A late-night knock at the door

knocker

Clara Josephine Spivey lived with her husband, Carl, in a two-story home on North Main Street in Seven Mile, Ohio. Carl, who was once the mayor of that small town, was an electrician by trade and Clara’s second husband. Her first husband had been tragically killed when, in 1918, a mere five months into their marriage, the delivery truck he was driving collided with a train in nearby Hamilton. Clara married Carl two years later.

By the spring of 1953, Clara was 54 years of age with two grown children. Son Jearl was 32 years old and married. The best I can tell, he was also an electrician living about 20 miles from his parents, in Lebanon, Ohio. Daughter Barbara was 28 and married to a man named Donald Ries. (They would divorce in 1963.) From what I can tell, the couple was also living in Seven Mile.

Late on Sunday, April 19, 1953, reportedly at about midnight, there was a knock on the Spiveys’ front door. Clara was apparently still up at that hour, along with Barbara and at least one other person whom we’ll discuss a little later in this post. Perhaps Clara was emboldened by the presence of the other night owls sitting up with her—safety in numbers, and all that. Or maybe it was just the innocence of the times. Whatever her reason, she went ahead and opened the door.

Thankfully, there was nothing to fear. Standing on her porch was a well-mannered young man with a smudge on his cheek—probably from fixing a flat tire, she presumed—and an embarrassed look on his face. The jacket he had on didn’t seem at all sufficient for the chilly temperatures, in her viewpoint, and he wasn’t wearing a hat either. He had dark, deep-set eyes and close-cropped hair—his most distinguishing characteristics in her mind’s eye. He asked for nothing except some direction.

“What town am I in?” the youth had asked her, according to the earliest news accounts. And then: “Where will I be if I go in that direction?”, pointing northeastward, toward Middletown.

Clara recalled telling the youth that he could catch the bus to Middletown, which just so happened to stop at the nearby corner at that time of night. It wasn’t until the next day that she realized the information she’d given him was in error. The bus schedule for the Oxford Coach Lines had been changed that very day, April 19, and the last run from Oxford to Middletown, which passed through Seven Mile, had been suspended.

Other than perhaps a twinge of regret for having led her visitor astray, Clara didn’t think much about the incident afterward. Then, that June, she learned about Ronald Tammen. She’d somehow missed all the ballyhoo about Tammen when he’d first disappeared, and only became aware of the story by way of a follow-up news article that, in essence, reported that A) he’d been gone for two months, and B) there were no new leads. The article, which featured a large photo of Tammen, appeared in the June 20 issue of the Hamilton Journal-News, Clara’s most likely preferred news source. The same article also appeared in the June 22 issue of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Sometime after seeing the article, she notified the Oxford police, and by June 29, her story was being reported across the Miami Valley as the first real clue in the case. Clara Spivey was convinced that the young man at her doorstep had been Tammen. That photo, which had immediately whisked her back to the night in question, served as proof.

Tammen photo
The photo of Tammen that appeared in the June 20, 1953, Hamilton Journal-News and the June 22, 1953, Cincinnati Enquirer.

Oscar Decker, Oxford’s police chief, welcomed the potential sighting with a great big bear hug. If it happened to be Ron Tammen, he reasoned, that would bolster the amnesia theory very nicely.

“Tammen disappeared about 8:30 or 9 o’clock from his room in Fisher Hall,” Decker was quoted as saying in one of the June 29th articles. (Based on the font and layout, I think it was the Cincinnati Enquirer, though my clipping doesn’t contain a reference.) “If he wandered away, it would have taken him about three hours to walk to Seven Mile.”

Sure, it was cold, it was hilly, it was late, but it was totally doable in his opinion.

Also convincing to Decker was Clara’s description of what Tammen was wearing that night. The June 29th Hamilton Journal-News article said this: “Mrs. Spivey described the youth’s wearing apparel almost perfectly, according to the chief.” Also, the September 18, 1953, issue of the Miami Student said: “Although she could not see under the dim porch light what the man was wearing, Mrs. Spivey declared that he seemed to have on a light-weight coat with a checked pattern and dark trousers.” Investigators had described Tammen as wearing a blue and tan checked or plaid wool jacket (sometimes referred to as a mackinaw) and blue pants when he disappeared.

