A chance encounter in Wellsville

One question that’s been floating around for decades is whether housing official Heber Hiram (aka H.H., aka Hi) Stephenson actually bumped into Ronald Tammen at a hotel restaurant in Wellsville, NY, on Wednesday, August 5, 1953. If it did happen to be Ron, the next question would be: who were the men he was with? And third: why were they there?

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this blog, these questions could have been fairly answerable back in 1953, after Hi told Carl Knox, dean of men at Miami who oversaw the university’s investigation, about his encounter. Knox could have helped spur the process along by asking H.H. this no-brainer: “Which hotel, Hi?”, and then calling his contact at the FBI. The FBI’s Buffalo office could have chased down some of those details and, if they determined that it was likely Ron, they would have had a super hot lead on their hands. If they decided it wasn’t Ron, they would have reported that info back as well. It’s what they do. But, for some reason, Carl Knox didn’t get that ball rolling. 

For what it’s worth, I believe H.H. saw Ronald Tammen that day. I believe it for three reasons. One is that H.H. knew Ron and, as his son has told me, he never forgot a face. That’s big, in my view—much bigger than a stranger who saw a photo in a newspaper and thought that same person had showed up at her doorstep late at night two months prior. 

My second reason has to do with human behavior. H.H.’s account is consistent with how two people who think they recognize each other in an out-of-context location would normally act. I mean, we stare, don’t we? We wait for eye contact, assessing whether the other person recognizes us too, and if they do, then we say something. And that’s what they both did—they stared at each other. Because it was less than four months since his disappearance, Ron would have looked about the same, as did H.H. And although we wish he would have acted differently, even H.H.’s decision to not approach the young men’s table seems consistent with what many people would have done in that situation. 

OK, perhaps that wouldn’t apply to readers of this blog. Members of our little clique would have likely spoken up. Maybe something like: “Pardon my intrusion, but you look like someone I know. I don’t suppose your name is Ron Tammen?” Or, as one reader pointed out, he would have expected a 1950s version of “WTF, Ron?!?” Either would have been a normal response. But H.H.’s decision to walk out the door and immediately regretting it is normal too. And what did Ron’s lookalike do? He got the heck out of there before H.H. returned. If it were Ron, isn’t that what you’d expect him to do—to run as soon as he had an opening?

The third reason is that H.H. reported his encounter to Carl Knox the next day. If Stephenson had any reservations about who the young man was, he might have said something like, “Wow—I just saw a guy who, if I didn’t know better, looked exactly like Ronald Tammen.” But H.H. fully expected Knox to act on the tip. Considering the fact that they were colleagues and he was putting his credibility on the line, he obviously had no doubt in his mind that it was Ron. 

“I was sure it was him,” he told reporter Joe Cella in April 1976.

There is, however, one thing I learned about Hi Stephenson that doesn’t quite jive with my theory. According to his son, Hi Stephenson kept a journal throughout his life, and, as of our phone conversation in February 2013, his son still had the collection. Needless to say, when his son shared this news with me, I was stoked. To obtain a more complete accounting of that encounter in Wellsville would be amazing, would it not? Maybe Stephenson would have described the table of guys a little more—their appearance, their demeanor. Maybe he’d included the name of the hotel and what the daily special was. (The latter tidbit wouldn’t add much to the mystery, but it’s the sort of color I adore.)

Unfortunately, a couple weeks after we spoke, his son sent me an email saying that, after looking through his father’s journal for the date in question, he couldn’t find an entry regarding the Ron Tammen sighting. Of course I was profoundly disappointed, not to mention surprised. On a day when most of Hi’s time was spent reading road signs and counting miles, how he could have thought to write anything other than “Gadzooks—I just spotted Ron Tammen!” is beyond me. 

In September 2014, I took a little trip to Wellsville myself.

When I’m on one of my typical Ronald Tammen road trips, there’s one song on my playlist that I crank up louder and more often than the others. It’s Brandi Carlile’s The Story. The studio version is great, but the version with the Seattle Symphony is my all-time favorite. The reason I love this song so much is that A.) It allows me to scream like a rock goddess when she hits that high note, and B.) I feel the lyrics apply to my search for Tammen. I mean, I’ve literally or figuratively done all of those things (which I won’t name, for copyright reasons) for Ron. And that thing she says about her, um, creases in her countenance? After dedicating nearly nine years of my life to this project, well, let’s just say that that hits home in a very big way too. 

So there I was, one sunshiny fall Tuesday, blasting Brandi along the highways between my then-home in D.C. and Wellsville, NY. Wellsville is the name of both a village and surrounding town totaling around 7400 people in the southwest part of the state, just eight miles north of the Pennsylvania border. As I neared my destination, I had a strong sense that I was passing the same houses and barns that Ron would have passed by—if indeed it was Ron in that hotel restaurant. 

