Amelia Earhart in the Marianas:
A Consideration of the Evidence
by Thomas F. King, Thomas A. Roberts, and Joseph A. Cerniglia

This paper was originally published in the World War II section of the Marianas History Conference 2012 website. Republished here by permission.

Introduction


The Mystery

One of the abiding historical mysteries of the twentieth century in the Pacific is that of “what happened to Amelia Earhart.” Earhart, a pioneer in American aviation, and her equally pioneering navigator Fred Noonan, disappeared on July 2nd 1937 en route from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island in their two-engine aluminum Lockheed Electra 10E, during an attempt to circle the globe at the equator. Earhart’s last generally accepted radio message, received at Howland by the US Coast Guard cutter Itasca waiting offshore, indicated that she believed she was somewhere along a line bearing 157° – 337° , generally referred to as a “line of position” (LOP), running through the island’s charted location. Earhart said they were flying “on line north and south.” After their loss a vigorous search failed to find them, and in the decades since a number of hypotheses have been advanced for what happened to them.

Among the best known hypotheses is a set of overlapping propositions that they were captured somewhere in the Micronesian islands then under Japanese administration, and incarcerated on Saipan (or in one account Tinian) where in most accounts they died or were executed and were then buried.1 In this paper we attempt a systematic description, analysis and critique of the eight stories that in various configurations constitute the “Earhart-in-the-Marianas” hypothesis.

Pacific Map

Figure 1: Main Locations Referred To (Source: Google Earth)

The Authors

In the interest of full disclosure, we acknowledge that we are active participants in the work of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which for the last 24 years has been collecting and analyzing evidence related to what we call the Nikumaroro Hypothesis – that Earhart and Noonan landed and died on Nikumaroro in the Phoenix Group, Kiribati. We think that the historical, archaeological, and other data we have collected strongly suggests that the Nikumaroro Hypothesis is correct. This fact will probably cause some proponents of Earhart-in-the-Marianas to reject the analysis reported here out of hand; we can do nothing about this. We can only assure readers that we have tried very hard to prepare this paper with open minds, and we ask that it be read in the same spirit.

The Sources

In preparing this paper we have reviewed all the books we could find positing that Earhart and Noonan were in the Marianas, together with a number of media accounts, letters, emails and manuscripts filed with TIGHAR; these sources are discussed below.

Boundaries on Our Research

We have limited our consideration to those stories that have Earhart and Noonan spending some time on Saipan and/or Tinian as captives of the Japanese. We have not dealt with stories about their capture and death in the Marshall Islands or Chuuk except where these stories involve their transport to Saipan. We have not considered those that put them in New Guinea or New Britain, or with those that have them being taken straight to Japan. Nor have we considered those notions that do not feature incarceration at all – for example the Nikumaroro Hypothesis or the hypothesis that Earhart and Noonan splashed down in the Pacific and sank.


1 A few stories have Earhart at least surviving the war and returning to the U.S. We examine these stories only to the extent they bear on Earhart’s/Noonan’s presence in the Marianas

The Eight Stories

What we call the Earhart-in-the-Marianas Hypothesis is reflected in eight interrelated stories, though not all proponents of the hypothesis subscribe to all eight in all respects, and some more or less contradict others. The eight stories are:

  • That Earhart and Noonan flew their Electra 10E directly to Saipan from Lae, New Guinea;
  • That Earhart and Noonan landed elsewhere in Micronesia and were brought to Saipan;
  • That the Electra was at Aslito Airfield (now Saipan International Airport);
  • That Earhart (and in some versions, Noonan) was incarcerated at the Garapan jail;
  • That Earhart was incarcerated or otherwise kept elsewhere on Saipan;
  • That U.S. Military personnel found physical evidence of Earhart on Saipan and elsewhere in Micronesia;
  • That Earhart and Noonan died or were executed on Saipan or Tinian, and were buried there; and
  • That the U.S. government covered up the facts of the matter.

Below, we will examine each of the eight stories.

Earhart and Noonan Flew to Saipan

The Story and its Evolution

There are several versions of the story that Earhart and Noonan flew the Electra directly from Lae, New Guinea to Saipan.

Paul L. Briand, Jr. published his account in his 1960 book Daughter of the Sky, The Story of Amelia Earhart. It is based on the eyewitness account of former Saipan resident Josephine Blanco Akiyama, who said that as a young girl she saw a silver plane fly over and later saw a Caucasian couple surrounded by Saipanese. She said the two were led away by Japanese soldiers, that shots rang out and the soldiers returned alone. Briand concluded that Ms. Akiyama had seen Earhart and Noonan; his book proposes that problems with navigation equipment during the night resulted in Earhart turning north instead of flying east, and that Noonan, either incapacitated or asleep, failed to correct the error. When the sun rose, Briand posits that they looked for land and saw Saipan. Being out of fuel, they ditched in the harbor at Tanapag, where they were captured by the Japanese and executed as spies.

Another version of the story was published in 1969 by Joe Davidson in Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan. Davidson recounts the efforts of a group of investigators from the Cleveland, Ohio area led by Donald Kothera. They first tried to find an aircraft Kothera had seen on Saipan after the war, and which he thought, in retrospect, might have been Earhart’s, but also recorded the stories of residents. Davidson’s version of the “flew to Saipan” story was derived largely from the eyewitness account of Antonio Diaz, who said that in 1937 he was directed by the Japanese to help move a plane that had crashed into some trees near Tanapag Harbor at about 3:00 in the morning. Kothera and his colleagues showed Diaz pictures of Earhart and Noonan as well as the Electra; he said he thought they looked like the people and plane he had seen. Diaz said he thought the plane, which was not badly damaged, had been loaded on a ship in the harbor but he did not know what had happened to the fliers.

A third version of the story was told by Thomas E. Devine in his 1987 book Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, and repeated in 2002 with elaboration in With Our Own Eyes by Mike Campbell (with Devine). Devine – a self-identified eyewitness to the Electra’s presence and burning at Aslito Airfield in July 1944 (see below), believed that weather and radio problems produced miscalculations that sent the plane north rather than east. Devine was convinced that Earhart and Noonan flew directly to Saipan, where they were captured and killed; Campbell seems a little less sure, and devotes considerable space to considering the alternative that the plane came down in the Marshalls and was brought to Saipan by the Japanese (see below).

The Evidence

As noted, Paul Briand’s primary evidence is the account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, who said that as an eleven-year-old girl she saw a plane go down in Tanapag harbor, from which came a tall man and a woman with short hair and dressed like a man, the first westerners she had ever seen. In 1946 she related the story to her employer, a dentist for whom she worked; it made news in 1960 when it was published in the San Mateo (California) Times. Briand concludes that the “American woman and her tall male companion could have been none other than Earhart and Fred Noonan” (Briand 1960;196).

Joe Davidson mentions Ms. Akiyama’s story, which has the Electra ditching in Tanapag Harbor around noon, but he concentrates on the eyewitness testimony of Antonio Diaz, who has the plane landing near the beach at around three o’clock in the morning. Diaz said he did not see the plane land but the fliers were “one man and one woman wearing a jacket and pants.” He said their Japanese captors identified them as Americans, that they were not injured in the landing, and that he had no knowledge of what happened to them. He said the plane was hardly damaged except that it crashed into some trees, and he was engaged to help build a coral road to transport the plane from where it crashed to the harbor. This work, he reported, took two weeks, and the plane was then loaded aboard a ship. He said he was told that it was taken to Japan. The recollections of Antonio Diaz are the only reported evidence for this story.

The initial evidence for Devine’s version of events comprises his own recollections, which feature learning that the Electra was in a locked hangar at Aslito Field in July 1944, then seeing it in the air, and then seeing it on fire near the hangar. He said he clearly saw the plane’s serial number, NR16020, which became “etched in my memory.” He also reported being told about, and seeing, a gravesite said to be Earhart’s and Noonan’s. Some two dozen corroborating eyewitness and other accounts are presented in Campbell’s book. Neither Devine’s nor Campbell’s book provides evidence for the confusion aboard the Electra that Devine thought brought it to Saipan. Apparently Devine took the fact that he recalled seeing it there in flying condition as prima facie evidence that it had been flown there.

Earhart and Noonan Were Captured Elsewhere and Brought to Saipan

The Story and its Evolution

In late 1960, the Office of Naval Intelligence ONI) assigned a Special Agent, Joseph M. Patton, to evaluate the Earhart-in-the-Marianas stories about which investigators from the mainland were starting to inquire. Patton interviewed a number of people on Saipan, including members of the family of Josephine Blanco Akiyama and people who had held positions of authority during the Japanese administration. He concluded that:

A preponderance of hearsay evidence, and the statements of people who were in the area in 1937, failed to indicate that Subject [sic: Earhart] crashlanded her airplane on Saipan, or that she was buried at Saipan. The hearsay evidence advanced by two informants set forth supra: Jesus Salas and Jose Villagomez, tended to indicate that the Japanese at Saipan had known at least the approximate location of Subject’s crash to have been in the Marshall Islands (Patton 1960:9).

In The Search for Amelia Earhart, published in 1966, Fred Goerner began with Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s story, but after years of study came to believe that Earhart had come down and been captured in the Marshalls. Navy veterans told him a story they had heard from a trusted Majuro schoolteacher named Elieu Jibambam, who had heard it from a Japanese friend named Ajima. Some time before the war, Jibambam said Ajima had told him, a white woman flier had run out of gas and landed between Jaluit and Ailinglapalap. Goerner concluded that she landed at nearby Mili Atoll. The story said a Japanese fishing boat picked her up and took her to Jaluit, whence she was taken to Kwajalein and then to Saipan. Mr. Jibambam apparently told this story as early as 1944 to U.S. Navy Lt. Eugene T. Bogan (No author 1944; Goerner 1966:163-5).

Goerner believed that Earhart was on an “unofficial” spy mission and had flown over Chuuk (then known as Truk) before heading toward Howland. He says that the Electra was fitted with extra-powerful engines that would permit her to travel this extra distance in the allotted time. He surmises that when she was unable to find Howland, she headed northwest hoping to reach the Gilberts, but ended up in the Marshalls where she ditched.

According to Joe Klaas, as set forth in his 1970 book Amelia Earhart Lives, the Electra was shot down by the Japanese at Orona (then called Hull Island) in the Phoenix group on July 2, 1937. Like Goerner, Klaas and his primary source, retired Air Force officer Joe Gervais, hypothesize that Earhart flew over Chuuk on a spy mission and then flew toward Howland. Klaas posits that they went to the Phoenix Islands looking for Kanton (then known as Canton Island) with its improved runway, where they could land safely and lie low while the Navy searched for them – at the same time checking out the Marshalls to see whether the Japanese were fortifying them. But the Japanese, he proposes, had an aircraft carrier in the Phoenix Islands, and shot the Electra down near Orona. They were captured at Orona and eventually taken to Saipan.

Klaas goes beyond Goerner in proposing that Earhart was flying a more advanced aircraft than the Electra. He suggests it could have been a secret copy of the new XC-35, which Lockheed flight-tested in May 1937. The XC-35 had a pressurized fuselage and would have been able to fly higher and faster than the Electra.

In 1985, Vincent Loomis published his version of Earhart’s capture at Mili Atoll: Amelia Earhart, The Final Story. His scenario is based on an analysis of her final flight by Paul Rafford, Jr. Rafford concluded that Earhart was blown off course toward the north during the night as she flew toward Howland Island after passing over Nauru. When she reached the 157-337 line of position she was well north of Howland, which she was unable to locate after searching along the line for about an hour. She then flew back toward the west expecting to find one of the Gilbert Islands, but she was farther north than she thought and her course took her to Mili Atoll in the Marshalls. She ditched the aircraft near one of the islands and was captured by the Japanese. They took her and Noonan to Saipan in a fishing boat.

The Loomis version differs from the others in that he does not hypothesize spying or secret aircraft modifications or substitutions. Rafford does posit that before departing Lae, Earhart changed her intended route of flight slightly to pass over Nauru, because Noonan allegedly had been drinking (Loomis 1985: 8) and could not be relied upon to navigate during the first portion of the flight (Loomis 1985: 97-99; 116). He speculates that Earhart was able to get to Nauru without Noonan’s help, and then flew toward Howland. By the time they were getting close to Howland and needed to know whether they had reached the 157-337 line of position, he has Noonan sober and able to do his job. He assumes they determined that they were on the line, but that unknown to them, the wind had blown them about 150 miles north of Howland. From there they flew westward and ended up at Mili Atoll when their fuel ran out.

Three years after Loomis published his account, T.C. “Buddy” Brennan III published Witness To The Execution: The Odyssey of Amelia Earhart. Brennan has Earhart and Noonan crashing and being captured at Mili Atoll and brought to Saipan, where late in the war Earhart, at least, was executed and buried.

Randall Brink also subscribed to the Mili Atoll story in his 1994 book, Lost Star, The Search for Amelia Earhart. Brink has Earhart on a spy mission for the U.S. government, flying a new aircraft with secret cameras. More powerful than the Electra, it was capable of flying from Lae to Chuuk and on to Howland. Even though the plane had advanced direction-finding capability, and thus should have been able to locate the Itasca, at some point Earhart turned back, wound up in the Marshalls and ditched at Mili. Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese and put aboard the Japanese ship Kamoi. They were taken to Jaluit and then to Kwajalein. From there they were flown to Saipan. Brink contends they were held on Saipan for a time but were eventually imprisoned elsewhere. He does not believe the Japanese would have executed Earhart, but offers no conclusions about her ultimate fate.

In his 2002 With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, Mike Campbell provides a fairly comprehensive summary of the Marshall Islands stories, but in the end expresses uncertainty in the face of his mentor Thomas Devine’s conviction that Earhart and Noonan flew directly to Saipan and landed there.

The possibility that Earhart was engaged in a mission to spy on Japanese activities in Chuuk is alluded to by several of the authors, though most make little of it. A “special section” of the online “CNMI Guide” (No author, n.d.) summarizes many of the eyewitness and other informant accounts discussed elsewhere in this paper, and implies that Earhart and Noonan might have been captured at Chuuk and transported to Saipan.

The Evidence

The evidence cited for the various versions of this story mostly comprises informant testimony, some by eyewitnesses, but much of it second- or thirdhand. In some cases, authors say that documentary evidence exists to support their assertions, but we have been unable to confirm the existence of such documents.

Patton’s information came from two informants on Saipan: Jesus Salas and Jose Villagomez. Patton said Salas told him that while imprisoned in Garapan he had overheard Japanese police talking about “a white woman’s airplane crashing at or near Jaluit Atoll” (Patton 1960:8). Sheriff Manuel Sablan told Patton that Villagomez had told him that he had overheard a similar conversation (Patton 1960:6).

Goerner collected a number of anecdotal accounts about white people in Japanese custody on Saipan before or during the war. He also spoke with a former Lockheed employee who told him he had helped modify the Electra to house secret cameras in the lower fuselage, and that more powerful engines and more fuel capacity were added. Goerner spoke directly with Elieu Jibambam, who said he had not seen the fliers himself but his good friend Ajima had seen them captured in the Marshalls. Goerner said that in 1964 he saw State Department files that convinced him the Electra’s engines were more powerful than the 550 horsepower Wasps with which it was originally equipped, and that Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz told him that Earhart had gone down in the Marshalls. In Washington he tried unsuccessfully to confirm some of Devine’s stories about seeing the Electra on Saipan. After his time in Washington, he and his colleagues sat down and reached a consensus regarding Earhart’s fate. Based on what they considered a preponderance of the evidence, they concluded that Earhart and Noonan were on a spying mission over Chuuk and had gone down in the Marshalls where they were captured.