An article in the July 3, 1953, Hamilton Journal-News stated that Henry Ciesicki, who was identified as president of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, had interviewed Mrs. Spivey and found that she was indeed positive that the young man she saw was Tammen after looking at photographs of him. However, the article continued, “There were certain discrepancies as to the type of clothing the missing student was wearing and that of the man whom Mrs. Spivey saw, Ciesicki said.” The discrepancies were brought up again in an article by Joe Cella in the April 22, 1954, issue of the Hamilton Journal-News: “[Tammen’s] brother, Richard, maintains that there are some discrepancies in Mrs. Spivey’s story. The type of clothing worn and missing has come up for considerable discussion throughout the investigation.”

Was the visitor on Mrs. Spivey’s porch Ronald Tammen? Before placing your vote, here are some additional points to consider:

The route

If it was Ron who showed up on Mrs. Spivey’s doorstep, he would have most likely traveled State Route 73 East to 127 South, which leads directly into Seven Mile. The terrain is hilly, and it seems as if it would require some fairly purposeful trekking as opposed to the wanderings of someone with amnesia. Moreover, if Ron had been on foot, he would have passed by numerous homes along Main Street on his way to Mrs. Spivey’s. An atlas from 1930, which shows the number of properties that existed in northern Seven Mile at that time and, presumably, a corresponding number of houses, can be viewed below. (Mrs. Spivey’s property is along Hamilton & Eaton Road, aka Main Street, near High Street.)

1930 atlas of Seven Mile
For a closer view, click on image.

An atlas of the northern part of Seven Mile from 1958 is here.

But don’t just take the Butler Co. cartographers’ word for it. Follow the route for yourself in this video, and try to picture a totally out-of-it Ronald Tammen walking these roads on a chilly, snowy night in unsuitable outerwear. Are you as convinced as Oscar Decker that it was Ron? (Uncopyrighted traveling music provided by the YouTube Audio Library. Apologies in advance for my knack for driving over every possible bump in the road.)

 The time of the encounter

As discussed earlier, the first time anyone had heard about the potential Spivey sighting was on Monday, June 29, 1953, when at least two news articles were published. The article that I believe was in the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the visitor had arrived on Mrs. Spivey’s doorstep at “about midnight,” while the Hamilton Journal-News reported that the time of night was “about 11 o’clock.” The time discrepancy is intriguing, because the author of both articles was Gilson Wright, a Miami journalism professor who was also an on-call correspondent for a number of area papers. (I’m certain that Wright wrote both articles because, even though there isn’t a byline for either article, the Journal-News identifies Wright as the correspondent for its Oxford section on that date, and the two articles, though not identical, have the same phrasing throughout.) That the same reporter would publish conflicting times for the encounter on the same news day is kind of, um, bizarre, considering the significance of the hour to the overall timeline. “About midnight” was the most frequently reported time over the years, including later issues of the Journal-News, which is why I repeated it in the third paragraph of this post. Also, Oscar Decker is quoted directly in the September 18, 1953, article of the Miami Student, saying that the time was “about midnight.” On the other hand, the 11 p.m. time was attributed to Mrs. Spivey (who, after all, would have been the best source), though not as a direct quote. “Mrs. Spivey said the youth came to her door about 11 o’clock…,” Wright stated in that article.

If the June 29th Hamilton Journal-News version is closer to the truth, Ron wouldn’t have had the full three hours that Oscar Decker estimated a walk to Seven Mile would have required. According to this September 2018 fitness article and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a brisk walking pace is considered to be 3 miles per hour or 20 minutes per mile. If the time was midnight, Tammen would have had 180 minutes to walk approximately 11 miles, or a little over 16 minutes per mile. That would have been a pretty good clip, but still doable. But if the time was 11 p.m.? Ron would have needed to be in a full-on run. The latter scenario wouldn’t exactly fit the storyline that everyone was selling, would it? What’s more, if Ron had been at the Delta Tau Delta song practice until around 10:30 p.m., as has been claimed by at least one person, there was no way Ron could have made it to Seven Mile by either 11 p.m. or midnight if he was walking.

