That cryptic note about H.H. Stephenson? It was probably written in 1976, NOT 1953

By now, you know that my aim is to post only truthful statements about the Ron Tammen case on this blog site. If I can’t provide supporting evidence—if the best I can do is speculate about some finding, for example—I’ll attempt to do so as transparently as possible, using the necessary qualifiers. That’s how we roll. Conversely, if I should discover I’ve jumped to a conclusion that is even the slightest bit untrue, it’s my belief that I should announce the correction loud and clear, and, if it’s significant enough, with fanfare. 

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So, you know how I’ve been harping on Carl Knox for writing that cryptic note regarding H.H. Stephenson? The note looks like this:

That H.H.S. note has always bothered me. Not only did Knox appear to ignore Stephenson’s possible Ron sighting when Stephenson returned from his vacay in Wellsville, NY, but it seemed as though, by only jotting down Stephenson’s initials, he didn’t want anyone else to find out about it.

Today, I’m announcing that it’s my strong belief that neither Carl Knox nor one of his assistants wrote that note in August 1953. My reason for thinking so has to do with the name that’s written above that note, on the same piece of paper. It’s the contact information for one James E. Larkins, who was then an associate professor at Wright State University. (The note erroneously says Larkins is affiliated with Wright-Patt.) I’ve blackened the phone number because I don’t know who owns it now, and, well, who needs to experience the fresh hell of having their phone number published online?

As it so happens, James (Jim) Larkins was a sophomore counselor in Fisher Hall with Ron, which is where he would have been in 1953, not teaching Spanish at Wright State. Therefore, the note had to have been written much later. 

But when was it written, and why was it written, and who wrote it?

Here’s the timeline I’ve pieced together:

In November 1975, Larkins wrote a letter to Everett Lykins, who was Miami’s assistant dean of student life at that time. Although the letter is dated November 3, 1975, it’s stamped “RECEIVED” by the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs on January 12, 1976. That seems late, but maybe the holidays had something to do with it.

In the letter, Larkins relays his experience regarding Ron’s disappearance, including a wild story about being shot at while trying to chase down the strange “phantom” voice that students occasionally heard after Tammen disappeared. Larkins also mentions Joe Maneri, who was the head of Fisher Hall at the time Ron disappeared. 

As luck would have it, 1976 was a busy year in Tammen world. In April 1976, Joe Cella, reporter for the Hamilton Journal News, revealed that H.H. Stephenson, a housing official who had known Ron, believed he saw him on August 5, 1953, in Wellsville, NY. People first read about Stephenson’s encounter in Cella’s news article on April 18, 1976, and then heard the story straight out of Stephenson’s mouth in the Phantom of Oxford, which aired the next night, on the 23rd anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance. [Stephenson is in Part 2, at the 04:15 mark.]

You know who else was interviewed in the documentary? Jim Larkins. [Larkins is in Part 1, at the 08:30 mark.]

Here’s what I think happened: 

Jim Larkins wrote his letter, which Dean Lykins likely received in January 1976. 

Around that same time, Joe Cella and Channel 2 producer Ed Hart, who were collaborating on the Phantom of Oxford, probably contacted the university seeking spokespersons to be interviewed on camera. Dean Lykins might have said, “Hey, I have this letter. We could put them in touch with Jim Larkins and Joe Maneri.” 

Someone then pulled together the contact info for both Larkins and Maneri, who worked at the Columbus Technical Institute at that time. This seems like a no-brainer, since the contact info for both men are written on similar pieces of paper in the same handwriting. Apparently, Jim Larkins said yes to the documentary, but Joe Maneri wasn’t able. (Unfortunately, both men are now deceased—Maneri in 2007 and Larkins in 2015. Although Maneri had already passed away by the time I began my research, I did have the opportunity to speak with Larkins.)

Meanwhile, Stephenson, who still worked in Housing at Miami and therefore answered to Dean Lykins, may have heard about the documentary project and stepped forward with his story about seeing Ron in Wellsville—first to Lykins, and then to Cella, or possibly vice versa. Even though the H.H.S. note isn’t in the same handwriting as the Larkins and Maneri notes, its position below the Larkins note indicates it was written during the same period in 1976.

But in 1976, Carl Knox was no longer at Miami. He’d left Oxford in 1959, so he couldn’t have been the H.H.S. note’s author.

