One of the most frequently named items that Ronald Tammen had left behind—apart from his wallet, IDs, and car keys—was the open book on his desk. Remember the book? From what I can tell, it was first brought to the public’s attention on April 25, 1953, when the Hamilton Journal-News reported “books” (plural) being “open on a study table” after he’d disappeared. On May 2, 1953, the books were narrowed down to “a textbook” that “was left open on his desk,” though some reports reverted to the plural form on occasion after that date. In April 1954, we learned from Joe Cella, also of the Hamilton Journal-News, that it was a psychology book, and in 1976, Cella reported that the psychology book was turned to “Habits.” This detail is posthumously corroborated by Carl Knox, dean of men, whose investigative notes say “Psych Book opened to HABITS,” with the last word written in all caps and underscored twice. What’s more, Knox had also noted that Tammen was spotted “Studying Psych” from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. on the day of his disappearance. How someone might have known the subject matter that Tammen had been studying, we can’t be sure, but that person must have felt reasonably confident of that detail to mention it to investigators.
Juxtapose all of the above with what Dick Titus told me Tammen had said to him before Tammen had walked out of Titus’s room the evening of his disappearance: that he needed to study his own subjects. What does all of this tell you? For me, it indicates that one of the last things on Tammen’s mind before he went missing was psychology. In fact, it appears to have been the subject he felt most compelled to study during the afternoon and evening of his final day as a Miami student. The topic of “Habits” is an added bit of intrigue.
Here’s why I find the open psych book so fascinating: Ronald Tammen wasn’t taking a psychology class.
Oh, let me rephrase that. Although Ronald Tammen had been enrolled in psychology the semester that he disappeared, he’d already withdrawn from the course by the time he went missing.
The documents that I’m posting today, which, to the best of my knowledge, have never been posted online before, are Ronald Tammen’s college transcripts. Here they are.
Before we get to the topic of psychology, let’s take a look at Ronald Tammen’s grades. He was a B student—the average of the A’s, B’s, and C’s he had accumulated since he’d arrived at Miami. His much-publicized grade point average of 3.205 was from his freshman year. The A’s were in courses such as Unified Math and General Geology—he was, after all, a math and science guy. The C’s were in American Social and Economic History (first semester) and Freshman Composition (second semester). All things considered, he was doing fairly well academically his first year away from home.
Now, let’s turn our attention to Ron’s sophomore year. W’s—withdrawals—had begun popping up like wins in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1953 baseball standings. Except Ron wasn’t winning. He was struggling. Juggling. At the start of the first semester of his sophomore year, Ron was carrying a course load of 17 credit hours, which is typical for a full-time student. At its completion, however, he was carrying only 11 hours, having dropped two 3-hour courses—an economics course and General Psychology, PSY 261. Despite the much lighter load, his grade point average had now slipped to 3.178, by my calculations.
That’s where the grades end, because at the conclusion of Tammen’s second semester, we see only a string of I’s (incompletes), a P (passing) in gym, and a W in psychology, the same course he’d dropped the previous semester. The P is of no consequence to this story. It only tells us how badly a person would have to be doing in gym to be given a failing grade. You could fall off the planet five weeks before finals and still pass the course. It’s the lone W in the line-up of I’s that was most curious to me. I needed to know the timeframe by which those I’s and W were handed out.
Our first clue is a statement at the bottom of page 3 of Tammen’s student records (made available for the first time here), that says: “DISAPPEARED FROM RESIDENCE HALL APRIL 19, 1953. GIVEN INCOMPLETES FOR SEMESTER (2ND, 1952-53).”
In my mind, that would imply that when Ron disappeared, he’d already dropped his psychology course and those I’s only pertained to courses in which he was still enrolled. To make sure my reasoning was correct, I contacted the Miami University Registrar’s Office in October 2010, asking how it could be that Ron had received that W in his psychology course.
Miami’s Registrar, David Sauter, is one of the most responsive administrators I’ve encountered anywhere. He’s also interested in the Tammen case. He got right on it. The next day, an assistant contacted me with information from an old grade card. It said that if a course is dropped after seven weeks, “either ‘WP’ for withdrawn passing or ‘WF’ for withdrawn failing must be entered.”
“The old grade card for that course indicates Mr. Tammen had a midterm grade of ‘C’ for the course in Spring 1953 and that he was dropped with a ‘WP.’ It does not, however, provide a drop date,” she said in her email. She added that she and her colleagues in the Registrar’s Office believed that the reason that there is a lone W on the transcript, and not a WP, was because the columns were only one character wide.
