Halloween 1973 and the muzzling of Joe Cella

On Friday, October 26, 1973, a calendar item appeared in the Miami Student announcing a talk to be delivered Halloween night. The speaker, Joe Cella, would be presenting at 8 p.m. in the Heritage Room of Miami’s former student center, now known as the Shriver Center. His presentation had been titled “The Ronald Tammen Disappearance.” There was no need for additional verbiage explaining who Ronald Tammen was or why anyone should care—everyone already knew.

Cella was the Hamilton Journal-News reporter who’d devoted decades to investigating Ron’s disappearance from Miami University in 1953. He’d intended to solve the mystery. He dug and he dug, until, quite probably, he’d made a nuisance of himself on Miami’s campus, at least in the minds of the administrators. If it hadn’t been for Joe Cella, some of the most significant clues of the case would have remained in faded notes and eroding memory banks. 

In 1973, Cella had been on a roll. Earlier that year, he’d broken the story about Garret J. Boone, a family physician and Butler County coroner who’d said that Ron had walked into his office in Hamilton on November 19, 1952. (The article erroneously says the office was on Third Street, when it was actually located at 134 North Second Street. You can step inside that very building the next time you’re in or around Hamilton. Doc Boone’s old office is now a bar that features artisanal beer and live music.)

The reason for Ron’s visit was to request that his blood type be tested. Boone said he’d never received such an odd request in his 35 years of practice, and he’d asked Tammen why he needed to have his blood typed. Tammen responded, “I might have to give some blood one of these days.” Doc Boone was able to provide documentation to Cella—a medical record that included Ron’s name, address, and the date of Ron’s visit. 

Cella’s fresh lead was published on April 23, 1973, for the 20th anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance, which had likely captured the attention of students serving on Miami University’s Program Board. Someone reached out to Cella to see if he’d be willing to give a talk on campus, and Joe said “sure.” Of course, they picked Halloween for the date of his talk. That’s when students always turned their thoughts to Tammen. 

I mean DAYUMMM, you guys. Who among us wouldn’t have paid hundreds to hear that talk? I would have given my eye teeth, my “J” teeth, my “K” teeth, and my “LMNOP” teeth to get a chance to hear Joe Cella riffing verbatim on the Tammen case. The Heritage Room would have been packed to the rafters that night. Joe would have been fielding student questions way past his allotted time. But alas, it wasn’t to be. Something happened in the short time interval between Friday’s printed announcement and the following Tuesday that brought Joe’s talk to a grinding halt. In the next issue of the Miami Student—October 30th—this notice was published:

Cella cancelled

Joe Cella’s presentation on the “Ronald Tammen Disappearance” which was scheduled for October 31 has been cancelled. Cella, a news staff worker on the Hamilton Journal, has not received clearance from federal authorities to release material which he has acquired concerning the case. Cella has promised to present his material as part of a Program Board event pending receipt of such clearance.

“Hmmm,” thought I, when I first read the blurb.

Let me tell you a little something about practitioners of journalism, especially journalism of the investigative variety: we don’t wait around for permission to reveal something we’ve managed to dig up. We’ll protect our sources who have given us information till death if need be, and we’ll protect people’s personal information too. Also, journalists who have somehow accessed classified information that could impact our national security have often elected to withhold that information for, you know, national security’s sake. But material on Ron Tammen? That seems like fair game to me.

So who put the kibosh on Cella’s talk? I doubt that it was the students who served on the Program Board. In 1973, Watergate was front-page news and the Vietnam War still had two more years before all U.S. troops had exited Saigon. Students were wary of feds in general—plus, what student wouldn’t want to hear the inside scoop on Tammen?

What about Cella? From what I’ve learned about him over the years, I’m sure there’s no way that he would have accepted a speaking gig and then, at the last minute, said that he just needed to get an “all clear” from some federal agency before he could go public with the juicy tidbit he’d managed to get his hands on. Look at it this way: Can you imagine me calling the FBI and saying, “Hey, I’ve obtained a document stating that Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged due the Privacy Act or a court order. OK if I print that on my blog? If you could send me your blessing ASAP, I’d be so grateful.” Yeah, right. If you’ll recall, I posted that discovery within 24 hours of my learning it.

Also, how would Cella have obtained whatever he obtained? It’s difficult to say, since we don’t know what he had, but someone representing a federal agency had probably given it to him. And once that happens, boom. It becomes public information. No additional permission necessary.

That leaves us with Miami University administrators. Did Miami officials cancel Cella’s talk, and if so, why would they give two hoots about what Joe would be presenting that night and whether he’d obtained prior permission from “federal authorities”?

Before I address that question, let’s refer back to Cella’s article from April 23, 1973. Not only did we learn about Doc Boone’s visit from Tammen in November 1952 but we learned something else in that article: that Doc Boone had attempted to tell Miami officials about Tammen’s visit back in 1953 but he’d been summarily rebuffed.

“I offered this information (the medical file card contents) to local authorities at the time, but it was always discounted,” the article quoted him as saying. Also, “I discussed it in the past a number of times with two or three persons associated with Miami University, but they didn’t want to discuss the case.” And this: “I feel I definitely got the brush-off.” And then: “As I said before, I offered the information but they didn’t care to listen or pursue it. So I just put the card away and forgot about it.” And finally: “Maybe this information could have been valuable then. I was upset because I was given the run-around by the school.”

Terms like brush-off and run-around aren’t the sorts of things a university likes to read about itself, and the article had indeed been noticed on Miami’s campus. Affixed to the back of the article in University Archives is a note with the letterhead of the Office of Public Information, which was under the direction of Robert T. Howard. Howard had succeeded Gilson Wright in leading Miami’s News Bureau in 1956, and in 1960, he was promoted to director of the Office of Public Information. 

The quasi-mocking note says:

Paul –

Who’s left for him to scold but thee and me?

Howard

Based on the letterhead, I believe the note was written by Robert T. Howard. I’ve tried to determine who Paul is, and I’ll offer up my guess here: I think Robert Howard was writing to Paul Schumacher, the director of Miami University’s Health Service. There weren’t that many Pauls in high posts at Miami in 1973-74, and it seems that it would be on topic for Howard to write to the head of the health service over a fuming physician and his evidence of an off-site doctor’s visit by Tammen.

Several months later, that little flare-up would have still been fresh in the university’s mind, particularly in the mind of the person whose primary responsibility was to show the university in the best possible light, Bob Howard. As Howard was reading the October 26th issue of the Miami Student, sipping his coffee and pondering the fall weekend ahead, he probably had a mini-meltdown when he read who’d be coming to campus on Halloween night. As head of Miami’s Public Information Office, Howard oversaw media relations for the university. Managing Joe Cella would have certainly been within his job description. 

Perhaps Howard was still stinging from Cella’s article about Doc Boone and decided that he wouldn’t be welcome on campus. If so, he might have called Joe to find out what he’d be talking about and made up the excuse that he’d need to obtain federal approval first, just to introduce a roadblock. Maybe. 

Or could the request for clearance from federal authorities have reflected a degree of familiarity with Tammen’s case? Maybe Howard, who’d been working in communications for the university in various capacities since 1947, knew about the federal government’s involvement in Tammen’s disappearance. If so, he would have also known that the university wouldn’t want to anger the sorts of people whom I believe were pulling the strings. Perhaps Howard told Cella to seek clearance to make sure the university didn’t stray from whatever marching orders they might have been given back in 1953. If the feds say it’s OK, then it’s OK with us too, Howard might have told Cella.

I have no idea what materials Joe Cella had in his possession from the federal government concerning Tammen. Cella’s sons weren’t able to shed light on that question and his Tammen file is long gone. Likewise, when I asked them if they could recall the Halloween of 1973 when their father’s university talk had been abruptly canceled, it didn’t ring any bells with them. I also contacted former student representatives of Miami’s 1973-74 Program Board and asked if they could recall the incident. Only one person responded and that person had no recollection of the Tammen program that had been canceled.

In 1977, Cella was interviewed by a reporter for the Dayton Daily News about his search for Tammen. He didn’t mention the government materials he’d had in his possession in 1973. Instead, the article says: “Cella said that federal agencies have refused to cooperate with him or Tammen’s family.” In addition, it said that he’d attempted to obtain Tammen’s records from the Social Security Administration but was refused.

This past week, I was in Oxford again, conducting more Tammen research, and I was standing in Miami’s Athletic Hall of Fame inside Millett Hall. There, among the photos of swimmers, wrestlers, football players, basketball players, and the like was a photo of Robert T. Howard, who’d been inducted in 1989 for his role in directing sports information.

So…who do you think canceled Joe’s Halloween talk in 1973?

As for the year 2021, Happy Halloween to all who celebrate! 🎃

The tinderbox and the match: the honest truth about the St. Louis fire of 1973

The 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO

Today, we’re going to take a break from my Ronald Tammen updates to discuss a topic that many of us have run into when seeking a person’s military records from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO. Perhaps you’re one of the unlucky persons who has tried to locate a family member’s records and received a letter that opens with these discouraging words:

“Thank you for contacting the National Personnel Records Center. The complete Official Military Personnel File for the veteran named above is not in our files. If the record were here on July 12, 1973, it would have been in the area that suffered the most damage in the fire on that date and may have been destroyed. The fire destroyed the major portion of records of Army military personnel who separated from the service between 1912 and 1959, and records of Air Force personnel with surnames Hubbard through Z who separated between 1947 through 1963.”

More than 22 million files were lost in the fire. Fortunately, staffers in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which oversees the records housed in the NPRC, have been able to reconstruct details of the affected veterans’ time spent while they were serving our country, though those details are likely incomplete. NARA employees are good at what they do, but they’re not magicians.

I’ve always wondered about that fire, which sounded suspicious to me. How did it even start?

Last month, I was submitting a request for Richard Tammen’s (Ron’s younger brother’s) military records—which, alas, I’m afraid may be among those that were destroyed—when I also decided to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI regarding their investigation into the St. Louis fire. Nine hundred digital pages later, the smoke has finally lifted. It took some work—the FBI never makes things easy, and you won’t believe the lengths they went to this time in order to keep the facts hidden. (Spoiler alert: I’m seeing strong signs of a cover-up that reeks of something far worse.) But after sifting through the documents and comparing what seemed to be the most relevant clues, a heartbreakingly human story has emerged. From what I can tell, this story has never been told publicly before. Other people have FOIA’d these same documents—I’m not the first person to do that. But you, Good Man readers—you, the most scholarly bunch of history-slash-mystery buffs I know, will be the first to learn the truth as best as I can tell.

First, let’s have a quick rundown on the fire. It broke out in the early morning hours of Thursday, July 12, 1973—around 12:15. At that time, most of the building’s occupants were custodians and maintenance workers who’d started their shifts at 4 p.m. the previous day and who would be officially off duty at 12:30 a.m. As the workers were winding things up for the night, returning trash carts and tools to the first floor of the building and signing out at the guards’ stations on the first and second floors, they started to smell the smoke. It was primarily traveling downward by way of the elevator shafts from one of the upper floors, though, at the beginning, they couldn’t be sure which one. Some people ventured to higher floors to scope things out, but the walls of smoke quickly drove them back.

As workers exited the building, some to their cars and others to the fenced-in area surrounding the building, their vantage points improved. Glowing flames were visible through the windows at the south end of the sixth floor—the uppermost floor of the building. Someone called the fire department and minutes later, the first firetruck arrived at the scene. Over the next five days, 42 fire departments would help battle the blaze.

Remarkably, the fire had grown so intense so quickly that firefighters couldn’t put it out until the sixth floor was in ashes and the concrete roof had collapsed upon it.

What’s more, no one would be able to officially pinpoint the fire’s cause, at least not from the physical evidence. Neither the fire marshal nor the FBI laboratory staff who flew in from D.C. to investigate would be able to safely explore the sixth floor before the roof caved in. The FBI’s ongoing talking point was that there were no signs of arson, but how could they know without having been on the sixth floor? Any possible signs of arson would have been buried under concrete rubble.

But make no mistake: arson was always the primary suspect. Building representatives and the FBI would occasionally speculate about faulty wiring or spontaneous combustion when speaking with news reporters, but the question in the front of their minds was always: who set this fire and why? Because for some reason, people were always lighting fires in that building. In the two years prior, a dozen or so fires had been discovered in rest room trash cans, custodial closets, and other areas. Some were reported to authorities. Other fires discovered in the nick of time were extinguished and quietly forgotten.

Also, the building, which was ballyhooed as being fireproof, was a proverbial tinderbox. Paper documents numbering in the tens of millions were tightly packed in cardboard boxes on metal shelves. As a cost-saving measure, someone from the General Services Administration (GSA), which oversaw the facility and the staff who maintained it, had made the decision to install sprinklers and fire alarms only on the first and part of the second floors. The upper floors, where the majority of the files were stored, went without. Another money-saving decision was to turn off air conditioners at 5 p.m. every night throughout most of the building, including the file areas. Custodians steered clear of the files as much as possible, though occasionally, someone would go there for a quick smoke , even though smoking was forbidden in those areas. They would brave the unbearable for some privacy and a nicotine buzz.

In addition to housing the military records, the NPRC served as an annex of sorts to the St. Louis field office of the FBI. Agents stationed on the second floor of the building could easily conduct background checks for persons who’d served in the various branches of the military. 

Even though FBI investigators couldn’t look through the physical evidence on the sixth floor, they still had access to the next best thing: people. On July 12, they began to interview as many workers as possible who might be able to share information about the fire’s origin, especially anyone who was working in the building the previous night. If they were working on or near the sixth floor, that was all the better. “Did you see anything or anyone unusual?” would have been one of their go-to questions.

