I am shaking. Shaking! You’re not going to believe the news I have for you today. After all we’ve been going through over the years trying to find out why the FBI expunged Ron Tammen’s fingerprint record in 2002, I now have an answer for you.
But first: do you know how I came to find the answer? The FBI, you say? Oh, you kidder, you. No, I arrived at the answer thanks to our awesome friends at the National Archives.
If you’ll recall in the blog post Purged, we learned that if the FBI had been following their own records retention policy in 2002, they should have held on to Ron’s fingerprints until he was at least 99 years of age. And then, near the end of that post, I said that I was planning to tattle to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) regarding the FBI’s (alleged) unauthorized disposition of Ron’s fingerprints.
Well guess what? I did that. And guess what else? They got back to me yesterday. In a brief email that arrived at around 4 p.m., and in the most low-key manner imaginable, they explained to me why the FBI was permitted to expunge Ron’s records from their system before the normal period was up. The reason: N1-65-88-3, Item 1a.
I couldn’t believe it—someone actually gave me a reason.
I spent the next few hours Googling N1-65-88-3 (let’s forget the “Item 1a” part for now). From what I gathered, the “65” refers to the FBI, the “88” refers to the year in which that particular records schedule was first implemented, and the “3”…well, in the few documents online in which a 3 follows the 88, I found only one reason for it to be there: a court order. That’s right—we’re back to the court order explanation.
As it turns out, it could be that the number 3 refers to a type of court order. For example, I found that N1-65-88-1 refers to a court order for the destruction of background investigations by a certain year. N1-65-88-2 refers to visa applications, though it doesn’t mention a court order to do so.
As for Ron’s court order, the Federal Register, a daily government publication that announces proposed and final policies of federal agencies, has cited N1-65-88-3 only four times since the year 1994. And when they did so, it was to describe a court order for the “Federal Pre-Trial Diversion Program.” What’s the federal pre-trial diversion program, you ask? Apparently, it’s when the government decides not to prosecute someone—a first-time offender, for example—but enrolls them in a supervised program of some sort. So someone commits a crime, they’re enrolled in the program, and then, if they’re successful, the charges are dismissed and their fingerprints are expunged. I have no idea if this applies to Ron’s situation. I’m only saying that the same number they used for Ron was used to explain an expungement four other times in the Federal Register. Interestingly, another records disposition authority request cites N1-65-88-3 and the Federal Pre-Trial Diversion Program as the reason for the expungement of documents. (Note that it also references Item 1B. I have yet to see an Item 1a. )
Last night, I sent a follow-up email to a department of the National Archives that handles questions about records schedules. In it, I ran through my definition of each number—the 65, 88, and 3—and then asked them what “Item 1a” referred to.
Here’s the lion’s share of their response:
“Thanks for your question. The FBI Records Officer and/or FOIA officer are your best resource for questions concerning records expunging. The schedule provides the authority to dispose of the records, but more detailed information on specific records can only be answered by the FBI. The schedule allows the FBI to dispose of already scheduled temporary records earlier when there is a court order or a privacy act conflict…”
Frankly, a privacy act conflict for a guy who went missing in 1953 would be fascinating too. But if it’s all the same to you, I’m going to hold off on writing the FBI right now. As you know, the FBI and I have a rather (ahem) strained relationship, and I’ll need to figure out the best way to approach them, especially since the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) is looking into my other FOIA request with them for Ron’s Additional Record Sheets. I need to mull over my strategy. There are other avenues I can take as well.
In the meantime, let’s look at what we do know and how this new revelation makes so much sense.
The word “expunge” fits.
First, the word “expunge” carries legal implications that the word purge does not. It means to delete records as if they never existed—as in the expunging of criminal records. If there was a court order to erase Ron’s fingerprints from existence, then I believe the word we want to use from here on out is most definitely expunge. As you may recall, this was the word choice used by the FBI’s spokesperson the first time he told me that Ron’s fingerprints were removed from their system in 2002. Interestingly, the term he didn’t use when explaining the possible reasons for expunging fingerprints was a “court order.”
We’d already ruled out the other two possible reasons.
Again, in Purged, I wrote that it occurred to me that, based on the 2002 records retention protocol, we could no longer presume that Ron was dead. Even if they had confirmed him to be dead, they’d need to keep his fingerprints until he was at least 99 years of age. Therefore, the remaining option would be a court order. This finding supports that conclusion.
Ron’s case is special.
If Ron’s fingerprints were expunged by a court order, potentially due to some special court-approved diversion program, it confirms to us that Ronald Tammen is not your run-of-the-mill missing person. He was special. But, then, we already knew that, didn’t we?
What do you think? Is this the big deal I think it is?
Today, I want to discuss lies, a topic on which I’ve become somewhat of an expert. It’s not that I myself do much lying, other than the usual stuff everyone lies about. You know, like when you say that you like someone’s haircut when you really don’t or when you tell someone that you’re too busy to attend some function, when you’re not. We’re not talking about those kinds of lies. We’re also not talking about the little half-truths that people tell online. You know, like when a commenter on a blog post isn’t on the up and up about who they are. Truth be told, even the pretenders have asked some great questions or made some valid points. Whether you’re real or fake, you’ve probably contributed to the greater good in some way, so no harm, no foul.
No, we’re talking about the bigger lies. Like when someone who knows something useful about Ron Tammen’s case tells you something that’s 100 percent not true. Or when someone chooses not to tell you something that they know is pertinent to the question at hand. Or when someone says or does something to purposely steer you in the wrong direction or to stop you cold from whatever you’re currently investigating.
Before I get into the most recent example in which I’ve been intentionally deceived during this investigation, I need to tell you about a lie I once told. I do this out of a great deal of shame and embarrassment, but, as you’ll soon see, I’m telling this story because it illustrates an important point. I’ve kept this lie to myself since I was in the sixth grade. Only one person has heard this story, and that’s my running partner, and I only told her just recently. My sister and brother have never heard this story before, and neither has my husband—current or ex. Thank God, both of my parents are gone, so they’ll never have to know.
My lie has to do with the science fair. As I said, I was in the sixth grade, and, for my project that year, I was growing plants under fluorescent lights. As much as I like and respect science now, I didn’t really understand it then. I didn’t “get” the whole scientific method, and how you first need to come up with a question and then figure out how you can answer that question by designing an experiment. I was just growing plants under lights, and the only reason I chose that project was it also happened to be my dad’s hobby at the time. (My dad always played a major role in helping us choose our science fair project.) I titled my project “Moon Farming,” and I felt that it demonstrated how society could exist on the moon through artificial lighting. I did all the work and wrote up a report, and I felt pretty well prepared on the big day when I’d soon be standing in front of my project and explaining it to a judge.
Before I left for school, my sister, who is four years older, wished me luck, and then she passed along some sisterly intel: the judges don’t like it if you spend a lot of money on a project. She wasn’t telling me to lie, just to tread carefully around the money issue. Besides, I had no idea if my fluorescent lights cost a lot—my father had paid for them. But good to know. I thanked her and went on my way.
Sure enough, as I was explaining my project to the judge, she asked me about the cost of the lights. “Oh, there was no cost,” I lied to the judge. “No?” she asked. “We already had those lights,” I lied again, as if we had a stockpile of fluorescent lights in some corner of the house, waiting to be put to use. She gave me a “good” on my project, which I think was one notch up from “fair” which was another notch up from “poor.” Her stated reason: “It doesn’t seem possible.”
The next day, my teacher, a male who was in serious need of some sensitivity training, was leading the class in a debriefing over how everything had transpired with our science projects. When I remarked that I felt the judge’s reason for my “good” seemed a little unfair, my teacher told me—in front of the whole class—that the reason for my mediocre evaluation was because I’d lied about the lights. He said that I’d told the judge that we’d already had the lights when, on Day 1 in my report, I’d described removing the lights from the box they came in to set up my moon farm. I was mortified and embarrassed and probably a little miffed at myself for incorporating that level of detail into my report. (Judging by the wordcount of some of my blogposts, my love for detail hasn’t waned.) To save face, I had to lie again—because that’s what lies demand that we do—repeating that our family already had the lights in our possession when I began my project. It was a horrible, shameful moment in my young life, but perhaps it was also the turning point in which I became the avid truthteller who stands before you today.
It also illustrates why I love archival documents so much. That first entry in my report—one that I’d probably written months before and then forgotten about—told the truth about the fluorescent lights, not the 11-year-old girl who’d done all the watering and measuring but who, in her mind, had a motive to deceive. If a human being and a document are at odds about something that happened, I’ll side with the document pretty much every time.
In the university’s case, I’m still trying to get to the bottom of their recent actions concerning the interview someone conducted with Carl Knox’s secretary. Do I feel in my gut that I’m being misled? I do. But I’m not ready to say outright that a cover-up that started in 1953 is ongoing. I’m still trying to find documents that might lead us to the answer, either way. Nevertheless, I’ve also decided to do most of my musing offline from here on out. When I finally track down the person who conducted the interview—and, trust me, I’m giving it all I’ve got—I’ll need to be able to promise anonymity to him or her should they request it. If I were to continue writing about every new development in real time, that promise would be harder to keep as the list of possible candidates would shrink. Therefore, mum’s going to be the word for now.
Instead, I want to talk about our friends at the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the lengths to which they’ve gone to twist the truth about what they have on Tammen. Because when you think about it, the university may have any number of possible explanations for its behavior, not the least of which is that they may honestly have no idea where that piece of paper in the Ghosts and Legends folder came from. The CIA, if given its druthers, would never disclose anything to the public, as evidenced by the praline recipe that was classified for 50 years. It’s the FBI’s actions over everyone else’s that have brought me to the point where I think the Ronald Tammen story is a lot bigger than Ronald Tammen.
My saga begins with my most recent FOIA requests to the FBI. Lately, I’ve been requesting copies of various people’s Additional Record Sheets, the jotted-down records explaining actions taken on someone’s criminal fingerprints when the FBI’s Identification Division was still using its manual system. The most relevant of these FOIA requests concerns Richard Colvin Cox. In 1950, Cox, a sophomore cadet from Mansfield, Ohio, disappeared from the United States Military Academy at West Point in a similar fashion to Tammen. As readers of this blog know, the two cases possess several interesting parallels, and I’ve wondered if they might be related. (For the fun of it, I’m also seeking the Additional Record Sheets for Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and Charles Manson, who have also been potentially tied to the CIA and/or MKULTRA. I mean, how cool would it be if we could put to rest all the lingering questions pertaining to those cases as we await the final word on Tammen’s psychology professor? We’re multi-taskers, y’all!)
On April 14, I submitted my FOIA request on Cox, and on April 21, I received the FBI’s response. It was eerily familiar-sounding—only a slight variation to the response I’d received when I submitted my request for Ronald Tammen’s Additional Record Sheets: Sorry, per your settlement agreement, you can’t ask us about Richard Colvin Cox ever again.
To refresh your memories, in 2011, I’d submitted a separate FOIA request with the FBI seeking everything they had on Richard Cox’s case. At first, they sent me 24 pages, and I accepted them with gratitude and waltzed away. (I know. I should have appealed. I was new at this, you guys!) Two years later, after reading the book Oblivion and a series on Cox written by Mansfield News Journal reporter Jim Underwood, I discovered that I’d been shorted that first time by at least 1200 pages. I submitted a new request, asking for the documents that they’d received. Soon thereafter, I received three CDs with, by my count, over 1600 pages on them. (Always appeal.)
But make no mistake: I’d never requested any documents on Richard Cox for my lawsuit, and I hadn’t requested them for my settlement either. Why was the FBI tying the two cases together?
I consulted my old lawsuit emails, the bone-dry exchanges between my lawyer and the DOJ attorney as they discussed the terms of my lawsuit and a possible settlement. The moment in question happened during the month of March in 2013. We hadn’t even decided to settle at that point—we were just entertaining the possibility.
Here’s the setting: two Washington, D.C., lawyers are in discussions regarding the FBI’s recent discovery of a new Tammen-related report (the name of which I’m not permitted to say out loud) that no one other than law enforcement generally has access to. The DOJ attorney has suggested that, if I choose to settle, I might be able to get my hands on a portion of that report.
In another corner of the city, on a Sunday afternoon, I electronically submit my totally unrelated and completely separate FOIA request on Richard Cox to the FBI. The day is March 3rd, overcast with a high of 43 degrees. There’s no sign of precipitation, unless we’re talking about how my right to submit a FOIA request soon precipitated the DOJ to put the screws to yours truly.
As you may know, I love a good timeline, and this one doesn’t disappoint:
Sunday, March 3, 2013: I submit my second FOIA request on Richard Cox.
Saturday, March 23, 2013: I hadn’t received an acknowledgement from the FBI regarding my new FOIA request, which I generally receive within a day or two. I send them a friendly email reminder.
March 27, 2013—the following Wednesday: Three working days after I’d sent that nudgy email to the FBI’s FOIA office, it’s now in the hands of the DOJ’s attorney. I mean, what could be the downside of having your name so well-known around the FBI’s FOIA office that they immediately fast track your separate, unrelated FOIA request to their parent agency’s lawyers?
