Today we leave the sordid world of bogus claims about antique cars and enter the bizarre realm of fringe Earhart lore to hear from the “other Irene Bolam,” Irene E. Bolam, who gained her last name through an accident of marriage and was a sometime, little-regarded member of the Amelia Earhart Society whose total contributions can be found in the below essay. I have no photo of her, can’t find her maiden name, and know almost nothing of her, or whether she’s even still alive.* But she did have a few opinions, not all coherent, about the better-known Irene with the same last name, and she voices them in the below essay for the AES readership.
Shortly after publication of Joe Klaas’ Amelia Earhart Lives * in 1970, Irene Bolam held a well-attended but brief news conference in which she spoke only a few sentences, although these were most emphatic, according to observers. Holding an upside-down copy of the source of her consternation, she labeled it a “cruel hoax,” slammed the book on a table, roared, “I AM NOT AMELIA EARHART!” and left the room. Seven weeks later, publisher McGraw-Hill ceased sales of Amelia Earhart Lives and pulled it from shelves nationwide; no official explanation was ever given.
lrene’s written denial to Klaas and Joe Gervais, “I am not she,” was apparently too succinct and unassertive to convince them of her veracity. For the record, Irene Craigmile Bolam (Oct. 1, 1904 – July 7, 1982) was a former aviatrix who claimed to know Amelia Earhart and other celebrities, but in middle age had morphed into a devoted wife, financial manager, world traveler and resident of Monroe Township, Middlesex County, New Jersey, but these real and verifiable facts evaded the Earhart-addled Gervais, who never accepted them, at least publicly.
For anyone who would like to learn or get reacquainted with the odious details of the long-debunked, worm-eaten Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth, please see “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV,” on Dec. 29, 2015, the first of a four-part series I wrote on this dark chapter of the Earhart saga, as well as the 2005 jointly written “Amelia Earhart’s Survival and Repatriation: Myth or Reality?” also known as “The Atchison Report.”
The following essay by the “other Irene Bolam” appeared in the December 1993 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
“A Personal View of Irene Bolam”
By Irene E. Bolam
Irene O’Crowley Craigmile Heller Bolam acquired her name the same way I did: by marrying one of the Bolam brothers. Her husband, Guy Bolam, was the first son of their father, born in England at the turn of the century. My husband, John was the last son, born in the U.S., 31 years later. So Irene became-a sister-in-law in the family when she married Guy in 1958, albeit more than a generation from us in age. John and I first met her in 1964 when we returned from Germany. She and Guy picked us up at JFK airport and took us to their home in Bedford Hills, N.Y. for several days. Irene was gracious, friendly, generous, helpful, funny, intelligent, worldly, and very much in charge of things. Guy was charming, intelligent, worldly, dapper, opinionated, but a stubborn Englishman who was hard to live with.
Regardless of what the New Jersey psychic said about Irene’s problems with love, marriage and grief during the first half of her life, she and Guy finally found true love when they married in their 50s. She was a perfect asset for his worldwide business dealings. They made friends easily, loved to travel, and people were delighted to be with them. Yet we believe that foremost they were friends and protectors of each other, and perhaps the keepers of each other’s secrets.
Guy and Irene traveled extensively and often, because he worked with Radio Luxembourg. Since he was born and raised in England, they spent much time with friends there. They met the author Lady Mary Stewart (from Scotland) on a train in southern Europe. Later while dining at their hotel they saw her sitting alone in the same dining room. Guy asked her to join them, and a very deep and lasting relationship continued between their families for the rest of their lives. Guy and Irene knew people all around the world, some of which were well known figures in high places. We can’t say there was anything odd or deceptive about this. Irene, especially, was very outgoing and friendly. If she liked you, you were a friend forever. People liked her immensely, and would proudly introduce her to others. She was intelligent, articulate (except for occasionally salty and sometimes acerbic language), and had a commanding presence. She knew a lot of important people, including many high ranking military officers, astronauts, and flyers.