One custodian who was interviewed twice—first on July 12, and later on the 16th—had told investigators that he’d been working on the sixth floor for part of his shift but then went downstairs at around 10:30-10:45 p.m. During his second interview, this additional detail was written in the summary: “There was a crew of possibly three people who were buffing the floors on the sixth floor after he left.”

A custodian who’d been waxing the floors that night (likely on the sixth floor, although that detail has been redacted), was interviewed on July 13. We’ll discuss his comments in a few minutes.

On Tuesday, July 17, another night custodian, Terry Gene Davis, was interviewed. Davis was a 22-year-old Vietnam veteran, formerly with the U.S. Coast Guard. He’d also attended Meramec Junior College for a time. He’d been working as a custodian at NPRC since June of the previous year.

Davis didn’t work on the sixth floor—he was mainly stationed on floors four and five. However, he was one of only a few people who’d gone upstairs after the fire had started to see if he could find the source. On his own initiative, he took the stairwell all the way to the sixth floor to have a look around.

Davis walked to the southern part of the building and reported that the “west one-third of the building on the sixth floor in the file section was not on fire and was relatively clear of smoke.” It was when he started walking eastward, however, that “he ran into a solid wall of heavy dense, grayish-black smoke.” 

Click on image for closer view
Click on image for a closer view

More than 80 individuals were interviewed in the ensuing days, offering up whatever details they could think of that might be of help. Nevertheless, it didn’t appear as if the FBI was getting any closer to finding the source of the fire.

That all changed on October 12, when a male custodian signed a confession stating that he’d been smoking a cigarette near the files on the sixth floor at roughly 11 p.m. on July 11. He couldn’t recall his exact location, but said that it was at the south end of the building, toward the western side. The person, whose name is redacted, recalled discarding the match on the floor, and then snuffing out the cigarette in a screw hole in one of the metal shelves. 

“It has been on my mind and I have been worried about the fire because I did not intend for it to happen,” he said. 

Then he addressed a point that the special agents who were grilling him had undoubtedly asked about. Five employees had first-hand knowledge of him stating that he’d set the fire on purpose.

“I told some people that I threw matches in the files but I was only running off at the mouth,” he said. “I lit one match for my cigarette and I shook it out and threw it down. I don’t know where it landed but I think it landed on the floor.”

He signed the statement, and then two special agents added their signatures as well as the smoker’s identifying information.

Click on image for a closer view
Click on image for a closer view
Click on image for a closer view

With this new development, U.S. Attorney Donald Stohr instructed the FBI to interview the five coworkers concerning the sixth-floor smoker’s remarks. They said that they recalled him saying things about starting the fire, but they didn’t take him too seriously. The smoker on the sixth floor was known as an attention-seeker, they said. But as the months wore on, his claims grew bolder. He was saying that the fire was intentional—that he’d pulled out a box of files and lit it with his matches. A couple people warned him to be cool and to stop talking. They actually started to believe him. He was also beginning to show signs of worry, wondering what they would do to the person who set the fire. The fire was beginning to consume him. 

“It was obvious that he felt things more deeply than he let on,” one of them said.

Their statements are included here:

Stohr also asked that the FBI check with the smoker’s school and doctor for possible background info. We don’t get to see much of anything that they said, but I’ll include those heavily redacted summaries anyway:

School records of the sixth-floor smoker; click on image for a closer view
Doctor’s records of the sixth-floor smoker; click on image for a closer view

They also checked with the local police, who had nothing on him:

Police records (or lack thereof) of the sixth-floor smoker; click on image for a closer view

Stohr didn’t think that they had enough evidence to prosecute the sixth-floor smoker. A remorseful confession plus hearsay repeated by five coworkers didn’t sound like a slam-dunk to him. He said that they had two choices: turn matters over to the GSA, the smoker’s employer, and let them deal with him as they see fit. Or, they could present their evidence to the Federal Grand Jury in the Eastern District of Missouri to see if they had enough to initiate criminal proceedings. Stohr and others elected to do the latter and they argued their case on October 31, 1973. That same day, the Grand Jury returned a “no true bill,” which means that they didn’t feel that the U.S. Attorney had enough evidence to prosecute the case. The case was closed.

The next day, Terry Gene Davis shot himself in the head and died. Or at least that’s the official date that’s on the books. He hadn’t reported to work since October 30, and his body wasn’t discovered until November 5, when a concerned coworker who lived next door checked on him. The coroner said that, based on the state of decomposition of his body and the most recent sightings, he died on November 1. 

Here’s the note that Terry Gene left behind, which has been lightly censored by someone at the FBI. I have no idea what the three asterisks mean, but I’m pretty sure I know what the two blank lines represent, and I agree with him on that point 100 percent.

“There just isn’t any point to any of this. Nobody gives a damn and never has. Blame it on dope. Blame it on parents. But people *** are the cause of all the _______   _______ in the world. All I ever needed was to know somebody gave a damn about anything to do with me.

“Where is truth? Where is love? Where is anything that is real? Thank you KADI. Thank you KSHE. Thank you humanity.”

The FBI summary noted that KADI and KSHE were local rock stations and that “Davis’ main ambition in the world was to become a star rock and roll performer.” It also said that he had been given an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard due to “psychiatric difficulties involving depression and anxiety.” Recently, he’d been having troubles with his parents and his girlfriend had just left him. He’d also had a minor car crash and had been arrested for riding his motorcycle through a prohibited area.

Click on image for a closer view
Click on image for a closer view
Click on image for a closer view

The article that ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on November 9 shows no mercy: “Drug User Kills Self; ‘Nobody Gave a Damn,’” it said.

I’d like to request a do-over. I have no idea who Terry Gene Davis was. His name is way too common for me to feel confident about my search results on genealogy websites. Did he go by Terry? Gene? TG? Or did friends and family call him by both names, like a Jim Bob or a Tommy Lee? Here’s what we know: he was born on July 29, 1950, and he died November 1, 1973. He was just getting his sea legs, doing what budding adults do. He attended a junior college. He joined the service. He valued love, truth, and humanity. Even though I didn’t know him, I think I can also safely say this: If Terry Gene Davis had anything to do with the NPRC fire, I’m quite sure that he was FREAKING OUT in the days before he died. 

We’ve all managed to eff things up on the job at least once or twice in our lives, am I right? Oh my God, I’ve done some cockamamie things while I was on the clock. Have I accidentally burned down the entire floor of a federal building? Well, no. I’ll admit, that was pretty huge. But I also think that it could have been worse. The loss was less monumental than first realized and although there were injuries among firefighters, no one died in the fire. Also, as mentioned earlier, NARA has been able to reconstruct many of the destroyed records.

I’m going to go ahead and say it: I think Terry Gene Davis was the smoker on the sixth floor. And if Terry Gene did it, I think he regretted it terribly. On the night it happened, who walked up to the sixth floor to the very place where the fire was thought to have originated? Terry Gene. That sounds like something I might have done if I wanted to make sure I hadn’t caused the fire, just to put my mind at ease.

I know, I know. The identifying info under the smoker’s confession doesn’t match Terry Gene at all—not his height, not his weight, not even his race. (Apologies for the obsolete and offensive term used by the 1973 FBI.) His confession also says that the smoker cleaned the escalators on all six floors and worked as a custodian at NPRC for three years. In October 1973, Terry Gene had only been there a year and four months.

Terry Gene’s description:

Click on image for a closer view

Sixth-floor smoker’s description:

Click on image for a closer view

But is it possible—hear me out—is it remotely feasible that the FBI altered the identifying details of the sixth-floor smoker to throw everyone off? 

As you know, I’m usually a big believer in archival documents. I often look to them as touchstones of truth we can all rely upon. Could it be that at least one or more members of the St. Louis FBI felt differently? Could someone have viewed the smoker’s signed confession as an opportunity to manufacture a new reality? Tweak a few details, and bada bing, bada boom…you have an edited version that’s more pleasing to the powers that be, for whatever reason.

Coincidentally, the special agent in charge of the St. Louis field office had some history with that very thing. His name was Robert G. Kunkel, and he’d recently been publicly demoted by Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray in 1972 for writing a false report to Gray about the D.C. field office that Kunkel oversaw. The report had to do with the actions of Kunkel’s special agents at an antiwar protest, and he doctored the report to present a more favorable account of what had transpired. In a Washington Post article, sources had said that they felt “that Kunkel’s report had been motivated by a long-standing ‘don’t embarrass the bureau’ syndrome.” By the time of the fire, Gray was gone, and Clarence Kelly was the new FBI director. Did Kunkel or his special agents feel more empowered under Kelly, a fellow Missourian, to reinstate past editorial protocols? 

Here’s why I believe Terry Gene Davis was the sixth-floor smoker:

  • A floor waxer mentioned a white male Vietnam veteran in his early 20s
    As I mentioned earlier, on July 13, the FBI had interviewed a custodian who’d been waxing floors the night of the fire, likely on the sixth floor, though the floor number is redacted. During that interview, the custodian had passed along various names and background info, most of which were redacted. The exception was when he described one—possibly two—white male Vietnam veterans in their early 20s. 

    Another custodian had said that the sixth-floor custodians were waxing floors around 10:30-10:45 p.m. If so, then the floor waxer could have seen the sixth-floor smoker at 11 p.m., and the smoker may have been one of the Vietnam vets that he’d mentioned to the FBI.
  • The sixth-floor smoker’s school and medical records were requested by US Attorney Stohr
    Stohr had requested school and medical records for the sixth-floor smoker. Although the words are redacted, we can see that his school record is a couple inches in length, which is likely to include more than his K-12 years. In the smoker’s confession, he said that before he started working for NPRC, he “attended” BLANK, which was redacted. So it seems as though the person attended some type of college after high school. Terry Gene had attended Meramec Junior College.

    As for medical records, I don’t think Stohr would have been interested in hearing from the sixth-floor smoker’s GP. Stohr was considering a possible arson case, so it makes more sense that the doctor who Stohr wanted to consult would have had direct knowledge of the smoker’s mental health. We know that Terry Gene experienced depression and anxiety in Vietnam, so much so that he received an honorable discharge on that basis. I’m no expert, but it sounds as if Terry Gene may have been suffering from PTSD, which has afflicted many Vietnam veterans. If Terry Gene was being treated by a Veterans Affairs–appointed psychiatrist, which is a reasonable hypothesis, and if he was the sixth-floor smoker, Stohr would have wanted to hear his psychiatrist’s opinion.
  • The sixth-floor smoker’s whereabouts and comments after the fire started match those of Terry Gene
    One of the five coworkers (coworker 4) recalled that the sixth-floor smoker had been on the sixth floor after the fire started and that he’d noticed no flames toward the west end. (Page 7 of the coworkers’ statements: paragraph 3, last sentence.)

    Based on Terry Gene’s 7/17/73 interview, he was on the sixth floor after the fire started. He also said the following: “He walked over to the south side of the building where the windows are located and said that the west one-third of the building on the sixth floor in the file section was not on fire and was relatively clear of smoke.” 
  • Terry Gene Davis killed himself one day after the Grand Jury ruling
    In the FBI report of Terry Gene’s suicide, we’re told about all the things that had been going badly in his life—his relationship with his parents, his girlfriend’s decision to leave him, his car accident, his arrest. If Terry Gene was responsible for the NPRC fire, then all of the above could have been the result of the stress he was under because of the fire. Stress can heat up our emotions. It can break up our relationships. It can make us prone to bad decisions. 

    The coroner said Terry Gene had died on November 1, a detail I can’t dispute. However, if Terry Gene was the sixth-floor smoker, is it possible that he hadn’t been made aware of the Grand Jury’s decision? No one mentioned calling him on October 31st, for whatever reason—they simply said that he hadn’t been to work since October 30. If Terry Gene was the sixth-floor smoker, then perhaps he didn’t even know that he wouldn’t be facing prosecution by the federal government, which probably would have been a huge relief to him. 
  • A handwritten note on the FBI report of Davis’ suicide refers to the “no bill” ruling that was returned by the U.S. Fed. Grand Jury for the sixth-floor smoker
    At the bottom of the FBI report on Terry Gene’s suicide, dated 11/6/73, someone has jotted the following note. As best as I can determine, it says [with question marks added where I’m unsure]: 

    ASAC Devic
    Advised 9:15 11/16[?]/73
    What[?] Co Report
    Submitted 11/5/73
    Reflecting no bill at U.S. Fed. Grand Jury

    The words “ASAC Devic” refer to the assistant special agent in charge of the St. Louis field officeThe next two lines are more cryptic. Perhaps that’s the date and time that someone had been advised of Terry Gene’s suicide, though it’s too difficult to say. The bottom two lines are easier to decipher. I believe they refer to the 11/5/73 FBI report that notified the US Attorney and the GSA about the “no bill” ruling for the sixth-floor smoker. Whoever wrote the note felt that the Grand Jury ruling on the sixth-floor smoker somehow pertained to Terry Gene Davis, who’d committed suicide one day after the Grand Jury’s ruling.
Handwritten notation refers to the “no bill” ruling by the Grand Jury for the sixth-floor smoker on the memo about Terry Gene Davis’ suicide; click on image for a closer view
  • The 11/6/73 memo on Terry Gene’s suicide says that Terry Gene furnished “strongest information implicating” the sixth-floor smoker 
    In the FBI’s response to my FOIA request, they supplied me with two versions of the same memo announcing Terry Gene’s suicide. The memo pertained to a report submitted by one of the special agents dated 10/17/73. That report included the sixth-floor smoker’s signed confession and the statements of the five coworkers who’d heard the smoker talk about starting the fire.
Click on image for a closer view

In one version of the memo (excerpt directly above), the first sentence reads “For information of Bureau, TERRY GENE DAVIS, who in interview set forth in referenced report furnished strongest information implicating REDACTED in captioned fire, discovered dead 8:30 PM, 11/5/73.” The words “strongest information implicating” are visible in that version but they’re redacted in the other version, which is shown with the handwritten notation under the preceding bullet. Bar none, the strongest information implicating the sixth-floor smoker was the signed confession, which tells me that, if the author of the memo is being truthful, Terry Gene furnished the signed confession.