What does all of this mean? In my view, the Larkins/Maneri/H.H.S. notes tell us a trifle more about how the Tammen saga played out over the years—nothing earth shattering, but something more to ponder during a pandemic on a Friday night. Still, two questions stand out. First, there’s this old chestnut: why did the note writer use Stephenson’s initials instead of writing out his full name? And now a new one: did Carl Knox do anything at all when Stephenson first told him about his encounter in Wellsville?

30 thoughts on “That cryptic note about H.H. Stephenson? It was probably written in 1976, NOT 1953

  1. Is there a type of hypnosis in which all memory of people and events from your past can be erased? Perhaps this would explain why Ron never contacted his family and why he was able to go on without them?

    1. Wow. That’s an intriguing question that I currently don’t have an answer to. I’ll need to look into it further. Thank you for asking this!

  2. I thought of a desk drawer, but I thought those were in fact tables and not desks. I can’t tell by the grainy pics if they are constructed with drawers or not. Any 1950’s grads who could shed light on this? By the time I got to Miami in 1979, most everyone used backpacks or cloth carry bags something like a gym bag. Some people used 2, one for MWF classes and one for TT. Our desks did have drawers that would hold books, although if I didn’t have one in a bookbag/backpack, it was sitting on top of my desk. Some people had shelving and would store books there, and some did store them on the dresser. No big deal, other than I don’t see any others in the Journal picture where I’d expect to.

    Per the sexuality, perhaps a Psychology or Sociology professional could tell us if a textbook in the 1950’s would have broached the subject. As I think about it, I’m guessing not.

    Per the Bible, just a curiosity. He might have decided he wasn’t finding there something he wanted, so he set it aside.

    1. You’re right about the desk–they were actually study tables, so they probably didn’t have drawers. But perhaps he used another drawer? And wow, your memory is really good about where you kept your books back then! I honestly can’t remember any of those details from when I was a student. If anyone else wants to weigh in on these questions, feel free.

  3. Okay, a thought that came to mind yesterday after I’d promised not to post again. The Psych book has me idly wondering…where did Ron keep his textbooks? You’d think they’d all-or most-be on his desk.

    Another idle book thought…I think it significant he was reading a Psychology book and not a Human Sexuality book. There are many suggestions in this case he was struggling with his sexual identity. If so, you’d think that would be where he’d spend his time in reading. Maybe he wouldn’t want to deal with questions about why he was reading that sort of thing. Regardless, he was reading a Psych book dealing with hypnosis. That’s where he chose to spend his time. That indicates to me hypnosis was a bigger issue in his life than his sexuality.

    Last book thought…where did his Bible go?

    1. RE: multiple posts in a day: No worries. Post all you want. We’re all just trying to get through a pandemic, so there are no rules.

      RE: where his textbooks were kept: Remember the article by Joe Cella in the 4-22-54 Hamilton Journal News? The photo of his side of the desk showed one open book. ( I’m guessing he probably kept the rest of his books in a drawer or on a shelf or a dresser. Also, it really shows how inaccurate Gilson Wright’s reporting of the scene was when he pluralized the book to be books/textbooks.

      RE: psychology vs. human sexuality book: Interesting point. I’m not sure how much info was out there at the time that delved into non-hetero sex, but there was some. The famous Kinsey report on Sexuality in the Human Male was published in 1948, plus One Magazine was first published in January 1953. So there was some and if he was obsessing about the topic, he could have sought out a book at the library or somewhere.

      RE: the Bible: no idea. I found it interesting when Chuck Findlay told me that he was surprised to hear that Ron had been reading a Bible and that he didn’t remember them even having one in the room. That tells us that it wasn’t a habit. He was going through something.

  4. Last comment today, I promise. It’s hard for me to stop once I start looking at the case. I found this comment attributed to you on

    “A psychology textbook was left open on Tammen’s desk. Through a request of transcripts, Wenger discovered Tammen had dropped his psychology course three weeks before his disappearance, making her believe the textbook was staged.”

    Do you believe it was staged? I didn’t think you did.

    1. Yeah…sigh….although it was nice of them to cover the story, parts were good, and others were misleading. (Plus I look like I’m 94 in the photo!🤪). I may have posited that it could have been staged, but I’m sure I told her other possibilities too. I was more into the “what’s going on with me?” theory, where he was being hypnotized and wanted to read more about it. But honestly, it’s still an open question.

