Miami University’s deafening silence: proof of a cover-up, part 3

I’ll begin this blog entry by addressing an age-old conundrum head on: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I honestly don’t think so. In order for there to be a sound, you need someone to be on the receiving end. A falling tree produces vibrations—big ones—in the surrounding land, water, and air that can only be interpreted as sound by structures in the ear, be they human, bird, bunny, fox, or squirrel. Without an ear or two in the vicinity, it’s all just meaningless molecular vibrations. There’d be no crash of a trunk, no rustle of leaves, no flapping of startled wings. No sound.

Paradoxically, if you ask one or more knowledgeable sources a simple question, and no one utters a word—not one person produces a single sound vibration for your ear to hear—have they answered your question? I’d argue that they have. This time, instead of your ears doing the interpreting, it’s your brain. And my brain is telling me that if a person who’s in the know refuses to answer a reasonable and politely-asked question, then the answer may be of an incriminating nature. Somebody, prove me and my brain wrong.

I’m talking about the interview that was conducted with Carl Knox’s former secretary relatively recently by someone affiliated with the university that was summarized on one side of a laser-printed page and filed away in the university’s archives. First, I guesstimated that the timeframe of the interview was between 2001 and 2020 based mostly on computer and printer technology. Then we were able to narrow the cut-off to 2015, the year in which the Western College Memorial Archives, where the summary had been housed, were moved to University Archives. Later, I ascertained that the interview likely occurred between 2001 and 2008 after learning that the most recent document to be added to the vertical filing cabinet where the summary was kept was done so in 2008. We don’t know which document or documents was added in 2008—their record-keeping system was woefully imprecise—but we know that nothing in the file cabinet arrived after that year, so the summary can’t be any more recent. I’ll explain that discovery in a little more detail below.

But the time period in question is about to shrink again. Based on records posted on the Miami Libraries’ website as well as documents I’ve obtained through public records requests, I believe the interview with Carl Knox’s secretary happened between January 2006 and December 2008. Let’s think about that for a second. Here we have a document whose origin Miami officials have been claiming not to know anything about—a document that, I believe, was purposely undated and unsourced in order not to raise any flags with anyone who happened upon it—and we’ve narrowed it down to occurring sometime between (I believe) 2006 and 2008. I also have a pretty good idea of who wrote it. Do you think the people at the heart of this little cover-up are impressed? Maybe! Or maybe they’re really annoyed. It’s so hard to tell what they’re feeling when they’re not speaking to you.

The 2006-2008 timeframe may sound familiar to some of you. I’d first proposed it on Facebook a couple months ago, at which time a savvy Miami alum (A BIG thank you to Kristin Woosley! Guuuurl, we see you and your amazing memory!) who was a student back then was able to provide even more helpful identifying info. Her info was so helpful, in fact, I felt as if I may have a tough time promising anonymity if someone happened to come forward. For this reason, I decided to take down the post and to conduct my research out of view.

That research has been ongoing, and I’ve discovered some promising new details. But after receiving the silent treatment about those discoveries from so many people, I’ve decided to forego that strategy. What the heck, let’s bring some of this new info into the light of day, shall we? I’ll still refer to Carl Knox’s former secretary as AD (short for assistant to the dean), and I’ll continue to protect other people’s identities for various reasons as well. But whenever possible, especially when discussing people who are acting in official capacities, they’ll be named. Also, let’s do this in one of my favorite formats: Q&A. 

Why do you think the interview took place no later than 2008?

The 2008 comes from a public records request I’d submitted. As we’ve discussed, the summary is part of the Western College Memorial Archives in folder number 18, titled Ghosts and Legends. When archivists receive donations, the standard practice is to create an accessions record for that material documenting where the material came from, when it arrived, a description of the contents, the size of the collection, and other details. Since 2015, Miami University has subscribed to ArchivesSpace, an online database for cataloguing its holdings. Knowing this, I emailed the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), requesting the accessions records that, to my understanding, should have been created for the interview summary. 

What I received from the OGC was an explanatory email as well as a number of screen grabs from ArchivesSpace. The email said that the record had been created by Jacky Johnson, the university archivist, long after the document had been acquired as well as after the university’s transition to ArchivesSpace. “This document predates our cataloguing system and our current University Archives employees,” said OGC representative Aimee Smart.

The screen grabs weren’t specific to the document in question or even folder 18, but pertained to the vertical file cabinet in which the folder was housed. The vertical file was one of the most frequently visited file cabinets in the Western College Archives reading room. In addition to Ghosts and Legends, its subjects include Western College presidents, Western College faculty and staff; and Western College buildings, such as Peabody Hall and Kumler Memorial Chapel. Sadly, most of the fields of the accessions record were left blank. Johnson’s name occupied one of the fields, and in another field was an estimate that the file was two cubic yards in size. However, one section was helpful: Dates. Under “Inclusive Dates,” which is defined on an archivist website as “The dates of the oldest and most recent items in a collection, series, or folder,” the Begin date was 1810—one year after Miami was founded—and the End date was 2008. Therefore, if the recordkeeping is accurate, AD’s interview had to have taken place no later than 2008. I’m inclined to think that AD was interviewed in 2008, but let’s not pin ourselves down just yet.

Why do you think the interview happened no earlier than 2006?

This was more of a guess, but it makes so much sense. On Miami’s Special Collections and Archives website is a page titled “Miami Stories Oral” (short for Oral History Project). This page lists a number of interviews that had been conducted with past students, staff members, and administrators of the university, which seems like a natural fit for AD’s interview as well. In addition, nearly all of the interviews had taken place during a four-year period, from the beginning of 2006 through the end of 2009. When I factored in the accessions end date of 2008, I arrived at the 2006-2008 timeframe.

What “helpful identifying info” did Woosley provide?

After I posted my theory on Facebook, Woosley immediately recognized the Miami Stories/Oral History Project as being part of Miami’s bicentennial, which was officially celebrated in 2009. She mentioned how students and alumni were being videotaped during alumni reunions in the years leading up to the big event, and that detail jived with what I’d discovered in the digital archives. I’d noticed how a large chunk of the interviews had been conducted over the alumni weekends beginning in 2006, while other interviews—mostly of people who lived near Oxford—were conducted at other times of the year. (The recordings can be found online here.) This was a huge breakthrough and immediately opened up new research possibilities. 

Why was having AD’s interview potentially tied to Miami’s bicentennial so helpful to your research?

If the interview with AD had been conducted as a stand-alone effort in which some student or staff member had simply thought it would be a nice thing to do, then the missing source materials would be way too hard to track down. There wouldn’t be a trail. But if it’s tied to Miami’s bicentennial, documents would have been produced throughout the four-year process. Funders would be thanked, coordinators would be tapped, budgets would be tabulated, progress would be charted, and achievements ballyhooed—all on paper and obtainable through public records requests. And with all of those documents, new details would potentially dribble out that could lead to even more record requests, and eventually, evidence of an interview with AD.

Furthermore, because AD had been affiliated with Miami Libraries for most of her work life as well as afterward (I was told that she had a courtesy office in King Library), I’d always felt that her interview was conducted by someone with the library. Well, guess who played a major participatory role in the bicentennial? The Miami Libraries, with Jerome Conley, dean of Miami Libraries, serving on the Bicentennial Commission. So, that fits too. 

And? Did you find any evidence of AD’s missing interview?

I think so. Although I’m sure lots more documents were generated back then (and to be fair, 2009 was 12 years ago, so I’m glad to have what they were able to provide), there was one that was especially noteworthy. The document is a progress report that provided a running count of all of the taped interviews that had been conducted from 2006 up through December 2008. At the bottom of the report, above the line indicating that there were 91 recordings in all, there’s this: “Other recordings not on Website for miscellaneous reasons,” and after the tab is the number 3. Was one of those three recordings AD?

I tried to think of other possible documents that might reveal the names of the three unposted interviewees. One of the narrative updates had discussed the taping and editorial process, which required that all of the tapes first be converted from DVT to DVD format by the library’s digital staff. I submitted a request seeking any internal documents from those staff in which they tracked every video they’d converted for the Oral History Project during the 2006-2008 timeframe. That request yielded nothing. Another narrative described how consent forms had been signed ahead of time, so I requested AD’s signed consent form. After weeks of waiting, the email I received from the OGC was “Ms. Wenger, We are unable to locate records related to an interview with [AD].” I also sought a comprehensive listing of all OHP interviewees, but the list I received was incomplete, and of course, AD’s name wasn’t there. However, I did find one person or possibly two people on that list whose interviews hadn’t been posted online.

What about the people most closely associated with the Oral History Project? What did they have to say about AD and the three missing interviews?

I’ve had email conversations with several people who had worked on the Oral History Project. Our conversations were “on background” and therefore I won’t be providing their names or direct quotes. The people who responded did so quickly and said that they didn’t conduct an interview with AD. I believe them. One also said that they didn’t recall AD being interviewed for the Oral History Project (I believe that person was speaking honestly too), though the others didn’t go that far. As for the three interviews that weren’t posted online, no one could shed light on that question.

There was one retiree who didn’t respond to my email. I’ll refer to that person as Retiree A. Retiree A had interviewed several people for the project, at least one of whom wasn’t posted online.

How do you know that Retiree A even read your email? 

I don’t. However, I sent via USPS a hard copy of the email and some follow-up documents to their home, asking them to let me know either way if they had conducted the interview with AD. I also asked them if they knew about the three interviews that hadn’t been posted online and, again, to please let me know either way. That package was delivered on Monday, June 21. As of today, I haven’t heard from Retiree A.

Wasn’t there another retiree whom you thought had knowledge of the interview? Have you heard from him?

As you may recall, I discuss another retiree quite a bit in “The blog post I was hoping never to write.”  To help avoid confusion, let’s refer to that person as Retiree B. To date, he has not responded to my email. But again, as some of you have pointed out, there’s no way to be sure that he read it.

To help address that question, this past April, I Fed-Exed a follow-up letter with additional background information to Retiree B’s home, once again promising anonymity and asking him to check his university email account and to let me know if he knew anything about AD’s interview. I’m still waiting to hear from him. I also promised Retiree B that I wouldn’t be approaching him ever again with that question. People have a right to live their lives without forever being bothered by the likes of me. He knows I’d like to speak with him. I’m just hoping he decides to come forward on his own. If I’m off base, I’d very much like to know that. And if he has information about the Tammen case, well, I think he knows by now that I’d like to hear that too. 

What about the higher-ups? What do they have to say?

William Modrow’s response

Do you remember back in February 2021, when I was asking Bill Modrow, head of Special Collections, about AD’s interview? In an effort to find someone who knew something about it, I was trying to get a handle on how they went about conducting interviews of former employees. The exact words I used were: “how staff members arrange and conduct interviews with former employees for a project spearheaded by Collections, such as for the oral history project, and how those interview materials are subsequently processed.” I’d actually used those three words with him: Oral History Project.

Do you know what Modrow didn’t mention to me? He didn’t mention Miami’s bicentennial to me, which would have been a normal response. You know, like “Oh, the Oral History Project was a short-term project for the bicentennial. We don’t do those interviews routinely.”

No, his response to me was “We do not conduct oral history interviews. I do not have the resources to do this nor do we have an Oral History program. What we have done in the past – Freedom Summer for example came with the resources and partners to accomplish.”

I specifically asked about the Oral History Project and he answers with Freedom Summer. Was he trying to throw me off course by diverting my attention away from the bicentennial? I don’t know. Maybe the obvious response didn’t occur to him at that moment, but it certainly looks that way to me.

Jerome Conley’s response

Several weeks ago, I emailed Dr. Conley, dean of Miami Libraries, providing my evidence concerning the Oral History Project videos that hadn’t been posted online. (The 2008 progress report states there were three, but a tally up through 2009 indicates that there may be four.) Because Dr. Conley sat on the Presidential Bicentennial Commission, a leading endeavor of which was the Oral History Project, I felt he would be in a position to answer the question. If he didn’t know the answer, he would know who would.

I asked him or a spokesperson to let me know about who the individuals were and why their interviews weren’t posted. I didn’t mention AD’s name in that email and I didn’t provide a deadline, saying that I figured it may take some time to track down those answers. This past Wednesday at around 11:30 a.m., I wrote him again, letting him know that I’d be posting my blog entry sometime this weekend, and requesting his response by Friday at 5 p.m. ET. His response at a little after noon was:

I would like to thank you for your note. I was on vacation with my family earlier this month. I am unaware of the videos that you mentioned.  

At about 2:30 p.m. that day, I followed up with this email: 

Dr. Conley,

Thank you so much for getting back to me. Here’s what I’m attempting to ascertain: Do you know of any reason that I shouldn’t believe that one of the three unposted OHP interviews was with [AD]? 

In other words, the 2008 progress report (attached) states that there were three “recordings not on Website for miscellaneous reasons.” Was [AD] one of these three recordings?

Again, thank you.

5 p.m. has come and gone and, so far, I haven’t heard back from him.

Do you know who put the kibosh on AD’s interview?

We still don’t know if AD’s interview was one of the three Oral History Project interviews that weren’t posted, but for this question, let’s say hypothetically that it was. I’d asked organizers of the Oral History Project who had veto power over the videos—namely who might have made the decision not to post a particular interview, for whatever reason. No one knew of any measures that were in place for pulling a video. 

After a tape was converted to DVD, only light technical editing would be performed, if needed. Somewhere in the process, University Archives staff reviewed the digitized tape and Web copy before it was posted online. By the sound of it, University Archives was one of the last stops before a video was posted to the website. Though that doesn’t mean they would have been the ones who decided not to post a video, they may have had a good idea regarding why the decision was made. 

Do you know who wrote the summary?

I can’t say for sure who wrote AD’s interview summary, but I think it was someone from University Archives. Here’s why:

The location of the document

The summary sheet was originally stored in the Western College Memorial Archives, which had been a satellite to the University Archives. (Those archives are now housed on the third floor of King Library along with the University Archives.) It’s weird that it would have been placed there, though, since the Western College archives is intended to cover topics related specifically to Western College. Regardless, because it was part of the archives and because AD was a long-time friend of the library, I’ve always felt that someone from University Archives had typed it up and placed it there. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, you know where to find me.

AD’s job title

When I made my initial guess as to when the interview summary was typed up, one consideration was AD’s job title. Because AD was Carl Knox’s secretary—that’s how she referred to herself in a memo—I found it telling that whoever typed up the summary referred to her as the assistant to the dean of men. That sounded more recent, since the word secretary was mothballed sometime around 2001. That’s why I had 2001 at the lower end of my timeframe. (It’s a moot point now since we’ve moved it up to 2006.)

