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A chance encounter in Wellsville

One of the questions that’s been floating around for decades is whether housing official Heber Hiram (aka H.H., aka Hi) Stephenson actually bumped into Ronald Tammen at a hotel restaurant in Wellsville, NY, on Wednesday, August 5, 1953. If it did happen to be Ron, the next question would be: who were the men he was with? And third: why were they there?

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this blog, these questions could have been fairly answerable back in 1953, after Hi told Carl Knox, dean of men at Miami who oversaw the university’s investigation, about his encounter. Knox could have helped spur the process along by asking H.H. this no-brainer: “Which hotel, Hi?”, and then calling his contact at the FBI. The FBI’s Buffalo office could have chased down some of those details and, if they determined that it was likely Ron, they would have had a super hot lead on their hands. If they decided it wasn’t Ron, they would have reported that info back as well. It’s what they do. But, for some reason, Carl Knox didn’t get that ball rolling. 

For what it’s worth, I believe H.H. saw Ronald Tammen that day. I believe it for three reasons. One is that H.H. knew Ron and, as his son has told me, he never forgot a face. That’s big, in my view—much bigger than a stranger who saw a photo in a newspaper and thought that same person had showed up at her doorstep late at night two months prior. 

My second reason has to do with human behavior. H.H.’s account is consistent with how two people who think they recognize each other in an out-of-context location would normally act. I mean, we stare, don’t we? We wait for eye contact, assessing whether the other person recognizes us too, and if they do, then we say something. And that’s what they both did—they stared at each other. Because it was less than four months since his disappearance, Ron would have looked about the same, as did H.H. And although we wish he would have acted differently, even H.H.’s decision to not approach the young men’s table seems consistent with what many people would have done in that situation. 

OK, perhaps that wouldn’t apply to readers of this blog. Members of our little clique would have likely spoken up. Maybe something like: “Pardon my intrusion, but you look like someone I know. I don’t suppose your name is Ron Tammen?” Or, as one reader pointed out, he would have expected a 1950s version of “WTF, Ron?!?” Either would have been a normal response. But H.H.’s decision to walk out the door and immediately regretting it is normal too. And what did Ron’s lookalike do? He got the heck out of there before H.H. returned. If it were Ron, isn’t that what you’d expect him to do—to run as soon as he had an opening?

The third reason is that H.H. reported his encounter to Carl Knox the next day. If Stephenson had any reservations about who the young man was, he might have said something like, “Wow—I just saw a guy who, if I didn’t know better, looked exactly like Ronald Tammen.” But H.H. fully expected Knox to act on the tip. Considering the fact that they were colleagues and he was putting his credibility on the line, he obviously had no doubt in his mind that it was Ron. 

“I was sure it was him,” he told reporter Joe Cella in April 1976.

There is, however, one thing I learned about Hi Stephenson that doesn’t quite jive with my theory. According to his son, Hi Stephenson kept a journal throughout his life, and, as of our phone conversation in February 2013, his son still had the collection. Needless to say, when his son shared this news with me, I was stoked. To obtain a more complete accounting of that encounter in Wellsville would be amazing, would it not? Maybe Stephenson would have described the table of guys a little more—their appearance, their demeanor. Maybe he’d included the name of the hotel and what the daily special was. (The latter tidbit wouldn’t add much to the mystery, but it’s the sort of color I adore.)

Unfortunately, a couple weeks after we spoke, his son sent me an email saying that, after looking through his father’s journal for the date in question, he couldn’t find an entry regarding the Ron Tammen sighting. Of course I was profoundly disappointed, not to mention surprised. On a day when most of Hi’s time was spent reading road signs and counting miles, how he could have thought to write anything other than “Gadzooks—I just spotted Ron Tammen!” is beyond me. 

In September 2014, I took a little trip to Wellsville myself.

When I’m on one of my typical Ronald Tammen road trips, there’s one song on my playlist that I crank up louder and more often than the others. It’s Brandi Carlile’s The Story. The studio version is great, but the version with the Seattle Symphony is my all-time favorite. The reason I love this song so much is that A.) It allows me to scream like a rock goddess when she hits that high note, and B.) I feel the lyrics apply to my search for Tammen. I mean, I’ve literally or figuratively done all of those things (which I won’t name, for copyright reasons) for Ron. And that thing she says about her, um, creases in her countenance? After dedicating nearly nine years of my life to this project, well, let’s just say that that hits home in a very big way too. 

So there I was, one sunshiny fall Tuesday, blasting Brandi along the highways between my then-home in D.C. and Wellsville, NY. Wellsville is the name of both a village and surrounding town totaling around 7400 people in the southwest part of the state, just eight miles north of the Pennsylvania border. As I neared my destination, I had a strong sense that I was passing the same houses and barns that Ron would have passed by—if indeed it was Ron in that hotel restaurant. 

Even a billboard for a restaurant called Texas Hot, which has been serving up chili dogs to Wellsvillians since 1921, looked as if it had been standing along that stretch of road for decades. I knew as soon as I passed it that I’d be eating dinner there that night on the off chance that Ron might have eaten there too. 

Texas Hot is named for a type of hot dog topped with mustard, chili sauce, and chopped onions, all on a soft, steamed bun. They are, culinarily speaking, ridiculously delicious. The iconic restaurant has been owned and operated all these years by the same two families, and is now run by the grandsons of the longtime partners and Greek immigrants who got it all started, James Rigas and George Raptis. If you’re anywhere near Wellsville, you have to go. (No, seriously, promise me.)

Texas Hot in the early years. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.
Texas Hot in September 2014.

After finishing off the specialty of the house, accompanied by french fries and gravy, I roamed the town and was soon drawn to the old train station located one block north of Main Street on the corner of Pearl and Depot Streets. The red brick building, once bustling with visitors and the people who welcomed them or bid them goodbye, was boarded up and rimmed with weeds. Located in the center of town, it ostensibly had been a pipeline that helped power Wellsville’s prosperity in the early part of the 20th century. 

Wellsville Erie Depot in September 2014.

Most noticeably, the train station was steps away from one of the four hotels that, with the help of a 1953 phone directory, I’d narrowed down as being H.H.’s and Ron’s most likely meeting spots. That was the Hotel Brunswick, at the corner of North Main and Pearl Streets, which now houses a real estate office among other businesses. The other three possible hotels, all of which are no longer standing, were the Fassett Hotel, which was a short walk southeastward on Main Street (55 North Main), Pickup’s Hotel (38-40 North Main), and, a little less than a mile to the north, the Wellsville Hotel (470 North Main), where the Lutheran church now stands. 

The building formerly known as the Hotel Brunswick, September 2014.

The proximity of the train station to the Hotel Brunswick led me to wonder: Could Ron have been journeying by train and stopped off at Wellsville for a quick bite or to spend the night? Before that little epiphany, I’d been operating under the assumption that Ron was temporarily living in Wellsville—that perhaps he and his associates were being prepped for some clandestine purpose in a nearby government facility. But if Ron was traveling by train to parts unknown, then the odds of Ron and Hi Stephenson bumping into one another were even more astronomical than I’d originally thought. 

The next morning, I paid a visit to the office of Craig Braack, Allegany County’s historian, whose building was located one town over in Belmont, the county seat. Braack, who has since retired, seemed genuinely intrigued by the Ron Tammen mystery, and he ventured a guess that the hotel in which the sighting occurred was probably the Fassett or Brunswick, which had been my top two choices at that point as well. In addition to occupying space among the businesses that lined Main Street, both hotels seemed upscale enough that they would offer the type of restaurant that might suit the tastes of a woman in her mid-thirties—Hi’s wife Kay. Then again, the restaurant couldn’t be too fancy, or it might have discouraged a group of young men from eating there, at least one of whom was on the lam and possibly didn’t have a lot of cash on him.

The Hotel Fassett. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

Braack wasn’t aware of any government training facility, covert or overt, in Wellsville. He was more inclined to believe that Ron was just passing through town, by road or by rail. He informed me that before the Interstate system, Main Street was part of State Route 17, a major east-west thoroughfare at the time. (State Route 17 has since been replaced by 417, which circumvents Main Street.)

“Route 17 goes parallel to our New York-Pennsylvania state line, so it’s possible that they could have been on that,” he suggested. 

“Sounds reasonable,” I replied, “as long as they had access to a car.” 

I explained that Ron had left his car parked outside of his dorm the night he disappeared, though there was also a chance that he could have been riding in someone else’s vehicle. The other option would have been the train. Braack pointed out that Wellsville’s train station was a major stop along the Erie Railroad, which, like Route 17, ran east and west. Each day, three or four passenger trains would arrive in Wellsville, connecting Chicago to New York City and places in between. 

“If they were taking the train, that would have been a way to easily travel a long distance in a very short period,” he said. “That could also be why he was at the hotel.”

Later that afternoon, I stopped by Wellsville’s Nathanial Dyke museum. I was greeted by Mary Rhodes, who was town historian when I met with her, but who recently moved to South Carolina, and Jane Pinney, then-president of the Thelma Rogers Genealogical and Historical Society. (A September 18, 2018, article in the Wellsville Daily Reporter describes Rhodes’ and Pinney’s commitment to preserving the history of the area and their many contributions.) They agreed with Braack that the Erie Railroad and State Route 17 were the two most likely means by which Ron might have rolled into town, since that’s how most people did it back then. Pinney recounted how neighborhood kids peddling lemonade on Main Street would play the license plate game, making a list of the states that were represented as cars either barreled by or pulled over to make a purchase.

“They had every state in the union by the end of the summer,” she said.

But there were plenty of reasons for people to stay in Wellsville as opposed to just passing through. There were jobs there—lots of them. In the late 1800s, oil was discovered in the region, and a refinery was built, which, in 1953, was owned and operated by Sinclair Oil. The refinery was shut down in 1958 after a fire, but the remnants of oil money are still evident by the string of mansions, oozing with opulence, along the roadside north of town.

“OK. Now the name Wellsville makes sense,” I said. As if by reflex, both women jumped in to correct me, something they’d no-doubt done with out-of-towners many times before. Wellsville wasn’t named for its oil wells, but rather for Gardiner Wells, who was the principal landowner when residents were deciding upon the important matter of what to call themselves.

Other major industries in 1953 were the Air Preheater Company, which produced equipment for improving the efficiency of electrical power plants, and the Worthington Corporation, which produced steam turbines, also used in energy production. According to Pinney and Rhodes, the companies were frequent recipients of federal contracts, especially during WWII, and it wasn’t uncommon for hotels to be filled with clients who wished to tour the facilities, to inspect the product, or to be trained in operations. Pinney recalls driving to her job at 7:00 a.m. each day and seeing 20 or 30 executives who were visiting from China performing their exercises on the sidewalk in front of the Fassett Hotel.

In other words, at the time that Ron was potentially spotted by Hi Stephenson, Wellsville was by no means just a tranquil little town along the Genesee River. It was a player, both nationally and internationally. 

“The place was booming,” said Rhodes. 

Even so, I couldn’t see Ron throwing his old life away to reinvent himself in Wellsville, NY. I mean no disrespect to the good people of Wellsville. It’s just that I don’t understand why there would be any urgency for a young man to run away, cutting off all ties to friends and family to pursue a career in the power industry. I asked if they had any idea which hotel Ron might have been more likely to eat or spend the night in—if, again, it was Ron. Mary said that she thought that the Brunswick was being used as a residence hotel by then, so the sighting probably wouldn’t have been there. Jane’s husband Dave, who’d grown up in Wellsville and who’d joined our conversation by that time, agreed, and added that he didn’t think the Brunswick had a dining room then. The three decided that the Fassett was a more likely candidate. Or Pickup’s. Or the Hotel Wellsville. 

Hotel Wellsville. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

Months after my visit, in an email, Mary let me know that she had followed up with one of the town’s residents, who said that the Hotel Brunswick only had a coffee shop and a bar. “Not a real dinner place,” she told me.I decided to eliminate it from consideration, narrowing the options to three.

The coffee shop in the Hotel Brunswick. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

In Joe Cella’s 1976 news article, Hi had remarked that “he and his wife walked out of the hotel onto the street” when he told Kay about his possible Ron sighting, which is consistent with the locations of the Brunswick, Fassett, and Pickup’s hotels. The Hotel Wellsville, however, was set farther back from the main road, on landscaped grounds. I eliminated it from consideration as well. I was now down to two possibilities: Pickup’s Hotel and the Fassett Hotel.

