Another look at Muriel: What did she know?

Once again we return to Grace Muriel Earhart Morrissey, Amelia’s younger sister and only sibling, and what she might have known or believed about Amelia’s fate in view of some additional writings that haven’t been considered on this blog. 

First, some excerpts from my Sept. 4, 2017 post,Devine’s bizarre 1961 visit to Amelia’s sister Muriel,in which Devine recalled his August 1961 visit to Muriel at her home in West Medford, Mass.:

. . . Mrs. Morrissey mentioned that she had been visited recently by Paul Briand [Jr.], who was associated with Joseph Gervais and Robert Dinger.  Briand, she said, was writing a thesis about Earhart which he hoped would evolve into his second book.

Over the years, she said several people had brought information to her, which they irresponsibly claimed would solve the Earhart mystery.  These sensational disclosures had put a tremendous strain on the family.  I hoped Mrs. Morrissey was not classing my investigation with those.  After years of investigative failures, she said she had accepted the 1937 report that Amelia Fred were lost at sea near Howland Island.*  I pointed out that no physical evidence substantiated this conclusion.  I reviewed how the gigantic sea and air search for Earhart and Noonan had failed­ to turn up one scrap of wreckage or equipment.

Muriel Morrissey Earhart’s note to Thomas E. Devine, Aug. 19, 1961:  

To Thomas Devine,

Who is genuinely and unselfishly interested in Amelia’s fate.  I am happy to give this photograph [sic] of her.


Muriel Earhart Morrissey

August 19, 1961

The undated drawing of Amelia Earhart that her sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey gave to Thomas E. Devine upon his visit to Muriel’s home in West Medford, Mass., in August 1961. (Courtesy Thomas E. Devine.)

. . . In 1963 when I visited the Hartford station of the Office of Naval Intelligence, I read a confidential report on the location of Amelia Earhart’s gravesite.  Later I made a second visit to the facility to determine if the ONI were still active in its investigation.  I was ushered into an office where two men and a woman were seated.  One of the men opened the safe to get the Earhart file, shuffled through some of the pages, and pointed out certain passages for the woman to read.  She was obviously acquainted with the file and understood the significance of the noted passages.  During this exchange, the second man left.

I was haunted; the woman looked familiar to me.  Slowly, I came to the astounding realization that this woman was the “waitress” in the Boston depot!  The woman must have sensed that I recognized her, for she immediately excused herself.  Hastily, the remaining ONI agent informed me that there had been no further investigation of Amelia Earhart’s grave.  I left the meeting convinced that the people who had accosted me in Boston were agents of the Office of Naval Intelligence.  Why their presence in Boston on the day of my visit with Mrs. Morrissey?  I cannot say.  Mrs. Morrissey did tell me that she had informed the Navy of my intended visit.  But why would the ONI trail me to West Medford?  I don’t know.  What was the purpose of the ONI agents’ peculiar antics in Boston?  That I do not know, either.  Perhaps they were trying to frighten me into curtailing my investigation.

Muriel’s inexplicable actions when Devine visited her in 1961 could lead one to reasonably conclude that despite her encouraging note to Devine, Muriel was already working with the Office of Naval Intelligence to thwart or frustrate Devine’s good-faith efforts to determine Muriel’s degree of knowledge about her sister’s disappearance.  

Closely following with Devine’s strange visit with Muriel, we have Fred Goerner’s late August 1961 letter to her:


Mrs. Albert Morrissey                                                  August 31, 1966
One Vernon Street
West Medford, Massachusetts

Dear Mrs. Morrissey:

Your letter of the 27th meant a great deal to me.

I can’t begin to tell you how I have agonized over continuing the investigation into Amelia’s disappearance and writing the book which Doubleday is just now publishing.  I know how all of you have been tortured by the rumors and conjectures and sensationalism of the past years.

I want you to know that I decided to go ahead with the book last December at the advice of the late Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had become my friend and helped me with the investigation for several years.  He said, “it (the book) may help produce the justice Earhart and Noonan deserve.”  The Admiral told me without equivocation that Amelia and Fred had gone down in the Marshalls and were taken by the Japanese and that this knowledge was documented in Washington.  He also said that several departments of government have strong reasons for not wanting the information to be made public.

Grace Muriel Morrissey Earhart, Amelia’s beloved “Pidge,” passed away at 98 on March 2, 1998. “She was really a very sweet, gentle woman and she was really devoted to Medford,” her son-in-law Adam Kleppner told the Atchison Daily Globe. “She embodied a lot of old-fashioned virtues, responsibility, loyalty — things we seem to be in short supply of today.”