12:41 p.m.: In advance of a pending deadline in which the DOJ attorney needs to submit a status report on my Tammen lawsuit to the judge, she writes to my attorney. In the first line of her email she says this:
“Re the status report –To this point, 3000 pages have been found on Cox and rolling releases are commencing, with the 1st release to go out on 3/28/13 (about 500 pages with some 6 and 7(c) redactions). I will put this information in a status report and file it on Monday, if it’s ok with you.”
The DOJ attorney raises the issue of Richard Cox with my lawyer: A) as if my lawyer had any clue regarding what in the blue blazes she was talking about, and B) as if Cox is some household name—no need to even say which Cox. You know, good ol’ Cox, that ol’ hellraiser rapscallion Cox with the 3000 pages. She then informs my lawyer that she’s going to be wallpapering my home with those 3000 pages in rolling releases. Lastly, and ever so surreptitiously, she says that she plans to talk about the 3000 pages in the status report to the judge, which she’ll file Monday “if it’s ok with you.”
At 12:45 p.m., my attorney forwards her email to me and asks me to think about it. He also lets me know that he’ll be out of the office Thursday and Friday due to a death in his family.
At 7:41 p.m., I respond to my attorney. I was still working full-time then, and as a personal rule, I attended to lawsuit-related matters during my off hours. I responded with a short list of comments and questions, including this: “The Richard Cox request is totally unrelated to the Tammen request…is it strange that my request went straight to the lawyer, or is that how they usually handle these matters?”
At 8:25 p.m., my lawyer tells me that he’ll give me an analysis of my questions next week.
OK by me. Honestly, I didn’t know what the DOJ attorney was up to. I was happy to be getting the Cox documents in an expedited manner, albeit two years late. But I felt uncomfortable with the sudden flurry of activity on Cox, when I wanted my lawsuit to be focused on Tammen. Still, we had until Monday to figure things out before the DOJ attorney submitted her status update to the judge on my Tammen lawsuit. Or so I thought from her email.
But no, we didn’t. Turns out, she’d already filed her update to the judge at 5:30 p.m. the same day. I didn’t even have time to make my commute home when she’d already sent the update to the judge. If it wasn’t due till Monday, what was her hurry?
Here’s what she wrote in her status update:
“Defendant reports on behalf of the parties that approximately 3000 pages of documents have been located in connection with one aspect of the case and a rolling release of approximately 500 pages, with redactions, will commence on March 28, 2013.” (She accidentally left out the part about the pages being responsive to another FOIA request I’d submitted in 2011. Also, it was more like 1600 pages by my count, but why split hairs.)
Let’s look at it another way: The previous weekend, I’d nudged the FBI to send me an acknowledgement of my FOIA request for some documents I should have received in 2011, and three working days later, a judge is being told of their existence and how I will be receiving them in rolling releases. Talk about customer service!
The following week, I sent my lawyer a detailed email letting him know that I was concerned about her actions and the motives behind them. I wrote:
“Is XXXX trying to make the FBI look super responsive to my Tammen request by handing over 3000 pages on a different case that I just requested last month? And how does she know that it’s related? What if I happen to be writing two books? I just don’t want the judge to rule in favor of her because of this potentially unrelated case.”
“I reread the complaint and you are right,” he said. He also said that he’d get back to me, though I have no record of whether he did or not. I also don’t know if he’d given her the OK to submit that status update. It wasn’t like him to do so without my OK, and I certainly didn’t approve it.
If you’re thinking that she outwitted me, and I should give up, don’t be sure. Why not? Documents.
In her March 27 email to my lawyer, the first paragraph led with the phrase “Re the status report,” at which point she discussed the 3000 Cox pages.But status reports aren’t settlements, as she makes clear in her second paragraph. That paragraph led with this phrase: “Re possible settlement,not to be included in the status report”(bolded type hers). She then proceeded to negotiate with my lawyer by offering me a portion of the report not to be named—the narrative—“if you are willing to dismiss the action.” Again, surreptitiously, she added this sentence: “Of course, if we agree to settle the case, the rolling releases on Cox will continue until concluded.”
Look, it’s obvious what the DOJ’s lawyer was up to. She was trying her mightiest to link the 3000 pages on Richard Cox to the settlement agreement. But she can’t. Why?
There were only two things that my lawyer and I had requested through our settlement: a written declaration that spelled out their search for Tammen-related records as well as the narrative from the report that shall not be named. Unless I signed the settlement agreement, I wouldn’t be getting diddly squat from them. On January 29, 2014, I signed the settlement agreement, and on February 7, 2014, I received the declaration and the narrative.
Meanwhile, the FOIA office was busily sending me their rolling releases of Richard Cox documents, beginning March 28, 2013, and, cleverly enough, ending January 29, 2014, the same date on which I signed the settlement.
You have to wonder why a DOJ lawyer would be so deceptive in her dealings with a nobody like me. Why the rush to add the “3000 pages” verbiage to her status update to a sitting judge? I’d grown used to seeing their previous status updates which did little more than request an extension. Also, why did she feel the need to preemptively strike against both the Tammen and Cox cases at one time? I never mentioned Ronald Tammen in any of my FOIA requests on Richard Cox. Do they indeed know of a connection “with one aspect of the case” as she’d informed the judge?
I’ve appealed the FBI’s decision on my recent FOIA request. Here’s a taste of the mood I was in:
“To play these games makes a sham of the FOIA process, and showcases how derisively the FBI treats ordinary taxpaying citizens who are trying to seek the truth. It certainly makes this ordinary taxpaying citizen wonder what it is the FBI doesn’t want me to see.”
I’ll keep you posted.
Have you been living with a lie since grade school that you need to get off your chest? How about a science fair project story that’s hilarious? We want to hear from you!
Surprise! I mean, seriously, what kind of blogger would I be if I posted something a week before the anniversary of Ron Tammen’s disappearance and then had nothing for you to ponder on the 19th? This bonus post is something I’ve been keeping in my back pocket since 2013: an analysis of Ron Tammen’s handwriting as well as the handwriting of his father.
Mind you, I didn’t have much for the handwriting specialists to work with. The sample from Ron Sr. is far more helpful, since I have the letter he’d handwritten in the fall of 1952 granting Ron Jr. permission to take over his own finances. For Ron Jr., the best thing I had at the time were two signatures: one from his junior yearbook and the other from his senior yearbook, which I’d purchased on eBay. As luck would have it, the yearbooks were originally owned by an extremely outgoing classmate of Ron’s who, during their senior year, asked every single person in her class to sign their senior photo, and managed to get a respectable number of signatures during her junior year as well. Impressive hustle, Mary Ellen Kleckner!
As is often the case, I need to provide some caveats:
First, I don’t know very much about handwriting analysis. When I consider my own handwriting, I know that it’s changed substantially since high school, and now, no one can read it, myself included. Seriously, I can’t imagine what someone would say about my personality after reading a grocery list or birthday card from me other than “she doesn’t write very well.”
Second, the skill seems fairly subjective, which is why I approached two people to look at Ron’s signature. I figured that if they said the same thing, that might carry more weight. (Maybe. I really don’t know.) One expert provided a quick assessment free of charge, and the other provided a more thorough assessment that I paid for. I’m not including the analysts’ names in this blog, only their assessments, however it appears to me that both hold strong credentials in their field.
Third, for the most part, I’m only including what the analyst said about the writing itself. If, for example, she shared her opinion of what might have happened to Ron based on some old news stories she found online (this was before my blog), I’ve left that part off. However, the analysis for Ron Sr. does discuss the content of the letter in addition to his style of writing. I’m letting it stand, but just be aware that it gives the analyst a head start when assessing his personality.
On the left is Ron’s junior yearbook and on the right is his senior yearbook. How fast can you find his signature on the left-hand page?
Analyst #1 had this to say:
A signature only reveals what the writer wants the world to think about him and isn’t very useful without additional writing to compare to. It would be important to know how congruent the signature and the writing are before being able to determine what it all means.
As I said, a signature by itself doesn’t say much. The large capitals and clear writing suggest someone who thought a lot of himself, was probably ambitious and proud. He had an analytical mind and would dig for the facts of a matter. It’s hard to say for sure because this is a copy, but I wonder from the way the ink flows if he was ill. He may have had a problem in the abdominal area. [She later said this was due to the ink blobs in spots and how it was uneven in other areas.] He seems to have been open and outgoing, fairly consistent in his behavior.
Analyst #2 said this:
Note: The signature is representative of the public self image and shows how the writer would like to present himself to others and is not representative of the total personality.
Mr. Tammen’s signature is clear and legible which indicates that he presents himself in an honest fashion. He has large capital letters showing a degree of confidence with the inflated capital R indicating a lot of emotional energy. The letters are all connected revealing that he is was a logical thinker with some analytical ability as seen in the pointed strokes in his m’s. His a’s and o’s are clear and closed showing that he is honest, but discreet in his communications. The loop in the “d” reveals some sensitivity to personal criticism while the higher second leg on the capital H shows that he had an ambitious nature. The squared r’s indicate good manual dexterity and the full “y” loop can be interpreted as ample energy and financial motivation.
She then said that her first impression of his signature was that it made her wonder about Ron’s sexual orientation.
His writing indicates that he was a highly intelligent man who was concentrated and analytical in his thinking. He had a very logical and rational mind and could be skeptical and opinionated in his viewpoint. To convince him, a person would have to give very specific details and provide substantiated proof of their claims. He was not one to base his decision on intuition or emotion.
He operated more from intellect than ego and perhaps was self actualized and not looking for attention or recognition for his accomplishments. He was controlled and moderate in his display of self confidence and maintained his personal space and distance from others making him a bit unapproachable. He may have been somewhat aloof due to his station in life and could be tenacious in getting the results he desired.
As a father, he could be a firm, yet fair, but highly requiring. He had a domineering nature, but not in an aggressive or hurtful way. He may have set standards that he expected his children to achieve and could hand down stern reprimands if his expectations of them were not met. He could be discreet and diplomatic in his communications and, although not highly verbal, could probably rise to the occasion when he felt something needed to be said. He could be strict and controlling in managing both business and family.
His small, tight writing shows an intense and frugal nature, yet he was highly motivated by financial gain. His numbers reveal that he was very good with financial information and the only place he makes full loops in his writing is in the lower extensions of the y’s and g’s which represent his material and physical drive. It could be said that he had a lot of “money bags” in his writing.
In regard to what we have discussed about his son’s personality, it would be very hard for Ronald Tammen, Sr. to accept anything less than the standards of behavior and achievement he expected of his namesake.
Honestly, I don’t know how much faith to put into handwriting analysis. I’d probably say that I possess a healthy skepticism, which is why I’ve been holding onto these assessments for so long. But people have asked me in the past if I’d tried it, so I wanted to at least show you all that I have. Also, the analyses are interesting, and some points do ring true, though there are other parts that I’m not sure about at all. (Case in point: the comment about Ron’s possible abdominal issues is kind of out there. Also, I would never draw conclusions regarding Ron’s sexual orientation based solely on his handwriting.) Just thought you might find this of interest too. If you have thoughts to share, feel free.
Why the FBI’s actions concerning Ron Tammen’s fingerprint file are weirder and more outrageous than we thought
It’s (almost) April 19th again, which means that 68 years have come and gone since Ronald Tammen went missing from Miami University, in Oxford, OH. In the four years in which this blogsite has been in existence, and that’s counting that one year we were on a hiatus, we’ve experienced a lot of firsts together, wouldn’t you say?
In that same vein, my devoted subscribers, occasional drop-ins, and public at large, I’d like to present our topic du jour, which is also a first. It has to do with the “Additional Record Sheets” that the FBI’s Identification Division used to keep in fingerprint jackets with the fingerprint cards when they were still using their manual system. As we’ve established here (in another first!), Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were on file at the FBI from 1941 through 2002, but then the FBI purged them, though no one seems to know (or want to admit) why. This past summer, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Ron’s Additional Record Sheets thinking they might help answer that very question.
At this point in the blog post, I’d like to ask you to do something. Try Googling the term “Additional Record Sheets” plus “FBI” plus “fingerprint” all on the same search bar and see what happens. With the FBI using their manual system for 75 years (from 1924 to 1999), one might think that hundreds of archival documents on their website along with other related websites would turn up. I’d expect to see sample Additional Record Sheets, training booklets, and other records from the agency’s bureaucratic past, some signed by J. Edgar himself. But that’s not what happens. At the time of this writing, eight results turn up, though that number should soon skyrocket to nine with the addition of this blog post. Currently occupying the top and second-place positions is content written by yours truly. In third place is a document posted by someone at the National Archives—and let me just add a great big THANK YOU! to whomever posted that gem, as you’ll soon understand why. What I’m trying to say is, other than you, me, and the former staffers of the FBI’s Identification Division, I don’t think very many people know about Additional Record Sheets. What’s more, I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that this may be the first time in the history of the universe that anyone has submitted a FOIA request (and an appeal, and now the next thing, which I’ll be getting to shortly) on Additional Record Sheets, let alone written an entire blog post on them. We’re trailblazers, y’all!
