Since a new movie has debuted about Amelia Earhart, people are asking again what happened to her when her last flight vanished in 1937. The popular new answer: she was eaten by coconut crabs. It is presumed she and navigator Fred Noonan made a forced landing at Nikumaroro, part of the Phoenix Islands, and there succumbed to injuries or illness, thereafter to be eaten by the hideous giant anthropods, who prefer nuts and fleshy fruits but would presumably have found fresh-killed aviators a nice change of pace.
Repulsive as this theory is, anthropologist and author Tom King made it even more Halloween-worthy in his book Thirteen Bones, suggesting that Earhart was thus devoured while still alive. The Discovery Channel has reproduced some of his speculative account at its web site, where it has doubtlessly been viewed by lots of curious, science-minded children:
Smaller crabs, clattering in a different key, dragging the pilfered sea shells in which they lived, were already nibbling at her legs and arms. Tiny ones too, hardly bigger than insects, but so many of them, so very many. She no longer felt them as more than an itch.
Hermit crabs, she thought fleetingly, eating a hermit. Alive.
Was she alive?
The ground seemed to be. Everything around where she lay, by the cold remains of her fire, seemed to pulsate with crabs.
So intent on their business. Eating her.
The freedom she had felt, the sheer fierce joy of it, would have brought tears to her eyes, but she was far too dehydrated to produce them.
With an almost academic curiosity, she wondered what was killing her — besides the crabs.
Plus diarrhea, an infected foot, and more on the “vaguely felt nibbling of the crabs.” It’s not as intellectual as Arthur Kopit’s version, but more in keeping with the season.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 27, 2009