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 Bolam, who he met on Aug. 8, 1965 at the Sea Spray Inn on the Dunes, in East Hampton, Long Island, N.Y. If you’re not familiar with the story behind this catastrophe, I wrote a four-part series that will tell you far more than you probably want to know.
It begins with my Dec. 29, 2015 post, “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV” and continues consecutively, describing the entire sordid affair and its incredible aftermath. But here’s Goerner’s 1971 missive to Hooven, which boils it all down to a neat little dollop. (Boldface mine throughout.)
Dear Fred, March 2, 1971
How are you and Martha? Are you completely recovered from your accident? Are you ever coming back to S.F.? Merla has two wall clocks she wants fixed and I am totally incapable.
This letter is months overdue. The passage of time apparently is accelerating. Then, too, the longer letters always come last. Human nature, I guess, to tackle the shorties first. Give more of a feeling of accomplishment to mail ten short letters rather than one long one.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, by the way, and since neither of us bother with cards.
Amelia Earhart is not alive and well and living in New Jersey — and nowhere else. Unfortunately. How those guys thought they were going to get away with that gambit I haven’t yet been able to figure out. I guess they figured that the truth is so hard to come by these days that it would never really catch up with them.
I think they were both smoking pot when they dreamed up their script. In case you didn’t get it all, it goes like this:
AE and Noonan are shot down by Japanese carrier aircraft onto Hull Island in the Phoenix Group from whence they are picked up and spirited first to Saipan and then to Japan. FDR is blackmailed by the Japanese into giving up the plans for the Hughes racing plane which is adapted by the Japanese into the Zero fighter plane. AE is kept prisoner in the Imperial Palace and during WWII she is forced to broadcast to American troops under the guise of Tokyo Rose. And the end of WWII, Emperor Hirohito trades AE back to the U.S. with the bargain that he be permitted to retain the Japanese throne. AE is sneaked back to the U.S. disguised as a Catholic nun whereupon she assumed the identity of one Irene (Mrs. Guy) Bolam.
If it were not for the fact that Mrs. Bolam was outraged, the authors might have achieved their purpose: A bestseller. Mrs. Bolam scuttled them with dispatch and McGraw-Hill took a black eye. Yet the human willingness to suspend disbelief always amazes me. Some people accepted the entire creation and it is no small task to disabuse them of that desire to believe in limitless conspiracy.
Enclosed find a recent epistle from AE’s sister, Mrs. Albert Morrissey, which reveals how the family felt about the disclosures [not available]. The photo Muriel mentions is one the two authors submitted as placing AE in Japanese custody in Japan. In the photo, AE is wearing the kimono and bracelet referred to by Mrs. Morrissey. The photo was actually taken in a Japanese restaurant in Honolulu in 1935 at the time of AE’s Hawaii to California solo flight.
Along with that small flaw, nothing else in the book bears scrutiny, either. For instance, Hull Island was populated with several hundred persons in 1927 under British administration. U.S. Navy planes landed in the Hull Island lagoon in the week following the AE disappearance, and no sign of AE or the Japanese had been seen by anyone. As Hull is a very tiny coral atoll, there was no mistake. The authors, however, produced a photo supposed taken from a U.S. Navy plane above Hull Island which shows the wreckage of AE’s plane on a beach with a Japanese flag planed beside it. The picture also shows some rather large hills in the background. This provides some embarrassment because the highest point of land on Hull rises only nine feet above sea level.
Ah, but they have really muddied the waters. I despair at reaching anything like the complete truth at this point. But I will keep trying simply because my nature is such that I don’t know how to do anything else.
(Editor’s note: So compelling was the siren song of the Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth that some otherwise rational souls remained in its thrall even after the overwhelming evidence against this pernicious lie became well known. Soon after Amelia Earhart Lives hit the streets, Irene Bolam filed a defamation lawsuit against McGraw-Hill that forced the publisher to pull all copies of the book bookshelves nationwide, and Bolam reportedly settled for a huge, undisclosed sum.
In 2003, retired Air Force Col. Rollin C. Reineck, a charter member of the Amelia Earhart Society, self-published Amelia Earhart Survived, possibly the worst Earhart disappearance book ever, in a vain attempt to resurrect the odiferous corpse of the Bolam theory. To this day, there are some who continue to push this insidious nonsense upon the unwary.)
We never have gotten launched on that final Pacific jaunt. One thing after another after three others has always emerged. Now I’m shooting for this summer with some Air Force cooperation. Canton Island, which has air facilities and close to the area we wish to search, is currently under Air Force-SAMSO (Space and Missile Systems Organization) control. I addressed the Air Force Academy Cadets and their faculty two weeks ago on the Credibility Gap, and I believe we have an arrangement forged for the necessary cooperation. If you have changed your mind with respect to a little light adventure, let me know. [See Truth at Last pages 174-175 for more on Goerner’s expedition that never got under way.]
Within the last few weeks there has been an interesting development: A Mrs. Ellen Belotti of Las Vegas, Nevada, came forward with some reports from the Pan American Airways radio direction finder stations at Wake, Midway and Honolulu which deal with the Earhart case. Mrs. Belotti was secretary to G.W. Angus, Director of Communications for Pan [sic] in 1937, and she was given the task of coordinating the reports. She states that one day several U.S. Navy officers who identified themselves as from the Office of U.S. Naval Intelligence appeared at the office (PAN AM) and confiscated all of the reports dealing with Earhart. She says the Pan Am people were warned at the time not to discuss the matter with anyone, and that the reports were to be considered secret and any copies of the reports were to be destroyed.
