In the last post, we discussed how busy Ronald Tammen was on his final official day on the grid. Our big revelation was that, in the morning and early afternoon of April 19, 1953, Ron was allegedly in Cincinnati making three 78 records—six recordings in all—with the Campus Owls for their competition entry for DownBeat magazine.
So King Records now takes the #1 spot in Ron’s itinerary for that day. Before I make the next reveal, here’s a brief synopsis of what we know (or think we know) about his actions from that point on:
Reconstructed Itinerary for April 19, 1953
(click on link)
With this timeline in mind, we now have one more impromptu brush with Ronald Tammen that supposedly happened on April 19. This information comes to us by way of a former resident of Fisher Hall—let’s call him Hal—who lived on the third floor. Although I haven’t yet been able to corroborate his story with anyone else, I wanted to share it because it’s so compelling and because Hal is so confident that it happened. (Several of Ronald Tammen’s family members have reviewed this post in advance, and I’ve included a couple observations from one of them below, where applicable.)
From the Fisher Hall resident: Ron was in Fisher Hall’s third-floor bathroom when he got into a fight with his younger brother Richard.
To say that Hal is an extrovert is an understatement. Hal was known as the guy who had his finger on the pulse of Fisher Hall. He pretty much knew everyone in the dorm, in addition to what the day-to-day goings-on were as well as what was churning in the rumor mill. Today, he’s a retired businessman who has enjoyed great success in the construction field, but back in 1953, he was the ringleader of a group of guys who would play hearts from early evening until well into the night. When they weren’t playing cards, they occasionally broke rules and ignored boundaries, but only in a harmless sort of way. If they got hungry, they’d been known to try to sneak food from the kitchen. If they wondered where an unmarked door might lead, they’d open it and go exploring.
Hal explained to me that on the evening that Ronald Tammen disappeared, he and some of the guys had been playing cards in one of the rooms on the third floor. And then, ever so nonchalantly, he dropped this little bombshell:
“Now the two Tammen brothers fought in the bathroom. And both of them were husky guys, not big, but quite husky…and that night they had a real bang-up in the third-floor bathroom.”
Upon reflection, Hal isn’t exactly sure what time the fight happened and he has no idea why it happened. He wasn’t there. He’d only heard about the fight after the fact. He also isn’t sure if there had been yelling or fists flying—just that the Tammens were in a fight, and someone broke it up. It wasn’t the first time that Ron and Richard had fought, he said, though it wasn’t out of the ordinary for fights to break out in the dorm either, usually between roommates. He just recalls hearing that Ron and Richard Tammen had fought in the third-floor bathroom sometime on the day Ron disappeared. (A Tammen family member questions the description of the brothers as husky, noting that they were slim to medium in build.)
Why Ron and Richard would be on the third floor of Fisher Hall at all is anyone’s guess, since Ron’s room was on the second floor and Richard, who was a freshman that year, lived in nearby Symmes Hall. When I asked Hal that question, he said that Ron often took showers on the third floor. (To find out why Ron did that, I suppose we’d have to ask him directly. Maybe it was so he could have some privacy and a little distance from the freshman guys he oversaw. Maybe the water pressure was better. Alas, we’ll never know.)
Hal’s hypothesis is that something terrible must have happened in relation to that fight. He imagines a scenario in which a second fight broke out, things got out of hand, and Ron died somehow—by accident. He pictures Richard carrying Ron’s body up a ladder to the attic and putting him in one of the large cisterns that Hal had discovered during one of his clandestine expeditions around Fisher Hall. Hal says that he spoke with the Oxford police about it, encouraging them to search the attic, but they had little regard for what he had to say and, at least to his knowledge, no one followed up. (The same Tammen family member finds it difficult to believe that Richard would have been able to carry Ron up a ladder to the attic, since Richard was smaller than Ron. Although they were both roughly 5’9″ in height, Richard was probably no more than 150 pounds in comparison to Ron’s 175 pounds at the time of his disappearance.)
Hal also recalls Chuck Findlay, Ron’s roommate, interrupting their card game the night of Ron’s disappearance and asking the group if anyone had seen Ron. Hal says that he and several others took it upon themselves to check the rooms of everyone in Fisher Hall, to no avail. They also supposedly checked the entrances to the dorm to see if there were any tracks in the snow. It was the absence of footprints that signaled to Hal that Ron had never left the dorm. (Although Hal’s sleuthing instincts were excellent, I’m not sure they were infallible considering the amount of snow that had reportedly fallen that day. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the snowfall appears to have been between .01 and .04 inches per hour for most of the afternoon and early evening for Dayton and Cincinnati, and continued at that level in the early afternoon of April 20. This would be consistent with news accounts that described the weather as chilly with snow flurries. In short, the snow may have been sticking, but it probably hadn’t accumulated very much.)