Irene and Guy made the trip to Boston once a year for physical checkups at the Lahey Clinic. During the last three years of Guy’s life, John was working near Boston, so we were able to visit during their week-long stays. It has been written that Irene didn’t really do much flying, became inactive in 1933, and let her license lapse in 1937. However she knew a lot about early flying and spoke fondly of it. One night in 1969, when Guy was in the hospital and Irene was very worried about him, we spent a long evening in a restaurant atop one of the insurance buildings in downtown Boston. Since John and I were taking flying lessons at the time, we were delightfully entertained by Irene’s stories of learning to fly.
When she was ready for her first solo flight in an old biplane with an OX-5 engine, the instructor gave her careful instructions about flying once around the field and landing again. She took off OK, but as she leveled off at pattern altitude her plane started to trail a plume of smoke (apparently the water-cooled engine had a leak in the radiator). While the instructor waved frantically for her to cut the flight short and land immediately, she doggedly continued to follow his original instructions and made a long leisurely downward leg and approach. As luck would have it, she landed safely amid a cloud of smoke and wondered what all the fuss was about.
Irene related other interesting anecdotes, including the fact that she knew many of the famous flyers of the time, including Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart, and that she had indeed flown with some of them. She appeared to be completely familiar with any subject we might bring up about flying in the old days, such as types of planes, instruments, early airports, etc.
Irene also loved to go shopping and buy whatever she pleased with little regard to the price. Not everything she bought was for herself, however. She also showered gifts on her friends, often bringing back woolen items from Scotland, and linens from Ireland to give away. One time in their Boston hotel room, she was trying on a lounging outfit to show another friend and me. The friend asked how old I was, and I told her. Irene came storming out of the bathroom and said, “Don’t EVER tell anyone how old you are!” She managed to get away with that philosophy throughout her life; perhaps there’s a lesson here for all of us?
After Guy died in 1970, she continued to manage the Radio Luxembourg accounts while trekking around the world. She rarely traveled alone, always talking one of her women friends into accompanying her on interesting adventures. Her Christmas cards told of the places she had been that year, or the ones she intended to visit next. She thoroughly enjoyed life, people, events, theater, travel, new heights. She was the epitome of a “Classy Lady.”
What do we think about the Irene Bolam/Amelia Earhart connection? After a most fascinating three days of the AES Symposium at the Flying Lady, our heads were swimming with the new information revealed. From Irene’s actions in numerous situations, we believe retired NYPD Forensic Specialist Jerome Steigmann’s conclusions seem most logical. His evidence indicates that Irene had been recruited by the U.S. government to play the role of a decoy, because Gervais & Klaas (and perhaps other researchers) were getting too close to the truth about Amelia. The government and Irene could “muddy the waters” of her past, in order to leave the impression that she might be Amelia, but maybe not. She could deny everything with vigor, act elusive with some interviewers and mislead others, refuse to let her fingerprints be taken, occasionally wear Amelia’s jewelry but deny that it was what it appeared to be.
Irene told us she was a member of both the Ninety-Nines and Zonta [International], but others say that her name doesn’t appear in the records of these organizations. Why then would they ask her to speak at their national and international meetings? As far as we know, she was just another female flyer, who never broke any records or made famous flights that might be reported in the newspapers of that time. Perhaps some of the older Ninety-Nines members knew more than they are telling about Irene being a decoy? She traveled a great deal, and could have used these trips to meet with Amelia and learn everything she needed to know about Amelia’s life.
Guy and Irene often entertained guests at their Bedford Village home. It was a country home and neighbors were some distance away, so Amelia could have visited there incognito. I can see how Irene might have gotten a kick out of playing the role, pretending to be mysterious, and keeping everyone guessing. John wonders if she might even have been associated with a covert government organization in the first place, and met Guy, a member of British MI-6, through that connection.
We were shown pictures at the AES meeting, and were asked if they were all Irene. Frankly, about half looked like her, and the other half were similar, but not quite the same! We are also curious as to whether her “lawyer,” ex-judge Kennedy, might have been connected with the government also? He was often at her side, or in the background, at interviews and public appearances. Could his role have been to see that she said the right things?
From letters, we know that Irene was bedridden for several months to a year with cancer of the spine before she died. But Robert Myers, author of Stand By To Die, who knew Amelia from the early 1930’s, claims to have had a meeting with Irene/Amelia in 1982 on a New Jersey street corner. While her driver waited a discreet distance away, she and Myers talked thru the window of her limo about the days at old Oakland airport when her [?] plane was being readied for the world flight. Myers said Irene died “a few weeks later.” (Italics mine.)
