Anyone who’s read extensively about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart has seen various claims that, while in the Lockheed repair facility in Burbank, Calif., following the March 16, 1937 Hawaii crash on takeoff, the Electra underwent special modifications that would allow the plane to accommodate aerial reconnaissance cameras in order to best prepare it for a covert spy mission. Special cameras were allegedly installed, and new, more powerful power plants replaced the standard Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp S3H1, 600 hp engines. While it’s not the purpose of this post to present the various claims that have been made in this regard, I’ve not seen any substantive evidence to support these assertions.
An even more outrageous asseveration came in Joe Klaas’ 1970 bombshell, Amelia Earhart Lives, wherein his friend Joe Gervais said there was no record of what became of the Lockheed XC-35 Electra, the first successful enclosed-cabin, pressurized airplane, capable of altitudes up to 40,000 feet, and suggested it could have been used by Earhart during her last flight. Klaas then theorized that Earhart could have “switched” from her own Electra to the XC-35 to fly a photographic spy mission, and that Lockheed could have built two XC-35s, one of which Earhart and Noonan flew on their special mission. In fact, the only Lockheed XC-35 ever built, with commercial serial number 3105 and military serial number 36-353, was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1948, and has remained there until this day. For more on Klaas, Gervais and the XC-35, please click here.
The following letter appeared in the July 1998 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, from former Lockheed specialist David Kenyon to Amelia Earhart Society President Bill Prymak, and will not silence the fading echoes of the Earhart Electra conspiracy theorists. But Kenyon’s letter does buttress other credible evidence arguing against the spy cameras, souped-up engines and other alleged special “adjustments” Earhart’s Electra supposedly underwent in order to operate at a higher level on a covert mission, one that nonetheless wasn’t good enough to prevent her landing at Mili Atoll, where she was soon grabbed up by the Japanese military and taken to Saipan. (Boldface emphasis is mine throughout.)
Bill Prymak’s note: David Kenyon is our “person on scene” in the Lockheed factory in 1937 during the repairs to AE’s “ship,” as they called it then. We asked poignant question re: his tenure, rumors of a 2nd Earhart Electra 10E and a 2nd XC-35 (see note below letter), the skunks works and his role in the repair of Amelia’s crashed ship in Hawaii.
David H. Kenyon
2165 Greenview Street
Eugene, Oregon 97401-2393
July 13, 1998
Thanks for your letter of the 6th that I will now respond to in the order of your questions:
1. On January 4, 1937 I began my 40 year career with Lockheed Aircraft, retiring in 1977 as a Marketing Director.
My role as an observer of the Amelia Earhart Hawaiian accident repairs was very limited. At the time I was employed as an assembler apprentice in the Wing and Tail Department assembling the Model 10 wing spars and the Model 12 stabilizers.
I was not qualified to repair the AE empennage when it came to our department. I simply observed a lead man cutting and removing damaged Alclad skin for reconstruction of the frame in the jigs. I managed to secure a piece of the upper stabilizer’s skin which I still have. I don’t recall whether I saw the plane in the final assembly department later.
2. I recall being able to walk thru the various departments of the factory to visit friends and see what was going on during a lunch break as in those prewar days there really weren’t many secrets in the 1,000 employee work force. In 1937 the Model 10 hit a high of 44 planes built tapering off before the Model 12 and 14 planes were produced.
I really doubt that a covert Model 10E was built since the employees would have known about [it] given the above circumstances. No section of that small plant was hidden from casual view. If a second XC-35 were produced it certainly would have had to go thru most of the Model 10 assembly jigs. *
I remember being able to walk through the separate enclosed area where the XC-35 finishing work proceeded. The L.A. Times referred to it as a SECRET plane when they photographed it upon quiet roll out on our open ramp. To obtain a covert additional plane it would have been easier and less expensive to have bought a used plane from some other operator. However, after all these years it seems logical that some trace of the first plane would have surfaced.
3. The Lockheed Skunk Works probably did not come into existence until the XP-38 was constructed in 1939 in a closed area of the factory.
4. The XC-35 was the product of a one plane contract, see enclosed excerpts from Lockheed reports nos. 1650 and 9374 and Master Schedule chart delineating the single XC-35 dated 1963.
