We begin 2017 with a look at the notorious Weihsien Telegram, as it was known, one of the more sensational claims we’ve seen in recent years. In 2001, this hot potato was relegated to the dustbin of dead-end myth, when researcher Ron Bright definitively disproved the idea that Amelia Earhart had been confined at the Weihsien, China civilian internment camp during World War II. This notion sprang from the 1987 discovery in State Department archives of an unsigned telegram, or “speedletter” to George Putnam from Weihsien in 1945; Amelia Earhart was soon “identified” as its sender by a group heavily invested in the Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam canard. The unsigned telegram reads, “Camp liberated — all well — volumes to tell — love to mother.” Sent from Weihsien, north China, and dated Aug. 28, 1945, this document created a huge buzz among researchers who speculated it could have been sent by Amelia herself.
During the ensuing debate within the Amelia Earhart Society, Bright, working with Patrick Gaston, an Overland Park, Kansas, attorney, obtained key documents, witness accounts and other evidence that helped put the lie to this lingering pest of a theory. Before we get to Bright’s findings, which hammered the final nails in the coffin of the Weihsien falsehood, we’ll hear from others involved in the promotion and debunking of this once-popular idea.
In the September 1993 issue of Omni Magazine, Amelia Earhart Society President Bill Prymak offered an informed rebuttal of the false claims by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) that Earhart crashed-landed on Nikumaroro Atoll, formerly known as Gardner Island, in the central Pacific’s Phoenix Chain. As for her true fate, Prymak said he had “tantalizing evidence but nothing concrete. We do have a telegram from her to her husband, George Putnam, which was dated Aug. 28, 1945, from a prison camp in China.” Thus, Joe Gervais’ long-discredited claim in Amelia Earhart Lives that Earhart had lived in the Emperor of Japan’s palace before returning to the United States as New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam was transformed into an equally implausible — if less glamorous — scenario. Bright’s findings would later force Prymak and most others to admit their errors, but not before several years of confusion had passed.
Though Prymak and many of his AES associates believed that the telegram sent to George Putnam “informed Putnam that his wife was alive” in a Japanese internment camp in 1945, others with knowledge soon attempted to debunk this notion. In late July 1993, Devine sent me a copy of a recent letter from Langdon Gilkey, 73, author of Shantung Compound (Harper and Row, 1966) to retired New York Police Department forensic specialist and Earhart theorist Jerome Steigmann, who died in 2003, as did Devine.
In 1943 Gilkey was an American bachelor teaching at Peking’s Yenching University, a privately owned Anglo-American school and one of 10 “Christian Colleges” in China. Gilkey was advised by the Japanese that he and other American and British nationals then in Peking would be sent to a “civilian internment center” for their “safety and comfort.” Many people, including doctors, professors, instructors, businessmen, missionaries and travelers were incarcerated in the facility in Weihsien. Shantung Compound is Gilkey’s account of his experience there. Gilkey was released from captivity on Sept. 25, 1945.
In his letter to Steigmann, Gilkey says, “I have never heard of the Yank female, nor of her solitary captivity in Weihsien. I am also as positive as I am of anything in my life that this story is fiction, that, in other words, it did not and could not have happened without one hearing or knowing of it. I am, as I say, as sure of this as I am of anything in my past.”
“Not one person of the hundred or possibly thousands of internees held at Weihsien has ever reported Earhart’s presence at the camp,” Devine wrote in “The Concealed Grave of Amelia Earhart,” his unpublished manuscript. “Langdon Gilkey certainly would have known, as he emphatically states.”
Responding to my July 2001 letter asking his clearance to quote him in my 2002 book, With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, Steigmann provided more evidence against the idea that Earhart spent time at Weihsien. He sent copies of a few introductory pages to The Mushroom Years: A Story of Survival (Henderson House Publishing, 1998), by Pamela Masters, another veteran of the Weihsien “Civilian Assembly Center.” Masters, who was held at Weihsien with her family, briefly discusses the alleged Earhart-Weihsien connection and says she recently located the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) major who commanded the operation to liberate Weihsien in 1945.
“The first time he heard of Amelia Earhart supposedly being in Weihsien was in December of ’97,” Masters wrote in her opening note to The Mushroom Years. “And to all those souls who want to find closure regarding Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, I empathize with you, but all I can say is: Forget Weihsien — look somewhere else.”
