit next. She thoroughly enjoyed life, people, events, theater, travel, new heights. She was the epitome of a “Classy Lady.”
What do we think about the Irene Bolam/Amelia Earhart connection? After a most fascinating three days of the AES Symposium at the Flying Lady, our heads were swimming with the new information revealed. From Irene’s actions in numerous situations, we believe retired NYPD Forensic Specialist Jerome Steigmann’s conclusions seem most logical. His evidence indicates that Irene had been recruited by the U.S. government to play the role of a decoy, because Gervais & Klaas (and perhaps other researchers) were getting too close to the truth about Amelia. The government and Irene could “muddy the waters” of her past, in order to leave the impression that she might be Amelia, but maybe not. She could deny everything with vigor, act elusive with some interviewers and mislead others, refuse to let her fingerprints be taken, occasionally wear Amelia’s jewelry but deny that it was what it appeared to be.
Irene told us she was a member of both the Ninety-Nines and Zonta [International], but others say that her name doesn’t appear in the records of these organizations. Why then would they ask her to speak at their national and international meetings? As far as we know, she was just another female flyer, who never broke any records or made famous flights that might be reported in the newspapers of that time. Perhaps some of the older Ninety-Nines members knew more than they are telling about Irene being a decoy? She traveled a great deal, and could have used these trips to meet with Amelia and learn everything she needed to know about Amelia’s life.
Guy and Irene often entertained guests at their Bedford Village home. It was a country home and neighbors were some distance away, so Amelia could have visited there incognito. I can see how Irene might have gotten a kick out of playing the role, pretending to be mysterious, and keeping everyone guessing. John wonders if she might even have been associated with a covert government organization in the first place, and met Guy, a member of British MI-6, through that connection.
We were shown pictures at the AES meeting, and were asked if they were all Irene. Frankly, about half looked like her, and the other half were similar, but not quite the same! We are also curious as to whether her “lawyer,” ex-judge Kennedy, might have been connected with the government also? He was often at her side, or in the background, at interviews and public appearances. Could his role have been to see that she said the right things?
From letters, we know that Irene was bedridden for several months to a year with cancer of the spine before she died. But Robert Myers, author of Stand By To Die, who knew Amelia from the early 1930’s, claims to have had a meeting with Irene/Amelia in 1982 on a New Jersey street corner. While her driver waited a discreet distance away, she and Myers talked thru the window of her limo about the days at old Oakland airport when her [?] plane was being readied for the world flight. Myers said Irene died “a few weeks later.” (Italics mine.)
We find it hard to believe this could have been the same woman who was so incapacitated. Also, according to the last issue of the AES Newsletters, an old flame of Amelia’s from the early 1920s named Lloyd Royer contacted author Gervais in 1977, to tell him about the secret shenanigans with Amelia and her plane. He is the one who said a new plane was waiting in the skunk works hanger, complete with her N-number painted on the tail, even before her busted craft arrived from Hawaii. Royer told Joe that Irene Bolam had recently visited him and left a copy of “AE Lives” inscribed to him. Why would she do this if she hated the book? Could the real Amelia Earhart have traveled around meeting old friends under the guise of Irene Bolam? [For more on Royer, see my Feb. 24, 2021 post “Lloyd Royer’s Earhart claim: Truth or fancy?”]
In her final days, Irene was taken to an indigent hospital where they say she died. Her body was willed to Rutgers University Hospital with the stipulation that no fingerprints would be taken. The hospital later reported they had cremated her body and the ashes were buried in an unmarked grave. This sounds too much like a contrived “final solution” to this intriguing story.
Almost four months after Irene’s death, a memorial “dinner” was held at Forsgate Country Club in New Jersey — invited guests only. There were no Bolams on the list. None of the Bolam family were ever notified of Irene’s death. Richard Bolam. another brother, just happened to see her obituary in the St. Petersburg, Florida newspaper under the section of “celebrity” deaths. We think Irene would be amused to be able to continue playing her role, even after death. (End of “A Personal View of Irene Bolam.”)
The foregoing is apparently all that Irene E. Bolam left to posterity and the record, at least as it’s found in the AES Newsletters. The events surrounding Irene Bolam’s death and memorial dinner are indeed bizarre. I would have expected more, but Bill Prymak had little to say when I once asked him about this “other Irene,” offering only a brief remark about people who are attracted to fame. I didn’t pursue it.
* Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas, who passed away in February 2016 at 95, was a pilot and World War II hero, a POW and a talented writer with 12 books to his credit. But sadly, Klaas fell victim to the insane delusion Joe Gervais had birthed and spread to other witless sheep over the years that New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam was actually Amelia Earhart returned from Saipan via the Japanese Imperial Palace in Tokyo, determined to live out her life in obscurity and isolation from her family — something Amelia was incapable of doing.
Some have even suggested that Gervais was a paid agent of disinformation — working for Uncle Sam to muddle the truth about Earhart’s disappearance. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility, but whether Gervais dreamed up his ridiculous claims about Bolam, as well as his other phony assertions, or was doing the bidding of the U.S. Deep State matters little now. Nobody until TIGHAR came along in the late 1980s did more damage to the truth about Amelia Earhart and the public’s perception of credible research, such as that done by Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Oliver Knaggs and Bill Prymak, than Gervais and his sidekick Joe Klaas.
It was a shame, because the eyewitness interviews conducted by Gervais, Robert Dinger and the local police detectives on Guam and Saipan in 1960, on the heels of Fred Goerner’s arrival on Saipan, were some of the most compelling ever done.
Once again, you can read everything and more than you need to know about Irene Bolam and Amelia Earhart, beginning with “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV,” posted on Dec. 29, 2015.
* A bit of closer checking reveals that Irene Egnor Bolam, 88, lives in Independence, Ore. We’ve never corresponded and I’m not inclined to start now, as this post is about Irene Craigmile Bolam as seen by someone who claimed to have known her. I’m not comfortable doing any more with this post than what was published in the AES Newsletters.