I have a couple pieces of news for you. First, the FBI responded to my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Lyndal Ashby’s Additional Record Sheets yesterday.
Lyndal Ashby’s Additional Record Sheets
For those who need some refreshing, Lyndal Ashby is the name of a young man who’d gone missing seven years after Ron Tammen. Ashby was 22 when he’d disappeared in 1960 from Hartford, KY, a town of roughly 2700 people on the western side of the state. His story is different from Ron’s. He was a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. According to Ashby’s obituary, after he’d gone missing, it was learned that he’d been living under a new name in California and had died on April 11, 1990. He had a family.
Although Ashby was cremated and his ashes were strewn in the Pacific Ocean, near the Golden Gate Bridge, his family erected a memorial to Lyndal in Walton’s Creek Church Cemetery, in Centertown, KY—the town where he was born and where he’d graduated from high school.
Ashby’s case had nothing to do with the CIA or hypnosis or any of the curious details we’ve discussed regarding Tammen’s case. However, the two cases did have at least two things in common. First, J. Edgar Hoover was very much at the helm of the FBI when both men disappeared. Second, both men had their fingerprints on file with the FBI’s Identification Division when they’d disappeared. Theoretically, the FBI protocol that had initially applied to Ron’s fingerprint records—that they be kept until he was 99 years of age—should have applied to Ashby’s fingerprint records too. Since Ashby was born in 1938, the FBI should have his fingerprint records until at least 2037.
That’s why I submitted a FOIA request for Ashby’s Additional Record Sheets. As we’ve discussed elsewhere on this site, Additional Record Sheets were sheets of paper that were part of a person’s fingerprint jacket, attached to the back of their fingerprint cards with two-pronged fasteners. Identification staff would jot down notes on them whenever they performed an action on the file and then place everything back into the fingerprint jacket. When the fingerprint cards were digitized beginning in 1999, so were the Additional Record Sheets.
Here’s what the FBI sent me.
As happy as I was to receive anything at all from them, it’s not what I was hoping for. I was hoping for the sort of document that’s in this photo, which I’d captured from an FBI video:
I was hoping for scribbles denoting every potential sighting of Ashby as well as the exact moment when the FBI figured out that he’d changed his name and was living in California.
Instead, I received Ashby’s fingerprints from his time in the military.
Do I think the FBI sent me everything in Ashby’s fingerprint jacket? I do not. Am I going to appeal? I will not.
The reason is that I’m a small person of limited means, and I need to prepare myself for bigger battles. Also, I’ve learned enough from what they’ve sent me. By sending me Lyndal Ashby’s fingerprints, the FBI has let me know something valuable: They didn’t expunge them. They didn’t expunge them when they knew he was no longer missing, and they didn’t expunge them after he died almost 32 years ago.
The FBI appears to be abiding by its record retention schedule and holding onto Lyndal Ashby’s fingerprints until at least the year 2037. (The retention period has since been extended to 110 years, so they may be holding them until then.) They ostensibly didn’t even expunge his fingerprints seven years after his confirmed death, which is part of their retention schedule protocol.
Moreover, the fact that they still have Lyndal Ashby’s fingerprints on file, and not Ron Tammen’s, reinforces the notion that the expungement of Tammen’s fingerprints was due to unusual circumstances.
We already know that Ron’s fingerprints were expunged in 2002 due to the Privacy Act or a court order. Some readers have wondered if there might have been a mass expungement of fingerprints when the FBI automated its system beginning in 1999—whether to protect the fingerprint owners or to simply thin out the numbers of prints to be digitized. Although, admittedly, Ashby was deceased by then, I don’t know the precise date when the FBI made that discovery. FBI records that I’ve received indicate that they were still conducting DNA testing for his case in February 2011. Therefore, it’s reasonably safe to conclude that there was no mass expungement of missing persons’ fingerprints sometime around 2002 due to the Privacy Act.
