“Two very strange telegrams,” is the way Bill Prymak described these compelling missives in the opening pages of Volume 1 of his Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. I don’t know how Prymak procured these provocative documents, or even if they were ever made public before they appeared in the AES Newsletters. I’ve never seen them anywhere else, but maybe someone can shed more light. In his brief note at the bottom of the page, Prymak wrote:
July 30, 1937 from [U.S. Secretary of State] Cordell Hull to American Embassy London, and [second] telegram from [George Palmer] Putnam to Marvin McIntyre, personal secretary to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. We are digging to find out what is so ‘hurtful and internationally embarrassing to all concerned.’ Putnam evidently knew something that had to be kept from the American public; could be that he knew AE did survive July 2nd.”
Here’s the first telegram, from Cordell Hull to the American Embassy in London. At the time, the U.S. Ambassador to Britain was Robert Worth Bingham, whose name has never been associated with the Earhart story, to my knowledge.
In the telegram (above) Hull flatly states that “evidence that to many sources seems positive indicates that Amelia Earhart (Mrs. Putnam) was on land the two nights following her disappearance.” What “evidence” is Hull referencing in his July 30, 1937 telegram, written less than two weeks after the official Navy and Coast Guard reports failed to list a single instance of any such evidence? (See also Truth at Last, pages 38-57.) To this day, these reports are cited as the official U.S. government position on the Earhart matter.
Otherwise, Hull is asking the British government, which owns the Gilbert Islands, to “continue a thorough search in those Islands” and that “Mr. Putnam would be glad to defray the expense involved.” Hull then reports that Putnam is offering an $8,000 reward for “any evidence leading to a solution of her disappearance whether in the nature of wreckage or more positive indication of what happened.”
Can anyone tell us why this statement from the eminent Secretary of State under Franklin D. Roosevelt, the longest serving SecDef (11 years) in U.S. history, has never been mentioned by the U.S. media in over 83 years of its dishonest coverage of the Earhart disappearance? Or has it?
Nearly a month later, Amelia Earhart’s husband, George Palmer Putnam, writes to Marvin McIntyre, FDR’s secretary, to complain that “after three weeks” he has been “unable to secure reply or cooperation British [sic] on small specific search financed by me.” Putnam asks McIntyre for help in “getting action at least information” on his request to Britain, adding that he is “anxious [to] head off threatened story by newspaper which knows situation some likely hurtful all concerned and internationally embarrassing.”
To summarize: These two telegrams sent soon after Amelia Earhart’s disappearance contain statements that strongly suggest that Secretary of State Cordell Hull and G.P. Putnam are in possession of facts that directly contradict the official U.S. story. Prymak’s AES Newsletters don’t offer anything further from Hull or Putnam along this thread, so we’re left to speculate just what Hull and Putnam were talking about.
What do you think?
David K. Bowman, 70, of Auburn, Wash., is a Vietnam veteran who retired from the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1991 after 25 years’ service, including 10 years in Naval Reserve Intelligence. In 2002 he retired from a 31-year civilian career with the State of Washington.
Since his retirement, Bowman, 70, has been busy with his longtime preoccupation with the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and has written more titles in that vein than anyone. Bowman’s books include Legerdemain: Deceit, Misdirection and Political Sleight of Hand in the Disappearance of Amelia Earhart (First Edition 2005, Second Edition published by Saga Books in 2007); The Story of Amelia Earhart (2012); SAIPAN: A Search for Amelia Earhart in Modern Saipan (2015); and Amelia Earhart Philately (Enlarged Second Edition): The World’s First Book on Amelia Earhart Philately (2016). 2012 was especially busy for Bowman, as he published two books unrelated to his Earhart work: Tales of Westpac: Memoirs of a Carrier Sailor of life on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, and The Forgotten Stars: Great Forgotten Talents from the Golden Days of Motion Pictures. He tells me he’s working on yet another new book, A Waiting Dragon. To visit Bowman’s website, please click here.
Bowman’s story, “The Psychic World of Amelia Earhart,” initially appeared in the June 21, 2009 edition of Wings over Kansas website, and he’s kindly allowed me to offer it to you today. All the photos, with the exception of the small shot of Amelia in white aviator’s togs, have been added here.
“The Psychic World of Amelia Earhart”
by David K. Bowman
Merciless life, laughs in the burning sun, and only death, slow circling down, Shadows.”
