Wait…was Ron being blackmailed by Richard?!

I think it’s time we chatted a little more about Richard, don’t you?

Ah, Richard. 

Richard, Richard, Richard. Where to begin?

Richard Tammen was…a pill. A troublemaker. A royal pain in the ass. All those things and then some. But could he have been a blackmailer?

Before we get too far into this discussion, I need to establish a few guiding principles:

  1. Guiding principle number one: When I started this project, I’d promised myself (and my mother) that I wouldn’t be airing people’s dirty laundry indiscriminately. If I stumbled upon a few cadavers in someone’s closet, an arm bone or two in someone’s armoire, I wouldn’t be sharing that information unless it was pertinent to the case. So even though I knew as early as 2012 that the end of Richard Tammen’s life wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t prepared to publicize those details, because, to be honest, I didn’t think that they had anything to do with Ron’s disappearance. Now, however, I’m more inclined to believe that they may be indicative of someone with serious character flaws, which may be relevant to his Miami years after all. 
  2. Guiding principle number two: Anyone who is living who may be related to Richard through a marriage or whatever will not be named or discussed on this blogsite—ever. I believe in protecting people’s privacy, y’all. 
  3. And finally, guiding principle number three: We’re just tossing around some ideas at this point. Right now, I can’t say whether or not Richard was blackmailing Ron—or even if Ron was being blackmailed at all. But it’s a question worth pursuing, and so I will.

I’ve already passed along several details about Richard during his K-12 years, some of which may help explain how he came to be the person he was. One former neighbor who used to play street football with the three oldest Tammen boys said that they nicknamed Richard “Peewee” because he was so short. That’s bound to rile you after a while. John attributed Richard’s meanness to the fact that he was left-handed, and, for years, the teachers used to rap his knuckles to get him to switch hands. And while we’re on the subject of school, Richard was escorted to the principal’s office so often that John and Ron felt the need to employ a secret hand signal to let each other know if they’d spotted their mother Marjorie in the building. Her flair for the dramatic made things so much worse.

(l-r) Richard, Ron, and John

But lots of people who grew up in Richard’s day managed to survive nicknames and sore knuckles and trips to the principal’s office without becoming, um, blackmailers. John also said that the three boys got along, and were each other’s best friends—building forts, sliding down hills, cooking up money-making ventures. And Richard seemed to be following in Ron’s and John’s footsteps, joining all the same clubs in high school. Despite their personality differences, the Tammen boys looked alike. They dressed alike. They seemed to like to do the same kinds of things. When Richard came to Miami as a freshman during the 1952-53 academic year, he pledged Ron’s fraternity, Delta Tau Delta. Why would he do that if they didn’t get along?

Nevertheless, it’s nearly impossible to escape who we really are, even as we mature and mellow, and Richard’s bullying reputation followed him to Miami. The Delts weren’t that enamored with Richard either. They knew him to be a hothead…an aptly named Dick. One of them let me know that the only reason Richard was invited to join the fraternity was because of Ron. And maybe that was always Richard’s survival method—riding Ron’s coattails to get through any door. Did he have his hands in Ron’s coat pockets too?

Seriously, would he do that? Here’s why I’m looking into this question: as far as I can tell, Richard was working his way through college by caddying in the summers, and that’s all. It doesn’t appear as if he had a job as a freshman at Miami. His brother Robert doesn’t recall Richard having any additional income sources either. 

Richard Tammen

Ron, on the other hand, was also caddying during the summers. Before starting his freshman year at Miami, he reported earning $350 from caddying for the Hawthorne Valley Country Club as well as performing semi-skilled labor for the City of Maple Heights. In addition, Ron had received a scholarship as a caddie through the Cleveland District Golf Association. The scholarship was for high school boys who had caddied for at least two years (Ron had been caddying for 7 years before college), who carried at least a B-plus average, and who were “unable to finance a university education.”

We don’t know the amount of Ron’s scholarship—it varied from person to person. We also don’t know if he received a two-year or a four-year scholarship, but, of course, that didn’t matter anyway, given the way things played out for him. As for the fund itself, in 1952, it totaled roughly $4300, which was split by all the overlapping recipients over a given academic year (18-ish, per a 1953 article). Ron’s piece of the pie would have likely been in the neighborhood of at least a couple hundred dollars a year. Possibly more.

