The unposted interview from spring ’07 probably wasn’t with Carl Knox’s secretary after all…

…but I think I know who two of the three unposted interviews were with

Lately, I’ve been preparing my arguments for the upcoming mediation meeting concerning my complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims, which, as of this writing, is in three weeks. But first, please accept my apology for that last sentence, which may be the dullest lede in the history of this blog—nay, in the history of all ledes. What can I say? Investigative research can be a tad dull at times.

To refresh your memories, my complaint has to do with the public records request I’d submitted to Miami University’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) seeking the three unposted recordings that are referenced in the second-to-last line of the 2008 Oral History Project progress report. Furthermore, if one or more of those recordings no longer exists, I’m seeking the signed documents requesting their destruction, as required by the OGC’s records retention protocol.

I’m not seeking these items just to be difficult. I’m trying to determine if one of those three recordings might have been an interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary. And why do I need to employ all the rights that are bestowed upon me by Ohio Revised Code 149.43, Ohio’s Public Records Law, to make that determination? Because no one from the university would answer that question when I asked them. If they’d answered that simple yes-or-no question—”Is one of the three unposted recordings with Carl Knox’s former secretary?”—then I would have reported their answer to you and likely moved on. Oh, OK, if the answer had been yes, then I suppose I wouldn’t have moved on very far. It’s likely that I would have invested more time and energy into finding the recording. But they didn’t answer the question, and here we all are.

In their response to my records request, Miami’s OGC told me that they’d asked several representatives of the Oral History Project which three unposted recordings were referenced in the 2008 progress report, and “none of the individuals remember anything about those recordings.”

I find their response, um, unconvincing, which is why I filed my complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims.

As I write this post, I’m trying very hard to behave myself and to watch what I say. Someone on the opposing side may be reading this, and I don’t want to give anything away before the big day. 

What I can say is this: as I’ve been reviewing everything that’s happened over the past 18 months in my efforts to locate the interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary, I’ve been flagging various, um, occurrences, if you will, that stand out as being particularly, uhh, if it pleases the court…telling. I’ve found other supportive evidence to bring before the court as well. I look forward to the mediation, and I plan to wear the grayest, most serious-minded two-piece dress in my closet just to show everyone that I mean business. Is said dress one of my favorite pieces of work attire that I’ve held onto for more than 20 years because it evokes a certain 1940s sort of vibe and makes me feel like Barbara Stanwyck whenever I put it on? I plead nolo contendere, your honor.

So why am I even here, interrupting your day and dancing around subjects of which I probably should not speak? Well, in my research, I stumbled on some pertinent information that refutes a hypothesis that I’ve advanced on this blog site, and whenever that happens, I feel I should let you know about it asap. It’s who I am. It’s what I do.

In my April 18, 2022, post, I’d written about an interview that had been mentioned in a May 2007 Oral History Project report, and that interview had never been posted online. I hypothesized that the interview, which had taken place in the spring semester of 2007 in Oxford, Ohio, might have been with Carl Knox’s secretary. 

Today, I need to let you know that I don’t think that that particular interview was with Carl Knox’s secretary after all. But you guys? We’re just fact-finding here, and, in my opinion, all facts are good facts. The information I’m about to convey is equally useful in helping us get to the answer we’re all seeking. Here’s the information that I wish to share: I think I’ve now determined two out of the three unposted interviews, and, in concurrence with the late, great singer Meat Loaf, that ain’t bad. The only interview for which I can’t find any record (other than the one-page summary that got this whole thing started) is the one with Carl Knox’s former secretary. 

What changed? As I was conducting my review of the events of the past year and a half, I landed upon a document that I’d received from Miami’s OGC from a separate public records request concerning the Oral History Project. Truth be told, I’d forgotten I had it. The document has to do with a completed list of interviews and story circles that had been conducted, and, although it isn’t dated, it appears to have been written in the spring of 2007. Here’s the document.

Click on image to see the entire document

I’ve highlighted the two interviews that haven’t been posted online. The first was conducted on June 17, 2006, and the second was conducted on February 14, 2007. Although you can read the names of the interviewees on the document, I’m not going to say them out loud on this site—we don’t need to feed the search engines any more than they’re already being fed, and the individuals are only peripherally related to our question. Also, the two recordings still ostensibly exist and can be found in University Archives on the third floor of King Library. The first is included with the Oral History Project recordings, and the second can be found in box 7 of assorted audio and video tapes.

What’s bothering me most about the 6/17/06 and 2/14/07 interviews is that when I was trying to find out if one of the three unposted recordings was an interview with Carl Knox’s secretary, I’d brought up the names of those very same two people with representatives of the university. I’d asked them, point blank, if the above two interviews were part of the three unposted recordings. And even though the two people were interviewed as part of the Oral History Project, and even though their recordings are unmistakably not posted on the bicentennial web page, it didn’t seem to help jostle anyone’s memories.

I’ve said enough. I’ll let you know how things go.

FOIA follies, part 2: ‘Lost’ mail, an old Steve Martin bit, and the interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary

Photo credit: Photo by Anna Land on Unsplash

Sixty-nine years. As of tomorrow, that’s how long it’s been since Ron Tammen held a study session with Dick Titus, fetched some clean sheets from Mrs. Todhunter, headed to the Delt House for song practice, walked home in the snow with two fellow Delts, and promptly disappeared forever from the campus of Miami University. I wish I were releasing something groundbreaking for this year’s anniversary post—I really do. The unredacted names from those two CIA memos (memos 1 and 2) or the full interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary would’ve been peachy. 

Alas, I cannot. Things are moving along—not at the pace I’d like them to, but progressing nonetheless. I need to respect the process and chillax. Hopefully, we’ll have some news to report soon, good or bad (preferably the former).

In the meantime, I’d like to discuss several phenomena that I’ve noticed in my 12 years of FOIAing for Tammen-related documents, especially lately. For the newcomers to the group, FOIA stands for the Freedom of Information Act, a federal law that allows anyone, including non–U.S. citizens, to submit requests for government documents. Most states, including Ohio, also have public records laws, often referred to as sunshine laws, that allow a person to request documents from state agencies and institutions. In Ohio, you don’t even need to be a resident.

FOIA and Ohio’s sunshine laws have become two of my trustiest tools for making the discoveries I’ve made concerning Ron Tammen’s case. My third tool is, of course, people—especially people who either knew Ron or were at Miami when he disappeared. In the number four spot is my ridiculously hard head, which, as I’ve mentioned before on this website, doesn’t take no for an answer terribly well, especially from certain powers that be.

Before we proceed with my latest observations, here’s a protip for anyone considering submitting a public records request to a state or federal agency: The instant you decide to become a submitter of records requests, you should prepare for the excuses, because, guuuuurl, you’re going to hear a lot of them. The most common is the “we looked, but we couldn’t find anything” excuse, which is a tough one to argue with if you happen to be a person who takes other people at their word. (Protip #2: If you’re going to become a submitter of records requests, you’ll need to stop being that type of person.) 

By far, the most creative excuse was dreamed up by the CIA. In 2016, I’d submitted a request asking them to lift the redactions from a July 1952 memo listing study group members for the ARTICHOKE program. (Unbelievably, the names are still being treated as if they’re top secret even though the memo is about to turn 70 years old, ARTICHOKE was shut down decades ago, and everyone involved has long since died.) After nearly three years of hearing nothing, a representative wrote to me and said that they looked high and low, but they only have the whited-out version of that memo. They can’t find the “full-text version.” I let out a scornful laugh and appealed their response. In June 2021, I was told that I can look forward to their ruling by an estimated date of December 8, 2022, which is very specific and an ETA in which I’m 100% skeptical. (See protip #2.) This little escapade also illustrates how a person can fritter their life away submitting FOIA requests to recalcitrant agencies—so much so that I will occasionally hear myself asking the universe, “Really? Is this my purpose? Is this why I’m here?” As of this writing, the universe’s response has been “’Fraid so. We good?”

What follows are two of the more innovative excuses I’ve received in recent months by state and federal officials, along with what I’ve done or intend to do in response. Also, if FOIA isn’t your passion, and you’re thinking of signing off right about now, I encourage you to hang on until excuse #2, or at least scroll there immediately. The reason is that I’ve further narrowed the timeframe when I think Carl Knox’s former secretary was interviewed by Miami University officials, and I’ll be telling you all about that. (It’s very cool and potentially huge.) 

Excuse #1: It was lost in the mail

I’ll start by asking this question: Have you ever mailed a letter to someone and it never made it to its destination? 

I don’t mean that it arrived late. Good Lord, we all know what that’s like. Do you remember December 2020? As a result of the pandemic, combined with the postmaster general’s *ahem* whimsical decision to give the heave ho to over 700 mail sorting machines in one fell swoop, it took months for a letter that I’d put in a collection box in northeast Ohio to make its way to the Seattle region. I’m not talking about those issues. I’m talking about mail that’s never arrived. I know it happens sometimes, but has it ever happened to you personally? Conversely, have you ever been anxiously waiting on a piece of mail that never came?

I honestly can’t think of a single time when either of the above has happened to me—at least not when I’m dealing with normal people and typical places of business. But when I’m doing business with the FBI and CIA? Well, apparently, it happens on a regular basis. Or at least that’s what they’d like you to believe.

Let’s first consider some statistics. I don’t trust the numbers that are pushed by businesses that compete with the U.S. Postal Service, so I won’t be repeating them here. I happen to support the USPS and I feel that their willingness to transport a first class letter anywhere in the country, including U.S. territories and military bases, for 58 measly cents is the best bargain on Planet Earth. 

The USPS Office of the Inspector General (IG) is the entity that keeps a watchful eye on the USPS’s service performance and they’ve produced nearly 200 reports on how things are going from year to year and region to region—way more information than we’re in need of here. From what I can tell, the question they’re most focused on isn’t so much IF the mail will arrive but WHEN, and the IG wants to make sure it’s arriving on time. In February 2022, the average amount of time it took for a first class letter to arrive at its destination was 2.7 days, which is incredible when you think of the size of this country and, again, the surprisingly little amount of money that they’re asking from us in return.

But strange things can and do happen. Mail can be damaged, stolen, and, OK, lost. In those instances, there’s a process in place for finding mail that’s gone AWOL, which is to go through the USPS’s Mail Recovery Center (MRC)—aka its “lost and found.”

According to the IG’s webpage, “In Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, the MRC received 67 million items from post offices and other facilities around the country. While that’s a large number, it’s a small fraction of a percent of the 142 billion mailpieces the Postal Service delivered that same year.” If you do the actual math [i.e., (67 million ÷ 142 billion) X 100], you’ll find that the “small fraction of a percent” is .047 percent, or roughly 1/2 of 0.1 percent, of wayward mail was forwarded to the MRC in FY 2019. And that doesn’t take into consideration the likelihood that some of the mail was eventually united with its intended recipient.

Therefore, despite some of the cranky comments on the IG’s website, I think we can say with confidence that lost mail isn’t a common occurrence.

Let’s now enter the bizarro world of the CIA and FBI. In the past five months, I can point to four instances in which they’ve subtly pointed the finger at the postal service for their own lack of responsiveness to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) request. It made no difference whether the mail was coming or going—both directions posed problems according to the two agencies. Moreover, each piece of mail that had presumably been lost had to do with one of the more formidable requests in our arsenal regarding the Ronald Tammen case. They never affected the boring, trivial stuff. I mean…what are the odds?

The CIA’s excuse: We never got your letter.

Protip #3For anyone planning to submit a FOIA or MDR request to the CIA, and you prefer to go the technological route, it’s advisable to get out your leg warmers and Duran Duran cassettes, because, my friend, you’ll be using an innovation that was all the rage when the world was 40 years younger. It’s called the Facsimile machine, or Fax for short, and you can reach the CIA’s Fax machine at 703-613-3007. Faxing can be annoying, tedious, and, if you don’t have a machine of your own or a landline to connect it to, expensive. (OK, I’m now being told that there are some computer apps that let you send a Fax online and, apparently, some people are still big believers in the Fax, but I don’t know who those people are. If you’ve sent a Fax in the past 15 years and remember it as a positive experience, feel free to weigh in on this controversy in the comments section.) 

