Today we leave the sordid world of bogus claims about antique cars and enter the bizarre realm of fringe Earhart lore to hear from the “other Irene Bolam,” Irene E. Bolam, who gained her last name through an accident of marriage and was a sometime, little-regarded member of the Amelia Earhart Society whose total contributions can be found in the below essay. I have no photo of her, can’t find her maiden name, and know almost nothing of her, or whether she’s even still alive.* But she did have a few opinions, not all coherent, about the better-known Irene with the same last name, and she voices them in the below essay for the AES readership.
Shortly after publication of Joe Klaas’ Amelia Earhart Lives * in 1970, Irene Bolam held a well-attended but brief news conference in which she spoke only a few sentences, although these were most emphatic, according to observers. Holding an upside-down copy of the source of her consternation, she labeled it a “cruel hoax,” slammed the book on a table, roared, “I AM NOT AMELIA EARHART!” and left the room. Seven weeks later, publisher McGraw-Hill ceased sales of Amelia Earhart Lives and pulled it from shelves nationwide; no official explanation was ever given.
lrene’s written denial to Klaas and Joe Gervais, “I am not she,” was apparently too succinct and unassertive to convince them of her veracity. For the record, Irene Craigmile Bolam (Oct. 1, 1904 – July 7, 1982) was a former aviatrix who claimed to know Amelia Earhart and other celebrities, but in middle age had morphed into a devoted wife, financial manager, world traveler and resident of Monroe Township, Middlesex County, New Jersey, but these real and verifiable facts evaded the Earhart-addled Gervais, who never accepted them, at least publicly.
For anyone who would like to learn or get reacquainted with the odious details of the long-debunked, worm-eaten Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth, please see “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV,” on Dec. 29, 2015, the first of a four-part series I wrote on this dark chapter of the Earhart saga, as well as the 2005 jointly written “Amelia Earhart’s Survival and Repatriation: Myth or Reality?” also known as “The Atchison Report.”
The following essay by the “other Irene Bolam” appeared in the December 1993 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
“A Personal View of Irene Bolam”
By Irene E. Bolam
Irene O’Crowley Craigmile Heller Bolam acquired her name the same way I did: by marrying one of the Bolam brothers. Her husband, Guy Bolam, was the first son of their father, born in England at the turn of the century. My husband, John was the last son, born in the U.S., 31 years later. So Irene became-a sister-in-law in the family when she married Guy in 1958, albeit more than a generation from us in age. John and I first met her in 1964 when we returned from Germany. She and Guy picked us up at JFK airport and took us to their home in Bedford Hills, N.Y. for several days. Irene was gracious, friendly, generous, helpful, funny, intelligent, worldly, and very much in charge of things. Guy was charming, intelligent, worldly, dapper, opinionated, but a stubborn Englishman who was hard to live with.
Regardless of what the New Jersey psychic said about Irene’s problems with love, marriage and grief during the first half of her life, she and Guy finally found true love when they married in their 50s. She was a perfect asset for his worldwide business dealings. They made friends easily, loved to travel, and people were delighted to be with them. Yet we believe that foremost they were friends and protectors of each other, and perhaps the keepers of each other’s secrets.
Guy and Irene traveled extensively and often, because he worked with Radio Luxembourg. Since he was born and raised in England, they spent much time with friends there. They met the author Lady Mary Stewart (from Scotland) on a train in southern Europe. Later while dining at their hotel they saw her sitting alone in the same dining room. Guy asked her to join them, and a very deep and lasting relationship continued between their families for the rest of their lives. Guy and Irene knew people all around the world, some of which were well known figures in high places. We can’t say there was anything odd or deceptive about this. Irene, especially, was very outgoing and friendly. If she liked you, you were a friend forever. People liked her immensely, and would proudly introduce her to others. She was intelligent, articulate (except for occasionally salty and sometimes acerbic language), and had a commanding presence. She knew a lot of important people, including many high ranking military officers, astronauts, and flyers.
