It’s one of the most famous disappearances in history: On July 2, 1937, the celebrated pilot Amelia Earhart was in the middle of her second attempt to fly around the world when her twin-engine Lockheed Electra plane is believed to have run out of gas and crashed into the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, taking Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan with it.

In “Amelia Earhart: Beyond the Grave,” author W.C. Jameson claims that Amelia Earhart was a spy for the U.S. government, and was flying a secret mission to photograph Japanese military installations in the Pacific at the time of what he calls her “so-called disappearance” in July 1937. In this version of events, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized Earhart’s mission and knew everything about her disappearance, but kept it under wraps.

Jameson argues that after Earhart and Noonan were shot down or landed in Japanese territory and taken captive, Roosevelt made no attempt to free them because he didn’t want to admit he had enlisted the famous aviator as a spy. After Japan released Earhart in 1945, Jameson says, she returned to the United States, where she lived under the name Irene Craigmile Bolam in what was essentially an early form of the federal government’s witness protection program. Earhart died in 1982, Jameson writes, when she was around 86 years old.

Amelia Earhart standing in front of the Lockheed Electra.  (Credit: SSPL/Getty Images)
Amelia Earhart standing in front of the Lockheed Electra. (Credit: SSPL/Getty Images)

To back up his argument, Jameson claims to have found evidence that Earhart’s famous plane, a twin-engined Lockheed Electra 10E, was equipped with cameras he used to photograph the Japanese installations in the Pacific. He also says that logbooks from the last Coast Guard station Earhart communicated with before her crash were altered after she disappeared. In addition, Jameson reportedly interviewed the nephew of a former U.S. Army official, who said it was common knowledge in “high-ranking intelligence circles” that Earhart was “involved in an intelligence-gathering operation.”

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Jameson is by no means the first to advance the spy theory. Of all the rumors that have swirled around Earhart in since her disappearance, it’s been one of the most persistent. In 2015, Parker Hannafin Corporation sponsored an expedition to the Marshall Islands, which in 1937 were under Japanese control, in search of evidence to back up the theory that Earhart and Noonan were captured. The team found around six pieces of metal they believed come from Earhart’s plane and brought them home to undergo authenticity testing at a Parker lab; no results have been released yet.

Critics of the theory point out that no government documents supporting the idea that Earhart was a U.S. spy have ever been found, whether in Roosevelt’s papers or in Army or Navy intelligence files from World War II. They suggest the rumors may have been inspired by the plot of the 1943 movie “Flight for Freedom,” starring Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray. In that film, Russell’s character (a celebrated female pilot clearly based on Earhart) flies over Japanese territory on an intelligence mission for the U.S. government prior to disappearing.

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence premieres Sunday, July 9 at 9/8c on HISTORY.