Today we present another installment in the fascinating correspondence between Fred Goerner and Fred Hooven. In this March 1971 letter from Goerner, he treats Hooven to a scathing review of Amelia Earhart Lives: A Trip Through Intrigue to Find America’s First Lady of Mystery, Joe Klaas’ 1970 bid for Earhart glory that will forever live in infamy as the most damaging of all the Earhart disappearance books ever penned.
Thanks chiefly to Klaas, an otherwise fine writer with nine books to his credit, and his precocious crony Joe Gervais, whose multiple delusions are featured throughout Amelia Earhart Lives, legitimate Earhart research, particularly of the kind that supports and reveals the Marshall Islands-Saipan truth, has been forever tainted in the public mind and more eagerly discredited by the establishment media, already dead set against release of the truth since the earliest days.
The centerpiece of the insanity in Amelia Earhart Lives is Gervais’ “recognition” of Amelia Earhart, returned from Japan, in the person of American housewife Mrs. Guy Bolam, who he met on Aug. 8, 1965 at the Sea Spray Inn on the Dunes, in East Hampton, Long Island, N.Y. If you’re not familiar with the story behind this catastrophe, I wrote a four-part series that will tell you far more than you probably want to know.
It begins with my Dec. 29, 2015 post, “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV” and continues consecutively, describing the entire sordid affair and its incredible aftermath. But here’s Goerner’s 1971 missive to Hooven, which boils it all down to a neat little dollop. (Boldface mine throughout.)
Dear Fred, March 2, 1971
How are you and Martha? Are you completely recovered from your accident? Are you ever coming back to S.F.? Merla has two wall clocks she wants fixed and I am totally incapable.
This letter is months overdue. The passage of time apparently is accelerating. Then, too, the longer letters always come last. Human nature, I guess, to tackle the shorties first. Give more of a feeling of accomplishment to mail ten short letters rather than one long one.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, by the way, and since neither of us bother with cards.
Amelia Earhart is not alive and well and living in New Jersey — and nowhere else. Unfortunately. How those guys thought they were going to get away with that gambit I haven’t yet been able to figure out. I guess they figured that the truth is so hard to come by these days that it would never really catch up with them.
I think they were both smoking pot when they dreamed up their script. In case you didn’t get it all, it goes like this:
AE and Noonan are shot down by Japanese carrier aircraft onto Hull Island in the Phoenix Group from whence they are picked up and spirited first to Saipan and then to Japan. FDR is blackmailed by the Japanese into giving up the plans for the Hughes racing plane which is adapted by the Japanese into the Zero fighter plane. AE is kept prisoner in the Imperial Palace and during WWII she is forced to broadcast to American troops under the guise of Tokyo Rose. And the end of WWII, Emperor Hirohito trades AE back to the U.S. with the bargain that he be permitted to retain the Japanese throne. AE is sneaked back to the U.S. disguised as a Catholic nun whereupon she assumed the identity of one Irene (Mrs. Guy) Bolam.
If it were not for the fact that Mrs. Bolam was outraged, the authors might have achieved their purpose: A bestseller. Mrs. Bolam scuttled them with dispatch and McGraw-Hill took a black eye. Yet the human willingness to suspend disbelief always amazes me. Some people accepted the entire creation and it is no small task to disabuse them of that desire to believe in limitless conspiracy.
Enclosed find a recent epistle from AE’s sister, Mrs. Albert Morrissey, which reveals how the family felt about the disclosures [not available]. The photo Muriel mentions is one the two authors submitted as placing AE in Japanese custody in Japan. In the photo, AE is wearing the kimono and bracelet referred to by Mrs. Morrissey. The photo was actually taken in a Japanese restaurant in Honolulu in 1935 at the time of AE’s Hawaii to California solo flight.
Along with that small flaw, nothing else in the book bears scrutiny, either. For instance, Hull Island was populated with several hundred persons in 1927 under British administration. U.S. Navy planes landed in the Hull Island lagoon in the week following the AE disappearance, and no sign of AE or the Japanese had been seen by anyone. As Hull is a very tiny coral atoll, there was no mistake. The authors, however, produced a photo supposed taken from a U.S. Navy plane above Hull Island which shows the wreckage of AE’s plane on a beach with a Japanese flag planed beside it. The picture also shows some rather large hills in the background. This provides some embarrassment because the highest point of land on Hull rises only nine feet above sea level.
Ah, but they have really muddied the waters. I despair at reaching anything like the complete truth at this point. But I will keep trying simply because my nature is such that I don’t know how to do anything else.
(Editor’s note: So compelling was the siren song of the Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth that some otherwise rational souls remained in its thrall even after the overwhelming evidence against this pernicious lie became well known. Soon after Amelia Earhart Lives hit the streets, Irene Bolam filed a defamation lawsuit against McGraw-Hill that forced the publisher to pull all copies of the book bookshelves nationwide, and Bolam reportedly settled for a huge, undisclosed sum.
In 2003, retired Air Force Col. Rollin C. Reineck, a charter member of the Amelia Earhart Society, self-published Amelia Earhart Survived, possibly the worst Earhart disappearance book ever, in a vain attempt to resurrect the odiferous corpse of the Bolam theory. To this day, there are some who continue to push this insidious nonsense upon the unwary.)
