The so-called Richards Memo of Nov. 1, 1938 and retired Air Force Col. Rollin Reineck’s commentary on it appeared in the July 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. I’ve always wondered why this document received so little attention. Maybe I’m missing something. Obviously, other researchers haven’t been enamored of it, and some must have found its credibility to be dubious, but Reineck was not one of them. Here then, as close to the original piece as possible, is the Richard’s Memo and Reineck’s conclusions, presented for your information and entertainment. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
FROM THE DESK OF . . . . . . . . . Rollin Reineck
The attached memorandum (following page), dated 1 November 1938, is very significant as it relates directly to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart in several ways. This memo was written by Army Air Corps Colonel (before the days of the U.S. Air Force) H. H. C. Richards, who was assigned to the War Department as the Liaison Officer for the Australian Air Force. Colonel Richards sent the memo to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2), War Department, who was probably an Army two-or-three star general.
The purpose of the memo was to clarify a letter that had been sent to the Information Division of the Liaison Office, alleging that Amelia Earhart had been shot down by the Japanese.
Colonel Richards says that this is definitely not the case, as it is known that Miss Earhart’s transmissions were heard by Army personnel (Army Air Corps Lt. Daniel A, Cooper and Army Signal Corps Lt. Henry Lau), who were stationed at Howland Island on 2 July 1937. These officers reported that judging from the strength of the radio signals received, Earhart passed quite close to the island, some fifty miles or less. Further, the Army personnel reported that Earhart stated she was turning north, and they continued to hear her at intervals. Her signals became fainter each time received, until finally she stated she was out of gas. That was the last they heard from her.
The significance of this memorandum is as follows:
1. The memorandum was between high level, senior staff officers in the War Department about the fate of Amelia Earhart.
2. The Army personnel (officers) on Howland Island could distinguish between the volume intensity of Earhart’s voice, and make reliable judgments as to her relative distance from Howland Island.
3. It dispels the theory that Earhart ditched close to Howland Island.
4. It enhances the theory that Amelia Earhart did land or ditched some distance north of Howland Island.
Editor’s [Bill Prymak] Comment: Why is top brass still pursuing this 14 months after she went down?? Is there more to this than meets the eye? (End of AES July 1998 entry.)
In Chapter 7, “Implement Plan B” of Reineck’s 2003 book, Amelia Earhart Survived, he begins by stating that he believed that “Earhart had five to six hours of fuel remaining” when her call was heard by the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca at 0843 Howland Island local time. He goes on to discuss Earhart’s alleged statement to Gene Vidal, who claimed that Amelia told him that “if she could not locate Howland, when she was down to four hours of fuel remaining, she would turn back to the Gilbert Islands. The author believes that Earhart remembered her secret conversations at March Field in Riverside, California, with Bernard Baruch and General [Oscar] Westover that advised: when you still have sufficient fuel remaining and you haven’t yet found Howland Island, implement Plan B, the alternate plan.”
She made no mention on her communications frequencies of 3105 and 6216 kilocycles (kcs henceforth) of her intentions of what she was to do when she couldn’t find Howland. However, it is believed by this researcher that Earhart disregarded all orders and used her new high frequency discrete channel that had been activated in her transmitter for communications, to tell Howland Island that she was headed north. It is believed that this high frequency channel was secretly installed, probably while she was in Miami, before her departure. The crystal for the new high frequency was inserted in place of the vacant 500 kcs low frequency crystal. The 500 kcs crystal became useless when Earhart eliminated her trailing wire antenna and decided not to use low (500 kcs) frequency, and use only high frequency for her communications and direction finding activity.
What was this “new high frequency discrete channel” that Reineck references, and why is no evidence of it in other researchers’ work? He can’t be talking about the well-known 7500 kcs high-frequency direction finder that she reported receiving Itasca’s signals on but “couldn’t find a minimum.” Reineck writes that he believes “she used this frequency to tell personnel on Howland that she was turning north and she continued to communicate her progress until she ran out of fuel.” Reineck went on:
These key messages are not recorded in the radio logs of the Itasca or Howland Island, but were heard by Army personnel on Howland as reflected in a memo from Colonel H.H.C. Richards to the Chief of Intelligence at the War Department. It was those short messages, heard by the Japanese, that not only helped the Japanese locate Earhart after she crashed at Mili Atoll, but told the Japanese that Earhart was turning north, probably for a specific purpose. The Japanese knew at this time that Earhart was not just searching for an alternate landing site, but purposely headed for a specific site that was within the Imperial Islands of Japan. Plan “B” had been compromised, because Earhart had disregarded all orders and broken radio silence.
Reineck cites the Richards Memo as the verification that Army personnel were on Howland, specifically Army Air Corps Lt. Daniel A, Cooper and Army Signal Corps Lt. Henry Lau, but he doesn’t mention Navy Radioman 2nd Class Frank Cipriani, who was also on Howland at that time, and who was sent there by Admiral Richard Black to man the high frequency direction finder that Black had set up there. For more details on Reineck’s “Plan B” theory, see pages 103-113 of Amelia Earhart Survived.
What are we to make of Reineck’s theory, specifically as it relates to the Richards Memo? Has anyone ever seen statements from anyone on Howland that support his claims that they heard Earhart announcing that she was “turning north”? I certainly have not, but the ever-imaginative Reineck weaves an interesting scenario, one in which many of his speculations seem to fit — and we know that Earhart did land at Mili. But the Richards Memo has received scant attention from other researchers.
What do you think?
