Good morning! Is everyone sufficiently caffeinated and ready for the big reveal? Good. Let’s get to it.
But first, a disclaimer: What I’m about to share with you is a theory I’ve arrived at after assembling some key evidence and determining the most likely person that the clues point to. Admittedly, there are holes, and I could be wrong about some details. In order to help you distinguish between what’s fact and what’s conjecture, I’ll be making a clear distinction in my wording. In the case of the latter, I’ll be using words like “may” and “could” and “possibly” and “allegedly” whereas, if I’m 100 percent certain about something, I’ll use words like “is” and “was” and maybe the occasional “for sure.” I’ll also post original documents as supporting evidence. Despite the holes, I believe that, if we haven’t hit the nail directly on the head, this is as close as we’ve ever been to the truth about what happened to Ronald Tammen. And if you’re with the CIA or FBI and feel that you know better, I simply ask that you prove me wrong.
ACT 1: The I & I memo
On Tuesday, March 25, 1952, when the CIA was still young and green, though hardly naïve, one of its foot soldiers sat down at his typewriter to compose a memo. The memo’s intended recipient was Robert Jay Williams, a former Naval commander who’d grown up in Spokane, WA, and now, at the age of 38, was one of the head honchos in the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI). The author decided on the subject line of “I & I,” which, cryptic as it sounds to the rest of us, was crystal clear to Williams. As you may recall from earlier posts, Williams was at that time the project coordinator of ARTICHOKE, the CIA’s secret program in which they aimed to control people’s thoughts and behaviors with drugs, hypnosis, and other means. I’m sure he preferred to keep things as vague as possible.
Even though the memo writer’s name is redacted, I think it was probably Morse Allen, since he was the person who did so much of the day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE work in the early days. However, because his name is still considered classified for some unknown and ridiculous reason (it’s been released in other memos, why not this one?), there continues to be a shred of doubt as to the author’s identity, so I’ll just refer to him as “the author.” (But I’m 99 percent sure it was Allen.)
As for the subject head, I can only wager a guess regarding what that means too. The first “I,” I believe, stands for interrogation, since the interrogation process was always a primary focus for ARTICHOKE—both to prevent the release of U.S. intelligence while, at the same time, getting more info out of the enemy. The other “I,” I believe, stands for indoctrination, since that word seemed to go hand-in-hand with interrogation. We know this is true from the words of Allen Dulles in his Brain Warfare speech, delivered April 10, 1953. In that speech, Dulles used some form of the word “indoctrination” ten times and “interrogation” nine times in describing Communist brainwashing methods. For example, he described how Americans were indoctrinated into making false confessions, and that one reason that the Communists hadn’t caused this to happen on a more widespread basis was a “shortage of trained interrogators.” In the CIA’s mindset, interrogation went together with indoctrination like Desi went with Lucy, Martin went with Lewis, and Tonto went with the Lone Ranger. Other examples of these two “I” words used in tandem is a report from 1955 in which the subject head is referring to the “Interrogation and Indoctrination of PWs” (prisoners of war) and this 1956 report for the American Medical Association, conducted at Dulles’ request by Drs. Lawrence Hinkle and Harold Wolff. So I’m pretty confident that “I & I” was shorthand for Interrogation and Indoctrination, even though I couldn’t get confirmation of this while I was on the phone with a CIA rep one day (shocker).
In the weeks leading up to the March 25 memo, Williams (I think, since the name is always redacted) had expressed his frustration with how ARTICHOKE had been progressing, or, rather, not progressing. The folks at OSI wanted to pursue cutting-edge scientific research in ARTICHOKE methods—they were especially enamored with the “very latest ‘ideas’” in “electroshock, lysergic acid [LSD], drugs, electro-encephalograph, hypnosis, etc., etc.,” while the guys in the Inspection and Security Office (IS&O), which happened to include Allen, were all about operations. The security guys wanted to pursue whatever worked best, and, as one meeting summary stated (also likely written by Allen), the writer didn’t understand why OSI wanted to pursue electroshock and lysergic acid, when [sodium] amytal and pentothal had “been used with some success in the United States and elsewhere.”
The aforementioned summary document, which had been typed up for the departmental files on February 12, 1952, described “a long, involved, and somewhat heated discussion concerning ‘Artichoke’” between the author and someone who was obviously in command. Among other things, the author described how the person he was speaking with—again, I’m thinking Williams—had been inquiring about a hypnosis researcher who wouldn’t be averse to working on a project such as this. Maybe that conversation was the impetus for the March 25 memo, or maybe it was just one of many exchanges they’d had of late on the topic.
Regardless, on this particular Tuesday, March 25, the author was hoping to placate Williams by providing names of serious-minded hypnosis researchers. “You have asked me to put down in writing some of my ideas on how I would go about getting expert help on hypnotism,” the author began. “Above all, I would rely upon proven experimental psychologists who have their feet on the ground on this subject and who have done plenty of research work on hypnotism.”
