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A New Theory on Amelia Earhart : 50 Years After Disappearance, Experts Puzzle Over Flyer's Fate

June 28, 1987|PAUL DEAN | Times Staff Writer

A half-century after the landing or splashdown, more than two dozen books beyond the death or survival of the principals, maybe a million questions, theories, reports, rumors, investigations, lies and honest mistakes later . . . there is a fresh shred of evidence concerning the disappearance of record-forging aviator Amelia Earhart.

A veteran State Department employee says she has a copy of an unpublicized government telegram indicating that the famed flier was a prisoner of the Japanese until the end of World War II.

Patricia Morton, 52, a deputy examiner of foreign service applicants for the State Department in Washington and an Earhart hobbyist, said she found the telegram and related correspondence three years ago in an obscure National Archives file on World War II American POWs in Asia.

It implies that Earhart, who disappeared over the South Pacific on July 2, 1937, while attempting to be the first woman to fly around the world, was interned by the Japanese at Weihsien, China, at least until Aug. 24, 1945.

Telegram to Washington

That was the date (10 days after the Japanese surrender) on a telegram dispatched to Washington for domestic delivery by U.S. Naval radio. It was routed from Weihsien through the U.S. Embassy in Chunking and read: "CAMP LIBERATED ALL WELL VOLUMES TO TELL LOVE TO MOTHER."

It was unsigned and made no mention of Amelia Earhart.

But it was addressed to the late George P. Putnam, Earhart's husband, at 10042 Valley Spring Lane, North Hollywood.

That address, in the Toluca Lake district near the Lakeside Country Club, was listed as the couple's home when Putnam filed his wife's will in December, 1938.

Fred Goerner, 62, a San Francisco broadcaster and 1966 author of "The Search for Amelia Earhart," confirmed that he also has a copy of the telegram. He obtained it, he said, when World War II State Department records were declassified in 1975. To his knowledge, only he and Morton among dozens of serious Earhart researchers have seen the telegram.

And according to Goerner and Morton, two weeks after the State Department's Special War Problems Division dispatched the telegram, a reply was received from Putnam.

"I have just received the message sent recently from your office and would like to file with you my new address in the event any other messages are sent me from overseas."

It was signed George Palmer Putnam, Shangri-Putnam, Lone Pine, Calif.

Morton, who has a top secret security clearance but who has been working on the Earhart disappearance as a mild hobby, has taken the telegram no further. "But I'm talking with the State Department in hopes of doing some serious research," she said. "On my own time, but with their records. It (the telegram) is only a thread, not a whole fabric. But it gives us an indication that maybe the whole story hasn't been told . . . and hope that if we keep searching, we will carry it through."

Goerner, who has been researching the Earhart mystery for 27 years, says he has checked every available military record for Weihsien, spoken with OSS personnel who liberated the camp and checked with survivors of Putnam, who died in 1951, but has been unable to build on the lead.

"It (the telegram) is intriguing, it's fascinating, but it doesn't prove doodly," he said last week. "I personally don't believe it was sent by Amelia, but I don't know who did send it. I believe she died or was executed on the island of Saipan."

Is the telegram an authentic message from Earhart? Or a hoax? It certainly raises more questions that it settles. If Earhart was repatriated, why was it done in secret? Does Amelia Earhart live? Is the telegram some government red herring? Could it have been from a close male friend or some military relative of Putnam?

And that's the true complexion of the Earhart issue on this eve of the 50th anniversary of her disappearance.

Confusion and contradiction.

The only truth is that the search hasn't paused since the enigma began.

In 1937, the initial search was a full hunt by the U.S. Navy that covered more than 260,000 square miles and consumed most of July. It found no trace, not one stick or slick of the Burbank-built, twin-engined Lockheed Electra of pilot Earhart, 39, and her navigator, Fred Noonan, 44.

Official verdict: The round-the-world flight of Earhart and Noonan ended when the couple ran out of fuel, crashed and were lost at sea.

Official denial: Since scuttlebutt first surfaced as early as 1938, every Washington administration from Roosevelt to Reagan has consistently rejected suggestions that Earhart (already a household heroine) and Noonan (a Navy Reserve commander and former navigator for Pan American) were using the record attempt as a cover to overfly a suspected Japanese military buildup in the South Pacific. Nor were they captured, imprisoned or executed by the Japanese.

Army of Private Researchers

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