Of all the movie genres that are out there, the one I adore most is the film noir. The shadowy lighting, the 1940s fashions, the witty repartee spoken in clipped sentences between drags on a smoldering cigarette, the monsoon-like levels of rainfall—such are the elements of a truly great mystery. But, perhaps above all, there’s the mysterious woman—the glamorous vixen who knocks on Humphrey Bogart’s office door late at night in need of a P.I., or the femme fatale who fixes Fred MacMurray a drink as the two plot out a new life insurance policy for her husband. Who is she? What’s her story?, we all think. I’d almost contend that no great mystery goes without one.
Well, hold onto your fedoras, Ron Tammen fans, because we have a mysterious woman too. (Click to tweet.)
She sauntered her way into our saga back in 2010, when I was having a phone conversation with Ron Tammen’s freshman roommate. Tammen had resided in Fisher Hall both of his years at Miami—as a freshman and a sophomore—and, just as it was with Tammen’s sophomore roommate, his freshman roommate really didn’t have any stories to share about Tammen. He thought he was a nice guy, but that’s about it. And then he brought up her.
He remembered that Ron had told him that he was dating an older woman, although, to an 18-year-old guy, the term “older” could have meant anything—from someone in her early 20s to way up in her 30s even. She had a car. She wasn’t a student. She was from somewhere like Hamilton or Middletown, he said, and she would pick Ron up, and the two would drive off together. Some of the other Fisher Hall residents used to whisper about her, he told me. He didn’t recall her name, and in a more recent conversation, he said that he didn’t recall Ron ever mentioning her name to him. He’d never seen her before, so he couldn’t describe what she looked like.
While I found the revelation fascinating, I had no idea where to go with it. I couldn’t imagine that there would be any hard evidence I could seek in document form. The phrase “A woman from Hamilton or Middletown” is a tad too vague when searching a database or submitting a FOIA request. (Actually, I did try searching old newspapers to see if a woman from either of those towns might have gone missing at the same time that Ron did, in the event the two had run off together, but nothing turned up.)
I knew that what I was dealing with was the flimsiest form of evidence there is—hearsay—though that’s not to say that hearsay isn’t valuable. If I could find just one other person who remembered the same obscure details, then I’d be getting somewhere. I asked a few Delts and Fisher Hall residents if they’d ever seen or heard about Ron with an older woman, but that’s about all I could think to do.
After hearing so many “Nos” in reply, I began leaving that question off my list. It didn’t seem pertinent to where the story was heading. Besides, even if Ron Tammen was hanging out with an older woman during his freshman year, how would that relate to his disappearance during his sophomore year?
Then, just last month, I met with Ralph Smith (not his real name), the nearly 97-year-old man who’d been on the Oxford police force when Tammen disappeared. Ralph felt that there were two compelling clues in the case. One was public knowledge and one wasn’t.
The first clue, the one that had already been made public, had to do with the fish in Ron’s bed. To Ralph, that fish was the key to the mystery. He felt that Ron had been so startled and outraged by the fish that he confronted the culprit(s) and a fight ensued. He thought Ron was probably killed and thrown into the basement and never found. Ralph believes this theory so fervently that he wasn’t about to change his mind even after I told him who’d put the fish in Ron’s bed and why. It’s hard to abandon something we’ve believed in for so many years, I guess.
The second clue—the one that hadn’t made its way into public discourse (until now)—had to do with a woman.
Ralph mentioned her early in our conversation, when he told me that there was a report that someone had seen Ron “sitting in a car with a lady out front, and they drove off.” At first, I viewed his comment with skepticism, thinking that it sounded a lot like the hitchhiking reports that had been called in to the Oxford police shortly after Ron disappeared but that had been disproved. However, as he continued bringing up his two main talking points—the fish and the woman, the woman and the fish—I started taking his story more seriously. Here’s exchange number 2 (with light edits and extraneous conversation removed for readability):
RS: I thought, when they talked about him sitting in the car with some lady, I thought it might have been a lady friend or a girl that he liked or something. But why would he just drive off with her, unless she had so much money, that he’d leave his billfold, his contact with the bank?…
JW: OK, who saw him in a car with the lady? Do you remember?