We continue with Part II of our “Earhart Research Page of Honor.” Again, this is an alphabetical list, and I make no claim that this group is complete or sacrosanct. All suggestions for additional honorees will be considered.
If you disagree with any of these selections, you’re invited to express your opinion. Please make your case cogently, succinctly and objectively, and hold the sanctimony and invective.
“Earhart Research Page of Honor” Part II
VINCENT V. LOOMIS: Former Air Force C-47 pilot Vincent V. Loomis and his wife, Georgette, traveled to the Marshalls in 1978 hoping to find the wreck of a plane Loomis saw on an uninhabited island near Ujae Atoll in 1952. Loomis didn’t find the unidentified aircraft he hoped was the Earhart Electra, but in four trips to the Marshalls he gathered considerable eyewitness and witness testimony indicating the fliers’ presence there. His 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, is the definitive tome in establishing the presence of Amelia and Fred Noonan at Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands on July 2, 1937.
Loomis went to Tokyo in 1981 seeking confirmation of statements contained in a 1949 CIA inter-office memorandum he found in National Air and Space Museum files. The G-2 intelligence document revealed the United States was extremely interested in the Earhart case, and in 1949 had asked Japan to provide any and all relevant information it possessed.
“The Japanese lied quite convincingly both in 1937 and in 1949,” Loomis wrote, “but their statements could not be proven as such until the ships’ movements were determined through research in Japan in 1981. Why did Japan lie about the role of Kamoi in the Earhart search? Though no official explanation will ever be issued, almost certainly they had the fliers in custody when they assured the United States of their cooperation in the search, and merely pretended to be engaged in a goodwill humanitarian mission.”
Loomis died on June 13, 1996 at age 75 in Pensacola, Fla. For more on his significant contributions to the search for Amelia Earhart, please click here and see pages 134-141 and 149-151 of Truth at Last.
BILL PRYMAK: Bill’s selfless contributions to our knowledge of the Earhart matter are legendary. In the erudite, largely unknown circles of Amelia Earhart research – real investigative work, not the fabricated-for-public-consumption propaganda the media has force-fed the masses since the earliest days – Bill left a lasting, indelible mark of excellence that will be always be remembered and honored by those who know and respect the truth about Amelia’s fate that he helped to establish.
Through his networking skills and Earhart expertise, Bill was able to collect, evaluate and disseminate an astonishing volume of information in an entertaining and enlightening format to the Amelia Earhart Society membership. Bill’s AES Newsletters totaled 421 letter-size pages of original Earhart research from countless sources, which he meticulously compiled and snail-mailed – at significant cost to himself — to the AES membership every few months from December 1989 to March 2000.
These priceless documents are among the most important ever produced in the search for the truth in the Earhart case, extraordinary in their variety and wealth of content – true collector’s items that will never be duplicated. Without these remarkable references, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, would have been a far lesser book.
Founder and first president of the Amelia Earhart Society (AES) of Researchers, a giant of Earhart research and a special friend whose generosity of spirit will never be forgotten, he passed away July 30, 2014 in a Louisville, Colo., hospice. Bill had recently undergone surgery for colon cancer; he was 86.
For much more on Bill Prymak’s legacy, please click here.
PAUL RAFFORD JR.: Rafford was the “Elder Statesman” of Earhart research and the last of the original members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers.
Earhart fans will recall Rafford from Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story (Random House), wherein he presented his then-current ideas about the Electra’s radio propagation capabilities and Amelia’s strange decisions during the final flight.
In 2006, Rafford’s book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, was published by the Paragon Agency, and though it wasn’t a commercial success, it remains a gem of invaluable information unavailable anywhere else.
Rafford began his aviation career with Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer in 1940, flying with Pan Am until 1946. He worked with crew members who had flown with Fred Noonan, and talked with technicians who had worked on Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E. After a promotion with Pan Am, he continued to fly as a technical consultant before transferring to the U.S. Manned Spaceflight Program in 1963. During the early space shots he was a Pan Am project engineer in communications services at Patrick Air Force Base, and joined the team that put man on the moon. He retired from NASA in 1988.
Rafford passed away on Dec. 10, 2016 in a hospice in Rockledge, Fla., at 97. Michael Betteridge, Paul’s nephew and general manager of WTHU AM 1450, a talk radio station in Thurmont, Md., said his uncle passed peacefully with his daughter, Lynn, at his side. “We lost a great man on that day,” Betteridge said in an email.
For much more on Paul Rafford Jr.’s contributions to Earhart research, please click here.
ROLLIN C. REINECK: A war hero, retired Air Force colonel and an original, longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, Reineck’s passion for Earhart research often produced interesting, informative results. At other times, his unrestrained enthusiasm for the spectacular and bizarre led him into areas populated only by Fred Goerner’s “lunatic fringe,” and these ill-conceived forays have tainted his reputation among top Earhart researchers.
Reineck was among the most avid promoters of the notorious Weihsien Telegram, or Weihsien Speedletter, discovered in U.S. State Department archives in 1987. The unsigned telegram reads, “Camp liberated — all well — volumes to tell — love to mother.” Sent from Weihsien, north China, and dated Aug. 28, 1945, this document created a huge buzz among researchers who speculated it could have been sent by Amelia herself. In 2001, this hot potato was relegated to the dustbin of dead-end myth, when AES researcher Ron Bright definitively disproved the idea that Amelia Earhart had been confined at the Weihsien, China civilian internment camp during World War II.