As luck would have it, I was looking through a 1952-53 Miami University Directory one day when I landed on AD’s name. Even though she informally went by the title of secretary, in the directory, she’s referred to as “asst. in office of dean of men and to freshman advisers.” “Assistant to the Dean of Men” sounds a lot like “asst. in office of dean of men,” which leads me to believe that whoever was typing up the summary sheet had access to the 1952-53 directory. The 1952-53 phone directory, as with other directories, can be found in University Archives.

The font

Here we go again, right? 😉 Even though I’m not the best person at analyzing typefaces (see the blog post on St. Clair Switzer’s typewriter), maybe I’m better at recognizing laser printer fonts than typewriter fonts? This could be a very minor point, which is why I’m placing it here, near the bottom of this blog post, but I believe the font used in the summary matches the font of the Oral History Project reports.

Hear me out. When I first wrote about AD’s interview summary in December 2020, I said that the font seemed to be Times New Roman. And what do you know, when I typed the summary in Times New Roman and compared that to the photo I took of the summary from the archives, they looked the same to me. So far, so good.

WELL, when the OGC sent me the reports I’d requested from the Oral History Project, most were written in Times New Roman. I know…it’s a popular font choice for some. It’s also rather, um…dull, shall we say? But the point here is that whoever typed up the summary could have also been a central player with the Oral History Project, and the folks in University Archives certainly occupied a pivotal position on that team.

Times New Roman sample for comparison
Summary of AD interview

Are you OK? You seem down.

Oh, gosh. I was trying to hide it, but yeah, I’m bummed. Here’s me, a wannabe author who relies on archival information for this book I’m working on, and I’ve found myself in a faceoff with what used to be my favorite place on campus. Every trip to Oxford used to include a visit to University Archives. While, at this point, it’s difficult for me to determine what else I can do to get to the bottom of the Miami Libraries’ interview with AD, I don’t plan to walk away. But I’m not gonna lie. It’s disheartening. 

Why do you think the university is acting this way? 

Actually, I think it’s important to look at the actions of individuals versus thinking of the university as some sort of impenetrable monolith, though sometimes it feels like the latter. The two most common responses from people who I think may know something about AD’s interview is to not respond at all, or to attempt to answer as much as they can honestly, leaving out anything that would put them in danger of lying. Because—and I truly believe this—most people don’t like to lie, especially people who work in a library. 

However, I also think that some individuals at the university have been deceptive, and in a couple instances, untruthful. (They know who they are.) I will also say this: Whatever it is that’s keeping people from coming forward must be pretty damn big. 

If the Privacy Act was the reason that Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged, then guess what? Ron was alive in 2002

A sample of someone’s fingerprints from the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Aug. 1953

Remember how, back in 2015 and 2016, I kept pestering the FBI to answer, yes-or-no, had they confirmed Ron Tammen to be dead? And remember how they chose not to answer that question despite the fact that a simple “no”—they had not confirmed him to be dead—would have sent me on my way, forlorn and (momentarily) defeated? 

Back then, I took their non-answer to mean that Ron was dead but they just didn’t want to say he was dead. Because Ron’s fingerprints had been expunged long before he’d turn 110 (the age at which a person’s fingerprints are normally expunged, as cited by the FBI’s spokesperson), I figured that was all the evidence I needed to conclude that he was dead and had been dead for at least 7 years (the alternative scenario cited by their spokesperson). But with our recent discovery that the FBI was able to expunge his fingerprints early because of #N1-65-88-3, Item 1a—the National Archives and Record Administration’s (NARA’s) record schedule having to do with a Privacy Act conflict or a court order—I now believe Ron was alive when they expunged his fingerprints. It’s also feasible that he could be alive today, although I don’t think so. 

You guys called it early. When I told you that the FBI was able to expunge Tammen’s fingerprints 30 years ahead of time due to a Privacy Act conflict or a court order, I think Blue was the first to say that he could have still been alive, and others agreed. Kudos to you, smart people! 

I was a little slower, probably because I was so focused on the “court order” lingo and how I’d heard that term before. A couple of the former FBI staffers I’d spoken with had mentioned it as a possible reason for early expungement of Ron’s fingerprints, while no one had brought up the Privacy Act. Also, among the smattering of documents online that cited N1-65-88-3 for early expungement, they all had to do with a court order. So that’s where my brain was. 

As for the “was he alive?” question, it seemed possible if it had to do with the Privacy Act, which I’d been bumping into with all of my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. That law is literally a question of life or death. If I couldn’t prove a person was dead, I (usually) didn’t get the info. The court order is so much grayer: what was the order and when was the order given and which court would have ordered it—federal or state or even lower? And if I were somehow able to get past all that, could we tell if Ron was still alive?

I knew I needed to talk to someone who was knowledgeable about such matters and who was willing to speak openly. Thankfully I found someone. I won’t be sharing the person’s name or credentials with you because I promised them we would be talking “on background.” (Translation: I can use the information they shared, but I won’t be identifying them.) 

A word of warning: you’ll find that there was a point in our conversation where things went a little…askew. From the start, I’d told my source that the reason the FBI had expunged Ron’s fingerprints was the Privacy Act or a court order—good old N1-65-88-3, Item 1a—and the early part of our discussion reflected that. However, as the conversation progressed, my source began to speculate about a different reason for the expungement. Things became a little uncomfortable as I pushed back. Still, even those moments offer important insights into Ron’s case.

Most responses have been lightly edited or paraphrased to reflect the overall substance of what was said in Q&A fashion. Occasionally I’ve supplied additional background information to help clarify a response. If I have thoughts to add regarding a particular response, those’ll be in blue next to my initials. Here we go!

What are the main reasons that FBI files might be expunged ahead of time because of the Privacy Act?

If a person were to file a FOIA request on themself, and their file had incorrect information in it, they might ask that it be expunged. Or perhaps the information was collected illegally. For example, if a person was exercising his or her First Amendment rights (such as voicing their opposition to a political issue), and the FBI started a file on them, they could request that the file be expunged. Most Privacy Act cases have to do with First Amendment issues.

What happens when an FBI file is expunged based on the Privacy Act or a court order?

According to the Federal Records Act, government records can’t be destroyed without the approval of the head of NARA. In the case of a Privacy Act or court-ordered expungement, however, those take precedence. Once the FBI agrees to expunge a record for either of those reasons, NARA’s role is to simply document the action. 

At my time of involvement, the FBI would write to the National Archives saying “we’re going to destroy file number XYZ under the Privacy Act.” The National Archives would keep that record and write back to the FBI. Then the FBI would destroy the file and replace it with a card saying “file number XYZ has been destroyed under the Privacy Act.”

JW: When I was told by the FBI that Ron’s fingerprints had been expunged in 2002, the spokesperson added “no other info available.” If the 2002 protocol was similar to the one described above, the spokesperson should have been able to tell me why Ron’s prints were expunged. Also, now that we know about NARA’s record schedule, the FBI spokesperson should have had access to that information too. At the risk of sounding naïve, I think the FBI was intentionally keeping it from me.

N1-65-88-3 doesn’t pop up much on Google. How frequently or rarely is this reason cited for the expungement of government records?

I don’t think that it happens a lot. It could be dozens or a hundred times a year, but I don’t think it’s that much.

Do they ever expunge FBI files for people who are deceased based on the Privacy Act?

That I don’t know. Under American law, dead people don’t have the right to privacy. But whether a family member could write it in, I’m not sure they would have the legal standing to make the request.

JW: Upon further reading, the Department of Justice has this to say: “Deceased individuals do not have any Privacy Act rights, nor do executors or next-of-kin.” This tells me that the FBI can’t expunge a file based on a Privacy Act conflict if the person is deceased. The FBI might request the file be expunged for another reason, but not for the Privacy Act. Therefore, if Ron’s file was expunged due to a conflict with the Privacy Act, it’s my belief Ron was alive in 2002.

On the other hand, in 2010, I was able to obtain Ron’s FBI files without providing proof of death or authorization from a third party. For this reason, I think Ron Tammen was deceased by 2010. 

What about the court order? Are these generally for living people?

To be honest, I’ve never heard of an example of a court ordering the destruction of records, although I’m sure it probably happens. I’d say that, by far, the majority of expungements based on either the Privacy Act or a court order are due to the Privacy Act.

Legal questions have come up, one of which is: can a federal judge order something to be kept or destroyed when the Federal Records Act gives that authority to the head of NARA? But I don’t think it happens that often.

JW: It’s telling that our source doesn’t recall ever seeing a court-ordered expungement. Perhaps most useful is our source’s estimation that Privacy Act expungements far outweigh court-ordered expungements. As a result, it seems more likely that Ron’s fingerprints were expunged due to a Privacy Act conflict.

As for the alive-or-dead question, in the few court-ordered expungements I’ve seen online, the person whose records were being expunged was ostensibly alive. I’ve been attempting to find someone who can definitively answer my question, and I’ll continue to look. 

Regarding the early expungement of fingerprint cards, have you heard of that happening before? If so, under what circumstances does that happen in your experience?

If I was thinking in terms of being a practical bureaucrat, if we’re in the process of converting tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of fingerprints to an automated system [which took place in 1999], and we have all these fingerprints that were gathered in World War II from school kids, and figuring they’re probably 70, 80 years old in the ‘90s, they might have simply gotten authority…and I’m not sure how. What they could have done is go to the National Archives with a blanket request saying “We’d like to destroy all fingerprint cards created before 1950 because they’re not relevant now, or we’re getting ready to convert these to the automated system and these will just add to the burden of doing that.”

How would that work?

If it was simply a request for expungement, the FBI would write the request on the Standard Form 115 [the form in which all such requests are written], send it to NARA with a brief explanation of why the records don’t have value to the FBI or anybody else, and describe when they would like to destroy them—when they’re 50 years old, 75 years old, or whatever. Then, one of the Archives staff would review the form and seek permission from the head of NARA. A copy would be returned to the FBI, and they would follow the schedule. 

Would that be the N1-65-88-3—would that be a Privacy Act expungement?

No. The FBI would have submitted something with a different number and it would probably just be a request to destroy fingerprint cards that are X number of years old.

JW: I found an example of one of the more routine “thinning-out” records schedules from the year 2000 (marked 00), which I’m posting here. As our source said, the number is different and doesn’t involve the Privacy Act or a court-ordered expungement. Could this request have been initiated because of the FBI’s move to automation in 1999?

But the person from National Archives cited N1-65-88-3, which tells me that it IS a little different than the switchover to the automated system.

That could be an oversight on NARA’s part. They probably just assumed that it was destroyed under the Privacy Act when it was actually destroyed under the authority of another Standard Form 115.

JW: The NARA rep’s exact words were “The fingerprints in question were expunged from the FBI system as per N1-65-88-3, Item 1a. NARA does not have any further information regarding the expungement of this file.” That sounds a lot more certain than someone who is just assuming something. Also, I used to respond to public inquiries with a federal agency. We’d never put anything in writing without double-checking to make sure we had our facts straight.

I’ve submitted a FOIA request to NARA for “the paperwork associated with the FBI’s early expungement of the fingerprints (both paper and electronic) for Ronald H. Tammen, Jr., FBI # 358 406 B. This should include the relevant Standard Form 115…plus any additional documentation associated with the FBI’s action.” Once I have that, I’ll be able to decide if I need to file more FOIAs to determine if there was a mass expungement around 2002 because of a Privacy Act conflict or court order or if Ron’s case was special.

In light of the above, here’s where I’m leaning at the moment:

  • Because Privacy Act or court-ordered expungements circumvent the role of the head of NARA, it imparts a higher level of import and urgency to the removal of Ron’s fingerprints.
  • It’s far more likely that Ron’s fingerprints were expunged due to a Privacy Act conflict than a court order.
  • If Ron’s fingerprints were expunged due to a Privacy Act conflict, then he was still alive in 2002.
  • Ron’s fingerprints were NOT expunged as part of a mass expungement of obsolete fingerprints (e.g., fingerprints obtained from children before WWII or some other characteristic) to reduce the burden on the FBI’s automated system or any other reason to thin out their records.
  • Whether Ron’s fingerprints were expunged as part of a mass expungement due to the Privacy Act or a court order remains to be seen. 

And you? Where do you lean?

Breaking: the 9-5-52 Project Artichoke report wasn’t typed on St. Clair Switzer’s typewriter*

*but that doesn’t mean Switzer didn’t write it

Sigh. It would have been so unbelievably cool, wouldn’t it? To be able to say that a CIA Project Artichoke report was typed up on Doc Switzer’s typewriter—a 1947 Smith Crappola, I’m guessing—with its wayward y’s and c’s and capital R’s, would have been too, too cool. A smoking typewriter could have saved this girl a lot of additional sweat and heartache and saved you all from having to read any more 3,000-word blog posts. (Oh, relax. This one’s shorter.) It would have been time for the party planning to begin because we would have attained our goal. Because, you guys, we’ll probably never know for sure what happened to Ron Tammen. The only thing we can probably hope to know is whether St. Clair Switzer indeed had CIA ties. And if the CIA was anywhere near Tammen during the second semester of 1952-53, then they made Tammen disappear. Plain and Simple. 

But the report that had been written for the Psychological Strategy Board on September 5, 1952, wasn’t written on St. Clair Switzer’s typewriter. We know this because a forensic document examiner compared the three surviving pages of that report to a job application and letters that Switzer had typed up in 1951. She’s certain that they came from different typewriters, and now, so am I.

In the world of forensic document examination, a questioned document (Q) is compared to a known document (K) to see if they came from the same source. In our case, the Q is the 1952 Project Artichoke report and the K is Switzer’s job application and letters. Our examiner, Karen Nobles, concentrated on the typefaces of the two documents to arrive at her conclusion, and the evidence is compelling. 

Here’s what she found:

  • the uppercase M: the center does not extend to the baseline on the questioned (Q) text, but does extend to the baseline in the known (K) text
  • the number 2 has a flat base on the Q, but a curvy base in the K
  • the bottom of the number 3 extends downward in the Q, but curves up in the K; the top of the 3 in the Q is rounded and in the K it is flat
  • the number 4 in the Q has an open top, but in the K it is closed
  • the number 5 in the Q has a flag on the top that extends upward and the bottom bowl extends downward; in the K the number 5 is flat on top and curves upward in the bottom bowl
  • the top of the number 6 extends upward in the Q, but in the K it curves downward and has a ball ending
  • the number seven may or may not have a downward extension on the top left in the Q but in the K, the 7 has a significant downward extension
  • the number 8 is much narrower in the Q than in the K
  • the number 9 extends downward in the Q, but curves upward and has a ball ending in the K

She also created this chart that shows the above differences in the numbers and letters:

So the report wasn’t typed on Switzer’s typewriter after all—OK, fine. That doesn’t mean that Switzer wasn’t on the RDB’s ad hoc committee or even that he didn’t write the report. It only means that our job isn’t over and we need to keep searching for clues.