But here’s my point: it seemed to be enough. Ron seemed to be getting along just fine during his freshman year between his scholarship and the caddying and city work over the summer and vacation breaks. He didn’t have his other sources of income yet—the Campus Owls, the residence hall counseling, the blood donations—until his sophomore year. And the university’s loan program didn’t apply to freshmen.

Richard, on the other hand, didn’t receive the caddie scholarship. I know that, because I have the newspaper article announcing the recipients for 1952-53 on my hot little hard drive. And yet, at a time when he seemed to be surviving with only the income from his summer caddying job, Ron was working more than ever, doing all of the above. And here’s the kicker: with all of Ron’s sources of income, including the loans, and with few living expenses other than his car, you’d think that he would have saved more. But all he had in his checking account when he disappeared was a little over $87. And he still owed the university for most of his dining hall fees plus that $100 loan.

Do I intend to continue following the money? Oh, you betcha. I’m currently attempting to obtain Richard’s Social Security earnings report for the years 1952-1954, and, while I’m at it, I think I’ll ask them for Ron’s entire earnings report just to see what they do. But the Social Security Administration is almost as difficult as the CIA when trying to obtain FOIA records. There are other sources I’ll be reaching out to as well. I’ll let you know how things go.

Now, at the beginning of this post I promised to reveal something I’ve been holding back about Richard, and here it is: when Richard died in an apartment fire on October 23, 2004, he was heavily armed. Not only that, but at least some of his weapons were potentially—and I’m going to say probably—illegal.

As it so happens, Richard had two Smith and Wesson guns in his possession when he died. One was a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and the other was a 40-caliber semi-automatic handgun. Now, this may surprise you, but I’m not a gun person. In fact, the above sentence reveals the extent of my knowledge regarding Richard’s taste in guns. At this point, let’s just say that they’re both lethal. Also, did a 69-year-old guy with health issues living in an apartment for seniors really need that kind of weaponry to defend his hearth and home? Me thinks not.

But what was most interesting about Richard’s firearms stash—and what gave at least one of the investigating police officers pause—was the ammunition. The pistol, which was found in the fire debris, was loaded with what appears to be 15 cartridges, though there are inconsistencies in that report. More clearly stated was what investigators had later found: another three magazines—two .40 caliber and one 9 mm—that were each fully loaded with 15 cartridges. For the non-gun afficionados, anything over 10 cartridges in one magazine is considered a “high-capacity magazine,” which was prohibited during the years 1994-2004 by the federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Here’s what the Giffords Law Center says on this topic:

“In 1994, Congress adopted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, making it unlawful to transfer or possess a “large capacity ammunition feeding device” not lawfully possessed on or before the law’s enactment.12 The law also banned the manufacture, transfer, and possession of semi-automatic assault weapons. See our summary on Assault Weapons for more information. The law was adopted with a sunset clause, however, and expired in 2004, despite overwhelming public support for its renewal. Thus, large capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons that were formerly banned under the federal law are now legal unless banned by state or local law.”

Here’s the report on the semi-automatic pistol and ammunition. Although the description says “FIVE ROUNDS RUGER 9MM AMMUNITION,” the quantity (see red arrow) says 15, plus the narrative referred to “15 HOURS of ammunition,” which was probably meant to be 15 rounds. In my conversation with the officer, he also referred to 15 rounds (or bullets or cartridges), so I believe the “five rounds” is a mistake. Nevertheless, it’s a discrepancy, which is why I present it this way.
Here’s the report on the semi-automatic handgun and three fully loaded magazines, with 15 cartridges each. The narrative confirmed this as well.

Keep in mind that Richard was living in Contra Costa County, California, at the time of his death. Even though the federal law against high-capacity magazines ended September 13, 2004—a little over one month before Richard died—California had its own law on the books.

Beginning in 2000, it was illegal to sell, manufacture, import, or transfer magazines that hold more than 10 bullets in California. However, if a person had already owned such magazines at the time the law went into effect, they were permitted to keep them. In 2016, 12 years after Richard died, it was illegal to own them. (You can read more on the California law here.) In August of this year, the Ninth Circuit voted to end the ban saying that it violated a person’s Second Amendment rights. 

Were Richard’s high-capacity magazines illegal? It depends on when he bought them. Unfortunately, I’ve read that it’s practically impossible to tell when ammunition was purchased. (His guns and ammunition were destroyed in 2007.) I’m no lawyer, but it appears to me that if he purchased the magazines before 1994, then he would have been a law-abiding citizen. Is that what he did—held onto three, probably four, high-capacity magazines for 20 years? By the way, I’m also trying to determine if the semi-automatic guns were legal at that time, but the distinctions provided in the law are a lot tougher for a non-gun-person to determine. (According to a 2019 ABC News article that I found especially helpful, that’s why there were so many loopholes in the law.) I’ll be seeking the guidance of experts on that question.