Irene and Guy made the trip to Boston once a year for physical checkups at the Lahey Clinic. During the last three years of Guy’s life, John was working near Boston, so we were able to visit during their week-long stays. It has been written that Irene didn’t really do much flying, became inactive in 1933, and let her license lapse in 1937. However she knew a lot about early flying and spoke fondly of it. One night in 1969, when Guy was in the hospital and Irene was very worried about him, we spent a long evening in a restaurant atop one of the insurance buildings in downtown Boston. Since John and I were taking flying lessons at the time, we were delightfully entertained by Irene’s stories of learning to fly.
When she was ready for her first solo flight in an old biplane with an OX-5 engine, the instructor gave her careful instructions about flying once around the field and landing again. She took off OK, but as she leveled off at pattern altitude her plane started to trail a plume of smoke (apparently the water-cooled engine had a leak in the radiator). While the instructor waved frantically for her to cut the flight short and land immediately, she doggedly continued to follow his original instructions and made a long leisurely downward leg and approach. As luck would have it, she landed safely amid a cloud of smoke and wondered what all the fuss was about.
Irene related other interesting anecdotes, including the fact that she knew many of the famous flyers of the time, including Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart, and that she had indeed flown with some of them. She appeared to be completely familiar with any subject we might bring up about flying in the old days, such as types of planes, instruments, early airports, etc.
Irene also loved to go shopping and buy whatever she pleased with little regard to the price. Not everything she bought was for herself, however. She also showered gifts on her friends, often bringing back woolen items from Scotland, and linens from Ireland to give away. One time in their Boston hotel room, she was trying on a lounging outfit to show another friend and me. The friend asked how old I was, and I told her. Irene came storming out of the bathroom and said, “Don’t EVER tell anyone how old you are!” She managed to get away with that philosophy throughout her life; perhaps there’s a lesson here for all of us?
After Guy died in 1970, she continued to manage the Radio Luxembourg accounts while trekking around the world. She rarely traveled alone, always talking one of her women friends into accompanying her on interesting adventures. Her Christmas cards told of the places she had been that year, or the ones she intended to visit next. She thoroughly enjoyed life, people, events, theater, travel, new heights. She was the epitome of a “Classy Lady.”
What do we think about the Irene Bolam/Amelia Earhart connection? After a most fascinating three days of the AES Symposium at the Flying Lady, our heads were swimming with the new information revealed. From Irene’s actions in numerous situations, we believe retired NYPD Forensic Specialist Jerome Steigmann’s conclusions seem most logical. His evidence indicates that Irene had been recruited by the U.S. government to play the role of a decoy, because Gervais & Klaas (and perhaps other researchers) were getting too close to the truth about Amelia. The government and Irene could “muddy the waters” of her past, in order to leave the impression that she might be Amelia, but maybe not. She could deny everything with vigor, act elusive with some interviewers and mislead others, refuse to let her fingerprints be taken, occasionally wear Amelia’s jewelry but deny that it was what it appeared to be.
Irene told us she was a member of both the Ninety-Nines and Zonta [International], but others say that her name doesn’t appear in the records of these organizations. Why then would they ask her to speak at their national and international meetings? As far as we know, she was just another female flyer, who never broke any records or made famous flights that might be reported in the newspapers of that time. Perhaps some of the older Ninety-Nines members knew more than they are telling about Irene being a decoy? She traveled a great deal, and could have used these trips to meet with Amelia and learn everything she needed to know about Amelia’s life.
Guy and Irene often entertained guests at their Bedford Village home. It was a country home and neighbors were some distance away, so Amelia could have visited there incognito. I can see how Irene might have gotten a kick out of playing the role, pretending to be mysterious, and keeping everyone guessing. John wonders if she might even have been associated with a covert government organization in the first place, and met Guy, a member of British MI-6, through that connection.
We were shown pictures at the AES meeting, and were asked if they were all Irene. Frankly, about half looked like her, and the other half were similar, but not quite the same! We are also curious as to whether her “lawyer,” ex-judge Kennedy, might have been connected with the government also? He was often at her side, or in the background, at interviews and public appearances. Could his role have been to see that she said the right things?