Nice lead. Way to write for your audience, my dude.
In paragraph 2, our author then begins to discuss perhaps one of the foremost researchers in hypnosis, and, even though, some 67 years later, the CIA still considers this information to be classified, we can figure out many of the words that were redacted, and, I would venture to say, they are quite undeserving of the “classified” designation. Let’s give it a shot, Mad Libs-style, shall we?
“The most extensive and careful series of experiments on hypnotism were carried out by BLANK over a ten-year period,” he said.
Does anyone know who our author is referring to? I’ll give you a hint: three Miami professors studied under him.
That’s right, it’s Clark Hull.You’ll see why in a second. Moving on:
“He began his work while he was still at the BLANK and finished his studies after he transferred to the BLANK.”
Some of you who have read this post may recall that these answers are the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Yale University Institute of Human Relations. Easy breezy.
If you had any doubts about the above answers, here’s the giveaway sentence:
“His book, entitled BLANKETY BLANK, “is a carefully documented research classic which is a [sic] ‘must’ reading for anybody who professes to be even seriously interested in the subject.”
Yep, he’s referring to Hull’s 1933 classic book, Hypnosis and Suggestibility: An Experimental Approach. It’s so unbelievably obvious. And yet, the CIA feels that this is classified information. Forward ho:
“Unfortunately, BLANK is no longer interested in hypnotism and moreover he has become quite feeble…”
The answer, again, is Clark Hull. Remember how Hull had stopped studying hypnosis as soon as his book came out, and even wrote in a journal that “I shall never be able to live down the stigma cast upon me by it”? Also, regarding the “feeble” part, Hull had always had health issues, but it turns out that a “bad heart condition” had limited his activities over his last several years at Yale, and he died on May 10, 1952, just six weeks after the memo was written. So feeble—weak, ailing—fits too.
“…but his two principal research assistants are still active in psychology and would prove particularly valuable as consultants on a research project on hypnotism. They are BLANK AND BLANK.
There’s no way to figure out who the two researchers are with that limited amount of information. Thankfully, we have paragraphs three and four to help us. Bear in mind that these individuals aren’t going to be nearly as obvious as Hull. However, what first narrows down our options is the fact that they had to have studied under Hull and were at some point considered his “principal research assistants.” Also, they needed to be active in the field of psychology in March 1952. So at least we have that.
Let’s proceed to paragraph 3:
“BLANK BLANKETY-BLANKED before he became a psychologist.” That could be anything. We’ll have to come back to it once we have a little more information.
“He is an extremely competent, broad-minded, and non-dogmatic scientist.” Very nice, but again, no giant arrows pointing to someone we know.
“At the present time, he serves as a BLANK.” Grrrr. Fine, we’ll come back to this one too.
“He has plenty of experience in research, experimental, clinical, and business psychology.”
I’ll ask you to ignore the lack of parallel structure in the above sentence and concentrate on the last two words, which happen to provide a big clue. Why would Commander Robert Jay Williams give a whit about business psychology when he’s looking for a serious-minded scientific researcher in hypnosis? Nevertheless, I am so glad our author inserted that needless selling point, because, guess what? I do know of one person who was a principal research assistant to Clark Hull who also happened to have experimental, clinical, and, yes, even business psychology expertise. He was Clark Hull’s right-hand man during the publication of his book Hypnosis and Suggestibility and Hull singled him out in his autobiography by expressing his indebtedness to him. He had experimental research experience through his time spent with Hull for his master’s and Ph.D. degrees as well as in hypnosis studies that he helped conduct at Miami in the 1930s. He obtained clinical experience in the summer of 1936 when he worked for the U.S. Public Health Service as a clinical psychologist for prisoners of Northeastern Penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA. And he oversaw the business psychology course at Miami, a course that all business majors were required to take. That person is St. Clair Adna Switzer, Ronald Tammen’s psychology professor.
“I would certainly trust his judgment on any problem dealing with hypnosis and drugs,” the author stated.
Hmmm…Switzer was a psychology professor—he didn’t dispense drugs. However, perhaps the author was referring to something Switzer had done in a former life. Maybe he was referring to the two years Switzer had spent as a pharmacist in Farmington, MI, before he decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology at Miami? Bingo. Let’s go back to the beginning of this paragraph and fill in some blanks to see if they fit.
Sentence 1: “St. Clair Adna Switzer (or Adna St. Clair Switzer—he went by both names) was a pharmacist before he became a psychologist.” Absolutely true. Switzer referred to himself as a “registered pharmacist” in a publication as late as 1950. He was extremely proud of that degree in pharmacy from Ferris Institute School of Pharmacy, and, according to Fern Patten’s book, Eighty Years of Psychology at Miami, that’s the reason he asked his colleagues to call him by his nickname, Doc.