But what if Ron Tammen had actually been driven to Seven Mile? If a car was involved, there are a few possible scenarios to consider:

He hitchhiked.
Ron was known to hitchhike from place to place, especially when he didn’t have a car on campus. Granted, it would have been odd for him to choose to hitchhike out of Oxford as opposed to driving his own car. However, if, for some reason, he did so and someone picked him up somewhere between Fisher Hall and Seven Mile, chances are that person would have reported it when the media began publicizing his disappearance. If Oscar Decker had received such a call, you better believe that he would have announced it to the press. From what I can tell, there were no phone calls from anyone who either picked up a hitchhiker or who spotted someone walking alongside that stretch of road on April 19, 1953. One caller did think he’d spotted Tammen in Middletown the week after the Spivey article was published, though that obviously didn’t check out.

He was “kidnapped” and left in Seven Mile as a prank.
As we’ve discussed elsewhere on this site, fraternities back then used to kidnap pledges and drop them off in the middle of nowhere so they would have to find their way home. Many people, including yours truly at one point, have wondered if that might have been what happened to Ron—the whole fraternity-prank-gone-awry theory. But several factors have led me to rule this theory out. First, the men in Ron’s fraternity are wonderful people and they don’t act all weird when I ask them about Ron Tammen. They really would love to know what happened to him. Second, Ron wasn’t a pledge. He was an active member of Delta Tau Delta, which means that he wouldn’t have been a target for such antics. Third, he didn’t live in the fraternity house, which, according to one of his fraternity brothers, was home base from which a guy would have been kidnapped if he were being kidnapped.

Fourth (and perhaps foremost), instead of asking Mrs. Spivey for directions, wouldn’t Ron’s more obvious first question be “Can I use your phone?” According to Carl Knox’s notes, the door to his dorm room was left open and his car keys were in his desk. He could have asked someone from Fisher Hall to pick him up. His roommate, Chuck Findlay, would have been back by then. Also, the questions the visitor asked didn’t pertain to finding his way back to Oxford. In April 1954, Mrs. Spivey would embellish her conversation with the young man to include her pointing the way to Hamilton, Middletown, and Oxford. But that wasn’t the case in June 1953. As described above, the youth asked her what town he was in and where he would be if he went in “that direction,” which was toward Middletown. She’d told him how to catch the bus to Middletown, the crucial detail that enabled her to date stamp the night he’d appeared at her door, since the bus route had ended on April 19. Based on her earliest recollection and, in my view, the one that would have probably been most accurate, there was no mention of Oxford.

Someone who knew him drove him there.
Perhaps someone else could have driven Ron to Seven Mile—someone like the mysterious woman from Hamilton, for example. If that’s true, why he would have gotten out of the car at Mrs. Spivey’s residence isn’t clear, unless, perhaps, he’d tried to escape as the car had slowed down on Main Street. But if he did escape, why (again) wouldn’t he have asked Mrs. Spivey if he could use her telephone to call for help? And where did he go after he left Mrs. Spivey’s? Perhaps someone overpowered him and pushed him back in the car. Still, the young man’s questions for Mrs. Spivey don’t exactly jive with those that might have been asked by someone who was being taken somewhere against his will. At least, they aren’t the sorts of questions that someone would have asked had he been thinking clearly.

The other people in the room

In Joe Cella’s 1976 article in the Hamilton Journal-News, we learned that Clara’s daughter Barbara, whose last name was now Jewell after a second marriage, was also present when the visitor showed up at the door. Though Clara had died in 1975, Barbara stood by her mother’s story. Here’s what Cella wrote:

“Mrs. Spivey has since died but her daughter, Mrs. Barbara Jewell of Seven Mile, remembers the night well. She was there when the knock was answered.