How did Doc Switzer get tangled up with the CIA? All roads lead to the RDB

You know what’s really hard? Trying to figure out the precise way in which something happened nearly 70 years ago is really hard. I mean, you find a couple memos that are riddled with black blotches, you hear a few tales from way back when, you stumble upon several additional details that seem apropos of the situation, and all of the sudden, you think you know how everything went down. But do you know what else can happen? Nuances can happen—like the Sliding Doors phenomenon, where things play out wildly differently depending on whether Gwyneth Paltrow makes the subway or just misses it, or when a butterfly in Zimbabwe flaps its wings and causes a hurricane in south Texas…those sorts of unpredictables. 

The question we’ll be delving into today is what’s the most likely way in which St. Clair Switzer, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves and Ron Tammen’s psychology professor, wound up dabbling in Project Artichoke?

Here’s the sequence of events as I initially pictured them: 

On Tuesday, February 12, 1952, Morse Allen, a career CIA guy, went bounding off to his job in the Office of Security. He was super stoked about what he’d been tasked to do, which was to handle all the day-to-day operations in pursuit of controlling the minds of the nation’s and world’s citizenry—or at least certain unlucky members thereof. 

On that particular morning, between 10:20 and 11:45 to be exact, he was on the receiving end of an earful from one Commander Robert J. (R.J.) Williams. Williams was in the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence and he was the project coordinator for Artichoke. He was also frustrated with how things were progressing. At the top of Williams’ wish list was a cadre of scientists with whom to consult who had expertise in the latest and greatest of a wide range of possible Artichoke techniques. Meanwhile, Allen and the crowd he ran with had been tinkering with only two of them: hypnosis and truth drugs. 

On March 25, in response to R.J.’s concerns, Allen typed up a memo describing a conversation he’d recently had with one of the foremost experts in hypnosis. This was no stage act hypnotist, mind you. He’d spoken with the big kahuna himself—Clark Hull, a renowned psychologist and academician who’d written the seminal book on hypnosis, Hypnosis and Suggestibility: An Experimental Approach. Alas, Hull was old (he was only 68, but they wore their ages differently back then) and sickly (he died a little over six weeks later). What’s more, he had absolutely zero interest in hypnosis after he’d published his book. 

My guess is that it was during this conversation or maybe in a follow-up, after he’d given it some thought, that Hull had passed along to Allen the names of two of his top protégées as possible resources for the CIA’s hypnosis studies. In his third and fourth paragraphs, Allen tells R.J. about the two promising experts, who were by then psychology professors in their own right. Although their names have been redacted, they were St. Clair Switzer (I’m 100% positive), at Miami University, and Griffith Wynne Williams (I’m pretty sure), at Rutgers. Switzer’s added bonus was that he’d been a pharmacist before he studied psychology, which means that he also happened to know a lot about drugs.

What happened next was where I relied on logic and intuition. I figured that Switzer was probably contacted by someone with the CIA, because, by fall, he appeared to be embarking on some sort of hypnosis study or studies on Miami’s campus. There were students being recruited on the front lawn of Fisher Hall that September for a hypnosis project coordinated by the psychology department. Three Ohio youths had wandered off with amnesia around that time and then, happily, returned. One psychology student was told by the department chair that Ron Tammen had a proneness to dissociation. Things were happening in Oxford that appeared to be relevant. 

Nevertheless, the evidence was admittedly thin and some pieces didn’t quite fit. For example, I’ve often wondered what research questions concerning hypnosis Dr. Switzer was pursuing at that time. His name has never been linked with CIA-sponsored research, such as the MKULTRA subprojects, which came later, beginning in April 1953. What could the CIA have been asking of him beginning in the spring of 1952?

As it happens, I no longer think that Dr. Switzer received a call from the CIA in March 1952. In my revised screenplay, there was no “Allen Dulles is on line two” defining moment.

I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t we still talking about Project Artichoke? If not the CIA, then who?

Me: You guys, I think Dr. Switzer was approached by someone with the RDB.

You: 🤨

Me:. You know, the RDB? Short for the Research and Development Board?

You: 

You make an excellent point. The name is so nothing. So benign. So deadly dull. But that’s deceptive. The RDB was the research arm of the Department of Defense (DoD), created through the National Security Act of 1947 to coordinate the military’s research endeavors. On the DoD’s 1952 organizational chart, the RDB was on the same level as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both of which answered directly to the Secretary of Defense, who happened to be Robert A. Lovett. 

In order to make its important research and development decisions, the RDB would oversee expert committees and panels, which, in the spring of 1950, involved some 1500 people, mostly volunteers.  (The volunteers would have been experts who were already paid a salary by their military or civilian employers, and it would have been considered an honor to serve.) By the mid-1950s, the RDB’s permanent full-time staff totaled 315. To spell it out as simply as possible, OMG, the RDB was a BFD.

At the top of the RDB sat seven people: a civilian chairperson, who in 1952 was Walter G. Whitman, head of MIT’s chemical engineering department. The other six posts were held by members of the military’s three branches: Army, Navy, and Air Force. In 1948, the two Air Force representatives were Joseph T. McNarney, commanding general of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and L.C. Craigie, director of the Research and Development Office, who relocated to Wright Patterson AFB in September as commandant of the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology. Hence, both of the Air Force reps were with Wright Patt that year.

In 1949, Karl Compton, another MIT dignitary, chaired the RDB. The Air Force was represented by McNarney again, as well as Donald L. Putt, then stationed in Washington, DC, as deputy chief of staff for materiel, which is military-speak for supplies, equipment, and weapons—everything the military buys. Putt was from Sugarcreek, OH, also called “Little Switzerland of Ohio,” which is home to the “World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock.”

This clock looked a lot bigger when I was younger.

Putt was also a longtime friend of Wright Patterson AFB. He started at Wright Field as a test pilot, then as a student at the Air Corps Engineering School, and following WWII, he headed intelligence for the Air Technical Service Command and later, the Engineering Division. In 1952, the two Air Force representatives were Roswell Gilpatric, the undersecretary of the Air Force, and Putt, who was working concurrently as a vice commander of the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in Baltimore as well as commander of the Wright Air Development Center (WADC), at, you guessed it, Wright Patt. 

So Wright Patterson was well known among the bigwigs of the RDB. But that makes perfect sense since Wright Patterson was at the center of research and development for the Air Force. R&D was Wright Patt’s jam.

But let’s get back to R.J. Williams, coordinator of Project Artichoke. A couple weeks before he and Morse Allen had their tête-á-tête, a memo dated January 28, 1952, had been drafted by the OSI for the signature of Allen Dulles, who was deputy director of central intelligence at that time. The memo was written to the secretary of defense asking for help with Project Artichoke. The OSI was seeking the assistance of the RDB, and suggested one of its ongoing committees, the Committee on Medical Sciences, to tackle an overriding problem. The problem was defined as: “Whether or not, and to what extent, any agent or procedure can be used to cause an individual to become subservient to an imposed control; and subsequently that individual be unaware of the event.” They were especially interested in discovering the feasibility of such methods because it was rumored that the Soviets were already using such tactics in their interrogations.

I don’t know if the January 28 memo was ever sent. However, on March 7, another memo was drafted, this one asking the director of central intelligence (Walter Bedell Smith) to seek technical assistance directly from the chairman of the RDB (Walter G. Whitman) regarding the “problem.”

At a meeting on March 12, Whitman told a small group of individuals (whose names are all redacted) that the RDB “will be pleased to undertake the study as requested and feel that it is something they should be doing.” However, he also said that he’d rather not put his acceptance in writing “if this conference could be considered as confirming his acceptance of the responsibility.” Whitman also said that he’d rather not use his Medical Sciences committee for such a task, but would prefer to assign the problem to an ad hoc committee.

On March 25, Allen wrote his memo to R.J. offering up the names of St. Clair Switzer (for sure) and Griffith Wynne Williams (maybe). Of special note is this partial sentence: “…his two principal research assistants are still active in psychology and would prove particularly valuable as consultants on a research project on hypnotism.”

I’ve probably read that memo a thousand times, and for 999 of those times, I was thinking much more broadly about the “research project on hypnotism.” I thought he was speaking about Project Artichoke in general, like: “Hey, if you want an expert on hypnosis to consult at some point, here are a couple good prospects.” Now, based on the events leading up to this memo, I think that Allen was suggesting the names of St. Clair Switzer and Griffith Williams for the RDB’s study.

A month later—April 26, 1952—R.J. wrote a 9-page memo to his boss, the assistant director of Scientific Intelligence, bringing him up to speed on Artichoke. Under the subhead “New items uncovered,” he discussed the RDB study, which the OSI would be monitoring: 

“As an alternate measure to provide the best possible professional advice for the project, the Research and Development Board, at the request of the DCI, has undertaken a study of the technical feasibility of Artichoke-type techniques. Although the Study is designed ostensibly to provide CIA with a better basis for evaluating Soviet capabilities in this field, it can be useful in evaluating and guiding our own program. The committee members have been selected, and, subject to their availability and clearance, should be working on the subject in the near future.”

In May, the same memo was repurposed with the subject head “Special Interrogations,” and sent up the chain from the assistant director of OSI to Allen Dulles. Everyone was reassuring their bosses that things are being done in this area.

To be sure, there was a lot riding on the RDB’s shoulders. Until the technical feasibility study was completed, the CIA wouldn’t be able to do much else toward Project Artichoke.

On June 4, a memo was written by someone affiliated with the military. (The 1100 and 1200 hours were the giveaways.) They wanted to expedite the “setting up of the special committee to study Special Interrogation techniques.” Because the special committee wouldn’t be able to start meeting until August, they agreed to set up an “executive group” from the ad hoc committee as well as perhaps another group. (Unfortunately, the names are blacked out, though I’m certain the ad hoc committee is one of the groups.) “This group could do the spadework and actually represent an action group in being, pending the arrival of [the ad hoc committee] in August, the memo’s author wrote. 

Are you interested in knowing who served on the RDB ad hoc study group? Me too. Here you go.

Yeah…fun times. In August 2016, I submitted a FOIA request to the CIA asking them to lift the redactions on the list of names of their study group. (I mean…come on, right?) On April 10, 2019, their FOIA office wrote me back and said “Please be advised that we conducted a thorough and diligent search in an effort to locate a full-text version of the document but unfortunately were unsuccessful.”

In short: we have the blacked-out version, but we can’t find the version with the words on it.

Here’s what I wrote in my appeal:

“The classification and declassification of national security information is a highly regulated process, most currently outlined by Executive Order 13526. It is my understanding that MKULTRA documents that hadn’t been destroyed in 1973 underwent a declassification review and those documents were released digitally, in CD-ROM form, in 2004. It is also my understanding that the redactions are put in place during this declassification review. I find it inconceivable that a government employee charged with the critical responsibility of declassifying national security documents would be so sloppy and abusive in his or her handling of this information as to somehow misplace or destroy the original document, particularly given the CIA’s already embarrassing history with mishandling documents pertaining to MKULTRA. I also feel it necessary to remind you of the following statement, provided by Senator Edward Kennedy during the Joint Hearing before the Select Committee on Intelligence on MKULTRA in August 1977:

The intelligence community of this Nation, which requires a shroud of secrecy in order to operate, has a very sacred trust from the American people. The CIA’s program of human experimentation of the fifties and sixties violated that trust. It was violated again on the day the bulk of the agency’s records were destroyed in 1973. It is violated each time a responsible official refuses to recollect the details of the program. The best safeguard against abuses in the future is a complete public accounting of the abuses of the past. [bold formatting added]”

Because we’re now nearing the two-year mark since they thanked me for my appeal and told me they’d get back to me, I gave them a call to see how things were going. (Of course I’m taking Covid into account, but two years is a long time, and I felt it was worth a check-in.) The person who answered took down my reference number, put me on hold for several minutes, and then returned to say, and I quote directly, “your case is still being worked on.” I’m pretty sure they’re waiting for me to die. 

The ad hoc committee met four times in 1952—August 15, October 1, November 11, and December 9. They released their report on January 15, 1953, one day after the memo was written on “Interrogation Techniques,” the one in which I believe that Switzer and Louis Jolyon West are mentioned in paragraph 3 in setting up a “well-balanced interrogation research center.” The ad hoc produced a typical “more research needed” report, signed off by the people who conduct the research, thus ensuring job security for all concerned. 

But there was another report produced by one of the RDB’s foot soldiers—on September 5, 1952—and one for which we only have a cover page, preface, and a table of contents. This report—referred to as the [BLANK] report—appears to have been passed around so much that they ran out of copies. It also had a bibliography, which the ad hoc committee report appears to lack. As the chief of the CIA’s technical branch wrote to the chief of their psychiatric division in May 1953: “We have just received this back after loaning it out sometime ago and since I promised to loan it to you, I am sending it with the understanding that, after you and your associates have finished reading it, you will return it to me since at the present time it is the only copy we have for our files.”

The report was produced with resources supplied by the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB), which was an elite group that reported to the National Security Council on topics pertaining to psychological operations. The same cast of characters in the upper echelons of the CIA and the Defense Department attended the PSB meetings along with the undersecretary of state. 

Here’s the report’s preface:

Here’s the TOC:

You guys? I think St. Clair Switzer wrote this report. Why do I think so?

  • Based on Allen’s letter to R.J., I believe that Switzer was invited to sit on the ad hoc committee. In addition, two members of the committee were asked to start the ball rolling early as part of the “executive group,” as mentioned in the June 4 military memo.
  • The person who produced the PSB report appears to be addressing the very question the RDB was asking, so it pertains to the ad hoc committee’s charge.
  • The preface reeks of Switzer, who had the habit of brown-nosing his superiors while acting too busy to be bothered by everyone else. (Adorable.) He also minored in English, so he fancied himself a writer. The line “It has been possible to cover these large areas solely because of the great amount of valuable assistance, cheerfully given” sounds so much like the smarmy letters he wrote to President Upham and others who could help him climb the ladder. I doubt the national security adviser, the secretary of defense, and the CIA director cared one iota about how cheerfully assistance was given.
  • In his TOC, he leads with hypnosis. He follows with drugs. Those were his two favorite topics.
  • The author refers to himself as a consultant, which is how Allen described Switzer’s possible role in his March 25 memo to R.J.
  • The name that’s blacked out looks to be of the same length as Switzer. 