Before I get to the next steps, I wish to address a question with you: namely, how is it that you and I have even come to know about the elusive and unironically named Additional Record Sheets when the rest of the world seemingly does not? If you thought that one of my sources from the Identification Division (later renamed Criminal Justice Information Services, or CJIS) was casually tossing around the term as I was questioning them about their fingerprint protocol, you would be mistaken. Not one person mentioned Additional Record Sheets or their abbreviated term, ARS, even once. And honestly, where would the challenge have been if they had?
So how did I get here, where I’m so sure about the existence of Ronald Tammen’s Additional Record Sheets that I’m willing to continue traveling down this lonesome FOIA road, much to the annoyance of the FBI, in hopes of getting my hands on them? Adding two and two probably wouldn’t have cut it. Rather, this particular discovery required the use of an equation in which statements made by person 1 and person 2 were juxtaposed with an observation provided by person 3, and, after a translation to the standard vernacular supplied by a 2008 Fax, the sum of those key terms were then subdivided and reapportioned by way of the aforementioned 2004 National Archives document, made available courtesy of an online search algorithm commonly known as Google. Who said we’d never use new math in our adult lives?
Here’s an excerpt from the conversation I had with the two people who got the ball rolling:
Me: Do you think it’s still odd that they would have purged his prints?
Person #1 (speaking to Person #2): Would they have put things on microfiche?
A little later in the conversation:
Person #2: When they purged the files, they used to put them on microfiche. There should be a record somewhere if those were microfiched.
Me: But would they have told Butler County that they don’t have them even if they had them on microfiche? [I was referring to the year 2008, when the Butler County cold case detective, Frank Smith, had requested a “hand search” for Ron’s fingerprints from CJIS in Clarksburg, WV, and was told they weren’t anywhere to be found.]
Person #1: You see, that doesn’t add up to me.
Person #2: There should be a way for them to identify that they have the prints on microfiche. None of that sounds normal to me.
Me: Which aspect doesn’t sound normal?
Person #2: The fact that they said: we just threw it away. If it went through a process, there should have been a record of the process. Just like these documents here, saying, “removed from FBI file…” So there’s a reason why that happened. I don’t know what that reason would be.
What I learned during this exchange was that A) Under the manual system, the FBI didn’t just destroy fingerprints and be done with them. They required records to be made describing the process by which the fingerprints were destroyed, including the reason for their destruction. Also, B) purged fingerprints weren’t actually purged purged. They were put onto microfiche—a purged print purgatory, of sorts, where they would sit around just in case someone might need them someday. It’s like when you accidentally delete an email. At least for a while, it’s not really deleted—it’s just sitting in a different place (i.e., the trash) so you can retrieve it if you need to. Or when you store documents in the cloud—if your laptop crashes, nothing is really lost. Same concept goes for the purged fingerprint cards.
And so, in theory, if a fingerprint card is purged, they should still have the microfiche and they should still have the records. At the time of our conversation, I was picturing the microfiche in labeled boxes in a dusty storage room, but where were the records kept? We know from an FBI memo that Ron’s fingerprint jacket had exactly one fingerprint card in it in 1973, when they compared his prints to the man from Welco Industries, in Blue Ash, OH. There was no mention of an accompanying record.
Some months went by, and I found myself talking to another FBI retiree about Ron’s missing fingerprints. I asked that person what they would have done with Ron’s prints if he’d died. Here’s what that person said to me:
Person #3: “…even if a print had been identified as deceased, in that jacket, there still would have been information written in there by hand that it had been identified as deceased individual such and such. So all that would have been automated along with the actual fingerprints themselves that were digitized.”
Again with the record-keeping talk. But where were these notes being written? On the fingerprint jacket itself? I was imagining scribbles on a folder. The person specified that the notes were made “in that jacket.”
Their biggest reveal, however, was how the notes were “automated” along with the digitized fingerprints. In other words, all of those explanatory notes wouldn’t have been lost when the FBI changed over from their manual system to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) in 1999. The notes would have been digitized too.
I went online to see if I could learn more about the FBI’s record-keeping system for purged fingerprints. The keywords I chose were pretty basic—something like FBI, fingerprint, purge, and microfiche. Nothing useful turned up.
At some point, I must have been reminded of the Fax written by the person from CJIS to Frank Smith, and I retrieved it from a manila folder in my research files. It was this Fax that I was referring to when I spoke with persons 1 and 2 about how CJIS couldn’t locate Ron’s fingerprints after Smith had requested them. Here’s what the CJIS rep had written, or SHOUTED, to Smith in February 2008:
“A SEARCH OF OUR CRIMINAL AND CIVIL FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR YOUR SUBJECT. A COMPLETE SEARCH OF OUR ARCHIVE MICROFILM FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR THIS MISSING SUBJECT AS WELL.”
“Ah, yes, microfilm,” said I, with a palm smack to my forehead. Microfilm is another word for microfiche. When I used it alongside the other search terms, up popped the glorious 2004 National Archives document.
Why is the document so glorious, you ask? As it so happens, federal agencies are required to submit such documents to the National Archives to ensure the proper management of government records. This particular Request for Records Disposition Authority had been submitted by the FBI describing their record retention protocol under IAFIS. The description it contained for Additional Record Sheets was exactly as persons 1, 2, and 3 had told me:
Additional Record Sheets (ARS): Prior to automation, CJIS maintained fingerprint files in a manual jacket. The cards were two-hole punched and attached to a file back by the use of a two-pronged clasp. The file back was known as the ARS back. One side of the ARS back contained employee identification numbers and dates that indicated when a file was pulled for some action. The other side of the ARS back was used primarily to record any disseminations of the record, including notations of expungements or purges of record entries, such as deletions of arrests for non-serious offenses. ARS backs were only maintained for criminal fingerprint cards. CJIS is in the process of converting these cards to electronic format.
Granted, the above paragraph is a little confusing, since it refers to fingerprint “files” instead of cards, and ARS “backs” or “cards” instead of sheets. Here’s how I picture it: Inside the fingerprint jacket was a fingerprint card and behind that card, attached with a two-pronged clasp (remember those things?), was another card, called the ARS back (because it was in the back, get it?), where notes would be written on both sides.
But you’re in luck. The FBI has posted a video on YouTube that discusses the digitization of their hard copy fingerprints, and on that video is a photo of a long-ago staffer reviewing someone’s fingerprint cards along with—YES!—their Additional Record Sheet. And now, without further ado, I present a screen grab of an Additional Record Sheet, in full view, outside its protective fingerprint jacket.
How does the National Archives document apply to Ron Tammen?
The 2004 disposition authority request submitted by the FBI to the National Archives has a lot to say about how long the FBI should retain criminal and civil fingerprints under IAFIS, not to mention the Additional Record Sheets and microfilm. Below is a link to the document as well as a timeline to help show where Ron factors in, and why, to quote person #1, his case “doesn’t add up.”
1941 – Ron Tammen is fingerprinted in Fairview Village (now named Fairview Park), OH, along with his second-grade classmates, and the fingerprint card is sent to FBI Headquarters. Ron’s fingerprints would have likely been held in the civil file at this point.
1953 – Ron Tammen disappears from Miami University on April 19. Mrs. Tammen soon contacts the FBI’s Cleveland office and they send a report to headquarters, where his fingerprints are discovered. His prints would have been moved into the criminal file at this time, since that’s where missing persons’ fingerprints were routinely maintained.
1958 – The FBI begins its microfilm program as a space-saving measure. In a 1991 booklet on the Identification Division of the FBI, the duties of the Microfilm Unit are described as primarily to thin out the fingerprint jackets of repeat offenders. The unit also microfilmed the fingerprints of subjects who’d died.
1973 – Tammen’s fingerprint card is reliably in its jacket when Tammen’s prints are compared to the guy who worked for Welco Industries in Blue Ash, OH, near Cincinnati. The date in which they pulled his card for comparison would have been included on Ron’s ARS back along with a brief description of actions taken.
1992 — The Identification Division’s name is changed to Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS).
1995 – CJIS relocates to Clarksburg, WV.
1999 – This is a big year for the folks in fingerprinting. They begin converting from a manual system to IAFIS, digitizing all of their fingerprint cards along with the Additional Record Sheets. They also stop putting fingerprints onto microfilm because they no longer need to worry about all those fingerprint cards exceeding their cabinet space. Nevertheless, they retain the 38,000-plus microfilm rolls they have, which contain roughly 50 million prints.
It should be mentioned here that the fingerprint cards are NOT destroyed immediately after they’ve been scanned. According to the 2004 disposition authority request: “At the present time, CJIS maintains a dual recordkeeping system consisting of an electronic fingerprint identification system (IAFIS) as well as a paper based repository of criminal master fingerprint cards. In 1995, CJIS and the [FBI’s] Laboratory Division signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing that CJIS would continue to maintain the paper file until both parties approve its destruction.” It goes on to say that the two divisions signed the MOU because the IAFIS fingerprint scans didn’t meet the Laboratory’s resolution specs. So that’s interesting.
2002 – Three years after the rollover to IAFIS, Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints are purged from the system with seemingly no explanation. Because we now know that the FBI had both electronic and hard copy versions of fingerprints in their care at this time, we also know that it probably wasn’t just a computer glitch or human error that caused Ron’s fingerprints to disappear. Someone had to make a special trip over to the manual files, seek out Ron Tammen’s fingerprint card, and purposely destroy it as well. Did it happen on the same day? We don’t know that. But with the window of time being between 1999, when his fingerprints would have ostensibly been digitized, and 2008, when Frank Smith requested the hand search, I’d say the chances are good that whatever inspired someone to delete Tammen’s electronic prints in 2002 would have been enough motivation for them to destroy his manual file at that time as well.
July 2, 2004 – The FBI submits its disposition authority request to the National Archives. In a nutshell, it says that the FBI should retain fingerprints until the individual reaches 99 years of age or seven years following notification of the subject’s death for both electronic and paper records. Same for the Additional Record Sheet scans. It also adds this powerful phrase for all of the above: “whichever is later.” This means that 99 years of age is the YOUNGEST a person should be before these records can be deleted. If he or she should die an untimely death, say, at a youthful 98 1/2, the FBI would, in theory, be required to wait an additional seven years before the fingerprints and Additional Record Sheets could be deleted. Here are the specifics:
Criminal Subject Master File(scanned fingerprints): DELETE/DESTROY when the individual is 99 years of age or 7 years after notification of an individual’s death, whichever is later.
Additional Record Sheets:Hard copy files: DESTROY after verification of a successful scan. Scanned version: DELETE when the individual has reached 99 years of age, or 7 years have elapsed since notification of individual’s death, whichever is later.
Criminal Fingerprint Cards/Records (hard copy fingerprints):DESTROY when the records indicate that the individual has reached 99 years of age or 7 years have elapsed since notification of individual’s death, whichever is later.
Microfilm Library: The entire microfilm collection will be maintained until the birth date of the most recent set of fingerprints (i.e., born in 1981) reaches 99 years of age. DESTROY in 2080.
February 2008 – Detective Frank Smith contacts CJIS requesting a hand search for Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints. Not only don’t they have his prints as a scan or hard copy, they’re not on microfilm either.
What does it all mean?
Just this: When the FBI decided to purge Ronald Tammen’s fingerprint files, they broke the retention rules that had been approved by the National Archives. In federal lingo, this means that one or more persons within the FBI (allegedly) committed an unauthorized disposition of federal records.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Jenny, this document was from 2004, and Ron’s fingerprints were purged in 2002. How do you know that these rules were in effect two years earlier?
I know this because the document says on its cover page that it consolidates four disposition authority requests from previous years (1990, 1995, 2000, and 2002) “into one comprehensive document.” As back-up, I also have all four of the earlier disposition authority requests. Below is the document that establishes the 99-year/”whichever is later” rule, as you can see by the handwritten notes. You guys, they’d been doing it this way since at least 1995.
You may also notice on the 2004 document some crossed-out paragraphs that were superseded in 2010 by new language. Below is the document from 2010, which now stipulates that they should maintain everything until a person reaches the age of 110, period, whether they lived or died. They don’t mention the seven years after confirmed death and they no longer mention “whichever is later.” If there’s a document that supersedes this one, it isn’t referenced here, as far as I can tell.
I know what else you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Jenny, I’m sure they hadn’t finished scanning those millions of fingerprint cards in 1999. Is it possible that they were about to scan Ron’s fingerprints in 2002, noted how many years had passed since he’d disappeared, and decided to purge them at that time?
I mean…it’s possible, but that’s not how it was described to me in 2015 when the FBI spokesperson had written the following: “Jennifer — We ran the FBI# and discovered it was expunged from our system in 2002. No other info available.” “Expunged from our system” tells me that Ron’s fingerprints had already been scanned into IAFIS (the “S” in IAFIS stands for “system”) and was later expunged, or purged, a term the spokesperson later used. Also, even if it happened that way, it would have still been against protocol, since Ronald Tammen wouldn’t have been 99 years of age.
Here are the take-homes:
According to their own rules, the FBI should have been able to produce Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints, both the electronic and hard copy versions, when Frank Smith requested them in 2008. Also, based on the 1995, 2004, and 2010 disposition documents, they should be able to produce them today. Even if Ronald Tammen were known to be dead, the FBI should have his fingerprints on file until at least the year 2032, 99 years after Tammen was born. Or if they’re going by the 2010 disposition protocol, they should have them until the year 2043.
