It’s the fourth of July, and hoo boy, looks like I’m another year older. How old is that, you ask? Let’s just say that I can now relate to that song by the Beatles where Paul McCartney sings about reaching this impossibly far-off age and he wonders if his significant other will still need him and feed him while she’s knitting his sweaters and he’s weeding the garden. [Note to readers: I never do the former and rarely the latter. Besides, this Beatles tune is more up my alley.]
Do you know who else’s birthday it is? The Freedom of Information Act. FOIA was signed into law on July 4, 1966, so it’s a sprightly 56. Comparatively speaking, FOIA is the Shania Twain to my Gloria Estefan, the Ben Stiller to my Alec Baldwin, the Benzino to my Ice-T.
In celebration, I’d like to discuss a few of the discoveries I’ve made recently about Ron’s missing person documents thanks to other people’s FOIA requests. Because that’s one of the coolest things about FOIA—the information one person obtains can benefit lots of people in numerous unforeseeable ways.
Of course, because it’s my birthday, I’ll be writing in my favorite format—Q&A. Let’s go!
Have you learned anything more about the Missing Person File Room?
You’re referring to the stamp on a few of Ron’s documents that said “Return to Ident Missing Person File Room”? Yes—yes, I have.
Care to tell us?
As you know, the room number they’d specified was 1126. Although they didn’t say which building, I recently reported that room 1126 was on the first floor of the Identification Building, which was located at Second and D Streets SW, in DC. In that same post, I also attempted to make the case that the Ident Missing Person File Room was probably overseen by the Files and Communications Division, which was responsible for managing most of the FBI’s files and had occupied much of the first floor of the Ident Building.
Thanks to a FOIA request on another missing person case submitted by The Black Vault’s John Greenewald, Jr., I now know more about the Ident Missing Person File Room. The case concerned Charles McCullar, a 19-year-old Virginia man who was reported missing in February 1975 after he was expected home from a hiking trip to Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park. When you look through Mr. McCullar’s missing person documents, you’ll see that several of those documents were also maintained in the Ident Missing Person File Room. But his documents weren’t in the Identification Building. Rather, they were held in a room in the J. Edgar Hoover Building after that building was completed in 1975. (Sadly, McCullar’s remains were later discovered near Bybee Creek, inside the park, and it was determined that the probable cause of death was exposure to the elements.)
Do you know where in the J. Edgar Hoover Building the Missing Person File Room was located?
The writing on the stamps is extremely difficult to read, but yes, I do believe I’ve figured it out. Here are four stamps that are on Mr. McCullar’s documents.
Images 1 and 4 are clearest and the numbers look the most similar. Image 2 is practically useless. Nevertheless I compared them all in making the following assessment:
- Let’s start with the easiest part. The letters JEH, the FBI’s abbreviation for the J. Edgar Hoover building, are clearly present at the end, as you can see in images 1, 3, and 4.
- Also, there appear to be four numbers preceding the letters, which eliminates floors 10 and 11, because the room numbers on those floors had five digits.
- As for the actual numbers, let’s begin with the second number, which appears to be 9 (images 1 and 4).
- The third number looks like a 6 (image 4, possibly 1).
- The fourth number seems to be 1 (hard slash in images 1, 3, and 4).
- And if you look closely at image 4, the first and second numbers appear to be the same and in parallel, written at a severe slant. Therefore, I think the first number is also a 9.
My conclusion: after 1975, I believe the room number for the Ident Missing Person File Room was Room 9961 JEH Building.
Now that you know where the Ident Missing Person File Room was after 1975, is it possible to learn why some missing person files were kept there but not others?
I’ve been doing a couple things to get to that answer. First, through FOIA, I’ve been attempting to obtain a list of all the files that were maintained in that room. I’d started by asking the FBI for an inventory that would have been created prior to the move into the JEH Building, but they told me that my request wasn’t searchable in their indices. I then submitted a request for an inventory of that room that was developed by someone in the Inspection Division during one of its annual inspections. If I’m told that that request is also unsearchable, I’ll be requesting all inspection reports for the Identification Division as well as the Files and Communications Division for the years 1970 through 1980. They won’t be able to wriggle out of that one, since the whole purpose of the Inspection Division was to conduct annual inspections of all FBI divisions and field offices to make sure things were up to snuff. Also, according to the Department of Justice, inspection reports are considered public information. I highly doubt that there will be complete listings of every file in those reports, but there could be more information to help me figure out my next FOIA request.
I’m also attempting to determine the room’s purpose by learning more about the people who were stationed there. In the 1975 telephone directory, I found three staff members—all women, all affiliated with the Identification Division—who occupied Room 9961 that year. Two had generic names, which makes them tough to trace. The third person had a distinctive name, so I was able to learn more about her life and career, and also that, sadly, she’d passed away at a young age in 2002. I’ve submitted a FOIA request for her personnel records to see if I can determine which section of the Identification Division she was part of.
If the Ident Missing Person File Room is part of the Identification Division, is it possible that all missing person files were kept in that room?
