Pirate attacks, corruption & treasure revealed in Vatican archives


The pirates who stole a dead bishop’s treasure aboard the São Vicente ship in the 14th century likely used a galea sotile galley. Shown here, a model of a Galley of the Order of the Knights of St. John (Knights hospitaller), Malta. (Photo by Myriam Thyes, CC Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported)

A medieval tale of a dead bishop’s treasure, a pope and a pirate whose name means “fire blast” or “fire fart” has been revealed in newly published documents from the Vatican archives.

The tale may seem more like Hollywood than reality.

“Hollywood could use this story. But Hollywood does not know anything about it because it is buried in the documents edited here,” Charles Donahue Jr., a professor at Harvard University, wrote in the preface to the newly published book “The Spoils of the Pope and the Pirates, 1357: The Complete Legal Dossier from the Vatican Archives” (The Ames Foundation, 2014).

Edited by Daniel Williman, a professor emeritus at Binghamton University, and Karen Ann Corsano, a private scholar, the Latin-language documents published in the book bring this pirate tale to light. [See Images related to the Ancient Pirate Tale]

A dead bishop’s treasure

In the early months of A.D. 1357, the So Vicente, a ship laden with a dead bishop’s treasure, set sail from Lisboa (modern-day Lisbon), according to the Vatican documents.

Its cargo included gold, silver, rings, tapestries, jewels, fine plates and even portable altars. This treasure was formerly owned by Thibaud de Castillon, a recently deceased bishop of Lisboa who had acquired a vast amount of wealth during the performance of his duties.

“He governed and exploited the bishopric through a vicar general for three years while he managed a commercial collaboration with the important Montpellier merchants Peire Laugautru and Guilhem Parayre,” Williman and Corsano wrote in their book.His commercial activities in the Mediterranean and Atlantic included speculative trading, buying commodities like wool in hope that its value would increase.

While De Castillon didn’t have to take a vow of poverty(not all priests were required to), the ways in which he acquired his wealth were questionablefor someone in his position, Williman and Corsano said. [The 10 Most Notorious Pirates Ever]

“Usury [lending money with a high interest rate] was a mortal sin, and the profit of trading investments was considered usurious,” Williman and Corsano said in an email to Live Science. To get around this mortal sin, de Castillon made “clumsy efforts to pretend that his cash wealth and its profits actually belonged to his agents,” such as Laugautru and Parayre, Williman and Corsano said.

The papal administration looked the other way. His “past in Atlantic and Mediterranean commerce may have been viewed by the Camera Apostolica [the organization in charge of papal finances] as desirable experience for a bishop in Portugal, and in any case, the Camera intended to take all Thibaud’s wealth as spoils when he died,” Williman and Corsano wrote in their book.

Pirate attack

The So Vicente’s mission was to deliver the dead bishop’s treasure to Avignon, in France, where Pope Innocent VI (reign 1352-1362) was based. In the 14th century, popes often resided in Avignon due to political turmoil in Italy. [Papal Primer: History’s 10 Most Intriguing Popes]

While sailing near the town of Cartagena, in modern-day Spain, the ship’s crew of about a dozen men was attacked by two pirate vessels. One of them was commanded by a man named Antonio “Botafoc.” The word botafocmeans “fire blast” or “fire fart” his real last name is lost to history. The other ship was commanded by Martin Yanes.

Botafoc’s ship was armed to the teeth. Records indicate that his crew carried cutlasses (swords with curved blades used by sailors and pirates) and war pikes, and his galley had at least seven ballistae, which were large, crossbowlike devices capable of launching 9-inch stone bullets at high speeds. Two ballistae would have been placed on the bow, one would have been elevated above the deck and the others could have been movable, Williman and Corsano said.

Faced with this overwhelming firepower, the crew of the So Vicente had little choice but to surrender the treasure.

While Yanes may have made a clean getaway, Botafoc’s crew wasn’t so lucky. Botafoc’sgalley ran aground near the town of Aigues-Mortes in France. The local garrison captured Botafoc’s crew and hanged them on the beach, possibly by the lanteen spar (part of the ship used to rig the sails) of their own galley.

“The poor common sailors were extra-judicially hanged. They were, by tradition,hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race, like highway brigands, and no law protected them,” Williman and Corsano told Live Science in an email.

Botafoc and a few of his officers were spared and were sent to prison to await their fate. “Depositing a large amount of gold coin with the bishop of Torino, who happened to be in residence in Montpellier, Botafoc surrendered to the captain of Aigues-Mortes, while his mate and [another officer] went into the custody of the marshal of justice of the papal Curia at Avignon,” Williman and Corsano wrote in their book.

Before the authorities could secure the beached pirate vessel, local fishers took items from the ship, claiming right of salvage.

On Feb. 11, 1357, Jean des Baumes, a clerk of a local judge, took inventory of the remaining goods. “Apart from the ship’s sail, cordage, oars, armament and rigging, the judge’s clerk on the beach listed a great mass of clothing and cloth in odd lots but also items like books and ecclesiastical vestments,” Williman and Corsano wrote.