Those who have been following this blog for a while are keenly aware that I’d thought that Ron Tammen had probably died in 1995, when I was informed that his fingerprints were purged in 2002. I thought this because I’d been told by the FBI’s spokesperson that the FBI purged fingerprints at 110 years of age or seven years after confirmed death. It was presented as an either-or scenario and, because Ron was nowhere near 110, I chose door B. If the FBI had been following their IAFIS protocol, even if Tammen were dead, those fingerprints should have been there in 2002, in 2008, and many years hence. So, guess what this means? It means we still don’t know if Tammen is alive or dead, and I have no idea what compelled them to purge his prints in 2002.
As for the missing microfilm, if Ron had died before 1999, the FBI might have also microfilmed his fingerprints. However, if he died after 1999, they likely wouldn’t have—they were purportedly done with microfilming. You’d think that it would be a much more involved process to delete a set of fingerprints if they’re buried somewhere within an entire roll of microfilm. I don’t think there’s much we can do to find out. You know the title of that Frozen song that’s really fun to crank up and sing your heart out to when you’re alone in a car? I think that sentiment applies here.
And what of the Additional Record Sheets? The hard copies would have been destroyed after they scanned them, as described in the 2004 retention protocol, but the electronic versions should be around until at least 2032 and possibly 2043. If I were a gambling person, I’d bet that they deleted the scans at the same time that they were deleting his electronic fingerprint file. I mean, if they’re going to break one rule, they might as well break all the rules, right? Nevertheless, it’s a question worth pursuing, and pursue it, we will.
Before I tell you the next steps, I need to fill you in on some stuff. On March 23, the Department of Justice ruled on my appeal for the Additional Record Sheets and I lost. In the DOJ’s eyes, because of my 2012 lawsuit, I have no right to ask them about Ronald Tammen ever again, even if I’m asking them about documents that they’d never searched or thought to search before we signed our settlement in 2014. That’s despite the fact that the same DOJ division had ruled in my favor in 2016 when I used the same argument about another Tammen file that they hadn’t searched before. I thought lawyers loved precedent, but apparently not in Ronald Tammen’s case.
If you’re hoping to hear that a new lawsuit against the DOJ is now in full swing, prepare to be let down. The lawyer who represented me in my 2012 lawsuit, a FOIA expert who advised me that my 2014 settlement wouldn’t preclude me from submitting future FOIA requests on Tammen if I should discover relevant files that the FBI hadn’t yet searched, is no longer in private practice. Lately, I’ve been trying to find another FOIA lawyer to represent me, however, one expert had an alternative opinion about the settlement provisions and another might be ghosting me. But don’t feel bad—I have a feeling that this is all just part of the game when you’re dealing with FOIA law and the FBI. (You know in the Frozen song where she sings about not letting anyone see her cry? Some days, that fits too.) In the meantime, I’ll continue looking.
But there’s another step I can take before I need to start shelling out some of my sad little savings for a lawsuit, if indeed that time comes. It involves our friends at the National Archives, the holder and purveyor of government records. I’m approaching them in two ways. First, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) was started in 2009 to serve as a mediator of FOIA requests, and they’re considered a next stop before a lawsuit. So far, I’ve sent them a detailed email explaining why I should have the chance to see Ronald Tammen’s Additional Record Sheet scans if they still exist and asking them to help make it happen. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Second, I’m reaching out to another division of the National Archives—the people who oversee unauthorized disposition cases. That’s right, readers, I have in my arsenal a weapon known as “tattling,” commonly wielded by individuals of the 6-year-old variety, and by golly, I’m wielding it too. Yes indeed, I’ve recently informed them of what I perceive to be the FBI’s mishandling of Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints. I don’t know what types of policing powers the nation’s archivists hold. They don’t immediately spring to mind when one thinks of feds who enforce the laws of the land SWAT-team-style—you know, like the FBI? Judging by their web page, they appear to handle such cases through polite correspondence with the agency in question. Nevertheless, I think that someone should register their displeasure. Why not me?
Of course, if Ron Tammen had been working as an undercover operative for the CIA, his fingerprints might have fallen outside the purview of the FBI’s sanctioned fingerprint protocol. When I asked my FBI sources how fingerprints were maintained for people whose identities had been changed by a government agency, such as the CIA, they let me know that they weren’t sure how those cases would have been handled.
“That never was anything that I was, I guess, supposed to know. So I don’t,” one of them said to me.
Just a thank you
Whew—what a year, right, guys? I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but things are definitely looking up, and I am so ready to take to the road again, once it’s safe to do so.
Last year at around this time, just as Covid cases had started popping up everywhere and communities were going into lockdown, I decided to write a Ron Tammen update for the anniversary—the one on Wright Patterson Air Force Base. For the entire previous year, from April 2019 to April 2020, we were on our hiatus, and I was quietly doing my research while writing short updates on Facebook. I didn’t think I had much more to tell you, so I just, you know, withdrew a bit. But once Covid struck, I decided to start back up with the blog, and then we taped the podcast episodes, and everything picked up again. I found that, as we were waiting on ISCAP to rule on the big question, there were numerous other questions needing to be addressed, many of which were posed by you.
Recently, I half-jokingly told a friend that, if it weren’t for her, I think I would have surely perished this year. Thanks to our morning runs and deep and sometimes hilarious convos, I’ve managed to stay healthy and sane throughout this ordeal. I feel the same way about you all. You helped me focus on something other than my mortality. I hope you managed to get through this year in good health as well, and hopefully the blog gave you something else to think about. Anyway, big, big thanks. Also, here are a couple photos of how I spent the pandemic—one in podcasting mode and the other in pre-run mode. Feel free to share photos of yourselves and how you managed to get through this year of insanity as well. Or share a vaccination pic of yourself, and don’t forget to tell us which team you’re on. (Go, team Pfizer!) Of course, if you have thoughts on today’s post, I’d love to hear those as well. The floor is now open.
I never wanted to write this post. Honestly, as I sit here typing, I’m hoping this thing never sees the light of day. If you’re reading it now, please bear this in mind: I’m not a monster. On the contrary, people who know me find me to be rather funny and delightful (for the most part). It has never been my desire for the mere mention of my name to give anyone acid reflux.
But here we are.
Today’s topic has to do with the undated, anonymous, single-page write-up that I found inside a folder in University Archives during one of my trips to Oxford. The document summarizes an interview that had taken place with Carl Knox’s former secretary about the university’s investigation into Ron Tammen’s disappearance. It’s my belief that the interview took place relatively recently.
The document was produced after Fisher Hall was torn down in the summer of ‘78
In bullet #4 of the document, Knox’s former secretary had described some of the steps officials took when Fisher Hall was torn down in 1978, including checking the underlying cisterns and wells for signs of Ron. The year 1978 was 43 years ago, therefore, we know that the document is 43 years old or younger. That’s our baseline.
The document was produced with relatively recent computer technology
The document itself looks as if it could have been printed yesterday. Its paper is clean and bright white, the font appears to be Times New Roman, and it was printed on a laser printer. Also, it looks as if it was written using a relatively recent version of Microsoft Word on a desktop or laptop.
For readers who weren’t around in the early days of office computers, I’d like to present an informal, abbreviated, highly personalized history for you now.
At least from my experience, desktop computers weren’t a ubiquitous piece of office equipment until at least the mid-1980s, and, in those days, they weren’t anything like what we have today. The computers were clunky. The screens were black with blinking cursors. The print-outs were rolls of paper with punch-out edges. There was no actual “font” per se—just dots in the shapes of letters. The printers themselves were unbearably noisy.
In 1985, when I started my first real job out of grad school, there was one computer in the entire office for everyone to use, and, to be perfectly honest, it didn’t receive a lot of traffic. At that time, computers seemed to be more for “numbers” people, as opposed to the rest of us, who were joyfully churning out our communiques on IBM Selectrics and word processors.
But advances were being made at that time. In 1984, Apple’s Macintosh computer came out, which provided an approachable interface for non-computer types like me. A year later, Microsoft Windows was released, which aimed to provide the same type of user-friendly experience for PC users. They weren’t anything like what we have now, but they were off to a good start.
I think things really took off in the 1990s—first with Windows 95, a vastly improved operating system for PCs, and then the iMac, Apple’s colorful all-in-one computer released in 1998, which especially appealed to the writing and graphic-design crowd.
These were exciting times and we reveled in them. Phrases like “desktop publishing” and WYSIWYG (pronounced wiz-ee-wig, short for “what you see is what you get”) were our newfound jargon. We began throwing around the word serif when describing our font choices, both when we opted for them (as with Palatino or Times New Roman) and when we went “sans” (as with Arial, Helvetica, and the like). We learned the importance of bullets and bold type to break up walls of grey text. The documents we cranked out took a noticeable turn for the better—not just in communication offices, but in offices everywhere. (You can view a progression of the various Microsoft Word versions throughout the years to see how things have improved.)
Finally, although the laser printer was invented in 1969, it was at least the 1990s when laser printers became affordable enough for a typical place of employment to purchase one, often for staff to share.
So, based on all of these factors—the font, page layout, and printer—I think we can conservatively say that the document was produced sometime after the mid-1990s (and probably later), shaving off at least another 17 years from our baseline. We’re now at roughly 26 years ago or less.
The author of the document avoids using the word “secretary”
As I described in “Proof of a cover-up, part 2,” another giveaway of the document’s age is how the writer chose to use a different term for secretary, even though that was the person’s title in 1953. The title of secretary fell out of favor roughly 20 years ago, and was replaced with job titles such as administrative assistant or administrative professional. The interviewer refers to Knox’s secretary as the “Assistant to the Dean of Men,” which reflects a sensitivity to modern times.
So that’s my answer: I believe that the interview took place 20 years ago or less, which would also mean that it took place in 2001 or later. Why does it matter? It matters because 2001 wasn’t that long ago. Although the university hasn’t been able to produce any record of the full interview, there’s still a chance that whoever conducted the interview is still walking around with first-hand knowledge of what was said. Of special interest to me are the words that Carl Knox’s secretary wasn’t permitted to say in front of news reporters.
When I first wrote about the summary on this website, I chose not to identify Knox’s secretary by name, referring to her as AD (assistant to the dean) instead. I will continue to do so out of respect for her family. The highly-regarded woman who personified a “life well lived” passed away last October, and her family is still grieving. But I am now going to share some additional information with you so you can better understand why I’ve been pursuing this lead with the exuberance of a Rottweiler whose favorite tennis ball has been yanked from her slobbery jaws.
AD and her husband were a big deal at Miami
AD’s husband was an esteemed professor and dean at Miami, and, after retirement, a professor emeritus. AD and her husband were also big donors to the university. The university’s library houses a large collection in her husband’s name. AD had assisted him with his research. So, it makes perfect sense that someone with the university would have an interest in interviewing her. What’s more…
AD was well known at the library
After working for Carl Knox, AD was employed by Miami University’s library as a cataloguer. She also worked as a volunteer in Special Collections, which oversees the University Archives, the place where the interview summary sits in a box. Employees in Miami’s library knew her for many years and remember her fondly, including the current university archivist, Jacqueline (Jacky) Johnson. It would make sense for someone within the library system to want to record her vast institutional knowledge for posterity—I mean, good grief, she’d begun working for the university in 1952 and she even had an inside track to the Tammen story. She was perhaps the oldest living Miami employee from that era, which means that she was quite possibly the oldest living Miami employee from any era.
The first person I contacted was Jacky Johnson in University Archives to see if she could provide me with AD’s full interview. Johnson let me know that she didn’t have the interview, so I contacted Carole Johnson (presumably no relation to Jacky) who was serving as the interim director of University News and Communications after longtime director Claire Wagner had retired in March. I wanted to find out if someone from the news office could help me track down the interview.
After getting no response, I went higher. I contacted Jerome Conley, dean of Miami University Libraries, and Jaime Hunt, who’d recently been hired as vice president and chief marketing and communications officer, and who oversees University Communications and Marketing. I hoped that, in their senior positions, they would have a better idea of where I should turn. Both were responsive, and the note from Dr. Conley was especially gracious. He knew AD too and let me know that she “…was indeed a very special scholar and lover of libraries. Yes, she recently passed and the world is indeed a tad darker. She was a kind person.”
This was consistent with everything else I’d read about her. If anyone from the library had conducted the interview, I couldn’t imagine them tossing the source materials.
By way of a cc from Dean Conley, William (Bill) Modrow and Jacky Johnson entered the conversation. Modrow, who heads up Special Collections, promised to work with Johnson in conducting a thorough search of the archives and to get back to me. I’ll cut to the chase: the answer that came back on February 1 was no, we don’t have the interview. I asked more questions: can you at least tell me when was the interview conducted and by whom, and what was the source of the document I’d found in the archives? He sent responses, though no clear answers. Feeling frustrated, I asked about their protocol, trying to better understand how something like that could just disappear. His responses reflected his frustration with me too. We were done.
That’s when I did something that I save for only the most desperate of times. I filed a public records request with Miami’s Office of the General Counsel seeking all related emails from the library and communications offices for the period of December 5, 2020 (when I first approached Carole Johnson) to the present. As I mentioned in my Facebook post, this isn’t considered the friendliest of gestures—in fact, it is decidedly unfriendly—but sometimes you need to take these measures to break free from the usual boilerplate and get to the kernel of truth. Perhaps most dissatisfying for me was how I was now in a war of sorts with the two areas of specialization that have always been near and dear to me. For practically all my adult life, I’ve worked in communications offices at universities and in government, and as for libraries—good Lord, who doesn’t love libraries?
