Happy Halloween, everyone! October 31st has always held special significance in Tammen world—the whole phantom ghost schtick. Although the holiday has nothing to do with the Ron Tammen story, people do tend to think about him during this time of year and, like clockwork, I’ve been noticing an uptick in visits to the blogsite. So let’s take advantage of the fact that we’re all here together once again and have ourselves a little catch-up, shall we?
Research-wise, things are still moving forward, however, most of the balls happen to be in other people’s courts at the moment. For this reason, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have breaking news to share with you regarding hypnosis, mind control, psych professors, a university cover-up, and all the other topics we’ve come to enjoy pondering on this page. Don’t worry—we’ll get there. We will. Just not today.
What I will be sharing with you has to do with a topic that’s super apropos for the holiday—cemeteries! Specifically, we’ll be discussing the permanent resting place of several of the people who have something to do with Ronald Tammen. Some of the people you know well, some you sort of know, and several will be brand new to you. And the coolest part is that they’re all lying a mere stone’s throw from one another.
So, yeah…cemeteries, y’all. Do you love them as much as I do? The tranquility of nature commingling with the people who preceded us; the copious ways in which the dead choose to express their individuality, from dark and scary mausoleums to looming obelisks to blocks of granite, etched with butterflies and angels; the stark reminder that we’re here for but a brief blip in time and that we should probably make the most of it. As a wannabe author, one reason I love cemeteries so much is that the people who occupy them are so…dependable. You can go to a cemetery, rain or shine, and know that a certain person will always be there, no matter how important they were here on earth. No appointment necessary. Walk-ins accepted. They won’t stand you up, and ironically enough, they won’t ghost you.
The cemetery we’ll be discussing is Oxford Cemetery, a hilly little respite off Route 27 (Oxford Millville Road), just south of Peffer Park and Miami’s Western Campus. If you’re driving to Hamilton from Oxford, it’ll be on the righthand side. If you’re driving in the opposite direction, it’ll be on the left.
Here are some of the people you’ll find buried there. (You can click on the names to see a portion of their interment cards.)
You probably know this guy best. Dr. Patten was chair of the psychology department at Miami from 1932 to 1961. In the early days, he was St. Clair Switzer’s mentor, and very likely was the person who encouraged Switzer to pursue graduate study under Clark Hull, the famed behavioral psychologist and hypnosis expert. In 1961, Dr. Patten turned over the chairmanship to Switzer. He retired in June 1965 and, sadly, died one year later. Dr. Patten was one of the three hypnosis experts at Miami when Ron was a student.
Gilson Wright was the journalism professor at Miami who also worked as an on-call correspondent (stringer) for several area newspapers, including the Hamilton Journal-News, Dayton Daily News, and Cincinnati Enquirer. Wright also was an adviser for the Miami Student. I’ve already written quite a bit about Wright, so I won’t drone on here. Most importantly, it’s my belief that Wright was helping the university cover up certain aspects of the Tammen case, particularly that Tammen’s psychology book was open on his desk when he disappeared.
We haven’t talked about Robert Howard yet. According to a news article announcing Gilson Wright’s retirement (which was written by Howard), Robert Howard began heading up Miami’s news bureau in 1956 after Wright turned over those reins, while continuing with his journalist/advising/stringing duties. (This detail doesn’t quite jive with what it says on Howard’s tombstone, but hey, if a person can’t embellish his credentials a little on his tombstone, when can he do it?)
One of the more interesting anecdotes I have on Robert Howard is that, in 1973, when Joe Cella (Hamilton Journal-News) wrote the article that introduced the name of Dr. Garret J. Boone to our Ronald Tammen lexicon, we were told that university officials didn’t welcome Boone’s information warmly. In fact, he was given the brush-off, he told Cella.
Here’s the rest of that story: In the University Archives, a short message written on “Miami University, Office of Public Information” notepaper is stuck to the back of Cella’s article. Scrawled in pencil, the note reads: “Paul — Who’s left for him to scold but thee & me?” and it’s signed “Howard.” There’s no telling who Paul was—I checked the 1972 and 1973 M Books, and no relevant administrators went by Paul, be it a first or last name. Maybe he was an assistant in the news office. But I have a very strong hunch that the snarky comment was written by the guy who’s buried here, Robert T. Howard.
Did you know that Ronald Tammen had a relative who was an emeritus professor at Miami when he disappeared? True! Tammen’s favorite uncle, John McCann (Mrs. Tammen’s brother), married a woman named Eleanora Handschin, and her parents were Charles and Helena. Charles Handschin was a highly respected German professor at Miami. He also had been chair of the Department of Romance Languages for 39 years. The Handschins’ home was just around the corner from the Delt house, and Ron used to visit them from time to time. I’m not sure why this fact was never reported in the news—till today!—but perhaps the university wanted to spare them the publicity.