– Amelia Earhart
On a stormy day in June 1928, the Fokker tri-motor Friendship dipped down out of a leaden sky to land in the bay near Burry Port, Wales. The airship taxied through the pouring rain to a nearby buoy and cut its engines. A moment later, crewman Louis “Slim” Gordon, opened a door in the fuselage, hopped out, and moored the ship to the buoy.
At the controls of the airship was Wilmer “Bill” Stultz, and in the passenger compartment was a woman, who up until that flight, had been a recreational aviator and a social worker in Boston. On that rainy morning, however, she was catapulted to international celebrity. Her name was Amelia Earhart.
A few months before, the young, boyish woman with tousled hair, had been asked to an interview by George Palmer Putnam, the wealthy and powerful head of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, publishers. An athletic adventurer, writer, and promoter, Putnam had been asked by wealthy New England socialite Amy Guest, who had purchased a Fokker tri-motor aircraft from Admiral Richard Byrd, to find a woman to fly across the Atlantic in that aircraft. Initially, Mrs. Guest planned to make the flight herself, to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, but had been pressured out of the flight by her worried family.
A masterful promoter, George Palmer Putnam, or “G.P.” as he liked to be called, immediately seized upon the young Amelia Earhart at their first meeting. Earhart was tall, slim and had a remarkable physical likeness to recent aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, whose nickname was “Lucky Lindy.” Putnam instantly christened her “Lady Lindy,” a nickname that Earhart deplored.
When asked if she wanted to make the flight, Earhart unhesitatingly jumped for it, as she was plucky, adventurous, and ambitious. She knew an opportunity when she saw one. As she said later, “You don’t turn down an opportunity like that!”
The rest was history. Immediately after the flight of the Friendship, commemorative medals were struck and sold, and the young aviatrix embarked upon a number of product endorsements.
At the same time, GP hustled his young protégé off to his luxurious estate, Rocknoll, in Rye, N.Y., so that she would have the privacy and peace to write an account of her famous flight. This she did, and before the end of 1928, 20 Hours, 40 Minutes was published. To this day, it is an important historical source and a sought after collectible.
Earhart then embarked upon a lucrative and busy lecture tour to discuss her new book. Upon her return to New York, she was appointed Aviation Editor for Cosmopolitan Magazine. By then, in 1929, she was all the rage.
Dissatisfied with being just a passenger on the first transatlantic flight — mere “baggage,” as she called it — Earhart determined to pilot the Atlantic Ocean herself and spent the next four years in preparing for this. Preparations were set back by a crash during a practice flight in Norfolk, Virginia in 1930, which necessitated lengthy repairs that weren’t completed until 1931. Shortly after the Norfolk crash, GP obtained a divorce from his wife, Dorothy, and the following February, in 1931, he and Earhart were married in a quiet ceremony.
In May 1932, the aviatrix took off from Newfoundland and successfully crossed the Atlantic in 15 hours, 18 minutes, landing in a pasture in Londonderry, Ireland, and becoming the first woman to successfully pilot the Atlantic.
Over the next five years, under GP’s guidance, Earhart set more aviation records, participated in various aviation events, continued to tour the lecture circuit, was the spokesperson for a multitude of products, and lent her name to several businesses. One of them was a line of women’s clothing, which she personally designed. Another was a high-quality line of luggage that continued be manufactured for years after her disappearance.
Earhart also became actively involved in establishing commercial air routes and founding airlines. Beyond that, she was an ardent feminist in the best sense of the term, a public figure who radiated strength and independence, who eschewed the conventional female role and forged a new one for herself. On her passport, under “occupation,” she had entered “flyer.” And whenever she was on an airfield, she habitually wore custom tailored gabardine slacks, an open-throated man’s sport shirt with a knotted silk scarf, and a leather flying jacket. They became her trademarks. She was one of the most talked about, fashionable, admired, beloved and emulated women of the 1930s. She was an icon. Her name was a household word. Even the press referred to her more often as not as just “Amelia.” Everyone knew they were talking about the one and only Amelia Earhart.
During her brief career, she was always thinking about the next flight, because these flights kept her in the public eye. During her preparations for the round-the-world flight, she told a friend, “I think I’ve only got one more good flight left in me.” That remark turned out to be more prescient than Earhart could know.
Nine years later, in July 1937, the famed aviatrix suddenly vanished without a trace on the Lae to Howland leg of her round-the-world flight.