Sentence 2: “He is an extremely competent, broad-minded, and non-dogmatic scientist.” That’s true too. He was fairly no-nonsense from what I can tell, and judging by Hull’s letters to him, Hull felt he was an exceptional scientist, which tells me that Switzer was no slouch in the research department.
Sentence 3: “At the present time, he serves as a professor of psychology at Miami University.” Or maybe it said, “At the present time, he serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves,” because he was doing that intermittently too. I’m guessing it was the former though.
Then comes the business psychology reference and the reference to hypnosis and drugs.
And finally: “An indication of his writing and thinking can be obtained from a recent article entitled BLANK.”
At this point in Switzer’s career, most of his publications were from the 1930s, which makes sense, since his military responsibilities took over much of the 1940s, throughout the war, and then, after the war, in the Veteran Guidance Center in Oxford. In 1950, however, Switzer authored a small section of the book Handbook of Applied Psychology, edited by Douglas H. Fryer and Edwin R. Henry. The second chapter was titled “Individual Efficiency,” and Switzer’s section, “Drugs and Smoking,” was three pages in length plus references. In 1951, Switzer wrote a chapter on “Personnel Tests” for the book Personnel Handbook, edited by John F. Mee. Perhaps our author cited one of these? If so, my money would be on the “Drugs and Smoking” section, since it’s more relevant to the subject at hand.
It might seem strange that our memo’s author would even be aware of St. Clair Switzer, who, at that time, was toiling away in a crumbling and bug-infested Harrison Hall (the first one, which was torn down in 1958) in Oxford. But Switzer was known by the U.S. government. The Air Force certainly knew where to find him and would regularly send orders for him to appear at such-and-such Air Force Base on assignment. Moreover, in August through December 1951, Switzer had served a stint with the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in Baltimore, a facility tasked with the development of state-of-the-art aircraft and missiles. His role was a civilian consultant, and, according to Switzer, he “assisted in formulating the long-range training program for Reserve officer scientists who have research and development assignments in the Air Force.” So Switzer was indeed a known commodity in the Air Force and, because the Air Force worked closely with the CIA in Project BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE, it wouldn’t have been a stretch for him to be noticed by the folks in Langley too. But that’s probably not how Morse Allen (or whomever our memo’s author was) knew about Switzer. I think the memo’s author telephoned Clark Hull one day in February or March 1952 to ask him about hypnosis researchers. Hull would have informed him that he was no longer in the hypnosis business and that his health was in decline, and then, ever the mentor, he would have passed along the names of the two assistants whom he remembered fondly and who he thought might be interested in assisting in some government work. That seems like the most logical way in which Switzer’s name would have been passed along, at least in my view.
As for the person mentioned in paragraph 4, at first, I wondered if it might have been Everett F. Patten, but then I sought the opinion of someone who has studied Hull’s work in hypnosis, and is acquainted with Switzer and Patten’s contributions as well as other hypnosis researchers from the past. That person agreed that Hull was undoubtedly the first person, and said that he would bet good money that Switzer was the second person. However, he suggested that the person described in paragraph 4 was Griffith Wynne Williams, who was by then a psychology professor at Rutgers. Griffith Williams was another of Hull’s primary research assistants, having accompanied him on his move from the University of Wisconsin to Yale. The reason my source arrived at this conclusion is that Williams had been prolific in publishing on the topic of hypnosis and had also conducted many hypnosis demonstrations, as described in the memo. Also, Griffith Williams had developed a test for determining a person’s suggestibility, which was featured in Hull’s book. Although he’s not important to our story, I’ll hazard the guess that person number two is Griffith Wynne Williams and leave it there.
Of course, just because the names St. Clair Switzer and Griffith Williams may have been suggested to Commander Williams in a memo, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that they were actually approached by the CIA and that they subsequently signed on. At this point, it’s just a “You know who we should approach? We should totally approach so-and-so,” sort of deal and it could have all died there. Except for one tiny little thing. In the CIA’s zealousness to keep its people and intelligence sources confidential, they may have given themselves away. (You might want to read that last sentence a second time, since it’s so deliciously ironic.) Remember the post titled FOIA follies where I described my efforts to get the three people’s names released? If so, do you also remember what the CIA said? To make things easy on you, I’ll just copy/paste that verbiage here:
They came back and said (and I paraphrase here), no. They did so on the basis of Section 6 of the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949, as amended, and Section 102A(i)(l) of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended. The latter statute doesn’t say much of anything except for establishing the Central Intelligence Agency. The former statute, however, says this (bold added):
SEC. 6. [50 U.S.C. 403g] In the interests of the security of the foreign intelligence activities of the United States and in order further to implement section 102A(i) of the National Security Act of 1947 that the Director of National Intelligence shall be responsible for protecting intelligence sources and methods from unauthorized disclosure, the Agency shall be exempted from the provisions of sections 1 and 2, chapter 795 of the Act of August 28, 1935 1 (49 Stat. 956, 957; 5 U.S.C. 654), and the provisions of any other laws which require the publication or disclosure of the organization, functions, names, official titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed by the Agency: Provided,That in furtherance of this section, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget shall make no reports to the Congress in connection with the Agency under section 607, title VI, chapter 212 of the Act of June 30, 1945, as amended 1 (5 U.S.C. 947(b)).