Steigmann also sent Devine a copy of a letter from former Col. John A. White of Millbrae, California, who wrote, “I have never heard anything about Amelia Earhart being a prisoner in China.” White told Steigmann a friend of his had been interned in Weihsien during World War II. Devine wrote to this woman, who informed Devine, “I have asked old friends whether the rumor was true about Amelia Earhart coming into the camp at the end of the war, and protected by Catholic priests and sisters. NO is the big answer.”Gilkey did not respond to Devine’s correspondence, but in another letter to him, Steigmann wrote, “In addition to the Gilkey letter, I have been in contact with other former internees of the Weihsien, China Camp. They all agree Amelia Earhart was never in the hospital or any other part of the camp.”
In late August 1993, Steigmann took his information to the Amelia Earhart Symposium, sponsored by the Amelia Earhart Society and held at Morgan Hill, Calif. There, amid a gathering of AES luminaries including Gervais, Prymak and Reineck, Steigmann ripped a gaping hole in the Weihsien Telegram theory: “The ‘Heavy Hitters’ of the AES were putting the audience to sleep,with their boring discussions about fuel, navigation, radio messages, etc.,” Steigmann wrote. “Ann P. [Pellegreno] persuaded the ‘Good Ole Boys’ to let me speak, and I ‘Awakened Them’ very fast, and even though there was a time limit, the audience insisted that I have all the time I needed to finish my scenarios. The AES ‘Clique’ [sic] were upset that they were upstaged by an ‘outsider!’ During the breaks, I was surrounded by publishers, authors, members of female flying groups, etc., who wanted me to speak at other events. Rollin Reineck, of Hawaii, who still claims Amelia was ‘interned’ at Weihsien, China, was not too happy when I produced additional letters from former camp residents that AE was never at the camp.”
Steigmann’s derailing of the telegram theory was convincing enough for Prymak and company to rethink their ideas. In the Dec. 3, 1993 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, Prymak wrote, “Steigmann’s conclusions seem most logical.”
Meanwhile, Steigmann had other ideas about the Earhart disappearance, strange flights of fancy far removed from logic. In Steigmann’s world, Amelia was a “double agent, working simultaneously for the U.S. Marine Corps, the ONI and the Japanese from the early 1920s through her contact with Admiral Yamamoto and Japanese Naval Intelligence: As an agent for Japan, Amelia Earhart rendered technical assistance to the Japanese Naval air forces and in the development of their fighter plane, the Zero. She furnished Japanese Naval Air Intelligence photos of U.S. Army and Navy airfields in Hawaii as well as their schedules.”
Steigmann also advocated the Joe Gervais-Joe Klass idea that Earhart lived in the Japanese Imperial Palace during the war: “When Amelia was liberated from ‘guest status’ at the Imperial Palace, she was secretly repatriated to the U.S. by the unseen hand of the Secretary of the Navy Forrestal. It was Forrestal who had inherited the Amelia Earhart mission from his predecessors, who was the prime architect when Amelia was facially renovated at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.”
Steigmann concluded his fantasy by claiming Earhart “is still alive, at 96, awaiting the appropriate time to emerge from her long exile.” Steigmann sent Devine a copy of an unidentified tabloid with a picture of Earhart, Fred Noonan and the Electra. The story is headlined “Amelia Earhart’s Plane Is Found — In Japan” and subtitled “U.S. knew it for 48 years.” As if this validated Steigmann’s ideas, he wrote over the headline, “It was never on Aslito Airfield, Saipan!” and under the subtitle he wrote, “So did Jerry Steigmann.”
Devine had no use for such delusions, nor did he need Steigmann to shed the light of truth on the Weihsien Telegram theory. He already possessed decades-old information that strongly suggested the possible identity of the telegram’s originator, and it certainly wasn’t Amelia Earhart.
“Many years ago, during my early investigation, I had located the son of George Putnam. David Binney Putnam was in the real estate business in Florida,” Devine explained. “During our phone conversation, he was a bit cool regarding Amelia since it was Amelia who parted his parents. I questioned as to which branch of the service he may have served in during the war. He immediately responded he had spent most of the war years in a prison camp in China. I did not want it to appear that I was about to cross-examine him so I did not press on which branch of the service he may have served in. But he may have been incarcerated as an American citizen, or he could have been employed in clandestine activities involving our secret Office of Strategic Services [OSS].”