Many have tried to discover the ultimate fate of this charismatic flyer, but there is an aspect of Amelia Earhart’s life and disappearance which nobody has explored. I discovered it during my research for my book LEGERDEMAIN: Deceit, Misdirection and Political Sleight of Hand in the Disappearance of Amelia Earhart (Author House 2005). This aspect is almost more interesting than her aviation career and even her disappearance.
For, aside from being the First Lady of Aviation, as she was dubbed, Amelia Earhart was also a considerable psychic, or so some believed. Since she almost never discussed this side of her life publicly, information regarding it is scarce. However, through the use of an online newspaper database, I was fortunate enough to uncover a few accounts not seen for nearly 70 years.
The first is a lead item in a column entitled “The Washington Merry-Go-Round” by legendary journalist Drew Pearson and his partner, Robert S. Allen, in the Feb. 16, 1937 issue of the Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune. It reported as follows:
One development in connection with the recent air crashes which has been intriguing air officials is the way Amelia Earhart has gone psychic. America’s foremost woman aviator has now become the No. 1 seeress of the air. She believes she has developed a contact with the occult world by which she knows what happens in air crashes.
Her latest prediction is that May 10 she will make a startling discovery regarding the crash of the Western Air Express plane lost over the Wasatch Mountains on Dec. 15 between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, and not yet located.
Officials at first were inclined to laugh at Miss Earhart’s psychic messages. But her accuracy now has them mystified. When a United Airlines plane was lost just outside of Burbank, Calif., Dec. 27, Miss Earhart called the United Airlines office and told them to look on a hill near Saugus, a little town north of Burbank.
There the wreckage was found.
Again when the Western Air Express plane carrying Mr. and Mrs. Martin Johnson crashed Jan. 12, Miss Earhart reported the plane to be near Newhall, 15 miles north of Burbank, where it was found.
In the earlier crash of the Western Air Express in Utah, Miss Earhart had a vision to the effect that the bodies of the dead had been robbed by a trapper. Two days later, a trapper near Salt Lake City reported finding the wreckage, but then suddenly disappeared without giving the location of the plane.
This is the unfound plane regarding which Miss Earhart expects to make a startling discovery on May 10.
Two days later in the Elyria, Ohio Chronicle-Telegram, for Feb. 18, 1937, an interview with Earhart in Cleveland was published. In part of the interview, she commented on the Drew Pearson column. Given the details of the Drew Pearson column, it was quite clear that Earhart was trying to completely downplay her psychic ability. That portion of the interview ran as follows:
A few days ago a Washington columnist reported Washington agog over Amelia’s “psychic” ability to predict the location of lost planes. Commenting on the story today, Mrs. Putnam said: “I suppose the story got started when I was searching north of Salt Lake City when all the others were searching south. The reason I went that way was not because I had been visited by spirits, but because that plane had a 50 mile tail wind and I reasoned it had been further along than the others thought.”
A check of newspapers for later in the year revealed news releases in June regarding the missing plane. The Hammond (Indiana) Times for June 8 reported on operations to remove the bodies of the crash victims and retrieve the mail and valuables from the wreckage. Evidently the craft had been discovered within the previous day or so, and interestingly, there was no mention of Amelia Earhart or the trapper who had reported the downed aircraft.
The two events are the only ones of Amelia Earhart’s psychic ability to be found in the records so far. They seem to represent the only instances in which Amelia Earhart’s psychic side was revealed.
It’s understandable why Earhart would have all but debunked herself in the manner she did, as in a conservative era such as the 1930s a celebrity wouldn’t want to be stigmatized in this way. In those days, to be known as a psychic carried the risk of being thought of as a “kook,” and Earhart’s ambitions allowed no room for distractions such as this. Not long after her interview in the papers, another editorial confirmed Earhart’s concern, when it remarked that it was pleasant to hear that Miss Earhart has denied the reports of her psychic ability.
A remarkable article, entitled “Is Amelia Earhart Still Alive?” was published in the December 1939 and January 1940 issues of Popular Aviation. It described the communications from psychics received by GP, and also gave further hints regarding Earhart’s own psychic side. The relevant portion ran:
In looking back through the bright pages of Amelia Earhart’s adventurous life, George Putnam remembered something that might explain the curious fervor of all those men and women who wanted to help in his hour of despair. It was simply that Amelia Earhart herself had a fragile psychic quality, some strange susceptibility to conditions beyond understanding. She rarely mentioned it to friends, never discussed it publicly. But whenever AE participated in mental telepathy or psychic experiments to further her curiosity, observers were astonished at the results. And yet she never involved or followed the advice of countless clairvoyants and astrologers who besieged her at every stage of her great flights.