(A few more interesting facts about John McCann: he was a Miami graduate who later became a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. John A. McCann is buried in Arlington Cemetery and there’s even a Miami scholarship in his name.)
Karl Limper was an esteemed professor of geology at Miami beginning in 1946 until his retirement in 1981. How does a geology professor factor into the Tammen story? Dr. Limper served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1959 to 1971, and he was the person who interviewed Ted Perin as part of Miami’s oral history project. As you may recall, Dr. Perin was a psychology professor at Miami as well as a former doctoral student of Clark Hull’s and he had some interesting things to say about St. Clair Switzer. One of his best stories was how Doc Switzer, as a retiring department chair, packed up his office and left without saying goodbye to anyone, even though he’d been there for over three decades. Also worth noting was that, when Dr. Perin raised the subject of hypnosis, Dr. Limper would change the topic as quickly as possible. Whether that was on purpose or coincidental, I can’t say for sure. What I can say was that it happened at least twice, and, at least to me, it felt forced.
Another new name for you is Willis Wertz. Wertz was an architecture professor at Miami when Ron disappeared. Actually, he was one of the first two students to graduate from Miami’s architecture school, and in 1973, the year he retired, they named the art and architecture library after him. It still is.
So how would Willis Wertz have come into contact with Ron? Ron’s brother Richard was the architecture student in the family. Ron was business. Surprisingly, Professor Wertz is mentioned in Dean Carl Knox’s notes as having signed a bank note for Ron along with Glen Yankee, a former accounting professor. This seems…weird. What professor agrees to sign a bank note for a student, potentially making themselves liable for the repayment of said bank note if said student should, oh, I don’t know, disappear? I mean, I don’t care how much of a go-getter you are, can you imagine walking up to a professor and asking him or her to cosign a loan? Ballsy move, Ron!
Thankfully, a faculty memorial written about Professor Wertz explains a lot. First, he was a member of Delta Tau Delta as a Miami student, so maybe he felt a connection with Ron in that regard. One of Ron’s fraternity brothers had this to say about him: “Willis Wertz was our fraternity advisor. I’m not surprised that they co-signed a note with Ron. [Ron] was so smart and likeable.”
And here are the giveaway sentences in the memorial:
Retirement did not diminish his interest in students, past and present. His concern for them could not be terminated by his retirement. He was a friend, adviser, teacher, and, at times, banker to almost forty years of architectural students at Miami.
If Professor Wertz was in the habit of lending money to students, I’m sure Richard found out and he told Ron. I don’t know about Glen Yankee’s side of the story, however. That bank note is one riddle within this mystery that I’d love to learn more about.
Who among us doesn’t love the story of Mrs. Clara Spivey, the woman from Seven Mile who contacted authorities in June 1953 saying that a young man who appeared on her porch on April 19 answered Tammen’s description. Oxford police chief Oscar Decker embraced her story and said it supported the amnesia theory. Others, including Ron’s brother Richard, weren’t so sure. They said there were discrepancies in her story.
In 1976, Joe Cella wrote an article with accompanying photos that retold old details and divulged new ones. Although Clara had passed away by then, her daughter, Barbara Jewell, is quoted in the article. Barbara was with her mother when the visitor showed up at the door.
“I still believe it was him,” she told Cella.
However, Paul Jewell, Barbara’s second husband, said he was also there that night, and he didn’t believe it was Ron. Sometime around 2008, he told the Butler County cold case detective that he thought it was one of the local ruffians. Barbara and Paul Jewell are buried in Oxford Cemetery too, though their memorials are located further down the hill, away from the university section.
Last but not least is the gravesite of Dr. Phillip Shriver, the beloved former president of Miami University, who is buried in the newer part of the university section. Dr. Shriver was obsessed with the Tammen case and he used to give talks to students about his disappearance, especially around Halloween. Dr. Shriver was my first interview for this project, and I sometimes wonder what he would say if he knew where my research has taken me.
Dr. Shriver had arrived at Miami on July 1, 1965. (His planner for that day is completely blank except for the words “First Day!”) He’d been in meetings with St. Clair Switzer in 1966, the year Switzer retired, so he was at least acquainted with our person of interest. I don’t know when he became sucked in by the Tammen case, and I’m currently looking into that. Even though Joe Cella had already written in 1954 that the open book on Tammen’s desk was his psychology textbook, I feel Dr. Shriver played an important role in finally making it known around Miami’s campus. Regardless of how things eventually play out, I’ll always feel grateful to him for talking to me back in 2010 and for getting this party started.