More evidence that St. Clair Switzer was involved in something in 1956-57 that he didn’t want to talk about

I’ll keep this short. 

I’ve been thinking more about St. Clair Switzer. 

You know how I have this theory that Doc Switzer was on a sabbatical in academic year 1956-57 with Louis Jolyon (Jolly) West, the world famous psychiatrist and MKULTRA researcher who was at the University of Oklahoma at that time? And you know how I also believe that Jolly West was the author of a February 1957 CIA research proposal seeking funding for himself and a visiting academic (Switzer, imo) who was “thoroughly familiar with hypnotism at the theoretical level” to create a hypnotic messenger that summer for use by the military?

Gosh, when I put it like that, it does seem a wee bit far-fetched, doesn’t it?

Well, I have a little more info to help back it up.

Don’t get too excited—it’s not that big. But it’s not nothing either.

We already know that Switzer had been granted permission for a sabbatical for that academic year. His original plans had been to work under psychophysiologist Marion A. (Gus) Wenger (no relation) at UCLA the prior year, but those plans had to be postponed. Everett Patten, chair of Miami’s psychology department, felt that he needed Switzer around to help with a curriculum change that was taking place at that time, and he suggested that Switzer’s sabbatical be pushed back a year. With this turn of events, Switzer checked with Wenger to see if the change was OK with him and Gus said that the new timeframe should still be fine. But in December 1956—three months into the 1956-57 academic year—Gus wrote to Switzer telling him that he’d decided to travel to India to study yogis instead. He offered a space for Switzer in September 1957, but, because Switzer’s sabbatical would have ended by then, that would be too late.

How do we know that Switzer found somewhere else to go?

We know that Switzer was definitely not working in Miami’s psychology department that year because his earnings sheet shows a total of $00 for the year 1956-57. Here’s the document:

Click on image for a closer view

The stray mark to the right of the “7” had first made me wonder if the earnings line for that year just hadn’t picked up enough inkjet toner, but I don’t think so. To me, it looks more like something had been written there but was erased. For this reason, I think it’s safe to conclude that Switzer made zero dollars and zippo cents that year from Miami.

That’s a little odd, since Clarence Kreger, Miami’s cantankerous provost, had informed Switzer that he could earn half his salary while on sabbatical. (These days, sabbaticals are usually fully paid, but times were different then.) (I feel like I say that a lot on this blog.) (I feel like I use parentheses a lot too.) Anyway, somehow, Switzer was able to make ends meet without needing that little boost. He was out of the office all year, including the summers of 1956 and 1957.

Click on image for a closer view

How do we know that he was gone during the summers too?

We know it because Switzer was a self-promoter. If there was an achievement that he wanted other people to know about, he’d alert one of the local rags, especially the easier ones to get into, like the Miami Student or the Oxford Press. This was especially true when he was an assistant professor in the 1930s. Often the hard-hitting news blurbs were about prize money he’d won for an ad or slogan he’d submitted in a contest, which he did frequently as part of his business psychology course. If he spent the summer doing something prestigious-sounding—like the time he’d worked with prisoners at Northeastern Penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA—you can bet that Switzer would make sure it was brought to the attention of fellow faculty members, administrators, and the surrounding Oxford community. Promotions received, degrees earned, joining the war effort, returning from the war effort—he liked to have such things documented. (As a historical researcher, I’m not opposed to this practice.) 

Later on, as his extracurricular activities became more, um, stealth, he reined in his need for newsprint. 

During the year of his sabbatical, Switzer found two occasions to show off a little for the folks at home. In August 1956, an article appeared in one of the local papers announcing that Switzer had returned from a “tour of duty” at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado. (According to his military records, his tours of duty averaged 15 days.) During that visit, he’d helped develop the psychology curriculum for the new Air Force Academy, which had been temporarily located there while the permanent school was being constructed in Colorado Springs. A year later, a much shorter article was published saying that he’d just returned home after spending three more weeks at the Air Force Academy. 

What I’m trying to say here is that Switzer had been on a sabbatical for roughly 64 weeks, yet we only get to know what he did for five or six of those weeks. Whatever he was doing between the two Augusts, he wasn’t saying. And trust me, if Switzer was ever presented with the chance to boast about his accomplishments, he seized it. If he’d spent the year conducting psychophysiological research in Gus Wenger’s lab, the world would have heard about it. 