She used to say, laughing gaily: “I haven’t the courage to tell people my plans in advance. A pilot shouldn’t worry and if I listened to every prediction I’d probably never leave the ground.”
And, indeed, Earhart received profuse advice from psychics before her various flights. The feedback was usually in the form of warnings to her not to attempt her flight. And of course, each flight had been successful after all. That’s probably the reason that, despite her knowledge of the reality of psychic phenomenon and her own psychic ability, Earhart disregarded all psychic warnings just before her round the world flight.
After Earhart’s disappearance, psychics entered the picture again, via huge numbers of telegrams, letters and phone calls to G.P. Commendably, he gave impartial consideration to every communication, even occasionally spending considerable sums to follow out promising leads.
Of all the strange communications that Putnam received after his wife’s disappearance, the telegram he received on a late July morning at his Hollywood home in 1937 may have been strangest. It ran:
Amelia Earhart alive on coral shoal on one of Gilbert Islands latitude 2 above equator 174 longitude. This message received by Mr. L— New York Medium.
An hour later, Putnam received a short note from a Captain T__ M__ of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia:
. . . I am the retired captain of a copra boat that used to trade in the South Seas. I just happened to remember an uncharted island that we frequently visited for turtle eggs. The Gilbertese natives know where it is, too. The island is at—
Here Putnam stopped in surprise and called his son David to locate the telegram he had received earlier that day. A few moments later, David returned with the telegram and the two compared the position given in that document with the position given in the note from Nova Scotia. Amazingly both positions were the same!
Putnam called the captain in Nova Scotia and the medium in New York for additional details. The details seemed sufficiently promising that the publisher immediately left for New York City, where two days later, he was able to arrange a check of the island by British authorities. A ship dispatched from Makin Island a short while later steamed for the location given in the two communications to Putnam.
But eerily, there was no island at the given location. This baffled Captain M— and his former crew members, who all swore they had visited the island a half-a-dozen times. The only explanation that could be put forth was that the island had suddenly been sunk by volcanic activity. G.P. spent $1,000 on that adventure.
In September 1937, Putnam was contacted by a friend who was prominent in literary circles, and who was a serious student of psychic matters. Putnam considered his friend of unimpeachable character and integrity. His friend told him that he had encountered a medium of amazing ability, whose performance was yet to be explained. According to Putnam’s friend, the medium in question was a woman who had two voices, her own and another, which came from someplace in her chest.
“Ventriloquism, perhaps?” Putnam interjected.
“No — I’ve already eliminated that possibility. The point is, George, she gave me a brief message from AE the other night.”
There was a moment of surprised silence.
“Oh . . . ” GP said.
“And there may be more. I just thought you’d like to sit in for a demonstration.”
“Of course,” GP agreed, and a date was set for the next night at 7:30 p.m.
The next night the medium appeared at the home of Putnam’s author friend in Los Angeles. Before the séance started, the woman was thoroughly examined for items hidden on her person and mouth taped shut. Untypical of such events, the lights were all kept on, with all participants crowding close to the medium. After just a few moments, a strange voice, like a soft whisper, erupted from the woman, although there wasn’t a sign of motion in the muscles of her throat or chest.
The following is the portion of the transcript of the séance which Putnam had recorded, including some of his responses, in parentheses) to specific statements the medium.
Voice: Fred was not at fault. It was unavoidable.
Putnam: Were they killed instantly?
Voice: No, on a reef…
Putnam: What direction from Howland?
Voice: Almost directly north. (There are no islands north of Howland.)
Putnam: Is it Kingman Reef?
Voice: Near there. There are Navy planes flying near there now. (This is November. The Navy search ended in July.)
Putnam: What will they find?
Voice: They will find wreckage, in the water near the island. (Nothing was ever found.) Putnam: What did Fred Noonan call his wife?
Voice: Fred want you to tell B. that it was not his fault… He is living. (Evasive answer)
Putnam: Who is living? Noonan?
Voice: He is not dead. He wanted you to know there is no death… Maitland. He is here.
Putnam: Is Kingford-Smith there?
Voice: Yes. Maitland and Kingsford-Smith.
Putnam: Wiley Post? And Will Rogers?
