Exactly 80 years ago today, the search for Amelia Earhart was called off, and she was presumed dead. The official search for Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, was conducted in 1937 by the US Navy and Coastguard and lasted only two weeks before they released a statement saying, “It is regrettably unreasonable to conclude other than that the unfortunate fliers were not above water upon conclusion of the search.” In other words, because they couldn’t find any evidence of their survival, it was concluded that they had crashed into the sea. However, after countless searches over the years, absolutely no concrete evidence has ever been found to back this theory up. No bodies. No plane. Nothing.
In light of the recent discussions over new evidence that has been unearthed, I wanted to share what I’ve learned from years of researching this very topic. In case you’ve been out of the loop, a photo was recently discovered that appears to back-up the theory that Earhart and Noonan were both captured by the Japanese. I want to begin by mentioning that this is not a new theory by any means. Ever since her disappearance in 1937, it has been suggested by many that the Japanese military had a hand in it, and this theory has rapidly grown in popularity over the years as witnesses have continued to come forward.
First off, I want to debunk some common misconceptions:
- Amelia (I feel like I know her well enough by now to be on a first-name basis, right?) did NOT go missing in or near the Bermuda Triangle. I have no idea how this rumor got started, but it seems to be widely believed, though it could not be further from the truth. She was reported missing near Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean on July 2nd, 1937, thousands of miles from the Bermuda Triangle.
- Amelia was NOT the first female pilot. She was, in fact, the 16th woman in history to earn a pilot’s license.
- While Amelia Earhart was technically the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by plane, she was not the pilot. On the 1928 flight that gained her recognition and fame, her only job was to keep the plane’s log. However, in 1932, she did become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.
A bit of historical context:
It’s 1937. Amelia Earhart has already broken every record there is for her to break. All except one, that is. No female pilot has yet to circumnavigate the globe, and no pilots, male or female, have yet to do it around the equator. With some convincing from her husband, George Putnam, Amelia decides to attempt this death-defying flight.
As Amelia readies her new Lockheed Electra L-10E plane for her most challenging flight yet, tensions are rising around the globe.
A few years shy of World War II, the Japanese begin occupying islands in the Pacific Ocean, including the Marshall Islands. Their actions do not go unnoticed by the United States.
Fast forward to June of 1944. The Armed Forces have just liberated the island of Saipan from the Japanese military. Many of these men, in addition to over 200 islanders, later claim to have knowledge of Amelia’s presence on the island. As the story goes, Amelia’s plane went down between Milli Atoll and Jaluit Atoll, and was then transported by the Japanese from the Marshall Islands to the island of Saipan. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
This photo was discovered by Les Kinney, a retired Federal agent, while he was looking through the National Archives in search of a lost file that would prove that Amelia was captured by the Japanese. One thing we know for certain is that this photo was taken on Jaluit Island, but we do not know the exact date. The first thing to notice is the boat full of native fishermen. They’re all looking at the dock, indicating that something significant is happening.
According to Kinney, as well as Kent Gibson, a professional forensic examiner, the man on the left is likely to be Fred Noonan, while the figure sitting in the center is likely to be Amelia. They both appear to be caucasian, and, during that time, the Japanese had banned Westerners from the Marshall Islands. When they went missing, Noonan was reported to have a knee injury, and in this photo, the man appears to be holding onto a post for support. Some people have suggested that the figure suspected to be Amelia has too broad a back for a woman, but Amelia was very athletic and had a very boyish figure.
Look closely at their hair. The man’s hairline perfectly resembles that of Noonan, while the center figure’s hair appears to be too long for a native man, and too short for a native woman, but just right for Amelia.
The ship in the background has been identified as the Japanese Koshu. Long before this picture was found, many witnesses stated that they saw Amelia Earhart and her plane being picked up by the Koshu. On the back of the ship, you can see that it is towing a barge, carrying what appears to be Amelia’s Electra L-10E.
A few weeks after this photo made headlines, a Japanese blogger came forward claiming that he found the photo in a Japanese coffee table book published in 1935, two years before Amelia’s disappearance, therefore disproving the photo’s credibility. This was all over the news, with headlines like “Japanese Blogger discredits photo after two minute google search”. Amazingly, however, when the Marshallese government released this statement that the dock in the photograph was not built until 1936, there was no mention of it by anyone in the media.
