Tag Archives: Thomas E. Devine

Don Wilson’s bizarre 1994 Earhart encounter

Donald M. Wilson was a veteran of the Battle of Saipan, where he was both a rifleman and a chaplain’s assistant in the 2nd Marine Division, and where he no doubt heard stories about the presence and death of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan in the pre-war years.  He became an ordained minister and served as a pastor and assistant pastor in several churches in Ohio, Michigan and finally in Lake Pleasant, New York, where he passed away on Thanksgiving Day, 2012, at age 86.

Wilson was also an avid student of the Earhart disappearance, and he occasionally corresponded with fellow Saipan veteran Thomas E. Devine.  In 1994, Wilson self-published Amelia Earhart: Lost Legend: Accounts by Pacific Island Witnesses of the Crash, Rescue and Imprisonment of America’s Most Famous Female Aviator and Her Navigator, an obscure anthology known chiefly to habitués of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, where he was a respected member.

The following letter, from Wilson to Prymak in April 1994, appeared in the November 1998 Amelia Earhart Society Newslettersconcerns a strange incident involving Wilson and an unidentified man that occurred at an unknown time and location, and in that regard it is reminiscent of several other accounts of unknown provenance that have been passed down to us through the years.  It also reprises some of the more unpleasant possible scenarios of Earhart’s final days on Saipan, and I present it for your consideration.  Boldface is mine throughout.

A STRANGE ENCOUNTER BY DON WILSON

Donald Moyer Wilson
One Woods Point
Webster, NY 14580

April 28, 1994

Dear Bill,

During a book signing recently, a man came up to me and said insistently that Amelia Earhart was captured by the Japanese and executed by them.  He identified himself as a former Marine Corps colonel, who had spent three months at the Pentagon.  He pulled out his wallet to show me some identification.  Unfortunately, I did not look at it carefully, and do not remember his name.

He seemed to be bitter about his experience with the Pentagon.  He said that he had worked with G-2 — Intelligence.  He claimed that he saw secret documents about Amelia Earhart.  He said there were two witnesses to her execution, not just one.  He also said that she had been stripped at the time of her execution and previously raped by her guards.  He also said (and I neglected to tell you this) something about her fingers or fingernails, that they had been mutilated, or possibly her fingernails had been pulled out. He also said (again I forgot to tell you this) that, as I recall, her body had been removed from the grave later, and cremated (possibly by Americans? — I’m not sure of this).

He said that the Earhart plane had been destroyed — I’m quite sure he said by Americans on Saipan.  He was very reluctant to give more details, and when I suggested things like the name of the airfield on Saipan, he would neither confirm nor deny them.  I spoke of the Freedom of Information Act, and asked where the materials might be obtained.  He implied that the Navy might have them.  As I recall, I asked him to get in touch with you,* and I believe I gave him your address.  Also, he mentioned another individual briefly who might have the same (or different) information, and I again said I hoped he would supply more information.

Undated photo of Donald M. Wilson, from his book, Amelia Earhart: Lost Legend.

A couple of thoughts have gone through my mind. He might be telling the truth and was torn between the desire to give information and the fear of risking retaliation of some sort for giving it.  There is a slight possibility that he might have been discharged from the service for homosexual behavior.  Or he might have taken information he obtained elsewhere, particularly the Unsolved Mysteries program with Tom Devine and Nieves Cabrera Blas, among others, and built on their stories — for the fun (?) of it.  He asked me what my interest in Amelia Earhart was, but walked away before I could give him an answer.

(Signed) Don Wilson

*He Never Did

Prymak note: Don Wilson must sure wish he had collared this guy for subsequent interviews. (End of Wilson letter.)

Wherever thisMarine colonelgot this information in the early to mid 1990s, it didn’t all come from the Nov. 7, 1990 Unsolved Mysteries segment, “New Evidence Points to Saipan,” which featured Thomas E. Devine, Robert E. Wallack, Fred Goerner, T.C. BuddyBrennan and even crash-and-sank poster boy Elgen M. Long.  Nothing was mentioned in that program about Amelia being stripped, horribly mutilated or her body’s removal from a gravesite, though all these things could well have happened during her captivity on Saipan.  For more on this theme, please see my June 12, 2015 post, “Navy nurse’s letter describes gruesome end for fliers, but was it true?

Many of the smaller details have yet to be learned, but we do know beyond any doubt that the doomed fliers met their tragic ends on Saipan.  The U.S. government and its media toadies still do not want you to know the truth about the death of Amelia Earhart, for all the reasons I continue to re-emphasize and present to the few who are willing and able to accept the truth.

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Goerner’s “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart” Conclusion

Today we conclude Fred Goerner’s 1964 Argosy magazine feature story, “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.”  When we left Part III, former Navy men Eugene Bogan and Charles Toole had contacted Goerner and shared their mutual wartime experiences in the Marshall Islands that pointed to Amelia Earhart’s presence there, launching Goerner’s Marshalls investigations, which were much briefer and less productive than his Saipan research. 

We open the final part of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart” as Goerner is contacted by another World War II veteran, this one from Saipan, who has some fascinating information to share:

Ralph R. Kanna, of Johnson City, New York, has worked seventeen years in a responsible position for the New York Telephone Company.  In 1944, Kanna was sergeant of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters Company, 106th Infantry, 27th Division, during the assault on Saipan.  Kanna’s duty was to take as many prisoners as possible for interrogation purposes.

“On Saipan, we captured one particular prisoner near an area designated as Tank Valley,’ ” wrote Kanna.  “This prisoner had in his possession a picture showing the late Amelia Earhart standing near Japanese aircraft on an airfield.  Assuming the picture of the aircraft to be of value, it was forwarded through channels to the S-2 intelligence officer.  But more important, on questioning of this prisoner by one of our Nisei interpreters, he stated that this woman was taken prisoner along with a male companion, and subsequently, he felt both of them had been executed.  From time to time, I have told these facts to associates, who finally have convinced me to write.”

Kanna went on to list three Nisei interpreters who served with his unit during that period:  Richard Moritsugu, William Nuno and Roy Higashi.

Joining Ralph Kanna and Robert Kinley, who claimed to have found photos of Amelia Earhart on Saipan, was Seabee Joseph Garofalo, pictured here on Saipan in July 1944.  While assigned to Naval Construction Battalion 121 during the invasion, Garofalo found a sepia photo of Amelia Earhart inside the wallet of a dead Japanese officer.  He lost the photo on Tinian several weeks later.  Garofalo, the founder and curator of the Bronx Veterans Museum, passed away in March 2016 at age 95.  (Courtesy Joseph Garofalo.)

I have located and spoken personally with both Moritsugu and Nuno.  Moritsugu, now living near Honolulu, is unwilling to discuss his part in the Saipan invasion.  Nuno lives in Pasadena, California, and indicates that he was not with Kanna that day in 1944.  I found Roy Higashi just three days ago.  He is living in Seattle, Washington, and almost seemed to be expecting my call.  He said he had something to tell me, but would rather do it in person.  Higashi is bringing his family to San Francisco on vacation, and will contact me on arrival.  I’m sorry I cannot include his information in this article because of the publication deadline.

Robert Kinley of Norfolk, Virginia, was a demolition man with the Second Marine Division.  Pushing inland from Red Beach One, his squad came upon a house near a small cemetery.  Kinley went inside to clear it of any booby traps.  On a wall, he found “a picture of Miss Earhart and a Japanese officer.  The picture was made in an open field, showing only a background of hills.  The officer wore a fatigue cap with one star in the center.” Kinley says he took the picture with him, but everything was lost in July 1944, when he was wounded.