The referenced report also included the statements of the five coworkers. Could one of those individuals have been Terry Gene? No, not based on the identifying characteristics that are provided. Not one person in the report has the same identifying characteristics as those supposedly belonging to Terry Gene Davis, as presented after his 7/17 interview. In other words, if Terry Gene’s information was so incredibly strong in implicating the sixth-floor smoker, where was he in the report?

Coworker 1

Coworker 2

Coworker 3

Coworker 4

Coworker 5

In July 1974, Ted Gest, of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, wrote an article on the probable cause of the fire, quoting US Attorney Stohr. The article said that the fire was due to an employee’s careless smoking in a nonsmoking area. I’m including Stohr’s quotes below because they’re especially interesting when they’re applied to the deceased Terry Gene Davis:

  • “Stohr said his office had concluded that the suspected smoker ‘is not prosecutable criminally.’” 
  • “Stohr said the suspect no longer worked for the government.” 
  • “Because he was ‘employed under a program for handicapped persons,’ no public identification will be made, Stohr said.”
  • “Stohr said of the suspected cigarette smoker that ‘there would appear to be very little merit in endeavoring to recover any damages in a civil proceeding because of (his) personal circumstances.’”

You may be wondering why the FBI and U.S. Attorney Stohr didn’t come clean about the person who caused the fire, be it Terry Gene Davis or someone else. Was the secrecy to protect the person responsible? I doubt it.

Here’s my guess regarding the reason: Typed on a sheet behind the sixth-floor smoker’s confession is a short, heavily redacted paragraph in which one of the FBI’s special agents who worked in the NPRC says that he loaned a cigarette to REDACTED on the night of the fire. 

Click on image for a closer view

A follow-up memo said that it happened at around 11 p.m. the night of the fire and that the cigarette-lending special agent also provided a light to the suspect. Unfortunately, the memo goes on to say that they aren’t able to get the SA and the suspect in the same room for an ID since one of them was on administrative leave.

Click on image for a closer view

If an FBI special agent was the source of the cigarette that burned through 22 million veterans’ personnel records, that’d be bad. If Terry Gene Davis was the sixth-floor smoker and the FBI covered it up to hide their possible culpability, that’d be worse. And if, as part of their cover-up, they decided to say that the sixth-floor smoker was Black when he was white, that’s morally repugnant and racist as hell.

Terry Gene was right. “Where is anything that is real?”

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If you’re interested in obtaining a family member’s military records, go to this website and follow the instructions. Even if the record was destroyed in the fire, NARA personnel have been incredibly helpful in piecing together at least some pertinent information. They did it for me.

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The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is: 800-273-8255.

Help is available 24/7.

Zeroing in on Ron’s ‘zero’ file

Cincinnati Field Office, image credit: FBI.gov

On or about May 17, 2008, someone in the Cincinnati field office of the FBI discarded a document on Ron Tammen. The document was located in their Classification 190 files, right up front, in the file labeled “0”—known as the zero file. Classification 190 files have to do with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or Privacy Act. As for the 0 files, here’s what the National Archives and Records Administration has said about them: used for administrative and logistical matters but mostly were used for citizen correspondence related to a classification, routine request for information, and general reference materials.

As you may recall, I was a little bemused when I learned that Ron’s 0 record had been destroyed in May 2008, since I also knew that Frank Smith, Butler County’s cold case detective, had reopened the case roughly five months earlier, in January. Butler County is in the Cincinnati field office’s jurisdiction. Why would the FBI have destroyed Ron’s record when they knew the case had been reopened? And did they ever pass along whatever was in the 0 file to Det. Smith? And if the document had to do with the Privacy Act, could it be that Ron Tammen himself had requested that his fingerprints be expunged? That seems…oh, I dunno…significant.

As I mentioned in The Cincy file, I wanted to know more. As you can see in the above graphic, Ron’s now nonexistent document was identified with the ending label “Serial 967,” which means that his was document number 967 within the 0 file, behind number 966 and ahead of 968. I wanted to see who Ron’s neighbors were in the file, so I submitted a FOIA request for all documents numbered between 900 and 999. For example, if the surrounding documents were all fingerprint expungement requests, then I’d be willing to bet that Ron’s now obliterated document was a fingerprint expungement request as well. Today I received 39 documents, which you can review here.

There’s not a lot of information to be gleaned from these documents. Only the titles are provided, which offer at least a glimpse into the 0 file’s contents. Some of the documents are administrative. Some have to do with expungement requests from various people whose names—and all other pertinent information—have been redacted. Some have to do with requests for documents, most likely from people who wanted to review whatever documents that the FBI has on them. And then there’s the beloved redacted category. Here’s a breakdown by subject and the number of documents having to do with each. (Note that I was conservative in my groupings.)

SUBJECTNUMBER OF DOCS
[Redacted]4
Inmates rights1
Copy of inmates rights1
Application to DEA (*Drug Enforcement Administration, I believe)1
Expungement5
Court orders re expungement should go to BCII (*Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, I believe)1
Proof of death1
Request all documents5
Imperfected request, notary needed1
Entry ordering expungement1
Extry (*?) ordering expungement1
ELSUR (Electronic Surveillance) [redacted]1
CJIS instructions re expungement1
Proper submission of expungement1
Order sealing conviction1
Returning order sealing conviction1
Disposition of case1
Return disposition sheet—referred to DEA1
Third-party request require privacy waiver or proof of death2
Enclosing copy of certified judgment order expunging record1
Returning enclosures1
Inquiry re [redacted] Ident record1
Return judgment entry with Ohio instructions from CJIS1
CJIS and need for fingerprints1
Copy of Attorney General order 556-731
ELSUR check for [redacted] inmate1
Corrections on rapsheet1

It is what it is—generally, a hodgepodge of requests from a bunch of random people plus some administrative guidance from Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) on expungement and other noteworthy topics. I’m actually a little baffled by the 0 file’s lack of specificity. They couldn’t create separate files for expungement requests versus FOIA requests versus administrative guidelines under Classification 190? They had to toss them all into the same gigantic file?

But let’s not give up just yet. I’ve also come to learn a few additional facts about the Cincinnati file:

  • Just because the document number has a “CI” in front of it doesn’t mean that it originated in the Cincinnati office per se. The FBI’s Cincinnati field office encompasses 48 counties in southern Ohio. (Cleveland’s field office has jurisdiction over the remaining 40 counties in northern Ohio.) The Cincinnati field office also comprises resident agencies, which are located in other cities, such as Dayton and Columbus. Ron’s document could have originated in any one of Cincinnati’s resident agencies—we can’t be sure of which one. However, we can be sure that it originated in southern Ohio.
  • The Classification 190 files are overseen by the chief division counsel—a lawyer. This person reports directly to the special agent in charge, or the SAC. The SAC heads up the entire Cincinnati field office. 
  • The destruction of files is overseen by the administrative officer, and he or she does so on the basis of the document retention schedules we’ve discussed in past blog posts, generally years later. This person also reports directly to the SAC.
  • Ever since the FBI automated its files, agents can enter a name and pop up a number of files in which that name appears, regardless of the file’s origin. When the agent working with Det. Frank Smith was conducting his or her search on Tammen in January 2008, all of the relevant files appeared on screen, including Tammen’s Classification 190 record.
  • Detective Smith’s file on the Tammen case was given to me by the Butler County Sheriff’s Office after Smith retired. His file contains all of the same FBI documents that I received from FBI Headquarters, with the exception that some portions of his documents had been unredacted (alas, nothing useful concerning Tammen, unfortunately). From what I can tell, he did not receive the 190-CI-0, Serial 967 document on Tammen.

One question I’ve had was whether the 190-CI-0, Serial 967 document was simply Det. Smith’s FOIA request to the Cincinnati office for Tammen’s documents. According to the FBI’s printout (above) of Tammen documents, which I’d obtained from my lawsuit, we don’t know the original date of the document that was destroyed in May 2008. Perhaps the FBI special agent whom Det. Smith was working with had created a record concerning Smith’s request  and he or she didn’t feel the need to send that to Smith as well. But I’ve discounted that theory, since the record was destroyed only five months later, far earlier than normal retention schedules would permit. 

Here’s where my head is at the moment: Document number 190-CI-0, Serial 967 could have been a boring old FOIA request from anyone seeking FBI documents on Ronald Tammen. Perhaps the agent working with Smith saw it and decided it was useless information for Smith’s purposes. (I can’t imagine who the FOIA requester would have been, though. I didn’t submit my FOIA request until 2010 and I think I preceded most others in the Tammen-obsessed public. For anyone reading this who may have submitted a FOIA request on Tammen to the Cincinnati FBI before 2008, please let me know.) Regardless, I’d think that the agent still would have passed the document to Smith. Who knows, the inquirer might have been relevant to Smith’s search. It’s tough to say without a date of origin.

It’s also feasible that Ron Tammen submitted a request to the FBI’s Cincinnati field office (or its resident agencies) to expunge his fingerprints, or, alternatively, that he submitted an information request to the FBI and that’s how he discovered that they’d had his prints. Either way, someone within the FBI may have felt the need to destroy that request in May 2008, five months after they found out that Butler County had decided to reopen his cold case.

Rest assured that Cincinnati hasn’t heard the last of me.

The second man, part 2: a Friday-night document drop

Good evening, dear AGMIHTF readers. Tonight I’ll be dropping three historic documents for your perusal. Please be advised: the forthcoming document drop will not be answering any major questions. Rather, these documents are more corroborating in nature. But, hey, corroboration is a good thing too, right? In fact, imho, there’s nothing quite like a little corroboration to get the weekend off to a half-decent start.

Tonight’s documents have to do with Richard Delp. As I explained two blog posts ago (and for those of you who are keeping score at home, that was post #79. Can you believe we’re now at #81?!), Richard Delp was an assistant professor in psychology who, for whatever reason, was listed in the number two spot of three professors in Carl Knox’s notes concerning Ron Tammen’s disappearance. 

Here’s a quick refresher from that post:

In October 1952, Richard Delp had been called onto the carpet by an unidentified supervisor, most likely department chair Everett Patten, to discuss his lack of a Ph.D., a crucial thing for someone in his position to have. He was given until the end of the 1953-54 academic year to finish his thesis, otherwise, his job would be in jeopardy. 

In a follow-up report of the conversation, the supervisor described admonishing Delp thusly: “I pointed out to him that he was now in his third year as an assistant professor, that the probation period was from two to four years, and that if he didn’t have his Doctor’s degree by the end of 1953-54, the question of his retention might arise.”

For those of you who are still keeping score at home, the end of academic year 1953-54 would be sometime in late May or early June of 1954, depending on whether or not you’re counting finals week in your calculations. Therefore, Delp had been given roughly 20 months in which to double down on getting his doctorate degree. Twenty months sounds totally doable, but it’s not realistic. Since Delp had such a taxing teaching schedule, and since he was pursuing his degree at Ohio State, he did most of his graduate work in the summers. Essentially, he had one summer—the summer of 1953—to get everything done.

He didn’t.

Most people would guess that Delp’s job in psychology would have come to an abrupt end, but that’s not what happened. A one-page administrative sheet documenting his salary and promotions while in the psychology department said that, in 1954, not only didn’t he receive a pink slip, but he received tenure. 

This concludes the refresher.

In academia, tenure is a prestigious perk that assures a professor that, unless they do something egregious, their job will always be safe. It’s a big deal. In order for Richard Delp to receive tenure, his nomination would have to be approved by the president of the university—who was Dr. John Millett—and the Board of Trustees, which met every year at the end of the spring semester. But at that level, the list is pretty much rubberstamped. The more in-depth conversations would have taken place earlier in the year with the provost, Dr. Clarence Kreger; the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Dr. W.E. Alderman; and of course, the chair of the psychology department, Dr. Everett Patten.

So I wondered: were university administrators a little more lenient back then? I don’t know much about Dean Alderman, but I’ve read about how Kreger operated, and he was legendarily tough as nails. It wasn’t a secret that he intimidated people—a lot—Everett Patten being one of those people. How could Patten have convinced Kreger that Delp should be rewarded with tenure when his job performance in 1954 was so lackluster and he still didn’t have his Ph.D.? Was the one-sheeter accurate? I mean, look at it. It’s a mimeographed form with notations hand-scrawled in ink or pencil lead. It hardly looks like an official document. However, I’d seen records on professors in other departments, and they had the same penned-in forms. It seemed to be factual, but I wanted to be sure.

I went back to the university. The Board of Trustees meetings are posted on Miami’s Digital Collections, so I located the one that seemed to be the most promising contender for granting Delp’s tenure: June 4, 1954. However, when I read the minutes, I discovered that the handouts containing the names of the employees who were being voted on weren’t included online. I submitted a public records request to Miami’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC), asking if they still had them, and if so, could I have a copy.

Yesterday, the OGC sent me a scanned copy of the handout.

Document #1: Board of Trustees handouts – June 4, 1954

Two things jumped out at me: Not only did Richard Delp indeed receive tenure on June 4, 1954 (see page 7), but he’d been on leave during the spring semester of that year as well (see page 1).

