Halloween 1973 and the muzzling of Joe Cella

On Friday, October 26, 1973, a calendar item appeared in the Miami Student announcing a talk to be delivered Halloween night. The speaker, Joe Cella, would be presenting at 8 p.m. in the Heritage Room of Miami’s former student center, now known as the Shriver Center. His presentation had been titled “The Ronald Tammen Disappearance.” There was no need for additional verbiage explaining who Ronald Tammen was or why anyone should care—everyone already knew.

Cella was the Hamilton Journal-News reporter who’d devoted decades to investigating Ron’s disappearance from Miami University in 1953. He’d intended to solve the mystery. He dug and he dug, until, quite probably, he’d made a nuisance of himself on Miami’s campus, at least in the minds of the administrators. If it hadn’t been for Joe Cella, some of the most significant clues of the case would have remained in faded notes and eroding memory banks. 

In 1973, Cella had been on a roll. Earlier that year, he’d broken the story about Garret J. Boone, a family physician and Butler County coroner who’d said that Ron had walked into his office in Hamilton on November 19, 1952. (The article erroneously says the office was on Third Street, when it was actually located at 134 North Second Street. You can step inside that very building the next time you’re in or around Hamilton. Doc Boone’s old office is now a bar that features artisanal beer and live music.)

The reason for Ron’s visit was to request that his blood type be tested. Boone said he’d never received such an odd request in his 35 years of practice, and he’d asked Tammen why he needed to have his blood typed. Tammen responded, “I might have to give some blood one of these days.” Doc Boone was able to provide documentation to Cella—a medical record that included Ron’s name, address, and the date of Ron’s visit. 

Cella’s fresh lead was published on April 23, 1973, for the 20th anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance, which had likely captured the attention of students serving on Miami University’s Program Board. Someone reached out to Cella to see if he’d be willing to give a talk on campus, and Joe said “sure.” Of course, they picked Halloween for the date of his talk. That’s when students always turned their thoughts to Tammen. 

I mean DAYUMMM, you guys. Who among us wouldn’t have paid hundreds to hear that talk? I would have given my eye teeth, my “J” teeth, my “K” teeth, and my “LMNOP” teeth to get a chance to hear Joe Cella riffing verbatim on the Tammen case. The Heritage Room would have been packed to the rafters that night. Joe would have been fielding student questions way past his allotted time. But alas, it wasn’t to be. Something happened in the short time interval between Friday’s printed announcement and the following Tuesday that brought Joe’s talk to a grinding halt. In the next issue of the Miami Student—October 30th—this notice was published:

Cella cancelled

Joe Cella’s presentation on the “Ronald Tammen Disappearance” which was scheduled for October 31 has been cancelled. Cella, a news staff worker on the Hamilton Journal, has not received clearance from federal authorities to release material which he has acquired concerning the case. Cella has promised to present his material as part of a Program Board event pending receipt of such clearance.

“Hmmm,” thought I, when I first read the blurb.

Let me tell you a little something about practitioners of journalism, especially journalism of the investigative variety: we don’t wait around for permission to reveal something we’ve managed to dig up. We’ll protect our sources till death if need be, and we’ll protect people’s personal information too. Also, journalists who have somehow accessed classified information that could impact our national security have often elected to withhold that information for, you know, national security’s sake. But material on Ron Tammen? That seems like fair game to me.

So who put the kibosh on Cella’s talk? I doubt that it was the students who served on the Program Board. In 1973, Watergate was front-page news and the Vietnam War still had two more years before all U.S. troops had exited Saigon. Students were wary of feds in general—plus, what student wouldn’t want to hear the inside scoop on Tammen?

What about Cella? From what I’ve learned about him over the years, I’m sure there’s no way that he would have accepted a speaking gig and then, at the last minute, said that he needed to get an “all clear” from some federal agency before he could go public with the juicy tidbit he’d managed to get his hands on. Look at it this way: Can you imagine me calling the FBI and saying, “Hey, I’ve obtained a document stating that Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged due to the Privacy Act or a court order. OK if I print that on my blog? If you could send me your blessing ASAP, I’d be so grateful.” Yeah, right. If you’ll recall, I posted that discovery within 24 hours of my learning it.

Also, how would Cella have obtained whatever he obtained? It’s difficult to say, since we don’t know what he had, but someone representing a federal agency had probably given it to him. And once that happens, boom. It becomes public information. No additional permission necessary.