Devine said that when he first heard about the telegram, he was merely amused. He recalled visiting Muriel Morrissey in Boston in 1961: “She was pleasantly surprised when I mentioned David Binney Putnam, and asked me for his address, which I forwarded to her on a later date. She had lost track of him for many years. He was, she said, in a prisoner-of-war camp, which she thought was in China. When I first saw the news item of a woman in Washington who had found the cablegram, unsigned, I thought it may have been one that he had sent to his father. I never realized that Gervais and his cohorts would stipulate it was from Amelia. I had nothing in writing to refute them, only a phone conversation.”
Seeking to confirm his theory, Devine tried to contact David Binney Putnam in 1993, but learned he had passed away in May 1992. Hoping David’s brother, George P. Putnam Jr., could help clear things up, Devine was initially disappointed. Finally responding to Devine’s inquiries, Putnam told Devine he hadn’t the “faintest idea” what he was talking about. “No member of our family was ever in prison in China during the WWII era,” Putnam told Devine.
“If Putnam had received a telegram from his wife Amelia in 1945, he would have announced it to the entire world. Since it was unsigned, Putnam would know it was from his son of a prior marriage,” Devine wrote. “‘Love to mother’ was indicative of this association. Prymak’s remark, ‘We do have a telegram from her to her husband George Putnam which was dated Aug. 28, 1945 from a prison camp in China’. . . perpetuates the three-ring atmosphere, rather than the authenticity of the tragedy that befell Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Perhaps the general public is receptive to some of the rumors peddled by these individuals, since they are so succinctly resolved. But because of my firsthand knowledge and eyewitness involvement, I feel it is sickening.”
The Weihsien Telegram’s true author found
As it turned out, Devine’s best guess was wrong. Ron Bright and Patrick Gaston initiated a well-executed investigation aimed at nailing the source of the Weihsien Telegram, the details and results of which were initially published in the May 2001 TIGHAR Tracks newsletter. As I’m not a member of TIGHAR, Bright kindly provided a copy for my use, and it was included in With Our Own Eyes.
Bright found that the author of the controversial telegram was Turkish author and world traveler Ahmad Kamal, who was interned at Weihsien from summer 1943 to August 1945. Kamal knew George Putnam well enough to ask him to look in on his elderly mother, who apparently lived in the Los Angeles area, while he was away. Bright also secured what he called “the entire list of the 1,800 plus internees at Weihsien” from former camp administrator Desmond Powers, a Canadian. Needless to say, Amelia Earhart’s name wasn’t on the list.
(Editor’s note: A google search reveals a site that contains a spread sheet that claims to be said list of Weihsien internees. Neither Amelia Earhart nor any Putnam is on it. To view the list, please click here.)
Kamal died in 1989, but Bright found his son, Turan-Mirza Kamal (1951–2004) an American-born classical guitarist and composer, in Southern California, and the veil on the Weihsien mystery was finally lifted. Kamal told Bright his father was a pilot, and kept his airplane at Burbank Airport in the early 1930s, where he met Howard Hughes, George Putnam and Amelia Earhart.
Bright’s investigation finally put the Weihsien speculation to rest. Here is the former ONI agent’s summary of his findings:
Sometime about 1939–1940, Kamal returned to China where he met and married his wife at Tientsin, China. The war broke out in December 1941 and, soon afterward, the Japanese Secret Police captured him and his wife. Refusing to cooperate, they were transferred to Weihsien Camp in the summer of 1943. There they remained until liberated in August 1945.
According to his son, shortly after the camp was liberated, Kamal sent out two radio messages: One to Scribner and Sons about publishing a book, and one to George Putnam. His son said he has seen either notes or a journal of that message and could repeat it almost by heart — something like “camp liberated, all was well, volumes to follow and love to mother.” The “love to mother” was added, said Kamal’s son, because Putnam had agreed to look after Kamal’s aging mother when Kamal left for China. Mrs. Kamal lived nearby and Putnam was to look in on her. It was an informal caregiver arrangement.
Kamal said his father often discussed Amelia Earhart and the mystery of her disappearance, and believed she went down in the sea. The elder Kamal had also told his son that Earhart was not at Weihsien while he was there, from 1942 until August 1945.
