Forum artHighlights From the Forum

August 22, 1998 through August 30, 1998

Subject: Label Fragment
Date: 8.22.98
From: Don Jordan

Ric! The label fragment had a Bar code on it. . . It’s worthless!

From Ric

There’s a principle involved here that has caused me great embarrassment when I have failed to adhere to it. Let’s call it The Principle of Accurate Language. It goes like this.

Language shapes thought. If we don’t use accurate language to describe what we know, we end up thinking that we know things that we don’t really know.

We know that the label fragment has some markings on it which appear to be identical to a very small part of a barcode. If it is not a barcode it is an amazing coincidence, but we can not say at this time that the label has a barcode on it. (Amazing coincidences are far more common than most people think. That’s how psychics make their living.) We also have a couple of expert opinions that other markings on the fragment are very characteristic of the 1930s. We have conflicting evidence about the age of the label.

Whether the label is modern or vintage, it is not worthless. On the contrary, it is because it is so important that we must be as sure as possible about its age. If the fragment is modern, then the fire it came from is modern and is NOT the fire found by Gallagher in 1940. The shoe parts found near the fire are known to be of mid-1930s vintage (the Cat’s Paw company dated the heel). Therefore, if the label is modern it means that the site where Gallagher found bones, a fire, shoe parts, etc. remains undiscovered but is probably quite close by.

If the label is from the 1930s then it is highly probable that the fire is the same fire Gallagher found and that we’ve already done an intense examination of the site where the bones were found.

I hope the label turns out to be modern because it would open up a realistic possibility that somewhere nearby there is an as yet undiscovered site that could yield more artifacts and maybe even bones. But we must be as sure as we can be about the labels age before we build our field work plan around the conclusions we draw from it.


Subject: Camp site
Date: 8.22.98
From: Ann Hinrich

I’m curious...the fire site where the label fragment was it in a location that would seem to be a favorable spot for a camp site? Would someone come upon it (the location) and think “this is a perfect spot to rest for awhile”? Are there natural features which would make it more inviting than somewhere else in the vicinity? I’ve also been wondering about the grave that turned out to be that of an infant? Was this from post AE disappearance? I recall from one of my anthropology cultures classes,long ago,that a certain Pacific Island people would always bury their dead next to or very close to another grave so that the departed would have someone to lead them to the next world.Perhaps that little grave is more than what it appears to be.Just speculating...

LTM Ann 2101

From Ric

Good questions, Ann. The most pleasant places to hang out on Niku are on the lagoon shore along the southwestern side of the island because you get the prevailing breeze coming across the lagoon. The campfire/shoe site is about 50 meters inland form just such a location. Yes, it would be one the best places on the island.

The “coincidence” of the baby grave and the campfire/shoe site being in virtually the same spot has always bothered me. The grave is a very typical Gilbertese grave bordered by coral slabs with tiny sea shells from the lagoon shore covering the grave itself. It is not dissimilar to other graves up in the village. We have assumed that the grave dates from the colonial period (1939-1963) but we have no proof of that. So far, no former-resident of Nikumaroro we've interviewed has had any recollection of a baby being buried way down there on Aukaraime. Normally the Gilbertese bury their dead on family land but whether this area was ever part of any family’s land is not clear from records available to us.

The child was very small, perhaps even stillborn. We've speculated that if, for some reason, it was unacceptable for the child to be buried on family land up in the villlage, the burial site may have been selected based upon the previous use of this same area for non-family burial. We already know from the Gallagher papers that the skull of the castaway was initially buried by the workers who found it. That may have been enough to establish this part of the island as the “potters field.” Or perhaps other burials were made there that we don’t know about.


Subject: Research Needed
Date: 8.24.98
From: Ric Gillespie

Here’s a research task upon which I’d like to unleash the awesome power of the forum.

In 1940, on a remote Pacific island, a minor British official found human remains which he suspected were those of Amelia Earhart. He reported the discovery to his superiors at the Western Pacific High Commission in Fiji. The Secretary of the High Commission directed that the bones and the artifacts found with them be sent to Fiji and ordered the discovering official to consider the matter “strictly secret.” In April of 1941 the bones were the subject of a fairly detailed examination by the principal of the Central Medical School in Suva, Fiji. His opinion was that the bones were those of a man and, by implication, not those of Amelia Earhart.

On the surface, it would appear that the discovery of the bones got the British authorites all excited until it became apparent that the castaway who had died on the island was not Amelia Earhart. Except – the last piece of official correspondence we have on this matter is an inquiry from the Secretary and a response from the official about the sextant box found with the bones. The correspondence is dated some 25 days after the medical report, so it’s clear that interest in the matter did not end with that report. Soon afterward, the official was ordered to return to Fiji. About three months later he returned to the island in the company of a colonial doctor who happened to be a specialist in forensic medicine. Upon arrival at the island the official died of a ruptured appendix.

