Today we present the alleged last words of Fred Goerner, as recorded for posterity by his wife of 26 years, Merla Zellerbach. I don’t put much stock in this document, as it has little relationship to Goerner’s many outstanding contributions to Earhart research. Ravaged by cancer in 1994 at age 69, he had made several less-than-wise judgments along his long Earhart search; the most significant are discussed at length in Truth at Last. On that front, I won’t digress any further here. (Boldface emphases mine throughout; caps emphasis Goerner’s.)
However, in light of recent comments by Les Kinney, who has voiced what some of us have long suspected but were reluctant to state openly — that Goerner so hated to give other Earhart researchers credit for their important work that he would reject his own findings to undermine them — this transcript may reflect just how deeply Goerner had assimilated his seemingly dishonest rejection of the fact of Amelia Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing. This was a truth he himself initially revealed to the world in his 1966 book The Search for Amelia Earhart, and is a piece of Goerner’s legacy that will doubtless remain controversial.
Among Earhart researchers, Ron Reuther knew Fred Goerner as well as anyone. Reuther had a copy of the audiotape of Goerner’s last words, which I don’t have, though I do have the transcript. “Goerner abandoned the thought that AE/FN came down near Mili,” Reuther wrote in 2001. “He recorded on the day of his death in 1994 on an audiotape that he believed they (AE/FN) came down on one of 5 small reefs SE of Howland. On the same tape he also said he still believed they were picked up by the Japanese and taken to Saipan. It would seem to me that if that were the case the Japanese ship would have gone to Saipan via the Marshalls and I have never seen any document from Fred that disputes that.” (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
Merla Zellerbach, an author and columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle from 1962 to 1995, who passed away in December 2014, recalled Reuther fondly. “I remember Ron Reuther very well and was so sorry to learn of his death,” Zellerbach wrote in a 2007 e-mail. “He was a lovely man, and a tremendous help to me in cataloging Fred’s papers before we sent them off to the Nimitz Library.”
“Even at his passing at 69 in 1994, the Earhart disappearance remained uppermost in Fred’s mind,” Zellerbach told me. At his side until the end, she forwarded a text copy of his last words:
Sept. 13, 1994 — This will be my last recording, what I know and feel at this point, having worked on this subject for the Columbia Broadcasting System and as a private citizen.
There have been many books written after mine was written in 1966, alleging that the Earhart plane went down in the Marshall Islands. But I no longer believe it. I had the opportunity of visiting the Marshalls after the book was published . . . talking to Eric Sussman who came to the conclusion, as did I, that the story was muddled.
I no longer believe that Earhart was on a secret overflight mission for the US military in 1937 . . . mostly because the U.S. Navy didn’t have the money to spend on such a mission at that time, and it would have been too volatile, too highly dangerous.
I do believe, however, that Earhart did collect what is known as “white intelligence” for the military, meaning that she simply observed things during the course of her flight. It was valuable to the military. After extensive research, I came to the conclusion that the plane, containing AE and her navigator Fred Noonan, landed on one of five small reefs which lie between Howland Island and the Northern Phoenix Islands. These reefs have never been fully investigated, and I believe there’s a possibility the plane’s still there.
I do not believe in any way the recent ideas of a man named Gillespie and an outfit named “Tiger” [sic] that the plane landed in the Northern Phoenix Islands in a place called Nikumororo. This idea was originally advanced by my friend Fred Hooven. I tried to convince Fred that that island had been so occupied by so many people that there was no possibility of the plane having landed there. He finally agreed.
However the original information was sold to the public as a possibility and a great deal of money was spent to no avail to try to find the plane on Nikumororo.
There’s a lot of information to indicate that Earhart and Noonan may have been picked up by a Japanese vessel and taken into Japanese territory. There’s also the possibility that Earhart and Noonan survived the war and were rescued by US [sic] forces. Some believe Earhart was killed in an accident after she was rescued from the Japanese. Some think she returned to the US after the war. I do NOT in any way align myself with these people!
A good researcher will finally seek out and discover the truth. Admiral Nimitz urged me to continue. He had a deep, deep interest in the Earhart affair. I hope the Nimitz Museum will continue the investigation.
I wouldn’t have continued the investigation without his urging me to do so. One night I went to have dinner with him in Quarters No. 1 on Yerba Buena Island. He was writing a letter and he told me he was writing to the mother of one of the boys who disappeared with the sinking of the Indianapolis at the end of the war.
She hoped he had reached some island and somehow survived and the Admiral had to tell her that specially trained people had visited every known island in the Pacific after the war and he believed there was no chance her son was alive. He was such a sensitive, warm man.
There are a lot of kooks and crazies who come up with a new theory every day, but a final answer will be found — and the answers are somewhere in the records at Crane, Indiana. (End of recording.)
“An hour later, Fred passed away” Zellerbach wrote.
Reuther believed Goerner’s change was due more to his longtime association and friendship with Hooven than anything Sussman told him, and that Hooven would have convinced Goerner to return to the Mili scenario if not for his death in 1985. “I should have also mentioned that Fred Hooven, after making original conclusions that Earhart came down SE of Howland, thus influencing Goerner to concur, later recalculated and changed his conclusions and determined that AE/FN came down close to Mili,” Reuther wrote. “I strongly believe Goerner would have reassessed his position and very likely would have agreed with Hooven’s final conclusion — near Mili.”