From letters, we know that Irene was bedridden for several months to a year with cancer of the spine before she died. But Robert Myers, author of Stand By To Die, who knew Amelia from the early 1930’s, claims to have had a meeting with Irene/Amelia in 1982 on a New Jersey street corner. While her driver waited a discreet distance away, she and Myers talked thru the window of her limo about the days at old Oakland airport when her [?] plane was being readied for the world flight. Myers said Irene died “a few weeks later.” (Italics mine.)
We find it hard to believe this could have been the same woman who was so incapacitated. Also, according to the last issue of the AES Newsletters, an old flame of Amelia’s from the early 1920s named Lloyd Royer contacted author Gervais in 1977, to tell him about the secret shenanigans with Amelia and her plane. He is the one who said a new plane was waiting in the skunk works hanger, complete with her N-number painted on the tail, even before her busted craft arrived from Hawaii. Royer told Joe that Irene Bolam had recently visited him and left a copy of “AE Lives” inscribed to him. Why would she do this if she hated the book? Could the real Amelia Earhart have traveled around meeting old friends under the guise of Irene Bolam? [For more on Royer, see my Feb. 24, 2021 post “Lloyd Royer’s Earhart claim: Truth or fancy?”]
In her final days, Irene was taken to an indigent hospital where they say she died. Her body was willed to Rutgers University Hospital with the stipulation that no fingerprints would be taken. The hospital later reported they had cremated her body and the ashes were buried in an unmarked grave. This sounds too much like a contrived “final solution” to this intriguing story.
Almost four months after Irene’s death, a memorial “dinner” was held at Forsgate Country Club in New Jersey — invited guests only. There were no Bolams on the list. None of the Bolam family were ever notified of Irene’s death. Richard Bolam. another brother, just happened to see her obituary in the St. Petersburg, Florida newspaper under the section of “celebrity” deaths. We think Irene would be amused to be able to continue playing her role, even after death. (End of “A Personal View of Irene Bolam.”)
The foregoing is apparently all that Irene E. Bolam left to posterity and the record, at least as it’s found in the AES Newsletters. The events surrounding Irene Bolam’s death and memorial dinner are indeed bizarre. I would have expected more, but Bill Prymak had little to say when I once asked him about this “other Irene,” offering only a brief remark about people who are attracted to fame. I didn’t pursue it.
* Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas, who passed away in February 2016 at 95, was a pilot and World War II hero, a POW and a talented writer with 12 books to his credit. But sadly, Klaas fell victim to the insane delusion Joe Gervais had birthed and spread to other witless sheep over the years that New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam was actually Amelia Earhart returned from Saipan via the Japanese Imperial Palace in Tokyo, determined to live out her life in obscurity and isolation from her family — something Amelia was incapable of doing.
Some have even suggested that Gervais was a paid agent of disinformation — working for Uncle Sam to muddle the truth about Earhart’s disappearance. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility, but whether Gervais dreamed up his ridiculous claims about Bolam, as well as his other phony assertions, or was doing the bidding of the U.S. Deep State matters little now. Nobody until TIGHAR came along in the late 1980s did more damage to the truth about Amelia Earhart and the public’s perception of credible research, such as that done by Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Oliver Knaggs and Bill Prymak, than Gervais and his sidekick Joe Klaas.
It was a shame, because the eyewitness interviews conducted by Gervais, Robert Dinger and the local police detectives on Guam and Saipan in 1960, on the heels of Fred Goerner’s arrival on Saipan, were some of the most compelling ever done.
Once again, you can read everything and more than you need to know about Irene Bolam and Amelia Earhart, beginning with “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV,” posted on Dec. 29, 2015.
* A bit of closer checking reveals that Irene Egnor Bolam, 88, lives in Independence, Ore. We’ve never corresponded and I’m not inclined to start now, as this post is about Irene Craigmile Bolam as seen by someone who claimed to have known her. I’m not comfortable doing any more with this post than what was published in the AES Newsletters.
“Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society,” Part III of IV
“What is the hardest task in the world? To think.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
In August and September 2006, David Billings, 76, an Australian researcher who has drawn attention in the United States as well as Down Under with his own controversial Electra-at-New Britain theory (see Earhart Lockheed Electra Search Project), took up the baton from Alex Mandel and launched a series of pointed attacks against the Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart doctrine. But unlike the conciliatory and diplomatic Mandel, Billings went straight for the jugular, tying his assault to revelations released more than a year earlier in The Atchison Report, to be discussed shortly.
The information was provided by Gertrude Hession, a former friend of Irene Bolam and sister of Monsignor James Francis Kelley, Reineck’s incoherent main witness, and Diana Dawes, another longtime Bolam friend. It all concerned one Mary Eubank, whose association with Bolam could be traced with certainty back to their high school days, through the war and up until Bolam’s death in 1982. This evidence alone was absolute proof of the theory’s falsehood. In a September 2006 message to the AES Forum, Billings addressed the Mary Eubank connection, the redoubtable Monsignor Kelley’s dementia, and made a revelation of his own:
Joseph Klaas and Joseph Gervais compiled a book “Amelia Earhart Lives” in 1970. I do not know whether you have read it but if you have not, I suggest that you may like to read it. It costs around $1 on abebooks.com and the postage is $4. That alone should tell you something.
I am at around page 80 in that book and I have tagged all the inaccuracies, inconsistencies and all the plain mistakes that are blatantly obvious in that book written by Joe Klaas. Joe Klaas, it seems to me, should be ashamed that he ever wrote that book. I have not yet got to the part where Gervais “recognized” Irene Bolam as Amelia Earhart. Gervais and Klaas and the publisher McGraw-Hill had to pay Irene Bolam as they lost the case.
In 2003, The Colonel, Rollin C. Reineck, goes through the same motions and resurrects the Irene Bolam MYTH. He uses Gervais’ supposed “recognition” of Irene Bolam as AE and he also uses the words of a Catholic Priest, Monsignor James Francis Kelley in support of the myth, the story, the fable, the whatever.
I have here an audio tape of Colonel Rollin C. Reineck interviewing the Monsignor in September 1991. It is not pretty. The Monsignor is obviously suffering from senile dementia at age 90.
He (the Monsignor) speaks of Eisenhower leaving the troops behind, of his meeting with Emperor Hirohito to discuss Amelia being freed, of Hirohito not agreeing to free Amelia and of the Monsignor finally getting a General Keane to freedom along with Eamon de Valera who was later to become the “Emperor of Ireland.” Amelia appears and stayed at his house at Rumson, N.J., for around three or four weeks, after that she went out and got injured. He doesn’t say by what. He then rambles on about having to go to Le Bourget field to meet Lindbergh because there was no one else there to meet him. The Monsignor also captured Bruno Hauptmann and when in London helped with the administration of that city for three years. There was more. I take it that you have the tape?
So, really, Reineck should have stopped the interview but he did not. Reineck even says on 1st January 1992, that he found nothing “valid” in what the Monsignor said, but in 2003 he publishes the drivel that the Monsignor said in support of his contention that AE returned to the United States.
In 1992, Joseph Gervais and Bill Prymak interviewed Gertrude Hession, the sister of Monsignor James Francis Kelley. Gertrude told them that she had been trying to put the Monsignor away for some time due to his dementia. She also told of a Mary Eubank who had known Irene Bolam from their teenage years and that Joe and Bill should meet with Mary Eubank and discuss Irene. Gervais declined the offer even though the trip back by car from Delaware to New Jersey took them past Eubank’s home town and they had PLENTY of time. Bill Prymak told me all this himself. You wanna question Bill Prymak, be my guest.
Gervais swore Bill Prymak to secrecy because if it got out that Irene Bolam had been known by any one person since teenage it meant that she could not possibly be Amelia Earhart. This meant that Klaas’s book was false and it also means Reineck’s book is false. There have been many inside mails telling Bill Prymak that he was weak not to face up to Gervais and let the MYTH continue.