Mrs. Belotti says she decided not to destroy her copies of the reports because she believed the Navy did not have the right to require that of Pan Am. She also felt a fair shake was not being given to her idol, Amelia.
She did, however, keep silence over all the years, but now she thinks the truth should be told.
The reports really don’t tell very much except for the fact that some signals were picked up by the three Pan Am stations which they believed came from Earhart. The bearings place the location of the signals in the Phoenix Island area between Canton and Howland Island. Strangely, the time of the reception of the signals matches up with reports of amateur radio operators along the West Coast who stated they had received signals from the AE plane.
The only reason I can think of that the Navy would want to quash such information is that Naval Intelligence Communications were not anxious for the Japanese to learn that we had such effective high-frequency DF’s in operation in the Pacific. Much valuable intelligence information was gained between 1938 and 1941 by DF’s monitoring Japanese fleet activity in the Pacific area, and particularly within the Japanese mandated islands.
I have also enclosed copies of the Pan Am reports for you to peruse. I’d love to hear your opinion of them.
Merla is doing great. Still turning out her column for the S.F. CHRONICLE. She joins me in sending warm, warm, warm, warm, warm, best wishes to you both and in issuing a permanent invitation for you to come and be our house guests for as long as you like.
Fred Goerner died in 1994, Joe Gervais in 2005, and in 2016 Joe Klaas passed away at age 95. It’s a shame that Klaas should be remembered chiefly for writing history’s most notorious and controversial Earhart book, as he led a remarkable life distinguished by more admirable achievements.
Klaas began his World War II service by flying British Supermarine Spitfires as an American volunteer in the Royal Air Force. After Pearl Harbor, Klaas transferred to the U.S. Army Air Force and fought in the North African invasion of Morocco, as well as the Algerian and Tunisian campaigns, where he was shot down and captured by Arabs who sold him to the Nazis for $20. Klaas spent 25 months in German prison camps, escaped to be recaptured and worked for the X-Committee that planned “The Great Escape” from prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III.
For more on Klaas’ life and World War II exploits, please click here.
Joe Klaas, who passed away earlier this year, is best known for his authorship of the notorious Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery, the 1970 book that introduced Irene Bolam as Amelia Earhart and forever cast a shadow on the credibility of all Earhart research, further driving the truth into the tiny corner it now inhabits, largely ignored, if not ridiculed by the mainstream media, entrenched in its longtime refusal to acknowledge the truth in the Earhart disappearance.
But Klaas didn’t create the Irene Bolam travesty. His fellow Air Force officer and friend, Joe Gervais, wove the Bolam fiction out of whole cloth and his Earhart-addled imagination. Klaas, the author of 11 other books, served mainly as Gervais’ personal stenographer during the creation of Amelia Earhart Lives, though he might have questioned Gervais’ absurd Bolam claim a bit more assiduously before he wrote a book and exposed himself to ridicule from nearly every corner of the Earhart research community, as well as much of the reading public.
None of that is relevant to the following essay, however, written by Klaas in 2001 and posted on the website of the Amelia Earhart Society. In “Next Stop Kwajalein,” Klaas takes the available eyewitness and witness testimony and crafts a plausible version of the events surrounding the delivery of Amelia and Fred Noonan by the Japanese, from stops at Jaluit and Kwajalein, to their final destination at Saipan.
Several aspects of the scenarios laid out by Klaas, such his belief, based on statements made by Mrs. Amy Otis Earhart, Amelia’s mother, that Amelia was allowed to broadcast by captors or that the fliers may have been taken to Japan, are clearly false or highly doubtful, and are not endorsed by this writer, but have not been edited out of Klaas’ narrative, which I present for your entertainment and discernment.
“Next Stop Kwajalein” by Joe Klaas with Joe Gervais
Four years prior to the three weeks of media frenzy triggered by the 1970 suggestion in Amelia Earhart Lives that the supposedly dead flying heroine might be alive in New Jersey, Fred Goerner, whose The Search for Amelia Earhart deduced she had died of dysentery or was executed on Saipan, wrote to her sister, Muriel Morrissey, in West Medford, Massachusetts.
“I want you to know that I decided to go ahead with the book last December at the advice of the late Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had become my friend and helped me with the investigation for several years,” Goerner told Earhart’s sibling on Aug. 31, 1966. “He said, ‘It (the book) may help produce the justice Earhart and Noonan deserve.’ The Admiral told me without equivocation that Amelia and Fred had gone down in the Marshalls and were taken by the Japanese and that his knowledge was documented in Washington. He also said several departments of government have strong reasons for not wanting the information to be made public.”
What “strong reasons for not wanting the information made public” short of their being assassinated by our own government would motivate the endless cover-up of the fact that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were still alive after July 2,1937?
“Even when we investigators join together in The Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, and The [Yahoo!] Earhart Group on the internet, those who’ve been out here spend so much energy picking each other’s evidence apart,” I said to Joe Gervais aboard a 95-foot boat anchored off a bomb-dented concrete relic of a seaplane ramp in Imiej harbor at Jaluit, “we look only at how one another’s interviews with islanders don’t agree.”
It was Joe’s seventeenth trip to Pacific islands in search of Amelia Earhart. Ten of us aboard the 1997 AES expedition led by Bill Prymak disagreed 10 different ways.
“To hell with the differences!” I complained. “Why don’t we focus on only those details which match?”
I told Joe that when we got home I would follow five decades of conflicting interviews from dot-to-dot to determine only the ways they agree on Amelia Earhart’s after death journey from across the 1937 pre-war Pacific until now.