We find it hard to believe this could have been the same woman who was so incapacitated. Also, according to the last issue of the AES Newsletters, an old flame of Amelia’s from the early 1920s named Lloyd Royer contacted author Gervais in 1977, to tell him about the secret shenanigans with Amelia and her plane. He is the one who said a new plane was waiting in the skunk works hanger, complete with her N-number painted on the tail, even before her busted craft arrived from Hawaii. Royer told Joe that Irene Bolam had recently visited him and left a copy of “AE Lives” inscribed to him. Why would she do this if she hated the book? Could the real Amelia Earhart have traveled around meeting old friends under the guise of Irene Bolam? [For more on Royer, see my Feb. 24, 2021 post “Lloyd Royer’s Earhart claim: Truth or fancy?”]
In her final days, Irene was taken to an indigent hospital where they say she died. Her body was willed to Rutgers University Hospital with the stipulation that no fingerprints would be taken. The hospital later reported they had cremated her body and the ashes were buried in an unmarked grave. This sounds too much like a contrived “final solution” to this intriguing story.
Almost four months after Irene’s death, a memorial “dinner” was held at Forsgate Country Club in New Jersey — invited guests only. There were no Bolams on the list. None of the Bolam family were ever notified of Irene’s death. Richard Bolam. another brother, just happened to see her obituary in the St. Petersburg, Florida newspaper under the section of “celebrity” deaths. We think Irene would be amused to be able to continue playing her role, even after death. (End of “A Personal View of Irene Bolam.”)
The foregoing is apparently all that Irene E. Bolam left to posterity and the record, at least as it’s found in the AES Newsletters. The events surrounding Irene Bolam’s death and memorial dinner are indeed bizarre. I would have expected more, but Bill Prymak had little to say when I once asked him about this “other Irene,” offering only a brief remark about people who are attracted to fame. I didn’t pursue it.
* Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas, who passed away in February 2016 at 95, was a pilot and World War II hero, a POW and a talented writer with 12 books to his credit. But sadly, Klaas fell victim to the insane delusion Joe Gervais had birthed and spread to other witless sheep over the years that New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam was actually Amelia Earhart returned from Saipan via the Japanese Imperial Palace in Tokyo, determined to live out her life in obscurity and isolation from her family — something Amelia was incapable of doing.
Some have even suggested that Gervais was a paid agent of disinformation — working for Uncle Sam to muddle the truth about Earhart’s disappearance. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility, but whether Gervais dreamed up his ridiculous claims about Bolam, as well as his other phony assertions, or was doing the bidding of the U.S. Deep State matters little now. Nobody until TIGHAR came along in the late 1980s did more damage to the truth about Amelia Earhart and the public’s perception of credible research, such as that done by Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Oliver Knaggs and Bill Prymak, than Gervais and his sidekick Joe Klaas.
It was a shame, because the eyewitness interviews conducted by Gervais, Robert Dinger and the local police detectives on Guam and Saipan in 1960, on the heels of Fred Goerner’s arrival on Saipan, were some of the most compelling ever done.
Once again, you can read everything and more than you need to know about Irene Bolam and Amelia Earhart, beginning with “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV,” posted on Dec. 29, 2015.
* A bit of closer checking reveals that Irene Egnor Bolam, 88, lives in Independence, Ore. We’ve never corresponded and I’m not inclined to start now, as this post is about Irene Craigmile Bolam as seen by someone who claimed to have known her. I’m not comfortable doing any more with this post than what was published in the AES Newsletters.
As researcher Dean Magley referenced in his June 1992 letter to Joe Gervais, today we present Magley’s strange account of his brief encounters with famed astronaut Wally Schirra, beginning in 1979. The following item appeared in the August 1994 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. Bold emphasis is mine throughout; underline emphasis is in the AES entry.
“WALLY SCHIRRA AND AMELIA EARHART”
(From the personal memoirs of Dean Magley.)
In October 1979, the Rockford Airport Authority held a public “Airport Appreciation Days” [sic]. In addition to static displays of military and airline planes, Wally Schirra one of the original seven astronauts was asked to appear and give a short talk.