In addition to Faxing, the CIA does offer the ability to send a FOIA or MDR request through their website, but only if you don’t plan to send attachments as back-up. In my experience, seeking random records from the CIA without support documentation is a losing proposition from the get-go. You’re being set up for failure. Unless you’re seeking documents that have been widely publicized and made readily available to the public—like the surviving MKULTRA documents, for example—I wouldn’t bother going this route.

That leaves the U.S. mail, which is how I send my requests to the CIA, as did my research associate recently. Here’s where they ask you to send them:

Information and Privacy Coordinator
Central Intelligence Agency
Washington, D.C. 20505

Given how simple the CIA’s mailing address is, it’s perplexing that so much can go awry with their incoming mail. There’s no street address to botch, no room number to accidentally transpose—just someone’s high-level job title, the agency name, and their exclusive ZIP code, 20505, in Washington, D.C. (Actually, the CIA’s headquarters is in McLean, VA—in a subsection referred to as Langley, VA—which is about 10 miles from D.C., but whatever.)

But, again, strange things can and do happen, even at the CIA. 

In my case, it happened after I’d discovered the four documents in the CIA’s MKULTRA collection (documents 123, and 4) in which I believe St. Clair Switzer was either the author or the author’s accomplice. In August 2021, I submitted a FOIA request asking that the names in those documents be declassified. Under normal circumstances, generally within a couple weeks, federal agencies will send an acknowledgment of your request along with an assigned FOIA number, to help in tracking your request. But this is the CIA we’re talking about, and they’ve always marched to a different drumbeat. But then August rolled into September, and September into October, and soon we were closing in on Thanksgiving, and I still hadn’t heard from them. 

When I called and asked for the status of my request, the FOIA representative told me that she was unable to find any record of it, as if all my efforts were just imaginings in my brain. I had to do it all over again. The second time, it worked (it always does), and our wait continues, but that little antic bought them three extra months, and, had I not checked when I did, it could have been a lot longer. (Protip #4: don’t make the same mistake I did and pop your request in the mail like a birthday card to your Aunt Trish. Always obtain a tracking slip and double check to make sure the envelope was delivered and, better yet, signed for.) 

The second case pertains to a colleague of mine who’d submitted a pretty important (read: REALLY important) records request to the CIA that has to do with the Ron Tammen case. I can’t say a lot about it, because I don’t want to give anything or anyone away. But the nuts-and-bolts of it is that he’d submitted a request to them in 2018, and last month—over three years later—my colleague was informed that they’d never received it. Don’t fret, my colleague is handling it. But the ”we never got it” excuse seems rather, oh, I don’t know, habitual?

The FBI’s excuse: Didn’t you get our letter?

OK, so that was pretty weird, but things are about to get weirder. It involves the FBI, which I’d FOIA’d twice to get a handle on how often people submitted expungement requests due to the Privacy Act versus a court order. I wanted to figure out which group Ron Tammen fell into. (If you’re new to the site and have no idea what we’re talking about, you can catch up here.) 

For openers, when you submit a FOIA request to the FBI on the topic of early expungements—whether it’s due to a court order or the Privacy Act—they’ll send all future communications via the mail instead of email. They seem have more faith in the mail when protecting people’s privacy…which is surprising, considering how frequently their mail appears to get lost.

This past July, I’d submitted two separate FOIA requests through the FBI’s online system, at efoia.fbi.gov. One request was for all paperwork having to do with early fingerprint expungement requests between January 1, 1999, and June 30, 2002, due to a court order and the other request was for the exact same thing, only due to the Privacy Act. On August 4, 2021, I received an acknowledgment on the court-order-related request, and on August 27, 2021, I received a letter in the mail stating that they’d searched “the places reasonably expected to have records” for early expungements due to a court order, and turned up nothing. I hadn’t yet received a letter regarding expungements due to the Privacy Act, and considered it a good sign, since that’s the category that I think applies to Ron.

By November, I’d still received nothing from them about my Privacy Act request, and I was beginning to wonder what had happened. I emailed them sometime between November 11 and November 29. Here’s an approximation of that email conversation:

Me: Hi, on July 29, I’d submitted two FOIA requests that dealt with early fingerprint expungements. The first had to do with court ordered-expungements, and the second had to do with the Privacy Act. I’ve only received a response for the one on court orders. I haven’t received anything for the request on Privacy Act expungements.

Public information officer: We mailed it to you.

Me: Really? Because I only received a response on court orders. I haven’t received anything on the Privacy Act. Can you please mail it to me again?

PIO: Oh, sorry. I misunderstood. We thought they were the same request.

Me: Nope, nope. Two different requests, filed separately.

They subsequently mailed an acknowledgment on November 29, 2021, and then, on December 14, 2021, they mailed their response, which was that they couldn’t find anything. But the email conversation was memorably bizarre.

You know what else is bizarre? That email conversation no longer exists. I’ve spent hours looking for it. After that exchange, I’d quoted the information officer’s comments on the Good Man Score Card, but removed them after I’d received their acknowledgment. This past weekend, as I was writing this post, I was looking for the conversation in my emails, and it’s not there. I’m not going to claim that someone from the FBI was somehow able to remove an entire email conversation from my gmail account. I’m just not. I’m human and, admittedly, I err sometimes. But to delete an entire conversation consisting of four or five emails between myself and a representative of the FBI? Well, that would be a first for me.

do have the emails to back up the second example, however. On New Year’s Day, 2022, I’d submitted a FOIA request that was a lot more specific than the July 2021 request. I’d stumbled on the FBI’s manual for FOIPA officers (FOIPA stands for Freedom of Information and Privacy Act) from around the time that they’d expunged Ron’s fingerprints, and it described the specific paperwork that was involved with fingerprint expungement requests due to the Privacy Act. In my new FOIA request, I was seeking those specific papers.

By March 30, I still hadn’t heard from them, so I emailed them and asked for a status update.

Here’s what they wrote:

Thank you for contacting foipaquestions@fbi.gov. Correspondence in response to your request, FOIA 1510466-000, was mailed via standard mail on December, 14, 2021.

Yes, that’s right. I inquired about a request I’d submitted on January 1, 2022, and they let me know that they’d responded to it two weeks prior to that date, on December 14, 2021, which would be stupendous customer service if we were actually talking about the same request.

I let them know that they were referring to the former request from July 2021. “This is a new request,” I said.

Here’s what they said in response:

Thank you for contacting foipaquestions@fbi.gov in reference to your Freedom of Information Act/Privacy (FOIPA) request. As requested, the FOIPA Request Number you have been assigned is 1514356-000. Correspondence for the request was mailed via standard mail on January 6, 2022.

Again with the “we mailed it.” But I hadn’t received it. And here we are, well into April, and I STILL haven’t received it. In fact, I feel I can confidently state that, even if I were to live to be 100, I would never, ever receive whatever they claim to have put in the “standard mail” on January 6, 2022. I asked them to send it again, and they did, and of course, this time it reached my mailbox just fine (it always does), although the letter I received was dated January 7, 2022. 

Here’s the problem I have with their “we mailed it” excuse: according to the FBI’s response—the one that I received on their so-called second try—they weren’t able to locate any records responsive to my request, which means that I need to submit an appeal. But the FBI places a 90-day time limit on the appeal process. Because the letter is dated January 7, 2022, that time limit had already passed by the time I received it. Of course, I’ll make sure the Department of Justice understands that I never received the FBI’s “first” letter, but is this a way that the FBI treats FOIA requests they’re not particularly thrilled about? 

Excuse #2: We forget

Anyone who was a near-adult in the 1970s knows how big Steve Martin was back then. He’s big again now, but this was different. Whenever Steve Martin was on Saturday Night Live, which was often, it was an event not to be missed. 

In addition to all of his other iconic phrases (the “Excuuuuuuse Me’s!” and whatnot), he had this bit that he’d do that my high-schooler brain found brilliant and hilarious. It was a two-word phrase he’d come up with that could get a person out of any jam: “I forgot!” 

“I forgot that armed robbery was a crime, officer!” he’d joke.

Well, weirdly enough, that’s the excuse that I feel Miami officials are giving me regarding the three Oral History Project (OHP) videotapes that were never posted on the university’s bicentennial website.

As you may recall, I recently submitted a public records request pointing them to the second-to-last line in their 2008 OHP progress report that stated that three recordings weren’t posted to their bicentennial website “for miscellaneous reasons.” I asked them to send those three videotapes to me or, if they no longer exist, to send me the forms documenting their destruction, per the Office of General Counsel’s (OGC) record retention protocol. A few weeks later, as part of the OGC’s response, they informed me that they’d asked several OHP representatives and “none of the individuals remember anything about those recordings.”

I subsequently filed a complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims, and we’re now gearing up for mediation, which is a legal proceeding at which I intend to present arguments countering their response. I’ll be keeping those arguments to myself for now.

With that said, I do have some news to share—something that I figured out as I was preparing my arguments. And you guys? I think I know when one of the three missing interviews took place. What’s more, I believe that this particular missing interview was with Carl Knox’s former secretary. 

Are you ready? 

I think the interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary happened during the spring semester of 2007, probably sometime between February and May. 

Here’s why I think this: it has to do with an OHP report that was written in May 2007. In that report, under the header “Accomplishments of Spring Semester 2007,” representatives of the Oral History Project had written the following paragraph:

Eight story circles and two interviews were conducted during the semester. These included the Digital Writing Collaborative, WMUB management/announcers, Student Affairs staff, 1970s faculty (different factions), and early African-American faculty. The sessions generally lasted an hour or two and were conducted in Oxford.

I consulted a chronological listing that I’d created of all the OHP recordings that had been posted online and found the ones that were produced during the spring semester of 2007, from January through May. (Most interviews were conducted in the summer, during the annual alumni reunion, when it was more convenient to schedule individuals who lived outside of Oxford.) 

Consistent with the report, I’ve counted eight story circles, which include all of the story circles that were named, plus Executive Assistants in the 1960s-90s, and three “different factions” of 1970s faculty (Political Activists, Part 1; Department of History Faculty; and Political Activists, Part 2). At first, the timing of the WMUB story circle confused me, since the report says that it was conducted in spring 2007, but it’s actually listed on the bicentennial website as having occurred on July 1, 2008. I now believe that something had gone wrong with the 2007 WMUB tape, which is supported by the 12/2008 OHP report. That report says “Since June 2008, 23 more sessions were recorded (including one that was a repeat of an earlier one due to recording problems).”

So the story circles check out. How about the two interviews?

Currently, only one individual interview from that timeframe is posted online: that of Heanon M. Wilkins, a retired Spanish professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, director of the Educational Opportunity, and director of the Black World Studies Program. Dr. Wilkins’ interview took place on March 21, 2007. It’s the second individual interview that I believe is one of the three recordings that weren’t posted online. I also think that was the interview that someone from the university had conducted with Carl Knox’s former secretary.

Listed in blue are the spring 2007 interviews minus the WMUB recording, which had experienced technical issues. The WMUB recording, in purple, was rerecorded on July 1, 2008. Plus marks following the recording dates indicate that these recordings had been posted on the main bicentennial website as opposed to the Western College OHP website..

Now, there’s an additional complicating factor I need to address. A former Miami baseball player named Clarence Wheeler (‘32) is listed on the bicentennial website as having been interviewed on April 27, 2007. Even the title slide says that the interview happened on April 27, 2007. And if that were indeed the date that the interview had taken place, then Clarence Wheeler would have been the clear answer to the question concerning the second individual to be interviewed that spring. Clarence also lived in Hamilton, Ohio, and, as the report states, all of the interviews and story circles had taken place in Oxford. He would have been the perfect fit for that time slot. Perfect, that is, except his interview didn’t occur for another year.

