Amelia Earhart's Survival and Repatriation: Myth or Reality?
The mystery of Amelia Earhart has fascinated and persisted since the morning of July 2, 1937, when the world’s most famous aviatrix and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared without a trace near Howland Island, in the central Pacific. Various and complex theories about this mystery have been proposed, from serious and reasonable scenarios to the most bizarre flights of fancy. More than once, the grand affirmation, “The mystery is solved!” has been heard, only to fade into silence in the wake of competing ideas and evidence. To this day, no definitive “smoking gun” evidence has been uncovered or released, thus no universal agreement exists as to the true fate of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
One of the most controversial hypotheses about Earhart’s disappearance is the so-called “survival theory.” This theory posits that Earhart survived World War II in Japanese custody, and was then somehow “repatriated” back to the United States in 1945. Speculation circulating during the postwar years led some researchers to lend some credence to this idea. Was it really so? How credible were these stories and speculations?
The goal of this paper is to explore and analyze this intriguing theory, and to propose some conclusions based on facts, logic and common sense. The “Japanese capture” theory is a popular one in the Amelia Earhart Society (AES) – the small, disparate collection of dedicated enthusiasts who have worked for several decades studying this and other proposed solutions to this historical problem.
This paper was developed as a result of collaboration and cooperation with several dedicated Earhart researchers. I am especially grateful to Ron Bright and Patrick Gaston, longtime Earhart researchers, whose kind cooperation and consultations were truly priceless. I am also grateful to Louise Foudray, the caretaker of the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas, as well as Earhart author Donald Wilson and former AES president Bill Prymak. I’d also like to extend special thanks to Mike Campbell, longtime Earhart researcher and author, who generously offered his time and hands-on support to make this project possible. Finally, I want to extend a very special note of gratitude to Ms. Michele Cervone, a longtime Earhart historian and enthusiast, who generously arranged an extensive “research trip” for both of us in 2004, during which I was lucky to collect significant new information that sheds light on the Amelia Earhart-as- Irene Bolam hypothesis. Without the cooperation and generous help of my American friends and colleagues, this work would not have been possible.
The Japanese Capture Theory
The idea that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were captured by the Japanese shortly after they went missing in their Lockheed Electra 10E on July 2, 1937 was first introduced, albeit briefly, to the public in 1960 when the book, Daughter of the Sky, by Paul Briand Jr., was published. CBS newsman Fred Goerner, whose interest was ignited by the eyewitness account of Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama in Briand’s book, traveled to Saipan four times, interviewed more than a dozen native eyewitnesses, challenged the U.S. government’s official version of events and wrote The Search for Amelia Earhart, a best seller published in 1966. Goerner’s book remains the seminal work of the Earhart genre, a classic that is still highly regarded by Earhart researchers.
According to the theory, after being unable to locate Howland Island, Earhart made a forced landing somewhere in or near the Marshall Islands, in the central Pacific, which were controlled by the Japanese. The “rescued” American aviators soon became the captured ones, since the Japanese kept the pair in top-secret confinement. Due to a variety of military and political motivations, not least of which was their massive military buildup of these islands in the years prior to the war, the Japanese were loathe to admit – and remain so – to the United States that they had Earhart and Noonan in custody, much less release them.
Considerable evidence indicates that Earhart and Noonan were held as Japanese prisoners on Saipan, in the northern Marianas, can be found in Amelia Earhart: Lost Legend by Donald M. Wilson (1993); and With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart by Mike Campbell with Thomas E. Devine (2002); as well as several earlier works, The Search For Amelia Earhart (1966) by Fred Goerner foremost among them. According to claims of the witnesses, Earhart and Noonan died in Japanese hands, probably executed, and their bodies were secretly buried before the U.S. assault there in 1944. Such possible actions by the Japanese military on prewar Saipan are logical and understandable, when considered from their point of view.
Whether Earhart and Noonan had actually been embarked on a covert reconnaissance mission at the behest of the U.S. government – thus enlisted as spies – as many have speculated, the Japanese had little choice but to have considered the two as such. And after their repeated denials of any discovery or involvement with Earhart during and after the international search for the aviators following their disappearance, it would be unthinkable for the Japanese to reverse their position and lose “face” in a world they were seeking to subjugate by use of military force soon thereafter. However, some still believe that Earhart did indeed survive and returned to the United States. The focal point of researchers who support and promote this survival theory was a New Jersey housewife named Irene Craigmile Bolam, who died in 1982.
Genesis of the Earhart-as-Bolam Theory
The idea that Amelia Earhart survived and returned secretly to the United States after World War II was launched four decades ago. In August 1965, former Air Force Major Joe Gervais, an avid and respected Earhart researcher, met Irene Bolam during a meeting of the Long Island (N.Y.) Early Fliers Club at the Sea Spray Inn, East Hampton, Long Island. Former aviatrix Viola Gentry, herself a well-known charter member of the original women’s aviators group, the Ninety-Nines (as was Earhart herself), introduced Gervais to Mrs. Irene Craigmile Bolam, who was attending the meeting with her husband, Guy Bolam. During her introduction, Gentry told Gervais, “Doesn’t she look like Amelia?” but later she obviously regretted this casual remark and always emphatically denied any connection existed between Earhart and Bolam. “I only did it as a joke!” she said more than once.
As Gervais would later explain to friends and associates, from the first moment he saw Irene Bolam, he was stricken by the idea that Mrs. Bolam greatly resembled Amelia Earhart, or, at least, the way he believed Earhart would appear after having gone missing for almost 30 years, and who would have been sixty-eight years old in 1965. Even more significant to Gervais than the (apparent to him) physical similarities between Mrs. Bolam and Earhart, however, were the (alleged) Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon and miniature major’s oak leaf that Mrs. Bolam wore that day. According to Gervais, these awards had been presented to Amelia Earhart during her career. From that day forward, Gervais focused his research efforts on establishing the links that would prove his contention – that Irene Bolam and Amelia Earhart were one and the same person.
As a result of his encounter with Irene Bolam, Gervais believed that Earhart had not been held by the Japanese on Saipan until her death there, but had been moved to some secret holding place in Japan or China. Although details vary and no unanimous agreement exists among the theory’s various proponents, Gervais (who died in 2005) and others believe Earhart was held by the Japanese in their civilian internment camp in Weishien, China – exhausted and sick – until the liberation of the camp by Allied forces in 1945.
The origin of this bizarre idea was the 1987 discovery of an unsigned 1945 telegram, or “speed letter,” among prisoner-of-war files held by the U.S. State Department, which was sent from Weishien to George P. Putnam, Earhart’s husband. The telegram reads, “Camp liberated – all well – volumes to tell – love to mother.” This mysterious missive immediately caused a sensation among some Earhart researchers, but since then it has been conclusively established that the “Weishien Telegram” did not originate from Amelia Earhart, but was sent to Putnam by Ahmad Kamal, a writer and international traveler, whose aging mother Putnam had been looking after during his internment at Weishien.
Undeterred, Gervais continued to believe that Earhart was “discovered” at Weishien and secretly returned by our government to the United States. Soon after her clandestine arrival, she allegedly assumed a new identity in a manner similar to those enrolled in the “witness protection” program, and became Irene Craigmile, later Irene Craigmile Bolam. Why Amelia Earhart would want to assume another identity and begin a new life completely detached from her beloved mother, sister, family and many friends is, of course, one of many obvious questions this theory has elicited from its critics. The answer to this question, as well as many others that present logical obstacles to the acceptability of the Irene Bolam hypothesis, has never been expressed in a manner coherent enough to convince any but its few proponents, whose motivations are themselves sufficiently tenuous as to arouse well-founded suspicions.