Do I know why the report was produced by or for the PSB instead of the RDB? I don’t. But let’s look at it this way: the PSB was an interagency board that was above the RDB in rank, since it was established by President Truman. Also, one of the chief architects of the PSB was Sidney Souers, the first director of central intelligence, and a 1914 Miami graduate. Sidney was still an adviser to President Truman in 1952, and, though he didn’t sit on the PSB, it was his baby, so he kept close watch over it. Had he stepped in for some reason to assist? 

This much we know: St. Clair Switzer’s name was advanced at a time when the CIA was seeking technical assistance from the RDB. R.J., eager to show progress, could have called RDB chair Walter G. Whitman straight away, saying that he had a couple nominees for their ad hoc committee. Whitman would have shared those names with his board members, at least one of whom would be very familiar with Switzer’s credentials. 

Would Switzer have been eager to be involved? I have no doubt. Will I be asking the CIA to lift the redaction from the name at the bottom of the preface? Oh, you better believe it.

The floor is now open.

***********************

ADDENDUM: Supporting evidence that the author of the September 5, 1952, report was St. Clair Switzer

So sorry! That was rude of me to ask you to just trust me when I told you about how smarmy Switzer’s letters were to his superiors. I am now posting several letters that were either typed or handwritten by Doc Switzer to Alfred Upham, president of Miami University, or A.K. Morris, vice president of Miami. I include the letters in their entirety. If you have any questions about the who’s, where’s and why’s, feel free to ask. Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy the smarm.

I’m including Switzer’s letters to V.P. Morris because they also show how high up in the military he was during WWII. He had an office at the Pentagon and was in charge of placing servicemen at the end of the war. I think he enjoyed bragging to Morris about how truly important he was, as if to say “You’ll get me when the Air Forces say you’ll get me.”

And now, with a huge thank you to astute reader and commenter Stevie J, I attach some additional typing that was performed by Doc Switzer on his Miami U typewriter in 1951, one year before he would have produced the 9-5-52 report for the RDB (if it was Switzer, of course). Switzer filled out this application for a post at the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in Baltimore, for which he served from August to December 1951.

Among other anomalies, Stevie J has pointed out that, in the Preface of the report, “every lower case y is way left of center. Every single time.”

O.M.G.–the wayward ‘y’ that hugs its preceding letter. Do you see it? I’m freaking out. Freaking out on a Friday night. Pay special attention to the section at the bottom, under “Present Position,” especially the word Psychology.

What do you think? Is this the author of the 9-5-52 RDB report?

Here it is: the document that allowed the FBI to expunge Ron Tammen’s fingerprints 30 years ahead of time

This is just a quick update, but it’s significant, so I thought it was worthy of being an official blog post.

I was getting ready to FOIA the FBI for their 1988 records schedule–hoping to find the meaning of N1-65-88-3, Item 1 a–when I found myself on a new page for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA): the Records Control Schedules. Before that moment, I’d only seen the schedules referred to as Records Schedules, which was how I must have missed this page earlier.

Click on this link for all the records control schedules for the FBI.

Then scroll until you get to N1-065-88-003. Note that they’ve placed zeros before the 65 and the 3, which is probably why it wasn’t turning up in Google.

And here it is, you guys: the document that the FBI (through a NARA spokesperson) cited as its reason for expunging Ron Tammen’s fingerprint file 30 years ahead of time.

Click on document for a closer view.

We’ve seen this language before in similar documents. As Item 1 reads:

Case files or any portion of their contents, including specific information within documents, whose continued maintenance by the FBI may conflict with the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. 552a, as amended, or whose destruction is mandated by court order.

Note that Ron’s scenario is described in Item 1 A, which ends with this fateful decree: DESTROY immediately.

That’s so interesting that the FBI may have felt that continued maintenance of the fingerprints of a person who’d been missing since 1953 might have been in conflict with the provisions of the Privacy Act. I wonder: Did they feel the need to expunge all missing persons’ fingerprints for the same reason?

Lately, I’ve been reading up on the Privacy Act and things of that ilk. Someday, we may have a longer discussion on the topic, once I’ve had all my questions answered. However, at this stage, I can say this: I’ve been living under the Privacy Act rules for the past 11 years as I’ve been filing FOIA request after FOIA request. And this question stands out:

Q: When does a person’s privacy protections pretty much go out the window (with certain caveats, such as with HIPAA and FERPA)? 

A: When they die. Once a person has died, a whole world of information opens up to us through FOIA. The ticket for entry is proof of death.

Several of you have said that it sounds more likely that Ron was alive in 2002 in order for them to have reason to expunge his fingerprint records. Although we still can’t rule out the court order, I believe a potential Privacy Act conflict supports this theory. 

**************

I’d like to thank you for your astute questions and observations to date on this topic–you’ve been extremely helpful. The floor is now open.

Finally, an answer: Why Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged and why it makes so much sense

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

I am shaking. Shaking! You’re not going to believe the news I have for you today. After all we’ve been going through over the years trying to find out why the FBI expunged Ron Tammen’s fingerprint record in 2002, I now have an answer for you.

But first: do you know how I came to find the answer? The FBI, you say? Oh, you kidder, you. No, I arrived at the answer thanks to our awesome friends at the National Archives. 

If you’ll recall in the blog post Purged, we learned that if the FBI had been following their own records retention policy in 2002, they should have held on to Ron’s fingerprints until he was at least 99 years of age. And then, near the end of that post, I said that I was planning to tattle to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) regarding the FBI’s (alleged) unauthorized disposition of Ron’s fingerprints.

Well guess what? I did that. And guess what else? They got back to me yesterday. In a brief email that arrived at around 4 p.m., and in the most low-key manner imaginable, they explained to me why the FBI was permitted to expunge Ron’s records from their system before the normal period was up. The reason: N1-65-88-3, Item 1a.

I couldn’t believe it—someone actually gave me a reason. 

I spent the next few hours Googling N1-65-88-3 (let’s forget the “Item 1a” part for now). From what I gathered, the “65” refers to the FBI, the “88” refers to the year in which that particular records schedule was first implemented, and the “3”…well, in the few documents online in which a 3 follows the 88, I found only one reason for it to be there: a court order. That’s right—we’re back to the court order explanation. 

This is one of the few documents online that has the same citation as Ron’s: N1-65-88-3 as a reason for expungement. In it the author says: “The records described on it are already covered by Job. No. N1-65-88-3, which authorizes the Federal Bureau of Investigation to destroy immediately those temporary files whose destruction is mandated by court order.”

As it turns out, it could be that the number 3 refers to a type of court order. For example, I found that N1-65-88-1 refers to a court order for the destruction of background investigations by a certain year. N1-65-88-2 refers to visa applications, though it doesn’t mention a court order to do so.

As for Ron’s court order, the Federal Register, a daily government publication that announces proposed and final policies of federal agencies, has cited N1-65-88-3 only four times since the year 1994. And when they did so, it was to describe a court order for the “Federal Pre-Trial Diversion Program.” What’s the federal pre-trial diversion program, you ask? Apparently, it’s when the government decides not to prosecute someone—a first-time offender, for example—but enrolls them in a supervised program of some sort. So someone commits a crime, they’re enrolled in the program, and then, if they’re successful, the charges are dismissed and their fingerprints are expunged. I have no idea if this applies to Ron’s situation. I’m only saying that the same number they used for Ron was used to explain an expungement four other times in the Federal Register. Interestingly, another records disposition authority request cites N1-65-88-3 and the Federal Pre-Trial Diversion Program as the reason for the expungement of documents. (Note that it also references Item 1B. I have yet to see an Item 1a. )

Last night, I sent a follow-up email to a department of the National Archives that handles questions about records schedules. In it, I ran through my definition of each number—the 65, 88, and 3—and then asked them what “Item 1a” referred to.

Here’s the lion’s share of their response: 

“Thanks for your question. The FBI Records Officer and/or FOIA officer are your best resource for questions concerning records expunging. The schedule provides the authority to dispose of the records, but more detailed information on specific records can only be answered by the FBI. The schedule allows the FBI to dispose of already scheduled temporary records earlier when there is a court order or a privacy act conflict…”

Frankly, a privacy act conflict for a guy who went missing in 1953 would be fascinating too. But if it’s all the same to you, I’m going to hold off on writing the FBI right now. As you know, the FBI and I have a rather (ahem) strained relationship, and I’ll need to figure out the best way to approach them, especially since the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) is looking into my other FOIA request with them for Ron’s Additional Record Sheets. I need to mull over my strategy. There are other avenues I can take as well.

In the meantime, let’s look at what we do know and how this new revelation makes so much sense. 

The word “expunge” fits.

First, the word “expunge” carries legal implications that the word purge does not. It means to delete records as if they never existed—as in the expunging of criminal records. If there was a court order to erase Ron’s fingerprints from existence, then I believe the word we want to use from here on out is most definitely expunge. As you may recall, this was the word choice used by the FBI’s spokesperson the first time he told me that Ron’s fingerprints were removed from their system in 2002. Interestingly, the term he didn’t use when explaining the possible reasons for expunging fingerprints was a “court order.”

We’d already ruled out the other two possible reasons.

Again, in Purged, I wrote that it occurred to me that, based on the 2002 records retention protocol, we could no longer presume that Ron was dead. Even if they had confirmed him to be dead, they’d need to keep his fingerprints until he was at least 99 years of age. Therefore, the remaining option would be a court order. This finding supports that conclusion.

Ron’s case is special.

If Ron’s fingerprints were expunged by a court order, potentially due to some special court-approved diversion program, it confirms to us that Ronald Tammen is not your run-of-the-mill missing person. He was special. But, then, we already knew that, didn’t we?

***************

What do you think? Is this the big deal I think it is?

Lies, deceit, and why I’ve come to believe that Ron Tammen’s story is bigger than we realize

Today, I want to discuss lies, a topic on which I’ve become somewhat of an expert. It’s not that I myself do much lying, other than the usual stuff everyone lies about. You know, like when you say that you like someone’s haircut when you really don’t or when you tell someone that you’re too busy to attend some function, when you’re not. We’re not talking about those kinds of lies. We’re also not talking about the little half-truths that people tell online. You know, like when a commenter on a blog post isn’t on the up and up about who they are. Truth be told, even the pretenders have asked some great questions or made some valid points. Whether you’re real or fake, you’ve probably contributed to the greater good in some way, so no harm, no foul.

No, we’re talking about the bigger lies. Like when someone who knows something useful about Ron Tammen’s case tells you something that’s 100 percent not true. Or when someone chooses not to tell you something that they know is pertinent to the question at hand. Or when someone says or does something to purposely steer you in the wrong direction or to stop you cold from whatever you’re currently investigating.

Before I get into the most recent example in which I’ve been intentionally deceived during this investigation, I need to tell you about a lie I once told. I do this out of a great deal of shame and embarrassment, but, as you’ll soon see, I’m telling this story because it illustrates an important point. I’ve kept this lie to myself since I was in the sixth grade. Only one person has heard this story, and that’s my running partner, and I only told her just recently. My sister and brother have never heard this story before, and neither has my husband—current or ex. Thank God, both of my parents are gone, so they’ll never have to know.

My lie has to do with the science fair. As I said, I was in the sixth grade, and, for my project that year, I was growing plants under fluorescent lights. As much as I like and respect science now, I didn’t really understand it then. I didn’t “get” the whole scientific method, and how you first need to come up with a question and then figure out how you can answer that question by designing an experiment. I was just growing plants under lights, and the only reason I chose that project was it also happened to be my dad’s hobby at the time. (My dad always played a major role in helping us choose our science fair project.) I titled my project “Moon Farming,” and I felt that it demonstrated how society could exist on the moon through artificial lighting. I did all the work and wrote up a report, and I felt pretty well prepared on the big day when I’d soon be standing in front of my project and explaining it to a judge.

Before I left for school, my sister, who is four years older, wished me luck, and then she passed along some sisterly intel: the judges don’t like it if you spend a lot of money on a project. She wasn’t telling me to lie, just to tread carefully around the money issue. Besides, I had no idea if my fluorescent lights cost a lot—my father had paid for them. But good to know. I thanked her and went on my way.

What do you think? Is moon farming feasible? Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Sure enough, as I was explaining my project to the judge, she asked me about the cost of the lights. “Oh, there was no cost,” I lied to the judge. “No?” she asked. “We already had those lights,” I lied again, as if we had a stockpile of fluorescent lights in some corner of the house, waiting to be put to use. She gave me a “good” on my project, which I think was one notch up from “fair” which was another notch up from “poor.” Her stated reason: “It doesn’t seem possible.”

The next day, my teacher, a male who was in serious need of some sensitivity training, was leading the class in a debriefing over how everything had transpired with our science projects. When I remarked that I felt the judge’s reason for my “good” seemed a little unfair, my teacher told me—in front of the whole class—that the reason for my mediocre evaluation was because I’d lied about the lights. He said that I’d told the judge that we’d already had the lights when, on Day 1 in my report, I’d described removing the lights from the box they came in to set up my moon farm. I was mortified and embarrassed and probably a little miffed at myself for incorporating that level of detail into my report. (Judging by the wordcount of some of my blogposts, my love for detail hasn’t waned.) To save face, I had to lie again—because that’s what lies demand that we do—repeating that our family already had the lights in our possession when I began my project. It was a horrible, shameful moment in my young life, but perhaps it was also the turning point in which I became the avid truthteller who stands before you today. 

It also illustrates why I love archival documents so much. That first entry in my report—one that I’d probably written months before and then forgotten about—told the truth about the fluorescent lights, not the 11-year-old girl who’d done all the watering and measuring but who, in her mind, had a motive to deceive. If a human being and a document are at odds about something that happened, I’ll side with the document pretty much every time. 

In the university’s case, I’m still trying to get to the bottom of their recent actions concerning the interview someone conducted with Carl Knox’s secretary. Do I feel in my gut that I’m being misled? I do. But I’m not ready to say outright that a cover-up that started in 1953 is ongoing. I’m still trying to find documents that might lead us to the answer, either way. Nevertheless, I’ve also decided to do most of my musing offline from here on out. When I finally track down the person who conducted the interview—and, trust me, I’m giving it all I’ve got—I’ll need to be able to promise anonymity to him or her should they request it. If I were to continue writing about every new development in real time, that promise would be harder to keep as the list of possible candidates would shrink. Therefore, mum’s going to be the word for now.

Instead, I want to talk about our friends at the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the lengths to which they’ve gone to twist the truth about what they have on Tammen. Because when you think about it, the university may have any number of possible explanations for its behavior, not the least of which is that they may honestly have no idea where that piece of paper in the Ghosts and Legends folder came from. The CIA, if given its druthers, would never disclose anything to the public, as evidenced by the praline recipe that was classified for 50 years. It’s the FBI’s actions over everyone else’s that have brought me to the point where I think the Ronald Tammen story is a lot bigger than Ronald Tammen. 