That leaves us with Miami University administrators. Did Miami officials cancel Cella’s talk, and if so, why would they give two hoots about what Joe would be presenting that night and whether he’d obtained prior permission from “federal authorities”?

Before I address that question, let’s refer back to Cella’s article from April 23, 1973. Not only did we learn about Doc Boone’s visit from Tammen in November 1952 but we learned something else in that article: that Doc Boone had attempted to tell Miami officials about Tammen’s visit back in 1953 but he’d been summarily rebuffed.

“I offered this information (the medical file card contents) to local authorities at the time, but it was always discounted,” the article quoted him as saying. Also, “I discussed it in the past a number of times with two or three persons associated with Miami University, but they didn’t want to discuss the case.” And this: “I feel I definitely got the brush-off.” And then: “As I said before, I offered the information but they didn’t care to listen or pursue it. So I just put the card away and forgot about it.” And finally: “Maybe this information could have been valuable then. I was upset because I was given the run-around by the school.”

Terms like brush-off and run-around aren’t the sorts of things a university likes to read about itself, and the article had indeed been noticed on Miami’s campus. Affixed to the back of the article in University Archives is a note with the letterhead of the Office of Public Information, which was under the direction of Robert T. Howard. Howard had succeeded Gilson Wright in leading Miami’s News Bureau in 1956, and in 1960, he was promoted to director of the Office of Public Information. 

The quasi-mocking note says:

Paul –

Who’s left for him to scold but thee and me?

Howard

Based on the letterhead, I believe the note was written by Robert T. Howard. I’ve tried to determine who Paul is, and I’ll offer up my guess here: I think Robert Howard was writing to Paul Schumacher, the director of Miami University’s Health Service. There weren’t that many Pauls in high posts at Miami in 1973-74, and it seems that it would be on topic for Howard to write to the head of the health service over a fuming physician and his evidence of an off-site doctor’s visit by Tammen.

Several months later, that little flare-up would have still been fresh in the university’s mind, particularly in the mind of the person whose primary responsibility was to show the university in the best possible light, Bob Howard. As Howard was reading the October 26th issue of the Miami Student, sipping his coffee and pondering the fall weekend ahead, he probably had a mini-meltdown when he read who’d be coming to campus on Halloween night. As head of Miami’s Public Information Office, Howard oversaw media relations for the university. Managing Joe Cella would have certainly been within his job description. 

Perhaps Howard was still stinging from Cella’s article about Doc Boone and decided that he wouldn’t be welcome on campus. If so, he might have called Joe to find out what he’d be talking about and made up the excuse that he’d need to obtain federal approval first, just to introduce a roadblock. Maybe. 

Or could the request for clearance from federal authorities have reflected a degree of familiarity with Tammen’s case? Maybe Howard, who’d been working in communications for the university in various capacities since 1947, knew about the federal government’s involvement in Tammen’s disappearance. If so, he would have also known that the university wouldn’t want to anger the sorts of people who I believe were pulling the strings. Perhaps Howard told Cella to seek clearance to make sure the university didn’t stray from whatever marching orders they might have been given back in 1953. If the feds say it’s OK, then it’s OK with us too, Howard might have told Cella.

I have no idea what materials Joe Cella had in his possession from the federal government concerning Tammen. Cella’s sons weren’t able to shed light on that question and his Tammen file is long gone. Likewise, when I asked them if they could recall the Halloween of 1973 when their father’s university talk had been abruptly canceled, it didn’t ring any bells with them. I also contacted former student representatives of Miami’s 1973-74 Program Board and asked if they could recall the incident. Only one person responded and that person had no recollection of the Tammen program that had been canceled.

In 1977, Cella was interviewed by a reporter for the Dayton Daily News about his search for Tammen. He didn’t mention the government materials he’d had in his possession in 1973. Instead, the article says: “Cella said that federal agencies have refused to cooperate with him or Tammen’s family.” In addition, it said that he’d attempted to obtain Tammen’s records from the Social Security Administration but was refused.

This past week, I was in Oxford again, conducting more Tammen research, and I was standing in Miami’s Athletic Hall of Fame inside Millett Hall. There, among the photos of swimmers, wrestlers, football players, basketball players, and the like was a photo of Robert T. Howard, who’d been inducted in 1989 for his role in directing sports information.

