It is nearly impossible to accurately quantify the number of eyewitnesses and witnesses to the presence and deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan following their arrival there sometime in the summer of 1937. I’ve never tried, having seen others’ unsuccessful attempts to capture an arbitrary number that seems as fluid as mercury.
First, we have the native Saipanese witnesses, led by Josephine Blanco Akiyama, whose eyewitness account ignited Fred Goerner’s early 1960s investigations on Saipan that revealed the undeniable, shocking truth. Next are the American GI witnesses, featuring the myth-busting accounts of Thomas E. Devine, Robert E. Wallack, Earskin J. Nabers and a host of others who saw or had firsthand knowledge of the Earhart Electra and other hard evidence of Amelia’s presence on Saipan prior to the war.
Many others were privy to information gleaned in the postwar years, and then we have the issue of defining what actually constitutes a witness, not to mention the entirely separate grouping of Marshall Islands witnesses, to whom I devote the longest chapter in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Today’s post concerns a relatively obscure American witness from postwar Saipan, and though Charlotte White’s story is insignificant in the big picture, it’s yet another of countless footnotes to the Earhart saga.
In the Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune, of Dec. 27, 1990, Mrs. Charlotte White, of Burlington, Ky., described an incident that occurred while she was living on Saipan, from 1955 to 1961. Her husband, Edward, was a retired Army master sergeant and World War II prisoner of the Germans who was working for the CIA on Saipan. Mrs. White said she was being driven home one day when they were stopped by some reporters from Look magazine, who said they were doing a story about Amelia Earhart. Though White knew nothing about the Earhart disappearance at the time, she began asking questions, and soon she “met the police chief . . . who claimed to know Miss Earhart’s fate,” according to the Tribune. “The chief showed Mrs. White a leather fliers’ jacket that he said belonged to ‘the lady flier.’“ Following is the entire article, written by Jack Hicks, which also appeared in the Dallas Morning News:
BURLINGTON, Ky. — Few mysteries have intrigued the American public like the disappearance of flier Amelia Earhart. Speculation about Miss Earhart’s fate surfaces in books and the media from time to time. Recently the prime-time television show Unsolved Mysteries featured the 53-year-old puzzler. Charlotte White of Burlington, Ky., hasn’t solved the puzzle of Miss Earhart’s disappearance during a round-the-world flight in 1937. But Mrs. White can add a few pieces.
Mrs. White met a man on the Pacific island of Saipan who claimed to know Miss Earhart’s fate. The man, a police chief on the island, showed Mrs. White a leather flyer’s jacket that he said belonged to “the lady flyer.” In tropical Saipan, it’s unlikely a native would wear a leather jacket at any time of year. Mrs. White lived on Saipan from 1955 to 1961 with her husband, Edward, who has since died. A retired Army master sergeant and World War II prisoner of the Germans, White worked for the CIA.* “I’d heard about Amelia Earhart being missing, everybody in America had. But I never connected it with Saipan,” recalled Mrs. White, now 71. “Then one day I was being driven home, and we were stopped by some people who said they were from Look magazine, and were doing research on a story about Amelia Earhart.”
(Editor’s note: Edward White’s CIA affiliation was likely connected to the Naval Technical Training Unit (NTTU) on Saipan. In a July 1961 memorandum from Brig. General Edward G. Lansdale, Pentagon expert on guerrilla warfare, to Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, President John F. Kennedy’s military advisor on Resources for Unconventional Warfare, SE Asia, Lansdale wrote: “In 1948, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) closed off half of Saipan to islanders and outsiders, using the northern part of the island for covert military maneuvers. The end of WWII left a power vacuum that was being filled by communism; the Cold War objectives of the CIA’s covert facility on Saipan were to thwart communist expansion. The island’s remoteness and control by the military made it an ideal base for this training and the NTTU was established. The primary mission of the Saipan Training Station [was] to provide physical facilities and competent instructor personnel to fulfill a variety of training requirements including intelligence tradecraft, communications, counter-intelligence and psychological warfare techniques. Training [was] performed in support of CIA activities conducted throughout the Far East.”
The NTTU was established in 1953 and closed down in 1962. Fred Goerner wrote at length about the NTTU and its role in discouraging media from visiting Saipan in search of Amelia Earhart. See The Search for Amelia Earhart and Truth at Last, pages 104, 105 for more.)
Mrs. White began asking some questions of her own, and ultimately talked with the police chief, named Gurerro [sic]. He had been on the island when it was occupied by the Japanese, before American forces captured it in 1944. “He said he remembered the flyers, and he described Miss Earhart to a T,” White said. “She had curly brown hair. ‘They killed her,’ he said of the Japanese.” Gurerro told her that Miss Earhart’s plane had crashed near Saipan, apparently when it flew off course and ran out of fuel. “Her co-pilot [sic], Fred Noonan, was injured in the crash and soon died, the police chief said. He took me to Garapan, a large city which had been heavily damaged during the war, and showed me the place where he said they kept her in an underground cell. ‘She was very sick,’ he said.”
Miss Earhart was buried within the military’s postwar training ground, which is off-limits, according to Gurerro. Gurerro had the jacket hanging on a hook in his office. “He said it was the lady flyer’s jacket, but he didn’t say how he got it. I tried to touch it and he said, ‘No Missy, don’t touch.’ He let me look at it, but he wouldn’t let me touch it,” Mrs. White said. “I have absolutely nothing to authenticate any of this. All I know is what he told me all those years ago.”
The memory comes back to her from time to time, especially when someone mentions Amelia Earhart or something appears in the news or on television, such as the Unsolved Mysteries segment. No investigator has ever contacted her since she met the Look magazine reporters. She didn’t know anything at the time, she said. Her husband, who may have known something he never told her, admonished her not to talk about it. Edward White, who worked as a security guard after the family returned to Kentucky, died in 1989. Mrs. White would like to go back to Saipan for another look, but she isn’t keen on a flight across the ocean. She had enough of that, she says, as an Army and CIA wife. (Jack Hicks is a reporter for the Kentucky Post in Covington.)
Perhaps the most curious aspect of this story is that the police chief’s name was “Gurerro,” according to Mrs. White, and he had been on the island when it was occupied by the Japanese. Could this have been the same Jesús De Leon Guerrero, also known as Kumoi, who terrorized his fellow Saipanese as a Japanese collaborator and police officer before and during the war years?
Paul Briand Jr., author of the seminal 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, which introduced the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama to the world, wrote in a 1966 essay, “Requiem for Amelia,” that Kumoi was 51 in 1937. In 1966, Briand wrote, Kumoi had “no official connections with either the American or Japanese government—he is a dealer in scrap metal.” Briand added that Guerrero was “still greatly feared and respected on Saipan as the man who could extract confessions out of anybody. For this reason he was very useful to the Japanese authorities on Saipan in dealing with the natives and getting necessary information out of prisoners.”
I haven’t been able to locate Jesús De Leon Guerrero’s obituary, and if any reader out there can help with that information, it would be most appreciated.