Kamal was an American, and probably a convert to Islam, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ian Johnson, author of A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). Johnson obtained Kamal’s FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, which reveals that Kamal was born on Feb. 2, 1914, in Arvada, Colo., and his birth name was Cimarron Hathaway; his mother was Caroline Grossmann Hathaway, his father, James Worth Hathaway. According to an interview Johnson obtained with a daughter, James was a stepfather and Cimarron’s biological father was Qara Yusuf, a Uyghur from Turkestan who was much older than Caroline – he was 64 and she 16 when they married.
Kamal’s 1940 book Land Without Laughter, was “one of those fascinating, slightly archaic, offbeat adventure books set in that mysterious region, Chinese Turkestan,” wrote Leslie Evans, whose review of A Mosque in Munich and more on Kamal can be found online at “The Strange Career of Ahmad Kamal and How He Helped the CIA Invite Radical Islam into Europe.” Kamal also wrote Full Fathom Five (Doubleday & Co. 1948), “a wonderful story of the sponge fishermen Americans of Greek ancestry of Tarpon Springs, Florida, their strange and beautiful customs, and the warmth and goodness of their way of life,” according to the book’s paperback description on Amazon.com. “It is a story told by Alek Paradisis, a man who believed he could solve any problem with his fist.”
In today’s final post of our four-part series, “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society,” we rejoin the litany of famed Earhart researcher Joe Gervais’ better known gaffes; following that, I will try to bring the entire mash pit of absurdities that characterized the Irene Bolam chapter of the Earhart saga into some kind of coherent perspective, and put this pest of a lingering Earhart myth to bed for now.
“What is the hardest task in the world? To think.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Item: In 1987, Joe Gervais led the voices claiming that the notorious “Weihsien Telegram” (later known as the “Love to Mother,” or LTM, message), a 1945 “speedletter” addressed to George Putnam and sent from a liberated Japanese internment camp in China, proved that Earhart had been held by the Japanese throughout World War II. In 2001, Ron Bright led an investigation that found the message had originated with Turkish author and world traveler Ahmad Kamal, who had known Putnam well enough to ask him to look in on his elderly mother before he left on a trip to China in 1939.
Fred Goerner, in a 1992 letter to Rollin Reineck, traced the discovery of what he called the “Weihsien Camp message” to Sandra Rangel, an archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in the early 1970s. Rangel found the telegram among State Department records that were being routinely declassified following the normal 30-year classification restrictions, and wrote to Goerner about it in March 1971, telling him she found it a file under the name of George Palmer Putnam, not Amelia Earhart. Goerner obtained copies of the Weihsien records in 1975 and shared them with an Earhart researcher, Patti Morton, in 1983.
In 1987 Los Angeles Times reporter Paul Dean contacted Morton after asking Goerner for leads about an Earhart story, and Morton told Dean about the Weihsien message. Dean then used it as a “hook for his article,” according to Goerner, which opened the floodgates to the knee-jerk Earhart theorists’ proclamations. “As I feared,” Goerner wrote, “Mr. Gervais and others immediately began to claim that the message proved Earhart had been a Japanese prisoner and to claim it as proof for their various theories. Within a few days, Mr. Gervais had given his claim to a Las Vegas newspaper. It proved NOTHING OF THE KIND. It only proved that SOMEONE had sent a message to George Palmer Putnam.”
Goerner went on to castigate Reineck for his insistence that Morton was withholding “secret information” from him (Reineck), and said Morton was “outraged by the Gervais statements,” among which was that Morton had agreed “to do a book” with Gervais. Morton thought Gervais was “totally unprincipled,” Goerner told Reineck, and reminded him of Gervais’ checkered history of phony Earhart claims, as well as Reineck’s role in disseminating them:
The incredible attempt to use the Weishien message by Mr. Gervais to support his scenario is but another in a LONG, LONG list of misinformation Mr. Gervais has presented to the media as fact; for instance, by my count, Mr. Gervais has presented at least three photographs to the media which he alleges as proof that Earhart was in Japanese custody and returned to the U.S. as Irene Bolam. All bogus. You, Mr. Reineck, were a part of the last photo fiasco, and you were quoted widely in the press claiming the photo showed Earhart after the disappearance.