Proponents of the Irene Bolam theory have claimed, from the beginning, that the principal motivation for our government to undertake such a complex and difficult operation as the transformation of the identity of Amelia Earhart into that of Irene Bolam was embarrassment. This embarrassment had its origins in several sensitive areas of national concern. To publicly acknowledge that Earhart had been captured by Japanese military forces in 1937, taken into custody and moved to a secure place of confinement – either with or without the knowledge of President Franklin D. Roosevelt – would have enormous political implications. Had Roosevelt known and abandoned Earhart because of lack political will or military expediency, he would be forever stigmatized as the most cowardly of U.S. presidents. Alternatively, if Roosevelt’s military and intelligence organizations had not been aware of Earhart’s captivity in Japanese hands until 1945, he would most certainly bear the brand of total incompetence for time immemorial. Since one of these two scenarios likely did exist after Earhart’s disappearance and continue to this day officially unremarked upon, this argument – although not original to the Irene Bolam allegations – advanced by the theory’s proponents to justify the U.S. government’s clandestine operation to repatriate Earhart under an assumed identity, is quite reasonable in itself.
Another consideration co-opted by Bolam proponents, although far more speculative that those just discussed, is that the US government would certainly be reluctant to admit that (if) in 1937 (long before Pearl Harbor) American intelligence had been involved in some covert activity against the Japanese in the Pacific and used national icon and world celebrity Earhart in a secret operation not approved by the U.S. Congress – an operation in which Earhart had been unwittingly lost. Additionally, there would be the necessary disclosure of information about Earhart’s difficult years in Japanese hands, where she suffered mistreatment and humiliation. This would have had a highly detrimental effect on the newly established U.S.-Japanese relationship in the unstable and delicate postwar years.
An additional motivation for the Earhart-to-Bolam transformation alleged by Bolam theorists could be found in Amelia Earhart herself. According to their theory, Earhart’s own (alleged) reluctance about becoming the focus of an unprecedented publicity blitz was in itself enough to compel her complicity in the scheme to change identity. She had (allegedly) been very exhausted and sick after eight terrible years of Japanese imprisonment, her spirit broken by torments. By that time she desired only complete anonymity and a quiet private life away from any public attention, according to the theory’s proponents. These proposed reasons for such a change of identity – more or less reasonable on their face – were never confirmed by any substantiated facts, and remain to this day nothing more than pure speculation and fantasy.
This intriguing theory was publicly presented for the first time in 1970 in Amelia Earhart Lives (McGraw-Hill), by Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais. The book was a sensation, but it didn’t please its heroine, Irene Craigmile Bolam. A private person who valued her autonomy, she was irritated by this intrusion into her life and outraged by the media’s avid curiosity and numerous speculations about her. Besieged by the media, she furiously denied the book’s thesis, loudly declaiming before the cameras and microphones, “I am not a mysterious woman, I am not Amelia Earhart – this is nonsense!” Irene’s determined refutation, plus the absence of any real proof, in combination with many factual errors and logical contradictions, discredited the idea to an extent that few observers in the media put any credence in it. However, the theory had been born, and it has been nearly impossible to completely eradicate this pernicious idea, which has so fascinated and beguiled its enthusiasts and devotees.
New book resurrects Earhart-as-Bolam theory
The Earhart-as-Bolam theory was re-introduced in 2003, when Amelia Earhart Survived, by Colonel Rollin Reineck, was published by a Southern California publisher. Colonel Reineck based much of his case on the claims of Monsignor James F. Kelley, a former president of Seton Hall University and well-known Catholic priest. According to two witnesses, in 1981 Kelley told them about his role in helping “return” Amelia Earhart to the United States in the months following the Japanese surrender in 1945.
To bolster his claim, Reineck displayed amateur photo-overlays prepared by Tod Swindell, a Hollywood producer, who was also convinced that Earhart had returned to the United States after the war. According to Swindell and Reineck, these overlays of Amelia were “congruent” with Irene Bolam’s features. This “photo-overlay comparison” is the primary basis for the resurrection of this discredited theory among its enthusiasts in recent years. A review of the theory’s major claims, and the “evidence” produced to support them, seems appropriate at this time.
As informed readers probably remember, the theory was born in August 1965, when Major Joe Gervais claimed that he “recognized” Amelia Earhart in New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam during his very first meeting with her at the Sea Spray Inn, in Long Island, N.Y. But can Gervais’ claim of “instantly recognizing” Amelia Earhart in the person of someone named Irene Bolam be accepted as credible?
Generally, it seems obvious that it is possible to “recognize” – more or less immediately – a person whom one has known well. If the time passed since the last meeting with an individual was significant (let’s say, 10 to 15 years or more), the chances to “recognize” that person become less, but still exist. Even if the person’s appearance has changed, such things as mannerisms and other characteristic behavior and habits, gestures and voice, usually remain fairly constant. Major Gervais was a dedicated and enthusiastic Earhart researcher, and the claim has recently been made that he met Earhart when he was a teenager in the 1930s, and obviously he saw many photos and newsreels. However, it remains a reasonable question to ask how Gervais could so quickly recognize Earhart in Irene Bolam under such conditions.
What logic tells us
It is worth mentioning that no hard evidence exists to support an Earhart survival theory. Specifically, no evidence has been found that supports the idea that Earhart ever left Saipan – either documented or anecdotal – although much eyewitness and hearsay evidence indicates her presence there after her disappearance in July 1937. Indeed, Earhart’s presence on Saipan, although strongly supported by many sources, remains a major area of contention among leading Earhart theorists.
No credible evidence exists that indicates Earhart’s presence in Japan. A few postwar rumors – anecdotal accounts about some alleged recollections – constitute double or triple hearsay that started to circulate after the Japanese capture version became popular. These accounts are bizarre, foggy, controversial and contradictory to many firmly established historic facts. For example, there was a story about somebody who apparently saw Earhart in Tokyo during the war. There was even a legend about her living in the Japanese Emperor’s Palace in Tokyo, as Hirohito’s mistress during the wartime years – an absurd myth without credibility.
This scenario suggests that Earhart, a well-known American patriot, would willingly betray her country in an extremely vicious way. It would have been unthinkable for the Japanese to permit a captured person, especially a world-famous one, to have any contact with the outside world. This would have been especially true for Earhart, whose presence in Japan could only have been a highly guarded secret known by a very few people in the Japanese government and military establishment. This would have been particularly true about such places as the Imperial Palace, a government building populated and visited daily by hundreds of people. Many detailed descriptions of life and events there in the prewar and wartime period were written. But nothing about Earhart was ever hinted at by any Japanese sources.
Some advocates of the Earhart-as-Bolam theory went so far as to accept as serious one of the most bizarre wartime rumors of all – that Amelia Earhart was Tokyo Rose. In reality, no one by that name actually existed; the several women radio broadcasters employed to spread Japanese propaganda and harass American servicemen throughout the Pacific theater were all simply dubbed Tokyo Rose by their captive audience. After an extensive postwar investigation of the key participants in the Japanese radio propaganda project, an open trial of one unfortunate Japanese-American woman, Iva Toguri, followed, which was covered with great interest by U.S. and international media. More than 7,000 documents were produced during the investigation and trial, and no connection with Amelia Earhart was ever found.
George Putnam, Amelia’s husband, puzzled and curious about this bizarre rumor, listened to one of the Tokyo Rose broadcasts when he was serving in China while assigned to the U.S. Army Air Corps. Putnam was certain the voice was not that of his wife. Supporters of this myth were not put off or embarrassed by the fact that using Amelia’s voice anonymously would be of no value to the Japanese propaganda machine, if indeed they could have somehow forced or persuaded Amelia to play this role, which was extremely unlikely considering Earhart’s well-known patriotic character. Even the father of the Earhart-as-Bolam theory, Joe Gervais, admitted this idea – that the Japanese would use Earhart anonymously as one of their “Tokyo Roses” – was completely without merit. “The whole propaganda value would have been in who she was,” Gervais said. “There would be no point at all in Amelia Earhart broadcasting Japanese propaganda under the name of ‘Tokyo Rose.’”
The Bolam theorists claim the mysterious woman, Irene Craigmile Bolam, lived a life in the postwar decades that could be considered “semi-public.” Although she protected her privacy in various ways, Irene Bolam nevertheless attended many official and semi-official events, such as meetings of the early fliers, anniversaries and official celebrations. Mrs. Bolam was a member of well-known women’s organizations such as Zonta and the Ninety-Nines, and was also remembered by many who knew her as a friend of many publicly known persons.