After initially pushing back, the OGC asked me to whittle down my request to specific names and to resubmit my request, which I did. About a week later, I got the emails.
I’m not going to lie: I wasn’t all too excited to dive in. For readers who haven’t met me in person, I’m a human with feelings inside. I like people to like me. If someone is saying mean or snarky things behind my back, I’d rather not know. However, after staring at that unopened email in my inbox for a little while, I put on my bullet-proof bathing suit and I dove.
I’m posting all of the pertinent emails in chronological order with some added narration from me, if needed. Some of the conversations were with me, some were about me. I’ve blacked out AD’s real name as well as the name of one retiree whom I’ll discuss in a second. I’ve also blacked out everyone’s email addresses as well as other library staff members’ names, since they’re really not involved. Lastly, I cut off most of the email closings—the polite words of sign-off that occasionally ran counter to what was said in the email—to help speed things along. So let’s all grab a favorite beverage and get reading, shall we?
If you were expecting to read someone’s full confession admitting that they’d conducted the interview, then destroyed it, and, by the way, the forbidden words were X, Y, and Z, well, you’re probably disappointed. But don’t be. Admissions of that sort are pretty rare to see in print, I’d imagine.
However, even though specific words weren’t typed out, an underlying message did come through. It’s subtle but noticeable, and it has to do with human nature and how we respond when we don’t want to answer a question directly.
You see, for some time, I’d felt that the one key person who might know something about the interview was a long-time employee of Miami University’s library who’d retired fairly recently. More than once, I asked Modrow and Johnson if they’d asked that person about AD’s interview. In response, they informed me how much the retiree had done for me when he was employed by the university, and they also let it be known how much they or their staff had done for me. Of course I’ll always be grateful for their customer service, but to be honest, it’s not relevant to the question.
Do you know what no one said in response to my question? No one said that they’d reached out to the retiree—who still has a university email address and is therefore ostensibly quite reachable. That, for me, was telling. These are the university’s archivists. These are the people who, according to Modrow, don’t discard materials held in their special collections and archives. Wouldn’t you think that they’d want to know the answer too?
And so, I emailed the retiree myself. Here’s what I wrote:
Look, I can totally see how a situation like this could happen to a good person, and I let him know that in paragraph 2.
In paragraph 4, I promised anonymity, not only to him, but to anyone affiliated with the library if they happen to know who conducted the interview.
Chief of all, I told him that if he didn’t know who’d conducted the interview, all he had to say was “no,” and I would never ask the question again.
My tone was sympathetic and even collaborative, not confrontational. Let’s work together, I told him.
You know what he did?
Nothing. He didn’t do a thing. I’d even cc’d Modrow and Johnson to keep them informed of what I was promising him. I thought they might have an interest in what he had to say and I also thought they could give him a heads up to alert him of my email, if need be.
No one responded to my email.
Studying the words, listening to the behaviors
Throughout my research into the Ronald Tammen case, I’ve occasionally found myself in situations in which someone’s words may tell me one thing but their behavior is saying something else. And you know what? I’ve discovered that there’s a world of information available to us when we listen more intently to a person’s behavior. In my experience, if the words and behavior don’t match up, behavior always wins.
Here are five warning signs I noticed when I paid closer attention to people’s behavior as I read their emails:
#1: They didn’t answer my question.
Again, in my mind, if anyone knew something about AD’s interview, it was the retiree, and I’d asked Modrow and Johnson repeatedly if they’d contacted him. But instead of answering, they would tell me how much work Jacky and the retiree had done for me over the years. Those are true statements, but they’re beside the point. No one answered my question—directly or behind my back—even though I do believe he was consulted, possibly on January 25. If someone had just said, “I checked with him, and he said that he’s not aware of the interview,” I would have taken them at their word and walked away. Their evasiveness is harder to walk away from.
#2: There were signs of worry and an effort to batten down the hatches.
The email I’d written to Jerome Conley and Jaime Hunt was nothing special. In fact, it was pretty routine. I didn’t give them a deadline and there wasn’t an ultimatum to be found anywhere. I was seeking help. But one person stands out as being noticeably concerned about my request. Sometime on December 14 (we don’t know what time), Johnson had left a voicemail message for Carole Johnson of the news office. In an email to her staff the next day, Carole speculated that it might be about my inquiry, and then, in a follow-up email, Carole confirmed that the two had finally connected and Jacky had filled her in about my ongoing interactions with the folks in archives. That’s fine, but it’s also a little weird. Why did Jacky feel the need to contact Carole by phone? Why not just shoot her an email? And when did she call?
At 12:30-ish the following day, Jacky Johnson sent library staff an email asking them to be on the look-out for any contact from yours truly, and if I were to reach out to any of them, they were to contact her. On January 22, I emailed Modrow asking for a status update on my request, and he followed up with Johnson, who told him the following Monday that she was unable to find anything else. Modrow didn’t get right back to me though, which makes me wonder if he’d asked Johnson to do some additional checking, perhaps with the retiree.
Several hours later, Johnson emailed two of the same staff members as before, referring to the retiree’s past work with me, and instructing them, once again, to contact her if they should ever hear from me. As you may have noticed, none of the staff members ever needed to alert Johnson about me, because that’s not how I roll. I play by the rules, and by that time, I was only talking to Modrow. However, even that bit of journalistic courtesy seemed bothersome to her. When Modrow mentioned to her that I’d been in touch with him “twice since yesterday,” she asked him to keep her informed of whatever I was asking for. (I had no additional requests—just the same old questions that I’d repeat as needed.) With the safeguards she was putting into place, Johnson appeared to be most concerned with controlling all communication with me.
#3 The location where the summary document is housed, which may provide a clue to its origin, was never mentioned in emails.
The first time I saw the document, I was sitting in the main study room of University Archives, on the third floor of King Library. But that’s not where the document usually lives. Its home is in the “Ghosts and Legends” folder, folder 18, which is located in the Western College Memorial Archives in Peabody Hall. Someone had kindly delivered the folder to King Library ahead of my visit so that it was there waiting when I arrived.*
Interestingly, the two staff members whom Johnson had mentioned as having scanned it were the same ones she’d sent a second cautionary email to on January 25, and it was one of these staffers who’d helped retrieve folder 18 for me prior to my 2019 visit.
Why is the location of folder 18 important? One tidbit worth noting is that AD’s interview might have been conducted by someone affiliated with the archives housed in Peabody Hall. Coincidentally, Jacky Johnson was the head archivist there from 2005 to 2015, prior to her becoming head of University Archives.
#4 They showed virtually no interest in obtaining AD’s interview.
As I mentioned earlier, an interview with AD should have been of significant interest to people in University Archives. My original email seeking help in finding source materials should have been met with genuine curiosity. You’d think they’d want to find out if they had source materials or at least where the summary came from.
When I filed my public records request for emails, I’d at least hoped to see an email trail of staff putting their heads together and brainstorming or consulting with other staff. That behavior is evident with the news and communications folks, but not on the archives’ side, who could be described as defensive from the get-go.
The search itself appeared to be conducted by Johnson alone, who would send meager updates saying “I looked” or “I looked in the collection,” but nothing more in-depth than that. The most detailed response she’d provided was that she’d looked in AD’s husband’s faculty file. There was never any mention of databases searched under keywords A, B, and C, or however else she might have conducted a thorough search. From what I can tell, she didn’t reach out to anyone else to see if they might have information about the interview, unless, as I mentioned, she checked with the retiree but never said so.
#5 The retiree didn’t answer a simple yes-or-no question, even when I told him that I’d go away if his answer was ‘no.’
When I sent my email to the retiree, he didn’t answer my simple yes-or-no question about whether he knew who conducted the interview. If the answer was “no”—that he didn’t know—all he had to do was say so, and I would go away. I promised him as much. That would have been the easiest thing for him to do. Instead, I heard crickets.**
An early behavioral clue from the retiree
The last time I saw the retiree was in 2013, one year before he stepped down from his post at Miami. During that visit to Oxford, I was interested in learning more about Miami’s psychology department in 1953, particularly Everett Patten and St. Clair Switzer. As usual, the retiree was helpful. I remember him sitting in his office and asking me for one of their names.
“Everett Patten,” I said.
As I stood outside his office, he began typing on his computer. And then he stopped.
“Oh…,” he said. Or maybe it was “hmmm.” It was a small but audible reaction.
“What?” I asked.
“Hypnosis,” he said. He was looking at an old article on Patten in the Miami Student, which he probably printed out for me. But that small reaction from him had always stayed with me. It was a signal of recognition, as if it wasn’t the first time the topic had come into his field of view.
And that raises another point. The retiree was practically a walking, talking search engine when it came to Miami University history and AD was a longtime friend of the library. I’m sure he knew her well. If anyone would have known she’d been Carl Knox’s secretary, I’d think he would have. And yet, when he also knew I’d been working for a while on a book about Ronald Tammen, he never mentioned that there was a person who still lived in Oxford who could provide a first-hand account of the university’s investigation. You’d think he might have told me about her.
Miami University’s response
The two people whose behavior I found most perplexing throughout this whole process were Jacky Johnson and the retiree, and I said so to the university. I approached Carole Johnson with a draft of my blog post plus the email documentation, and asked her for a university comment or, if possible, a confidential conversation, since it appeared to me that the individuals knew something about the interview.
Today at 5 p.m., Carole Johnson sent the following comment. (Note that I am redacting AD’s actual name as well as the retiree’s.)
“The University’s response remains unchanged. The University staff that you keep contacting, including myself, Jacky Johnson, and William Modrow, do not know who conducted the interview with XXXXX nor do we know anyone who does know the answer to that question. We do not know what was said in that interview beyond what is reflected in the document previously provided to you. We have thoroughly searched our Archival records and they have been provided to you. XXXXX retired from the University. We will not contact him on your behalf. I know that this is not the response you were hoping for but your repeated inquiries will not change the answer. There is nothing more that the university can do to assist you in your search for information.”
Thank you very much for this response. And because I’m the blogger here, I get to comment on the university’s comment:
I kept contacting the university staff because they wouldn’t answer my questions. It’s my general practice—maybe even a little personality quirk of mine—to stop asking a question once it’s been answered. Modrow and Johnson never answered my question about whether they’d consulted with the retiree. Ne.Ver. They still haven’t answered it. It took several back-and-forths before they addressed my questions about whether they knew who conducted the interview and when.
As for Carole Johnson’s remark that “I know this is not the response you were hoping for,” the response I actually hope for—and what I’ll continue hoping and working for—is the truth. And I will seek the truth about Ronald Tammen even if the university has apparently moved on.
— ERRATA —
*Since writing the above post, I’ve learned that the Western College Memorial Archives is now located on the third floor of King Library, along with the other archives. The three archives were brought to the same location in 2015–first to Withrow Court Annex before that building was torn down, and later to the present location at King Library: https://miamioh.edu/news/top-stories/2015/02/archives-all-together.html. Sorry that my original info was out-of-date. When I was asking staff members for the “Ghosts and Legends” folder in 2019, I’m pretty sure no one told me of its new location. (In fairness, it probably seemed like a minor point to them.) Also, no one corrected this blog post when I ran it by them for comment. Nevertheless, the fact that the folder had been housed in the Western College Memorial Archives is still pertinent. Hold that thought, OK? I’ll tell you why in the 3-11-2021 update below.
**Under warning sign #5, I’ve revised the last sentence and removed a second paragraph because they implied knowledge on the part of the retiree, when in fact we still don’t know if he has read the email. Silence can have many meanings. My apologies for not stating that more clearly.
As you know, one question I’ve been asking repeatedly is where did the summary of AD’s interview come from? Who donated it to the archives and when? If we can track down who donated the summary, we may be able to find the person who conducted the interview. Who knows: maybe the donor and the interviewer are the same person. Also, now that we know that the Western College Memorial Archives were moved off of Western Campus in 2015 (see above, next to *), that potentially adds a “no later than” date to our timeframe. If folder 18 was moved out of Peabody Hall in 2015, then I think the chances are good that the summary was typed up sometime in the 2001-2015 timeframe.
I consulted the website of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the professional society for archivists, and discovered that it recommends that university and college archivists have a policy in which donations, called “accessions,” are documented. Furthermore, the SAA recommends that the date and the transferring office or donor’s name are recorded, among other information. Consequently, I filed a public records request today with the Office of the General Counsel for Miami’s accessions policy. Once I understand Miami’s policy, I’ll be able to submit a second public records request for the specific documents that would be tied to folder 18 and, hopefully, AD’s interview summary. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Dear Miami University Office of the General Counsel,
I am submitting this public records request under the Ohio Open Records Law, §149.43 et seq. I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of the policy by which Miami University’s University Archives creates and maintains its accession records for its archival holdings.