. . . Now that you know the photo was taken in Hawaii in 1937, why have you and Gervais not released that information to the media? Shame on everyone.
Item: The Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam theory.
The preceding are hardly the only examples of Gervais’ penchant for creative research, whereby he discovered a vast array of conspiracies and Earhart connections where none existed, but they are among the better-known cases. Certainly the native interviews he conducted in the Marianas in 1960 with fellow Air Force officer Robert Dinger were enormously important in establishing the presence of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan. These seminal accounts remain invaluable, but something happened to Gervais after he concluded his Saipan investigations, and it manifested itself in disastrous fashion that August 1965 day on Long Island.
Though it’s impossible to quantify the damage Amelia Earhart Survived inflicted upon the public’s perception of Earhart researchers, the popular idea that most who pursue the solution to the so-called Earhart mystery must be cranks or otherwise marginal individuals can, for the most part, be laid at Gervais’ doorstep, and Klaas’ too, as David Billings explained:
Joe Gervais convinced Joe Klaas that the woman he had seen at the Sea Spray Inn in 1965 WAS Amelia Earhart based on a spiritual feeling he had experienced which was influenced by a couple of adornments that the woman wore which were not what he thought they were. Klaas did not go and look at the lady himself, nowhere does he say that he did that, therefore he accepted what Gervais said holus-bolus. Now, if it were you or I and we wanted to be sure, we’d go and have a look. He never did. He never researched what Gervais told him, he never questioned Gervais, he wrote it down because as he often says, “I am a journalist.” What are journalists always after? A scoop. Klaas believed he had a scoop and he went off half-cocked and published that dreadful book. That dreadful book has affected every Earhart researcher since to one degree or another.
The unregenerate Klaas, now 95, has never publicly disavowed what he has described as the strongly “implied” contention in Amelia Earhart Lives that Earhart assumed the identity of Irene Bolam, though occasionally he has admitted the book contained other, less-serious errors. In an April 2007 message to the AES forum, Klaas reasserted his long-held, fence-straddling position on the Earhart-Bolam issue, cloaking it in the same quasi-legal terminology that failed to sway a New York court in the 1970s, and ended with McGraw-Hill’s substantial out-of-court settlement award to Irene Bolam:
My book, which was first published by McGraw-Hill, never stated outright that Irene Bolam was Amelia Earhart. We presented all the evidence … and left it up to the reader to speculate.
But the vigilant Mandel was having none of Klaas’ hair-splitting Bolamite doublespeak that April day, and immediately brought the matter to the attention of those forum members who might, understandably, have been confused by Klaas’ statement:
As it follows from Mr. Joe Klaas’ message, his book “never stated outright that Irene Bolam was Amelia Earhart,” and the ones who think otherwise make “understandable misunderstanding.” Sorry but it is difficult to agree with this statement, because of following facts. Mr. Joe Klaas’ book was actually. . . how the IB theory was revealed to public – that knew nothing about this theory before this book. And the book’s title was: “AMELIA EARHART LIVES.”
The book clearly proclaimed the concept of the author (Mr. Klaas) and his friend who proposed the theory (Mr. Gervais) that she “lives” in another, living (then) real person – Irene Bolam. Let’s just see the real things: it is exactly what the book proclaimed, not anything else. The name of the author, Mr. Joe Klaas, was on the cover of the book, and it is still my firm opinion that the writer is fully, unconditionally and personally RESPONSIBLE – before the readers, the public, the society, and the history – for the information, concepts and statements made in the book. Always and without exceptions.
The concept of the real, national and international, historical mysteries about the very real people to be considered as just a “fascinating game of research and deduction,” completely ignores this important aspect of public and social RESPONSIBILITY of the ones who make the public statements, and it is why I always definitely disagreed with this concept.
From the period well before the book’s publication and until today – for all these decades – Mr. Joe Klaas apparently did never claim that he is not sharing the theory generated by his friend, Mr. Gervais. His own support of the theory is obvious and clearly visible from the contents and tone of his own comments in the book, particularly its final phrase: “Joe Gervais is on your trail, Amelia. There’s no use trying to die, for he’ll follow you wherever you go, and as long as he shall live, you shall live.”
