Chapter 21

The Ghosts of Garapan Prison

Excerpt from LEGERDEMAIN

 Yet another noteworthy attempt to fathom the mystery of  Amelia Earhart's disappearance had its genesis in 1981 on the island of Majuro in the Marshall Islands.  The investigation was detailed in a  book entitled "Witness to the Execution," by   T.C. "Buddy" Brennan, an excellent read.   

 Texas businessman Brennan had come to the Marshall Islands looking for WWII vintage Japanese warplanes that could be salvaged for display in  museums.  During his visit, in which the island of Majuro was his headquarters, Brennan made forays to various places in the vicinity, including Mili Atoll.  To his frustration, all of the aircraft he encountered were badly deteriorated, and thus not usable.

 But one thing salvaged the trip for him, a casual conversation he had with a local named Tamaki Myazoe, regarding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.  This captured the businessman's imagination, and when he wasn't hacking his way through deep jungle with a machete, looking for ancient Japanese airplanes, he was thinking about the disappearance of the famed aviatrix.

 The day before he was scheduled to leave the Marshalls to go home, the Texas businessman wrote off his airplane search, at least on that trip, as a failure.  But he had become interested in the Earhart disappearance and resolved to spend his last day on the island interviewing locals to find out what they knew of the mystery.  Brennan would later mount four more expeditions to the Pacific in an attempt to solve the Earhart mystery.

  Initially, Brennan was more interested in just locating Earhart's plane for retrieval and display in a museum.  But as he studied more about Earhart herself, he became captivated.  He had to find out what had happened to her.

On his next visit to Majuro, Brennan spent the entire time interviewing witnesses.  The first witness he interviewed, and one of the most interesting, was John Heinie , grandson of Carl Heine, the missionary who published the article in the Pacific Islands Monthly about the unclaimed letter in Jaluit (discussed in the previous chapter).  The grandson talked of the incident of the letter in the Jaluit post office, but, strangely, in his account, the letter was from Earhart and not to Earhart.  Evidently Brennan wasn't aware of the incident, as he did not question John Heine about the description.

 Brennan also interviewed other witnesses, whose consensus was that the Japanese had taken Earhart from Jaluit to Kwajelein, Truk and finally Saipan.  With the visit at an end, the agenda for the next expedition was clear for Brennan:  Saipan.

 Early in the trip to Saipan, Brennan was taken to Garapan Prison, an old Japanese prison, on the edge of town. For many years, residents had told interviewers that Earhart and Noonan had been held in that facility by the Japanese.  The Texas businessman wanted to see the place for himself.  Once he had arrived there, he wished he hadn't.

 By then, the old facility was in ruins and the jungle was beginning to reclaim it.  Brennan's guide, Manuel Muna, also known as "Manny," showed him around. The atmosphere of the abandoned prison was brooding and eerie; about the place there hung an aura of misery and suffering.  Brennan did not like the place at all; he could almost feel the unhappiness of the former prisoners.   

 It was as though their ghosts haunted the place.  Amazingly, Manny, seemed cheerfully oblivious to such things, but Brennan couldn't shake a feeling of depression and unease.  He wanted to leave, but had to stay as part of his investigation.  He forged on, telling his readers, “This place gave me the creeps".

 The first place they visited was a smaller building not far from the main one.  It contained only four cells and was considered by the Japanese, according to Manny, to be their maximum-security building.  Manny told Brennan that one Jesus Salas, a local farmer, was incarcerated there during the Japanese occupation.