“To hell with inconsistencies that lead nowhere!” I griped. “Let’s see only where we all match will take us.”
1937 residents of Jaluit and Majuro atolls said they heard the white woman pilot named “Meel-ya” and her flying companion with knee and head injuries were taken by Japanese ship to Saipan in the Mariana Islands where the Emperor’s South Sea Islands military governor was in command. Others said they took her first to Kwajalein, and then to Saipan.
“After I treated the man’s knee with paraply,” Bilimon Amaron told Joe Gervais and Bill Prymak, “I overheard Japanese nearby say the ship was going to leave Jaluit to go to Kwajalein. I remembered that because I had relatives on Kwajalein. From there it would maybe go to Truk and on to Saipan.”
Majuro Attorney John Heine, who clearly remembered seeing the flyers in custody at Jaluit after their prematurely reported deaths, also believed that “after the ship left Jaluit, it went to Kwajalein, then on to Truk and Saipan.” From there, according to what he was told by his missionary parents, whom the Japanese at Jaluit later beheaded as spies, “he thought the ship would later go to Japan.”
Heine told Joe and Bill a simultaneous event at his school enabled him to place the crash and departure for Kwajalein in “the middle of July 1937.”
Marshall Islanders Tomaki Mayazo and Lotan Jack told Fred Goerner in the 60s that the woman flyer and her companion “were taken to Kwajalein on their way to Saipan.” In The Search for Amelia Earhart, Goerner reported that four Likiep Island residents of Kwajalein, Edward and Bonjo Capelli, and two men known only as Jajock and Biki told Navy Chief Petty Officer J.F. Kelleher, stationed on Kwajalein in 1946, that a man and a woman who crashed a plane in the Marshalls “were brought to Kwajalein.”
Ted Burris, a 1965 government employee on Kwajalein, volunteered as neighborhood commissioner for the Aloha Council, Boy Scouts of America. He set out to establish Scouting three islands-north of Kwajalein on Ebeye [Island]. In January 1997 he informed members of the AES that while waiting for a boat back to his workplace one night his interpreter, Onisimum Cappelle, introduced him to an old man who had met two Americans there “five years before the war” even though “the Japanese had closed the Marshall Islands to foreigners in the late ’20s.”
The war reached the Marshalls in 1942, so “five years before” meant 1937, when Earhart and Noonan vanished.
“How did you meet the Americans before the war?” Burris asked the old man.
“Well, I didn’t exactly meet them,” he said. “But I did bring them in.”
“Bring them in? I don’t understand. What happened?”
“A plane landed on the water,” he said. “A big plane.”
“Come. I show you.”
They walked to the south end of the perimeter road where there were two A-frame houses with a line of coconut trees.
“You see those trees?” the old man asked. “The plane was exactly in line with them.”
“How far out?”
“About a hundred yards from the land.”
“What happened then?”
“Two people got out. A man and a woman. The Captain made me take my boat out and pick them up. I didn’t talk to them.”
“The boss. The Japanese officer. The Captain took them away. I never saw them again. He said they were spies.”
Arrival of the boat to take Burris to nearby Kwajalein ended the conversation.
All who heard the story, including Burris, jumped to the conclusion that the plane was Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E, not a very “big plane” in comparison to Japanese flying boats that occasionally landed there. They assumed that was where she had actually crashed.
But what the old man precisely said was: “A plane landed on the water.” He didn’t say it crashed there. Aircraft with landing gear are seldom said to have “landed on the water.” They would normally have been said to have “crashed into the water” or “ditched in the water.” Not that they had “landed on the water.”
One simple question, “Did the plane land or crash?” might have cleared that up, but apparently assumption overcame curiosity, and that question was never asked.
Jaluit and Kwajalein had something in common. In 1936 a concrete seaplane ramp was built at Kwajalein in addition to its already existing airstrip for land planes. Land planes and seaplanes used two different Kwajalein facilities.
A year later in 1937 at Saipan, a concrete seaplane ramp was under construction to augment an air strip already used only by land planes. Had a flying boat ever before made a water landing at Saipan? It’s a good question.
Isn’t it more likely that, unbeknown to the Marshallese at Jaluit, instead of taking Earhart and Noonan to Kwajalein aboard ship on the Koshu, they changed plans and flew them there in a flying boat which would match the old man’s memory of “a big plane” which “landed on the water”?
To understand what an eyewitness meant, might it not be a good idea to take what they said literally? Going a step further, would it not be possible that natives of Saipan, who might only have previously seen planes touch down on their one airstrip, might mistakenly think a flying boat landing in Garapan Harbor was a land plane crashing into water off-shore?
How would the Japanese Captain be able to tell the old man “they were spies” if they hadn’t arrived from Jaluit already accused of espionage?
“None of this registered with me in particular until a couple of years later when I had moved to another assignment on Roi Namur (also in the Kwajalein group),” Burris said. “The Island Manager there was Frank Serafini. I mentioned the story the old man had told me.”
“Let me tell you a few things.” Frank went to his desk and took out a letter from a Navy Commander, whose name Burris couldn’t remember after thirty years. “He was with Navy Intelligence during the war, and was attached to the 4th Marines when they invaded Roi-Namur. He went in with the first wave on Roi. His specific task was to look for evidence that Amelia Earhart or her navigator, Fred Noonan, had been there!”
“Why here?” Burris asked.
“Because Roi had the only airfield on the atoll at that time,” Frank said. “If the Japs were going to take them anyplace from Kwajalein Atoll, they had to come through here!”