5. No unorthodox repairs could have been made to A.E’s plane since they would have to reflect conformance to existing blueprints and repair manuals. The enclosed copy of a Lockheed 3-3-37 blueprint clearly shows the 6 fuselage tank fillers. The enclosed photo depicts these openings as well. The photo on page 28 of your March 1989 Newsletter clearly shows a rectangular tank under the A.E. plane. So all the evidence seems to rule out a singular circular tank. (Editor’s note: I don’t have the March 1989 Newsletter, as it’s not among those in the Assemblage of AES Newsletters, which covers issues from Fall 1990 to June 2002, nor was the referenced “Lockheed 3-3-37 blueprint” included with Kenyon’s letter.)
6. During Dick Merrill’s EAL [Eastern Air Lines] Electra flight from London to New York with the coronation films in 1936, he may have utilized extra tanks.
7. I have no knowledge of the numbers painted on Electras delivered to Australia and New Zealand. Suggest writing to Pat Donovan, Lockheed Aircraft Owners Club, as he has some lists of current A/C.
Bill, I look forward to your visit this summer and given some advance notice can arrange to be on hand to extend full hospitality.
With best regards,
* From Wikipedia:
The Lockheed XC-35 is a twin-engine, experimental pressurized airplane. It was the second American aircraft to feature cabin pressurization. It was initially described as a “supercharged cabin” by the Army. The distinction of the world’s first pressurized aircraft goes to a heavily modified Engineering Division USD-9A which flew in the United States in 1921. The XC-35 was a development of the Lockheed Model 10 Electra that was designed to meet a 1935 request by the United States Army Air Corps for an aircraft with a pressurized cabin.
The XC-35 was delivered to Wright Field, Ohio in May 1937, made its first performance flight on August 5, and was involved in an extensive flight testing program for which the Army Air Corps was awarded the Collier Trophy. The lessons learned from the XC-35 played a key role in the development of the Boeing 307 Stratoliner and the B-29 Superfortress which was to be the first mass-produced pressurized aircraft.
The Air Corps brass were so confident in the new technology that they allowed the XC-35 to be used as an executive transport for Louis Johnson, the Assistant Secretary of War and future Secretary of Defense. The XC-35 was donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in 1948 and remains there in long-term storage.
We continue with Phase II, the conclusion of Paul Rafford Jr.’s response to questions about his unique theory, in this case a true “conspiracy theory” in the Earhart disappearance, the “Howland Island Fly-By.” Rafford’s thesis appeared in the March 1992 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. Bill Prymak, AES founder and president is designated as “AES” throughout; Rafford’s answers are seen simply as “A.” (Boldface emphasis is mine throughout.)
PHASE II – THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS
AES – You believe that the mysterious voice transmissions heard for three days after Earhart’s disappearance were also pre-recorded?
A – Yes. These were interspersed with some very poorly transmitted radio code to simulate what listeners might expect Earhart’s sending to sound like.
AES – But, today we know that she had left her radio key back in Miami, right?
A – Yes. It was located in a locker at Pan Am weeks later.
AES – What would have been the purpose of these radio calls?
A – They would have lent credence to the theory that Earhart had survived and was calling for help. This in turn would justify the Navy’s vast search. I remember the public clamor to find her.
AES – Where was the transmitter that sent out the calls?
A – Our best evidence indicates that it was on Gardner Island in the Phoenix group. It is now called Nikumaroro. When plotted, bearings taken on the station by the Pan Am direction finding stations bracket the island. I illustrate the details on my chart, THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS. A search plane sent to investigate reported signs of recent habitation but saw no one on the island. However, this information was not released to the public at the time.
AES – Do you believe the same type transmitter was used for both the PBY and Gardner transmissions?
A – No. Radioman [2nd Class Frank] Cipriani, who handled the direction finder on Howland, reported the plane’s transmissions to be stable and on frequency. In contrast, the Gardner transmitter was slightly off frequency and very unstable. Also, to cover the Pacific as it did, higher power was required. My computer analysis puts the power at 100 watts or more.
AES – What sort of transmitter do you believe was set up on Gardner?
A – When Karl Pierson recently described what the signal sounded like, I was immediately reminded of the transmitter we flew to Liberia right after Pearl Harbor to support South Atlantic aeronautical communication. It was a 100 watt model that Pan Am used at outlying stations in the 1930s. We powered it with a one-cylinder gasoline generator that the operator had to kick start before going on the air.
Its stability was on a par with what Karl describes but it did not operate on radiotelephone. However, a simple modification could have been made that would allow it to be modulated enough to produce the speech quality reported by the various listeners, that is, “highly distorted.”
