Today we present the alleged last words of Fred Goerner, as recorded for posterity by his wife of 26 years, Merla Zellerbach. I don’t put much stock in this document, as it has little relationship to Goerner’s many outstanding contributions to Earhart research. Ravaged by cancer in 1994 at age 69, he had made several less-than-wise judgments along his long Earhart search; the most significant are discussed at length in Truth at Last. On that front, I won’t digress any further here. (Boldface emphases mine throughout; caps emphasis Goerner’s.)
However, in light of recent comments by Les Kinney, who has voiced what some of us have long suspected but were reluctant to state openly — that Goerner so hated to give other Earhart researchers credit for their important work that he would reject his own findings to undermine them — this transcript may reflect just how deeply Goerner had assimilated his seemingly dishonest rejection of the fact of Amelia Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing. This was a truth he himself initially revealed to the world in his 1966 book The Search for Amelia Earhart, and is a piece of Goerner’s legacy that will doubtless remain controversial.
Among Earhart researchers, Ron Reuther knew Fred Goerner as well as anyone. Reuther had a copy of the audiotape of Goerner’s last words, which I don’t have, though I do have the transcript. “Goerner abandoned the thought that AE/FN came down near Mili,” Reuther wrote in 2001. “He recorded on the day of his death in 1994 on an audiotape that he believed they (AE/FN) came down on one of 5 small reefs SE of Howland. On the same tape he also said he still believed they were picked up by the Japanese and taken to Saipan. It would seem to me that if that were the case the Japanese ship would have gone to Saipan via the Marshalls and I have never seen any document from Fred that disputes that.” (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
Merla Zellerbach, an author and columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle from 1962 to 1995, who passed away in December 2014, recalled Reuther fondly. “I remember Ron Reuther very well and was so sorry to learn of his death,” Zellerbach wrote in a 2007 e-mail. “He was a lovely man, and a tremendous help to me in cataloging Fred’s papers before we sent them off to the Nimitz Library.”
“Even at his passing at 69 in 1994, the Earhart disappearance remained uppermost in Fred’s mind,” Zellerbach told me. At his side until the end, she forwarded a text copy of his last words:
Sept. 13, 1994 — This will be my last recording, what I know and feel at this point, having worked on this subject for the Columbia Broadcasting System and as a private citizen.
There have been many books written after mine was written in 1966, alleging that the Earhart plane went down in the Marshall Islands. But I no longer believe it. I had the opportunity of visiting the Marshalls after the book was published . . . talking to Eric Sussman who came to the conclusion, as did I, that the story was muddled.
I no longer believe that Earhart was on a secret overflight mission for the US military in 1937 . . . mostly because the U.S. Navy didn’t have the money to spend on such a mission at that time, and it would have been too volatile, too highly dangerous.
I do believe, however, that Earhart did collect what is known as “white intelligence” for the military, meaning that she simply observed things during the course of her flight. It was valuable to the military. After extensive research, I came to the conclusion that the plane, containing AE and her navigator Fred Noonan, landed on one of five small reefs which lie between Howland Island and the Northern Phoenix Islands. These reefs have never been fully investigated, and I believe there’s a possibility the plane’s still there.
I do not believe in any way the recent ideas of a man named Gillespie and an outfit named “Tiger” [sic] that the plane landed in the Northern Phoenix Islands in a place called Nikumororo. This idea was originally advanced by my friend Fred Hooven. I tried to convince Fred that that island had been so occupied by so many people that there was no possibility of the plane having landed there. He finally agreed.
However the original information was sold to the public as a possibility and a great deal of money was spent to no avail to try to find the plane on Nikumororo.
There’s a lot of information to indicate that Earhart and Noonan may have been picked up by a Japanese vessel and taken into Japanese territory. There’s also the possibility that Earhart and Noonan survived the war and were rescued by US [sic] forces. Some believe Earhart was killed in an accident after she was rescued from the Japanese. Some think she returned to the US after the war. I do NOT in any way align myself with these people!