Voice: Yes. Yes. Amelia is among a lot of friends.
Putnam: What about her mother?
Voice: She has not given up hope. (That was true.)
Putnam: Can you ascertain from Amelia what word she used in addressing me? Does the name begin in with the letter “K”?
Voice: No, “P”.
Putnam: This is important; I want to get this right.
Voice: Pug, Pug or Pugsy. (AE actually gave me a nickname similar to this, although only one or two intimate friends knew it.)
Putnam: What was it Amelia always carried with her that she didn’t take this time and left it with me?
Voice: Her bracelet. (This is true. No one knew but myself.)
Putnam: What country did the bracelet come from?
Voice: Africa. (Only AE and I knew that.)
Putnam: What would she like me to do with the bracelet?
Voice: Keep it. You gave it to her, so you keep it.
Putnam: Will any of Amelia’s things, like her watch, ever be found?
Voice: No. Parts of the plane.
Putnam: Will you ask Amelia, please, if she had the Seagraves watch.
Voice: She did not. (Wrong. She did have it.)
Putnam: Where is her will?
Voice: In the safe-deposit box. With the watch. (Wrong).
Putnam: Ask Amelia if she knows about the trip I am contemplating. [In December 1937, Putnam left on a trip aboard the yacht Athene, owned by film producer Tay Garnett.]
Voice: Yes. That is very good. By all means go. (I was planning a cruise. I did go later.)
Abruptly, the séance ended, and George Putnam went home, puzzled by the experience. He was never able to explain the correct information presented by the medium. Had the medium merely read Putnam’s mind, or had she really relayed messages to the publisher from his deceased wife?
Probably the most famous psychic incident involved Jackie Cochran, one of Amelia Earhart’s closest friends, who was said to have psychic abilities of her own. After Earhart’s disappearance, Cochran contacted G.P., telling him that she had received strong psychic impressions that Earhart was floating at sea at a particular location northwest of Howland Island. Putnam practically moved heaven and earth to get the navy and coast guard to search that location. But the search was, unfortunately, fruitless, and two days later Cochran told Putnam that it was too late, that AE had perished.
Some 25 years after Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, a strange psychic postscript occurred on the Island of Saipan. Researcher, Eugene Sims began employment on Guam, from which Saipan could be reached by air in thirty minutes. As a part of his business activities, he began making weekly trips to Saipan.
Sims soon made friends with numerous families on the island, frequently discussing the disappearance of Amelia Earhart with the older members. He soon noticed that few people were comfortable openly discussing the aviatrix’ disappearance.
On one visit, Sims brought his wife with him and as part of a tour of the island, the two were shown Garapan Prison. They were taken to a cell that they were told once held Amelia Earhart. Sims took copious photos of the jail. A few days later, when Sims got the photos back from the processor, he was stunned to see, in one photo of Earhart’s cell a ghostly white figure standing in the metal door frame.
Thinking the photo to be some sort of laboratory error, Sims had another print made. It came out exactly the same. In an article in the Kwajalein Hourglass for Jan. 7, 2003 , Sims reminisced that as far as he was concerned, the image was a message from Earhart. For more on the Sims story, please see “Eugene C. Sims and the “Ghost of Amelia Earhart.”
Had Gene Sims captured the restless spirit of the long-missing aviatrix on film? And what could she have been trying to tell him?
The 80th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance approaches, and after all those years, we are left with more than just the mystery of her last flight. We are left with the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s remarkable ability and the even more profound mystery of the human psyche.
We begin 2017 with a look at the notorious Weihsien Telegram, as it was known, one of the more sensational claims we’ve seen in recent years. In 2001, this hot potato was relegated to the dustbin of dead-end myth, when researcher Ron Bright definitively disproved the idea that Amelia Earhart had been confined at the Weihsien, China civilian internment camp during World War II. This notion sprang from the 1987 discovery in State Department archives of an unsigned telegram, or “speedletter” to George Putnam from Weihsien in 1945; Amelia Earhart was soon “identified” as its sender by a group heavily invested in the Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam canard. The unsigned telegram reads, “Camp liberated — all well — volumes to tell — love to mother.” Sent from Weihsien, north China, and dated Aug. 28, 1945, this document created a huge buzz among researchers who speculated it could have been sent by Amelia herself.