So it all boils down to this:

  • In October 1952, Richard Delp is warned that he has until the end of the 1953-54 academic year—by June 1954—to get his Ph.D., and he promises to ask his thesis adviser and others at Ohio State how he can do that. 
  • Except for the year he took off from Miami to work full-time on his doctorate degree, Delp was mainly commuting to Ohio State during the summers to work on his Ph.D.
  • The only summer between October 1952 and June 1954 was the summer of 1953. But Delp didn’t register for graduate work at Ohio State that summer.
  • Also, he took time off from teaching during the spring of 1954, though we don’t know why. Perhaps he was writing his thesis, but, if so, he never defended it. He never registered for graduate work at Ohio State after summer 1951.
  • June 4, 1954, Richard Delp is approved for tenure by Miami’s Board of Trustees.
Richard Delp’s transcripts from Ohio State University. He never attended after summer 1951.

I may be wrong, but I think something happened between October 1952 (when Richard Delp was warned to get his Ph.D.) and June 1953 (when he should have been enrolled in graduate work at Ohio State) to make Richard Delp think that his position was safe with the Department of Psychology.

Documents 2&3: Men’s Disciplinary Board nomination

The other two documents I’m dropping tonight were written in August 1956, when Richard Delp was invited to sit on the Men’s Disciplinary Board, a board by which male students who veered outside the university’s rules were dealt with accordingly. Delp felt conflicted about sitting on the board, and he wrote to Kreger to explain why. Mainly, it was because Delp had been informally counseling students and he felt that assuming the two roles—informal counselor and disciplinary board member—would be problematic.

Dr. Kreger was not pleased. The next day, he wrote Delp, telling him that he wasn’t aware that Delp was acting in that role, and adding: “If you have assumed a personal counseling function which is taking a sufficient amount of your time to interfere with intellectual growth and scholarly productivity, I think we ought to know about it.” In a postscript, he reminded Delp that any extra time should be devoted to working on his Ph.D. instead. Kreger invited Delp in for a meeting, though I don’t know if it took place. I do know that Delp served as a member of the Men’s Disciplinary Board for academic year 1956-57 and possibly the following year as well.

My point is this: Clarence Kreger was definitely not a softie and the fact that Delp still didn’t have his Ph.D. in 1956 did not escape his notice. I just wish I knew what convinced Kreger and all the others to nominate Delp for tenure in 1954.

Again, I’m just putting the question out there. If you have thoughts/comments/questions, please feel free to DM me or write rontammenproject@gmail.com. Have a great weekend, everyone.

Did Richard blackmail Ron?, part 2

Photo by satria setiawan on Unsplash

Last November, we discussed Ron Tammen’s bank account—his earnings, expenses, savings, and outstanding debts at the time he disappeared. Even though university administrators had told the press at the time that Ron wasn’t in financial trouble, you and I couldn’t help but notice how hard he was working at a variety of jobs, and taking out loans to boot, yet he was still having difficulty keeping his head above water. 

Meanwhile, Ron’s younger and less agreeable brother Richard didn’t seem at all strapped for cash during 1952-53. How could Richard seemingly coast through his freshman year of college, subsisting only on the money he’d earned caddying in the summer? As a sophomore, Ron had caddied PLUS worked for the city of Maple Heights during the summer PLUS he had a scholarship, PLUS he had two regular jobs at Miami—playing with the Campus Owls and counseling freshman residents of Fisher Hall—PLUS he was always looking into other ways to earn money, such as donating his blood and whatever else. By April 1953, Ron should have had a hefty sum accrued in his checking account, but he didn’t. He only had $87 and some change, and he still owed the university $110 for board plus he needed to pay back a $100 loan.

All of this begged the question: Was Ron Tammen supporting his brother Richard?

Which begged another question: Was Richard blackmailing Ron?

On this Labor Day weekend, a time when we celebrate America’s workers, I thought it would be fitting to discuss Richard’s Social Security earnings statement. That’s right, readers, thanks to the assistance of some very helpful people, I now have Richard’s Social Security earnings statement for 1952-1954, the years he attended Miami as a freshman and sophomore. 

Before we delve, I’d like to discuss what a Social Security earnings statement is and what it isn’t.

But first, this caveat: OH MY GOSH, you guys, this is so not my area of expertise. I’m sitting here on a gorgeous Saturday reading the Social Security website just trying to understand this topic well enough to explain it adequately. If you happen to specialize in this area and I get anything wrong, please don’t hesitate to let me know, albeit gently. I didn’t pursue a career in tax law for a reason.

OK, let’s do this.

The Social Security earnings statement is a document that the Social Security Administration (SSA) produces detailing how much money you earned in a given year or years. They used to mail it to you but now you can create it on demand online. The earnings statement represents the amount of money that your employer has reported having paid you so that certain taxes can be withheld. Today, employers report annually, but in Richard’s and Ron’s day, it was reported quarterly. Come January of each year, we receive a W-2 with all of that info spelled out so we can use it to file our taxes. The SSA also uses the information to figure out our retirement income when that happy day arrives.

Still awake? Brilliant. The Social Security earnings statement may not include everything you earned for a particular year, however. Sometimes money will trade hands off the books, and the onus is on you to keep track of your earnings and file your taxes accordingly. Take caddying, for example. I’m sure both Ron and Richard were paid in cash by whomever they accompanied on the golf course on a given day. Also, Ron’s music gigs—I’m guessing the musicians were also paid in cash with no taxes withheld. But Ron’s jobs with the city of Maple Heights and Miami University would have definitely been included on his Social Security earnings statement. In Mr. Tammen’s letter to Ron in September 1952, he passed along tax information from Ron’s last check stubs from the city. 

Other potential sources of income that would not show up on the earnings statement would be:

Scholarship income

As I explained in an earlier post, Ron had a scholarship through the Cleveland District Golf Association. However, to the best of my knowledge, Richard didn’t have one. His academic standing wasn’t as good as Ron’s and a news article didn’t list him as a scholarship recipient for the year 1952-53. 

Loans

Richard wasn’t eligible for a university loan as a freshman. However, if anyone else loaned him money—such as Willis Wertz, the architecture professor who co-signed a loan for Ron—I don’t know. My guess is that Richard wouldn’t have been a good candidate due to his poor grades and his lack of a steady income by which to reimburse the loan.

Keeping all of this in mind, I will now report Richard’s earnings for the years 1952-54.

1952: $0

1953: $0

1954: $322.41

Like I said, we know Richard was caddying over the summers, which didn’t show up here. And we don’t know if he had obtained a loan. (I doubt it.) But we also can conclude that Richard wasn’t working for the university during this time, whether it be washing dishes, waiting tables, or anything else students might be employed to do. That income would have been documented here. Likewise, a job with an employer off campus where he would have received a paycheck would have been documented in his earnings statement. From what I can tell, other than caddying, Richard wasn’t employed in 1952 or 1953.

The year after Ron disappeared, 1953-54, was abysmal for Richard. The first semester, he was placed on probation after he was caught cheating. Two grades were changed to Fs to accompany two Ds and a B. The second semester was almost as bad, where he earned a B, two Cs and an F. His transcript states that he was “Dropped for Scholarship.” Richard had flunked out.

Richard Tammen’s transcript from 1952-53 and 1953-54; click on image for a closer view

That summer, Richard got a job with the G.W. Cobb Company, in Cleveland, which makes storage tanks and liquid handling systems. That’s where he earned the $322.41, which was good money for someone his age, translating to $3,272.08 in today’s dollars for about 3 months of work. (He was employed during a portion of the second and third quarters.) In September of 1954, he enlisted in the Army, where he would stay until September 1956. 

In April 1956, Richard reapplied to Miami, asking to be readmitted to the Department of Architecture after his pending discharge from the Army. Miami said OK, providing that “he must make an average of 2.0 at the end of each semester henceforth; failure to do so to entail permanent suspension.” Richard managed to live by their rules, and he received his bachelor of architecture in August 1959 and his master of city design in June 1960. [Well, he *mostly* lived by the rules. See my correction in the comments below.]

So let’s get back to the big question: was Richard blackmailing Ron?

I think it’s a safe assumption that Richard wasn’t employed throughout his freshman year at Miami. Either he was earning enough money through caddying in the summer and during breaks or someone may have been helping him out—maybe Ron. 

However, when Ron was a freshman in 1951-52, he didn’t appear to be working on or off campus either. Also, there’s no evidence of Ron needing to obtain loans during that first year. However, Ron did have his scholarship during his freshman year in addition to his caddying and city work in the summers and breaks. It’s possible that Ron’s and Richard’s income sources were enough to get them through their respective freshman years at Miami. For this reason, I don’t think we can jump to the conclusion that Richard was blackmailing Ron during Richard’s freshman year. It’s possible, and I’ll admit that I leapt there when I first saw Richard’s earnings statement, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.

What does seem pretty clear is that, during his second year at Miami, Ron’s expenses outweighed those of a typical college student back then. His sophomore year was substantially more costly for him than his freshman year had been, despite the fact that he was always working and didn’t go out much. His money seemed to be going out as fast as it was coming in. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m even more convinced that someone was demanding money from Ron. I just still can’t be sure who it was or why.

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What do you think? Am I overlooking something?

Also, in looking at my Social Security earnings statement, I see that I made $528 in my first-ever job, which was a waitress and grill cook at a local lunch counter. One of the skills I mastered there was bacon, where I learned to cook it extra crispy. An actual quote that I’ll never forget someone saying was, “We like to come here for Jenny’s bacon,” which I found hilarious but kind of cool.

And you? What was your first job as we celebrate Labor Day? Got any stories?

The second man

During the brief period in which Miami University officials were actively looking into Ronald Tammen’s disappearance, Carl Knox had written three names on a legal pad. The first name was Prof. Dennison, which makes total sense. J. Belden Dennison was a revered professor of finance at Miami in addition to being an academic adviser to students in the Business School, Ron included. If I were Carl Knox, I, too, would have reached out to Dennison—“Denny” as his colleagues liked to call him. Denny would have let Knox know about how Ron had been falling behind in his coursework that year. He would have been a little perplexed when Knox informed him that Ron’s psychology book was left open on his desk the evening of his disappearance.

“Are you sure it was his psychology book, Carl?” Denny might have asked.

“That’s right—by Norman Munn. It was open to a section on Habits…or maybe he was reading about post-hypnotic suggestion on the righthand page. I don’t know.”

“Hmmm. That’s weird,” Denny would probably say. “Tammen had dropped his psychology course just recently. I know because I signed his withdrawal slip.” 

The third name on the list was Prof. Switzer, instructor of said psychology course. We’ve gotten to know Doc Switzer quite well over the years on this blog site. In fact, if he knew how many column-inches I’d be dedicating to his, um, extracurricular activities, I’m guessing the super-secretive Switzer would be rolling over in his grave right about now. (Sorry, Doc, but you fascinate me.)

It’s the second name on the list that we’ll be focusing on today: Prof. Delp.

In 1952-53, Richard T. Delp was an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. He, St. Clair Switzer, and Ted Perin, another Miami psychology professor who’d studied under Clark Hull, shared office space in room 118 of old Harrison Hall. I’ve mentioned earlier on this blog site that the inclusion of Delp’s name in the #2 position of Knox’s list is especially curious since Ron wasn’t taking a course from him. Why would Carl Knox think that Richard Delp could provide useful information concerning Ron Tammen?

Richard Delp was the consummate teacher. He loved to learn and he loved to teach. In fact, his zeal for learning made it somewhat difficult to pin down his area of expertise. As an undergraduate at Miami, he majored in psychology and sociology for his bachelor of arts degree, and the next year, he earned a bachelor of science degree in biology and English. As for biology, he especially enjoyed the flora and fauna of Ohio, and he seemed to get a lot of joy out of his farm on Morning Sun Road, where he would host picnics and lead groups of students on nature hikes. He built a cabin there for use by the local Boy Scouts, an organization he was active in for decades. A year after graduating with his B.S. degree, Delp earned his master’s, also from Miami, in education. 

Richard Delp

Delp’s academic career at Miami began in 1945-46, when he was hired by the English Department. (He taught recognition and code at the Naval School on campus for several months during WWII, although info is conflicting regarding the precise timeframe. Also, it was war-related so we’re not counting it here.) In 1946-47, he moved to the Department of Psychology, where Dr. Patten, the chair, probably felt incredibly fortunate to have found him. Throughout the war, the department had been chugging along on fumes as several faculty members had left their professorial posts to serve in the armed forces, including Switzer. After the war was over, the student population nearly doubled the next academic year, from 2345 to 4559. Courses in general psychology were back in high demand, jumping from 9 sections in 1945-46 to 22 in 1946-47. The department needed qualified people to teach heavy course loads throughout each day. Although Switzer had returned to Oxford, he wouldn’t be teaching for several more years as he was helping counsel returning veterans about possible career options. Richard Delp would have been a lifesaver to help carry some of the burden.

But there were aspects to academia that Delp struggled with, one of the main hurdles being the pursuit of a doctorate degree. 

Currently, anyone who aspires to teach at a university generally progresses straight through their educational training, from undergraduate degree to doctorate, oftentimes earning a master’s degree along the way. He or she then performs post-doctoral research somewhere until finally landing a position as an assistant professor, usually somewhere else. It’s a long and arduous process, but essential. Having a doctorate is pretty much a prerequisite to getting your foot inside the door as a faculty member at a university.

That’s only the beginning. You’ve heard of the phrase “publish or perish”? It’s definitely a thing. As soon as a person is hired as an assistant professor, they have several years in which to publish as many papers as they can, plus do anything else to stand out among their peers: acquire grants, serve on university committees, accrue some grad students, hobnob at professional meetings, deliver presentations, take part in media interviews—establish themselves as an expert. They also have to teach a bunch of classes, which includes grading a ton of papers. A cake walk it is not.