We never have gotten launched on that final Pacific jaunt. One thing after another after three others has always emerged. Now I’m shooting for this summer with some Air Force cooperation. Canton Island, which has air facilities and close to the area we wish to search, is currently under Air Force-SAMSO (Space and Missile Systems Organization) control. I addressed the Air Force Academy Cadets and their faculty two weeks ago on the Credibility Gap, and I believe we have an arrangement forged for the necessary cooperation. If you have changed your mind with respect to a little light adventure, let me know. [See Truth at Last pages 174-175 for more on Goerner’s expedition that never got under way.]
Within the last few weeks there has been an interesting development: A Mrs. Ellen Belotti of Las Vegas, Nevada, came forward with some reports from the Pan American Airways radio direction finder stations at Wake, Midway and Honolulu which deal with the Earhart case. Mrs. Belotti was secretary to G.W. Angus, Director of Communications for Pan [sic] in 1937, and she was given the task of coordinating the reports. She states that one day several U.S. Navy officers who identified themselves as from the Office of U.S. Naval Intelligence appeared at the office (PAN AM) and confiscated all of the reports dealing with Earhart. She says the Pan Am people were warned at the time not to discuss the matter with anyone, and that the reports were to be considered secret and any copies of the reports were to be destroyed.
Mrs. Belotti says she decided not to destroy her copies of the reports because she believed the Navy did not have the right to require that of Pan Am. She also felt a fair shake was not being given to her idol, Amelia.
She did, however, keep silence over all the years, but now she thinks the truth should be told.
The reports really don’t tell very much except for the fact that some signals were picked up by the three Pan Am stations which they believed came from Earhart. The bearings place the location of the signals in the Phoenix Island area between Canton and Howland Island. Strangely, the time of the reception of the signals matches up with reports of amateur radio operators along the West Coast who stated they had received signals from the AE plane.
The only reason I can think of that the Navy would want to quash such information is that Naval Intelligence Communications were not anxious for the Japanese to learn that we had such effective high-frequency DF’s in operation in the Pacific. Much valuable intelligence information was gained between 1938 and 1941 by DF’s monitoring Japanese fleet activity in the Pacific area, and particularly within the Japanese mandated islands.
I have also enclosed copies of the Pan Am reports for you to peruse. I’d love to hear your opinion of them.
Merla is doing great. Still turning out her column for the S.F. CHRONICLE. She joins me in sending warm, warm, warm, warm, warm, best wishes to you both and in issuing a permanent invitation for you to come and be our house guests for as long as you like.
Fred Goerner died in 1994, Joe Gervais in 2005, and in 2016 Joe Klaas passed way at age 95. It’s a shame that Klaas should be remembered chiefly for writing history’s most notorious and controversial Earhart book, as he led a remarkable life distinguished by more admirable achievements.
Klaas 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.
For more on Klaas’ life and World War II exploits, please click here.
Most readers of this blog are familiar with Australian David Billings and his New Britain theory, the only one among all other Earhart disappearance “solutions” besides the Marshalls-Saipan truth that presents us information and poses questions that cannot be explained or answered. Readers can review the details of Billings’ theory by reading my Dec. 5, 2016 post, “New Britain theory presents incredible possibilities.”
“The evidence that motivates Billings, 76, who works in relative obscurity out of his home in Nambour, Australia, where he often flies gliders to relax, is real and compelling,” I wrote in a December 2016 post. “Unlike our better known, internationally acclaimed ‘Earhart experts,’ whose transparently bogus claims are becoming increasingly indigestible as our duplicitous media continues to force-feed us their garbage, David is a serious researcher whose questions demand answers. His experience with our media is much like my own; with rare exceptions, his work has been ignored by our esteemed gatekeepers precisely because it’s based on real evidence that, if confirmed, would cause a great deal of discomfort to our Fourth Estate, or more accurately, our Fifth Column.”
In June 2017, Billings returned from his seventeenth trip to East New Britain in search of the wreck of the Earhart plane. Once again, he was unable to find what he believes is the lost Electra 10E, which Amelia flew from Lae, New Guinea on the morning of July 2, 1937. Here’s my June 22, 2017 post: “Billings’ latest search fails to locate Earhart Electra.”
Billings’ website, Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project, subtitled “Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain: Second World War Australian Patrol Finds Tangible Evidence” offers more information on this unique and fascinating theory.
Now comes another Australian, semi-retired field exploration and research geologist William J. Fraser, who lives near Cairns in tropical far north Queensland, to stir the pot. In a series of mid-February emails, Fraser presented his own novel explanation for the 1945 discovery of the alleged Earhart plane in East New Britain, which follows forthwith (bold emphasis mine throughout):
In compiling a solution to the vexing mystery of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed aircraft I made two main assumptions:
1. That the theories and eyewitness accounts as detailed by Mike Campbell on this website and in his book Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, are substantially correct, excepting for the accounts of the American destruction of Earhart’s Lockheed 10E aircraft on Saipan in June 1944. I suggest that this was not the case and it was another Lockheed owned or captured by the Japanese which had been comprehensively booby-trapped.
2. That the wreckage of Earhart’s aircraft was found in the Mevelo River area near Rabaul, New Britain by an AIF patrol in April 1945 and as investigated by David Billings is credible and real. This is quite satisfactorily explained by Billings’ interviews with then surviving patrol members and the marginal notes on an old topographic map. However, I do find it disappointing that the detailed A1 patrol report seems to be missing from the Australian War Memorial archives.
In my narrative I propose that following the Japanese salvage of Earhart’s aircraft from an atoll in the eastern Marshall Islands in July 1937, it was quickly transported by ship to either Kwajalein or Saipan where it was washed down with available fresh water and assessed for restoration. At the commencement of wash down the engine cowls were put aside for some time while the engines were worked on. The 1945 observed apparent corrosion of one of the cowls by an AIF patrol member would have happened at this time.