“Did he find anything?”
“Here, read this letter.” He pointed to a place on its second page: “I was rummaging through a pile of debris in a corner of the burned-out main hanger,” the writer said, when I came across a blue leatherette map case. It was empty. But it had the letters AE embossed on it in gold. They were here all right!”
“What did the Commander do with the map case?” Burris asked.
“He said he turned it over to Naval Intelligence. He doesn’t know what happened to it after that.”
“Does anybody know about this?” asked Burris. “Why would they keep such a thing secret?”
“Because even now the Navy doesn’t want to admit they had anything to do with spying against the Japanese before the war.”
When Burris heard about a plane with two American spies aboard landing 100-yards off-shore at Kwajalein, he naturally assumed it was Earhart’s land plane.
But couldn’t a twin-engine Japanese seaplane have “landed in the water” at Kwajalein, from which they were then flown to Saipan where the Japanese pilot landed alongside the beach?
As reported in both Goerner’s book and mine, Josephine Akiyama watched “a silver two-engined plane belly-land” in shallow water at Saipan and “saw the American woman who looked like a man and the tall man with her . . . led away by the Japanese soldiers.”
At first, those who heard her story assumed it was Amelia Earhart’s plane.
All of us who heard eyewitness reports from Kwajalein or Saipan made the same mistake. We all wanted so hard to find the Earhart plane, we assumed any aircraft that came down with her aboard was hers. At both Saipan and Kwajalein we were wrong. She and Noonan were aboard all right in both places, not as pilot and navigator, but as captured spies!
Wouldn’t it be more logical to deduce from eyewitness reports that Earhart and Noonan were flown from Kwajalein Atoll in a seaplane which made no attempt to land on Saipan’s completed airstrip, but instead “belly landed” along a beach in Garapan Harbor?
“None of it can be true!” objected a radio engineer at a 1998 gathering in Aspen, Colorado. “Those islanders made it all up!”
“What makes you think that?” I gasped.
“Because it’s all predicated from the start on her originally ditching into the water at Mili Atoll on July 2, 1937 and then sending out a bunch of so-called radio signals for three days. That could never have happened.”
“Because if she went down in the water, she couldn’t have broadcast at all. Her transmitter was incapable of broadcasting from the water.”
No one thought to ask a radio engineer how he would have made a radio work if he crashed in the water off a strange island in the middle of the Pacific. In such a matter of life and death, wouldn’t a radio engineer figure out some way to make a transmitter broadcast from a downed airplane still afloat in salt water?
Absolutely impossible! Without a bigger source of power than the battery aboard that Lockheed 10E aircraft, I was assured by three other experts I consulted, there was no way it could happen! Without the extra power provided by the engines operating, she could not have broadcast from in the water!
And yet the messages existed, logged by professional radio operators all across the Pacific so they can be read to this day. AES President Bill Prymak sent me a copy of actual loggings of her radio calls for help. Remember, she was supposed to have died the morning of July 2,1937. (Editor’s note: For a lengthy discussion of the alleged “post-loss messages,” please see Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, Chapter III, “The Search and the Radio Signals.”)
Here were 30 distress call broadcasts recorded on paper as actually heard by experienced operators at twelve different radio stations from one side of the Pacific to the other. . . . Beginning on July 3, 1937, 12 experienced operators at official radio stations thousands of miles apart across the vast Pacific heard and logged 30 distress messages they identified as Earhart’s for three days after she supposedly crashed and drowned on July 2, 1937.
Since these 30 distress signals were obviously heard as logged by 12 of the most highly trained and experienced radio operators across the Pacific, how could she have sent them if her radio transmitter could not possibly operate from her plane sitting in the water at Mili Atoll?
Could Amelia Earhart’s mother, Amy Otis Earhart, give us a simple clue as to how her daughter managed to transmit these “impossible” broadcasts? Was Mother Earhart, from sources of information peculiarly available to her, in possession of knowledge withheld from the public that would explain how her daughter was able to send all these messages for help?
“I know she was permitted to broadcast to Washington from the Marshalls,” Amelia’s mother told the Los Angeles Times on July 25, 1949, and then does she give us the answer? . . . “because the officials on the island where she was taken — I can’t remember the name of it — believed she was merely a trans-ocean flier in distress. But Tokyo had a different opinion of her significance in the area. She was taken to Japan.”
Is it not rather clear from Mother Earhart’s inside information that Amelia Earhart was rescued as a celebrity by the Japanese on Mili Atoll? Wouldn’t the Japanese on that island permit the famous American flyers to use their island transmitter to call for help for three days?
Isn’t it obvious that if it were impossible for her to transmit messages from the water, she must have done so from the land? And wasn’t a Japanese transmitter the only way that could have been done? And wouldn’t the messages suddenly stop when Tokyo ordered the Mili Atoll Japanese outpost, through channels, to quit sending her distress broadcasts and arrest Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan for espionage?
“I am certain that Amelia’s voice was recognized in the radio broadcast from the Marshalls to the capitol,” Earhart’s mother told The Los Angeles Times and later repeated in a letter to Earhart’s flying instructor, Neta Snook.
“I have kept quiet through the years, but certainly this could hurt no one now.”
“That’s quite a stretch,” Joe Gervais said in awe when I explained how all of us had mistaken Japanese planes for hers, and seaplanes landing on the water for her land plane crashing at sea. It may seem a stretch to those who want to believe Earhart and Noonan drowned at sea near Howland Island on July 2,1937.