Even a billboard for a restaurant called Texas Hot, which has been serving up chili dogs to Wellsvillians since 1921, looked as if it had been standing along that stretch of road for decades. I knew as soon as I passed it that I’d be eating dinner there that night on the off chance that Ron might have eaten there too. 

Texas Hot is named for a type of hot dog topped with mustard, chili sauce, and chopped onions, all on a soft, steamed bun. They are, culinarily speaking, ridiculously delicious. The iconic restaurant has been owned and operated all these years by the same two families, and is now run by the grandsons of the longtime partners and Greek immigrants who got it all started, James Rigas and George Raptis. If you’re anywhere near Wellsville, you have to go. (No, seriously, promise me.)

Texas Hot in the early years. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.
Texas Hot in September 2014.

After finishing off the specialty of the house, accompanied by french fries and gravy, I roamed the town and was soon drawn to the old train station located one block north of Main Street on the corner of Pearl and Depot Streets. The red brick building, once bustling with visitors and the people who welcomed them or bid them goodbye, was boarded up and rimmed with weeds. Located in the center of town, it ostensibly had been a pipeline that helped power Wellsville’s prosperity in the early part of the 20th century. 

Wellsville Erie Depot in September 2014.

Most noticeably, the train station was steps away from one of the four hotels that, with the help of a 1953 phone directory, I’d narrowed down as being H.H.’s and Ron’s most likely meeting spots. That was the Hotel Brunswick, at the corner of North Main and Pearl Streets, which now houses a real estate office among other businesses. The other three possible hotels, all of which are no longer standing, were the Fassett Hotel, which was a short walk southeastward on Main Street (55 North Main), Pickup’s Hotel (38-40 North Main), and, a little less than a mile to the north, the Wellsville Hotel (470 North Main), where the Lutheran church now stands. 

The building formerly known as the Hotel Brunswick, September 2014.

The proximity of the train station to the Hotel Brunswick led me to wonder: Could Ron have been journeying by train and stopped off at Wellsville for a quick bite or to spend the night? Before that little epiphany, I’d been operating under the assumption that Ron was temporarily living in Wellsville—that perhaps he and his associates were being prepped for some clandestine purpose in a nearby government facility. But if Ron was traveling by train to parts unknown, then the odds of Ron and Hi Stephenson bumping into one another were even more astronomical than I’d originally thought. 

The next morning, I paid a visit to the office of Craig Braack, Allegany County’s historian, whose building was located one town over in Belmont, the county seat. Braack, who has since retired, seemed genuinely intrigued by the Ron Tammen mystery, and he ventured a guess that the hotel in which the sighting occurred was probably the Fassett or Brunswick, which had been my top two choices at that point as well. In addition to occupying space among the businesses that lined Main Street, both hotels seemed upscale enough that they would offer the type of restaurant that might suit the tastes of a woman in her mid-thirties—Hi’s wife Kay. Then again, the restaurant couldn’t be too fancy, or it might have discouraged a group of young men from eating there, at least one of whom was on the lam and possibly didn’t have a lot of cash on him.

The Hotel Fassett. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

Braack wasn’t aware of any government training facility, covert or overt, in Wellsville. He was more inclined to believe that Ron was just passing through town, by road or by rail. He informed me that before the Interstate system, Main Street was part of State Route 17, a major east-west thoroughfare at the time. (State Route 17 has since been replaced by 417, which circumvents Main Street.)

“Route 17 goes parallel to our New York-Pennsylvania state line, so it’s possible that they could have been on that,” he suggested. 

“Sounds reasonable,” I replied, “as long as they had access to a car.” 

I explained that Ron had left his car parked outside of his dorm the night he disappeared, though there was also a chance that he could have been riding in someone else’s vehicle. The other option would have been the train. Braack pointed out that Wellsville’s train station was a major stop along the Erie Railroad, which, like Route 17, ran east and west. Each day, three or four passenger trains would arrive in Wellsville, connecting Chicago to New York City and places in between. 

“If they were taking the train, that would have been a way to easily travel a long distance in a very short period,” he said. “That could also be why he was at the hotel.”

Later that afternoon, I stopped by Wellsville’s Nathanial Dyke museum. I was greeted by Mary Rhodes, who was town historian when I met with her, but who recently moved to South Carolina, and Jane Pinney, then-president of the Thelma Rogers Genealogical and Historical Society. (A September 18, 2018, article in the Wellsville Daily Reporter describes Rhodes’ and Pinney’s commitment to preserving the history of the area and their many contributions.) They agreed with Braack that the Erie Railroad and State Route 17 were the two most likely means by which Ron might have rolled into town, since that’s how most people did it back then. Pinney recounted how neighborhood kids peddling lemonade on Main Street would play the license plate game, making a list of the states that were represented as cars either barreled by or pulled over to make a purchase.