 ‘I still believe it was him,’ said Mrs. Jewell. When her mother viewed a photograph of Tammen at the time, she said, ‘That’s him. I know I’m not mistaken.’”

Barbara Jewell passed away in 1999. However, in 2012, Frank Smith, Butler County’s former cold case detective, informed me of someone else who was present when the visitor showed up at the door. Smith had stopped by a United Dairy Farmers store for a cup of coffee around the time that the Butler County Sheriff’s Office was getting a lot of local press for their work regarding the dead body in Georgia. According to Smith, a guy came out of the store and said he’d been reading in the paper about the Tammen case.

Recounted Smith, “He said, ‘I was there that night when the door was opened too.’”

Smith then added, “And he told me, he said that he absolutely was confident that that was not Tammen that knocked on the door that night. He thought it was one of the local ruffians that lived down the road. But he was absolutely confident.”

According to Smith, the man who approached him—as he recalled, it was Mrs. Spivey’s son—had been in the military and was battling cancer. He also said that he’d passed away shortly after they talked. I accepted this information at face value and didn’t delve further, which turned out to be a mistake. Memories, as I’ve come to learn time and again, aren’t 100 percent foolproof. If I’d done my fact checking a little sooner, I might have been able to speak with the man myself.

Several years ago, as I was doing some online research, I discovered that the man who’d approached Frank Smith couldn’t have been Clara Spivey’s son. Jearl Spivey had died in 1980, long before Smith had gotten involved in the case. Donald Ries, who, along with Carl Spivey, had passed away in the 1970s, could also be ruled out. However, another possible candidate did pop up—Paul Jewell, Barbara’s second husband. Jewell died in 2014, two years after my conversation with Smith. According to his obituary, Jewell had worked at the Champion Paper Company and, later, The Workingman’s Store, a beloved clothing and shoe store for everyday working people that his parents had opened in Hamilton and where he eventually became owner. The obit also said that he’d served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1960, and suggested that memorials be given to the American Cancer Society, among other charities. My guess is that Paul Jewell was the man who approached Frank Smith.

There is one puzzling aspect to placing Jewell in Mrs. Spivey’s home late at night on April 19, 1953. Paul Jewell was 13 years younger than Barbara, born in September 1937. In April 1953, Barbara was still married to Donald Ries, whereas Paul would have been 15 years of age and a sophomore at McGuffey High School in Oxford. (He graduated in 1955.) From what I can tell from old city directories, Paul and Barbara were married in the mid-1960s. So one question I have is, if it was Jewell, why would he have been at the Spiveys so late on a Sunday night when the next day was a school day for him? Another big question I have is: again, if it was Paul Jewell who spoke with Frank Smith, did he and Barbara actually see the visitor or did they just hear Clara’s account, like the rest of us, and form their own opinions? Unfortunately, I’m not sure we’ll ever know the answer.

So what do you think? Was it Ronald Tammen at Mrs. Spivey’s door or merely one of Seven Mile’s local ruffians? Feel free to register your vote here:

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And now, for all you readers in the U.S., please be sure to vote for real if you haven’t already. It’s our right, our privilege, and our obligation and probably way more important than anything else we may have on our plates these days.

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Let’s also open up the floor. Feel free to weigh in on anything Tammen-related, especially your thoughts on Mrs. Spivey’s story and why you voted one way or the other in our poll.

24 thoughts on “A late-night knock at the door

  1. Been thinking about the three youths phone calls… what exactly was the motivation for that stage production? It makes no sense no matter how I spin it. I strongly feel Gilson Wright was behind it, but WHY? More thoughts tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree about Gilson Wright may have been the orchestrator of the three youths and the phone calls. Who knows, maybe certain figures associated with (and within) Miami University knew beforehand the exact time and day of Ron’s disappearance. They could have orchestrated the whole event about the young man at the Spivey’s door to throw everyone off and for a loop.