The recaptured treasure went to the pope and was used as gifts for royalty and to pay soldiers, courtiers and other staff.

Cheating the hangman

While Botafoc’s crew was hanged, his officers were let off with a fine, the Vatican records indicate.

It appears that Botafoc himself also managed to escape the hangman’s noose, as the fine paid to the Vatican’s finance board covered the pirate captain as well, Williman and Corsano told Live Science. However, “the royal sergeants of the Aigues-Mortes garrison could have done anything they wished to him,” they said.

The second pirate ship that attacked the So Vicente the one commanded by Yanes was never mentioned again in historical records. Yanes’ crew may have gotten away cleanly, with a bounty of treasure.

Adolf Hitler’s birthplace to be Holocaust museum


Hitler’s birthplace in Braunau, Austria. (Wikimedia)

The birthplace of Adolf Hitler will be turned into a Holocaust museum under a plan approved by Austria’s government and the owner of the building in a move aimed at ridding the structure of its creepy allure to neo-Nazis.

The yellow home in the upper Austrian town will be dubbed the “House of Responsibility” under the plan. The building has long been the subject of controversy, with a plan announced in May to make it a center for immigrants scuttled when politicians continued to argue about the appropriate use for the home. Another previous proposal to convert the building into housing prompted concerns Hitler worshippers would move in.

The building has been used as a library, bank, high school and, most recently, as a workshop for the mentally handicapped. Hitler, who was born in the home on April 20, 1889, was the leader of Germany’s Nazi Party whose Third Reich officials carried out the murders of 6 million Jewish people during World War II.

Under the new plan, proposed by Austrian historian Andreas Maislinger, the building will be dedicated to depicting the crimes against humanity committed by Hitler’s Third Reich. The plan has also been supported by movie producer Branko Lustig, of “Schindler’s List” fame.

Currently owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a retiree whose family has owned it since 1912, the building has been rented to the Austrian Interior Ministry since 1972. The Interior Ministry has barred Hitler admirers from occupy space in the building, but the owner has not let local officials mark the site with a plaque warning of the evils of fascism.

A previous proposal to convert the house into a living space sparked fears the building may fill with Hitler worshippers. Suggestions to create an anti-Nazi memorial have also been rejected. The final decision now rests with Austria’s interior ministry, which is expected to approve the project before the end of the year.

Eric Shawn Investigates: The hit on Hoffa

 Image result for Eric Shawn Investigates: The hit on Hoffa

It all started, and ended, on this day nearly four decades ago.

It was a hot July afternoon, nearly 92 degrees, when Teamsters president and labor icon Jimmy Hoffa is said to have opened the rear door of a 1975 maroon Mercury in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and climbed in.

He was never seen again.

The FBI has expended countless resources in the ensuing decades in the hopes of finally solving this enduring American mystery with no success.

But I believe, based on my 2004 investigation, that Frank Sheeran did it.

“Suspects Outside of Michigan: Francis Joseph “Frank” Sheeran, age 43, president local 326, Wilmington, Delaware. Resides in Philadelphia and is known associate of Russel Bufalino, La Cosa Nostra Chief, Eastern Pennsylvania,” reads the 1976 HOFFEX memo, the compilation of everything investigators knew about Hoffa’s disappearance that was prepared for a high level, secret conference at FBI headquarters six months after he vanished.

Sheeran, known as “The Irishman,” told me that he drove with Hoffa to a nearby house where he shot him twice in the back of the head. Our investigation subsequently yielded the corroboration, the suspected blood evidence on the hardwood floor and down the hallway of that house, that supports Frank’s story.

No one who has ever boasted about knowing what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa has had their claims tested, scrutinized, and then corroborated by independently discovered evidence… except Frank.

He is also the only one of the FBI’s dozen suspects who has ever come forward and talked publicly about the killing, let alone admit involvement.

Every other claim that you have ever heard about, from Hoffa being buried in the end zone of Giants Stadium to being entombed under a strip of highway asphalt somewhere, came from people who were never on the bureau’s list of people suspected of actual involvement.

For that reason, Frank stands alone.

Six weeks after Hoffa disappeared, Frank, along with the other suspects, was summoned before the Detroit grand jury investigating the case. He took the Fifth.

When I met him in the spring of 2001, Frank freely talked.

My meeting with Frank was arranged so that I could take his measure, and he mine, for a possible in-depth investigation, interview and news story about his claims. He was accompanied by his former lawyer Charlie Brandt, the author of Frank’s then-proposed biography, which tells the Hoffa story. Charlie had been able to spring Frank from a Mafia-related federal racketeering prison sentence, and for that reason was taken into Frank’s confidence.

It would be three years before the book, “I Hear You Paint Houses: Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran And Closing The Case On Jimmy Hoffa” would be published by Steerforth Press, and before the first of my many news stories about Frank, and our investigation, would air on television.