After several years, the promotion and tenure committee holds a high-def magnifying lens to that person’s accomplishments and decides if they deserve to be promoted to associate professor. If the answer is yes, they’re usually granted tenure—job security—at roughly the same time, generally after a probationary period. An answer of no is tantamount to being fired, and they need to begin a job search. Of course the process by which an associate professor is promoted to full professor requires more of the above, although they’ll still have a job if they should be turned down since they already have tenure.

Back in Delp’s day, there was a little more wiggle room. A person holding a master’s degree might be hired as an instructor or even an assistant professor. Such new hires would be expected to work toward a higher degree, and Delp certainly worked toward his. After Patten hired him in 1946-47 as an instructor, Delp began taking graduate classes at The Ohio State University that summer. He continued doing so during the summers of ’48 and ‘49, and in 1949-50, he attended graduate school full-time, residing in Columbus. His research thesis was on student ratings of college instructors. When he returned to Oxford in 1950, he was promoted to assistant professor in psychology, which was accompanied by a nice pay raise. In the summer of ’51, he was back to commuting to Ohio State to work on his research.

However, he didn’t finish his dissertation. With no dissertation, there’s no Ph.D. And with no Ph.D., well…he probably shouldn’t have been teaching the courses he was teaching. The 1950 faculty manual stipulated for assistant professors “whose major responsibility is the teaching of academic classes, the doctor’s degree or its equivalent from an accredited college or university shall be required.”

Can I just interject here that I feel for the guy? Spending nine months a year teaching hundreds of students and grading thousands of papers and then taking time off during the summer months to take graduate classes—which he excelled at—and conduct research sounds like a hard life with no let-up. By 1952, he didn’t do anything more toward his degree at Ohio State, according to his transcripts. Goodbye, Columbus.

On October 15, 1952, someone in a position of authority—I’m guessing it was Patten—had a sit-down with Delp to discuss his situation. The supervisor reminded Delp that his probationary period as an assistant professor was nearing an end and if he didn’t have his Ph.D. “by the end of 1953-54, the question of his retention might arise.” Delp vowed to discuss the matter with the folks at Ohio State and to work out a plan to “finish for his degree” by 1954. To soften the tone of his write-up, the supervisor added in the last paragraph that Delp was extremely busy with teaching and that “he seems to be happy with the work which he is doing with the Business students…,” though the supervisor doesn’t specify what work Delp was doing.

A supervisor’s report from a meeting with Delp on 10-15-52; click on image for a closer view

As we all know, the next semester, Ron Tammen, a sophomore business student at Miami, went missing, and Delp’s name as well as that of his office mate, St. Clair Switzer, who taught Tammen’s General Psychology course, were jotted down in Carl Knox’s notes.

The year 1954 came and went, and Delp still hadn’t made headway toward his doctoral degree. A review of his accomplishments for January 1, 1954–June 1, 1955 shows none of the activities expected of someone in his position. Other than joining several professional organizations—paying his dues, basically—his form is mostly left blank. (Inexplicably, activities for subsequent years were written into the space for the last question.)

Click on image for a closer view

Click on image for a closer view

Click on image for a closer view

You might think that it would have been the end of the line for him. With no Ph.D. and no publications or any other accomplishments to speak of other than teaching, you’d think that the year 1954 would have been his last in the psychology department. But you’d be mistaken.

In 1954, Richard Delp was granted “indefinite tenure” according to his administrative one-sheeter, though he remained an assistant professor. He also received sizable pay increases for that year and the succeeding year, which are difficult to explain based on his 1954-55 progress review form. 

Click on image for a closer view

The 1950 faculty manual defined tenure as “a means to certain ends, specifically: (1) Freedom of teaching and research and of extra-mural activities, and (2) A sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability.”

Despite being granted tenure, Richard Delp resigned from his position in psychology in 1961, shortly before Switzer was named department chair. In her book “Eighty Year of Psychology at Miami,” Fern Patten said that it was for health reasons. Two years later, he would be hired by the School of Education, where he would receive accolades as an outstanding professor. 

But my question is this: what happened between October 1952, when a supervisor was warning Delp about his precarious academic position, and academic year 1953-1954, when he received the first of two big pay increases, not to mention indefinite tenure, which was awarded in 1954?

I’m only asking the question, guys. There may be a perfectly good explanation.

Salary progression during time in the Psychology Department

Here’s a chart I’ve created of Richard Delp’s salary progression, year-by-year, while in the Psychology Department. The numbers to the right of the bars are the percent increase he received from the prior year.

I’ll be turning comments off for this one. I am continuing to seek documents that could help address my question. If you have thoughts on this topic or if you happen to have additional information, feel free to DM me on Facebook or Twitter or email me at rontammenproject@gmail.com. Requests for anonymity will be honored.

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As a postscript, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since we lost Marcia Tammen, who passed away on August 31, 2020. We miss her so much, and in her memory and honor, we will continue seeking evidence that may one day tell us what happened to her brother Ron.

Marcia Tammen

The sabbatical: how I think St. Clair Switzer and a well-known MKULTRA psychiatrist spent the summer of 1957

There’s nothing quite like the fourth wave of a pandemic to put one in the mood to read old MKULTRA documents. For some reason, the prospect of reading indecipherable photocopies with all the good parts blacked out made me want to do anything else BUT that. However, because the delta variant has been keeping me from doing more exciting research, I’ve decided to mosey on back to The Black Vault website. I’m currently rummaging through the stash again—both the documents I’d already been through as well as the ones that were released in 2018. 

It’s been time well spent.

In my recent Facebook post, I describe a newly released document that appears to be written to Griffith Wynne Williams, a hypnosis expert who’d studied under Clark Hull at the University of Wisconsin. Williams and St. Clair Switzer (Ronald Tammen’s psychology professor) would have known one another pretty well back in the day. They were graduate students under Hull at the same time, with Williams receiving his Ph.D. in 1929, the same year that Switzer earned his master’s degree. I’ve brought up Williams’ name before on this blogsite. I believe he’s the third person mentioned in our March 25, 1952, memo, along with Hull and Switzer.

In this newly discovered letter—dated December 6, 1956—the writer mentions the recipient’s workplace, Rutgers, a revelation that somehow escaped the CIA’s black pen. I know of exactly one hypnosis expert from Rutgers during that era. Griffith Wynne Williams.

December 6, 1956 letter

Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view
Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view

After reading more documents on The Black Vault from that general time period, not only am I even more convinced that the recipient was Williams, but I also believe that the letter writer was St. Clair Switzer. I also think that at the time that he was writing the letter, Switzer was on sabbatical and working with…

wait for it…

Louis Jolyon (Jolly) West.

Those are some bold assertions, I know, but I have evidence. Let’s do it this way: I’ll present two additional documents that I’ve found on The Black Vault website, one that was released in 2018 and the other that had been available on CD-ROM but that has gained new significance now that we know about the two letters. After each document, I’ll submit my arguments for why I’ve reached the above conclusions. Here we go.

February 8, 1957 letter

This letter is from the same person as before, and its recipient is also Griffith Williams. I’m 100 percent confident that it’s Williams because the letter writer refers to the recipient’s recent “attack of arthritis.” Williams had a long history with rheumatoid arthritis. Also, Williams was a respected hypnosis researcher who frequently demonstrated hypnotic phenomena before large audiences. In 1947, he hypnotized members of a theater troupe between the first and second acts to see if it might improve their acting ability, a stunt that brought him national attention. The topics of discussion in both letters were right up Williams’ alley.

Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view
Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view

Because this letter is tougher to read, I’m including the verbiage here:

8 February 1957

Dear [BLANK],

We were delighted to receive your most interesting letter of 22 January 1957. Sorry to hear of the attack of arthritis and we hope that it is better now. [BLANK] and I have gone over your material and suggestions and find them very useful.

The problem of the use of hypnosis by a public speaker or some related technique which could be used by an individual to control or influence a crowd is of considerable importance and as you have noted there is very little information along these lines anywhere. This area is particularly interesting to [BLANK]. He told me that he will obtain [BLANK’S] book immediately.

Your comments concerning the possibility of making the subjects do something against their ethics or religious convictions were also extremely interesting. Unfortunately, these single tests, without proper conditioning or properly building a background are not too valid. In general, your examples cover most of the experience in the field. However, the next time we see you we will tell you of some unusual work and results with which we are familiar. I found your reaction to the carotid artery technique interests me. Some people insist the technique is very dangerous and your reactions convinced me that this area could stand a great deal of work. I have not tried the technique myself but have been present when it has been done. There is some debate as to whether or not this is true hypnosis or a coma-like condition produced as a result of pressure on the artery. I’ll have to start looking for volunteers.

The rest of your suggestions and ideas are very worthwhile. As I said before I hope to discuss them with you in the near future at some greater length.

[BLANK] and I know that you are very busy what with teaching and the special work you do for the [BLANK]. We were, however, very impressed with you [sic] honesty in this field and the fact that you were willing to spend some of your valuable time with us. Sometime in the near future we will get in touch with you and try to arrange it so that our visit will not interfere with any school work or other work you may be doing. I am very much in favor of informal discussions in this [field?] at some quiet spot and perhaps we can arrange it so that you could come to the local hotel and have dinner with us and talk later.

While I know it is unnecessary for me to again caution you concerning the highly sensitive nature of this material, I will ask you to destroy this letter when you have read it.

With kindest personal regards.

Very sincerely,

[BLANK]

Why I think St. Clair Switzer wrote the 1956 and 1957 letters 

My dear BLANK 

The opening to the 1956 letter, “My dear BLANK,” is pure Clark Hull. I have dozens of Hull’s letters to both Switzer and Everett Patten, Miami’s longtime department chair in psychology, and nearly every single one of them opens with that phrase. It’s cute and endearing. I think Switzer seemed to like it too. He would use it from time to time, depending on the stature of the recipient and his relationship with them. He used it in a letter to Miami University President Upham in 1936. Because he was writing to a fellow Hull student, he probably thought it would be a nice reminder of their former mentor, who’d passed away in 1952.

His use of telltale vocabulary words 

In the 1956 letter, after the list of topics, the letter writer says “We grant that the above list is long and that any item individually could well deserve a Ph.D. thesis…”. In my experience, these are the words of someone who holds a doctoral degree. The general public frequently calls the product of someone’s doctoral research a dissertation. But among doctoral degree holders, they’ll frequently refer to their dissertation as a Ph.D. thesis. These are the words of someone in academia.

A telltale vocabulary word in the February 1957 letter is the reference to “conditioning” when talking about a subject being made to do something against his or her ethics or religious convictions. Clark Hull was a behaviorist who felt that all human behavior could be defined through conditioned responses. Conditioning was part of Switzer’s academic upbringing, probably Williams’ too. Switzer’s first scientific paper was titled “Backward Conditioning of the Lid Reflex.” The czar of conditioning himself—Pavlov!—had requested a reprint of Switzer’s paper back in 1932, which was a major coup. Clark Hull’s (endearing) response was “I think that if Pavlov should ask for anything that I had done I should have some kind of seizure – I don’t know just what!”

The insecure tone

Switzer’s words are gracious and deferential, but also self-important, which isn’t an easy vibe to pull off.  He would be obsequious to those he viewed as “better” or more knowledgeable than he was about a particular subject area or if he needed something, both of which I think applied to Williams. 

As for his self-importance—his repeated cautionary words, his bragging about being privy to insider info—I view Switzer as an insecure academic. He published very little after he returned to Oxford from WWII and he didn’t maintain strong relationships with his academic peers outside of Oxford. Therefore, he seemed to bolster his self-esteem through his association with the military.

He was writing to an old associate from his glory days with Hull

Switzer wasn’t good at making friends with colleagues. He didn’t attend professional meetings. He didn’t go to departmental picnics. He rubbed people the wrong way, especially as he got older. Because he published very little, he probably wasn’t keeping up with the scientific literature either. So, here he is, ostensibly working on a “highly classified” hypnosis project with someone big, and they have some questions about what’s currently happening in the field. Who does this letter writer contact? A person Switzer used to know in grad school.  

He was approved for a sabbatical for the 1956-57 academic year

In his 1957 letter to Williams, the letter writer talks about how busy Williams must be with teaching, which made me wonder: why isn’t this person also busy with teaching? He’s an academic too. As it so happens, Switzer had been approved for a sabbatical that year. Originally, he was planning to go to UCLA to work in the laboratory of Marion A. (Gus) Wenger. (Uncle Gus! Nah…no relation.) However, that fell through at the last minute when Gus decided to go to India to study yogis. 

So what’s a guy to do? Say “oh well” and go back to his regular teaching schedule at Miami? Hardly. That sabbatical had been approved two years earlier by President Millett and if Switzer could get out of a year of teaching, he surely would. I’m certain his friends in the Air Force helped him find a replacement gig, which leads us to the third document.

A proposal for “Studies in the Military Application of Hypnotism: 1. The Hypnotic Messenger”

As I said before, even though this document was included on the original CD-ROM I’d received from the CIA, it takes on new relevance when juxtaposed with the two letters that weren’t available until 2018. 

Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view
Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view
Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view
Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view

First, note that it was written just two days before the February 1957 letter. Second, the timeframe is rather, um, ambitious, shall we say? The proposal writer calls the development of a hypnotic messenger “uncomplicated” and claims that he and his associate should be able to complete their project by the end of the summer. That’s a special kind of arrogance. Third, there’s no meat to this proposal. People who oversee federal grants might be inclined to call this a “trust me” proposal, something that a researcher—particularly one who is well known in his or her field—might send to a funding source before the details have all been fleshed out. (Thankfully, funders of today can spot a “trust me” proposal a mile away, and they’ll send it back unfunded.) But this proposal writer appears to be saying: “Hey, you guys, it’s me here. You know I can do the work. Heck, I have a couple other projects waiting in the wings that are MUCH harder. Can I expect the ten grand in the mail ASAP?” (In today’s money, that’s a little over $97,000.)