“All Earhart hunters have been so busy challenging differences in eyewitness reports each of us gathered,” I sighed, “we became blind to all the many points we agree on, where the truth may finally be found.” “Well,” Joe exhaled slowly. “If we’re gonna quit sneering at one another’s versions of what happened, and connect dot-to-dot to what’ll crack one of the biggest cover-ups in American history, we’d best not be afraid to stretch!”
Next stop for prisoners Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan was by land plane or flying boat to Saipan, it makes small difference which. There on Saipan, more witnesses than were talked to on all other islands combined remembered seeing them alive.
They were in custody as spies!
(End of “Next Stop Kwajalein.”)
Two years before Klaas and Gervais collaborated on “Next Stop Kwajalein,” Klaas advanced a scenario that differed from the seaplane-landing-on-Saipan situation they proposed in 2001. In a 1999 e-mail to Rollin Reineck, Bill Prymak and others, Klaas reviewed the Ted Burris account and insisted it wasn’t a seaplane that landed in Tanapag Harbor:
This incident has too long been thought to be a false report that Earhart’s Lockheed 10E crashed off Kwajalein. But what the old man precisely said was: “A plane landed on the water.” He didn’t say it crashed there or ditched there. Planes with landing gear don’t land “on the water.” What “landed” Earhart and Noonan “on the water” off Kwajalein was obviously a seaplane from Jaluit. . . . Nobody ever said there was a crash at Kwajalein.
Earhart and Noonan were then flown by land plane from Kwajalein to Saipan, where its pilot got into trouble. [Italics mine.] Josephine Akiyama, the very first witness in the Earhart mystery, watched “a silver two-engined plane belly-land” in shallow water along a beach. She “saw the American woman who looked like a man, and the tall man with her, led away by the Japanese soldiers.”
We must never assume every twin-engined aircraft in the Pacific had to be the Earhart Plane to be significant. We don’t need Darwin to find the missing link from Howland to Mili to Kwajalein to Saipan. Keep it simple and follow facts in sequence to the truth. Above all, let’s start believing our witnesses. Why would they lie?
I asked Klaas if he could explain his differing visions of Earhart’s arrival at Saipan, suggesting that a land-based aircraft might indeed be most likely in the Tanapag Harbor-landing scenario. “Very well could be,” Klaas told me in a September 2007 email.
“However, I do believe it was a seaplane that landed in the water at Kwajalein, according to the man who picked her up there and rowed her ashore. There was a landing field there at that time. A lot of people jumped to the conclusion that she had crashed into the water there, according to witnesses. However that was only because the native who picked her up said the plane had landed in the water, obviously flown there from Majuro. She could very well have been transferred to a land plane there [at Kwajalein] after that and have been flown in it on to Saipan, where a lot of us at first mistook as she and Noonan crashing on the beach in her own plane. It was obviously a Japanese aircraft, however.”
So despite the many witnesses who reported that they saw a woman flier who could only have been Amelia Earhart in the Marshalls and later on Saipan, how she reached Saipan from Kwajalein is a major question that lingers. Was it a land plane or a seaplane that took the doomed fliers to their final destination?
Joe Klaas, a popular figure in the Earhart research community and author of the controversial 1970 book Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery, died at his home Feb. 25 at the age of 95. Klaas, of Monterey, Calif., wrote nine books including Maybe I’m Dead, a World War II novel; The 12 Steps to Happiness; and (anonymously) Staying Clean.
Klaas died “peacefully and without apparent pain, as he walked with his wife in their apartment,” according to a Facebook posting by family friend Sean Durkin. Klaas’ passing leaves Paul Rafford Jr., 96, of Melbourne, Fla., the “Elder Statesman” of Earhart research, as the lone remaining male charter member of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers.
Readers of this blog know Klaas through his authorship of the notorious Amelia Earhart Lives, as well as his longtime friendship with the late Joe Gervais, his Air Force comrade whose 1960 Guam and Saipan Earhart investigations with fellow officer Robert Dinger were among the most important ever conducted. But Gervais, who passed away in 2005, was better known for his false Earhart claims, especially his delusion that Amelia Earhart was New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam, a myth made famous by Klaas in the final chapter of Amelia Earhart Lives.
But Klaas did far more in his remarkable life than pen history’s most controversial Earhart disappearance work. He began his World War II service by flying British Supermarine Spitfires as an American volunteer in the Royal Air Force. After Pearl Harbor, Klaas transferred to the U.S. Army Air Force and fought in the North African invasion of Morocco, as well as the Algerian and Tunisian campaigns, where he was shot down and captured by Arabs who sold him to the Nazis for $20.
According to the biography found on his webpage, Klaas spent 25 months in German prison camps, escaped to be recaptured and worked for the X-Committee that planned “The Great Escape” from prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III. The camp was known for two famous prisoner escapes that took place there by tunneling and were depicted in the films The Great Escape (1963) and The Wooden Horse (1950).
Klaas survived a torturous death march across Germany, in which thousands of Allied prisoners of war froze to death. From a total of 257,000 Allied POWs held in German prison camps, over 80,000 POWs were forced to march westward across Poland, Czechoslovakia and Germany in extreme winter conditions, over about four months between January and April 1945. This series of events was known by many names, including “The Great March West,” “The Long March,” “The Long Walk,” “The Long Trek,” “The Black March,” “The Bread March” and “Death March Across Germany,” but most survivors just called it “The March.” Klaas’ novel Maybe I’m Dead was based on his harrowing, near-death experience as a German POW.