His story is this: He and others were ordered by the Mafia to kill Hoffa to prevent him from trying to run again for the presidency of the Teamsters union. Hoffa had resigned after serving prison time for jury tampering, attempted bribery and fraud convictions. Frank picked Hoffa up at the restaurant, accompanied by two others, to supposedly drive Hoffa to a mob meeting. When they walked into the empty house together, with Frank a step behind Hoffa, he raised his pistol at point-blank range and fired two fatal shots into his unsuspecting target, turned around and left. He said the body was then dragged down the hall by two awaiting accomplices, and that he was later told Hoffa was cremated at a mob-connected funeral home.

Frank had an imposing, old-school mobster way about him that even his advanced years — he was 80– did not betray. His menacing aura was not diminished by a severe case of arthritis that crippled him so badly that he was hunched over when he slowly walked with two canes, struggling to put one foot in front of the other.

I found Frank tough, determined, steely.

As I listened to his matter-of-fact recounting of what he said went down at that house, and giving such detail, I remember thinking what he was saying could actually be true.

Here’s why:

There is no doubt that Frank was a close confidant of Hoffa, someone who Hoffa trusted. And Hoffa didn’t trust very many.

Frank was both a long-time top Teamsters Union official in Delaware as well as an admitted Bufalino crime family hit-man and top aide to the boss himself.

The FBI admits that Frank was “known to be in Detroit area at the time of JRH disappearance, and considered to be a close friend of JRH,” as the HOFFEX memo states.

Hoffa’s son, current Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, told me in September 2001 that his father would have gotten into the car with Frank. He said that his father would not have taken that ride with some of the other FBI suspects whom I mentioned.

Frank, in the book, says that he sat in the front passenger seat of the car as a subtle warning to Hoffa, who habitually sat there. He felt a deep friendship and loyalty to Hoffa, yet knew what his own fate would be if he failed to carry out the lethal order from his mob masters. So he sat in the front seat hoping Hoffa would realize something was wrong. He did not.

The FBI did find “a single three-inch brown hair…in the rear seat back rest” of that car that matches Hoffa, and three dogs picked up “a strong indication of JRH scents in the rear right seat.”

During my interview, I asked Frank if he remembered how to get to the house. I thought finding where Hoffa was killed, and investigating everything about the house, could be key to the case. Frank rattled off the driving directions from the restaurant and described the house’s interior layout.

Killers may not remember an exact address of a murder scene, but they never forget how they got there and what they did when they arrived.

“Sheeran gave us the directions,” Charlie wrote in the book. “This was the first time he had ever revealed the directions to me. His deepened voice and hard demeanor was chilling, when, for the first time ever, he stated publicly to someone other than me that he had shot Jimmy Hoffa.”

A year after our meeting, Charlie and Frank drove to Detroit to try to find the house, and when they did Frank pointed it out to Charlie. They did not go in.

Three years later, in 2004, I, along with producer Ed Barnes and Charlie, first stepped foot into the foyer where Frank said he shot Hoffa, looked around the first floor and as it turned out, Frank’s description fit the interior to a tee.

Ed and I arranged with the homeowners to actually take up the foyer and hallway floorboards and remove the press-on vinyl floor tiles that they had put down over the original hardwood floors when they bought the house in 1989.

We hired a forensic team of retired Michigan state police investigators to try to find any blood evidence. They sprayed the chemical luminol on the floors, which homicide detectives routinely use to discover the presence of blood.

We found it.

The testing revealed a specific pattern of blood evidence, laid out like a map of clues to the nation’s most infamous unsolved murder. Little yellow numbered tags were placed throughout the first floor foyer and hallway, to mark each spot where the investigators’ testing yielded positive hits.

The pattern certainly told the story of how Hoffa was killed.

The greatest amount of positive hits were found right next to the front door, where Hoffa’s bleeding head would have hit the floor.

Seven more tags lined the narrow hallway toward the rear kitchen, marking the drops that perfectly mimic Frank’s story of Hoffa’s lifeless body being dragged to the kitchen by the two waiting accomplices, who then stuffed it into a body bag and carried it out the back kitchen door.

We arranged for the Oakland County prosecutor’s office to remove the floorboards for DNA testing by the FBI, though Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca cautioned that it would be “a miracle” if Hoffa’s DNA was recovered.

I knew those odds. A DNA hit was beyond a long shot.

Experts told me that such tiny samples of genetic material, degraded by the passage of 29 years and exposure to air and the elements under a homeowner’s heavily trafficked floor, would likely not provide enough material to result in a DNA match.

The FBI lab report says that chemical tests were conducted on 50 specimens; 28 tested positive for the possible presence of blood, and DNA was only recovered from two samples.

The FBI compared what was recovered to the DNA from a known strand of Hoffa’s hair. One sample was found to be “of male origin,” but it was not determined from whom. The other result was “largely inconclusive.”

Was I disappointed that a DNA match was not possible? Yes. Was I surprised? No. Did I think this disproved Frank’s claim? No.

Think about it.

What are the chances of any random house in America testing positive for blood traces from more than two dozen samples, in the exact pattern that corroborates a man’s murder confession?

What would luminol reveal under your home’s floor?

There are other reasons to believe why Frank’s scenario fits.