Robert Kinley then added a bit of provocative information.  “The Japanese had a command post in a tunnel next to the house where I found the picture.  My demolition team closed up the tunnel.  You might be able to find more pictures or records in the tunnel.

Kinley sent along a map showing the location of the house, tunnel and graveyard.  It coincides almost perfectly with the area Devine was shown by the Okinawan woman.

In September 1962, I went back to Saipan for the third time, but I had to do it on my own time and money.  KCBS wasn’t uninterested, but there’s a limit to financial soundness in making assignments.  I couldn’t drop it, though; there was just too much to go on, and no one in official places had been able to satisfactorily answer any of the many questions raised by the investigation.

Fearing that I might have become prejudiced, I took along Ross Game, the editor of the Napa, California Register, consulting editor to the nineteen Scripts’ newspapers in the West and Secretary for the Associated Press on the Pacific Coast.  We picked up Captain Joe Quintanilla, Chief of Police of Guam, and his detective-lieutenant, Edward Camacho, and took them along, too.

In this September 1962 photo, California newspaperman Ross Game, who accompanied Fred Goerner during a few of his early 1960s investigations, including one on Saipan, is flanked on Saipan by Guam Detective Edward Camacho (left), and Capt. Jose Quintanilla, Guam Police Chief.

Things had changed in one year.  My, had they changed!  Commander Bridwell was gone; the Navy was gone; Mr. Schmitz was gone – and NTTU was gone.  I should say NTTU were gone, since there were eleven of them.

The fence gates were open, and we went in.  Commander Bridwell and the Naval Administration Unit had been a front for one of the most elaborate spy schools in the history of this or perhaps any country.  The faculty consisted of civilian professors of espionage, the very same men whom I had addressed that night at the club.  It’s hard to imagine the impact of coming out of the jungle and discovering a modern town of ninety two- and three-bedroom houses with concrete roofs, typhoon-proof and modern in every respect even to modern landscaping; a modern apartment house for the single members of the faculty; a library, snack bar, barber shop and theater-auditorium.  Seven of the NTTU training facilities were located on the north end of the island and four on the east.  For the spy-school student, there were sturdy, concrete barracks at each site and other concrete buildings in which classes were held.

For ten years, the students were flown into Kagman Field at night, taken in buses with the shades drawn to any of the eleven areas, trained in techniques of spying and a very specialized brand of guerrilla jungle warfare.  Most of them never knew where it was they were being trained.  When their courses were completed, they were dispatched on any one of a thousand missions, penetrating through or parachuting behind Communist lines.  Nationalist Chinese, Vietnamese, and men from other areas were brought to Saipan, trained and then assigned.

Where did the NTTU go?  Why did they go?

I can’t answer the first.  I don’t know that I want to.

The second has to do with the focus of international attention the Earhart story placed on Saipan twice within two years, but more importantly, the United Nations inspection team for the Trust Territory of the Pacific gave Commander Bridwell and the Navy bad marks in 1961 for the administration of Saipan.  They had done too much rather than too little for the people of Saipan.  It was out of line with what the Department of Interior was doing for the rest of the people of the Pacific area.  I don’t believe the UN team even knew about the NTTU.  They probably got the same trip to Bridwell’s quarters I did.  In any case, when the history of the post-World War II struggle between East and West is finally written, I’m sure Saipan and NTTU will be prominently mentioned.

Saipan’s Kagman Airfield, also known as East Field, fall 1944. Among the aircraft are Consolidated B-24 Liberators from  the 819th Bomb Squadron, of the 30th Bomb Group, C-47 Skytrains and, in the distance, a B-29 Superfortress.  Bruce M. Petty, author of Saipan: Oral Histories of the Pacific War (2009), wrote, “The CIA had a secret base on the north end of Saipan in the 1950s and early 1960s where they trained Chinese Nationalists to fight Chinese Communists.  Kagman field was used to fly in trainees at night were they were bussed to their quarters at the north end of the island.  The building still survive are currently being used by the CNMI government. We lived in one for four years.”

We did some more excavation around the perimeter of the cemetery; this time outside the northern end, but found nothing.  We needed Devine to show us the spot, but permission was still being denied to him.  We did find where the house Kinley had entered once stood, and we found a huge mound which must be the command post he speaks of.  It would be, of course, a major and expensive earth-moving job to open it up.

Ross Game, Captain Quintanilla, Eddie Camacho, Father Sylvan and I went back over every piece of testimony, and even managed to turn up some new leads.  The consensus:  They were more convinced than I.  Two American flyers, a man and a woman, bearing an almost unmistakable resemblance to Earhart and Noonan had indeed been brought to Saipan by the Japanese in 1937.

The most important event of the third expedition came one morning at the mission house.  One Jesus De Leon Guerrero, a native Saipanese, came to see me.  Father Sylvan served as interpreter.  Guerrero proposed a trade.  He had been collecting scrap from the war for years and had a mountainous pile.  If I would arrange a Japanese ship to come to Saipan to pick up his scrap, he would give me the conclusive answer to the mystery of the two American flyers.

I remembered several Navy and Department of the Interior people telling me that U.S. policy was that no Japanese ships were permitted to enter the former mandated islands.

I couldn’t have changed that policy if I had wanted to, which I didn’t.  No story can be bought without being tainted.  I told Guerrero, through Father Sylvan, that if he had anything to say to me, he’d better say it now.  There would be no deal.  Guerrero blinked, turned on his heel and walked out of the mission.  The most striking thing about the whole conversation was that I recognized Guerrero.  He was the native who had been in my Quonset that rainy night the year before.  Father Sylvan told me later that the rest of the natives fear Guerrero.  Before and during the war, Guerrero worked with the Japanese military police.

The trip in ’62 produced another vital piece of information.  Ross and I went down into the Marshall Islands, and found Elieu [Jibambam].  Elieu teaches at the Trust Territory school at Majuro.  He tells exactly the same story he told to Bogan and Toole in ’44.  The American flyers landed near Ailinglaplap in 1937.

Elieu Jibambam, one of the earliest known Marshall Island witnesses, though not an eyewitness, told several Navy men on Majuro in 1944 about the story he had heard from Ajima, a Japanese trader, about the Marshalls landing of the white woman flier who ran out of gas and landed between Jaluit and Ailinglapalap.”  Elieu’s account was presented in several books including Fred Goerner’s Search.  This photo is taken from Oliver Knaggs’ 1981 book, Amelia Earhart: her final flight.

And now, as you read this, I’ll once more be on Saipan.  There is one important difference this time.  Thomas Devine is with me.  After nearly a four-year effort, permission has finally been granted for him to enter the island.

Why has such an effort been necessary?  What about Japan?  This long after the war, wouldn’t she be willing to admit an incident involving two white flyers?

The answer is no.  It involves far more than the detention of Earhart and Noonan.  Japan has categorically denied building military facilities in the mandated islands prior to Pearl Harbor.  In the war crimes trials in Tokyo in 1946 and ’47, Japan stated, “The airfields and fortifications in the mandated islands were for cultural purposes and for aiding fishermen to locate schools of fish.”  It is obvious that Japan cannot admit an incident involving two American flyers before the war without also admitting a far graver sin – the necessity for covering up their activities in the mandates.  If Japan ever concedes that the islands were used for military purposes, it will represent a violation of the League of Nations Mandate, a breach of international law, a most serious loss of face and the loss of the last chance to get the islands back.