Pickup’s might seem a little weird for the name of a hotel, but it was named for the family who bought the building in 1936. Constructed in 1852, it was the oldest building in the Main Street business district, though the owners had modernized it. The building had a big sign that said “RESTAURANT” out front that would have been a draw for travelers. An article describing a 1961 fire that “ravaged” the hotel noted that very little of the building was devoted to hotel space and the “principal business activity…centered around its restaurant on the ground floor.” For these reasons—the prominence of the restaurant, and its nice-but-not-too-nice modern touches—Pickup’s was becoming more appealing to me as the backdrop of Hi’s potential Tammen sighting. Plus, it would have likely been the first restaurant Hi would have seen driving into town.

Pickup’s Hotel. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

But the Fassett Hotel had its pluses too. Built in 1870, it was a stately brick building whose ground floor had been updated in the 1940s with eye-catching window treatments. It, too, was a popular place for dining—it advertised a “Dining Room” on the sign facing Main Street—in addition to hosting other events. 

 “You don’t happen to know where I could get my hands on some old hotel registries, do you?” I asked the trio as I was getting up to leave. At once, I felt silly for suggesting that anyone would hold onto 60-year-old hotel registries—even there, in a museum, among people who were fanatical about preserving their town’s history.

Mary said that the former owner of the Fassett Hotel still lived in town and she promised to ask him for me. I thanked her, but I knew the chances were next to nil he would have stored them away somewhere. Unfortunately, I was right. 

And that’s where I’m afraid we’ve hit a dead end. My best guess for where Hi Stephenson saw Ronald Tammen or Tammen’s lookalike is at Pickup’s Hotel or the Fassett Hotel, with my personal choice being Pickup’s. 

Either it was a run-of-the-mill doppelganger sighting, nothing more, or it was a coincidence beyond all coincidences—an encounter whose odds of occurring are so remarkably small that it appears that something or someone bigger than all of us may have stepped in to make it happen. Call it fate. Call it the universe. Call it a supreme being overriding free will and moving a couple human chess pieces himself. I can think of no other explanation for why two people so close to the Tammen mystery—one being Tammen himself—would land 480 miles away from Oxford in the tiny town of Wellsville, on the same day, at the same hour, and in the same hotel restaurant. But that’s exactly what Hi Stephenson believed had happened. 

And Carl Knox? Regardless of whether it was Ronald Tammen or not, the only reasonable explanation for his inaction is that his investigation into Tammen’s disappearance had taken a back seat to his other university responsibilities sometime between June 29, 1953, when newspapers reported Clara Spivey’s possible Ron sighting, and August 6, when Hi Stephenson reported his. Did someone of a higher ranking step in during that period to call off the search? That’s my best guess too.

********

Wdyt? Was it Ron Tammen or just someone who looked a lot like him? Feel free to register your vote.

The accidental, unlikely, real-life, and unsung heroes of MKULTRA

In view of the last several posts, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a little background on MKULTRA. At the end of this post, we’ll discuss what’s in store for the next couple months, particularly 4/19/19. 

In the early-morning hours of Saturday, November 28, 1953, a 43-year-old man by the name of Frank Olson flew out of his 10th-story window at the Hotel Statler, a century-old brick structure in Midtown Manhattan that, to this day, stands directly across the street from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. (It’s called the Hotel Pennsylvania now.) Olson was a bioweapons expert employed at the U.S. Army’s facility known as Camp Detrick (renamed Fort Detrick in 1956) in Frederick, MD, and, in the preceding days, he’d been struggling with some ethical issues regarding the work he was involved with. Olson had also been acting strangely of late, and for good reason. He’d attended a three-day retreat, November 18-20, at a cabin at Deep Creek Lake, MD, with a select number of people from Camp Detrick and the CIA, and two officials from the latter organization, Sidney Gottlieb and Robert Lashbrook, had slipped some LSD into his drink. Things with Olson were never the same. In the ensuing days, Lashbrook had accompanied Olson twice to New York City to get him some help—from a CIA-affiliated psychiatrist/allergist—and it was during the second excursion that Olson fell to his death.

The CIA contends that Olson’s death was a suicide and that Lashbrook, who’d been rooming with Olson, had been awakened when Olson took a running leap, breaking through a closed window. But despite the CIA’s spin, the jury is still very much out on the question of how and why Olson exited that window. If you’d like to know more about that case, I suggest you watch the highly binge-able, six-part documentary “Wormwood,” on Netflix. You can also visit Frank’s son Eric Olson’s website for background information or the many other articles and books that have been written on the case.

The reason I bring up Frank Olson here is because, as far as I can tell, he may have been the first person who nearly outed MKULTRA as his horrific death hit the front pages of area newspapers. In its inimitable way, the CIA managed to cover up the whole thing, and for the next couple decades, the agency went back to its business of drugging, hypnotizing, electroshocking, and who knows what else to innocent citizens, all in the name of fighting Communists.

Until Watergate, that is. 

Some of our younger readers may not realize this, but, in a very weird way, if it hadn’t been for Richard Nixon and Watergate, we may have never learned about MKULTRA and its precursors, BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE

Richard Nixon, accidental hero

I know. It feels strange to call Richard Nixon a hero in any sense of the term, but I consider an accidental hero to be someone who does something important and positive purely by accident—that the good that came out of a particular situation was unintentional. And, when it comes to MKULTRA, that would be an apt description for Nixon. It happened like this: After five burglars were arrested for breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972, it was discovered that several of them, such as James McCord and Frank Sturgis, in addition to co-conspirator E. Howard Hunt, were affiliated with the CIA. (Sidebar: Those three names have also been linked to the JFK assassination, by the way. So on that topic, can we all just have a kumbaya moment here and agree that the CIA was responsible for killing JFK and move on with our lives? Howard Hunt admitted as much to his son when he thought he was on the verge of dying. Yes? No? Ah well, never mind.)

Back to Watergate. Richard Helms, then director of central intelligence, was later fired by Nixon after his reelection, but not because of the CIA’s connection to the break-in. Instead, Nixon was angry with Helms for not allowing the CIA to assist in the cover-up. Before Helms walked out the door in early February 1973, he ordered the destruction of all documents pertaining to MKULTRA.

“These experiments went on for many years,” Helms said about the program’s LSD experiments in a lengthy interview posted on the CIA website. “There is the inevitable question of whether they should have been ended sooner.” 

And he would know. Helms wasn’t just the person who witnessed the end of MKULTRA. He was there, at the beginning, when it was just the germ of an idea floating around in his commie-obsessed brain. In fact it was Richard Helms who infected Director Allen Dulles with the idea. Dulles, in turn, gave the program the green light on April 13, 1953. Obviously, Helms was aware that, should information on the program become public, the public would have blown a collective gasket.

James Schlesinger, unlikely hero

An unlikely hero, in my mind, is someone who does something courageous when most people wouldn’t have expected such actions from him or her, which I think applies nicely to Helms’ successor, James Schlesinger. I mean, who would expect the director of central intelligence to air the agency’s dirty laundry in full view of the American public, not to mention the whole world? When Schlesinger arrived on the job, he wondered what else the CIA had been up to that fell outside its normal charter. He issued a directive asking all CIA employees past and present to report to him all of the outlying programs that they’d been involved in over the years, no matter how ill-conceived, pernicious, or flat-out illegal. And egads! The result was a nearly 700-page compendium endearingly known as The Family Jewels.

Within those pages were descriptions of all sorts of operations—mail tampering, conducting surveillance on journalists and political dissidents, teaming up with mobsters to attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro, and, of course, venturing into mind control and the drugging of unwitting victims. Olson wasn’t identified in the report, however, once Congress began taking action, the sordid details spilled forth, most notably through investigations conducted by President Ford’s Rockefeller Commission and the Senate’s Church Committee. The Rockefeller Commission report, which was released in July 1975, also didn’t specify Olson by name. But when members of Olson’s family turned to page 227, they knew instantly who the commission was referring to and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the CIA. (You can read Eric’s website to learn more about the family’s ordeal and settlement.) Here’s what the commission said:

“The Commission did learn, however, that on one occasion during the early phases of this program (in 1953), LSD was administered to an employee of the Department of the Army without his knowledge while he was attending a meeting with CIA personnel working on the drug project. Prior to receiving the LSD, the subject had participated in discussions where the testing of the substances on unsuspecting subjects was agreed to in principle. However, this individual was not made aware that he had been given LSD until about 20 minutes after it had been administered. He developed serious side effects and was sent to New York with a CIA escort for psychiatric treatment. Several days later, he jumped from a tenth-floor window of his room and died as a result. The General Counsel ruled that the death resulted from ‘circumstances arising out of an experiment undertaken in the course of his official duties for the United States Government,’ thus ensuring his survivors of receiving certain death benefits. Reprimands were issued by the Director of Central Intelligence to two CIA employees responsible for the incident.”

In September 1975, Schlesinger’s successor, William Colby, testified before the Church Committee and revealed the following information, including Olson’s name, which appears on page 12 of the report:

“The threat as well as the promise posed by newer types of drugs, particularly the hallucinogenic drugs, made at least exploratory research on them essential. You will recall our concern over the possible role of drugs in the apparent brainwashing of American POW’s [sic] in Korea, and the haunted eyes of Cardinal Mindzenty as he “confessed” at a Communist trial. I might add that we believe that a drug was administered to one of our officers overseas by a foreign intelligence service within the past year. Those responsible for providing technical support to clandestine operations felt it necessary that they understand the ways in which these drugs could be used, their effects and their vulnerabilities to countermeasures. In pursuing such concerns as these, many different materials were obtained and stored for provision to contractors who did the actual scientific research involved. This concern also led to the experiments which led to the unfortunate death in 1953 of Mr. Frank Olson.“

It’s important to bear in mind that the above information concerning the CIA’s “drug project” was originating in large part from people’s memories, on account of Richard Helms’ efforts to destroy all of the paper evidence. There was, however a 1963 Inspector General’s report that provided some background on MKULTRA, meager as it was. Part of the testimony for both Directors William Colby and Richard Helms focused on the fact that the evidence had been destroyed in January of 1973. “It’s all gone,” Helms, in essence, told them on pages 104 and 105 of the Church Committee’s report. “So, so sorry.”

Nah, just kidding. He wasn’t sorry. In other congressional testimony, he provided this excuse:

“[Gottlieb] came to me and said that he was retiring and that I was retiring and he thought it would be a good idea if these files were destroyed. And I believe part of our reason for thinking this was advisable was there had been relationships with outsiders in government agencies and other organizations and that they would be sensitive in this kind of a thing but that since the program was over and finished and done with we thought we would just get rid of the files as well, so that anybody who has assisted us in the past would not be subject to follow up, or questions, embarrassment, if you will.” (41, Richard Helms testimony, Sept. 11, 1975, p. 5) (By the way, I’m not able to find this testimony directly online—I can only find it quoted by other sources. If anyone is able to find it, can you send me a link?)

John Marks, real-life hero

Thankfully, this was when real-life hero John D. Marks stepped in. The way I see it, real-life heroes are the people who accomplish something great because their heart’s in the right place and they’re willing to take whatever arduous path is required to make it to the finish line, perhaps even putting themselves into harm’s way in the process. Marks didn’t settle for what Helms had to say. A former intelligence officer with the State Department, Marks submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in 1976, seeking “all documents relating to the CIA’s drug and behavior-modification programs,” and later specifying BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE, and MKULTRA as well as related programs MKSEARCH and MKDELTA. What came back, eventually, was 16,000 pages of documents—seven boxes’ worth—that Helms and his minions had (fortunately) missed because the documents were from the CIA’s Budget and Fiscal Section and had been housed offsite. (See page 5 of the report of the 1977 Joint Hearing on MKULTRA for a thorough explanation by CIA Director Stansfield Turner of how the documents were discovered.) Marks used those documents along with extensive interviews to produce his 1979 classic, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Controlwhich is must reading on this topic. Seriously, if you read only one book on the CIA’s mind control programs, this is the one you want.

Not only did Marks’ FOIA request make his blockbuster book possible, but it also enabled the rest of us to dive into the source material, though it has taken a while for that to happen. More on that in a minute.

It seems that the CIA never really “got it” regarding the whole MKULTRA matter and the need for keeping the public in the loop. Not long after the Joint Hearing on MKULTRA took place in August 1977—after they’d withstood the scoldings for Helms’ 1973 document purge, and then had to subsequently explain how they were able to find seven boxes of documents after all—a 1978 CIA memo was issued saying that MKULTRA was the number one program in which they had concerns regarding the Freedom of Information Act. Why the concern? Because they felt that releasing information about the program in “bits and pieces” only misled the public. Of course, releasing the information in that form was a problem of their own making. But whatever.