All this is in obvious contradiction with the theory of a government conspiracy to “repatriate” Amelia Earhart as Irene Bolam. The “transformation” of Amelia Earhart’s identity into that of Irene Bolam would necessarily have to be an extremely secret matter. It would be highly illogical both for Earhart and the government to allow this conspiracy to be jeopardized by living such a visible lifestyle, visiting old friends who knew Earhart, attending aviation-related events, speaking publicly and traveling extensively.
Additionally, since the early ’80s (Irene Bolam died in 1982), extensive research shows that her life before 1945 was, in fact, not so mysterious. These biographical facts about her will be presented below.
Irene Bolam’s “medals”
According to Joe Gervais, among the key indicators in his “identification” of Irene Bolam as Amelia Earhart were the medals that Irene wore during their meeting at the Sea Spray Inn in August 1965. This is how Joe Klaas, Gervais’ close friend and collaborator, described the event in his book, Amelia Earhart Lives:
"Suspended on a chain around her neck was a silver medallion and pinned to her dress front near where the silver medal hung were a miniature major’s oak-leaf insignia and an enameled miniature metal replica of the red-white-and-blue ribbon which can only be officially worn by those who have been awarded the American Distinguished Flying Cross."
This situation looks somewhat illogical, as it contradicts any common-sense ideas about the change-of-identity issue that is the foundation of this theory. Why would the “former Earhart,” who supposedly “became” Irene Bolam because she wanted anonymity and a quiet private life, appear at a professional aviation meeting where the pilots, reporters and others should have known her at once as Amelia Earhart, wearing medals that would further solidify a positive identification of the famed aviatrix?
Joe Gervais’ evidence – his photo of Mrs. Bolam wearing the DFC ribbon – was presented in Amelia Earhart Lives, and it certainly raises some questions. The quality of the photo, although not very good, does clearly show the “replica of the red-white-and-blue ribbon.” At this point, it can be illustrative to turn to Earhart researcher Patrick Gaston and his analysis of the photo displayed in the Klaas-Gervais book:
"Now here is the Sea Spray Inn photo. At right is a blowup of the area where Irene’s neckline comes together. She is wearing two insignia of some type. These must be the items Gervais identified as the DFC ribbon and miniature major’s oak leaf, as she is wearing no other jewelry except for the “round medallion” also noted by Gervais. It is evident from the blowup that the ribbon worn by IB consists of three color bands of equal width – red, white, blue. The arrangement of bars and colors looks nothing like the DFC ribbon.
As for the “oak leaf,” while the details are not visible, the shape is wrong. A major’s oak leaf should show eight “points” (seven leaves plus the stem), while the medal worn by IB seems to have only five points, like a star or perhaps a pentagon enclosing a star. Whichever way you turn the photo, the “leaves” at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock are missing, along with the “stem.”
Thus Maj. Gervais was almost certainly wrong about the DFC, and probably wrong about the oak leaf – two of the three pieces of jewelry that were integral to his initial identification of IB as AE. As for the medallion hanging from IB’s neck, I can’t make out any details other than the fact that it’s round and is suspended on a plain black cloth strap, which would be consistent with some type of decoration rather than mere jewelry. However, Gervais never described what was on the face of the medallion; he noted only that it was the “same size and shape” as the one presented earlier that day to Thelma. Well, after all, most medallions are round and between 1.5 and 2.5 inches in diameter. It could be most anything.
The bigger question, never addressed by Klaas, Gervais, Reineck or (Tod) Swindell, is WHY Amelia Earhart – who is so determined to live out her days incognito – would continue to associate with her old aviation pals AND wear one-of-a kind decorations which could ONLY have been worn by Earhart. Seems a pretty sloppy way of safeguarding IB’s “secret identity,” which the government has spent millions to establish.
Another curious thing about the Sea Spray Inn photo is how Guy Bolam towers over Irene, even though he was standing behind her. Since Irene is closer to the camera, a moderate to wide-angle lens – the kind that comes standard on most cameras – will make her look taller vis-à-vis Guy than she really was. (The precise degree can’t be calculated since we would need to know the exact focal length of the lens, the subject-to-camera distance and the Irene-to-Guy distance.) Since this was a dressy occasion, it’s reasonable to speculate that Irene was wearing some sort of heels. Let’s be conservative and say 1-inch heels, which again would make her appear taller vis-à-vis Guy than she really was.
Yet despite the fact that Irene is standing in front of Guy and probably wearing heels, Guy still appears 5 to 6 inches taller in the photo. If they were standing side-by-side in their stocking feet, my guess is that he would be 7 to 8 inches taller than Irene. So if the woman in this photo is 5’8”, as Rollin [Reineck] contends, then by my estimate that would put Guy at 6’3” to 6’4”. I hasten to add this ain’t science, but an educated guess based upon my years as a newspaper photographer and editor. On the other hand, if Bolam was actually 5’5” – consistent with the height she reported all her life – that would make Guy 6’ or 6’1”. This is consistent with how the AES Bolams remember him.
And of course there is the basic difference in body types. In this photo Irene is verging on plumpness and has pendulous breasts. AE was rail-thin and flat-chested. I think it’s pretty common knowledge that people who are skinny into their 40s generally remain skinny the rest of their lives (look at AE’s mom and sister, for example). In addition, according to the National Institutes of Health, after age 70 people don’t put on body fat; they lose it. Earhart would have been 68 when this photo was taken in 1965.
Accordingly, if the woman in this photo is Amelia Earhart, then she has clearly put on 30 to 40 pounds since her flying days – contrary to her lean-and-lanky body type and, evidently, her heredity. She has grown breasts and is married to a guy well over six feet tall. If I am wrong about all this, then it’s still inconceivable (again IMHO) that AE’s church/government handlers would allow her to wear her unique decorations in public, especially at a gathering of old flyers who knew Earhart well. Hell, why not just wear a name tag reading, “Call Me Millie?” PDG"
No evidence exists in the numerous biographies or available records that Earhart ever received an honorary miniature major’s oak leaf insignia. Amelia was never an active duty U.S. Army Air Corps officer, but was an “Honorary Major.” She had been given this honorary rank, with little wings (she wore them often) and a scroll, in 1928, at Cressey Field, Calif., but not the oak-leaf insignia. The aforementioned “silver medallion” is not especially distinguishable, either. It could be just a piece of jewelry, and there is no reason to suspect that it could or should be some medallion representing something connected with her life or flying career. Thus, the “amazing coincidences” disintegrate before the discerning, informed eye: None of the “medals” worn by Mrs. Bolam were anything but costume jewelry.
The most reasonable explanation of this strange confusion was Gervais’ well-known obsession with the Earhart disappearance. Gervais knew that Earhart was awarded the DFC, and he remembered that she had been given an honorary majors rank. From that point, Gervais made a huge leap of faith, and thus a myth was born.
Mrs. Bolam denies medals story
The News Tribune of Woodbridge, N.J., ran a series of articles that examined many aspects of the Earhart-as-Bolam scenario. The following excerpts are taken from its Oct. 28, 1982, edition:
• Irene Bolam herself dashed claims that she wore medals earned by Amelia Earhart – medals some have said she was the fabled aviatrix.
• “I was never entitled to, nor do I own, the decorations,” she wrote. One of the “medals” she was wearing in a photograph snapped by the author of the book (i.e., Mr. Joe Gervais) was a “thank you” medal presented by Viola Gentry and Feliciti Burnelli to Mrs. Bolam when she was active in the Zonta Club of New Rochelle, she said. The other she described as a black enamel diamond brooch given her by her third husband, Guy Bolam. “I don’t know what is just below it. It may have been a guard. Maybe it was a piece of cake – she said in a deposition in connection with her suit against the book “Amelia Earhart Lives.” She also described a locket that she was wearing on the same occasion. “It’s got French wording on it: “I love you more today then yesterday, but less than tomorrow,” and it’s got a little diamond on it.”