“They had every state in the union by the end of the summer,” she said.

But there were plenty of reasons for people to stay in Wellsville as opposed to just passing through. There were jobs there—lots of them. In the late 1800s, oil was discovered in the region, and a refinery was built, which, in 1953, was owned and operated by Sinclair Oil. The refinery was shut down in 1958 after a fire, but the remnants of oil money are still evident by the string of mansions, oozing with opulence, along the roadside north of town.

“OK. Now the name Wellsville makes sense,” I said. As if by reflex, both women jumped in to correct me, something they’d no-doubt done with out-of-towners many times before. Wellsville wasn’t named for its oil wells, but rather for Gardiner Wells, who was the principal landowner when residents were deciding upon the important matter of what to call themselves.

Other major industries in 1953 were the Air Preheater Company, which produced equipment for improving the efficiency of electrical power plants, and the Worthington Corporation, which produced steam turbines, also used in energy production. According to Pinney and Rhodes, the companies were frequent recipients of federal contracts, especially during WWII, and it wasn’t uncommon for hotels to be filled with clients who wished to tour the facilities, to inspect the product, or to be trained in operations. Pinney recalls driving to her job at 7:00 a.m. each day and seeing 20 or 30 executives who were visiting from China performing their exercises on the sidewalk in front of the Fassett Hotel.

In other words, at the time that Ron was potentially spotted by Hi Stephenson, Wellsville was by no means just a tranquil little town along the Genesee River. It was a player, both nationally and internationally. 

“The place was booming,” said Rhodes. 

Even so, I couldn’t see Ron throwing his old life away to reinvent himself in Wellsville, NY. I mean no disrespect to the good people of Wellsville. It’s just that I don’t understand why there would be any urgency for a young man to run away, cutting off all ties to friends and family to pursue a career in the power industry. I asked if they had any idea which hotel Ron might have been more likely to eat or spend the night in—if, again, it was Ron. Mary said that she thought that the Brunswick was being used as a residence hotel by then, so the sighting probably wouldn’t have been there. Jane’s husband Dave, who’d grown up in Wellsville and who’d joined our conversation by that time, agreed, and added that he didn’t think the Brunswick had a dining room then. The three decided that the Fassett was a more likely candidate. Or Pickup’s. Or the Hotel Wellsville. 

Hotel Wellsville. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

Months after my visit, in an email, Mary let me know that she had followed up with one of the town’s residents, who said that the Hotel Brunswick only had a coffee shop and a bar. “Not a real dinner place,” she told me.I decided to eliminate it from consideration, narrowing the options to three.

The coffee shop in the Hotel Brunswick. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

In Joe Cella’s 1976 news article, Hi had remarked that “he and his wife walked out of the hotel onto the street” when he told Kay about his possible Ron sighting, which is consistent with the locations of the Brunswick, Fassett, and Pickup’s hotels. The Hotel Wellsville, however, was set farther back from the main road, on landscaped grounds. I eliminated it from consideration as well. I was now down to two possibilities: Pickup’s Hotel and the Fassett Hotel.

Pickup’s might seem a little weird for the name of a hotel, but it was named for the family who bought the building in 1936. Constructed in 1852, it was the oldest building in the Main Street business district, though the owners had modernized it. The building had a big sign that said “RESTAURANT” out front that would have been a draw for travelers. An article describing a 1961 fire that “ravaged” the hotel noted that very little of the building was devoted to hotel space and the “principal business activity…centered around its restaurant on the ground floor.” For these reasons—the prominence of the restaurant, and its nice-but-not-too-nice modern touches—Pickup’s was becoming more appealing to me as the backdrop of Hi’s potential Tammen sighting. Plus, it would have likely been the first restaurant Hi would have seen driving into town.

Pickup’s Hotel. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

But the Fassett Hotel had its pluses too. Built in 1870, it was a stately brick building whose ground floor had been updated in the 1940s with eye-catching window treatments. It, too, was a popular place for dining—it advertised a “Dining Room” on the sign facing Main Street—in addition to hosting other events. 

 “You don’t happen to know where I could get my hands on some old hotel registries, do you?” I asked the trio as I was getting up to leave. At once, I felt silly for suggesting that anyone would hold onto 60-year-old hotel registries—even there, in a museum, among people who were fanatical about preserving their town’s history.

Mary said that the former owner of the Fassett Hotel still lived in town and she promised to ask him for me. I thanked her, but I knew the chances were next to nil he would have stored them away somewhere. Unfortunately, I was right. 