To the best of my knowledge, the answer is no. As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, a credible source who used to work in the Records Management Division told me that missing person documents were generally housed in the Central Records System, aka the main files, under classification number 79. Also, the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin stated that, if the Identification Division happened to have the missing person’s fingerprints on file, as they did in Ron’s case, that person’s documents would be maintained in their fingerprint jacket. This is supported by the following stamp on Ron’s documents:
In addition, in my experience, the Ident Missing Person File Room stamp on someone’s missing person documents is a rare find. So far, I’ve only found it on missing person documents for two people: Ron Tammen and Charles McCullar. I haven’t even found it on Richard Cox’s missing person documents.
Lastly, documents from another missing person case—again, released because of someone else’s FOIA request—helps prove this point. The child’s name was Dennis Martin, a 6-year-old who’d disappeared in 1969 while on a camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with his family. None of his documents had the Ident Missing Person File Room stamp on them. (The case is so tragic, it’s hard to read through them. What a nightmare.)
Furthermore, I’ve noticed that the documents that tended to have the stamp on them in Tammen’s and McCullar’s cases involved letters from the FBI director (for both men) or a concerned member of Congress (for McCullar). But the stamp is not on those types of letters in Dennis Martin’s case file.
Interesting. As I was looking at Dennis Martin’s and Charles McCullar’s documents, I noticed the “Referred to Records Branch” stamp on some of them, just like the one on Ron’s documents. Were you able to learn anything about that stamp?
That stamp is confusing on so many levels. A large area of confusion for me is how it seems to provide a choice of destinations within the Records Branch—as if the staffer is supposed to check either the “Main File” or “79-1.” But if a missing person file is placed in the main files, it is filed under classification 79. There is no either/or—they’re one and the same. (By the way, if you’re wondering what the “-1” signifies after the 79, that’s the first file after the “zero” files, which are always at the front of each classification. You may recall from earlier posts that a “0” file includes random reports on people or subjects that don’t yet have enough information for their own file, while a “00” file includes bureau communications about protocol.)
I’ve compared how that stamp was marked for Tammen’s vs. McCullar’s vs. Martin’s files. For Tammen, they consistently checked the blank next to “Main File.” For McCullar, they consistently wrote the number 79 in the blank next to “Main File.” And for Martin, they mixed it up—sometimes checking 79-1, but usually checking “Main File.”
I honestly don’t know what it means. I’ve tried asking two people who would know the answer for a confidential conversation about the meaning of this stamp as well as the Ident Missing Person File Room stamp. Neither have responded.
In my blog post on The Ident Files, I speculated that the “Referred to Records Branch” stamp was primarily linked to the documents in Ron’s fingerprint jacket. In other words, I thought that the documents that were “Removed from Ident files” were the same ones that had been removed from his fingerprint jacket and then handed over to the Records Branch. The monkey wrench in this theory is that I don’t believe Charles McCullar or Dennis Martin had fingerprints on file. Why were their missing person documents being referred to the Records Branch, when I’d think that they would have been there all along? I welcome any and all hypotheses to this conundrum.
I’ll ponder on that and get back to you.
In the meantime, it seems as though the documents that were held in the Ident Missing Person File Room were super tame. Why would they need their own special file room?
This is the part where I get to hypothesize my head off with very little back-up data. We know that there was at least one Tammen document that had been in room 1126 Ident that I never received through my FOIA request: a photo had been added to his file on 6-5-73, the same day that documents were “Removed from Ident files.” I don’t believe that we’re seeing everything that had been filed in the Ident Missing Person File Room.
In a recent post, I suggested that the Missing Person File Room may have been a storage place for any unsolicited tips that might have come in on various missing person cases and I also said that some of those unsolicited tips might have been of the steamy or illicit variety. So isn’t it interesting that the two people who did have a file in the Ident Missing Person File Room were adult men, whom I’d think could have generated a phone call or two, whether credible or not, while the one who didn’t have a file in that room was a 6-year-old child? As I said, I think the more interesting reading is likely long gone.
Are there other missing person files you can compare these with to get more answers?
Yes! Thanks to information obtained from a FOIA request submitted by GovernmentAttic.org, I will soon have access to a box of missing person files from the years 1947 through 1980, the year when the FBI turned over its missing person activities to the National Crime Information Center. The files are now housed in the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, MD. They’ve added me to their queue, and will let me know when I can drive out to visit them. The size of the box is too small to be complete, but I wonder if Ron Tammen’s and Richard Cox’s files are in there. Anyway, I can’t wait.
Any additional updates?
Just that I have a second mediation meeting coming up on July 5 concerning several remaining unposted recordings that I’ve requested from Miami University’s Oral History Project. As opposed to the last time, in which I tried to cram in about ten pages’ worth of talking points into an hour-long phone call, I have one talking point that I plan to repeat over and over. We’ll see how it goes.
Happy fourth, y’all. Be safe out there, and that includes wearing earplugs if you’re close to the noise.
P.S. Just saw this on Twitter and had to post. Looks like I’m in good company.