Representing my employer, WREX-TV, I was one of a handful of local people asked to go to Milwaukee on a Coleman Airline plane to pick up Wally. He had just completed a public appearance for his new employer, Realty World. You recall he made TV commercials for them having retired from NASA earlier.
On the return flight Wally sat across the aisle from me. I asked my favorite question, “What do you hear from Amelia?” He laughed and said, “I suppose you mean Amelia Earhart?” I nodded yes. He added, “Some people think she is alive and living on the east coast.” [sic] I told him I am one of those. He laughed again and our conversation ended.
After his talk at the airport, Realty World offices in this area gave a reception for him at the motel where he spent the night. On my way there I stopped to pick up my wife so that she might meet him. As we approached him he had a big smile on his face and was shaking hands with everyone. When it was our turn, he looked at me, wiped the smile off his face and in a very serious voice said, “You’re the fellow who was on the plane this afternoon and asked about Amelia Earhart.” I admitted it was me. He said, “I can tell you that as of yesterday, or at the most two days ago, she was alive. I can’t give you proof, as such — but, as of no more than two days ago she was alive.”
With that he turned away, put on the big smile and greeted others. Later I phoned and wrote to him at his home. He would not acknowledge any communication.
In June, 1986, Wally returned to Rockford for a speaking engagement. I accompanied our news crew which was to interview him. When they finished, I asked that the cameras keep rolling.
I introduced myself and reminded him of our 1979 conversation. He turned on the big smile and said he recalled our meeting because few people bring up the topic. He stated that just a few days prior (in 1979) he had been in Florida and someone had given him that information. He was very gracious but would not supply the name of that person. (End of Magley account.)
What, if anything, can we take from Magley’s story? Did the famed astronaut really have inside information about Amelia Earhart? Clearly Magley thought it was possible, but this was 1979 and much that we know now was not widely disseminated.
The fact that Magley knew Joe Gervais well enough to write him a fairly lengthy summary of the 1982 Earhart Symposium tells us that he was likely sympathetic, at a minimum, with Gervais’ contention that Irene Bolam was Amelia Earhart returned from Japan’s Imperial Palace following World War II, as was presented in the infamous 1970 book Amelia Earhart Lives. If Magley could believe this all-time whopper from Gervais, he could believe anything. We should all know better by now.
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 (Irene) 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 away 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.
Joe Klaas, a popular figure in the Earhart research community and author of the controversial 1970 book Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery, died at his home Feb. 25 at the age of 95. Klaas, of Monterey, Calif., wrote nine books including Maybe I’m Dead, a World War II novel; The 12 Steps to Happiness; and (anonymously) Staying Clean.
Klaas died “peacefully and without apparent pain, as he talked with his wife in their apartment,” according to a Facebook posting by family friend Sean Durkin. Klaas’ passing leaves Paul Rafford Jr., 96, of Melbourne, Fla., the “Elder Statesman” of Earhart research, as the lone remaining male charter member of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers.
Readers of this blog know Klaas through his authorship of the notorious Amelia Earhart Lives, as well as his longtime friendship with the late Joe Gervais, his Air Force comrade whose 1960 Guam and Saipan Earhart investigations with fellow officer Robert Dinger were among the most important ever conducted. But Gervais, who died in 2005, was better known for his false Earhart claims, most notably his delusion that Amelia Earhart was New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam, a myth made famous by Klaas in the final chapter of Amelia Earhart Lives.
But Klaas did far more in his remarkable life than pen history’s most controversial Earhart disappearance work. 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.
According to the biography found on his now-defunct webpage, 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 films The Great Escape (1963) and The Wooden Horse (1950).
Klaas survived a torturous death march across Germany, in which thousands of Allied prisoners of war froze to death. From a total of 257,000 Allied POWs held in German prison camps, over 80,000 POWs were forced to march westward across Poland, Czechoslovakia and Germany in extreme winter conditions, over about four months between January and April 1945. This series of events was known by many names, including “The Great March West,” “The Long March,” “The Long Walk,” “The Long Trek,” “The Black March,” “The Bread March” and “Death March Across Germany,” but most survivors just called it “The March.” Klaas’ novel Maybe I’m Dead was based on his harrowing, near-death experience as a German POW.