The Japanese Government ultimately restored the aircraft to flyable condition, and it was put into passenger service, perhaps even pre-World War II and operated unobserved in the Marianas and Marshall Islands.
Following the invasion of Rabaul by Japanese military forces from January 23, 1942 to February 1942, sometime in the subsequent period 1942-43, the aircraft made a flight, departure point unknown, intended to reach Rabaul. For whatever reason (it could have even been structural failure due to corrosion) the aircraft crashed in the Mevelo River area.
Billings and his team commenced their search for the aircraft wreck about 25 years ago (1994) and have made multiple expeditions since then and without any success. This present outcome is a mystery in itself.
I have attempted to understand why this is so and I presently propose several reasons to explain:
- Up to about the 1950s to 1960s the search area was probably primary forest (near virgin). However, forest mapping and classification done for the Government of Papua New Guinea indicates that post 1972 the search area was secondary forest (re-vegetating). Now why is this so? I may be mistaken but I suggest that much of the forest was burnt and destroyed by a major fire during a long period of a serous drought (yet to be determined from existing, if any, rainfall records). Such severe fires and long-lasting droughts have been well documented in many other parts of PNG.
- The forest fire was very intense on favorable dry hill slopes and it could well have melted much of the aircraft components. Remnant layered charcoal is well known to cause problems for metal detectors as it is highly conductive which makes it very difficult to locate any metal objects.
- During the period 1980s to the mid 1990s selective, then total logging of the regenerating forest was carried out. It is possible that the aircraft remains may have been found and recovered at that time.
As the logging and access track preparation progressed under strict supervision (there were valuable equipment and fuel assets involved) there should have been maps (now archived) drawn up. This is standard industry practice. So, in the first instance there needs to be research of the logging and timber (lumber) company records and interviews with previous managers and workers. Following this research, a well-appointed search directive needs to be assembled and detailed expedition planning commenced with ancillary fundraising.
David Billings’ Response
Mike Campbell has asked me to comment on Mr. William Fraser’s astounding revelations about the Earhart Mystery contained in several assumptions and further text passages which contain imaginative thinking.
Being as Mr. Fraser has seen fit to make quite a lot of assumptions concerning my project, which is the search for the Electra 10E on New Britain Island, I see it as reasonable for me to comment, if only to correct, inform and educate as to what has actually happened in line with what has been written by Mr. Fraser as “assumptions” and further remarks.
The Project Team started to search for an aircraft in 1994, due to certain evidence obtained from veterans of the World War II New Britain campaign against the Japanese located at Wide Bay, New Britain. In short, these Australian Imperial Force (AIF) Infantrymen found some aircraft wreckage while on a patrol and the aircraft wreckage was not identified at the time, but detail from an engine found on site was later described to them in a reply from the U.S. Army as a [Pratt & Whitney] “Wasp” engine.
Many years later, written evidence was found on a topographical map, evidence (which also included detail of the patrol carried out) which clearly pointed to the owner of the Wasp engine as being Amelia Earhart. This big clue to the identity of this wreckage seen in 1945 by the patrol, was found quite by accident in 1993.
I gathered a team together and ventured into the Wide Bay jungle using the recollections of the veterans as to locations as a guide. Most of the path as told was incorrect and not until some archived messages in the Australian War Memorial were seen did we gather a fair idea if where they had been.
Now, on to the “Fraser Report” and my response to Mr. Fraser’s blog post:
The First Main Assumption by Mr. Fraser:
I make no comment except to say that Mr. Fraser is entitled to his opinion and to his assumption, such as it is.
The Second Main Assumption by Mr. Fraser:
“That the wreckage of Earhart’s aircraft was found in the Mevelo River area near Rabaul, New Britain by an AIF patrol in April 1945 and as investigated by David Billings is credible and real.”
I applaud Mr. Fraser for seeing the light and agreeing that the wreckage, from the evidence and from the eyewitness statements, is indeed the missing Electra 10E.
“This is quite satisfactorily explained by Billings’ interviews with then surviving patrol members and the marginal notes on an old topographic map.”
“However, I do find it disappointing that the detailed A1 patrol report seems to be missing from the AWM archives.”
There is a handwritten report which is contained in the Australian War Museum (AWM) website. You have to be an African witch doctor to find it. Unfortunately it does not mention the wreckage find, as it is a topographical report with grid references designed to placate a certain Capt. Mott, who was an HQ staff captain and a mapmaker who was quite miffed that Patrol A1 leaders could not tell him to his acceptable degree of accuracy, “Where they had been.”
This upset to the staff captain caused Lt. Ken Backhouse, the Patrol A1 leader, to receive a slap on the wrist and be immediately sent out on another patrol along the Melkong River. However, that said concerning the topographical report, there is a missing situation report (SITREP) numbered as “63A.” Despite two visits to the AWM in Canberra, the nation’s capital, to peruse records and many, many website searches of the records, SITREP 63A still eludes us. The letter “A” signifies 63A as an “Annex Report,” something extraneous to the patrol orders that has been encountered, which is not strictly anything to do with the task at hand.
I strongly suspect that SITREP 63A described what they saw in the jungle. I also suspect that Capt. Mott (who wanted to know where the wreckage was sited) possibly had an idea of whose aircraft it may have been and kept a copy of 63A, being as the patrol members believed from the state of the wreckage that it had lain where it was for quite a few years. Mott was a very intelligent man and was famous for his mapping of Queensland and the Northern Territory of Australia.