Bill Prymak agreed that Hooven later converted to Goerner’s original Mili landing scenario, and though I’ve seen nothing in black and white from Hooven, I have no reason to doubt it. A few weeks before his sudden passing in October 2007, Reuther told me he would locate and send written confirmation of Hooven’s belief in Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing. It wasn’t to be.
Reuther and Prymak were great researchers and forthright, honest men, but Goerner’s change was a vastly different matter from Hooven’s, and we have nothing to suggest that he was ever mulling a return to the original Mili scenario he described so well in the closing pages of Search.
For much more on Goerner’s change of position about where he believed Earhart landed on July 2, 1937, please see Truth at Last, pages 170-175.
Today we present Ross Game’s reply to Rollin Reineck’s October 1998 letter, in which the retired Air Force colonel and noted Earhart researcher asked him if he could shed any light on Fred Goerner inexplicably dropping his well-known conviction that Amelia Earhart had landed at Mili Atoll on July 2, 1937, a belief that has long been supported by a variety of witnesses.
As was Reineck’s letter in our previous post, this one appeared in the February 1999 edition of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. (Boldface and italic emphases mine throughout.)
Ross P. Game
Post Office Box 176
Napa, CA 94559-0176
Telephone (707) 255-4693
October 27, 1998
Dear Colonel Reineck,
I received your letter of October 24 and I hope in the next day or two, health permitting, to contact Bob Ross to arrange a meeting in the near future.
Up to the time of his death I didn’t ever get the impression from Fred Goerner that he had any doubts about the Earhart plane coming down in the Marshalls. It was known, beyond doubt, that Amelia and Fred Noonan were brought to Saipan by the Japanese. We found evidence (obtained in interviews with natives — recalling the “white woman and white man” when they were children) on Saipan and in the Marshalls and had fantastic assistance in that phase of the investigation from Catholic missionary-priests able to speak the native languages.
Jose Quintanilla, trained at the FBI Academy and head of the police on Guam, took a leave of absence to assist us. He came up with evidence identical with what we had obtained from natives of the islands.
Without exception those who recalled the “white people” were able to pick Amelia’s photo from a series of pictures spread out on the ground. When she first was brought to Saipan in 1937 she was indeed a novelty because Earhart and Noonan were the first Caucasians they’d ever seen and the woman was wearing a coat which was most unusual to the natives (her leather jacket) and had hair cut like a man.
In Washington files we learned that George Palmer Putnam was secretly brought to the Saipan gravesite after the island had been captured by U.S. Marines and the remains “secretly” removed under the direction of an intelligence officer (we even obtained his name, thanks to the CIA).
Let’s keep in touch.
Clearly the most notable aspect of Game’s letter is that he fails to answer Reineck’s question — and mine as well — about what might have caused Goerner to change his mind about where he believed Amelia Earhart landed her Electra on July 2, 1937. To this day, no substantial, or perhaps more accurately stated, acceptable reason, has surfaced to explain why Goerner decided to unceremoniously dump his formerly rock-solid belief that Amelia landed her Electra at Mili Atoll.
By 1998, when Rollin Reineck contacted him, Game was obviously far removed from his former role as a confidant to Goerner. In my inch-thick file of correspondence between Game and Goerner, the last letter, from Game to Goerner, was sent in August 1992. In none of the material does Goerner inform Game of his remarkable rejection of his original Mili belief, so succinctly stated in the close of The Search for Amelia Earhart.
Precisely when Goerner changed his mind isn’t known, but it could have been as early as 1970, when in an April 17 letter to Fred Hooven, he discussed his plans to search the area southeast of Howland and Baker Islands, and northeast of McKean Island in the Phoenix group for “a reef and sandbar which have been most recently reported in 1945 and 1954, but have never been landed upon or investigated at a distance closer than two miles.”
Game’s response to Reineck certainly leaves no doubt that he was unaware of Goerner’s change, which we can find emphatically spelled out in Goerner’s stunning April 1993 letter to J. Gordon Vaeth, in which he flatly announced, “I now can state without equivocation that I DO NOT BELIEVE THE AE ELECTRA LANDED AT MILI.” (Emphasis Goerner’s.)
For much more on this, please see Chapter VII, “Goerner’s Reversal and Devine’s Dissent,” pages 172-176 of Truth at Last.
I have nothing that indicates Reineck and Game ever “kept in touch,” after this letter from Game, though it’s entirely possible, and have no evidence that Game and Bob Ross ever got together for a meeting. Bill Prymak’s AES Newsletters, although full of information unavailable anywhere else, are far from exhaustive.
For more on G.P. Putnam’s visit to Saipan, please see pages 239-241 in Truth at Last.
When it comes to the Amelia Earhart saga, even most of the well informed go blank when Ross Game’s name is mentioned. But Game, a close friend of Fred Goerner and a well-known and highly respected editor at the Napa (Calif.) Register during the late 1960s and ’70s, was among the smartest people in the world about the Earhart disappearance. At one point, Goerner and Game were within arm’s length of breaking through the stone wall that continues to separate us from official disclosure of the truth that’s been lying in plain sight for over 80 years. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
Unknown to everyone at the time, sometime in the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy allowed Goerner and Game to have a special, up-close look at the top-secret Earhart files, which revealed the long-suppressed truth about Amelia’s sad fate that Goerner had found on Saipan.