Reineck’s authorship of the dreadful Amelia Earhart Survived (Paragon Agency, 2003), his unsuccessful attempt to resurrect and validate the long-discredited Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth was his greatest blunder in the Earhart arena. Reineck was among the most prominent and vociferous of those who continued to believe in and promote Joe Gervais’ absurd idea, introduced to the public in Joe Klaas’ 1970 book, Amelia Earhart Lives.
Incredibly, what Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais had strongly suggested in Amelia Earhart Lives, pulled from circulation 33 years earlier – that Amelia Earhart, having been held captive by the Japanese since July 1937, had returned to the United States sometime after World War II and assumed the identity of a New Jersey woman named Irene Bolam – Kailua, Hawaii’s Reineck stated as unequivocal fact.
For much more on this unfortunate aspect of Reineck’s legacy, please click here.
Reineck was a also prolific letter writer and Freedom of Information advocate, and he sometimes got real results. In March 1991, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) signed a letter written by Reineck to the Secretary of the Treasury under President George H.W. Bush, requesting that all classified material relative to the Earhart disappearance be released. For more details from my March 31, 2015 post, “Amelia Earhart and the Morgenthau Connection: What did FDR’s treasury secretary really know?” please click here.
Like Joe Klaas, Reineck was a genuine World War II hero, amassing an outstanding record as a navigator with B-24s in the 8th Air Force over Europe, and later in B-29s on Saipan, flying missions against mainland Japan. Reineck’s awards included the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Four Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster.
RON REUTHER: An original member of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society, Reuther was perhaps the most cerebral and historically erudite of all. Reuther often provided previously unknown background information that brought new perspective to heated discussions, and was known to introduce new and enlightening topics to enhance learning.
Reuther founded the Oakland Aviation Museum in 1981, directed the San Francisco Zoo from 1966 to 1973, and helped to catalog and prepare Fred Goerner’s papers for their placement at the Admiral Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas.
While director of the San Francisco Zoo, Mr. Reuther took a sickly baby gorilla named Koko into his home and, with his children’s help, nursed her back to health. A few months later, a Stanford psychology graduate student who had been studying the zoo’s apes asked for permission to work with Koko. Mr. Reuther agreed and the student, Penny Patterson, began a life’s work teaching American Sign Language to Koko and researching apes’ capacity for language.
In 1978, Koko gained worldwide attention and was pictured on the cover of National Geographic magazine. The cover photo was an image of Koko taking her own picture in the mirror. Koko was later featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 with a picture of her and her kitten, All Ball. At the preserve, Koko also met and interacted with a variety of celebrities including Robin Williams, Fred Rogers, Betty White, William Shatner, Flea, Leonardo DiCaprio, Peter Gabriel and Sting.
ROBERT E. WALLACK: Although he wasn’t a researcher or writer in the sense of the others on this page, Robert E. Wallack’s contributions to our knowledge of the Earhart truth are more than enough to earn him a place among them.
Wallack was the best known of all the former GIs who came forward to share their eyewitness experiences relative to the presence and death of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan after the 1987 publication of Thomas E. Devine’s Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident.
I first met the amiable Wallack on the phone in 1992, as he took me back to July 1944 Saipan, when Fate intervened to change his life forever. The former Marine machine-gunner told of his hellish experience on the Saipan beach, watching helplessly as his comrades of the 29th Regiment were cut down during the early stages of the invasion, as if he was recounting the gruesome opening scene from Saving Private Ryan.
A few weeks later, as if Providence were directing him, the Marine private discovered Amelia Earhart’s briefcase, dry and in perfect condition in a blown Japanese safe, containing “official-looking papers all concerning Amelia Earhart: maps, permits and reports apparently pertaining to her around-the-world flight,” Wallack wrote in a notarized affidavit. “I wanted to retain this as a souvenir, but my Marine buddies insisted that it may be important and should be turned in. I went down to the beach where I encountered a naval officer and told of my discovery. He gave me a receipt for the material, and stated that it would be returned to me if it were not important. I have never seen the material since.”
His story never changed, and the outgoing veteran shared it with countless listeners including millions in a 1990 Unsolved Mysteries segment with Robert Stack, a 1994 appearance on CBS’s Eye to Eye with Connie Chung and a 2006 interview for The National Geographic Channel’s Undercover History special on Amelia Earhart
Over the years Wallack generously sent me all manner of fascinating memorabilia, including copies of his honorable discharge papers, maps of Saipan, battle photos taken during the invasion, letters from other GIs with their own stories to tell, videotapes of his TV appearances and news articles.
Robert E. Wallack passed away in a Branford, Conn., hospice on July 7, 2008, after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 83.
For much more about Wallack’s important role in the Earhart saga, please click here.
Though MARIE S. CASTRO is alive and well on Saipan at 87 despite recent health setbacks, she too occupies a unique place in the Earhart pantheon. Marie is the last living link to two of the major Saipan eyewitnesses to the presence of Earhart on Saipan, Matilde F. Arriola and Joaquina Cabrera, and she founded the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Inc. group in September 2017, determined to honor the brutal deaths of Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan at the hands of the Japanese military.
To read much more about Marie S. Castro and her ongoing and significant contributions to the truth in the Earhart disappearance, please click here.
This list of unique researchers, authors and other important contributors to what is now a wealth of knowledge about the Earhart case is respectfully submitted for the information and entertainment of all. Within a week or so, I’ll combine Parts I and II and post them as one piece at the top of this blog’s front page under the heading, “In Memoriam,” so that all who visit this blog will have quick and easy access to this gallery of those who played the vital roles in bringing us the truth about the Earhart disappearance.