• “I also did not claim to have flown with Amelia Earhart. I flew in the same period of time in which she was actively flying,” Mrs. Bolam wrote as she prepared for the litigation. She said she first meet Miss Earhart in 1931 or 1932 at a tea given in her honor by Zonta International in New York City. Mrs. Bolam said she attended as the guest of her aunt, the lawyer Irene Rutherford O’Crowley.
• She said she first encountered Miss Earhart in the receiving line at the event and later that evening socialized with her. Mrs. Bolam indicated she later again met Miss Earhart at the Bendix Air Races in Cleveland which she attended and in which Amelia competed. (A claim that was confirmed by a scrapbook with signatures of both Amelia and Irene, presented on E-bay and found by Earhart historian Michele Cervone, moderator of the Amelia Earhart Society online forum).
What does the photographic evidence tells us?
Ron Bright and Patrick Gaston filed the following report to the Amelia Earhart Society circa April 2005 on their findings regarding the alleged height similarity between Earhart and Bolam: In interviews with Adrian McBride and Marilyn Hession Munson (the daughter of Gertrude Hession, Kelley’s sister), both longtime friends of Irene Bolam, we asked if they had photos of Irene Bolam and Gertrude Hession together so that we would have a known “standard” of height. Marilyn said her mother, Gertrude, was about 5’3” to 5’4”. In addition to Marilyn’s estimate, we found Gertrude’s Delaware Drivers license, which lists her height at 5’3”.
Marilyn produced several photos of her mother Gertrude, age 67, and Irene Bolam, 72 (Amelia would have been 79 at this time), and herself taken on their 1976 trip to Europe. (Some are similar to the photo of Irene and Gertrude as seen on page 162 of “Amelia Earhart Survived.”) It was on this trip that Marilyn took many photos of the two woman side-by-side, standing on the same flat surface, shoulder-to-shoulder, same posture, same distance from the camera. A comparison of the heights of Irene Bolam and Gertrude in those photos indicates that Irene and Gertrude were similar, with Bolam possibly a quarter-inch taller, but apparently no taller than 5’4”. In one color photo, Irene Bolam and Gertrude Hession were standing side by side on a street with their legs visible from the knees down. Irene’s legs were thin, skinny right down to the ankles, and her ankles were small. When compared with Earhart’s legs and ankles, which were much thicker, the difference is easily discerned.
Therefore if Gervais was right about Irene Bolam in 1965 as standing 5’7” or 5’8”, and a photo comparison with the same Irene Bolam 11 years later shows her to be the same height as Gertrude Hession at 5’4”, Earhart, who was known to be about 5’8”, would have had to lose almost 4 inches in height over 10 years in order to have “replaced” Irene Bolam in a convincing manner, as is claimed by proponents of the theory.
Although we haven’t found any signs of osteoporosis or other pathology to account for this shrinkage, it is highly unlikely. Irene Bolam’s 1978 driver’s license lists her height as 5’5”. We welcome comments about the methodology or conclusions.
Monsignor James F. Kelley’s strange statements
Some statements used to support the Earhart-as-Bolam theory appear to be doubtful upon close examination. Following publication of Amelia Earhart Survived, it has been shown that the evidence attributed to Monsignor James F. Kelley, who, according to the theory, helped Earhart return to the United States after her “liberation” from Japan, is extremely questionable. According to Kelley, after being transported back to the United States, the liberated Earhart spent some time with the monsignor for her mental and emotional recovery, and it was then that she informed Kelley of her desire to “lose” her identity as Amelia Earhart, although her motivations for concocting this extremely uncharacteristic and radical plan to abandon all those she loved and the principles she had stood for were never explained by Kelley. Certainly some details of Amelia’s liberation and repatriation as reported by Kelley are extremely bizarre, such as Kelley’s claim that he shaved Earhart’s head in search of some “secret Japanese implants.”
Kelley’s extensive memoirs contain no mention of Amelia Earhart. According to Kelley, as presented by Rollin Reineck in Amelia Earhart Survived, the alleged “repatriation” of Amelia Earhart from Japan was a top-secret government operation, with Kelley as a “key player.” A Mrs. Helen Barber, who had been a neighbor of Kelley’s on the island of St. Croix, informed Reineck that Kelley told her in 1981 that he had been assigned “by the Vatican” (apparently in cooperation with the U.S. government) to go to Japan and bring Earhart back to the United States after the war. Another neighbor of Kelley’s on St. Croix, Mr. Donald DeKoster, corroborated Mrs. Barber’s story, and added that Kelley had spoken about this matter with him on several other occasions, as well.
It is reasonable to ask why Kelley didn’t share his information with anyone of any real consequence in legitimate Earhart research, such as Fred Goerner, Paul Briand Jr., Joe Klaas or Major Joe Gervais? If Kelley really wanted to “tell the whole story,” why didn’t he release it in a book that would have been a certain blockbuster? He could, by the way, have donated all the profits he received to his beloved Seton Hall – an action very generous both in its historical and material aspects. Finally, returning to the first question, why did Kelley omit any mention of it in his memoirs?
Recently conducted research has conclusively proven that in his older years Kelley had a tendency to exaggerate certain of his self-proclaimed “experiences.” Ron Bright and Patrick Gaston, who co-founded The Electra Group in 2002, collaborated on an unpublished manuscript, “The Monsignor James F. Kelley Evidence” (Bremerton, 2004), that convincingly demonstrated Kelley’s unreliability.
For example, Kelley claimed that he contacted the convicted Bruno Hauptman on death row in his final hours, and visited him at least three times before his execution. However, Hauptman’s final hours have been exhaustively researched and documented, and nowhere is there a hint that Kelley visited him. According to another Kelley story, during World War II he contacted the actor Clark Gable. Kelley claimed Gable was a pilot and personally tested an ejection seat over Newark Bay with Kelley present. However, the wartime service of Clark Gable is also well known and documented. The famous actor was not a pilot at all; he was a B-17 “Flying Fortress” gunner and cameraman, and he was never in Newark during his service.
It is a well-documented fact of aviation history that the first ejection-seat testing began much later – in July 24, 1946 – and was conducted in Britain by Bernard Lynch, who successfully ejected himself from the Gloster Meteor aircraft at 320 m.p.h. at 8000 feet.
In the United States, the first ejection seat testing took place in August 1946 and was conducted by a volunteer, Sgt. Lawrence Lambert, at Patterson Field airbase (Dayton, Ohio), in a P-61 “Black Widow” night fighter.
Clark Gable enlisted in August 1942, attended gunnery school in Florida and was sent to England in February 1943. There he participated in battle missions with his camera, shooting footage for recruiting films. In November 1943 he returned to the states to finish his Army Air Corps film work in Hollywood, and in June 1944 he retired from active duty with the rank of major. In another statement, Kelley also claimed that Frank Knox, then secretary of the Navy, was present in Kelley’s office at Rumson, N.J., when news of the Pearl Harbor disaster was announced for the first time over the radio. However, all of Knox’s biographers state unequivocally that Knox spent the fateful Dec. 6-7 period in Washington, D.C.
There were many other stories of a similar nature, with a variety of famous people listed as participants in one or another of Kelley’s exploits. It is difficult to know why the priest related such stories about being involved with these people, when these stories could be so easily checked against the record and found to be fabrications. In his younger and more active days, the monsignor certainly was a respected and highly intelligent individual. But the conclusion of most researchers is that he probably began developing some kind of dementia in his eighties that affected his recollections, beginning in the early 1980s.
His nephew Adrian McBride, when interviewed, knew nothing of Kelley helping Earhart return to the United States. McBride spoke of Kelley’s mental frailty in older years, commenting about his “good days and bad days.”