Clarence Wheeler’s title slide says that the interview was conducted in 2007, when the transcript below it shows the actual date, April 27, 2008.

That’s right. If you read Clarence’s transcript or watch the first few minutes of his tape, you’ll learn that his interview had taken place on April 27, 2008, which was Clarence Wheeler’s 100th birthday. 

Um. You guys? I’m not going to claim that someone from the university had intentionally mislabeled the title slide for Clarence Wheeler’s interview to concur with the May 2007 OHP report and therefore make it appear as if his was the second interview of the spring semester that year. I’m just not. I can’t imagine that the May 2007 report was that significant, and, let’s face it, university employees are human and they can err too.

I will say this: Heanon Wilkins had lived in Oxford until his death in 2015, so it’s easy to understand why his interview could have been conducted in Oxford during the spring of 2007. Coincidentally, Carl Knox’s former secretary was living in Oxford at that time too.

You guys. The ‘Ident Missing Person File Room’ wasn’t in the Hoover Bldg after all. And wait till you find out who I think was overseeing it.

Department of Justice Building

You know how it feels when you’re working on a jigsaw puzzle and a puzzle piece doesn’t fit quite right? It looks like it should fit. It seems as if it has all the right edges. But when you try to insert one piece’s knobby end into the corresponding cut-out area of another piece, you discover that you have to use too much force jamming it in. That’s how I felt about my hypothesis from January 21 on the location of the Ident Missing Person File Room—room #1126 in an unnamed building. Lots of details seemed to fit the J. Edgar Hoover Building, but I’ll admit that other details required a little too much, um, creative-thinking, shall we say? Case in point: when I proposed that the Identification Division had assigned a number to the Missing Person File Room that was based on the future numbering system of a building that was still in the blueprint stage, well, that’s getting pretty creative. Also, if the room was going to be housed on the 11th floor with all of the muckety mucks in Identification, as I’d proposed in my hypothesis, it should have had five digits, not four. It should have been room #1126-something, like 11261 or 11265. You get the gist.

So, I admit it. I was wrong. I apologize for the confusion and I humbly beg your forgiveness. As I believe I’ve mentioned in past posts, I am a human being with all of the accompanying accoutrement and baggage.

I’m not going to bore you with the precise details of how I came upon the new hypothesis because, truth be told, I don’t think I could replicate the sequence of events. Let’s just say that I read through a bunch of documents, plus I spent more time looking through the 1975 FBI phone directories, then I Googled a bunch of stuff based on what I’d learned through said documents and phone directories. Coffee was involved as well.

Now, several days later, I think we’re getting really, REALLY close to knowing the truth behind the Ident Missing Person File Room, and why some of Ron’s missing person documents were housed there.

Here’s how we’re going to do this. Far be it from me to bury the lede, so I’m going to tell you very soon—in the very next paragraph, in fact—what I discovered. Then, I’ll try to address all of the questions that I can imagine swirling around in your collective brains.

Here’s what I discovered: Room 1126 was very likely a room on the first floor of the Department of Justice Building, a building that had housed more than two-fifths of the FBI before the J. Edgar Hoover Building was completed in 1975. The division that maintained room 1126, the Ident Missing Person File Room, was very likely…wait for it…the FBI’s Special Investigative Division.

And now, some Qs and As:

Really? Are you sure?

I’m pretty darn sure. But you may have noticed that I used the words “very likely” twice in the above paragraph. That’s because, although I haven’t yet found a document that directly links room 1126 to the Special Investigative Division, I’ve discovered lots and lots of connecting dots that link the two together.

Why do you think the Missing Person File Room was in the DOJ Building?

First, the numbering format of the building fits. The DOJ Building is seven stories high, and its numbering system is always in four digits. Rooms on the first floor all begin with the number one followed by three other numbers.

Second, although I wasn’t able to find documentation of room 1126 (yet), I was able to find documentation of room 1127, which, in February 1976, was the office number of someone by the last name of Newman. Unfortunately, this particular Newman doesn’t appear to be listed in the 1975 FBI phone directories, but that’s OK. I have more to say on Newman in a second.

Third, if you examine those phone directories, you’ll see the names and abbreviations of five buildings listed at the top of the first page. These are the buildings in which the thousands of FBI staff were stationed, and they were scattered around DC and in nearby Silver Spring, MD. You’ll see the initials JEH for the J. Edgar Hoover Building and IB for Identification Building. But there’s one building that isn’t listed at all, even though people were still working inside it. In those instances, a person’s name would be listed, along with a phone extension, and a room number, but no building would be specified. I later found this was the Department of Justice Building. Furthermore, with one exception, all of the offices that were on the first floor were located in the DOJ building. 

Page 1 of the July 1975 phone directory. Note the five buildings that are mentioned with their abbreviations at the top left. At the top right are the numbers representing the divisions, with the number “9” representing the Special Investigative Division. The heads of each of the divisions are listed above the letter “A.” To look at the entire July 1975 directory, click here.

Why didn’t they write the name of the DOJ Building in the staff directory?

 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I’m thinking maybe it was for security reasons. Or maybe, because it was the main administrative building for so many years, the office culture had been to just write the room number. The only time they’d need to name a building was if they were describing a different building. Just guessing though.

Two parter: How did you figure out that the missing building in the directories was the DOJ building, and how did you tie everything to the FBI’s Special Investigative Division?

Oh, this is when things got fun. Remember Newman in office 1127? Well, the documents I found on him or her looked mighty investigative in nature. In February 1976, he or she had requested a slew of files from the Records Management Division. The files that were requested could be subversive or nonsubversive; some were restricted to the DC metro region, and others not. 

One of many records requests filed by Newman in Feb. 1976

Then I looked at the 1975 phone directories again. Many of the individuals who were listed without a building were in the FBI’s Special Investigative Division. And most of those individuals also happened to be on the first floor.

That’s when I started Googling the Special Investigative Division like mad. One person, a guy by the name of Courtney Allen Evans, had been named to head the division when it was created in 1961. According to his personnel documents that I found on the FBI Vault site, in 1962, as Evans was starting his new position, he received some room keys. Evans retired in 1964, however, those room numbers correspond to several of the rooms that are listed in the 1975 phone directory for people who worked in the Special Investigative Division, including the man in charge, William V. Cleveland.

Lastly, the annual inspections of the Special Investigative Division for 1962 and 1964 said outright that all division space is located on the first floor of the Justice Building with the exception of some employees who were on the seventh floor.

Hence: the unnamed building in the phone directories was the DOJ Building, and, in 1975, the FBI’s Special Investigative Division occupied the first floor.

Did any of Courtney Evans’ room keys happen to be for room #1126?

Sadly, no. But documents show that Courtney also had a master key to the entire first floor, which he returned when he retired.

You said there was one exception to your discovery that all of the offices that possessed first-floor room numbers in the phone directories were located in the DOJ Building. What was the exception? 

The exception was in the Identification Building, which had one room listed on the first floor, #1121. That room was the health service for the Identification Division. Although I’m a big believer in health, I wish this office hadn’t existed because its room number is very close to the number 1126, which plants a small seed of doubt regarding my theory. Nevertheless, I think the preponderance of evidence supports the notion that 1126 was in the DOJ Building.

That’s very interesting, but I’m still thinking about the health clinic in the Identification Building. Why don’t you think room 1126 was somewhere nearby?

Two reasons: First, not one person with whom I’ve spoken who had worked in the Identification Building has ever heard of the Ident Missing Person File Room. Not a soul. And I spoke with people who, if there was such a thing on the first floor of the building in which they worked, they should have known about it.

Second, it wasn’t the protocol. Missing person documents were normally filed with the Records Management Division. The missing person file room was not part of the Identification Division’s day-to-day business of handling missing person cases.

Wow. If you’re right, this would help answer a lot of questions about the Missing Person File Room stamp on Ron’s documents, wouldn’t it?

Go on…I’m listening…

Well, there’s the question of why don’t they identify the building after the room number on the stamp? But if it’s the DOJ Building, they probably didn’t feel the need to add the name of the building, just like with the phone directories.

Awesome point.

Also, there’s the question of why does the word “Ident” precede the words “Missing Person File Room”? If the room was housed somewhere in the Identification Division, they shouldn’t have to specify Ident, should they?

You know, that’s another really good point. If we put ourselves in the shoes of someone who worked in the Special Investigative Division, they might have labeled their Missing Person File Room with the prefix “Ident” to reinforce the fact that the files originated with the Identification Division. The name may have been a shout-out to the fine folks in Identification, though the file room resided within the Special Investigative Division.

What’s so special about the Special Investigative Division?

Let’s start with some historical perspective: the Special Investigative Division didn’t exist until 1961, when Courtney Evans was named to the head post by J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover had decided to split his investigations team into two divisions—the General Investigative Division and the Special Investigative Division—as a tactical maneuver to help reduce friction between the FBI and Hoover’s two nemeses, President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Both Kennedys liked and trusted Evans, and Evans served as a liaison to both men.

The General Investigative Division covered all of the typical FBI cases: murders, kidnappings, bank robberies, and the like, as well as fraud, embezzlement, and civil rights cases. 

The Special Investigative Division, on the other hand, covered three main categories. The first was organized crime, which, according to a 1975 FBI brochure, was defined as “a lawless empire involved in gambling, loan sharking, narcotics, prostitution, labor-racketeering, extortion, and any other venture where easy money can be made.” Organized crime includes the mafia, but it can also include gangs and other organized groups. The Special Investigative Division also investigated fugitives—people who escaped arrest or incarceration. They were also the group who investigated Selective Service Act violations, aka draft dodgers.

Lastly, agents in the Special Investigative Division were the ones who were called upon to investigate individuals who were being considered for employment in high or sensitive government posts under the “Security of Government Employees program.” As the 1975 brochure states, “These investigations ensure that appropriate Government officials have the necessary information on which to judge whether a person chosen to serve the American public is deserving of the trust placed in him as a public servant.”  

I’m including a link to the publication from 1975 so you can read about both divisions in more detail plus anything else of interest.

So why do you think the Special Investigative Division would have had Ron’s missing person file?

Exactly. Why would the Special Investigative Division want to investigate Ron Tammen? 

I don’t believe Ron was linked in any way to organized crime, so let’s just toss that one out right now. We know all about the source of the fish in the bed, and so did the FBI. It wasn’t the mob. And there’s no indication that Ron was involved in any of the nefarious activities previously mentioned.

What about fugitive or Selective Service Act violation cases? We already know that Ron was investigated for draft dodging beginning in 1953. But that case was closed in 1955 by the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland, Ohio. (I’ve submitted a FOIA request to the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, by the way, to find out how typical that action was.) So with the Special Investigative Division starting in 1961, I highly doubt that they would have reopened Ron’s Selective Service case. No way.

Let’s see, let’s see…so what’s left? 

What about the very happy-sounding and not-at-all-worrisome program known as the “Security of Government Employees program”? When I looked up that program, a page popped up on the National Archives and Records Administration website that states that this investigative program (labeled Classification 140 in FBI parlance) was established by the FBI in 1953 as a way of enforcing Executive Order 10450, which was the executive order signed by President Eisenhower to root out and fire gay government employees. We’ve discussed the Lavender Scare on this site before, and how the FBI was descending on civil servants and subjecting them to intense interrogation about their personal lives. Well, now we know the people who were doing it: our friends in the Special Investigative Division.

Now, recall that, in 1953, the Special Investigative Division didn’t exist yet—they inherited the program later. But Ron’s documents were very likely passed along to them—for whatever reason—after they were established in 1961.

Do you think that’s why Ron’s documents were housed there—through the Security of Government Employees program?