Nobody has ever had a similar opportunity, and as things stand now, it will never happen again. With JFK’s stunning, world-changing demise on Nov. 22, 1963, all the doors to the forbidden truth were slammed shut and have stayed that way. The Deep State murdered JFK for many reasons, and I have no doubt that Amelia Earhart was among them.
I never had the opportunity to meet Fred Goerner, who died of cancer in 1994 at age 69, but was privileged to talk briefly to Game in 2007, two years before his death at age 80 from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
During our September 2007 conversation, Game said he and Goerner were given unprecedented access to top-secret Navy and State Department records by the JFK administration, because “JFK was a great Earhart fan and wanted the truth to finally come out.” Kennedy’s problem was that his hands were tied by a “secret executive order” issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, according to Game, that prohibited release of any Earhart information that would expose FDR’s culpability “for abandoning her.”
This order applied to all subsequent U.S. presidents, Game said. The idea that FDR could prevent all future presidents from exposing his betrayal of Earhart on 1937 Saipan with an executive order doesn’t quite compute here. Kennedy’s “solution,” as it were, was to grant Goerner access to the secret files—but without cameras or recording devices of any kind, although pencils were allowed, Game said.
For more on Game’s involvement and contributions, please see Truth at Last, where a search on Game’s name will produce multiple pages and threads.
In 1998, Game wrote the following letter to Bob Ross, whose fanciful claim about finding the Earhart plane as a Marine during the Battle of Saipan in July 1944 was the subject of my most recent post. Apparently Game wasn’t quite up to speed about Ross at the time, but the letter nonetheless presents an intriguing possibility.
Ross P. Game
Post Office Box 176
Napa, CA 94559-0176
October 9, 1998
A friend happened to hear one of your recent discussions about your efforts to solve the mystery surrounding Amelia Earhart’s disappearance.
When she told me of your presentation I was particularly interested she recalled your indication that Amelia’s remains are in an unmarked grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
I am a bit curious about this matter because I worked closely with the late Fred Goerner, a long-time friend and media associate, from his earliest involvement in his “search” until his death after a long battle with cancer.
I travelled with Fred to the Pacific, Washington and other places through the years. Until the death of John F. Kennedy we had the assistance of the White House (JFK was fascinated with our work) and until Lyndon [B. Johnson] eliminated that support we had access to classified files and vital federal sources, including the CIA.
Fred authored The Search for Amelia Earhart at my Napa home; a majority of the photos were either taken by me or obtained by me; the Associated Press provided other help.
Just before the CIA assistance was cut off I pleaded with our contact to tell me where the Earhart remains had been placed after being brought from Saipan. The reply: “I can’t be specific, but why don’t you look in the most obvious place.”
Fred and I immediately focused our attention on Arlington National Cemetery. We spent a considerable amount of time there going through records and other data. Every burial for the period in question could be documented and we felt assured nothing was over-looked. Thus, my interest in what I’m told you said.
Perhaps sometime we can get together and discuss this. I’m retired after almost 60 years in the media business. Early this year I underwent cancer surgery and my health limits my movements. But I would like to chat with you if possible.
Ross P. Game
I don’t have Ross’ response to Game’s letter, if he did reply, but it probably contained little if anything substantial, based on what we already know about Ross. I don’t buy the idea that the fliers were buried at Arlington, as it would be far easier and less complicated to either destroy the bones or bury them at some secret, isolated location where the chances of discovery would be far more minimal than at Arlington.
Some have suggested that Amy Otis Earhart, Amelia’s mother, and/or Muriel Earhart Morrissey, her sister, may have been told the truth by the U.S. government about Amelia’s wretched demise on Saipan, as well as her burial site, in exchange for their sworn oaths of secrecy. Muriel’s relative silence over the decades until her death at age 98 in March 1998 is particularly curious. It’s possible, I suppose, but we’ll probably never know for sure.
“Born in Chicago on July 29, 1929, Game died Oct. 18 in Napa, succumbing to ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease,” Napa Valley Register staff writer Carlos Villatoro wrote in Game’s Nov. 4, 2009 obituary:
Game had a long and varied career that included serving as Register editor and holding top positions at other papers, including those in Lake Tahoe and Petaluma. He wrote a book about the disappearance of famed aviator Amelia Earhart*, served on the boards of various political and journalism organizations, wrote for the Associated Press, created international bonds that led to the sister city relationship between Napa and Launceston, Australia, and covered the war in Vietnam for the Scripps League chain of papers, of which the Register was once one. He was editor of the Register in the late 1960s and 1970s.
To read the complete story, please click here.
* I seriously doubt this, as I’ve never heard of an Earhart book by Ross Game, though he worked closely with Fred Goerner on many aspects of The Search For Amelia Earhart.