Why I think Jolly West was the proposal writer and St. Clair Switzer was his associate

  • Both West and Switzer are military officers in academia who have expertise in hypnosis. I don’t believe there would have been a large number of people meeting these qualifications back then.
  • The proposal writer seems to be a big deal. His cover letter is relatively informal, as if he’s on a first-name basis with the recipient. His tone isn’t the least bit deferential. They appear to have an “ask and you shall receive” sort of relationship.
  • The proposal writer’s cover letter also mentions a man he is fortunate to have with him “this year” who is “thoroughly familiar with hypnotism at the theoretical level.” That sounds a lot like St. Clair Switzer to me. The reference to his knowledge of hypnosis theory could certainly be attributed to his experimental work for Clark Hull’s 1933 book, Hypnosis and Suggestibility: An Experimental Approach.
  • On the last page, the proposal writer makes the point that both the principal investigator and his associate are academics and the work needs to be completed by summer. Guess when Switzer’s sabbatical likely ends?
  • West was well known to the CIA at that point. He’d communicated with Sidney Gottlieb, who headed the CIA’s MKULTRA program, about hypnosis research since at least 1953. He had other projects going on too—including his USAF study of interrogation tactics used on POWs during the Korean War and his MKULTRA Research, Subproject 43, “Psychophysiological Studies of Hypnosis and Suggestibility.”
  • The proposal states that volunteers would be recruited from military personnel as opposed to college students. West, who’d concluded his detail at Lackland Air Force Base, near San Antonio, in June 1956 and was now at the University of Oklahoma, had easy access to both demographic groups.
  • In March 1957 West had been given a SECRET security clearance for his POW interrogation research and, according to author Colin A. West, he held a TOP SECRET clearance for his work on Subproject 43. This could certainly explain why the letter writer referred to the information as “highly classified” and insisted that the letters be destroyed after they’d been read.

Since 2019, this blog has been waiting for confirmation on two CIA documents to help prove our theory: a March 25, 1952, memo that I believe recommends St. Clair Switzer and Griffith W. Williams as consultants in their hypnosis studies, and a January 14, 1953, memo that I believe recommends Major Louis J. West and the Lt. Colonel Switzer to lead a “well-balanced interrogation research center” for Project ARTICHOKE. Judging by the contents of these three documents, I don’t think our waiting is going to be in vain.

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MANY THANKS to TheBlackVault.com for doing the hard work and pursuing the documents that had been missing from the CIA’s earlier release!

The Cincy file

Bridge into Cincinnati; Photo by David Lundgren on Unsplash

One question I’ve been mulling over lately is how in blue blazes did a document with Ronald Tammen’s name on it housed in the FBI’s Cincinnati office find its way into the agency’s “circular file” mere months after Detective Frank J. Smith of the Butler County Sheriff’s Office had reopened an investigation into Tammen’s disappearance? 

After all, Butler County is in the Cincinnati office’s jurisdiction. If a Butler County detective is actively working the case, you’d think those folks would realize that the record might be of interest. Also, it wasn’t as if the FBI didn’t know that the case had been reopened. They were supposedly providing assistance to Butler County and their counterparts in Walker County, Georgia, as the two offices had joined forces to determine if the remains of a John Doe buried in Lafayette, Georgia, happened to be Tammen.

Their timing seems…oh, I dunno…questionable?

And so, as per yoozh, I needed to investigate.

As we’ve discussed previously, the record in question is #190-CI-0, Serial 967. According to the FBI’s Record/Information Dissemination Section, it was “destroyed on or about 5/17/2008,” five months after Detective Smith and his Georgia counterpart, Mike Freeman, decided to reopen their respective cold cases.So why (again, in blue blazes) did the Cincinnati office feel that the time was ripe to destroy that particular document THEN? 

Click on image for a closer view

Because they’d been so helpful in the past, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), asking them for the Standard Form 115 (SF 115) that substantiated the FBI’s destruction of #190-CI-0, Serial 967.

Their FOIA specialist got back to me the next day. You heard me right. He got back to me—with an actual response—on the very next day that I submitted my FOIA request. When it comes to FOIA, NARA is the biggest, baddest bunch of rock stars ever in comparison to all the other federal agencies. They’re the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Aretha, Bruce, I’m gonna say Dire Straits but that’s just me, [fill in name of your all-time favorite artist/band], and James Brown all rolled into one. Put simply, dealing with NARA’s FOIA office is a feel-good experience.

And where do our friends at the FBI and CIA fall on the rock spectrum? I’d say that one could be likened to Milli and the other to Vanilli. (It makes no difference which is which.) They’re usually just mouthing some words, giving us some lip service. If there’s a document they don’t want the public to see, they’ll find a way to withhold it, regardless of whether their reason is justifiable or not, and they’ll stall for as long as humanly possible. It has to do with r-e-s-p-e-c-t. NARA respects FOIA and the public it serves. The FBI and CIA, um, don’t. Strong words, I know, but girl, you know it’s true. (P.S. The Milli Vanilli analogy doesn’t extend to the musicians and singers who backed them up, especially the drummer, who was playing his heart out in the above video. I have more to say about the drummer near the end of this post.)

Here’s what NARA’s FOIA representative told me: 

Agencies do not submit documentation to NARA to substantiate destruction of records. They use approved records schedules to determine the disposition of the records.

Oops. I should’ve checked the online records schedule before submitting my FOIA. But, truth be told, this stuff is confusing and sometimes I need to have things spelled out for me. Also, even if I’d consulted the records schedule first and it had said “Discard after such-and-such timeframe,” I couldn’t imagine that it would have applied to this scenario—during a newly reopened cold case investigation. Surely, there must be a clause that states: “If a document scheduled for destruction is potentially relevant to a newly reopened cold case, of course you should hang onto said document. Good Lord, did you even have to ask?” Or something to that effect.

The NARA rep then explained the file’s numbering system.

FBI File #190-CI-0 is as follows:
1. Classification 190 – Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Acts
2. CI – stands for the field office, Cincinnati, OH
3. “0” – the 0 files were used for administrative and logistical matters but mostly were used for citizen correspondence related to a classification, routine request for information, and general reference materials.

Allow me to interject here that one key difference between the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act is that, with a FOIA request, you’re generally seeking information about someone other than yourself or a specific government program. With a Privacy Act request, you’re seeking information about yourself. OK, carry on, NARA FOIA rep. 

NARA FOIA rep then added:

Classification 190 files do not include the underlying records. 

What he means by this is that the record being requested under FOIA or the Privacy Act—like a fingerprint record, for example—wouldn’t be part of the Classification 190 file. But correspondence that pertains to that record—e.g., “Dear Sir or Madam: Please expunge my fingerprints because blah blah blah and OH MY GOD CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE HOW A SENTENCE LIKE THAT MIGHT HAVE ENDED?!”—would. That’s just an example off the top of my head, mind you. We’ll never know what Ronald Tammen’s document actually said because, as I believe I’ve pointed out several times already, the FBI’s Cincinnati office destroyed it in the middle of Butler County’s reopened investigation.

NARA’s FOIA representative then sent me a link to the FBI’s applicable records schedule, N1-065-82-04,and he referred me to the pages having to do with field offices, which was Parts C and D. There’s a lot of overlap and plenty of room for judgment calls. Also, this is the honor system, an idyllic system of hope and trust whereby doing the right thing is expected and doing the wrong thing, well, I suppose that can happen too.

What Part C says

Of all the parts of the 309-page records schedule, Part C is the shortest and friendliest, offering up just three pages of general guidelines for FBI field offices regarding what to do with their aging records. I’m posting all three pages for you here.

At the top of page one, it says:

“These authorities apply regardless of the classification” but then they have some caveats concerning what might be discussed in other parts (e.g., Parts D or E), with this important NOTE: “Care must be taken to insure that records designated for permanent retention by other items in this schedule are not erroneously destroyed using authorities in this part.”

Translation: field offices should do what’s in Part C, regardless of classification, but if other parts of the schedule say that you need to do something else, do that. And most importantly, when in doubt, don’t throw it out.

Actually, that reminds me of a story someone told me. When J. Edgar Hoover was director of the FBI, he didn’t want to let go of anything. For decades, the FBI hoarded all of their records and wouldn’t even let folks from the National Archives touch their stuff. It wasn’t until after Hoover died that they finally let NARA in the door to work out a disposition schedule. The FBI changed their policy in part because they were getting a new building in Washington, D.C., so they used that opportunity to get permission from NARA to destroy a lot of their records. (Incidentally, the FBI still isn’t 100 percent onboard with NARA and FOIA and the whole public transparency cause. Although they dutifully send their records over to NARA on the agreed-upon timetable, they have yet to send an index to help NARA navigate their FBI holdings and address any subsequent FOIA requests they may receive.)

Back to Part C. Because Ron’s document was in the “0” file, the Cincinnati office was instructed to “DESTROY” it when it was 3 years old or “when all administrative needs have been met, whichever is later.” 

I suppose it’s possible that the document had coincidentally reached its three-year mark in May 2008. However, even if that were the case (which I don’t believe for one second) I can’t imagine that whoever destroyed it then had determined that all administrative needs had been met when, you know, a cold case investigation had been reopened the next county over. I know at least one detective who might have had an administrative need or two for that document.

There’s another item in Part C that might apply as well. Because Ron’s document is in the Classification 190 category, we know that it had to do with FOIA or the Privacy Act (most likely the latter). Item #9 deals specifically with cases in which the subject requests disposal because “continued maintenance would conflict with provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974.” If that were the reason for destroying the document, then Cincinnati ostensibly should have submitted an SF 115 to NARA beforehand. However, if they’d submitted one, I’m pretty sure I would have received it from NARA when I’d FOIA’d them. (NARA’s FOIA rep’s exact words were: “There are no other records responsive to your request.”) Either item #9 didn’t pertain or, well… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Confused? Stay with me. You’re doing great.

There’s a chance that the folks in Cincinnati also consulted Part D, the guidelines for each of the individual classifications for field offices. This is where things really get complicated. Under Classification 190, we’re told to “See Part C (which we’ve already seen), except for those cases where disposition is governed by General Records Schedule 14.” 

Part D, Classification 190

Oh, good, a new records schedule. It’s as if they knew I was growing tired of the first one.

When you go online to find General Records Schedule (GRS) 14, you’ll soon learn that in 2017, it was superseded by General Schedules 4.2, 6.4 and 6.5. However, back in May 2008, federal agencies were still doing things according to the 1998 version of GRS 14.

And if you take a gander at that schedule, you’ll soon be presented with a menu of very strict and specific instructions that depend on what the record is—which, alas, we don’t know because the FBI’s Cincinnati office destroyed it.

But wait. Maybe we can figure out what kind of document it was based on the two dates we already know. We know that Ron’s fingerprints were expunged in June 2002 due to the Privacy Act or a court order, most likely the former. And we also know that in May 2008, the Cincinnati office destroyed a Tammen-related document having to do with FOIA or the Privacy Act, most likely the latter—though we’re less certain about that one. If both actions were due to the Privacy Act, they could be related, with a difference of six years between them. And if we look at the 1998 version of GRS 14, only one Privacy Act-related document specifies waiting six years before it can be destroyed. It’s this one:

  • Erroneous release records—files relating to the inadvertent release of privileged information to unauthorized parties, containing information the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

Maybe that’s the reason they destroyed Ron’s record? It’s impossible to say. But honestly, as I’m wading through the bureaucratic jargonistic blather that is today’s post, annoyed and discouraged and bored out of my mind, I don’t think it matters if the Cincinnati field office was operating under Part C or Part D (or even Part E, the catch-all “Miscellaneous” category for files kept elsewhere) or the old GRS 14—whatever—I still believe they could have turned over Ron’s “0” file document to their law-enforcement partners in Butler County when they had the chance. And make no mistake about it, they had the chance. I’ll tell you why shortly.

Serial 967

There’s one part of Ron’s record that we haven’t discussed the meaning of yet—the number at the end, Serial 967. Serial 967 is what identifies Ron Tammen’s record from everyone else’s in the “0” file. To help you visualize things, picture a metal filing cabinet with a bunch of drawers in it and Classification 190 occupying one of those drawers. (I’m sure it occupies more space than that, but this is just to help us understand the organization.) Now picture the “0” file as a folder inside that drawer in front of all the other folders. The “0” folder holds a large number of documents, and each document has its own serial number, which are arranged in numerical order. When Cincinnati still had Ron’s record, it would have been located pretty far back, between serial numbers 966 and 968.

I have no idea what kinds of documents shared a folder with Ron Tammen’s document, but it might be interesting to find out, mightn’t it? For this reason, I’ve submitted a FOIA request for the documents that surrounded Ron’s—beginning with serial number 900 and ending with number 999. Today, I received a letter of acknowledgement from the chief of the FBI’s Record/Information Dissemination Section letting me know that it was an acceptable request and assigning it a number. If I receive anything of interest, I’ll be sure to let you know.

More on Milli Vanilli’s drummer and how he relates to the FBI’s Cincinnati office

Milli Vanilli’s drummer was Mikki Byron, an accomplished musician who not only played the drums really well, but he also played the guitar, saxophone, and keyboard and sang vocals. In addition to his time spent with Milli Vanilli and the Real Milli Vanilli (the true singers behind Milli Vanilli plus band members), he played in a number of bands, including Mikki Byron and The Stroke, Custom Pink, and the L.A. Ratts. Tragically, Mikki died in 2004 at the age of 36. (As for Milli Vanilli, Rob Pilatus, one-half of the duo, also died tragically in 1998. Fab Morvan, the other half, is still performing.)