  5. I kept searching Ron Tammen links and and had a look at AGMIHTF on FacePlant and I saw there you’d linked the TV stories and also had mentioned the cisterns. I also saw your teaser about a little new information coming out soon. Maybe some day I’ll have a FacePlant account but I doubt it.

    While I’m thinking about it, the discovery that a Miami official made a personal visit to the Tammens to collect on his debt doesn’t seem all that earth shattering to me any more. It might have been just a really, really stupid and tasteless move.

    The Psych book discovery, yeah, that’s #1.

    1. Yeah, stay tuned…something pretty big is gonna drop soon. Whether it’s a breakthrough or just another big lead is still being determined. Working on that now.

    1. I’ve linked to it on FacePlant as you call it 😂, but I haven’t embedded it on this site for copyright concerns. But yeah, I can include a link somewhere prominent and probably should go ahead and do that. Thanks!

  6. Oh man. Now I have to reconsider Patten’s credibility in all psychological pronouncements. Ever feel like you have to re-read the entire site when some alternative to what you already believe is suggested? Just did so, trying to find if I’d asked about fugue. I think I did but can’t find it. No matter.

    I did stumble across this:

    //By that time, Dr. Patten’s opinion wasn’t necessarily the popular viewpoint. In 1960, the Dayton Daily News had printed an article that provided this update: “Two theories—that the youth met with foul play or that he was a victim of amnesia—have long since been discarded. A third theory, that he deliberately planned to leave the campus and to start a new life under an assumed name, is considered ‘most likely’ by authorities.”//

    Who wrote that article? That might be worth some digging. And if that’s true, why was the official Tammen expert Ken McDiffett telling students at Collins Hall in 1979 the assumed theory was amnesia?

    1. The article, titled “Missing Student Dead or Alive?”, has an Oxford dateline and no byline. It also says “Special to the Dayton Daily News.” These are all the hallmarks of an article by Gilson Wright. The writing sounds like his as well, and he was still stringing at this time.

      And oh my gosh yes, to answer your question. Sometimes I feel a need to reread blog posts and news articles and interview transcripts and everything else to compare new info to old. It was during one of my rereads that I fell on that one-page document that described the interview with Carl Knox’s secretary, which I’m still trying to learn more about. And of course, during another reread, I discovered that Gilson Wright had never written the word psychology when describing Ron’s open textbook, including the 1960 Dayton Daily News article, which totally blew my mind. He knew it was a psychology textbook and he purposely left out that detail every single time.

      As for Patten and others on Miami’s campus, I need to remind myself periodically that people were probably caught up in a mindset that whatever they were doing or not doing, saying or not saying, or writing or not writing, it was for the good of the country. From Allen Dulles and Sidney Gottlieb on down to Louis Jolyon West and (allegedly) St. Clair Switzer and whoever else Switzer may have brought into the fold in some small or not-so-small way, everyone would have felt that they were doing something important for national security. Also, I’m not sure how in-the-loop Patten would have been, though I do believe he was likely assisting with a hypnosis project or study at that time.

  7. A couple points of old business. Per this:

    Officials believe that he might have suffered an attack of amnesia,” an article in the Hamilton Journal News read. The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote: “University officials said Tammen might be suffering from amnesia as he took no clothing or personal articles with him.”

    What would a professional today say about that claim? Ironically, I’ve always wondered why Official Miami didn’t cite professional psychologists on this and other related points. I just realized at the time of this post, if they had, they’d have surely appealed to the very department that possibly was responsible for the disappearance to begin with! If they were, I can sure understand why they wouldn’t want to go on the record much. I mean, how would that press release strategy session go? “Well boys, let’s call it amnesia and hope nobody questions it too much.” Just sayin’.

    And I figured out my misremembered 2 witnesses to the Lady in the Car. In the Logan Corbin post, I mentioned in a response Paul-along with Logan-as 2 witnesses. I meant by that witnesses to the 8:30 timeline being incorrect. 6 months later I got a little off track.

    1. Yep, totally agree. Everett Patten was the university’s spokesperson on amnesia as it pertained to the Tammen case. When he went on the record, he would “refuse” to discuss Ron’s case specifically, but then he’d describe a scenario in which Ron may have forgotten his identity and had gone wandering. What Patten was describing was a dissociative fugue, which is extremely rare and tied to some serious emotional trauma. But he didn’t mention that part, did he? But, again, who was interviewing Dr. Patten? Gilson Wright. And Wright likely wouldn’t have considered contacting an outside expert for further background or comment — not when he had an expert who knew Ron Tammen sitting right there.