During the ensuing debate within the Amelia Earhart Society, Bright, working with Patrick Gaston, an Overland Park, Kansas, attorney, obtained key documents, witness accounts and other evidence that helped put the lie to this lingering pest of a theory. Before we get to Bright’s findings, which hammered the final nails in the coffin of the Weihsien falsehood, we’ll hear from others involved in the promotion and debunking of this once-popular idea.
In the September 1993 issue of Omni Magazine, Amelia Earhart Society President Bill Prymak offered an informed rebuttal of the false claims by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) that Earhart crashed-landed on Nikumaroro Atoll, formerly known as Gardner Island, in the central Pacific’s Phoenix Chain. As for her true fate, Prymak said he had “tantalizing evidence but nothing concrete. We do have a telegram from her to her husband, George Putnam, which was dated Aug. 28, 1945, from a prison camp in China.” Thus, Joe Gervais’ long-discredited claim in Amelia Earhart Lives that Earhart had lived in the Emperor of Japan’s palace before returning to the United States as New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam was transformed into an equally implausible — if less glamorous — scenario. Bright’s findings would later force Prymak and most others to admit their errors, but not before several years of confusion had passed.
Though Prymak and many of his AES associates believed that the telegram sent to George Putnam “informed Putnam that his wife was alive” in a Japanese internment camp in 1945, others with knowledge soon attempted to debunk this notion. In late July 1993, Devine sent me a copy of a recent letter from Langdon Gilkey, 73, author of Shantung Compound (Harper and Row, 1966) to retired New York Police Department forensic specialist and Earhart theorist Jerome Steigmann, who died in 2003, as did Devine.
In 1943 Gilkey was an American bachelor teaching at Peking’s Yenching University, a privately owned Anglo-American school and one of 10 “Christian Colleges” in China. Gilkey was advised by the Japanese that he and other American and British nationals then in Peking would be sent to a “civilian internment center” for their “safety and comfort.” Many people, including doctors, professors, instructors, businessmen, missionaries and travelers were incarcerated in the facility in Weihsien. Shantung Compound is Gilkey’s account of his experience there. Gilkey was released from captivity on Sept. 25, 1945.
In his letter to Steigmann, Gilkey says, “I have never heard of the Yank female, nor of her solitary captivity in Weihsien. I am also as positive as I am of anything in my life that this story is fiction, that, in other words, it did not and could not have happened without one hearing or knowing of it. I am, as I say, as sure of this as I am of anything in my past.”
“Not one person of the hundred or possibly thousands of internees held at Weihsien has ever reported Earhart’s presence at the camp,” Devine wrote in “The Concealed Grave of Amelia Earhart,” his unpublished manuscript. “Langdon Gilkey certainly would have known, as he emphatically states.”
Responding to my July 2001 letter asking his clearance to quote him in my 2002 book, With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, Steigmann provided more evidence against the idea that Earhart spent time at Weihsien. He sent copies of a few introductory pages to The Mushroom Years: A Story of Survival (Henderson House Publishing, 1998), by Pamela Masters, another veteran of the Weihsien “Civilian Assembly Center.” Masters, who was held at Weihsien with her family, briefly discusses the alleged Earhart-Weihsien connection and says she recently located the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) major who commanded the operation to liberate Weihsien in 1945.
“The first time he heard of Amelia Earhart supposedly being in Weihsien was in December of ’97,” Masters wrote in her opening note to The Mushroom Years. “And to all those souls who want to find closure regarding Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, I empathize with you, but all I can say is: Forget Weihsien — look somewhere else.”
Steigmann also sent Devine a copy of a letter from former Col. John A. White of Millbrae, California, who wrote, “I have never heard anything about Amelia Earhart being a prisoner in China.” White told Steigmann a friend of his had been interned in Weihsien during World War II. Devine wrote to this woman, who informed Devine, “I have asked old friends whether the rumor was true about Amelia Earhart coming into the camp at the end of the war, and protected by Catholic priests and sisters. NO is the big answer.”Gilkey did not respond to Devine’s correspondence, but in another letter to him, Steigmann wrote, “In addition to the Gilkey letter, I have been in contact with other former internees of the Weihsien, China Camp. They all agree Amelia Earhart was never in the hospital or any other part of the camp.”