Is there any other way to clear up the mystery, through extant records perhaps?

I don’t know.  The records that might shed light upon this matter seem beyond our reach.  According to the United States Navy, Army and other departments of the Government, the following have been declared missing, destroyed, or returned to Japan:

  • Twenty-two tons of Japanese records captured on Saipan, which were never interpreted.
  • The radio logs of Commander Bridwell’s four United states logistics vessels.
  • Records of a physical examination of both Earhart and Noonan, including dental charts made by Navy Chief Pharmacist Mate Harry S. George, in Alameda, in the year 1937.
  • The large bulk of Naval intelligence records for the Pacific from 1937 to 1941.

In spite of the fact that the Navy sent the carrier [USS] Lexington to Howland Island in 1937 and spent some $4,000,000 in a fruitless search, their official position today, at least to CBS and the Scripps’ League newspapers, is that “the Earhart-Noonan disappearance is a civilian matter.  There has been and is no reason for this Department to make an investigation.”

Bridwell told me an ONI man conducted an investigation in 1960 after my first visit, and the testimony could not be shaken.  The Navy maintains there has been no investigation at all As recently as four months ago, Captain James Dowdell, now Deputy Chief of Naval Information in Washington, vehemently denied to Ross Game that the Navy was withholding any information, and indicated that the Navy hadn’t conducted any investigation.  Yet, just two months ago, the U.S. State Department stated in a letter to me, “The State Department does have a limited amount of information about the Earhart matter which is Classified, but the Navy Department has informed us that they conducted a complete investigation in 1960, and there’s nothing to the conjecture that Earhart and Noonan met their end on Saipan.”

(Editor’s note: Goerner was shown part or all of the then-classified 1960 ONI report in April 1963, and he commented briefly on its contents on pages 236 and 307 of The Search for Amelia Earhart, First Edition.  Based on the publication date (January 1964) of this article, he clearly had seen the classified report in plenty of time to mention it here. Why he didn’t disclose this fact in this article is unknown to this observer.)

Just before The Search for Amelia Earhart was published in November 1966, True (The Man’s Magazine) ran a lengthy preview, extracting passages directly from the book. True also ran this photo, of Thomas E. Devine, who finally made it to Saipan in December 1963, with Goerner, (seated right) and missionary priests Father Sylvan Conover (smoking pipe) and Father San Augustin, preparing to search for the gravesite Devine was shown by an unidentified Okinawan woman on Saipan in 1945.

As I said earlier in this article, I can’t really blame the Navy Department for its evasiveness.  The Navy was fronting, at any cost, for the CIA, and it’s going to be a wee bit embarrassing, at the very least, to clear the record now.

Were Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on a spy mission in 1937?  I simply haven’t the space to begin that discussion here.  Let me simply say that those “two American fliers’ on Saipan are I believe, the key to an even more incredible story:  The twenty years in the Pacific before Pearl Harbor and the bitter battle between departments of our Government over what to do about the Japanese mandated islands.

There are many who say that the enigma of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan is best left untold. Embarrassment of Japan at this time would not be wise, they say. What good can it do to rake over old coals?

My answer is a simple one.  With most Americans, the individual still counts.  Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan fought a battle for most of their lives against the sea and the elements, not against men bent on war.  We orbit men around our earth and turn our eyes to the stars and what may lie beyond because of the courage and contribution of such as Earhart and Noonan.

If they won their greatest victory only to become the first casualties of World War II, the world should know.  Honor for them is long overdue.

When all is considered, a single question remains:  If the two white flyers on Saipan before the war were not Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, who were they?

 Within the next few days, we may know the answer.  (End of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.”)

Readers should note that this article well summarized the state of Goerner’s Earhart research in late 1963, before his fourth trip to Saipan in December 1963.  Some of Goerner’s most important findings and ideas would undergo radical changes in the coming years, and long before his death in 1994, he would actually renounce his belief in Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing.  In future posts I will endeavor to flesh out as much of these small mysteries as I can.

Fred Goerner’s “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart” Part III

Today we move along to Part III of Fred Goerner’s January 1964 Argosy magazine opus, “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.”  When we left Part II, Goerner and missionary priest Father Sylvan Conover were trying to locate the gravesite of “two white people, a man and a woman, who had come [from the sky] before the war” that an otherwise unidentified Okinawan woman had shown to Devine in August 1945, and which Devine later wrote about extensively in his 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident.  

 We continue with Part III of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart”:

Father Sylvan and I matched the photograph to the terrain as best we could, and one of the natives showed us where a small dirt train had run past the southern boundary of the cemetery.  Pacing offthirty to forty feet to the left,” we arrived in a grove of trees, and with a crew of eight Carolinian natives, excavation began.  We went to a depth of six feet among the trees, and then moved slowly to the west.  About one o’clock, the afternoon of September twenty-first, Commander Bridwell, who had been watching the proceedings, let out a shout and brushed the natives back from a newly opened area.

Dozens of pieces of skull and many teeth were visible at both ends of a shallow grave not more than two feet in depth.  Large teeth were found at one end, smaller ones at the other – indication that at least two individuals, perhaps a man and a woman, had been buried head to foot.  As quickly as Bridwell had moved, several shovelfuls had been thrown aside, so, for the next four days, we sifted every bit of earth for a dozen feet around.  Seven pounds of bones and thirty-seven teeth were recovered.  The island’s doctors inspected the remains, and generally agreed that the grave had been occupied by a man and a woman.  The dentists felt there was a strong possibility that the people had been Caucasians, as some of the teeth appeared to contain zinc-oxide fillings; the Japanese had never used that material.

Cutline from The Search for Amelia Earhart: “Father Sylvan Conover at grave site outside Liyang cemetery where remains were found in September 1961.  The cross and stones were placed here by natives after the site had been excavated.  Author’s Photo. (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

The afternoon the excavation was completed, we carefully wrapped the remains in cotton, and Father Sylvan placed the package in the church vault. 

That night came the strangest experience of my life. I was staying in what was laughingly referred to as the Presidential Suite.”  It was nothing more than a Quonset hut, about twenty-five yards above the commander’s quarters.  I don’t know what awakened me.  It was about two o’clock in the morning and it was raining quite hard outside.  As I sat bolt-upright on the cot, there was a flash of lightning, and I saw a man in the room by the door.  I jumped from the cot and yelled at him,What do you want?

As he turned, I saw he had a machete in his hand. He stared at me for a second, then ran out through the front of the hut, banging the screen door behind him.  I pursued him to the door, and in the glare of the running light on the front of the hut, I got a good look at him as he raced across the asphalt road and plunged into the jungle.  He was a native – a man I was to hear a lot more from later.

As I tried to figure out what had happened, I was shaking so badly I could hardly light a cigarette.

Were you really awake?  Did you really see the man, or did you dream it? I questioned myself.  Wet sandal marks around the room leading from the door answered my question.

What did he want?was the next logical challenge.  Certainly not my life.  If he had wanted, he could have killed me as I lay on the cot.  Expensive motion picture and still cameras and tape-recording equipment rested on the cot next to me.  Several hundred dollars in cash was exposed on top of the bureau next to my passport.  Nothing had been taken.  Nothing had been disturbed.  Nearly a year was to pass before the realization came as to what my visitor sought:  The package of human remains I had given to Father Sylvan for safe-keeping.