      Also, yes — I thought that might have been what you meant. Logan’s and Paul’s stories mesh well with a 10:30 arrival outside of Fisher.

  8. Your running partner’s theory is intriguing. It fits better than the idea HHS saw Tammen and did nothing. That has simply never rung true to me. Nor that he kept journals but never recorded the event.

    OTOH, you’d almost expect HHS and Knox to cover their tracks a little. HHS could have easily made a fake notation in his journal. And Knox-if he went to the trouble of inventing the encounter-surely had to be aware his inaction would invite scrutiny, and would be expected to create a little backstory of attempted followup. I don’t know. Such is the difficulty in attributing falsehood to someone. It leads everywhere and nowhere.

    1. Great points. If the Wellsville sighting was a diversionary tactic of some sort, they didn’t publicize it when it supposedly happened. And can you imagine if they had? Joe Cella would have headed straight to Wellsville to check it out, I have no doubt.

  9. The strange gunplay reference is Exhibit 1 why I am so reluctant to get on board nearly all conspiracy theories. By nature, they rely on a small number of witnesses, and for no discernible reason, as in this case, witnesses sometimes make claims that are ludicrous on their face. Without naming them, (cough, cough, JFK), some conspiracies have thrived by cherry picking out apparently credible information from witnesses, some of whom in the same breath have made more outlandish claims than the heat packing phantom.

    As for the HHS reference, I’d fully expect people to use that acronym as opposed to writing out/typing out the entire name. A famous chess player named Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is universally referenced as MVL. I would bet 90% of the people who’ve used the acronym couldn’t tell you his full name.

    I can’t remember the whole case, but if you toss the HSS note, what else is left of a contemporaneous nature indicating HH reported the sighting? If there’s nothing else, to be fair, you might have to rethink that it happened. Maybe the Wellsville sighting was invented years after the fact. Just saying.

    Glad you’re trying to maintain your integrity. In the end, that’s all an investigator has left.

    1. Yeah, I never believed the phantom story. I think it was a student. Not sure about that “gunshot” though. Maybe it was a firecracker? Imaginations can run wild, especially at that age.

      Good point re HHS. The university wasn’t running an investigation in 1976 (to the best of my knowledge). They were (likely) just jotting down possible on-air spokespeople for The Phantom of Oxford, so why spell it out? Thanks. I withdraw the question. 🙂

      So, as you know, there are lots of theories out there re: HH Stephenson’s story. My running partner has an interesting theory that he was instructed to report it by Knox…perhaps to make the story go away. Because…what are the odds that someone who worked for Knox would bump into Tammen in NY, right? But then, did you rewatch HH tell his story in the video? He’s super sincere and believable. But then again, as I’ve reported, he never wrote anything in his journals about Tammen. Nothing at all.

      Lastly, re your point about integrity, I agree. If we’re trying to get to the truth about Tammen, we have to stick to what we know is true and call out what isn’t. Integrity = credibility

  10. The Pistol Packing Phantom of Fisher Hall…I bet he used a ghost gun…Maybe a Spectre M4….maybe channeling Yusuke Urameshi….

  11. “And now a new one: did Carl Knox do anything at all when Stephenson first told him about his encounter in Wellsville?”

    Yep, that has been on my mind for the longest time. I would have loved to have witnessed Knox’s reaction too. And I bet a ‘silent’ paranoia fell upon him and within the secret inner circle of Miami University.

    And, the ‘Phantom voice’ stories always intrigued me as well. It is interesting to learn it was packing heat. Lol. I need to do more research on it. I’m considering the subject as a fictional short story for my coming book!

      1. Thank you, J. Yeah, keeping really busy with that book while writing the sequel to my scifi series too.

        Also . . . forgot to add . . . regarding your post . . .

        Don’t feel bad about the Knox HHS note. Things like that are bound to happen, especially with old cases like this one. The positive aspect is that you caught it and referenced the correction. I know as researchers, we can beat ourselves up over some details when something proves otherwise. Just pick yourself up and move on.

  12. This one is especially fun to read since it takes place when I was a junior at Miami in 1975/76, although at the time I was completely in the dark about the Ron Tammen disappearance.

    1. I have a feeling most people on campus were in the dark at that time. Carl Knox had moved on and Switzer had moved to California, and died May 26, 1976–one month after the Phantom of Oxford aired. I wonder if he had the chance to watch it….

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