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.

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Mark de Wet
11 months ago

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.

Julie
Julie
1 year ago

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.

Julie
Julie
1 year ago
Reply to  jwenger

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.

Aidyn S.
Aidyn S.
2 years ago

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.

Mike
Mike
2 years ago

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

Brett Nelson
Brett Nelson
2 years ago

First off . . .

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

Lol.

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.

Brett Nelson
Brett Nelson
2 years ago
Reply to  jwenger

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!’

Nancy Hanlon O'Connell
Nancy Hanlon O'Connell
2 years ago

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.

Brett Nelson
Brett Nelson
2 years ago

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.

Mike
Mike
2 years ago

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.

Stevie J
Stevie J
2 years ago

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.