I did speak with Mott’s son in the mid-’90s after locating him in a nursing home, and he did tell me that his father had mentioned an aircraft wreck that he was interested in when speaking to his son in Melbourne after the end of World War II.
To continue with Mr. Fraser’s statements:
“In my narrative I propose that following the Japanese salvage, etc., etc.”
It is a known fact that any aluminum alloy aircraft, especially one without any anti-corrosion finish in the form of paint (outside and inside) and which has been immersed in seawater is basically a write-off unless it can be washed out “immediately, pronto, quick-as-a-flash” with fresh water, and even then immersed in a water tank or treated with chemicals to halt the commencement of corrosion. There is also the thought that any magnesium alloy components would start to fizz away from the effects of salt water like a soluble aspirin tablet in a glass of water.
There are also the engines to consider, for they would be swamped with salt water which would get into the intake manifolds and through open poppet valves enter the cylinders. Who is going to strip, clean and reassemble the engines with some new parts?
I have neither the knowledge or the inclination to find out whether Kwajalein or Saipan had thousands of gallons of reticulated water from a mains pressure system to spare to even try to wash out the Electra after a sea voyage of a week or more to get from “an atoll in the eastern Marshalls” to either of those two places of Kwajalein or Saipan. I suspect that atoll locale habitations instead of having reticulated water, individually collected rainwater in tanks rather than having desalination plants or collection dams in that pre-war period.
Rather than the cowls being left without washing in the “Mr. Fraser circumstance,” I have previously proposed that the Electra picked up salt from the atmosphere whilst flying at low-level after take-off and while searching for Howland Island. The impinged salt being the cause of the “holed and filigreed” nose cowl rings described by the Patrol Warrant Officer.
“The Japanese Government ultimately restored the aircraft to flyable condition, etc., etc.”
No comment. Again, Mr, Fraser is entitled to his opinion/assumption.
“Following the invasion of Rabaul by Japanese military forces from January 23 to February 1942, sometime in the subsequent period 1942-43, the aircraft made a flight, departure point unknown, intended to reach Rabaul. For whatever reason (it could have even been structural failure due to corrosion) the aircraft crashed in the Mevelo River area.”
Again, I applaud that Mr. Fraser comes out in support if the Electra 10E being where we say it is, but I have no comment on the circumstantial assumption as to the reason why.
We now get to some massive assumptions by Mr. Fraser in respect to an area of heavily timbered and quite difficult terrain, into which Mr. Fraser has never been.
“Billings and his team commenced their search for the aircraft wreck about 25 years ago (1994) and have made multiple expeditions since then and without any success. This present outcome is a mystery in itself.”
1994 is the start; that is correct, but why then does Mr. Fraser go on to say the obvious: “without success,” and then go on to proclaim that our lack of success “is a mystery in itself”? That is, in itself, an immature schoolboyish remark from a person who has not been into this area of jungle, does not know the terrain, does not know the circumstances under which we undertook the earlier searches and who now compounds his lack of knowledge and his ignorance by saying, “I may be mistaken but I suggest that much of the forest was burnt and destroyed by a major fire during a long period of a serious drought (yet to be determined from existing, if any, rainfall records). Such severe fires and long-lasting droughts have been well documented in many other parts of PNG.”
Please note the “yet to be determined,” which makes the forgoing statement a guess. I now say that the guess has no foundation in fact, for Mr. Fraser is mistaken. There has been no forest fire in the Wide Bay area which destroyed the whole forest 80 years ago or since. We have seen no evidence of that. The rainfall there has to be seen to be believed and definitely no droughts in our now 25 years. Rain, rain and more rain, even a cyclone.
I will not comment on the rest, I believe I have made my point abundantly clear. Fraser’s assumptions are just that, assumptions, made largely without substantial knowledge of the subject matter and in the belief that he and he alone is correct.
Mr. Fraser earlier communicated with me back in August 2018 with the suggestion that the wreck we were seeking from our information may be a Lockheed captured by the Japanese on Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines or the Netherlands East Indies, forgetting that (or not knowing), the R-1340 S3H1 engines were only fitted to the Model 10E Electras.
He again contacted me in November and this time he mentioned B-17F 41-24458 as a candidate. This B-17 was obviously powered by Wright Cyclones and nothing to do with S3H1s. This particular B-17F, famously known as “The San Antonio Rose,” must have crashed to the north of the Mevelo River, as it took Col. Bleasdale two weeks to walk off the mountain to his capture at Tol Plantation, which is north of this river. Our search area is south of the river. I doubt the colonel would be tempted to cross the Mevelo River by fording it. I certainly would not, for it has big crocodiles.
In November 2018 I assisted Mr. Fraser in his interest by providing him with a 1943 topographical map of the area and by giving Mr. Fraser several pointers from the Project because of his interest. I also pointed him in the direction of “GAIHOZU” the military maps that the Japanese used in the Southeast Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, of which the map of the area made by the Japanese does show some walking trails they used.
Fraser, with the aid of the area map I sent to him, then searched for holes in the jungle canopy using the modern-day “Zoom Earth” application and then proudly sent me a picture of the jungle with a “hole,” about which he stated: “It is in your search area.” There are many such holes in the jungle at floor level, not all of which can be seen from aerial views due to the tree canopy. I considered that Mr. Fraser was trying to suggest that here was a hole made in 1937 “which I did not know about” which existed to this day, and he asked me, “What can you see?”