It’s tough to say, since we don’t have the documents. But we do know that the FBI was investigating Ron’s case far more than they would a typical missing person case. I’ve often wondered where those interview reports landed, and my current belief is that many of them may have been stored in the Missing Person File Room.

Do you think the Missing Person File Room is still in the DOJ Building?

If I’m not mistaken, the Special Investigative Division moved out of DOJ later in 1976, and into their new digs at the J. Edgar Hoover Building. In September of that year, a group representing the General Counsel to the Public Documents Commission of the DOJ was occupying Newman’s old office.

So what’s next? What can you do to find out more?

I think this information opens up new territory for Freedom of Information Act requests. First off, I need a floorplan of the DOJ building, like, pronto. I’ve attempted this before and failed. But now I have more reason to push on that.

What do you all think? Can you think of some FOIA requests that are just begging to be submitted?

Any final thoughts?

Just one: We’ve been saying all along that Ron’s missing person case was special. Apparently the FBI’s Special Investigative Division thought so too.

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

3/12/2022

Update regarding my 2/23/22 blog post:

As you may recall, I’ve been trying to figure out if there was a room 1126 in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Building in the early 1970s. If I can prove that, then I think we can reasonably conclude that the Ident Missing Person File Room was under the supervision of the FBI’s Special Investigative Division.

To answer that question, I’ve been attempting to get my hands on the DOJ Building’s floor plan. But I’ve come to learn that the DOJ Building is considered one of the most secure buildings in the federal government. Translation: I won’t be getting a copy. I did manage to locate someone from the General Services Administration who has a copy of the original floor plan from the 1930s, and who was willing to tell me if there was a room 1126. Here’s what she said:

“Looking at the original (1930s) first floor plan for the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters building at 950 Pennsylvania Ave NW, there does not appear to be a room 1126. It’s possible that the building was re-numbered between 1930 and 1970, however, the original plans do not contain that number.”

So that’s disappointing.

I then asked: “Did the original floor plan show a room 1127? That could help me determine if there could have been a renumbering afterward.”

Her response was: “No, I do not see a room 1127 either.”

So here’s my thinking: unless the staff member known as Newman was working out of a different building in 1976—and I don’t think he was—they must have renumbered the rooms sometime between 1935, when the DOJ Building was completed, and 1976, when Newman was making his records requests.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Jenny, Newman’s records requests didn’t include the building name—only the number 1127. Is it possible that Newman was working out of the Identification Building? Maybe the Special Investigative Division placed him there so he’d be closer to Records Management, which I seem to recall was also located in the Identification Building.”

Wow…you have an insanely good memory. But while anything is possible, I believe I have proof that that wasn’t the case.

First, although it might have been helpful to place Newman close to Records Management, here’s the snag in that theory: Records Management was part of the Files and Communications Division, and, in February 1976, they had already been occupying the fifth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building for over a year. There would have been no reason for Newman to be in the Identification Building in 1976 as everyone else was moving out.

Also, there really, truly was (and perhaps still is) a room 1127 in the DOJ Building. I know this because I have two documents from September 1976 that tell us so.

The first is a letter dated September 15, 1976, from the deputy archivist of the United States to the General Counsel’s office of the Public Documents Commission, a commission created in 1974 to study “the control, disposition, and preservation of documents produced by federal officials, particularly the President.” It appears as though the commission took over Newman’s office shortly after he and his colleagues moved into the J. Edgar Hoover Building that same year.

The letter’s recipient, an attorney named Dori Dressander, passed away in 1999, I’m sorry to report. Otherwise, I would have definitely reached out to her to ask about the room next door and whether she had any good stories she could tell us about Newman. Some additional research on Ms. Dressander reveals that she was a respected legal scholar who had been working on a book on civil rights under the Eisenhower Administration at the time of her death. After she died, the landlord of her Washington, D.C. apartment sent all of her research papers–which were on loan to her and should have been part of Eisenhower’s Presidential Library — to the landfill, which is sadly ironic, considering her obvious belief in public access to historical records. (Note to self: revise will to donate Ron Tammen files to a millennial whom I like and trust.)

The second document is a write-up from the September 16, 1976, issue of the Federal Register that also lists room 1127, Department of Justice.

So, at least for now, our theory is holding up.

Mind you, there’s still a chance that room 1126 is or was on the first floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, but I doubt it. The stamp on Ron’s missing person documents likely preceded 1975, the year in which the Hoover building was constructed. Also, the first floor was predominantly devoted to administrative-type purposes, such as classrooms, an auditorium, and the personnel office. A computer room for the National Crime Information Center was also on the first floor, in room 1328. Although, at this point, we can’t rule out the J. Edgar Hoover Building entirely, hopefully the additional FOIA documents I’ve requested will help us do so. And who knows, maybe with those documents in hand, we’ll be knocking on the door to the Ident Missing Person File Room–a door that’s maddeningly unremarkable; a door that’s in full view but is way too easy to miss–sooner than we know.

Tuesday two-fer: two new pieces of evidence that support our theory that Ron Tammen was alive in 2002

I have a couple pieces of news for you. First, the FBI responded to my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Lyndal Ashby’s Additional Record Sheets yesterday. 

Lyndal Ashby’s Additional Record Sheets

For those who need some refreshing, Lyndal Ashby is the name of a young man who’d gone missing seven years after Ron Tammen. Ashby was 22 when he’d disappeared in 1960 from Hartford, KY, a town of roughly 2700 people on the western side of the state. His story is different from Ron’s. He was a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. According to Ashby’s obituary, after he’d gone missing, it was learned that he’d been living under a new name in California and had died on April 11, 1990. He had a family. 

Photos of Lyndal Ashby from the “Find a Grave” website

Although Ashby was cremated and his ashes were strewn in the Pacific Ocean, near the Golden Gate Bridge, his family erected a memorial to Lyndal in Walton’s Creek Church Cemetery, in Centertown, KY—the town where he was born and where he’d graduated from high school.

Ashby’s case had nothing to do with the CIA or hypnosis or any of the curious details we’ve discussed regarding Tammen’s case. However, the two cases did have at least two things in common. First, J. Edgar Hoover was very much at the helm of the FBI when both men disappeared. Second, both men had their fingerprints on file with the FBI’s Identification Division when they’d disappeared. Theoretically, the FBI protocol that had initially applied to Ron’s fingerprint records—that they be kept until he was 99 years of age—should have applied to Ashby’s fingerprint records too. Since Ashby was born in 1938, the FBI should have his fingerprint records until at least 2037.

That’s why I submitted a FOIA request for Ashby’s Additional Record Sheets. As we’ve discussed elsewhere on this site, Additional Record Sheets were sheets of paper that were part of a person’s fingerprint jacket, attached to the back of their fingerprint cards with two-pronged fasteners. Identification staff would jot down notes on them whenever they performed an action on the file and then place everything back into the fingerprint jacket. When the fingerprint cards were digitized beginning in 1999, so were the Additional Record Sheets.

Here’s what the FBI sent me.

As happy as I was to receive anything at all from them, it’s not what I was hoping for. I was hoping for the sort of document that’s in this photo, which I’d captured from an FBI video:

I was hoping for scribbles denoting every potential sighting of Ashby as well as the exact moment when the FBI figured out that he’d changed his name and was living in California.

Instead, I received Ashby’s fingerprints from his time in the military.

Do I think the FBI sent me everything in Ashby’s fingerprint jacket? I do not. Am I going to appeal? I will not.

The reason is that I’m a small person of limited means, and I need to prepare myself for bigger battles. Also, I’ve learned enough from what they’ve sent me. By sending me Lyndal Ashby’s fingerprints, the FBI has let me know something valuable: They didn’t expunge them. They didn’t expunge them when they knew he was no longer missing, and they didn’t expunge them after he died almost 32 years ago.

The FBI appears to be abiding by its record retention schedule and holding onto Lyndal Ashby’s fingerprints until at least the year 2037. (The retention period has since been extended to 110 years, so they may be holding them until then.) They ostensibly didn’t even expunge his fingerprints seven years after his confirmed death, which is part of their retention schedule protocol.

Moreover, the fact that they still have Lyndal Ashby’s fingerprints on file, and not Ron Tammen’s, reinforces the notion that the expungement of Tammen’s fingerprints was due to unusual circumstances.

We already know that Ron’s fingerprints were expunged in 2002 due to the Privacy Act or a court order. Some readers have wondered if there might have been a mass expungement of fingerprints when the FBI automated its system beginning in 1999—whether to protect the fingerprint owners or to simply thin out the numbers of prints to be digitized. Although, admittedly, Ashby was deceased by then, I don’t know the precise date when the FBI made that discovery. FBI records that I’ve received indicate that they were still conducting DNA testing for his case in February 2011. Therefore, it’s reasonably safe to conclude that there was no mass expungement of missing persons’ fingerprints sometime around 2002 due to the Privacy Act.

Court-ordered expungements in 2002

My second piece of news has to do with court-ordered expungements. You may recall that, in an effort to figure out the precise reason for Ron’s expungement—was it the Privacy Act or was it a court order?—I’d submitted two FOIA requests to the FBI. In the first, I requested documents associated with the early expungement of fingerprints between 1999 and 2002 on the basis of a court order. In the second, I requested documents pertaining to the early expungement of fingerprints for the same time period due to the Privacy Act. Both FOIA requests resulted in the same response: “Unable to identify records responsive to your request.“

I’ve since refined my request having to do with Privacy Act expungements, and I’m eagerly waiting for the FBI to acknowledge that request, which, I might add, is a thing of beauty. As for the one having to do with a court order, I’ve been letting it lie, since I wasn’t sure where to go next. 

And then, last weekend, I put two and two together. 

You may recall when I was seeking records from the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office in relation to another aspect of the Tammen case. They’d responded by sending a raft of electronic documents with only subject headings, and one of those documents was titled “COURT ORDERS RE EXPUNGMENT [sic] SHOULD GO TO BCII.” Now, I would very much love to see what the entire document has to say on that topic, and I’ve asked them to declassify it, please and thank you. But I was wondering if something can be determined now, in the meantime, from the subject head alone?

For example, exactly who or what is BCII? At first, I thought it might have been part of the FBI or Department of Justice, but I’ve found no evidence of that. What I later discovered was that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has a Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), which also has an Identification (I) Section. So they have all the necessary letters. Upon further reading, I learned that Ohio’s BCI handles court-ordered expungements for cases throughout the state of Ohio, in care of the Identification Section, and that the people there work closely with the FBI. It makes total sense that the FBI’s field office in Cincinnati would recommend that court-ordered expungements be sent to Ohio’s BCII.

Over the weekend, I’d submitted a public records request to the Ohio Attorney General’s office seeking “all segregable records pertaining to the expungement of fingerprint records that took place in the year 2002 due to a court order.” Again, I was trying to figure out if they had any court-ordered expungements at all that year, and if not, we could be certain that Ron’s expungement was not due to a court order. Of course, there could also have been 10 or 20 or 50 court-ordered expungements in 2002, in which case I’d be back to square one, not knowing if Ron’s case was among them.

Yesterday morning, I’d just gotten back from my run when I checked my phone and saw that someone had left a voicemail. It was from the chief counsel for Ohio’s BCI, and he’d called seeking more information about my request. I returned his call, expecting to be immediately directed to voicemail or at least to have to run through a menu of choices and button-pushes to reach him, but no. Dude picked up on the first ring.

You guys. You know how I think the people from the National Archives and Records Administration are rock stars when it comes to FOIA? Well, move over, NARA, because the people in the Ohio AG’s office have you beat. NARA had responded to one of my requests the next day, which is super impressive. But Ohio’s chief counsel for the BCI responded to my public records request the very same day. 