Karl also reported that when the transmitter was sending voice he could hear what appeared to be a gasoline engine running in the background, “ — but not an airplane engine.”
AES – Why do you believe that recordings of Earhart’s voice were used instead of announcements by another woman, either live or recorded?
A – Because three different individuals who knew Earhart’s voice identified it when they heard the transmissions. Two were reported aboard the Itasca when she supposedly flew by Howland. The third was radio engineer Karl Pierson in Los Angeles who listened to the voice during the nights following her disappearance. He and his colleagues had monitored her transmissions during her flight from Hawaii to San Francisco in 1935.
Of course, the Navy could have substituted a “sound alike” woman and trained her to simulate Earhart’s manner of speaking. But, the fewer people involved in a top-secret venture, the better. Having Earhart do the recordings herself before the flight would have been the best way to ensure secrecy.
AES – You say Earhart’s last two-way conversation was when she signed off with Harry Balfour seven hours into the flight. How can we be sure that all subsequent transmissions were not recordings?
A – We can’t be sure. Every one of her transmissions from that time on is suspect. Her contact with Balfour on 6210 khz advising that she was signing off with him and switching to 3105 may have been the last time Earhart was ever heard on a “live” radio.
AES – Why were certain transmissions clear while others were highly distorted?
A – It depended upon what the mission script called for at that particular time. In those cases where the plane passed specific information to Lae, Nauru and Howland, they were clear. Otherwise, they were weak or distorted. I believe this was deliberately intended to confuse the listeners.
AES – You say information was passed to Nauru?
A – Yes. T.H. Cude, Director of Police on Nauru, claimed that he heard Earhart say on 3105 that she had the lights of the island in sight. However, in the search report this is recorded as “lights in sight ahead.” Later, various investigators read the report and then made their own interpretations. Some concluded that the lights were those of the USS Ontario, on station midway between Lae and Howland waiting for her to over-fly. Others concluded they were the SS Myrtlebank, southwest of Nauru and due to arrive the following morning.
AES – Do you believe Earhart sent her Nauru sighting messages “live” or were they recordings transmitted by Naval Intelligence?
A – From the evidence we have I would hesitate to support either theory.
AES – But, you are suggesting that Earhart may never have come near Nauru?
A – Yes. She may well have been following another route to an unknown destination after she signed off with Harry Balfour at Lae.
AES – Then what would have been the purpose of these messages?
A – They would establish for the record that Earhart was apparently passing Nauru on schedule even though she may not have been anywhere in the area.
AES – You mean that if the Japanese were intercepting her radio transmissions this bit of disinformation — if it was disinformation — would lead them to believe that Earhart was actually following the flight plan that she had announced to the news media?
A – That’s as good a way of putting it as any. Incidentally, with the exception of Cude’s intercept, listeners on Nauru reported that even though the plane’s signals became increasingly strong as it apparently approached the island, they were never able to understand the words.
AES – On your chart, THE MYSTERIOUS RADIO CALLS, you show that twelve hours after the Itasca last heard the plane, listeners on Nauru heard a woman’s voice on 6210. But, again they could not understand what she said. What is your comment about this?
A – They also reported that although the voice sounded the same as the night before, this time they could hear “no hum of engines in the background.” I believe this transmission was the first in a series of covert signals that lasted three nights. However, Nauru was the only station to hear this transmission. This leads me to believe that other covert transmitters besides Gardner were involved in the operation after Earhart disappeared. They may have been located on planes, submarines or even uninhabited islands like Gardner.
AES – What was the purpose of these calls?
A – They were designed to convince listeners that Earhart was safely down somewhere. But, because they could not understand her words, the search team would not know where to look. As a result, they had no choice but to search the whole Central Pacific — exactly what the mission planners had intended to happen.
AES – Who in government do you believe knew about the secret nature of Earhart’s flight?
A – No doubt the President knew the details because she was a frequent guest at the White House. I suspect the plan originated with him.
Others who knew would be the Naval Intelligence team assigned to carry out the mission plans plus top people in the Department of the Interior that administered our Pacific Islands. I doubt that anyone in the Coast Guard knew.
AES – Why do you believe that the President had anything to do with the Earhart mission?
A – Because of her remark to Mark Walker, Pan Am pilot and Naval Reserve officer. Mark had been assigned to work with Earhart and Noonan on the Pacific phase of their flight. When he warned her of the dangers she replied that she had not proposed it. Someone high in government had personally asked her to undertake the mission.