The unsung heroes

The unsung heroes are all the people who continue to seek new MKULTRA-related documents by submitting FOIA requests and Mandatory Declassification Review appeals even though the cards are stacked against them. They’re the people traveling the same rocky path that John Marks traveled—one that requires heart and chutzpah and hard-earned cash. They’re real-life heroes but without the name recognition, at least outside FOIA circles. For despite Richard Helms’ efforts at putting the kibosh on any public knowledge of MKULTRA whatsoever, documents continue to be declassified and are being made available online. 

The Black Vault is a website repository of declassified government documents that’s overseen by John Greenewald, Jr. In 2004, Greenewald obtained more than 1700 documents from the CIA on MKULTRA, and he’s continuing with those efforts, having posted more documents in October and November 2018. I’m pretty sure that I have Mr. Greenewald to thank for his initial FOIA request because it greased the wheels for my request in 2014. Whereas he had to wait years for his CD-ROM, mine arrived in a matter of days. In fact, I’ve recently discovered that, had I known about The Black Vault then, I wouldn’t have needed to pony up the $10 for the CD-ROM, since, even after ten years, everything I received from the CIA had already been posted on his website. (It’s unclear how the CIA’s “MKULTRA Collection” compares to the documents John Marks received. I imagine many, if not most, of the files are the same, but, as Mr. Greenewald points out on his website, some pages that the CIA lists in its index are missing from the CD-ROM. So there’s clearly more out there.)

MuckRock.com, a “nonprofit collaborative news site,” is a gathering spot for anyone interested in government transparency to file, track, and post FOIA requests and results. Thanks to a FOIA lawsuit fought and won by MuckRock, every man, woman, and child can now access the CIA’s declassified CREST files online instead of having to drive to the National Archives in College Park, MD, and sit at one of the CIA’s designated computer stations. Speaking as someone who has done the latter a time or two, the ability to conduct research day or night from my laptop 300 miles away from there is JUST SO WORTH IT.

Then there’s Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archivewho filed the FOIA lawsuit that enables us all to view the Family Jewels. There are also FOIA lawyers who, on occasion, are willing to offer their expertise pro bono to help obtain public access to the more tightly guarded CIA documents. And those are just several shining examples. The rest of you know who you are. We thank you too!

Some present and past CIA employees are also unsung heroes. They’re the people who fervently believe in the public’s right to information once it’s been determined that there is no risk to national security or an individual’s privacy. Take that FOIA guy from 1977 who finally discovered the financial documents for MKULTRA in an offsite location for retired records. Where would we all be without him? Or Jeffrey Scudder, a former CIA employee who was so annoyed by the CIA’s unwillingness to let go of information that had been cleared for release, he filed his own FOIA request to have the documents made public. I don’t know if any of those documents had to do with MKULTRA, but maaaan…the way the CIA treated him for doing his job? Those guys don’t play nice.

Where are we headed?

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, amidst all of the MKULTRA documents that have been released to the public, I’ve found two that I believe are related to Ronald Tammen’s disappearance. One I’m 99% sure of, and the other I’m less sure of, though my confidence grows by the day. The documents are heavily redacted and are both under review for the possible release of the name of an individual who is linked to Tammen. I’m cautiously optimistic that the person’s name will be released and, if so, that it will be the person I think it is. But, as you know, this process isn’t for people with short attention spans. It’s been roughly five years since I found the first document—about two years for the second one. This could take another year or two. Or ten. 

Here’s my plan: This blog will be two years old in April, and many of you have been with me the entire time. (Btw, thank you for being part of this little community! You are all smart and savvy and your comments and questions have influenced my thinking in a big way.)

On April 19, 2019, the 66th anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance, I’m going to share the two documents with you, even if we haven’t heard from the powers that be yet. I’ll also propose who I believe is named in them and why I think so. I’ll also give you my theory regarding what I think happened to Ron. There will be holes—loads of them—as far as what exactly happened, since that information is probably impossible to get our hands on in document form and, alas, time travel is still not a thing. But I’ll present my case and everyone will have a chance to weigh in.

Then, Good Man readers, I’ll be putting this blog on hiatus, and we’ll begin the waiting period for the final verdict. For those of you who wish to be notified as soon as it happens, I’d suggest following the blog if you haven’t already. You’ll receive an email within five minutes of my receiving the news—good or bad, right or wrong. In the interim, I’ll be heading back underground—deep into writing and researching and (fingers crossed) attempting to find an agent who is in the market for these sorts of stories.

But that’ll be in a couple months. We still have a few more things to discuss.

The return of Commander Robert Jay Williams

Photo by Magdalena Raczka on Unsplash

This is a mini-post—just a little over 300 words in length—but I can’t sit on it any longer. First: I need to point out that the government shutdown is affecting this blog as we await a decision on the possible release of certain names on key documents. No matter where you stand politically, I think we can all agree that our federal workers need to be called back in to do their jobs ASAP.

Remember Commander Robert Jay Williams (aka Cmdr. Robert J. Williams, or just plain old R.J. Williams), of the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence), of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)? As I mentioned in the Dec. 7, 2018  post, Commander Williams’ name appears on a memo that I believe also contains the name of my person of interest—a person from whom I can draw a direct link to Ronald Tammen.

Well, today, I’m posting another document with our friend R.J.’s name prominently displayed. The document is long and dense. Some of you may choose to read the whole thing, which is great. I admire your enthusiasm! For others, just seeing how R.J. is identified should do the trick. 

Here’s the To, From, and Subject head:

And here’s the signature:

That’s right. In this 9-page memo, which was written about a month after my memo in question was written, R. J. Williams is identified as the project coordinator of ARTICHOKE. ARTICHOKE! For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Project ARTICHOKE is the forerunner of MK ULTRA, the CIA’s ignoble mind control program. Some of you have been predicting this all along, and to you I offer high fives and fist bumps all around. Yes, Good Man readers, this is indeed the direction in which we’re headed—full throttle. As soon as the government shutdown ends, that is.

Here’s the full document:

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And we’re open for comments! Please, no politics. I’m seeking your thoughts on Tammen, R.J. Williams, ARTICHOKE, the CIA, etc. Also, did you see the new polling feature I’ve installed? (I’m guessing not, since there are currently only 3 votes, one of which is mine.) Feel free to weigh in there as well!

Was the CIA secretly recruiting gay men in the 1950s?

Photo by David Sinclair on Unsplash

In the book Oblivion, which delves into the Richard Cox disappearance, the authors have suggested that (spoiler alert!) Richard Cox may have been gay or bisexual and that the CIA recruited him in 1950 for that reason. We’ve already discussed how Ronald Tammen’s 1953 disappearance draws a number of parallels to Cox’s disappearance, and I’ve also provided evidence that helps support the theory that Tammen may have been gay. So it begs the question: Was the CIA furtively recruiting gay men in the early 1950s, for whatever reason, and if so, were Tammen and Cox two of their more visible recruits representing the great state of Ohio?

Before I proceed with today’s post I need to state this caveat as clearly as possible: I can’t fathom the totality of the CIA’s operations back in the height of the Cold War. If the agency had an interest in hiring members of the gay or lesbian community for intelligence work, it has done an excellent job of keeping that detail a secret, in addition to its underlying reasons for doing so. What I’m presenting here is one scenario that has received a small amount of publicity. However, in no way do I intend to imply that, if Tammen or Cox were gay and recruited by the CIA, they would have been utilized in this way. I’m only asking if the CIA was hiring gay individuals when no one else in the federal government was doing so and presenting some supporting evidence.

With that caveat firmly in mind, let’s talk about spies and sex and the use of sex by spies for the sole purpose of sexy spying. Anyone who’s seen a James Bond film can understand how sex can be used as a tactical weapon in the world of espionage. Sexpionage, as some call it, works like this: someone on an organization’s payroll sets up a steamy little “honey trap” to entice an opposing target to swap his or her government’s secrets for sex. Or a late-night tryst might provide an opportunity for a spy to rifle through a high-level diplomat’s suitcase after drugging his daiquiri. Or there’s also the potential for blackmail. Sex makes a person vulnerable and if there’s one thing that people in the intelligence biz absolutely love 💕, it’s intelligence sources who are vulnerable. 

As you can imagine, the sex lives of spies is a subject that the CIA doesn’t care to talk about. As this December 9, 2010, article from Slate states, “The Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t comment on whether its agents use their sexuality to obtain information, but current and former intelligence officials say it does happen occasionally.” (That quoted sentence used to link to an article from the April 17, 2007, issue of Harper’s Magazine, called “Sex and the CIA,” to back up its latter claim. Alas, if you click on it, you’ll see that the link no longer works, and the article is also nowhere to be found on the Harper’s website. Welcome to the world of intelligence research! Here’s a link to a portion of the original article—for now, at least.)

“Few national secrets have been more carefully guarded, but the CIA has provided kings, presidents, potentates and magistrates with female companionship,” wrote famed journalist Jack Anderson in his syndicated column in June 1976. “On a lower level, girls have been made available to defectors and the CIA’s own agents.”

According to the Anderson article, the CIA’s “sex shop” was run by its Office of Security. Sometimes the diplomat was in the know about the CIA’s role in that evening’s fix-up, however, other times, the agency made its arrangements more clandestinely, for the purpose of spying.

Wrote Anderson, “…the agency has used prostitutes to lure foreign diplomats into love traps where their sexual antics were filmed through one-way mirrors. The film was later used to blackmail the foreigners into becoming informants.”

If the CIA was employing women to pursue intelligence sources who were straight, wouldn’t they also employ men to target those who happened to be gay? The CIA often claimed that the Soviets wouldn’t hesitate to use the latter tactic on us, particularly for its blackmail potential, and, as a result, they supposedly felt that people who were gay or lesbian would be a risk to national security. (By the way, this logic only seems to make sense if the person were closeted and afraid of being outed.) But, if the Soviets were doing it, wouldn’t we have used the tactic too? Doesn’t the CIA generally consider turnabout to be fair play? (Asking for a friend…)

On the other hand, as you may recall, Executive Order 10450 was signed by President Eisenhower on April 27, 1953, thus introducing a policy against hiring federal civil servants who were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. What’s more, the Lavender Scare began even earlier than that, in the late 1940s, and by 1950, the government’s zeal for discriminating against people who were gay or lesbian picked up steam courtesy of the despicable Senator Joseph McCarthy. But since when does the CIA follow what everyone else is doing? I would think that, if the cloak and dagger crowd believed it was in their best interest to recruit gay operatives, then that’s what they’d do.

The public record doesn’t support this theory, however. Here’s what’s on record regarding the federal hiring policy of LGBT individuals, both in general and at the CIA specifically:

  • In the 1960s, gay rights organizations such as the Mattachine Society of Washington, cofounded by renowned activist Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols, began filing lawsuits to challenge the across-the-board firings of gay and lesbian federal employees simply because of their sexual orientation.

  • In 1969, the federal Civil Service Commission (CSC) lost a court case in which a NASA employee named Clifford Norton sued CSC chair John Macy for having been terminated after he was arrested for a gay liaison in D.C.’s Lafayette Square during non-working hours. The court ruled that “the Civil Service Commission has neither the expertise nor the requisite anointment to make or enforce absolute moral judgments …,” and, consequently, it had no right to fire someone for being gay or lesbian, though it took four more years before changes were fully implemented government-wide. While the ruling applied to some federal agencies, it didn’t apply to all of them. According to the 2015 book Hoover’s War on Gays, by Douglas M. Charles, “For agencies outside CSC coverage, political appointees, or those engaged in national security work, however—such as the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), and military—antigay employment discrimination continued unabated.” 

To sum things up: the CIA had a policy against the hiring of members of the LGBT community until the mid-1990s; the culture began to evolve after that, albeit slowly; and then around 2011 or 2012, their doors were flung wide open and they were actively recruiting. This doesn’t exactly mesh with the running thesis I’m investigating, but that’s their story and they’re sticking with it.

Fact-checking Oblivion: Was Richard Cox gay?

In the spring of 2014, I drove to Mansfield, Ohio, Richard Cox’s hometown, in hopes of meeting with one of Cox’s sisters to discuss the similarities between his and Tammen’s cases. Although Cox’s sister wasn’t available for a sit-down, she put me in touch with a family friend, whose overriding objective was to shoot down the book’s premise. For an uncomfortable 20 minutes or so, the man insisted to me that the book was “garbage,” “trash,” and that there was no evidence to back up its claims that Cox was gay and was recruited by the CIA. “There isn’t a shred of truth to it,” he said.

I’m not going to say here whether or not I think Richard Cox was gay. I didn’t know Richard Cox. The family friend, who also didn’t know Cox, was adamant that he wasn’t. I’m just going to share several FBI documents that may have led some people to infer that Richard Cox might have been gay or bisexual or, at the very least, experimenting. A lot has been redacted, and I’ve been unsuccessful in getting the whited-out details released, but I think you can get the gist of things from the surrounding verbiage. 