And that’s where I’m afraid we’ve hit a dead end. My best guess for where Hi Stephenson saw Ronald Tammen or Tammen’s lookalike is at Pickup’s Hotel or the Fassett Hotel, with my personal choice being Pickup’s. 

Either it was a run-of-the-mill doppelganger sighting, nothing more, or it was a coincidence beyond all coincidences—an encounter whose odds of occurring are so remarkably small that it appears that something or someone bigger than all of us may have stepped in to make it happen. Call it fate. Call it the universe. Call it a supreme being overriding free will and moving a couple human chess pieces himself. I can think of no other explanation for why two people so close to the Tammen mystery—one being Tammen himself—would land 480 miles away from Oxford in the tiny town of Wellsville, on the same day, at the same hour, and in the same hotel restaurant. But that’s exactly what Hi Stephenson believed had happened. 

And Carl Knox? Regardless of whether it was Ronald Tammen or not, the only reasonable explanation for his inaction is that his investigation into Tammen’s disappearance had taken a back seat to his other university responsibilities sometime between June 29, 1953, when newspapers reported Clara Spivey’s possible Ron sighting, and August 6, when Hi Stephenson reported his. Did someone of a higher ranking step in during that period to call off the search? That’s my best guess too.

********

Wdyt? Was it Ron Tammen or just someone who looked a lot like him? Feel free to register your vote.

28 thoughts on “A chance encounter in Wellsville

  1. What a great, informative blog post to come my way on a cold, snowy day. I learned so much about Wellsville and its history. I had no idea that the small town was so prosperous back in the day. Too bad H.H. Stephenson didn’t record this thoughts about the encounter and what exact hotel it took place in. For the last few years, I have come to the conclusion that Ron and his associates were being prepped for some clandestine purpose in a nearby government facility, that was hidden and unknown, or they were on their way to that destination outside of Wellsville. For some reason, I always got the impression that he and the group of men were just passing through.

    I was going to wait until April 19th to share my theory concerning what I’ve discovered from Ron’s Psych book and the possible relation of that discovery to H.H. Stephenson and his Wellsville sighting of Ron. But because of this post focusing on the August 1953 sighting, I would like to share it now, in another reply post. It will be a really long reply post, but it may take take this case in a new direction, especially with the new-found link to PROJECT ARTICHOKE AND MKULTRA, which I have suspected now for the last two years and with the recent revelations of them in your blog.

    Jwenger, with your permission, I was kindly wondering it I can post my discoveries and theory?

    I completely understand if not at this time.

    1. Thanks for asking! As long as you haven’t discovered the same docs I’ve found in the CIA’s MKULTRA stash, I’m fine with you sharing. I’d like to hold those two documents until April 19. Otherwise, if you found something in the psych textbook or wherever that supports your thinking, I’m cool with that. I may not comment at this point, but I’m fine with your throwing it out into the ether. Oh, and as for naming people, I just ask that we use extreme caution, sticking only to what we know is true versus conjecture. Thanks again—eager to hear your thoughts!

      1. Righto—perhaps I’d phrase any theories at this point as a question, since I believe only one hypnosis expert—not all of them—was involved. Thanks again for asking.

  2. I honestly know nothing about MK Ultra other than what’s been reported on this blog. After reading today’s post, I kind of realized that I don’t know whether the prevailing theory is that Ron was a victim of mind control, or if he was recruited to participate in the mind control of others.

    I can’t believe I hadn’t really pondered that before. If he were a victim, I don’t think the sighting in Wellsville makes sense. The Ron Tammen that H.H. described struck me as someone who was well aware of who he was, where he was, and who H.H. was. Enough so that I think he would have said something if he’d not been there of his own free will.

    If he were recruited, I think it’s very likely that it could have been him.

    Again, I know so little about MK Ultra, but it seems logical that they’d spread the operation out and not concentrate it in one are where people would connect the dots.

      1. What I can’t understand though, regardless of whether he was a victim or participant, is how he is the only one who is listed as missing. I’d think that whatever Ron’s involvement may have been, there would have been others in the same position.

        Yet, it seems they all contacted their families at some point, except Ron. We’re they given an opportunity to send a letter explaining that they were going off the grid, and Ron’s somehow never arrived? Did he opt not to make contact? Did something go wrong involving him that made him not be able to?

      2. I know…crazy, isn’t it? People have also asked how the CIA could have been so sloppy if they were involved. My thinking is 1) the CIA was still pretty new in ‘53, 2) the program was new, and 3) they’ve made messes before (eg, Bay of Pigs). So perhaps they learned from their mistakes which is why we haven’t heard of other disappearances? Just guessing…

      3. whereaboutsstillunknown asks a good question about Ron not making contact. And your reply about the CIA learning from their mistakes: I think the biggest mistake they learned from was the death of Frank Olson. It makes you really ask the question, that out all those years during the MKULTRA project, how many other subjects also died–accidentally or by murderous force that was covered up forever?