It is difficult to determine why Klaas thinks Earhart was shot down near Orona. The island is close to the 157-337 line of position through Howland, but so are other islands in the Phoenix group. His book includes three frames from what he identifies as U.S. Navy 16mm footage taken near Orona in 1937, which he says show a Japanese flag flying over aircraft wreckage. His book also includes photos of the wreckage of a plane owned by Earhart’s friend and colleague Paul Mantz that crashed in Southern California; Klaas argues that this was Earhart’s original Electra – the one he proposes was secretly replaced with the XC-35.

Klaas cites the eyewitness testimony of various Saipan residents to establish Earhart’s and Noonan’s presence there. These sources are mainly those referenced by other researchers. However, he discounts reports that Earhart and Noonan were killed or died on Saipan.

The evidence in support of the Loomis hypothesis is largely different from the others. Loomis bases his assessment on the work of Rafford, a navigation expert who shows how the Electra could have been blown about 150 miles north of Howland, and from there could have flown westward to the Marshalls. Loomis cites the eyewitness testimony of Marshallese who said they saw the Electra ditch near one of the Mili Atoll islands. He also recounts a story told by Bilimon Amaran, who was a medical corpsman in the Japanese Navy before and during the war. Amaran said he treated an injured male flier aboard a Japanese cargo ship at Jaluit. He says there was a female with the man and the plane they had been flying, with one wing broken, was on the afterdeck of the ship. Amaran did not know what happened to the fliers after he saw them, but other witnesses cited by Loomis said they saw them on Saipan and thought that they had died there. To support his belief that Earhart considered Noonan an unreliable navigator on the Lae-to-Howland leg, Loomis relates Lae radio operator Harry Balfour’s reported recollections that Noonan “was on a bender” during the three-day layover in New Guinea, and “was put on board with a bad hangover ...” Loomis links this report with the fact that “(w)hen her husband’s last wire arrived at Lae, querying Amelia about the cause of the delay, she wired back a terse ‘Crew unfit.’” (Loomis 1994:8)

The evidence cited by Buddy Brennan in his 1988 book begins with his visit to the Marshall Islands in 1981. Brennan was a Houston businessman and veteran of Korea and World War II; he visited Majuro hoping to recover and restore old Japanese airplanes. There, he met a Mr. Tanaki, who told him that a friend who had worked on the crew of the Japanese patrol ship Koshu said the ship had been sent to find “the American airplane that crashed.” Brennan thought that the airplane must have been Earhart’s, and after some study he returned with a team to the Marshalls. On this visit, additional interviews led him to focus on a spot between Mili Atoll and Jaluit rather than on Majuro as the place where islanders first spotted the Electra. From there, his informants told him, the airplane’s crew were taken to Kwajalein, then Chuuk, Saipan, and, ultimately, mainland Japan. Brennan later discarded the notion that the captives were taken to Japan, instead concluding that they ended their days on Saipan.

Brennan cites much of the same eyewitness testimony reported by others, but also puts considerable weight on secondhand or generalizing statements by authoritative people in the Marshalls. His faith in these statements is apparently based on the conclusion that the individuals involved “couldn’t possibly have collaborated” with one another. Among others, Brennan quotes Oscar de Brum, then First Secretary to the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), as saying that “there’s no question they went down in the Marshalls” (Brennan 1988:76).

Randall Brink’s account of the Earhart disappearance is closest to that of Goerner. However he also says he had input from people associated with substituting a different aircraft for the Electra and installing advanced radio and direction finding capability. Brink quotes a number of post-loss radio receptions reported by amateur radio operator Walter McMenamy to suggest that Earhart broadcast for several days after landing in the Marshalls. McMenamy reported hearing Earhart broadcasting as she was captured by a Japanese officer of whom she said, “He must be at least an admiral” (Brink 1994:151). Brink presents a photograph taken over Taroa in the Marshalls in 1944 that he says shows the Earhart plane, missing one wing, sitting on a concrete revetment (Brink 1994: unnumbered page after page 160). He cites several of the witnesses quoted by other researchers who reported seeing Earhart and Noonan on Saipan but contends that none ever reported seeing them executed. He does not believe they died on Saipan but provides no evidence to support this conclusion.

Mike Campbell’s book provides a useful summary not only of the sources cited in other books, but of a number of less well-known stories as well. These include a 1989 verbatim transcript of Bilamon Amaron’s story, published in the February 1996 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter by Joe Gervais and Bill and John Prymack, along with a number of more or less corroborative stories collected by Gervais, Prymack, Loomis, Joe Klaas and others, previously published in the Newsletter or in other on-line sources. He gives considerable attention to a 1993 letter from Fred Goerner to J. Gordon Vaeth, in which Goerner expressed reservations about Amaron’s account and raised concerns about how Marshallese and other Micronesian eyewitness stories may have been tainted by repeated questioning. Goerner’s letter also provides some background to Nimitz’s statement, which was apparently based on something the admiral was told by his close friend Capt. Bruce L. Canaga. Interestingly, according to Campbell, Goerner said Canaga had described an abortive 1938 plan by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) to use the excuse of seeking to determine Earhart’s fate as cover for an infiltration of the Marshalls (Campbell 2002:157).

The highly speculative “special section” of the online “CNMI Guide” (No author, n.d.) cites only one piece of actual evidence – the message received from Earhart by Lae at 07:18 GMT, when she reported she was some 740 nautical miles (roughly 850 statute miles) away; the unidentified author says this message should not have been audible at Lae, suggesting that Earhart was not where she said she was (and by implication, was en route to Chuuk).

The Electra Was at Aslito Field

The Story and its Evolution

The story that Earhart’s Electra was at Aslito Field in 1944 was first propounded in 1987 by Thomas E. Devine in Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident. According to Devine, he came ashore on Saipan in July 1944 as the top NCO in the 244th Army Postal Unit and went with his commanding officer to Aslito Field shortly after their arrival. There, he said, they encountered a group of enlisted men, evidently on guard duty outside a hangar. Their commander seemed military but wore a white shirt open at the collar. Devine said he overheard conversation indicating that Amelia Earhart’s plane was inside the locked hangar. He said he asked one of the Marine guards if this was true and received confirmation that it was. Devine said he later realized that the man in the white shirt was Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal.

Devine recalled that later in the day he met one of the Marine guards, who said, “They’re bringing up Earhart’s plane” but then changed the subject. A few hours later, Devine said, he saw a civilian plane fly over, with two engines and double tail fins. Devine said he could clearly read the plane’s identification number: NR16020, which he did not at the time know to be the number on Earhart’s Electra.

After dark, Devine said, he and another member of his unit surreptitiously returned to Aslito, which he had been told was “off-limits.” Here he says he saw the plane that had flown over. He said they walked up to it, tried unsuccessfully to get inside, and again saw the NR16020 number on the tail. He said he saw about a dozen cans of fuel nearby.

After returning to his bivouac, Devine said he heard a muffled explosion at Aslito Field. Going to a vantage point, he said he could see a blazing fire; he concluded that the plane he had visited earlier was now aflame. Devine was convinced that the plane, although not destroyed, was burned to make it impossible to identify it as Earhart’s.

All this happened, Devine said, on his first day on Saipan in mid-July 1944. He kept the matter to himself until 1962, when he sought permission to visit Saipan and unearth Earhart’s and Noonan’s remains – whose location he thought he knew based on what he had been told by an Okinawan woman. In trying to convince the Navy that he had valuable information, he recounted what he said he had seen at Aslito Field, and later built Eyewitness based on this story and his pursuit of Earhart’s grave.

The Evidence

When Devine published his book in 1987, his version of events at Aslito was the only evidence that they had occurred. In Eyewitness, Devine closes with a plea for anyone to contact him who might be able to confirm what he reported, even if “you merely hold memories in the shadows” (Devine 1987:179). This appeal produced a number of responses, notably from Henry Duda. Duda had been on Saipan in 1944 as a PFC in the 2nd Marine Provisional Rocket Detachment and said he had seen a man who others identified as Forrestal (Campbell 2002:16). Duda became a vigorous supporter of Devine’s efforts to solicit more eyewitness accounts from former servicemen. Some two dozen accounts were published in 2002 by Mike Campbell (with Devine), in the book titled With Our Own Eyes. Some of these accounts related to Earhart’s and Noonan’s putative graves and other aspects of Devine’s overall story, but several men reported seeing a civilian airplane at Aslito or in the air. Some of the accounts are quite vivid and detailed, and some servicemen report recognizing or being told that the aircraft was Earhart’s.

Earhart Was at the Garapan Prison

The Story and its Evolution

However she got there, and whether or not the Electra was on Saipan, there are reports that Earhart was incarcerated in the prison at Garapan. In at least one story Noonan was there as well.

Goerner reported that Jesús Salas, a farmer on Saipan and presumably the Salas interviewed by Patton, was put in Garapan prison in 1937 and remained there until U.S. Marines released him in 1944. He told Goerner that a white woman was placed in a cell next to his for a few hours in 1937. He said his guards told him that she was a captured American pilot. Salas said he saw her only once, but his description was similar to those given by others on Saipan for the American woman. He recalled that after a time the woman was removed to a hotel in which the Japanese kept political prisoners.

Loomis spoke with Florence Kirby and Olympio Borja on Saipan in 1979. They told him that their grandfather had been imprisoned for three months in 1937 in a cell that was not far “from the one that was said to be occupied by the American woman pilot” (Loomis 1985:94). Loomis visited the ruins of the prison and saw the cell that tourists are told is the one in which Earhart was held. In 1981 Loomis returned to Saipan and spoke with Ron Diaz, then sixty-five years old. Diaz said he had seen “a white woman in the back of a truck with Japanese men with her” (Loomis 1985:110). He did not recall seeing a white man with her. He said he had been told by friends that the woman had been taken from the water, and that he was also told she had been taken to Garapan prison.

Loomis reports that Ana Villagomez Benavente of Saipan said that while visiting her brother at Garapan prison, she saw an American woman captive there. “She was an American ... I saw her at least three times” (Loomis 1985:132). Ms. Villagomez Benevente also said she washed clothes for the woman while she was housed at a hotel in Garapan City. In the apparently verbatim 1977 transcript of an interview with Ms. Villagomez Benavente by Fr. Arnold Bendowske, she reports washing clothes for the woman during her hotel residence, but refers to the jail only when rather aggressively led to do so by her interviewer (Bendowske 1977: 14-15).

The June 10, 1992 Bangor (Maine) Daily News published a story about former Navy nurse Mary Patterson, who was stationed on Saipan in 1946 and reported being told by an unidentified Chamorro informant of an American woman and man who were held and tortured at the Garapan prison (Curran 1992).

The Evidence

The evidence for Earhart’s presence at the Garapan prison comprises stories by first- and secondhand informants as discussed above, bolstered by one piece of semi-documentary data and one piece of “hard evidence.”

The semi-documentary evidence is discussed in print most recently by Mike Campbell, though it has been reported elsewhere. Campbell writes that in 1975 Thomas Devine received information from a Chicago-based Earhart researcher named William Gradt, who among other things provided “a copy of a photograph of etchings found on a wall inside a cell in the Garapan prison.” The illustration of these etchings in Campbell’s book is apparently a tracing; it shows what appear to be a conjoined “A” and “E” surrounded by obscure markings that look to the authors like eroded Japanese characters but have been interpreted by one of Campbell’s correspondents as symbols consistent with Earhart’s astrological chart and presumed situation (Campbell 2002:90-95). Campbell says that Devine saw the inscription but made nothing of it until contacted by Gradt. The senior author of this paper made a cursory search for it in 2004 but could not find it and was told that it had deteriorated.

The “hard” evidence is a small steel door, with “A. Earhart” and the date “July 19 1937” carved into it. According to Campbell (2002:98-102) as well as a letter Ms. Deanna Mick wrote to the National Air and Space Museum’s Thomas Crouch on April 4, 1994, and 2012 correspondence with the senior author, it was given to Ms. Mick by Saipan resident Ramon San Nicholas when Ms. Mick and her husband returned to the mainland after running a charter air service they had set up in 1978 on Saipan (c.f. Mick 1994; Campbell 2002:98-9). Devine apparently regarded the door as evidence that Earhart was imprisoned at Garapan, identifying it as having covered a small rectangular food service opening let into the barred front of a cell.

Earhart Was Held Elsewhere on Saipan

The Story and its Evolution

Various authors report that Saipan residents saw a white woman flier in Japanese custody before the war without specificity about where she was held. The recollections of several people, however, have her housed in the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel in Garapan City. In summary, the story is that sometime in 1937 a white man and woman were brought to the Japanese military police headquarters in Garapan for questioning. From there the woman was taken to the Garapan prison, while the man was taken to the Muchot Point military police barracks. After only a few hours at the prison, the woman was taken to the hotel, which had been taken over in 1934 by the Japanese to house political prisoners.

The Evidence

The evidence for the presence of Earhart at the hotel is anecdotal. Several witnesses have been quoted by multiple sources as outlined below:

Matilde (Fausto Arriola) Shoda San Nicolas lived with her parents in a home adjacent to the hotel in 1937 and 1938. She said she saw the white woman many times as she walked in the yard. She thought the woman had been at the hotel several months. Near the end of her stay the woman seemed to be ill and often visited the outhouse in the yard. Then Ms. San Nicolas saw the woman no more, and was told by a servant from the hotel that she had died of dysentery. Shortly before the woman died, she gave a gold ring with a white stone to Ms. San Nicolas’s sister but it was lost after the war. This version of the story with minor variations is reported by Goerner, Davidson, Klaas, Loomis and Devine. Several of the investigators spoke with Ms. San Nicolas personally, and Fr. Arnold Bendowske had a verbatim transcript made of his 1977 interview with her (identified as Matilde Fausto Arriola). When Goerner in 1961 showed her photos of fifteen different women clipped from magazines and newspapers, he reports that Ms. San Nicolas “unhesitatingly chose the likeness of Earhart. She reportedly said, ‘This is the woman; I’m sure of it, but she looked older and more tired’” (Goerner 1966:101).

José Pangelinan said he had seen the American man and woman on Saipan before the war. He said the man had been held at the military police stockade area while the woman was held at the hotel. He said that the woman had died of dysentery and the man had been executed the following day. He had not witnessed either death, but had been told by Japanese that the two had been buried together in an unmarked grave. Goerner interviewed Pangelinan; Klaas and Devine also relate his version of events.

Ana Villagomez Benavente earned money by doing laundry for the people held in the hotel. She said she saw the white woman “upstairs on the veranda” but was given the laundry by the “landlords.” After a time there was no more laundry from the woman, and Ms. Villagomez Benavente was told that she had been taken elsewhere. Both Loomis and Devine include versions of Ms. Benavente’s story in their books, and Fr. Bendowske’s transcripts include an interview with her.

Joaquina M. Cabrera also did laundry for the Japanese and the prisoners at the hotel. Her story as documented by Goerner: “One day when I came to work they were there ... a white lady and man. The police never left them. The lady wore a man’s clothes when she first came. I was given her clothes to clean. I remember pants and a jacket. It was leather or heavy cloth, so I did not wash it. I rubbed it clean. The man I saw only once. I did not wash his clothes. His head was hurt and covered with a bandage, and he sometimes needed help to move. The police took him to another place, and he did not come back. The lady was thin and very tired. Every day more Japanese came to talk with her. She never smiled to them but did to me. She did not speak our language, but I know she thanked me. She was a sweet, gentle lady. I think the police sometimes hurt her. She had bruises and one time her arm was hurt. She held it close to her side. Then, one day ... the police said she was dead with disease” (Goerner 1966:239). Klaas and Devine include references to Mrs. Cabrera’s story.

Antonio G. Cabrera lived on the main floor of the hotel in 1937. He reported seeing the white man and woman there, under surveillance by the Japanese. He said they were only there for about a week and were taken away. He recounted his story to Joe Gervais in 1960, as documented by Klaas.