Billings should never have been let in and others who question the armchair researchers should never be let in. Someone said some time back, that Bill Prymak would regret recommending me for membership of the AES. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.
Billings and Mandel, those two non-Americans, who question authors of books supposedly written as FACT should NEVER, EVER, question those American authors and should not have the temerity to question senior members of the AES Forum AT ALL. Billings and Mandel have no right to question historical authors.
Forum Members: We do not live in a perfect world, there are things which happen out there over which we have no control whatsoever and there is ZILCH that we as ordinary citizens of our various countries can do in the short term. However, when we do have the opportunity to correct a wrong, there should be no hesitation on any citizen’s part to do that very thing.
I do not hesitate, you should not hesitate.
Bill Prymak supplied me with information, as did other members of this AES Forum, which made it obvious to me that Klaas, Gervais and Reineck are completely and utterly incorrect in the Irene Bolam as Amelia Earhart Theory.
I did broadcast that information with the approval of Bill Prymak. He repeatedly praised me for outing the lie. Now Bill Prymak has done the dirty on me and wrung his hands and now he and Reineck and Co. are all friends again. Well good on them but it still does not make the whole thing right.
Bill told me — I have the letter here — that Gervais was a very shaken man after speaking with Gertrude Hession and he “made” Bill Prymak promise never to release the information about Mary Eubank and that was in 1992. . . . Gervais was too concerned with himself and that he would be seen as an idiot if the word got out. Of course, Gervais would also be concerned about Klaas, as he had dragged Klaas into the mire with the “recognition” of IB as AE, and Klaas would not be pleased at this new revelation. Bill Prymak said to me, “That’s why” the release never appeared in the AES Newsletters about the interview with Gertrude Hession by Gervais and Prymak. . . . You can paint me as black as you like, but don’t put the lid on the paint pot yet, there are others who need a lick of paint too.
I am already receiving private mail over tonight’s postings to the AES Forum. I should not be receiving private mail, put it on the Forum. If you have something to say, say it. Spit it out.
Australia (Sept. 16, 2006)
Billings was ejected from the AES forum by moderator Michele Cervone in late September 2006 for posting third-party e-mails – messages from nonmembers — to the Yahoo! Earhart Group Web site without prior approval. Although that justification may have been technically valid, Cervone’s sanction was, in fact, a case of shooting a messenger who had delivered a most unwelcome message – the unvarnished truth about how the Bolamite falsehood was protected and perpetuated by longtime members of the AES inner circle.
Other members had violated forum rules regularly and with impunity, including Reineck himself. Nearly a year before Billings’ revelations to the group, the 1992 incident that brought Gervais face-to-face with the truth was disclosed by Prymak to several of his AES associates. Moreover, the Mary Eubank-Irene Bolam connection had already been well established in The Atchison Report — released to the AES forum and publicly disseminated in July 2005 – with information provided by Prymak.
Mandel, among the scant few voicing support for the beleaguered Billings in the days following his bombshell, characterized the Aussie’s blunt missives as “reasonable, competent, proper and legitimate on-topic questions to Rollin Reineck.” I expressed full concurrence with Mandel’s summary, depicting Billings’ postings as “tough but fair . . . not personal attacks against Rollin, but [against] his theory and his book although many cannot see the difference.” In several on- and off-forum messages to Prymak, Billings and the AES, Mandel expressed his disdain for the pernicious notion, accepted in some quarters, that certain reputations must be protected at all costs, rightly attributing the decline of the AES to the proliferation of this unethical practice. A few others agreed, and after many rancorous off-forum message exchanges copied to a handful of insiders, Mandel’s laconic response to an unfriendly e-mail from Prymak brought the situation into stark focus:
Read my lips. The “collapse of AES” started just in moment when you agreed to be manipulated by Gervais, who wanted to use you for [sic] to hide the information that would discredit his theory.