That provided me with one endpoint to my timeframe—Ron must have withdrawn at least seven weeks into the semester. But what about the other endpoint? I contacted Miami’s archivist at that time, Bob Schmidt, who emailed me a page from the 1952-53 issue of Rules and Regulations Governing Students, Student Activities, and Student Organizations for Miami University. In addition to confirming the information that the Registrar’s Office had provided, it said that course withdrawals had to be performed through the student’s adviser, and any withdrawals after eleven weeks resulted in a WF.
So, to recap, thus far:
- Ron Tammen had indeed already dropped his psychology course by the time he’d disappeared.
- He’d done it between the seventh and eleventh weeks of the second semester.
- Ron’s adviser, a professor by the name of Belden J. Dennison, knew it; Carl Knox, in his principal role as dean of men, also likely knew it; and now we know it too.
University calendars for 1952-53 show that Tuesday, February 3, was the date when second-semester classes started at Miami. Not quite seven weeks later, Saturday, March 21, 1953, was the last day a student could withdraw from a course without receiving a grade, and Saturday, April 25, 1953, a little over 11 weeks after the semester’s start, was the last day a student could withdraw from a course without receiving a WF. That means that the timeframe in which Ron had withdrawn from the course was likely sometime between Monday, March 23, and Saturday, April 18. Not only was this “drop” period within weeks of Ron’s disappearance, and possibly only a day or two before, it also overlapped with spring break, which had taken place from noon, Saturday, March 28, until Monday, April 6, with classes resuming on Tuesday, April 7. Ron wouldn’t have been able to drop his psych course during the university’s week off, so he either did it right before spring break or right after. My guess is that it would have been after spring break, because that was also the time period in which Ron had appeared to be showing signs of stress. Carl Knox had noted that Ron had been consulting the Bible several times after spring break and had also spoken of “being ‘tired lately’ since vacation.”
So I think the question on everyone’s minds is: why would Ronald Tammen be reading a textbook for a class he’d already dropped?
It could be that he had a general, non-school-related question he was pondering—something that led him to crack open an authoritative resource, not unlike how we now crack open our laptops to ask Google What’s romanesco? or How old is Kirk Douglas?
But why look up the very vague and arbitrary topic of habits? If Ronald Tammen had a habit he wanted to break, it would make more sense to research that specific topic somewhere, like a library, or to seek guidance from an expert. Besides, what habit would Ronald Tammen even have that needed breaking? Smoking? He didn’t smoke. Drinking? He wasn’t a drinker either. Was he a nail-biter? I doubt it. To be honest, it’s difficult to imagine what habit Ronald Tammen would want to kick with such urgency that he would interrupt his busy Sunday to consult his former textbook for a dry-as-a-bone description of habits. That would be like looking up the word Italy in an encyclopedia in hopes of finding a really good marinara recipe. It makes no sense.
Among the boxes devoted to Ronald Tammen at the Miami University Archives are copies of textbook pages, many of which have the following notation typed on them: “Copy of textbooks left open on Ron Tammen’s desk.” The word “textbooks” is plural, but the pages are from one book: Psychology–The Fundamentals of Human Adjustment, by Norman L. Munn. At the top of one of the pages, someone has made the notation that the book was a 2nd edition, from 1951. I found it puzzling that the archived documents covered a range spanning pages 152 to 295. Typically, if a book is open on a desk, there are only two pages facing upward, not a range of 143 pages.
I purchased the 1951 issue of Munn’s textbook online. When it arrived, one of the first things I did was make sure that the nine copied pages from University Archives corresponded with my version, and they did. I felt confident that I was perusing the same textbook edition that Ron had been spotted studying. The second thing I did was check to see if there was a chapter titled “Habits,” and there isn’t one. I then took a deductive leap, and reasoned that whoever observed that Ron’s book was opened to “Habits” must have noticed the word in a section head or subhead. (We’ll discuss why I think this was the right decision a little later.) I examined each of the 143 pages looking for headings with some form of the word habit written there. I also checked the rest of Munn’s book for any other possible mentions of the word in a section head or subhead.