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  2. Regarding the coat – I thought I remembered reading that he left his coat in the dorm room (and therefore wouldn’t have been wearing one when he left) but maybe I have amnesia!

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  3. Great post! And, it’s great timing as I have been thinking about this Spivey sighting the last few weeks. Second, great video. It really helps to see the terrain of that particular region near Oxford and Seven Mile. I never knew Ohio was so hilly. Reminds me of the countryside in the Seattle suburbs where I grew up. If that is the only route that Ron could have taken that night, then my vote is no–that wasn’t him. If it was cold, dark, and wet with a light snow falling, and . . . I’m sure that streetlights were next to none on the dark route, I would say it would have taken him longer on foot to reach Seven Mile. He could have hitchhiked. And he could have been with the mysterious woman too. I read recently somewhere (can’t remember where) that Spivey’s son (if that was him) stated that the young man that showed up on their doorstep didn’t happen on the night Ron disappeared. Not sure if that was true or not. Overall, I just feel that this was a coincidence encounter with a local youth that night. I still believe that Ron left willingly on his own accord. And I believe that now more than ever before, since getting a copy of his Psychology book. I won’t say too much for right now, but after thoroughly examining the book for almost two months, I feel there are many indicators in the chapters that may have inspired and helped Ron with his disappearance. And they might provide a possible clue that involved H.H. Stephenson and his August 1953 sighting of Ron in Wellsville, NY.

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    1. Thanks so much! I’m intrigued that you’d read about another young man showing up on another night. If you ever remember where you read it, can you let me know? On that same subject, one of my sources — a former newspaper editor who had written a 50-year anniversary article on the Tammen disappearance (he has since died) — had told me about a man who had stopped him in the grocery store after reading the article. The man told him that his family had a visitor on the same night as the Spiveys and the young man (also handsome, also a student) had eaten at their house then went on his way. He also felt sure it was Tammen. When I’d heard about it, the man and his wife had passed away, but I was able to track down their daughter. She said that they did have a visitor when the family lived in Seven Mile, but they’d moved from there in the late 1930s! Anyway, she was super nice and we laughed about it, but it’s interesting how a memory can be evoked by something and then turn into something else entirely…

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      1. jwenger: It was a recent article I came across online. I think it was published around 2010. I came across it while looking at Ron’s profile on NamUs. It was when I had been looking at his “comparison” list to see what other cases have been compared to his DNA (Marcia’s, I presume, from the last blog post about the body found in Georgia). I’ll try and see if I can find the article again.

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    2. Anyone remotely interested in this case has to get the book. I have some thoughts, too. Have you figured out where an hour’s reading started so as to end up on the page left open in Ron’s room?

      As for the coincidence, do you really believe someone else knocked on her door between 11-12 the very night Ron disappeared? In your life, how many people have knocked on your door at that time? Happened to me once, a guy who’d run out of gas. One night out of over 20,000 in my life. I think the possibilities are two: either Ron was there, or she made it up.

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      1. Stevie J: I think it could be a coincidence. Or perhaps there is a chance someone did knock on their door, but on another night–before or after Ron disappeared.

        I also agree that anyone interested in this case should get a copy of the Psych book. I believe Ron read this book probably in its entirety, especially the middle and latter halves. I think the time he spent with the book the night he disappeared, he wasn’t reading it, but he was actually “doing something” possibly to ready for the task. This “something” alludes to a specific action in the book and it’s even mentioned within the first 5 minutes of the film, “Hypnotic Behavior,” in which the screen captures on page 296 (figure 149) are taken from in the book, and hint at a “subjective action” that Ron could have been utilizing for over a period of time, up until the last week he was seen. There are important things discovered in the book that are not in the index, either. This finding may have a strong reference and lead into H.H. Stephenson’s possible sighting of Ron too. I have a huge amount of notes, but I don’t want to get off topic to the blog and seem like a troll. But be sure to watch the film: https://archive.org/details/hypnoticbehavior