So…who do you think canceled Joe’s Halloween talk in 1973?

As for the year 2021, Happy Halloween to all who celebrate! 🎃

14 thoughts on “Halloween 1973 and the muzzling of Joe Cella

  1. Well heck!
    What an incredible article Jennifer!
    My own mind is reeling. Hmm.
    ‘What would Marcia think if she were alive?
    I believe in my own heart, this may have been too much for her to comment on. She would be reading it and thinking about it for quite awhile.
    There sure is a whole lot of mystery involved in all of this! Blood type? Hmm. Crazy as it sounds, I don’t know my own type, lol.
    I can pretty much tell you, Ronald would have known that info wouldn’t He? Of course, he didn’t acquire a dog tag by merely signing up for the draft.
    Did you ever wonder, if he were to give blood, they would know?
    Was the government doing some kind of possible blood transfusing along with hypnosis?
    Even my tired mind can only handle so much.

    1. Thank you so much for these interesting thoughts, Jule! There’s been a lot of speculation about the Doc Boone visit. Many people have asked why he drove to Hamilton when he could have had it done on campus. Also, if it was for donating blood, he wouldn’t have needed to have it tested in advance–they could have tested it on site before he donated. I discuss more about the visit to Doc Boone’s office here: https://ronaldtammen.com/2017/08/18/why-did-ron-tammen-get-his-blood-typed/.

      My current understanding is that he really did donate blood. Students were getting $25 a pint back then. (I recently read a student’s diary entry from Feb. 1953 that substantiates that amount.) That would have been a ton of money back then–in 2021 dollars, it’s roughly $256. Also, in the earlier blog post, I spoke with someone who’d actually hitchhiked with Ron in the snow to Dayton to donate blood. But…I suppose that doesn’t rule out the possibility that there may have been another reason for the Doc Boone visit.

      I’m thinking that any possible records of blood donations would be long gone, plus there’s the privacy issue. I think the story from Ron’s dorm mate is very believable though.

      I haven’t read anything to date about blood transfusions along with hypnosis — usually it would have been truth serums or hallucinogens. I’ll continue researching though.

      Finally, I need to ask: did Ron have a dog tag that I didn’t know about or am I blanking on something (which occasionally happens)? 🙂

  2. Hey, y’all! I have a couple additional thoughts I’d like to share. They have to do with the wording of the October 30 cancellation announcement, which I find to be very weird:

    1) First, the announcement refers to Cella as a “news staff worker.” WTH? He was a reporter. It sounds as if they’re trying to minimize his position. I don’t think a budding journalist working for the Miami Student would have worded it that way—fellow reporters acknowledge one another—which points me to an administrator, particularly an administrator carrying a grudge.

    2) The last line bugs me too: “Cella has promised to present his material as part of a Program Board event pending receipt of such clearance.” In my view, the “Cella has promised…” makes it sound as if Cella had canceled the talk himself. Like he had to back out at the last minute because the clearance hadn’t arrived in time. It just has the feel of a “hey, we’d LOVE to have him, but our hands are tied” schtick.

    But that could just be me. Wdyt?

    1. Hello! Me again on the wording of the cancellation announcement, which clearly has been bothering me a great deal:

      News staff WRITER would have been totally OK. News staff WORKER sounds…well…let’s just say that I would never describe a reporter using those words. Never ever.

  3. Since the trip to the doctor for blood typing was a new discovery, do you think the feds saw the announcement about Joe coming to Miams Univ. and called him to ask that he not speak at this time? I too am a journalist but I might agree to withhold something for a short time if I thought it might help solve a mystery such as this.

    I think the whole blood typing thing is so weird. Ron could have easily asked when he was giving blood that they test it as you said. If he was wondering about a paternity issue again he could have found out other ways. Do you think that he possibly thought that he had a blood disease type situation going on? I know that it’s way before AIDS but maybe some other STD that he was concerned about. Maybe he believed that a simple blood typing test would show an illness like this.

    One other thought: if he were about to disappear to go into “whatever”, maybe he wanted a record of his blood type out there. Just in case he were killed or God knows what.

    I don’t know but I think the whole blood typing thing is a cog in this whole thing. It was a red herring I believe for the feds who maybe recruited him. They and Miami Univ. wanted it to go away and not be brought to light.