The next day, I asked Bridwell for permission to take the package to an anthropologist in the States for study.  He didn’t want the responsibility, and cabled Washington for clearance.

That night, as we waited for Washington’s answer, I received a mysterious summons by phone from a man named Schmitz.  I was to be admitted to the NTTU area for the purpose of addressing their personnel on the subject of Amelia Earhart.  A civilian in a handsome new car picked me up at my Quonset, drove me by circuitous route through the jungle, up a hill and deposited me in front of a night club!  I mean a night club – complete with canopy leading from the road, dance floor, bar and stainless steel kitchen.

From Search: “Interior of NTTU Club where author addressed CIA training staff in Saipan, 1962.”  Author’s Photo.   (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

Mr. Schmitz (I never learned his full name) met me at the door and escorted me to the bandstand and waiting microphone.  For the better part of an hour, I told an audience of several hundred, including many wives, of the investigation.  Afterward, the applause was warm and prolonged, and many came forward to ask questions or contribute bits of information that had been heard from the natives.  Mr. Schmitz and I had a drink at the bar and chatted for a while and then I was driven by the same circuitous route back to my Presidential Suite.

Just before I left the island, Bridwell began to cooperate.  The invitation to NTTU had worked wonders.  He readily admitted, “An ONI [Office of Naval Intelligence] man [Special Agent Joseph M. Patton] has been here checking on what you turned up last year.  Most of the testimony couldn’t be shaken.  A white man and woman were undoubtedly brought to Saipan before the war.”

The commander went on to expound his own theory:  “I don’t believe Earhart and Noonan flew their plane in here.  I think you’ll find that they went down near Ailinglapalap, Majuro and Jaluit Atolls in the Marshalls.  The Japanese brought them to Saipan.  A supply ship was used to take them to Yap in the western Carolines, and a Japanese naval seaplane flew them to Saipan.  That’s why some of your witnesses said they came from the sky.”

What have you got that’s tangible to prove that?I naturally wanted to know.

I think you’ll find all the proof you need,” replied Bridwell,contained in the radio logs of four U.S. logistic vessels which were supplying the Far East Fleet in 1937.  Remember these names: The [USS] Gold Star, [USS] Blackhawk, [USS] Chaumont and [USS] Henderson.  I believe they intercepted certain coded Japanese messages that you’ll find fascinating reading.” (Editor’s note:  Goerner reported nothing more about these four U.S. Navy ships in Search, or anywhere else, to my knowledge.)

Returning to San Francisco October 1, 1961, I was still without the last key to the Earhart puzzle, and without quite a few keys to NTTU.  A few days later, a strange call came to me at KCBS from a Mr. Frederick Winter of the Central Intelligence Agency.

I’d like to visit with you regarding a matter of national security,” he said.

Of course,I replied.  “Come on up to our studios in the Sheraton-Palace.”

Thanks, but I’d rather not,rejoined Mr. Winter. I’ll meet you in the lobby.”

From the back cover of The Search for Amelia Earhart: “Fred Goerner is a CBS radio broadcaster in San Francisco. A former college professor and World War II Navy Seabee veteran, he has been with station KCBS for seven years and has a popular afternoon program heard by tens of thousands of Californians. In 1962, he was honored with the Sigma Delta Chi National Journalistic Fraternity Distinguished Service Award for the best radio reporting in America. Born in Pittsburgh, Mr. Goerner now lives in San Francisco.”  (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

How will I know you?” I asked.

Don’t worry about that,assured Mr. Winter.  “I’ll recognize you.”

Mr. Winter located me without any trouble, and suggested that we drop into the coffee shop for a bite of something.  As long as I live, I’ll never forget that conversation.  Mr. Winter had a dish of strawberry ice cream, and I had a cup of coffee.  We talked, there in the coffee shop, about one of the best-kept, most important U.S. Intelligence secrets since the end of World War II.

Mr. Schmitz has alerted us,began Winter, that you have turned up a good deal of information regarding NTTU and Saipan.  Washington has asked me to talk to you about the matter and to ask you to withhold this information from publication or broadcast until you are given a release.  We know you to be a good American, and we hope you will comply.

I agreed.  Mr. Winter didn’t know that I had already made that decision.

The conversation lasted a little more than a half-hour, and then, with a hearty handshake we parted.  I have not seen Mr. Winter since, although we’ve had one brief telephone conversation.

Was Mr. Winter really from the CIA?  I wondered for a while myself.  I hadn’t asked for identification, but I wouldn’t have known the proper card anyway.  For protection, I wrote a note to John McCone, head of the CIA in Washington.

“We’re happy to inform you that Mr. Frederick Winter is the man he represents himself to be,” was the answer.

Lengthy conversations began with the Navy Department about whether an expert was to study the remains.  The Navy stipulated a number of things that must be done before the package could be released; among them was written permission from the next of kin.  There was no definite indication the remains were those of Earhart and Noonan, but the Navy wanted as much time as possible and was taking no chances.

Dr. Frank Stanton of CBS flew out from New York, and the entire situation was discussed.  We all strongly felt that nothing should be broadcast or printed before a positive identification of the remains could be made.  If identification was not possible, the package could be returned to Saipan without publicity.  The primary consideration should be for next of kin.

I visited Amelia Earhart’s sister, Mrs. Albert Morrissey, in West Medford, Massachusetts, and presented the facts of the total investigation.

She thanked me for my efforts and granted permission on behalf of Amelia’s mother, who has since passed away [Oct. 29, 1962] at ninety-five years of age.

A week later, I met Mrs. Bea Noonan Ireland, the remarried widow of Fred Noonan, now living in Santa Barbara, California.  She also gave her consent to do whatever was necessary to write an end to the mystery.

Original caption from Search: “At nationally broadcast KCBS news conference in San Francisco, November 1961, the author (at table, right) is questioned by newsmen about package of remains being flown in from Saipan. Don Mozley, KCBS Director of News, sits at table with Goerner. Author’s Photo. (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

Dr. Theodore McCown, University of California anthropologist, was then asked to do the study should the Navy release the remains. He agreed.

It was another month before Navy permission was granted, and unfortunately, we had to learn of it from a wire service.  A previous arrangement had been made for Father Sylvan to take the package from Saipan to Guam, address it to Dr. McCown, and ship it by commercial airliner to its destination.

Navy permission went direct to Saipan, and Father Sylvan carried through with his part.  Someone on Guam, however, perhaps a customs official, leaked the story to a representative of Associated Press, and it was on every broadcast and every paper in the country before we could do anything to stop it.

There was nothing to do but admit we had been pursuing the investigation.

Dr. McCown’s study took a week, and his findings were disappointing in the extreme.  Instead of two people, we had found three, perhaps four.  At least one man and one woman were represented by the remains, but the strongest indications were that these people had been indigenous to the Saipan area.  The zinc-oxidefillings that had excited the dentists on Saipan turned out to be calcified dentine.  X-rays showed there were no metallic fillings present. The hypothesis that the remains represented those of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, wrote Dr. McCown, therefore is not supported.

Privately, however, McCown told us, “Don’t be discouraged.  You may have missed the actual grave site by six or sixty feet.  That’s the way it is with archeology. In all my experience, I have never known a story with as much testimony supporting it as this one, not to have some basis in truth.”