My saga begins with my most recent FOIA requests to the FBI. Lately, I’ve been requesting copies of various people’s Additional Record Sheets, the jotted-down records explaining actions taken on someone’s criminal fingerprints when the FBI’s Identification Division was still using its manual system. The most relevant of these FOIA requests concerns Richard Colvin Cox. In 1950, Cox, a sophomore cadet from Mansfield, Ohio, disappeared from the United States Military Academy at West Point in a similar fashion to Tammen. As readers of this blog know, the two cases possess several interesting parallels, and I’ve wondered if they might be related. (For the fun of it, I’m also seeking the Additional Record Sheets for Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and Charles Manson, who have also been potentially tied to the CIA and/or MKULTRA. I mean, how cool would it be if we could put to rest all the lingering questions pertaining to those cases as we await the final word on Tammen’s psychology professor? We’re multi-taskers, y’all!) 

On April 14, I submitted my FOIA request on Cox, and on April 21, I received the FBI’s response. It was eerily familiar-sounding—only a slight variation to the response I’d received when I submitted my request for Ronald Tammen’s Additional Record Sheets: Sorry, per your settlement agreement, you can’t ask us about Richard Colvin Cox ever again.

“Ummm…I beg your pardon?” thought I.

via GIPHY

To refresh your memories, in 2011, I’d submitted a separate FOIA request with the FBI seeking everything they had on Richard Cox’s case. At first, they sent me 24 pages, and I accepted them with gratitude and waltzed away. (I know. I should have appealed. I was new at this, you guys!) Two years later, after reading the book Oblivion and a series on Cox written by Mansfield News Journal reporter Jim Underwood, I discovered that I’d been shorted that first time by at least 1200 pages. I submitted a new request, asking for the documents that they’d received. Soon thereafter, I received three CDs with, by my count, over 1600 pages on them. (Always appeal.)

But make no mistake: I’d never requested any documents on Richard Cox for my lawsuit, and I hadn’t requested them for my settlement either. Why was the FBI tying the two cases together?

I consulted my old lawsuit emails, the bone-dry exchanges between my lawyer and the DOJ attorney as they discussed the terms of my lawsuit and a possible settlement. The moment in question happened during the month of March in 2013. We hadn’t even decided to settle at that point—we were just entertaining the possibility. 

Here’s the setting: two Washington, D.C., lawyers are in discussions regarding the FBI’s recent discovery of a new Tammen-related report (the name of which I’m not permitted to say out loud) that no one other than law enforcement generally has access to. The DOJ attorney has suggested that, if I choose to settle, I might be able to get my hands on a portion of that report. 

In another corner of the city, on a Sunday afternoon, I electronically submit my totally unrelated and completely separate FOIA request on Richard Cox to the FBI. The day is March 3rd, overcast with a high of 43 degrees. There’s no sign of precipitation, unless we’re talking about how my right to submit a FOIA request soon precipitated the DOJ to put the screws to yours truly.

As you may know, I love a good timeline, and this one doesn’t disappoint:

Sunday, March 3, 2013: I submit my second FOIA request on Richard Cox.

Saturday, March 23, 2013: I hadn’t received an acknowledgement from the FBI regarding my new FOIA request, which I generally receive within a day or two. I send them a friendly email reminder.

March 27, 2013—the following Wednesday: Three working days after I’d sent that nudgy email  to the FBI’s FOIA office, it’s now in the hands of the DOJ’s attorney. I mean, what could be the downside of having your name so well-known around the FBI’s FOIA office that they immediately fast track your separate, unrelated FOIA request to their parent agency’s lawyers? 

12:41 p.m.: In advance of a pending deadline in which the DOJ attorney needs to submit a status report on my Tammen lawsuit to the judge, she writes to my attorney. In the first line of her email she says this: 

“Re the status report – To this point, 3000 pages have been found on Cox and rolling releases are commencing, with the 1st release to go out on 3/28/13 (about 500 pages with some 6 and 7(c) redactions). I will put this information in a status report and file it on Monday, if it’s ok with you.”

The DOJ attorney raises the issue of Richard Cox with my lawyer: A) as if my lawyer had any clue regarding what in the blue blazes she was talking about, and B) as if Cox is some household name—no need to even say which Cox. You know, good ol’ Cox, that ol’ hellraiser rapscallion Cox with the 3000 pages. She then informs my lawyer that she’s going to be wallpapering my home with those 3000 pages in rolling releases. Lastly, and ever so surreptitiously, she says that she plans to talk about the 3000 pages in the status report to the judge, which she’ll file Monday “if it’s ok with you.”

At 12:45 p.m., my attorney forwards her email to me and asks me to think about it. He also lets me know that he’ll be out of the office Thursday and Friday due to a death in his family.

At 7:41 p.m., I respond to my attorney. I was still working full-time then, and as a personal rule, I attended to lawsuit-related matters during my off hours. I responded with a short list of comments and questions, including this: “The Richard Cox request is totally unrelated to the Tammen request…is it strange that my request went straight to the lawyer, or is that how they usually handle these matters?”

At 8:25 p.m., my lawyer tells me that he’ll give me an analysis of my questions next week.

OK by me. Honestly, I didn’t know what the DOJ attorney was up to. I was happy to be getting the Cox documents in an expedited manner, albeit two years late. But I felt uncomfortable with the sudden flurry of activity on Cox, when I wanted my lawsuit to be focused on Tammen. Still, we had until Monday to figure things out before the DOJ attorney submitted her status update to the judge on my Tammen lawsuit. Or so I thought from her email.

But no, we didn’t. Turns out, she’d already filed her update to the judge at 5:30 p.m. the same day. I didn’t even have time to make my commute home when she’d already sent the update to the judge. If it wasn’t due till Monday, what was her hurry? 

Here’s what she wrote in her status update:

“Defendant reports on behalf of the parties that approximately 3000 pages of documents have been located in connection with one aspect of the case and a rolling release of approximately 500 pages, with redactions, will commence on March 28, 2013.” (She accidentally left out the part about the pages being responsive to another FOIA request I’d submitted in 2011. Also, it was more like 1600 pages by my count, but why split hairs.)

Let’s look at it another way: The previous weekend, I’d nudged the FBI to send me an acknowledgement of my FOIA request for some documents I should have received in 2011, and three working days later, a judge is being told of their existence and how I will be receiving them in rolling releases. Talk about customer service!

The following week, I sent my lawyer a detailed email letting him know that I was concerned about her actions and the motives behind them. I wrote:

“Is XXXX trying to make the FBI look super responsive to my Tammen request by handing over 3000 pages on a different case that I just requested last month? And how does she know that it’s related? What if I happen to be writing two books? I just don’t want the judge to rule in favor of her because of this potentially unrelated case.”

 “I reread the complaint and you are right,” he said. He also said that he’d get back to me, though I have no record of whether he did or not. I also don’t know if he’d given her the OK to submit that status update. It wasn’t like him to do so without my OK, and I certainly didn’t approve it. 

If you’re thinking that she outwitted me, and I should give up, don’t be sure. Why not? Documents.

In her March 27 email to my lawyer, the first paragraph led with the phrase “Re the status report,” at which point she discussed the 3000 Cox pages. But status reports aren’t settlements, as she makes clear in her second paragraph. That paragraph led with this phrase: “Re possible settlement, not to be included in the status report” (bolded type hers). She then proceeded to negotiate with my lawyer by offering me a portion of the report not to be named—the narrative—“if you are willing to dismiss the action.” Again, surreptitiously, she added this sentence: “Of course, if we agree to settle the case, the rolling releases on Cox will continue until concluded.”

Look, it’s obvious what the DOJ’s lawyer was up to. She was trying her mightiest to link the 3000 pages on Richard Cox to the settlement agreement. But she can’t. Why? 

There were only two things that my lawyer and I had requested through our settlement: a written declaration that spelled out their search for Tammen-related records as well as the narrative from the report that shall not be named. Unless I signed the settlement agreement, I wouldn’t be getting diddly squat from them. On January 29, 2014, I signed the settlement agreement, and on February 7, 2014, I received the declaration and the narrative. 

Meanwhile, the FOIA office was busily sending me their rolling releases of Richard Cox documents, beginning March 28, 2013, and, cleverly enough, ending January 29, 2014, the same date on which I signed the settlement. 

You have to wonder why a DOJ lawyer would be so deceptive in her dealings with a nobody like me. Why the rush to add the “3000 pages” verbiage to her status update to a sitting judge? I’d grown used to seeing their previous status updates which did little more than request an extension. Also, why did she feel the need to preemptively strike against both the Tammen and Cox cases at one time? I never mentioned Ronald Tammen in any of my FOIA requests on Richard Cox. Do they indeed know of a connection “with one aspect of the case” as she’d informed the judge? 

I’ve appealed the FBI’s decision on my recent FOIA request. Here’s a taste of the mood I was in:

“To play these games makes a sham of the FOIA process, and showcases how derisively the FBI treats ordinary taxpaying citizens who are trying to seek the truth. It certainly makes this ordinary taxpaying citizen wonder what it is the FBI doesn’t want me to see.”

I’ll keep you posted.

*********************

Have you been living with a lie since grade school that you need to get off your chest? How about a science fair project story that’s hilarious? We want to hear from you!

68th anniversary bonus post: What does Ron Tammen’s handwriting say about his personality?

Surprise! I mean, seriously, what kind of blogger would I be if I posted something a week before the anniversary of Ron Tammen’s disappearance and then had nothing for you to ponder on the 19th? This bonus post is something I’ve been keeping in my back pocket since 2013: an analysis of Ron Tammen’s handwriting as well as the handwriting of his father.

Mind you, I didn’t have much for the handwriting specialists to work with. The sample from Ron Sr. is far more helpful, since I have the letter he’d handwritten in the fall of 1952 granting Ron Jr. permission to take over his own finances. For Ron Jr., the best thing I had at the time were two signatures: one from his junior yearbook and the other from his senior yearbook, which I’d purchased on eBay. As luck would have it, the yearbooks were originally owned by an extremely outgoing classmate of Ron’s who, during their senior year, asked every single person in her class to sign their senior photo, and managed to get a respectable number of signatures during her junior year as well. Impressive hustle, Mary Ellen Kleckner!

As is often the case, I need to provide some caveats:

First, I don’t know very much about handwriting analysis. When I consider my own handwriting, I know that it’s changed substantially since high school, and now, no one can read it, myself included. Seriously, I can’t imagine what someone would say about my personality after reading a grocery list or birthday card from me other than “she doesn’t write very well.” 

Second, the skill seems fairly subjective, which is why I approached two people to look at Ron’s signature. I figured that if they said the same thing, that might carry more weight. (Maybe. I really don’t know.) One expert provided a quick assessment free of charge, and the other provided a more thorough assessment that I paid for. I’m not including the analysts’ names in this blog, only their assessments, however it appears to me that both hold strong credentials in their field.

Third, for the most part, I’m only including what the analyst said about the writing itself. If, for example, she shared her opinion of what might have happened to Ron based on some old news stories she found online (this was before my blog), I’ve left that part off. However, the analysis for Ron Sr. does discuss the content of the letter in addition to his style of writing. I’m letting it stand, but just be aware that it gives the analyst a head start when assessing his personality.

On the left is Ron’s junior yearbook and on the right is his senior yearbook. How fast can you find his signature on the left-hand page?

Ron Jr.

Analyst #1 had this to say:

A signature only reveals what the writer wants the world to think about him and isn’t very useful without additional writing to compare to. It would be important to know how congruent the signature and the writing are before being able to determine what it all means. 

As I said, a signature by itself doesn’t say much. The large capitals and clear writing suggest someone who thought a lot of himself, was probably ambitious and proud. He had an analytical mind and would dig for the facts of a matter. It’s hard to say for sure because this is a copy, but I wonder from the way the ink flows if he was ill. He may have had a problem in the abdominal area. [She later said this was due to the ink blobs in spots and how it was uneven in other areas.] He seems to have been open and outgoing, fairly consistent in his behavior.

Analyst #2 said this:

Note: The signature is representative of the public self image and shows how the writer would like to present himself to others and is not representative of the total personality. 

Mr. Tammen’s signature is clear and legible which indicates that he presents himself in an honest fashion. He has large capital letters showing a degree of confidence with the inflated capital R indicating a lot of emotional energy. The letters are all connected revealing that he is was a logical thinker with some analytical ability as seen in the pointed strokes in his m’s. His a’s and o’s are clear and closed showing that he is honest, but discreet in his communications. The loop in the “d” reveals some sensitivity to personal criticism while the higher second leg on the capital H shows that he had an ambitious nature. The squared r’s indicate good manual dexterity and the full “y” loop can be interpreted as ample energy and financial motivation.

She then said that her first impression of his signature was that it made her wonder about Ron’s sexual orientation.

Ron Sr.

Only Analyst #2 analyzed Mr. Tammen’s handwriting. Here’s a link to Mr. Tammen’s letter, and here’s what she said:

His writing indicates that he was a highly intelligent man who was concentrated and analytical in his thinking. He had a very logical and rational mind and could be skeptical and opinionated in his viewpoint. To convince him, a person would have to give very specific details and provide substantiated proof of their claims. He was not one to base his decision on intuition or emotion.

He operated more from intellect than ego and perhaps was self actualized and not looking for attention or recognition for his accomplishments. He was controlled and moderate in his display of self confidence and maintained his personal space and distance from others making him a bit unapproachable. He may have been somewhat aloof due to his station in life and could be tenacious in getting the results he desired.

As a father, he could be a firm, yet fair, but highly requiring. He had a domineering nature, but not in an aggressive or hurtful way. He may have set standards that he expected his children to achieve and could hand down stern reprimands if his expectations of them were not met. He could be discreet and diplomatic in his communications and, although not highly verbal, could probably rise to the occasion when he felt something needed to be said. He could be strict and controlling in managing both business and family.

His small, tight writing shows an intense and frugal nature, yet he was highly motivated by financial gain. His numbers reveal that he was very good with financial information and the only place he makes full loops in his writing is in the lower extensions of the y’s and g’s which represent his material and physical drive. It could be said that he had a lot of “money bags” in his writing.

In regard to what we have discussed about his son’s personality, it would be very hard for Ronald Tammen, Sr. to accept anything less than the standards of behavior and achievement he expected of his namesake.  