Now, before I tell you what their response was, let me just say that, in our phone conversation, as I was giving him the specifics, he let me know that they don’t maintain court orders by year. But knowing the person in question was helpful, he said, though, again, he wasn’t sure what information he’d be able to provide. I sent him all of Ron’s identifying information. I also pointed out to him that the AG’s web page on missing persons has a page devoted to Ron.

“Who knows…we may be able to solve your missing person case,” I told him.

At around 3 p.m. yesterday, I received the BCI’s response:

BCI has searched its records for “all segregable records pertaining to the expungement of fingerprint records that took place in the year 2002 due to a court order. The records that I’m seeking will document that an expungement of fingerprint records has taken place due to a court order in the year 2002.” Following receipt of your request, I contacted you by telephone to clarify your request and to narrow the focus of BCI’s search of its records.

Upon review of BCI’s records, BCI does not have any records responsive to your specific request.  As such, this concludes BCI’s response to your request. 

When we consider these two findings together, I think we can say with confidence that Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged in 2002 because of a conflict with the Privacy Act, and not because of a court order. Also, his conflict with the Privacy Act had nothing to do with a mass expungement during the period in which the FBI was switching to an automated system. 

I’m more and more certain of it: Ronald Tammen was alive in 2002 and he himself requested that his fingerprints be expunged from the FBI’s system.

Mini bonus post: Were Richard Cox’s FBI documents kept in the Identification Division’s ‘missing person file room’ too?

Richard Colvin Cox

Considering how similar the Ron Tammen and Richard Cox disappearances seemed to be, one question that may have crossed your minds at some point is: were Richard Cox’s missing person documents handled the same way as Ron Tammen’s? In other words, were some of Cox’s documents stamped “Return to Ident Missing Person File Room” too?

Also, you may recall that other Tammen documents had been stamped “Retain permanently in Ident jacket #358-406-B”—Ron’s fingerprint jacket—before they were “removed from Ident files” in June 1973. Was there a phrase on Cox’s documents to “Retain permanently in Ident jacket” too? We know the FBI had Cox’s fingerprints on file because of his Army ties, so he should have had a fingerprint jacket too.

To the best of my knowledge, the answer is “no” to both questions.

I know that some of you aren’t convinced that there was a missing person file room per se. But even so…the FBI seemed to be treating the two cases differently, even though there were distinct similarities between them and they’d occurred only three years apart.

Admittedly, I’ve been eyeballing hundreds of pages today and there’s a chance I may have missed something.

And so…I’ve decided to post all of Richard Cox’s FBI documents on this website. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the FBI’s files on Cox have ever been posted in their (supposed) entirety online before. Feel free to explore them at your leisure. There’s quite a bit there and some of it makes for fascinating reading. Also, if you do spot either of the above phrases, or anything else of interest, please let me know. You can find the three CDs’ worth of documents at the bottom of the home page, in the same area as the other documents I’ve posted.

Lastly, if their estimate is still on target, I should be hearing from the Department of Justice by early February regarding my appeal concerning Richard Cox’s Additional Record Sheets. It would be a huge deal if they rule in my favor. I don’t think anyone has ever requested—and received—Additional Record Sheets from the FBI before. Fingers crossed.

I think I may know where the FBI’s ‘missing person file room’ was located

A couple days ago, as  I was pondering my next move on a recent FOIA request that had left me empty-handed, I turned my sights once again to the July 1975 FBI telephone directory.

You may recall the directory in question. We’d discussed it when I was trying to track down someone who’d removed Ron’s missing person documents from “Ident” in June 1973—someone who appeared to have the initials MSL. The directory header says “Officials and Supervisors” in large print and “Secretaries, Stenos, and Clerical Supervisors” in smaller print. Beneath that header is an unredacted list of former employees and their phone extensions, and following those names are the names and locations of every division, section, unit, and desk in the Bureau. It’s a tiny window into the FBI in the mid-seventies and a window that I needed to peer through a little more intently. I guess you could call me the FBI’s own little Gladys Kravitz.

Not all officials are listed in the 1975 staff directory, mind you. Clarence M. Kelley had been the director since 1973, and his name is nowhere to be found. The logic may have been that if you’re an employee of the Bureau, you should already know who the director is. Shame on you if you needed to ask if Kelley was spelled with an “ey” or just a “y.” But Kelley’s underlings are all present and accounted for, including his associate director Nicholas P. Callahan and the associate directors of each of the 12 divisions and the Office of Planning and Evaluation. 

According to the directory, the director’s and associate director’s offices were located on the seventh floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, which had been newly completed that very year. Many of the FBI’s employees were also stationed there by then, though not all. People were still occupying space in the Identification Building at 2nd and D Streets SW, as well as an Annex at 215 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, the Old Post Office Building, and the Willste Building, which was a high-rise in nearby Silver Spring, MD (and is now a pricey condo building).

FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building, aka FBI Headquarters, in 1975; photo credit: FBI

Richard H. Ash, who headed up the Identification Division at that time, had an office on the top floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building—the 11th—in  room 11255.

Two days ago, I found myself staring vacuously at the second-to-last page of the directory at a general entry for the Identification Division. The entry looked modest for the largest division in the agency. The mammoth sections it oversaw appeared alphabetically as stand-alone entries, typed in all caps with their units beneath, but the division itself appeared on its own in mostly lower-case letters. Only its phone extension managed to convey an elevated degree of importance: 2222. The Identification Division’s room number was 11262 in the J. Edgar Hoover Building.

11262. 

11262.

It sounded familiar, but why? 

1126…

too.

And then it occurred to me that 1126 is the number for the “Ident. Missing Person File  Room,” which had been stamped on several of Ronald Tammen’s missing person records. So far, a total of zero people I’ve spoken with from the FBI’s Identification Division or its successor, Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS), as well as the Records Management Division, have ever heard of the Missing Person File Room. 

For those who may be new to the blog site, the Identification Division’s Missing Person File Room appears to have been a diversion from typical FBI protocol for missing persons. Several of Ron’s papers had been housed there, as indicated by the above stamp, and then the stamp was crossed out at some point, though we don’t know when or why, and we also don’t know where Ron’s papers were stored after that. My thinking is that Ron’s case wasn’t the typical missing person case. I also think they knew he was no longer missing. (You can read every blog post that discusses Ron’s missing person file at this link.)

Could it be, thought I, that the Missing Person File Room was in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, up on the 11th floor, under the watchful eye of the higher-ups in the Identification Division? It only had four numbers, not the five that was characteristic of the 11th floor’s numbering system. But is it…conceivable?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that it makes no sense. Ron’s missing person documents had (ostensibly) been stamped sometime before June 1973, which precedes the Hoover building by at least two years. How could they specify a room number for a new building before said building had even been built? 

Hear me out.

As it so happens, although the J. Edgar Hoover building was nowhere near finished in 1973, it had already been years in development by then, and had been since the early 1960s. In fact, if you’re ever in the mood for some light reading, or, better yet, a natural remedy for covid-fueled insomnia, documents pertaining to the entire process, which began with the formulation of an idea in 1940, can be found on the Government Attic website.

According to a 2014 General Services Administration document describing the building’s planning and construction, floor plans had been approved for at least the first, second, and seventh floors, and I’m guessing others as well, in 1967. (See figures 36-38.) The GSA document also states that some employees had already begun moving into the new building by June 1974.

So keeping all of the above in mind, it would seem feasible that, by the summer of 1973, the Identification Division’s management probably was already preparing for its big move. To assist in the transition, perhaps they’d even decided to label some documents according to the new floor plan, even though the numbering system may not have been 100 percent final. Perhaps when they were writing the number 1126 on the line provided by the rubber stamp, they meant 1126-ish.

That might help explain another minor mystery, by the way—the Missing Person File Room stamp itself. I’d often wondered why someone had to write in the room number as opposed to having the room number engraved on the stamp. Was the information held there so confidential that they had to change its location every so often? 

My thinking now is that the stamp was made during the transition period when they weren’t exactly sure where the Missing Person File Room would be located. “Just put a blank line there and we can fill in the room number later,” a 1970s office supervisor might have said before pivoting on her platform heels and walking away.

But what about the other buildings that the FBI used back in 1973? Could room #1126 have been in one of those?

I honestly don’t think so. I’ve attempted to obtain floor plans for the Robert F. Kennedy Building at 950 Pennsylvania NW, where the Department of Justice is housed and where some FBI officials were located before they moved next door to FBI Headquarters. Likewise, I tried to obtain floor plans of the Identification Building at 2nd and D Streets, SW, the hub of the fingerprint identification activities. I was unsuccessful. I also was unsuccessful in having someone answer my direct question regarding whether there is a room 1126 in the DOJ building now or in the Ident Building when the FBI was still a tenant. 

One kind soul did tell me that there is no such number in the Ford House Office Building, which is a renovated version of the Ident Building.

I was also able to locate some room numbers online for the RFK building, though 1126 isn’t among them. Although the numbering is in four digits and there could feasibly be a room number 1126 on the first floor, it seems unlikely that the Missing Person File Room would have been there. It’s more plausible that it would be accessible to wherever administrative staff would have been located, which was usually on a higher floor.

As for the Identification Building, the 1975 FBI telephone directory shows that most sections were on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th floors. The directory didn’t specify a room number for the Technical Section, which housed the criminal fingerprint cards. (The civil and Old Armed Forces cards were stored in the Willste Building, in Silver Spring.) Technical staff were most likely stationed in a large open space on the first and possibly second floors. But again, it doesn’t seem likely that the Missing Person File Room would have been located there, particularly since people who’d worked there didn’t seem to know that the room existed.

I also don’t think the Missing Person File Room was housed in the Willste Building due to the same accessibility issues as for the DOJ building. It’s difficult to say, since no room numbers are provided in the directory.

Yesterday, I wrote to the National Capital Planning Commission’s (NCPC’s) Office of Public Engagement seeking the 1967 approved floor plan for the 11th floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, if available. I also requested copies of the approved floor plans for the first, second, and seventh floors, since the drawings are blurry in the 2014 GSA document. (The NCPC has suggested going through the Public Engagement Office first before filing a FOIA request.)

In addition, I plan to reach out to two former employees from that era who may be able to answer my questions about the Missing Person File Room as well.

I’ll let you know what I find out.

In the meantime, what do you think? 

More smoking evidence that Ron Tammen was alive in 2002

Short post tonight, but I can’t keep it in. For most of today, I’ve been doing a deep dive into FBI protocol to help me revise my FOIA request seeking all fingerprint expungement requests between 1999 and June 2002 due to the Privacy Act. As many of you know, June 2002 was when Ron Tammen’s fingerprints had been expunged due to the Privacy Act or a court order. However, in my recent FOIA request on that subject, the FBI claimed that, based on the information I’d provided to them, they were “Unable to identify records responsive to your request.“ For my revised request, I want to point to specific FBI protocols in their own words so their FOIA folks won’t be able to pretend that I didn’t give them enough information.

One of the websites that I visited today was www.governmentattic.org, which is an invaluable website that believes in government transparency. They’ve posted all sorts of random documents from all areas of the federal government that they’ve obtained by submitting their own FOIA requests. There, I was thrilled to find an FBI FOIA and Privacy Act reference manual that covers the time period of January 8, 1987 through March 31, 1998.

Near the end of the manual are memos that deal with agency protocol when handling FOIA and Privacy Act requests. Memo 14, which deals with the correction or expungement of information in FBI files, was issued on March 31, 1998, just four years before Ron’s fingerprints were expunged. It’s pretty short, so I’ll let you read it at your leisure. (Note that the initials PLS stand for paralegal specialist.)

Here are the two key takeaways from this memo:

  1. Among other things, I plan to seek “all correspondence between the Bureau and the requester” for the period of January 1, 1999 through June 30, 2002. There’ll be tons of redactions, no doubt, but we still could get a sense of how many people requested that their fingerprints be expunged during that period due to the Privacy Act.
  2. Best of all, is the first sentence of the last paragraph: “The only person who can make a request for amendment/correction is the subject of the record.”