The house was most likely empty on that fateful summer day. It was built in the 1920’s and owned for five decades by a single woman, Martha Sellers, a teacher and department store employee. By the summer of 1975, Sellers was in her 80s, and not even living there full time. Her family told The Detroit News and Free Press that she had bought another home in Plymouth, Mich., where she would move permanently the next year.

In his book, Frank says that a man he called “a real estater” lived in the house. The Sellers family remembered that boarder, who they recalled resided in an upstairs bedroom. He was described as “a shadowy figure…who would disappear. He never said more than a few words and they know nothing about him, not even his name.”

It is quite possible that “the real estater,” was the link between the house and the Detroit mob, providing an empty house as needed, when Sellers was absent, for whatever purpose…including using it as a Mafia hit house to murder Jimmy Hoffa.

The FBI clearly believed Sheeran had credibility.  Agents visited him in his final years, in an unsuccessful attempt to secure his cooperation.

While we were conducting our investigation in Detroit in 2004, the FBI, I was told, tried to find the house even before we aired our story.

And the views of those closest to Jimmy Hoffa, his son and daughter seem especially relevant when assessing Frank’s credibility.

Not only did James P. Hoffa confirm that his father would have driven off with Frank, but his sister, Hoffa’s daughter, Barbara Crancer, wrote Frank a poignant letter begging him to come clean about their father’s fate.

The one-page heartfelt note, handwritten to Frank on March 5, 1995, is detailed in the book.

“It is my personal belief that there are many people who called themselves loyal friends who know what happened to James R. Hoffa, who did it and why. The fact that not one of them has ever told his family — even under a vow of secrecy, is painful to me…” Hoffa’s daughter wrote.

She then underlined: “I believe you are one of those people.”

Crancer confirmed to me that she wrote that letter.

Sadly for the Hoffa family, Frank never directly honored her request. When I sat with him, he said that his No. 1 priority was not to go back to “college,” meaning prison. He decided that the best way to avoid that possibility, while also revealing his story, was to cooperate with Charlie for the book and to share his secrets with me for my investigation and reporting.

Frank died on Dec. 14, 2003. He was 83.

While authorities no doubt will continue to respond to more tips, as they should, I believe that we already know what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.

Frank described the most precise and credible scenario yet to be recounted, and the evidence that we found from the floor backs up his confession.

Last living crew member of Enola Gay dies in Georgia at age 93


FILE: The crew of US Air Force “Enola Gay” B-29 Superfortress bomber that delivered the Hiroshima atomic bomb.AP

The last surviving member of the crew that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, hastening the end of World War II and forcing the world into the atomic age, has died in Georgia.

Theodore VanKirk, also known as “Dutch,” died Monday of natural causes at the retirement home where he lived in Stone Mountain, Georgia, his son Tom VanKirk said. He was 93.

VanKirk flew nearly 60 bombing missions, but it was a single mission in the Pacific that secured him a place in history. He was 24 years old when he served as navigator on the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb deployed in wartime over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

He was teamed with pilot Paul Tibbets and bombardier Tom Ferebee in Tibbets’ fledgling 509th Composite Bomb Group for Special Mission No. 13.

The mission went perfectly, VanKirk told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview. He guided the bomber through the night sky, just 15 seconds behind schedule, he said. As the 9,000-pound bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” fell toward the sleeping city, he and his crewmates hoped to escape with their lives.

They didn’t know whether the bomb would actually work and, if it did, whether its shockwaves would rip their plane to shreds. They counted — one thousand one, one thousand two — reaching the 43 seconds they’d been told it would take for detonation and heard nothing.

“I think everybody in the plane concluded it was a dud. It seemed a lot longer than 43 seconds,” VanKirk recalled.

Then came a bright flash. Then a shockwave. Then another shockwave.

The blast and its aftereffects killed 140,000 in Hiroshima.

Three days after Hiroshima, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The blast and its aftermath claimed 80,000 lives. Six days after the Nagasaki bombing, Japan surrendered.

Whether the United States should have used the atomic bomb has been debated endlessly. VanKirk told the AP he thought it was necessary because it shortened the war and eliminated the need for an Allied land invasion that could have cost more lives on both sides.

“I honestly believe the use of the atomic bomb saved lives in the long run. There were a lot of lives saved. Most of the lives saved were Japanese,” VanKirk said.

But it also made him wary of war.

“The whole World War II experience shows that wars don’t settle anything. And atomic weapons don’t settle anything,” he said. “I personally think there shouldn’t be any atomic bombs in the world — I’d like to see them all abolished.

“But if anyone has one,” he added, “I want to have one more than my enemy.”

VanKirk stayed on with the military for a year after the war ended. Then he went to school, earned degrees in chemical engineering and signed on with DuPont, where he stayed until he retired in 1985. He later moved from California to the Atlanta area to be near his daughter.

Like many World War II veterans, VanKirk didn’t talk much about his service until much later in his life when he spoke to school groups, his son said.

“I didn’t even find out that he was on that mission until I was 10 years old and read some old news clippings in my grandmother’s attic,” Tom VanKirk told the AP in a phone interview Tuesday.

Instead, he and his three siblings treasured a wonderful father, who was a great mentor and remained active and “sharp as a tack” until the end of his life.