Honestly, I don’t know how much faith to put into handwriting analysis. I’d probably say that I possess a healthy skepticism, which is why I’ve been holding onto these assessments for so long. But people have asked me in the past if I’d tried it, so I wanted to at least show you all that I have. Also, the analyses are interesting, and some points do ring true, though there are other parts that I’m not sure about at all. (Case in point: the comment about Ron’s possible abdominal issues is kind of out there. Also, I would never draw conclusions regarding Ron’s sexual orientation based solely on his handwriting.) Just thought you might find this of interest too. If you have thoughts to share, feel free.

Purged: All about the OTHER document that used to be inside Ron Tammen’s fingerprint jacket…

…and how it could tell us more about what happened to Ron

It’s (almost) April 19th again, which means that 68 years have come and gone since Ronald Tammen went missing from Miami University, in Oxford, OH. In the four years in which this blogsite has been in existence, and that’s counting that one year we were on a hiatus, we’ve experienced a lot of firsts together, wouldn’t you say?

Remember when we all found out about Ron dropping his psychology course weeks before his disappearance even though that was the textbook laying open on his desk? That was a first! Or when we learned about the woman from Hamilton or about Ron’s walk home from Sunday night song practice? Two more firsts! Or that Dick Titus was the guy who put the fish in Ron’s bed and that Commander Robert Jay Williams was the project manager of ARTICHOKE in March 1952? That adds up to five firsts! And of course there are the two memos that I believe link Ron’s psychology professor, St. Clair Switzer, to the CIA’s drugs and hypnosis studies

In that same vein, my devoted subscribers, occasional drop-ins, and public at large, I’d like to present our topic du jour, which is also a first. It has to do with the “Additional Record Sheets” that the FBI’s Identification Division used to keep in fingerprint jackets with the fingerprint cards when they were still using their manual system. As we’ve established here (in another first!), Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were on file at the FBI from 1941 through 2002, but then the FBI purged them, though no one seems to know (or want to admit) why. This past summer, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Ron’s Additional Record Sheets thinking they might help answer that very question.

At this point in the blog post, I’d like to ask you to do something. Try Googling the term “Additional Record Sheets” plus “FBI” plus “fingerprint” all on the same search bar and see what happens. With the FBI using their manual system for 75 years (from 1924 to 1999), one might think that hundreds of archival documents on their website along with other related websites would turn up. I’d expect to see sample Additional Record Sheets, training booklets, and other records from the agency’s bureaucratic past, some signed by J. Edgar himself. But that’s not what happens. At the time of this writing, eight results turn up, though that number should soon skyrocket to nine with the addition of this blog post. Currently occupying the top and second-place positions is content written by yours truly. In third place is a document posted by someone at the National Archives—and let me just add a great big THANK YOU! to whomever posted that gem, as you’ll soon understand why. What I’m trying to say is, other than you, me, and the former staffers of the FBI’s Identification Division, I don’t think very many people know about Additional Record Sheets. What’s more, I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that this may be the first time in the history of the universe that anyone has submitted a FOIA request (and an appeal, and now the next thing, which I’ll be getting to shortly) on Additional Record Sheets, let alone written an entire blog post on them. We’re trailblazers, y’all!

Before I get to the next steps, I wish to address a question with you: namely, how is it that you and I have even come to know about the elusive and unironically named Additional Record Sheets when the rest of the world seemingly does not? If you thought that one of my sources from the Identification Division (later renamed Criminal Justice Information Services, or CJIS) was casually tossing around the term as I was questioning them about their fingerprint protocol, you would be mistaken. Not one person mentioned Additional Record Sheets or their abbreviated term, ARS, even once. And honestly, where would the challenge have been if they had? 

So how did I get here, where I’m so sure about the existence of Ronald Tammen’s Additional Record Sheets that I’m willing to continue traveling down this lonesome FOIA road, much to the annoyance of the FBI, in hopes of getting my hands on them? Adding two and two probably wouldn’t have cut it. Rather, this particular discovery required the use of an equation in which statements made by person 1 and person 2 were juxtaposed with an observation provided by person 3, and, after a translation to the standard vernacular supplied by a 2008 Fax, the sum of those key terms were then subdivided and reapportioned by way of the aforementioned 2004 National Archives document, made available courtesy of an online search algorithm commonly known as Google. Who said we’d never use new math in our adult lives?

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation I had with the two people who got the ball rolling:

Me: Do you think it’s still odd that they would have purged his prints?

Person #1 (speaking to Person #2): Would they have put things on microfiche?

A little later in the conversation:

Person #2: When they purged the files, they used to put them on microfiche. There should be a record somewhere if those were microfiched.

Me: But would they have told Butler County that they don’t have them even if they had them on microfiche? [I was referring to the year 2008, when the Butler County cold case detective, Frank Smith, had requested a “hand search” for Ron’s fingerprints from CJIS in Clarksburg, WV, and was told they weren’t anywhere to be found.]

Person #1: You see, that doesn’t add up to me.

Person #2: There should be a way for them to identify that they have the prints on microfiche. None of that sounds normal to me.

Me: Which aspect doesn’t sound normal?

Person #2: The fact that they said: we just threw it away. If it went through a process, there should have been a record of the process. Just like these documents here, saying, “removed from FBI file…” So there’s a reason why that happened. I don’t know what that reason would be.

What I learned during this exchange was that A) Under the manual system, the FBI didn’t just destroy fingerprints and be done with them. They required records to be made describing the process by which the fingerprints were destroyed, including the reason for their destruction. Also, B) purged fingerprints weren’t actually purged purged. They were put onto microfiche—a purged print purgatory, of sorts, where they would sit around just in case someone might need them someday. It’s like when you accidentally delete an email. At least for a while, it’s not really deleted—it’s just sitting in a different place (i.e., the trash) so you can retrieve it if you need to. Or when you store documents in the cloud—if your laptop crashes, nothing is really lost. Same concept goes for the purged fingerprint cards.

And so, in theory, if a fingerprint card is purged, they should still have the microfiche and they should still have the records. At the time of our conversation, I was picturing the microfiche in labeled boxes in a dusty storage room, but where were the records kept? We know from an FBI memo that Ron’s fingerprint jacket had exactly one fingerprint card in it in 1973, when they compared his prints to the man from Welco Industries, in Blue Ash, OH. There was no mention of an accompanying record.

Some months went by, and I found myself talking to another FBI retiree about Ron’s missing fingerprints. I asked that person what they would have done with Ron’s prints if he’d died. Here’s what that person said to me:

Person #3: “…even if a print had been identified as deceased, in that jacket, there still would have been information written in there by hand that it had been identified as deceased individual such and such. So all that would have been automated along with the actual fingerprints themselves that were digitized.”

Again with the record-keeping talk. But where were these notes being written? On the fingerprint jacket itself? I was imagining scribbles on a folder. The person specified that the notes were made “in that jacket.”

Their biggest reveal, however, was how the notes were “automated” along with the digitized fingerprints. In other words, all of those explanatory notes wouldn’t have been lost when the FBI changed over from their manual system to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) in 1999. The notes would have been digitized too.

I went online to see if I could learn more about the FBI’s record-keeping system for purged fingerprints. The keywords I chose were pretty basic—something like FBI, fingerprint, purge, and microfiche. Nothing useful turned up.

At some point, I must have been reminded of the Fax written by the person from CJIS to Frank Smith, and I retrieved it from a manila folder in my research files. It was this Fax that I was referring to when I spoke with persons 1 and 2 about how CJIS couldn’t locate Ron’s fingerprints after Smith had requested them. Here’s what the CJIS rep had written, or SHOUTED, to Smith in February 2008:

“A SEARCH OF OUR CRIMINAL AND CIVIL FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR YOUR SUBJECT. A COMPLETE SEARCH OF OUR ARCHIVE MICROFILM FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR THIS MISSING SUBJECT AS WELL.”

“Ah, yes, microfilm,” said I, with a palm smack to my forehead. Microfilm is another word for microfiche. When I used it alongside the other search terms, up popped the glorious 2004 National Archives document.

Why is the document so glorious, you ask? As it so happens, federal agencies are required to submit such documents to the National Archives to ensure the proper management of government records. This particular Request for Records Disposition Authority had been submitted by the FBI describing their record retention protocol under IAFIS. The description it contained for Additional Record Sheets was exactly as persons 1, 2, and 3 had told me:

Additional Record Sheets (ARS): Prior to automation, CJIS maintained fingerprint files in a manual jacket. The cards were two-hole punched and attached to a file back by the use of a two-pronged clasp. The file back was known as the ARS back. One side of the ARS back contained employee identification numbers and dates that indicated when a file was pulled for some action. The other side of the ARS back was used primarily to record any disseminations of the record, including notations of expungements or purges of record entries, such as deletions of arrests for non-serious offenses. ARS backs were only maintained for criminal fingerprint cards. CJIS is in the process of converting these cards to electronic format.

Granted, the above paragraph is a little confusing, since it refers to fingerprint “files” instead of cards, and ARS “backs” or “cards” instead of sheets. Here’s how I picture it: Inside the fingerprint jacket was a fingerprint card and behind that card, attached with a two-pronged clasp (remember those things?), was another card, called the ARS back (because it was in the back, get it?), where notes would be written on both sides. 

But you’re in luck. The FBI has posted a video on YouTube that discusses the digitization of their hard copy fingerprints, and on that video is a photo of a long-ago staffer reviewing someone’s fingerprint cards along with—YES!—their Additional Record Sheet. And now, without further ado, I present a screen grab of an Additional Record Sheet, in full view, outside its protective fingerprint jacket.

A closer, albeit blurrier view of an Additional Record Sheet

GED

How does the National Archives document apply to Ron Tammen? 

The 2004 disposition authority request submitted by the FBI to the National Archives has a lot to say about how long the FBI should retain criminal and civil fingerprints under IAFIS, not to mention the Additional Record Sheets and microfilm. Below is a link to the document as well as a timeline to help show where Ron factors in, and why, to quote person #1, his case “doesn’t add up.”

1941 – Ron Tammen is fingerprinted in Fairview Village (now named Fairview Park), OH, along with his second-grade classmates, and the fingerprint card is sent to FBI Headquarters. Ron’s fingerprints would have likely been held in the civil file at this point.

1953 – Ron Tammen disappears from Miami University on April 19. Mrs. Tammen soon contacts the FBI’s Cleveland office and they send a report to headquarters, where his fingerprints are discovered. His prints would have been moved into the criminal file at this time, since that’s where missing persons’ fingerprints were routinely maintained. 

1958 – The FBI begins its microfilm program as a space-saving measure. In a 1991 booklet on the Identification Division of the FBI, the duties of the Microfilm Unit are described as primarily to thin out the fingerprint jackets of repeat offenders. The unit also microfilmed the fingerprints of subjects who’d died.

1973 – Tammen’s fingerprint card is reliably in its jacket when Tammen’s prints are compared to the guy who worked for Welco Industries in Blue Ash, OH, near Cincinnati. The date in which they pulled his card for comparison would have been included on Ron’s ARS back along with a brief description of actions taken.

1992 — The Identification Division’s name is changed to Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS).

1995 – CJIS relocates to Clarksburg, WV.

1999 – This is a big year for the folks in fingerprinting. They begin converting from a manual system to IAFIS, digitizing all of their fingerprint cards along with the Additional Record Sheets. They also stop putting fingerprints onto microfilm because they no longer need to worry about all those fingerprint cards exceeding their cabinet space. Nevertheless, they retain the 38,000-plus microfilm rolls they have, which contain roughly 50 million prints.

It should be mentioned here that the fingerprint cards are NOT destroyed immediately after they’ve been scanned. According to the 2004 disposition authority request: “At the present time, CJIS maintains a dual recordkeeping system consisting of an electronic fingerprint identification system (IAFIS) as well as a paper based repository of criminal master fingerprint cards. In 1995, CJIS and the [FBI’s] Laboratory Division signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing that CJIS would continue to maintain the paper file until both parties approve its destruction.” It goes on to say that the two divisions signed the MOU because the IAFIS fingerprint scans didn’t meet the Laboratory’s resolution specs. So that’s interesting.

2002 – Three years after the rollover to IAFIS, Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints are purged from the system with seemingly no explanation. Because we now know that the FBI had both electronic and hard copy versions of fingerprints in their care at this time, we also know that it probably wasn’t just a computer glitch or human error that caused Ron’s fingerprints to disappear. Someone had to make a special trip over to the manual files, seek out Ron Tammen’s fingerprint card, and purposely destroy it as well. Did it happen on the same day? We don’t know that. But with the window of time being between 1999, when his fingerprints would have ostensibly been digitized, and 2008, when Frank Smith requested the hand search, I’d say the chances are good that whatever inspired someone to delete Tammen’s electronic prints in 2002 would have been enough motivation for them to destroy his manual file at that time as well.

July 2, 2004 – The FBI submits its disposition authority request to the National Archives. In a nutshell, it says that the FBI should retain fingerprints until the individual reaches 99 years of age or seven years following notification of the subject’s death for both electronic and paper records. Same for the Additional Record Sheet scans. It also adds this powerful phrase for all of the above: “whichever is later.” This means that 99 years of age is the YOUNGEST a person should be before these records can be deleted. If he or she should die an untimely death, say, at a youthful 98 1/2, the FBI would, in theory, be required to wait an additional seven years before the fingerprints and Additional Record Sheets could be deleted. Here are the specifics:

  • Criminal Subject Master File (scanned fingerprints): DELETE/DESTROY when the individual is 99 years of age or 7 years after notification of an individual’s death, whichever is later.
  • Additional Record Sheets: Hard copy files: DESTROY after verification of a successful scan. Scanned version: DELETE when the individual has reached 99 years of age, or 7 years have elapsed since notification of individual’s death, whichever is later.
  • Criminal Fingerprint Cards/Records (hard copy fingerprints): DESTROY when the records indicate that the individual has reached 99 years of age or 7 years have elapsed since notification of individual’s death, whichever is later.
  • Microfilm Library: The entire microfilm collection will be maintained until the birth date of the most recent set of fingerprints (i.e., born in 1981) reaches 99 years of age. DESTROY in 2080.

February 2008 – Detective Frank Smith contacts CJIS requesting a hand search for Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints. Not only don’t they have his prints as a scan or hard copy, they’re not on microfilm either. 

What does it all mean?

Just this: When the FBI decided to purge Ronald Tammen’s fingerprint files, they broke the retention rules that had been approved by the National Archives. In federal lingo, this means that one or more persons within the FBI (allegedly) committed an unauthorized disposition of federal records

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Jenny, this document was from 2004, and Ron’s fingerprints were purged in 2002. How do you know that these rules were in effect two years earlier?

I know this because the document says on its cover page that it consolidates four disposition authority requests from previous years (1990, 1995, 2000, and 2002) “into one comprehensive document.” As back-up, I also have all four of the earlier disposition authority requests. Below is the document that establishes the 99-year/”whichever is later” rule, as you can see by the handwritten notes. You guys, they’d been doing it this way since at least 1995.

