Did Richard blackmail Ron?, part 2

Photo by satria setiawan on Unsplash

Last November, we discussed Ron Tammen’s bank account—his earnings, expenses, savings, and outstanding debts at the time he disappeared. Even though university administrators had told the press at the time that Ron wasn’t in financial trouble, you and I couldn’t help but notice how hard he was working at a variety of jobs, and taking out loans to boot, yet he was still having difficulty keeping his head above water. 

Meanwhile, Ron’s younger and less agreeable brother Richard didn’t seem at all strapped for cash during 1952-53. How could Richard seemingly coast through his freshman year of college, subsisting only on the money he’d earned caddying in the summer? As a sophomore, Ron had caddied PLUS worked for the city of Maple Heights during the summer PLUS he had a scholarship, PLUS he had two regular jobs at Miami—playing with the Campus Owls and counseling freshman residents of Fisher Hall—PLUS he was always looking into other ways to earn money, such as donating his blood and whatever else. By April 1953, Ron should have had a hefty sum accrued in his checking account, but he didn’t. He only had $87 and some change, and he still owed the university $110 for board plus he needed to pay back a $100 loan.

All of this begged the question: Was Ron Tammen supporting his brother Richard?

Which begged another question: Was Richard blackmailing Ron?

On this Labor Day weekend, a time when we celebrate America’s workers, I thought it would be fitting to discuss Richard’s Social Security earnings statement. That’s right, readers, thanks to the assistance of some very helpful people, I now have Richard’s Social Security earnings statement for 1952-1954, the years he attended Miami as a freshman and sophomore. 

Before we delve, I’d like to discuss what a Social Security earnings statement is and what it isn’t.

But first, this caveat: OH MY GOSH, you guys, this is so not my area of expertise. I’m sitting here on a gorgeous Saturday reading the Social Security website just trying to understand this topic well enough to explain it adequately. If you happen to specialize in this area and I get anything wrong, please don’t hesitate to let me know, albeit gently. I didn’t pursue a career in tax law for a reason.

OK, let’s do this.

The Social Security earnings statement is a document that the Social Security Administration (SSA) produces detailing how much money you earned in a given year or years. They used to mail it to you but now you can create it on demand online. The earnings statement represents the amount of money that your employer has reported having paid you so that certain taxes can be withheld. Today, employers report annually, but in Richard’s and Ron’s day, it was reported quarterly. Come January of each year, we receive a W-2 with all of that info spelled out so we can use it to file our taxes. The SSA also uses the information to figure out our retirement income when that happy day arrives.

Still awake? Brilliant. The Social Security earnings statement may not include everything you earned for a particular year, however. Sometimes money will trade hands off the books, and the onus is on you to keep track of your earnings and file your taxes accordingly. Take caddying, for example. I’m sure both Ron and Richard were paid in cash by whomever they accompanied on the golf course on a given day. Also, Ron’s music gigs—I’m guessing the musicians were also paid in cash with no taxes withheld. But Ron’s jobs with the city of Maple Heights and Miami University would have definitely been included on his Social Security earnings statement. In Mr. Tammen’s letter to Ron in September 1952, he passed along tax information from Ron’s last check stubs from the city. 

Other potential sources of income that would not show up on the earnings statement would be:

Scholarship income

As I explained in an earlier post, Ron had a scholarship through the Cleveland District Golf Association. However, to the best of my knowledge, Richard didn’t have one. His academic standing wasn’t as good as Ron’s and a news article didn’t list him as a scholarship recipient for the year 1952-53. 


Richard wasn’t eligible for a university loan as a freshman. However, if anyone else loaned him money—such as Willis Wertz, the architecture professor who co-signed a loan for Ron—I don’t know. My guess is that Richard wouldn’t have been a good candidate due to his poor grades and his lack of a steady income by which to reimburse the loan.

Keeping all of this in mind, I will now report Richard’s earnings for the years 1952-54.

1952: $0

1953: $0

1954: $322.41

Like I said, we know Richard was caddying over the summers, which didn’t show up here. And we don’t know if he had obtained a loan. (I doubt it.) But we also can conclude that Richard wasn’t working for the university during this time, whether it be washing dishes, waiting tables, or anything else students might be employed to do. That income would have been documented here. Likewise, a job with an employer off campus where he would have received a paycheck would have been documented in his earnings statement. From what I can tell, other than caddying, Richard wasn’t employed in 1952 or 1953.