The war hero remained in the U.S. Air Force Reserve for 28 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel and Chief of Information for the 6th Air Force Reserve Region (13 western states) with 25 decorations. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Washington, was elected to the Sigma Delta Chi journalism fraternity, and received a master’s degree in creative writing.
During his 30-year media career, Klaas was an Associated Press news correspondent in Alaska, worked for one newspaper, two film companies, 15 broadcasting companies and retired from the American Broadcasting Company.
He was also the grandfather of Polly Hannah Klaas, the 12-year-old whose October 1993 murder gained national attention when she was kidnapped at knife point from her mother’s home in Petaluma, Calif., and later strangled. Richard Allen Davis was convicted of her murder in 1996 and sentenced to death. Davis remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison, California.
Joe Klaas’ survivors include his son, Marc, and his wife, B.J. Complete survivor information is currently unavailable, as no news source has published an obituary.
In today’s final post of our four-part series, “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society,” we rejoin the litany of famed Earhart researcher Joe Gervais’ better known gaffes; following that, I will try to bring the entire mash pit of absurdities that characterized the Irene Bolam chapter of the Earhart saga into some kind of coherent perspective, and put this pest of a lingering Earhart myth to bed for now.
“Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society,” Conclusion of four parts
“What is the hardest task in the world? To think.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
In 1987, Joe Gervais led the voices claiming that the notorious “Weihsien Telegram” (later known as the “Love to Mother,” or LTM, message), a 1945 “speedletter” addressed to George Putnam and sent from a liberated Japanese internment camp in China, proved that Earhart had been held by the Japanese throughout World War II. In 2001, Ron Bright led an investigation that found the message had originated with Turkish author and world traveler Ahmad Kamal, who had known Putnam well enough to ask him to look in on his elderly mother before he left on a trip to China in 1939.
Fred Goerner, in a 1992 letter to Rollin Reineck, traced the discovery of what he called the “Weihsien Camp message” to Sandra Rangel, an archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in the early 1970s. Rangel found the telegram among State Department records that were being routinely declassified following the normal 30-year classification restrictions, and wrote to Goerner about it in March 1971, telling him she found it a file under the name of George Palmer Putnam, not Amelia Earhart. Goerner obtained copies of the Weihsien records in 1975 and shared them with Earhart researcher Patti Morton in 1983.
In 1987 Los Angeles Times reporter Paul Dean contacted Morton after asking Goerner for leads about an Earhart story, and Morton told Dean about the Weihsien message. Dean then used it as a “hook for his article,” according to Goerner, which opened the floodgates to the knee-jerk Earhart theorists’ proclamations. “As I feared,” Goerner wrote, “Mr. Gervais and others immediately began to claim that the message proved Earhart had been a Japanese prisoner and to claim it as proof for their various theories. Within a few days, Mr. Gervais had given his claim to a Las Vegas newspaper. It proved NOTHING OF THE KIND. It only proved that SOMEONE had sent a message to George Palmer Putnam.”
Goerner went on to castigate Reineck for his insistence that Morton was withholding “secret information” from him (Reineck), and said Morton was “outraged by the Gervais statements,” among which was that Morton had agreed “to do a book” with Gervais. Morton thought Gervais was “totally unprincipled,” Goerner told Reineck, and reminded him of Gervais’ checkered history of phony Earhart claims, as well as Reineck’s role in disseminating them:
The incredible attempt to use the Weihsien message by Mr. Gervais to support his scenario is but another in a LONG, LONG list of misinformation Mr. Gervais has presented to the media as fact; for instance, by my count, Mr. Gervais has presented at least three photographs to the media which he alleges as proof that Earhart was in Japanese custody and returned to the U.S. as Irene Bolam. All bogus. You, Mr. Reineck, were a part of the last photo fiasco, and you were quoted widely in the press claiming the photo showed Earhart after the disappearance.
. . . Now that you know the photo was taken in Hawaii in 1937, why have you and Gervais not released that information to the media? Shame on everyone.
Item: The Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam theory.