I’m no lawyer, but this seems to tell me that all three individuals whose names were redacted in the memo had worked for the CIA at some point in their lives.
Would I be showing my bias if I told you that I agree completely with my past self? I mean, it appears as if the CIA is saying that all three people—including feeble old Clark Hull—had some affiliation with the CIA. In my appeal, I mentioned Hull’s feebleness as a reason that they could at least release HIS name. Right? Wrong. Appeal denied. Of course, if Hull had worked for the CIA before 1952? Well, you got me there.
I’ve gone the entire FOIA route with this document, short of filing a lawsuit, which an extremely knowledgeable lawyer has dissuaded me from based on the impossible-to-beat exemptions they’re claiming. Now, someone else has kindly picked up this ball and is running with it. That’s all I’ll be saying on the matter, but hopefully, that person will be more successful than I in getting the names released.
Here’s the full memo.
ACT 2: Seeking the services of Lt. Colonel BLANK
I’m less sure of the second document, though my confidence is growing. While the first document landed on my laptop in nanoseconds, after I ran a search for “hypnosis” on the CIA’s online reading room, I stumbled on the second one while reading page after grueling page of the PDFs on the CIA’s MKULTRA DVD.
It’s dated January 14, 1953, still several months before Allen Dulles approved MKULTRA, and the subject head is “Interrogation Techniques.” The memo is written to Dr. BLANK. While I’ll post the whole document, the only paragraph I’m concerned with is paragraph 3.
Here’s what it says:
3. If the services of Major BLANK, USAF (MC), a trained hypnotist can be obtained and another man well grounded in conventional psychological interrogation and polygraph techniques, and the services of Lt. Colonel BLANK, a well-balanced interrogation research center could be established in an especially selected location.
The sentence is pretty terrible and appears to be missing a comma after the word “hypnotist,” but let’s just focus on the two people whose names are redacted. Even though the first person isn’t identified in our version, other sources have identified it to be Major Louis Jolyon West, who was chief of the Psychiatric Service at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio at that time. (Here’s a reprinted article from the magazine Nexxus that also identifies him from that sentence.) As you may recall, Jolly West was heavily into hypnosis and LSD research (he infamously killed Tusko, the elephant, in the Oklahoma City Zoo) and, when MKULTRA came to be, he was funded under Subproject 43. According to author Colin Ross, M.D., West had received “top secret” clearance from the CIA, which tells us that he would have been able to see a lot more of what the government was up to than a typical unwitting MKULTRA-funded researcher.
As for the second individual, Lt. Colonel BLANK, from what I can tell, that person has never been identified, or even attempted to be identified. Until today. Guys, I think the person named there is Switzer. I kid you not. St. Clair Switzer was made a lieutenant colonel in 1946, after WWII ended. That was quite a feat, since it normally takes 16 years’ time in the service in order to attain lieutenant colonel status. In 1946, Switzer had only spent four years with the Army Air Corps (precursor to the U.S. Air Force) and two years with the Navy before he went to pharmacy school. A Miami Student article from September 15, 1942, said that Switzer was in the Army Air Corps Intelligence Service during WWII, the only reference to intelligence that I’ve seen published about him. This might have expedited his escalation in military rank and bolstered his status with the CIA as well. Also, we already know from the I & I memo that, if Switzer is named there, and I am 99 percent sure that he is, he likely had something to do with the CIA’s efforts in interrogation and indoctrination.
And now I want you to do me a favor. I want you to open up the document at the link below and I want you to focus on that second name in the third paragraph, even though it’s blacked out. Zoom in as high as you can and really examine it. It says Switzer, does it not? I swear, I can see a capital “S,” a “w,” a “z,” and an “er.” It seems to have the right number of letters. There’s a little tail after the “er,” but I think that was a hand-drawn closing parenthesis. I especially like how the author doesn’t feel the need to identify him further—they just refer to “the services of Lt. Colonel BLANK,” as if he’s already well-known around there. Good ol’ reliable Lt. Colonel BLANK.