U.S. Military Personnel Found Physical Evidence of Earhart

The Story and its Evolution

Several U.S. military personnel involved in the taking of Saipan and other Micronesian islands reported finding physical items whose existence was consistent with the belief that Earhart was captured by the Japanese on Saipan or at least held there.

Some Marines and GIs reported finding photographs of Americans, including Earhart, sometimes displayed on walls of buildings abandoned by the Japanese on Saipan and other islands; one described finding a map marked with her intended course of flight. Others described finding photos of Earhart on the bodies of dead or living Japanese soldiers. Robert Wallack, a Marine who took part in the invasion of Saipan, reported finding an attaché case in Garapan containing papers that appeared to him to be related to the world flight. Others reported finding a suitcase and an Earhart diary on Kwajalein, where some stories have Earhart being taken after she ditched in the Marshalls and before she was taken to Saipan.

The Evidence

Although the items described are tangible artifacts, almost none can now be found, so the available evidence for the “found objects” stories is largely anecdotal. Reports of such items are summarized below:

In 1960, Briand reports the “rumor” that “in July of 1944, during the invasion of Saipan ... the Marines found in an abandoned Japanese barracks a photograph album filled with snapshots of Amelia Earhart in her flying clothes. It is known that Earhart carried a camera with her on the world flight but not that she was carrying a photograph album filled with pictures of herself” (Briand 1960:191).

Goerner, in his 1966 book, reports that several GIs wrote to him after his trips to Saipan were publicized. Harry Weiser of New York was on Saipan during the invasion. He reported finding a small snapshot of Earhart tacked to one wall of a Japanese house. Weiser took the photo and some larger publicity prints of American actors. The photo of Amelia was published in the New York Daily News in November 1961. It turned out to have been taken in Honolulu in 1937 (Goerner 1966:169-70). Why it was found on the wall on Saipan is unknown.

Frederick Chapman of New York wrote to Goerner to say that he had seen snapshots of Earhart on Saipan during the invasion and thought that some of his buddies might still have some (Goerner 1966:172).

Ralph R. Kanna of New York was involved in interrogating prisoners during the Saipan invasion. He said that one prisoner had in his possession a photo, not a magazine clipping, which showed Earhart standing near Japanese aircraft on an airfield. Kanna said the photo was forwarded through channels to the Intelligence Officer. According to Kanna, the prisoner said that the woman in the picture had been captured along with a male companion and both had been executed (Goerner 1966:172).

Robert Kinley of Virginia wrote to Goerner that he had found a photograph of Earhart with a Japanese officer tacked on a wall on Saipan. He said he had lost the photo in July 1944 when he was wounded. He recalled that the photo showed Earhart standing in an open field with a Japanese soldier, and he thought that the latter was wearing some kind of combat or fatigue cap with a single star in its center (Goerner 1966:186-7).

W.B. Jackson of Pampa, Texas told Goerner that, “in February 1944, on the Island of Namur, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, three Marines brought a suitcase from a barracks. They reported that the room they had found it in was fitted up for a woman, with a dresser in it. In the suitcase they found a woman’s clothing, a number of clippings of articles on Amelia Earhart, and a leather-backed, locked diary engraved 10-Year Diary of Amelia Earhart. They wanted to pry open the diary but when Jackson explained who Amelia was, how the government had searched for a trace of her, and that this should be taken to Intelligence, they closed the suitcase and started toward the Regimental Command Post with it. That is the last Jackson saw or heard of it” (Goerner 1966:277-8).

In 1994 Randall Brink published the account of Robert E Wallack of Connecticut who was a Marine on Saipan in 1944. In Garapan, Wallack said he entered what may have been a Japanese Government building. He found a locked safe, which he and others blew open with explosives. “After the smoke cleared,” he said, “I grabbed a brown leather attaché case, with a large handle and a flip lock. The contents were official looking papers, all concerning Amelia Earhart, maps, permits and reports apparently pertaining to her around-the-world flight. I wanted to retain this as a souvenir, but my Marine buddies insisted that it may be important and should be turned in. I went down the beach where I encountered a naval officer and told of my discovery. He gave me a receipt for the material, and stated that it would be returned to me if it were not important. I have never seen the material since” (Brink 1994:159). This account also appears in Campbell’s 2002 book and in a statement by Wallack in the Smithsonian Institution’s Veteran’s History Project (Wallack n.d.).

At least two reports documented in TIGHAR’s files do not appear to have been published elsewhere:

The New Hampshire Sunday News on July 14, 1991 reported that the discovery of an old newspaper clipping on Earhart’s disappearance had motivated 70-year-old ex-Marine Ivan George Gibbs to remember finding an area on Saipan – during the “mopping-up” phase of the 1944 invasion – that was littered with Japanese ledger books and human bones, including a small diary that Gibbs and another Marine concluded was Earhart’s. Gibbs said they gave it to a Marine colonel and never saw it again. The contents of the diary were not reported in the Sunday News (Hammond 1991).

In a letter to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Thomas Crouch dated March 20, 1992, Raymond Irwin, a veteran of the Saipan invasion, described finding a small dugout at Aslito containing a map he thought might be associated with Earhart (Irwin 1992). He included a photocopy of the map with his letter, which Dr. Crouch shared with TIGHAR. The map depicts the western Pacific and shows the boundaries of Japan’s League of Nations Mandate, labeled in Japanese. It is hand-marked with an "X" at the approximate location of Howland Island. A handwritten note by Mr. Irwin says that on the original, there is a mark “by the Japanese who put in the route track and Japanese writing in blue ink.” (Irwin 1992). The blue ink did not reproduce in the photocopy. Mr. Irwin also enclosed a photocopy of an armband marked with Japanese characters, and said he had also found flags and photographs.

Earhart and Noonan Were Executed (or Died) and Were Buried on Saipan or Tinian

The Story and its Evolution

There are several variations on the story that Earhart and Noonan died or were killed on Saipan (or Tinian) and were buried there. Briand says they were shot but does not indicate how or where they may have been buried. Brennan reports Earhart’s execution by firing squad. Others say that Earhart died of dysentery, that Noonan was beheaded, and that they were buried individually or in a common grave. Various locations of the putative gravesite have been identified by informants, and some of them have been excavated with both positive and negative results.

The Evidence

Briand reports that Josephine Blanco Akiyama told him she saw a man and a woman dressed like a man in Japanese custody at Tanapag Harbor. “The American woman who looked like a man and the tall man with her were led away by the Japanese soldiers. The fliers were taken to a clearing in the woods. Shots rang out. The soldiers returned alone.” (Briand 1960:194) There is no mention of burial.

During his first visit to Saipan in 1960, Goerner interviewed over 200 Saipanese; the testimony of thirteen of them could be “pieced together” to support Ms. Akiyama’s story. None of these accounts supported the Briand version that the white fliers had been shot. None of the Saipanese said they knew what had finally happened to the mysterious white people, but “several felt that either one or both of them had been executed.” (Goerner 1966: 49)

Prior to his second visit, Goerner heard from Thomas Devine, who related the story (later recounted in his own book) that he said he had heard regarding the grave of a white man and woman who “came from the sky a long time ago” and were killed by the Japanese (Goerner 1966:69). Devine supplied Goerner with photos from Saipan and detailed maps indicating the purported gravesite. Goerner’s attempts to follow Devine’s directions and to recover the remains during his second visit are described elsewhere in this paper. He located teeth and bone fragments which he sent to the U.S. for evaluation.

On his second trip Goerner also spoke with Matilde Shoda San Nicolas who related her story about the white woman who had been held in the hotel and had reportedly died of dysentery. He spoke with José Pangelinan, who said he had seen the man and woman, but not together. He also said that the woman had died of dysentery, but that the man had been executed. They were buried together, he said, in an unmarked grave outside the cemetery south of Garapan City. He had not witnessed any of this but had heard of the events from the Japanese military. He said that the exact gravesite was known only to the Japanese.

After his return to California, Goerner was contacted by Alex Rico, who told him of acting as an interpreter on Saipan while there as a Seabee in 1944 and 1945. He said that several Saipan residents told him that the Japanese had bragged about capturing “some white people” and bringing them to Saipan where they were buried “near a native cemetery.” He indicated that there were two native cemeteries; he was not sure which one was referred to.

On his third trip to Saipan Goerner spoke with several Saipanese, including some he had talked with before, who repeated vague stories they had heard from others that the two fliers had died or had been killed and buried somewhere near a cemetery in or near Garapan.

According to Davidson’s account, in 1967 Vincente Camacho showed Donald Kothera and his colleagues from Cleveland three photos said to depict the gravesite identified as Earhart’s. The investigators then spoke with Anna Magofna who related that while coming home from school one day when she was seven or eight she saw two white people digging outside a cemetery with two Japanese watching them. “When the grave was dug, the tall man with the big nose, as she described him, was blindfolded and made to kneel by the grave. His hands were tied behind him. One of the Japanese took a samurai sword and chopped his head off. The other one kicked him into the grave.” (Davidson 1969: 104) She did not mention the death of the woman, but she knew the location of the grave. She took them to the site when they returned to Saipan in 1968; they excavated and recovered burned and unburned human bones that they sent to the Ohio Historical Society for analysis.

Loomis repeats the story that the white woman being held at the Garapan hotel died of dysentery in mid-1938 as related to him by Matilde San Ramon.

Thomas Devine reports that in 1944 an Okinawan woman showed him the purported gravesite of the white man and woman who were killed by the Japanese several years before. The woman also said she knew where other Americans had been buried; a translator told Devine that she appeared to want favors from the Americans for providing this information (Devine 1987:63).

Despite the stories they had collected in the Marshalls about Earhart and Noonan being taken to Japan, in the second phase of his investigation Buddy Brennan and his team became convinced that Earhart had been executed on Saipan late in the war. According to Brennan, a Chamorro woman named Nieves Cabrera Blas said that she had personally witnessed Earhart’s execution by firing squad. She said Earhart had been blindfolded, but the blindfold was torn away as a gesture of respect before she was shot over an open grave and hastily buried. Blas showed Brennan the location,2 where his team then excavated with a backhoe and turned up a piece of cloth that Ms. Blas interpreted as the blindfold she had seen (Brennan 1988:146-7) According to Brennan’s associate Mike Harris (2002), the location was “obviously a dump area,” containing animal bones, medical ampules, and aircraft pieces.

One story suggests that Earhart and Noonan were buried on Tinian. Mr. St. John Naftel, of Montgomery, Alabama, was a Marine gunner on Tinian after it was taken from the Japanese in 1944. He reported being shown a set of graves where he was led to believe that Earhart and Noonan were buried after being executed. In 2003 he returned to the island accompanied by then-U.S. Navy archaeologist Jennings Bunn and relocated the site he had been shown. The site was then excavated by archaeologists under the direction of Michael Fleming and Hiro Kuroshina without finding evidence of graves (Bunn et al n.d., Frost 2004; King 2004).

In a 1999 letter to TIGHAR, Mrs. John Doyle recounted her husband’s story that in 1949, as a member of the 560th Composite Service Company, he visited a church on Saipan where a priest showed him an unmarked grave in a small cemetery that he said was where Earhart was buried. According to Mr. and Mrs. Doyle, the priest said Earhart had been buried there “to hide her body from the Japanese” (Doyle 1999).

In 1996, an article in the Pacific Daily News (Whaley 1996) reported the story of Ted Knuth, who said he had been an agent for the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) on Saipan before and during the 1944 invasion. Knuth reportedly said that “he was sleeping under a tree when a Chamorro man jumped out and led him to an area behind enemy lines,” where he showed him the graves of two “white people” and “gave an exact description of Earhart and… Noonan” as well as of the Electra. Scott Russell, then with the CNMI Historic Preservation Office, was quoted in the same article, commenting that he and his colleagues had talked with Knuth and “(h)e told some fairly outlandish stories.” Some detail on Knuth’s story was recorded by William Stewart (1996; also see Stewart n.d.).

George Gibbs, in his 1991 recollections referred to above, reported that the area littered with ledger books where he and another Marine found a diary they thought was Earhart’s also contained the skeleton of a woman without a head (Hammond 1991).

In a letter to the editor of a newspaper in Tampa, Florida dated October(?)12, 1991,3 Edward Lauden, an Army combat photographer on Saipan in 1944, says he was directed to photograph a small clearing just north of Garapan that contained several Japanese grave markers. He reports that his film was then taken from him by officers, whereupon the markers were removed, the area doused with gasoline and burned and then bulldozed. An officer then cautioned him to forget what he had seen, and when he asked what it was all about, the officer whispered “Amelia Earhart” (Lauden 1991).

In summary, the evidence for Earhart and/or Noonan dying and/or being buried in the Marianas consists of a number of eyewitness and secondhand accounts, together with a piece of cloth interpreted as a blindfold and two collections of human bones. The accounts variously have the woman identified as Earhart dying of dysentery and being executed by firing squad, while the man identified as Noonan is executed either by firing squad or beheading.


2 Scott Russell, who observed the excavation, said it was in the middle of a parking lot at Lower Base. Mike Harris said he thought they had dug in the wrong place.
3 We have only a clipping with the handwritten labels “Tampa, Fl” and “10(?)/12/91

A U.S. Government Cover-Up


The Story and its Evolution

Visiting Saipan in 1960 to investigate the stories of Josephine Blanco Akiyama and others, Fred Goerner found himself confronted with official denials and non-cooperation, and suspected that the government knew more than its representatives were willing to acknowledge. He outlined some suspicions, in relatively measured fashion, in his 1966 book.

Randall Brink, who posited that they were on a secret spying mission with a newly designed, government-provided airplane, asserted that the government holds extensive files on what really happened to Earhart and Noonan that remain secret to this day. Other researchers make similar claims.

Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais offer a complex version of the cover-up hypothesis, in which Earhart and Noonan were engaged in a spy mission and survived the war, returning to the U.S. under government protection. They propose that Earhart took on the identity of Irene Bolam, while Noonan ended his days in a mental hospital in New Jersey.

Klaas and Gervais did not initially suspect a government cover-up, but say that the State Department was concerned in 1960 about the effect their interviews might have on U.S.–Japanese relations (Klaas, 1970:92). Then they say they learned that the Defense Department had a classified file on Amelia Earhart and heard from a friend at the Pentagon that Ambassador Douglas MacArthur and officials at the State Department were “all worked up” about their investigations (Klaas 1970:103-104). Their suspicions were heightened, they say, when a member of the USS Colorado’s crew who participated in the Earhart search declined to answer a question about searching in areas unreported by the press at the time, claiming that the information was classified (Klaas 1970:114).

Klaas and Gervais concluded that if Earhart had been captured by the Japanese, both the Japanese and U.S. governments would have kept the matter hidden – the Japanese fearing reprisal for a military buildup forbidden by their League of Nations mandate, and the U.S. being unwilling and unable in 1937 to fight a war with Japan. (Klaas 1970:136).

Klaas and Gervais went on to postulate that much of the U.S. Navy’s search for Earhart was in fact a cover for collecting information on Japanese military buildups in the Mandate, that the Japanese, having captured Earhart, tried to use her as a pawn in blackmailing the U.S. during World War II, and that the U.S. refused the Japanese gambit and abandoned Earhart to her fate.

But Earhart, they say, survived her captivity because of her political value as a bargaining chip and was ultimately rescued by her friend and colleague Jackie Cochran at the close of the war (Klaas 1970:231). It was in exchange for Earhart, they say, that Emperor Hirohito was allowed to remain on the throne (Klaas 1970:230-231). They go on to propose that successive U.S. presidents up to the time of their book’s publication had maintained the cover-up for reasons of political expediency.