The documents I’m about to share have to do with an incident that took place in April 1948 in New York City between Cox and a former soldier identified as Victor Wolf, from Detroit. The two met at Tony Pastor’s, a gay-friendly bar in Greenwich Village. Later that night, Cox visited Wolf’s room at the Hotel Dixie on 42nd Street and stayed the night. (Judging by this website, the hotel’s boasting of “700 rooms, each with bath and radio” leads me to think that we’re not talking spacious suites here.) 

The following passage was part of a report from the FBI’s New York office in a document dated May 26, 1950. This redaction-free synopsis (from this point on, referred to as “item A”) helps us validate key details in subsequent passages.

The next three passages were included in a document dated July 13, 1951 created by the Detroit office of the FBI.

Background: Sometime in late June or early July 1951, the FBI interviewed Wolf’s landlords, Mr. and Mrs. A. R. Keith, of Detroit. Despite the redactions, we know they’re talking about Wolf because the address (1798 Field) is the same as that included in item A. One wonders what the Keiths had discovered about Wolf and his roommate that led them to immediately ask them to move out of their home. In the second paragraph, two informants from Detroit said that both BLANK and BLANK are known BLANKETY BLANKS. I’m sure that the first two blanks are referring to Wolf and his roommate. As for what they were “known” to be, one can only wonder about that as well.

Background: Included below is a three-page statement dated July 7, 1951, and signed by Victor Wolf concerning his interactions with Richard Cox. Again, despite the redactions, we know that it’s Wolf’s statement, thanks to item A, which describes the timeframe and locations of their liaison in New York. The third paragraph of page one says that Cox, Wolf, and “another soldier” had met up at Tony Pastor’s bar, which Wolf describes as “having a reputation of being BLANK.” Later that night, Cox showed up at Wolf’s hotel room and Wolf told him he could spend the night with Wolf and BLANK. Wolf was later awakened by something—a whole paragraph’s worth of BLANKING—that, to this day, the FBI deems too confidential or of such a delicate nature that it needs to protect the public from such details, 70 years after-the-fact. 

As for next steps, the author of the FBI memo had suggested that the following lead needed to be checked out by the New York office regarding the “Subject,” Richard Cox. 

Evidence that the CIA was recruiting gay men

If you were to contact the CIA (and I have) and ask them if they used to recruit gay men in the 1950s (and I did), they would likely tell you that they wouldn’t be addressing that question (and they didn’t). However, I’ve found several small clues over the years that deem it at least plausible that the CIA was knowingly hiring gay men back then, for whatever reason, regardless of what the agency’s official stance was at the time.

Clue #1: The CIA was modeled after Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, which had been employing gay spies for decades.

If you’re remotely interested in the world of espionage, you’ll know that one of the most notorious spies during the Cold War was Kim Philby, a handsome and sophisticated Cambridge-educated man who charmed a lot of people, including the CIA’s James Jesus Angleton. Angleton had studied under Philby. He developed his intelligence chops under him in London when Philby was with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, and Angleton was with the fledgling CIA. The trouble was, Philby also happened to be spying for the Soviets for many years and Angleton had handed him a lot of state secrets and contacts when Philby was serving in Washington as a liaison between MI6 and the CIA and FBI. Philby eventually defected to the Soviet Union, as did fellow KGB spies Guy Burgess, who was openly gay, and Don Maclean, who was bisexual. Phillip Knightley, an esteemed journalist who had interviewed Philby at length for his definitive book, contends in this 1997 piece that Britain has had a long history of gay spies and, moreover, that spying is a natural fit for someone who is gay. In addition, Jefferson Morely, who wrote an acclaimed recent biography on Angleton, has hypothesized that the relationship between Angleton and Philby may have been a lot closer than just that of mentor and mentee.

Clue #2: Jack Anderson said so (sort of).

I’ve already cited the 1976 news article by Jack Anderson that brought to light several sex operations overseen by the CIA. An article that he’d published a year earlier had gone into greater detail concerning the CIA’s love nests that were being used for blackmail purposes on the East and West Coasts. In the last paragraph, Anderson said this:

“To stage the shows, both male and female prostitutes with a variety of sexual skills were used. The CIA possibly got the idea from the Russians, who have long used sex blackmail to entrap Westerners into spying for them.”

Although Anderson doesn’t mention anything about the entrapped being gay, the fact that male prostitutes were used tells me that that’s what he was referring to, since most foreign diplomats would have been male.

Clue #3: Former CIA employee Victor Marchetti said so.

Victor Marchetti, who passed away this past October, was a former Soviet-military specialist and executive assistant to the deputy director of the CIA. Over time, he had become disillusioned with the agency’s actions and one of its most outspoken critics. He’s most famous for coauthoring a 1974 nonfiction book with John D. Marks, formerly of the State Department, titled The C.I.A. and the Cult of Intelligence, which entangled him in a drawn-out legal battle with his former employer.

In a September 1982 Reuters article, Marchetti is quoted in the following snippet:

“Soviet intelligence agents routinely cruise gay bars seeking candidates for blackmail who could be coopted as spies, a spokesman for the CIA, another agency which is concerned about possible espionage, said.

“Former CIA official Victor Marchetti said in a separate interview that the United States employed similar techniques not only against Communists but in order to extract information from officials of allied governments who were ‘closet’ homosexuals.

“The CIA declined to comment on Mr. Marchetti’s statement.”

Clue #4: Allen Dulles was told by his mistress of OSS’s need to penetrate an underground gay network during WWII.

In her book, Autobiography of a Spyauthor Mary Bancroft shared an experience she had while she was the mistress of spy master and future CIA Director Allen Dulles during WWII. Dulles was with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner to the CIA, in Zurich, and had been using Bancroft to obtain information from various sources. While in this role, she felt it her duty to inform Dulles, who was ten years older than she and utterly naïve about the subject, about an underground gay network among the “Foreign Offices of England, Switzerland, Greece, and our own State Department and through which information traveled even more rapidly than by the channels of the Catholic Church and various Jewish organizations.” She recalled how “a colleague of my generation had told me how essential it was for us to tap this homosexual underground by having, as he put it, ‘Washington send us a guy with a pretty behind.’” Bancroft doesn’t say if Washington responded after she conveyed this request to Dulles, however, if people in intelligence were aware of the benefits of gay operatives in the 1940s, I can’t imagine what would have changed their minds by the 1950s.

Clue #5: Former CIA Director Roscoe Hillenkoetter admitted as much to Congress.

On July 14, 1950, Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, then-director of Central Intelligence, testified before Congress regarding his views of whether a person who was gay was considered to be a risk to national security. His answer was a resounding yes, and he emphasized that a gay employee needed to be “weeded out of government employment wherever he is found.” His final sentence is a doozy: “The failure to do this can only result in placing a dagger in the hands of our enemies and their intelligence services, and the point of that dagger would lie at the heart of our national security.” 

However strong that statement was, and however homophobic his views are throughout the rest of his statement, he actually does a 180 in a couple places and shares that it wouldn’t be so bad after all, and may actually be beneficial, to have a gay person on his intelligence squad. On page 25 of his typed comments, he says this: “…while this agency will never employ a homosexual on its rolls, it might conceivably be necessary, and in the past has actually been valuable, to use known homosexuals as agents in the field.” (bold added)

In addition, on pages 35 and 36, he says: “In one case in which were were [sic] interested abroad in the early months of this year, we found what I believe to represent a Soviet intelligence operation, and we believe that our task will be made considerably easier by the appearance in the area of a known homosexual who we think will be extremely helpful in this particular case.” (bold added)

[You can read his full statement here. But be prepared: it’s, um, a wee bit vile.] 

Granted, the above evidence isn’t much to go on, but, at the very least, it doesn’t rule out the argument that the CIA may have recruited gay men back in Tammen’s and Cox’s day for some purpose that it deemed useful to our country’s service, despite its official policy. I’ll close with these two thoughts:

Executive Order 10450 was signed eight days after Tammen disappeared, at which time, it would have likely been extremely difficult for a person who was gay to obtain a security clearance. Could the CIA have recruited Ron the week prior to get his name on the books before the E.O. went into effect?

Also, some have wondered why the CIA would have had any interest in recruiting a student from quaint little Miami University in rural southwest Ohio, be he gay or straight. Didn’t they have a hefty supply of Ivy Leaguers to choose from on the East Coast? But those doubters probably aren’t aware that the first director of Central Intelligence was a Miami graduate. His name was Sidney W. Souers, and he was born in Dayton. Just saying.

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Care to weigh in? I’ve set up a poll on a new page on this website.

An ode to Joe on his 98th birthday

joe cella hamilton journal-news early 1950s_1 copy
Joe Cella as a reporter for the Hamilton Journal-News in the early 1950s.

December 23, 2018

If there is one name that’s come to be closely associated with the Ronald Tammen story, it would be that of Joe Cella. Cella was the reporter for the Hamilton Journal-News who’d written some of the more substantive pieces about Tammen’s disappearance. So obsessed was he about the case that he carried Tammen’s photo around with him in his wallet for decades—a photo that Richard Tammen had given him. If you’ve been following this blog for even a short while, you probably already know that the amount of respect I have for him is pretty much off the charts. He’s my idol. Maybe even a borderline crush.

Joseph Anthony Cella was born on this day in 1920 in Bisaccia, Italy, an ancient town in the southern part of the boot, approximately where the ankle would be if the boot was for real. He and his parents immigrated to the U.S. before he was one year of age and settled in Hamilton, Ohio, which is where he lived for most of his life. Sadly, he didn’t live long by today’s standards, passing away during the summer of 1980 at the age of 59, right after I graduated from college. (If only I’d thought to give him a call to discuss the Tammen case when I was a student at Miami. I’m still kicking myself for that missed opportunity.) Nevertheless, his impact was significant.

My admiration for Cella grew as I studied every line of every article he wrote on Ronald Tammen. As the years rolled by, he didn’t give up on Tammen. He didn’t recycle and rehash the same-old, same-old for anniversary stories that he wrote. And he didn’t settle for what university officials or the Oxford police were telling him. Sure, he’d write down whatever information they were doling out, but he had other sources too. Even 23 years after the fact, he was unearthing new information, much of which investigators had known but had opted to keep from the public.

Thanks to Cella, we learned:

  • That “a psychology book which Ronald was reported to have been reading was found on his desk.” (HJN, 4-22-1954)
  • That the psychology book on Ron’s desk had been opened to “Habits.” (HJN, 4-18-1976)
  • That Ron had stopped in at the office of Garret Boone, M.D., in Hamilton, OH, to have his blood typed on November 19, 1952, five months before Ron disappeared. Cella also revealed that Boone felt that he’d been given the “brush-off” by university officials, who, according to Boone, “didn’t want to discuss the case” when he came forward with his information. (HJN, 4-23-1973)
  • That on Friday, April 17, the weekend of his disappearance, Ron had stopped by the home of Glenn Dennison on Contreras Road at around 8:00 p.m. to pay his car insurance. They talked a little about the Campus Owls, but then he was on his way. (HJN, 4-18-1976)
  • That H.H. Stephenson, a housing official who’d given Ron his permit to have a car on campus, thought he’d seen Ron with a group of young men in a restaurant in Wellsville, NY, on August 5, 1953. (HJN, 4-18-1976)

At least three of those findings, and possibly four, factor prominently in the solution of this case, I believe.

“He was always a skeptic,” said one of his sons. “And the reporter that he was, he was always trying to find the answer to the truth…He was always digging to find the answer. It was one of those things where he didn’t really trust anything completely. He was going to find out for himself definitively what the answer was. He did that with a number of stories, and this one, in particular, which lasted, you know, to the day he died.”

“He’s out there,” he used to say about Tammen.

joe cella hamilton journal-news early 1950s
Joe Cella looking out the window of the Hamilton Journal-News with the clock tower of the Butler County Courthouse in the background.

Like Tammen, Cella had movie-star looks. His wife June, who met Joe when he was an usher at the Paramount Theater in Hamilton, often said that he reminded her of Tyrone Power, the dashing leading man of Zorro fame who happened to be from nearby Cincinnati. After serving in WWII, Cella thought he might give Hollywood a try, but it didn’t pan out for him. He and June returned to Hamilton where they would raise a family and Joe would work the rest of his days in news reporting and communications.

joe cella Paramount Theater
Young Joe as an usher at the Paramount Theater, Hamilton, Ohio.

He probably was feeling let down about this turn of events, but I consider it to be a good thing. Hollywood has enough beautiful people. Joe Cella had a gift for journalism. He had an inquisitive mind and a thirst for truth, which, in my book, the world can always use more of.