AES – You mention that [Itasca Radioman 3rd Class] Bill Galten had his doubts about what was going on after his many calls to the plane were ignored. Why were he and others involved in the search not more outspoken about their doubts?
A – Because the Navy classified the logs and records.
AES – Why were they classified?
A – There were several reasons. Classifying them would not only keep the public from reviewing them and asking sensitive questions, but it would prevent those in the services who might have answers from revealing what they knew. World War II was imminent and we needed all the information about the Pacific islands that we could gather. But, of course, we could not reveal our information gathering activities to a potential enemy.
Next, where Earhart was concerned it was imperative for political reasons not to allow the public to suspect that their heroine might have lost her life while serving on a top secret government mission. Not only might this have cost Roosevelt the next election but it could have provided powerful anti-war factions in the United States with enough ammunition to seriously delay our preparations for the world wide conflict that was about to break out.
As incredible as it now seems in the light of history, over 50 percent of those polled in a national survey just before Pearl Harbor refused to believe America was in any danger of an attack from Japan!
AES – The Itasca’s logs and the Navy’s records were not declassified until twenty-five years later, right?
A – Yes, but the classification was only at the CONFIDENTIAL level. We have never been able to determine if there were any with a higher classification. But if there were I doubt that they exist today.
AES – Why do you say this?
A – Because, as a friend of mine with former Naval Intelligence connections puts it, “Poor Ollie North, his downfall came about because he had to keep records!”
AES – So, where do you believe Earhart finally landed?
A – I can only refer you to the host of theories that have been advanced through the years. They vary all the way from Earhart and Noonan simply getting lost and running out of gas near Howland to landing on a Japanese held island where they were taken prisoner.
But, one thing seems certain. Wherever they finally ended up it was not where the mission planners intended.
I doubt we will ever know for sure! (End of Rafford interview.)
Rafford’s comparison of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North’s ill-advised record-keeping during the Iran–Contra affair, a political scandal of the late 1980s, to the Earhart case is pure speculation and not a reliable assessment about the existence or non-existence of top-secret files on the Earhart disappearance.
We have strong evidence that suggests top-secret Earhart files still existed in the early 1960s, when the Kennedy administration actually allowed Fred Goerner and Ross Game to view them clandestinely. See my Dec. 20, 2019 post, “Game letter suggests possible Earhart burial site” for a discussion, or Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last (2nd Edition), pages 271, 272.
We return to the work of the late Paul Rafford Jr., the last survivor of the original members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, who passed away on Dec. 10, 2016 at 97. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
Readers of this blog are familiar with Rafford’s fascinating work. His public introduction came in Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, in which he discussed his current ideas about the Electra’s radio capabilities and Amelia’s bizarre actions during the final flight. Rafford’s 2006 book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, wasn’t a commercial success, but presents invaluable information unavailable anywhere else.
I’ve written three lengthy pieces that brought new focus on his important contributions to the modern search for Amelia Earhart: “The Case for the Earhart Miami Plane Change : Another unique Rafford gift to Earhart saga”; “Rafford’s ‘Earhart Deception’ presents intriguing possibilities”; and “Rafford’s ‘Enigma’ brings true mystery into focus: What was Earhart really doing in final hours?”
Prymak’s interview of Rafford about his “Howland Island Fly-By” theory appeared in the March 1992 issue of the AES Newsletters, and was presented in two parts, Phase I and Phase II. Following is Phase I, presented nearly exactly as it appeared in the original, with photos added by this editor. Prymak is designated as “AES” throughout, Rafford’s answers are designated simply as “A.”
Phase I of the question-and-answer interview was preceded by the following biographical information.
Paul Rafford Jr.: THE MAN
In 1940, Paul Rafford Jr. joined Pan Am as a Flight Radio Officer on the flying boat Clippers. As a result, he is well acquainted with the radio equipment and operating procedures of the Earhart era. After joining the company he met Pan Am people and others who either knew Earhart and Noonan or had a part in their flight preparations.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, under Pan Am’s contract with the Air Force, he worked as a Communications Manager on the Astronaut Recovery Team. His specialty was the analysis and forecasting of radio communication with the ships and planes supporting the astronaut landings.
It was while at his console in Mission Control that he became impressed with the parallels between the Navy’s astronaut search and recovery operations in the mid-Pacific and its vast search for Amelia Earhart in the same area thirty years before. As a result, he decided to apply space-age, computer aided investigative techniques to the problem of tracking down Earhart’s whereabouts when last heard from.
