Were Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on a secret mission for the U.S. Government?
That is a question that is almost 80 years old and there is still no definitive answer; or is there? Possibly the question was answered on May 25, 1938, less than a year after their disappearance, by an article in the Pacific Island Monthly. The article shown below is reproduced from the May 1991 Issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters by the late Bill Prymak. He faithfully produced these research articles from December, 1989 to March, 2000
From: Mr. Carl Heine a special correspondent and German missionary in the Marshall Islands, Jaluit Atoll, March 17, 1938
“Here is a curious thing. On November 27, 1937 in the Jaluit Post Office, in the Marshall Islands (Japanese), among the unclaimed mail a certain letter attracted my attention. In its upper left corner was printed ‘Hollywood-Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood California.’ A little lower down appeared the postal date stamp with “Los Angeles, California, October 7, 10 pm,” within the circle; Lower down in the usual place appeared the following stating address:
“Miss Amelia Earhart (Putnam); Marshall Islands (Japanese); Ratak Group, Maloelap Island, (10); South Pacific Ocean.”
“Written diagonally across one corner was this, ‘Deliver Promptly.’ On the back of envelope ‘Incognito’ was penciled in very small, fine handwriting. The letter was unopened, and consequently I have no idea of its contents. Now, it seems to me that anyone in U.S.A. writing as late as October ought to be well aware that Amelia Earhart had been given up as lost long before. Hence, it would appear that the letter may have been written by someone desirous of hoaxing the public. Still, it is possible that such may not be the case at all.
“Certainly, the writer of the address on the envelope, while making some errors such as anyone at a distance might make, displays a little more geographical knowledge of these parts than one would expect of the average individual, but which one would certainly expect of anyone about to traverse the Pacific, and would be passing this group at a distance of a few hundred miles.
“It is conceivable that Amelia Earhart may have told some trusted friend in America, before setting out on her ill-fated journey, that she intended to take a look-see in at the Marshalls enroute or that she might possibly do so if in any danger as she passed by. And it is possible that this hypothetical friend in Hollywood might think that Amelia had reached this group, and might be lying low for some reason or other at Maloelap. It seems curious that anyone without specific interest in the group should know the name of that particular atoll which is of no great importance. What the number (10) might mean in connection with that island I have no idea.” (End of Carl Heine’s original narrative.)
Rev. Carl Russell Heine was a missionary from Australia who ran the mission at Jaluit along with Jesse Rebecca Hoppin. The islanders referred to her as “mother” and to Rev. Heine as “Father Heine”. They were affiliated with the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM). The ABCFM had its own ship called Iju Ran (Morning Star) that plied the islands of Micronesia. Heine had lived in the Marshall Islands since 1896 and Hoppin since 1895. Jesse Hoppin retired as a missionary in 1929 and Heine was beheaded by the Japanese on April 20, 1943 along with his son Claude.
The first clue to the authenticity of the letter is the address. Maloelap Atoll was, and still is, very sparsely populated. Kaven and Taroa being the only islands that are populated (432 total in 1973). In 1938 Taroa was the closest Japanese airfield to the Hawaiian Islands (2231 miles). Jabor on Jaluit Atoll was the capital of the Japanese Mandated Marshall Islands in 1938, 220 miles from Maloelap. Why was a letter that is considered a shot in the dark by many researchers addressed to a location so far removed from the mainstream?
The second clue is the return address. The Hollywood -Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood, California, another shot in the dark? How many people could have known that Amelia Earhart’s private secretary, Margot DeCarie, was in residence at that hotel for September thru October 1937?
The third clue is the postmarked date of the letter October 7, 1937, 10PM, That is exactly 14 weeks after her disappearance. Rev. Heine reported seeing the letter on November 27, 1937, supposedly arriving at the Jabor Post Office 7 weeks after it was mailed in Hollywood, CA.
The forth clue is in Rev. Heine’s statement “It seems curious that anyone without specific interest in the group should know the name of that particular atoll which is of no great importance.” This clearly shows that Heine either didn’t know the significance of Maloelap Atoll or he dared not say in public.
We don’t know exactly when Rev. Heine contacted the Pacific Island Monthly although the date of March 17, 1938 would be a good guess because of the way the article was written. It could be just coincidence that he wrote this to the magazine exactly one year to the day since she had taken off from Oakland, California on her first round the world attempt. Of course that ended in her crashing on take-off from Luke Field on Oahu, Hawaiian Islands.
The word Incognito written on the back of the envelope is also a puzzle: who wrote it and why? The synonyms of the word Incognito are: disguised, undisclosed, and unidentified. It would seem that if the postmaster wrote it to indicate that the addressee wasn’t identified, or the letter was undeliverable, it would have been written on the front of the envelope.
It is also noteworthy that Rev. Heine must have had the letter in his possession for a time. If he had just “noticed” the letter in the dead letter file, I doubt his detailed recollection of the envelope could have been possible. It might suggest that the letter arrived on the ABCFM ship Morning Star and was passed to the post office by the good Reverend. The records of the ABCFM show they had a great deal of correspondence between the missions and the headquarters in Auburndale, Massachusetts.
Each one of these clues, in itself, doesn’t constitute proof that they were on a mission to fly over the Japanese Mandated Islands, but taken all together they present a strong circumstantial case for that conclusion.
Our thanks to Shirley Elrick, historian and researcher, Victoria, Austrailia.