According to his obituary, Cella’s first job in journalism was with the Hamilton Journal-News, where he worked for five years, before moving on to various stints around Cincinnati. These included TV Guide magazine (regional editor), Crosley Broadcasting Corporation (promotion and publicity director), and Avco Broadcasting and WLW radio and television (public relations director). He was an avid golfer and, in 1962, he worked alongside Bob Hope to help organize an annual celebrity golf tournament at a Cincinnati country club, with proceeds benefiting a local charity. He also opened his own advertising and public relations firm.

joe cella bob hope wlw-tv abt 1963
Cella was with TV station WLWT when he worked on a celebrity golf tournament with Bob Hope.

In 1966, Cella rejoined the Hamilton Journal-News, where he worked as a reporter for the next decade, and, as we now know, where he churned out some of his best work on the Tammen case. (I sometimes wondered why I hadn’t seen anything from him on Tammen between 1954 and 1973, and now I know the answer. For much of that time, he was in PR and hanging with the likes of Bob Hope!) Cella received several accolades for the reporting he’d done on other topics during this period. He received two awards from the Associated Press of Ohio—one for his story about Robert Hatton, a young man from Hamilton who could have easily requested a medical deferment from the Vietnam War, but who, instead, fought and died there, and the other for his coverage of the discovery of an unidentified woman’s body in an industrial sludge pit near Hamilton. His third award was from the American Bar Association for his coverage of a mass murder on Easter in 1975 by James Ruppert.

In 1976, Cella assisted with the documentary “The Phantom of Oxford,” produced by WLWD-TV2, in Dayton, which told the story of Ronald Tammen’s disappearance and included on-camera interviews of some of the major players. I’m sure that documentary, for which its producers received regional Emmy Awards, would have never happened without Cella’s zealousness for keeping the case alive, knowledge of every last detail of the story, and well-worn Rolodex.

That same year, Cella stepped down from his job with the Journal-News to run for Butler County commissioner. His platform was to provide “better service to the public” and he proposed to accomplish this through his expertise in communications and public relations. He was a big believer in improving a citizen’s accessibility to the people in charge and having those people in charge engage in a lot less talking and a lot more listening. He won the Democratic primary but, in the main election, he lost to a more seasoned politician named Donald Schirmer, which was devastating for him. I have no idea how Schirmer fared at the job, but I know that Cella would have poured every ounce of himself into it.

Not long afterward, Cella’s health began to decline. He was in and out of the hospital with gastrointestinal issues, which became an ongoing burden for him. Still, he went back to reporting, this time with the Hamilton Sun. On August 13, 1980, while he was covering a Hamilton City Council meeting, Cella slumped over in his chair, unresponsive. He was pronounced dead of a heart attack later that night.

“He died doing what he loved,” his son told me.

Some additional thoughts on Joe Cella in the words of one of his sons:

I guess I wanted to fill in a bit more about my father. I mentioned he was a quiet, gentle person. This is something my girlfriend, now wife, had said she noticed and which in turn, attracted her to me more! He was the opposite of the male Italian head of household stereotype, much different from his father.

He was proud of his Italian heritage and was bilingual. My brothers and I all gravitated to him and his side of the family more because they were a different kind of people from most everyone else in our town. It made us feel kind of special, I guess you’d say.

My father was, as I had said, always interested in finding answers. If something happened, he wanted to know why it happened. He had run for county commissioner back in ’76 and lost pretty badly to an experienced politician. He was in disbelief when the results came in and he kept trying to find out how and why he lost, going over the printouts. I think he took it personally. I had a feeling, though, during the campaigning that he was up against some formidable odds.

I watched him change with the times. He sold off the family station wagon in 1970 and bought two Fiat sport cars, grew his hair longer with sideburns and a moustache (I never cared for it—thought it made him look sinister). His opponent in the election was the clean-cut type. I had been at [Miami University] during some of the upheavals on campus during the Vietnam War and I remember him saying, “This isn’t right,” when comparing it to his experience in the Army Air Corps during WWII. He was against me being drafted  after finding out I had a low number (I wound up getting a 4-F medical deferment my senior year). He became more vocal politically and was influenced by the number of young kids killed in action during that war. As I mentioned, he wrote a story about one soldier who was from Hamilton and his life there. Dad received an AP award for that story.

He was a creative, artistic person, too. I have a few sketches he did of a mockup for an ad for the long gone Surf Club, a  popular jazz spot in Cincinnati where he booked talent. He was big into the jazz scene in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, maybe because he had played trumpet in a band while at Hamilton Catholic High. I recall him taking me, as a preteen, to a hole-in-the-wall jazz bar in Mt. Adams called The Blind Lemon. A trio was playing on the patio that day. I would go back there later on, whenever I could while in town. He turned me on to WNOP, a tiny AM station out of Newport, KY, that was on the air with jazz programming from sun up to dusk. Hardly any kids my age back then were listening to a station like that. His appreciation of that form of music stayed with me.

He was always wanting to be unique, I think, which is why he made several attempts to make a break from Hamilton for the bright lights, big city, but my mother was too tied to her family to move away. I was told once that he did a screen test for Warner Bros. after he came back from the War, having gone to school at Shuster Martin Drama School in Cinci. Through his job in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s as publicity and promotion manager at Crosley Broadcasting, he was finally able to be around the movie and TV personalities, a crowd he had always wanted to be in.

joe cella at wlw-t cincinnati abt 1960
Cella at his PR job at WLWT.

His sudden death from a heart attack while covering a meeting in the Hamilton City Council chambers was a shock, of course, but he had been ill for several years and had been showing it. Still, losing him at age 59 was tragic for us all.

Happy birthday, Joe. Thanks to your healthy skepticism and top-notch reporting, we may finally be able to solve this mystery.

joe cella hamilton journal news abt 1954 copy
Cella at the Hamilton Journal-News, circa 1954-ish.

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A big thank you to members of the Cella family for sharing the above photos with me and for telling me stories about your dad. It’s obvious how important he was in your lives.

Happy holidays, everyone.

FOIA follies

(or…how I came to learn about a little-known, upper-tier CIA official through a run-of-the-mill FOIA request)

Top-Secret-glossy

So guys…I’ve been blogging for a little over a year and a half on Ron Tammen, and I think by now most readers would agree that, even though there’s still more information to be revealed, we know a lot more than when we did at the get-go. I think most readers also have a fairly decent idea of how tough it can be to get ahold of some of this information, since not everyone has been forthcoming. Sometimes an embarrassing amount of chutzpah has been required to pry certain bits of info from certain entities’ filing cabinets.

Take the FBI, for example. I’ve already posted several updates that let you know about the kinds of tactics that are employed by their Freedom of Information/Privacy Act (FOIPA) Office. Alas, I’m sorry to say that I’ve developed a hard-shelled cynicism through it all and have come to view many of their responses to my inquiries on Tammen (or Tammen-related topics) as bluffs, smokescreens, or flat-out, um, departures from the truth. My forever goal is to find the crack in whatever tale they’re telling.

Case in point #1: the 1631 pages of documents that they somehow forgot about during my initial FOIA request for the Richard Cox files.

When I first submitted my request for everything the FBI had on Richard Cox’s disappearance, they sent me 24 pages of documents and left it at that. Only when I realized two years later that two other researchers had received tons more documents than I had, and pointed that fact out to them, did the Department of Justice send me three CDs filled with 1631 pages. There was no letter of apology or explanation for their error—just a here-ya-go, I-guess-you-caught-us sort of response. This leads me to ask: If you happen to be a plain old taxpaying citizen on the outside looking in, who doesn’t have a hefty slush fund for the sole purpose of hiring FOIA lawyers, how do you know if what they’re sending you is all that they have? Answer: you don’t (#alwaysappeal).

Case in point #2: their shifting reasons for sending me Ron Tammen’s documents.

As you may recall, a supposedly hard and fast rule of the FBI is that they won’t send you documents concerning another person without proof of death or authorization from that third party. (They do mention a “public interest” caveat, but it’s hard to tell how they define that category, and they never agree with my assertions that anything I’m doing holds any interest for the public.) For some reason, they’d sent me Ron Tammen’s documents without either a proof of death or third-party authorization. When I tried to find out why, a representative of the FBI first conveyed to me through a liaison that they’d sent me Tammen’s documents because “…over the years the FBI had contact with his family who indicated that they believed Mr. Tammen to be deceased given some suspicious facts, namely, that after his disappearance a fish was found in his college bed.” When I pursued that dubious explanation further with the FBI rep by phone, he said it was just a poor attempt at humor and that he’d been referring to a famous scene from The Godfather. I knew I’d caught him in a lie, so my lawyer pressed them on that issue during my lawsuit’s settlement process. We were informed in writing that “The FBI inadvertently accepted plaintiff’s third-party request despite the fact that it is the FBI’s policy not to process third party requests in the absence of a policy waiver, proof of death or a showing of sufficient public notoriety. Based on the administrative records available to us, we have determined that the reason [the Record/Information Dissemination Section] proceeded with this request, despite its deficiencies, is that it treated the request as a request for a missing person investigation.”

I’ll admit that that excuse got by me in 2012, but as I was going through all of the back-and-forth with them in seeking an answer to whether or not they’d already confirmed Tammen to be dead, I revisited their settlement declaration. Not having any idea what a “request for a missing person investigation” was and how that differed from my FOIA request, I asked my lawyer about it. He suggested I do some online research and, if I found nothing, to submit a FOIA request on that question. In September 2016, I submitted a FOIA request seeking “policy documents that describe the FBI’s Records/Information Dissemination Section’s protocol when handling requests from the public pertaining to a ‘missing person investigation.’” Just to make sure we were discussing the same timeframe, I then added: “If the protocol has changed in the recent past, I am interested in the protocol that was in place in 2010.” I didn’t refer to my lawsuit, because I knew what they’d say: We don’t have to address any more questions about your silly little lawsuit. Several weeks later, I received their response: “Based on the information you provided, we conducted a search of the Central Records System. We were unable to identify main file records responsive to the FOIA.” Yeah, I didn’t think they would.

Yet, the FBI has been a cup of honey-sweetened chamomile tea when compared to dealing with the CIA. Many of you who have predicted some sort of CIA connection in Tammen’s disappearance will be pleased to know that I’ve been submitting FOIA requests to them since I began my research, and more earnestly beginning in 2014. I get it—they have a lot of secrets they need to keep to protect our national security. But I also think that they tend to overdo it in the classification department, long after everyone involved has died and programs have been shelved. I mean, if it takes them 50 years to declassify a high school student’s praline recipe, that just tells me that their rule of thumb with FOIA is to turn over as little as humanly possible.

Occasionally, however, they will send something your way, which brings me to our topic for today’s blog: a little-known CIA employee during the late 1940s and early ’50s by the name of Cmdr. Robert J. Williams. What I’m about to share with you is breaking news. As far as I can tell, the internet has not yet had access to this information. He’s not even mentioned in the CIA’s FOIA Reading Room. However, Williams’ name was provided to me courtesy of the CIA in response to one of my FOIA requests. It carries some degree of intrigue for the Tammen case, particularly given the department he represented, which was the Office of Scientific Intelligence, or OSI. (Fyi, “Cmdr.” is an abbreviation for commander in the U.S. Navy. The Air Force also has a commander rank, but the abbreviation they use is CC.)

I’m posting this information now so that you can see what I’ve been up against for the past several years. The way I view things is: If I can contribute to the greater good by offering up a bit of background information for the Google algorithms to chew on so that this blog post will pop up whenever someone runs a search for Cmdr. Robert J. Williams, then it will be well worth it. Cmdr. Robert J. Williams. Cmdr. Robert J. Williams. Cmdr. Robert J. Williams. (The more a term is mentioned on a website, the higher the ranking Google will give it in a keyword search, right?) Cmdr. Robert J. Williams!