Perhaps the recall to Fiji and the return with the doctor had nothing to do with the whole bone incident, but the odd thing is that the veil of secrecy that was was put on the whole affair early on was apparently never lifted. Reading the official records of the Western Pacific High Commission, including the published diary of the High Commissioner, and talking to other people who were officials in the colonial administration, you would never know that anything like this had ever happened. Why did nobody later talk about it? It’s a great little story about mysterious bones found on a desert island, but the examining doctor’s daughter never heard her father (who was known as quite a story-teller) mention it. And the forensic specialist who accompanied the discovering official back to the island never mentioned it to other colonial officials. The correspondence that proves that the whole business did happen seems to have survived totally by accident and was discovered last year in the archive in Tarawa by an even stranger coincidence. Not to put too dramatic a face on it, but it would seem that we have come across information that the officialdom of the time really intended to keep secret. We want to know the answers to two questions:

  1. Why was the possible discovery of Earhart’s remains declared “strictly secret”? That would seem to be a purely political decision and to try to understand why it was made we need to get a firm handle on the political environment. It’s October of 1940 when the British authorities first become aware of the discovery. It’s April 1941 by the time the bones actually arrive in Fiji and are examined. During this period Britain stands, back to the wall, alone against Nazi Germany. The U.S. is moving further and further into an alliance, but is not yet in the war. Clearly, the discovery of the remains of Amelia Earhart would be of great interest to the people of the United States. Let's refresh our memories about just what was happening between the U.S. and Great Britian during this time period. Hit the books gang.
  2. Did the British investigation of the identity of the castaway(s) end in April of 1941? Or was more discovered and by whom?

Maybe the undiscovered government files about Amelia Earhart everybody likes to speculate about are in London, not Washington. Considerable work has already been done at the Public Records Office at Kew, but the files of the Western Pacific High Commission in Milton Keynes (about 50 miles NW of London) are where the doctor’s report turned up. Those files are scheduled to be shipped to “the Pacific” (probably Fiji) sometime next year. That move will probably make them inaccessible for research for some time due to packing, shipping, re-cataloging, etc., so we would very much have a knowledgable TIGHAR researcherlook at them before then. Simon? Is this something you could look into?

Love to mother,

Subject: Goerner Papers at Nimitz
Date: 8.27.98
From: Wiley Rollins

This a.m. I got my first look at Fred Goerner’s papers. There are about 70 audio cassette tapes, three of which are labeled interviews with Joe Gurr – these I will copy when I go back to Nimitz. No cassettes labeled interview with Lambrecht, however the tapes are poorly labeled and on some the two sides are used for different interviews. This will require closer inspection. There are 20 11′ by 14′ envelopes stuffed with clippings and miscellany. This also will require careful review.

There are 5 letter size file drawers containing Goerner’s correspondence files arranged alphabetically. There is an index for all of these which I am forwarding to you hopefully tomorrow. Please note the index covers from letter d thr z, the copier I was using crashed. I will complete the index copying next time. Also, enclosed with the index I have included copies of an interview of Capt J.O. Lambrecht(from Lambrecht’s correspondence file), interviews with Joe Gurr which are labeled as transcripts of the tapes, and a copy of one page of notes in the Noonan family correspondence file that mentions his car accident in Fresno. No where in the Noonan family file did I find a photocopy of a traffic citation for this accident. All of these copies should go out to you tomorrow.

Does TIGHAR have any other members close to here, I could use some help; however, being a widower I might have to locate a wealthy widow to help out.

Ric, more than anything I need your good advice to keep me focused on what is important and deserves priority.

Wiley Rollins #2090

From Ric

Thanks Wiley. I’ll look forward to receiving what you’ve mailed. It should help us focus our search. Goerner, of course, primarily focused on the Japanese capture angle and I’m sure that most of his papers merely document his chasing of that phantom. However, he did talk to some people who are no longer available (i.e. Lambrecht and Gurr) and it will be very interesting to see just what they said.

I’m posting this to the forum not only to let everyone know of the good work you’ve done but to call for Texas volunteers to give you a hand.

Love to mother,

Subject: No Mayday?
Date: 8.30.98
From: Mike Everette

An interesting question, which may run the risk of being off on a tangent:

Did AE transmit ANY sort of “Mayday” message, or anything to indicate they were landing, ditching, “going down,” “going in” or whatever?

If not, should we find this odd? Or does it perhaps mean the Itasca had quit monitoring the frequency, by the time she may have gone down?

If not, does this even suggest the possibility of an inflight explosion? After all, we are considering an airplane with an awful lot of empty fuel space, just filled with fumes.

I hope this idea does not merely add to or generate confusion. Has it been explored before?


Mike E. the Radio Historian #2194

From Ric

It is, indeed, an interesting question and one which has always bothered me.

None of Earhart's known inflight transmissions to Itasca indicate imminent disaster. In fact, her last copied message was made on her normal radio schedule and merely described (as best she could) where she was (on the line...), what she was doing (running on the line), and what she would do next to try to solve the communication problem (switch frequencies). Her voice reportedly sounded hurried and anxious (I suspect mine would too) but not panicky. All this argues strongly against the notion that she went down at sea due to fuel exhaustion within moments of that transmission and suggest, instead, that our calculations that she had another four hours of fuel remaining are more nearly correct.

The only other alleged (and it is VERY shaky) inflight message was reported by Fred Goerner as having been heard by Nauru on 6210 Kcs (the frequency she said she was changing to) at about noon Howland time when she should have had about a half hour of fuel left and could have been coming up on Gardner. The message supoosedly was “Land in sight ahead.” Goerner claimed that he saw this in a government file in 1965 that was later changed. We have only his word and that of his colleague Ross Game to go on. Fred is dead. I don’t know anything about Ross Game.

The only alleged post-loss transmissions from Earhart which contain distress calls are the messages supposedly received by Walter McMenamy and Karl Pearson the on the night following the disappearance. They reported hearing SOSs repeated every fifteen minutes.

I see no evidence of an inflight catastrophe in any of this. On the contrary. If it suggests anything it suggests a normal landing someplace.


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