In the following question and answer session he presents his theory that Earhart may never have come anywhere near Howland Island. Instead, what the Itasca’s crew really heard were recordings of her voice made weeks beforehand, transmitted by a Navy plane to simulate her supposed efforts to find it.
“THE AMELIA EARHART
The theory presented herein represents
a major digression from the commonly
held belief that Earhart was in the vicinity
of Howland Island when her voice
was last heard on the air.
It proposes that the radio calls intercepted
by the Itasca were actually recorded
by Earhart before she left the
United States, to be played back at the
appropriate time later on by another
Paul Rafford Jr.
December 7, 1991
“PHASE I — THE HOWLAND ISLAND FLY-BY”
AES – So, you now suggest that Earhart never flew anywhere near Howland Island and you doubt that she ever intended to land there?
A – Yes, and I quote my friend Bill Galten, radio operator aboard the Itasca standing off shore, “That woman never intended to land on Howland.”
AES – But, don’t the Itasca’s logs contradict this?
A – No. If you study the logs carefully you will note that Earhart never called the Itasca directly or replied to any of its many calls. Her method of operating as observed by the ship was to suddenly come on the air for seven or eight seconds with a brief message. Then, she would be silent for anywhere up to a half hour or more before breaking in with another message.
The Itasca’s report states that two-way contact was never established. All of the transmissions received by the ship could have been recorded weeks beforehand for playback by another plane. It could just as well have been a PBY flying out of Canton Island.
AES – How were the recordings played back to make them sound authentic?
A – By following a carefully planned script. On my chart, THE SIMULATED HOWLAND ISLAND FLY-BY, I show the flight track I propose the PBY would have followed. At 1415, 1515 and 1623 GMT, the plane could have transmitted the first three recordings while sitting on the lagoon at Canton. They would simulate Earhart approaching Howland before sunrise. Then, at dawn the PBY could have taken off and headed toward Howland, transmitting the remainder of the recordings as directed by the script.
AES – But, the year was 1937 and PBYs didn’t carry radiotelephone?
A – True, but small, low power radio telephone transmitters for short distance communication by aircraft were available. I particularly remember the ten watt model we carried on the Pan Am flying boat Clippers. It would have been ideal for the Earhart fly-by simulation. The operator would simply start the playback machine and hold the radio mike up to the earphone to transmit the recordings.
AES – But, weren’t recording and playback equipment very primitive and bulky back then?
A – By modern standards yes, but not too bulky or primitive to be operated aboard a PBY.
AES – What evidence do you have that Canton Island might have been used as the base for the PBY that transmitted the Howland Island fly-by messages?
A – We know that the Navy had hosted a scientific party to observe a solar eclipse on Canton a month before Earhart’s flight. Aviation fuel, a radio station and supplies could have been left behind for the PBY operation.
AES – Isn’t there an exception to your claim that Earhart never replied to any of the Itasca’s calls? What about her request for the ship to transmit on 7500 kilocycles followed five minutes later by her statement that she had received the signal but was unable to get a bearing?
A – This apparent exchange of communication between the plane and ship could have been planned well in advance by the mission script writers. Earhart would request 7500 khz from the Itasca. Then, five minutes later she would announce that she had tuned it in but was unable to get a bearing. This would later explain to investigators why she could not find Howland.
AES – But, suppose the Itasca had not been able to come up on 7500, what would the PBY crew have done then?
A – They could have substituted another recording in which Earhart would be heard saying that she was unable to pick up the ship. However, it didn’t matter either way because the end result would be the same. Earhart’s failure to find Howland would be blamed on radio navigation.
Incidentally, no aircraft direction finder can take a bearing on 7500 khz. The Itasca’s crew knew this but without two-way communication with Earhart could not point out her supposed mistake and suggest a frequency where she could get bearings.
Today, we have every reason to believe that Earhart must have known that she couldn’t get a bearing on 7500 khz. Previously, she had been an adviser to the government on aircraft direction finders. Then, just prior to her departure from Lae, Harry Balfour, the local radio operator, had reviewed the operation of her d/f with her, particularly with reference to taking bearings on ships.
AES – Wouldn’t Noonan have known that she couldn’t take bearings on 7500?
A – Definitely! We radio operators worked very closely with our navigators back then and they knew what could or could not be done using radio direction finders.
Playing a recording of Earhart asking for that frequency was just a ploy to make it appear to the Coast Guard that she was ignorant about the basics of radio navigation. What better way to explain why she got lost?