        I came upon a recent online discussion recently, pertaining to missing persons and unidentified remains during the 50s, 60’s, and 70’s across the U.S. It had been addressed that a lot of the cases during those timeframes listed on The Doe Network, NamUs, and The Charley Project, may have been possible MKULTRA victims discarded like trash.

  3. Okay, here it is–

    Sorry that this is a really long reply post, but I think now is the right time to share this.

    The things mentioned herein are the ones that have been on my mind since I got my copy of Ron’s psychology book since last Fall 2018. Some of what I post below is a sample of my notes that are still being compiled.

    Concerning H.H. Stephenson’s sighting, I have these thoughts:

    I, myself, am not ruling this sighting out. Why? Because of Mrs. Spivey’s account. If her account made it into newspapers and Stephenson’s did not, nor was even investigated by the police and FBI, it tells me that it could have been more credible–something that was quickly hushed and purposely swept under the investigation rug. I feel Carl Knox knew more about Ron’s disappearance at the time. And one of the newspapers stated Ron’s brother, Richard, didn’t think that the young man at Spivey’s door was Ron (that perhaps Richard, too, knew the truth about Ron’s disappearance). And I still question the Spivey account and do not feel young man at her door was Ron.

    But since analyzing Ron’s psychology book, there are numerous things in it, with the main point of focus being pages 294-297. Firstly, I believe I know why Carl Knox wrote “HABITS” in his notes upon seeing the book open on pages 294 & 295. When I opened to the those pages and put the book down on my desk, I put myself in Knox’s perspective. I was visually scanning the pages and their content. But then, immediately, my eye reverted to the top of 294, seeing it was a continuing paragraph from the previous page. I was then inclined to turn to page 293 and did so. On that page, the beginning of that paragraph is under the subhead, “FUNCTIONAL AUTONOMY.” The first sentence of the paragraph begins, “Habits originally acquired . . . ” Notice the plural use of the word. From Cox’s perspective, he would realize that is where the Ron’s “supposed” study session began and notated it.

    Now, before I go on. I agree with others that pages 294 & 295, even 296 are incriminating pages. I truly believe “hypnosis” and “amnesia,” played a key factor in Ron’s disappearance. It could have been a combination of that, along with the decision to leave willingly on his own. One of my first thoughts was that he dropped out of the Psych class because he was avoiding it–or someone, possibly Dr. Switzer.

    But then upon further examination, I’ve discovered things mentioned in the book, some things pertaining to amnesia and hypnosis that aren’t even listed and mentioned in the book’s index. They are located throughout the book after page 297. I believe Ron could have been, or was, studying this book for a while. And not just the night he disappeared as there are several other pages after the incriminating pages that pinpoint possible intentions or motivations Ron could have been inspired by to just pick up and leave.

    Then, I discovered a few things in the book in reference to a certain topic. These things and the topic are also not listed in the index. In a few passages, it refers to the topic of “Autogenics.” That word itself is never mentioned in the book. It was a word for a procedure in the 1930’s called, “Self-Hypnosis,” and it is now referred to as “Autosuggestion.”

    The dictionary defines “Autosuggestion” as “hypnotic or subconscious adoption of an idea that one has originated oneself, e.g. through repetition of verbal statements to oneself in order to change behavior.”

    One page 296 (figure 149) are photo stills from the 1949 film, “Hypnotic Behavior,” where you can watch what the book is referencing at: https://archive.org/details/hypnoticbehavior

    In the film’s opening, the young girl who is reading facts about hypnosis, states that the subject who is under suggestion, “merely hypnotizes himself.”

    On page 597, under the topic of “Hysteria,” the paragraph mentions “dissociation” and how it such conditions can be simulated in a “hypnotic trance” and it references pages 295 & 296.

    In the second paragraph, it mentions “fugue” and “amnesia” and “wandering off, forgetting his name and where he came.”

    On the next page, 598, it then states:

    “He drifts into them (hysteria states and conditions) gradually, perhaps wishing that a slight wound would send him home (a solider as an example) and out of danger, that he were not the person he is with the obligations he has, and so on. One interpretation is he suggests or even “hypnotizes” himself into the states of question.”

    It was the exact same thing the girl in the video states.