Instead, I asked Mr. Fraser where it was in order to see if it was indeed “In our search area.” Fraser by return mail told me to tell him “what I could see” – first. Presumably then he would tell me where the hole was in latitude-longitude. By having to tell Mr. Fraser what I could see “first” meant that here we had a man playing the schoolboy game of ”Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” I grew tired of such pedantic messages long ago and told Mr. Fraser that I do not play games such as that and “Good Luck.” In the event, a hole on a modern-day application such as Zoom Earth or Google Earth would be “modern” and any hole made in 1937 would completely close over within ten years with new growth and so Mr. Fraser would be completely mistaken in what he was thinking. Why else would he send me a picture of a hole in the tree canopy?
Mr. Fraser has a basic lack of the appreciation of jungle growth activity if what he thinks may be a hole made by the entry of an aircraft in 1937 or during World War II, would still exist today, up to and over 80 years later.
I will admit we went on a hole search ourselves when one of my team found the exact aerial photograph made by a Photo-Reconnaissance Lockheed F-5 from 23,000 feet from which the 1943 Topographical Map was made. Then again, we were looking at holes on a photograph from only six years after the Earhart loss. We have a whole list of latitudes and longitudes for those holes, most of which are not in our designated search area.
Mr. Fraser’s stated “assumptions” and remarks on what he “thinks” may have happened are colorful, imaginative and somewhat amusing, and lettered men such as he may well think they know more than others. But in the end, practical knowledge will trump theoretical musings.
In addition to Billings’ list of problems with Fraser’s theory, a major discrepancy I find is that Thomas E. Devine, Earskin J. Nabers, Arthur Nash and other soldiers and Marines on Saipan saw or knew of the discovery of Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E, NR 16020, on that island in the summer of 1944. Devine even wrote down the plane’s registration number, and inspected it — climbing on its wing to look in — before it was torched at night, strafed by a P-38 after being doused with cans of gasoline, according to Nabers, who was also at the off-limits airfield for the event. Before Fraser’s introduction of this idea, nobody has ever suggested that the plane was destroyed because it was “booby-trapped.” Moreover, if our troops knew it was such, why would our tech-savvy GIs destroy an airplane for this reason? Couldn’t anything that was booby-trapped be un-booby trapped by skilled operatives?
As for the Earhart Electra and its discovery and pickup at Mili Atoll by the Japanese, by the time the plane would have reached Kwajalein, a distance of roughly 375 miles from Mili Atoll, it would probably have been too late to forestall the corrosion that its exposure to salt water would have caused. Sometime before that, probably in Jaluit or earlier at Mili, the Japanese had access to enough fresh water to wash the corroding salt away, else how could Thomas E. Devine and others have seen it operational at Saipan? We also don’t know the extent of the Electra’s engine’s exposure or immersion in the ocean or lagoon at Mili where it landed. Fraser’s other ideas about the disposition of the Earhart Electra are speculation.
Billings, for his part, has yet to propose a plausible reason to explain the Electra’s presence in the remote jungles of East New Britain. Turning around within a few hundred miles of Howland and heading back in a nearly 180 degree course that terminated in East New Britain simply doesn’t pass the common sense test.
Another explanation for C/N 1055 and two other distinctive identifiers of Amelia Earhart’s Electra being recorded on an Australian soldier’s map case in 1945 must exist, and has yet to be found. Thus the East New Britain mystery remains unsolved, and will stay that way unless and until the wreck found in 1945 is re-discovered. Even then, if the wreck were to be found and absolutely confirmed as NR 16020, the work of explaining how it got there will remain, as will the mystery.
Don’t hold your breath.
Cameron A. “Cam” Warren, former longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, may be still with us at 95 in Fountain Hills, Ariz., but my current information on him is limited. Warren was among the better known of the “crashed-and-sankers” in the AES, along with former ONI agent Ron Bright and Gary LaPook.
Warren and Robert R. Payne, former editor of the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association newsmagazine, CRYPTOLOG, who passed away in 2015, at some point joined to complete Capt. Laurence F. Safford’s unfinished manuscript of Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday. Safford was among the most important of the founding fathers of U.S. Navy cryptology, and was closely involved with the Navy’s code-breaking efforts more or less constantly until shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
His 2003 book is an analysis of the final flight as seen from a strong crashed-and-sank bias, which is revealed without pretense in a brief chapter toward its conclusion, “Survival Theories.” Here Warren and Payne incredibly write that Safford’s criticism caused Goerner to “reverse his opinion about the survival theory, and joined Safford in his belief of a crash-landing into the sea.” This is an outrageously false contention and defies credulity, given the large volume of Goerner’s work, in which he never denounced his conviction in the fliers’ Saipan demise, though he did inexplicably reverse his ideas about the landing at Mili Atoll. This writer even devoted a chapter in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, “Goerner’s Reversal and Devine’s Dissent” to a discussion of Goerner’s bizarre and still unexplained change.
The foregoing has little direct connection to the following brief tribute by Warren to the great inventor and Earhart researcher Frederick J. Hooven, which appeared in the November 1997 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter. We’ll hear more from Hooven in the future, and from Safford as well.
“The Man Who (Nearly) Found Earhart”
by Cam Warren
Over the years, there have been many people on the trail of Earhart and Noonan, ranging from the idly curious to the truly brilliant. Theories as to the fate of the famous couple have similarly varied from the ridiculous to the sublime, but all have at least a kernel of truth as their root source. So the speculation continues and so does the intense analysis and re-examination of the ideas, clues and factual data. One man stands out among the serious researchers, uniquely equipped to dispassionately consider the mountain of information, and who — had he lived longer — might have solved the mystery with all the storied ability of Sherlock Holmes himself.