You guys, we’ve been saying all along that if Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged due to the Privacy Act, then he was alive in 2002, since he’s the only person who can make that request.

It’s just super nice to hear the FBI say so too.

Happy New Year, everyone!

On this date in 1958, FBI Headquarters wrote an ‘airtel’ to the Cincinnati Field Office that might have something to do with Ron Tammen…why?

(And also: what happened to it?)

Greetings! Today, I’d like to further discuss the memo that was written on May 9, 1973, by the special agent in charge (SAC) of the Cincinnati Field Office to the acting director of the FBI, who was then William Ruckelshaus. As you probably know by now, the memo concerns the anonymous phone call they’d received claiming that Ron Tammen was working at Welco Industries in Blue Ash, Ohio.

“Oh, geez, that thing again?” some of you may be thinking.

Yeah, that. Sorry, but I still have unresolved issues.

[Click here if you have unresolved issues too and would like to read it again.]

In the last write-up, we discussed how shaky that lead was to begin with. The guy who’d called had refused to provide his name and then he told the FBI rep that a coworker of his might be Ron based on his physical description and “other reasons which he cared not to discuss.” He then “terminated the telephone call,” which sounds as if he hung up in the rep’s ear—a noisy click followed by the long, low waaaaaah of a dial tone. (Hanging up on someone was more dramatic back then.) Apparently, that’s all that was needed for an agent to be assigned to check things out that same day.

Here’s the question that keeps rolling around in my brain: If the FBI didn’t investigate missing person cases, as they claim not to do, why would they have assigned someone to fingerprint the guy at Welco just because some unnamed caller thought he fit Ron’s description? According to an unredacted version of the 1973 memo, the Welco man was an electronic technician from Virginia who’d served his country honorably from 1951 until 1960—a period that covers the time right before Ron entered Miami and extends until seven years after he’d disappeared.

I’d think that the FBI agent would have done his background research on the Welco guy before he made his trip to Blue Ash. The FBI has records on all sorts of people. If a person has a criminal record, they can access it, and they can also access a person’s military service records. Did they do any initial research or did they just pull a surprise pop-in and obtain his bio information there? According to the May 1973 memo, many of the biographical details were provided by the company’s vice president after pulling his employee’s personnel file. Pop-in, it is!

Out of respect for his family, I won’t be sharing the name of the Welco guy who was fingerprinted. His name sounds a little like Ron’s name, which is probably why the anonymous caller thought of him when he read the 20th anniversary article on Tammen’s disappearance and decided to alert the FBI. (I mean, who does that?) And despite whatever physical characteristics the Welco guy had that might have resembled Ron’s, one characteristic stands out that isn’t the least bit similar. It’s also an attribute that is far less likely to change after a person reaches adulthood: his height. The Welco guy was 6 feet 2 ½ inches tall. Ron was roughly 5 feet 9 inches tall. Nevertheless, the special agent fingerprinted the strapping electronic technician from Virginia and a couple weeks later, the Cincinnati Field Office was told that the fingerprints didn’t match Ron’s prints. Not the same guy, said they. (The Identification Division also did some curious things after arriving at their conclusion, which I discuss in the post The Ident Files.)

So there’s that. But the 1973 memo has introduced another small mystery in the Ron Tammen story, and that mystery has to do with the first sentence. It says: “Re Bureau airtel to CI, dated 12/19/58.” The CI stands for Cincinnati Field Office, and an “airtel” was one of the ways in which the FBI communicated internally, especially, I imagine, with its field offices. Think of it as a glorified memo. Most importantly, I wonder if the 12/19/58 airtel is the reason that a special agent was sent to Welco versus ignoring the call altogether, which would have been my inclination had I been on phone duty.

In light of that possibility, the airtel strikes me as important. Unfortunately, there are no 12/19/58 airtels anywhere in the documents I’ve received from the FBI. Back in 2011, I quoted that sentence as a reason for my appeal, when I felt the FBI was withholding documents on Ron. (I still feel that way, by the by.) Even though I won the appeal, I never received a 12/19/58 airtel. I only received documents having to do with DNA testing after Butler County, Ohio, and Walker County, Georgia, reopened their respective cold cases in 2008 to see if a dead body found in the summer of 1953 in Georgia might be Ron.

Although I can’t tell you what the nonexistent memo says, I can deduce a few things about it:

It likely had nothing to do with Ron’s Selective Service violation.

Whenever I’ve discussed Ron’s case with retired FBI folks, the issue of Ron’s avoiding the draft has become their go-to hypothesis as to why the FBI would have investigated his case at all. They can’t imagine why the FBI would spend person-hours, car mileage, or long-distance charges on Ron’s missing person case. 

But I’m not convinced. First, we’ve learned that the FBI was indeed visiting people in their homes and dorm rooms shortly after Ron went missing, before his draft status had changed, and also that the FBI had been sitting in on faculty conferences at Miami by May 1953. Second, one FBI retiree told me that he or she didn’t think they had the staffing to seriously investigate Selective Service cases. They might have posted a record with the National Crime Information Center, so that, if the person was arrested, the FBI would let law enforcement know that there was a Selective Service violation against him as well. But this person doesn’t remember the FBI actively searching for someone who didn’t report for induction.

So I don’t think that Ron’s Selective Service violation—case #25-381754— was the reason that the FBI investigated Ron’s disappearance, or at least not the sole reason. I also don’t think it’s the topic of the 12/19/58 airtel. Here’s why:

When FBI Headquarters responded on 5/22/73 saying that the Welco guy’s fingerprints didn’t match Ron’s, someone added a note at the bottom, which included this information:

Was a subj of SSA violation in 1953. Canceled in 1955 (USA Cleveland closed case).

Allow me to interpret by writing out all of the words: It says that Ron was the subject of a Selective Service Act violation in 1953, however, his case was canceled, or closed, in 1955 by the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland. 

I don’t know how weird it is for a U.S. Attorney, who is part of the Department of Justice (DOJ), to request that an SSA case be closed. That’s probably a question for another day. (Actually, I’ll be submitting a FOIA request seeking all SSA cases that were closed by the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland in 1955 to find out how weird it was.) 

For now, let’s concentrate on the timeframe. For whatever reason, in 1955, Ron’s case had been closed by the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland, which is part of the DOJ, which is the parent agency of the FBI. Because the airtel was written in 1958, three years later, the airtel likely had nothing to do with Ron’s Selective Service Act violation. 

The 12/19/58 airtel didn’t seem to be in Cincinnati in January 2008.

In May 1973, the Cincinnati Field Office possessed the 12/19/58 airtel. We know this because they referred to it in their memo. And that makes perfect sense. If FBI Headquarters sends you an airtel, you file it somewhere in case you need it, and they needed it in 1973.

But in 2008, the airtel didn’t seem to be in Cincinnati anymore. I think this because I obtained a set of the FBI’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents from the Butler County Sheriff’s Office after cold case detective Frank Smith had retired. It’s the set that Smith had obtained from the Cincinnati Field Office in January 2008. Just like my FOIA documents, Butler County’s set doesn’t include the 12/19/58 airtel either.

I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re thinking: Perhaps the airtel reached its record retention date, and Cincinnati destroyed it according to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) records schedule. Thank you for raising this important point. You’ve obviously become experts on the topic of NARA and records retention schedules, thanks to the FBI’s early expungement of Ron’s fingerprints in 2002, 30 years ahead of their normal schedule. 

While it’s true that the 1958 airtel may have been destroyed, the FBI hasn’t admitted to destroying very much on Tammen, at least not to me. Through my lawsuit settlement, I was provided with an in-depth declaration of all the places in which the FBI had searched for documents on Tammen. And in that search, they told me the approximate dates when certain documents had been destroyed. 

Click on chart for a closer view
Click on chart for a closer view

For example, although FBI Headquarters destroyed Ron’s Selective Service file “on or about 2/1/1997,” they also reported that the Cincinnati Field Office destroyed Ron’s Selective Service file in 1964. Ostensibly, the 1958 airtel was not in that file, otherwise Cincinnati’s SAC would not have referenced it in 1973. So that supports our conclusion that the 12/19/58 airtel didn’t have anything to do with Ron’s Selective Service violation.

Click on bulleted list for a closer view

The only other document that the FBI’s declaration claims was destroyed is Ron’s Classification 190 document, which had to do with either the Privacy Act or the Freedom of Information Act and which had originated in the Cincinnati Field Office. That document was destroyed “on or about 5/17/2008”—several months after Smith had reopened his investigation. But no matter what purpose the destroyed document had served when it was still with us on earth, it couldn’t have been the 12/19/58 airtel, since the latter document originated from FBI Headquarters, not Cincinnati. 

In their declaration, the FBI also says that one file on Ronald H. Tammen, file #252-IR-C5652, is missing and unable to be located (see top chart). Perhaps the 12/19/58 airtel is in that lost file? I have some thoughts on this question, but I can’t print them here just yet. Based on the file’s number, it has to do with the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime and/or its Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, known as ViCAP. It’s important that we not let our imaginations run wild regarding the missing file. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s anything pertaining to Ron that would be helpful. If there ever comes a time when I’m at liberty to discuss this topic, I will. But I also don’t think it has anything to do with the 12/19/58 airtel, particularly since the center wasn’t started until 1984.

The airtel may not have pertained to Ron specifically.

So where’s the 12/19/58 airtel and what might it have said? You got me. But it occurs to me that the reason neither Frank Smith nor I received the airtel in our FOIA documents could be because it wasn’t stored along with the Tammen documents. Maybe the airtel dealt with a separate topic. For example, perhaps it was an instructional document for how to handle anonymous phone calls.

For this reason, I’ve filed a FOIA request seeking “ALL FBI BUREAU AIRTELS dated 12/19/1958 that were addressed to the Cincinnati Field Office.” I’ll keep you posted.

I’m going to end things here for now. If I should hear back from any of my public records requests over the next week or two, you may hear from me again. Otherwise, I wish you all peaceful and healthy holidays (emphasis on the healthy), including a Belated Healthy Hanukkah, a Healthy Christmas, a Healthy Kwanzaa, and a Healthy New Year, not to mention a Healthy Boxing Day, Winter Solstice, and (of course) Festivus!

Herbie on Christmas morning a couple years ago. (Seriously, he posed under the tree, as if on cue.)

The Cincy files, part 2: some quasi-relevant reading material in honor of today’s game

Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash

At 4 p.m. ET today, a certain football team will be playing in the American Athletic Conference championship game—a team that’s currently ranked number four in the nation and could very well become this year’s national champion. And so…I thought it might be fun once again to focus our attention on the town of Cincinnati, Ohio.

For those of you who aren’t into football, I feel you. I have my own issues with the sport. Like: we’re asking college students who are still in their teens and early 20s—children, really—to inflict pain on one another every Saturday of every fall, why? Also: does it seem to you that the placement of the football by the ref is ridiculously arbitrary especially at those times when only inches are needed for a first down? And: what exactly is clipping, and can anyone truly recognize it if it happens?

This post is written specifically for the people who aren’t 100 percent into football or the Cincinnati Bearcats per se but who want to feel a part of things. The rest of you are welcome too, of course you are, but we’re not going to be talking about football anymore. I used up most of my football knowledge writing that last paragraph. Perhaps it would be best if you get ready for your watch party and come back tomorrow when you’re better able to concentrate. We’ll be here.

Today, for all the others, I give to you…a primer on the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office. 

[Audio provided by Zapsplat.com.]

To help refresh your memories, it was in this field office that a document on Ron Tammen had originated, but was summarily destroyed “on or about May 17, 2008,” just a few short months after Butler County cold case detective Frank Smith had reopened the case. The document was located in the Classification 190 files, which means it had something to do with the Privacy Act or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which should ring a bell. As you know, the FBI had expunged Ron’s fingerprints in 2002—30 years ahead of schedule—due to a Privacy Act conflict or a court order (probably the former). What’s more: Butler County is under the Cincinnati office’s jurisdiction and the Cincinnati office was aware that Smith had reopened the investigation. Pretty weird timing to destroy a potentially relevant document, amIright?