The extensive investigation by Bright and Gaston found no evidence that Kelley ever knew Amelia Earhart. Kelley did know Irene Bolam, but was introduced to her by his sister, Gertrude Hession, after 1970 – after the Earhart-as-Bolam theory was presented to the public in Amelia Earhart Lives. In 1991, Gertrude Hession was interviewed by Rollin Reineck, who later published the transcript of the taped interview on the Amelia Earhart Society Internet forum. It seems noteworthy that Gertrude refused to confirm any “knowledge” about Earhart as Bolam, although later such “knowledge” was attributed to her more than once by some of the theory’s proponents. Moreover, in her interview with Reineck, Hession mentioned that Irene Bolam had a close friend, Mary, who was an old friend of Bolam’s, knew her as Irene O’Crowley and was her classmate at Mount St. Dominic’s Academy, where she was sent by her grandparents. In a statement to the AES online Forum in June 2005, former AES President Bill Prymak wrote:
"The ‘Mary’ in Gertrude’s phone conversation (with Reineck) is in fact Mary Eubank, close friend of both Irene and Diana Dawes. In a letter to me dated Jan 20, 1992 Diana describes in detail that she (Mary) was a classmate with her friend Irene Bolam way back in their high school days. Knowing the importance of this information, tying Irene Bolam to her past high school days, I tried to interview Mary at that time, but she was too ill, and passed away shortly thereafter.” In the germane portion of Diana Dawes’ letter of Jan 20, 1992 to Prymak, she writes:
In response to your inquiry re: Mary Eubank, she was one of the closest friends Irene had … even using her as a financial advisor on many of her transactions. I know they go way back to high school days, both raised strict Catholics so they went to a boarding school in Caldwell, N.J., St. Dominic’s I believe?? Irene complained to me that her attorney aunt “pushed” her into going to this school. Mary drove to Boston with Irene several times just to keep her company, and they went on shopping trips to NYC. … If you want more information, write a note to me, and I’ll arrange to get it over to Mary, who is not in good health these days."
This revelation alone is a dead proof against the theory, as Irene Bolam is seen to be well known and “traced” by two people back to her early school days. How and when could Amelia Earhart have come into the scene and “become” Irene Bolam? All of the above leads to the conclusion that Kelley’s statement about his participation in the “repatriation of Amelia Earhart” must be rejected by serious researchers.
More questions without answers
Many other questions also arise. First, how could Earhart abandon and never connect with her family after returning to the United States – especially her mother, Amy, with whom she was extremely close? Amelia had been devoted to Amy throughout her adult life, writing to her often when she was away and ensuring that Amy had more than sufficient financial, not to mention emotional, support. How also could Amelia abandon and never contact her sister Muriel, with whom she was also very close? Amelia was a maid of honor at Muriel’s wedding.
The deep devotion and loyalty Amelia consistently demonstrated toward her family was a characteristic feature of her personality, well known and specially noted by her friends and collaborators. As her secretary Margot DeCarie said in one interview, Amelia “would swim” across the ocean to her home and family, if she were alive to do so.
Further, let us remember her husband George Palmer Putnam (GP). Contrary to popular belief, Amelia’s marriage to GP was not just a “marriage of convenience,” as has been so commonly believed. This myth appeared as a public reaction (particularly jealousy) to the successful business partnership between the two. Such a husband-and-wife team was very unusual for that time. The “marriage of convenience” myth was finally discredited with the publication of the book Whistled Like a Bird, by Sally Putnam Chapman (1997), GP’s granddaughter. Putnam Chapman presents numerous documents (letters, diary entries, etc.) from Amelia and GP. A close reading shows that they had a loving, normal marriage based on firm emotional ties, clearly irrespective and independent of their successful business partnership. Recently, many authentic love letters between the couple were opened to historians and researchers in a special Amelia Earhart Collection at Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind. So, although Amelia was declared dead in 1939, and although GP had remarried, it would still be unthinkable for an alive and repatriated Amelia to neglect to contact her former husband upon her return to the states.
Trying to explain Amelia’s alleged uncharacteristic actions relative to her loved ones, proponents of the survival theory have advanced the idea that her family in fact did know about her repatriation but were sworn to secrecy about it. Such an explanation, fabricated without any evidence to support it, certainly seems improbable. Every member of Amelia’s family was an object of media interest, and had many friends and extensive social contacts. All of them would have to have been the very best actors in the world to be able to keep such a secret for decades.
This situation looks especially illogical when one considers the “semi-public” lifestyle of Irene Bolam. She knew many people, and did not avoid the gatherings and meetings of many who knew Amelia before 1937. How would this be possible without discovery? Other details of the alleged scheme create many questions for which reasonable answers don’t exist. Why would the U.S. government put Amelia Earhart into the shoes of Irene Bolam, someone with a firmly established identity, with her own discrete life and biography, job, family and social ties? What happened to the real Irene Bolam when Earhart was repatriated? How could her friends, co-workers, etc., not notice the substitution?
If Irene Bolam were really a secretly repatriated Amelia Earhart, why would the U.S. government permit Major Joe Gervais (an officer, thus a military person sworn to protect secrets) to find her, and then to disclose such an earth-shattering secret so easily? Gervais not only met her in person, he then investigated her and published his theory in Amelia Earhart Lives. The government knew well before 1965 that Gervais was a dedicated and persistent Earhart researcher, so it would not have been difficult to prevent such a contact, or failing that, at least to prevent any future development of his research and its publication after that inadvertent contact had been made.
A conspiracy of thousands?
Another important and still-unanswered question is how could Earhart have abandoned her numerous friends? Her loyalty to family and friends was legendary, yet the theory’s advocates say that many of Amelia’s friends as well as her family “knew” that Irene Bolam was actually Amelia. Yet they were silent because of their loyalty and faithfulness to Amelia-Bolam, who asked them to help her protect her privacy. Of course no facts to support this contention have ever been produced.
To compose a hypothetical list of people who would have inevitably been aware of the alleged Earhart-as-Bolam conspiracy produces some amazing results. Obviously, such a list would include all surviving Japanese personnel who had knowledge of Earhart’s imprisonment during the 1937-1945 period. It would also include many U.S. military and civilian personnel – from the very first soldier or federal agent who recognized Earhart in her place of isolation (allegedly at the Weishien, north China Japanese internment camp) from the moment of the discovery of Earhart there, to many high officials from Washington, not to mention the military chain of command that would have conveyed that information to Washington.
On the heels of this momentous discovery, many others would have been involved in the “cover operation” to bring Earhart back to the United States incognito. Her debriefing after eight years in Japanese confinement would have been extensive, and attempting to consider the difficulty of coordinating the necessary logistics to bring her back with a new identity, place of residence, etc., without the public’s knowledge, is mind-boggling. Naturally, the list would have included a huge crowd of Amelia’s friends and other people who knew her before her disappearance. All these people (many of whom were prominent public figures), say the theorists, knew “the true identity” of Irene Bolam, i.e., that she was Amelia.
In a short, e-mail summary to the author in July 2005, Ron Bright states:
"Besides Muriel (Amelia’s sister), there were many persons who knew AE before 1937 and knew Irene C. Bolam after 1945. Elinor Smith, a contemporary aviatrix, in an interview with me, said it was “nonsense” and that IB was NOT AE. She was too short, about 5’5”, based on Smith’s observations and conversations with Bolam in the ‘70s after the book (Amelia Earhart Lives) was published. Viola Gentry, who facetiously introduced Joe Gervais to IB as “Amelia Earhart,” said later it was a joke. Jackie Cochran, also a good friend, said that “AE was not IB.”
Certainly it is incredible that such a huge, long-lived conspiracy, with seemingly countless people involved, could be kept secret for a week, much less many decades. It seems virtually impossible to assume that these hundreds or even thousands of people were all liars, who, by some secret agreement, kept the truth from the entire world for so long.
A preplanned disappearance?
Some have theorized that Amelia Earhart could have planned to give up her life and identity before she actually departed on her world flight. There is no factual support for such a radical hypothesis. It is based exclusively on speculation and a few casual words from Amelia and others taken out of context – such as her occasional offhand comment that she may not return.