Vincent Loomis did not believe in a government cover-up, but one of his sources, navigator Paul Rafford, hints at a conspiracy in his own 2006 book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio: Why She Disappeared. Rafford reports that Firman Gray, an engineer on Earhart’s aircraft, was quoted in a 1992 book (Kennedy 1992) as saying that he took two R1340 engines to Indonesia and installed them on the Electra. “If it happened,” Rafford wrote, “it was pre-planned by someone. If so, by whom?” (Rafford 2006:61-63). He also reports that Mark Walker, a Pan American copilot flying out of Oakland at the time of Earhart’s world flight, said he heard Earhart say, “This flight isn’t my idea. Someone high up in the government asked me to do it” (Rafford 2006: 25).

Rafford comments that whether or not Earhart was spying, her disappearance in the Pacific “would have given our Navy an excellent chance to update its mid-Pacific charts in time for World War II.” He speculates that Earhart and Noonan could have secretly landed on Kanton Island where he assumes people were stationed to take care of them until the Navy, having completed its survey, “was ready to find them” (Rafford 2006:117). He expresses the suspicion that Earhart’s failure to communicate with the Itasca during the last leg of her flight may have been intentional; there were, he says, so many missed opportunities for two-way communication as to suggest that the communications failures were willful, not accidental (Rafford 2006:116). As another indicator of a government plot, he quotes Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau as saying after Earhart’s disappearance that she “absolutely disregarded all orders” (Rafford 2006:117).

Thomas Devine provides what may be the most dramatic expression of the cover-up hypothesis, asserting that he saw the Electra destroyed at Aslito by American forces at the direction of Secretary of the Navy Forrestal, and that the government has taken many steps since 1944 to assure that what happened will never be known. He and Mike Campbell, in Campbell’s 2002 book, describe in some detail the roadblocks that Devine believes the government has thrown in the way of his investigation. He raises the possibility that Forrestal’s untimely death and the seeming disappearance of some eyewitnesses are related to the cover-up, and posits President Roosevelt’s personal involvement in the conspiracy. Devine, Campbell and others say or imply that the seeming disappearance of the briefcase said to have been found by Robert Wallack and the Earhart-related photographs and documents reportedly found by other U.S. military personnel is further evidence for such a conspiracy.

The reason for the cover-up, according to most proponents of the idea, is that Earhart was engaged in a spy mission and the U.S. did not and still does not want this fact to be disclosed. Devine and Campbell posit a somewhat more elaborate geopolitical rationale, proposing that the U.S. government, and notably Secretary Forrestal, were intent on forging a U.S.-Japan alliance against the Soviet Union after World War II and wanted to avoid the public outcry against Japan that would be occasioned by the revelation that the Japanese had captured and murdered Earhart.

The Evidence

The available evidence for the cover-up hypothesis is derived from eyewitness accounts and stories of non-cooperation, obfuscation, and suspicious-seeming behavior by government agencies. Devine in particular describes a number of activities by government and ex-government personnel that – if they occurred as he describes them – would raise almost anyone’s suspicions.

For instance, Devine says that shortly after receiving his orders to return to the U.S. from Saipan in 1945, he was approached by a man he took to be from the Navy, who told him he was to return by air rather than by ship with the rest of his unit. The “Navy man” told him to abandon his barracks bags, as he would not be needing them. An argument ensued, during which the Navy man said: “They’re waiting for you. You know about Amelia Earhart.” Eventually Devine, the Navy man, and Devine’s bags were driven to the harbor, where the Navy man told Devine to get aboard a PBY4 for the flight to Hawaii. Devine refused to board without orders, whereupon “my escort turned and started running up a nearby hill. I looked at the seaplane and the unfriendly, silent man on the dock – apparently the pilot – and muttered, ‘The hell with this,’ and I quickly dragged my barracks bags to the road and hitched a ride back to the replacement depot’” (Devine 1987:64-6; Devine in Campbell 2002:75). Devine returned to the mainland by sea with his unit, and apparently suffered no ill consequences, but he recounts a number of other strange encounters with government officials, suddenly silent eyewitnesses, and interactions with possible intelligence personnel in the course of his later investigations.


4 Campbell says this was “a PB4Y seaplane,” but the PB4Y was not a seaplane, so presumably he means a Consolidated PBY Catalina.

Critique

The Five Pieces of “Hard” Evidence

There are five pieces of “hard” physical evidence that have been or could be taken to support the Earhart-in-the-Marianas hypothesis in varying degrees: Deanna Mick’s door, Buddy Brennan’s blindfold, several airplane parts, two collections of human bones, and Raymond Irwin’s map.

The Door

The small steel door with the words “A. Earhart” and the date ”July 19 1937” inscribed on it was reportedly given to Ms. Deanna Mick by the late Ramon San Nicholas when Ms. Mick and her late husband left Saipan (Mick 1994; Campbell 2002:98-9). At our request and working from a full-scale tracing that Ms. Mick included in her 1994 letter to Dr. Tom Crouch of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Scott Russell of the CNMI Humanities Council made a cardboard template of the door and tried to match it to the apparent food service hatches on the surviving cells in the Garapan jail. He found that the door perfectly matched the openings in all six northernmost cells in the sixteen-cell main cellblock, so it appears to be a legitimate artifact of the Japanese jail (Russell 2012). In 2012 email correspondence with the senior author, Ms. Mick reported that the hinges appeared to be snapped off, not cut with a hacksaw (Mick 2012). This suggests that the door was broken off the cell front after it became rusted to the point at which it would no longer swing on its hinges. Only then would moving it back and forth snap it off.

We see two reasons for thinking that the door was not inscribed by Amelia Earhart, or any inmate at the jail.

  • The inscription would apparently have been on the inside of the door, consistent with being made by an inmate, but every time the door was opened, the inscription would have been displayed to those outside. Thus it could not have been made in secret, so if it was made by an inmate, it must have been with the acquiescence of the jailers. This may be what happened, but it seems implausible.
  • The inscription is not just scratched; it is rather deeply cut into the metal. This suggests use of tools that it seems unlikely an inmate would possess.

According to Ms. Mick, Mr. San Nicholas presented the door to her because she was the second female pilot to fly through the Marianas – Earhart ostensibly being the first. We think that on balance it is most likely that Mr. San Nicholas removed the door from the jail and made the inscription as a gently joking way of honoring Ms. Mick.

The Blindfold

Buddy Brennan and his colleagues found what he and his informant, Ms. Nieves Cabrera Blas, interpreted as Earhart’s blindfold about 7.5 feet deep at the site where Ms. Blas said she had seen a woman Brennan presumed to be Earhart executed and buried. They reported finding no human bones; Brennan speculated that soil chemical and microbial conditions were such that the woman’s bones had not been preserved while the “blindfold” had (Brennan 1988:146-7; Sallee 1986).

The cloth may represent a blindfold, but it also could represent many other things. Before the 1944 invasion, Garapan was a substantial town whose residents wore clothes and used cloth for other purposes. The town was massively bombarded in 1944, creating many opportunities for pieces of cloth (among other things) to collect in holes and get buried. Mike Harris, who says he worked with Brennan, describes the location as a dump area (Harris 2002). Brennan’s excavation apparently was not conducted using archaeological methods, and he presents no record of the stratigraphic position in which the cloth was found. If the cloth was indeed associated with a human body buried at the site, one would expect at least some bones to have survived (to say nothing of the deceased’s clothes). Soil conditions on the west side of Saipan are actually fairly conducive to the preservation of bones; burials have been recovered in the area from as early as the Pre-Latte period, two to four thousand years ago. The only reason to think that the cloth might be a blindfold appears to be that according to Brennan, Ms. Blas identified it as such.

Airplane Parts

When he visited Saipan in 1960, Fred Goerner pulled a generator and other aircraft parts from Tanapag Harbor and took them to California. The generator closely resembled one that had been installed on the Electra. It was disassembled and found to match the Electra’s Bendix model “perfectly in every respect” according to Paul Mantz, who had installed the generator on Earhart’s plane (Goerner 1966:65). However, when Goerner sent the generator to Bendix for evaluation, the company’s specialists found sufficient discrepancies in its details to satisfy them that it had not been manufactured by Bendix. They identified it as a Japanese generator apparently copying a Bendix design (Goerner 1966:67).

In 1968 Don Kothera and his colleagues visited Saipan to search for the fuselage of a civilian aircraft Kothera recalled seeing there as an 18-year-old Navy man in 1946. After several days of hacking through the jungle in the area where he recalled seeing the plane, and getting help from a local resident who knew the island well, they found the location where Kothera thought the fuselage had been twenty-two years earlier. They located “six screw type aircraft tie-downs” and some plane parts. They picked up some of the airplane parts with numbers stamped on them.

Back on the mainland, Kothera’s group found that the numbers on the parts they had collected could not be tied to any specific aircraft. Chemical analysis by Crobaugh Laboratories of Cleveland, Ohio indicated four percent copper in the alloy, and Alcoa Aluminum Co. advised that neither the Germans nor Japanese used copper in their aluminum alloys; they used the more readily available tin. The conclusion was that the aluminum airplane parts had been made by Alcoa prior to 1937 (Davidson 1969:118).

Although the parts may well be of American origin, this does not mean they were from Earhart’s Electra. By the time Kothera saw the fuselage in 1946, Saipan had been in American hands for two years; a great many American aircraft had been on and over the island. It is possible to imagine that Kothera’s fuselage represented the Electra hidden away after the plane landed on or was brought to the island, but it could also have been the discarded carcass of an American military plane.

Bones

On his second trip to Saipan in 1961, Fred Goerner attempted to locate the gravesite described to him by Thomas Devine. Based on photos provided by Devine, Goerner found what he believed to be the cemetery Devine had described near the purported gravesite, but noted that some of the directions provided by Devine were incompatible with the cemetery’s actual layout. Doing the best he could with the directions, Goerner selected a fifteen by fifteen foot plot and began digging there. He and his workers went down nearly five feet and found nothing. Next he selected a location a little farther west; that site yielded nothing but an unexploded hand grenade, which was carefully disposed of. The third try was a few yards closer to the graveyard. They found bones about two and a half feet down. Screening the soil from the hole, they found a total of seven pounds of bones and thirty-seven teeth, which they thought represented two individuals, a man and a woman (Goerner 1966: 107-11).

Goerner obtained permission from Muriel Morrissey (Earhart’s sister) and Mary Bea Ireland (Noonan’s widow) to have the bones and teeth analyzed. They were delivered for evaluation to Dr. Theodore D. McCown, a well-qualified physical anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley. McCown concluded that the bone fragments and teeth were from four or more individuals, and probably represented the “secondary interment of the fragments of several individuals.” The hypothesis that these were the remains of Earhart and Noonan was thus not supported (Goerner 1966: 177-84).

In 1967, Don Kothera and his group recovered almost 200 bone fragments, most of them cremated, from the site adjacent to the cemetery shown them by Anna Magofna. The bones, together with a dental bridge and an amalgam gold tooth filling, were analyzed by Martha Potter and Dr. Raymond Baby (pron. “Bahbee”) of the Ohio Historical Society, who concluded that the roughly 188 cremated bone fragments, representing an ulna, a fibula, one or more femurs, ribs, vertebrae, and bones of the hands and feet, “are those of a female, probably white individual between the anatomical ages of 40-42 years,” with “an age of 40 years” being “probably more correct.” They identified the single unburned bone, part of the frontal bone of the cranium, as representing “a second individual, a male” (Baby and Potter 1968). Upon Baby’s death in the late 1970s, the bones were apparently lost (Kothera & Matonis[?] n.d.), and their whereabouts remain unknown (Potter-Otto 2012; Snyder 2012).

The lee side of Saipan, where all the excavations for Earhart’s and Noonan’s bones have taken place, was densely occupied in pre-contact times (c.f. Russell 1998; Butler & DeFant 1991), and human burials are commonly found in pre-contact archaeological sites on the island. Considering the disturbance of such sites during the Japanese development of the island, and the presence of 20th century cemeteries that then experienced considerable bombardment and other disturbances during the 1944 invasion, the presence of human bones almost anywhere is no surprise. In addition, both sets of bones are reported to have been found in the vicinity of historic cemeteries and, in the case of Kothera’s bones, a crematorium (Kothera & Matonis[?] n.d.), which had also presumably experienced disruption by the 1944 bombardment. Potter’s and Baby’s identification of the cremated remains as those of a “white” female is intriguing, but it should be recalled that Saipan had a substantial European population during the German period (1899-1914; see Russell 1984; Spennemann 1999); it is unclear whether the crematorium that may have produced the bones now lost in Ohio pre-dated the Japanese period. Even if it did not, the presence of osteologically European people on Saipan during the Japanese period would not be entirely surprising; besides traders passing through and missionaries remaining from the German period, there had been genetic mixing between Europeans and Micronesians since at least the mid-nineteenth century, producing a mixed-race population that survived into and through the Japanese period.

In summary, the bones recovered by Goerner were identified as those of several disarticulated individuals, none of whom it seems reasonable to think was Earhart or Noonan, while those recovered by Kothera’s team could be those of Earhart and Noonan but could also quite plausibly be those of other people. The gold bridge and filling found by Kothera’s group could have belonged to Earhart or Noonan or to any number of Micronesian, German, Spanish or Japanese residents of Saipan; without relevant dental records it would be impossible to link them to specific individuals even if they could now be found.

The Map

As discussed above, Raymond Irwin’s 1992 letter to Thomas Crouch included a photocopy of a map he said he had found in a dugout at Aslito Field in 1944. The original of the map may be in the possession of Mr. Irwin’s family; Mr. Irwin passed away in 2010. The original map was apparently marked with blue ink, which did not reproduce in the photocopy; according to Mr. Irwin, the markings indicated the location of Howland Island and a “route track,” presumably Earhart’s. All we can tell by looking at the photocopy is that it does depict the Japanese mandate, and that the labels for island groups are in Japanese. Also enclosed in Mr. Irwin’s letter was a photo of a Japanese military arm band, and he reported seeing Japanese flags and photos. If marked as Mr. Irwin reported, the map would suggest that someone in a military capacity at Aslito was interested enough in Howland Island and Earhart’s route to mark them on a map. This is not surprising; the Japanese were certainly aware of Earhart’s flight, and reportedly searched for her. The map is thin evidence of her presence in the Marianas, however.

Credibility of Flying to Saipan from Lae

Four authors argue that Earhart piloted the Electra to Saipan. None asserts that she was on a spying mission and purposely flew into Japanese-controlled territory. Three (Briand 1960, Devine 1987, Campbell 2002) speculate that various problems led to huge navigation errors, and she flew to Saipan without really knowing where she was. Davidson simply accepts that she flew to Saipan without trying to explain how it happened. Campbell accepts that Earhart and her Electra could have reached Saipan in other ways, but his primary source, Devine, is sure that Earhart piloted her plane to the island.

To accept the “flew to Saipan” premise, one has to explain how this could have happened given that Saipan is almost due north of Earhart’s takeoff point at Lae and she was trying to fly east to Howland Island.

Earhart departed Lae at 10:00 in the morning local time (00:00 Greenwich Mean Time [GMT]5). As she flew eastward toward Howland in daylight, she should have been able to see where she was for the first several hours using maps at her disposal, and she successfully radioed position reports to Lae indicating that she was on course for Howland Island. Her last report received by Lae indicated that she was near the Nukumanu Islands, about 900 miles east of Lae, after flying for a little over seven hours. Up to that point, just as night came upon them, things seemed to be going well. What could have happened next to make them fly northwest from their last reported position, winding up at Saipan?

Briand suggests that something completely disorienting happened after this last radio report. He speculates that the Electra’s compasses “tumbled” during the night and that Noonan’s chronometers lost their calibration. He proposes that Noonan was unable to get any fixes during the night, so they were flying blind. By the time the sun came up in the east as they were flying northwest, they had to know they were completely lost. When they finally saw land, after some 26 hours of flight, their fuel ran out and they ditched in the harbor at Tanapag. Briand acknowledges that the Itasca heard transmissions from the Earhart plane early that morning. He does not account for the fact that there was nothing in her messages to suggest the problems that he attributes to the flight – that in fact the messages indicated that she thought she was on track and close to Howland.