In late August 1993, Steigmann took his information to the Amelia Earhart Symposium, sponsored by the Amelia Earhart Society and held at Morgan Hill, Calif. There, amid a gathering of AES luminaries including Gervais, Prymak and Reineck, Steigmann ripped a gaping hole in the Weihsien Telegram theory: “The ‘Heavy Hitters’ of the AES were putting the audience to sleep,with their boring discussions about fuel, navigation, radio messages, etc.,” Steigmann wrote. “Ann P. [Pellegreno] persuaded the ‘Good Ole Boys’ to let me speak, and I ‘Awakened Them’ very fast, and even though there was a time limit, the audience insisted that I have all the time I needed to finish my scenarios. The AES ‘Clique’ [sic] were upset that they were upstaged by an ‘outsider!’ During the breaks, I was surrounded by publishers, authors, members of female flying groups, etc., who wanted me to speak at other events. Rollin Reineck, of Hawaii, who still claims Amelia was ‘interned’ at Weihsien, China, was not too happy when I produced additional letters from former camp residents that AE was never at the camp.”
Steigmann’s derailing of the telegram theory was convincing enough for Prymak and company to rethink their ideas. In the Dec. 3, 1993 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, Prymak wrote, “Steigmann’s conclusions seem most logical.”
Meanwhile, Steigmann had other ideas about the Earhart disappearance, strange flights of fancy far removed from logic. In Steigmann’s world, Amelia was a “double agent, working simultaneously for the U.S. Marine Corps, the ONI and the Japanese from the early 1920s through her contact with Admiral Yamamoto and Japanese Naval Intelligence: As an agent for Japan, Amelia Earhart rendered technical assistance to the Japanese Naval air forces and in the development of their fighter plane, the Zero. She furnished Japanese Naval Air Intelligence photos of U.S. Army and Navy airfields in Hawaii as well as their schedules.”
Steigmann also advocated the Joe Gervais-Joe Klass idea that Earhart lived in the Japanese Imperial Palace during the war: “When Amelia was liberated from ‘guest status’ at the Imperial Palace, she was secretly repatriated to the U.S. by the unseen hand of the Secretary of the Navy Forrestal. It was Forrestal who had inherited the Amelia Earhart mission from his predecessors, who was the prime architect when Amelia was facially renovated at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.”
Steigmann concluded his fantasy by claiming Earhart “is still alive, at 96, awaiting the appropriate time to emerge from her long exile.” Steigmann sent Devine a copy of an unidentified tabloid with a picture of Earhart, Fred Noonan and the Electra. The story is headlined “Amelia Earhart’s Plane Is Found — In Japan” and subtitled “U.S. knew it for 48 years.” As if this validated Steigmann’s ideas, he wrote over the headline, “It was never on Aslito Airfield, Saipan!” and under the subtitle he wrote, “So did Jerry Steigmann.”
Devine had no use for such delusions, nor did he need Steigmann to shed the light of truth on the Weihsien Telegram theory. He already possessed decades-old information that strongly suggested the possible identity of the telegram’s originator, and it certainly wasn’t Amelia Earhart.
“Many years ago, during my early investigation, I had located the son of George Putnam. David Binney Putnam was in the real estate business in Florida,” Devine explained. “During our phone conversation, he was a bit cool regarding Amelia since it was Amelia who parted his parents. I questioned as to which branch of the service he may have served in during the war. He immediately responded he had spent most of the war years in a prison camp in China. I did not want it to appear that I was about to cross-examine him so I did not press on which branch of the service he may have served in. But he may have been incarcerated as an American citizen, or he could have been employed in clandestine activities involving our secret Office of Strategic Services [OSS].”
Devine said that when he first heard about the telegram, he was merely amused. He recalled visiting Muriel Morrissey in Boston in 1961: “She was pleasantly surprised when I mentioned David Binney Putnam, and asked me for his address, which I forwarded to her on a later date. She had lost track of him for many years. He was, she said, in a prisoner-of-war camp, which she thought was in China. When I first saw the news item of a woman in Washington who had found the cablegram, unsigned, I thought it may have been one that he had sent to his father. I never realized that Gervais and his cohorts would stipulate it was from Amelia. I had nothing in writing to refute them, only a phone conversation.”
Seeking to confirm his theory, Devine tried to contact David Binney Putnam in 1993, but learned he had passed away in May 1992. Hoping David’s brother, George P. Putnam Jr., could help clear things up, Devine was initially disappointed. Finally responding to Devine’s inquiries, Putnam told Devine he hadn’t the “faintest idea” what he was talking about. “No member of our family was ever in prison in China during the WWII era,” Putnam told Devine.
