I’m a 1980 graduate of Miami University who hasn’t been able to let the Ronald Tammen story go. I’d heard about Tammen’s disappearance when I was a student at Miami, and the scant details were always told in a super-secret, hush-hush way, usually around Halloween. I toured Fisher Hall before it was torn down in the summer of 1978, and I remember the vibe being a little eerie, not so much because of the darkened, paint-chipped corridors that our group was traipsing around, but because our student guide was totally convinced that the building was full of ghosts and they had somehow spirited Tammen away. Personally, I pictured Tammen on a remote island somewhere, living simply yet supremely, chuckling at the stunt he was somehow able to pull off, for whatever reason.
In the spring of 2010, I was going through a rough patch. I’d lost my dad two years earlier, when he abruptly died one week before I turned 50. Soon after, my mom was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. I needed a project. More specifically, I wanted to write a book. But what could I write about? For most of my career, I’d been a science writer specializing in biology and health. I knew I liked real-life mysteries and stories about true crime. That’s when Ronald Tammen came to mind.
At first, I thought I’d just try to fill in some holes about who Tammen was, since those details in news accounts were always lacking, other than the fact that he was a:
- residence hall counselor
- string bass player in the Campus Owls, and
- member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
I wanted to find out what he was really like. I wanted to tell the story as it had never been told before. After I began to do some digging, however, I started discovering details about the case that hadn’t made their way into the papers. You might even call them clues. That’s when I decided that I needed to try to solve this thing.
In July 2014, I stepped down from my job to work on the project full-time, albeit quietly, flying below the radar. Now, here I am, ready to share a little. Welcome to A Good Man Is Hard to Find.
P.S. A few other sundry details…
I’m a July baby, a Cancer through and through, which means I was an incorrigible little crab from day one. (Think Lucy van Pelt, the Peanuts character, only with a sentimental streak.) On the day I was born, around the time my mother was in labor, a pilot crashed his Piper Cub on my grandparents’ farm—the same farm my parents had left hours earlier to head to the hospital. The pilot, a man of 29, died, which means that, on the same day that he exited the earth, I was making my entrance. People are born and die on the same day all the time, but to have it happen to two people tied to the same strip of farmland in northeast Ohio is kind of surreal.
I was always an unconventional sort of kid. Even at the age of three or four, I gravitated to people who were labeled as characters, regardless of their age. People who were smooth or saccharine or at the tops of their games were of no interest to me. People who laughed too loud or dyed their hair flaming red or who had no qualms about stooping down to meet me eye-to-eye—people who were kind to little kids—they were the ones I counted among my posse. To this day, I veer toward people who choose to live their lives a little outside the norm. Rule breakers are my jam.
I had rather unusual eating and drinking habits during those preschool years. I loved red meat so much that, for a snack, I’d grab hunks of raw hamburger as it was thawing on the kitchen counter and stuff it in my mouth. I also was known to drink out of the toilet on occasion. No joke. I remember my big sister walking in on me in the bathroom one day, and yelling, “Moooooooom, Jenny’s drinking out of the toilet again!” I assume that I did it because I was small and that it was the only way I could think of to quench my thirst without bothering anyone. Also, I did it while using a cup—I didn’t lap it up like a Golden Retriever—but, still.
As I’ve discussed elsewhere on this site, I’m a classic introvert. I enjoy being with people, I really do, but I need my recharge time. Two social commitments in one day, and I’m pretty well spent. I like to think and read and write and figure things out for myself. And, yes, I prefer small sit-down gatherings to cocktail parties. I don’t have the proper skill set to attend a party with a roomful of people I don’t know. I guess it’s because I don’t know how to leave someone standing to go talk to someone else, which means that I’m usually the one who’s left standing.
I almost died three times: once from choking on a jawbreaker and twice from almost drowning. For that reason, I’m pretty sure I have a guardian angel. Come to think of it, I probably have him or her to thank for protecting me from a host of food- or water-borne illnesses during my formative raw-beef and toilet-drinking years.
I have a high ideal of right versus wrong. I get outraged—seriously pissed off—over what I perceive to be injustices in a rigged system, which means that I’ve been walking around in a steady state of restrained fury over the past several years. As for the Tammen mystery, if I’m convinced that someone at the FBI and/or CIA knows what happened to Ronald Tammen, by God, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure the rest of us find out too, no matter how many roadblocks they put up. I don’t envision myself ever giving up.
Lastly, I don’t act my age terribly well. I’m the stereotypical “quirky aunt” (sister, wife, stepmom, and grandparent) who goes about my days in bulky knits and a graying ponytail, buried in research. It might seem pathetic that I would spend so much time dwelling on a topic from my college years, but it’s all about passion, isn’t it? I’m batshit passionate about Ron Tammen. And who knows, maybe this is why my guardian angel has been working extended hours keeping me upright and sturdy. Maybe Ronald Tammen is my calling. At least that’s how I like to think of him.