The Gervais-Prymak-Mary Eubank incident was a paradigm that revealed the true nature of what most “Earhart research” had become, and not only in the AES. Integrity, full disclosure and accountability about the discovered truths or falsehoods are mission statements rarely found, and even less frequently actuated nearly everywhere one finds public discussion of the Earhart disappearance.
“Joe Gervais is on your trail, Amelia,” Joe Klaas the mythmaker wrote in the closing sentences of Amelia Earhart Lives. “There’s no use trying to die, for he’ll follow you wherever you go, and as long as he shall live, you shall live.” Thus began the cult of Joe Gervais, “the Dean of Earhart research,” according to his acolytes in the AES. But was Gervais’ exalted status an honest reflection of his achievements, or mere hyperbole designed not only to mythologize Gervais, but to enhance the reputations of his associates, as well? A brief review of a few of Gervais’ more notable “contributions” to Earhart research, with thanks to David Billings for his input, should be instructive:
In Chapter 5 of Amelia Earhart Lives, Gervais implied that an Electra 12A, registration number N 16020, which crashed into Mount Tiefort in California in 1961 could have been Earhart’s lost Electra 10E. Gervais based his belief largely on the fact that the plane’s exhaust manifold had been delivered on May 13, 1937, a few weeks before Earhart began her second world-flight attempt. Gervais’ suspicions were aroused despite the fact that he knew the plane belonged to Charles Kitchens, who had bought it from Paul Mantz, a director who had planned to use the 12A in a movie about Earhart (thus the N 16020, as close to Earhart’s as possible). Later in the book, Klaas flatly states, “It was Joe Gervais who climbed a mountain in California to find the wreckage of a plane supposed to be at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.”
“Gervais, the trained aircraft crash investigator, finds it incredible that exhaust manifolds built in 1937 could last until 1961,” Billings wrote in a December 2006 e-mail. “There is nothing unusual in this at all. The aircraft could have had any number of manifolds fitted in its life and ALL of them could have been made in 1937 and stored.”
In Amelia Earhart Lives, 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 suggests 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. Billings said Klaas was still advocating this idea in recent years, and message records bore out his contention.
“Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais (the two Jo-Jo’s) proposed that Amelia Earhart espied the capabilities of this XC-35 and requested this experimental aircraft for her own use,” Billings quipped. “The Jo-Jo’s, in realizing that the United States Army Air Force and the Unites States Navy had ‘helped’ Amelia at various stages, now proposed that the U.S. Army Air Force would now get into the act and help her out by ‘lending’ her the XC-35.
“Back around 2003,” Billings continued, “Joe Klaas was still peddling the nonsense about Earhart using the XC-35, as he wrote to the AES forum: ‘The XC-35 was flown to an airfield to the north of Lae and after she took off from Lae, Earhart went to that airfield and exchanged the Lockheed 10E for the XC-35. I have the name of the airfield in my notes.’. . . To the north of LAE there were no airfields and it was very hilly and up to 10,000 feet into the Saraweged Range. So which airfield did he mean? Klaas could not answer and instead now offered that the airfield must be to the south of Lae but he did still have the name of the airfield. I pursued Klaas for over two years as to the name of the airfield and whether the three aircrew from the XC-35 had caught a Number Nine bus back to the United States or were they still at the airfield together with the Electra 10E? Klaas went silent for some three or four weeks. . . . Rest assured, the one and only XC-35, built at a cost of some $120,000 in 1936 rests at the [Smithsonian’s] Garber facility [in Suitland, Maryland]. Klaas’s postulations about the XC-35 are absolute nonsense and rubbish.”
In Chapter 9, we see that Gervais claimed a photo of Earhart, anonymously mailed to him in 1980, was taken while she was in Japanese custody. The photo was determined to have been taken in Hawaii, following Earhart’s aborted takeoff at Luke Field on March 20, 1937.