The war hero remained in the U.S. Air Force Reserve for 28 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel and Chief of Information for the 6th Air Force Reserve Region (13 western states) with 25 decorations. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Washington, was elected to the Sigma Delta Chi journalism fraternity, and received a master’s degree in creative writing.
During his 30-year media career, Klaas was an Associated Press news correspondent in Alaska, worked for one newspaper, two film companies, 15 broadcasting companies and retired from the American Broadcasting Company.
He was also the grandfather of Polly Hannah Klaas, the 12-year-old whose October 1993 murder gained national attention when she was kidnapped at knife point from her mother’s home in Petaluma, Calif., and later strangled. Richard Allen Davis was convicted of her murder in 1996 and sentenced to death. Davis remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison, California.
Joe Klaas’ survivors include his son, Marc, and his wife, B.J. Complete survivor information is currently unavailable, as no news source has published an obituary.
In today’s final post of our four-part series, “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society,” we rejoin the litany of famed Earhart researcher Joe Gervais’ better known gaffes; following that, I will try to bring the entire mash pit of absurdities that characterized the Irene Bolam chapter of the Earhart saga into some kind of coherent perspective, and put this pest of a lingering Earhart myth to bed for now.
“What is the hardest task in the world? To think.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Item: In 1987, Joe Gervais led the voices claiming that the notorious “Weihsien Telegram” (later known as the “Love to Mother,” or LTM, message), a 1945 “speedletter” addressed to George Putnam and sent from a liberated Japanese internment camp in China, proved that Earhart had been held by the Japanese throughout World War II. In 2001, Ron Bright led an investigation that found the message had originated with Turkish author and world traveler Ahmad Kamal, who had known Putnam well enough to ask him to look in on his elderly mother before he left on a trip to China in 1939.
Fred Goerner, in a 1992 letter to Rollin Reineck, traced the discovery of what he called the “Weihsien Camp message” to Sandra Rangel, an archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in the early 1970s. Rangel found the telegram among State Department records that were being routinely declassified following the normal 30-year classification restrictions, and wrote to Goerner about it in March 1971, telling him she found it a file under the name of George Palmer Putnam, not Amelia Earhart. Goerner obtained copies of the Weihsien records in 1975 and shared them with an Earhart researcher, Patti Morton, in 1983.
In 1987 Los Angeles Times reporter Paul Dean contacted Morton after asking Goerner for leads about an Earhart story, and Morton told Dean about the Weihsien message. Dean then used it as a “hook for his article,” according to Goerner, which opened the floodgates to the knee-jerk Earhart theorists’ proclamations. “As I feared,” Goerner wrote, “Mr. Gervais and others immediately began to claim that the message proved Earhart had been a Japanese prisoner and to claim it as proof for their various theories. Within a few days, Mr. Gervais had given his claim to a Las Vegas newspaper. It proved NOTHING OF THE KIND. It only proved that SOMEONE had sent a message to George Palmer Putnam.”
Goerner went on to castigate Reineck for his insistence that Morton was withholding “secret information” from him (Reineck), and said Morton was “outraged by the Gervais statements,” among which was that Morton had agreed “to do a book” with Gervais. Morton thought Gervais was “totally unprincipled,” Goerner told Reineck, and reminded him of Gervais’ checkered history of phony Earhart claims, as well as Reineck’s role in disseminating them:
The incredible attempt to use the Weishien message by Mr. Gervais to support his scenario is but another in a LONG, LONG list of misinformation Mr. Gervais has presented to the media as fact; for instance, by my count, Mr. Gervais has presented at least three photographs to the media which he alleges as proof that Earhart was in Japanese custody and returned to the U.S. as Irene Bolam. All bogus. You, Mr. Reineck, were a part of the last photo fiasco, and you were quoted widely in the press claiming the photo showed Earhart after the disappearance.
. . . Now that you know the photo was taken in Hawaii in 1937, why have you and Gervais not released that information to the media? Shame on everyone.
Item: The Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam theory.
The preceding are hardly the only examples of Gervais’ penchant for creative research, whereby he discovered a vast array of conspiracies and Earhart connections where none existed, but they are among the better-known cases. Certainly the native interviews he conducted in the Marianas in 1960 with fellow Air Force officer Robert Dinger were enormously important in establishing the presence of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan. These seminal accounts remain invaluable, but something happened to Gervais after he concluded his Saipan investigations, and it manifested itself in disastrous fashion that August 1965 day on Long Island.
Though it’s impossible to quantify the damage Amelia Earhart Survived inflicted upon the public’s perception of Earhart researchers, the popular idea that most who pursue the solution to the so-called Earhart mystery must be cranks or otherwise marginal individuals can, for the most part, be laid at Gervais’ doorstep, and Klaas’ too, as David Billings explained:
Joe Gervais convinced Joe Klaas that the woman he had seen at the Sea Spray Inn in 1965 WAS Amelia Earhart based on a spiritual feeling he had experienced which was influenced by a couple of adornments that the woman wore which were not what he thought they were. Klaas did not go and look at the lady himself, nowhere does he say that he did that, therefore he accepted what Gervais said holus-bolus. Now, if it were you or I and we wanted to be sure, we’d go and have a look. He never did. He never researched what Gervais told him, he never questioned Gervais, he wrote it down because as he often says, “I am a journalist.” What are journalists always after? A scoop. Klaas believed he had a scoop and he went off half-cocked and published that dreadful book. That dreadful book has affected every Earhart researcher since to one degree or another.