Those were, in my view, some major findings which resulted in some additional questions that I’ve been attempting to have answered. For some, I’ve been successful. Others I’m still working on. Here’s where we stand so far, starting with an overview of the FBI’s field office system. As you read this post, please bear in mind that I have no red meat for you today. We’re serving up lentils and leafy greens, folks. Still important in the long haul—maybe more important—but not totally satisfying.

What’s an FBI field office and why do they exist?

As you know, crimes are committed all over the country, including the really bad ones that the FBI deals with. It would be hard for the FBI to do its job of fighting said crimes if all of its agents were located in D.C. For this reason, the FBI has constructed field offices across the country and in Puerto Rico—56 in all. The head of each field office is referred to as the special agent in charge, or the SAC; the second in command is the assistant special agent in charge, or ASAC; and the special agents (SAs) and administrative staff fill out the roster.

The state of Ohio has two field offices. The Cleveland Field Office covers the 40 counties in northern Ohio while the Cincinnati Field Office includes the lower 48 counties. Both field offices have been involved in Ron Tammen’s case. When Ron disappeared, his mother Marjorie had contacted the Cleveland Field Office because the Tammens lived in the Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights. Therefore, the Cleveland Field Office was the office of origin for Ron’s missing person case. In 1973, an anonymous caller had telephoned the Cincinnati Field Office to say that they thought Ron Tammen was working at Welco Industries in Blue Ash, OH, and an SA from Cincinnati investigated. We’ll discuss more on that visit a little later.

Where is the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office?

The FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office is a 4-minute drive from the Kenwood Towne Center, an upscale shopping mall on the outskirts of the city, near I-71. The current building was completed in 2012 by a design, engineering, and construction team represented by the Molasky Group of CompaniesBayer Becker, and Skanska.

Be advised that the Cincinnati Field Office is undoubtedly a highly secure facility. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone drop by without an invite.

Which counties is the Cincinnati Field Office responsible for?

As mentioned earlier, the Cincinnati Field Office oversees the 48 counties in central and southern Ohio, but this is where things get a little tricky again. As you know, crime happens all over the place—including  Ohio’s lower 48 counties. If someone robs a bank in Piqua—in Miami County—it wouldn’t be very convenient for an agent in Cincinnati to drop whatever they’re doing to investigate, particularly when they have bigger cities in Ohio to worry about, like Columbus and Dayton. 

Currently, the Cincinnati Field Office will send its agents to investigate bank robberies and other high crimes in six of its counties: Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton, and Warren, with Butler County encompassing the towns of Oxford and Hamilton, and Hamilton County including Cincinnati. (Yeah, I know…the whole “Hamilton” thing gets confusing.) The remaining 42 counties in Cincinnati’s domain are divvied up by resident agencies, which are smaller FBI offices situated around the state. The Cincinnati Field Office’s five resident agencies are in Athens, Cambridge, Columbus, Dayton, and Portsmouth. As I’m sure you can imagine, Columbus is the largest resident agency of the bunch—so big, in fact, that it rivals the size of the Cincinnati Field Office. Nevertheless, Cincinnati remains FBI headquarters for southern Ohio, which is why it’s often referred to as Headquarters City by its employees.

I seem to recall that there were more resident agencies in southern Ohio at one time. Or am I mistaken?

Great point! You are not mistaken.

Where were the other resident agencies located?

Based on news accounts, there was an additional resident agency in Middletown during the mid-to-late 1990s, possibly earlier, until at least 2014, which was the timeframe in which Frank Smith would have been inquiring about the Ronald Tammen case. The Middletown office reported directly to the FBI’s Resident Agency in Dayton.

Long before that, in 1971, the Cincinnati Field Office oversaw resident agencies in Athens, Chillicothe, Columbus, Dayton, Hamilton, Portsmouth, Springfield, Steubenville, and Zanesville. Four of these still exist, and the new one in Cambridge was added, though, again, I’m not sure when. But the resident agencies in Chillicothe, Hamilton, Springfield, Steubenville, and Zanesville, are gone. These offices would have been really small…staffed by 1-10 people and residing in borrowed space in a federal building, often a post office. 

Why aren’t those resident agencies there anymore?

I’m not sure why the Middletown office was closed—probably cost-cutting measures, but that’s just a guess.

As for the offices that existed in 1971, this is a fun story. Have you heard about the break-in that took place on March 8, 1971, in the FBI’s resident agency in Media, PA, outside Philadelphia? Several antiwar activists calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into the resident agency there and stole over 1,000 classified documents. Through that extremely daring act, they exposed the FBI’s illegal domestic surveillance activities, nicknamed COINTELPRO, to the world. (A 2014 film on the topic, titled 1971, is really good, though I don’t think it’s currently being streamed anywhere. If you can find a streaming service that’s offering it, please let us know in the comments.)

J. Edgar Hoover was furious when the break-in happened. By April 1971, he was publicly threatening to close roughly 100 of the 500 smaller resident agency offices as a means of improving security. Although the FBI was tight-lipped about which ones were being shut down at the time (they didn’t want ruffians taking advantage of the turn of events), I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the offices in Hamilton and elsewhere were part of the collateral damage.

When the anonymous caller telephoned the Cincinnati Field Office in 1973 about the guy at Welco Industries, why did they send someone from the Cincinnati Field Office? Couldn’t they have sent someone from a smaller resident agency?

I was wondering about this too. It has to do with the timing of the call. The smaller resident agencies had been closed by July 1971. The anonymous call was made in April 1973, so there were fewer resident agencies by then. Perhaps Cincinnati handled it because Blue Ash is in Hamilton County and they were closest. 

But here’s the rub: an anonymous source called the FBI and provided a few miniscule details about why he or she thought the person in Blue Ash might be Ron and then hung up the phone. Here’s what the report said: “The caller based his opinion upon physical description and ‘other reasons which he cared not to discuss.’ At this point the caller terminated the telephone call.” 

Seriously? The FBI claims that they don’t investigate missing persons cases unless there are signs of force or if a person was kidnapped or something. Missing persons are rock bottom on the FBI’s list of priorities. Why did they send anyone at all, let alone someone from Headquarters City on the same day the call was made?

What about in 2008? Did Frank Smith go through the Middletown or Dayton Resident Agency versus the Cincinnati Field Office?

Great question. Through news accounts and the DOJ document I linked to previously, we know that Middletown was in operation from the 1990s through at least 2014, and another news article from 2000 said that the Dayton Resident Agency oversaw 12 counties, which included Butler County. Theoretically, Frank Smith would have gone through the Dayton Resident Agency.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to communicate with Frank regarding these questions. The best I can do is refer to old transcripts. Here’s the most specific exchange I found:

JW: So when you did your FOIA, did you go through Cincinnati, or did you go through [Washington, D.C.] Headquarters? 

FS: We actually had an agent who was a dear friend of mine and we actually asked him if he could get a copy, and that’s how we came up with our files.

So, although in my gut I believe that Frank was talking specifically about an agent in Cincinnati, he doesn’t specify on the transcript. (Clever!) But honestly, it doesn’t matter if he was talking about someone in Cincinnati or Dayton or even Middletown. All of the FBI offices that were connected to the Cincinnati Field Office were automated in 2008 and all had access to the same documents.

Do we know whether Ron’s document was a FOIA request or an expungement request?

I’m afraid I haven’t been able to pin that down yet. You may recall that I’d submitted a FOIA request for all the documents that surrounded Ron’s in the Classification 190 “0” file. Since Ron’s serial number was 967, I requested documents 900 through 999. What I received didn’t tell us a lot other than the document titles. The rest of the information was redacted. However, I did notice several documents in which Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) provided guidance on how the Cincinnati Field Office should manage such files. I’ve since filed a FOIA request for the full, unredacted versions of those documents—they’re just administrative documents, so no one’s privacy is at stake—and am still awaiting a response. Once I understand the protocol better, I can submit more FOIA requests.

As for the possibility that Ron’s document was simply a FOIA request submitted by an interested third party like myself, I contacted a source who has always been one of the more avid followers of the Tammen story. He never submitted a FOIA request. One of his students—a Miami journalism major who’d written on Tammen for the Miami Student during her time there—had submitted a FOIA request on Tammen, but she’d submitted hers after I submitted mine in 2010. At this point I know of no one other than Frank Smith who submitted a FOIA request in or before 2008. Also, I’d argue that most FOIA requests go through FBI Headquarters in D.C., and not through a specific field office.

Where did Ron’s Classification 190 document originate from?

The document feasibly could have originated from any of the 48 counties represented by the Cincinnati Field Office or its resident agencies. I find this a little weird, though. I’ve never considered Ron living his dream in one of Ohio’s lower 48. I prefer to think of Ron living in Paris or Morocco or someplace cool like that. I’m afraid that’s still an open question for now.

How is a document added to the Classification 190-0 file?

To the best of my knowledge, in order for a document to be added to the Classification 190-0 file in Cincinnati, it would have been reported within the Cincinnati division—Columbus, Dayton, or anywhere else. Something was reported that didn’t rise to a criminal investigation, otherwise a separate file would have been created. 

An agent may have received information and thought, “this doesn’t amount to anything yet, but maybe something will turn up.” They wrote it up in a memo, and they routed it to the supervisor, who would then decide that it should go into the 0 file. It would be indexed—in this case under the name “Ronald Tammen”—which is why it turned up in the automated search.

Can a different FBI office expunge a document that originated with the Cincinnati Field Office?

Because the same documents pop up for every FBI office who searches for Ronald Tammen—whether they’re in Dayton, Cincinnati, or D.C.—it’s feasible that it wasn’t the Cincinnati Field Office who expunged Tammen’s record, but someone else. I’m looking into this question as well.

How can we learn more?

I definitely think there’s more to be learned. Yesterday, on a whim, I wrote to my friends at the Cincinnati Field Office. I understand that the Classification 190 files are managed by the chief division counsel, and so I’ve requested a sit-down with that person to describe their protocol. I assured this person that I would not be asking about Ron’s document—I know it’s long gone. I just would like to understand more about the day-to-day operations regarding the Classification 190 files. So far, I haven’t heard back, but I’ll keep you posted.

As I said—mostly quinoa and kale today. 

Go Bearcats!

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

BONUS QUESTION:

How are cases assigned in FBI field offices?

Special agents are assigned to a squad, and each squad covers a certain type of crime. One squad may cover civil rights cases, another might cover white-collar crime, another covers organized crime, and so on. It’s like how a news reporter covers a certain beat, be it crime, politics, education, etc.

If a call comes into an FBI field office, it’s assigned to whatever desk covers that violation. The desk supervisor will have a certain number of agents on his or her squad, and he or she will decide who’s going to get the case. As for missing persons, there’s no squad for that.

Things may not have been exactly the same in 1973, but I’ll bet they were similar. So it’s puzzling to me why a desk supervisor back then would think it worthwhile to take one of his/her agents off their normal beat to follow up on an anonymous hang-up call from Blue Ash, Ohio.

Putting a dent in the Ident files: more evidence that the FBI knew what happened to Ron Tammen in 1973

Turns out, I guess I’ve been needing to spend a little more time with Ron’s “Ident” files. I’m referring to Ron’s missing person documents that I’d obtained through my 2010 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI. As we’ve discussed in prior posts, someone with the initials MSL had handwritten on many of them that they were removed from the FBI’s Identification Division—called Ident for short—on June 5, 1973. Those same documents also carry a stamp saying that they were routed to the Records Branch. Inexplicably, the sender checked “Main File” as opposed to “79-1,” the classification for missing persons.

