The Weihsien Telegram
For several years now, TIGHAR researchers and subscribers
to our online Amelia Earhart Search Forum have been signing their correspondence
with the somewhat enigmatic closing “Love to Mother,” often abbreviated
to “LTM.” First used in that context by Expedition Team member
Russ Matthews (TIGHAR #0509CE), the phrase is taken from a document which
has become a cornerstone of allegations that Earhart was alive and in Japanese
custody at the end of World War II. At TIGHAR , the phrase has become popular
as an irreverent reminder to be rigorous in our research and reasonable
in drawing our conclusions.
Recently, as an independent research project, TIGHAR members
Ron Bright (#2342) and Laurie McLaughlin (#2212), with assistance from
oft-published Earhart researcher Rollin Reineck, set out to discover the
true author of the Love to Mother message. Ron’s report, edited and reproduced
below, summarizes an excellent piece of detective work. For new forum subscribers
who may be wondering what this Love to Mother (often abbreviated to LTM)
business is all about, here’s the story:
After Amelia Earhart disappeared on 2 July 37
enroute to Howland Island, an immediate Navy search disclosed
not a single trace of Earhart or the Electra. In 1943, the fictional
Hollywood film Flight For Freedom popularized the idea
that Earhart’s flight may have been somehow associated with prewar
U.S. intelligence gathering efforts. One historical document
which has often been offered as evidence that Earhart was held
captive by the Japanese is a Radiogram message dated 21 August
45 from Weihsien Internment Camp, China, sent via the US State
Department to George Putnam at N. Hollywood, California.
The text of the message read:
Camp liberated; all well. Volumes to tell. Love to mother.
It was transmitted as “unsigned.”
Putnam replied to the State Department on 9 September 1945
with a terse letter asking that any further telegrams be forwarded
to his home at Lone Pine, California. Neither the government,
Putnam, nor anyone else initiated an investigation of Earhart’s
possible presence at Weihsien. Putnam apparently did not mention
the communication to Amelia’s mother Amy or her sister Muriel
Morrissey. The message was never made public.
Then in 1971, author and long time Earhart researcher Fred
Goerner learned about the message and in 1975 received a copy
from the National Archives. Goerner didn’t publicize this discovery,
although he exchanged letters with other researchers. Goerner,
despite his personal conviction that the Japanese had captured
Earhart, dismissed the document as a message to Putnam from someone
at Weihsien who knew him before the war. He didn’t believe it
was from Earhart.
On 28 June 1987, the Los Angeles Times published
an article claiming that a State Department employee had found an “unpublished” government
telegram in the “Earhart” file at the National Archives.
It was the Love to Mother message.
The clear implication was that Amelia Earhart had been a prisoner
at Weihsien Civilian Assembly Camp. Some researchers took this
to be compelling evidence that the Japanese had indeed captured
Earhart and that she had been held since 1937 by the Japanese
government. After the Camp’s liberation in 1945, so the speculation
went, Amelia was returned to the US and evaded all publicity.
Adding support to the idea that the message was from
Earhart, Lt. James Hannon, one of the OSS paratroopers who liberated
the camp on 15 August 45, told researchers that the message confirmed
in his mind some of the strange events at Weihsien. He described
a comatose, incoherent female “Yank” whom he believed
must have been Earhart because of the special treatment she was
accorded. In September 1945, according to Hannon, she was spirited
away by a Japanese “Betty” bomber.
Interviews with other OSS troops, camp administrators, internees,
and camp documents, failed to confirm or conclusively deny the
supposition that Earhart was at Weihsien. Most researchers agreed
with Goerner and believed it was an associate or friend of Putnam
that wrote the message pointing out that Putnam apparently did
not ask for additional investigation. But then, who did write
the Love to Mother message? If we could discover the author and
it wasn’t Amelia, that would close the speculation on Earhart’s
presence at Weihsien.
We began with three assumptions:
The research steps I followed were:
- The author knew the 1935–41 address of Putnam at 10042 Valley
Spring Lane, N. Hollywood, California;
- The author knew Putnam well enough to send the message with
some kind of reason and;
- The author was conveying a code or intimate
purpose with the “love to mother” closing.