(Update: On Dec. 25, our good friend Marie Castro on Saipan wrote in an email: “After reading “Game’s letter suggests possible burial site,” I wonder if he read your TAL. I think people should consider reading the booklet [or the whole book!]. To me this is the conclusion of her saga. Saipan is the end of her story. Matilde [F. Arriola], Joaquina [Cabrera] and [Jose] Tomokane were the closest connection who witnessed the evidence of Amelia’s presence on Saipan. Mike, I believe you have the authority to end AE’s saga on TAL. Let’s put her to rest on Saipan.”
Marie’s confidence is greatly appreciated, but I have no power when it comes to declaring the true last resting place of Amelia Earhart. I certainly wish we could be certain that the fliers were buried on Saipan, or cremated there, as has strongly been suggested by certain witnesses, but we just don’t have enough evidence to establish that fact. To read more about the witnesses Marie cites in her message, please see my May 18, 2018 post, “Marie Castro, a treasure chest of Saipan history, Reveals previously unpublished witness accounts.”
In 1998, Ross Game knew little or nothing of the evidence for Amelia’s cremation. Game was the first media member to be notified in 1965 by former Marine Pvt. Everett Henson Jr., who along with Pvt. Billy Burks, was ordered by Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold to excavate a gravesite several feet outside of the Liyang Cemetery on Saipan in late July or early August 1944. This incident is chronicled in detail in the Chapter 13 of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, titled “Griswold, Henson, and Burks.”
In late October of 2017, Ms. Carla Henson, daughter of the late Everett Henson Jr., contacted me, completely out of the blue about her father’s experience on Saipan. To read more about Carla, her father and the Saipan gravesite incident in 1944, please see my Dec. 26, 2017 post, “KCBS 1966 release a rare treasure in Earhart saga.”)
The following column by Michael Fitzgerald first appeared in The Stockton Record on Feb. 4, 1996, and presents the account of Marine veteran Robert Ross, then 71, who claimed to have served on Saipan during the critical summer 1944 invasion, at that time the most important conflict of the Pacific war. Someone sent it to Bill Prymak, who included it in the July 1996 issue of his Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter.
At first glance it might appear compelling, especially to the uninformed, who comprise well over 99.99 percent of the nation’s populace. Let’s take a look anyway, before we explain what’s wrong with it. (Boldface and italic emphases are mine throughout.)
“Whatever Happened to Earhart?”
by Michael Fitzgerald, The Stockton Record
Today I offer a solution to the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. Seriously, but not positively.
How, you ask, could a punk columnist from Stockton solve one of the great mysteries of the 20th century — the disappearance of Earhart (1897-1937), the first woman pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean? The American heroine who, with her navigator Fred Noonan vanished without a trace over the Pacific in 1937 while attempting to fly around the world?
Well . . . in Lodi there lives a certain man, an older ex-Marine who says that long ago, on a mission deep in a jungle on a remote Pacific island, he stumbled onto Earhart’s missing airplane.
Robert Ross, 71, says he also learned Earhart’s terrible fate, but the U.S. Navy swore him to secrecy.
Now he’s talking.
In August of 1944, Ross was a Marine with the 2nd Raider Battalion, battling fiercely to recapture the Mariana Islands from the Japanese. One day on Saipan, Ross was ordered to undertake a solo night mission — to hunt down and kill a Japanese sniper firing from a mountain on U.S. soldiers at Tanepeg [sic] Harbor, Saipan’s west side.
Under cover of night, Ross says, he made stealthily through dense jungle toward the sniper’s vicinity. “The banana palms were so thick I had to cut through with a K-bar (a Marine knife).”
At one point, “I kind of fell into a space,” and there Ross unexpectedly found a hidden aircraft. “There was no crash, no nothing,” Ross recalled.
“I thought to myself, ‘Why did the (Japanese) set a Betty bomber (a twin-engine Japanese bomber) out here and leave it?’ ”
Intent on stalking his prey, Ross moved on. He put the plane out of his mind. Ross got the sniper, returned to the beach and was eating K-rations when, he says, he overheard one officer tell another, “We know her damned airplane is here somewhere. We just can’t find it!”
Ross realized the officer must be talking about Amelia Earhart. So he reported his find. The officers ordered him to lead them to the plane. In an armored vehicle, the men punched through the jungle.
Simultaneously, Ross says, U.S. soldiers were finding pictures of Earhart and Noonan in the wallets of dead Japanese soldiers. The photos depicted Earhart with Japanese officers. In some, the Japanese fleet could be seen in the background. “In one, I saw the airstrip on Saipan.”
Ross says a native maid who worked in a hotel in the village of Garapan came forward with information. The woman told the Americans that Earhart and Noonan had been held captive at the hotel. According to Ross, the maid said the Japanese had poisoned Earhart and shot Noonan and decapitated his corpse. Ross says the women led Americans to the shallow grave where Earhart’s corpse, and Noonan’s headless body, were found.
The next day, Ross says, an order came out: The discovery of Earhart was top secret. “Anyone having any Amelia Earhart paraphernalia after 0400 the next morning, it was a general court-martial offense,” Ross says.
“Why? I really don’t know.”
That is Ross’ story.
What to make of it? History records that Earhart and Noonan took off from New Guinea and crashed at sea somewhere en route to Howland Island. That, incidentally, was many of hundreds of miles from the spot where Ross says he discovered Earhart’s plane.
Some biographers theorize that the U.S. military on New Guinea outfitted Earhart’s plane with spy equipment and she embarked on an unpublicized mission for her country.