Mrs. Morrissey, regardless of what the State and Navy Departments may have told you in the past, classified files do exist.  I and several other people, including Mr. Ross Game, the Editor of Napa, California REGISTER and Secretary of The Associated Press, actually have seen portions of these files and have made notes from their contents.  This material is detailed in the book.  I am sure that we have not yet been shown the complete files, and General Wallace M. Greene Jr., Commandant of the Marine Corps in Washington, refuses to confirm or deny the testimony of many former marines that the personal effects of Amelia and Fred and their earthly remains were recovered in 1944.

Please believe what I am saying.  If justice is to be achieved, it may require your assistance.  You know I have the deepest respect for Amelia and Fred.  My admiration for their courage has no limits.  They should receive their proper place in the history of this country.  A San Francisco newspaper editor wrote the other day that Amelia and Fred should be awarded the Congressional Medals of Honor for their service to this country.  I completely concur.

I shall be in Boston sometime toward the end of September or early October.  I hope that I can meet with you at that time and bring you up to date on all of our efforts.

My very best wishes to you and Chief.” 


Fred Goerner
CBS News, KCBS Radio
San Francisco 94105

Goerner had known Muriel since October 1961, when he traveled to West Medford, to ask her for permission to submit the remains he had recovered on Saipan during his second visit there, about a month earlier, for anthropological analysis.  For a time, Goerner thought it possible that the bones and teeth he excavated during his second Saipan visit, in September 1961, might have been those of the fliers, but he was soon disabused of that idea when Dr. Theodore McCown determined that the remains were those of several Asians.

Before he engaged with Muriel and her husband, Albert, better known as Chief, Muriel told Goerner she believed that Amelia was lost at sea, and that a crash-landing on the ocean was more likely than capture by the Japanese.  But after her meeting with the charismatic newsman, Muriel changed her mind, and sent letters to officials granting Goerner permission to have the remains evaluated.

For more on Goerner and Devine, please see my Oct. 12, 2015 post, Goerner and Devine reach out to Muriel Morrissey: Did Amelia’s sister know more than she let on?

Now we’ll look more closely at her 1970 letter to airship author J. Gordon Vaeth, following by a 1986 letter to her from the Consulate General of Japan, which raises new questions.

In her letter to Vaeth she thanked him for sending her a copy of the little known 1970 book, Before the Eagle Landed, an aviation history by the editors of the Air Force Times.  She then told Vaeth that she appreciated his “factual, unemotional reporting, which will, I am sure, do much toward debunking the tales begun by Captain Paul Briand [Jr.] and continued with a sad, poorly written, unproven story, Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan [1969] by a Cleveland veterinarian [Joe Davidson].”

If this letter to Vaeth, once a staunch Goerner supporter before he transformed into a stubborn, confirmed crashed-and-sanker, is any indication, she had apparently changed her mind about the Saipan truth and again was endorsing the official line.  

Dear Mr. Vaeth,

Thanks you for sending me the copy of Before the Eagle Landed.  I of course read your account of Amelia’s flights first, though the other stories are excellent and bring before the public several men whose names are not well known except to historians and fliers.

I appreciate your factual, unemotional reporting which will, I am sure, do much toward de-bunking the tales begun by Captain Paul Briand and continued with a sad, poorly written, unproven story, Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan by a Cleveland veterinarian [Joe Davidson, 1969].

My only criticism of the Air Force Times editors’ book is their failure to include at least two other women, Jackie Cochran and Anne Pellegrino, both of who I fell have contributed to the saga of aviation.  I doubt there will be much support for the book from the Ninety-Nines!

The Chief (my husband) and I would be happy to have you come to our home in Medford if you are ever in this area.  As we have both retired now, we are home during the day, so just call us – 395-4787.

Cordially, gratefully,

Muriel Morrissey

Finally, we add another piece, one entirely new to this blog, to the Muriel Earhart Morrissey file for consideration, one that doesn’t easily fit her earlier statements to Devine, Goerner and Vaeth.  This is a letter, not from Muriel, but from the Consulate General of Japan to Muriel, responding to her Oct. 20, 1986 missive to the Emperor of Japan (which I do not have), requesting any information Japan had about her sister or her Lockheed Electra.  (Click on image for larger view.)

Note Bill Prymak’s comment underneath the Japanese official’s letter: “VERY STRANGE . . . . . . What was Muriel trying to accomplish at this late date in her life (1986) re: her sister’s fate????  One can only speculate as to the nature of Muriel’s request to the Emperor of Japan . . . she was certainly seeking information re: Amelia’s life AFTER July 2nd, 1937.”  Strange indeed.

Some have suggested that Muriel, at some point in time, could have been informed of the truth by the U.S. government in exchange for her silence.  If that was the case, could this knowledge have been gained at some time after 1986, when she wrote to the Consulate General of Japan about Amelia, or did she known much earlier, possibly before Thomas E. Devine’s 1961 visit to her at her home in New Bedford, Mass., when she acted so strangely in apparently cooperating to ONI or federal agents? 

Muriel Earhart Morrissey, circa 1989, West Medford, Mass. Did she know the truth about her sister’s sad fate all along?