And that leads me to ask this question: what is the point of no return when someone decides to start criming? Or, in Richard’s case, when did he decide to cross the line from buttoned-down college freshman to blackmailer and whatever else—if, in fact, that’s what he did? Could it have happened in an innocent, unintended way? Richard wanted to be an architect, but his personality was so repellant and his grades so bad that he may have had to ask his brother for an assist. If his brother said “No, sorry, you need to carry your own weight,” would he resort to force? Would he threaten to reveal some intel that he knew would destroy his brother if his brother didn’t cooperate?

Ron’s money problems seemed to have started during the summer of 1952, when he asked his father if he could control his own finances, and he showed signs of stress after returning home for spring break in 1953. Who would he have spent lots of time with during both of those periods? Little brother, that’s who.

What do you think? The floor is now open, but please note that any comments for or against gun control won’t be approved—this isn’t the place for that discussion. However, if someone has expertise on the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and whether a particular semi-automatic weapon was permissible or not, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Of course, anything else on the blackmail theory and Richard’s potential role is welcome too.

22 thoughts on “Wait…was Ron being blackmailed by Richard?!

  1. Hi Ms. Wenger, if I may, for assistance only ( I am a weapons collector): The law as you quoted above, from 1994-2004, applied to ASSAULT weapons, that is, semi-automatic RIFLES, as in AR-15 and the like and similarly, the high-capacity magazines referred to were also only applicable to the above assault rifles, that is 30 rounds or more. Most modern semi-automatic PISTOLS, or handguns, like the 9MM and .40 calibre pistols you mention in the post, however, came (and continue to come) standard with either a 14 or 15 round magazine and they have ALWAYS been legal in the U.S.A., as far as I am aware.

  2. Blackmail adefinitely works. The only other reason I could think for money problems would be some kind of addiction, but Ron definitely doesn’t fit the type, especially since those dealing with addictions usually try to find quick and easy ways to get money so they can spend more time on their habit. That doesn’t preclude someone else’s addiction though – perhaps a family member or friend using emotional blackmail by saying their drug dealer or bookie would kill them if they didn’t come up with a certain amount of money, so I’m 50/50 on Richard being a blackmailer, and specifically because of Ron Jr’s sexuality.

    However, “that day” raises more questions, mostly who in the family knew what. It would be nice to know when it happened, and if it also had anything to do with Ron’s falling out with John (I suspect if it is about Ron being caught with another man, John may have said something careless that he didn’t remember afterward and didn’t think – in 1952 – was particularly meaningful or hurtful, like “I may have ruined my college career but at least I like women”). It would also go a long way in understanding why Ron invited the cousin to the dance that was months away, as the whole family would be guaranteed to know about it.

    1. I’m back. Yes, I’m more and more convinced that someone was blackmailing Ron, even if it might not have been Richard. All of Ron’s earnings must have been going SOMEwhere, and if it wasn’t in his bank account, and it wasn’t being used to pay his outstanding loans and dorm expenses, and it wasn’t being used on alcohol/cigarettes/etc., and it wasn’t being used for gas, and it wasn’t in his wallet, where was it going? I don’t think he had addiction issues. People described him as being squeaky clean–no vices of any kind, especially alcohol due to his mother’s issues, I’m sure.

      Mr. Tammen’s reference to “that day” has always driven me crazy. I have a feeling that whatever happened has died with anyone who was in the know. As far as the Tammen family, I think it was just Ron and his parents, though perhaps Richard knew, since he would have been living under the same roof that summer. Alas, Richard will always be a question mark to me, since he’d passed away before I’d begun this project. I doubt that John would have known, since he and Ron were incommunicado after the wedding, which took place on July 29, 1952. But perhaps. Neither Marcia nor Robert knew anything about it.

      When I asked John if he thought Ron was gay, he said no, he didn’t, and he seemed very sincere. Here’s his full answer: “Yeah, again, to me, Ron didn’t date anybody steadily, nor was he interested in any particular girl, partly because of the really bad example that I set for him. I became so heavily involved with Joyce, my first wife, and Ron, I think, kind of looked at it and said, ‘Whoa. Lesson learned. I’m not going to fall into that trap.’ Because he knew that he had at least three years, and maybe four years of really hard times where he was going to have to scrape every dollar he could together in order to get through school. So I don’t really see that as any big thing. As I said, I think I set a very horrible example, and he was just determined not to ever get involved with any female.”