Devine suggests that the “hair-raising” takeoff from Lae may have adversely “affected the compass and delicate robot pilot, causing the Electra to stray from its intended course.” He suggests that Noonan may have injured his head during the takeoff and that Earhart would have used the error-prone Sperry Robot Pilot to control the plane while she crawled to the rear of the plane to attend to Noonan’s injuries. But if this had happened, would Earhart not have simply returned to Lae, to fly another day? Devine would have us believe that she flew on, making periodic radio reports to Lae that everything was going well.

Devine cites other factors that could have helped to disorient the flight crew – radio problems, the need to avoid rain squalls about 250 miles east of Lae, and the need to pump fuel manually each hour from the auxiliary tanks to the wing tanks, during which time the plane was presumably controlled by the auto-pilot.

All these factors may have been in play, but the fact remains that Earhart reported good progress as of the time of the last transmission received by Lae, when the position she reported indicated that they should have been about 900 miles to the east. None of the radio messages to Lae indicate that Noonan was injured on takeoff, and the content of two messages, saying that “everything (is) OK” seems inconsistent with the notion that Noonan was disabled.

Another consideration that undermines the “Earhart flew to Saipan” premise is that receipt of radio transmissions was documented by the Itasca as the Electra should have been approaching Howland Island. All of the authors (Briand 1960, Davidson 1969, Devine 1987, Campbell 2002) acknowledge and discuss these receptions to some extent. Table 1 below presents the documented receptions at Lae by Harry Balfour and at Howland Island by Leo Bellarts and other radio operators aboard the Itasca. The “S-N” code represents the reported strength of the signal, with S-1 being very faint and S-5 being loud and clear.

Date/Time Where Received Frequency Message
7/2, 04:18 GMT
(14:18 at Lae)
Lae (Balfour) 6210 kHz Height 7000 feet, speed 140 knots … everything OK
7/2, 05:19 GMT
(15:19 at Lae)
Lae (Balfour) 6210 kHz Height 10000 feet position 150.7 E 7.3 S cumulus clouds everything OK
7/2, 07:18 GMT
(17:18 at Lae)
Lae (Balfour) 6210 kHz

Position 4.33 S 159.7E height 8000 feet over cumulus clouds wind 23 knots
7/2, 14:15 GMT
(02:45 on Itasca)
Itasca 3105 kHz Bellarts reported "Heard Earhart plane but unreadable thru static"
7/2, 15:15 GMT
(03:45 on Itasca)
Itasca 3105 kHz Stronger reception: Will listen on hour and half on 3105 (very faint, S-1)
7/2, 16:23 GMT
(04:53 on Itasca)
Itasca 3105 kHz Bellarts reported "Heard Earhart (part cldy)"
7/2, 17:44 GMT
(06:14 on Itasca)
Itasca 3105 kHz Bellarts: "Wants bearing on 3105 // on hour //will whistle in mic." About 200 miles out. (S-3)
7/2, 18:11 GMT
(06:41 on Itasca)
Itasca 3105 kHz Please take bearing on us and report in half hour. I will make noise in mic. About 100 miles out. S-4
7/2, 19:12 GMT
(07:42 on Itasca)
Itasca 3105 kHz KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you. But gas is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1000 feet. (Strong, S-5)
7/2, 19:28 GMT
(07:58 on Itasca)
Itasca 3105 kHz KHAQQ calling Itasca. We are drifting (circling, listening?) but cannot hear you. Go ahead on 7500 with a long count either now or on half hour. (Strong, S-5)
7/2, 19:30 GMT
(08:00 on Itasca)
Itasca 3105 kHz KHAQQ calling Itasca. We received your signals but unable to get a minimum. Please take bearing on us and answer 3105 with voice. (Strong, S-5)
7/2, 20:13-20:15 GMT
(08:43- 08:45 on Itasca)
Itasca 3105 kHz KHAQQ to Itasca. We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait. … We are running on line north and south. (Very strong, S-5)

Table 1: Radio Messages Received from Earhart, July 2nd 1927

Between 04:18 and 07:18 GMT, messages were received at Lae on Earhart’s daytime frequency, 6210 kHz. At 14:15 GMT the Itasca began to pick up transmissions from the Electra on her lower nighttime frequency of 3105 kHz. The latter signals were initially very faint, but became increasingly strong over the following hours. This suggests that she was steadily drawing closer to Itasca and Howland Island.

Beginning at 17:44 GMT, Earhart’s messages were clearly understood aboard Itasca. There is nothing in their content to suggest disorientation or problems with her navigational tools. She apparently thought she was closing on the island and wanted the Itasca to take a bearing on her and help guide her in. This is clearly incompatible with the “Earhart flew to Saipan” scenarios, as is the fact that the signals were growing stronger, not weaker as they should have been (if they could be heard at all) if the Electra were traveling northwest, diagonally away from the Itasca.

At 19:12 GMT, Earhart says, “We must be on you but cannot see you.” This presumably means that she thinks she is on or near the line of position (LOP), 157°–337°, through Howland Island. As she flew eastward, whether she was north or south of Howland, her closest approach to the Itasca would have occurred when she was within a few miles of that line. In fact, the subjective assessment of the radiomen on the Itasca was that her messages were loud and clear for an hour prior to 19:12 GMT and for an hour afterward. The transmission heard at 17:44 GMT was audible (fairly good); Earhart said she thought she was “about 200 miles out.”

If Earhart was on or near the LOP at 19:12, it had taken her 19.2 hours to fly the 2556 miles from Lae to Howland, which translates to an average ground speed of about 133 miles per hour. She had flown for 1 hour and 28 minutes since her 17:44 (“200 miles out”) transmission, which would correspond to about 195 miles traveled. So her minimum distance from the Itasca when her first “fairly good” transmission was heard was 195 miles. If we suppose that winds blew her off her intended course laterally by as much as 150 miles6 during the night, she could been have about 250 miles away from the Itasca at 17:44. Thus Earhart would have to have been within about this distance from the Itasca when she was first heard clearly. When she was farther away (as she was earlier in the morning), her messages would be and were fainter; as she got closer, her received signal strength would have increased and did increase.

The content of Earhart’s transmissions indicates that one of two conditions had to exist. Either she thought she was closing in on Howland that morning, or she was trying to deceive her listeners into thinking she was. Radio science suggests that she not only thought she was close to Howland but in fact was close to Howland. Figure 2 below is based on an analysis prepared by LCDR Robert Brandenburg, USN (Ret). His propagation analysis was performed using the ICEPAC model, developed by the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences at the U.S. Department of Commerce (ITS n.d.; Brandenburg 2012). The exact relationship is not as important as the basic shape of the curve: The strongest signal from the Electra would be received by the Itasca when the aircraft was between 100 and 250 miles distant; the Electra would have to be within about 250 miles of the Itasca to be heard clearly; and signal strength (likelihood of reception) on 3105 kHz drops off steadily at distances greater than 250 miles.

Signal to Noise Ratio graph

Figure Two: SNR with Distance. Source: Robert Brandenburg

In order to accept the “Earhart flew to Saipan” proposition, one has to believe that transmissions from the Electra were received loud and clear by the Itasca even though the Electra was over two thousand miles away to the west. One also has to believe that the signals grew progressively stronger as the Electra got farther away to the northwest. This is incompatible with radio propagation science, to say nothing of common sense. While it is possible for some signals to radiate in such a way as to be received at great distances while they are not received closer to the source, this phenomenon would not produce a pattern in which signals grew steadily stronger the farther away the transmitter became from the receiver.

Credibility of Capture Elsewhere

Five authors assert that Earhart was captured elsewhere and transported to Saipan. The scenarios are different from one another, but share some similarities, so some data that bear on the credibility of one apply to others as well.

Goerner’s scenario was the first published. It suggests, as do others, that Earhart’s Electra had engines which had been switched so that she had more power (and speed) available than she needed to get to Howland directly from Lae. This change was necessary to permit her to fly north to Chuuk and then eastward to Howland in the time allocated for the Lae-to-Howland leg. Goerner asserts that with the hypothetical improved engines and the detour over Chuuk the Electra would have had “a four- to six-hour reserve of gasoline should Howland prove a difficult landfall” (Goerner 1966:315). Goerner states that the “Electra’s power had been publicized as twin 550-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Junior Wasp engines.” In fact, the Wasp Junior was rated at only 450 horsepower, and Earhart’s plane was delivered in July 1936 with 550 hp Pratt & Whitney R1340 S3H1 “Wasp” engines. All Lockheed 10Es came equipped with these engines; it was the earlier 10A that carried Wasp Juniors. Be this as it may, the engines with which Earhart’s plane was equipped were rated at 550 horsepower. Neither Goerner nor anyone else has produced tangible evidence that they were changed after the plane’s delivery.

The distance from Lae to Howland is 2556 miles. The distance from Lae to Chuuk is about 950 miles and from Chuuk to Howland about 2220 miles, for a total of about 3170 miles. This assumes point-to-point flying without any “spying time” over Chuuk Atoll. Earhart and others involved in planning the flight anticipated that the Electra Earhart was understood to be flying would take about 18 to 20 hours to reach Howland directly from Lae, depending on the headwinds encountered. This corresponds to a ground speed of from 128 to 142 miles per hour.

The Electra (with a maximum fuel capacity of 1151 gallons) was reportedly loaded with 1100 gallons of fuel at Lae (Gillespie 2006:77). According to Lockheed data that fuel should have lasted for 24 hours if the Electra’s airspeed was 153 mph and 27 hours at an air speed of 136 mph (Gillespie 2006:78). If the engines powering the Electra were more powerful, the fuel economy would be lower. In any event, flying the aircraft faster would consume the fuel at a higher rate. Assuming a 15 mph headwind over the 2556 miles directly from Lae to Howland, and a 19.2-hour flight time, we compute an average ground speed of 133 mph or an airspeed of 148 mph. If the plane could stay aloft for 24 hours, there would have been approximately a 4.8- hour fuel reserve when they reached the LOP through Howland. This is a reasonable 20 percent reserve. Assuming that the route was from Lae to Chuuk to Howland without increasing airspeed or fuel consumption rate but reducing the assumed headwind to 10 mph, the 3170 miles would take 23 hours at a ground speed of 138 mph. This would result in a one-hour fuel reserve at Howland, not the four to six hours claimed by Goerner. If the Electra was flown faster, so that it could reach Howland in about 20 hours, at a groundspeed of about 158 mph and an air speed of 168 mph, it would be able to stay aloft for 21.6 hours. This means that at Howland it would have about 1.6 hours of fuel in reserve. The more powerful engines postulated by Goerner would use fuel at a faster rate and any reserve would surely be less. This assessment shows that there would have been a very small fuel margin if Earhart had attempted such a route. To follow such a plan, with such a small fuel reserve, would have been foolish even for a pilot as inclined to risk-taking as Earhart.

Goerner indicated that he thought the flight from Chuuk toward Howland encountered stormy weather and Noonan was unable to get a position fix. However, Earhart’s S-3 radio message at 17:44 GMT saying she was 200 miles out indicates that she thought she knew how far from the LOP she was. Unless this was merely a guess, it had to be based on an observation by Noonan. Goerner would have her more than 400 miles away at the time of her “200 miles out” transmission, but as discussed above, when she was more than 400 miles from the Itasca, her radio transmissions could not have been heard clearly, if they could be heard at all.

Goerner proposed that Earhart turned back toward the northwest shortly after her last transmission on 3105 kHz at about 20:15 GMT. She would have been somewhere near the LOP through Howland at that time, at least 750 miles from Mili Atoll. Yet Goerner had her ditching at Mili about two hours later. Even with a tailwind, it would have taken something in excess of four hours to reach Mili from the vicinity of the LOP. Earhart and Noonan would have been in the air for more than 24 hours, but at the speed Goerner assumes they were flying, they would have run out of fuel much sooner.

In short, unless we assume that the Electra carried more fuel than the records indicate the plane could hold, and that its radio was capable of generating a signal recorded by Itasca at S-3 when more than 400 miles away, Goerner’s hypothesis does not hold together.

Based on other data, Goerner seems to have reached the same conclusion himself. In 1989 he wrote:

I truly believed the north of course theory was the most probable when I wrote The Search for Amelia Earhart in 1966, and I chose Mili as the most logical landing place. Through the assistance of Dr. Dirk Ballendorf, who was Deputy Director for our U.S. Peace Corps activities in the Pacific, I was able to disabuse myself of that notion (Goerner 1989).

In Amelia Earhart Lives, Joe Klaas also contends that Earhart had an enhanced version of the Electra in order to fly the Lae to Chuuk to Howland route. He suggests that it could have been the XC-35, a pressurized fuselage aircraft designed and built by Lockheed and first flown on May 7, 1937, about two weeks before Earhart departed on her second world flight attempt. It seems to us unreasonable to believe that such an untested aircraft, contracted for by the military, would have been sought by Earhart or turned over by the military or Lockheed for the world flight. Furthermore, Earhart’s plane was serviced at several locations on the world flight. One of these locations was Lae, where Guinea Airways operated and maintained an Electra of its own. There is no record that Guinea Airways personnel noticed any significant differences between Earhart’s aircraft and theirs.

Klaas’ assertion that Earhart was able to fly north to Chuuk and then southeast toward Howland on 1100 gallons of fuel has the same fuel reserve problems as does Goerner’s contention, exacerbated by the fact that Klaas has her flying even farther south, heading for Kanton Island in the Phoenix Group. The total distance from Lae to Chuuk to Howland to Kanton is approximately 3600 miles. Assuming a 10 mph headwind as above and flying at the lower air speed of 148 mph (ground speed of 138 mph) it would have taken 26 hours to make the trip, with about 25 hours worth of fuel. If she flew faster, as Klaas suggests, she would have to fly for 22.8 hours at an air speed of 168 mph (ground speed of 158 mph) to cover the distance. Her fuel burn rate at the higher speed would have exhausted her fuel in about 21.6 hours. If circumstances were extremely fortunate (e.g., the prevailing winds were favorable), the flight might have been completed with the available fuel. But to plan such a flight, without any fuel reserve and hoping for favorable winds, would have been suicidal.

Klaas has the Electra shot down by a fighter from the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi not far from Kanton Island. He asserts that the plane crash landed at Orona (Hull Island) in the Phoenix Group on the morning she disappeared, July 2, 1937. He has her taken aboard the Akagi and eventually transported to Saipan. In his book, Klaas includes photos of the purported Electra wreckage on Orona with a Japanese flag flying over it (Klaas 1970: photo on unnumbered page before page 117). He says these photos were taken by the U.S. Navy when the USS Colorado approached the Island in early July. However, according to the Colorado’s records – which do not mention photographing airplane wreckage or a Japanese flag at Orona – a plane from the Colorado landed in the lagoon at Orona on July 10 and the pilot spoke with the British plantation manager, John Jones. Jones is reported to have said he had heard nothing of the missing aircraft and aviators. Orona is not a very large island.7 It is hard to imagine that the island’s inhabitants would have failed to notice one aircraft shooting down another in the vicinity or airplane wreckage on their island with a Japanese flag flying over it. According to the Colorado’s pilot, Jones said that for most of the islanders the Colorado’s seaplane was the first aircraft that they had ever seen (Lambrecht 1937). The frames shown in Klaas’ book appear to us to show many birds flying in front of what may be an island; we cannot identify anything else.

In short, there is no apparent evidence to support the Klaas scenario, and many of his conjectures are contradicted by generally accepted data. For example, Klaas asserts that Earhart’s Model 10E Electra was swapped for another aircraft with better performance characteristics. While Earhart took off in the other plane, her Electra stayed behind, under the control of Paul Mantz. Klaas suggests that there were a number of bogus transactions through which the original plane was laundered. A Lockheed plane with serial number N16020 crashed at Fort Irwin in Southern California in December 1961; Klaas cites this as proof that Earhart’s original Electra was not used on the world flight.