In fact, Amelia had no apparent motives for making such a bizarre decision. Why would she? She was never unhappy about her life, either in general or in the preflight period, judging by her own words, her writing and the accounts of many others. As many witnesses have said, Amelia had big plans and dreams for the period immediately after her return. She enthusiastically shared these plans with friends and family, both publicly and privately. She planned to participate in some aviation research programs, sharing these plans with, for example, the airplane technician Art Kennedy (see also Last Flight, by Amelia Earhart herself). She also wanted to enjoy flying for simply for the fun of it, and planned to operate a flying school, and possibly to have a child.
Another point: Amelia had enthusiastically supervised the building of a new home in Toluca Lake, Calif., and also a ranch-style cabin for summer vacations in Wyoming, near the now-deserted town of Kirwin. Before her last flight she even sent many of her personal belongings to be stored in the house of her friend and neighbor Carl Dunrud until she could move it to her cabin upon its completion. Before Amelia left, she reminded Carl Dunrud’s wife Vera, “Now be sure to have your children visit me at my cabin when it’s finished.” Amelia also had mentioned her future plans and dreams in her phone calls to her husband from distant places during her flight around the world. She had told him how good it would be to visit these places together sometime later. She did this in a humorous and optimistic tone.
Regarding any pessimism she may have expressed about the possibility of not returning from her world-record flight attempt, obviously these were Amelia’s expressions of normal fears – not of any deliberate intentions. It was not unknown for a pioneering flyer of those times to lose his life while attempting a difficult and dangerous flight. Amelia was aware of the risks, as her comments reflected on occasion. In December 1934 she gave contingency instructions to her mother in the event she did not return from her first flight over the Pacific Ocean. These fears obviously increased toward the end of her career, especially after the sudden death of her dear friend Wiley Post, who was killed in a plane crash in 1935. Some close to her recalled that Post’s death was a shock for Amelia, and even suggested that this event may have instilled in Amelia a foreboding about her own future.
Of course she may have had various routine problems, such as a periodic lack of money, tiredness and some minor health problems, as we all have from time to time. But Amelia never had any reason to give up her life and identity – quite the contrary is manifestly clear. She enjoyed living the full life that she had so successfully built for herself. She liked being in command, her achievements were her own, and she was rightfully proud of it. She had also gained a platform from which to air her progressive views on women’s issues, which was another source of great satisfaction for her, and for which she felt a very strong sense of mission. Why would Amelia want to abandon all that, along with her beloved family (especially her mother), as well as her numerous friends?
The forensic comparisons
Proponents of the Earhart-as-Bolam theory rely heavily on their assertion that the two bore a close resemblance. Although this argument has been uncritically accepted by some, a close examination of the available photographic evidence suggests these claims are entirely subjective and lack scientific credibility. The available comparisons are of indirectly measured dimensions of people photographed at different ages, and from different distances and angles. Huge statistical errors are unavoidable with such a methodology. Such a comparison unfortunately can never give an absolutely definitive answer, especially a positive one, because of the laws of statistics. What can be definitively stated is that Amelia Earhart and Irene Bolam had many differences in facial characteristics that have been certified by many people who knew both women personally.
The differences in the body structures of Earhart and Bolam appear even more significant. Amelia was well known as a slim, relatively tall individual, who was almost flat-chested. Her friend Marian Stabler described her as having the “longest legs in the world,” with the “body of a contortionist,” who could “curl all of her five-feet, eight-inches within the area of a sofa cushion without nothing hanging over the edges, and take a nap of indefinite length with no apparent discomfort.” By comparison, Irene Bolam was a considerably more matronly lady, with bigger breasts and shorter legs than Earhart. Another important aspect is that the two were of differing heights. Many documented sources such as passports, drivers and pilot’s licenses, etc., list Amelia’s height at 5’8”, or very close to it.
Investigations of Irene Craigmile Bolam have revealed she was significantly shorter. Her private pilot’s license identification card, issued Aug. 10, 1934, lists Irene Craigmile’s height at 5’5”. Possibly it was not actually based on a physical measurement administered by anyone, but one given by the applicant. The News Tribune investigation found that Irene Bolam’s passport also lists her height at 5’5”. As previously mentioned, a New Jersey Driver’s License, issued in 1967, also lists Irene’s height as 5’5”. In all these cases it is probable that the height was given by Mrs. Bolam herself.
In an attempt to confirm their hypothesis, Rollin Reineck and Tod Swindell submitted a set of photographic overlays of Earhart and Bolam to Dr. Todd Fenton (Michigan) and Dr. Walter Birkby (Arizona), both certified professional forensic experts, asking them to compare scientifically the persons photographed. The long-awaited conclusion of the scientists followed in May 2005, and was reported by Reineck to the AES Forum, with understandable disappointment on his part. According to him, the doctors closely reviewed and studied the material for a considerable length of time, but they refused to confirm, officially or unofficially, that any exact similarities exist between photographs of Amelia Earhart and Irene Craigmile Bolam.
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. Kevin Richlin, a professional criminal forensic expert hired by National Geographic, studied photographs of both women and cited many measurable facial differences between Earhart and Bolam, firmly denying any possibility that Bolam was Earhart.
Actually, the story of scientific study of the Bolam theory can be traced back at least into early 80s. In the mentioned series of articles from 1982, The News Tribune of Woodbridge, N.J., reported the results of study of Dr. Oscar Tosi, the world's foremost expert on voice identification. The following quote is taken from the Dec.17, 1982, edition:
“Expert: Speakers different.Italic text
Stories by SUE EMMONS, News Tribune suburban editor. 1982, Middlesex County Publishing Co
TESTS: Two Women Not The Same
Irene Bolam was not Amelia Earhart, according to the world's foremost expert on voice identification.
Dr. Oscar Tosi has conducted comparison testing of the tape recorded voices of Mrs. Bolam and Miss Earhart and has determined that the two women were not the same. Dr. Tosi is head of the Speech and Hearing Sciences Research Laboratory at Michigan State University's Institute of Voice Identification.
Dr. Tosi has been qualified many times in court proceedings as an expert witness in the field of voice identification. Among his appearances were two in Middlesex County where the admissibility of his testing was upheld as valid. His method of voice identification has won acceptance in many courts in the United States and abroad, both as an exclusionary criminal justice device and to determine if voices are the same”.
The method is considered as valid as fingerprints in determining identity based on the theory that, like fingerprints, no two voices are exactly the same”.
Who was Irene Bolam?
According to many statements by proponents of the Earhart-as-Bolam theory, Irene Bolam was a mysterious woman with huge “gaps and holes” in her biography. This view allowed the theory’s enthusiasts to more freely “construct bridges” from known facts to allegations and speculations, and thus “connect” certain aspects of Irene Bolam’s life to events related to Amelia Earhart. Irene Bolam herself always vehemently denied that she was Amelia Earhart. Following the publication of Amelia Earhart Lives in 1970, she loudly declared at a New York press conference, that she was “not a mysterious woman! I am NOT Amelia Earhart!”
The legal depositions of Irene Bolam circa 1973, discovered in Joe Gervais' papers, reveals Irene Bolam discussing dozens of details of her past life (under oath) going back as far as her first husband (late 1920s) right through her many different residences and occupations on Long Island, NY. It would have been impossible for an outsider (Amelia Earhart) to have memorized the minutia of details as disclosed by Mrs. Bolam, including revealing personal husband-to-wife relationships that could be known only to a true Irene Bolam.
According to the short biography published by The News Tribune in October 1982, Irene Bolam was born Irene Madeline O’Crowley on Oct. 1, 1904 in Newark, New Jersey, on the first floor of 118 S. 11th St. This latter data was mentioned in a note her father sent to her on her 39th birthday, in 1943.
As a child, Irene attended St. Dominic’s Academy in Caldwell, N.J., for seventh grade in 1916 but was removed when her mother died. Later she graduated from Barringer High School, Newark. In 1923, Irene embarked on her first European cruise, during which she wrote a diary that was still intact in the 1980s. In 1927 Irene married James C. Craigmile, chief engineer of the Wanaque Dam in Newark, and though the marriage was reportedly an idyllic one, it was short-lived. James Craigmile died suddenly in September 1931, due to gangrene developed as a result of a fatally underestimated appendicitis condition.