      Of course, I happen to feel that, if Ron was gay, he was good at keeping it hidden. So I honestly don’t think John and Ron ever had a discussion about Ron’s sexuality.

      Wow–your last sentence is really, really interesting. Not only would Joyce’s sister have served as Ron’s beard at Miami, but she would have played the role in front of Ron’s family too, because, as you point out, they would have known about the spring dance. For example, Marcia used to say that Ron and Joyce’s sister had “dated,” which wasn’t the case at all. Perhaps that was a story that was told to her over the years. Great point–thanks!

      1. Thanks for the info! I do remember now what John told you about Ron being gay…kind of on information overload at the moment. (What I should be doing is looking at your blog on my laptop with 25 tabs open, not my phone, but life keeps getting in the way.)

        I definitely think Joyce’s sister being Ron’s beard could be a piece of the mystery. I imagine he didn’t go to a lot of dances voluntarily, but being a Delt he would have been expected, if not required, to attend the Interfraternal Ball, so it would be killing two birds with one stone, especially since there may have been rumors about him on campus, too.

      2. So agree. The need to find a date must have been weighing heavily on him. I’d bet that most guys weren’t planning that far in advance. If they weren’t already serious with someone, they’d probably want to wait and see what the year would bring before they decided on who to ask. By asking Joyce’s sister in the summer of ‘52, Ron was basically admitting that he couldn’t foresee any prospects now or in the future. I think that’s telling.

  3. Reading this made me instantly think back to the idea that Ron may have been gay. If Richard knew something or saw Ron sneaking off with someone, could that have been the piece of information being held against him, it would then make sense that after returning from being home, Ron would appear the most stressed as he would have been having to pretend to be close and bow to Richard’s every whim.

    Just a thought.

    1. Thanks, Aidyn—yep, I agree 100%. If Ron was gay, and I’ve gathered some anecdotal evidence to support that inference, then that would have been highly blackmail-able info in 1952-53. And I also agree that a brother who was close in age would be more likely than most to discover that sort of intel.

  4. Jen, were you ever able to find out anything more about the argument with Richard in the Fisher Hall bathroom the day Ron disappeared?

  5. First off . . .

    “The Delts weren’t that enamored with Richard either. They knew him to be a hothead…an aptly named Dick.”


    Wow, J, I didn’t know Richard to be such a true “Richard Cranium!” I would like to know . . . did Richard graduate from Miami? And what were his jobs throughout life? Did he marry? Have kids? Any arrests or time served?

    The blackmail aspect is intriguing. Especially since you say they did not get along. But that would make sense, from your previous post from way back about how he and Ron exchanged blows in one of Fisher Hall bathrooms a few hours before Ron went missing on the very day. Yeah, hmm, it seems odd, troubling, and very perplexing.

    As for the guns and all the ammo, I just take it he was a trigger happy enthusiast. Maybe he was paranoid. Seriously, like he was waiting for something or someone from his past, ready to confront him once again—perhaps Ron!

    For some reason, for several years now, I always got the impression Richard knew more about Ron’s disappearance. More than anyone else. Maybe this is the connection to that, through the blackmail theory.

    1. Hi, thanks again for your comments. Here are my responses based on topics. (Note that several people wrote in on guns, and I’m including a more general response on that topic here):

      I’d never heard the “Richard Cranium” reference before — haha! I’m going to have to hang on to that one.

      On marriage: Richard married twice and had kids. Both marriages ended in divorce. Although I made attempts to talk to his first wife (now deceased), she wasn’t receptive to my interview requests. His second wife is also deceased. Because his marriages really don’t have anything to do with my research, I didn’t pursue things further.

      On what he did in life: My understanding is that, for most of his life, Richard was a successful city/community planner in the San Francisco suburbs — Walnut Creek, and thereabouts. However, he died in what was described to me by an officer as low-income housing, an apartment for seniors in Pleasant Hill. In the police report, they said his occupation was “pest control.”

      On possible arrests: I filed a FOIA request with the FBI on Richard, and nothing turned up, so I don’t believe he’d been in trouble with the feds. I plan to check with the state of California to see if they might have any records.