So what does this stealth commander have to do with Ronald Tammen? Back in July 2014, I found a CIA memo that I consider pivotal to the Tammen case. On that document are three names—all blacked out—that I would even call the smoking gun regarding what happened to Tammen (or as close to a smoking gun as I’m going to get). I am 100 percent certain of the identity of one of the persons on that memo and 99 percent sure of the second person. (I’ve changed my mind about the third person, but he really doesn’t pertain to our story anyway.) In August of that year, I filed a FOIA request asking that those names be released to the public because the men were deceased, and I sent some obituaries along as proof. They came back and said (and I paraphrase here), no. They did so on the basis of Section 6 of the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949, as amended, and Section 102A(i)(l) of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended. The latter statute doesn’t say much of anything except for establishing the Central Intelligence Agency. The former statute, however, says this (bold added):

SEC. 6. [50 U.S.C. 403g] In the interests of the security of the foreign intelligence activities of the United States and in order further to implement section 102A(i) of the National Security Act of 1947 that the Director of National Intelligence shall be responsible for protecting intelligence sources and methods from unauthorized disclosure, the Agency shall be exempted from the provisions of sections 1 and 2, chapter 795 of the Act of August 28, 1935 1 (49 Stat. 956, 957; 5 U.S.C. 654), and the provisions of any other laws which require the publication or disclosure of the organization, functions, names, official titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed by the Agency: Provided, That in furtherance of this section, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget shall make no reports to the Congress in connection with the Agency under section 607, title VI, chapter 212 of the Act of June 30, 1945, as amended 1 (5 U.S.C. 947(b)).

I’m no lawyer, but this seems to tell me that all three individuals whose names were redacted in the memo had worked for the CIA at some point in their lives. The CIA’s FOIA Office did offer up a consolation prize. They lifted the black bar off of the person in the “To” line of the memo to reveal our friend Cmdr. Robert J. Williams, OSI.

Seriously bummed at my failed attempt, I decided to follow the new lead and submitted a FOIA request to the CIA for Commander Williams’ personal bio plus any personnel/human resources files they had on him. As back-up, I referred to the memo and how I’d recently learned that he was the memo’s recipient. When I received their response—from the same person who sent me the memo with Cmdr. Robert J. Williams’ name unredacted—I had to laugh. Here’s what he said:

“Although you have provided some of the identifying information required, before we can effectively search our files on an individual, we still need additional data before we can begin processing your request. Specifically, we require the individual’s full name, date and place of birth, and date and place of death. Without this data, we may be unable to distinguish between individuals with the same or similar names.”

Now, they knew darn well which Robert J. Williams I was referring to. The one who was a commander in the Navy. The one who was high up in the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence. The one whom they’d just been discussing regarding whether they should release his name or not, and ultimately determined the answer to be OK. But no. They wanted me to try to figure out when and where the guy with the extraordinarily ordinary name of Robert Williams was born and when and where he died. For all I knew, his name wasn’t even real. The CIA gives its undercover operatives fake names, so why not its higher-ups? It even refers to itself as a cryptonym on occasion. (See KUBARK, WOFACT, BKCROWN, PALP, etc.)

I made use of my genealogy resources to find out who this guy might be. The biggest and best clue was a 1948 declassified document that had originally been posted on the website of the nonprofit organization National Security Archive. (Because it was taken down at some point, I’ve made a copy for this site.) The document told me that his middle name wasn’t John or James or any of the typical “J” names I was trying out in my searches. It was Jay, which, thank heavens, isn’t as common. I now knew that his name was Commander Robert Jay Williams.

And with that, I eventually landed on this little gem of an obit in the Danville (VA) Bee:

Robert Jay Williams burial
Excerpt reprinted with permission of Danville (VA) Register & Bee

The obituary listed him as a captain, which would mean that he’d been promoted from commander. It also didn’t provide his birthplace, but that would be easy enough to find now that I had all of the other information. Funny how the CIA wasn’t mentioned anywhere, but that’s probably institutional policy.

That same month, I let the CIA folks know that the Cmdr. Robert J. Williams about whom I was inquiring was the one who was born in Spokane, WA, in 1913 and who died in Bethesda, MD, in 1969, just shy of his 56th birthday.

Here are the specifics:

Name: Robert Jay Williams

Date of birth: 11/12/1913

Place of birth: Spokane, Washington

Date of death: 10/25/1969

Place of death: Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Md.

By then, I’d also discovered that Commander Williams, who also went by R.J. Williams, was one of a handful of individuals who attended an infamous high-level meeting in Montreal in June of 1951. The meeting concerned a “top-secret” CIA program having to do with “all aspects of special interrogation.” A paper by Alfred W. McCoy, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, mentions Williams on page 404, in the first paragraph under “Our Man in Montreal.” The entire manuscript is worth devoting some time to, but at the very least, we know that a memo that I believe contains a name that is relevant to the Tammen case is addressed to a high-level CIA official who is interested in “all aspects of special interrogation.” That’s not nothing, right?

And what of the memo? I was told by one of the best lawyers on intelligence matters that it wouldn’t do any good for me to sue the CIA based on the specific exemptions they’re claiming. I had virtually zero chance of winning. Fortunately, as back-up, I’ve found another memo in which I’m relatively certain—probably a 50/50 mix of confidence and hope—that my person of interest’s name is on it, though it’s also heavily redacted. I’m currently seeking the release of his and another person’s name, although this time, I’m employing a different mechanism than FOIA. FOIA has failed me far too many times. We’ll discuss the alternative mechanism on another day.

In the meantime, for researchers who have landed on this page because you’re interested in learning more about Commander Robert Jay Williams, here are some newly released documents for you to peruse.

Also, I’m including a link to this article from The Onion once again, because I think it’s hilarious and totally apropos.

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The floor is now open for comments. Please be aware that comments will be reviewed and posted as soon as I’m able, though there may be a wait.

Also, if you’d like to comment on the preceding post on Ron Tammen’s sexual orientation, here are my ground rules: I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the evidence I presented or other related musings you’ve had that pertain to the topic. But please, no divisive language and no grandstanding on religion, your views on morality, and the like. Oh, and let’s not get into a nature/nurture debate, OK? Let’s keep comments focused on Ron. Lastly, please try to use terminology that doesn’t offend. Just fyi, here’s the latest guidance from GLAAD. Thanks!

Your Thanksgiving dinner icebreaker: Was Ronald Tammen gay?

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Image credit: https://clipartxtras.com

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! As families and friends gather round the Thanksgiving table, maintaining the peace by avoiding whatever elephant happens to be occupying the room in which you’re seated, I’d like to acknowledge a topic I’ve been tiptoeing around since I started this blog. It’s a question that has been raised every so often online, but with little back-up information, other than the fact that Ronald Tammen was a good-looking guy who didn’t date much. That question is: Was Ronald Tammen gay? (For those of you who are wondering why I would choose this topic for today, I guess you could say that I’m thankful that we now live in a time when we can talk openly on this subject without having people get all judgy and weird. So…let’s go there, and please pass the wine.)

But first, I feel the need to out myself, of sorts. I’m the proud sister of a 58-year-old gay man. In fact, at this very moment, he and I are together once again for our annual celebration of turkey and his stupendous “stuffin’ muffins.” (What’s so stupendous about them? He adds artichoke hearts to Stove Top stuffing and bakes them in a muffin tin to create single-sized portions with uniformly crispy tops. You’re welcome, Good Man readers!) So, I know a little bit about this topic from a close-up perspective. More on that in a few.

Another thing you should know: I count myself among the nature (versus nurture) crowd regarding a person’s sexual orientation, which means that I believe that biology plays a major role. Recent studies suggest that epigenetics may be involved, meaning that it’s not just our genes that are responsible—there’s probably no “gay gene” per se—but some other biological X factor—scientists call it an epi-mark—that can be inherited or acquired in utero. An epi-mark won’t alter a developing human’s DNA sequence but may switch a gene or genes on or off in such a way that influences his or her sexual orientation. Also, it’s been shown that a mother’s immune response can influence sexual orientation in some males based on their fraternal birth order. I mean, if animals in the wild engage in same-sex relationships (and they do), why not people? There’s no shame. No blame. It’s all in how a person is wired. Cool? Cool.

And third: To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t want to live in a world without people who are L, G, B, T, or Q. My life is richer and more vibrant thanks to my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual friends, family, and associates. I’ll just leave it at that.

Now that you have a better sense of where I’m coming from, let’s dive into some of my evidence and musings regarding Ronald Tammen’s sex life.

The girls Ronald Tammen dated

Ronald Tammen was no player, to be sure, but he was known to date girls on occasion. We’re already acquainted with Grace, the friend he took to the Maple Heights High School prom, when he was a senior and she was a sophomore. Having had the privilege to get to know Grace as I have makes me admire Ron even more than I did at the outset of my research. She’s a warm, kind, beautiful, salt-of-the-earth sort of person, and his association with her gives his character added depth and dimension.

After Ron was in college, there were supposedly two other girls whom he was said to have dated on a relatively regular basis. One girl was named Joan and I learned about her through the Miami University Archives. I heard about the other girl from Frank Smith, Butler County’s former cold case detective. Unfortunately, I can only refer to her as “the girl from Indiana University.”

Let’s start with Joan, who pronounced her name Joanne—spoken like Woodward, spelled like Crawford. I learned this from her brother when I was trying to track her down in 2010 after reviewing the documents in Miami’s archives. A Western Union telegram from Carl Knox to Joan asks if she’s heard from or seen Ron and to let him know if she has. The telegram, dated April 27, 1953, carries this address:

1624 Vine Street

Denver, Colorado

(At Children’s Hospital, Denver).

In his notes, Carl Knox had written this about Joan: “Last year had a girl friend; left school after one semester (maybe).” (That was true. On the same day that I called Joan’s brother, I called Miami’s Registrar’s Office, and they confirmed that she indeed had dropped out after the fall semester of her freshman year.) Knox then wrote her name and where she was from, misspelling the town of Fairborn, Ohio. He added: “Since last fall she has moved out west. She broke off with Him.” Additional background information includes the name of an older sister as well as their father, who was an engineering inspector. In the 1952 Recensio, Joan is listed as being a member of Sigma Kappa, which was a sorority on Miami’s campus at that time, though it isn’t anymore.

In an April 1956 Cleveland Plain Dealer article, Murray Seeger reported that “Tammen had broken off with his girl friend in the fall, and she went to Denver for nurses’ training. He has never contacted her, Dean Knox said.” That’s a little misleading, since it was the fall of 1951-52, not the fall of 1952-53, in which they’d broken up, and, according to Dean Knox, it was she who’d done the breaking. The last sentence leads me to conclude that Joan had followed up with Dean Knox to tell him that she indeed hadn’t heard from Ron after he went missing.

So, to sum up the little we know: Ron dated Joan in the fall of his freshman year. She broke things off with him (I’ll go with Dean Knox’s version over Murray Seeger’s), for whatever reason, and then moved to Denver to start nursing school at the Children’s Hospital. That seems pretty clear cut, but, as with everything else in this case, there are discrepancies. First, the address of 1624 Vine Street isn’t associated with the Children’s Hospital but a home in Denver that, I would later learn, was owned in 1953 by a woman in her 50s named Lillian Dunn. Also, I learned from a representative of Children’s Hospital Colorado that the nursing program had been discontinued in 1953, “but it did offer a place for students from other schools to train either in a diploma program or an associate degree program.” Another Children’s Hospital source said that they have no student records on Joan. When I asked if their records might be incomplete because too much time had passed, the reference librarian responded, “I do think the school of nursing register is reliable.”

I was never able to connect with Joan, who passed away in 2011. Likewise, attempts at contacting other family members have been unsuccessful. I’d love to know what happened in Denver. I’d also be interested in hearing more about her relationship with Ron and why she broke things off with him. If I ever hear anything on that front, I’ll let you know. But I think it bears repeating that the one girl whom Carl Knox identified as a girlfriend had left Miami more than one year before Ron disappeared. That alone tells us how little he dated.

I know even less about the girl from Indiana University. When Frank Smith first told me about her in 2010, he mentioned that she and Ron had dated during the summer of 1952, and that she supposedly ended the relationship with him. He also said this: “She was supposed to be pregnant, and that was the reason for the blood test here. But that didn’t go anywhere either.”

Smith declined to give me her name in 2010. However, after he retired in 2012, I obtained all of his files from the Tammen case (or so I was told by the Butler County Sheriff’s Department) and discovered that there was no mention of a girl from Indiana there. I emailed him and asked him about his records on her and other potentially missing documents—even going so far as to send him a copy of the entire stack of materials to see if he felt there was anything missing. Unfortunately, he responded that it looked as if everything was there. I wondered if she might have been someone from high school whom he dated during the summer, but, so far, I haven’t been able to turn up anyone among his Maple Heights friends who went to IU.

But the question about the blood test and a possible pregnancy is interesting. I’d wondered the same thing about Joan. Back then, if a girl became pregnant—if she were “in trouble,” so to speak—she might relocate somewhere to ride out a pregnancy until the baby was born and then perhaps put the child up for adoption. Could that have been the real reason Joan moved to Denver?

I really don’t think so. As you’ll recall in the post on Ron’s blood type test, a paternity test wouldn’t have been conducted until a child was at least six months of age. If we count backwards, we find that a prospective child would have to have been conceived  immediately after Ron graduated from high school, in the August of 1951, which doesn’t match the timeline for when he was seeing Joan (fall of 1951-52) or the girl from Indiana University (summer of 1952).