Following this theory, Earhart’s crash was picked up by Japanese military radio. The Japanese military rescued Earhart and Noonan, recovered the plane and transported their catch to the privacy of distant Saipan for interrogation. The plane was hidden so America would never learn the fate of its heroine.
Ross said he heard scuttlebutt that the remains of Earhart and Noonan were removed to a forensic lab near Pearl Harbor. A bulldozer plowed through the jungle and towed the plane out, and he has no idea what became of it.
Perhaps Amelia Earhart was killed because she was a spy; perhaps not. Perhaps the U.S. military clamped a lid on Ross’ discovery because Earhart’s top secret mission was a political embarrassment: perhaps not. Perhaps you are one of the first people in the world to learn the real solution to the mystery of Amelia Earhart. (End of Fitzgerald column.)
As I said, Ross’ story may appear impressive to some. I recall seeing a small print advertisement that he had taken out in a magazine several years ago, claiming to reveal the location of the Earhart Electra for several thousand dollars, but I can’t find it now. I must not have placed much stock in it, and apparently for very good reasons.
First of all, absolutely no evidence exists that the 2nd Raider Battalion served on Saipan. In fact, the record tells us this unit didn’t even exist in the summer of 1944. This is from the Wikipedia entry for Marine Raiders:
On 1 February 1944, the 1st Raider Regiment was redesignated the 4th Marine Regiment, and eventually became part of the 6th Marine Division. The 1st, 4th, and 3d Raider Battalions became respectively the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions, 4th Marines. The 2nd Raider Battalion became the regimental weapons company, lacking the manpower to form an entire Battalion after the costly fighting in the Solomons. Personnel of the Raider Training Battalion at Camp Pendleton transferred to the 5th Marine Division.
Although the foregoing unassailable facts render the rest of Ross’ account moot, we’ll go through it anyway, perhaps to disabuse the querulous of any doubts about its lack of veracity, as well as to flesh out common misconceptions that sometimes plague those whose attention to detail might not be as well developed as they imagine.
Ross’ claims that he “heard scuttlebutt that the remains of Earhart and Noonan were removed to a forensic lab near Pearl Harbor,” and “A bulldozer plowed through the jungle and towed the plane out, and he has no idea what became of it” both strain credulity.
If “the discovery of Earhart was top secret” among a few GIs in the know on Saipan, how did a bulldozer “plough through the jungle” and tow the plane out without everyone on the island knowing about it? Further, I’ve never read nor heard a whisper about the involvement of forensic labs at Pearl Harbor with the remains of Amelia Earhart or Fred Noonan, have you?
Contrast this scenario with the one heard on Saipan in early April 1968, when Antonio Diaz, 59, a native witness whose credibility based on his interviews with several researchers is quite shaky, told Don Kothera, John Gacek and the Cleveland Group that “he had been called out to build a coral road [by the Japanese] into the jungle to bring out Amelia’s plane. The plane had gone down in some pine-like trees and was damaged very little.” (Page 131 second edition  of Joe Davidson’s Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan; all references are for the second edition.)
Diaz said it took him two weeks to build the road, and “after building the road to bring the airplane out, it was loaded on a ship and probably sent to Japan; he was told it went to Japan,” Davidson wrote (p. 135).
Davidson mentioned nothing about the Cleveland Group finding any evidence of the coral road that Diaz claimed he built, nor about them even attempting to pin down the approximate date for the events Diaz described. But Diaz drew a map of the area that’s displayed on page 120 of Amelia Earhart Returns. All of it reeks of fabrication from Diaz, in my opinion. So which do you prefer, the Ross or Diaz accounts? Ross couldn’t have found a plane that Diaz had already taken out on a road he’d been ordered to build, but nothing exists to support Diaz’s claim either, not even another independent witness. Neither story withstands any real scrutiny.
Of course, we do have several credible reports that the Earhart Electra was discovered by American forces soon after D-Day, June 15, 1944, in a hangar at Aslito Field. Thomas E. Devine’s 1987 book Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident chronicles his experiences on Saipan on or about July 6, 1944, when he claimed to have seen the Earhart Electra on three separate occasions; the final time, at Aslito, the plane was in flames.
Devine presented a far more plausible narrative about the disposition of the Electra on Saipan. The former postal sergeant wrote that after he witnessed the “large, twin-engine, double-fin civilian plane,” with NR 16020 under its left wing clearly in view, flying over his bivouac area at Cape Obiam, he and Pfc. Paul Anderson violated an off-limits order surrounding Aslito Field and actually inspected NR 16020 at “the southwest end of the airfield, before a roofless hangar.” Later, after returning to his camp nearby, “a muffled explosion at Aslito Field erupted into a large flash fire,” Devine wrote, and after he quickly returned to the airfield to see what was going on, he watched “aghast” as the “twin-engine plane was engulfed in flames.” (Eyewitness, p. 40-41).
“I saw the plane,” Devine told me emphatically during our extensive discussion at his New Haven, Connecticut home in February 1991. “I know all about the plane. The plane was there. No matter what anyone would ever say, that plane was Earhart’s plane — positively, absolutely, 100 percent. I can drop dead right now if it wasn’t so. Nobody can change my mind about it, because it was her plane.”