Thomas Devine was also disappointed. His disappointment turned to frustration when he saw a complete set of photographs I had taken of our excavation and the surrounding area.

You were on the wrong end of the cemetery,” he wrote.  “I’m sure now that the site was outside the northern perimeter, not the southern.  There was a small dirt road that ran by the north side, too.  Did you try to match that one photo against the mountain from the north side?”

From Search:  “Dr. Theodore McCown, University of California (Berkeley) anthropologist, announces at December 1961 news conference his finding that the remains were not those of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Center background is Jules Dundes, CBS Vice-President and General Manager of KCBS Radio, San Francisco.  Author’s Photo.”  (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

I admitted I hadn’t because the jungle had grown too high in that area.

Nineteen sixty-one’s news reached the front page of nearly every newspaper in the nation, and a number of persons were motivated to come forward with bits of information. (Editor’s note: Here Goerner exaggerates the media coverage his investigation received, as I’ve found no evidence that any major newspapers published a single story about Goerner’s four Earhart investigations on Saipan in the early 1960s.  Many smaller newspapers around the country did run stories produced by the San Mateo Times, Associated Press and United Press International, as shown in this clip from the Desert Suna local daily newspaper serving Palm Springs and the surrounding Coachella Valley in Southern California.  But I’ve searched in vain for any traces of Goerner’s early 1960s Saipan investigations in papers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune or Los Angeles Times, to name just a few of the prominent newspapers that blacked out news of the search for Amelia Earhart on Saipan.)

Eugene Bogan, now a Washington, D.C. attorney, had been the senior Navy military government officer at Majuro Atoll in the Marshalls after the January 1944 invasion.  Bogan claimed that several natives told him that two white flyers, one of them a woman, had landed their airplane near Ailinglapalap, close to Majuro, in 1937, and were taken away on a Japanese ship bound for Saipan. The name of one of the natives is Elieu [Jibambam],Bogan said. Elieu was my most trusted native assistant.

Charles Toole, of Bethesda, Maryland, now an expert in the Manpower Division of the Under Secretary of the Navy, had been an LCT (landing craft tank) Commander, plying between the same islands in 1944.  “Bogan is absolutely right,” said Toole.  “I came across the same information myself.”

Why didn’t Bogan and Toole file an official report on their findings?

We were discouraged by the senior officer responsible for that over-all area in the Marshalls,they replied.  “The reason he gave was that there wasn’t any sense in raising false hopes at home that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan might still be alive.”  (End of Part III.)

Fred Goerner’s “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart,” Part II

Today rejoin Fred Goerner for Part II of his January 1964 Argosy magazine opus, “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.”  When we left Part I, Goerner was learning a few details about the mysterious Naval Technical Training Unit (NTTU), the CIA spy school located in the northern end of Saipan that he was told to judiciously avoid by Commander Paul Bridwell, the top Navy administrator on the island, who knew far more about the Earhart disappearance than he ever let on to Goerner or anyone else in the media.

Without further delay, here is Part II of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart”:

I started to draw the conclusion that the Navy was giving Nationalist Chinese some special training.  The guess was inadequate, although I felt my suspicions were confirmed by an inadvertent slip at the officer’s club.  Bridwell had a dinner party in my honor, and one officer’s wife, after a half-dozen cocktails, gushed, Yes, you have to know of a lot of languages on Saipan:  Chamorro, Spanish, German, Japanese.  And now we’re even speaking Chinese.

There was a hush at the table as if someone had used an especially pungent four-letter word, and then the conversation picked up at double time.

One day, Father Sylvan took me up Mount Tapochau, a little over 1,500 feet, the highest point on Saipan.  From there, one can see the whole island, but not down into the jungle.  I shot about a hundred feet of motion-picture film and a few stills, and then we headed back to the village.

Original photo and cutline from The Search for Amelia Earhart: “View from Mount Tapochau of northern end of Saipan Island in 1961. The jungle hides eleven installations of Naval Technical Training Units, where agents were trained. Author’s Photo.” (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

Commander Bridwell was waiting.  Understand you’ve been up Tapochau with your cameras? he said.

Right.  Nice climb and view.  Couldn’t see into your restricted areas, though.”

I wasn’t really worried about that.”  He smiled.  “But we’d like it very much if you dropped your film off with the PIO officers at Guam for a look-see.

Before I left Saipan in 1960, I let one question get the better of me:  Did Earhart and Noonan fly their plane to Saipan?  It seemed incredible.  Saipan lies about 1,500 miles due north of their final take-off point, Lae, New Guinea.  Saipan, with Howland Island as an intended destination, would have represented a navigational error of ninety to a hundred degrees.  Yet there was that possibility.  The question enlarged to:  If they did fly here, could any part of that plane still remain on the bottom of Tanapag?

Monsignor Calvo brought me Gregorio Magofna and Antonio Taitano, who had been shelling and fishing in the harbor for many years.  After viewing a photograph of Amelia’s Lockheed Electra, Greg and Toni agreed that they knew of the wreckage of a “two-motor” plane.  About three-quarters of a mile from what was once the ramps of the Japanese seaplane base, we went down in twenty-five to thirty feet of water.

The bottom of Tanapag Harbor is like another world.  Every conceivable type of wreckage is littered as far as a face mask will let you see.  Landing craft, jeeps, large-caliber shells, what’s left of a Japanese destroyer, the Japanese supply ship, Kieyo Maru, in deeper water beyond the reef, a huge submarine – all covered with slime and of coral.

The “two-motor” plane proved to be a huge, twisted mass of junk.  From this incoherent form, we hauled several hundred pounds of vile-smelling wreckage to the surface.  Later, I knocked a chunk of coral as big as a man’s head from one piece of equipment, and found the first sign of aircraft-parts wired together.  In the early days, before the advent of shakeproof nuts, this was standard procedure.

It was not until [Rear] Admiral [Waldemar F.A.] Wendt’s technicians at Guam announced that the equipment possibly could have come from the type of aircraft Amelia had flown, that I began to have some hope for its identification.  My motion-picture and still films were checked, and I headed back home. (Editor’s note:  After promotion to rear admiral, Wendt assumed command on Jan. 17, 1960 of U.S. Naval Forces Marianas, with additional duty as CINCPAC representative, Marianas-Bonins, as Deputy High Commissioner of the Marianas District of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and as Deputy Military Governor of the Bonin-Volcano Islands; with headquarters in Guam.)

From The Search for Amelia Earhart: “Examining the generator at a news conference in San Francisco in July 1960 are, left to right: Moe Raiser, Associated Press Reporter, Paul Mantz, and the author. World Wide Photo. (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

In San Francisco, July 1, 1960, the tape-recorded testimony of Saipan’s natives made an impression on the press, but the wreckage created much more interest.  Several numbers found on the interior of what was once a heavy-duty generator were sent to Bendix Aircraft in New Jersey.  Several days later, Bendix, which had manufactured much of the electrical equipment carried on the Lockheed Electra, announced that the bearings had been produced by the Toyo Bearing Company of Osaka, Japan.  The equipment was a Japanese copy of Bendix gear!

The Saipanese witnesses somehow became lost in the reverberations from the Bendix press release, and Earhart and Noonan were again assigned to limbo. 

If detailed, the next part of the investigation would fill a book.  It concerns the search by the Navy and Coast Guard, in 1937.  I’ll sketch the high points in a very few words.