A good researcher will finally seek out and discover the truth. Admiral Nimitz urged me to continue. He had a deep, deep interest in the Earhart affair. I hope the Nimitz Museum will continue the investigation.
I wouldn’t have continued the investigation without his urging me to do so. One night I went to have dinner with him in Quarters No. 1 on Yerba Buena Island. He was writing a letter and he told me he was writing to the mother of one of the boys who disappeared with the sinking of the Indianapolis at the end of the war.
She hoped he had reached some island and somehow survived and the Admiral had to tell her that specially trained people had visited every known island in the Pacific after the war and he believed there was no chance her son was alive. He was such a sensitive, warm man.
There are a lot of kooks and crazies who come up with a new theory every day, but a final answer will be found — and the answers are somewhere in the records at Crane, Indiana. (End of recording.)
“An hour later, Fred passed away,” Zellerbach wrote.
Reuther believed Goerner’s change was due more to his longtime association and friendship with Hooven than anything Sussman told him, and that Hooven would have convinced Goerner to return to the Mili scenario if not for his death in 1985. “I should have also mentioned that Fred Hooven, after making original conclusions that Earhart came down SE of Howland, thus influencing Goerner to concur, later recalculated and changed his conclusions and determined that AE/FN came down close to Mili,” Reuther wrote. “I strongly believe Goerner would have reassessed his position and very likely would have agreed with Hooven’s final conclusion — near Mili.”
Bill Prymak agreed that Hooven later converted to Goerner’s original Mili landing scenario, and though I’ve seen nothing in black and white from Hooven, I have no reason to doubt it. A few weeks before his sudden passing in October 2007, Reuther told me he would locate and send written confirmation of Hooven’s belief in Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing. It wasn’t to be.
Reuther and Prymak were great researchers and forthright, honest men, but Goerner’s change was a vastly different matter from Hooven’s, and we have nothing to suggest that he was ever mulling a return to the original Mili scenario he described so well in the closing pages of Search.
For much more on Goerner’s change of position about where he believed Earhart landed on July 2, 1937, please see Truth at Last, pages 170-175.
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.
Frederick J. Hooven, famed for his engineering inventions, was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1905, met Orville Wright as a child and by age 15 was a regular visitor to the Wrights’ Dayton laboratory. After graduating from MIT in 1927, Hooven was hired by General Motors, and rose to vice president and chief engineer of the Radio Products Division of Bendix Aviation Corporation by 1935. His Hooven Radio Compass, which he later sold to the Bendix Company, is now known as the Automatic Direction Finder, or ADF, was installed in Amelia Earhart’s Electra in 1936, but was later replaced by an earlier, lighter unit.
When he died in 1985, Hooven held a total of 38 American patents, as well as many foreign patents in fields such as avionics, bomb sights, automotive ignition and suspension systems, photographic typesetting and medical technology. His inventions include 17 radio and aviation navigation and landing instrument systems, bomb-release systems, six automotive ignition systems, three medical instruments, six photographic type compositions and seven other automotive inventions (axles, brakes, springs, suspensions, plus a complete engine, the 1966 Olds Toronado).
In his 1966 letter of introduction to Fred Goerner, below, the first of many from Hooven to his soon-to-be friend and Earhart research associate, he discusses his radio compass, his meeting with Amelia and what he believed was the fatal decision to remove his invention from the Electra. Many more would follow through the years. (Bold emphasis mine throughout.)
December 5, 1966
Mr. Frederick Goerner
277 Park Avenue
New York City, N.Y. 10017
Dear Mr. Goerner:
I just finished reading your book on Amelia Earhart. I started the book with a good deal of skepticism, but now that I have finished it I find that I share your conviction that this whole matter must be clarified and honor rendered to those to whom it is due. I can add a small and perhaps interesting sidelight to the Amelia Earhart story. My contribution does nothing either to strengthen or weaken your conclusions, but I believe if my story had been different, Miss Earhart would not have been lost.