However, there is a simpler explanation for the coincidence of tail numbers, and good evidence that the Fort Irwin plane was not Earhart’s. Earhart’s plane was a Lockheed Electra Model 10E Special, constructor’s number 1055, serial number NR16020. According to the Civil Aircraft Register – United States, a detailed register of U.S. civil aircraft, the plane that crashed at Fort Irwin was a military version of the Model 12A Electra Junior, constructor’s number 212-13, flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force. It had a number of designations over the years: NC18955; NC18955; CF-BQX; RCAF7642; NC60775; N60775; and finally N16020 (Golden Age n.d.). Reportedly, in 1958 Paul Mantz owned the aircraft and got it relicensed as N16020 in memory of his late friend Amelia Earhart (TIGHAR 2001). The Model 10E and Model 12 plane types were very different. The Model 10 was a ten-passenger model. The Model 12 carried six passengers. In his book Klaas includes a photo of an exhaust manifold plate from the crashed aircraft he asserts is Earhart’s, but the plate clearly indicates that it was from a model 12A (Klaas 1970: photo on unnumbered page before page 117).

In 1985 Vincent Loomis published Amelia Earhart, The Final Story in which he adopted Paul Rafford’s analysis of Earhart’s disappearance. This scenario requires no spying mission or a secret aircraft upgrade to get the Electra to Mili Atoll. According to Rafford’s hypothesis, Earhart tried to fly toward Howland essentially as planned. When they were approaching Howland, he thinks that Noonan was able to get a sun shot; this provided the basis for Earhart’s message to the Itasca when they thought they were about 200 miles from the LOP. Rafford and Loomis propose that at this point Earhart detected nothing amiss and continued toward the LOP, but in fact a “southeasterly wind she was unaware of” had blown her northward during the night, so when they reached the LOP they were actually about 150 miles north of the Itasca (Loomis 1985: 117).

On its face this scenario seems plausible. It is compatible with the reported radio receptions by the Itasca. The aircraft performance characteristics fit the scenario up to this point. The only questionable assumption is that there were southeasterly winds of which Earhart was unaware. In fact, the information Earhart had when she departed Lae included the prediction of wind speeds of between 15 and 20 knots from the south-southeast. Earhart should have factored these predicted winds into the course she chose as she flew toward Howland. If the winds were as predicted, and Earhart/Noonan correctly accounted for them in their planning, they would have arrived over Howland when they reached the LOP.

An alternative analysis of the effects of prevailing winds on the Electra has been performed by Randall S. Jacobson (n.d.). Applying a set of defined constraints explained in his article, and assuming that Earhart planned her flight based on the predicted weather, he conducted a Monte Carlo simulation using the best weather data available for the flight path, including data of which Earhart was unaware. Jacobson concludes that “Earhart was experiencing 26 knot winds from roughly 58 degrees, rather than the 18 knot winds from 68 degrees as forecast.” As a result he proposes that she would have reached the LOP south of her intended course, rather than north as required by the Rafford/Loomis hypothesis.

But assuming that Rafford is correct, could the Electra have reached Mili Atoll with the available fuel? Rafford believed that at 20:15 GMT, Earhart was about 150 miles north of Howland on the LOP and turned westward, thinking she would fly back to the Gilberts. However, since she was farther north than she believed, she was actually flying toward Mili Atoll. Rafford says she picked up a tailwind of 15 miles per hour as she flew westward. She was about 750 miles from Mili when she left the LOP. If her airspeed was 148 miles per hour, a 15 mph tailwind would have resulted in a ground speed of 163 miles per hour. At that rate it would take 4.6 hours to reach Mili. They would have reached Mili about 25 hours after taking off from Lae. An air speed of 148 mph should have permitted her to stay airborne for about 25 hours. If the Rafford scenario applies, she would have run her tanks dry just as she arrived at Mili.

In summary, for the Rafford/Loomis hypothesis to be true, the prevailing winds must have been as Rafford suggests and not as Jacobson’s data indicate. Moreover, Earhart and Noonan must have not used the weather data available to them effectively in plotting their course. If these factors all fell into place, it appears possible for the Electra to have run out of fuel as it approached Mili Atoll.

Buddy Brennan’s 1988 version of the captured-in-the-Marshalls hypothesis is based largely on interviews with the same informants cited by other authors. However, he also gives considerable weight to secondhand testimony by Marshallese political leaders like Oscar DeBrum and John Heine. According to Brennan, for instance, DeBrum said “there’s no question they went down in the Marshalls” (Brennan 1988:76). By the time Brennan collected such statements of opinion, some fifty years had passed since the time Earhart and Noonan might have been seen landing and being captured. Many people had been interviewed by many investigators, and there had been much time for the development of generally agreed-upon stories (See Implications of Group Opinion below).

Randall Brink published his book, Lost Star, The Search for Amelia Earhart in 1994. Like Goerner, he asserts that Earhart was on a spy mission and flew north to Chuuk and thence toward Howland. He outdoes Goerner and Klaas in the upgrades he attributes to her aircraft, saying that while the Electra was supposedly being repaired in Burbank following the crash in Hawaii,8 another, more capable aircraft was substituted. He thinks this aircraft was fitted with surveillance cameras and enhanced direction-finding capability. Brink cites personal input from people whom he says were involved in making these changes, but he presents no photos or other corroborating evidence.

We see nothing in the many photos taken during the world flight that supports Brink’s assertions. As with the changes to the Electra that Klaas proposes, none of the people who serviced the aircraft during the world flight are reported to have substantiated any of Brink’s contentions.

Brink bases his conclusions about a “government conspiracy” on what others might see as innocuous circumstances. The U.S. assisted the Earhart flight; to Brink this proves that she was on a government mission. The decision after the crash in Hawaii to fly east rather than west to Brink was made not because of weather conditions but to facilitate spying. To Brink, Earhart kept her departure on the second attempt quiet to avoid press scrutiny of the substitute aircraft. None of these suppositions has been substantiated.

Brink observes that in Last Flight, Earhart mentions that one of Lockheed’s maintenance specialists, F.O. Furman, was available in Bandoeng to do an overhaul on the Electra’s engines. Brink asserts that the engines did not need to be overhauled in Bandoeng, so Furman must have been there to “service the secret cameras and other special equipment” (Brink 1994:130). But if Furman was there in secret as part of a spying scheme, why would Earhart mention him in Last Flight?

According to Brink, Earhart’s enhanced aircraft was equipped with “secret long-range low-frequency DF (direction-finding) equipment” to facilitate communication with the Itasca and enable them to home in on the Itasca’s transmissions. When Earhart and Noonan were hundreds of miles from the Itasca, Brink asserts that they could have flown to the Itasca which was transmitting every few minutes. If this were so, why did they turn toward the Marshalls rather than flying directly to Howland?

According to the rough map included in Brink’s book (Brink 1994:6-7), the Earhart aircraft was never closer than about 480 miles from Howland Island. However, the Electra’s 3105 kHz transmissions were heard clearly from 17:44 to 20:15 GMT, which should not have been possible if the plane was more than 480 miles from the Itasca.

The limitations imposed by the 1100 gallons of fuel aboard the aircraft apply to Brink’s scenario as well as to the others. Based on Brink’s map, Earhart might have had enough fuel to get to the Marshalls, but only if she never got close to Howland.

Brink says the plane was forced down at Mili Atoll on July 2, and that she broadcast SOS messages until she was picked up by the Japanese on July 5. But unless the right engine of the Electra could be run to power the radio, Earhart would only have been able to transmit for a short time; three days worth of messages would be out of the question. The messages were reported by Walter McMenamy of California, whom contemporary analysts identify as not a credible source (Gillespie 2006:123-5).

Brink says the Japanese took the fliers and the aircraft away on the freighter Kamoi. Earhart and Noonan, he says, were taken to Saipan while the plane was left on the island of Taroa, where Brink says it is pictured in a reconnaissance photo included in his book. The photo can be interpreted in a number of ways, but a systematic archaeological survey of Taroa has not revealed an Electra (Adams 1998).

It is possible for the Electra to have made it to Mili, and if the Japanese captured Earhart there they might well have taken her to Saipan. However, Brink’s elaborate scenario to get her to Mili is made up mostly of speculation based on very thin informant testimony.

Finally, the evidence cited by the “special section” of the online “CNMI Guide” (No author, n.d.) – that the message received from Earhart by Lae at 07:18 GMT should not have been audible – appears to reflect an understandable confusion on the part of the section’s unidentified author. It is true that, as discussed above, messages on Earhart’s relatively low nighttime frequency of 3105 kHz should not have been audible over the almost 900 miles between Lae and Earhart’s reported location along her course toward Howland Island, but her radio had sufficient power to be heard over such a distance on her higher daytime frequency of 6210 kHz, and it is on this frequency that the 07:18 GMT message is documented to have been received.

Credibility of the Electra and Forrestal at Aslito

The Electra at Aslito is one of the strangest stories associated with the Earhart disappearance. Until Thomas Devine published his account in 1987, he was the only person known to have asserted it had happened. After his book was published, and he appealed for others to step forward with their recollections, other people who were on Saipan in 1944 voiced support for his story.

If the Electra had been on Saipan in flying condition in 1944, it could have gotten there in either of two ways.

  • It could have been flown there by Earhart from Lae, as Devine maintained. As discussed above, this scenario is contradicted by the evidence of Earhart’s radio transmissions received by Itasca.
  • It could have been brought there by the Japanese after having come down in the Marshalls or elsewhere. This scenario is plausible, but if the plane crashed, was damaged in landing, or spent much time in the water it would require that the Japanese invest a good deal of effort in recovering it and returning it to flying condition. It is difficult to imagine why they would make such investment, particularly if they planned to conceal the airplane’s existence.

The circumstances under which Devine told his story do not inspire confidence. There is no evidence that he reported his experiences on Saipan until Goerner’s investigation began to gain notoriety. At this point he reported his gravesite story – but not his Electra-at-Aslito story – to Goerner, the press, and the Navy. It was his story of being shown graves said to be those of Earhart and Noonan that Patton investigated for the Office of Naval Intelligence, concluding that it was not credible (Patton 1960:9).

In 1962, apparently frustrated that officials were not taking him seriously, Devine told the Navy about seeing the Electra on Saipan. He then accompanied Goerner to Saipan in November 1963 and said he found the gravesite he was looking for, but told no one about it, apparently intending to return to the island and recover the remains himself. This sort of behavior does nothing to build Devine’s credibility.

Devine’s assertion that the Electra’s burning was carried out under the direction of Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal has been carefully investigated by long-time Earhart researcher Ron Bright. Bright found no evidence to support the premise that Forrestal was on Saipan during the time frame in question (at most a few days into the American landing), and ample evidence that he was elsewhere. Unless the records of Forrestal’s whereabouts have been doctored, it appears that Forrestal could not have been on Saipan during the time claimed by Devine (Bright 2002). The corroborative testimony of other American military eyewitnesses was collected under conditions that render it suspect as well (See “Reliability of Eyewitness Testimony” below).

Credibility of Execution and Burial

All the stories of Earhart’s and/or Noonan’s execution (or in some Earhart stories, death due to dysentery) are derived from the testimony of eyewitnesses and other informants. They typically describe a man and a woman who are seen on Saipan together or by themselves, after which one or both are in some cases seen executed while in others their execution, or death by natural causes, is reported based on hearsay. In some cases execution is by firing squad, or at least by massed gunfire, while in others it is by beheading. It is difficult to imagine a single coherent story embracing all these disparate accounts, let alone to connect such a story with any confidence to Earhart and/or Noonan. That the Japanese executed people is certain; whether any of those people were Earhart or Noonan is another matter.

Some of the putative Earhart and/or Noonan graves that have been excavated on Saipan have produced suggestive things – the blindfold in the case of Brennan’s excavation, bones in the case of Goerner’s and Kothera’s. As discussed above, however, none of these pieces of “hard evidence” can be linked with confidence to Earhart and Noonan. The site of the reported graves on Tinian was intensively excavated by archaeologists in 2004, under the eye of the key eyewitness, Mr. Naftel, and no bones or suggestive artifacts were recovered (Bunn et al n.d.; Frost 2004; King 2004).

Reliability of Eyewitnesses and Other Testimony

All eight of the Earhart-in-the-Marianas stories are grounded in anecdotal written and oral history; that is, the major evidence on which they are based consists of people’s recollections. Most fall into two categories:

  • Micronesian stories: these are the recollections of Chamorro or Carolinian residents of Saipan or Tinian, or of Marshallese, usually delivered orally to and recorded by non-Micronesian Americans.
  • U.S. Military stories: these are the recollections of U.S. military personnel, mostly participants in the 1944 conquest of the Marianas, of what they say they recall seeing, hearing, finding, or being told by others.

A very few stories are derived from non-military American sources, and one story reported by Campbell (2002:103-06) is from a Japanese informant.

The reports that are most impressive to most readers are those of eyewitnesses: people recounting what they say they actually saw, usually in 1937 on the part of Micronesian informants and 1944 on the part of U.S. military personnel. If these people are not lying – and how could they all be? – then an unbiased reader may reasonably conclude that what they say is true.

A problem that confronts some of the authors who have published Earhart-in-the-Marianas hypotheses is that eyewitnesses have sometimes provided contradictory testimony. Some Micronesian informants, for instance, describe a plane with a woman and man in it landing on Saipan, while others have the man and woman, and sometimes the airplane, brought to Saipan from elsewhere, in some stories after landing on or near various different islands in the Marshalls. This problem is typically addressed simply by rejecting some stories and accepting others. This acceptance and rejection is often couched in very unambiguous terms. Those whose stories are rejected are taken to be Japanese collaborators, participants (knowing or not) in a U.S. government cover-up, or simply not to be trusted. Adjectives like “incredible” are sometimes used in references to accounts that a given author does not want to accept. Those whose stories are accepted are explicitly or implicitly identified as credible, knowledgeable, and without bias.

Patton’s 1960 report is sometimes cited as a well-researched official repudiation of the eyewitness testimony of Josephine Blanco Akiyama and others, but proponents of Earhart-in-the-Marianas stories justifiably point to some core inconsistencies in Patton’s analysis. Notably, the two stories he accepts as perhaps containing elements of truth – those pointing to Earhart’s crashing in the Marshalls – are in many ways flimsier than those of Akiyama and others; both report only hearsay, and one reports it only secondhand. Patton also exhibits some preference for the negative testimony of people in authority (e.g. Sheriff Sablan) over the positive testimony of individuals in less official positions – an understandable bias in a government investigator, but nevertheless one that dilutes his own reliability.

We have no basis for saying that any alleged eyewitness or other informant is or is not credible. For the purposes of this paper, we assume that all such informants were telling what they believed to be the truth, though perhaps shaded in some cases to meet what they understood to be social expectations. However, this does not lead us to assume that any informant described “objective” reality – that is, reality as it might be perceived by another party. There are good reasons to view all the eyewitness and other informant stories with skepticism, even while accepting the honesty and good will of those who have told them.

In the last fifty years, there has been great psychological interest in the reliability of memory, and a good deal of research on the subject – notably including the memories of eyewitnesses. Much of this interest and research has been stimulated by growing concern in legal and law enforcement circles about the conviction of innocent people by courts of law based on eyewitness testimony. Much has also been stimulated by concerns about the conviction and imprisonment of parents based on the uncorroborated stories of adult children who say they have recovered long-suppressed memories of childhood abuse. Elizabeth Loftus of the University of Washington is perhaps the best known and most widely published researcher in this field; her 1979 book Eyewitness Testimony (2nd edition 1996) is probably the most widely available generally accessible text on the subject, though many other scholars around the world have studied and published in the field.