The year after Ron disappeared, 1953-54, was abysmal for Richard. The first semester, he was placed on probation after he was caught cheating. Two grades were changed to Fs to accompany two Ds and a B. The second semester was almost as bad, where he earned a B, two Cs and an F. His transcript states that he was “Dropped for Scholarship.” Richard had flunked out.

Richard Tammen’s transcript from 1952-53 and 1953-54; click on image for a closer view

That summer, Richard got a job with the G.W. Cobb Company, in Cleveland, which makes storage tanks and liquid handling systems. That’s where he earned the $322.41, which was good money for someone his age, translating to $3,272.08 in today’s dollars for about 3 months of work. (He was employed during a portion of the second and third quarters.) In September of 1954, he enlisted in the Army, where he would stay until September 1956. 

In April 1956, Richard reapplied to Miami, asking to be readmitted to the Department of Architecture after his pending discharge from the Army. Miami said OK, providing that “he must make an average of 2.0 at the end of each semester henceforth; failure to do so to entail permanent suspension.” Richard managed to live by their rules, and he received his bachelor of architecture in August 1959 and his master of city design in June 1960. [Well, he *mostly* lived by the rules. See my correction in the comments below.]

So let’s get back to the big question: was Richard blackmailing Ron?

I think it’s a safe assumption that Richard wasn’t employed throughout his freshman year at Miami. Either he was earning enough money through caddying in the summer and during breaks or someone may have been helping him out—maybe Ron. 

However, when Ron was a freshman in 1951-52, he didn’t appear to be working on or off campus either. Also, there’s no evidence of Ron needing to obtain loans during that first year. However, Ron did have his scholarship during his freshman year in addition to his caddying and city work in the summers and breaks. It’s possible that Ron’s and Richard’s income sources were enough to get them through their respective freshman years at Miami. For this reason, I don’t think we can jump to the conclusion that Richard was blackmailing Ron during Richard’s freshman year. It’s possible, and I’ll admit that I leapt there when I first saw Richard’s earnings statement, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.

What does seem pretty clear is that, during his second year at Miami, Ron’s expenses outweighed those of a typical college student back then. His sophomore year was substantially more costly for him than his freshman year had been, despite the fact that he was always working and didn’t go out much. His money seemed to be going out as fast as it was coming in. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m even more convinced that someone was demanding money from Ron. I just still can’t be sure who it was or why.


What do you think? Am I overlooking something?

Also, in looking at my Social Security earnings statement, I see that I made $528 in my first-ever job, which was a waitress and grill cook at a local lunch counter. One of the skills I mastered there was bacon, where I learned to cook it extra crispy. An actual quote that I’ll never forget someone saying was, “We like to come here for Jenny’s bacon,” which I found hilarious but kind of cool.

And you? What was your first job as we celebrate Labor Day? Got any stories?

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Stevie J
Stevie J
1 year ago

To my surprise, Wiki has a bit of the history that answers most of our questions.


I’ve never called it or heard it called by the public anything but First National Bank.

Stevie J
Stevie J
1 year ago

I worked a little while for First National (admittedly almost 40 years ago) and I think yes, First National Bank of Hamilton was eventually part of First National Bank. It seems to me there was a period of time-right around when I was employed- that the various local branches became First National Bank of Southwest Ohio. But it’s a bit fuzzy. I have a few contacts I can ask. I wouldn’t be surprised if some local posse members know for sure.

Good call on Ron wanting to handle his own finances. That checks all the boxes.

Stevie J
Stevie J
1 year ago

If Ron was being blackmailed, how was he paying them off? By check? There should be a record somewhere of unexplained checks to an unknown person. Cash? Well, if he got paid for his musician gigs in cash, maybe he could pass that on, but otherwise, there’d seem to necessarily be a bank record that would show a series of withdrawals.

So, two questions on the board. Could an Owl clarify if they were paid in cash? Would you have access to his First National checking/savings account records?

Stevie J
Stevie J
1 year ago

Some more random Lesourdesville Lake memories. Our boss had a fit if he thought too many of our cheap stuffed animal prizes were being given out. He always thought(admittedly, he was right) that the employees were selling the animals and claiming they were won. He even hired people to pose as potential buyers! Well, some of the workers making 1.50 an hour felt justified in making a little extra. For the life of me, I don’t understand why he’d spend $3 to find out if someone ripped him off for a $2 stuffed animal.