AES – But later, wouldn’t some of Earhart’s aviator friends have pointed out that she very well knew she couldn’t get bearings on 7500 khz?
A – Yes. And I believe that this is one of the reasons why the logs and search report had to be classified for 25 years.
AES – What about the Howland Island direction finder, it never got a bearing either. What went wrong there?
A – The Howland direction finder was still another ploy to make it appear that Earhart’s failure to find Howland was due to radio navigation. The unit was an aircraft model, specially modified to take bearings on 3105 khz while Earhart was supposedly approaching the island. Its range was very limited, particularly when taking bearings on airplanes using fixed antennas. However, to further ensure that Howland couldn’t get a bearing, transmission from the plane never lasted more than seven or eight seconds, far too short for an operator to get a bearing.
AES – Why was it important for Howland not to get bearings on the plane?
A – Because they would have shown it to be approaching from the southeast and not from the west. This would have been a dead giveaway that the plane was not Earhart’s.
AES – Why was it necessary for Earhart to appear to get lost?
A – To touch off one of the world’s greatest air/sea searches. It would give the Navy an opportunity to make a vast survey of the Central Pacific, an area where the latitudes and longitudes of some of the islands had not been corrected on its charts since the early explorers first stumbled across them.
The storm clouds of World War II were fast gathering and our government needed all the intelligence information it could get. The searches would also give the Navy an opportunity to exercise its forces in an urgent, war-like situation without upsetting powerful pacifist groups in the U.S.
AES – Where would she finally be found?
A – Probably on some secluded island but not before the Navy had completed its survey. (End of Phase I.)
As is evident in the foregoing, Paul Rafford developed a unique, full-blown “Earhart Deception” theory, that’s compelling in its concept, execution and audacity. In our next post, Bill Prymak’s interview with Rafford will continue with Phase II of the “Howland Island Fly-By.”
As we continue our trek through these ever-more interesting times, perhaps the most significant public discussion about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the June 1982 Amelia Earhart Symposium at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum, continues to fade from sight and memory.
Only the most well-informed even recall this event, or that it occasioned the great inventor Fred Hooven, after years of studying data from the Pan Am intercepts and other alleged post-loss radio receptions, to present his paper, “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight,” the first academic, objective analysis of the Earhart post-flight transmissions.
Hooven’s thesis became better known as “The Hooven Report” and established him as the creator of the McKean-Gardner Island landing theory, soon to become TIGHAR’s infamous “Nikumaroro hypothesis” that continues to haunt us to this day, long after Hooven abandoned it. For more on Hooven’s work, see Truth at Last pages 56-57, 303-304 or click here.
For reasons clear to those of us who understand the truth, the symposium was not covered by Smithsonian Magazine or any other publications that I’m aware of, nor do I have a transcript or audio tape of it. The only significant mention of the event that I have can be found in the July 1998 edition of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, which contains the below letter from little-known Earhart researcher Dean Magley to Joe Gervais, who needs no introduction to readers of this blog.
Forthwith is the first of two parts. Boldface emphasis mine throughout, underline emphasis in original AES article.
“THE GREAT DEBATE of 18 June 1982
at the SMITHSONIAN, WASHINGTON, D.C.”
(A letter from Dean Magley to Joe Gervais, who could not attend.)
Dear Joe, 6/25/82
I thought I should bring you up to date concerning my attending the symposium on A.E. in D.C. on 18 June 1982.
I did make contact with Bob Jones and we were together the entire day. Nice fella. He is also very interested in the Lindbergh kidnapping, and a fellow named Olson, whom Bob had written but received no answer from, sat right in front of us for one session. Bob was so excited he could hardly concentrate on the speaker.
