We have never been able to establish the scale in photos of Earhart
and Noonan with sufficient precision to allow a biometric comparison
with Dr. Hoodless’ measurements of the skull.
| Earhart Project Research Bulletin #5
Were the bones found on Nikumaroro on 1940 those of Amelia Earhart or
Fred Noonan, or did they belong to some other hapless, and as yet unknown,
castaway? We should soon have solid scientific evidence with which to assess
Even though we're still not sure what ultimately became of the bones after
they were sent to Suva, Fiji for examination, the detailed measurements
of the skull contained in the recently discovered doctor's report (see “Chasing
the Bones,” TIGHAR Tracks Vol. 14, No. 2) make possible
the kind of hi-tech biometric comparisons with photographs which have become
a standard method of remains identification. According to forensic imaging
specialist Jeff Glickman of Photek, Inc., if six measurements of a skull
are found to be identical to measurements made from photographs taken in
life, the identification is considered to be absolute and is admissible
We don’t have six measurements. We have four – overall length and width
of the skull, and height and breadth of the orbits (eye sockets) – so
an absolute identification will not be possible. However, an absolute disqualification
is a possibility. In other words, we should be able to say either, “The
person whose skull was found on Nikumaroro in 1940 was not Amelia Earhart
or Fred Noonan” or “The person whose skull was found on Nikumaroro
in 1940 looked a whole lot like Fred Noonan (or Amelia Earhart).”
Either conclusion will be highly significant to TIGHAR’s investigation.
The remains and artifacts (woman’s shoe sole, sextant box, Benedictine
bottle, campfire) found in 1940 appear to be linked to the artifacts found
by TIGHAR (woman’s shoe sole and heel, campfire with label fragment) at
what seems to be the same site in 1991 and 1997. If the dimensions of the
skull found there are all wrong for either Earhart or Noonan, then the
person who died there was somebody else and that whole body of evidence
must be discounted as being associated with the Earhart disappearance.
If, on the other hand, the skull proves to be very much like that of either
Amelia or Fred, then the likelihood will be greatly increased that the
castaway(s) of Gardner Island were who we suspect they were.
| What We Have & What We Need
To do the forensic comparison, Photek needs the
skull measurements, full face and profile views of each subject, and some
way to accurately scale the photographs. The measurements taken by Dr. Hoodless
in Suva on April 4, 1941 should be as valid as if they were made yesterday.
Finding what amounts to “mug shots” of Earhart and Noonan proved
to be difficult but after examining hundreds of possibilities we have selected
the photos shown below. Establishing scale in each photo is the trickiest,
and most crucial, part of the process.
shot of AE in front of her Vega circa 1935 is good because her face is
square-on to the camera. Her ears are visible which helps provide a skull
width reference for where her head stops and her hair starts. The photo
also presents several opportunities to establish scale. We should be able
to get the tire height and width and the wheel diameter of the Vega. The
tire width will help determine how far behind the plane of the wheel Amelia
is standing. It would be nice if that fancy belt buckle were still around.
shot of AE in Miami just before her departure for the second world flight
attempt is a good profile view but its primary virtue is that, because
she has her hands on the cart, we can be sure that her head is very close
to being in the same plane with the tailwheel. If we get the wheel diameter
of the Model 10 tailwheel we’ll have our scale for this photo. This particular
copy of the photo is a bit fuzzy so we’ll need to see if we can get a
sharper one from Purdue University which has the original.
almost perfect full face shot of Fred taken in Bandoeng, Java in late
June 1937 has the advantage of showing what appears to be the distinctive
arrowhead clip motif of a Parker fountain pen in his shirt pocket. With
the help of the Parker company we should be able to get a length for
that clip and, therefore, a scale for the photo.
TIGHAR’s own Carter/Johnson collection, this profile of Fred was taken
on May 20, 1937 at Burbank as he and AE prepared for the unannounced
official beginning of the second world flight attempt. We’ll assume that
the thickness of the cabin door is standard and get that measurement
from an existing Model 10.
we have the scales for the photos pinned down, Jeff Glickman will correct
for angles and planes and do the comparisons. Then we’ll see what we’ve
learned about the probable identity of the person who died on Nikumaroro.