I don’t know why this page was so long in coming, or even why the idea finally dawned on me when it did, but the old cliché, “Better late than never,” just about covers it. Shortly after this “Earhart Research Page of Honor,” as it were, is published, I’ll also convert it into a permanent page at the top of the blog that can be seen and easily accessed by all.
Ironically, though several women have written fair to outstanding biographies of Amelia Earhart, not a single member of the fair sex can be found among the elite ranks of authors and researchers whose work, in its totality, has revealed the unvarnished Marshall Islands-Saipan truth about the wretched fates of Earhart and Fred Noonan at the hands of the pre-war Japanese military.
I can’t fully explain this phenomenon, but the nuts and bolts of genuine Earhart research have never been for the faint of heart. And lest anyone misconstrue this as an attempt to rank or evaluate the habitués of this page in any qualitative sequence, this gallery of important, deceased Earhart investigators is presented alphabetically. Their work speaks for itself, and any thorough examination of their fruits should engender a coherent understanding of their standing within this unique, distinguished group.
You may disagree with one or more of these selections, and if so, your comments are welcome. For those who think someone who belongs has been omitted, please wait until Part II has been published.
For your information and entertainment, I present the first of two parts of the “Earhart Research Page of Honor.”
“Earhart Research Page of Honor,” Part I
PAUL BRIAND JR.: Many observers of the history of investigations into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan believe that Fred Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart is the seminal work in the genre, and all that followed sprang from the San Francisco radio-newsman’s initial Saipan forays.
But neither Goerner nor anyone else would have heard about Earhart and Noonan’s arrival at Saipan in 1937 if not for the 1960 book that started it all — Daughter of the Sky, by Paul L. Briand Jr., a Ph.D., Air Force captain (later promoted to major) and assistant professor of English at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In the closing pages of Daughter of the Sky, Briand presents the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, who saw Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at Tanapag Harbor as an 11-year-old in the summer of 1937, as told in 1946 to Navy Dentist Casimir Sheft on Saipan. Though few were even aware of it in 1960, as the revelations in Daughter of the Sky were suppressed throughout the establishment media, Briand’s book was the spark that exploded into the true modern search for Amelia Earhart.
In 1967, the State University of New York, Oswego, appointed Briand as a full professor and he taught there until his death in 1986 at age 66. For much more on Paul Briand Jr., please click here.
THOMAS E. DEVINE: When the Lord made Thomas E. Devine, He broke the mold. What He said when Devine returned to Him in September 2003 at age 88, only He and Devine know. But had I never met the Saipan veteran and author of one of the most important Earhart disappearance books, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident (Renaissance House, 1987), I wouldn’t have become involved with the Earhart story, and today I’d be doing something entirely different with my life. I can’t imagine what it would be.
In Eyewitness, Devine, an Army postal sergeant who saw the Earhart Electra on three separate occasions on Saipan in July 1944, reached out to his fellow veterans, urging them to report their own experiences that reflected the presence and death of Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan in the years before the 1944 U.S. invasion. Twenty-six former GIs heard and responded to Devine’s plea, and their stunning accounts were presented for the first time in With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, our little-known 2002 book.
JOE GERVAIS: Gervais, whose important Guam and Saipan witness interviews in 1960 strongly supported Fred Goerner’s Saipan findings, was best known as the creator of the insidious Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth, forever immortalized along with other crackpot ideas in Joe Klaas’ infamous 1970 book, Amelia Earhart Lives.
Gervais was a highly decorated veteran of World War II, Korean and the Vietnam War, serving as a command pilot of B-24, B-29 and C-130 aircraft with over 16,000 hours of flight time.
The man some called “The Dean of Earhart Research,” passed away at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 26, 2005 at age 80.
For more on Joe Gervais, please click here.
FRED GOERNER: The author of the only bestseller about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart ever penned, The Search for Amelia Earhart (Doubleday and Sons, 1966), Goerner is generally considered by the informed to be history’s greatest Earhart researcher. He was certainly not without his faults, however, and made several mistakes and misjudgments along the way.
Most observers of the Earhart saga are familiar with the statement allegedly made by retired Navy Adm. Chester W. Nimitz to Goerner in late March 1965, just before the radio newsman left San Francisco to interview Marine Commandant Gen. Wallace M. Greene at his Pentagon headquarters in Arlington, Va. “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese,” Goerner claimed Nimitz told him.
Unfortunately, from the moment Time magazine ripped Goerner’s bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart in late 1966 as a book that “barely hangs together,” the sad truth about Amelia and Fred Noonan’s miserable deaths on Saipan in Japanese captivity was treated as a forbidden subject by the U.S. government and nearly all establishment media, and the Earhart Truth remains a sacred cow to this day.
Fred Goerner passed away at age 69 on Sept. 13, 1994.
For much more about Fred Goerner’ remarkable achievements, as well as his less well-known blunders, please click here; also see the index of Truth at Last.
JOE KLAAS: Probably the most talented writer of all Earhart researchers, Klaas, with the guidance of his longtime friend Joe Gervais, authored the most controversial — and damaging to the truth — Earhart book of all time, Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery (McGraw-Hill, 1970).
But 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.
He began his World War II service by flying British Supermarine Spitfires as an American volunteer in the Royal Air Force. After Pearl Harbor, Klaas transferred to the U.S. Army Air Force and fought in the North African invasion of Morocco, as well as the Algerian and Tunisian campaigns, where he was shot down and captured by Arabs who sold him to the Nazis for $20.