I found four pages in all, which happened to be among the nine archived pages. They were pages 152 (with the section head Levels of Complexity in Habit Formation), 162 (subhead: Habit Interference), 277 (section head: Man is Primarily a Creature of Habit), and 294 (section head: Force of Habit). Finally, it dawned on me. Whoever had made the archived copies was probably doing what I was doing: trying to figure out which two pages Tammen was studying before he disappeared. (That person even went a little farther than I was inclined to go, making copies of a couple additional pages that included the word habits in the regular text.) But how could I narrow down those four pages, plus the pages they were facing, to just two? If only someone had taken a photo of the open book.
As it so happens, someone had. A few days after the first anniversary of Ronald Tammen’s disappearance—April 22, 1954—the Hamilton Journal-News published an article that included photographs of Ron and Chuck’s room after Ron had disappeared. One of the photos was a close-up of the open book he’d left on his desk and a second photo was of the same book from another angle. Although we can’t be 100-percent certain that the pages in the photos are exactly as Ron had left them—a current of air or an accidental bump could have caused one or two pages to flip—nevertheless, it’s all that we have. Moreover, the article was written by Joe Cella, who likely obtained the photos from investigators. If Cella believed the photos to be accurate, who am I to second guess him?
Unfortunately, I’m not able to obtain enlarged versions of the photos. The originals no longer exist. However, you can access the article here and zoom in on the two photos. [Article is provided with the permission of the Hamilton Journal-News and Cox Media Group Ohio.]
From what I can tell, the left-hand page appears to lack any images or graphics. Therefore, at a minimum, I believe we can rule out two of the two-page spreads on the basis that there were fairly prominent photographs on the left-hand pages. They are pages 152, which had a photo of a memory drum in the upper left-hand corner, and 276, which is opposite the habits reference on page 277, and which had four photos down its left column of a mother rat and her babies. In my view, spreads 152–153 and 276–277 are no longer contenders.
The right-hand page is more difficult to discern in the Journal-News photos. It doesn’t appear to have images either, which would eliminate pages 162–163 on the basis that the latter page has a photograph on the upper left side of a student operating a card-sorter.
But there’s another, more compelling reason to remove pages 162–163 from consideration. As I mentioned earlier, Munn’s book contains both section heads and subheads. The section heads are written in all capital letters, while the subheads are written in bold type with only the first word capitalized. As I’ve already mentioned, when Carl Knox wrote the word “HABITS” in his notes, he did so in all capital letters, accentuated by a double underline. I can’t help but believe that he was imitating the style in which the words were written in the book, perhaps without even realizing what he was doing. In my opinion, Carl Knox was looking at a section head, not a subhead, which would eliminate the page spread 162–163.
That leaves us with two pages that are composed entirely of text: pages 294 and 295. On the left-hand page is the section head “FORCE OF HABIT,” which Dean Knox could have shortened to “HABITS.” On the opposite page is a subject even more intriguing. Within a section titled “UNCONSCIOUS MOTIVATION” is a discussion on how someone can be influenced to behave in certain ways. The subhead is “Post-hypnotic suggestion.”
I’m not sure why investigators failed to specify the page numbers that the book was turned to or why Carl Knox chose to write “HABITS” in his notes as opposed to the actual section head. As we’ve established, no subhead or section head on any of the pages was simply called “Habits.” It’s also curious that university officials didn’t appear to question why Ron would be studying psychology, since they knew he’d already dropped the course. Did that detail somehow escape them?
Or could it be that investigators had noticed the reference to post-hypnotic suggestion and didn’t want to raise suspicions that Ronald Tammen’s disappearance could have had something to do with that phenomenon? I get it—why get everyone all riled up if it had no relevance to the case? But with Miami’s psychology department employing at least three faculty members who were hypnosis experts—two of them having collaborated with a renowned psychologist on the 1933 seminal book Hypnosis and Suggestibility, and one of those two being Ronald Tammen’s former psych professor—it seems as if that might have been something worth inquiring about.
Yep, we’re going to go there in subsequent posts, but we’ll be proceeding slowly and cautiously. I don’t intend to point fingers at a person, department, or agency before all of the evidence is in. I also won’t be disparaging a medical practice that has helped countless people overcome personal difficulties. What I will be doing is posting relevant documents as they become available and asking questions that, as far as I know, haven’t been posed before—at least not publicly.
In the meantime, please join me today on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agmihtf/) at 11:30 a.m. ET as I live-stream additional information concerning today’s post. Among other things, we’ll be leafing through the individual pages of Tammen’s psychology book, looking at the habits references. If you’re tied up at that time, or are discovering this website after April 19, no problem. You can access a recording after-the-fact.