Court-ordered expungements in 2002
My second piece of news has to do with court-ordered expungements. You may recall that, in an effort to figure out the precise reason for Ron’s expungement—was it the Privacy Act or was it a court order?—I’d submitted two FOIA requests to the FBI. In the first, I requested documents associated with the early expungement of fingerprints between 1999 and 2002 on the basis of a court order. In the second, I requested documents pertaining to the early expungement of fingerprints for the same time period due to the Privacy Act. Both FOIA requests resulted in the same response: “Unable to identify records responsive to your request.“
I’ve since refined my request having to do with Privacy Act expungements, and I’m eagerly waiting for the FBI to acknowledge that request, which, I might add, is a thing of beauty. As for the one having to do with a court order, I’ve been letting it lie, since I wasn’t sure where to go next.
And then, last weekend, I put two and two together.
You may recall when I was seeking records from the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office in relation to another aspect of the Tammen case. They’d responded by sending a raft of electronic documents with only subject headings, and one of those documents was titled “COURT ORDERS RE EXPUNGMENT [sic] SHOULD GO TO BCII.” Now, I would very much love to see what the entire document has to say on that topic, and I’ve asked them to declassify it, please and thank you. But I was wondering if something can be determined now, in the meantime, from the subject head alone?
For example, exactly who or what is BCII? At first, I thought it might have been part of the FBI or Department of Justice, but I’ve found no evidence of that. What I later discovered was that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has a Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), which also has an Identification (I) Section. So they have all the necessary letters. Upon further reading, I learned that Ohio’s BCI handles court-ordered expungements for cases throughout the state of Ohio, in care of the Identification Section, and that the people there work closely with the FBI. It makes total sense that the FBI’s field office in Cincinnati would recommend that court-ordered expungements be sent to Ohio’s BCII.
Over the weekend, I’d submitted a public records request to the Ohio Attorney General’s office seeking “all segregable records pertaining to the expungement of fingerprint records that took place in the year 2002 due to a court order.” Again, I was trying to figure out if they had any court-ordered expungements at all that year, and if not, we could be certain that Ron’s expungement was not due to a court order. Of course, there could also have been 10 or 20 or 50 court-ordered expungements in 2002, in which case I’d be back to square one, not knowing if Ron’s case was among them.
Yesterday morning, I’d just gotten back from my run when I checked my phone and saw that someone had left a voicemail. It was from the chief counsel for Ohio’s BCI, and he’d called seeking more information about my request. I returned his call, expecting to be immediately directed to voicemail or at least to have to run through a menu of choices and button-pushes to reach him, but no. Dude picked up on the first ring.
You guys. You know how I think the people from the National Archives and Records Administration are rock stars when it comes to FOIA? Well, move over, NARA, because the people in the Ohio AG’s office have you beat. NARA had responded to one of my requests the next day, which is super impressive. But Ohio’s chief counsel for the BCI responded to my public records request the very same day.
Now, before I tell you what their response was, let me just say that, in our phone conversation, as I was giving him the specifics, he let me know that they don’t maintain court orders by year. But knowing the person in question was helpful, he said, though, again, he wasn’t sure what information he’d be able to provide. I sent him all of Ron’s identifying information. I also pointed out to him that the AG’s web page on missing persons has a page devoted to Ron.
“Who knows…we may be able to solve your missing person case,” I told him.
At around 3 p.m. yesterday, I received the BCI’s response:
BCI has searched its records for “all segregable records pertaining to the expungement of fingerprint records that took place in the year 2002 due to a court order. The records that I’m seeking will document that an expungement of fingerprint records has taken place due to a court order in the year 2002.” Following receipt of your request, I contacted you by telephone to clarify your request and to narrow the focus of BCI’s search of its records.
Upon review of BCI’s records, BCI does not have any records responsive to your specific request. As such, this concludes BCI’s response to your request.
When we consider these two findings together, I think we can say with confidence that Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged in 2002 because of a conflict with the Privacy Act, and not because of a court order. Also, his conflict with the Privacy Act had nothing to do with a mass expungement during the period in which the FBI was switching to an automated system.
I’m more and more certain of it: Ronald Tammen was alive in 2002 and he himself requested that his fingerprints be expunged from the FBI’s system.