The audience totaled around 400. The first 5 or 6 rows were reserved for various preferred
people. I never learned how they were selected, but Bob and I weren’t included. Those who [attended] were, included the afternoon speakers: Sally Chapman, granddaughter of G.P.P. [George Palmer Putnam] who is writing a book on G.P.P.; Grace McGuire, A.E.’s look-alike who is to complete A.E.’s flight plan this year; Don Kothera and wife; Paul L. Rafford, Jr., who claims to be a close friend of Bill Galtin, the radio operator on Itasca; Milton R. Shils, an insurance man from Philly who had a picture taken of him at age 13 with A.E. and 4 or 5 others; Amy Kleppner, Muriel Morrissey’s daughter; [Evelyn] Bobbi Trout, charter member of the 99’s and her companion, Carol Osborne, who inherited some large collection of flying memorabilia; [William] Polhemus, the navigator on Ann Pellegreno’s [June-July 1967] duplicate flight; Cmdr. H. Anthony who was in charge of the search for A.E. (who relieved [Itasca Cmdr.] W. K. Thompson?); and possibly 30-40 others who were not introduced and I did not learn their names. One of these was a young lady of about 30 who had short cut hair like A.E., actually resembled her, and wore a new, shorter version of the leather coat A.E. wears in the first picture of your book. She also audio taped the entire program. She got out of the hall before I could talk to her. Darn!
There were basically three types of people represented: Those who say A.E. was taken by the Japanese but is now dead; those who agree with you that she still lives; those who say she was lost in the drink. One young man age 20-25, raised four or five questions with reference to your book. I did not get his name.
Muriel Morrissey spoke first. She spoke mainly of their childhood. Muriel is getting a little senile, I think. She did say “the Lindberghs didn’t get along too well.” I don’t know how she got on that topic. She also said, “We should have a true answer soon” (as to A.E.’s disappearance). This brought a murmur from the crowd. Questions from the audience asked for an explanation of her “true answer” statement. She flustered, then looked down at the front row of the audience and asked Elgen Long if she should say anything further. He indicated ‘no.’ She then said more would be told in the afternoon session.
Fay Gillis Wells — quite robust — speaks with authority. She had her entire talk on 3 x 5 cards and read it word for word. It was very well written and delivered. She was a foreign correspondent in 1933 in Russia, and handled the logistics for Wiley Post on his world flight. She also accompanied Nixon on his trip to China. She said there will soon be three new books on A.E. She vehemently denies that A.E. is alive. You recall when I spoke to her on the phone a month previously and mentioned there are some who think A.E. lives, she broke in almost before I could finish my statement said, “THAT’S PREPOSTEROUS! That poor woman in New Jersey should be left alone.” I have just realized that Fay was asked if she knew Irene Craigmile by the young man I mentioned earlier. Her reply was to the effect that she didn’t know what he was talking about but no, she didn’t know any Irene Craigmile. The young fellow then said Irene Craigmile is now Mrs. [Irene] Bolam and is pictured in your book, “A.E. [Amelia Earhart] Lives.” Fay said, “Oh, I’ve never read that book!”
Twice in her talk or in answering questions, Fay said, “A.E. would not throw her life away on a crazy spy mission.” She also said a TV series “distorts history,” and blasted an NBC three-hour production. I’m not sure what she was referring to on the NBC bit. She also stated that A.E. was born in 1897, and that Muriel Morrissey was here to back her up. Mrs. [Florence] Kothera asked her about her letter to Gen. [Wallace M.] Green asking about Privates [Everett] Henson [Jr.] and [Billy] Burks. Fay said she had never written to Gen. Greene. Mrs. Kothera then opened her scrapbook and said, “I have a copy of his answer to you, and if you would like me to read it, I will.” Fay then said, “Oh well, if I wrote a letter to the Marine Commandant, then I guess I did.” (Nothing had been said about his title by Mrs. Kothera!!) The Kotheras (who did the bulk of the research for “Amelia Earhart Returns From Saipan”), told me before the sessions started that they had letters from Henson and Burks stating that the government had NOT contacted them to ask about A.E.
Fay indicated throughout her talk that there is no way A.E. is alive, and tried to let on that she has not actively looked into her disappearance. Fay called Amelia “A.E.” and G.P.P. “Gyp.”
Fay also said A.E. paid for publishing the 99’s Newsletter. She mentioned Clara Livingston as helping Fay set up the 25th Anniversary Commemorative Stamp. I asked her if she believed in ESP as did A.E. and Jackie Cochran. Her answer was negative. She announced that May 22-24, 1983, would be a super big get-together in Atchison, Kansas. I can’t recall why she said it would be rated so highly though.
[Retired] Admiral [Richard B.] Black was introduced as having been given a medal for the Saipan-Tinian assault. (This means he may have been privy to firsthand information.) He said the H. Frequency D.F. [high frequency direction finder] was offered to him by a young lieutenant whose name he can’t recall (or I may have misunderstood) on Oahu. He told of the Itasca circling Howland on July 1 to calibrate it. It worked free. It was battery powered and they did lose some of their power so they were not at their best when they were needed. His opinion is that she crashed in the ocean after running out of gas about 10 A.M. He was on the Itasca until 5 A.M., when he went ashore to be with the H.F.D.F.