What these studies tend to show is that memory is a highly malleable phenomenon; our memories can be significantly transformed by influences from outside our heads – notably by the suggestions of interviewers. As Loftus puts it:

A growing body of research shows that new, postevent information often becomes incorporated into memory, supplementing and altering a person’s recollection. New “information” can invade us, like a Trojan horse, precisely because we do not detect its influence (Loftus 1996:vii).

In one experiment Loftus reports – one of many, and often replicated – a group of individuals is shown a short film of an automobile accident involving a white sports car on a country road. After a period of time engaged in other activities, the subjects are asked a series of questions. Among these, for some of the subjects, is the question: “How fast was the white sports car going when it passed the barn?” In fact, there was no barn in the film, but a substantial percentage of the subjects accepted the suggestion that there was, and offered ideas about how fast the car was going when it passed it. When questioned a week later, more than seventeen percent of those previously asked about the barn “recalled” seeing it – it had apparently become firmly embedded in their memory of the film – while only three percent of those not previously asked about it thought they had seen it (Loftus 1996:60). Experiments of this kind have now been performed quite often, by a number of researchers, and leave little doubt that the memories of eyewitnesses can be changed without their being aware of it, and without any necessary intent on their part to deceive.

Even word choice by a questioner can influence memory. In another experiment, subjects view a film showing a two-car auto accident. They are then divided into two groups and asked about things seen in the film. In the list of questions asked of one group is: “Did you see a broken headlight,” while in the other group’s list the question has been slightly rephrased: “Did you see the broken headlight?” In fact no broken headlight appeared in the film, but “(w)itnesses who received the questions using ‘the’ were much more likely to report having seen something that had not really appeared in the film” (Loftus 1996:95-6). Similarly, subjects asked how fast they thought two cars were travelling when they “smashed” into each other tended to give much higher estimates than those asked about the cars’ velocity when they “hit” each other. Even more interestingly, those in the “smashed” group were more likely than those in the “hit” group to answer affirmatively when asked several weeks later whether they saw any broken glass in the film – which in fact showed no broken glass (Loftus 1996:77-8).

What research by Loftus and others has repeatedly shown is that people’s memories can change over time in response to external and internal stimuli, and that people can come quite seriously to believe that they recall things that are different from what they originally saw and stored in memory. Altered memories can be as vivid, and as firmly and honestly believed in, as “pristine” memories.

Grounded in studies like those reported by Loftus and other psychologists, law enforcement and judicial bodies around the world have established guidelines for interviewing witnesses, hoping to minimize the potential for tainting their memories. In 1999, for instance, the National Institute of Justice in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) published Eyewitness Evidence: a Guide for Law Enforcement (DOJ 1999), which lays out extensive guidelines for police officers, “911” operators, attorneys and others. One guideline appears over and over, applied to almost every situation:

Use open-ended questions (e.g., “What can you tell me about the car?”); augment with closed-ended questions (e.g., “What color was the car?”) Avoid leading questions (e.g., “Was the car red?”) (DOJ 1999:15, emphasis added).

With reference to the above guidelines, consider the following notice, published in the November 1993 issue of Leatherneck magazine by Henry Duda (as reported in Campbell 2002:24):

C’mon, Marines. Let’s bring out the truth. During the invasion of Saipan, I, and other Marines, as well as Army and Navy personnel, became aware of considerable material and information that Amelia Earhart, her navigator, Fred Noonan, and their airplane had actually landed on Saipan during her 1937 around-the-world flight, rather than the generally accepted assumption that they had gone down at sea. I wish to contact any additional Marines who may have information, especially those who were on guard duty, where her plane was found in a Japanese hangar at Aslito Field.

We mean no criticism of Mr. Duda for publishing this notice, but was it not a leading question? It amounts to: “Did you experience anything during the invasion of Saipan that you would connect with Earhart, Noonan, and/or their airplane – which was found in a Japanese hangar at Aslito Field?” This sort of questioning pervades the record of eyewitness testimony elicitation on which the Earhart-in-the-Marianas stories are largely based. To judge from the psychological literature, it would seem almost made to order for the inadvertent creation of false memories.

The possibility of false memory creation exists with respect to both major populations of Earhart-in-the-Marianas eyewitnesses: veterans of the U.S. military and Micronesian residents of Saipan, Tinian, and the Marshall Islands.

With respect to military veterans, it is striking that most memories relating to Earhart, Noonan, the Electra, and such related phenomena as photographs and paper-filled briefcases surfaced a dozen or more years after the 1944 invasion. Many were not reported until the 1990s, in response to inquiries by Duda, Devine, and others. It is not difficult to imagine a veteran of the invasion, looking back on a very exciting, frightening, confusing, perhaps heroic, perhaps traumatic period in his life, and finding gaps in his memory, things to wonder about. Reading an appeal like Duda’s, or a book like Goerner’s, Briand’s, Brennan’s or Devine’s, he may begin sifting and re-sifting his memories. This may reveal original, pristine recollections, but it may equally well create opportunities for the equivalents of barns and broken headlights to filter in. The more these memories are then shared, the more opportunities are created for their development in minds that did not previously contain them.

With regard to Micronesian people recovering memories of 1937, there are additional complications. First, there is some evidence (albeit as anecdotal as the rest of the stories) that some American servicemen actively sought Earhart as they advanced through the islands of Micronesia. Marine veteran Robert W. Reeves, in a handwritten 2002 note to TIGHAR, said:

While we were heading to Roi Namur in the Marshalls, the powers that be issued each and every one of us guys that were going to be doing the fighting a little map maybe a little smaller than this page. On it were known locations of pillboxes, ammo dumps, HQs, prominent buildings, trenches, all that good stuff. I was interested in taking real estate by killing off the occupants, and reading maps was not a big point with me. But it was obvious that whoever made up that map knew the whole place backwards and forwards and even us kids with little savvy knew that someone, somewhat, had done a pretty good job for us guys going in.

In the Marines, then, 1944, Amelia Earhart was considered by the guys in the ranks as another beloved member of the Marine Corps. We were all set in our minds by somebody that this woman was risking her all to help us Marines. How else do you account for the good info on our maps at a time when the Marshall Islands were as remote and unreachable for all practical and impractical people as Uberus(?) up in the sky?

I also was on Saipan where every man jack of us, I believe, kept our eyes open for signs of that beloved female hero, her navigator, & her craft. “Scuttlebutt” came down or through the ranks that the natives said she had been on the island (alone?) in custody of Japanese Army.

Writing to the Admiral Nimitz Museum in 2000, Navy veteran John G. O’Keefe described his PT Boat’s skipper directing his men to be on the lookout for Earhart on Emirau Island north of New Ireland:

Lt. Josey emphasized that we were to be vigilant for evidence of Amelia Earhart. This was of great interest to me. As a young man not even of age when the war began, I had grown up with Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindburg and Wiley Post as heros (O’Keefe 2000 files).

Similarly, Marine veteran William Dunlap, in a handwritten note from 1989 filed with TIGHAR, said:

Every island we landed on during WWII rumors abounded about some evidence relating to the Earhart mystery.

If Marines, soldiers and sailors were inquiring about Amelia Earhart as they fought their way through Micronesia in 1943-44, it is unlikely that they followed the 1999 DOJ guidelines. It is expectable and understandable that they would have asked very leading questions. The Micronesian people they encountered had themselves gone through – and were going through – a period of intense emotional upset, and many were experiencing extreme privation and disorientation. After decades of structured Japanese rule they found themselves in a state of confusion, uncertainty and utter dependence on the American conquerors. There would surely have been strong motivation to tell the frightening newcomers what they seemed to want to hear, and show them what they seemed to want to see. We cannot know how all this would affect the creation and reconstruction of memories among Micronesian informants, but the opportunity would surely exist for false memories to develop. Micronesians may also have gained the impression that some benefit (cigarettes? candy? food? not being killed?) might result from satisfying the Americans’ curiosity, which could account for some stories of Micronesian people accosting Americans and offering to show them the woman pilot’s grave or tell them stories about her imprisonment. It is hard to understand why local people would be so intent on telling or showing Americans such particular things if there were not some perceived benefit in doing so.

After the War, the reports of Micronesian people recounting Earhart stories thinned out until 1960, when Josephine Blanco Akiyama publicly told the story that initially informed researchers like Briand and Goerner. Now a new wave of Americans arrived in the Marianas asking about Earhart, none of them aware of the guidelines that would be developed fifteen to twenty years later based on the research of psychologists like Loftus. There is every reason to suspect that they too asked leading questions and inadvertently cultivated false memories. Consider, for example, this excerpt from the transcript of an interview with Matilde Fausto Arriolo carried out by Fr. Arnold Bendowske in November 1977:8

Fr. Arnold: First of all, you recall that you told Fred Goerner about the story on Amelia Earhart?
Matilde: I don’t know, Father, what the name of that man was.

Fr. Bendowske goes on to say that he is interviewing Ms. Arriolo at the request of Admiral Carroll, formerly on Guam but now in Washington, and that the tape will probably go to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He goes on:

Fr. Arnold: I mentioned to the Admiral at that time your name because you saw Amelia Earhart yourself.
Matilde: I did not know her name when I first saw her. She did not mention her name nor who she was.
Fr. Arnold: What year was this?
Matilde: I believe it was 193-
Fr. Arnold: Was it 1937 or 1938? Do you recall?
Matilde: At the moment I don’t seem to be able to pin down the exact year. You know, I was sick recently and maybe that has impaired my memory, my powers of memory.

Fr. Bendowske’s performance is virtually a textbook case of leading the witness. He begins by announcing his assumption that Ms. Arriolo saw Amelia Earhart, ignores her protestation that she did not know whether the woman she met was Earhart, and proceeds to supply her with the approximate date when he supposes the meeting occurred. Almost certainly a Catholic, Ms. Arriolo probably regards Fr. Bendowske as an authority figure, and he enhances the seriousness of his investigation by implying that the military or US intelligence are interested in her testimony. Under the circumstances, it would be surprising if Ms. Arriolo did not start remembering that she saw and talked with Amelia Earhart, regardless of whether she ever did.

Asking leading questions is not the only interviewer practice that may have skewed the testimony of interviewees; the opportunity to profit from the “right” kind of testimony also seems to have existed in some cases. Loomis, for example, reports that he offered two thousand dollars to anyone who would help him locate a metal box that he believed might have been buried by Noonan on Mili Atoll (Loomis 1985: 91-92). Although we have found no accounts of the practice, it seems likely that GIs and Marines sometimes compensated their Earhart informants at least with things like candy, cigarettes, and Cokes.

None of the above proves that Matilde Fausto Arriolo, Josephine Blanco Akiyama, or other Micronesian people did not see Amelia Earhart, that Thomas Devine did not see the Electra at Aslito, or that Robert Wallack did not find Earhart’s briefcase. We do think it suggests that eyewitness testimony is by no means infallible, especially when it is collected by untrained people with their own agendas.

Interrogation across Cultural Boundaries

General differences in communication style also need to be considered in judging the reliability of informant testimony as a source of “objective” data. In his well-known work, Beyond Culture (Hall 1976), Edward T. Hall arrayed the communications styles of different societies along a continuum from “low context” to “high context.” Low-context societies – typified by those of the United States and some western European countries – tend to value the use of language to convey information, focusing on the specific subject at hand. Higher context societies use language in ways that may reflect a range of social contexts besides that of transferring data from one person to another about a specific subject. The speech of a person in a high-context society is likely to reflect status relationships and social expectations at least as much as it reflects the “objective facts” valued by a low-context speaker. Raymond Cohen (1997) has shown how communication breakdowns between high and low-context negotiators have caused costly and sometimes fatal errors in international diplomacy.

Micronesian societies tend toward the high-context end of Hall’s continuum. A speaker is likely to be at least as concerned about how what he or she says will affect relationships with others – including the person spoken to but also including one’s family members, the leadership of one’s social group, and the members of subgroups to which one belongs or which one respects (e.g. elders, navigators, women) – as he or she is about communicating “facts.” This complexity tends to be lost on a low-context interlocutor.

All the Earhart researchers whose work we have examined have been from a low-context society – the United States – and even an investigator as experienced as Fred Goerner appears to have had relatively little contact with people from high-context cultures before coming to Micronesia. So an Earhart researcher might ask a direct question and assume that the response represented a direct, “truthful” answer; the person being questioned, however, would very likely respond based on what he or she thought appropriate in a variety of contexts unknown to the investigator. What answer was proper given the status of the interviewer as understood by the interviewee? What answer would be the most polite, and helpful to the interviewer? What answer would the village or island chief think appropriate? What answer might produce maximum benefit for one’s lineage or dependents, and minimize risk to them? This does not mean that the high-context informant would lie, but that he or she would be likely to shade the truth (as he or she understood it) to meet social expectations.

Implications of Group Opinion

Some Earhart-in-the-Marianas researchers cite what they take to be a broad consensus among Micronesian informants as evidence that the stories reported by such informants must reflect the truth about Earhart’s and Noonan’s fate. Exactly how much of a consensus might exist is rarely reported; for example, in 1960 Joe Gervais (via Klaas) summarized:

Many people remember a plane crash. Many people remember an American woman and an American man apparently being held prisoner. Some say they were executed. Some say the woman died, apparently of dysentery, and the man was executed. Some say they were taken away to Japan (Klaas 1970: 121).

Consider first how this tendency toward consensus might affect a group of U.S. servicemen during World War II. Imagine that some of the group’s formal or informal leaders become convinced that Earhart is somewhere on the islands they are invading, helping them and hoping to be saved. It is unlikely that such a group’s leaders would “encourage diversity of viewpoints;” more likely, they would encourage unanimity of purpose – “Let’s find Earhart, using whatever means are necessary,” including the forceful questioning of Micronesians they encountered. Positive results – be they stories of women in captivity, found objects, or executions and graves – would be preferred by the group over negative data.

Now consider veterans of World War II in the Pacific, approached long after the war by an articulate fellow-veteran like Devine or Duda, who is leading a quest for information on specific events like the Electra at Aslito or reports of Earhart’s imprisonment. Drawing on the oral history of Studs Terkel (1985), the neurologist Oliver Sacks refers to:

… countless stories of men and women, especially fighting men, who felt World War II was intensely real — by far the most real and significant time of their lives — everything since as pallid in comparison. Such men tend to dwell on the war and to relive its battles, comradeship, moral certainties and intensity (Sacks 1998:31).

Among such men, receiving what amounts to a “call to arms” from someone asserting leadership as Duda did – “C’mon, Marines, let’s get the truth out!” – is likely to leave little doubt about what kind of consensus is expected. “Yes, we did experience things that now, in light of what the leader tells us, make sense as evidence of what happened to Earhart.”

With respect to Micronesian eyewitnesses and other informants, consider first the period when the islands are being conquered. People are concentrated in camps, under the complete control of Americans. If some of these authority figures start asking them questions about Earhart and Noonan, and especially if they reward “positive” responses, it is to be expected that a “collective memory” would begin to develop, unless such development was discouraged by local leadership – which would have no plausible reason to do so. Over time, there is no reason we know of that such a collective memory would not persist; there is no evident reason for the leadership in the Marshall Islands or elsewhere to, in Flowers’ words, “encourage diversity of viewpoints” on what might have happened to Earhart and Noonan.

By the 1980s, when Brennan and others were collecting stories, it appears that a collective memory had developed at least in the Marshall Islands. Brennan quotes Oscar de Brum, then First Secretary to the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), during a flight to Majuro: “Oh, there’s no question they went down in the Marshalls. Lots of people saw them. The Japanese hustled them off somewhere – probably their headquarters on Saipan.” (Brennan 1988:76) Brennan’s son remarks on the unanimity he perceives in the Earhart stories coming from people on Majuro whom he assumes could not possibly have known one another or “collaborated” (Brennan 1988:119).