Klaas spent 25 months in German prison camps, escaped to be recaptured and worked for the X-Committee that planned “The Great Escape” from prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III. The camp was known for two famous prisoner escapes that took place there by tunneling and were depicted in the filmsThe Great Escape (1963) and The Wooden Horse (1950).
Klaas died on Feb. 25, 2016 at his home in Monterey, Calif., at 95.
For much more on Joe Klaas, please click here.
OLIVER KNAGGS: South African writer Oliver Knaggs was hired in 1979 by a film company to join Vincent V. Loomis in the Marshalls and chronicle his search. The Knaggs-Loomis connection is well known among Earhart buffs, but neither Loomis, in Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, nor Knaggs, in his little-known 1983 book, Amelia Earhart: Her last flight mentioned the other by name. In Her last flight, a collector’s item known mainly to researchers, Knaggs recounts his 1979 and ’81 investigations in the Marshalls and Saipan, where his findings strongly supported those of Loomis, despite some unexplained disparities.
Knaggs returned to Mili in 1981 without Loomis and armed with a metal detector in hopes of locating the silver container that the native eyewitness Lijon had described seeing a white man bury in 1937.
Knaggs found something metallic where nothing should have naturally been buried, brought it home to South Africa and had it analyzed by the Metallurgical Department of the University of Cape Town. The results confirmed that “in section the sample revealed what is described as a pin cover, rivet and body of the hinge,” Knaggs wrote. “In general the microstructures [sic] are consistent with a fine, clean low carbon steel . . . indicating that good technology was used in its manufacture. . . . The hinge could have come from something akin to a cash box and could therefore quite easily be the canister to which Lijon had referred.”
Thus Knaggs secured his place among history’s elite Earhart researchers by finding that may well have been the only “hard evidence” yet publicly uncovered. For much more on Oliver Knaggs’ Earhart investigative work, please click here.
Special thanks to Les Kinney, who provided a biography of Knaggs that included the following:
He was born in Pretoria, South Africa on January 22, 1924. He was educated at Kearny College in Natal. Knaggs was a combat veteran of WWII, serving in the Middle East and Italy. Following the war, his writing career blossomed. His articles were published in many of South Africa’s leading magazines.
His radio dramas were regularly featured on the national SABC network. His writing credits of 30 books, include Amelia Earhart: Her Last Flight, published in January 1983, 500 short stories, and thousands of magazine articles.
Knaggs died at age 68 on September 8, 1992 in Cape Town, South Africa.
DONALD KOTHERA: Kothera’s significant contributions to the Earhart legacy are among the least known and appreciated by Earhart aficionados. Kothera, a former Navy man stationed on Saipan in 1946, along with “Cleveland Group” associates Ken Matonis, John Gacek, Jack Geschke and Marty Fiorillo, made investigative trips to Saipan in 1967 and ’68, producing important new witness information.
Among them was Anna Diaz Magofna, who claimed to have witnessed the beheading of a “tall, good-looking man with [a] long nose,” a white man who was probably Fred Noonan. Through an interpreter Magofna recalled that as a seven-year-old in 1937, she watched with about five other children as two Japanese soldiers oversaw two white people digging a hole outside a cemetery.
“When the grave was dug, the tall man with the big nose, as she described him, was blindfolded and made to kneel by the grave,” author Joe Davidson wrote in Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan (First Edition 1969). “His hands were tied behind him. One of the Japanese took a Samurai sword and chopped his head off. The other one kicked him into the grave.”
Magnofa didn’t know what happened to the other white person, whom she didn’t identify as a woman. She fled after watching the beheading, but the experience haunted her for years afterward. “I still remember the American man and how they cut his head off,” she told Kothera.
Four years after Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks shared their memories of the Saipan gravesite dig Marine Captain Tracy Griswold ordered them to do in late July-early August 1944, the Cleveland Group compared the gravesite location information provided by the former Marine privates with Anna Magofna’s harrowing childhood account. The spot Magofna recalled closely corresponded to the one described by Henson and Burks, but the former Marine privates did not return to Saipan to confirm it.
In Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan (First Edition 1969), Texas veterinarian Davidson chronicled the group’s investigations, aided by thousands of feet of film shot by photographer Fiorillo. Overlooked by most researchers, Amelia Earhart Returns offers a wealth of new eyewitness information, in addition to Magofna’s.
End of Part I. Your comments are welcomed.
We continue with Phase II, the conclusion of Paul Rafford Jr.’s response to questions about his unique theory, in this case a true “conspiracy theory” in the Earhart disappearance, the “Howland Island Fly-By.” Rafford’s thesis appeared in the March 1992 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. Bill Prymak, AES founder and president is designated as “AES” throughout; Rafford’s answers are seen simply as “A.” (Boldface emphasis is mine throughout.)
PHASE II – THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS
AES – You believe that the mysterious voice transmissions heard for three days after Earhart’s disappearance were also pre-recorded?
A – Yes. These were interspersed with some very poorly transmitted radio code to simulate what listeners might expect Earhart’s sending to sound like.
AES – But, today we know that she had left her radio key back in Miami, right?
A – Yes. It was located in a locker at Pan Am weeks later.
AES – What would have been the purpose of these radio calls?
A – They would have lent credence to the theory that Earhart had survived and was calling for help. This in turn would justify the Navy’s vast search. I remember the public clamor to find her.
AES – Where was the transmitter that sent out the calls?