“I know he was recognized as a war hero, but we just knew him as a great father,” Tom VanKirk said.

VanKirk’s military career was chronicled in a 2012 book, “My True Course,” by Suzanne Dietz. VanKirk was energetic, very bright and had a terrific sense of humor, Dietz recalled Tuesday.

Interviewing VanKirk for the book, she said, “was like sitting with your father at the kitchen table listening to him tell stories.”

A funeral service was scheduled for VanKirk on Aug. 5 in his hometown of Northumberland, Pennsylvania. He will be buried in Northumberland next to his wife, who died in 1975.  The burial will be private.

Image found of Confederate White House housekeeper

Confederate Housekeeper660.jpg

Mary OMelia is seen in an undated photo provided by the American Civil War Museum. OMelia served at the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va.,as housekeeper for Jefferson Davis and his first lady, Varina Davis, and was a confidante of the first lady.The American Civil War Museum

Mary O’Melia left Ireland for America as a young widow with three children before she was hired as housekeeper at the White House of the Confederacy. An intimate witness to history, she also has been much of a mystery.

That was until this year, when a woman with a distinctive Irish lilt to her voice called The American Civil War Museum. The housekeeper, the woman said, was related to her late husband, and she had in her possession a necklace that Confederate first lady Varina Davis gave O’Melia.

But there was more.

“What really took my breath away is she said she had a photograph of Mary,” said Cathy Wright, curator at the Civil War Museum, formerly the Museum of the Confederacy.

 “Considering that it’s been almost 150 years since she left the White House that anyone has been able to look at her face is just remarkable,” Wright said in an interview.

The tintype adds a human dimension to what is a tantalizing but frustrating portrait of a woman who left her children in Baltimore to oversee the White House in the capital of the Confederacy during the duration of the Civil War but publicly revealed little of the experience.

O’Melia was among a staff of 20, was a confidante to the first lady, and may have been in the mansion in April 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln visited after Confederate defenders left the city smoldering. Historical records are unclear on that point.

The discovery is important nonetheless because the museum, which is next door to the White House, has strived to piece together the often untold lives of the African-American slaves, free people of color and European immigrants who worked as domestics for the Davis family.

“One of the more elusive figures was Mary O’Melia,” Wright said.

O’Melia was a central character in this Southern version of “Downton Abbey” and she remains a bit of an enigma. Even her name is a mystery. It’s been spelled various ways through the years — O’Melia, O’Malley and O’Malla.

This much is known: she was born Mary Larkin on April 7, 1822, in Galway, in western Ireland. She was educated in a convent, and apparently the fine needlework the religious order of nuns taught her may have influenced her hiring by Varina Davis.

She married a ship captain, Matthias O’Melia, but was widowed at age 25 when he was lost at sea.

While the circumstances of her journey to America are not known, Mary O’Melia settled in Baltimore in about 1850. In 1861, she left her children with relatives and headed to visit friends in Richmond, where she was marooned when Virginia left the Union.

Told by friends Varina Davis could help her return north, she appealed to the Roman Catholic bishop to intercede on her behalf.

Ultimately, Davis prevailed upon O’Melia to take the position as housekeeper and companion to the first lady despite O’Melia’s separation from her children.

O’Melia would eventually remain at the Confederate White House until Richmond’s fall in 1865.

Despite her perch within the Confederate seat of power, O’Melia left little written accounts of her years in Richmond. She left it to others to speculate on her employment, including a reporter who wrote after her death of all the “exciting conferences” she would have witnessed.

When the first family left Richmond in April 1865, O’Melia remained to oversee the mansion.

Writing from Danville days after his departure, President Jefferson Davis wrote to his wife: “Mrs. Omelia behaved just as you described her, but seemed anxious to serve and promised to take care of everything which may mean some things.”

Perhaps a more telling gesture of O’Melia’s connection to the first family of the Confederacy was her correspondence with the Davis family after they parted and a wedding she and Varina Davis attended in 1867. They were the only white people in attendance at the wedding of Ellen Barnes, who had served in the White House.

When Jefferson Davis died in 1889, O’Melia attended a memorial in Baltimore. A reporter said she “attracted considerable attention” and was described as “a well-preserved old lady.”

Wright said O’Melia’s story resonates particularly with her because she calls herself the “modern housekeeper of the White House of the Confederacy.

“I’m supposed to be over there keeping it clean and maintaining it so I’ve always felt a personal affinity for her,” she said.

After her service at the White House, O’Melia returned to Baltimore where she operated boarding houses until her death in 1907.

Report points to photo as possible new clue to Amelia Earhart’s fate


The Miami Herald

A recently surfaced photo of Amelia Earhart’s plane, captured by the Miami Herald in 1937, could offer crucial evidence regarding the famous aviator’s disappearance.

The picture, snapped right before Earhart made her ill-fated second attempt to fly around the world, shows a patch of aluminum bolted onto Earhart’s plane that appears to match a piece of aluminum discovered by investigators on a remote Pacific Island in 1991, the Herald reports.

The metal plate, which experts assumed was used to cover a broken window, does not appear in any other known photos of Earhart’s plane, according to the report.