Frederick J. Hooven, inventor, engineer and Dartmouth professor first met Amelia when she arrived at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio in 1936. She was there to have a direction finder installed in her Electra, and the device was an advanced model designed by Hooven himself. Here was a man who, at the age of 15, had met Wilbur Wright, and sought his advice on an aircraft that young Fred and his pals would attempt to build, unsuccessfully, as it turned out. Later, in 1978, Hooven completed a computer analysis of the Wright Brother’s plane and determined the plane was inherently unstable. “The only reason the flight worked was because the Wrights were such good pilots,” he once told the Boston Globe.
Hooven’s DF (direction finder), which operated on the conventional low frequency bands, featured a small loop in a low-drag streamlined housing, and though the original design circuits were deemed unreliable by operators at the time, the system would eventually be made automatic in its operation, and as the “ADF” (automatic direction finder), would become the de-facto standard for commercial aviation for many years. Unfortunately, perhaps, the Hooven system was removed from the Electra soon after installation and replaced by another prototype which Bendix people were hoping to sell to the U.S. Navy. It purported to utilize high frequency (3-10 megacycle) radio waves, especially 7.5 megacycles, corresponding to the amateur’s cherished 40-meter band. Apparently Earhart and her husband, promoter George Putnam, were led to believe it was a magic device. It wasn’t, and Lawrence Hyland, who was a Bendix vice president at the time, later denied it was aboard when the Electra disappeared.
Hooven, who died in 1985, was the holder of 38 U.S. patents, including a short-range radar set for World War I bombers, and landing systems for other aircraft. His interest was not confined to aviation electronics, for among his many other accomplishments were such developments as front-wheel drive for GM cars, computers, photo-typesetters and the first successful heart-lung machine. He was a 1927 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT, and worked in GM Research for 25 years, before leaving to pursue other interests. Employed for a time by Vince Bendix, they later had a falling out when Hooven became dismayed with Bendix’ over-zealous business activities.
Professor Hooven’s interest returned to Earhart on the publication of Fred Goerner’s book in 1966. He began a lively and very extensive correspondence with Goerner, whose research into the Earhart puzzle never ceased in his lifetime. They became close friends, and Hooven devoted more and more time to combing through Goerner’s writings and spoken observations, seeking the solution to the mystery. His (incomplete) conclusions are of more than passing interest, considering his scientific background and research experience.
Despite the “final” conclusions of the U.S. Navy, Hooven was substantially convinced that the “post-splash” radio messages intercepted by Pan Am DF stations in the Central Pacific (and several serious “hams”) were authentic. That of course meant Earhart had somehow landed on an island or atoll and used her radio to call for help. Hooven, in an article he wrote in 1982, did not address the issue of the “plane in the water,” but apparently assumed a wheels-down landing on firm ground, in order that one of the Electra’s motors could be operated briefly for battery charging. At one point in his correspondence with Goerner, he suggested that at least one “of the intercepted calls from the plane gave aural evidence of radio operation with a recharging battery.”
Given the possibility of such a landing, and the Pan Am coordinates, he favored McKean or perhaps Gardner Island (Nikumaroro), and calculated her gasoline supply would have allowed her to fly that far. It seemed highly likely to Hooven that the crew and perhaps the Electra were recovered by the Japanese prior to the arrival of COLORADO’s search planes several days later. This would tend to confirm the Marshall Island scenario, with AE and Noonan later taken to Saipan, and explain why no trace of plane or crew were ever found on either island. Of course, Richard Gillespie of TIGHAR seized the idea of Nikumaroro, without credit to Hooven, incidentally, but continues to deny any possibility Noonan and Earhart didn’t linger there despite much evidence (or lack thereof) to the contrary.
Why did the Navy discount this whole scenario? Hooven raises the question of intercepted code. If our military was aware, via partial code-breaking, of what the Japanese had done, they faced a serious dilemma. Confronting the Japanese would tip that nation off that their secret codes had been compromised, and if this was the case, the value of our eavesdropping in the immediate pre-war climate would have to outweigh the rescue of Earhart and Noonan. This theory fits the puzzle so neatly it boggles the imagination; suffice to say that at this point in time no hint of such intercept capability in 1937 has surfaced. Neither Captain Safford nor Rear Adm. Edwin T. Layton (Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s intelligence officer, and a likely source for Nimitz’s broad hints to Goerner on the subject) have ever so much as dropped a hint, despite the sensitive revelations both made in their post-war comments on the Pearl Harbor debacle.
(Editor’s note: Based on several credible researchers’ findings, the above statement by Warren, that in 1937 the U.S. Navy did not have the capability to intercept Japanese naval radio messages, is false. See pages 261-264 Truth at Last for more.)
Hooven was not infallible, of course, but any misstatements were traceable to inaccurate information, such as the viability of “reefs reported south of Howland“ as emergency landing places. It was several years after Professor Hooven died before that idea was conclusively proved false, which caused some serious corrections on both U.S. and British naval documents. Despite a minor flaw or two, Hooven’s contribution to Earhart research is substantial, and given his scientific background, extremely valuable. Had he lived longer, he truly might have “found” Earhart. (End of “The Man Who (Nearly) Found Earhart.”)
Hooven was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1905, met Orville Wright as a child and by age 15 was a regular visitor to the Wrights’ Dayton laboratory. After graduating from MIT in 1927, he was hired by General Motors, and rose to vice president and chief engineer of the Radio Products Division of Bendix Aviation Corporation by 1935. He died in 1985.