The preceding are hardly the only examples of Gervais’ penchant for creative research, whereby he discovered a vast array of conspiracies and Earhart connections where none existed, but they are among the better-known cases. Certainly the native interviews he conducted in the Marianas in 1960 with fellow Air Force officer Robert Dinger were enormously important in establishing the presence of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan. These seminal accounts remain invaluable, but something happened to Gervais after he concluded his Saipan investigations, and it manifested itself in disastrous fashion that August 1965 day on Long Island.
Though it’s impossible to quantify the damage Amelia Earhart Survived inflicted upon the public’s perception of Earhart researchers, the popular idea that most who pursue the solution to the so-called Earhart mystery must be cranks or otherwise marginal individuals can, for the most part, be laid at Gervais’ doorstep, and Klaas’ too, as David Billings explained:
Joe Gervais convinced Joe Klaas that the woman he had seen at the Sea Spray Inn in 1965 WAS Amelia Earhart based on a spiritual feeling he had experienced which was influenced by a couple of adornments that the woman wore which were not what he thought they were. Klaas did not go and look at the lady himself, nowhere does he say that he did that, therefore he accepted what Gervais said holus-bolus. Now, if it were you or I and we wanted to be sure, we’d go and have a look. He never did. He never researched what Gervais told him, he never questioned Gervais, he wrote it down because as he often says, “I am a journalist.” What are journalists always after? A scoop. Klaas believed he had a scoop and he went off half-cocked and published that dreadful book. That dreadful book has affected every Earhart researcher since to one degree or another.
The unregenerate Klaas, now 95, has never publicly disavowed what he has described as the strongly “implied” contention in Amelia Earhart Lives that Earhart assumed the identity of Irene Bolam, though occasionally he has admitted the book contained other, less-serious errors. In an April 2007 message to the AES forum, Klaas reasserted his long-held, fence-straddling position on the Earhart-Bolam issue, cloaking it in the same quasi-legal terminology that failed to sway a New York court in the 1970s, and ended with McGraw-Hill’s substantial out-of-court settlement award to Irene Bolam:
My book, which was first published by McGraw-Hill, never stated outright that Irene Bolam was Amelia Earhart. We presented all the evidence . . . and left it up to the reader to speculate.
But the vigilant Mandel was having none of Klaas’ hair-splitting Bolamite doublespeak that April day, and immediately brought the matter to the attention of those forum members who might, understandably, have been confused by Klaas’ statement:
As it follows from Mr. Joe Klaas’ message, his book “never stated outright that Irene Bolam was Amelia Earhart,” and the ones who think otherwise make “understandable misunderstanding.” Sorry but it is difficult to agree with this statement, because of following facts. Mr. Joe Klaas’ book was actually . . . how the IB theory was revealed to public – that knew nothing about this theory before this book. And the book’s title was: “AMELIA EARHART LIVES.”
The book clearly proclaimed the concept of the author (Mr. Klaas) and his friend who proposed the theory (Mr. Gervais) that she “lives” in another, living (then) real person – Irene Bolam. Let’s just see the real things: it is exactly what the book proclaimed, not anything else. The name of the author, Mr. Joe Klaas, was on the cover of the book, and it is still my firm opinion that the writer is fully, unconditionally and personally RESPONSIBLE – before the readers, the public, the society, and the history – for the information, concepts and statements made in the book. Always and without exceptions.
The concept of the real, national and international, historical mysteries about the very real people to be considered as just a “fascinating game of research and deduction,” completely ignores this important aspect of public and social RESPONSIBILITY of the ones who make the public statements, and it is why I always definitely disagreed with this concept.
From the period well before the book’s publication and until today – for all these decades – Mr. Joe Klaas apparently did never claim that he is not sharing the theory generated by his friend, Mr. Gervais. His own support of the theory is obvious and clearly visible from the contents and tone of his own comments in the book, particularly its final phrase: “Joe Gervais is on your trail, Amelia. There’s no use trying to die, for he’ll follow you wherever you go, and as long as he shall live, you shall live.”
If it is not the full and unconditional support of the Mr. Gervais concept, then it is very hard even to propose any definition (of) what else it is. It is far more than can be expected or demanded from “just the hired writer” – and clearly represents Mr. Klaas’ own position – that he never rejected btw, neither publicly nor (as far as I know) on the “closed forums” like AES. The proof is just below, in Mr. Joe Klaas’ today’s message, where he clearly states that he still believes in “Joe’s and my theory of what actually happened to Amelia Earhart.”