The photo could not have been “published” in 1935 if the dock hadn’t even been constructed yet. Another important thing to note, is that the “coffee table book” he mentioned wasn’t actually a published book at all. It’s a photo album bound together by a string, and, as far as we know, is the only copy in existence. None of the photos within the book are dated, and the only thing tying it to the year 1935 is a stamp in the back of the book that was added whenever this book was submitted to the library. Obviously, the librarian misdated the album, as the dock pictured hadn’t been built yet.
If you aren’t convinced yet, there’s more information that no one in the press has mentioned!
There are numerous eyewitness accounts from both islanders and men who served in the US military, many of which can be seen in the documentary, Amelia’s Electra. The interesting thing is that though these testimonies come from many people who had no connection to one another, none of them are contradictory, and they all back up the same story. Some of the Islander’s stories were given in broken English, but they are very cohesive nonetheless. Here are some of the most important testimonies:
•Manuel Muna (islander): “The captain of [my ship]…told me that he remembered back in 1937 when he was ordered to shoot down the plane when he was the captain of the Japanese [aircraft] carrier Akagi. Then, after the plane was shot down, he learned that the pilot on the plane was a man and a girl. Then, later on, he found out that the pilot and the navigator was Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.”
•Bilamon Amaron (islander and medic): “I saw her on the ship… There were two Americans, one lady and one man… We were told by the officer on the ship that the ship left Mili Island at four or five o’clock in the evening, and on their way to Jaluit, they saw the plane about five or six miles West of Mili Atoll. So, they stopped by and picked them up and continued their trip to Jaluit… The doctor examined them and there was nothing very serious, so he told me to go ahead and treat the man- just a little small cut on the front side of his face and on his knee… The ship picked up the plane. They put the boat on the ship and it had the airplane.”
•Oscar DeBrum (former First Secretary of the Marshall Islands): “I remember distinctly, when I used to go to school in Jaluit, Marshall Islands, when I was in first grade in approximately 1937, my father came home one day and informed us that an American lady pilot had been captured and that she was being taken to the Japanese office, and that people were not permitted to go close to her.”
•Tan Blas (islander): “[I] saw Amelia riding on a motorcycle with a blindfold and handcuffs on her hands, and two guards on the side of Amelia, and then they took her down to the place where they want to kill her, and they shot her right straight on the chest, and she fell back on her back to the grave.”
•Andrew Bryce (WWII Navy Veteran): “[the Navy] hired these Marshallese men to work on the base… I found out this one guy liked Coca-Cola so I told him where my tent was and I said, ‘Come over and I’ll give you a Coke.’… He told me he had worked for the Japanese as a deckhand on some cargo ships before the war… So one evening I said to him, ‘did you ever hear of Amelia Earhart?’ because I knew she had gone down somewhere in that area, and his eyes lit up and he said, ‘Yes, yes!’ and I said, ‘Did you ever see her?’, and he said, ‘No no. See plane.’ I said, ‘You saw her plane?’ he said, ‘Yes, yes’… He said that it came from Milli Atoll, and they brought it on a barge… And he said they were amazed at that plane because it was covered with metal. Their planes were covered with some kind of a treated fabric… So I said, ‘What did they do with it?’ and he said, ‘I helped load it on ship.’ I said, ‘You did? Where did they take it?’ He said, ‘They take it away.'”
•Douglas Bryce (WWII Air Force Veteran): “[my sergeant] said to me, ‘you know, Amelia Earhart’s plane is down on the strip.’ I said, ‘Amelia Earhart’s plane? Well, she went down at sea.’ He said, ‘No, that’s only part of the story.’… And so, as quick as I could, I went down to see… It was in a restricted area, I wasn’t allowed to go in there. But I saw it from a distance of probably the length of a block away, and as near as I could tell by looking at it, it looked like a picture of her plane. And there was no reason for it not to be; they all said it was, and there was only two or three of those planes ever made, and I know the Japanese didn’t have any of them, and the Armed Forces didn’t have any of them, so why was it there? Well, it was there because the Japanese brought it there from Milli Atoll down in the Marshalls.”