This time, instead of submitting a FOIA request, I submitted a mandatory declassification review (MDR) request to the CIA for the release of the two names in paragraph 3. (A person can submit a FOIA request or an MDR request, but not both for the same document.) After having heard nothing in over a year, I’ve submitted an appeal to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) for a ruling. If they should order the CIA to release the names and the lt. colonel turns out not to be Switzer, well, OK then. I’ll just crawl under a rock and promise not to bother anyone ever again. But if it does say Switzer? Oh, man. Then, I’m going to have one or two follow-up questions for the CIA. Because if St. Clair Switzer was working for the CIA’s ARTICHOKE program in 1953 and one of his students just so happened to disappear that spring, then we need to find out if he was involved and how. And if St. Clair Switzer is mentioned in the same sentence as Louis Jolyon West in connection with the creation of an interrogation research center for ARTICHOKE, well, I don’t think that I have to tell you that that would also be a very big deal.
So THIS, Good Man readers, is what we’ll be waiting on from here on out. The current appeals log is below, and, as you can see, my name is on line 1379, ISCAP number 2018-089. I’ll definitely let you know how the panel eventually rules, but you can also keep abreast of my case by visiting their website and downloading the latest log whenever you feel like it.
ACT 3: A few anecdotes
Documents are great—I love how straightforward they are in a bureaucratic, understated sort of way. But documents can be destroyed, which is why so little is left concerning the CIA’s ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA years. Stories, from the mouths of actual people, can help fill in some gaps created by missing documents, and I just so happen to have several to share.
The men in front of Fisher Hall
The sun was shining on this particular fall day. Classes were about to start for the 1952-53 academic year, and some older students with added responsibilities were beginning to arrive and settle in to their dorm rooms before the onslaught of the rest of the students. So many years later, a peer of Ronald Tammen’s recalls feeling energized on that day. Like Tammen, he, too, was going to be a sophomore residence hall counselor in Fisher Hall, and he was looking forward to receiving training on how to do his job. After dropping off his stuff and taking a look around his room, the young man, we’ll call him Walt, went back outside to soak in the excitement. He immediately was drawn to a group of men who were engaged in conversation on the front lawn of Fisher Hall.
They looked different to him. Their ages were a little outside the norm—older than a typical student, though younger than the professors. Their clothes looked different too. They wore jackets, but not full-on suits. Sport coats and ties. He decided that they were probably administrators who would conduct the residence counselor training, and he walked over to the group to introduce himself.
“Hi! I’m Walt, and I’m one of the new counselors,” he said jovially. He fully expected a “hi” back, and an invitation to join in their conversation.
What he got was stony silence. The men turned to face him and just stared.
“Oh, pardon me. Pardon me,” he said, “Pardon me. I’ve intruded in your personal conversation.”
Walt was deeply humiliated—so deeply that he still cringes when he thinks about the incident, even more than six decades later. He left quickly, finding sanctuary in another group standing nearby.
“Do you know what that is over there, because I don’t have an idea what was going on,” he remembers saying. “Because I’m really embarrassed.”
He recalls one person saying something to the effect of, “Well, they were talking about hypnosis and a program in hypnosis in the psychology program.”
As it turns out, Walt had an interest in learning how to hypnotize people, and he thought this sounded like a great opportunity. But there was no way he was going to be heading back over to the group of men talking on the lawn. He’d go to the source. He was enrolled in a psychology course that semester, and, one day, he inquired about the program at the departmental office. A secretary told him that she wasn’t aware of such a program but suggested that he ask Dr. Patten, the department chair who also happened to be Walt’s instructor.
After waiting a couple weeks for the right moment and summoning his courage after class, he said, “Dr. Patten, I have a question to ask you. I’m interested in hypnosis. It may be presumptuous of me, but I’d like to be a physician, maybe even a psychiatrist.” (He felt really weird saying that last part.)
I’ll let him tell the rest:
“And he turned around and looked at me—not hostilely, and not really indifferently. And he said, ‘We don’t have a curriculum here in hypnosis,’ something like that. And I said, ‘Well, I heard there’s a special program and that you were taking volunteers.’ I used the word ‘volunteers,’ because the other guy said it was some kind of a volunteer program or something. I said I’d volunteer if I could learn something, and he said, ‘Well, maybe in the future.’ And that dropped it. To me, these were powerful people, psychology professors and all that, and I didn’t force the issue.”
The clandestine exit
In my post The hypnotists of Oxford, Ohio, I described a conversation between C. Theodore (Ted) Perin and former Dean Karl Limper about Perin’s time both as a student and a faculty member in the Department of Psychology. Perin was the other hypnosis expert who’d studied under Clark Hull, in addition to Patten and Switzer. Here’s another interesting snippet from that conversation:
KL: Did he [Patten] leave the chairmanship upon retirement, or had he done it before that?
TP: No, he was chairman until he retired. [Correction: Actually, Patten stepped down from the chairmanship in 1961, and retired in 1965.]
KL: In those days, chairmen usually went right to the retirement.
TP: That’s right. And he got out of it and Switzer…in those days, they didn’t have searches, you know, throughout the country, they just…
TP: Inherited…Switzer was next in line, and so he took it over. That was in the 1960s—early 1960s, I think. Yes. And Switzer…you can erase this stuff…remember…these tapes, you only need to copy what you…what you want.