If it is not the full and unconditional support of the Mr. Gervais concept, then it is very hard even to propose any definition (of) what else it is. It is far more than can be expected or demanded from “just the hired writer” – and clearly represents Mr. Klaas’ own position – that he never rejected btw, neither publicly nor (as far as I know) on the “closed forums” like AES. The proof is just below, in Mr. Joe Klaas’ today’s message, where he clearly states that he still believes in “Joe’s and my theory of what actually happened to Amelia Earhart.”
Sorry dear colleagues, but “JOE’s AND MY theory” in this quote is not my words. And for all the following period after 1970, including the current times, Mr. Joe Klaas made it maximally clear for everybody that he still supports his theory and believes in it – as he did when writing the book.
After McGraw-Hill returned the rights to Amelia Earhart Lives to Klaas after many years, the book was republished as an Authors Guild Back-In-Print Edition by iUniverse, and has been available on the Internet for purchase since 2000. As for Prymak, it’s hard to know the extent of the damage he could have prevented by revealing the details of the 1992 Gervais-Mary Eubank incident to the Earhart community in the years immediately following it, but he might have disabused Reineck of his ill-advised impulse to write Amelia Earhart Survived. Prymak eventually admitted his role in keeping the lid closed on the blockbuster Eubank-Bolam connection, but he never quite publicly apologized for it.
Although Gervais might even now be considered as “the Dean of Earhart research” by a remaining few who lack all discernment, Fred Goerner rightly earned the honor that some of the good old boys of the AES once so cavalierly accorded Gervais. As Ron Bright, no advocate of the Earhart-on-Saipan scenario that informed Goerner’s vision and investigations, once wrote, “No one did more research than Goerner.” Goerner’s findings remain treasures; many of his letters are more important and germane than ever, because they direct us toward the truth, unlike the charlatans and government apologists dominating the popular media culture during the past few decades, or the obtuse Bolamites.
Thomas E. Devine, whose experiences on Saipan launched him upon a lifetime quest to establish the truth and whose influence on this writer’s early Earhart education was immense, lacked Goerner’s creative abilities, national connections and imagination, but his contributions to the Earhart investigation were significant and lasting, and no one was ever more driven or dedicated than Devine. Like Goerner, Devine was fallible and wrong in some of his key conclusions, and even dishonest on occasion, but he never approached Gervais’ notoriety, and unlike the notorious Gervais, his positive contributions to Earhart research far outweighed his failings.
By September 2006, the escalating conflict between the forum’s Bolamite faction and its reality-based counterparts reached critical mass, apparently precipitated by Billings and Mandel’s continuing demands that Reineck produce his long-promised forensic evidence. On September 10, Jo Ann Ridley, the genteel co-author of High Times Keep ‘Em Flying: An Aviation Autobiography (Fithian Press, 1992), set the day’s tone by announcing her withdrawal from the AES. Citing the “inexplicable toleration of schoolyard bullies in what should be friendly exchanges,” Ridley expressed her regrets that “the AES is no more, in its original sense,” and concluded by observing that “personal attacks, harassment and grudge-holding do not lead to truth-finding.” Taking Ridley’s cue, the conscientious Reineck soon declared his resignation, as well. “The crude and ungentlemanly behavior of David Billings and Alex Mandel towards me and my research goes well beyond any measure of common decency and certainly beyond my tolerance level,” Reineck announced, astonished that he might be asked for any evidence to support his incredible claims.
Joe Klaas soon followed suit, complaining that the forum “has deteriorated to mean-spiritedness,” which inspired several others in the flock to join the exodus. But like everything else in Bolamville, nothing was quite as it seemed, and the mass resignations proved to be little more than theatrics. No one, including Ridley, ever removed their names from the online membership roll, and all posted occasional messages to the forum in the months following their grand withdrawals. Not surprisingly, of all who had announced their departures, only Reineck returned to regular forum participation, and fairly quickly, as if nothing had ever occurred to keep him away.
More serious researchers had sought greener pastures years earlier, most while continuing their AES affiliation. Ron Bright, once a dues-paying member of TIGHAR, formed the Electra Research Group in 2002, “primarily to approach the various theories from a different standpoint,” he said. “We found about ten guys that seemed fed up with TIGHAR and AES, and wanted to exchange opinions and criticisms without the rancor.” By July 2006, Alex Mandel, starved for reasoned discussion after years of fruitless debate, established the Amelia Mary Earhart Research International Club and Association, also known as AERA. Mandel’s group, though small, continues as a viable forum for Mandel’s vision of “serious scholarly study of the life and career of the pilot Amelia Mary Earhart, the research of her disappearance in 1937, promotion and protection of her legacy, and providing exact and accurate information about Amelia Earhart for everybody interested.”