A – Our best evidence indicates that it was on Gardner Island in the Phoenix group. It is now called Nikumaroro. When plotted, bearings taken on the station by the Pan Am direction finding stations bracket the island. I illustrate the details on my chart, THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS. A search plane sent to investigate reported signs of recent habitation but saw no one on the island. However, this information was not released to the public at the time.
AES – Do you believe the same type transmitter was used for both the PBY and Gardner transmissions?
A – No. Radioman [2nd Class Frank] Cipriani, who handled the direction finder on Howland, reported the plane’s transmissions to be stable and on frequency. In contrast, the Gardner transmitter was slightly off frequency and very unstable. Also, to cover the Pacific as it did, higher power was required. My computer analysis puts the power at 100 watts or more.
AES – What sort of transmitter do you believe was set up on Gardner?
A – When Karl Pierson recently described what the signal sounded like, I was immediately reminded of the transmitter we flew to Liberia right after Pearl Harbor to support South Atlantic aeronautical communication. It was a 100 watt model that Pan Am used at outlying stations in the 1930’s. We powered it with a one-cylinder gasoline generator that the operator had to kick start before going on the air.
Its stability was on a par with what Karl describes but it did not operate on radiotelephone. However, a simple modification could have been made that would allow it to be modulated enough to produce the speech quality reported by the various listeners, that is, “highly distorted.”
Karl also reported that when the transmitter was sending voice he could hear what appeared to be a gasoline engine running in the background, “ — but not an airplane engine.”
AES – Why do you believe that recordings of Earhart’s voice were used instead of announcements by another woman, either live or recorded?
A – Because three different individuals who knew Earhart’s voice identified it when they heard the transmissions. Two were reported aboard the Itasca when she supposedly flew by Howland. The third was radio engineer Karl Pierson in Los Angeles who listened to the voice during the nights following her disappearance. He and his colleagues had monitored her transmissions during her flight from Hawaii to San Francisco in 1935.
Of course, the Navy could have substituted “sound alike” woman and trained her to simulate Earhart’s manner of speaking. But, the fewer people involved in a top-secret venture, the better. Having Earhart do the recordings herself before the flight would have been the best way to ensure secrecy.
AES – You say Earhart’s last two-way conversation was when she signed off with Harry Balfour seven hours into the flight. How can we be sure that all subsequent transmissions were not recordings?
A – We can’t be sure. Every one of her transmissions from that time on is suspect. Her contact with Balfour on 6210 khz advising that she was signing off with him and switching to 3105 may have been the last time Earhart was ever heard on a “live” radio.
AES – Why were certain transmissions clear while others were highly distorted?
A – It depended upon what the mission script called for at that particular time. In those cases where the plane passed specific information to Lae, Nauru and Howland, they were clear. Otherwise, they were weak or distorted. I believe this was deliberately intended to confuse the listeners.
AES – You say information was passed to Nauru?
A – Yes. T.H. Cude, Director of Police on Nauru, claimed that he heard Earhart say on 3105 that she had the lights of the island in sight. However, in the search report this is recorded as “lights in sight ahead.” Later, various investigators read the report and then made their own interpretations. Some concluded that the lights were those of the USS Ontario, on station midway between Lae and Howland waiting for her to over-fly. Others concluded they were the SS Myrtlebank, southwest of Nauru and due to arrive the following morning.
AES – Do you believe Earhart sent her Nauru sighting messages “live” or were they recordings transmitted by Naval Intelligence?
A – From the evidence we have I would hesitate to support either theory.
AES – But, you are suggesting that Earhart may never have come near Nauru?
A – Yes. She may well have been following another route to an unknown destination after she signed off with Harry Balfour at Lae.
AES – Then what would have been the purpose of these messages?
A – They would establish for the record that Earhart was apparently passing Nauru on schedule even though she may not have been anywhere in the area.
AES – You mean that if the Japanese were intercepting her radio transmissions this bit of disinformation — if it was disinformation — would lead them to believe that Earhart was actually following the flight plan that she had announced to the news media?
A – That’s as good a way of putting it as any. Incidentally, with the exception of Cude’s intercept, listeners on Nauru reported that even though the plane’s signals became increasingly strong as it apparently approached the island, they were never able to understand the words.
AES – On your chart, THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS, you show that twelve hours after the Itasca last heard the plane, listeners on Nauru heard a woman’s voice on 6210. But, again they could not understand what she said. What is your comment about this?
A – They also reported that although the voice sounded the same as the night before, this time they could hear “no hum of engines in the background.” I believe this transmission was the first in a series of covert signals that lasted three nights. However, Nauru was the only station to hear this transmission. This leads me to believe that other covert transmitters besides Gardner were involved in the operation after Earhart disappeared. They may have been located on planes, submarines or even uninhabited islands like Gardner.
AES – What was the purpose of these calls?
A – They were designed to convince listeners that Earhart was safely down somewhere. But, because they could not understand her words, the search team would not know where to look. As a result, they had no choice but to search the whole Central Pacific — exactly what the mission planners had intended to happen.
AES – Who in government do you believe knew about the secret nature of Earhart’s flight?
A – No doubt the President knew the details because she was a frequent guest at the White House. I suspect the plan originated with him.
Others who knew would be the Naval Intelligence team assigned to carry out the mission plans plus top people in the Department of the Interior that administered our Pacific Islands. I doubt that anyone in the Coast Guard knew.
AES – Why do you believe that the President had anything to do with the Earhart mission?