The good news is that, if Ronald Tammen did father a child, whether before or after he disappeared, and that person is still walking among us, we may still be able to find him or her if they took one of the DNA tests that are now commercially available. Ron’s sister Marcia has submitted her DNA to the two main commercial entities who conduct genealogical testing, and, although no one has turned up to date, she will be alerted if someone does (if the person agrees to be listed as a match, that is). Also, if the person should wind up in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database because of a crime he or she committed or as an unidentified body, we’ll find him or her that way too, since Marcia’s DNA is on file there as well (after she was tested to see if the dead body in Georgia was Ron). So I think our bases are now covered as much as possible in this department.

There’s one last girl I’m aware of whom Ronald Tammen asked out, though that date never came to be. We’ll discuss her a little later in this post.

Was Ron gay?

Let’s discuss for a moment what it would have been like to be gay in 1953. First, sodomy was illegal in every state, and you risked being imprisoned if you were caught. In addition, these were the days of the Lavender Scare, when the federal government had determined that, for national security purposes, it needed to invade people’s bedrooms and obtain a full accounting of what took place between two consenting adults behind closed doors. In October 1949, the Department of Defense had issued a memorandum stating: “Homosexual personnel, irrespective of sex, should not be permitted to serve in any branch of the Armed Services in any capacity, and prompt separation of known homosexuals from the Armed Forces be made mandatory.” (See Rand Corporation’s Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy,Chapter 1, page 6.) Consequently, servicemen and women who were identified as being gay or lesbian were commonly issued what was known as a “blue discharge,” a humiliating blotch on a person’s record that left them without veterans’ benefits and usually any hope of finding meaningful employment. To be identified was to be outed and to be outed was to be labeled as such for the rest of their lives—not just in the military but by anyone who requested their records, including prospective employers.

On April 27, 1953, what was being practiced in the military was extended to civilian federal workers when President Eisenhower signed an executive order authorizing the federal government to fire anyone who was gay or lesbian. That’s right—the infamous Executive Order 10450 that stripped an estimated 10,000 American citizens of their government jobs for being gay or lesbian was signed a week after Ron disappeared. The take-home message was clear: to be outed in 1953 would have been cataclysmic. It was the single piece of information that could ruin someone forever.

I can imagine how bad it was in the 1950s because, even in the 1960s and ‘70s, when my brother was coming of age, things were really bad. He couldn’t hide his “differentness” very well—he was much too small and sensitive in comparison to other boys his age, and the pain they inflicted on him, both mentally and physically, for that supposed infraction was indelible. Even some of his teachers were brutal. Thankfully, things are infinitely better now, and he has been living an awesome life in New York City with his partner of 23 years.

There’s no direct evidence that I can point to that proves that Ronald Tammen was gay. No love interest, partner, or one-night hook-up has ever come forward, and the male friends whom I’ve interviewed have said that he never hit on them. (Incidentally, whenever I ask Ron’s former friends—male or female—if they ever had the feeling Ron might have been gay, not one has responded derisively. A typical response is “Well, no, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t. We just didn’t think about it back then.” Is it just me, or have octogenarians gotten way cooler than they used to be?) Likewise, no document has surfaced that alleges any “perverted,” “sexually deviant,” “degenerate,” or “immoral” behavior on Ron’s part, the unbelievably offensive language they used back then when referring to people who were gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

A gay man in the 1950s did everything in his power not to leave a trail, and for good reason. Yet subtle behaviors—some calculated, others impromptu—could possibly be interpreted as a sign that a person might be gay. Here are several of the possible signs Ron left, beginning with a few you already know:

Ron didn’t date many girls.

As we’ve already discussed, Ron was no ladies’ man in high school or in college, even though he was, by all accounts, a total catch. Younger brother Robert doesn’t remember Ron ever bringing a girl home. In 1954, Mrs. Tammen was quoted as saying that Ron didn’t have a girlfriend but “simply played the field.” Ron’s older brother John also couldn’t name a girlfriend in Ron’s past, though he didn’t think it was at all strange. Ron didn’t date much, he said, since he needed to put himself through college, and he didn’t want to ruin his academic career over a girl. There would be plenty of time for women later. John told me that he—John—was living proof of what not to do, which was to throw away a scholarship to Princeton because he was head over heels in love with a girl named Joyce. This infuriated Ron.

In the Miami University Archives is a letter written to John that basically reads him the riot act over how foolish he was being to give up so much for love. Though the letter indicates on a couple of its pages that it was “Ron Tammen’s last English paper,” a member of the Tammen family feels strongly that the letter was, in fact, written by mother Marjorie. The date at the top of the letter is also confusing, since Ron was still in high school in April 1951. Regardless of the letter’s origin, it’s pretty clear how vexed Ron and the rest of the family felt about John’s choices. Here’s one telling paragraph, with typos and misspellings corrected:

“Whether you realize it or not, John, or will admit it, you are not the first person who has been separated from someone of whom you are fond. Death has severed associations that have survived for years; army inductions separate engaged couples and even disrupt families with children; and then there are those who love and are not loved in return. No matter how deep the sorrow, each person has a task to perform and he does his best to adapt himself to a separation, bereavement, or temporary parting. The world has never been won or lost by love, but by the individual who has been able to make his compromise with life. I have known people close to me who have had disappointments of magnitude [sic] but who have been able to turn them to an advantage. We mourn for a few days, but when we lose one we care for, we go about our days not forgetting but doing what is expected of us. After all, we have to live with ourselves and it is up to us to try to make a decent job of it.” [Read the original letter here.]

When Ron did date, he wasn’t all roving hands and raging hormones, at least from one girl’s perspective. Grace, Ron’s date to the 1951 Maple Heights High School prom, considered Ron to be the ultimate gentleman. Their relationship was vastly more friendly than physical. When I asked her if she and Ron had ever made out in a car, she said they probably had, though it wasn’t memorable. She added:

“In the next couple of years, I came to find out what aggressive was. He was not aggressive. He was nice. He was comfortable. He was my friend. And, you know, there’s not any adjective that I could find to describe him that wasn’t a good thing.”

Ron didn’t sleep in his bed the night before he disappeared.

Thanks to Richard Titus and his dead fish, it appeared that Ron hadn’t slept in his bed on the Saturday night before he disappeared and possibly both Friday and Saturday nights. If he was with another person or persons—a likely prospect—no one had come forward after he’d disappeared. Why not? Wouldn’t he, she, or they have wanted to give the authorities whatever information might help them find Ron? To not do so could mean that whomever Ron was with may have had too much to lose by coming forward, especially if his or her identity would cause an uproar. Whereas a college coed would have raised eyebrows back then, I’m sure the cops would have kept her name out of the papers in return for whatever information she might be able to provide. But if it were a man? That would have been the most scandalous possibility one could imagine.

According to Craig Loftin, an expert on gay culture in the 1950s and ‘60s, and a lecturer on American Studies at California State University, Fullerton, “…Going forward to the police with info would not only likely land you in jail, but it would also likely result in a massive police crackdown against whatever fragile gay social networks existed in that area. For gay people in the 1950s, dealing with the police was a nightmare.”

Ron was seen reading the Bible shortly before he disappeared.

After Ron returned from spring break, shortly before he disappeared, he was spotted reading the Bible five or six times. When I asked Chuck Findlay about that passage in Dean Knox’s notes, he was flummoxed. He’d never seen Ron reading a Bible. Didn’t even recall their ever having one in the room.

Ron was known to attend church, but reading the Bible on one’s own time is different—more personal, more devout than what a typical college guy would likely do. The fact that Bible reading was even mentioned in Dean Knox’s notes seems to indicate that this behavior was considered out of the ordinary for Ron.

“I don’t think he was, quote, any kind of reborn Christian or any of that stuff,” John told me when I asked him if he remembered Ron as being religious. “He just didn’t go in for that at all.”

What personal crisis might have driven a young man who normally didn’t read a Bible to consult one five or six times within a short period? It could simply mean that he was tapping into his spiritual side. But it also reminds me of something I used to do as a kid when I was faced with a life dilemma and I wanted a divine answer pronto. I’d close my eyes, crack open a Bible, and drop my index finger onto a random verse, hoping it would apply. (It didn’t.) It seems to me that Ron was trying to find an answer to a question that could only come from a supreme being—a being who could help him address his own personal dilemma. And from what I’ve read, there was no greater personal dilemma than being gay in 1953 America.

There were rumors.

If Ronald Tammen was gay, he was able to fool nearly everyone around him. However, I know of at least a couple people who heard or sensed something about Ron that led them to wonder if he might be gay. Someone’s 1950s version of gaydar had been tripped.

According to Frank Smith, a woman who’d worked in the laundry in Fisher Hall had caught a certain vibe during her interactions with Ron, which she told Smith about decades later.

“She actually called us and said she was a young woman and she was doing the laundry up there and she remembered Tammen very well,” he told me in 2010.

“She said he was always ‘yes, maam, no maam,’ very polite, very good looking. He had everything. And then she laid something on us that was sort of, she said, ‘but I think that he was bisexual.’ And I said ‘what do you mean by that?’ And she said, ‘well, just the way that he carried himself at times, his demeanor. I really believe that there were some homosexual tendencies there.’”

Unfortunately, Smith wouldn’t provide the woman’s name to me in 2010 when he was still on the case, and, as with the girl from Indiana University, there were no notes about their conversation in the file I obtained after he retired. Now, after his retirement, he isn’t able to recall her name. Trust me, I’ve tried everything to locate her with no success.

One other person with whom I spoke also mentioned to me that there may have been some buzzing about Ron among the residents of Fisher Hall.

This person lived in Ron’s corridor, and was one of the freshman students that Ron counseled. He didn’t know Ron very well—no one really did, he told me. When I told him about the woman who used to work in the laundry, however, it sparked a memory.

“You know that’s an interesting conversation,” he said. “It seems to me that there was some conversation about that in the dormitory.”

“Oh really? After he disappeared?”  I asked.

“No, I think even while he was there.  And, you know, most of us would just put it off and say, ‘Oh, you’re crazy.’ You know? But now that you mention it, I think there was a little conversation going around the dormitory.”

I’ve followed up with as many former residents of Fisher Hall as I can locate—on all three floors—and haven’t found anyone else to confirm the rumor. However, Craig Loftin had this to say on the matter: “The fact that someone assumed he was gay at the time is significant.”

Ron used to carry cigarettes with him even though he didn’t smoke.

Ronald Tammen had a curious habit. Even though he didn’t smoke, he used to carry cigarettes around with him all the time. Robert had told me about this during our first sit-down in 2012. When I asked Marcia about it later, she said that she remembered it too and thought Ron mainly did it as a way of making friends.

Of course, smoking was viewed differently back then. It was a sign of budding adulthood, an emblem of sophistication and sociability. But it seems strange to me that a cash-conscious young man such as Tammen would throw away his hard-earned money on something like cigarettes, which he didn’t even smoke. Even though they were only 25 cents a pack in 1950, that translates to roughly $2.50 today—nothing to scoff at if he was buying them frequently. Besides, were Tammen’s friends often in the position of needing to bum a cigarette? Why did Ron consider this a necessary expenditure?

It was when I read a passage from Craig Loftin’s book Masked Voices: Gay Men and Lesbians in Cold War America that I thought I’d landed on the answer. In researching his book, Loftin had pored over letters that had been mailed to the editors of ONE Magazinethe first periodical in the United States to provide an authentic perspective of gay culture in the 1950s and ‘60s.

“Gay cruising in densely traveled spaces was highly ritualized and generally imperceptible to nonparticipants,” Loftin wrote. “Men used eye contact, body language, or small talk, such as asking for a cigarette or the time, to connect with each other; one person would then follow the other to a more private place.”

It made a lot more sense to me that Ron might have carried a pack of cigarettes as a way to meet other guys. During an email exchange, I raised the question with Loftin, who offered some additional perspective:

“I would say that a gay man in the 1950s would certainly be more likely to carry cigarettes around for ‘making friends,’ but I’ve heard of this in non-gay contexts as well—so many people smoked back then that having a pack to give others wasn’t completely unusual. But for gay men, the exchange of a cigarette provided a very useful opportunity to gauge potential sexual interest from the other person. Gay men cruising for sex partners in the 1950s had to be very careful. You didn’t want to try to pick up the wrong person (especially an undercover vice cop)…During the cigarette exchange and lighting, there is the matter of voice and vocal inflections (which can signify gayness), eye contact (the key to gay cruising—a sustained friendly stare was usually enough to signify interest), and, most compellingly, physical contact during the actual lighting (think old Bette Davis movies here). Within a few seconds, sexual interest (or disinterest) could be made very clear.”