KL: That’s right.
TP: Switzer was very difficult. He was not overly friendly.
KL: I got the feeling he was not one of everybody’s favorites. He was very military in his operation of the…
TP: He was very military. That is correct. And very private.
KL: The dean received? He had him…
TP: He had a lot of interesting other people, I think.
TP: And he suffered through several years there as chairman. When Switzer retired, I may have told you this before, Karl, he locked his door, went out and left the office and never came back…never said goodbye to anybody—even myself—I had been there since 1934, and he never said goodbye to anybody.
KL: Isn’t that interesting?
TP: The only…I only saw him one other time up in a bank box when he was gettin [sic] his box out and I was gettin [sic] my box out and he exchanged a couple of little words—pleasantries—and he moved to California and died.
KL: Well, I assume he emptied his office before he locked it.
TP: Yeah, he…
KL: I mean, he didn’t lock everything in there.
TP: Yeah, but he just moved it all out himself and then he was gone.
KL: Isn’t that strange?
TP: Uh huh.
Karl and Ted are correct. It is strange. Do you know what’s also strange? After Switzer retired, he obtained a post office box for his mail. Why would a retiree need a post office box when he had a perfectly good mailbox at his home? What sort of mail was he expecting to receive that warranted the additional privacy? True, people use P.O boxes all the time, but this just seems…well, I suppose it fits the behavior of a guy who surreptitiously cleans out his office and then leaves without saying goodbye to the people he’d worked alongside for more than 30 years. Yeah, come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t strange at all.
The phone call
St. Clair Switzer died in May 1976, before I even started at Miami, so I would have never had the chance to ask him about Ron Tammen, even if I’d started my investigation on my first day of class. The good news, however, is that I’ve spoken with someone who did have the chance to talk to Switzer by phone about Tammen. Here’s a transcript of our conversation about that phone call:
Person On the Phone (POP): “…I found out that Ron Tammen had been in Doc Switzer’s class. I thought, ‘Oh, I know him. I’ll call him.’ So I called. Now, you’re asking me to remember something from, what, 45 years ago?”
Actually, it was probably even longer than that, since it was in the late 1960s that this person contacted Switzer, after he’d moved to California.
POP: “And it wasn’t really a conversation. He said, ‘Yes, Ron had been in his class. He had no particular memory of him. He’d been questioned at the time, and there really hadn’t been anything that he could add to anything.’ And that was the extent of it.”
JW: “I see.”
POP: “So, it wasn’t really anything like an enlightening conversation. You sort of hope that someone would say, ‘Oh yes, I remember him. He was a bright student. Blah blah blah,’ whatever, but there was nothing like that.”
JW: “Yeah. Did he still seem open and welcoming to talk about it, or was he, I don’t know…”
POP: “Well, he had not been a particularly friendly person when we met him here, and if anything, I mean, he didn’t seem to have anything to say that was as though, ‘I don’t really have anything more to say,’ and that’s it. I mean, there was nothing, there was nothing.”
JW: “Yeah, got it. And he never mentioned that Ron had actually dropped the course by the time he disappeared?”
POP: “No, and honestly, that surprises me because if Ron had dropped the course, why did he have his psych book open on his desk the night he disappeared? Are you sure he dropped it?”
JW: “Yeah, I have it on his transcript. I got it from the Registrar’s Office.”
So put yourself in the shoes of St. Clair Switzer. If someone whom you knew had contacted you to ask about Ronald Tammen being in your psychology class, wouldn’t your first response be, “Actually, he wasn’t enrolled in my class at the time he disappeared. He’d already dropped the course.” That’s the first thing I would have said, especially if I’d been questioned about it by investigators, as he’d said he was, and that crucial detail had ostensibly been discussed at that time. But he didn’t say that. Instead, he said something along the lines of “I have no particular memory of him.” And then something like “I don’t really have anything more to say.”
Ummm…really? Because, normally, when we humans come into contact with a newsworthy person or event, even a tragic one, we tend to talk about our slice of the story. Something like “Oh, yeah, I remember he was such a quiet guy,” or “We were all so surprised when he disappeared,” or maybe even “He dropped my course a few weeks before he disappeared—that was so strange!”, or whatever. But all he could think of was…nothing. Also, I don’t care how many years had transpired, this is the sort of thing that a person doesn’t forget. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who had far less in common with Tammen than Switzer did and still had plenty of thoughts on the topic.
It occurred to me that maybe Switzer’s psychology course was simply too big for him to notice Ronald Tammen. If there were a couple hundred students in his class, then perhaps it would have been easier for Ron to blend in and to not make an impression. I knew that Switzer’s class was held in room 124 of old Harrison Hall, but I didn’t know how many students were enrolled in the class. I tried the Registrar’s Office, but they don’t keep records of class sizes. I settled on seating capacity. If I knew how many seats a classroom could hold, then it would at least give me an upper limit of the number of students in the class. Here’s what Jacky Johnson, Miami’s Archivist, told me:
“The maximum student load for Room 124 of Harrison Hall was 45.”