RS: I don’t know. I think one of the fraternity members. I think that was made up…It’s possible that it did happen, but she lived in Hamilton, Ohio. I know that much.
JW: Do you know the name?
RS: No. No name was given.
JW: Was she older? Was she an older person?
RS: No, she was about the same age.
Later, with about 20 minutes left in our conversation, the topic of the woman in the car came up one more time, and I tried to extract any additional information about her that I could (again, transcript lightly edited for readability):
JW: When did you find out about the woman? Of him talking to a woman or sitting in a car?
RS: I think the next day or so.
JW: Somebody said that he saw Ron Tammen. In a car. With a woman.
RS: Yeah. And they never, they haven’t investigated the person. Nobody knows who the person was who said that, whether it was a fake deal to cover up for a cover-up or what. They definitely said that he was in a car. They saw him in a car about 45 minutes or close to an hour and all of a sudden they just drove off.
JW: And they drove off, but we don’t know what time.
RS: No. It was late. It was night, real late.
JW: OK, was this after the fish?
RS: After the fish deal. It was after the fish deal. After the episode with that…
RS: So he had to go down, and either she called him, or he had called her. Why she came up there, that was never expressed. And she wasn’t investigated.
JW: But did they know her name at one point?
RS: They didn’t know her name. They just said she was a lady who drove up in a car and he got in, and they sit there and then all of the sudden they drove off.
JW: Do you remember what kind of car?
RS: There was no further investigation. Who the lady was or…
JW: OK, so Oscar Decker [the police chief in charge of the investigation] couldn’t act on it because there was no name.
RS: No names involved. The person that said it—they didn’t know the woman. And see, most…the only way, he might have been a fraternity brother or a resident of the same dorm, and she might have been at one of the parties that they had. That was the only way that she might have been known. Because, they all have their own woman at the party. You don’t have no two or three women.
JW: OK, and I don’t know what I would do with this, but do you remember what kind of car?
RS: No. It wasn’t even mentioned.
JW: A color of a car?
RS: The color of the car, nothing. The only thing that was mentioned was that somebody saw him in a car. They didn’t say if it was red, blue, or what or what kind of car, and they were sitting there and they saw them drive off. And no check was made on whether that was true or whether it was a make-up deal or some type of cover-up or whether it really happened and where she really lived. She wasn’t a student. She wasn’t a student. She was just a lady.
JW: From Hamilton? Do we know that for sure?
RS: From Hamilton, they said. They thought she was. So she might have been his connection for a party when he had…See, whenever fraternities on weekends, they all have parties.
JW: Right. And did this person who reported it…
RS: We have no idea who that person is and nobody has no idea who said it.
JW: Can I ask who they told? Did they talk to the university and you found out or did they tell the police? Who did the person who saw Ron in the car…
RS: None of that was ever mentioned.
JW: You don’t know who they told.
RS: No. That’s what I say.
JW: Nobody talked to the police.
RS: Word just got out that…
JW: Word got out.
RS: Yeah. Word just got out, just like, “yeah, I saw him in the car and they drove off.”
After my sit-down with Ralph, I touched base with Ron’s freshman roommate again to see if he could provide additional details about the older woman, but he couldn’t think of anything more to add. I’m currently following up with more Delts and Fisher Hall residents to see if anyone remembers seeing or hearing about Ron and a woman from Hamilton, either on the night in question or any other night. Of course, it still isn’t clear if the older woman is the same person as the woman from Hamilton or if there actually was a woman from Hamilton.
It could be something, or it could be nothing, but it’s another clue that was never investigated, which is something in and of itself.