Weird, right? The Identification Division was responsible for overseeing missing persons cases. Why would someone from Identification send Ron’s missing person documents somewhere else? As far as Tammen’s family and the rest of the world knew, he was still missing. Yet the FBI was acting like—dare I say it?—he didn’t seem to be missing anymore.

As many of you know, I’d consulted with people who used to work in the Identification Division, which later became Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS), to see if they could explain why. Unfortunately, no one could offer an explanation. Neither could my contact from Records Management. I’m not disparaging these individuals. They did their best with the information that was provided to them. There just wasn’t that much information to provide.

I tried seeking more documents. Because MSL appeared to be a subordinate of Fletcher Thompson’s, the head of the Identification Division in 1973, I submitted a FOIA request seeking every piece of correspondence that Thompson had written for the period of May to June 1973, regardless of the subject. My hope was to snag some missive in which Thompson ordered Mary Sue Lipschwitz—or whoever MSL turned out to be—to handle the Tammen situation STAT. Alas, the FBI’s response to me was that it was impossible for them to conduct a search of their indices based on my request. Fine. Be that way. I let it drop for the time being.

I also tried to learn more about the Ident Missing Person File Room, which had been stamped on several of Ron’s documents along with the handwritten room number 1126. None of my sources had ever heard of it. I’d come to believe that it had something to do with the Special File Rooms that J. Edgar Hoover had established for documents that he considered to be of utmost secrecy. I submitted a FOIA request seeking all documents relating to the establishment and protocol of the FBI’s Special File Rooms in general and the Missing Person File Room specifically. I received a couple hundred pages on the former, but nothing on the latter. I appealed. Again, nothing. The FBI claims that they have zero documents—not a one—that refers to a Missing Person File Room. They’d sent me some documents that had ostensibly inhabited that room at one time, but, yeah, OK, whatever they say. I mean…there must be at least one document that refers to the Missing Person File Room, since someone used taxpayer money to have those illicit words inscribed on a rubber stamp. (For fun, I’ll be submitting a FOIA request for the Identification Division’s office supply expenditures from, say, 1960 to 1970 to see if anything turns up.)

Today, the Missing Person File Room remains a closely guarded secret. If you haven’t done this yet, try typing the phrase into Google between quotation marks. Two documents will pop up—both of them mine. Soon there will be a third document—this one. I’m considering getting the phrase trademarked. [Note to FBI: You’ll still be able to use the phrase, but you’ll have to cite me and use the registered trademark symbol when you do. It’s a small price to pay for all the hardship you’ve caused me these last 12 years.]

This past weekend, after creating a public records request score card for this blog site, I was reminded of how those two FOIA requests had played out. I started ruminating about what I could do next. If I can’t learn about the Missing Person File Room, which seems to be the situation at present, surely there must be more to be learned about the Ident files. 

Well, there was. And just as before, we have archival documents to thank. The publications I found are available free, online. They are the back issues of the FBI’s in-house publication titled the Law Enforcement Bulletin, and you can find issues from January 1933 on up. The articles were (and still are) expressly written for the men and women who work closely with the FBI in enforcing the nation’s laws. For our purposes, the best issues are from the 1940s and 50s, a time when less was less and more was more. Why tighten when you can expound? Why gloss over when you can explain things in granular detail? How else were Andy, Barney, and all the other officers from Small Town USA supposed to learn how proper policing should be done?

An article from May 1951 was especially useful. (It doesn’t show up in the archives list, but you can find it if you Google “May 1951 Law Enforcement Bulletin.” As to why they’ve left all of 1950 and ‘51 off their list? 🤷🏻‍♀️) The article had to do with the Posting Section, which is the section within Identification that was responsible for posting notices such as wanted notices, missing person notices, and the like. Here’s what the article says about Missing Person Notices. I’ve bolded the parts that are most pertinent to Ron.

*****

Missing Person Notices 

The Posting Section prepares and maintains file notices regarding individuals whose location is desired by relatives. Although the FBI has no jurisdiction to conduct active investigations in missing person cases, missing person notices are placed in file on behalf of interested relatives inquiring either directly or through local law-enforcement agencies. If a fingerprint record for the missing person can be identified through an FBI number or a registry number, a notice is posted in that record. If the information set forth in the inquiry is insufficient to identify positively a fingerprint record with the missing person, a notice will be posted in the fingerprint record of the individual whose description is considered possibly identical with the missing person. In cases where no record can be located which is either positively or possibly identical a missing persons notice is placed in the indices of the Card Index Section. This index card also contains the descriptive data furnished by the interested relative. 

Missing-person notices are maintained in the files of the FBI Identification Division until information is received which indicates the probable whereabouts of the missing person. At this point the next of kin is notified directly, or the information is furnished to the agency through which the inquiry was received. Missing-person notices are of course removed from the files when interested relatives or agencies indicate that the notices are no longer desired. 

Whenever possible, a request for the posting of a missing-person notice should include information as to the date and place of the missing person’s birth. This information is most important in effecting a possible identification, where other specific descriptive data is lacking. 

If a person has been missing for a period of more than 7 years, no notice is placed in the file unless some information of a more recent nature relating to the individual is located during the initial search of the Identification Division files. 

No notices are posted in cases arising out of marital difficulties except in hardship cases where minor children are involved. Notices are not posted concerning missing persons having a lengthy history of criminal activity, nor under circumstances indicating that the missing person was involved in criminal activity in connection with his disappearance. 

*****

Here’s what I’ve concluded on the basis of the above protocol when combined with all of the other information we’ve collected to date.

  • Identification files, which were also referred to as identification jackets or fingerprint jackets, didn’t hold only fingerprint cards and Additional Record Sheets. They could hold other items too, such as missing person notices, wanted notices, and other relevant documents.
  • Ron’s fingerprint jacket was #358 406 B. When a missing person document said that it should be placed in #358 406 B, the handler was being instructed to put it in his fingerprint jacket.
  • Missing person notices were held indefinitely until the person was found. This is consistent with language on Ron’s missing person documents that said “Retain permanently [emphasis added] in Ident jacket #358 406 B.”
  • Once a missing person was found, the next of kin or the agency that submitted the missing person notice would be notified. Or at least they should have been notified. 

With this new take, I took a deeper dive into Ron’s missing person documents. I focused on the handwritten and stamped notations that provided instructions regarding where the individual documents were to be housed. I constructed a chart of each document up through May 1973, when the FBI’s Cincinnati field office had sought to compare Ron’s fingerprints with an employee from Welco Industries. After HQ had responded with their assessment—it wasn’t Ron—all further activity ceased on jacket #358 406 B.*** (Ron’s remaining documents came after 2008, when the case had been reopened by the Butler County (OH) and Walker County (GA) sheriff’s offices. We don’t care about those right now.)

Before we examine my chart, let’s review the FBI’s various numbers that had to do with Ron: 

#358 406 B
Again (and sorry for the redundancy), this is the FBI number that was assigned to Ron’s fingerprints. From what I can determine, this number would have been on the tab of his fingerprint jacket, as demonstrated from the photo in the October 1948 issue of the Law Enforcement Bulletin on how police departments should set up their files.


79-31966-1 (the last number varies)
As mentioned earlier, 79 is the classification number for missing persons. The 31966 was Ron’s case number, and the last number is the number of pages in Ron’s file, e.g., 1, 1x, 2, 2x, and 3. My source in Records Management explained that the Xs were a way to insert pages while keeping them in the proper order.

25-381754
This was Ron’s file regarding a possible Selective Service violation (aka draft dodging). According to the notation at the bottom of the October 11, 1967, letter to Mr. Tammen from J. Edgar Hoover, the case was opened in 1953 and canceled in 1955. It’s my understanding that this file would not have been held in the Identification Division.

As for the color coding:

The green bars have to do with the Ident files—those that refer to retaining them permanently in the Ident jacket #358406B (solid) and those that refer to removing them from Ident (striped). The blue bars/square have to do with language pertaining to the Missing Person File Room.

Here’s my chart:

Comparison chart based on Ron’s missing person documents; click on chart for a closer view

Based on this exercise, it appears as though Ron’s missing person documents weren’t treated exactly the same way. Some documents were housed in the Ident files—which I’ve ascertained was his fingerprint jacket—while others were housed in the Ident Missing Person File Room, room 1126 of an unnamed building.

Here’s why I think so:

  • On the document originally dated May 25, 1953, MSL had jotted down that a photo was put in room 1126 on 6-5-73, which was the same date that many of Ron’s missing person papers were removed from Ident. We also see that his photo had been added to his missing person notice on 6-2-53. Did MSL take the photo from his fingerprint jacket and move it into room 1126 on 6-5-73?
  • Most of Ron’s documents are stamped “Retain permanently in Ident jacket #358406B.” In June 1973, those same documents were marked “Removed from Ident files” and “Referred to Records Branch,” specifying “Main file” instead of 79, otherwise known as missing persons.
  • The other category encompasses the documents that had the stamp “Return to Ident Missing Person File Room.” Only four documents had that stamp on them. Three of those documents were generated by someone from HQ, including J. Edgar himself. The exception is the 1959 form letter. 
  • Ron’s file doesn’t appear to have been very large—only several pages, according to my source in Records Management. Perhaps those pages were kept one place while his other pages were kept somewhere else?
  • It appears that documents in Ron’s fingerprint jacket were removed from the Identification Division before the documents were removed from the Missing Person File Room (as indicated by the crossed-out words). I think this because of the photo that was added to room 1126 on the same day that his Ident files were removed.
  • By the time the Cincinnati memos were filed in May 1973, the Identification Division was no longer putting them into Ron’s fingerprint jacket. The document dated 5-9-73 was routed straight to the Records Branch’s Main File, nearly a month before the other documents were removed from Ident. Conversely, the document from HQ dated 5-22-73 was routed to the Missing Person File Room.

What could all of this mean? Shortly after the Cincinnati field office had sent the Welco employee’s fingerprints to be compared to Ron’s, Ron’s missing person documents were removed from his fingerprint jacket in the Identification Division and sent to the Records Branch. Documents that were in the Missing Person File Room were removed later, although we don’t know precisely when that happened. 

This tells me that, in the period in which HQ was comparing the Welco employee’s prints to Ron’s, the folks in Identification had discovered something about Ron’s case and felt the need to update his file, as indicated by the words at the bottom of the 5-22-73 memorandum: “MPN [missing person notice] placed in 1953 to be brought up to date.”

As always, there are discrepancies. A couple documents have both the “Ident files” and Missing Person File Room verbiage, which may indicate that they were filed in both locations. Also, the 5-22-73 memorandum says this about FBI #358 406 B: “This record consists of one personal identification fgpt card taken in 1941.” 

How could all those missing person documents have been retained permanently in jacket #358 406 B but the record only consisted of one fingerprint card? I had originally taken this to mean that there was one item in Ron’s fingerprint jacket—his fingerprint card. But I also knew that there must been some wiggle room in that description—after all, his fingerprint jacket would have contained an Additional Record Sheet too. 

I believe the operative word is “record.” The word record was frequently used to describe a person’s fingerprint card or cards. (As an example, look at the verbiage from the May 1951 Law Enforcement Bulletin.) I believe the memo’s author was speaking about Ron’s fingerprint record in the strictest sense. Otherwise, I’d think that they would have used the word jacket instead.

Despite the discrepancies, I think we can surmise that something had been special about Ron’s case, necessitating the use of two locations within the same division for his documents. One was known to many and the other was known to a chosen few. 

It also tells me that the FBI knew what had happened to Ron by 1973, and probably much earlier. And yet, in a break with protocol, no one had thought to pick up a phone to tell his family. 

What are your thoughts? Have I overlooked something? Does anything else stand out?

***Clarification: when I say that all further activity ceased for jacket #358 406 B after June 1973, I’m only talking about Ron’s missing person documents. I’m not talking about his fingerprints, which, as we all know, were purged in 2002, 30 years ahead of schedule.