It was then that Devine told me the remains of Electra NR 16020 were bulldozed into a landfill with the assorted rubble and refuse of war under Aslito Airfield, and remains buried under the tarmac of what is now Saipan International Airport. “I don’t know exactly where they pushed it, where it’s buried now under the airport,” Devine said, “but I’m sure they would not allow me to dig up an airfield to find an airplane.” (For a complete discussion, see Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, pages 65-78.)
Several GIs contacted Devine to corroborate his sighting after publication of Eyewitness in 1987. Both Devine, in 1963 and 1990, and Fred Goerner, in 1965, directly questioned Gen. Wallace M. Greene, who was promoted to commandant of the Marine Corps on Jan. 1, 1964. Greene, a lieutenant colonel and operations officer of the 2nd Marine Division on Saipan, was unofficially credited with discovering the Electra (See Truth at Last, multiple pages.) Of course Greene vehemently denied all involvement with the Earhart plane.
The Ross story typifies those created by certain types who are vaguely familiar with the known facts, who then pick and choose among the Earhart saga’s better known elements, stitching them together into new confections that suit their strange whimsies. It’s rather pathetic, actually, and those who weave these tales would be deserving of our sympathy if they weren’t so annoying, not to mention the extra confusion they create about a subject that’s already one of the most misunderstood in American history.
Not all Saipan veterans’ stories are equal — if they’re Saipan vets to begin with — and this one from Ross has a very strong aroma, much like that of Paul Erwin, who also claimed an amazing find on Saipan. Ironically, Erwin’s tale, “Soldier’s Secret,” also appeared in the July 1996 edition of the AES Newsletters. Originally appearing in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier, on June 16, 1996 and written by Jennifer Jacobs, “Soldier’s Secret” is another that didn’t pass the smell test, at least in this observer’s opinion. For a complete discussion of Paul Erwin’s account, please click here.
I’ve been unable to locate Ross, or even determine if he’s still alive. He would be 94 or 95 now, and little has been heard from him since the late 1990s. I have a letter from former newsman Ross Game, Fred Goerner’s close associate, that appears to be addressed to Ross, that I’ll present in a future post.
Michael Fitzgerald retired from The Stockton Record in October 2018 after 33 years and 4.200 columns. To read his final column, please click here.
(Editor’s note: Late on Friday, Dec. 13, I received an email from Marie Castro, who had just read this post. Regarding the Antonio Diaz account, Marie wrote: “The fabrication on Diaz’s story was never heard or mentioned among his family. Clearly it was a made up story. Right after the war all the conversations were only about the war, but Diaz’s story was never heard among the locals.”)
Today present the conclusion of Paul Briand Jr.’s “Requiem for Amelia,” perhaps the best early synopsis of the accounts presented by the original Saipan and Marshall Islands witnesses, based on the interviews done by Fred Goerner and the “Operation Earhart” duo of Air Force officers Joe Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam and Saipan in 1960. (Boldface emphasis is both Briand’s and mine; capitalization emphasis is Briand’s.)
According to other witnesses, the American fliers were blind-folded, taken into custody, and driven away from the crash scene into the nearby village of Garapan. Jose Basa, who had been stacking gasoline drums for the refueling of Japanese construction equipment, saw the crash, clearly remembers that one of the apprehended pilots was a woman, then saw them blindfolded and driven away by Japanese officials. Jose Camacho and his wife, also witnesses to the crash in the Sadog Tasi area near the Chico base, stood nearby and watched the Americans being taken away in a vehicle toward the direction of Garapan.
Mr. Antonio A. Diaz, now a distinguished member of the Saipan legislature, was in 1937 the chauffeur for the Commanding Officer of the Japanese Navy Chico Base on Saipan. One day in the commander’s sedan he overheard a conversation between the commanding officer and another Japanese officer. The officers were discussing the airplane that had crashed at Sadog Tasi. Two American pilots were apprehended. One of them was a woman.
Contrary to expectations, the Americans were not taken directly to prison, but to the Hotel Kobayashi-Royokan in Garapan. Many Saipan natives remember seeing the Americans at the hotel, particularly the woman, because of the name they all called her by and best remember her by. The name was “Tokyo Rosa” the American spy girl with the camera up front.
Antonio M. Cepada, then 52, recalls that he saw the American woman on two separate occasions over a period of three months during the summer of 1937. Asked to explain the term Tokyo Rosa which he was using in his story (because of the connection with Tokyo Rose used later during the war), Cepada said they named the American woman themselves among his people. In 1937 in Saipan, Tokyo Rosa meant American spy girl, and that IS all it meant, nothing else.
“I saw her while going to work outside the hotel which is located in East Garapan village,” Cepada said. “She wore unusual clothes, belted in the center. The color was faded khaki, which looked like it had been washed many times. Clothes like pilots wear.” He described the woman as “average height, American girl not short, not extra tall — had thin build. Chest somewhat flat, not out like other American girls. Her hair appeared to be reddish brown color and cut short like man’s hair, trimmed close in back like man. She did not wear powder or lipstick.”
“The girl looked soft,” Cepada remembers, “very calm, not expressive, not smile —seem to be thinking far away and not notice her surroundings and people much.” He guessed her age to be about 35, but remarked it was hard to tell age of the American woman. When shown a photograph of Amelia Earhart, Cepada said, “Looks just like same girl then.”
