Joe Klaas, who died in February 2016 at his home in Monterey, Calif., at 95, was probably the most gifted writer of all Earhart researchers. Unfortunately, Klaas was best known as the author of the most controversial — and damaging to legitimate research — Earhart book of all time, Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery (McGraw-Hill, 1970).
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.
In July 1999, long after the delusional Amelia Earhart Lives had done its insidious damage, Klaas wrote a fairly lengthy, pointed email to several associates at the Broomfield, Colo.-based Amelia Earhart Society including Bill Prymak and Rollin Reineck, presenting his vision of the movements of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan just after their July 2 landing in the Marshall Islands, though Klaas did not specify Mili Atoll or Barre Island as the location of the Electra’s descent.
Klaas’s email, with the subject “Keep it Simple (I HAD TO CLEAN THIS UP, OR WE’D ALL BE LOST!),” appeared in the October 1999 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. Boldface emphasis mine throughout.
1937 Jaluit and Majuro residents said they heard a white woman pilot named “Meel-ya” and her companion, both prisoners, were thought to have been taken by Japanese ship to Saipan.
Others said they took her first to Kwajalein, and then to Saipan.
Medical corpsman Bilimon Amaron told Joe Gervais and Bill Prymak:
“I overheard Japanese nearby say the ship was going to leave Jaluit to go to Kwajalein . . . from there it would maybe go to Saipan.”
So the Japanese ship, Koshu, and Earhart and Noonan, were reported to have headed for Kwajalein. Naturally, all concerned assumed they were aboard the ship. But no one saw them leave on it. They assumed it.
Majuro Attorney John Heine, who saw the flyers in custody at Jaluit, said: “After the ship left Jaluit, it went to Kwajalein, then on to Truk and Saipan.” He thought the ship would later go to Japan. An event at his school fixed the date in his memory as “the middle of July, 1937.”
[Editor’s note: John Heine did not see the fliers at Jaluit or anywhere else. See page 156 and rest of “Chapter VII: The Marshall Islands Witnesses” of Truth at Last, 2nd Edition for more on Heine’s account.]
Marshall Islanders Tomaki Mayazo and Lotan Jack told Fred Goerner in 1960 that the woman flyer and her companion “were taken to Kwajalein on their way to Saipan.”
They didn’t say how they were transported.
Goerner said that in 1946 four Likiep Island residents at Kwajalein, Edard and Bonjo Capelli, and two more known as Jajock and Biki, told U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer J.F. Kelleher that in 1937 a man and woman who crashed a plane in the Marshalls “were brought to Kwajalein.”
A 1946 U.S. employee on Kwajalein, Ted Burris, told Amelia Earhart Society members that his interpreter, Oniisimum Cappelle (Capelli?) introduced him to an old man who had met two Americans there “five years before the war,” which didn’t start in the Marshalls until 1942, five years after 1937.
“How did you meet Americans before the war?” Burris asked.
“Well I didn’t exactly meet them,” the old man said. “But I did bring them in.”
“Bring them in? I don’t understand.”
“A plane landed on the water,” the old man remembered. “Come. I show you.”
They walked to the south end of the perimeter road where there were two A-frame houses and a row of coconut trees.
“You see these trees? The plane was exactly in line with them.”
“How far out?”
“About a hundred yards from the land.”
“What happened then?”
“Two people got out. A man and a woman. The Captain made me take my boat out and pick them up. I didn’t talk to them.”
“The boss. The Japanese officer. The Captain took them away. I never saw them again. He said they were spies.” [See my Aug. 28, 2015 post, “Burris’ account among many to put Earhart on Kwaj.“]
This incident has too long been thought to be a false report that Earhart’s Lockheed 10E crashed off Kwajalein. But what the old man precisely said was:
“A plane landed on the water.”
He didn’t say it crashed there or ditched there. Planes with landing gear don’t land “on the water.”
In 1936, a concrete airstrip was built at Kwajalein. It was being used in 1937 while a still unusable seaplane ramp was under construction at Saipan.
What “landed” Earhart and Noonan “on the water” off Kwajalein was obviously a seaplane from Jaluit. Earhart’s Electra couldn’t have “landed on the water.”
Nobody ever said there was a crash at Kwajalein.
They were already in custody. How could the Japanese Captain tell the old man “they were spies” if they hadn’t arrived at Kwajalein from Jaluit lready charged with being spies?
Earhart and Noonan were then flown by land plane from Kwajalein to Saipan, where its pilot got into trouble, the very first witness in the Earhart mystery, watched “a silver two-engined plane betty-land” in shallow water along a beach. She “saw the American woman who looked like a man, and the tail man with her, led away by the Japanese soldiers.”
We must never assume every twin-engined aircraft in the Pacific had to be the Earhart Plane to be significant. We don’t need Darwin to find the missing link from Howland to Milli to Kwajalein to Saipan.
Keep it simple and follow facts in sequence to the truth. Above all, let’s start believing our witnesses.
Why would they lie?
— Joe Klaas, 7/14/99
Paul Rafford Jr. provided more witness evidence supporting the idea that Earhart and Noonan departed Kwajalein bound for Saipan in a land-based Japanese aircraft. In an unpublished 2008 commentary, Rafford recalled the account of fellow engineer James Raymond Knighton, who worked for Pan Am with Rafford at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the 1980s and was later assigned to the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll facility from 1999 to 2001. Knighton worked on Roi-Namur, 50 miles north of Kwajalein, commuting to work each day by air.
“One day during lunch I was walking around Roi and I happened across an old Marshallese who was very friendly,” Knighton told Rafford in 2007.
He was back visiting Roi after a long time. He was very talky and spoke pretty good English. He was excited because he was born on Roi-Namur and lived there during the Japanese occupation and the capture by the Marines in 1944. Of course I was interested in his story of how it was living under the Japanese and the invasion. I was very inquisitive and he was happy to talk about old times. Then he said he saw Amelia Earhart on Roi when he was a young boy. It was the first white woman he had ever seen and he could not get over her blond hair. Basically, he told me that Earhart crashed on the Marshall Island of Mili. The Japanese had gotten her and brought her to Roi, the only place that transport planes could land.
For more on Rafford’s account, please see my Sept. 6, 2022 post, “Conclusion of Rafford on radio in AE Mystery.”
For much more on Joe Klaas, please click here.