    Now, this may sound crazy (no pun intended), but perhaps Ron was hypnotizing himself by mastering his own “Autosuggestive” state, possibly over a period of weeks or months leading up to the night of his disappearance. He would have learned this from a professional hypnotist, teaching him how to do it. And when I discovered some MKULTRA and CIA docs, it mentions that this very procedure was practiced and utilized. Ron could have learned it and been doing it to himself–to “psych himself up” to perform the tasks at hand, accordingly and successfully, for his disappearance. He may have had the intention to leave willingly, but did he have the courage and strength to do so? Maybe not in his normal state of mind. But under hypnosis, he wouldn’t have to deal with those feelings, as he could basically suggest and program his mind to bypass or erase them completely when ready to do so.

    From researching and reading through some of the MKULTRA documents between 1951 and 1954 on hypnosis experiments (without the use of LSD or other drugs), subjects were hypnotized for long durations. They were put into a deep state of hypnosis and were able to function for long periods of time while driving, at home, and at work. The subjects behaved normally and conversed normally with others, without the subject and others knowing they were functioning under a deep sleep at the time. Some were hypnotized so that they would fall into a deeper sleep from a sound, a keyword, or some other “suggestion” for them to carry out certain tasks. One post-hypnotic experiment focused on two women. One woman despised and feared firearms. She was hypnotized into a deep sleep and was told to wake the other woman from her hypnotic trance using any means necessary, and if the woman would not wake, the firearm-fearing woman was programmed to become angry and full of rage, even to point of killing the woman using a nearby pistol. The woman did as suggested and became enraged when the other did not wake. She pulled the gun’s trigger, but luckily the chamber was purposely empty. When they both awoke from the trance, the woman who feared firearms did not believe she could do such a thing. From this experiment, and others, they alluded to and even mention it was possible to condition an everyday individual to be used as an assassin without the subject ever knowing or realizing the task they had performed and executed. This was the birth of the Manchurian Candidate.

    Other experiments had subjects performing tasks and puzzles. In their normal state, they underperformed or failed. But when hypnotized into a deep sleep, they performed these things quickly, and successfully with no problems reaching a 10/10 score each time. And along with these tests, most of subjects were intentionally put into states of “amnesia” for long or short periods of time.

    On the night Ron disappeared, he went down to get new bedsheets. The dorm manager told him that he “looked tired.” Could it be possibly Ron was functioning in a deep, post-hypnotic state during the previous 24-48 hours before he disappeared? Could he have “Autosuggested” to himself that he remain awake, calm, and ready to initiate his plan at an appointed time in his dorm room? He could have self-suggested and preprogrammed himself to willingly lose his memory and identity, giving himself complete and total temporary amnesia, and to successfully perform his disappearance like clockwork. In the photo of Ron’s desk with the book, there is what appears to be radio or something. Was the radio on playing music? Perhaps he previously suggested to himself that when a certain radio program came on, it made him enter into a deeper state and emptying his pockets were the first task. The second, was to quietly leave via the fire escape outside his window.

    All of this leads me back to H.H. Stephenson’s sighting:

    In Part 2 of “The Phantom of Oxford,” Stephenson states:

    “I had the feeling he (possibly Ron) was sort of looking right through me.”

    AND . . .

    “For some reason, that I’ll never know, I said nothing about, the fact that I thought maybe, this young man was Ron Tammen. I didn’t speak of it to my wife during the meal. I don’t know why I didn’t.”

    Stephenson states two peculiar things that happened while witnessing this event:

    “He was sort of looking right through me.” AND “I didn’t speak of it to my wife during the meal. I don’t know why I didn’t.”

    He says, “I don’t know why . . .”

    That there is a key to something vital.

    From researching hypnosis, when a subject awakens from a post-hypnotic state after performing a “suggestive task,” the subject always states that they “didn’t know why they did it,” or why they “felt compelled to do so.”

    On page 297, a hypnotized female subject is given the suggestion to retrieve a lab coat and put it on an instructor. When she completed the task, she was asked why she did so. Her response was that, “she did not know.”

    From learning all of this, I’m wondering if there was more to the event of Stephenson’s sighting. Could it have been possible that Stephenson was somehow placed into a post-hypnotic state at that very moment or within the timeframe he saw Ron with the group of men?

    A possible scenario could have been that if Stephenson’s wife left the table to use the ladies room, Stephenson got up and approached Ron, or vice-versa. And Ron, or one of the other men, hypnotically suggested to Stephenson that Ron wasn’t the person he thought he was, and to go sit back down. And that every time Ron looked at him, he felt compelled not say anything to his wife.

    I think Stephenson’s usage of the phrasing is very peculiar and I believe he could have been a victim of some kind of post-hypnotic event himself regarding that incident.

    Again, what did Stephenson say?

    “I didn’t speak of it to my wife during the meal. I ‘don’t know why’ I didn’t.”

    Just something to think about regarding this case.