I installed on Miss Earhart’s Lockheed one of the first prototypes of the modern aircraft radio direction-finder. Before she embarked on her flight, however, this was removed, and installed in its place was the old-fashioned null-type direction-finder that she [later] carried with her. The modern instrument would have given her a heading on the transmitter of the cutter Itasca at Howland Island even under poor reception conditions and it would have shown her without ambiguity that her destination was still ahead.
The modern direction finder that I invented in 1935 had some important points of superiority over the old simple null-type that had been used ever since before 1920. We called it a radio compass then. It is always called the ADF today. It uses a conventional antenna in addition to the directional loop, the result being that it is possible to listen to the station at the same time a bearing is being taken. It is so much more sensitive that it is possible to use a much smaller loop, contained in the familiar streamlined cigar-shaped housing that is still to be seen on all but the very latest models of commercial and military aircraft.
Most importantly, by using the signal from the non-directional antenna as a point of reference, the modern instrument is able to indicate the true direction of the transmitter from the receiver whereas the null-type indicator could do no more than tell that the transmitting station was somewhere along a line that passed through the center of the loop-antenna. Obviously, to obtain a useable null with the old system the signal must be several times louder than the background noise. With the radio compass, a useable bearing may be taken on a station that is not readable through the noise. All of these things combine to convince me that Miss Earhart would have reached Howland Island if the radio compass had still been installed in her airplane.
We built six of these prototypes. I was at that time vice president and chief engineer of the Radio Products Division of Bendix Aviation, which was one of the small companies later combined into Bendix Radio. Vincent Bendix had retained Harry Bruno as his personal public relations counsel and he distributed these prototypes where he thought they were most likely to get his name into the papers. One of them went to Dick Merrill and Harry Richman, and we installed it on the Northrup Alpha they flew across the Atlantic and landed in Ireland. They both told me they owed their lives to the radio compass.
Harry had broadcast to his public over their 50 watt transmitter until the airplane ‘s battery was flat, so when they reached England they were able to use only their receiving equipment. It was foggy and they flew around for 24 hours before they found a hole they could get down through. They said they surely would have been back over the ocean if they had not had the radio compass on board. Just to bear out your contention about the transmitting range of the 50 watt transmitter I listened to Harry on my receiver in Dayton, Ohio on 3100 kilocycles until he was about halfway across the Atlantic.
Another prototype was turned over to the United States Army Air Corps at Wright Field. We installed it in a B-10 and connected the output to the directional control of the automatic pilot. I rode in this airplane on a nonstop flight from Dayton to Dallas, Texas and back. During the entire flight the pilot never touched the controls of the airplane. It was guided over the entire distance by the radio compass, which was tuned in to local broadcast stations and radio beacons along the way.
The pilot of that airplane was a very close friend of mine, George Holloman, who lost his life in the South Pacific during the war and who gave his name to Holloman Field. Later on, the same radio compass was installed in an ancient Fokker C-151 which made the first completely automatic takeoff and landing at Wright Field in 1937. Later the same year at Muroc Air Force Base, that airplane made the first completely automatic unmanned takeoff and landing. Another of these prototypes went to the Department of Commerce and one I personally installed for American Airlines on the first DC-3 to go into commercial passenger service.
Miss Earhart brought her airplane to Wright Field in Dayton where I made the installation of our equipment. I spent most of the day with her and I concur with your description of her. She was attractive, charming, gracious — a real lady. She had with her a pretty young girl straight from the sticks, named Jacqueline Cochrane. We had lunch together in the cafeteria at the Field. So far as I know Miss Cochrane is still living and should be able to verify this part of the story.
I don’t remember when I learned that the radio compass had been removed from Miss Earhart ‘s plane before she took off on her world flight. The Radio Research Company of Washington, D.C. was another Bendix division. Its vice president was Laurence A. Hyland, who is now, or was until very recently, vice president and general manager of Hughes Aircraft. Hyland had been a Navy man and his company manufactured the standard Navy aircraft direction finder. As I understood it, Hyland convinced Miss Earhart that she should not trust such a new fangled device as my radio compass and that she would be much safer with the good old reliable instead. From what you say about the Navy’s involvement in the affair, it could well have been that the Navy persuaded her to take out this piece of equipment that had been developed in connection with the Army Air Corps.