It was uncharacteristic for him to be so tight-lipped in those circumstances, which leads me to wonder if he used the second news item to bookend his time away. Maybe then people wouldn’t ask questions about all that time in between.

How did he manage to find a spot with Louis Jolyon West so soon after Gus Wenger let him down?

This is where the timeline gets murky. Gus Wenger’s letter was dated December 1, 1956, and by the sound of it, it was late in coming. 

“Dear Doc, I have been meaning to write you for some time about our plans,” he said. He then proceeded to describe a number of monkey wrenches that had been thrown into their original arrangements while offering an alternative date that was much too late.

The letter was addressed to Switzer’s office in the Department of Psychology, which Switzer surely wasn’t occupying by then. The department secretary would’ve probably forwarded the letter to Switzer’s home address, but that would have taken even more time away from his eroding sabbatical.

It’s possible that Switzer was biding his time at Wright Patterson as he waited on Wenger. But patience isn’t exactly a virtue that I would ascribe to St. Clair Switzer. Sometime after returning from Colorado, I can see him giving up on the prospect of spending a year in California and seeking assistance from his highly decorated contacts with the Air Force. By late fall, I think they’d put him in touch with Jolly West.

You’ve already seen the letter that I believe Switzer had written to a colleague he knew from his Clark Hull days, Griffith W. Williams, who was then at Rutgers. That letter, dated December 6, 1956, had been a follow-up to a discussion that had taken place between the three hypnosis experts, likely over the phone, on November 27. 

Here it is again:

Document provided with thanks to The Black Vault at https://www.theblackvault.com/
Document provided with thanks to The Black Vault at https://www.theblackvault.com/

By the time Wenger finally wrote to Switzer on December 1 saying “no can do,” I think Switzer had already moved on.

How about you—what do you think? 

8 thoughts on “More evidence that St. Clair Switzer was involved in something in 1956-57 that he didn’t want to talk about

  1. I started going thru the Black Vault trying to find an interesting memo I’d seen awhile back that I suspect is telling Switzer or more likely Jolly to stop doing a specific experiment wherein the subject of the memo was following a student who’d been hypnotized and compelling him to do (presumably amoral) things over the course of a summer. It was dated either 1951 or a few years after the disappearance – can’t recall which. Of course, the Windows 11 update last weekend did weird stuff to my computer, and I had to reset the whole thing, but I’m back on it!

      1. I found a document, which I think was what I was talking about, and likely I was conflating some of its contents with either others in the Vault or something else I was reading entirely. It may still be useful, if only as a character profile for the types of “researchers” the CIA was recruiting. I’m assuming the unnamed WWII agency is the OSS. Now I’m going through the PDF listing all the MKUltra docs they have (again), and trying to figure out which ones might be useful.

        Click to access 18-C00140393.pdf

      2. Oh yes…*that* memo. As you can imagine, it’s pretty famous. I never really gave it a lot of thought, since it’s a little too early for our timeline. By my calculation, Doc Switzer wouldn’t have been contacted by the CIA (or the military/RDB) until after March 1952, and Ron Tammen hadn’t started at Miami until September 1951. However, the use of the word “student” throughout is rather jarring. Thanks for sending, and feel free to keep looking. It never hurts to reread some of these, I find…something new always seems to jump out.

      3. Yeah, and after re-reading it I remembered among the reasons you mentioned, I also discarded it as important to Tammen because I’ve read better thought-out copypasta. I think there was an experiment with someone telling weird stuff to a student, but if any of that stuff was more than fantasy, the closer truth was more like he was picking up sex workers who were willing to pretend to be hypnotized. I guess you could say it gives some confirmation that one of the CIA’s end goals of the hypnotism studies would be to approach a stranger and have them do something completely out if character, like assassination. Also that Sydney Gottlieb and George White were perhaps not the creepiest people in the organization.

      4. You know, it never occurred to me that that’s why he was doing what he was doing. I thought he was bragging about his exploits to the student, but now that you point it out, perhaps you’re right. Btw, thank you for introducing me to the word copypasta!

  2. Very compelling information! However this falls AFTER Ron’s disappearance. Are you trying to tie Switzer’s hypnosis experience to suggest that he used it in a program at the CIA, and that Ron had been one of his test subjects? Was Switzer directed by the CIA to test his theory on Miami students? Wow if this is true…..

    1. Great questions! I guess I’m trying to build the case that Doc Switzer had a history doing hypnosis research for the CIA and USAF and whatever he was doing, it didn’t end with Ron.

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