At the end of his talk (which seemed to be one he has given several times), he said: “And now for the first time I have an addendum.” He then stated that a Capt. Carter (whom he cannot now locate) told him a Japanese ship entered Jaluit* Harbor (with a white man and woman as prisoners). Black now believes they were A.E. and Fred Noonan. He offered no further information.
* The AES visited Jaluit and harbor in 1997. (End of Part I.)
On the heels of our March 6 post, “Amaron’s death certificate sparks new questions“ and the issues raised by Bilimon Amaron’s listed birth date in what appeared to be an official Republic of the Marshall Islands document, and to a lesser extent, his date of death, I thought some might be interested in a letter from Bilimon’s brother Paul to Bill Prymak that appeared in the March 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. Italics and boldface in the letter are in the AES version; otherwise boldface is mine.
“An Encounter to Remember
— with one of the most famous ladies of the world in 1937?”
by Bill Prymak
Bilimon Amaron, who possibly saw and treated Amelia long after the world had given up hope that she was alive, died a little over a year ago. But his younger brother, Paul Amaron, is a teacher in the Elementary School at Jabor, Jaluit Atoll. We were fortunate to talk with him on our trip to the Marshall Islands last spring . He told us the story of his brother’s dressing the wounds of an American lady pilot and man while on board a Japanese ship in the harbor at Jabor in 1937. He later wrote a letter (in English), and delivered it to us as we were leaving. He wanted to make sure we had understood it all. Following are Paul Amaron’s exact words:
Bilimon was half Japanese and half Marshallese. He was given good opportunities. Since he finished school on Jabot (Japanese Elementary school) the Japanese offered him few jobs but he preferred medical training. In Jaluit at this time there were 3 Japanese doctors on Jabor, and 7 or 8 Naval doctors on Imiej, taking care of the many Army and Air Force personnel on Imiej. Bilimon helped out a Naval doctor who was stationed at Sydney Town, now the terminal area [at Jabor]. At his place there were many Japanese working on probably the biggest fuel tank in Jaluit.
Current news was known to him for there was nothing hidden back from him. He was trusted.
One time he told that because of him five people were save. Anyone found
eating local food were beheaded.
If I remember it right, he said that the ship was a cargo ship, and not a war ship. I forget who had a false tooth, either the man or the woman. The woman, according to him, was neat.
Also one of them wanted to give him a ring or something. I forget exactly how he put it. He said the lady was calm, but the man seemed excited.
He told me this story a few months before he died, and also said that he misled some of his Marshallese friends or didn’t tell what he saw and knew.
Please find in Saipan who was the first Sanatarian [sic] who was either the Chief Police at that time, or the 2nd highest. He may be still living. Probably as old as Bilimon.”
(Signed) Paul Amaron (End of Prymak entry.)
Paul Amaron, a schoolteacher, confirmed his brother’s experience in an interview and written statement. “Bilimon told his brother that the American man was slightly injured, but the woman was neat, calm, with no injuries. Both were taken to Kwajalein and then to Saipan,” Prymak wrote in the May 1997 AES Newsletter story, “Interviewing the Native Witnesses.” Just before Bilimon died in 1996, he told his family to “be sure to tell Joe and Bill, and the rest who asked about Amelia that my story is true,” Paul told Prymak.
All who interviewed Amaron, including Fred Goerner, Oliver Knaggs, Vincent V. Loomis, T.C. “Buddy” Brennan, Joe Gervais and Prymak unanimously endorsed his honesty. “Having personally interviewed [Amaron], I still put the personal stamp of total credibility upon him,” Prymak wrote in 2001. “Robert Reimers [local business tycoon] told me, ‘You will never find a more honest man’—that, coming from the number ONE man in the Marshalls before and during the war. [Emphasis Prymak’s.] So what if his testimony varies slightly from interviewer to interviewer? He never had a written script, he never embellished. So many times during our interview, after a tough question was asked, he simply stated, ‘I don’t recall,’ and during his last few days on earth, he told his family, ‘Be sure to tell Joe and Bill that it indeed happened.’ That’s as close to hard copy as one can get.”
For much more information on Bilimon Amaron’s account and other witness testimony about Amelia Earhart’s landing at Mili Atoll, please see Chapter VII, “The Marshall Islands Witnesses” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.