Sorry dear colleagues, but “JOE’s AND MY theory” in this quote is not my words. And for all the following period after 1970, including the current times, Mr. Joe Klaas made it maximally clear for everybody that he still supports his theory and believes in it – as he did when writing the book.
After McGraw-Hill returned the rights to Amelia Earhart Lives to Klaas after many years, the book was republished as an Authors Guild Back-In-Print Edition by iUniverse, and has been available on the Internet for purchase since 2000. As for Prymak, it’s hard to know the extent of the damage he could have prevented by revealing the details of the 1992 Gervais-Mary Eubank incident to the Earhart community in the years immediately following it, but he might have disabused Reineck of his ill-advised impulse to write Amelia Earhart Survived. Prymak eventually admitted his role in keeping the lid closed on the blockbuster Eubank-Bolam connection, but he never quite publicly apologized for it.
Although Gervais might even now be considered as “the Dean of Earhart research” by a remaining few who lack all discernment, Fred Goerner rightly earned the honor that some of the good old boys of the AES once so cavalierly accorded Gervais. As Ron Bright, no advocate of the Earhart-on-Saipan scenario that informed Goerner’s vision and investigations, once wrote, “No one did more research than Goerner.” Goerner’s findings remain treasures; many of his letters are more important and germane than ever, because they direct us toward the truth, unlike the charlatans and government apologists dominating the popular media culture during the past several decades, or the obtuse Bolamites.
Thomas E. Devine, whose experiences on Saipan launched him upon a lifetime quest to establish the truth and whose influence on this writer’s early Earhart education was immense, lacked Goerner’s creative abilities, national connections and imagination, but his contributions to the Earhart investigation were significant and lasting, and no one was ever more driven or dedicated than Devine. Like Goerner, Devine was fallible and wrong in some of his key conclusions, and even dishonest on occasion, but he never approached Gervais’ notoriety. Moreover, unlike the notorious Gervais, Devine’s positive contributions to Earhart research far outweighed his failings.
By September 2006, the escalating conflict between the forum’s Bolamite faction and its reality-based counterparts reached critical mass, apparently precipitated by Billings and Mandel’s continuing demands that Reineck produce his long-promised forensic evidence. On Sept. 10, Jo Ann Ridley, the genteel co-author of High Times Keep ‘Em Flying: An Aviation Autobiography (Fithian Press, 1992), set the day’s tone by announcing her withdrawal from the AES. Citing the “inexplicable toleration of schoolyard bullies in what should be friendly exchanges,” Ridley expressed her regrets that “the AES is no more, in its original sense,” and concluded by observing that “personal attacks, harassment and grudge-holding do not lead to truth-finding.”
Taking Ridley’s cue, the conscientious Reineck soon declared his resignation, as well. “The crude and ungentlemanly behavior of David Billings and Alex Mandel towards me and my research goes well beyond any measure of common decency and certainly beyond my tolerance level,” Reineck announced, astonished that he might be asked for any evidence to support his incredible claims.
Joe Klaas soon followed suit, complaining that the forum “has deteriorated to mean-spiritedness,” which inspired several others in the flock to join the exodus. But like everything else in Bolamville, nothing was quite as it seemed, and the mass resignations proved to be little more than theatrics. No one, including Ridley, ever removed their names from the online membership roll, and all posted occasional messages to the forum in the months following their grand withdrawals. Not surprisingly, of all who had announced their departures, only Reineck returned to regular forum participation, and fairly quickly, as if nothing had ever occurred to keep him away.
More serious researchers had sought greener pastures years earlier, most while continuing their AES affiliation. Ron Bright, once a dues-paying member of TIGHAR, formed the Electra Research Group in 2002, “primarily to approach the various theories from a different standpoint,” he said. “We found about ten guys that seemed fed up with TIGHAR and AES, and wanted to exchange opinions and criticisms without the rancor.”