In late summer 2006, but unknown to me until much later, the hardcore AES Bolamite faction, led by Reineck and Klaas, formed their own private online forum, the “AESurvived” Yahoo! Group, where they could freely discuss the latest developments in their constantly evolving fantasies without the distractions of inconvenient reality. Since then, virtually nothing of this group’s activities or correspondence has come to my attention.
Irene Madeline O’Crowley Craigmile Heller Bolam was born on Oct. 1, 1904 in Newark, New Jersey, and died of cancer on July 7, 1982 in Edison, New Jersey. With few exceptions, nothing else written about this poor woman was either true or necessary. We can only wonder, in light of the lucrative financial settlement Bolam received from McGraw-Hill after Joe Klaas only implied she was Amelia Earhart in Amelia Earhart Lives, whether Reineck and his publisher would have dared to publish Amelia Earhart Survived if Bolam were alive today.
One might reasonably question the need to engage in a lengthy discussion of such an illogical notion as the IB theory in a blog purporting to present the truth about the Earhart matter. The time and effort spent in deconstructing this odious fantasy could be more wisely spent elsewhere, it can be argued, and focusing on the Bolamite credo grants it a legitimacy it could not otherwise achieve. If only this were so, speeding the eradication of this pox on the Earhart legacy would be so much easier – it could simply be ignored. But as we have seen, despite the theory’s abject lack of merit, producers of the National Geographic Channel’s History Undercover series devoted an entire segment of their Earhart program to the IB theory in 2007. If a book as feckless as Amelia Earhart Survived can persuade the National Geographic Channel into re-introducing the Bolamite thesis to millions of uninformed viewers, what damage might a cleverly produced tome by a creative, newly inspired Bolamite protégé yet inflict? We also have the recently published book, so shamelessly and irresponsibly promoted by the UK’s Daily Mail and Fox News, that has already outsold Reineck’s fish wrapper, and reintroduces the same Bolamite folderol to a public that remains largely ignorant about the Bolam lies.
Many demonstrably false and damaging ideas are granted currency by those who cultivate and embrace the politically correct mindset of “tolerance” for all “sincerely held” beliefs. This so-called open-mindedness and respect for “individual rights,” especially in regard to the weird and aberrant, is normally an innocuous conceit when the opinions in question are confined to the occasional eccentric or misfit. However, when these pernicious ideas are allowed to be broadcast to an uninformed public as facts, as was done in Amelia Earhart Survived, still being sold on the Net, and the new book that I refuse to even name, those who can do something about it are bound to act – as decisively as possible – in the service of truth and justice. All ideas are not equal.
Since Joe Gervais embraced his misbegotten conviction that Amelia Earhart “became” Irene Bolam more than 40 years ago, an ersatz mythology complete with its own dogmas and history evolved in support of the Bolamite belief system. It has not been my purpose to examine, item-by-item, ad nauseam, every precept of this phantasmagoria. Rather, I have attempted to describe a phenomenon that nearly defies understanding, not only in its own bizarre and fantastic essence, but in the inexplicable thrall by which it captivated and bound its adherents.
In 2005, Alex Mandel collaborated with Ron Bright, Bill Prymak, and Patrick Gaston to write “Amelia Earhart’s Survival and Repatriation: Myth or Reality?” Mandel’s 12,000-word paper, which I completely re-wrote for public presentation because English is Mandel’s third language, came to be known as “The Atchison Report,” and is the most comprehensive examination and systematic debunking to date of the myths, deceptions and lies that animated the IB theory and continue to be propagated by its remaining adherents. Some 50 copies were distributed to researchers and other interested parties at the annual Amelia Earhart Festival in Atchison, Kansas, in July 2005, with the hope that armed with this in-depth study, serious Earhart students can help to exterminate any vestiges of this stubborn parasite wherever it raises its ugly head. Sadly, the perfidious Bolamite Creed still lives, despite our best efforts.