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  4. Just a quick note to all commenters: I’m going to refrain from officially “liking” your comments this time around, since I don’t want to sway the vote one way or the other. Just know that I think they’re all great, and feel free to keep them coming!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My take on Mrs. Spivey is that she was probably mistaken that it was Ron at her front door. Your video of the trek between the college and Seven Mile was an eye-opener. No way did Ron walk that distance. Hitchhike? Perhaps, but if he did that I agree why not ask the person at the door to use the phone? Still on the fence with the woman in the car. I think it was a rumor that spread on campus with no basis. I work on a college campus. The rumors that fly!!! Thank you for the information on this case. Even though I am excited when I read a new entry – I’m always a little sad afterwards because I know that no matter how much is uncovered – Ron will never be found alive. That makes me sad for his remaining family and those of us who got to know him through your excellent research.

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  6. They should have handed Mrs. Spivey a picture of Chuck Findlay and asked if that’s who she saw……just saying. I am taken aback they’d be that naïve in how they handled it.

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  7. No matter how hard I try, I can’t find a plausible and rational explanation for the three youths phone calls. Here’s some possibilities:

    A. It never happened. Nobody called. I think that’s possible, but it beggars belief there’d be a newspaper article printing such a brazen lie, or alternatively, someone would so brazenly lie to the column writer. I think it’s possible, but implausible.

    B. The calls were fraudulent. The people who called didn’t have children who’d lost their memories, but were essentially plants of some kind. This is massively sinister to think about it. I think it’s possible, but implausible.

    C. The calls really happened, and were from parents of children who’d lost their memories.

    C(1). Those children had lost their memories at Miami due to psychology experiments conducted there. I don’t really agree with Jen on this one. My reasons why are below.

    C(1)a. Someone at Miami was in panic/coverup mode and wanted to try to keep this from blowing up completely before Ron(as all the others did) recovered his memory, so they orchestrated phone calls to the Tammens. This does sort of sound (more) plausible/reasonable than the others, but if a parent made such a call, surely it’d come up that Ron and their child were at Miami. How couldn’t it? Unless……they were coached not to. And in my mind, that goes off the deep end.

    C(1)b. Someone at Miami was in panic/coverup mode, had a pretty good idea Ron wasn’t coming back, and hoped against hope that the legitimate phone calls would be a red herring to get the Tammens to think it was just a matter of time before he came back. That goes off the deep end too, because the bill comes due sometime.

    C(2). Those children had lost their memories across the state of Ohio, and someone had been furiously searching newspapers and calling local law enforcement offices. There are two primary problems here, logistics and motive. It wasn’t like you could google stuff back then, and what exactly could anyone hope to gain by it?

    And that’s it. I can’t think of anything else. The motive for the calls just doesn’t exist. What COULD the parents have hoped to accomplish? Ron would show up or not, no matter what had happened to their children. Are we to think three different people decided in two days to call someone they didn’t know and possibly offer them false hope? Would anyone reading this take the same action? I mean, some college professor, or law enforcement office you don’t know calls and asks you to do it? I wouldn’t dream of it.

    I don’t like which answer I am leaning toward. None of them are nice to think about. I would welcome someone suggesting an idea I haven’t come up with.

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  8. Ron could not have gotten there if he was a music practice at 10:00. And it doesn’t make sense–he was perfectly normal all day and at practice then wanders beyond human capacity to a stranger’s door on a cold, wet night. Absurd. Mrs. Spivey either saw one of the “ruffians” mentioned who was not Ron and she was just mistaken; or it was a kind of contrived distraction to throw people and make them think Ron had amnesia, which explanation seems to have been favored by key faculty members at Miami U. Sounds like the kind of not-so-subtle yet hard to debunk incidents “intelligence” agencies set up to create confusion around any event that so needs clear and present evidence.

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  9. Brilliant comments, all! Just a heads up: stay tuned for the next post, which will be on the morning of Nov. 22. Think of it as an ice breaker for your Thanksgiving dinner — the “adult” table, of course. 🦃🦃🦃

    Liked by 1 person

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