The photo adds another twist to the controversy surrounding Earhart’s death. The aviation pioneer disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 during her second attempt to circumnavigate the globe by air.

Dozens of theories about the nature of Earhart’s death have sprung up over the years. It remains one of the most debated unsolved mysteries in America even today.

In Miami in 1937, the press gathered to see Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan embark on their flight around the world. Earhart’s plane had been undergoing repairs in Miami for a week before its departure. Ric Gillespie, a prominent Earhart investigator, believes that these repairs included the patching over of a broken rear window with an aluminum plate. The window had been specially installed so Noonan could navigate via the sun and stars but may have sustained damage during Earhart’s rough landing in Miami.

Gillespie, a prominent Earhart investigator, is convinced he and his team discovered the same aluminum plate on the tiny Gardner Island in the Pacific in 1991. Upon the plate’s initial discovery, forensic analysis revealed it was made from a type of aluminum that was commonly used in the manufacturing of American airplanes during the 1930s.

Despite this evidence, the case remained open when further investigation showed the rivet patterns on the scrap did not match those on the metal used to make Earhart’s plane.

However, the Herald photo suggests the plate was not part of the plane’s original structure, but an add-on installed shortly before Earhart’s departure from Miami. If this piece of metal is in fact the same one Ric Gillespie and his team discovered, it would debunk the popular theory that Earhart simply crashed and sank into the Pacific Ocean, suggesting instead that she died after crash-landing on Gardner Island and finding herself stranded.

“The replacement of that window had to be done in Miami, at a Pan Am facility that was helping Earhart,” Gillespie told the Herald. “They may have used different materials than Lockheed … If we can match that rivet pattern in the photo, I don’t see how anybody can argue against this anymore.”

‘D-Day 360’: Historic battle recreated for 70th anniversary with cutting-edge technology

pbs dday.jpg

The June 6th, 1944 Allied landing on the beaches of Normandy has been re-envisioned for television using new, state-of-the-art digital technology. As part of PBS’ special month of programming in honor of the 70th anniversary of the historic event, “D-Day 360” uses data gathered through forensic laser scanning and meticulous 3D computer modeling to bring the battlefield to life.

“The world we live in was formed by that day. It was the end of the Third Reich and the end of the evil genocide regime,” Alex Kershaw, one of the on screen historians in the special, told FOX411. “It’s especially poignant these days because we are looking at the last of that generation of great warriors who are passing away. We can say thanks to the survivors.”

“D-Day 360” focuses particularly on the exit at Viercill-sur-Mer, a crucial strip of beach. The show looks into how victory depended on what went down over a five-hour period on the five-mile strip of sand.

“It shows exactly where they were, and the trajectory of where the shells were fired. They (producers) were able to recreate all this in a way that is so incredible that you could see what these guys were able to do,” Kershaw explained. “They are able to recreate inside the bunkers and the beach where the cannons were fired and give the exact details and geographical locations of D-Day. It was a large (filming) budget and they’ve taken time to make it come to life.”

But it is not all special effects and CGI. “D-Day 360” also tells the story of twin soldier brothers – Roy and Ray Stephens. One lived, the other died fighting.

“I’m going to be in Normandy for the 70th anniversary and it is going to be the last time we can say thanks to many of the survivors,” Kershaw said. “In ten years time, there will hardly be any left who were in active duty on D-Day.”

Using data, statistical tools and eyewitness accounts, the special follows the day in which 3,000 planes dropped 23,000 airborne troops behind German lines and 130,000 Allied soldiers stormed five heavily defended French beaches in their historic assault on Nazi-occupied Europe.

“D-Day 360” airs Tuesday, May 27 at 9pmET with an encore Monday, June 2.

Follow @holliesmckay on Twitter.

Mercy Otis Warren: Early American mother, author and role model



My daughter faced a personal crisis last week as she started back to work after a three-month maternity leave. She loves her profession as a pediatric dentist, but how could she possibly leave the little person who appears to grow and change by the minute? A ten-hour day away loomed as half a lifetime.

Her husband, my wife and I were on hand to lend moral support and we promised not to make any life-altering decisions, such as kindergarten enrollment, at least until she returned that evening.

Even with this support system in place, however, my daughter uttered the proverbial line, “but we’ve been joined at the hip forever!” as well as an anguished plea for us to text a photo every hour.

As women still struggle with how to “do it all” in terms of work and family, Mercy Otis Warren is an inspiring example of an early American woman who successfully faced this challenge.

My daughter’s predicament is not unique, and as families gather to celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, balancing work and family is one of the main issues challenging women and men everywhere.

What they might be surprised to learn, is that just as there are strong role models today, there are also women who faced similar challenges juggling their passions for both professional and personal fulfillment more than two centuries ago.

A case in point was Mercy Otis Warren, one of the leading figures of the American Revolution and one of the first American women to have a strong career as a published author and mentor to other women while being a mother and managing home and family.