But in fact, “collaboration” is what people in Micronesia routinely do. The tendency to seek consensus on matters of concern is well known and extensively documented in Pacific island societies (see Petersen 2009, LaBelle n.d. for recent treatments) and indeed throughout much of the non-Euroamerican world (c.f. Hall 1976, Cohen 1997, and see above). Moreover, the formal and informal sharing of stories – that is, oral tradition – is a fundamental aspect of human behavior in any traditional society. Loomis observed this sort of sharing in the Marshalls, noting that residents “obviously shared their news rapidly…(as) a form of entertainment” (Loomis:1985:91). His experiences also seem to reflect the role of leadership in reaching consensus; he describes how during breakfast with a Marshallese political leader and his local group, “with the senator’s blessings placed upon us at the meal we were able to seek out others who had heard the story of the ‘lady pilot’” (Loomis 1985:85).

The role of leaders in establishing what constitutes the collective memory is also reflected in Brennan’s reported experiences. Brennan reports then-RMI President Amata Kabua telling him that the Alabs (chiefs) of individual islands would be sought out by island residents for advice on whether they should share what they knew (Brennan 1988:75). Brennan grasped the fact that the Alabs’ leadership was critical to people’s decisions about sharing information with questioners from outside the group. As a result, he was very keen to befriend the local Alab as a prelude to any discussions with local residents on Majuro (Brennan 1988:80).

Applying Flowers’ generalizations and what we know about traditional Pacific island consensus-building and storytelling, we think it likely that the social environments of the various informants encouraged agreement both on the content of stories and on what “facts” should be reported. Whether what was reported was actually “factual” in some absolute sense may have been less important to informants than the stories’ relevance to the fulfillment of social expectations.

Intercultural Misunderstandings

It would be easy for the various Earhart researchers – none of them trained ethnographers – to have misinterpreted some forms of social interaction typical of Micronesian societies. These include what Petersen calls “avoidance behaviors” and “disinclination to initiate interactions” (Petersen 2009: 172-173). A reluctance to share stories, and particularly to volunteer them, is sometimes interpreted as reflecting fear triggered by memories of Japanese occupation and knowledge that former policemen who had worked for the Japanese still lived on the island, or as evidence of guilt by association with Earhart’s or Noonan’s fate. However, viewed with reference to the cultural values outlined by Petersen and others, it is also possible to believe that reluctant informants were simply seeking to avoid getting involved in the researchers’ enterprises by dodging or terminating conversations in the most respectful, polite ways they could.

The Earhart researchers also had no basis for understanding that, in Petersen’s words, “Micronesians as a general rule … do not like to say no” (Petersen 2009: 207) – particularly to people regarded as deserving respect or as being in need. Confronted by assertive American researchers asking specific questions about something that may or may not have happened years or decades earlier, it would not be surprising if Micronesian informants gave affirmative responses in preference to neutral or contradictory ones. Providing such answers to people so evidently in search of them might have been construed by some informants as simply being hospitable, taking care of people who were viewed as “strangers in need” and “travelers” (Petersen 2009: 209).

Although some Earhart researchers seem to have understood the need for knowledgeable local people to guide them, there is little evidence that any of them have gone to much trouble to familiarize themselves with island cultures, societies, or communication styles. Joe Gervais’ approach to interaction with Micronesians seems to have been to work through the local chief of police, Quintanilla (Klaas 1970: 74ff). Buddy Brennan took the trouble to “bone up on their laws” and “read more on the islands and people” (Brennan 1988: 71), but it is not clear just what this amounted to. Loomis recognized the importance of obtaining a translator who understood “both the language and the customs” (Loomis 1985: 88) but does not report studying either one himself.

In short, it is reasonable to posit that a kind of cultural myopia has influenced and hampered the efforts of the American Earhart researchers in the Mariana and Marshall Islands. The subject of cultural myopia has never been an easy one to analyze, but we suspect that it was an influence on the research we examined. This is a subject that could benefit from further study.


5 This is a worst-case estimate, assuming a 12 mph cross-wind for twelve hours, rounded up to 150 miles.
6 Navigate to “Hull Island” on Google Earth for a first-hand view.
7 For a recent description and analysis of this crash, see Gillespie 2006: Chapter 3.
8 Fr. Bendowske’s interviews were relied upon by Goerner, Loomis, and Devine, and are alluded to by others.

A Core of Truth?

The fact that we should not uncritically accept the eyewitness testimony – to say nothing of the second- or thirdhand stories – on which the Earhart-in-the-Marianas hypothesis is based does not necessarily mean that there is no truth behind them. Just as there seems to have been a real Trojan War of some kind upon which the Homeric epics were based, there may well be incidents that really happened lying at the core of the stories about Earhart-in-the-Marianas.

One such reality may be that Earhart and Noonan, and perhaps the Electra, actually did find their way to the Marianas – that is, some version of the basic Earhart-in-the-Marianas story may actually be true. But are there ways to account for the stories as anything but fables if Earhart and Noonan did not wind up in the Marianas? We think there probably are, and suggest that pursuing them might elucidate a rather veiled period in Pacific history.

If we set aside the specific identifications of Earhart and Noonan – most of which are suspect due to leading questioning by Americans – the stories of Micronesian informants can be summarized as accounts of six incidents:

  • An ethnically European man and woman were seen in Japanese captivity, perhaps taken out of an airplane that landed or crashed in or near Tanapag Harbor.
  • An ethnically European man was cared for by a medic in Jaluit, possibly after an airplane crash, possibly in the company of an ethnically European woman.
  • An ethnically European man was executed by the Japanese.
  • An ethnically European woman was imprisoned for a time in the Garapan prison.
  • An ethnically European woman lived for a time under some sort of house arrest in the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel.
  • An ethnically European woman was executed or died, perhaps of dysentery.

It is not too difficult to imagine ways that the above six statements could reflect things that really happened in the late 1930s or early 1940s in the Marianas, but that did not involve Earhart and Noonan. The Japanese had governed Micronesia since 1914; prior to that time, the Marshalls, Carolines, and Marianas but for Guam were colonies of Germany, and before that they had all been putative colonies of Spain. German, Spanish, and other European missionaries were established in Micronesia before the Japanese mandate was put in place, and presumably at least some of these remained through the period of Japanese administration. Other Europeans may have settled in Micronesia during the period between the world wars; for instance, apparently some White Russian families made their way to Yap after fleeing the Bolsheviks (Palomo 2002; Petty 2001; Ranfranz 2012). In the late 1930s, when Japan began active preparations for war, it is reasonable to imagine that these small European populations would come under suspicion and in some cases be brought to centralized locations for interrogation and internment. Some of them might have been flown to Saipan aboard seaplanes, landing in Tanapag Harbor, and housed as “political prisoners” in the Kobayashi Royokan hotel. Once the Japanese captured Guam and islands in what are now Kiribati and Tuvalu –then the British Crown Colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands – additional ethnic European political prisoners may have wound up on Saipan.

Passing merchant ships were another source of ethnic Europeans in Micronesia. For example, in his 1993 letter to Vaeth, Fred Goerner, casting a critical retrospective eye on his own “captured in the Marshalls” hypothesis, advanced a plausible non-Earhart-related basis for Bilamon Amaron’s eyewitness story. Goerner said that in U.S. Navy records he had found an account of the Motorship Fijian, which exploded near the Marshall Islands in 1937. The Fijian’s crew – mostly Asian but with eight Norwegian officers – escaped and were rescued by the Sjiko Maru, which took them to Jaluit. There the injured received medical treatment (perhaps from Amaron) before they were all taken to Yokohama via Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Saipan (Goerner 1993 quoted in Campbell 2002:158).

In short, there are ways for ethnic Europeans other than Earhart and Noonan to have found themselves in the Marianas as unwilling guests of the Japanese. Let one such guest be a woman, and the stage would be set for Chamorro and Carolinian residents to have experiences that, with prompting by eager American questioners, could become Earhart sightings.

Both Goerner (1966:80) and Klass (1970:Chap 11) mention Americans who were executed on Saipan and could have been confused with Earhart and Noonan. The source of all the stories is the same, the policeman Jesus DeLeon Guerrero, sometimes known as Kumoi, to whom Goerner assigned the pseudonym Francisco Galvan. According to Klass, Guerrero reported that two American flyers, both male and presumably military, were shot down in 1942, imprisoned for a time, and then beheaded. Patton (1960:8) mentions that one of his informants, Jesus Salas, provided accurate information about the place of burial of “two American Military pilots.” The pilots’ execution could be the basis for stories of “Noonan’s” beheading, and their graves might be those identified by various informants as those of Earhart and Noonan. According to both Goerner and Klass, Guerrero also said that a woman of mixed Japanese-Caucasian ethnicity, born in Los Angeles, was hanged as a spy after being imprisoned for some two months. Goerner says Guerrero described the woman as beautiful and well-dressed – the same words used by Ana Villagomez Benevente in her interview with Fr. Bendowske to describe the woman at the hotel (Bendowske 1977: 10). In Fr. Bendowdske’s transcripts too, Matilde Fausto Arriola says that her mother identified the American woman with whom she interacted as “[j]ust a little bit of a mestiza” – that is, of mixed ethnicity (Bendowske 1977:6). Despite Fr. Bendowske’s vigorous and semi-successful leading of both witnesses to identify the woman as Earhart, their descriptions are very consistent with Guerrero’s of the mysterious well-dressed American woman.

The Wallack briefcase story and other accounts of document discoveries could also be more or less true without necessarily indicating an Earhart presence in the Marianas. Earhart’s flight had received widespread news coverage, and it is far from inconceivable that a Micronesian or Japanese resident on Saipan – perhaps a schoolteacher or journalist – would have collected news clippings and other documents relating to the flight. We have no way of judging the likelihood of such a scenario, but it is certainly not implausible. An Earhart photo, or even a briefcase full of papers dealing with Earhart, does not necessarily mean that Earhart was ever in the Marianas.

The story by Devine and others of the Electra at Aslito, and its destruction at the direction of Secretary Forrestal, is so vivid and dramatic that it seems to defy a simple, non-Earhart explanation. But in view of the experiments by Loftus and others demonstrating the malleability of eyewitness memory, such an explanation is not unimaginable. Japan had both civilian and military cargo and passenger aircraft – including Lockheed 14 Super-Electras as well as such Electra look-alikes as the Tachikawa Ki.54c, Kawasaki Ki.56, and Kawasaki Type LO (Dave’s Warbirds n.d.) – and it is not inconceivable that one of them might have been at Aslito in 1944. The similarity of such an aircraft to Earhart’s, if found in a hangar at Aslito, would very likely have generated rumors and motivated U.S. military officers to place it under guard. Denfeld and Russell (1984:9) report that Naval Technical Intelligence recovered 24 intact Japanese aircraft at Aslito, but they do not report the types. Most of those they illustrate (p. 11, Fig. 4) appear to be fighters, but only about six of the planes can be clearly seen. They report that the aircraft were removed by the intelligence service, but do not report what happened to them. This is a question that would benefit from further research, but it appears to be possible that an aircraft resembling Earhart’s – but not Earhart’s – was at Aslito for Devine and others to observe.

As for Devine’s recollection of the plane’s burning, it is reported that during the Battle of Saipan, shortly after Aslito was secured, a Japanese Zero from Guam unknowingly landed there, was fired upon by American forces, and crashed at the end of the runway (Pacific Wrecks 2012). Did Devine, after seeing a civilian aircraft at the field, also see this crash, and did his memory over the years compress the events and associate the plane that was destroyed with the one he saw under guard? Of course, we cannot say, but our point is simply that we can imagine the existence of facts at the core of Devine’s story without concluding that Earhart’s Electra was at Aslito. As for Forrestal’s presence, a detailed examination of Forrestal’s whereabouts during the relevant period provides no evidence that he was in the area (Bright 2002), but it is by no means inconceivable that some other authoritative man in a white shirt was present –perhaps from Naval Technical Intelligence – and that “scuttlebutt” was generated identifying him as Forrestal.

What of the evidence for a cover-up? Much of this evidence is negative – for example, an alleged discovery like Wallack’s attaché case is turned over to higher authority and never seen again. Perhaps the discovered item was hidden away or destroyed to protect a secret, but perhaps it simply went missing in the fog of war.

Much of the evidence involves examples of apparent government obfuscation, interpreted as designed to confuse or discourage investigators. Obfuscation, however, is almost inherent in bureaucratic transactions; this is one reason we speak of “bureaucratese.” Government agencies also reflexively resist sharing information, especially if – as is often the case – they are not really sure what information they have. And around the time that Briand, Goerner, Devine, Gervais and others were launching their investigations, the U.S. government was covering something up on Saipan – the use of the island as a base for covert operations training and for the launch of such operations against China (c.f. Russell n.d.). There was every reason for the Navy, Department of the Interior, and Central Intelligence Agency – all engaged in more or less intense interagency rivalry for control of the island – to want Goerner and the others to abandon their investigations, or at least take them elsewhere (e.g. to the Marshalls).

Again, Devine provides some of the most dramatic anecdotal evidence of a conspiratorial cover-up, but much of what Devine reports is so strange that one wonders whether he might have dreamed it. His encounter with the “Navy man,” quoted above, has a particularly dream-like quality – the Navy man appears but does not identify himself, tells Devine that he should leave his barracks bags because he will not need them where he’s going, invokes Earhart’s name, gets Devine as far as the harbor and the seaplane, and then turns and runs away. This all seems far more like a dream sequence than like the playing-out of a real-life conspiracy.

But can dreams become memories? There does not seem to be a great deal of research into the subject, which is obviously a difficult one to investigate. Loftus (2012) suggested to us that we are unlikely to find much that will bear very directly on the question. There has been some relevant research, however (e.g., Christos 2003, Mazoni et al 1999) and it appears that the boundaries between dreams and memories are by no means rigidly defined.

Conclusions

The evidence for Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan in the Mariana Islands is almost exclusively anecdotal; such “hard” evidence as exists is very dubious as to its association with the famous flyers. Anecdotal accounts by Micronesian people of a woman in captivity, a man executed, a man and a woman executed, and a man and/or woman buried were invariably collected under circumstances in which the generation of false memories cannot be discounted. Leading questions were asked, answers were in some cases supplied to informants, and there is every reason to suspect that at least in the 1940s informants expected rewards for “right” answers if not punishment for “wrong” ones. Micronesian informants, operating within the context of their own cultural values and modes of communication, cannot be assumed to have answered their interlocutors’ questions – even if those questions were carefully phrased – with what an American investigator would understand to be the “objective truth.” Most of the eyewitness and other accounts by American military personnel are subject to similar forms of unintentional manipulation, memory construction, and faulty interpretation. Although there may be kernels of truth in some or many of the stories, there are ways of accounting for them that do not involve the presence of Earhart and/or Noonan in the Marianas.

This is not to say that Earhart and Noonan definitely were not captured by the Japanese, imprisoned on Saipan, and/or executed and buried in the Marianas. Some version of the Earhart-in-the-Marianas story may be true. The evidence we have reviewed, however, gives us no serious reason to think that it is true. Some of the story’s variants – notably the premise that Earhart flew her Electra directly to Saipan – are contradicted by objective independent data, while others are grounded only in anecdotal evidence. And this evidence is tainted by the methods (or lack of method) involved in its collection, making it difficult if not impossible to judge its veracity.

If we set aside the association with Earhart and Noonan, however, it is worth considering that the stories of an American woman in captivity on Saipan – quite detailed and consistent in Fr. Bendowske’s transcripts and the reported testimony of Jesus DeLeon Guerrero – may well reflect something that really happened, someone who really was imprisoned and executed. An effort to identify this shadowy person and reconstruct her story – without assuming that she must have been Earhart – could result in a valuable contribution to the history of Micronesia during the Japanese period and World War II.

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