Myths, urban legends and unsupported claims

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Amelia EarhartThe unresolved circumstances of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, along with her fame, attracted a great body of other claims relating to her last flight, all of which have been generally dismissed by serious researchers and historians for lack of any evidence. Several of the conspiracy theories have become well-known in popular culture.

Capture by the Japanese

Spies for FDR

Some authors have claimed Earhart was captured in the South Pacific Mandate area by the Japanese. An archaeological dig on Tinian in 2004 failed to turn up any bones at a location rumored since the close of World War II to be the two aviators’ grave. Purported photographs of Earhart during her captivity have been identified as having been taken before her final flight. Amy (Otis) Earhart first heard similar rumors days after Amelia’s disappearance. A World War II-era movie called Flight for Freedom, starring Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray has helped further the popular myth that Earhart was spying on the Japanese in the Pacific at the request of the Franklin Roosevelt administration By 1949, both the United Press and US Army Intelligence had concluded these rumors were groundless. Some researchers have noted the possibility that for wartime propaganda purposes, the US government may have tacitly encouraged (or was indifferent to) false rumors that Earhart had been captured by the Japanese.

Tokyo Rose rumor

Another rumor claimed Earhart had been forced to make propaganda radio broadcasts as one of the many women known as Tokyo Rose. According to several biographies of Earhart, George Putnam investigated this rumor personally but after listening to recordings of numerous Tokyo Roses he was unable to recognize her voice among them. Jackie Cochran (herself a pioneer woman aviator and one of Earhart’s best friends) made a postwar search of files in Japan and similarly dismissed the theory of Japanese involvement in the Earhart disappearance.

Saipan prison claims

In 1966, CBS Correspondent Fred Goerner wrote a book claiming Earhart and Noonan were captured and executed when their airplane crashed in the Saipan archipelago while it was under Japanese occupation. Thomas E. Devine (who served in a postal Army unit) wrote Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident which includes a letter from the daughter of a Japanese police official who claimed her father was responsible for Earhart’s execution. Former U.S. Marine Robert Wallack claimed he and other soldiers opened a safe on Saipan and found Earhart’s briefcase. Former US Marine Earskin J. Nabers claimed that while serving as a wire operator on Saipan in 1944, he decoded a message from naval officials which said Earhart’s plane had been found at Aslito AirField, that he was later ordered to guard the plane and witnessed its destruction. No support for any of these claims has ever emerged among historians.

Assuming another identity

In November 2006, the National Geographic Channel aired episode two of the Undiscovered History series about a claim that Earhart survived the world flight, moved to New Jersey, changed her name, remarried and became Irene Craigmile Bolam. This claim had originally been raised in the book “Amelia Earhart Lives” (1970) by Joe Klaas. Irene Bolam had been a banker in New York during the 1940s, denied being Earhart, filed a lawsuit requesting $1.5 million in damages and submitted a lengthy affadavit in which she refuted the claims. The book’s publisher, McGraw-Hill, withdrew the book from the market shortly after it was released and court records indicate that they made an out-of-court settlement with her. Subsequently, Bolam’s personal life history was thoroughly documented by researchers, eliminating any possibility she was Earhart. Kevin Richland, a professional criminal forensic expert hired by National Geographic, studied photographs of both women and cited many measurable facial differences between Earhart and Bolam.