Whether or not you’re a fan of Mikki’s music, here’s the point I wish to make: Despite sharing a stage with two guys who were fake singing and whose purported dance moves were just plain awkward, Mikki Byron was for real. He had innate talent and he had training, and he brought everything to the stage when he performed. Fans miss him. They still talk about him. There’s a tribute page on Facebook for him. If you didn’t watch the video of Mikki playing the drums when I mentioned it before, please watch it now. You won’t be sorry.

I was hoping that I’d found my own version of Mikki Byron within the FBI—someone in their ranks who’d be willing to break free of all the stonewalling and duplicity and actually answer a couple simple questions truthfully.

This past Saturday, I sent an email to the Cincinnati office’s community outreach specialist. I said:

I’m wondering if you can help me. For a book and blog that I write, I’m interested in learning more about the Cincinnati field office’s protocol with regard to potentially relevant records during reopened cold cases. 

Specifically, if a cold case has been reopened in a county within your jurisdiction, and the FBI has been made aware that the case has been reopened and is providing assistance, what is the Cincinnati field office’s protocol if it possesses one or more potentially relevant records? 

The outreach specialist responded that day and told me they’d forwarded my email to the appropriate person. That person—whom we’ll refer to as Mikki—responded on Monday morning. Mikki’s emails will be in blue to help you keep track.

Thank you for your message. 

For your background, if the FBI is assisting a local law enforcement agency on a case, relevant records can be shared with the investigators of that agency. If this does not fully answer your question, please provide me with additional details and I will try to provide a more specific answer.

Holy crap, right? Perhaps I’ve finally landed someone who’s willing to address my questions about how they handled Ron’s document.

Here’s me again:

Thank you so much for your quick response. I really do appreciate it. What I’m trying to understand is why the Cincinnati field office destroyed document #190-CI-0, Serial 967 in May 2008 (see attached) when the Butler County Sheriff’s Office had reopened a cold case investigation into the subject of that document, Ronald Tammen, in January 2008 and the investigation was ongoing. It’s my understanding that the records retention schedule for “0” files in field offices appears to allow flexibility for document retention for administrative needs, which I’d think would apply in this case. From what I can tell, it doesn’t appear as if the document was shared with Butler County before it was destroyed, unless you can determine otherwise.

Any information you can offer would be truly appreciated.

And back to Mikki:

Thank you for the added details. My previous response was very general in nature and not pertaining to any specific case or investigation.

Since you are interested in specific case information, it would be best to submit a FOIA request (which you may have already done) or contact the National Press Office (npo@fbi.gov) about any records management questions. 

Thank you.

Riiiiiiight. We tossed it, but you’ll need to talk to those helpful folks over at FBI headquarters about why we went ahead and tossed it.

Here’s me again:

OK, will do. Are you able to say whether you shared the document with Butler County? 

And back we go to Mikki: 

Haha, just kidding. It’s been 5 days. Mikki hasn’t responded and I’m quite certain that he won’t.

On second read, maybe I came on too strong with Mikki. He asked for details and I gave him some. I’m afraid that my details drove Mikki away. 

But you guys, if there was nothing to this mystery—if it was a big fat nothingburger, as they say—he could have said something like: “The document had already been destroyed by the time we learned about Butler County’s renewed efforts. We destroyed it on the basis of Part C, item #2, when the document was three years old.” You know…a credible explanation that could have sent me on my way.

Most telling was that he didn’t answer my question about whether they’d shared the document with Butler County, when, under normal protocol, that’s something they would have done.

There are a few things I can still do to try to learn more about the Cincinnati document on Ronald Tammen, and I will do them, though I won’t put the most promising ones into writing at this point. Will I be asking the FBI’s press office about the file? Oh, yeah, I suppose I’ll do that too, just as I told Mikki, but I can’t  imagine that they’ll say anything other than “The FBI has a right to decline requests.” (I’ve heard that one before.)

I also want to make good on a promise I made to you earlier in this post. Some of you may have been wondering to yourselves whether it was possible that Cincinnati had destroyed the Tammen document without ever knowing that Butler County had reopened its cold case on Tammen. I mean, pleading ignorance is a very understandable and forgivable excuse, and Cincinnati is a big city and Butler County is about 35 miles away. Also, you may recall that it was the FBI’s Atlanta office that had opened the “Police Cooperation” matter for the two sheriff’s offices. Is it possible that Cincinnati had no idea that Butler County had reopened its cold case?

Oh, they knew. They so knew. 

Here’s how I know they knew: In August 2010, just as I was getting started with my little book project, I interviewed Butler County Detective Frank Smith about his investigation. I’d submitted my FOIA request to the FBI for Ron Tammen’s documents several months earlier, and I was still waiting for their response. Frank had also obtained Ron’s FBI documents—the same ones that I would eventually receive. But Frank, being with law enforcement, would be able to go another route to get his documents—one that was much quicker. Frank had contacted someone with the FBI’s Cincinnati field office, likely by phone. He told them that he’d restarted the Tammen investigation and asked if they could send him whatever files they might have on Tammen. 

Can I pin down the precise date that it happened? I can. After Frank Smith retired from the sheriff’s office, I obtained his old file on Tammen. He’d created a log of actions and developments complete with dates and times. Frank Smith had obtained his FBI file on January 22, 2008, at 6:30 p.m. to be exact—just as his investigation was getting started and nearly five months before someone within the Cincinnati office decided to destroy its Classification 190 file on Tammen.

For Marjorie, the woman who brought Ron Tammen into the world

Marjorie McCann Tammen

July 23rd would be Ron Tammen’s 88th birthday if he’s still living. To commemorate the day, I thought it would be fitting to discuss one of the more complicated and, as it turns out, pivotal figures in Ron’s life—his mother, Marjorie. 

Of all the members of Ronald Tammen’s family, Marjorie Tammen is the one that people have been most reluctant to speak openly about—the one we’ve all been tiptoeing around. Throughout her married life, whenever Marjorie’s name came up in conversation, details would have likely been dodged and euphemisms employed. Only the nonverbals (the head shakes, the tsks) would convey the simple truth. I’m sure some people judged her as unfit. Others, usually women, felt deep sympathy for her. All too soon, her three oldest sons—John, Ronald, and Richard—considered her weak and unworthy of their respect. She embarrassed them.

It had to do with all the drinking. Even when her three oldest boys were small, and well before Ron went missing, Marjorie Tammen had an addiction to alcohol. Her day drinking affected her housekeeping and other wife and mom duties, which in those days had no end. Her dependency seeped into every crevice of her life. It’s what she died of at the age of 52—not of a broken heart, as some would say, but of cirrhosis of the liver. There. I said it. Now you know.  

But addictions of any sort don’t define who we are. We’re a person first; the disease comes in at a distant second. And there’s always a starting point—there’s always a reason.

One of Marjorie’s main strengths lay in her family, where the bonds were tight and the safety net vast. It was Marjorie’s side of the family that supplied the relatives who were most influential to Ron and his siblings as they were growing up—the relatives they would go to for help without a moment’s hesitation, the people they tried to emulate. 

And even though she embarrassed them, Marjorie’s three oldest sons would have been hard pressed to find a fiercer advocate for them. Which parent went running to school every time Richard bullied his way into a fresh world of trouble? Marjorie did. Who took it upon herself to call the Cleveland office of the FBI—the FBI!—to tell them about her son who’d gone missing while he was away at college? Marjorie. Who gave those FBI guys Ron’s fingerprints in 1953 to help with their investigation—the fingerprints she’d saved on a card since 1941? I’m sure it was Marjorie, since she’d mentioned those prints in an interview with a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter in 1960. 

Say what you will about Marjorie, she wasn’t afraid to throw on a coat or pick up a phone in the interest of her kids.

Marjorie was born Marjorie Jane McCann on September 4, 1911, in Sharon, PA, less than 20 miles from Youngstown, OH, near the western edge of the Pennsylvania border. She was the baby of the family. Her brother John was three years older than she was and her sister Mary was one year older. When Mary was a toddler, she came down with polio, a deadly disease that, happily, was eradicated in the United States and throughout most of the world by a vaccine. (Speaking of vaccines, are you fully vaccinated against Covid-19 yet? If not, please do your part pronto. Personally, there’s no way I’d want to face the delta variant unvaccinated. And until there’s a vaccine for the under-12 crowd, I’ll still be masking indoors. Here’s that link again. Thank you for coming to my TED tirade. I’m afraid we don’t have time for questions.) 

Mary’s bout with polio left her with a severe limp that lasted her whole life. Marjorie was her sister’s helper, especially during the hard early years, which cemented the bond between them. When Mary became a career woman with no kids of her own, her “favorite aunt” status was elevated to an art form—practically to the point of being an auxiliary mom. She was a giver—of her time, her money, whatever she had—and what she didn’t have to give, she’d loan to them. The latter included her car if the Tammen family needed to drive beyond where the city bus would take them. Among Ron’s siblings with whom I’ve had the chance to speak, Aunt Mary’s name was the one most frequently mentioned when they described the people who were there for them as children. 

Mary McCann at her teaching job

The McCanns moved from Pennsylvania to Lakewood, Ohio, in 1922, when father Albert was hired to work for an electrical company. Soon, he’d get a job in elevator manufacturing and would learn the ups and downs of that trade. Floranell, Marjorie’s mother, worked in a profession nearer and dearer to my heart: she was a librarian at the Cleveland Public Library as well as the Western Reserve Medical Library.

Albert and Floranell McCann

When it was time to start thinking about college, Marjorie’s brother John chose Miami University, thus setting the whole Miami legacy train into motion. By 1933, John McCann had received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business at Miami. Two years later, he married a fellow Miami grad, Eleanora Handschin, who’d studied psychology there. John’s and Eleanora’s ties to Miami were especially tight, since Eleanora’s father, Charles Hart Handschin, was a renowned German professor at Miami, and he and his wife Helena lived in Oxford. In 1934, Mary graduated from Miami in home economics education, which prepared her for a lifelong career in teaching. Marjorie would attend Miami too, and she would also study home economics, though she wouldn’t graduate. (More on that in a bit.) And of course, three of Marjorie’s five children—Ron, then Richard, and later Marcia—would attend Miami. (When Ron was at Miami, he was known to visit the Handschins, whose home was behind the Delta Tau Delta house.)

John and Eleanora’s engagement photo, circa 1934 or 1935

In June 1929, Marjorie graduated from Lakewood High School. Her yearbook photo shows a cute grinning girl in a flapper haircut beneath which were three adjectives the yearbook staff felt summed her up best: mutable, jocular, and modest. Jocular and modest are great traits for any high schooler, but if Marjorie was mutable in any way, I’d say it was photographically. Whereas Mary usually looked the same way in photos—elegant and beautiful—Marjorie seemed to morph into someone else over the years. Still, she usually smiled. 

Marjorie’s senior picture in high school

Say what you will about Marjorie, she would smile for the camera, even when she was hurting.

Marjorie and Mary McCann — according to writing on the back of the photo, it was taken when they were attending Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio

Speaking of photographs, it probably goes without saying that Ron Tammen, Sr.—the soon-to-be love of Marjorie’s life—was handsome. Whether he was a young man with deep-set eyes in his 20s, or a Ronald Colman clone in his 30s and 40s, or a graying Mr. Chips-type in his 50s and upward, the man never seemed to take a bad picture. Marjorie met him at a dance when she was a freshman at Miami and he was playing in a band that had rolled into town for the night. Let’s just say that it was part kismet and part pyrotechnics that brought the two of them together. The fact that he was wailing away on a sax when she first laid eyes on him didn’t hurt one bit.

Ronald Tammen Sr.’s high school photo

Marjorie was younger than Ron Sr. by four years, which at that stage of life was considerable. She decided not to return to Miami the following year, and in the words of Johnny and June Carter Cash, she and Ron Sr. “got married in a fever” and were indeed “hotter than a pepper sprout” for each other. They were married on January 31, 1931, though not everyone was happy about it.

“Grandfather McCann was very rigorously and religiously Catholic,” John Tammen once told me, and he “wouldn’t let her get married. And so my mother and father had to elope.”

The way John told it, Albert had wanted Marjorie to wait until Mary got married, since Mary was older, but I think there may have been more to the story. In our first interview, Marcia Tammen had recalled that Ron Sr. was raised as a Christian Scientist, which wouldn’t sit well with Albert. Back then, religions didn’t do a lot of commingling. Unless he became Catholic, I can’t imagine that Ron Sr. would have ever been a suitable mate as far as Albert was concerned. Marjorie probably thought it would be hopeless to try to convince her father otherwise. Besides, if Marjorie had abided by Albert’s rule to merrily wait for Mary to marry, Marjorie’s life would’ve been on pause until 1955, when Aunt Mary became Mrs. Edward Spehar.

So they eloped. And by “eloped,” I mean they got married in Mr. Tammen’s home on Ednolia Avenue in Lakewood, officiated by a local Presbyterian minister. Although the marriage license says she was 21, Marjorie was only 19—barely—by four months. It was a premeditated fib. According to Ohio marriage law at that time, Marjorie would have needed parental permission, which she most certainly did not have, if she’d given her true age. 

Say what you will about Marjorie, she had a mind of her own.