Mercy was born in West Barnstable on Cape Cod in 1728, the third child and first daughter of James and Mary Otis. Her father was a merchant, attorney, and local judge who prospered sufficiently to send his sons to Harvard. In that day, such a path was unthinkable for Mercy, but she learned to read and write and sharpened her wit in freewheeling political discussions with her father and older brothers.

When Mercy, at age twenty-six, married James Warren and moved to Plymouth, she was almost an old maid by the standards of the day and James, at twenty-eight, was an aspiring merchant with political ambitions. Mercy bore five healthy sons over nine years and her focus was what was expected of colonial women: home, hearth, and husband.

But Mercy Otis Warren sought more. The Warrens’ circle of friends came to include a young lawyer named John Adams and his wife, Abigail.

Mercy Otis Warren was sixteen years Abigail Adams’s senior, and Abigail found a political and intellectual mentor in her. “You, Madam,” Abigail wrote Mercy just before the Boston Tea Party, “are so sincere a Lover of your Country…that it will greatly aggravate your anxiety to hear how much she is now oppressed and insulted.”

By now, Mercy’s youngest was seven and in the course of her social letters, Mercy increasingly turned her thoughts to political issues.

She found her own mentor in Catharine Sawbridge Macaulay, a British historian who routinely flouted the strictures against feminine intellectual engagement and had published an eight-volume history of England, essentially arguing the importance of personal liberty. “America stands armed with resolution and virtue,” Warren assured Macaulay in 1774, as the clouds of revolution gathered.

Such a course toward rebellion and speaking out in support of it threatened Mercy’s domestic peace. “No one has at stake a larger share of domestic felicity than myself,” she wrote her young admirer Abigail Adams in the fall of 1774, as Abigail’s husband rode off for the Continental Congress. “I see no less than five sons,” Mercy continued, “who must buckle on the harness and perhaps fall a sacrifice to the manes of liberty.”

But rather than shy away from that possibility, Mercy Otis Warren sought a broader audience for her political thoughts.

To publish openly as a woman in Puritan Massachusetts would have been regarded as scandalous, so she began to write anonymous political satire for local newspapers.

Among her pieces, Warren authored “The Group,” a harsh condemnation of those appointed by the king to carry out royal laws. But “The Group” also carried a secondary theme that the traditional suppression of women’s rights by men paralleled Parliament’s suppression of the political rights for which their husbands were preparing to fight.

When matters turned to armed conflict, Mercy agonized as James left home to attend the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. They had talked of freedom and she had written of it for so long, however, that his riding to effect it was a duty she could not question.

Mercy’s responsibility, even as she continued her correspondence in the rebel cause, was to manage the family businesses in his absence and be prepared to shepherd their brood to a safe house should British troops march on Plymouth.

It took six and one-half years, but the American Revolution ran its course. Mercy Otis Warren continued writing poetry and satire and went on to complete a three-volume history of the conflict. Published in 1805 under her own name, “History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution” was the capstone of her literary career. When James died in 1808, they had been married fifty-four years.

Mercy Otis Warren steadfastly pursued her writing endeavors with only a small support system of other women in an era when barriers to her professional aspirations abounded. Not only did she adroitly balance family and household matters with other business and her own writing, but she did so through uncertain political turmoil that erupted into war.

As women still struggle with how to “do it all” in terms of work and family, Mercy Otis Warren is an inspiring example of an early American woman who successfully faced this challenge.

PS to my daughter: Mercy’s five sons turned out just fine.


Historian Walter R. Borneman is author of numerous books. His latest is“American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution” (Little, Brown, May 6, 2014).

Cold War images spill new secrets: Lost cities


An image from the website.CORONA.CAST.UARK.EDU

The Middle East is home to 4,500 archaeological sites, or so we thought. An in-depth review of Cold War-era photos taken by spy satellites has pulled back the veil on as many as 10,000 more lost cities, roads, and other ruins in the region.

As Gizmodo reports, CORONA served as the code name for America’s first use of photographic spy satellites, and was in operation from 1960 to 1972.

Its name lives on in the new CORONA Atlas of the Middle East, which made its debut Thursday at the annual gathering of the Society for American Archaeology and revealed “completely unknown” sites via some of the 188,000 declassified photos taken during the mission’s final five years, reports National Geographic.

Archaeologist Jesse Casana of the University of Arkansas describes some of the sites as “gigantic,” with two sprawling over more than 123 acres; Casana suspects the largest, which appear to include aged walls and citadels, were Bronze Age cities.

And as he explains, the photos’ age matters. Though current satellites produce images superior to these grainy decades-old ones, “we can’t see a site that someone has covered up with a building,” and the fact that they were taken before cities like Iraq’s Mosul and Jordan’s Amman swelled makes them invaluable.

The CORONA site explains that the mission’s satellites snapped images “of most of the Earth’s surface” (images whose film strips were, in a great detail noted by National Geographic, sent back to Earth via parachute-topped buckets) and archaeologists plan to also review areas like Africa and China.

(In other spy-related news: new revelations about Mata Hari.)