By July 2006, Alex Mandel, starved for reasoned discussion after years of fruitless debate, established the Amelia Mary Earhart Research International Club and Association, also known as AERA. Mandel’s group, though small, continues as a viable forum for Mandel’s vision of “serious scholarly study of the life and career of the pilot Amelia Mary Earhart, the research of her disappearance in 1937, promotion and protection of her legacy, and providing exact and accurate information about Amelia Earhart for everybody interested.”
In late summer 2006, but unknown to me until much later, the hardcore AES Bolamite faction, led by Reineck and Klaas, formed their own private online forum, the “AESurvived” Yahoo! Group, where they could freely discuss the latest developments in their constantly evolving fantasies without the distractions of inconvenient reality. Since then, virtually nothing of this group’s activities or correspondence has come to my attention.
Irene Madeline O’Crowley Craigmile Heller Bolam was born on Oct. 1, 1904 in Newark, New Jersey, and died of cancer on July 7, 1982 in Edison, New Jersey. With few exceptions, nothing else written about this poor woman was either true or necessary. We can only wonder, in light of the alleged lucrative financial settlement Bolam received from McGraw-Hill after Joe Klaas only implied she was Amelia Earhart in Amelia Earhart Lives, whether Reineck and his publisher would have dared to publish Amelia Earhart Survived if Bolam were alive today.
One might reasonably question the need to engage in a lengthy discussion of such an illogical notion as the IB theory in a blog purporting to present the truth about the Earhart matter. The time and effort spent in deconstructing this odious fantasy could be more wisely spent elsewhere, it can be argued, and focusing on the Bolamite credo grants it a legitimacy it could not otherwise achieve. If only this were so, speeding the eradication of this pox on the Earhart legacy would be so much easier – it could simply be ignored. But as we have seen, despite the theory’s abject lack of merit, producers of the National Geographic Channel’s History Undercover series devoted an entire segment of their Earhart program to the IB theory in 2007. If a book as feckless as Amelia Earhart Survived can persuade the National Geographic Channel into re-introducing the Bolamite thesis to millions of uninformed viewers, what damage might a cleverly produced tome by a creative, newly inspired Bolamite protégé yet inflict? We also have the recently published book, so shamelessly and irresponsibly promoted by the UK’s Daily Mail and Fox News, that has already outsold Reineck’s fish wrapper, and reintroduces the same Bolamite folderol to a public that remains largely ignorant about the Bolam lies.
Many demonstrably false and damaging ideas are granted currency by those who cultivate and embrace the politically correct mindset of “tolerance” for all “sincerely held” beliefs. This so-called open-mindedness and respect for “individual rights,” especially in regard to the weird and aberrant, is normally an innocuous conceit when the opinions in question are confined to the occasional eccentric or misfit. However, when these pernicious ideas are allowed to be broadcast to an uninformed public as facts, as was done in Amelia Earhart Survived, still being sold on the Net, and the new book that I refuse to even name, those who can do something about it are bound to act – as decisively as possible – in the service of truth and justice. All ideas are not equal.
Since Joe Gervais embraced his misbegotten conviction that Amelia Earhart “became” Irene Bolam more than 40 years ago, an ersatz mythology complete with its own dogmas and history evolved in support of the Bolamite belief system. It has not been my purpose to examine, item-by-item, ad nauseam, every minute precept of this phantasmagoria. Rather, I have attempted to describe a phenomenon that nearly defies understanding, not only in its own bizarre and fantastic essence, but in the inexplicable thrall by which it captivated and bound its adherents.
In 2005, Alex Mandel collaborated with Ron Bright, Bill Prymak, and Patrick Gaston to write “Amelia Earhart’s Survival and Repatriation: Myth or Reality?” Mandel’s 12,000-word paper, which I completely re-wrote for public presentation because English is Mandel’s third language, came to be known as “The Atchison Report,” and is the most comprehensive examination and systematic debunking to date of the myths, deceptions and lies that animated the IB theory and continue to be propagated by its remaining adherents.
Some 50 copies were distributed to researchers and other interested parties at the annual Amelia Earhart Festival in Atchison, Kansas, in July 2005, with the hope that armed with this in-depth study, serious Earhart students can help to exterminate any vestiges of this stubborn parasite wherever it raises its ugly head. Sadly, the perfidious Bolamite Creed still lives, despite our best efforts.