You can see why I read your book with more than casual interest and would like to see such a grand lady take her proper place in history.
Frederick J. Hooven
Hooven’s contention that if Amelia had used his radio compass she “would have reached Howland Island” was, of course, based on the assumption that she was actually trying to locate and land at Howland, and was not embarked on a far different and possibly covert flight plan. Many factors that have been presented and discussed in earlier posts argue for that, but we simply don’t know for sure.
After years of studying data from the Pan Am intercepts and other alleged radio receptions, Hooven presented his paper, Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight, which became known as The Hooven Report, at the Amelia Earhart Symposium at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum in June 1982. Citing the bearings on the signals reported by the three Pan Am radio stations and the Howland Island high-frequency direction finder supplied by the Navy, Hooven asserted it was “undeniable“ that the transmissions had originated from the downed fliers.
“Five bearings were taken on the weak, wavering signal reported on the frequency used by the Earhart plane,” Hooven wrote, “and four of them, plus the 157-337 position line of the last message all intersected in the general area of the Phoenix Group. This constitutes positive evidence of the presence of a transmitter in that area which could only have been that of the downed plane. No hypothesis purporting to explain the events of the last flight can be credited that does not offer a plausible explanation of these signals, and why they originated along the plane’s announced position line at the only location, except for Baker and Howland, where there was land.”
According to several knowledgeable researchers, Hooven later abandoned the Gardner Island idea after Goerner convinced him that regardless of the location of the source of questionable radio signals that inspired it, too many people had lived on Gardner for too many years without any trace of the Earhart Electra ever seen on the island. I’ve tried without success to locate any documents that reflect Hooven’s alleged reversal, which I believe actually occurred.
Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight established Hooven as the creator of the Gardner Island (Nikumaroro) landing theory, not the executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), Ric Gillespie, who has yet to credit Hooven publicly, at least to this writer’s knowledge. If he has finally done so, I expect to be corrected quite loudly and quickly, and will report it here. Lacking any other plausible alternative to the Marshalls-Saipan reality, our establishment media continues to deny the truth and force-feeds this rubbish, this long-debunked “Nikumaroro hypothesis,” to an incurious, gullible public, and to mislead all who remain willfully ignorant.
Fred Goerner’s 1991 letter to Life magazine’s Barnes: Hooven created Nikumaroro theory, not Gillespie
In my Oct. 26 post, we saw Fred Goerner’s rather moderately toned March 1, 1990 letter to TIGHAR’s Ric Gillespie, in which he gently warned the TIGHAR boss that the media would not long tolerate his false claims about Amelia Earhart’s alleged July 1937 landing on Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro). Of course Goerner, who died in 1994, couldn’t imagine the depths that our media would eventually plumb in their enthusiasm and commitment to disseminating anything that continues to keep the public stupid about the Earhart disappearance.
Fourteen years after Time magazine ripped The Search for Amelia Earhart as a book that “barely hangs together” and urged its readers not to waste their time on “conspiracy theories” about Japan’s pre-war atrocities, Goerner still didn’t fully comprehend the media’s deceitful Earhart agenda. But in his letter to Life magazine’s Ed Barnes, he adamantly insisted that Life should table any notions they had about promoting Gillespie’s Nikumaroro fantasies.
The below letter is most instructive, especially for those unfamiliar with the true history of Earhart research, and clearly illuminates the salient details of the Nikumaroro fallacy. The fact that Goerner was ignored by Life leaves no doubt about how far the media, in this case one of the pre-eminent news magazines of the day, will go to support the bogus over the true in the Earhart case.
Whatever Barnes thought of Goerner’s letter — and I’ve seen nothing hinting at that — Life published Gillespie’s self-aggrandizing propaganda piece in its April 1992 edition, countering the TIGHAR falsehoods only with a small, easily overlooked boxed insert that quoted a few experts who exposed Gillespie’s claims as pure kaka. Here’s Goerner’s letter, as relevant today as it was in 1991:
FREDERICK ALLAN GOERNER
Twenty-four Presidio Terrace
San Francisco, California 94118
October 11, 1991
Mr. Ed Barnes
New York, N.Y. 10020
Dear Mr. Barnes,
It is with some trepidation that I provide this information to you.