In any case, the honest employees hated when people won because you were sure to be under scrutiny. I never had a winner in my 3 months, but it happened. The funniest winner ever was a little girl, maybe 10, who tried the game where you throw a softball and knock over heavy milk bottles. Very hard to pull off, but it was possible. Well, the little girl threw the ball so far off target, it BOUNCED and hit the bottles and knocked them off. I really don’t know how that could happen, as I saw people destroy the bottle with fastballs and they wouldn’t tip over, but there you go. I was just coming into the booth, so it wasn’t counted against me. The guy working there dropped his head on the counter in complete defeat, to my delight and the little girl’s mom’s disgust. The other guy told me he’d had a few winners recently and was hoping to get through the week without another.

We had air rifles that could shoot feathered darts to knock prizes off a shelf. People always complained that the rifles weren’t accurate. They were. They were tested. But the little feathered darts were questionable. Some people claimed they were weighted off center, which I suspect is true. But the feathers got worn down over time, and the darts simply wouldn’t fly straight. A few people insisted on picking out which darts they wanted to shoot, and those people had a decent chance of winning. We had a dart game where you had to break balloons. Those darts had tips that were so worn out you could about smash a balloon on the counter with a dart, and it wouldn’t break. We had basketball hoops that were so tight if you didn’t swish it, there was no way the ball would go in. The employees always wanted to sneak a torque wrench in and see how tight they were.

One time, a guy I worked with got bored and told me he was going to pretend to be Russian, and to tell people he couldn’t speak English. I thought it was ridiculous, but it worked! People would come up, and he’d growl in what I thought was a silly attempt to sound like he was speaking Russian. I’d tell them he was Russian, and try to help him through. We had 2 rather cute girls believe it (I think you know what 2 high school boys thought of that, with the well known attraction for foreigners among high school girls on our minds), and when a third friend of theirs showed up and he pulled that on her, she got this shocked look on her face. The other 2 said, “He doesn’t speak English!” I about died trying not to laugh. One person handed him a half dollar, and he pretended to be totally confused. He even bit it. I took it, and laid it on the counter, and put 2 quarters by it. He held 2 fingers up and hesitantly said “Two?” I nodded, and he pretended to then understand. And the customers believed the whole silly charade. I’m sitting here crying with laughter as I type this. What a memory.

We got no break on food we bought there, and we weren’t supposed to bring anything in. Of course we did, but it was frowned upon. If you didn’t sneak it in, you’d be stuck paying amusement park prices for a hamburger, while making a 1.50 an hour for the privilege. One of the other workers was a friend from school, and his girlfriend worked at a food place. She always gave me and him free food. I never felt bad about it, although I guess I should have. Anyway, with all the high prices and low wages, I ummmm, understand why some people sold the stuffed animals.

The guys who walked around sweeping up garbage were the drug dealers. Most of them rather openly sold pot-a joint, an ounce, a pound. Some customers would occasionally ask us to sell them a joint, so apparently word was out on the street that you could get it from employees at Lesourdesville Lake.

Besides my ring the bell sideline, I also made a lot of money playing pinball. We typically bet $5 a game. Pinball is one of those games where you can be a little lucky and not realize you’re just not that good. in less rarefied circles, we call such people “fish”. That was my game, and I’d played it my whole life, and was way better than the other workers. They kept trying to beat me, but it rarely happened. Some weeks I made more playing pinball than I did working.

Jule E. Miller
Jule E. Miller
1 year ago
Reply to  jwenger

Fraud! The story of basketball hoops, balls over inflated and the backboard a hoax.
Feathers warn on flying props that couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Bottles probably glued to the skit of dishonesty.
The balls thrown probably water logged in hot oil used for the French fries.
Darn! Now I want to go to Ocean City, MD.
Thrashers fries, banana shake and crab cakes.
Walk on the beach and watch the sunset.

Stevie J
Stevie J
1 year ago

Okay, the midway games at Lesourdsville Lake. Worked there a summer when I was 16, in 1977. I made 1.50 an hour, no overtime, and often worked 12 hour days.