We obtained photostatic copies of the message log of the Itasca, Amelia’s Coast Guard homing vessel at Howland Island, and the search report of the U.S.S. Lexington, the carrier dispatched by the Navy to hunt for the missing flyers.  What we found produced a mystery within a mystery.  Immediately after the plane was thought lost, the Itasca had radioed to the San Francisco Division of the Coast Guard a group of messages purportedly to have come from the Earhart plane.  Three days later, another group of messages, also supposed to have come from Amelia, was sent to San Francisco.  From the first to the second group, the time and content of every message had been much altered.

How could such discrepancies occur?

The answers of two of the radio operators who were aboard the Itasca that morning in 1937 were a continuing contradiction.  William Galten, of Brisbane, California, was radioman, third-class.  He maintained that the first group was correct.  Leo Bellarts, of Everett, Washington, was the chief radioman, charged with handling all the communications with the plane.  He stipulated that the second group was accurate. 

Coast Guard Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts led the Itasca radio team during the last flight of Amelia Earhart.  According to Leo’s son, David Bellarts, this photo was taken on July 2, 1937.  Whether it was shot before or after the Earhart plane’s expected arrival is unknown.  (Photo courtesy David Bellarts.)

I went to see Galten, and when faced with the photostats and Bellarts’ statement, he admitted, I may have been mistaken.  We were under great pressure. (Editor’s note: Goerner’s description of “two groups” of alleged messages from the Earhart plane, with one being accurate, the other inaccurate, is itself inaccurate, as well as confusing.  For an accurate discussion on this topic, see “Chapter III: The Search and the Radio Signals” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.)

You may have already guessed this:  The Lexington’s planes flew over 151,000 square miles of open ocean, an area determined only by the first group of messages, not one of which was correct as to time or content.

Why didn’t the Navy double check with the Itasca, or why weren’t the corrected group of messages relayed from San Francisco to the Lexington? There are only two possible answers:  A completely unexplainable lack of communications between the Navy and the Coast Guard – or design.  When you know that the Navy spent nearly $4,000,000 on the search, it becomes utterly incredible.  Heads have certainly rolled for less.

The statement I have just made was contained in a monograph I sent to the Navy Department in 1962.  Some five weeks later, I received a call from a chief at the Coast Guard office in San Francisco, advising me to check the next day’s edition of the Navy Times for further information on the Earhart matter.  The next day, the Coast Guard released a report that had been kept in a classified file for twenty-five years.  It was the report of Commander Warner K. Thompson, who had been the commanding officer of the Itasca in 1937.  It revealed that the Coast Guard had known next to nothing about the plans for the final flight; that the Navy appeared to be handling the whole show; that the Navy had brought special direction-finding equipment aboard the Itasca; that on the morning of the disappearance, a number of secret messages signed with the code name Vacuum were received aboard Itasca addressed to one Richard Black, who ostensibly was a Department of Interior employee.  The Coast Guard felt it had been used as a front and could not be blamed for anything when it have been given so little information.

The overtones of “intelligence” become quite audible, but I’m ahead of the story.

This story, which announced Thomas E. Devine’s Saipan gravesite claim, appeared in the San Mateo Times on July 16, 1960.  Devine returned to Saipan in 1963 and located the gravesite shown to him by the Okinawan woman in August 1945, but did not share his find with Fred Goerner.  Instead Devine planned to return to Saipan by himself, but he never again got the opportunity.

Early in 1961, I felt we had more than enough to warrant another trip to Saipan.  In addition to further questioning of the natives and raising more of the wreckage from Tanapag Harbor to establish its identity, I wanted to follow through on information given to us by Thomas E. Devine of West Haven, Connecticut.  Devine had been a member of an Army postal unit on Saipan in 1945, and claimed that a native woman had shown him the grave of “two white people, a man and a woman, who had come before the war.” Devine said he had not connected the incident with Earhart and Noonan until he read of our investigation.  For evidence, he produced pictures of the native woman and an area near a tiny graveyard where the woman had lived.  He also provided a fairly detailed description of the unmarked grave’s location outside a small cemetery.

Navy permission to go to Saipan was really tough to come by this time.  The first application was filed in April 1961, and for several months, there was no answer.

In June, Jules Dundes, CBS Vice President in San Francisco, called Admiral [Daniel F. Jr.] Smith’s office in Washington, and finally got Captain [R.W.] Alexander, then the Navy’s Deputy Chief of Information, on the phone.  Alexander flatly stated that permission to return to Saipan was denied.

Not liking the tenor of that conversation, Dundes called CBS Vice President Ted Koop, in Washington, who promptly went to work with Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defense.  Early in September, I departed for the now familiar Marianas – with the necessary clearance.

I went back with a bit more information about our friend, NTTU, too.  Control of Saipan had been transferred from Department of Interior to the Navy by Presidential order in 1952.  Shortly thereafter a contract amounting to nearly $30,000,000 was let to an amalgamation of three companies, Brown-Pacific-Maxon, for the construction of certain facilities on the north and east side of the island, the concrete foundations of which went down ten to twenty-five feet.

At Guam, I told Admiral Wendt what I thought might be going on.  Then, at Saipan, I met once again with my old friend Commander Bridwell, who quickly reiterated that I was to stay away from the north end and the east side of the island.

Cmdr. Paul W. Bridwell, chief of the U.S. Naval Administration Unit on Saipan, and Jose Pangelinan, who told Fred Goerner he saw the fliers but not together, that the man had been held at the military police stockade and the woman kept at the hotel in Garapan. Pangelinan said the pair had been buried together in an unmarked grave outside the cemetery south of Garapan. The Japanese had said the two were fliers and spies. (Photo by Fred Goerner, courtesy Lance Goerner.)

“Look, Paul,” I replied.  “I’m not after NTTU.  Quit muddying the water for me on the Earhart story.  Let us get the final answer and you’ll have me off your back.”

It’s not my business if you’re training Nationalist Chinese or operating ballistic missile sites; that’s a security matter.

We’re glad you feel that way,returned Paul, but if you do come up with the final answer to Earhart, a dozen newsmen will be knocking on our door.

Don’t you believe it, I retorted.  “No one is going to send a photographer six thousand miles to duplicate something we already have.  Just cooperate with me.”

Bridwell finally did cooperate – the day before I left Saipan for the second time, and only after I had received an invitation to enter the super-secret NTTU area.  Bridwell believes strongly that Amelia and Fred were brought to Saipan in 1937 and their lives ended six months to a year later, but at that time, he was obliged to block the investigation in any way he could.  He and the rest of the Naval Administration Unit were fronting for the Central Intelligence Agency.

I know now that word was passed to natives working for the Navy or NTTU that it would be best to reply in the negative to questions asked about any Americans being on the island before the war.  Bridwell even attempted to get witnesses to change their testimony.  In one case, he was successful.  Brother Gregorio, now with the Church at Yap, had been on Saipan in 1937.  Father Sylvan had seen him during the year I had been gone.  Brother Gregorio said that he had heard from several people that a white man and woman, reportedly flyers, had been brought to Saipan.  He had not seen them himself because the Japanese had restricted him to the church, but he gave the names of the two men who had told him.  Commander Bridwell got to them first.  The pair had jobs with the Navy and refused to talk.  I hold no grudge.  The Navy did what it felt necessary to protect the CIA.