Muriel made few public statements from then until her death in 1998, and what she may have learned or believed during the intervening years is anyone’s guess.  

9 responses

  1. thanks for the nod to my dad, seems his theory, the first to be stated, is most likely correct


    1. Kate,

      Thanks for your kind message. As I’ve said and written countless times, Paul Briand Jr.’s Daughter of the Sky launched the true modern-day search for Amelia Earhart. Without your father’s book, we might never have heard of Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Thomas E. Devine, Donald Kothera, Bill Prymak and the others who followed in his path. He has yet to be recognized and credited by our always-corrupt establishment for this hugely important accomplishment, for reasons I have also explained ad nauseum.

      All Best,


      1. some trying times in my family when he was suing under the Freedom of Information Act, I think even our phone was tapped. By the way, ALL of dad’s research and correspondence are archived at the University of NH Library


  2. I’m no expert, but I would guess Muriel knew of their fate long before 1986..possibly not long after her disappearance, most probably after the remains were dug up. I wonder if any correspondence exists between her and Putnam- one would certainly think so, as i believe he knew the real story. I think she was working with the ONI, but again, what was this mysterious reason for the coverup? The embarrassment that Washington knew of their capture and evidently did nothing about it-the public outrage against the Roosevelt administration for abandoning 2 US citizens? It was a different world in the 1930’s and 40’s where one trusted the government and kept one’s mouth shut when asked-perhaps Muriel felt differently in her life. Thanks Mike for keeping this alive.


  3. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All:

    Muriel Morrissey most likely suspected the truth, ditto Putnam, but it’s a safe bet that the the U.S. Government did not disclose the full, complete truth to either of them. The USG doesn’t do things, to include telling the truth, because it’s the right and proper thing to do. It covers it’s “six o’clock” position, and operates out of self-interest and expediency — not forthrightness. A more recent example can be found in the Vietnam War. A number of personnel went MIA/KIA in Laos and Cambodia. Their next-of-kin were informed that their loved one was lost in South Vietnam. Why the deception? To promote the fiction that we weren’t operating in either country.

    All best,


    Liked by 1 person

    1. William,

      Well stated, and if pressed I’d probably have to stand with you. Still, the letter from the Japanese Consulate does raise the questions Bill Prymak asked and need not be repeated here. The subject certainly does not escape speculation.


      Liked by 1 person

  4. A question that has been circulating in my inquisitive mind for some time now. It pops up every time on this blog when I see the statement: Nimitz told Goerner that you are on the right track, she did go down in the Marshalls………and so on, offered as the word of authority for us to digest. Yet, Goerner himself came not to believe this. Is it possible the war hero Nimitz was being disingenous to throw Goerner off? I suspect the possibility exists, Nimitz being a man who should know the truth given his position of authority.
    Another thought, in reference to William’s comment. Years ago, I used to wonder at the proliferation of POW-MIA flags and what propaganda from Nixon did they represent? My reading and viewing has led me to my belief that, the story is true that the Viet Cong demanded that Nixon pay them a billion dollars for the return of a group of either 600 or 1200 U.S. prisoners held by them. Nixon and Kissinger reneged on the deal and so a large contingent of POWs was left behind. Then, 15-20 years later one of those prisoners showed up in some S.E. Asia country and told his story. The US military got hold of him and court-martialed him for desertion. What happened to him after that, I don’t know. So William’s story is probably just the tip of the iceberg. You might say the U.S. governement and the elites of power does not now and never did lose any sleep over the fate of captured U.S. citizens or soldiers, period.


    1. Who would you trust if you were facing a deadly enemy in a dangerous, tight spot, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz or Fred Goerner? Goerner is the one who went off the tracks, even with the word of a great American to guide him. That other dog is not going to hunt.



  5. There’s lots of correspondence between George Putnam Muriel, and Mother Amy following Amelia’s disappearance and continuing through the 1940’s None of it contains a hint they knew the fate of Amelia. Muriel’s were especially void of knowledge, although later, in the early sixties, and again much later into the 1980’s when she was looking to write a book (she needed the money) did she make inquiries. Muriel carried on a lengthy dialogue with Fred Goerner and as mentioned in this story, spoke to Tom Devine. In 1968, she met with Don Kothera at her home in Medford.

    As Mike has reported in an earlier blog, Amy had a six sense her daughter had been captured by the Japanese. She held on to that belief until she died.

    George Putnam on the other hand is a question mark. There’s a chance he was told of Earhart’s fate as early as 1938 based on his behavior. But by 1944, he was adamant she wasn’t captured by the Japanese calling it all hogwash. Yet, in conversations in the late 1940’s while living at Lone Pine, he seemed to have a curious interest in the Japanese capture theory.

    I like William’s example of U.S. Government thinking. It’s still going on, 85 years after the fact – and that’s a fact.

    Les Kinney


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