A few thoughts on the various games. We had a shoot out the star game, where an air rifle shot out a red star on a piece of paper. Nearly impossible to pull off, but I think we had 2 winners in 3 months. The proper way to do it was to shoot out the outline of the star, and many people came close by that method. One day, Herman’s Hermits performed there, and one of his band walked up and blasted through the star and won. I don’t think he had any idea how unlikely that was. (I tried to drop links but they’re ending up about 50 lines long. Anyway, it’s easy enough to google)

We had a pitch till you win and it was pretty much a scam. You could not-COULD NOT-win by throwing a ring directly around a block. You could get lucky and hit a block behind your target and it bounce forward, and in that way get over the prize. We had to practice showing people it was possible to win, and had to quickly swipe a little forward and pretend we were not. As one effect, that meant you absolutely COULD NOT win a prize in the back row. Zero chance.

We also had a hammer/ring the bell game. I’ve never seen another designed like it was. It had a piece of tire as the target to aim the hammer at. For some reason, it wasn’t a solid construction where you struck. Anyone who understands leverage will get what I’m about to say, and I hope it’s clear enough to everyone else. The key to winning was to hit the tire as close as possible to yourself-as far away from the gameboard-as possible. I’ve told people this before and they deny it’s possible, but I know for a fact it mattered. I’ve looked at every other ring the bell game in the world, and never seen another one like it. None of those had a design whereby it mattered where you hit the platform. Most people simply aime for the middle, not realizing how much leverage they were losing.

In any case, you could ring the bell by striking the middle of the platform, but you’d best be a weightlifter or NFL player or some such. We’d have guys come up and spend $25 trying to win their girlfriend a $2 prize. At that time, I weighed maybe 120 lbs. And I could ring the bell 90% of the time.

I took to betting people $5 I could ring the bell. I mean, that was more than I earned in 3 hours of work! And I never lost. Never. Guys would be infuriated this skinny little dude could show them up. None of them ever caught on to what I was doing. Most were convinced I was cheating. They’d watch where I was standing, etc, to see if there was some secret magnet or something. I’d feed their paranoia by pretending to place my feet carefully, and laugh to myself as they tried to do it too. I didn’t do it too much for fear they’d notice where I was hitting the platform. Otherwise, I’d have kept doing it all day. Man, I made some money doing it.

That’s all for now. Maybe some more thoughts in the future.

Suzie Thomas
Suzie Thomas
1 year ago

Instead of flat out failing Richard, Miami should have provided him with some kind of counseling. We can’t even imagine what life was like for him—his brother had disappeared without a trace and life was just supposed to go on as per usual!

Kathy Spicer
Kathy Spicer
1 year ago

Very interesting! I always look forward to reading your posts. I also enjoy extra crisp bacon.

My first job was working in Oxford College dining hall. My parents didn’t want me to work during high school because I needed to keep my grades at the highest possible level in order to earn scholarships. College wouldn’t have been financially possible at all without the scholarships I earned. But I did work throughout my college years, sometimes several jobs at a time, including being a resident assistant. I am really grateful for all of the jobs I held during college. They taught me so many things, and my residence life experiences led to a long and successful career in higher education.

Stevie J
Stevie J
1 year ago

I’m a little uncomfortable with the suggestion/accusation against Richard, but okay, maybe. I just don’t see enough evidence to get any strong feelings on the matter. Ron was certainly an apt blackmail candidate.

I grew up on a farm, so that was my first job. My first job off the farm was working the midway games at Lesourdsville Lake, later known as Americana. I got a boatload of stories about that and will get around to sharing some soon.

1 year ago

Very, very interesting Jennifer Wenger.
“Got Bacon, crispy?
My 4 stents and one of my bypasses, just hid behind the wall of vessels. Lol.
Oh the troubled Tammen men. Richard in the middle squeezed like a grapefruit between John and Ron.
Maybe on the night Ron disappeared, he may have given Richard the boot from his days of paying Richard’s way. I still feel in my gutt Richard drew up a plan to remove said brother from the world he knew.
Exit stage Army. Wow!
While back in Maple Hts., the Tammen left overs wrestled with an alcoholic mother and an absentee father who was only as sharp as his pencil.
Tragic. My heart remembers poor Marcia hiding out behind a book for an entire summer. What Robert was doing? I don’t know.
Keep digging Jennifer.
The paper chase is on.
Thank God for my Social Security.
I labored from ice cream dipper and beyond!
I pumped gas one summer in 1972 and watched the flooded area of Harrisburg, Pa. I worked 70 hours for a buck an hour. Yeap, I checked their oil, washed their windshields and became their friend.
Bacon, yummy, just not now.

1 year ago

Wow, that would be pretty sad if he was blackmailed by his own brother!