    1. That’s an interesting question. I mean…*maybe* the FBI called Cella and told him to cancel? (Though I’d be REALLY impressed with them if they were able to monitor newspapers, including college newspapers, so closely, pre-Internet.) The FBI documents that I have don’t indicate that they were involved in an active investigation. I’ve heard that FBI G-men were showing up at people’s doorsteps at the beginning and conducting lengthy interviews, but I have no supporting records of those interviews.

      There was a little activity at the FBI in April 1973 when someone had read a 20th anniversary article and called the Cincinnati office to say that they thought one of their coworkers at Welco Industries was Ron Tammen. A Cincinnati special agent took that person’s fingerprints and sent them to FBI HQ, where they were compared to Tammen’s prints. They didn’t match. Several weeks later, in June 1973, the FBI removed Ron’s missing person’s documents from the “Ident” files. We still don’t know exactly what that means, but to me, it sounds as if they no longer considered him a missing person. (Here’s a link to that write-up: https://ronaldtammen.com/2018/02/22/was-ronald-tammen-hiding-out-as-a-technician-at-welco-industries-in-1973/.)

      So based on that timeline: from Cella’s and other 20th anniversary articles in April 1973 –> to the April 1973 FBI fingerprinting of the person at Welco Industries–> to the June 1973 removal of Ron’s missing person docs from the Ident files, I don’t think anyone was still investigating Ron’s disappearance by October 1973, when Joe’s talk was canceled.

      As for your ideas about why Ron might have had his blood typed, those are all interesting possibilities. I, too, think that the visit may have just been a red herring. The thing that bothers me most about it, though, is the secrecy. Driving to Hamilton on a weekday appears as if he didn’t want to be seen by anyone he knew. Just kind of weird.

  4. Very interesting discovery. I always believed there was much more to the Doc Boone visit. Possibly something is still there, that we haven’t realized or have discovered yet. Something tells me Ron was sent there, but not just for getting his blood typed.

    As for Cella’s mysterious cancellation. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was silently threatened, by both the feds and the school, to call it quits. There is obviously a quiet coverup that must have made some Miami actors at the school really nervous. Persons who were still working there that played pivotal roles in Ron’s disappearance.

  5. To me, knowing your blood type seems as normal as knowing your height and weight–and even more important. I know mine; my parents and brother and aunts and uncles know theirs. I find it extremely strange that my husband doesn’t know his and isn’t curious to find out. It may be that Ron simply wanted to know, but suspected that having it typed at the university would spark rumors, so he went somewhere else.

    Alternatively, he may have thought he might have need for blood in the future, rather than thinking he would give blood in the future. When you’re trying to think of a plausible evasion on the spur of the moment, it’s common to search for an opposite within the same category. “I want to be ready in case I need a blood transfusion,” becomes “I want to be ready in case I need to give blood.”

    I don’t know anything about FBI witness protection except common urban legend–does RT’s disappearance fit that profile? He really did disappear without a trace, and it does seem as though the FBI kept tabs on when & whether he died. Also, the occasional letter sent to the parents asking whether to keep looking for RT could be a possible source of info as to whether he had contacted his family over the years.

    1. Those are some interesting hypotheses. Perhaps! We do know that he gave blood, so we always have that reason. Any additional reason could also be possible–his response to Doc Boone did sound mighty mysterious.

      I’d wondered about Witness Protection too, but that program was developed in the mid-60s and didn’t officially start until 1970. In the book WITSEC, by Pete Earley and Gerald Shur (who created the program and who passed away in September 2020), Shur discusses having consulted the CIA when he was developing the program, but he decided he didn’t need to go as far as they were known to go. In chapter 7 he said: “‘I wasn’t going to send a witness to penetrate a foreign nation, and I didn’t need to give anyone a deep cover,’ he said. ‘What I needed was just enough new documentation for someone to get a fresh start in a new community.'”

      For me, the take-home is that the WPP wasn’t around in 1953, but the CIA certainly was and they were the experts at creating new identities.

      Btw, as long as we’re talking about the Witness Protection Program, a great comedy on that topic is called My Blue Heaven, starring Steve Martin. I just watched it recently–still hilarious.

  6. Thanks for the insight regarding witness protection! I haven’t seen the film; it’s always good to have a recommended one on hand 🙂

    1. It’s hilarious. I don’t want to give anything away, but I think there are aspects to the film that are spot on as far as relocating people. Ok, I’ve already said too much.😆

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 2 GB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.