    1. Fascinating thoughts! Although I also wondered if Ron might have been in a hypnotic state while he was staring at Stephenson, I must admit that I’ve never thought about whether Stephenson might have had something done to him. I’ll save other thoughts until later, but this is really interesting. Thanks!

      1. Yeah, when I was researching all of this, I wondered too if Ron was in a post-hypnotic state. He could have been sitting there thinking the face of the man across the way looks like someone he knew, and the men could have placed Ron under instantly so he wouldn’t remember or freakout about it–when realizing it was someone from back home. But after putting all this together, and when you go back and watch The Phantom of Oxford Part 2, notice Stephenson’s behavior and reaction to the encounter, even after so many years had passed at the time of that interview. But something tells me that Ron’s gaze was more than just a stare.

  4. Jen,

    Sounds like the possibility of a true Ron Tammen encounter/sighting are strong. I would be going crazy if I were in your shoes. So many technological advances since 1952 and endless ways to track people today…if only…

    Deb

  5. My thoughts have been similar to yours about the restaurant meeting, Brett N, although I don’t have the pysch book, nor have I seen the movie. When H.H. said Ron seemed to be “looking through him,” that was a sign that some kind of hypnosis was being used. I just wish H.H. had described the other men at the table. But what convinced me of a very extended form of hypnosis was that H.H. himself said nothing to his wife. Ron had only disappeared four months earlier, and H.H. knew him well. As you said, j, it is normal for two people seeing each other in an unexpected, out of context place, to feel uncertain, as if their eyes are fooling them. However, this was a case where H.H. was pretty sure, never forgot a face, and Ron had only been gone four months. H.H. should still be following every lead, if it was convenient, as it most certainly was at the Fasset (or Pickups) hotel.. When H.H. stepped out of the restaurant it was as if he stepped out of a trance; and yes, maybe it was set up, for the random chance was miniscule. Why did they choose H.H.for the sighting I wonder?

    1. Charlotte, great know I’m on the same wave-length with someone else. Yes, Ron looking through H.H. could have had some kind of hypnotic affect on him. And yes, not telling his wife about Ron until they left the hotel did cross my mind that he had come out a trance and realized what something was off. I feel this entire encounter was more than a little bizarre and when now looking at it from the hypnotic angle between he and Ron, it just seems even more strange, but more plausible. Perhaps his wife was in a hypnotic state as well. Or it could have been a scenario where a majority of the folks dining there were in a trance too and never realized it. And I agree about the lack of description of the men. Where they older? Did look like military? Doctors? Agent types? I guess we will never know. But, i do not think this was a planned event where H.H. was setup. I think it was a random, unplanned encounter and certain steps had to be quickly implemented to protect Ron and his new identity and whatever he was now involved with. My impression is that when H.H. came upon Ron, that he and the group men fled the hotel and Wellsville quickly thereafter. For some reason, I feel that it’s possible they could have gone north into Canada, which was just a hop, skip and jump away there.

      1. This is a really interesting theory. For the record, I probably should mention that I did ask the historians when I was in Wellsville if they’d heard stories/lore of young men walking around town like they were in a daze or trance, and they hadn’t. (That doesn’t mean things weren’t going on. It’s just that they hadn’t heard of things going on.) Also I’d mentioned this encounter with a hypnosis expert (I’ve spoken with several on the Tammen case), and he felt that Ron’s reaction was probably more of a “where have I seen him before?” stare, but, again, it hadn’t occurred to me that there might have been something going on both ways. I will present this idea to one or more experts regarding its possibility. Thank you again. This is one of the many ways in which this blog has been incredibly helpful to me.

    2. Jwenger, I was curious if there any was info or indication during your Wellsville trip and research of any underground gay safe houses or a secret community there in 1953?

      1. I don’t know if I asked the question directly (probably not), but I’d spoken with the historians about my theory that Ron may have been gay, and it didn’t trigger a response to that effect. In other words, if there was a strong gay underground in the community in those days, I’m sure they would have mentioned it then. As I recall, at least one person thought that it was more likely that Ron would have been traveling to NYC or Chicago, which would have been much more gay-tolerant.

  6. Jen says: Either it was a run-of-the-mill doppelganger sighting, nothing more, or it was a coincidence beyond all coincidences—an encounter whose odds of occurring are so remarkably small that it appears that something or someone bigger than all of us may have stepped in to make it happen.

    I can think of another plausible explanation. It fits such an extraordinary event not even being recorded in a daily journal, and such an implausible immediate reaction by the principle involved: It didn’t happen.

    1. OK, good point…but I started out the post saying I believe HH’s story—even without the journal entry. HH continued to be a believer in 1976, when he spoke with Joe Cella. But you’re right—not everyone is going to believe it happened, which is why I added the poll. Still, perhaps more importantly, why would the university ignore this potential lead?