Guys, that’s not a big number. At all. And again, if one of those 45 (or fewer) students happened to disappear shortly after dropping your course, well, it’s something you’re still going to remember. Surely, St. Clair Switzer knew more about Ronald Tammen than he was letting on. To me, his answers are indicative of someone who wanted to end the phone call as quickly as possible. What does that tell you?
Sun City, here we come!
In June 1968, St. Clair Switzer and his wife Elizabeth (she went by Betty) purchased one side of a duplex in Sun City, CA, to live out their golden years. Their home was on Pebble Beach Drive, a name that evokes sand and sea, even though there’s no water or beach in sight. It was the fourth Sun City retirement community to be created by developer Del Webb (the first and most famous being Sun City, AZ), and was located in Riverside County about 78 miles east of L.A. The Switzers moved there in August 1968.
It has always mystified me why the Switzers would move to Sun City, CA. As far as I could tell, they had no friends or family there. Their only daughter and her husband lived in Washington, D.C., at the time. One person has suggested that they did it for Betty, who had mobility issues, so that she could get out of the cold. But by then, there was a Sun City Center in Florida. If they were so determined to get in on the Sun City fun, why not move there, where you could get all the sun you wanted and still be close enough to family? I needed to see what the draw was.
Last month, my husband and I took a trip to California, where I spent the first two days at UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library going through Jolly West’s correspondence and other papers. While Switzer’s name on anything could have provided me with one sweet smoking gun, I’m sorry to report that I was unsuccessful. But that’s OK. Because if anyone was going to spend two perfectly gorgeous days in L.A. camped out in UCLA’s Special Collections room searching for St. Clair Switzer’s name on Jolly West’s archival documents, I do believe that I’m the only person in the world who was cut out for that job. And it’s not like I didn’t find anything of interest—just not that.
Another stop on the trip was Sun City. Though it appears to be a nice retirement community with tidy homes and well-maintained recreational facilities, it still didn’t seem like a place for two Midwesterners to settle with no friends or family nearby, although I’m told that plenty of them did back in the day. Besides the golf course and shuffle board courts, one of Sun City’s enticements at that time was the opportunity to socialize with other retirees by participating in various clubs. From what I can tell, though, the Switzers weren’t joiners. Some former Oxford neighbors even considered them somewhat reclusive. So that didn’t make sense either. I toured Sun City’s new museum, which is a room set aside for records and nostalgic knick-knacks in the Arts and Crafts building, and so far, we haven’t found any signs of the Switzers in photo or roster form. The very helpful people there told me they’d notify me if they do. (I particularly loved one photo in which husbands and wives were ballroom dancing in the rec center in the middle of the day, the wives’ purses dangling from the crooks of their arms. You can look at other photos and news articles on their Facebook page.)
The one place that did look as if it might appeal to St. Clair Switzer was March Air Force Base, now March Air Reserve Base (ARB), which is just up the road from Sun City. Could Switzer have been called to work there? When I wrote them to ask if he might have been employed there, I was told that March ARB doesn’t keep records for anyone who is not currently assigned there and their historian position was vacant. Of course, it also occurred to me that, if the CIA were involved, his assignment probably would have been kept off the books anyway. On May 26, 1976, just around the time MKULTRA was becoming public knowledge, St. Clair Switzer died in his sleep of “suspect cardiac arrhythmia,” due to coronary artery insufficiency that was tied to coronary artery atherosclerosis, according to his death certificate. Two years later, a national cemetery was dedicated outside Riverside, near March AFB/ARB, and this is where St. Clair and Elizabeth are now buried.
Epilogue: My theory
With all of this new information, plus all of the new details I’ve presented over the past two years, here’s where my head is concerning what happened to Ron Tammen:
On Tammen’s hypnosis/suggestibility
- I think Ronald Tammen was gay or bisexual.
- I think Tammen was being hypnotized by someone in the psychology department to attempt to overcome his attraction to men.
- I think Tammen became highly hypnotizable/suggestible over time.
On Tammen’s draft status
- Ron Tammen’s grades were sliding and he was no longer a full-time student.
- I think Tammen was in jeopardy of losing his deferment and becoming eligible for the draft.
- I think Tammen was afraid that, if he were drafted by the Army, he’d be outed as gay, which, in 1953, would have been devastating for him.
On possible CIA involvement
- I think St. Clair Switzer worked as a consultant for the CIA’s ARTICHOKE program.
- I think the psychology department may have been involved in conducting hypnosis studies for the CIA during the 1952-1953 academic year.
- I think Tammen may have volunteered for a hypnosis study.
- I think Switzer knew about Tammen’s personal history and the dilemma he was in by word of mouth in the psychology department and/or through a hypnosis study.