I stand behind the evidence I am presenting to you herewith, but I make it clear that I prefer not to be brought into what I consider to be the bogus claims of Dr. [sic] Gillespie, Ms. Thrasher and the organization known as TIGHAR: The International Group For Historic Aircraft Recovery.
You may use my name only if it is absolutely needed for verisimilitude.
First, I believe it is important for you to know that the McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) Islands theory is not the property of or the result of the work of Gillespie and TIGHAR [all bolded emphasis mine, capitalization emphasis Goerner’s throughout].
The work is the result of the efforts of Professor Frederick Hooven of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College. Hooven conducted a series of computer studies on the Earhart matter at Dartmouth, and I urged him in 1982 to write a paper regarding his conclusions that I might present to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., at the time I was participating in an Earhart symposium at NASM in 1982.
Professor Hooven did so prepare the paper, and I presented it to Ms . Claudia Oakes, who was then Associate curator at NASM and who had arranged the symposium. A copy of Hooven ‘s work is herewith attached.
I should here inform you that Frederick Hooven, among many, many impressive accomplishments, was the inventor of a low frequency air direction finder that was used for several decades aboard commercial and military aircraft. Hooven and the then U.S. Army Air Corps allowed one of those (then new) direction finders to be installed aboard Earhart’s plane, and Hooven met directly with Amelia Earhart. Because of pressures from her friend, Eugene Vidal, and a division of Bendix Radio, Earhart removed the Hooven device and replaced it with an older null-type, high frequency direction finding device then used by the U.S. Navy.
As you will note, Professor Hooven’s 1982 conclusions have been taken without attribution by TIGHAR. The very odd thing is that Hooven reached a conclusion before his death in 1985 (see attached obit) that NEITHER Gardner (Nikumaroro) or McKean could have been the landing places of the Earhart plane. His thinking was based upon a thorough research we conducted regarding the histories of both of these islands.
The initial Hooven research (represented by the paper presented to NASM) reached Gillespie and TIGHAR in this manner.
A gentleman named Hardon McDonald Wade, Jr., of Atlanta, Georgia became deeply interested in the Earhart mystery. He contacted me and learned about the Hooven paper. I wrote to Claudia Oakes at NASM on his behalf, and he was given a copy of Hooven’s work. Shortly thereafter Mr. Wade began to try to raise funds for an expedition to McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro ) Islands. He, too, presented the Hooven material without attribution.
Mr. Wade formed a partnership with a Mr. Thomas Willi of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and the two of them continued to attempt to raise funds. Finally, it was announced in the press (see attached item) that Wade and Willi had failed in their efforts to raise sufficient funds for the venture.
There was acrimony between Wade and Willi. According to Wade, he, Wade, “Kicked Willi out of the nest because he was trying to claim my work as his own.” This despite the fact the material belonged to Hooven.
Mr. Willi then formed a relationship with a gentleman named Thomas Gannon and they took the Hooven material without attribution to Dr. Gillespie and TIGHAR.
Dr. Gillespie telephoned to me in the spring of 1989 and told me of plans for a soon to be accomplished visit to both McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) Islands.
I in turn told him it was NOT ethical to use Hooven’s material without attribution, and I also told Gillespie that Hooven and I had long since reached the conclusion that McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro ) could not have been a landing place for the Earhart plane. I explained in detail the facts we had learned about both of the islands.
Mr. Gillespie admitted that he was aware of Hooven’s connection to the material, but he did not explain why he was not crediting Hooven other than to say that he, Gillespie, and TIGHAR had conducted additional research which firmed the conjecture about McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro).