For your background, the Society of American Archivists, an organization to which the University Archives of Miami University is affiliated, has set standards for the creation and maintenance of accession records. According to SAA’s Guidelines for College and University Archives: “Archivists create an accession record—noting the records’ date, title, bulk, condition, transferring office or donor, conservation needs, and access restrictions—when records come into the archives.” [See: https://www2.archivists.org/node/14804.]
I am seeking Miami’s policy for all aspects related to the creation and maintenance of its accession records. If there are any fees for searching or copying these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $50.
I am currently writing a blog and book on the Ronald Tammen disappearance, and this request is part of my news-gathering efforts. I would appreciate a prompt response to this request.
If you expect a significant delay in responding to or in fulfilling this request, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.
If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.
By now, you know that my aim is to post only truthful statements about the Ron Tammen case on this blog site. If I can’t provide supporting evidence—if the best I can do is speculate about some finding, for example—I’ll attempt to do so as transparently as possible, using the necessary qualifiers. That’s how we roll. Conversely, if I should discover I’ve jumped to a conclusion that is even the slightest bit untrue, it’s my belief that I should announce the correction loud and clear, and, if it’s significant enough, with fanfare.
So, you know how I’ve been harping on Carl Knox for writing that cryptic note regarding H.H. Stephenson? The note looks like this:
That H.H.S. note has always bothered me. Not only did Knox appear to ignore Stephenson’s possible Ron sighting when Stephenson returned from his vacay in Wellsville, NY, but it seemed as though, by only jotting down Stephenson’s initials, he didn’t want anyone else to find out about it.
Today, I’m announcing that it’s my strong belief that neither Carl Knox nor one of his assistants wrote that note in August 1953. My reason for thinking so has to do with the name that’s written above that note, on the same piece of paper. It’s the contact information for one James E. Larkins, who was then an associate professor at Wright State University. (The note erroneously says Larkins is affiliated with Wright-Patt.) I’ve blackened the phone number because I don’t know who owns it now, and, well, who needs to experience the fresh hell of having their phone number published online?
As it so happens, James (Jim) Larkins was a sophomore counselor in Fisher Hall with Ron, which is where he would have been in 1953, not teaching Spanish at Wright State. Therefore, the note had to have been written much later.
But when was it written, and why was it written, and who wrote it?
Here’s the timeline I’ve pieced together:
In November 1975, Larkins wrote a letter to Everett Lykins, who was Miami’s assistant dean of student life at that time. Although the letter is dated November 3, 1975, it’s stamped “RECEIVED” by the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs on January 12, 1976. That seems late, but maybe the holidays had something to do with it.
In the letter, Larkins relays his experience regarding Ron’s disappearance, including a wild story about being shot at while trying to chase down the strange “phantom” voice that students occasionally heard after Tammen disappeared. Larkins also mentions Joe Maneri, who was the head of Fisher Hall at the time Ron disappeared.
As luck would have it, 1976 was a busy year in Tammen world. In April 1976, Joe Cella, reporter for the Hamilton Journal News, revealed that H.H. Stephenson, a housing official who had known Ron, believed he saw him on August 5, 1953, in Wellsville, NY. People first read about Stephenson’s encounter in Cella’s news article on April 18, 1976, and then heard the story straight out of Stephenson’s mouth in the Phantom of Oxford, which aired the next night, on the 23rd anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance. [Stephenson is in Part 2, at the 04:15 mark.]
You know who else was interviewed in the documentary? Jim Larkins. [Larkins is in Part 1, at the 08:30 mark.]
Here’s what I think happened:
Jim Larkins wrote his letter, which Dean Lykins likely received in January 1976.
Around that same time, Joe Cella and Channel 2 producer Ed Hart, who were collaborating on the Phantom of Oxford, probably contacted the university seeking spokespersons to be interviewed on camera. Dean Lykins might have said, “Hey, I have this letter. We could put them in touch with Jim Larkins and Joe Maneri.”
Someone then pulled together the contact info for both Larkins and Maneri, who worked at the Columbus Technical Institute at that time. This seems like a no-brainer, since the contact info for both men are written on similar pieces of paper in the same handwriting. Apparently, Jim Larkins said yes to the documentary, but Joe Maneri wasn’t able. (Unfortunately, both men are now deceased—Maneri in 2007 and Larkins in 2015. Although Maneri had already passed away by the time I began my research, I did have the opportunity to speak with Larkins.)
Meanwhile, Stephenson, who still worked in Housing at Miami and therefore answered to Dean Lykins, may have heard about the documentary project and stepped forward with his story about seeing Ron in Wellsville—first to Lykins, and then to Cella, or possibly vice versa. Even though the H.H.S. note isn’t in the same handwriting as the Larkins and Maneri notes, its position below the Larkins note indicates it was written during the same period in 1976.
But in 1976, Carl Knox was no longer at Miami. He’d left Oxford in 1959, so he couldn’t have been the H.H.S. note’s author.
What does all of this mean? In my view, the Larkins/Maneri/H.H.S. notes tell us a trifle more about how the Tammen saga played out over the years—nothing earth shattering, but something more to ponder during a pandemic on a Friday night. Still, two questions stand out. First, there’s this old chestnut: why did the note writer use Stephenson’s initials instead of writing out his full name? And now a new one: did Carl Knox do anything at all when Stephenson first told him about his encounter in Wellsville?
A commenter recently asked about Joe Cella’s 1976 revelation that, on the Friday night before Tammen disappeared, he’d stopped by the home of Glenn Dennison to pay his car insurance. She was wondering why Ron would show up at his insurance agent’s house on a Friday night to pay his premium. Who does that, right?
It’s a really good question. There were other aspects to that visit that were curious too—aspects that I haven’t discussed with you yet. So let’s talk about them now.
According to Cella’s April 18, 1976, Hamilton Journal News article, “Mrs. Dennison, who had never reported the visit to authorities, recalled Tammen came to their home Friday, April 17, 1953, about 8 p.m. to pay his car insurance premium.” Cella verified that the payment—totaling $17.45—had been made on that date through old records produced by Mrs. Dennison, who assisted her husband with his insurance business.
Dennison’s house, located on Contreras Road, is out beyond where the Taco Bell and LaRosa’s Pizza is now, and a couple miles from where Fisher Hall once stood. Also, Dennison’s business was out of his home, so it wasn’t all that weird that Tammen would show up at the house. A 1960 ad in the phone book lists his business address at Contreras Road, though it doesn’t include the house number.
What was weird was the time—8 p.m. on a Friday. Don’t most college students generally have more fun places to be on Friday nights? Why did Ron think it was so important to pay his premium then, when it wasn’t even due until April 24? He was a week early.
Here are the two things I haven’t shared with you about that visit and perhaps why Tammen might have ended up at the Dennison home at that time:
Everett Patten, the chair of Miami’s psychology department, lived on Contreras Road too. In the 1952-53 Miami Directory, his address is listed as R.R. 1, short for Rural Route 1, which tells us nothing about where he actually lived. In 1956, the Oxford telephone book listed Patten at R.D. 1, which I believe means Rural Delivery 1, and again, tells us nothing about his location. Thankfully, the 1958 Oxford phone book specified an actual house number. (By the way, if you’re thinking that he moved, I don’t think so. That was the same year in which St. Clair Switzer’s house was given a number, from his former designation of R.D. 2.)
So Everett Patten lived on the 6400 block of Contreras Road and Glenn Dennison lived and worked on the 6100 block of Contreras Road—less than a mile apart. It’s actually .4 miles.
Let’s imagine that Ron is at Dr. Patten’s house that night for some reason. We’ve already established that Patten seemed to know a lot about Ron—like Ron having dissociation in his background, for example—and we also know that the psychology department was hypnotizing students at that time. It would make a lot of sense for them to conduct their hypnosis sessions off campus, to avoid drawing attention. If Ron’s at Patten’s home on a Friday night for a hypnosis session, wouldn’t it make sense for him to stop off at Glenn Dennison’s house to pay his car insurance as long as he’s in the neighborhood? Whether coming or going, it would have been on the way.
The second thing I need to tell you is that the Campus Owls had a gig that night. According to the newspaper the Palladium Item of Richmond, IN, the Campus Owls played that Friday night from 8 to 11:30 p.m. at Short High School in Liberty, IN, which is about a 20-minute drive from Oxford.
In Cella’s article, Mrs. Dennison says, “He stayed about a half hour, talking about the Campus Owls in which he played and talked about other things.”
Of course, the times may be a little off, since Mrs. Dennison was recalling events from 23 years prior, however it still seems strange to me that Tammen would be so chatty on a night he was supposed to be in Indiana—at 8 p.m. My guess is that he didn’t go at all. And why would Ron, a guy who was forever looking for ways to earn money, choose not to go to a gig to make some additional cash?
Maybe he had something else to do that would also bring in money—something that would soon take precedence over everything else.
[NOTE: Be sure you read the comments. Stevie J raises a point about Indiana time zones that makes the Owls gig much more doable. However, a member of the Campus Owls has also provided some background intel that, in my view, makes it unlikely that Ron was going to a gig. I know we’re always being cautioned not to read the comments on other websites, but on this site, thanks to the savviness of you readers, I highly encourage it.] 🙂
Joe Cella, the Hamilton Journal News reporter who never let the Tammen story die and who unearthed essential details about the case even decades later, would be turning 100 today if he were still alive. In April 1977, Joe was quoted in an article in the Dayton Daily News saying: “The university covered it up. They wouldn’t give you any answers.” On Joe’s centennial birthday, I thought it would be fitting to post some additional evidence that supports his cover-up theory.
For a long, long while, I used to believe that Miami University’s administrators and the Oxford PD didn’t have the slightest notion of what happened to Ron Tammen in the days following his disappearance. When they were quoted in the press bemoaning the lack of clues while actively ignoring, you know, actual clues, I just figured they were letting their inexperience show through. They were new at this, you guys. Cut ‘em some slack.
But then, as I discussed in my post “Proof of a cover-up,” it started appearing as if university administrators were purposely withholding key details. First and foremost: No one seemed to want the psychology book that was open on Tammen’s desk to make its way into a news article. Gilson Wright, the Miami journalism professor who also worked as a stringer for area papers, was how they conveniently managed to keep that info away from the interested public. Wright never mentioned the word psychology in any of his stories—ever—even though he would have known about the open textbook’s subject matter at the very latest by April 1954, when Joe Cella, of the Hamilton Journal News, introduced that detail into his one-year anniversary article. In the first 23 years of Tammen coverage, only two reporters—Cella and Murray Seeger, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer—ever mentioned the psychology book in their articles.
That discovery has led me to ask: what else was the university doing to keep details of the case away from the press, and—OK, I’ll say it—namely one member of the press? Although Seeger wrote a nice piece in 1956, he was primarily a political reporter for the Plain Dealerbefore moving on to bigger outlets, and he wasn’t keeping up with the story like Cella was. Cella was the only non-university-paid reporter who was following the story from the very beginning until 1976, and quite probably until his death in 1980.
Was the university doing anything to keep certain information out of Cella’s hands? For sure.
Last year, before Covid-19 reared its spikey little head, I was spending some time in Miami University’s Archives, and found something I didn’t recall seeing there before. Or, if I had seen it before, it didn’t seem nearly as significant as it does now. Tucked among a hodgepodge of Tammen-related news and magazine articles is an undated, unsourced, one-page sheet that appears innocent enough—a dishy “story behind the story” that someone had typed up on a computer. The font looks like Times New Roman and it was printed on a laser printer. The printer paper looks bright white, not yellowed with age. For these and a few other reasons, which I’ll be getting to in a moment, it appears to have been written fairly recently—long after I graduated from Miami in 1980 and certainly post-Cella. It could have been produced in the last 20 years, or perhaps even more recently than that. It’s too hard to tell.
The write-up has to do with an interview that was conducted with someone who worked for Carl Knox at the time that Ron Tammen disappeared. She was his secretary—that was her official job title—though the write-up refers to her as the “Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox.” (That’s another clue that the write-up was more recent: over the decades, the terms administrative assistant or administrative professional replaced the word secretary, with the professional association making the change only roughly 20 years ago, in the late 1990s and 2000.)
A sad, albeit surprising aspect of this story is that this person passed away only this year. What I’m driving at here is that it appears that someone who’d worked closely with Carl Knox when Ronald Tammen disappeared was interviewed by someone from the university relatively recently in my estimation, though I don’t know when or by whom. In Tammen world, this was the “get” of all gets. It would have been the closest thing to talking to Carl himself.
I’m not going to share the name of the assistant on this blog site out of respect for the family, who couldn’t recall ever hearing their mother comment on the Tammen case. But I will include the details that this person shared during her interview, which were typed up in bulleted format. The document reads as follows, with the only difference being that I’ve substituted “AD” (short for assistant to the dean) for the woman’s name:
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON RON TAMMEN, Jr.
From an interview with AD, Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox, at the time of Tammen’s disappearance on April 19, 1953
At the time, Hueston Woods held a work-camp for prisoners who were about to be released; they worked at clearing away brush from the future site of the lake. These prisoners assisted in the search for Ron Tammen.
AD’s office was across the hall from Dean Knox’s, with a bench across from her desk. After the disappearance, news reporters would sit on this bench awaiting any new information. On one occasion, AD called across the hall to Dean Knox that he had a telephone call from New York. Although the call had nothing to do with Ron Tammen, the reporters assumed it did, and this is how the rumor started that Tammen had been found in New York.