You may also notice on the 2004 document some crossed-out paragraphs that were superseded in 2010 by new language. Below is the document from 2010, which now stipulates that they should maintain everything until a person reaches the age of 110, period, whether they lived or died. They don’t mention the seven years after confirmed death and they no longer mention “whichever is later.” If there’s a document that supersedes this one, it isn’t referenced here, as far as I can tell.

I know what else you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Jenny, I’m sure they hadn’t finished scanning those millions of fingerprint cards in 1999. Is it possible that they were about to scan Ron’s fingerprints in 2002, noted how many years had passed since he’d disappeared, and decided to purge them at that time?

I mean…it’s possible, but that’s not how it was described to me in 2015 when the FBI spokesperson had written the following: “Jennifer — We ran the FBI# and discovered it was expunged from our system in 2002. No other info available.” “Expunged from our system” tells me that Ron’s fingerprints had already been scanned into IAFIS (the “S” in IAFIS stands for “system”) and was later expunged, or purged, a term the spokesperson later used. Also, even if it happened that way, it would have still been against protocol, since Ronald Tammen wouldn’t have been 99 years of age.

Here are the take-homes:

  • According to their own rules, the FBI should have been able to produce Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints, both the electronic and hard copy versions, when Frank Smith requested them in 2008. Also, based on the 1995, 2004, and 2010 disposition documents, they should be able to produce them today. Even if Ronald Tammen were known to be dead, the FBI should have his fingerprints on file until at least the year 2032, 99 years after Tammen was born. Or if they’re going by the 2010 disposition protocol, they should have them until the year 2043.
  • Those who have been following this blog for a while are keenly aware that I’d thought that Ron Tammen had probably died in 1995, when I was informed that his fingerprints were purged in 2002. I thought this because I’d been told by the FBI’s spokesperson that the FBI purged fingerprints at 110 years of age or seven years after confirmed death. It was presented as an either-or scenario and, because Ron was nowhere near 110, I chose door B. If the FBI had been following their IAFIS protocol, even if Tammen were dead, those fingerprints should have been there in 2002, in 2008, and many years hence. So, guess what this means? It means we still don’t know if Tammen is alive or dead, and I have no idea what compelled them to purge his prints in 2002.
  • As for the missing microfilm, if Ron had died before 1999, the FBI might have also microfilmed his fingerprints. However, if he died after 1999, they likely wouldn’t have—they were purportedly done with microfilming. You’d think that it would be a much more involved process to delete a set of fingerprints if they’re buried somewhere within an entire roll of microfilm. I don’t think there’s much we can do to find out. You know the title of that Frozen song that’s really fun to crank up and sing your heart out to when you’re alone in a car? I think that sentiment applies here.
  • And what of the Additional Record Sheets? The hard copies would have been destroyed after they scanned them, as described in the 2004 retention protocol, but the electronic versions should be around until at least 2032 and possibly 2043. If I were a gambling person, I’d bet that they deleted the scans at the same time that they were deleting his electronic fingerprint file. I mean, if they’re going to break one rule, they might as well break all the rules, right? Nevertheless, it’s a question worth pursuing, and pursue it, we will.

Next steps

Before I tell you the next steps, I need to fill you in on some stuff. On March 23, the Department of Justice ruled on my appeal for the Additional Record Sheets and I lost. In the DOJ’s eyes, because of my 2012 lawsuit, I have no right to ask them about Ronald Tammen ever again, even if I’m asking them about documents that they’d never searched or thought to search before we signed our settlement in 2014. That’s despite the fact that the same DOJ division had ruled in my favor in 2016 when I used the same argument about another Tammen file that they hadn’t searched before. I thought lawyers loved precedent, but apparently not in Ronald Tammen’s case.

If you’re hoping to hear that a new lawsuit against the DOJ is now in full swing, prepare to be let down. The lawyer who represented me in my 2012 lawsuit, a FOIA expert who advised me that my 2014 settlement wouldn’t preclude me from submitting future FOIA requests on Tammen if I should discover relevant files that the FBI hadn’t yet searched, is no longer in private practice. Lately, I’ve been trying to find another FOIA lawyer to represent me, however, one expert had an alternative opinion about the settlement provisions and another might be ghosting me. But don’t feel bad—I have a feeling that this is all just part of the game when you’re dealing with FOIA law and the FBI. (You know in the Frozen song where she sings about not letting anyone see her cry? Some days, that fits too.) In the meantime, I’ll continue looking. 

But there’s another step I can take before I need to start shelling out some of my sad little savings for a lawsuit, if indeed that time comes. It involves our friends at the National Archives, the holder and purveyor of government records. I’m approaching them in two ways. First, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) was started in 2009 to serve as a mediator of FOIA requests, and they’re considered a next stop before a lawsuit. So far, I’ve sent them a detailed email explaining why I should have the chance to see Ronald Tammen’s Additional Record Sheet scans if they still exist and asking them to help make it happen. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Second, I’m reaching out to another division of the National Archives—the people who oversee unauthorized disposition cases. That’s right, readers, I have in my arsenal a weapon known as “tattling,” commonly wielded by individuals of the 6-year-old variety, and by golly, I’m wielding it too. Yes indeed, I’ve recently informed them of what I perceive to be the FBI’s mishandling of Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints. I don’t know what types of policing powers the nation’s archivists hold. They don’t immediately spring to mind when one thinks of feds who enforce the laws of the land SWAT-team-style—you know, like the FBI? Judging by their web page, they appear to handle such cases through polite correspondence with the agency in question. Nevertheless, I think that someone should register their displeasure. Why not me?

Of course, if Ron Tammen had been working as an undercover operative for the CIA, his fingerprints might have fallen outside the purview of the FBI’s sanctioned fingerprint protocol. When I asked my FBI sources how fingerprints were maintained for people whose identities had been changed by a government agency, such as the CIA, they let me know that they weren’t sure how those cases would have been handled.

“That never was anything that I was, I guess, supposed to know. So I don’t,” one of them said to me.

Just a thank you

Whew—what a year, right, guys? I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but things are definitely looking up, and I am so ready to take to the road again, once it’s safe to do so.

Last year at around this time, just as Covid cases had started popping up everywhere and communities were going into lockdown, I decided to write a Ron Tammen update for the anniversary—the one on Wright Patterson Air Force Base. For the entire previous year, from April 2019 to April 2020, we were on our hiatus, and I was quietly doing my research while writing short updates on Facebook. I didn’t think I had much more to tell you, so I just, you know, withdrew a bit. But once Covid struck, I decided to start back up with the blog, and then we taped the podcast episodes, and everything picked up again. I found that, as we were waiting on ISCAP to rule on the big question, there were numerous other questions needing to be addressed, many of which were posed by you.

Recently, I half-jokingly told a friend that, if it weren’t for her, I think I would have surely perished this year. Thanks to our morning runs and deep and sometimes hilarious convos, I’ve managed to stay healthy and sane throughout this ordeal. I feel the same way about you all. You helped me focus on something other than my mortality. I hope you managed to get through this year in good health as well, and hopefully the blog gave you something else to think about. Anyway, big, big thanks. Also, here are a couple photos of how I spent the pandemic—one in podcasting mode and the other in pre-run mode. Feel free to share photos of yourselves and how you managed to get through this year of insanity as well. Or share a vaccination pic of yourself, and don’t forget to tell us which team you’re on. (Go, team Pfizer!) Of course, if you have thoughts on today’s post, I’d love to hear those as well. The floor is now open.

The blog post I was hoping never to write

I never wanted to write this post. Honestly, as I sit here typing, I’m hoping this thing never sees the light of day. If you’re reading it now, please bear this in mind: I’m not a monster. On the contrary, people who know me find me to be rather funny and delightful (for the most part). It has never been my desire for the mere mention of my name to give anyone acid reflux. 

But here we are.

Today’s topic has to do with the undated, anonymous, single-page write-up that I found inside a folder in University Archives during one of my trips to Oxford. The document summarizes an interview that had taken place with Carl Knox’s former secretary about the university’s investigation into Ron Tammen’s disappearance. It’s my belief that the interview took place relatively recently.

Here’s why:

The document was produced after Fisher Hall was torn down in the summer of ‘78

In bullet #4 of the document, Knox’s former secretary had described some of the steps officials took when Fisher Hall was torn down in 1978, including checking the underlying cisterns and wells for signs of Ron. The year 1978 was 43 years ago, therefore, we know that the document is 43 years old or younger. That’s our baseline.

The document was produced with relatively recent computer technology

The document itself looks as if it could have been printed yesterday. Its paper is clean and bright white, the font appears to be Times New Roman, and it was printed on a laser printer. Also, it looks as if it was written using a relatively recent version of Microsoft Word on a desktop or laptop. 

For readers who weren’t around in the early days of office computers, I’d like to present an informal, abbreviated, highly personalized history for you now. 

  • At least from my experience, desktop computers weren’t a ubiquitous piece of office equipment until at least the mid-1980s, and, in those days, they weren’t anything like what we have today. The computers were clunky. The screens were black with blinking cursors. The print-outs were rolls of paper with punch-out edges. There was no actual “font” per se—just dots in the shapes of letters. The printers themselves were unbearably noisy.
  • In 1985, when I started my first real job out of grad school, there was one computer in the entire office for everyone to use, and, to be perfectly honest, it didn’t receive a lot of traffic. At that time, computers seemed to be more for “numbers” people, as opposed to the rest of us, who were joyfully churning out our communiques on IBM Selectrics and word processors. 
  • But advances were being made at that time. In 1984, Apple’s Macintosh computer came out, which provided an approachable interface for non-computer types like me. A year later, Microsoft Windows was released, which aimed to provide the same type of user-friendly experience for PC users. They weren’t anything like what we have now, but they were off to a good start.
  • I think things really took off in the 1990s—first with Windows 95, a vastly improved operating system for PCs, and then the iMac, Apple’s colorful all-in-one computer released in 1998, which especially appealed to the writing and graphic-design crowd. 
  • These were exciting times and we reveled in them. Phrases like “desktop publishing” and WYSIWYG (pronounced wiz-ee-wig, short for “what you see is what you get”) were our newfound jargon. We began throwing around the word serif when describing our font choices, both when we opted for them (as with Palatino or Times New Roman) and when we went “sans” (as with Arial, Helvetica, and the like). We learned the importance of bullets and bold type to break up walls of grey text. The documents we cranked out took a noticeable turn for the better—not just in communication offices, but in offices everywhere. (You can view a progression of the various Microsoft Word versions throughout the years to see how things have improved.)
  • Finally, although the laser printer was invented in 1969, it was at least the 1990s when laser printers became affordable enough for a typical place of employment to purchase one, often for staff to share. 

So, based on all of these factors—the font, page layout, and printer—I think we can conservatively say that the document was produced sometime after the mid-1990s (and probably later), shaving off at least another 17 years from our baseline. We’re now at roughly 26 years ago or less. 

The author of the document avoids using the word “secretary”

As I described in “Proof of a cover-up, part 2,” another giveaway of the document’s age is how the writer chose to use a different term for secretary, even though that was the person’s title in 1953. The title of secretary fell out of favor roughly 20 years ago, and was replaced with job titles such as administrative assistant or administrative professional. The interviewer refers to Knox’s secretary as the “Assistant to the Dean of Men,” which reflects a sensitivity to modern times. 

So that’s my answer: I believe that the interview took place 20 years ago or less, which would also mean that it took place in 2001 or later. Why does it matter? It matters because 2001 wasn’t that long ago. Although the university hasn’t been able to produce any record of the full interview, there’s still a chance that whoever conducted the interview is still walking around with first-hand knowledge of what was said. Of special interest to me are the words that Carl Knox’s secretary wasn’t permitted to say in front of news reporters.

When I first wrote about the summary on this website, I chose not to identify Knox’s secretary by name, referring to her as AD (assistant to the dean) instead. I will continue to do so out of respect for her family. The highly-regarded woman who personified a “life well lived” passed away last October, and her family is still grieving. But I am now going to share some additional information with you so you can better understand why I’ve been pursuing this lead with the exuberance of a Rottweiler whose favorite tennis ball has been yanked from her slobbery jaws.

AD and her husband were a big deal at Miami

AD’s husband was an esteemed professor and dean at Miami, and, after retirement, a professor emeritus. AD and her husband were also big donors to the university. The university’s library houses a large collection in her husband’s name. AD had assisted him with his research. So, it makes perfect sense that someone with the university would have an interest in interviewing her. What’s more…

AD was well known at the library

After working for Carl Knox, AD was employed by Miami University’s library as a cataloguer. She also worked as a volunteer in Special Collections, which oversees the University Archives, the place where the interview summary sits in a box. Employees in Miami’s library knew her for many years and remember her fondly, including the current university archivist, Jacqueline (Jacky) Johnson. It would make sense for someone within the library system to want to record her vast institutional knowledge for posterity—I mean, good grief, she’d begun working for the university in 1952 and she even had an inside track to the Tammen story. She was perhaps the oldest living Miami employee from that era, which means that she was quite possibly the oldest living Miami employee from any era. 

The first person I contacted was Jacky Johnson in University Archives to see if she could provide me with AD’s full interview. Johnson let me know that she didn’t have the interview, so I contacted Carole Johnson (presumably no relation to Jacky) who was serving as the interim director of University News and Communications after longtime director Claire Wagner had retired in March. I wanted to find out if someone from the news office could help me track down the interview. 

After getting no response, I went higher. I contacted Jerome Conley, dean of Miami University Libraries, and Jaime Hunt, who’d recently been hired as vice president and chief marketing and communications officer, and who oversees University Communications and Marketing. I hoped that, in their senior positions, they would have a better idea of where I should turn. Both were responsive, and the note from Dr. Conley was especially gracious. He knew AD too and let me know that she “…was indeed a very special scholar and lover of libraries. Yes, she recently passed and the world is indeed a tad darker. She was a kind person.”

This was consistent with everything else I’d read about her. If anyone from the library had conducted the interview, I couldn’t imagine them tossing the source materials. 

By way of a cc from Dean Conley, William (Bill) Modrow and Jacky Johnson entered the conversation. Modrow, who heads up Special Collections, promised to work with Johnson in conducting a thorough search of the archives and to get back to me. I’ll cut to the chase: the answer that came back on February 1 was no, we don’t have the interview. I asked more questions: can you at least tell me when was the interview conducted and by whom, and what was the source of the document I’d found in the archives? He sent responses, though no clear answers. Feeling frustrated, I asked about their protocol, trying to better understand how something like that could just disappear. His responses reflected his frustration with me too. We were done.