As were many educated young ladies of the period, Irene was fascinated by aviation. She took up flying in 1932 at Floyd Bennett Field, then Roosevelt Field, Long Island, and received a pilot’s license on May 27, 1933. Irene then married her flight instructor, Alvin Victor Heller. According to available evidence, in June 1933 she stopped flying – perhaps because she was pregnant, and in March 1934 she gave birth to a son, Clarence Heller, in Newark. The marriage appeared to be unhappy, however, as Irene’s new husband was reportedly a “ladies man,” and the Hellers often suffered emotional and financial turmoil. Helen Salzano, a nurse who ministered to Irene during her final years, quoted Bolam as saying about her marriage to Heller: “My family was right. I made a mistake.”
Around 1940, she annulled her marriage to Alvin Heller and took back her first husband’s name of Craigmile. She worked as a section manager and packing supervisor at Macy’s, then as a store detective for Lord & Taylor, a job she quit because she disliked “the seamy side of life.” Later she worked for an unnamed personal finance company on Long Island, and in 1945 she moved to the People’s National Bank of Lynbrook, Long Island, where she started a consumer credit department. In 1946 she joined the National Bank of Great Neck, later renamed the Central Bank of Great Neck. Finally, in 1955, Irene joined the Scwerin Stone Brokerage firm as a customer representative, where she worked until her marriage to Guy Bolam in 1958. In 1967 the Bolams moved to Jamesburg, N.J. Guy died in 1970, and Irene died of cancer on July 7, 1982.
Earhart researchers investigated many details and found several official records regarding Irene Bolam, including numerous photographs in different periods, and documents including driver’s and pilot’s licenses. Long Island telephone books in 1942 and 1943 list her as living at Wantagh, at another address in the same community from 1944 to 1950, and in Lynbrook and later Great Neck until she married Guy Bolam. This material can justifiably prompt some definite conclusions: Irene Bolam was an honest, upright individual. She was not a mysterious woman, and she was not Amelia Earhart. She was a normal, real person, whose life contained no real “connections” to Amelia Earhart.
As was apparent after her death, Irene was a “great saver of little things” including old family papers, cards, etc., from her childhood days as Irene Madeline O’Crowley to her final days as Irene Bolam. Throughout her life, she remained the same person – obviously not replaced by anybody, especially Amelia Earhart. As mentioned above, she shared many private memories of her life, particularly the ones related to the 1930-’40s period, to many people at different times. These recollections were clearly related to the life of Irene Craigmile – not Amelia Earhart.
New findings shatter Earhart-Bolam conspiracy theory
Amelia Earhart Society researcher Dave Horner, author of several fact-based novels on sea adventure and president of Maritime Explorations International, interviewed Irene Bolam’s son, Larry Heller, in May 2005, in an effort to clarify Heller’s recollections of his mother and her alleged relationship to Amelia Earhart.
Horner’s interview of Heller was extremely significant in light of the recent claims of one of the theory’s leading – and most vocal – proponents, Tod Swindell. Among the ideas Swindell was trying to advance was that of Earhart returning to the United States in 1945 and assuming Irene Bolam’s natural role of “mother” to Larry Heller. Not only didn’t Swindell present any evidence for this radical assertion by the Earhart- as-Bolam conspirators, he did not explain to where the real Irene Bolam could have “disappeared” so conveniently.
Swindell also speculated, again without any supporting facts, that Earhart started to play her role as Larry Heller’s mother even before her disappearance – sometime between 1934 and 1937. This idea seems even more bizarre, because not only was Irene Heller alive and well during those years, the world-famous Earhart’s life between 1934 and 1937 is well documented by a media that increasingly lavished its attention upon her. Certainly no significant, undocumented lapses of time exist in which Earhart could have assumed the duties of a “secret motherhood” without attracting attention from some quarters of the national media.
Horner’s interview of Heller, then, provided a necessary re-introduction to some of the salient facts about Larry Heller and his relationship to Irene Bolam throughout her life. On June 27, 2005, Horner posted the following message to the AES online Forum:
" IN THE INTEREST OF THE TRUTH
Although I’m not an ENGINEER, not a PH.D., not an AUTHORITY on aging, weight, and other physiological phenomena, I think it’s time I put in my two cents’ worth on the IB FACTOR: On May 8, 2005, in a very cordial, yet factual, conversation with Larry Heller, son of Irene Craigmile Heller Bolam, he told me the following:
"When asked how tall his mother was, he responded, “She was not a tall person, nor was she a short person. I am a little over six feet and consider over six feet as being “tall,” and under 5’ 2” being short. I reckon my mother was about 5’ 5”, not tall, not short.” When asked if his mother was Amelia Earhart, Larry said, “Frankly Dave, I’m sick and tired of all this nonsense. My mother was well traveled, had lots of friends, did fly an airplane for a short period, lived a good life, and has been unduly harassed about this Earhart thing. My mother is not and has never been Amelia Earhart. Let her lie in peace!”
I have no reason to doubt Larry’s statement to me or his veracity. Respectfully submitted in the interest of pursuing the facts to determine the truth. Dave Horner"
Horner’s interview of Larry Heller came almost twenty-three years after his father, Alvin Heller, provided similar information to The News Tribune, during that newspaper’s investigative series on the Earhart-as-Bolam allegations. In an Oct. 29, 1982 story, Alvin Heller left no doubts about who his wife, Irene, really was:
Alvin Heller wrote a letter to the book’s researcher, Joe Gervais. Robert Myers of Salinas, Calif., has a copy of that letter. It reads in part: “Irene Bolam O’Crowley Craigmile Heller (sic) is the same woman in the picture and the same woman that was married to me and lived with me and our son Larry in Newark, N.J., in 1937.”
Heller added: “I feel certain Irene never met or knew Amelia Earhart and I personally only meet AE once. … There is no possible resemblance between the two women. Their bone structure and shape, size, personality were entirely different. I have had several calls from long-time-no-see friends who knew Irene and myself when we were married and laughed at the idea of Irene being AE,” Heller concluded.
The younger Heller, a pilot for Pan Am, told Myers: “I swear on my life … my mother was not Amelia Earhart,” Myers said. He said Heller termed himself “the living proof … the irrefutable proof” that his mother was not the missing aviatrix.
Heller, who has not spoken to The News Tribune, told Myers he hated “to spoil your dream.” He then added emphatically: “I tell you in all honesty, mother was not Amelia Earhart. She liked the publicity.”
In June 2005, Bill Prymak, former president of the Amelia Earhart Society and a noted Earhart researcher, submitted a firsthand account of his findings, when, in 1989, he was examining some of Irene Bolam’s possessions, which had been passed to her close friend, Diana Dawes, following her death. Following is an edited version of Prymak’s online message to the AES:
" IRENE BOLAM’S HOLY BIBLE Italic text
In 1989 Ann Pellegreno and I flew back east in my Malibu to Diana Dawes’ home in Princeton, N.J., where she had cached Irene Bolam’s personal effects and articles of memorabilia. We were given this material to take home and study.
Interestingly, the dozens of articles collected and listed by us were the typical assortment of travel brochures and souvenirs brought home from a typical world traveler, reaching out to Scotland, Europe, Japan, China, Yugoslavia and many other places.
Included in this material were several items relating to the O’Crowley family, but one item caught my attention – a Holy Bible, printed in 1875 and gilt-edged in gold, obviously a very old and precious possession kept in the O’Crowley family. Inside the front cover in bold penmanship was inscribed:
“To Irene Craigmile, Merry Christmas
from C.R. O’Crowley, M.D. 12/25/53”
Think about this: According to [Rollin] Reineck/[Tod] Swindell, Amelia Earhart was substituted for Irene Craigmile in 1945, so how could Dr. O’Crowley give this family bible to his niece in 1953? But Swindell/Reineck would counter, ”The family was already in on the conspiracy, knowing AE was inserted into the life of Irene Craigmile in 1945.” Even if you believe this, would the good Doctor give such a valuable family artifact (as) the Holy Bible, kept in the family for 75 years, to a new non-Catholic Amelia Earhart?