Commenting on her capture, Cepada did not know how she had been caught. But the belief then was: “she take secret picture with flying suit in front hidden camera.”
Another man who saw the American girl under similar circumstances and also referred to her as Tokyo Rosa, was Carlos Palacios, then 48, who in 1937 worked as a salesman in a merchandise store near the Kobayashi-Royokan hotel. Palacios, too, had only seen the woman twice, while going to and from his place of work. The first time was at an open window on the second floor of the hotel. She had on what seemed to him a man’s white shirt, with short sleeves, and open at the neck. She had dark reddish-brown hair, cut like a man’s hair in back too. He could not see any make-up or lipstick.
The second time Palacios saw the woman she was standing at the entrance to the hotel. She wore the same white shirt, and a dark skirt and American-type shoes. “It was the same girl,” he affirmed, “hair cut short, no make-up, slim girl, not fat, not big in front of chest.”
He said he did not know where the woman was caught and does not remember a crash incident – “only American spy girl and secret pictures she take.” She was Tokyo Rosa, his people’s 1937 expression for the American spy girl. Like Cepada when shown a photograph of Amelia Earhart, Palacios said, “Looks and haircut look like same girl.”
A resident of the hotel, Antonio G. Cabrera, then 62, now a farmer, who lived downstairs and owned the land on which the hotel was located, remembers that in 1937 an American man and woman lived at the Kobayashi-Royokan and were under the custody of the Japanese. The Americans lived at the hotel for only a short while and then were taken away by the Japanese.
When asked to examine some photographs, Cabrera positively identified the man as Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart as a woman who looked just like the woman who stayed at the hotel.
Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera [relationship to Antonio G. unknown], then 49, employed as a servant at the hotel in 1937, recalled seeing the two Americans and that as part of her duties she took a list of the guests to the governor’s office every day. On one particular day while carrying out this duty, Mrs. Cabrera saw the two Americans in the rear of a three-wheeled vehicle. They were blindfolded and their hands were bound behind them. One of them was the American woman. When she looked at a newspaper picture of Amelia and Fred, Mrs. Cabrera said they looked like the same people, and they were dressed in the same manner as the people she saw in the truck. She never learned what then happened to the two Americans.
Living next door to the hotel was Mrs. Matilda Ariola Saint Nicholas, then 47, perhaps the last woman to see the woman flier alive. The American woman visited Matilda and her younger sister on two different occasions in a one-week period while she was still living at the hotel. On the first visit the American girl wore a trench coat, and appeared very pale, as if she were sick.
The Nicholases offered her some food; the woman accepted, but ate very little, only some fruit. When the American woman visited the second time, she was noticeably changed in appearance, for although still pale and sick-looking, she now had bruises or burns on the right side of her neck and had her left forearm wrapped in bandages. It was on this visit, Mrs. Saint Nicholas remembers, that the American girl, despite her pain and sickness, helped the sister with her geography lesson, guiding her as she drew correctly the location of the Mariana Islands in relation to the other islands in the Pacific.
Matilda Saint Nicholas did not see the American girl again, nor did she hear about her again until a busboy from the hotel told her he had learned that the American girl had died. Lately he had noticed how often she had to use the outside toilet and how, most recently, he saw that the bed she slept on was soaked with blood. It was later, Mrs. Saint Nicholas said, that the same busboy asked her to make two wreaths for a burial.
From the hotel the American fliers were taken to the prison in Garapan. An Insular policeman and prison guard for the Japanese at the time was Ramon Cabrera, then 41, who saw the pi1ots, bound and blindfolded, brought to the prison. They both wore khaki-colored flying clothes. One had a beard with thick whiskers. The other, he noticed, was strange looking, with no whiskers and a smooth face, smaller in height than the other, and slender in build. But both had short haircuts. The fliers were kept in separate cells, but were permitted to exercise out in the main prison yard for short periods during the day. There were approximately 200 prisoners in the prison at the time, composed of Saipanese, Carolinians and Guamanians. But the two pilots were the only Americans there.
For the first few days, Cabrera recalls, the Americans could not eat their prison food — breadfruit and other bits thrown in. But by the fourth day they began to eat, although they still did not like the food, because they only received one meal a day, served in thirds three times a day. Like other Saipan natives in 1937, Cabrera used the expression Tokyo Rosa, and in addition he used the term “driver” as it was meant by the Japanese then to refer to an American woman as a driver of a car, boat, or airplane.
Ramon Cabrera claims he does not know what happened to the American prisoners after they were taken from the Garapan jail. He guessed they were either deported to Japan or executed.
If the Japanese were convinced that the Americans were spies, that the cameras found in the crashed aircraft, or the camera carried by the girl, or both, were used to photograph the fortifications being built in the Pacific contrary to the terms of the League of Nations man- date, then they had but one recourse to silence this discovery by two Americans . . . death. If the Americans were executed as spies, however, there is no witness who is willing to come forth and confirm what can only be inferred.
That there was an execution can be inferred from the testimony of two natives, who claim they know the exact location of the unmarked graves of the American man and woman pilots, but who are unwilling to point them out for reasons fearful and mysterious even twenty years after the fact. If they continue unwilling, the jungle will finally reclaim the graves and the signs of the crosses, now broken and mute to the outrage committed.