      On “the argument” in the 3rd-floor bathroom (https://ronaldtammen.com/2017/09/16/ronald-tammens-busy-day-part-2/): If Richard was blackmailing Ron, then yeah, it does make that fight allegation even more interesting. The problem with the story is this: I haven’t been able to corroborate it, including “Hal’s” allegation that Ron and Richard used to fight all the time–not just that night. Also, what bugged me the most about his story was how the first time he told it, he described it as if he’d been there, but the second time, in a follow-up call I’d made to flesh out discrepancies, he told me he wasn’t there. He’d just heard about it. I still wrote the story up since he seemed so sure it happened–including the fact that he’d changed his story–but honestly, the plausibility instantly was lowered in my mind. Not saying it didn’t happen…or some element of it didn’t happen…but there’s an asterisk.

      On the guns/gun ownership: For anyone who wrote in to me saying “let the poor gun owner have his guns,” I feel the need to clarify something. I wasn’t tying gun ownership in general with blackmail. I was discussing the possible trajectory of what I consider to be criminal behavior–when it starts and how it ends up. Richard owned assault weapons during a 20-year period in which they were illegal. I don’t know if the guns were illegal at that time, but I do know that his ammunition was illegal. Even the police officer let me know he found it strange that he owned it. And I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that he didn’t buy his high-capacity magazines before 1994, when the law was enacted. I won’t be taking questions at this time. 🙂

      On what Richard knew: I agree with you — I think Richard knew something, and this blackmail potential is intriguing. If Richard was blackmailing Ron, his behavior might be construed as consistent with that. He wasn’t exactly acting normal. Here’s what I’d written in the post on the bathroom fight:

      “Richard’s behavior after his brother disappeared was all over the map—from reticence to defensiveness to panic. Robert Tammen, the youngest of the Tammen siblings, doesn’t remember Richard ever talking about Ron’s disappearance when he was home on break. A former dorm counselor said that, when he asked Richard if he knew where Ron might be, Richard’s demeanor turned sour, and he said something like, “I’m not my brother’s keeper.” Paul, the Delt, remembers Richard bursting into the fraternity house living room the Saturday after Ron went missing, when a group was watching a baseball game, and asking if anyone had seen his brother. Of course, if Richard had spoken with his brother the day of his disappearance, either by phone or in person, he remained tight-lipped about it when speaking with news reporters. (He’s on record as having last seen Ron at around 11 or 11:30 p.m., Saturday, April 18.) Any of those behaviors could be interpreted in a number of ways, some of which might arouse suspicions about Richard.”

      1. Thanks, Jenny, for further clarification. It really puts Richard’s life and some events in a better perspective.

        Lol. The “Richard Cranium” label was used by my generation way back in school, especially in high school in the 90s. It was a subtle way to call out, or warn others, of “an aptly named Dick.” Teachers and students. 🙂

        By the way, I didn’t realize you made a Thanksgiving post. For some strange reason, I never got an email notification. But belated ‘Happy Thanksgiving!’

      2. Lol—it’s funny—I think I’m posting more now, while “on hiatus,” than I ever posted before! Happy (belated) Thanksgiving to you too!

  6. It could be Richard was blackmailing him, but it also seems to me that the whole family dynamic is a little odd. Ron stops talking to his older brother and seems to have a strained relationship with his father and younger brother. I’m not sure what it all means, but I love your blog and can’t wait to read what comes next.

    1. I agree, Nancy, about the family ties. I have been suspecting this for a few years. No family is perfect, but there was something unsettling about this family that I believe Ron wanted to escape, once and for all.

  7. I agree Stevie J., I don’t see the relevance of Richard owning guns 50yrs later has to do with this. I know many gun owners who never turned in their guns when the law changed, it doesn’t make them Al Capone.

    I don’t think I am buying Ron being blackmailed by his own brother.

  8. IMHO, owning the weaponry decades later doesn’t strike me as particularly germane to the issue.

    Moving on, it all does sort of fit. And an alleged argument between Ron and Richard just before the disappearance becomes more poignant.

    I don’t know. Maybe. I can’t dismiss it out of hand.

    1. Not germane, except…I’m not ready to say he lacked a moral compass but if he was willing to break the big, federal kinds of laws later in his life, then maybe he could have broken what he perceived as a smaller one as a youth. And he might not have seen it as “blackmail” really. Just, you know, “if you don’t help me out, I’ll tell everyone.” As I said, maybe a character flaw. All theory, of course.

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