“If Putnam had received a telegram from his wife Amelia in 1945, he would have announced it to the entire world. Since it was unsigned, Putnam would know it was from his son of a prior marriage,” Devine wrote. “‘Love to mother’ was indicative of this association. Prymak’s remark, ‘We do have a telegram from her to her husband George Putnam which was dated Aug. 28, 1945 from a prison camp in China’. . . perpetuates the three-ring atmosphere, rather than the authenticity of the tragedy that befell Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Perhaps the general public is receptive to some of the rumors peddled by these individuals, since they are so succinctly resolved. But because of my firsthand knowledge and eyewitness involvement, I feel it is sickening.”
The Weihsien Telegram’s true author found
As it turned out, Devine’s best guess was wrong. Ron Bright and Patrick Gaston initiated a well-executed investigation aimed at nailing the source of the Weihsien Telegram, the details and results of which were initially published in the May 2001 TIGHAR Tracks newsletter. As I’m not a member of TIGHAR, Bright kindly provided a copy for my use, and it was included in With Our Own Eyes.
Bright found that the author of the controversial telegram was Turkish author and world traveler Ahmad Kamal, who was interned at Weihsien from summer 1943 to August 1945. Kamal knew George Putnam well enough to ask him to look in on his elderly mother, who apparently lived in the Los Angeles area, while he was away. Bright also secured what he called “the entire list of the 1,800 plus internees at Weihsien” from former camp administrator Desmond Powers, a Canadian. Needless to say, Amelia Earhart’s name wasn’t on the list.
(Editor’s note: A google search reveals a site that contains a spread sheet that claims to be said list of Weihsien internees. Neither Amelia Earhart nor any Putnam is on it. To view the list, please click here.)
Kamal died in 1989, but Bright found his son, Turan-Mirza Kamal (1951–2004) an American-born classical guitarist and composer, in Southern California, and the veil on the Weihsien mystery was finally lifted. Kamal told Bright his father was a pilot, and kept his airplane at Burbank Airport in the early 1930s, where he met Howard Hughes, George Putnam and Amelia Earhart.
Bright’s investigation finally put the Weihsien speculation to rest. Here is the former ONI agent’s summary of his findings:
Sometime about 1939–1940, Kamal returned to China where he met and married his wife at Tientsin, China. The war broke out in December 1941 and, soon afterward, the Japanese Secret Police captured him and his wife. Refusing to cooperate, they were transferred to Weihsien Camp in the summer of 1943. There they remained until liberated in August 1945.
According to his son, shortly after the camp was liberated, Kamal sent out two radio messages: One to Scribner and Sons about publishing a book, and one to George Putnam. His son said he has seen either notes or a journal of that message and could repeat it almost by heart — something like “camp liberated, all was well, volumes to follow and love to mother.” The “love to mother” was added, said Kamal’s son, because Putnam had agreed to look after Kamal’s aging mother when Kamal left for China. Mrs. Kamal lived nearby and Putnam was to look in on her. It was an informal caregiver arrangement.
Kamal said his father often discussed Amelia Earhart and the mystery of her disappearance, and believed she went down in the sea. The elder Kamal had also told his son that Earhart was not at Weihsien while he was there, from 1942 until August 1945.
Kamal was an American, and probably a convert to Islam, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ian Johnson, author of A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). Johnson obtained Kamal’s FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, which reveals that Kamal was born on Feb. 2, 1914, in Arvada, Colo., and his birth name was Cimarron Hathaway; his mother was Caroline Grossmann Hathaway, his father, James Worth Hathaway. According to an interview Johnson obtained with a daughter, James was a stepfather and Cimarron’s biological father was Qara Yusuf, a Uyghur from Turkestan who was much older than Caroline – he was 64 and she 16 when they married.
Kamal’s 1940 book Land Without Laughter, was “one of those fascinating, slightly archaic, offbeat adventure books set in that mysterious region, Chinese Turkestan,” wrote Leslie Evans, whose review of A Mosque in Munich and more on Kamal can be found online at “The Strange Career of Ahmad Kamal and How He Helped the CIA Invite Radical Islam into Europe.” Kamal also wrote Full Fathom Five (Doubleday & Co. 1948), “a wonderful story of the sponge fishermen Americans of Greek ancestry of Tarpon Springs, Florida, their strange and beautiful customs, and the warmth and goodness of their way of life,” according to the book’s paperback description on Amazon.com. “It is a story told by Alek Paradisis, a man who believed he could solve any problem with his fist.”