Marjorie McCann Tammen

I know what you’re thinking, and relax, everyone. It appears as though they made things right with the state of Ohio sometime after John was born. Also, I guess lying about one’s age on a marriage license was somewhat of a thing in those days. There’s even a Dick Van Dyke episode where Laura Petrie had lied about her age when she married Rob and they had to get married a second time. (You may want to watch the two-part episode sometime. I forgot how funny that show was, but then Carl Reiner was one of the best screenwriters ever.) [Part 1: Laura’s Little LiePart 2: Very Old Shoes, Very Old Rice]

We already know that times were hard during those years. It was the Depression, after all. Most people had it hard. Ron Sr. hadn’t gone to college, so he taught himself the skill of actuarial science, how to calculate risk in the insurance business. He landed himself a job as an insurance adjuster, which helped during the lean years.

But there was another hardship. Back then, people had fewer options available to them for birth control, especially if they’d been raised Catholic. Mr. and Mrs. Tammen’s method may well have been something akin to keeping track of the days of the month and hoping for the best. Turns out, whatever method they were using wasn’t foolproof. Each year of marriage would yield another brand new baby boy. On May 25, 1932, John was born. Five months later, Marjorie was pregnant again with Ron Jr. Six and a half months after giving birth to Ron, she was once again pregnant, this time with Richard. For someone in her early 20s, it was a lot—too much really. John seemed to think that this was the reason that his mother began drinking. There were too many rambunctious boys running around the house. 

“Our mother was really very ill-prepared to handle us,” said John. We just absolutely drove her crazy from the time we were up and walking until our middle teenage years when kids begin to get focused on other things in life… Because we were forever into doing stuff. We were very active. We drove my mother really nuts. We literally drove her to drink.”

Maybe. Or it could have been a thought planted deep in Marjorie’s psyche, as if she’d convinced herself that her prolific baby-making ability was the sole reason that the family was struggling. As if she alone was the problem. At least that was the opinion of one woman who knew both Marjorie and Mr. Tammen well. 

According to the woman, after Marjorie had the three boys, Mr. Tammen basically turned off. He criticized Marjorie for not using protection, she said. The woman recalled another person who’d felt the same way—as if Marjorie’s morale had been broken.

If Marjorie felt responsible for the family’s financial burdens, she must have also felt guilty about her inability to bring home a paycheck. It wasn’t as if she didn’t want to work. In 1930, before she got married, Marjorie had been a librarian, just like her mother. (Marjorie loved to read.) But how could she get a job when she needed to tend to three preschoolers?

Marjorie thought of an alternative. She knew how to sew. In the years that followed, she sewed clothes for all of her children—first for the three boys, then Marcia, and later Robert. She mastered sleeves and collars, pant legs and pockets, pleats and hems, not to mention the accompanying buttonholes and zippers. Marjorie sewed up a storm, and, as a result, her kids always stood out from the others. Marjorie’s kids looked amazing.

Say what you will about Marjorie, if she had no other means to help out, she’d go straight to her wheelhouse.

Things probably improved for John, Ron, and Richard as they got older and were working in various jobs away from home. I have no doubt that they loved their mother. And yet I can also imagine them looking forward to the day when they’d be heading to college and no longer living with her. To be able to invite a friend over on the fly or to walk home from class without a feeling of dread would be motivation enough to move to a school several hours away. 

John’s memory is harsh. In a letter he wrote to Marcia in 2014 discussing the family’s most difficult years, he said: “Because of [Mom’s] bad habits, poor organization of the house, and what we saw and [sic] an almost total lack of caring for us, we all came to usually disregard what she said so that she had no effective control over what we did, where we went, and when we returned; we became almost emancipated at 15, 14, and 13.”

“Almost emancipated,” he said. Almost. Because despite all the sadness that the Tammen brothers had to endure—despite learning to adapt to Marjorie’s varying degrees of normal—they also knew that they could rely on Marjorie’s mother Floranell and sister Mary, both of whom lived nearby. (Albert McCann died in 1944.)

And even though he was farther away, Ron Jr.’s end-all, be-all role model, his influencer uncle, also maintained a strong connection with them. Uncle John McCann is probably one of the main reasons Ron chose to attend Miami. I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog site that Uncle John had sold bonds, which is why Ron felt that he wanted to have a career in bonds too. Uncle John was a business major; Ron was a business major. But John McCann was also a highly decorated colonel in the U.S. Air Force, which probably impressed Ron a great deal. Here are just a few of Uncle John McCann’s impressive military credentials:

  • Col. McCann worked in intelligence with the Army Air Corps during World War II.
  • In 1950, at the start of the Korean War, he was called back to the Air Force Reserves as an executive officer of a troop carrier wing in Greenville, South Carolina. 
  • He later joined  the Air University’s War College at Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB), first as a faculty member, and later as vice commandant. 
  • In the mid 1960s, he was deputy commandant of the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson AFB. 
  • Col. McCann is buried in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 60) with his wife Eleanora. 
  • Miami University’s Air Force ROTC has a scholarship in Col. McCann’s name.
Col. John McCann

Weirdly enough, Ron’s Uncle John died on April 20 in 1995, one day after the 42nd anniversary of Ron’s disappearance from Uncle John’s alma mater. His children were great friends to the Tammens, their closest cousins. They’ve remained in touch with one another to this day.

The Tammen and McCann cousins — Second row (l-r): Richard, Ron, and John; First row (l-r): Robert, a McCann cousin, Marcia, another McCann cousin

I think we all know how Ron’s disappearance affected Marjorie. It devastated her, but I’d argue that it didn’t destroy her. She still had Marcia and Robert living at home—ages 10 and 7—and there was no way she could give up then. She also wanted to keep looking for Ron, which she vowed to do, granting interviews about her son when reporters asked and quickly responding to the periodic FBI letters asking whether Ron had been located yet or was he still missing. (Answer: always B.)

Family photos in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Click on photos for more info.

On September 30, 1962, Marcia’s 20th birthday, Marjorie Tammen wrote her daughter a letter. As usual, the resources available to her were limited. No Hallmark Greetings here—just a sheet of stationery with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen letterhead (Mr. Tammen’s workplace), and a blue ink pen. 

Dearest Marcia,

By the time you recieve [sic] this you will be twenty. First and foremost, “Happy Birthday.” 

I am not sure you are aware how older people tend to reflect. Now by “older” I don’t mean those with a foot in the grave.

But September 30th has always held a special meaning for me. That was the day it was our good fortune to be blessed with a girl.

As you have progressed through the years, we have seen you develop so well.

As of Oct. 1th [sic], you will take a step again toward the future. This is the day you leave your teens and enter the twenties. This is not a large step but just approaching the future.

If your next twenty years will see you develop as well as the first twenty, you will be fulfilling all that can be asked of anyone.

So again to you, Marcia, the very happiest of birthdays. With this goes all the love of all of us.

Love, Mama

P.S. This doesn’t mean I won’t fight with you tomorrow. Mama

Here’s what I love about this letter: First, it came from Marjorie’s heart. She had no idea what to give her daughter on this momentous day, so she grabbed a sheet of stationery from a drawer and she wrote. Because feelings are free. 

Second, the letter held so much meaning for Marcia, she saved it until the day she died. Do you have a card stored away from your 20th birthday? Yeah, me neither.

And best of all, 9 ½ years after her golden-boy son had disappeared and about 1 ½ years before she would die, Marjorie Tammen was still able to joke around with her daughter. 

So, say what you will about Marjorie. 

But she was still jocular, still modest, still mutable, and she still had some fight in her, right to the end.

*************************

Many of these photos and stories were part of Marcia Tammen’s genealogy files and were graciously shared with me by Marcia’s forever friend Jule Miller, who was practically a family member herself. Other photos were shared with me by one of Ron’s cousins, and I thank her so much for them. The remaining stories I obtained from interviews and additional research.

The FBI’s plagiarized narrative

A word-by-word comparison of the 2008 FBI narrative to the source from which it was copied

For my last post this weekend, I want to hammer home just how similar the narrative that I received from my 2014 lawsuit settlement is to a write-up on Tammen’s case on The Charley Project website. Because The Charley Project write-up has been edited over the years and now includes information obtained from this blog, let’s time travel back to the halcyon days of 2008, a simpler time when all of us were 13 years younger and perhaps a little more naive, including the folks at the FBI. Who knows, maybe they had no idea back then that the use of another person’s words without attribution is frowned upon.

Thanks to the website Wayback Machine, I’m including a screen shot of the verbiage from The Charley Project’s web page on Tammen from March 23, 2008—an arbitrary date in 2008 for which they had a page capture—as well as a link to that page. I’m also including the two pages of the narrative that the FBI emailed to me in 2014, claiming that I had unprecedented access to such information. The true author of the verbiage is Meaghan Good, who has told me that she first posted the Tammen write-up to The Charley Project website on March 1, 2005. What the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) seem to think I’ve had unprecedented access to has been available to literally every man, woman, and child since 2005. Can you see why I’m bitter?

Screen capture of The Charley Project’s write-up on Ron Tammen, dated March 23, 2008
Page 1 of FBI narrative on Tammen case, ostensibly typed in 2008, based on its case number
Page 2 of FBI narrative on Tammen case

To make things easier on you, I’ve copied the write-up from The Charley Project page, and have inserted in blue the places where the FBI narrative strays from the original. If a word is omitted or a sentence is moved, I indicate that as well. Here you go:

Tammen [*THE VICTIM] was last seen in old Fisher Hall, a former Victorian mental asylum converted to a dormitory at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio on April 19, 1953 [4/19/1953]. He was a resident hall advisor at Fisher Hall, and lived in room 225. At 8:00 p.m., he requested new bedsheets because someone had put a dead fish in his bed.

Sometime around 8:30 p.m., Tammen [*THE VICTIM] apparently heard something outside his room that disturbed him, and went out into the hallway to investigate. He never returned. His roommate came in at 10:00 p.m. and found him gone. The roommate originally assumed Tammen [*THE VICTIM] was spending the night at his Delta Tau Delta fraternity house, and did not report his disappearance until the next day.

There is no indication that Tammen left of his own accord. [*previous sentence moved to end of paragraph] His clothes, car keys, wallet, identification, watch, high school class ring and other personal items were left behind in his dormitory room, and he also left the lights on, the radio playing, and a psychology textbook lying open on his desk. His gold 1938 [*year missing] Chevrolet sedan was not taken from its place in the school parking lot, he left his bass fiddle in the back seat of the car, and he left behind $200 (the equivalent of over $1,300 in today’s money) in his bank account. Tammen is believed to have [*IT IS BELIEVED THE VICTIM] had no more than $10 to $15 on his person the night he disappeared, and [*ALSO, HE] was not wearing a coat. [*first sentence in paragraph moved here;]

However, authorities have not found any indication of foul play in Tammen’s [*HIS] disappearance either. They do not believe he could have been forcibly abducted, as he was large enough and strong enough to defend himself against most attackers. They theorize that he could have developed amnesia and wandered away, but if that was the case he should have been found relatively quickly.

A woman living outside of Oxford, twelve miles east of the Miami University campus, claims that a young man came to her door at 11:00 p.m. the evening Tammen [*THE VICTIM] disappeared and asked what town he was in. Then he asked directions to the bus stop, which she gave him, and he left. However, the bus line had suspended its midnight run, so he could not have gotten on a bus. The witness says the man she spoke to was disheveled and dirty and appeared upset and confused. He was not wearing a coat or hat, although it was a cold night and there was snow on the ground. He was apparently on foot, since the woman did not see or hear a car. The man matched the physical description of Tammen [*THE VICTIM] and was wearing similar clothes, but it has not been confirmed that they were the same person, and Tammen’s [*THE VICTIM’s] brother stated he did not believe the man the witness saw was Tammen [*HIS BROTHER].

Five months to the day before Tammen [*The VICTIM] vanished, he went to the Butler County Coroner’s office in Hamilton, Ohio and asked for a test to have his blood typed. The coroner claims that this was the only such request he ever got in 35 years of practice. It is unknown why Tammen [*THE VICTIM] wanted the test done and why he did not have it conducted in Oxford, where local physicians or the university hospital could have typed his blood for him. Tammen [THE VICTIM] was scheduled for a physical examination by the Selective Service for induction into the army, but inductees did not need to know their blood type in advance of the physical.

Tammen’s [*THE VICTIM’S] parents, who lived in the 21000 block of Hillgrove Avenue in Maple Heights, Ohio in 1953, last saw him a week before he disappeared and say he did not appear to be troubled by anything at the time. He was on the varsity wrestling team in college, played in the school dance band, and was a business major and a good student. He dated at the time that he vanished but did not have a steady girlfriend.

In the decades after Tammen’s [*THE VICTIM’S] disappearance, students at Miami University claimed his ghost haunted Fisher Hall. His parents are now deceased. Fisher Hall was torn down in 1978 and an extensive search was conducted in the rubble for Tammen’s [THE VICTIM’S] remains, but no evidence was located. His case remains unsolved. [*THE VICTIM’S OH DL IS C-779075.]

In running my little comparison, I noticed a few things:

  • The Charley Project write-up is well-written, so I can understand why someone from the FBI thought it provided a good summary of the case in few words. Nevertheless, there are several inaccuracies and areas of conjecture that have accrued by way of other media outlets over time. The FBI, who should have access to the most accurate source information on the case, allowed those inaccuracies to remain in their narrative for law enforcement.
  • Only one detail was omitted from the FBI narrative: the year 1938 in the description of Tammen’s car (actually, his car was a green 1939 Chevy).
  • The only information that the FBI added to its narrative is Ron’s driver’s license number.
  • As we’ve discussed in an earlier post, even though the FBI obviously had new intel from 2002 that led to the expungement of Tammen’s fingerprints, that information didn’t make it into this narrative for law enforcement, which, ostensibly, was written in 2008. Perhaps it and other details were somehow mentioned in the full report, but alas, only law enforcement can access that. Judging by their unwillingness to disclose that information to former Butler Co. cold case detective Frank Smith when he inquired about Tammen’s fingerprints in 2008, I doubt it.