In my May 15, 2017 post, “Hooven’s 1966 letter to Fred Goerner quite clear: Removal of his radio compass doomed Earhart” we saw the first of many letters between Hooven and Fred Goerner. We’ll see more of the fascinating exchanges between these two giants of Earhart research in future posts.
In service to the higher cause of disseminating truth about Amelia Earhart’s tragic disappearance and our government’s continued refusal to admit or reveal it, and at the risk of giving away the store, today’s post is basically an extract of a subsection of Chapter XIV, “The Care and Nurture of a Sacred Cow,” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. I’ve taken a few editorial liberties, made some additions and subtractions, but most of this subsection, “Carrol Harris, Admiral Joseph Wenger, and the Crane Files,” is presented below. Since I’m quoting from my own work, I will not indent as I would with quoted material from others.
Carroll Harris, of Sacramento, California, a retired Highway Patrol dispatcher and Navy veteran, contacted Fred Goerner in 1980. Harris told Goerner that he’d worked for the chief of naval operations in Washington from 1942 until early 1945, and was responsible for the office’s highly classified vault. Harris said a top-secret file on Amelia Earhart was maintained during the war, and he saw it many times.” Harris often worked the night shift,” Goerner wrote to Jim Golden in 1982, “and to speed the time he familiarized himself with many of the files. There were many files on the USS Panay bombing by the Japanese, files on the Pearl Harbor attack, and a file (about 2/3 of a drawer or about 26 inches of material) dealing with Earhart.”
Harris said the file covered a wide variety of issues, including the logistics of the flight, official positions to be taken in the event information about Earhart was made public, radio transmissions, and most importantly, “attempts at rescue and communications with Earhart (AFTER HER CAPTURE),” according to Goerner. “Harris said the file was added to during the war after the invasions of the Marshalls and the Marianas. He says it was basically the same info we have come up with concerning Japanese capture (of AE).” (Emphasis Goerner’s.)
In a 1982 letter to Goerner, Harris said the office that housed the Earhart files was the “Secret and Confidential Mail and File Room—OP 020.” A year later Harris wrote to Vice Admiral Kent J. Carroll, head of the Military Sealift Command, providing extensive details of OP 020 in the misplaced hope that Carroll, who was friendly with Goerner, would help locate the missing Earhart records.
According to Harris, the Secret and Confidential Mail and File Room was located in Room 2055, in the “Navy Department building on Constitution Avenue“ (officially known as the Main Navy Building). The vault containing the secret files “was located in one corner of Room 2055,” Harris wrote. “After being there several months I was authorized full access to the vault, as one of the enlisted group cleared to handle and transmit TOP SECRET matter. Chief John Aston showed me where ‘special’ files/documents were: The Wiley Post/Will Rogers crash; The Panay Yangtze River Gunboats Inquiry; The Pearl Harbor Inquiry and The Amelia Earhart File. All these items were retained in one file cabinet; the Earhart file and the Wiley Post/Will Rogers crash papers were contained in one drawer. . . . The Earhart papers had been filed under numerous classifications and been gathered under the number(s) A12/FF.” (Emphasis Harris’.)
In mid-1944, Harris said he was ordered to microfilm the secret files in Room 2055. Once the job was completed, he told Goerner that a “copy went to the Naval Historian at Annapolis, Maryland, one copy went to the Naval Ammunition Depot at Crane City [sic], Indiana and we retained one.” The original records, Harris said, “were packed loosely so that upon arrival at National Archives they could be placed in a chamber for fumigation . . . prepatory [sic] to refilming on 35mm. The Earhart material was among these records.” This aspect of Harris’ account is troubling.
Why would the classified Earhart files be sent to a Navy historian and the National Archives, when neither is known for housing such sensitive documents? Goerner’s files provide no answers about why such volatile secrets would be sent to those locations.
Goerner focused on the Naval Ammunition Depot at Crane, where The Naval Security Group Detachment was established in 1953 and disestablished in 1997, moving to the Commander Naval Security Group Headquarters at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. In my December 2008 e-mail correspondence with officials at Crane, now known as “Crane Division, Naval Surface Warfare Center,” they were unable or unwilling to shed any light on whether the facility was receiving classified material from other Navy agencies in 1945.
“It took me more than three years to get the Navy to admit the records existed,” Goerner wrote to Jim Golden in 1988. “Through the Freedom of Information Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Ms. Gwen Aiken in charge, I filed for access to the records.” After twenty-eight months of silence, Aiken finally told Goerner that many records had been sent to Crane and asked him to be patient while a “couple of officers” reviewed them.
Goerner’s patience was running out, so he contacted his “old friend,” Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who had favorably reviewed his book for San Francisco magazine. Several months later, Weinberger informed Goerner that Crane held “some 14,000 reels of microfilm containing Navy and Marine Corps cryptological records, which, under National Security Regulations must be examined page-by-page. They cannot be released in bulk. To date, over 6,000 reels have been examined in this manner and the sheer mass prevents us from predicting exactly how long it will take to examine the remaining reels.”
Carroll Harris’ story wasn’t the first time Crane had come to Goerner’s attention. In April 1968 he met retired Rear Adm. Joseph Wenger, a pioneer in the development of cryptanalysis machines and head of the Navy Security Group Command in Washington during most of World War II. A few months later, Goerner reminded Wenger of his April statement that he’d “gained permission to investigate intercepted Japanese messages from the period of our concern . . . I believe you mentioned the documents were in storage at NSD [Naval Supply Depot] Crane, Indiana” Goerner also wrote to ask Wenger if Ladislas Farago’s claim in his 1967 book, The Broken Seal, that “Commander [Laurance] Safford had all the Japanese codes and ciphers cracked” in 1936 was correct, in light of other books advancing differing claims. Wenger replied that he was “not at liberty to comment on the discrepancies” because the “Department of Defense has adopted a strict ‘no comment’ policy about such matters.”