We then contacted numerous former Internees
and learned that Kamal was “Ahmad Kamal” a supposed expert in Central Asia matters,
authority on Mongolian and Chinese Turkestan, a guide on the Roy
Chapman Andrews expedition in the Gobi desert, and an “author.”
- I examined a list of all 1400 plus internees on a June 1944
roster for any clues regarding, age, business, occupations,
and nationalities (American) but none seemed to suggest a link
a professional or business link with Putnam.
- I examined the Radiogram from the State Department, transmitted
from Chungking to the US State Department via Navy radio, with
the 135 messages. They were mostly addressed to relatives,
business partners, schools, and all limited to about 10 words.
- Only two messages were designated with
a (*) meaning signature omitted – Putnam’s and the very
next message. This suggested a possible transmission problem.
Rollin Reineck wondered if a limit of “one message per internee” prompted
someone to add the second message to Putnam, deliberately
leaving off the signature in order to get the message out.
- Examining the text of each disclosed that
only two messages out of the 135 were strikingly similar
in the phrasing of “camp
liberated.” Those messages belonged to an “A. Kamal” and
to GP Putnam.
Putnam’s: “Camp liberated; all well. Volumes to tell.
Love to Mother. (sig. omitted)”
Kamal’s: “Advise mother all safe concentration camp
liberated books ready, Kamal.”
- Kamal’s message was addressed to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner
and Sons, a publishing house.
- None of the other messages used the “camp liberated” phrase,
and the “advise mother” phrase. I felt that Kamal
could be a possibility as he was a self-proclaimed author and
might be writing publishing house in competition with Putnam’s.
Maybe he was writing to Putnam too about a forthcoming book.
- The camp roster listed A. Kamal as a 30
year old “student” and
a Mrs. A.T. Kamal, housewife.
Former internee Pamela Masters, who wrote The Mushroom Years,
a story of the Weihsien experience, recalled that Kamal from
Weihsien accidently ran into her sister in LA in 1947 trying
to sell a story – something about “Six Fathoms Deep;” he
was attempting to break into the Hollywood scene. She described
him as a “flaming red headed” Turk. We reviewed publishing
companies and found that an “Ahmad Kamal” had written
seven books, including The Seven Questions of Timur published
in 1938 and Land without Laughter, published in 1940.
These books described his adventures in Central Asia, getting
charged as a spy by the Russians, and escaping with a Chinese
general to Peking.
These descriptions of the book led us to believe that the Ahmad
Kamal at Weihsien was the same Kamal as the author. If he was
an author it was possible that he had some connection with George
Putnam pre-war, but we couldn’t find any direct link.
A fellow TIGHAR researcher, Andrew McKenna (TIGHAR #1045CE),
found that AE and George Putnam had a social relationship with
Andrews of the Gobi expedition in the mid- to late 30s.
Thus, we speculated, if Kamal at Weihsien was the author Kamal,
it could be a common link between Kamal and Putnam.
Then a major breakthrough came in April
2001. A review of FBI records on Putnam, obtained through the
Freedom of Information Act, and just declassified in 1998,
disclosed an amazing connection between Putnam and a “young man” who spoke Turkish
and Chinese, and who was writing about his adventures in China
circa 1935-38. According to the FBI files, Putnam was recruiting
a “young man,” never identified by name, to be a double
agent against the Japanese at Los Angeles. The young man, said
Putnam, was working for the Los Angeles Japanese Consulate and
was furnishing them with aircraft data, construction information,
ship movements, etc., gleaned from public sources. Putnam wanted
the FBI to recruit him as a double agent. After an exchange of
letters with J. Edgar Hoover, and meetings with the LA FBI agents,
it was clear the FBI didn’t want anything to do with this scene,
and they suggested that Putnam contact Navy Intelligence. Putnam
declined as he had “bad experiences” with two Navy
But who was this “young man,” whom
Putnam declined to identify to the FBI? Was he Kamal?