A – Because of her remark to Mark Walker, Pan Am pilot and Naval Reserve officer. Mark had been assigned to work with Earhart and Noonan on the Pacific phase of their flight. When he warned her of the dangers she replied that she had not proposed it. Someone high in government had personally asked her to undertake the mission.
AES – You mention that [Itasca Radioman 3rd Class] Bill Galten had his doubts about what was going on after his many calls to the plane were ignored. Why were he and others involved in the search not more outspoken about their doubts?
A – Because the Navy classified the logs and records.
AES – Why were they classified?
A – There were several reasons. Classifying them would not only keep the public from reviewing them and asking sensitive questions, but it would prevent those in the services who might have answers from revealing what they knew. World War II was imminent and we needed all the information about the Pacific islands that we could gather. But, of course, we could not reveal our information gathering activities to a potential enemy.
Next, where Earhart was concerned it was imperative for political reasons not to allow the public to suspect that their heroine might have lost her life while serving on a top secret government mission. Not only might this have cost Roosevelt the next election but it could have provided powerful anti-war factions in the United States with enough ammunition to seriously delay our preparations for the world wide conflict that was about to break out.
As incredible as it now seems in the light of history, over 50 percent of those polled in a national survey just before Pearl Harbor refused to believe America was in any danger of an attack from Japan!
AES – The Itasca’s logs and the Navy’s records were not declassified until twenty-five years later, right?
A – Yes, but the classification was only at the CONFIDENTIAL level. We have never been able to determine if there were any with a higher classification. But if there were I doubt that they exist today.
AES – Why do you say this?
A – Because, as a friend of mine with former Naval Intelligence connections puts it, “Poor Ollie North, his downfall came about because he had to keep records!”
AES – So, where do you believe Earhart finally landed?
A – I can only refer you to the host of theories that have been advanced through the years. They vary all the way from Earhart and Noonan simply getting lost and running out of gas near Howland to landing on a Japanese held island where they were taken prisoner.
But, one thing seems certain. Wherever they finally ended up it was not where the mission planners intended.
I doubt we will ever know for sure! (End of Rafford interview.)
Rafford’s comparison of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North’s ill-advised record-keeping during the Iran–Contra affair, a political scandal of the late 1980s, to the Earhart case is pure speculation and not a reliable assessment about the existence or non-existence of top-secret files on the Earhart disappearance.
We have strong evidence that suggests top-secret Earhart files still existed in the early 1960s, when the Kennedy administration actually allowed Fred Goerner and Ross Game to view them clandestinely. See my Dec. 20, 2019 post, “Game letter suggests possible Earhart burial site” for a discussion, or Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last (2nd Edition), pages 271, 272.
We return to the work of the late Paul Rafford Jr., the last survivor of the original members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, who passed away on Dec. 10, 2016 at 97. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
Readers of this blog are familiar with Rafford’s fascinating work. His public introduction came in Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, in which he discussed his current ideas about the Electra’s radio capabilities and Amelia’s bizarre actions during the final flight. Rafford’s 2006 book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, wasn’t a commercial success, but presents invaluable information unavailable anywhere else.
I’ve written three lengthy pieces that brought new focus on his important contributions to the modern search for Amelia Earhart: “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change”: Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga; “Rafford’s ‘Earhart Deception’ presents intriguing possibilities”; and “Rafford’s ‘Enigma’ brings true mystery into focus: What was Earhart really doing in final hours?”
Prymak’s interview of Rafford about his “Howland Island Fly-By” theory appeared in the March 1992 issue of the AES Newsletters, and was presented in two parts, Phase I and Phase II. Following is Phase I, presented nearly exactly as it appeared in the original, with photos added by this editor. Prymak is designated as “AES” throughout, Rafford’s answers are designated simply as “A.”
Phase I of the question-and-answer interview was preceded by the following biographical information.
Paul Rafford Jr.: THE MAN
In 1940, Paul Rafford Jr. joined Pan Am as a Flight Radio Officer on the flying boat Clippers. As a result, he is well acquainted with the radio equipment and operating procedures of the Earhart era. After joining the company he met Pan Am people and others who either knew Earhart and Noonan or had a part in their flight preparations.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, under Pan Am’s contract with the Air Force, he worked as a Communications Manager on the Astronaut Recovery Team. His specialty was the analysis and forecasting of radio communication with the ships and planes supporting the astronaut landings.
It was while at his console in Mission Control that he became impressed with the parallels between the Navy’s astronaut search and recovery operations in the mid-Pacific and its vast search for Amelia Earhart in the same area thirty years before. As a result, he decided to apply space-age, computer aided investigative techniques to the problem of tracking down Earhart’s whereabouts when last heard from.
In the following question and answer session he presents his theory that Earhart may never have come anywhere near Howland Island. Instead, what the Itasca’s crew really heard were recordings of her voice made weeks beforehand, transmitted by a Navy plane to simulate her supposed efforts to find it.
“THE AMELIA EARHART
The theory presented herein represents
a major digression from the commonly
held belief that Earhart was in the vicinity
of Howland Island when her voice
was last heard on the air.
It proposes that the radio calls intercepted
by the Itasca were actually recorded
by Earhart before she left the
United States, to be played back at the
appropriate time later on by another
Paul Rafford Jr.
December 7, 1991
“PHASE I — THE HOWLAND ISLAND FLY-BY”
AES – So, you now suggest that Earhart never flew anywhere near Howland Island and you doubt that she ever intended to land there?