•Robert Wallack (USMC Saipan veteran): “We were in Garipan in the ruins of a Catholic church, and next door was a military building, and we saw a big safe in the rubble… I looked in and grabbed a briefcase and thought, ‘Whoa, it’s full of money. I’m gonna be a rich Marine’, but it wasn’t. It was just as good, or better. I grabbed it and ran off with it and opened it up, and lo and behold, it was Amelia Earhart’s papers off her airplane. Her briefcase she had on the airplane. I said, ‘there’s something wrong; these things are bone dry!’ They told us she crashed in the ocean off the Howland Islands. They would have been wet! They’re not wet, they’re dry! I could see passports and visas and everything else that was there… I could read everything… I remember the Marine Corps telling us, if you found anything of military value, you had to turn it in. If it wasn’t military value, you could get it after the war. Now, this wasn’t of military value, it was a civilian’s briefcase… I told an officer what I had, and he then proceeded to give me a receipt, and that was the last I ever saw of the briefcase I gave to the Navy officer on the beach of Saipan.'”
•Julious Nabers (USMC Saipan veteran, whose job was to decode messages): “…The message came over the radio, and I went and got it and decoded it, and it said that ‘we had found Amelia Earhart’s plane at Aslito Airfield.’ It said, ‘I need one more man for guard duty.’ It said, ‘we were guarding Amelia Earhart’s plane’ in this hangar out there… [The colonel] came over and said, ‘Tomorrow afternoon at 2 o’clock, we’re going to destroy Amelia Earhart’s airplane.’ They pulled it across the airfield, and they parked it. They crawled up on top of it and poured three or four cans of gasoline on top of it… it went up in a big smoke and fire, I mean, it was a humungous fire.”
• Thomas E. Devine (WWII Veteran): “The fire didn’t destroy the plane, it was metal, but it did destroy identification marks and so forth, which I believed they wanted to do. Why the government kept this from the public, I do not know. I saw her plane, I saw the person who was in charge of destroying the plane, I saw markings on a Japanese jail cell indicating her presence, I was shown a gravesite by a native island woman that contained the remains of a white woman and a white male who had ‘come from the sky.'”
In 1987, the Marshall Islands released a set of stamps to commemorate the many stories that native islanders had come forward with about witnessing two caucasian pilots, one male and one female, crash landing on one of the small islands.
According to many witnesses, including Manuel Muna and Thomas Devine, Amelia and Noonan were held in Garapan Prison. Muna stated that they were incarcerated in 1937, and executed in 1942 or 1943. Amelia was reportedly shot in the chest, and Noonan beheaded. Devine witnessed Amelia’s name scratched into a small door in her jail cell that was most likely used to give her food. This door is now in the possession of a woman named Deanna Mick.
In 1968, and excavation was made on Saipan in what was believed to be Amelia’s grave. They found 189 bone fragments that were sent to an Ohio State University anthropologist, Dr. Raymond S. Baby, who determined they came from a caucasian woman who was approximately 40 at the time of death (Amelia was 39). This was before DNA testing was available, and unfortunately, the bones have since then mysteriously disappeared.
Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt were good friends. It has been suggested by some that FDR may have asked Amelia to spy on the Japanese while making her flight, and that perhaps that is why she was kidnapped and executed. Years ago, a military airplane mechanic came forward and claimed that he had put two of the most sophisticated spy cameras in the belly of her plane, and he restated this claim many times in several different interviews.
In 1943, this theory was adapted into a film. Interestingly enough, the film was produced by RKO, whose CEO was Floyd Odlum. His wife, Jacqueline Cochran, was a friend of Amelia’s, and a fellow pilot. It is also rumored that Amelia’s husband, George Putnam, was a writer for this film, but that has never been confirmed.
In addition to the now famous photo, Les Kinney discovered a record in the National Archives stating that, at one point, a 170 page file on Amelia Earhart’s was submitted by the Office of Naval Intelligence, and that it included a report from January 7, 1939 with information that “Earhart was a prisoner in the Marshall Islands”. When Les then searched for the file itself, it was no longer in the National Archives. It would seem that someone has done everything in their power to make sure that this information is not found. One reason may be due to the fact that if the world was informed that Amelia and Noonan were being held captive, it would have revealed to the Japanese that the US had managed to intercept their communications and crack their code.
So, what’s your opinion?
Do you think the theory holds up? Is there another theory that you find more convincing? Let me know in the comments! I would like to re-state that none of the information here is my own, and if you would like to know more, check out Earhart On Saipan, Amelia’s Electra, and Amelia Earhart: The Truth At Last.