As a result of the false New York story (above), a buzzer was installed on AD’s desk so she could notify Dean Knox of his calls without calling out across the hall for the reporters to hear. She was also given a list of words that she should not say aloud in front of reporters.
After Fisher Hall was demolished in 1978, the wells and cisterns under the building were searched, since they had not been easy to search at the time of the disappearance. No signs of Ron Tammen, Jr. were found.
Before I begin dissecting the summary, please understand that I don’t think AD was in on every single convo surrounding the university’s investigation. Rather, in my view, her comments reflect what Dean Knox and perhaps others would have said to her. That’s what I’m commenting on—the words and actions of AD’s superiors based on her personal account. I’ll also add that the above summary is only someone’s interpretation of what she said during the interview. Unless we have the original transcript or recording, we can’t be sure that whoever wrote these notes did so with 100% accuracy. Plus, they may have left out some important details.
OK, let’s get to it:
1). The date of the interview
The author decided not to add his or her name to the summary, which is aggravating enough for someone like me who likes to contact people who know things about the Tammen case. But it would have been really helpful if they had thought to date it—either typed it in or scribbled it at the top to let us all know when it was written, and in turn, roughly when AD was interviewed. Instead, the first line is so confusing that it takes a couple reads to realize that they’re saying she was the “Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox, at the time of Tammen’s disappearance,” as opposed to being interviewed at that time, as one Miami staff member had speculated when I’d inquired about it. Based on the evidence I’ve described plus what I’m about to discuss—particularly regarding bullet #3 above—I’ve concluded that it’s a poorly worded phrase, and there’s simply no way the interview happened in 1953. It was later. We just don’t know how much later. I don’t want to get all conspiracy theory–minded on you this early in my blog post, but I mean…did they MEAN to throw us off by not dating it?
2). The work-camp prisoners
Yeah, yawn, we already knew about the prisoners. Good for them. Moving on.
3). The New York rumor
A couple weeks after Ron Tammen disappeared, a rumor had spread across campus about Tammen being spotted in New York. I’ve tried like crazy to find out what the rumor was—it was one of my standby questions for anyone I interviewed who was on campus at the time. No one with whom I spoke could recall the rumor. In fact the only other evidence I’ve had of the rumor was a May 8, 1953, editorial in the Miami Student (p. 2, top left) that stated that a rumor had been circulating that “…Tammen had been located, under conditions that were defamatory to his character.” But according to the same editorial, the rumor was started by an “enterprising student,” and the purpose was to see how fast it would spread. Other than that editorial, which chastised fellow students for disseminating the rumor in the first place (its title was “Must Tongues Wag”), no reporter ever mentioned the New York rumor in an article—not Joe Cella, not Gilson Wright, not even a student reporter.
As we all know, there was another possible New York connection to the Tammen story, though this one came several months later, in August 1953. Could housing official H.H. Stephenson’s potential Ron sighting in Wellsville, NY, have been the basis behind the phone call that Carl Knox had received? Perhaps Cella or Wright or someone else was in the vicinity when the call came in, and Knox was concerned that they’d heard something that he felt shouldn’t be made public. The only person who reported that potential sighting, however, was Cella in 1976, and that article was not based on a rumor or an overheard phone call. It was based on a conversation with H.H. Stephenson, who had worked directly for Carl Knox in 1953. (His title then was director of men’s housing and student employment.)
4). The bench across from her desk
The summary says that reporters—plural—used to sit on a bench across from AD’s desk waiting for updates. That’s rather hard to imagine, given the fact that there were so few clues to begin with and only two newspaper reporters who were covering the story from the beginning: Gilson Wright and Joe Cella. Wright, being a university employee, seemed to have an inside track with Carl Knox. Why would he have to sit on the bench waiting for updates? Besides, with all the university jobs he was juggling—teaching courses, advising student journalists, heading up the news bureau—he had other places to be.
Perhaps a Miami Student reporter had been occupying the bench. But students have classes to attend, and, moreover, there were no bylined Miami Student articles during the spring of 1953. Also, the early Student articles were similar to the articles Wright was submitting to area newspapers, which has led me to infer that Wright authored those as well.
That leaves Joe Cella, although I’m sure Joe was too busy to plant himself outside of Carl Knox’s office for hours on end. Besides, Joe’s best sources seemed to be the students and staff members who were closest to the action as opposed to seated behind a desk in Benton Hall.
As far as radio and TV coverage, there likely was some of that too, especially early on, though any trace of what was broadcast over the airwaves is gone. However, their reporting would have probably been bare-bones, with most of their info coming from Miami’s news bureau, courtesy of Gilson Wright and company. In short, I can’t imagine they’d be camped out either.
My hunch is that whoever was seated there when the New York phone call came in had set up an interview with Knox and was merely waiting…if a reporter was sitting there at all. More on that theory in a second.
5). The buzzer on her desk
Regardless of who was calling from New York and for what purpose, university administrators had clearly been shaken up about it—so much so that they decided to install a buzzer on AD’s desk.
For what it’s worth, the buzzer technology wouldn’t have been a huge technological feat in those days, according to two electrical engineers who weighed in after I put out a call for help on Facebook. (Thanks, Chris and Travis!) People have been ringing doorbells on a widespread basis since the early 1900s, which would basically accomplish the same thing—pressing a button and having it ring, or buzz, in another room with the aid of an electrical wire. (A similar concept is turning lights on and off using a button or toggle switch, connected to a light source by an electrical wire.) For this reason, AD’s buzzer would have been fairly simple for someone with that skill set to put together.
6). More on the bench, the buzzer, and the rumor
But seriously, you guys, how many reporters could there have been sitting on AD’s bench, day in and day out, and were they really creating such havoc around the office that it warranted instituting a secret buzzer system?
To be sure, a missing student is a very big deal. But installing a secret desk buzzer seems to be more like the act of someone who wants to play spy or top-secret government insider. Who were they protecting with their desk buzzer? Not Ron. Not the Tammen family. And honestly, so what if someone from the press overheard that Carl Knox had received a call from New York. No reporter worth his or her stripes would file a story based on that meager amount of info. They’d first ask Knox if the call pertained to Tammen, Knox would say no, and the potential misinformation would be squelched then and there, amIright?
I’m going to propose a different scenario: AD may have been told by Knox that her new buzzer system was because of reporters spreading the New York rumor—which, again, never made its way into newspapers—but I think it went beyond that. Remember that Carl Knox had jotted in his notes the name “Prof. Switzer,” Ron’s psychology professor who I believe was working for the CIA at the time Tammen disappeared. Switzer had even told one of my sources that he had indeed spoken with investigators at that time as well. What if Switzer had informed Carl Knox that Tammen’s disappearance involved a classified government program that’s important for protecting the nation’s security? Knox might have decided that a buzzer system would be a simple, effective way to do his patriotic duty. Incoming phone calls—from New York, D.C., or wherever—would be handled with utmost secrecy, no matter who happened to be standing nearby.
7). The list of words that she should not say aloud in front of reporters
OH. MY. LORD. Talk about burying a lede—this one got pushed to the tail end of bullet #3, after the work-camp prisoners but before the cisterns and wells.
Do you have any idea what I would give to know the words AD was instructed not to say in front of reporters? A lot. I would give a lot. Was one of the words “Switzer”? “Psychology”? “Hypnosis”? Or better yet “Post-hypnotic suggestion”? Or how about “MKULTRA” or “Project ARTICHOKE”? I mean, did AD’s interviewer think to ask the obvious follow-up question: What words were on the list? And if they did ask that question, why would they leave the most important part out of their summary page? Why indeed.
You guys, I’ve worked in several press offices in my career, and have fielded calls on topics that were considered political hot potatoes in their day. But I can’t think of a single time when I was instructed not to say certain words. Were they trying to protect Ron’s reputation? To avoid putting the university in an embarrassing light? Would the words have steered reporters too close to a probable cause for his disappearance? Whatever the reason, if the university was prohibiting the use of certain words to prevent a reporter from learning an inconvenient but potentially significant truth, that’s a cover-up.
Incidentally, I’m quite certain that AD would have never mentioned the forbidden words list back in 1953, when she was working for Carl Knox and the investigation was in full swing. That’s another reason that I feel that the interview was relatively recent.
One word that I’m pretty sure wasn’t on the forbidden list? Cisterns.
8). The cisterns
Speaking of cisterns, in part one (2:47) of the two-part segment on Ron Tammen last month from WXIX (Cincinnati), we were introduced to the concept of open cisterns on Miami’s campus by a Miami University spokesperson. Cisterns are generally described as large tanks that store water, though the cistern that was shown in the news segment was built in the 1800s and looked like a large open hole leading to a bricked-in area underground. I’ll tell you here and now, I had no idea that they were considered a safety problem back then. But I’m not sure students in those days felt that way either. If you type the search term “cistern” (singular) into the Miami Student digital archive for the time period of 1900 to 2020, two articles will pop up, one from 1903 and one from September 1986. The 1986 article discusses a cistern that the university had installed under Yager Stadium to conserve water when maintaining the athletic fields. The 1903 article was about a wrongly translated Latin passage and had nothing to do with cisterns on campus. The term “cisterns” (plural) yielded an article from 2000 about brick cisterns that were discovered during the construction of a park in uptown Oxford.
What AD said, however, was that they’d checked the wells and cisterns under Fisher Hall after the building was torn down in 1978 because they were difficult to get to. Of course, I don’t want to leave any stone unturned in my research, and that includes learning more about the university’s cisterns. Earlier this month, I emailed the spokesperson seeking background materials or a conversation on the topic, and so far, I haven’t heard back from him. I’ll keep you posted.
9). The full interview
Although the “Cliff Notes” version of AD’s interview is better than nothing, I really want to read the full transcript. Or better yet, I’d love to hear the recording. At the very least, I want to know when the interview was conducted and by whom so I can reach out to the interviewer for a conversation about all they remember that AD said, including, hopefully, at least one or two choice forbidden words.
I’ve reached out to senior administration officials for Miami University Libraries as well as Marketing and Communications, including the News Office, for assistance. Currently, the head of the libraries’ department that oversees Special Collections, Preservation and The University Archives is having his staff look for the source materials, though it may take a while due to Covid-19 restrictions. I’ll be touching base with them every so often for updates.
Here’s why I believe the university should still have the source materials: AD and her husband were well known, beloved figures at the university for many years. Although I still don’t know the reason behind the interview, it would make sense if someone had requested it for historical purposes. If that were the case, then tossing the original tape or transcript would be very, very strange, to put it mildly. I can’t say that that’s what happened at this point, but it’s a concern of mine.
Furthermore, as someone who believes in transparency in our public and governmental institutions, let me be transparent regarding my current thinking. In discussing the possibility of a university cover-up, I always gave the people in later administrations a pass. How could they have been privy to information that Carl Knox and his team were discussing off-the-record and in real time? If there was a cover-up, I used to think, it would have been the people who were making those judgment calls back then. Once they died, any evidence of wrongdoing would have died with them.
However, if someone who’d been around at that time briefed someone fairly recently, filling them in on forbidden words, for example, and any other pertinent intel from 1953, and if that interview was reduced to a few tamed-down bullet points and the original source materials were discarded to prevent someone like me from finding them? Well, the cover-up would live on. Is that what’s happening? I sincerely hope not. That’s why finding the source materials is so important.
I can only imagine what the late, great Joe Cella would say to me about the possibility of an ongoing cover-up. Probably something like: “Welcome to my world.” And then he’d add, “Keep on it.”
In light of the new revelations, I rewatched the 1976 documentary “The Phantom of Oxford” to listen again to what Carl Knox had to say 23 years after Tammen had disappeared. By then, Knox had moved to Boca Raton, Florida, and was serving as professor of education and vice president for student affairs at Florida Atlantic University.
In Part 1 (9:18), Knox briefly discusses Tammen having left his car behind with his bass inside, which is 100% true, but it doesn’t add anything to today’s topic. In Part 2 (2:40), he says this:
Carl Knox: In other campuses where I’ve been located, there have been disappearances, and there have been tragedies, but nothing which has sort of popped out of, no background of explanation, no way of reasonable anticipation, but just suddenly happening, and there you were with egg on your face, deep-felt concerns, and yet no answers for any part of it.
Ed Hart: And yet something tells you Ron Tammen is alive.
Carl Knox: Yes, I feel this. I feel it keenly.
Knox is believable in the interview, and his facial expressions could best be described as: deeply concerned, which is consistent with what he has to say. But, as we now know, there’s a lot of information concerning the university’s investigation that he’s chosen not to say here. Twenty-three years later, he has elected to keep his mouth shut—about open psychology books and dropped courses, about hypnosis studies, about three amnesiac Ohio youths, about Ron’s proneness to dissociation, about Dr. Switzer, about hidden buzzers and forbidden words.
In fact, the only time Carl Knox truly opens up about the case is in his last sentence. Knowing everything he knew back then, he keenly felt that Ron was alive—in 1953 as well as in 1976. And you know what? I keenly feel it too.
Happy holidays, everyone! Comments are now open. You’re also welcome to air a grievance or two (non-political please) in honor of Festivus, which also happens to be today.