I further pointed out to Gillespie that the chart in TIGHAR ‘s prospectus which showed the Pan Am direction finder bearings intersecting in the vicinity of McKean and Gardner Islands were identical to those of Hooven with the exception that one 201 degrees bearing from Wake Island and the 157 degrees bearing from Howland Island had been erased. He stated this was done because the material “was not relevant to the McKean/Gardner Island scenario.”
I told Gillespie that it was TOTALLY relevant because high frequency direction finder bearings circa 1937 were not considered to be accurate to within five degrees. The 201 degrees bearing showed that inaccuracy and the 157 degrees bearing taken from Howland Island showed the direction finder operator could not tell from which side of the loop he was receiving the signal. It could be 157 and it could be 337. It was unethical of TIGHAR not to make that clear.
I detailed the following information Professor Hooven and I had developed to Gillespie in 1989 both by telephone and letter.
We had personally contacted the three pilots from U.S.S. COLORADO who had overflown McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) Island in July, 1937, one week after the Earhart disappearance.
No sign of life or wreckage was seen on either of the tiny islands (McKean is less than 1 mile long and 1 mile wide). Gardner (Nikumaroro) is only 3.8 miles long and 1.1 miles wide at its broadest end.
Captain John Lambrecht, USN (Ret.), (who was the senior Navy aviator aboard COLORADO in 1937 and overflew both McKean and Gardner (Nikumaroro) one week after the disappearance, sent me his reports and they indicated “signs of recent habitation” had been observed on Gardner (Nikumaroro). Captain Lambrecht told me the “signs of recent habitation” were the crumbling walls of what appeared to have been buildings.
Gillespie and TIGHAR have chosen to interpret “signs of recent habitation” (despite Lambrecht’s explanation) as “an Earhart survival camp.”
In October, 1937 (see Maude statement and pages from OF ISLANDS AND MEN), three months after the Earhart disappearance, Henry E. Maude and a team of British surveyors landed on Gardner (Nikumaroro) and conducted a full investigation of the island and lagoon. Nothing was found that would link Earhart and Noonan to the island. The same was true at McKean Island.
In 1938, a joint New Zealand and British team (known as NZPAS, New Zealand Pacific Air Survey), headed by E.A. Gibson, M.W. Hay, R.A. Wimbish, Jim Henderon and Jack Faton, landed on Gardner (Nikumaroro) conducted a full survey. They surveyed for an airfield, and they cleared obstructions in the lagoon.
The survey, the brainchild of sir Ralph Cochrane and E.A. Gibson, had twin purposes: To prepare the islands for defense purposes in the event of a Pacific War. To claim the islands for Britain for possible later use for trans-Pacific commercial aviation [sic]. I obtained the information from the New Zealand National Archives and from Mr. Ian Driscoll the author of the book AIRLINE published in New Zealand.
The 1938 NZPAS survey found nothing that would indicate Earhart and Noonan had ever been on Gardner (Nikumaroro).
In 1939 Henry Maude returned to Gardner (Nikumaroro) with the first contingent of Gilbert Islands settlers. Gardner was then continually inhabited until 1964. A village was built on the island on the area which had been surveyed for the airfield. Thousands of coconut palms were planted. Even a post office was established. During all of this activity, nothing that would connect Earhart and Noonan to the island was found and nothing was reported.
In 1939, the U.S. Navy ship U.S.S. BUSHNELL surveyed Gardner Island for U.S. defense purposes. This survey also included aerial photos and mosaics of the island. Nothing concerning Earhart or Noonan was found or reported.
In 1943, the U.S. Coast Guard built a Loran navigation station on Gardner. Vehicles, construction equipment and building materials were brought ashore. This facility operated until well after the end of World War II. It is unclear the exact date the Coast Guard departed, but it appears to have been in 1947. Nothing concerning Earhart and Noonan was found. Coast Guard personnel, who served on Gardner during that period, report that every inch of the island was explored again and again because there was little else to do save the evening movie. Nothing concerning Earhart and Noonan was found or reported.
Though Gardner was abandoned by its Gilbert Islands settlers in 1964, the island was surveyed in the 1960s and again in the 1970s with respect to the operation of the Pacific Missile Testing Range and NASA operations. Gardner has also been visited by a Smithsonian Institution expedition interested in the bird population of the island. Gardner has also been visited by private yachts from time to time, including visitors who sailed down from Canton Island to the north.