That’s when I did something that I save for only the most desperate of times. I filed a public records request with Miami’s Office of the General Counsel seeking all related emails from the library and communications offices for the period of December 5, 2020 (when I first approached Carole Johnson) to the present. As I mentioned in my Facebook post, this isn’t considered the friendliest of gestures—in fact, it is decidedly unfriendly—but sometimes you need to take these measures to break free from the usual boilerplate and get to the kernel of truth. Perhaps most dissatisfying for me was how I was now in a war of sorts with the two areas of specialization that have always been near and dear to me. For practically all my adult life, I’ve worked in communications offices at universities and in government, and as for libraries—good Lord, who doesn’t love libraries?

After initially pushing back, the OGC asked me to whittle down my request to specific names and to resubmit my request, which I did. About a week later, I got the emails.

I’m not going to lie: I wasn’t all too excited to dive in. For readers who haven’t met me in person, I’m a human with feelings inside. I like people to like me. If someone is saying mean or snarky things behind my back, I’d rather not know. However, after staring at that unopened email in my inbox for a little while, I put on my bullet-proof bathing suit and I dove.

I’m posting all of the pertinent emails in chronological order with some added narration from me, if needed. Some of the conversations were with me, some were about me. I’ve blacked out AD’s real name as well as the name of one retiree whom I’ll discuss in a second. I’ve also blacked out everyone’s email addresses as well as other library staff members’ names, since they’re really not involved. Lastly, I cut off most of the email closings—the polite words of sign-off that occasionally ran counter to what was said in the email—to help speed things along. So let’s all grab a favorite beverage and get reading, shall we?

Whew! Fun, right?

If you were expecting to read someone’s full confession admitting that they’d conducted the interview, then destroyed it, and, by the way, the forbidden words were X, Y, and Z, well, you’re probably disappointed. But don’t be. Admissions of that sort are pretty rare to see in print, I’d imagine.

However, even though specific words weren’t typed out, an underlying message did come through. It’s subtle but noticeable, and it has to do with human nature and how we respond when we don’t want to answer a question directly. 

You see, for some time, I’d felt that the one key person who might know something about the interview was a long-time employee of Miami University’s library who’d retired fairly recently. More than once, I asked Modrow and Johnson if they’d asked that person about AD’s interview. In response, they informed me how much the retiree had done for me when he was employed by the university, and they also let it be known how much they or their staff had done for me. Of course I’ll always be grateful for their customer service, but to be honest, it’s not relevant to the question. 

Do you know what no one said in response to my question? No one said that they’d reached out to the retiree—who still has a university email address and is therefore ostensibly quite reachable. That, for me, was telling. These are the university’s archivists. These are the people who, according to Modrow, don’t discard materials held in their special collections and archives. Wouldn’t you think that they’d want to know the answer too? 

And so, I emailed the retiree myself. Here’s what I wrote:

Click on image for better view

Look, I can totally see how a situation like this could happen to a good person, and I let him know that in paragraph 2.

In paragraph 4, I promised anonymity, not only to him, but to anyone affiliated with the library if they happen to know who conducted the interview.

Chief of all, I told him that if he didn’t know who’d conducted the interview, all he had to say was “no,” and I would never ask the question again.

My tone was sympathetic and even collaborative, not confrontational. Let’s work together, I told him. 

You know what he did?

Nothing. He didn’t do a thing. I’d even cc’d Modrow and Johnson to keep them informed of what I was promising him. I thought they might have an interest in what he had to say and I also thought they could give him a heads up to alert him of my email, if need be.

No one responded to my email.

Studying the words, listening to the behaviors

Throughout my research into the Ronald Tammen case, I’ve occasionally found myself in situations in which someone’s words may tell me one thing but their behavior is saying something else. And you know what? I’ve discovered that there’s a world of information available to us when we listen more intently to a person’s behavior. In my experience, if the words and behavior don’t match up, behavior always wins.

Here are five warning signs I noticed when I paid closer attention to people’s behavior as I read their emails:

#1: They didn’t answer my question.

Again, in my mind, if anyone knew something about AD’s interview, it was the retiree, and I’d asked Modrow and Johnson repeatedly if they’d contacted him. But instead of answering, they would tell me how much work Jacky and the retiree had done for me over the years. Those are true statements, but they’re beside the point. No one answered my question—directly or behind my back—even though I do believe he was consulted, possibly on January 25. If someone had just said, “I checked with him, and he said that he’s not aware of the interview,” I would have taken them at their word and walked away. Their evasiveness is harder to walk away from. 

#2: There were signs of worry and an effort to batten down the hatches.

The email I’d written to Jerome Conley and Jaime Hunt was nothing special. In fact, it was pretty routine. I didn’t give them a deadline and there wasn’t an ultimatum to be found anywhere. I was seeking help. But one person stands out as being noticeably concerned about my request. Sometime on December 14 (we don’t know what time), Johnson had left a voicemail message for Carole Johnson of the news office. In an email to her staff the next day, Carole speculated that it might be about my inquiry, and then, in a follow-up email, Carole confirmed that the two had finally connected and Jacky had filled her in about my ongoing interactions with the folks in archives. That’s fine, but it’s also a little weird. Why did Jacky feel the need to contact Carole by phone? Why not just shoot her an email? And when did she call?

At 12:30-ish the following day, Jacky Johnson sent library staff an email asking them to be on the look-out for any contact from yours truly, and if I were to reach out to any of them, they were to contact her. On January 22, I emailed Modrow asking for a status update on my request, and he followed up with Johnson, who told him the following Monday that she was unable to find anything else. Modrow didn’t get right back to me though, which makes me wonder if he’d asked Johnson to do some additional checking, perhaps with the retiree.

Several hours later, Johnson emailed two of the same staff members as before, referring to the retiree’s past work with me, and instructing them, once again, to contact her if they should ever hear from me. As you may have noticed, none of the staff members ever needed to alert Johnson about me, because that’s not how I roll. I play by the rules, and by that time, I was only talking to Modrow. However, even that bit of journalistic courtesy seemed bothersome to her. When Modrow mentioned to her that I’d been in touch with him “twice since yesterday,” she asked him to keep her informed of whatever I was asking for. (I had no additional requests—just the same old questions that I’d repeat as needed.) With the safeguards she was putting into place, Johnson appeared to be most concerned with controlling all communication with me. 

#3  The location where the summary document is housed, which may provide a clue to its origin, was never mentioned in emails.

The first time I saw the document, I was sitting in the main study room of University Archives, on the third floor of King Library. But that’s not where the document usually lives. Its home is in the “Ghosts and Legends” folder, folder 18, which is located in the Western College Memorial Archives in Peabody Hall. Someone had kindly delivered the folder to King Library ahead of my visit so that it was there waiting when I arrived.*

In an email written February 2, Johnson told Modrow that she and the retiree had given me the summary and she thought it had been scanned by two assistants. But that’s not consistent with my records. To the best of my knowledge, I hadn’t seen the contents of folder 18 until August 2019, five years after the retiree had left his position. Also, no one had made a scan for me—I’d snapped the photo with my iPhone. That shadowy shot of a tilted sheet of printer paper is mine all mine, people, ©2019, all rights reserved. 

Interestingly, the two staff members whom Johnson had mentioned as having scanned it were the same ones she’d sent a second cautionary email to on January 25, and it was one of these staffers who’d helped retrieve folder 18 for me prior to my 2019 visit. 

Why is the location of folder 18 important? One tidbit worth noting is that AD’s interview might have been conducted by someone affiliated with the archives housed in Peabody Hall. Coincidentally, Jacky Johnson was the head archivist there from 2005 to 2015, prior to her becoming head of University Archives. 

#4 They showed virtually no interest in obtaining AD’s interview.

As I mentioned earlier, an interview with AD should have been of significant interest to people in University Archives. My original email seeking help in finding source materials should have been met with genuine curiosity. You’d think they’d want to find out if they had source materials or at least where the summary came from.

When I filed my public records request for emails, I’d at least hoped to see an email trail of staff putting their heads together and brainstorming or consulting with other staff. That behavior is evident with the news and communications folks, but not on the archives’ side, who could be described as defensive from the get-go. 

The search itself appeared to be conducted by Johnson alone, who would send meager updates saying “I looked” or “I looked in the collection,” but nothing more in-depth than that. The most detailed response she’d provided was that she’d looked in AD’s husband’s faculty file. There was never any mention of databases searched under keywords A, B, and C, or however else she might have conducted a thorough search. From what I can tell, she didn’t reach out to anyone else to see if they might have information about the interview, unless, as I mentioned, she checked with the retiree but never said so. 

#5 The retiree didn’t answer a simple yes-or-no question, even when I told him that I’d go away if his answer was ‘no.’

When I sent my email to the retiree, he didn’t answer my simple yes-or-no question about whether he knew who conducted the interview. If the answer was “no”—that he didn’t know—all he had to do was say so, and I would go away. I promised him as much. That would have been the easiest thing for him to do. Instead, I heard crickets.** 

An early behavioral clue from the retiree

The last time I saw the retiree was in 2013, one year before he stepped down from his post at Miami. During that visit to Oxford, I was interested in learning more about Miami’s psychology department in 1953, particularly Everett Patten and St. Clair Switzer. As usual, the retiree was helpful. I remember him sitting in his office and asking me for one of their names. 

“Everett Patten,” I said.

As I stood outside his office, he began typing on his computer. And then he stopped. 

“Oh…,” he said. Or maybe it was “hmmm.” It was a small but audible reaction.

 “What?” I asked.

“Hypnosis,” he said. He was looking at an old article on Patten in the Miami Student, which he probably printed out for me. But that small reaction from him had always stayed with me. It was a signal of recognition, as if it wasn’t the first time the topic had come into his field of view.

And that raises another point. The retiree was practically a walking, talking search engine when it came to Miami University history and AD was a longtime friend of the library. I’m sure he knew her well. If anyone would have known she’d been Carl Knox’s secretary, I’d think he would have. And yet, when he also knew I’d been working for a while on a book about Ronald Tammen, he never mentioned that there was a person who still lived in Oxford who could provide a first-hand account of the university’s investigation. You’d think he might have told me about her. 

Miami University’s response

The two people whose behavior I found most perplexing throughout this whole process were Jacky Johnson and the retiree, and I said so to the university. I approached Carole Johnson with a draft of my blog post plus the email documentation, and asked her for a university comment or, if possible, a confidential conversation, since it appeared to me that the individuals knew something about the interview. 

Today at 5 p.m., Carole Johnson sent the following comment. (Note that I am redacting AD’s actual name as well as the retiree’s.)

“The University’s response remains unchanged. The University staff that you keep contacting, including myself, Jacky Johnson, and William Modrow, do not know who conducted the interview with XXXXX nor do we know anyone who does know the answer to that question. We do not know what was said in that interview beyond what is reflected in the document previously provided to you. We have thoroughly searched our Archival records and they have been provided to you. XXXXX retired from the University. We will not contact him on your behalf. I know that this is not the response you were hoping for but your repeated inquiries will not change the answer. There is nothing more that the university can do to assist you in your search for information.”

Thank you very much for this response. And because I’m the blogger here, I get to comment on the university’s comment:

I kept contacting the university staff because they wouldn’t answer my questions. It’s my general practice—maybe even a little personality quirk of mine—to stop asking a question once it’s been answered. Modrow and Johnson never answered my question about whether they’d consulted with the retiree. Ne.Ver. They still haven’t answered it. It took several back-and-forths before they addressed my questions about whether they knew who conducted the interview and when.

As for Carole Johnson’s remark that “I know this is not the response you were hoping for,” the response I actually hope for—and what I’ll continue hoping and working for—is the truth. And I will seek the truth about Ronald Tammen even if the university has apparently moved on.

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— ERRATA —

*Since writing the above post, I’ve learned that the Western College Memorial Archives is now located on the third floor of King Library, along with the other archives. The three archives were brought to the same location in 2015–first to Withrow Court Annex before that building was torn down, and later to the present location at King Library: https://miamioh.edu/news/top-stories/2015/02/archives-all-together.html. Sorry that my original info was out-of-date. When I was asking staff members for the “Ghosts and Legends” folder in 2019, I’m pretty sure no one told me of its new location. (In fairness, it probably seemed like a minor point to them.) Also, no one corrected this blog post when I ran it by them for comment. Nevertheless, the fact that the folder had been housed in the Western College Memorial Archives is still pertinent. Hold that thought, OK? I’ll tell you why in the 3-11-2021 update below.

**Under warning sign #5, I’ve revised the last sentence and removed a second paragraph because they implied knowledge on the part of the retiree, when in fact we still don’t know if he has read the email. Silence can have many meanings. My apologies for not stating that more clearly.

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UPDATE (3-11-2021)

As you know, one question I’ve been asking repeatedly is where did the summary of AD’s interview come from? Who donated it to the archives and when? If we can track down who donated the summary, we may be able to find the person who conducted the interview. Who knows: maybe the donor and the interviewer are the same person. Also, now that we know that the Western College Memorial Archives were moved off of Western Campus in 2015 (see above, next to *), that potentially adds a “no later than” date to our timeframe. If folder 18 was moved out of Peabody Hall in 2015, then I think the chances are good that the summary was typed up sometime in the 2001-2015 timeframe.

I consulted the website of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the professional society for archivists, and discovered that it recommends that university and college archivists have a policy in which donations, called “accessions,” are documented. Furthermore, the SAA recommends that the date and the transferring office or donor’s name are recorded, among other information. Consequently, I filed a public records request today with the Office of the General Counsel for Miami’s accessions policy. Once I understand Miami’s policy, I’ll be able to submit a second public records request for the specific documents that would be tied to folder 18 and, hopefully, AD’s interview summary. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Dear Miami University Office of the General Counsel,

I am submitting this public records request under the Ohio Open Records Law, §149.43 et seq. I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of the policy by which Miami University’s University Archives creates and maintains its accession records for its archival holdings.

For your background, the Society of American Archivists, an organization to which the University Archives of Miami University is affiliated, has set standards for the creation and maintenance of accession records. According to SAA’s Guidelines for College and University Archives: “Archivists create an accession record—noting the records’ date, title, bulk, condition, transferring office or donor, conservation needs, and access restrictions—when records come into the archives.” [See: https://www2.archivists.org/node/14804.]

I am seeking Miami’s policy for all aspects related to the creation and maintenance of its accession records. If there are any fees for searching or copying these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $50.

I am currently writing a blog and book on the Ronald Tammen disappearance, and this request is part of my news-gathering efforts. I would appreciate a prompt response to this request.

If you expect a significant delay in responding to or in fulfilling this request, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.

If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Wenger