More From Newser

Ancient wrestling was fake too: Document shows match was fixed



By Owen Jarus


Researchers have deciphered a contract, pictured here, that was written in A.D. 267 between the guarantors of two wrestlers named Nicantinous and Demetrius. In it the father of Nicantinous pledges to pay Demetrius 3,800 drachma if he allows NicIMAGE COURTESY EGYPT EXPLORATION SOCIETY

Who says only modern-day pro wrestling is fake?

Researchers have deciphered a Greek document that shows an ancient wrestling match was fixed. The document, which has a date on it that corresponds to the year A.D. 267, is a contract between two teenagers who had reached the final bout of a prestigious series of games in Egypt.

This is the first time that a written contract between two athletes to fix a match has been found from the ancient world.

In the contract, the father of a wrestler named Nicantinous agrees to pay a bribe to the guarantors (likely the trainers) of another wrestler named Demetrius. Both wrestlers were set to compete in the final wrestling match of the 138th Great Antinoeia, an important series of regional games held along with a religious festival in Antinopolis, in Egypt. They were in the boys’ division, which was generally reserved for teenagers.

[In Photos: Gladiators of the Roman Empire]

The contract stipulates that Demetrius “when competing in the competition for the boy [wrestlers], to fall three times and yield,” and in return would receive “three thousand eight hundred drachmas of silver of old coinage ”

There were no pins in this Greek style of wrestling, and the goal of the wrestlers was to throw the other to the ground three times. A wide array of holds and throws were used, a few of which look a bit like a body slam.

The contract includes a clause that Demetrius is still to be paid if the judges realize the match is fixed and refuse to reward Nicantinous the win. If “the crown is reserved as sacred, (we) are not to institute proceedings against him about these things,” the contract reads. It also says that if Demetrius reneges on the deal, and wins the match anyway, then “you are of necessity to pay as penalty to my [same] son on account of wrongdoing three talents of silver of old coinage without any delay or inventive argument.”

The translator of the text, Dominic Rathbone, a professor at King’s College London, noted that 3,800 drachma was a relatively small amount of money about enough to buy a donkey, according to another papyrus. Moreover, the large sum Demetrius would forfeit if he were to back out of the deal suggests his trainers would have been paid additional money Rathbone said.

The match fixing took place at an event honoring Antinous, the deceased male lover of the Emperor Hadrian (reign A.D. 117-138). After Antinous drowned in the Nile River nearby, the town of Antinopolis was founded in his honor, and he became a god, and statues of him were found throughout the Roman Empire.

[Photos: The Secret Passageways of Hadrian’s Villa]

The games had been going on for more than a century by the time this contract was created, and brought benefits for the people of Antinopolis. For instance, “You get the visitors; you get the crowd; you get the trade; you get the prestige,” Rathbone told Live Science.

The contract was found at Oxyrhynchus, in Egypt, more than a century ago by an expedition led by archaeologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt. It was translated for the first time by Rathbone and published in the most recent volume of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, an ongoing series that publishes papyri from this site. The transcription of the text was done by John Rea, a now-retired lecturer at the University of Oxford and Rathbone did the translation.

The Egypt Exploration Society owns more than 500,000 papyrus fragments from this site, and they are now kept at the Sackler Library at Oxford.

Why offer a bribe?

In the modern world, scandals involving bribes to athletes, or athletic officials, often revolve around gambling or attempts to reward a medal to athletes from a particular country.

The winners of ancient games would sometimes be paid sizable amounts of money, or receive lifetime pensions from their hometown, Rathbone said. However, he noted, there was no prize at all for coming in second.

“In ancient competitions, coming first is the one and only thing no silver, no bronze,” Rathbone said. Additionally, the cost of training athletes was considerable. Athletes from wealthy families could pay their own way, but athletes from less-well-off backgrounds could find themselves in debt to their trainers.

“The trainer is going to pay for your food, your accommodations and so on for your training, so you end up in debt to him,” Rathbone said.

In this winner-takes-all situation, both sides may have decided to curb their risks by making a deal to fix the match, Rathbone said.

“If you were confident you would win, normally you would go for it,” he said. “If you’re not sure you would win, maybe you’re cutting your risk by saying, ‘At least I get the bribe,'” Rathbone said.

Why write up a contract?

But researchers still wonder, why did the guarantors for the athletes create a written contract recording the agreement? “That’s the really bizarre thing; isn’t it?” Rathbone said, noting that if either side reneged on the deal, it would be hard to take the matter to court.

He has also noted oddities in the way the contract was drawn up. “It doesn’t look as though they’ve actually gone as far as getting a scribe with legal knowledge to do this for them, which makes you wonder if it’s a bit of an empty thing,” Rathbone said. “It’s not really likely that either side is going to [seek recourse] if the other defaults.”

Although this is the only known contract recording a bribe between ancient athletes, there are references in ancient sources indicating that bribery in athletic competitions was not unusual. By the time of the Roman empire, bribery in athletic competitions was getting more prevalent as the events became more lucrative, Rathbone said.

“There are sources [indicating] that things had got a bit worse in the Roman Empire when there were more games and when there were more financial rewards, particularly these municipal pensions,” Rathbone said. These pensions consisted of payments that an athlete’s hometown awarded to winners and could continue for the rest of their life.