A – Yes, and I quote my friend Bill Galten, radio operator aboard the Itasca standing off shore, “That woman never intended to land on Howland.”
AES- But, don’t the Itasca’s logs contradict this?
A – No. If you study the logs carefully you will note that Earhart never called the Itasca directly or replied to any of its many calls. Her method of operating as observed by the ship was to suddenly come on the air for seven or eight seconds with a brief message. Then, she would be silent for anywhere up to a half hour or more before breaking in with another message.
The Itasca’s report states that two-way contact was never established. All of the transmissions received by the ship could have been recorded weeks beforehand for playback by another plane. It could just as well have been a PBY flying out of Canton Island.
AES – How were the recordings played back to make them sound authentic?
A – By following a carefully planned script. On my chart, THE SIMULATED HOWLAND ISLAND FLY-BY, I show the flight track I propose the PBY would have followed. At 1415, 1515 and 1623 GMT, the plane could have transmitted the first three recordings while sitting on the lagoon at Canton. They would simulate Earhart approaching Howland before sunrise. Then, at dawn the PBY could have taken off and headed toward Howland, transmitting the remainder of the recordings as directed by the script.
AES – But, the year was 1937 and PBYs didn’t carry radiotelephone?
A – True, but small, low power radio telephone transmitters for short distance communication by aircraft were available. I particularly remember the ten watt model we carried on the Pan Am flying boat Clippers. It would have been ideal for the Earhart fly-by simulation. The operator would simply start the playback machine and hold the radio mike up to the earphone to transmit the recordings.
AES – But, weren’t recording and playback equipment very primitive and bulky back then?
A – By modern standards yes, but not too bulky or primitive to be operated aboard a PBY.
AES – What evidence do you have that Canton Island might have been used as the base for the PBY that transmitted the Howland Island fly-by messages?
A – We know that the Navy had hosted a scientific party to observe a solar eclipse on Canton a month before Earhart’s flight. Aviation fuel, a radio station and supplies could have been left behind for the PBY operation.
AES – Isn’t there an exception to your claim that Earhart never replied to any of the Itasca’s calls? What about her request for the ship to transmit on 7500 kilocycles followed five minutes later by her statement that she had received the signal but was unable to get a bearing?
A – This apparent exchange of communication between the plane and ship could have been planned well in advance by the mission script writers. Earhart would request 7500 khz from the Itasca. Then, five minutes later she would announce that she had tuned it in but was unable to get a bearing. This would later explain to investigators why she could not find Howland.
AES – But, suppose the Itasca had not been able to come up on 7500, what would the PBY crew have done then?
A – They could have substituted another recording in which Earhart would be heard saying that she was unable to pick up the ship. However, it didn’t matter either way because the end result would be the same. Earhart’s failure to find Howland would be blamed on radio navigation.
Incidentally, no aircraft direction finder can take a bearing on 7500 khz. The Itasca’s crew knew this but without two-way communication with Earhart could not point out her supposed mistake and suggest a frequency where she could get bearings.
Today, we have every reason to believe that Earhart must have known that she couldn’t get a bearing on 7500 khz. Previously, she had been an adviser to the government on aircraft direction finders. Then, just prior to her departure from Lae, Harry Balfour, the local radio operator, had reviewed the operation of her d/f with her, particularly with reference to taking bearings on ships.
AES – Wouldn’t Noonan have known that she couldn’t take bearings on 7500?
A – Definitely! We radio operators worked very closely with our navigators back then and they knew what could or could not be done using radio direction finders.
Playing a recording of Earhart asking for that frequency was just a ploy to make it appear to the Coast Guard that she was ignorant about the basics of radio navigation. What better way to explain why she got lost?
AES – But later, wouldn’t some of Earhart’s aviator friends have pointed out that she very well knew she couldn’t get bearings on 7500 khz?
A – Yes. And I believe that this is one of the reasons why the logs and search report had to be classified for 25 years.
AES – What about the Howland Island direction finder, it never got a bearing either. What went wrong there?
A – The Howland direction finder was still another ploy to make it appear that Earhart’s failure to find Howland was due to radio navigation. The unit was an aircraft model, specially modified to take bearings on 3105 khz while Earhart was supposedly approaching the island. Its range was very limited, particularly when taking bearings on airplanes using fixed antennas. However, to further ensure that Howland couldn’t get a bearing, transmission from the plane never lasted more than seven or eight seconds, far too short for an operator to get a bearing.
AES – Why was it important for Howland not to get bearings on the plane?
A – Because they would have shown it to be approaching from the southeast and not from the west. This would have been a dead giveaway that the plane was not Earhart’s.
AES – Why was it necessary for Earhart to appear to get lost?
A – To touch off one of the world’s greatest air/sea searches. It would give the Navy an opportunity to make a vast survey of the Central Pacific, an area where the latitudes and longitudes of some of the islands had not been corrected on its charts since the early explorers first stumbled across them.
The storm clouds of World War II were fast gathering and our government needed all the intelligence information it could get. The searches would also give the Navy an opportunity to exercise its forces in an urgent, war-like situation without upsetting powerful pacifist groups in the U.S.
AES – Where would she finally be found?
A – Probably on some secluded island but not before the Navy had completed its survey. (End of Phase I.)
As is evident in the foregoing, Paul Rafford developed a unique, full-blown “Earhart Deception” theory, that’s compelling in its concept, execution and audacity. In our next post, Bill Prymak’s interview with Rafford will continue with Phase II of the “Howland Island Fly-By.”