During the ’61 stay, Magofna and Taitano took me back down to the wreckage off the old seaplane ramps, and an afternoon of diving produced conclusive evidence that the two-motorplane was Japanese.  A corroded plate from a radio-direction finder unmistakenly bore Japanese markings.

Father Sylvan and I then went to work on Thomas Devine’s information.  The small graveyard was easy to locate.  One of Devine’s photos showed a cross in the graveyard; another pictured an angel with upraised arms surrounded by crosses and tombstones.  The only change was the jungle.  It had grown up forty or more feet over the cemetery.  Devine had also sent a picture of the woman who had shown him the grave site.  Father Sylvan showed the print to a native who works for the mission, and the old man brightened.

Okinawan woman who showed Thomas E. Devine the location that Devine believed was the Earhart-Noonan gravesite on Saipan in 1945. (Photo by Heywood Hunter.  Courtesy of Thomas E. Devine.)

“Okinawa woman,” he said. Sent back Okinawa after war.

Father Sylvan acknowledged that many Okinawans and Koreans had been brought to Saipan by the Japanese before the war to build airfields and harbor installations.  All who hadn’t married Chamorros or Carolinians were repatriated.

Devine had indicated that the grave site was outside the cemetery.  Another of his photographs, taken from a narrow dirt road with the island’s mountain range in the background, was supposed to have the most significance. “The grave,” Devine had written, “is located thirty to forty feet to the left of this road.” (End of Part II.)

 

Devine’s bizarre 1961 visit to Amelia’s sister Muriel

When the Almighty made Thomas E. Devine, He broke the mold.  What He said when Devine returned to Him in September 2003 at age 88, only He and Devine know. But if I had never met the Saipan veteran and author of one of the most important Earhart disappearance books, I wouldn’t have become involved with the Earhart story, and today I’d be doing something entirely different with my life.  I can’t conceive of what that might be.

I read Devine’s 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, for the first time in the spring of 1988, as I researched an assignment to do a news story about the so-called Earhart “mystery” as a civilian writer for the Navy Editor Service in Arlington, Va. The piece went out to the fleet worldwide, as well as all Navy shore stations and Marine Corps bases, for use in their local newspapers, radio stations and other official media.  I’ve always considered it extremely ironic that the first story I ever wrote about the Earhart case was facilitated by the same U.S. Navy that has been so intimately involved with the cover-up and suppression of the truth, practically from the very beginning of the Earhart search.

I’ll have more to say about Thomas Devine and his contributions to the Earhart saga, as well as the strange and sometimes tenuous nature of our relationship, in future posts.  But today, for those who haven’t read Devine’s extraordinary Eyewitnessthis brief, cryptic chapter from the book provides a glimpse into the sometimes bizarre world of the man who once stood on the wing of Amelia Earhart’s Electra, NR 16020, at the captured Japanese Aslito Airfield on Saipan in July 1944.

As Sgt. Thomas Devine peered into the famed Electra’s cluttered interior, which he once described as “littered with broken glass” in a letter to me, he was looking into already forbidden American history, as well as a vision that would define and shape his life from that day until his last.

Thomas E. Devine on Saipan in December 1963, more than two years after his visit to Muriel Earhart Morrissey in Medford, Massachusetts in July 1961. Devine found the gravesite that he was shown in 1945 by an unidentified Okinawan woman, but didn’t trust Fred Goerner enough to share the discovery with him. Devine never returned to Saipan as he had planned to do in 1963, and his decision to keep the gravesite information to himself was perhaps the worst he ever made. (Photo by Fred Goerner, courtesy Lance Goerner.)

 

Chapter Seven
FROM SAIPAN TO BOSTON

Since Mrs. Odlum could not supply the dental records, I arranged to visit Earhart’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, of West Medford, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. (Bold emphasis mine throughout.)  I arrived at the Boston depot early on Sunday, 16 July 1961.  While proceeding with a crowd of passengers to find local transportation, a man about thirty years old pushed his way through the crowd.  There was nothing remarkable about him, except that he stepped directly in front of me and called a peculiar invitation to the crowd.

     “Anyone here on their way to West Medford?” he asked. “I’m taking my cab to the garage and I have a ride – a free ride.”

     So many quickly accepted the driver’s offer that I decided against the free ride to West Medford.  Yet for some reason, the man singled me out.

     “Are you going to West Medford?” he inquired.  “Yes,” I replied, “but I’ll find another cab.”

     “Wait right where you are; don’t go away,” he ordered.  “I’ll get the cab and be right back.”

     Others in the crowd persisted, but he put them off saying, “I don’t have any more room.”

     The cabbie again told me to wait and amazingly he did return, and escorted me to his cab.  Oddly, there were no other passengers in the vehicle.  Since I expected others to be joining us, I sat in front.  But when three prospective passengers arrived to claim their free ride, the cabbie turned them away!

     “Turn on the meter,” I said as the driver got in. “I’ll be more than happy to pay.”

     “It’s a free ride,” he countered.  “I’m returning the cab to the garage.  You’re lucky you ran into me because cabs don ‘t operate on Sundays.”  Reluctantly he accepted a dollar tip, and off we drove.  The driver never asked my destination; we had little conversation.  Shortly after entering West Medford, he stopped.

     “This is as far as I go,” he said.

     “Thanks.  Do you have any idea where Vernon Street is?”

     “This is it, right up the hill.  It’s that corner house,” he said, pointing.

     “Oh, I’m looking for number one,” I remarked absently.  “That’s it, the corner house on the hill, where Amelia Earhart’s sister lives.”

     “Thanks again,” I replied.

An undated photo of Amy Otis Earhart, Amelia’s mother, and sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey.

     Completely baffled by this whole encounter, I walked up the short hill and was greeted by Mrs. Morrissey. Her husband [Albert Morrissey, who died in 1978], a former Navy man, had hoped to be there, but he had to work.  She had advised the Navy of our appointment, she said, but had received no reply.  I was curious why she had contacted the Navy, but I didn’t ask.

     Mrs. Morrissey was charming and gracious.  The resemblance to her famous sister was so striking that she could be taken, for Amelia herself.  We enjoyed an amiable discussion for several hours.  She said she knew of my efforts, and was interested in the real solution to her sister’s mysterious disappearance.  I related the information I had concerning the gravesite on Saipan, as well as a summary of my efforts to obtain a dental chart.  Mrs. Morrissey said both she and her sister had dental work done in Boston many years before, although she could not recall the name of their dentist.  Later, I spent many hours in Boston attempting to locate Earhart’s dental chart, but to no avail.

     Mrs. Morrissey said she had sought information about her sister’s fate from the Japanese government, but her requests went unanswered.  Their mother [Amy Otis Earhart], who was bedridden and living in the Morrissey home, believed Amelia was on an intelligence flight* for the United States government when she and Fred Noonan disappeared.  I could not corroborate Mrs. Earhart’s belief, but I assured Mrs. Morrissey, “I am certain of the events that occurred while I was on Saipan. I only want an opportunity to bring forth the proof, and your sister’s dental chart would be of prime importance in doing so.”

     Mrs. Morrissey mentioned that she had been visited recently by Paul Briand [Jr.], who was associated with Joseph Gervais and Robert Dinger.  Briand, she said, was writing a thesis about Earhart which he hoped would evolve into his second book.

