Was Amelia Earhart executed by the Japanese?

There are fresh claims legendary aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator were not only captured, but executed by the Japanese - and the US has government has known all along.

Ms Earhart was trying to become the first woman to fly around the globe, but she and Mr Noonan disappeared somewhere in the Pacific Ocean after leaving Papua New Guinea in early July, 1937.

Her plane was never found and no one has ever figured out for sure what became of the pair.

A History Channel documentary that aired earlier this year put forward new evidence she didn't die in a crash, but was captured by the Japanese - who'd only a few years later declare war on the US, where Ms Earhart was from.

The theory's been given further weight by a man whose uncle worked at a prison on the island of Saipan in 1937, where it's alleged the Japanese held Ms Earhart and Mr Noonan captive.

William Sablan told the Guam Pacific Daily News when he was younger, he told his uncle about his dreams of becoming a pilot. His uncle told him in 1937, two Americans - a man and a woman - were brought to the prison after being found with their crashed plane in the Marshall Islands, which at the time were under Japanese control.

Though he told the story in 1971 Mr Sablan says it stuck in his uncle's mind because it was rare to see Caucasian people on Saipan, and their arrival caused a "commotion".

Amelia Earhart.
Amelia Earhart. Photo credit: Getty

His testimony backs up the History Channel documentary, but with a morbid twist: Mr Sablan's uncle told him they were only at the prison for "two or three days" before being executed.

"During their session, I guess, Imperial Japan didn't want anything to do with them, because they didn't want to get involved in any... scandal," Mr Sablan told the Guam Pacific Daily News.

"They were both killed in Saipan and buried there... After the war was over, their bodies were exhumed by an American military branch and shipped back to the United States. Where those bodies are now is somebody's own question to answer."

The documentary, Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, rested its case on a newly discovered photograph taken in the Marshall Islands. It showed what appeared to be a Caucasian man and woman mingling on a dock with darker-skinned locals. Though a bit blurry, the man's receding hairline and the woman's short crop matched those of Mr Noonan and Ms Earhart.

Amelia Earhart?
The now-debunked photo. Photo credit: US National Archive

But a week after it aired, a Japanese military history blogger told media he found the same image in a book published in 1935 - two years before the pair disappeared. Other reports said the photo was found in the US National Archives with other photos dated post-1940 - at least three years too late.

The Saipan theory isn't new, however - in 1960 a CBS reporter spoke to locals who reported two "spies" - a man and a woman - had been found in the Marshall Islands before World War II broke out.