Perhaps the most preposterous idea among many presented in Amelia Earhart Lives – other than Earhart as Bolam – is that the location of Earhart’s final landing could be determined by the discovery and breaking of a secret code, which Gervais decrypts in Chapter 18, “The Code.” Billings discussed this legendary contribution to the annals of Earhart research in a colorful essay he coined, “The Blind Leading the Blind,” which he wrote, incredibly, on the spot, during our private online discussion, and sent me in December 2006:
According to Joe Klaas, Joe Gervais called him on the telephone from Las Vegas in March 1967 and excitedly told Klaas that he would show Klaas a picture of the Earhart wreck, and where it went down. Presumably, this time Gervais was actually referring to the Lockheed Electra 10E, Construction No. 1055. Gervais, on the telephone added that he had “broken” something called The Earhart Code.
Klaas and Gervais arranged to meet at Gene Autry’s Continental Hotel in Hollywood. Klaas took his son Tony along to the meeting. Tony, who was 16 years of age, was taken along so that he could record the conversation during the meeting between our two “experts.” If that tape, recorded by Tony Klaas still exists, its value is priceless for what you are about to read. If [it’s] on tape, it would be concrete evidence of the insanity which evolved during the meeting, if Klaas’s book has recorded the freakish content of that conversation correctly.
Gervais began by informing Klaas that he knew that the 1943 RKO Movie Flight to Freedom had been produced by Floyd Odlum, whose wife Jackie Cochrane was a friend of Amelia Earhart’s. The flight in the film taken by a character bearing a similarity to Earhart, named “Toni Carter” (played by Rosalind Russell), had ended on a fictitious island named in the film as “Gull Island.” Gervais then produced a film of Hull Island in the Phoenix Group of islands in what is now Kiribati. This film had been taken by the U.S. Navy during the search for Earhart and Noonan in July 1937. Gervais now proclaimed Hull Island to be Gull Island, the fictitious island from the film. Gervais proceeded to pull the film through a projector so that each frame in the film could be examined one by one.
The object in this action was to introduce to Klaas and his son (who it is presumed had managed to stay awake so far) to one frame in the film where it appears a similarity to a Japanese “meatball” flag is flying over the beach on Hull Island in the U.S. Navy black and white film. The Japanese flag that Gervais insists is shown is a complete white background with a red circle (a so-called “meatball”) in the centre of the white background field. In fact the naval ensign of Japan in 1937 was the same basic design, i.e., a white background with the red circle, but it also had 16 “rays of the sun” radiating out from the central or offset circle which went equally spaced out to the edge of the flag. Whatever Gervais thought he saw in the single frame was not the Japanese naval ensign.
Now, let us suppose, if the Japanese did go to Hull Island for whatever reason, those Japanese would have been naval personnel in naval ships, and therefore if a flag had been left behind it would have been a naval flag and at the time the naval ensign had the representations of the sun’s rays (16 rays), which would have not shown up in a photograph or film frame as a white flag with a red blob on it. If the Japanese had gone to Hull Island for whatever reason, it is extremely unlikely that they would advertise their presence there by leaving a Japanese naval ensign. Hull at that time in July 1937 was populated by Gilbertese plantation laborers with a Captain Jones as an overseer. Jones did have a radio and the first thing he would have done would have been to contact Tarawa, the headquarters of the British Colonial Service in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands as the Phoenix Group was British territory.
Gervais, Klaas and Klaas Junior then can see something else on the film frames as they were drawn through the projector. Amazingly, they can see aircraft wreckage and murmur that they can see a wing section, a tyre [sic], an engine and incredibly they can see a “salvage hook.” Now hallucinatory drugs were not banned in 1967 to the extent that they are now, and one has to wonder whether these two gentleman had discovered a new line in potent licorice at pharmacies or whether it was a new line in “magic spectacles” in that they and they alone could see aircraft wreckage on the beach at Hull Island where Lieutenant [John] Lambrecht and his fellow experienced aviators had not seen anything at all, and had in fact landed on the lagoon at Hull to ask Captain Jones if he had seen anything. Neither Lambrecht or the other aviators from the USS Colorado or Captain Jones had seen wreckage on Hull Island or any sign of Earhart and Noonan.