     Over the years, she said several people had brought infor­mation to her, which they irresponsibly claimed would solve the Earhart mystery.  These sensational disclosures had put a tremen­dous strain on the family.  I hoped Mrs. Morrissey was not classing my investigation with those.  After years of investigative failures, she said she had accepted the 1937 report that Amelia Fred were lost at sea near Howland Island.*  I pointed out that no physical evidence substantiated this conclusion.  I reviewed how the gigantic sea and air search for Earhart and Noonan had fail­ to turn up one scrap of wreckage or equipment.

     We both enjoyed our conversation, but an odd thing happened as I was preparing to leave.  Mrs. Morrissey went to a window where the shade was pulled. She raised and lowered the wind shade its full length, then made a remark about protecting room from the effect of the sun. Saying she would be right back to see me off, she excused herself to look in on her mother. After Mrs. Morrissey left, I peeked out the window. A short distance from the house, I saw two men. One was the cabbie who had driven me from the depot. I did not recognize the other, who was shorter and stockier.                     

One of the better of the may hundreds of Amelia Earhart biographies, Amelia, My Courageous Sister, was written by Muriel Earhart Morrissey and Carol L. Osborne, and published in 1987, ironically, the same year that Devine’s Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident was released.

     Saying goodbye, I left the house and walked down the hill.  The two men were nowhere to be seen.  As I rounded the corner, looking for transportation to Boston, there was the cab driver! Without the slightest awkwardness, he directed me to a stop on the MTA which would shuttle me back to Boston. While I was waiting for the local train, I noticed the man who had been talking to the cab driver, standing a short distance from me.

     Back at the depot, I stopped for a quick lunch. Except for two people at a table, the restaurant was empty. Presently two men and a woman entered the restaurant and claimed a table.  The woman then walked behind the counter where I was seated, and went into the kitchen with my waiter. I caught only a portion of their whispered conversation, but she asked him for an apron.  I paid no particular attention to the woman, who was apparently serving the two men at the table behind me.  Suddenly she said, “You’ll have to sit at one of the tables, or I can’t serve you.”

     Since I was nearly finished, I said nothing, but the woman persisted.

     “You’ll have to sit at one of the tables.”

     Contemplating another cup of coffee, I agreed to move.  Turning, I saw the cab driver and the man who had been talking with him outside the Morrissey home. I pretended not to recognize them and took a seat a few tables away.  They seemed oblivious to me.  After I was seated, the two men began a real show.  The woman encouraged me to speak to the men about their foul language, but I declined; then they pretended to argue.  “Here I invite you in for a drink,” the cab driver roared, “but you don’t reciprocate!”

The undated drawing of Amelia Earhart that her sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, gave to Thomas E. Devine upon his visit to Muriel’s home in West Medford, Mass., in August 1961. (Courtesy Thomas E. Devine.)

     I stole a glance at their table and saw three full beers in front of the man.  Again the woman prodded me to speak up, but I refused.

     The cab driver pounded on the table, threatening to beat up the other man.  They rose and left.  Amazingly, the woman urged to go out and intervene, but I had seen enough of this ridiculous charade.  I was not about to be relieved of my briefcase.  Instead, I left the restaurant by another door.  Shortly, who should I spy amidst a group of passengers in the depot but the cab driver!  As I looked toward him, he turned his head.  Finally my train arrived, and I boarded, but there was the cab driver, also boarding.  Thoroughly unnerved, I walked to the last car and stepped off just as the train started moving.

     Unfortunately, there was a long interval before the next train to New Haven.  I wandered around in the railroad station until I found myself back at the restaurant, deciding to risk a cup of coffee.

     The same waiter was behind the counter, but I did not see the man.

     “Where’s your waitress?” I asked.

     “She left,” was his only response. After several cups of coffee and a little conversation, I boarded the next train and arrived home without out further incident.

     In 1963 when I visited the Hartford station of the Office of Naval Intelligence, I read a confidential report on the location of Amelia Earhart’s gravesite.  Later I made a second visit to the facility to determine if the ONI were still active in its investigation.  I was ushered into an office where two men and a woman were seated.  One of the men opened the safe to get the Earhart file, shuffled through some of the pages, and pointed out certain passages for the woman to read.  She was obviously acquainted with the file and understood the significance of the noted passages.  During this exchange, the second man left.

     I was haunted; the woman looked familiar to me.  Slowly, I came to the astounding realization that this woman was the “waitress” in the Boston depot!  The woman must have sensed that I recognized her, for she immediately excused herself.  Hastily, the remaining ONI agent informed me that there had been no further investigation of Amelia Earhart’s grave.  I left the meeting convinced that the people who had accosted me in Boston were agents of the Office of Naval Intelligence.  Why their presence in Boston on the day of my visit with Mrs. Morrissey? I cannot say. Mrs. Morrissey did tell me that she had informed the Navy of my intended visit.   But why would the ONI trail me to West Medford?  I don’t know. What was the purpose of the ONI agents’ peculiar­ antics in Boston?  That I do not know, either. Perhaps they were trying to frighten me into curtailing my investigation.

Muriel Morrissey Earhart’s note to Devine. Aug. 19, 1961. (Courtesy Thomas E. Devine.)

     Although Mrs. Morrissey was unable to assist me in locating her sister’s dental charts, I was pleasantly surprised to receive from her a portrait of Amelia. On the back of the photograph, Mrs. Morrissey graciously wrote:

To Thomas Devine,
who is genuinely and unselfishly interested in
Amelia’s fate, I am happy to give this
photograph of  her.

Cordially,
Muriel Earhart Morrissey
August  19, 1961

 

Devine’s Notes to  Chapter 7

Page 79

*Mrs. Morrissey said her sister used a new plane for her second attempt. Supporters of the spy theory contend that this faster, more sophisticated aircraft would have enabled her to deviate from her flight path and avoid detection. Mrs. Morrissey herself never believed that her sister had been sent to spy on the Japanese Mandates.

Page 80

*Fred Goerner claims Mrs. Morrissey abandoned the belief that her sister had crashed near Howland Island after hearing his progress report in September­ October, 1961, and after his second expedition to Saipan. By 26 June 1962, however, Mrs. Morrissey had returned to her original conclusion. She wrote to me somewhat bitterly, “The claims of Captain Briand and the CBS have been shown to be completely false and unsubstantiated, so why continue the discussion? Amelia’s plane went down near Howland  Island [and] because of a radio failure – the  Coast Guard Cutter could not home her in.” (End of Chapter 7.)

Editor’s Note:  To my knowledge, no Earhart researcher or author has ever been physically harmed by any U.S. government agency or operative while pursuing information in the Earhart disappearance, but the foregoing situation might have produced a different result had Devine behaved with less caution.  Sixteen years earlier, in August 1945, Devine was probably even closer to serious harm when he was ordered to board a Navy plane by a man who was likely an Office of Naval Intelligence agent, who told Devine, “You can’t go back. . . You know about Amelia Earhart!” (See pages 64-66 in Eyewitness.)

In February 1991, while I was visiting at his home in West Haven, Conn., Devine told me he was  “flabbergasted,” with the situation he faced in August 1945. “I don’t know what they were going to do with me,” he said. “Was I going to be interviewed? Would they have offered me a government position or something for silence? Because I think that might have happened to [Pfc. Paul] Anderson. The thought persists that if I had boarded the plane at Tanapag Harbor on Saipan in 1945 at the insistence of the ONI agent, I might never have arrived at any destination.”

Grace Muriel Earhart Morrissey died in her sleep on Monday, March 2, 1998 at the age of 98.

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