The unregenerate Klaas, now 95, has never publicly disavowed what he has described as the strongly “implied” contention in Amelia Earhart Lives that Earhart assumed the identity of Irene Bolam, though occasionally he has admitted the book contained other, less-serious errors. In an April 2007 message to the AES forum, Klaas reasserted his long-held, fence-straddling position on the Earhart-Bolam issue, cloaking it in the same quasi-legal terminology that failed to sway a New York court in the 1970s, and ended with McGraw-Hill’s substantial out-of-court settlement award to Irene Bolam:
My book, which was first published by McGraw-Hill, never stated outright that Irene Bolam was Amelia Earhart. We presented all the evidence … and left it up to the reader to speculate.
But the vigilant Mandel was having none of Klaas’ hair-splitting Bolamite doublespeak that April day, and immediately brought the matter to the attention of those forum members who might, understandably, have been confused by Klaas’ statement:
As it follows from Mr. Joe Klaas’ message, his book “never stated outright that Irene Bolam was Amelia Earhart,” and the ones who think otherwise make “understandable misunderstanding.” Sorry but it is difficult to agree with this statement, because of following facts. Mr. Joe Klaas’ book was actually. . . how the IB theory was revealed to public – that knew nothing about this theory before this book. And the book’s title was: “AMELIA EARHART LIVES.”
The book clearly proclaimed the concept of the author (Mr. Klaas) and his friend who proposed the theory (Mr. Gervais) that she “lives” in another, living (then) real person – Irene Bolam. Let’s just see the real things: it is exactly what the book proclaimed, not anything else. The name of the author, Mr. Joe Klaas, was on the cover of the book, and it is still my firm opinion that the writer is fully, unconditionally and personally RESPONSIBLE – before the readers, the public, the society, and the history – for the information, concepts and statements made in the book. Always and without exceptions.
The concept of the real, national and international, historical mysteries about the very real people to be considered as just a “fascinating game of research and deduction,” completely ignores this important aspect of public and social RESPONSIBILITY of the ones who make the public statements, and it is why I always definitely disagreed with this concept.
From the period well before the book’s publication and until today – for all these decades – Mr. Joe Klaas apparently did never claim that he is not sharing the theory generated by his friend, Mr. Gervais. His own support of the theory is obvious and clearly visible from the contents and tone of his own comments in the book, particularly its final phrase: “Joe Gervais is on your trail, Amelia. There’s no use trying to die, for he’ll follow you wherever you go, and as long as he shall live, you shall live.”
If it is not the full and unconditional support of the Mr. Gervais concept, then it is very hard even to propose any definition (of) what else it is. It is far more than can be expected or demanded from “just the hired writer” – and clearly represents Mr. Klaas’ own position – that he never rejected btw, neither publicly nor (as far as I know) on the “closed forums” like AES. The proof is just below, in Mr. Joe Klaas’ today’s message, where he clearly states that he still believes in “Joe’s and my theory of what actually happened to Amelia Earhart.”
Sorry dear colleagues, but “JOE’s AND MY theory” in this quote is not my words. And for all the following period after 1970, including the current times, Mr. Joe Klaas made it maximally clear for everybody that he still supports his theory and believes in it – as he did when writing the book.
After McGraw-Hill returned the rights to Amelia Earhart Lives to Klaas after many years, the book was republished as an Authors Guild Back-In-Print Edition by iUniverse, and has been available on the Internet for purchase since 2000. As for Prymak, it’s hard to know the extent of the damage he could have prevented by revealing the details of the 1992 Gervais-Mary Eubank incident to the Earhart community in the years immediately following it, but he might have disabused Reineck of his ill-advised impulse to write Amelia Earhart Survived. Prymak eventually admitted his role in keeping the lid closed on the blockbuster Eubank-Bolam connection, but he never quite publicly apologized for it.
Although Gervais might even now be considered as “the Dean of Earhart research” by a remaining few who lack all discernment, Fred Goerner rightly earned the honor that some of the good old boys of the AES once so cavalierly accorded Gervais. As Ron Bright, no advocate of the Earhart-on-Saipan scenario that informed Goerner’s vision and investigations, once wrote, “No one did more research than Goerner.” Goerner’s findings remain treasures; many of his letters are more important and germane than ever, because they direct us toward the truth, unlike the charlatans and government apologists dominating the popular media culture during the past few decades, or the obtuse Bolamites.
Thomas E. Devine, whose experiences on Saipan launched him upon a lifetime quest to establish the truth and whose influence on this writer’s early Earhart education was immense, lacked Goerner’s creative abilities, national connections and imagination, but his contributions to the Earhart investigation were significant and lasting, and no one was ever more driven or dedicated than Devine. Like Goerner, Devine was fallible and wrong in some of his key conclusions, and even dishonest on occasion, but he never approached Gervais’ notoriety, and unlike the notorious Gervais, his positive contributions to Earhart research far outweighed his failings.
By September 2006, the escalating conflict between the forum’s Bolamite faction and its reality-based counterparts reached critical mass, apparently precipitated by Billings and Mandel’s continuing demands that Reineck produce his long-promised forensic evidence. On September 10, Jo Ann Ridley, the genteel co-author of High Times Keep ‘Em Flying: An Aviation Autobiography (Fithian Press, 1992), set the day’s tone by announcing her withdrawal from the AES. Citing the “inexplicable toleration of schoolyard bullies in what should be friendly exchanges,” Ridley expressed her regrets that “the AES is no more, in its original sense,” and concluded by observing that “personal attacks, harassment and grudge-holding do not lead to truth-finding.” Taking Ridley’s cue, the conscientious Reineck soon declared his resignation, as well. “The crude and ungentlemanly behavior of David Billings and Alex Mandel towards me and my research goes well beyond any measure of common decency and certainly beyond my tolerance level,” Reineck announced, astonished that he might be asked for any evidence to support his incredible claims.