The two men are Joaquin Seman, then 48, a sugar mill worker on Saipan in 1937, and Ben Salas, then 43, a carpenter at the Japanese Chico Navy Base at the same time. They are good friends. When they were interviewed [by Gervais and Guam Police Sergeant Eddie M. Camacho] they both stated that they remembered the two Americans on Saipan in 1937, and that one of them was the American spy woman, Tokyo Rosa. The executions, they said, were performed not at the Garapan prison, but at the main Chico base.
Salas and Seman were in complete agreement that there were only Americans killed before the war by the Japanese — an American man, and an American woman. They were buried in unconsecrated ground in the Catholic cemetery at Liyang on Saipan, near the quarry and lumberyard, one mile south of the main prison.
Perhaps the one native witness who could reveal the certain identity of the American man and woman on Saipan in 1937 is the one man whose story does not agree with the testimony of all the other witnesses. The man is Jesus De Leon Guerrero, then 51, alias “Kumoi,” who in 1937 on Saipan was chief investigator on the police force for the Japanese. (He gave a negative response to the civilian administration in Saipan in the official report.) Although today he has no official connections with either the American or Japanese governments — he is a dealer in scrap metal — he is 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.
Guerrero denies any knowledge whatever about two American fliers taken prisoner. He has said, however, there was an American-born Japanese woman who was hanged as a spy in 1938. “She was beautiful,” he was quoted as saying, “and about 25 years of age. She appeared to have been part American and would have been mistaken for one. She was born in Los Angeles, California.”
The woman had come to Saipan from Japan apparently to look for work, Guerrero recalled. But she didn’t look like a worker because she was well-groomed and spoke very good English.
Back and forth through almost thirty years, the story of Amelia Earhart has unfolded, not clarifying the mystery of her disappearance, but deepening and complicating it by hearsay evidence and the conflicting testimony of natives who should know, and be able to tell, the truth.
Amelia Earhart was not on a spy mission for her government, she did not crash-land on Saipan; she was not taken as a prisoner; she was not executed as a spy or allowed to die. These are the conclusions of the Navy in the official report I was allowed to read. Considering their evidence, they could reach no other conclusions.
Most interestingly, there is no villain in the piece. The U. S. Navy was not trying to suppress or hide information. On the contrary, the Navy was trying as hard as I was (or anybody else) to uncover the truth. [Editor’s note: In this statement, Briand could not be more mistaken. Clearly, he fell victim to a convincing Navy propaganda effort.]
What, then, are my conclusions about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, after having conducted research about her almost continuously for the nine years since 1957 when I decided to write her biography?
I believe, now that I have examined all my latest evidence, that Amelia Earhart accidentally crash-landed on Saipan, that she and Fred Noonan were taken prisoners by the Japanese, were imprisoned on Saipan, and later — perhaps even many years later — were executed or allowed to die either on Saipan or in Japan. I do not believe she was on a deliberate spy mission, but I think the Japanese did believe Amelia was a spy because of the evidence of cameras on her person and in the airplane.
The Japanese, of course, could not reveal that they had found her, for she had discovered what they had been trying to hide — preparations for war against the United States. Unwittingly and without a plan on their part, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan had been mistaken as spies. If they could have brought home evidence of a Japanese military build-up in the Pacific, they would have been rewarded as heroes. Fate, however, dealt them a contrary hand.
How can anyone explain why stories from widely scattered sources support each other in broad outline and even, at times in small detail? Natives are naturally hostile to or afraid of established authority and will say almost anything not to get officially involved. Witnesses like Jesus Guerrero, for example, would have much to fear from official sources.
The weight of my evidence adds up to Saipan, a crash-landing, imprisonment and death. Josephine Blanco, J. Y. Matsumoto, and Thomas Blas confirm a crash-landing on Saipan; Jose Blaza, and Jose Camacho and his wife saw a man and a woman pilot being driven away by Japanese officials; Antonio M. Cepada, Carlos Palacios, Antonio G. Cabrera, and Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera confirm that the pilots were held in custody; Ramon Cabrera saw the fliers, bound and blindfolded, brought to prison; Jesus Guerrero undoubtedly knows of any execution; and Joaquin Seman and Ben Salas most probably know the location of the graves.
“Courage,” Amelia Earhart once wrote, “is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” She paid the price, and all of America is ennobled because she was willing to pay it — all of her life, and up to what must have been its bitter end. May she at last rest in peace. (End of “Requiem for Amelia.”)
We now know beyond any doubt, based on a massive assemblage of credible evidence, not to mention common sense, that Amelia did not fly to Saipan from Lae, New Guinea, which would have been a nearly 90 degree mistake, virtually unthinkable for even the most incompetent aviators of her day.
Remember that Briand was writing in 1966, when we knew about 10 percent of what has been learned since, and had no knowledge of the fliers’ Mili Atoll landing off Barre Island. But with the seminal work of Paul Briand Jr., Fred Goerner and yes, even the creator of the Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart lie, Joe Gervais, we would have had precious little to guide us, and the disappearance of Amelia Earhart might still be correctly called a mystery.