Post-Christmas Post-Script(Dec. 27, 2020)
Hi, all! I’m back. I forgot to make a point in the above post that probably appears like a gaping, cistern-sized hole and it’s been eating at me. It concerns the fourth bullet point that discusses the cisterns and wells. There I was, offering up my reasoning regarding why the interview with AD couldn’t have been conducted in 1953, and I didn’t even bring up the fact that the fourth bullet discusses how they’d searched the cisterns and wells in 1978, when they tore down Fisher Hall. Did anyone else catch that? I mean, clearly, the interview occurred after 1978.
Sorry for the oversight!
I should also add that the same university rep who felt that the interview was conducted at the time of Tammen’s disappearance said that she didn’t think the fourth bullet was related to the interview with AD. But that’s not what the document says. The document says that the additional information was from the interview. So, it occurred after 1978, but, again, I think it was much more recent than that. I’m just hoping to find someone with the institutional memory to recall when the interview took place and with whom.
I think it’s time we chatted a little more about Richard, don’t you?
Richard, Richard, Richard. Where to begin?
Richard Tammen was…a pill. A troublemaker. A royal pain in the ass. All those things and then some. But could he have been a blackmailer?
Before we get too far into this discussion, I need to establish a few guiding principles:
Guiding principle number one: When I started this project, I’d promised myself (and my mother) that I wouldn’t be airing people’s dirty laundry indiscriminately. If I stumbled upon a few cadavers in someone’s closet, an arm bone or two in someone’s armoire, I wouldn’t be sharing that information unless it was pertinent to the case. So even though I knew as early as 2012 that the end of Richard Tammen’s life wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t prepared to publicize those details, because, to be honest, I didn’t think that they had anything to do with Ron’s disappearance. Now, however, I’m more inclined to believe that they may be indicative of someone with serious character flaws, which may be relevant to his Miami years after all.
Guiding principle number two: Anyone who is living who may be related to Richard through a marriage or whatever will not be named or discussed on this blogsite—ever. I believe in protecting people’s privacy, y’all.
And finally, guiding principle number three: We’re just tossing around some ideas at this point. Right now, I can’t say whether or not Richard was blackmailing Ron—or even if Ron was being blackmailed at all. But it’s a question worth pursuing, and so I will.
I’ve already passed along several details about Richard during his K-12 years, some of which may help explain how he came to be the person he was. One former neighbor who used to play street football with the three oldest Tammen boys said that they nicknamed Richard “Peewee” because he was so short. That’s bound to rile you after a while. John attributed Richard’s meanness to the fact that he was left-handed, and, for years, the teachers used to rap his knuckles to get him to switch hands. And while we’re on the subject of school, Richard was escorted to the principal’s office so often that John and Ron felt the need to employ a secret hand signal to let each other know if they’d spotted their mother Marjorie in the building. Her flair for the dramatic made things so much worse.
But lots of people who grew up in Richard’s day managed to survive nicknames and sore knuckles and trips to the principal’s office without becoming, um, blackmailers. John also said that the three boys got along, and were each other’s best friends—building forts, sliding down hills, cooking up money-making ventures. And Richard seemed to be following in Ron’s and John’s footsteps, joining all the same clubs in high school. Despite their personality differences, the Tammen boys looked alike. They dressed alike. They seemed to like to do the same kinds of things. When Richard came to Miami as a freshman during the 1952-53 academic year, he pledged Ron’s fraternity, Delta Tau Delta. Why would he do that if they didn’t get along?
Nevertheless, it’s nearly impossible to escape who we really are, even as we mature and mellow, and Richard’s bullying reputation followed him to Miami. The Delts weren’t that enamored with Richard either. They knew him to be a hothead…an aptly named Dick. One of them let me know that the only reason Richard was invited to join the fraternity was because of Ron. And maybe that was always Richard’s survival method—riding Ron’s coattails to get through any door. Did he have his hands in Ron’s coat pockets too?
Seriously, would he do that? Here’s why I’m looking into this question: as far as I can tell, Richard was working his way through college by caddying in the summers, and that’s all. It doesn’t appear as if he had a job as a freshman at Miami. His brother Robert doesn’t recall Richard having any additional income sources either.
Ron, on the other hand, was also caddying during the summers. Before starting his freshman year at Miami, he reported earning $350 from caddying for the Hawthorne Valley Country Club as well as performing semi-skilled labor for the City of Maple Heights. In addition, Ron had received a scholarship as a caddie through the Cleveland District Golf Association. The scholarship was for high school boys who had caddied for at least two years (Ron had been caddying for 7 years before college), who carried at least a B-plus average, and who were “unable to finance a university education.”
We don’t know the amount of Ron’s scholarship—it varied from person to person. We also don’t know if he received a two-year or a four-year scholarship, but, of course, that didn’t matter anyway, given the way things played out for him. As for the fund itself, in 1952, it totaled roughly $4300, which was split by all the overlapping recipients over a given academic year (18-ish, per a 1953 article). Ron’s piece of the pie would have likely been in the neighborhood of at least a couple hundred dollars a year. Possibly more.
But here’s my point: it seemed to be enough. Ron seemed to be getting along just fine during his freshman year between his scholarship and the caddying and city work over the summer and vacation breaks. He didn’t have his other sources of income yet—the Campus Owls, the residence hall counseling, the blood donations—until his sophomore year. And the university’s loan program didn’t apply to freshmen.
Richard, on the other hand, didn’t receive the caddie scholarship. I know that, because I have the newspaper article announcing the recipients for 1952-53 on my hot little hard drive. And yet, at a time when he seemed to be surviving with only the income from his summer caddying job, Ron was working more than ever, doing all of the above. And here’s the kicker: with all of Ron’s sources of income, including the loans, and with few living expenses other than his car, you’d think that he would have saved more. But all he had in his checking account when he disappeared was a little over $87. And he still owed the university for most of his dining hall fees plus that $100 loan.
Do I intend to continue following the money? Oh, you betcha. I’m currently attempting to obtain Richard’s Social Security earnings report for the years 1952-1954, and, while I’m at it, I think I’ll ask them for Ron’s entire earnings report just to see what they do. But the Social Security Administration is almost as difficult as the CIA when trying to obtain FOIA records. There are other sources I’ll be reaching out to as well. I’ll let you know how things go.
Now, at the beginning of this post I promised to reveal something I’ve been holding back about Richard, and here it is: when Richard died in an apartment fire on October 23, 2004, he was heavily armed. Not only that, but at least some of his weapons were potentially—and I’m going to say probably—illegal.
As it so happens, Richard had two Smith and Wesson guns in his possession when he died. One was a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and the other was a 40-caliber semi-automatic handgun. Now, this may surprise you, but I’m not a gun person. In fact, the above sentence reveals the extent of my knowledge regarding Richard’s taste in guns. At this point, let’s just say that they’re both lethal. Also, did a 69-year-old guy with health issues living in an apartment for seniors really need that kind of weaponry to defend his hearth and home? Me thinks not.
But what was most interesting about Richard’s firearms stash—and what gave at least one of the investigating police officers pause—was the ammunition. The pistol, which was found in the fire debris, was loaded with what appears to be 15 cartridges, though there are inconsistencies in that report. More clearly stated was what investigators had later found: another three magazines—two .40 caliber and one 9 mm—that were each fully loaded with 15 cartridges. For the non-gun afficionados, anything over 10 cartridges in one magazine is considered a “high-capacity magazine,” which was prohibited during the years 1994-2004 by the federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Here’s what the Giffords Law Center says on this topic:
“In 1994, Congress adopted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, making it unlawful to transfer or possess a “large capacity ammunition feeding device” not lawfully possessed on or before the law’s enactment.12 The law also banned the manufacture, transfer, and possession of semi-automatic assault weapons. See our summary on Assault Weapons for more information. The law was adopted with a sunset clause, however, and expired in 2004, despite overwhelming public support for its renewal. Thus, large capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons that were formerly banned under the federal law are now legal unless banned by state or local law.”
Keep in mind that Richard was living in Contra Costa County, California, at the time of his death. Even though the federal law against high-capacity magazines ended September 13, 2004—a little over one month before Richard died—California had its own law on the books.
Beginning in 2000, it was illegal to sell, manufacture, import, or transfer magazines that hold more than 10 bullets in California. However, if a person had already owned such magazines at the time the law went into effect, they were permitted to keep them. In 2016, 12 years after Richard died, it was illegal to own them. (You can read more on the California law here.) In August of this year, the Ninth Circuit voted to end the ban saying that it violated a person’s Second Amendment rights.
Were Richard’s high-capacity magazines illegal? It depends on when he bought them. Unfortunately, I’ve read that it’s practically impossible to tell when ammunition was purchased. (His guns and ammunition were destroyed in 2007.) I’m no lawyer, but it appears to me that if he purchased the magazines before 1994, then he would have been a law-abiding citizen. Is that what he did—held onto three, probably four, high-capacity magazines for 20 years? By the way, I’m also trying to determine if the semi-automatic guns were legal at that time, but the distinctions provided in the law are a lot tougher for a non-gun-person to determine. (According to a 2019 ABC News article that I found especially helpful, that’s why there were so many loopholes in the law.) I’ll be seeking the guidance of experts on that question.
And that leads me to ask this question: what is the point of no return when someone decides to start criming? Or, in Richard’s case, when did he decide to cross the line from buttoned-down college freshman to blackmailer and whatever else—if, in fact, that’s what he did? Could it have happened in an innocent, unintended way? Richard wanted to be an architect, but his personality was so repellant and his grades so bad that he may have had to ask his brother for an assist. If his brother said “No, sorry, you need to carry your own weight,” would he resort to force? Would he threaten to reveal some intel that he knew would destroy his brother if his brother didn’t cooperate?
Ron’s money problems seemed to have started during the summer of 1952, when he asked his father if he could control his own finances, and he showed signs of stress after returning home for spring break in 1953. Who would he have spent lots of time with during both of those periods? Little brother, that’s who.
What do you think? The floor is now open, but please note that any comments for or against gun control won’t be approved—this isn’t the place for that discussion. However, if someone has expertise on the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and whether a particular semi-automatic weapon was permissible or not, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Of course, anything else on the blackmail theory and Richard’s potential role is welcome too.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Despite the fact that (hopefully) most of us have adjusted our usual Thanksgiving plans and are keeping things small and meaningful this year, it’s still my favorite holiday. To commemorate this tumultuous year, I encourage you to use the comments section to tell us how you are—or aren’t—spending the holiday due to covid-19. (Send pics too!) I’ll go first: we won’t be making our annual trek to NYC to visit my brother and his partner this year. It sucks—it really, really does. But, for the good of the country, we’ll just have to wait until 2021 for my brother’s stupendous stuffin’ muffins (see my Thanksgiving 2018 post for recipe).
But I also have a surprise for you: an editorial on the topic of Thanksgiving that’s brought to us by our very own Ronald Tammen. So cool, right?? When Ron was a senior at Maple Heights High School, he oversaw the editorial page of the student paper, the Maple Heights Herald. Although I can’t say with 100% certainty that Ron wrote all of the editorials while he was in charge, they do sound a lot like Ron—or how I picture Ron’s writings to sound: serious and responsible and loaded with patriotism and advice about the importance of hard work to better oneself. If he didn’t write an editorial for a particular issue, at the very least, he would have given it a final polish and stamp of approval. But this one totally sounds like something he wrote.
The editorial I’m sharing with you was published 70 years ago—on November 16, 1950—and it certainly sounds that way in places. Plus, there’s nothing like reading the deep and earnest and not-quite-gelled thoughts of a high schooler on deadline. To provide additional perspective, in June of that year, the United States had entered into the Korean War. For a young man like Ron who would be registering for the draft in eight short months, the world was getting scary. (And if you think this editorial sounds somber, just give a read to this excerpt from the one he ran at Christmas: “As conditions are shaping in Korea, the atomic bomb may well be brought into use. And, if it is, assuredly, there are those of us who may not be around to celebrate the next Yuletide.”) Yikes. Despite the differences between then and now, some aspects still ring familiar, and, for this reason, I thought it would be worth posting.
Thanksgiving is a simple word—as simple and straightforward as the small band of Pilgrims who first gave it meaning over 300 years ago. They had given up every bit of security and even risked their very lives to come to America. And why did they sacrifice almost everything? They believed in having freedom from tyranny and despotism and were willing to give anything for this privilege.
Those first few years were very painful for the Pilgrims and they faced hardships never before encountered. Some died while they were in sight of shore and were buried before there was even thought of shelter. The Pilgrims had determination however, and still more important they had faith in God and in themselves. They had faith that if they worked hard enough things would brighten and take a turn for the better. They had faith in an ideal and nothing that happened would sway them from it.
Little by little they gathered strength and with the help of the friendly Indians, they were able to produce a crop large enough to maintain life. It was decided to set aside a day in which they could all feast and give thanks to the Lord for helping them.
It would be well for us to compare this Thanksgiving with the first one, in that we are experiencing a similar sense of uncertainty. Progress has changed our way of living, but we are still devoting our strength and faith to the same principles of freedom. We are the Pilgrims of the twentieth century and must stand as firm as they for our beliefs. Thus is Thanksgiving—the holiday that explains America.