Joe Klaas soon followed suit, complaining that the forum “has deteriorated to mean-spiritedness,” which inspired several others in the flock to join the exodus. But like everything else in Bolamville, nothing was quite as it seemed, and the mass resignations proved to be little more than theatrics. No one, including Ridley, ever removed their names from the online membership roll, and all posted occasional messages to the forum in the months following their grand withdrawals. Not surprisingly, of all who had announced their departures, only Reineck returned to regular forum participation, and fairly quickly, as if nothing had ever occurred to keep him away.
More serious researchers had sought greener pastures years earlier, most while continuing their AES affiliation. Ron Bright, once a dues-paying member of TIGHAR, formed the Electra Research Group in 2002, “primarily to approach the various theories from a different standpoint,” he said. “We found about ten guys that seemed fed up with TIGHAR and AES, and wanted to exchange opinions and criticisms without the rancor.” By July 2006, Alex Mandel, starved for reasoned discussion after years of fruitless debate, established the Amelia Mary Earhart Research International Club and Association, also known as AERA. Mandel’s group, though small, continues as a viable forum for Mandel’s vision of “serious scholarly study of the life and career of the pilot Amelia Mary Earhart, the research of her disappearance in 1937, promotion and protection of her legacy, and providing exact and accurate information about Amelia Earhart for everybody interested.”
In late summer 2006, but unknown to me until much later, the hardcore AES Bolamite faction, led by Reineck and Klaas, formed their own private online forum, the “AESurvived” Yahoo! Group, where they could freely discuss the latest developments in their constantly evolving fantasies without the distractions of inconvenient reality. Since then, virtually nothing of this group’s activities or correspondence has come to my attention.
Irene Madeline O’Crowley Craigmile Heller Bolam was born on Oct. 1, 1904 in Newark, New Jersey, and died of cancer on July 7, 1982 in Edison, New Jersey. With few exceptions, nothing else written about this poor woman was either true or necessary. We can only wonder, in light of the lucrative financial settlement Bolam received from McGraw-Hill after Joe Klaas only implied she was Amelia Earhart in Amelia Earhart Lives, whether Reineck and his publisher would have dared to publish Amelia Earhart Survived if Bolam were alive today.
One might reasonably question the need to engage in a lengthy discussion of such an illogical notion as the IB theory in a blog purporting to present the truth about the Earhart matter. The time and effort spent in deconstructing this odious fantasy could be more wisely spent elsewhere, it can be argued, and focusing on the Bolamite credo grants it a legitimacy it could not otherwise achieve. If only this were so, speeding the eradication of this pox on the Earhart legacy would be so much easier – it could simply be ignored. But as we have seen, despite the theory’s abject lack of merit, producers of the National Geographic Channel’s History Undercover series devoted an entire segment of their Earhart program to the IB theory in 2007. If a book as feckless as Amelia Earhart Survived can persuade the National Geographic Channel into re-introducing the Bolamite thesis to millions of uninformed viewers, what damage might a cleverly produced tome by a creative, newly inspired Bolamite protégé yet inflict? We also have the recently published book, so shamelessly and irresponsibly promoted by the UK’s Daily Mail and Fox News, that has already outsold Reineck’s fish wrapper, and reintroduces the same Bolamite folderol to a public that remains largely ignorant about the Bolam lies.
Many demonstrably false and damaging ideas are granted currency by those who cultivate and embrace the politically correct mindset of “tolerance” for all “sincerely held” beliefs. This so-called open-mindedness and respect for “individual rights,” especially in regard to the weird and aberrant, is normally an innocuous conceit when the opinions in question are confined to the occasional eccentric or misfit. However, when these pernicious ideas are allowed to be broadcast to an uninformed public as facts, as was done in Amelia Earhart Survived, still being sold on the Net, and the new book that I refuse to even name, those who can do something about it are bound to act – as decisively as possible – in the service of truth and justice. All ideas are not equal.
Since Joe Gervais embraced his misbegotten conviction that Amelia Earhart “became” Irene Bolam more than 40 years ago, an ersatz mythology complete with its own dogmas and history evolved in support of the Bolamite belief system. It has not been my purpose to examine, item-by-item, ad nauseam, every precept of this phantasmagoria. Rather, I have attempted to describe a phenomenon that nearly defies understanding, not only in its own bizarre and fantastic essence, but in the inexplicable thrall by which it captivated and bound its adherents.
In 2005, Alex Mandel collaborated with Ron Bright, Bill Prymak, and Patrick Gaston to write “Amelia Earhart’s Survival and Repatriation: Myth or Reality?” Mandel’s 12,000-word paper, which I completely re-wrote for public presentation because English is Mandel’s third language, came to be known as “The Atchison Report,” and is the most comprehensive examination and systematic debunking to date of the myths, deceptions and lies that animated the IB theory and continue to be propagated by its remaining adherents. Some 50 copies were distributed to researchers and other interested parties at the annual Amelia Earhart Festival in Atchison, Kansas, in July 2005, with the hope that armed with this in-depth study, serious Earhart students can help to exterminate any vestiges of this stubborn parasite wherever it raises its ugly head. Sadly, the perfidious Bolamite Creed still lives, despite our best efforts.
“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, 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 labourers 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 torturously 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 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.