Hal isn’t the first person to suspect Richard. In contrast to his likable older brother, Richard could be a hothead and a bully. John, the oldest Tammen brother, credited Richard’s teachers with bringing out the mean in him by continuously smacking his dominant left hand in school. Some have wondered if Richard might have done something terrible to Ron in true biblical, Cain v. Abel fashion.
I think we should take a few steps back, however. We don’t know what the argument was about. But we might be able to piece a few things together, assuming, again, that it indeed happened:
- By taking place in Fisher Hall’s third-floor bathroom, it’s pretty clear who the aggressor would have been. Something could have set Richard off, and he came to find his brother to have it out with him.
- According to Ken McDiffett, the former head resident of nearby Collins Hall who had conducted his own research into the Tammen disappearance, Ronald and Richard supposedly spoke by phone at 8 p.m. That phone call probably had something to do with whatever they were arguing about, irrespective of whether the call took place before or after the fight.
- If the fight took place after the 8 p.m. phone call, then Hal and his guys would have likely heard the commotion while they were playing cards, since the two bathrooms, which were located across the hall from one another, were nearby.
- If Ron was in the third-floor bathroom to take a shower, he probably did so at the same time he was seen walking around in a towel. That would put the fight sometime within our 4-7 p.m. window, which is my guess regarding when the fight occurred.
- As Hal said, the argument in the bathroom didn’t last. Someone broke things up. What’s more, according to Paul, the Delt, Ron attended song practice at around 9 p.m., which means that there would have been a cooling-off period. If the fight had resumed, it would have had to occur sometime after 10:30 p.m., when Ron returned from song practice. And if so, the altercation likely wouldn’t have taken place inside Fisher Hall, since more people would have heard it at that hour. Even if Ron didn’t attend song practice, any possible rematch sometime after 8 p.m. would have had to occur outside, again, because too many people would have noticed it inside Fisher Hall. This makes the cistern theory less plausible.
Richard’s behavior after his brother disappeared was all over the map—from reticence to defensiveness to panic. Robert Tammen, the youngest of the Tammen siblings, doesn’t remember Richard ever talking about Ron’s disappearance when he was home on break. A former dorm counselor said that, when he asked Richard if he knew where Ron might be, Richard’s demeanor turned sour, and he said something like, “I’m not my brother’s keeper.” Paul, the Delt, remembers Richard bursting into the fraternity house living room the Saturday after Ron went missing, when a group was watching a baseball game, and asking if anyone had seen his brother. Of course, if Richard had spoken with his brother the day of his disappearance, either by phone or in person, he remained tight-lipped about it when speaking with news reporters. (He’s on record as having last seen Ron at around 11 or 11:30 p.m., Saturday, April 18.) Any of those behaviors could be interpreted in a number of ways, some of which might arouse suspicions about Richard.
Two of Richard’s actions have led me to see things differently, however. First, news accounts had reported that Richard didn’t believe Mrs. Spivey’s claims that Ron had showed up on her doorstep in Seven Mile later that night because Richard had found some discrepancies in her story. If he had put his brother in the attic, or anywhere else, wouldn’t it have been to his advantage to go along with whatever Mrs. Spivey said, to throw people off the trail? Also, many years afterward, when the university had been publishing articles around Halloween that portrayed the Tammen case as a ghost story, Richard contacted Miami’s news bureau to ask them to stop. He didn’t want his brother remembered in that way. Those don’t sound like the actions of a guilty person to me.
I would give anything to talk with Richard, because, in my mind, what took place in that third-floor bathroom might not have begun as a fight at all. Perhaps Richard was pleading—loudly, aggressively—with Ron not to do something that Ron was determined to do, even to the point of throwing some punches at him. Angst and anger can look the same to a casual observer. Unfortunately, in October 2004, Richard died of carbon monoxide poisoning in an apartment fire that was ruled accidental, with the probable cause being “the careless use of smoking materials.”
Did Richard do something drastic? I don’t think so—even though I know he was no angel. I’m not the only person who has come to that conclusion either. The FBI has no records on Richard, and people familiar with the inner workings of the Oxford PD and university investigations have told me that they never heard his name mentioned as a suspect. The cold case detective from the 2008 Butler County Sheriff’s Department investigation also didn’t consider him a suspect.
Did Richard know something about Ron’s whereabouts that he would take to his grave? That’s a possibility I haven’t ruled out.