- I think Switzer did one of two things: He helped Ron out of his dilemma by recruiting him to be an undercover operative for the CIA (my hope), or he targeted Ron as an experimental subject for the possible reason that Ron was gay and was easily hypnotized.
On what the FBI knew/knows
- I think that the CIA told the FBI to call off its search for Tammen early on.
- I think the FBI and DOJ possess some record of what happened to Ronald Tammen.
- I think the Tammen case may be related to the case of missing West Point cadet Richard Cox.
- I think the FBI knew where Tammen was in June 1973 when they moved his missing person file out of the “Ident files.”
- Ronald Tammen was confirmed dead in 1995, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the year in which he died.
- I think the reason that the FBI, DOJ, and/or CIA haven’t told the Tammens about what happened to Ron is because it could open a Pandora’s box—either of other families who were affected in the same way or of new details regarding some MKULTRA-related project that is yet unknown.
On what the university knew
- I think someone from the federal government told university officials and the Oxford PD to call off their searches.
- I think the university’s search for Tammen ended in the summer of 1953—shortly after Mrs. Spivey reported her possible sighting (first reported in the news on June 29, 1953) and before H.H. Stephenson’s possible sighting (August 5, 1953).
- I don’t think Miami University officials knew what happened to Tammen, though I think they probably felt that Tammen was still alive and supposedly in good hands (with the government).
- I don’t think that Miami University officials knew much, if anything, about Switzer’s ARTICHOKE activities. They may, however, have known about the department’s hypnosis studies, especially if some students may have gotten temporarily lost in the process.
In the weeks before Ron disappeared:
- After spring break, Ron was showing signs of stress, I believe, over his grades and draft dilemma and perhaps because of a sexual relationship he may have been in.
- Dr. Switzer may have approached him with an offer: see the world, serve your country, make a good living, and be true to who you are. However, he wouldn’t be able to see family and friends anymore, for whatever reason, which would have also been stressful for him.
- I think Ron chose to cut his losses and agreed to sign on with the CIA. He also could have dropped his psychology course at this time to create distance between Switzer and him, since his credit hours/grades would no longer matter once he joined the CIA.
- I don’t think he knew when he would be officially brought on board for whatever they had planned for him.
On the day of Ron’s disappearance:
- Ron had no idea what was in store for him on April 19.
- Ron had a jampacked schedule that Sunday, and he didn’t suspect that his life was in for a drastic change. He cut records with the Campus Owls all morning and then returned to campus in the afternoon. He had some questions about posthypnotic suggestion, and read up on the topic in his psychology book, even though he’d dropped the course. He did everything else that’s been documented: showered, ate dinner with Collins head resident Ken McDiffett and a table of fellow students, helped Dick Titus study, and changed his sheets.
- He told his brother Richard something on the phone that may have angered Richard—maybe he even told him that he was planning to leave Miami.
- His brother came over to Fisher and they reportedly got into a fight in the third-floor bathroom.
- He went to song practice.
- At 10:30 p.m., he came home from song practice with two fraternity brothers. After dropping them off at Symmes Hall, he continued walking to Fisher Hall, where a woman he knew was waiting for him in her car. People didn’t think too much about her since they’d seen her before, though at least one person reported the incident to the Oxford PD.
- He climbed into the car, they talked for a while, and then they drove away. He never made it back into his room at Fisher Hall after song practice.
- Chuck Findlay returned from Dayton at roughly that time, and never saw Ron.
- At that point, I believe Ron was driven to some CIA training facility—maybe passing through Wellsville, NY, maybe not—and lived another 42 years. Hopefully, he experienced a happy, fulfilled life. Or so goes my theory.
Whew! So there you have it. I realize it’s a lot to digest, and I’m opening myself up to a few darts and arrows for not fleshing out some details particularly well and not addressing certain questions (like the blood test, which I think was a red herring). But that’s OK. I’m just letting you know where I stand and letting you have your say as well. Feel free to comment below. Also, don’t forget to join us from 1 to 2 p.m. ET today for our Twitter chat (@jwwenger; #Tammenchat). Or, if you’re near Oxford, stop by Mac & Joe’s during that hour to say “hi”!
Oh, and one last thing: These last two years have been extremely instructive for me and a total blast as well. I’m going to miss our talks. Thanks so much for being part of this community, everyone. I’ll be in touch as soon as I hear from ISCAP or if anything else really huge happens on the Tammen front that you need to know about. I feel honored to count you among my posse.
ADDENDUM TO POST (April 22, 2019): Please note that, just because I’m putting my blog on hiatus doesn’t mean that I’ll be putting an end to my research. There’s still much to learn on the Tammen case, and I have every intention of chasing down whatever lead I can find as well as filling in as many details as possible. I’m not going away anytime soon–I’m just going to be doing things a little more quietly, under the radar. I’ll aways be accessible through the contact page, however.