We now come to the most weird outpouring from a supposed expert on Earhart that defies all logic and surely must be classed as one of Gervais’ best faux pas. The “breaking” of what he called The Earhart Code. This supposed code is related to the use of the name Guy Bolam in a sequence which defies logic, for Amelia Earhart never did know Guy Bolam, the husband of Irene Bolam. How could Earhart compose a code using Guy Bolam’s name if she did not know him and the names of the islands in the Phoenix Group of islands? The short answer is that she could not.
This is how the imaginative brain of Gervais received a mind-compelling injection of fantasy which resulted in derived figures which represent the latitude and longitude position of Hull Island, or, I should say, the figures derived roughly locate to within a few nautical miles, the position of Hull Island. This is why Gervais tortuously managed to come up with Hull Island as Earhart’s final landing place. . . . This is how Gervais came upon what he called The Earhart Code.
The name GUY BOLAM has eight letters and each of the islands in the Phoenix Group contains one letter of the name Guy Bolam In Gervais’ convoluted mind, the positioning of those letters within the island name is then given a number according to the position. . . . Therefore if as Gervais does we lay out the numbers horizontally we get: 1, 7, 2 (or 6), 1, 3, 4 (or 3), 2 and 1. Looking at the alternatives we can get 17213421 or 17613321. Gervais said in 1967 that this first string of numbers, 17213421, represents the longitude and the latitude of Hull Island by saying this string represents 172° 13′ W, 4° 21′ S. The latitude and longitude of Hull Island is 4° 30′ S 172° 10′ W. So, The Earhart Code has Hull Island 3 nautical miles to the West and 9 nautical miles to the North of where it actually is. Now what of the other possibilities in the other string of numbers? The alternative is 176° 13′ W, 3° 21′ S. This would put the position way to the west of the entire Phoenix Group by close to 200 nautical miles.
What of this Earhart Code? Does it exist? The answer is no, it cannot possibly exist and is a very weird figment of Joe Gervais’ imagination, and Klaas swallowed it. Amelia Earhart did not know Guy Bolam. She did know Irene Craigmile Heller, but she did not know Guy Bolam. He did not enter Irene Craigmile Heller’s life until 1957, so how could Earhart have possibly made up a code before she disappeared in 1937 incorporating Guy Bolam’s name into a sequence which also had the Phoenix Islands names in that very sequence? The answer is that Earhart did not make up this supposed code and it is sheer fantasy and absolute rubbish. It just so happens that the numbers as Gervais brought them out using Guy Bolam’s name fell into a sequence which very closely matches the position of Hull Island, nothing more, nothing less, just sheer coincidence.
Gervais says, through Klaas, that he did spend three years of his spare time trying to discover a code. He also discovered not only the supposed tripe he called The Earhart Code but fostered and encouraged the finding of a thousand and one conspiracies mainly perpetrated by the United States Government and its agencies. There are those who spend their whole lives inventing conspiracies and myths which are always there to confuse and confound genuine people trying to research the truth and to discover the fate of the two American aviators.
Gervais and those of his ilk would have been far better off and more gainfully employed planting turnips in their spare time. That occupation would have been more suited to the level of intelligence displayed in that dreadful book which, in all honesty, should never have been published. (End of “The Blind Leading the Blind.”)
It’s doubtful that any reviews of Amelia Earhart Lives were ever more amusing than the foregoing by David Billings. Joe Klaas, a talented writer with 12 books to his credit, wove an enchanting spell in the latter chapters of Amelia Earhart Lives, but he fell victim to the absurd delusion that struck Joe Gervais and, amazingly, spread to many others over the years. It was a shame, because the eyewitness interviews conducted by Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam and Saipan in 1960, on the heels of Fred Goerner’s arrival on Saipan during his own investigation, were some of the most important ever done.
In our final installment of “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society,” we will continue with yet more of the Joe Gervais Follies, and conclude by attempting to put the whole sordid mess into some kind of coherent perspective, a daunting prospect in itself.