In other letters during the two-year period prior to his death in 1970, Wenger assured Goerner he was looking into the naval intelligence intercepts at Crane, and asking former cryptologists at the key communications intelligence radio stations about their recollections of the July 1937 period.
Wenger wrote that the Navy had high-frequency direction finding stations in 1937 at Mare Island, California; Honolulu; Guam; and Cavite, Philippines. Though Wenger said he had no knowledge of any Navy ships with such HF/DF (high frequency/direction finding) capabilities, Goerner believed it was possible that some may have been using it on an experimental basis. “If so, it was a secret then and is still so today,” he told Fred Hooven in 1971. “The HF/DF to track Japanese fleet movements could have been the ‘black box’ of 1937. As the Captains have indicated, however, we soon found out that Japan, Germany and England were all ahead of us in the development of HF/DF in 1937.”
From Wenger, Goerner learned the Japanese had at “least a dozen radio directionfinder [sic] stations in the Marshall Islands by 1937 and were monitoring U.S. Fleet activity on a regular basis. All of this, I think, has some bearing . . . on the matter of the Earhart flight,” Goerner wrote, “and all the hassle about direction finders and messages received from the aircraft after the disappearance.”
Wenger, assigned to OP-20-G, the Navy’s signals intelligence and cryptanalysis group, from 1935 to 1938, told Goerner in 1968 that he could “recall nothing whatever from that time which had any bearing upon the [Earhart] flight, nor, when questioned, could one of my former subordinates who was likely to have known had anything been obtained.” In August 1969, Wenger claimed he had “personally reviewed all materials pertaining to the particular areas and time . . . but discovered nothing of any relevance [to Earhart] whatever.”
Somewhere along the way, Goerner must have realized he had encountered another bureaucratic stone wall, despite Wenger’s apparent willingness to help. “It occurs to me that if the Earhart affair became a matter of Presidential classification and a responsibility of COMINCH [Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet] Staff, all references to the subject may have been directed to one location,” Goerner wrote to Wenger in March 1969. Goerner was politely telling the admiral that he suspected any Earhart-related material found in the intelligence intercepts at Crane had been reclassified at the highest level and squirreled away long ago. In retrospect, it’s clear that Wenger was leading Goerner down the garden path and protecting the sacred cow, never with the slightest intention of helping the newsman.
In a 1978 letter that eerily presaged Michael Muenich’s 1992 missive [to be featured in a future post], Fred Hooven explored the military and political dilemma that Navy intelligence intercepts of Japanese radio messages revealing their capture of the fliers would have presented our leaders in 1937. “Suppose that the Navy had been monitoring the Japanese communications and ship movements in the Pacific sufficiently to have learned, or at least to have gotten a pretty good idea, that the Japanese had abducted Earhart and Noonan,” Hooven wrote.
What could they have done? They could not have taken action short of a military intervention to recover the fliers, and they could not have announced the fact (even if they were certain of it) without revealing the extent of their coverage of Japanese communications and operations, and their source of knowledge. It would also have raised an enormous storm of protest and indignation as well as being a national humiliation that we could ill afford, if we did not take bold action to recover the fliers. It could also be that we were pretty sure, but not sure enough to raise an international incident about it.
This would explain all the secrecy, the strident insistence that the messages received from the plane were all hoaxes, and the equally strident insistence that the plane had fallen into the sea. It would explain the tampering with the log to say “one-half hour of fuel left,” the male-chauvinistic references to Earhart sounding hysterical, ” etc. Since no such policy could have been decided without White House consultation, it would even explain the White House type interest in the situation.
Shortly after Hooven presented these ideas in his 1982 paper, Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight, he added a small caveat in a letter to Goerner: “So far as our theory about the US govt [sic] knowing about the Japanese abduction of the fliers, if so it must have been a secret shared by relatively few people, otherwise it would have leaked long before this.”
Caspar Weinberger may have believed he was being honest with Goerner, but his statement that the secrets of the Earhart disappearance were being stored among thousands of microfilm records of cryptological intelligence radio intercepts seems far-fetched. Then again, Weinberger might have expected Goerner to recognize his letter as a pro forma evasion. The defense secretary probably knew nothing about the Earhart case before Goerner told him about the alleged records at Crane, but Weinberger was soon informed about the special nature of the Earhart files. Goerner, of course, had no clearance to view the material even if something were found at Crane.
As Weinberger was leaving office in late 1987, he sent the newsman’s request to Navy Secretary James Webb, who told Goerner it would “take ten years or more to deliver an answer” about any Earhart information at Crane. “Never mind that the Navy claims ALL records from pre-WWII and WWII have been released,” an irate Goerner wrote to Jim Golden. “Never mind that we WON WORLD WAR II in a little less than four years. [Emphasis Goerner’s.] It will take more than a decade to look at some records. Never mind that in ten years most of the people from WWII will be dead. They don’t deserve to know of their own history.”
Goerner didn’t express his frustration to Weinberger or Webb, but he must have known that the Earhart files were not among the 8,000 reels that still needed review, according to Weinberger. “Gad, some of those people who have been trying to cover up for so long must hate my guts,” Goerner told Golden. “But, damn it, I won’t give up as long as I have a breath.” (End of Truth at Last excerpt.)