Nothing about Ronald Tammen’s disappearance makes sense. Tammen was one of the more level-headed, responsible guys people would have encountered at Miami. One alumnus has said that, as a student, he thought Tammen was the closest thing to Ivy League that he would ever meet. He was way ahead of his peers in many of the traits that mattered most on the road to success, which is why he was entrusted to serve as a residence hall counselor to a group of freshman men. He was smart, but perhaps more than that, he was savvy, as witnessed by the fact that he was one of the few people permitted to have a car on campus. Even at 19, he knew how to work the system.
When Ronald Tammen was last seen by his fellow residents of Fisher Hall, it was cold with snow flurries, hardly an inviting night for a spur-of-the-moment stroll outside. Here are the essentials, gleaned from news accounts, other documents, including Dean Carl Knox’s notes, and interviews with people who were close to the action:
On the weekend of April 17-19, Ronald Tammen’s roommate, Chuck Findlay, was away visiting his family in Dayton. Tammen, on the other hand, had other things on his plate. On Friday night at about 8 p.m., he stopped at the home of Glenn Dennison to pay his car insurance, a bill of $17.45. Tammen stayed a little while to socialize, and Dennison recalled that they discussed the Campus Owls, the jazz band that Ron played the string bass in, and one of Ron’s favorite topics.
In those days, students often attended classes on Saturday, and, according to Ron’s schedule for the semester, he had an 8 a.m. math class and a 10 a.m. speech class. On Saturday night, Ron played with the Owls at the Omicron Delta Kappa carnival, a popular fundraiser for the honor society. In a news article, Ron’s brother Richard, who was a freshman at Miami that year, said he was with Tammen until 11 or 11:30 p.m. Another news article claims Ron participated in a bull session at his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, that night as well.
The next day—Sunday, the 19th—several Tammen sightings were reported. During the window of 3-4 p.m., Tammen was seen studying psychology in his dorm room—225 Fisher—according to Knox’s notes. In addition, he’d eaten in the dining hall sometime that evening and sat at a table with other students as well as Ken McDiffett, the recently hired head resident of nearby Collins Hall who was later promoted to assistant dean of men under Knox. McDiffett, who passed away in 2006, had told his wife Ruth that the conversation had been light, and that Tammen was talking to the others about—what else?—the Campus Owls.
At roughly 5:15 p.m., Tammen is spotted in the dorm by a guy named Richard Brennan, who lived across the hall from Tammen and who said that Tammen seemed to be acting normal.
Two former Fisher Hall residents recall seeing Tammen wearing a towel and heading to the shower that day, though there’s a discrepancy regarding the time. One person thought it was the afternoon; the other said it was evening.
At about 7 p.m., Tammen is in room 212 of Fisher Hall, apparently in “good spirits,” according to Knox’s notes. Room 212 was just down the hall from Tammen’s room and it’s where Richard Titus and his roommates lived. According to Titus, who, sadly, passed away in 2014, Tammen was helping him with his homework while his roommates went out for the evening.
Sometime later, it’s not clear when, Tammen told Titus that he needed to do his own homework, and walked down the hall toward his room.
At around 8 p.m., Tammen is seen again, this time heading downstairs to obtain some fresh sheets for his bed. Someone had put a fish in his bed, a detail that has caused imaginations to run wild over the years. Some people have wondered if the Mafia had left its calling card, warning Tammen that he would soon be sleeping with the fishes. But no, it had been Richard Titus. Titus and Tammen liked to play practical jokes on one another, and Tammen had recently short-sheeted Titus’s bed. To get even, Titus had tucked into Tammen’s sheets a dead fish from a nearby pond.
While Ron was retrieving the fresh sheets, Mrs. Todhunter, the residence hall manager, remarked to him that he looked tired, to which Ron responded that he was and that he planned to go right to bed. According to Knox’s notes, Tammen had indeed made up his bed, because the mattresses had the new sheets on them, “all except putting pillow in pillow case,” he added.
Interestingly, a 1983 anniversary article in the Miami Student, written by Donna Boen, now editor of the Miamian magazine, disclosed a surprising new finding. In the article, McDiffett, who had conducted a great deal of research on the Tammen case, had told Boen that “supposedly Dick [Tammen] talked to Ron at 8 p.m.,” by phone, just before Ron picked up his bed linens. If true, that would mean that Ron and his younger brother had spoken within one hour of Ron’s going missing, which is no minor detail. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t say how McDiffett came upon this information, and, when I followed up with Boen and McDiffett’s wife, neither could recall any additional details.
Although it’s impossible to pinpoint an exact time, it was sometime between 8 and 9 p.m. that Ronald Tammen went off the grid forever.
When Chuck Findlay returned to room 225, it was roughly 10:30 p.m. according Knox’s notes, which are corroborated by an article written one year after Ron’s disappearance by Joe Cella of the Hamilton Journal-News. Findlay found the lights on, a radio playing, and an open psychology book on Ron’s desk. Investigators said that the book was open to a section on “Habits.” Tammen’s car keys were also there, as were his wallet and most of its contents, including his draft card, driver’s license, musicians’ union card, and other forms of identification. Whatever cash it had held—Findlay estimated that it would have been about $10 or $11—was gone. Tammen’s car was in its usual parking spot, and his bass fiddle was in the back seat. He left his high school class ring with his other belongings, but he must have held onto his wristwatch, because it was gone. Other than what he was wearing—a tan sweater, blue pants, and blue and tan checked Mackinaw jacket—all of his clothes remained in the closet.
“Toothbrush and all here,” added Knox.
From the look of things, Ronald Tammen could have returned to his room at any minute. Maybe he had every intention of doing so and something truly awful had occurred. But then again, maybe it was all by design.