  7. A quick preface: I am a decidedly anti-conspiracy person. I think conspiracies as we use the term are extremely rare. MKUltra is one of those rare cases.

    That said, because they exist doesn’t mean everything is a conspiracy, nor does it mean everyone involved in one lives every minute of their life beholdened to it. When I look at the people the Black Vault site attracts, I have to shake my head in disbelief at how people seem to think everything that has ever happened isn’t simply just what it appears to be.

    Tossing out a thought per autosuggestion/self-hypnosis. I’ve used it. When I ran track in high school, I would use it to tune out pain. I’d say it was somewhat effective. As for Ron using it, may I suggest a different possibility? I think it possible he was engaging in self hypnosis to try to deal with his sexuality. Anyone who’s read the Psych book knows what clumsy language the book uses in addressing it, and in the 1950’s Midwest, it was surely not easy to live a life as an outed gay person. I’m not saying this speculation is correct, but I will affirm it fits.

    I don’t know where we’re going with the MKUltra issue, but I think it a massive stretch to think someone already under the control of the CIA would sit by an open college textbook as a repeated reference on how to use autosuggestion . The CIA wouldn’t do a better job of instructing them than having them do that in a somewhat public area? That just doesn’t ring true to me.

    1. So…some thoughts regarding conspiracies and conspiracy theorists: I’m not what you would call a conspiracy theorist per se. I don’t believe all conspiracies, and I’m not sure what percentage of the population does. But if evidence points to something different than what the CIA’s talking points are, well, I guess I’m not afraid to wear that name tag every once in a while. I have read a lot of books by highly regarded researchers that indicate that the CIA was up to some very weird stuff in the 1950s and 60s, and I’m willing to ask a few questions about how those things might apply to Tammen’s situation. One question I have for you is: you keep saying that MKULTRA is the only conspiracy that was true. Well…what do you think happened under MKULTRA? How far do you think they took it? Again, I’m just asking those questions. As for your point about Ron hypnotizing himself to deal with his sexual orientation, I’ve had that thought too, and I think it sounds like a feasible explanation.

  8. I never said MKUltra is the only conspiracy theory that is real, but rather that it’s one of the few. How far did they take it? The problem in answering is that the people who really know aren’t talking. And the records we have are almost surely not complete. And what we have was found as a result of accidental oversight. I read a comment somewhere along the way that what MKUltra did in the realm of mind control to American citizens was definitely worse for those people than the awful things done in the realm of mind control to our citizens by our enemies. Surely true, and just a pathetic indictment of everyone involved.

    That said, to get to the point of thinking H.H. Stephenson was hypnotized on the fly in a public setting is the best explanation for what may have happened that day is departing the world of reasonableness. I might add, much as looking at the rants the crowd Black Vault attracts. Surely you recognize that, too. Anyway, I know MKUltra itself is bizarre beyond words, but it doesn’t mean everything related to the Ron Tammen story is just as steeped in bizarreness.

    My problem in all this is I know that if someone is sitting there disagreeing with me, they have the ready-made response, “Yeah, what about MKUltra after all? Isn’t it bizarre beyond belief? Aren’t there things there you wouldn’t believe if not for the documentary evidence?” And I’d be left without a response.

    1. Thanks so much for these additional thoughts, and for the clarification–also, very sorry for the accidental misrepresentation of your earlier comments. I should have double-checked before responding so quickly. As for the idea that’s been floated about HH, I agree that it’s out there, but I still would like to talk to an expert or two for scientific insight. If “hypnosis through long-distance staring” isn’t in the realm of the possible, I think we can rule it out, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Hopefully I can provide a response in the next week or so. Thanks again.

  9. Hi all– I’ve spoken with a resource with extensive hypnosis experience about the question of whether Ron or a Ron lookalike could have somehow hypnotized H.H. Stephenson remotely, with his eyes alone, and this person doesn’t view it as a feasible hypothesis. (I’ve been doing some reading and haven’t found anything that would support that hypothesis either.) However, because of this conversation, I thought it might be good to delve more into the question of what hypnosis is and what it isn’t, which will be the topic of our next post. If you have questions that you’d like to see addressed, please feel free to submit them as a comment. Check out this new post for more info. Thanks.

  10. My question: can someone really be hypnotized against their will? It seems like it would be extremely difficult to make someone drowsy without the subject’s cooperation.

    I can see that one might trick a person into agreeing to it, either by paying them or convincing them thst its for their own good, but I’m not sure how else it could work.

  11. So sorry for the late approval–for some reason your comment landed in my spam folder. Great question, and I’ll definitely add to the list. Thanks and, again, sorry!

Comments are closed.