A social security death index check disclosed that an Ahmad
Kamal was born in 1914 and died 13 October 1989 at Santa Barbara,
California. The FBI in Los Angeles estimated the young man’s
age at 24 in 1938. As we knew that the Kamal at Weihsien was
age 30 in 1945, this Kamal was looking better to us, but we could
not find any existing autobiographies or biographies in major
libraries about this Ahmad Kamal.
Our conjecture then was that the author
Kamal was the same Kamal as Putnam’s young man based on age
and on the Central Asia background, and Kamal’s published book
in 1938 at Santa Ana, near Santa Barbara. Why would Weihsien
Kamal send a message to Putnam? A new book? Kamal seemed to
be the LTM author but why would he use the intimate phrase “Love to Mother?” How
could we ever find a specific link between Kamal as the “young
man” and the Kamal that Putnam was recruiting?
The Final Link
On 18 April 2001, I located Ahmad Kamal’s son in Southern California
and his revelations about his father were extraordinary. Yes,
the author of The Seven Questions of Timur and Land
Without Laughter, and the Kamal at Weihsien Civilian prison
camp were one and the same. Yes, there was a close link between
Putnam and Kamal at Los Angeles before World War II.
The following is based on his son’s recollection. After extensive
traveling in Turkestan, China, and Central Asia, Kamal returned
to the US circa the early ’20s. In the late 1920s or early ’30s
Kamal obtained a pilot’s license and kept an airplane at the
Burbank Airport. There, in the mid-thirties, he met and flew
with Howard Hughes. At Burbank he also met George Putnam and
Amelia Earhart. Kamal was close to Hughes’ personal secretary
Nadine Henly. Earhart was at Burbank airport prior to her first
world flight attempt in March 1937.
During this time in 1937-38, Kamal became closely acquainted
with Putnam who was helping him find a publisher. About this
time, 1938, Kamal published his Seven Questions book about
his adventures in Central Asia, fighting against the Russians,
imprisonment, and escape to Peking. 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
afterwards, 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 spoke Turkish, Chinese and was an “international
figure.” Kamal’s son said that his father never discussed
with him any of Putnam’s efforts to recruit him for the FBI.
(The son was born in 1950.)
After liberation, Kamal returned to the US, continued to publish,
and lived in the Los Angeles area from 1945-51. He does not know
if Kamal ever got in touch with Putnam after the war.
In summary, Kamal said his father often
discussed Amelia Earhart and various disappearance theories.
His father, who knew Amelia, said she was not at Weihsien while
he was there from 1942 until August 1945. The story of Earhart
being at Weihsien was, in the son’s words, “apocryphal” and
that’s why he recalled his father’s stories while he was growing
up in the 60s, 70s and 80s.
His father thought she went down in the sea.
The son said he would search through his father’s journals
and provide any relevant document or record.
The author of the LTM message is Ahmad Kamal.
Kamal was at Weihsien and he knew Putnam and AE. His message
to Putnam was a generic hopeful notification. “Love to mother” was
nothing more than an endearing message for Putnam to convey to
his mom after his three years at the camp.
For those that wish to know more about Kamal I suggest reading
his first two books. A further indicator of his mother’s role
in Kamal’s life is seen in the dedication in his first book, The
Seven Secrets in which he writes, “TO MY MOTHER” (in
20 point type).
Laurie and I wish to thank Rollin Reineck, who initially researched
and located State Department radiograms to Putnam and generously
provided them. Also to Don Neumann, and TIGHAR members Pat Gaston
(TIGHAR #2328), Don Jordan (TIGHAR #2109), and Andrew McKenna
(TIGHAR #1045CE) for advice and direction in this investigation.
Early researchers did not have the advantage of the 1998 declassified
Putnam FBI file that disclosed the relationship between a Weihsien
internee and Putnam.
This telegram and the nonsense which has
surrounded it in recent years has prompted those of us most
involved in TIGHAR’s Earhart research to adopt the “Love
to mother” closing
as a reminder to keep our objectivity and skepticism intact
when evaluating any new evidence.