It is because of the information listed above that Professor Hooven and I reached the conclusion that Gardner (Nikumaroro) could not have been the Earhart/Noonan landing place.
Despite knowing all of this, Dr. Gillespie and TIGHAR spent more than $200,000 (by Gillespie’s statements to the media) on the 1989 visit to Gardner (Nikumaroro), and according to reports is spending more than $400,000 of contributors’ money on the current endeavor.
One may legitimately ask WHY and also ask can Gillespie and TIGHAR afford to come back empty handed?
After the 1989 trip, Gillespie tried to tell the media that a “battery” he had found COULD have come from the Earhart plane. Mary DeWitt, who was a member of the 1989 group, says there were old batteries all over the island. No surprise given the number of vehicles on the island over the years and the long occupation. Gillespie ceased to push the “battery.”
Then Mr. Gillespie attempted to convince the media that a cigarette lighter he had found on the beach belonged to Fred Noonan because Noonan was a smoker. When it was pointed out that hundreds of thousands of U.S. service personnel carried such lighters during World War II, Gillespie ceased to push the “Noonan cigarette lighter.”
Then Mr. Gillespie attempted to float a bit of metal (with a serial number) as part of Earhart’s radio equipment. I have no idea what happened to that gambit other than Gillespie no longer mentioned it to the media.
Finally, last year Gillespie began to trumpet a piece of metal as having come from a navigation bookcase or cabinet aboard the Earhart plane. According to Ms. DeWitt, the bit of metal was found in the first hour ashore in 1989, and it was part of a catchment for rain in one of the buildings. It was not found by Gillespie but by the representative of the Kiribati government, who placed no significance upon it whatsoever.
It is clear to me that no one currently in the media has the background or possesses the information to challenge the incredible offerings of Gillespie and TIGHAR. There is a great lure to the Earhart mystery, and without either the information or the time to investigate, most reporters have simply reported Gillespie’s offerings because they make a good story.
Gillespie has hung most of his speculations upon a story which AP reported in 1961. It concerns one Floyd Kilts of San Diego, who stipulated he served briefly with the Coast Guard on Gardner (Nikumaroro) Island. (See attached original AP offering.)
Because we (CBS) were involved in the Earhart investigation in 1961, we dug into Kilts ‘ contentions. Bill Dorais, one of our reporters, learned it was fourth- or fifth-hand hearsay. Kilts could not remember exactly who had told him or who had told the person who told him. It could not even be given the dignity of naming it a rumor. A motion picture had been screened at the Coast Guard facility (it was undoubtedly FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM which was thinly disguised Earhart fiction) which alleged Earhart might have gone down near Gardner. The FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM plot has Earhart heading for “Gull Island.” There is a Hull Island in the vicinity of Gardner (Nikumaroro), and that had begun conjecture about the Phoenix Islands.
Subsequent investigation indicated that NO FEMALE SKELETON wearing WOMEN’S SHOES was ever found on the beach at Gardner. The man stated by Kilts as the “white planter” was actually a gentleman named G.B. Gallagher (see Maude material) who directed the settlement and who died on Gardner Island (and is buried there) in 1941.
The Suva, Fiji governmental history archivist replied that NO skeleton was ever reported found on a Gardner Island beach, and in 1968, while filming the documentary THE BATTLE FOR TARAWA, I spoke with the Deputy Director of the Gilbert, Ellice and Phoenix Islands government at Tarawa, Mr. P.G. Roberts. He said there was a legend among the Gilbert Islands people that the skeleton of a Polynesian man was found at Gardner, but this was definitely pre-1937.
The TIGHAR claim that the woman’s skeleton had women’s shoes of “Amelia Earhart’s size” is total fiction (see Maude letter.) Such a find would have been broadcast throughout the Pacific. It would have been a sensation.