And nobody addresses the million-dollar question: how, why, when did Irene O’Crowley Craigmile exit the family circle?
For years, some AE researchers also pursued the idea that the detailed inventory of Irene Bolam’s personal belongings could somehow strengthen the substitution theory if any artifacts somehow linking Irene with Amelia Earhart would be found there. To clear up the issue, in June 2006 Prymak released to AE researchers the full inventory of Irene Bolam’s personal items collected in 1989 by researcher Ann Pellegreno and himself.
This inventory, spanning six pages, included many items representing IB as a person who loved to travel, was fond of souvenirs and had enough money to indulge her tastes for new and exotic items. However, there was nothing at all that would somehow link the late Irene Bolam with Amelia Earhart. Moreover, some listed items were the old personal papers and belongings of the O’Crowley family from the 19th century. Specifically, there was “green velvet, gold trim with porcelain (missel) figure (in cameo style) in the center.” Inside, “Edna Crowley, Christmas 1888,” and family letters from the 1870s to the 1890s. Obviously, such things could be carefully preserved for many decades only by an individual directly related to the history of the family with a deep, sincere feeling about its value.
Also, there were “three crosses and three rosaries from Rome, Italy, and three very old crosses with the skull at the bottom.” [It is known that IB was a devout Catholic, while AE was a Protestant and belonged to the Episcopalian Church.] Publication of the inventory was supplemented by a letter from Prymak:
" Let me clear the air: In 1933 Irene Heller gave birth to Larry Heller, husband Alvin the father. He was raised by Irene, who, after divorcing Alvin in late ’30s, raised Larry as her only son. Irene assumed name of Craigmile, her first husband’s name. This Irene is the same girl right thru her marriage to Guy Bolam in 1957 and until her death in 1982. Can I prove it? YES! In the early ’70s Diana Dawes became close friends with Irene, and when she (Irene) died, left most of her belongings to her, some of which wound up as the inventory list collected by Ann Pellegreno and myself in the late ’80s.
The one item not listed was the green cooker stove that Ann and I packed into my airplane along with the rest of the stuff and flew it to her home in Texas. I remember the cooker well, because of its weight and my weight and balance concerns loading the airplane. Diana told Ann and I that Larry had told her (Diana) that her mom and he used to eat many meals off that cooker during WWII (fuel saving issue I guess). [Note: this is confirmed in a letter to me from DD dated Dec 25, 1990]. What this proves is positive continuity of the same Irene from WW II thru the days of Diana Dawes, circa early-mid ’70s.
In February 2008 another important release from Bill Prymak followed, also a firsthand account of his findings, when in 1992 - together with Joe Gervais, once a father of the IB theory - he visited Monsignor Kelley’s sister Gertrude Hession. Following is an authentic Prymak’s report, posted by him and Mandel online to the AES:
“ JOE GERVAIS & MARY EUBANK,Italic text by Bill Prymak
On March 25, 1992 Joe & I pulled up to 306 Shipley Rd Wilmington DE and visited Gertrude Hession, sister to Monsignor Francis Kelley. Many issues were discussed, including Gertrude's persistent efforts to have her brother put away in a nursing home (she was, by the way a nursing home RN) in 1979 because of his worsening dementia and his recent penchant towards fabricating stories about famous celebrities. (His published Memoirs are replete with such stories.)
Gertrude then revealed that Mary Eubank was a close friend of Irene's...they had attended school together at Mt, St. Dominic's Caldwell NJ , and Barringer High School, Newark NJ.....had remained close friends even when Irene moved to Long Island during and after WWII, went shopping together frequently at Bloomingdale' s in NYC, made trips to Boston for Irene's annual checkup....the three (Gertrude, Mary and Irene) very often went to mass and holy Communion when Irene had moved back to NJ.....Mary was a financial whiz who did Irene's taxes and financial planning: Mary was present at the Memorial dinner.
A strange sidebar: Gertrude told the same above story to Rollin [Reineck] and he printed same on the AES forum several months ago....without even realizing what was said to him and what he posted, a posting directly contradicting Tod Swindell's and his own theories.... .weird!
Joe was stunned, even devastated by this....."why don't you two fellows visit Mary on your way up to Newark Airport....she lives right off the Turnpike at Old bridge NJ," said Gertrude.... .. "she can tell you more details". Joe declined the offer and we went straight back to Newark airport and Denver...... .Joe made me pledge never to discuss this trip with anybody...that is why you never saw it in the AES Newsletter.
From that day onward, Joe rarely discussed the IB-AE connection, concentrating rather on Saipan and the Marshall Islands witnesses... The correspondence in my files with Gertrude corroborate the above... “
The concept of the survival of Amelia Earhart and her secret repatriation as Irene Bolam is the most bizarre of all existing theories about Earhart’s ultimate fate. The material presented by proponents attempting to support the theory does not begin to do so in any objective, convincing manner.
The amateurish “forensic research” conducted by Tod Swindell, with photographic overlays and “morphing” programs, was entirely unconvincing to professional forensic experts hired by Swindell and Rollin Reineck in an attempt to gain legitimate confirmation of their claims by the scientific community. These forensic experts refused to validate the Earhart-as-Bolam “same identity” hypothesis in any way. It seems obvious that Amelia Earhart and Irene Bolam had many differences, both in body structure and facial characteristics. Many people who knew both women personally were vehement in their statements attesting to their personal convictions that the two were different persons.
Why would Amelia Earhart want to engage in the absurd, and logistically, virtually impossible mission of abandoning her identity to become a New Jersey housewife? How could she possibly abandon her family, especially her mother and sister, to whom she was extremely close? Likewise, how could she return and yet never contact her husband, George Putnam, as well as her numerous friends? Amelia’s loyalty to family and friends was among the most well known and celebrated of her many admirable personal attributes. If the “price of secrecy” that Amelia was compelled to pay included abandoning her family and friends, why then would Earhart, as Irene Bolam, go on to live such a visible, semi-public lifestyle, attending aviation-related public events, joining organizations like Zonta and the Ninety-Nines (in which Amelia was once a member) and meeting, as Irene Bolam, numerous people who also had known Amelia Earhart?
How and why could such an immense and long-lived conspiracy, with hundreds or even thousands of people necessarily involved, be organized and kept secret for decades? No facts or even plausible explanations to support this theory have ever been presented by its advocates – only wild speculation in complete contradiction with many credible historical sources about Amelia’s character and personality. More puzzling is why the U.S. government would use the name and identity of a real person, known by many people and living an active, normal life, in a plot to transform this individual into another, much better-known and discrete individual – the world-famous Amelia Earhart – without having this scheme immediately recognized and exposed by many. The “evidence” that Monsignor James F. Kelley allegedly assisted Earhart in her repatriation does not merit serious consideration. Analysis of Kelley’s other, similarly outlandish claims has proven them to be patently false. Some researchers have concluded that he probably began developing some kind of dementia and mental frailty while in his 80s, and several of Kelley’s claims appear simply bizarre and incredible, such as his recollection of personally shaving Earhart’s head in search of some “secret Japanese implants.”
Considering the above discussion, it is impossible to accept the concept of Amelia Earhart’s secret repatriation as Irene Bolam as a serious historical hypothesis. More than ever, its status as the most radical and bizarre theory yet advanced to explain the Earhart mystery seems secure. It is especially unfortunate that this theory is used by some as a basis upon which to attribute to her a variety of dishonorable and irresponsible actions that are without any historical precedent in Earhart’s life prior to her disappearance.
The longtime efforts expended by enthusiasts of the survival-and- repatriation theory may be commendable, but it certainly seems that any claims to its legitimacy are more a reflection of their natural desire for a final and spectacular solution to the Earhart mystery than their conscientious devotion to unbiased research and verifiable facts.