You should ask Gillespie and TIGHAR where the evidence is that shoes of Earhart’s size were found. The truth is Earhart DID NOT WEAR WOMEN’S SHOE WHEN SHE WAS FLYING. She wore men’s low-heel brogans, see photos taken the morning before the final takeoff from Lae, New Guinea July 2, 1937.
We at CBS dismissed Kilts ‘ story in 1961, and I mentioned it derisively in my 1966 book THE SEARCH FOR AMELIA EARHART. For Gillespie and TIGHAR to spend such large amounts of tax-free donated funds upon such evidence beggars the wildest kind of fiction.
I am herewith attaching copies of letters from Henry Made to Dr. [sic] Gillespie and to me. I am also sending a copy of a letter from me to Maude in which the specific questions are asked.
Professor Maude is a former Fellow at the Pacific History Center at the Australia National University at Canberra. He and his wife, Honor, are the leading scholars in the world with respect to the Central Pacific Islands and in particular Gardner (Nikumaroro) Island. It was Professor Maude who led the expedition there in October 1937.
I do not know what Gillespie will do when he does not find the plane at Gardner on the current visit there. Will he dig up some pitiful remains? There are plenty there: Polynesians, Gilbertese, Gallagher are buried there and maybe more. He does not have permission to invade those graves, but he must bring something back. Knowing what I do about the past gambits of Gillespie and TIGHAR, I would not put ANYTHING past him. Certainly he will come back with more bits of metal or perhaps the soles of some shoes which “may have belonged to Noonan.” It is not beyond my belief that Gillespie will attempt to salt the mine in some way.
I am going to reserve the information concerning Earhart’s and Noonan’s dental charts until I see what develops. I will not be a party to any chicanery or attempts to prolong this nonsense.
It should be obvious to you that I have no vested interest in any of this. My book THE SEARCH FOR AMELIA EARHART has been out of print since 1970, and I have not attempted to insinuate my name into the media where this subject is concerned since that time. I have answered questions posed to me by members of the media, and I will continue to do so. For instance, I am providing this same material to my friend, Bill German, who is Executive Editor of the San Francisco CHRONICLE newspaper.
It is possible that I will one day write another book which details the incredible array of characters who have struggled to make capital of the Earhart disappearance in the last twenty years, including the yo-yos who have tried to claim that she was until 1984 alive and well and living in New Jersey. Wow! Barnum lives.
By the way, the recent claim of a photo showing Earhart and Noonan in Japanese custody is baloney as well. I immediately recognized the photo as one taken in Honolulu in March, 1937, at the time Earhart cracked up her plane on the first attempted flight around-the-world. I am also herewith enclosing the story from Florida about how and when the photo was taken. By the way, Joseph Gervais and Rollin Reineck, who attempted to float the “in captivity” photo are the same gentlemen who claim Earhart was living in New Jersey until 1984 under the name Irene Bolam. Irene Bolam, by the way, sued Gervais in 1970 and collected an out-of-court settlement.
I have been informed that Gervais and Reineck have tried to counter TIGHAR publicity with the bogus photograph because they are trying to sell an Earhart script in Hollywood. It’s one batch of crap battling another pile of same.
Beware, Mr. Barnes, this is a real journalistic tar baby.
As Professor Maude puts it, “In Australia, we call it bull.”
Goerner was not a racist, but he was a bit of an old-school reporter, so if you’re not real clear on what he meant by calling the Earhart story “a real journalistic tar baby” in closing his letter to Barnes, it’s understandable. Webster’s New World defines the term “tar baby” as “a difficult, abstract problem that worsens as one attempts to handle it,” which certainly captures the essence of the Earhart story.
Goerner’s letter, written in good faith with the best of intentions, was obviously ignored en masse by Life magazine’s decision makers, and probably by Barnes himself. The Gillespie-penned piece published by Life did much to launch Gillespie to international recognition as the world’s most visible Earhart “expert,” despite the fact that he’s never found anything that would justify such a claim. The charade and pretense continue to this day. This and many other incidents offer us clear evidence that the government-media establishment was and continues to be actively involved in misinforming the American public about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. No other conclusion is possible.