John Tammen provided an alternative explanation for the cigarettes, however. According to John, their father had encouraged his sons to smoke to help them be successful in society. I’m sure Mr. Tammen changed his outlook in the ensuing decades, but during those early years, he viewed smoking as a way for his sons to climb the social ladder. John was repulsed by smoking and his father used to scold him for it. Maybe Ron reasoned that keeping a pack of cigarettes on hand would prove useful as a workaround on a couple issues. First, the cigarettes would help appease his father even though Ron had no intention of smoking them, and second—and, again, I really don’t know—perhaps they provided a way for him to meet guys in the way that Loftin described. As long as he was doing what was expected of him by his father, who’s to say that his motives had to be the same?

Ron asked a girl who was practically a relative to a dance nine months away.

Speaking of John Tammen, we need to come back to Ron’s feelings about John’s relationship with Joyce, and their decision to get married in July 1952. According to John, Ron was so livid with him when he married Joyce that he cut off all ties with him. He’d be John’s best man, Ron told him. But once the wedding was over, so was their relationship.

“He was very disappointed that I had allowed myself to flunk, literally, flunk out of Princeton, and he did promise to go ahead and be my best man at our wedding,” John explained. “He carried through on his promise, but he also said, ‘Hey, that’s it. We’re through. My hands are washed of everything from now on. I don’t want to talk to either one of you,’ and he was a man of his word. We didn’t talk after that at all.”

John and Joyce were divorced in 1974, but Joyce’s story backs up John’s—the couple hadn’t seen Ron since their wedding day on July 29, 1952. However, Joyce had something new to add.

“There was [to be] a big dance down there on the campus, and he asked my sister to go to this dance,” Joyce told me. “But of course she never went because he disappeared.“

That’s right. Ron had cut off his brother and brand new sister-in-law from all communication but saw fit to ask Joyce’s sister to a dance.

In February 2017, I tracked down Joyce’s sister, who, because of a severe hearing loss, agreed to a phone conversation with her daughter serving as go-between. The woman said that she had known Ron, though not very well, and, indeed, he had asked her to a dance that was scheduled for the spring in which he’d disappeared. They never dated, she said, rarely spoke even.

“Does she remember when he asked her to the dance?” I asked her daughter. “How far in advance did he ask her?”

“During the summer,” her daughter reported back. I’d heard her mother say this loud and clear in the background as well. Whereas other details were a little iffy after so many years, on that fine point she was sure. He asked her during the summer of 1952.

Why would Ron ask the younger sister of an extended family member with whom he was supposedly incommunicado? And why so far in advance? Not only were they not dating, they were barely even friends, and he was doing nothing to upgrade their status in the interim. The dance Ron had on his mind for all those months was likely the Interfraternity Ball. Attended by members of all of the fraternities on campus and their guests, the ball was the culmination of Greek Week, and, for the second year in a row, featured Count Basie and his orchestra. As fate would have it, the dance was held the Saturday after Ron disappeared.

Based on his looks alone, Ron probably could have taken anyone he wanted to the dance. In fact, I’ve spoken with several acquaintances who would have gladly accompanied him. In my mind, to go to a dance with his brother’s sister-in-law would likely have seemed safe to Ron—almost like going with a cousin.

 Connecting a few dots

Again, I have no direct proof whether or not Ronald Tammen was gay. However, if he were gay, it would help explain a few details that have been left dangling for a while on this blog site. First, the fact that Ronald Tammen disappeared at all is a clue to the mystery. In an article on the Richard Cox disappearance that appeared in the April 14, 1952, issue of LIFE magazine, authors Herbert Brean and Luther Conant discussed the relatively few reasons that a typical adult might have for running away at that time. Men mainly leave for “business difficulties or domestic problems (money or sex),” they said, while the reason for a woman leaving is “usually an emotional problem involving husband or lover.” (Yeah, we women can do some nutty things on account of our womanly emotions and all.) More significantly, they also wrote that “homosexuality underlies far more vanishments than is suspected by a loving wife or husband.” There are no statistics available regarding how many gay people ran away from their lives back in the 1950s, however, it’s generally presumed that many did, often moving to large, more culturally diverse cities, where they could get lost in the crowd.

If Ron were gay, that also might have been a reason for him to seek help from the hypnosis experts in Miami’s psychology department. In those days, hypnosis was sometimes sought out as a possible treatment for homosexuality, a term that was defined broadly as a mental disorder and, more narrowly, as a sociopathic personality disturbance in the 1952 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-I) of the American Psychiatric Association. Perhaps Ron wanted to “fix” this so-called disorder which he otherwise had no control over.

In addition, although he was carrying a “B” average, Tammen’s transcripts reveal that he had been dropping his required courses to such a degree that he was no longer carrying a full load. This likely put him in jeopardy of losing his deferment from military service. If Ron happened to be gay, being drafted would have created a full-blown crisis for him. As mentioned earlier, the military was weeding out gay men and lesbians at an unparalleled rate, and their methods for identifying individuals whom they suspected were both systematic and sneaky. If Ron were gay and outed by the military, his long-held dream of finding his place in society would have been destroyed. There was no place in American society at that time for someone who was gay.

Finally, the possibility that Ron was gay also helps answer the perplexing question of why he might have voluntarily left his family forever, without ever contacting them. If Ron were gay, he might have thought he was doing the people he loved most a favor. Perhaps he reasoned that they’d be better off thinking him dead than as a gay man in 1950s America.

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

I realize there’s a lot to ponder here. I also realize that not everyone is going to agree with my point of view, in whole or in part. Due to the sensitivity of this topic, let’s discuss it on another day, after I’ve established a few guidelines for comments. In the meantime, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone! I’m thankful to have you as part of the Good Man community.

If you’d like to read more on the topic of what it was like to be gay during the Cold War years, here are several resources that I highly recommend:

Books:

The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, by David K. Johnson

Masked Voices: Gay Men and Lesbians in Cold War America, by Craig M. Loftin

Letters to One, by Craig M. Loftin

News Articles:

“The Air Force expelled her in 1955 for being a lesbian. Now, at 90, she’s getting an honorable discharge.” (Washington Post, 1/18/2018)

Archival Documents:

“These People Are Frightened to Death”: Congressional Investigations and the Lavender Scare” (National Archives, Summer 2016)

Documentaries:

Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays (Yahoo News, 6/18/2015)

The Lavender Scare (2018; coming to DVD and VOD in Spring 2019)

A late-night knock at the door

knocker

Clara Josephine Spivey lived with her husband, Carl, in a two-story home on North Main Street in Seven Mile, Ohio. Carl, who was once the mayor of that small town, was an electrician by trade and Clara’s second husband. Her first husband had been tragically killed when, in 1918, a mere five months into their marriage, the delivery truck he was driving collided with a train in nearby Hamilton. Clara married Carl two years later.

By the spring of 1953, Clara was 54 years of age with two grown children. Son Jearl was 32 years old and married. The best I can tell, he was also an electrician living about 20 miles from his parents, in Lebanon, Ohio. Daughter Barbara was 28 and married to a man named Donald Ries. (They would divorce in 1963.) From what I can tell, the couple was also living in Seven Mile.

Late on Sunday, April 19, 1953, reportedly at about midnight, there was a knock on the Spiveys’ front door. Clara was apparently still up at that hour, along with Barbara and at least one other person whom we’ll discuss a little later in this post. Perhaps Clara was emboldened by the presence of the other night owls sitting up with her—safety in numbers, and all that. Or maybe it was just the innocence of the times. Whatever her reason, she went ahead and opened the door.

Thankfully, there was nothing to fear. Standing on her porch was a well-mannered young man with a smudge on his cheek—probably from fixing a flat tire, she presumed—and an embarrassed look on his face. The jacket he had on didn’t seem at all sufficient for the chilly temperatures, in her viewpoint, and he wasn’t wearing a hat either. He had dark, deep-set eyes and close-cropped hair—his most distinguishing characteristics in her mind’s eye. He asked for nothing except some direction.

“What town am I in?” the youth had asked her, according to the earliest news accounts. And then: “Where will I be if I go in that direction?”, pointing northeastward, toward Middletown.

Clara recalled telling the youth that he could catch the bus to Middletown, which just so happened to stop at the nearby corner at that time of night. It wasn’t until the next day that she realized the information she’d given him was in error. The bus schedule for the Oxford Coach Lines had been changed that very day, April 19, and the last run from Oxford to Middletown, which passed through Seven Mile, had been suspended.

Other than perhaps a twinge of regret for having led her visitor astray, Clara didn’t think much about the incident afterward. Then, that June, she learned about Ronald Tammen. She’d somehow missed all the ballyhoo about Tammen when he’d first disappeared, and only became aware of the story by way of a follow-up news article that, in essence, reported that A) he’d been gone for two months, and B) there were no new leads. The article, which featured a large photo of Tammen, appeared in the June 20 issue of the Hamilton Journal-News, Clara’s most likely preferred news source. The same article also appeared in the June 22 issue of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Sometime after seeing the article, she notified the Oxford police, and by June 29, her story was being reported across the Miami Valley as the first real clue in the case. Clara Spivey was convinced that the young man at her doorstep had been Tammen. That photo, which had immediately whisked her back to the night in question, served as proof.

Tammen photo
The photo of Tammen that appeared in the June 20, 1953, Hamilton Journal-News and the June 22, 1953, Cincinnati Enquirer.

Oscar Decker, Oxford’s police chief, welcomed the potential sighting with a great big bear hug. If it happened to be Ron Tammen, he reasoned, that would bolster the amnesia theory very nicely.

“Tammen disappeared about 8:30 or 9 o’clock from his room in Fisher Hall,” Decker was quoted as saying in one of the June 29th articles. (Based on the font and layout, I think it was the Cincinnati Enquirer, though my clipping doesn’t contain a reference.) “If he wandered away, it would have taken him about three hours to walk to Seven Mile.”

Sure, it was cold, it was hilly, it was late, but it was totally doable in his opinion.

Also convincing to Decker was Clara’s description of what Tammen was wearing that night. The June 29th Hamilton Journal-News article said this: “Mrs. Spivey described the youth’s wearing apparel almost perfectly, according to the chief.” Also, the September 18, 1953, issue of the Miami Student said: “Although she could not see under the dim porch light what the man was wearing, Mrs. Spivey declared that he seemed to have on a light-weight coat with a checked pattern and dark trousers.” Investigators had described Tammen as wearing a blue and tan checked or plaid wool jacket (sometimes referred to as a mackinaw) and blue pants when he disappeared.

An article in the July 3, 1953, Hamilton Journal-News stated that Henry Ciesicki, who was identified as president of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, had interviewed Mrs. Spivey and found that she was indeed positive that the young man she saw was Tammen after looking at photographs of him. However, the article continued, “There were certain discrepancies as to the type of clothing the missing student was wearing and that of the man whom Mrs. Spivey saw, Ciesicki said.” The discrepancies were brought up again in an article by Joe Cella in the April 22, 1954, issue of the Hamilton Journal-News: “[Tammen’s] brother, Richard, maintains that there are some discrepancies in Mrs. Spivey’s story. The type of clothing worn and missing has come up for considerable discussion throughout the investigation.”

Was the visitor on Mrs. Spivey’s porch Ronald Tammen? Before placing your vote, here are some additional points to consider:

The route

If it was Ron who showed up on Mrs. Spivey’s doorstep, he would have most likely traveled State Route 73 East to 127 South, which leads directly into Seven Mile. The terrain is hilly, and it seems as if it would require some fairly purposeful trekking as opposed to the wanderings of someone with amnesia. Moreover, if Ron had been on foot, he would have passed by numerous homes along Main Street on his way to Mrs. Spivey’s. An atlas from 1930, which shows the number of properties that existed in northern Seven Mile at that time and, presumably, a corresponding number of houses, can be viewed below. (Mrs. Spivey’s property is along Hamilton & Eaton Road, aka Main Street, near High Street.)

1930 atlas of Seven Mile
For a closer view, click on image.

An atlas of the northern part of Seven Mile from 1958 is here.

But don’t just take the Butler Co. cartographers’ word for it. Follow the route for yourself in this video, and try to picture a totally out-of-it Ronald Tammen walking these roads on a chilly, snowy night in unsuitable outerwear. Are you as convinced as Oscar Decker that it was Ron? (Uncopyrighted traveling music provided by the YouTube Audio Library. Apologies in advance for my knack for driving over every possible bump in the road.)

 The time of the encounter

As discussed earlier, the first time anyone had heard about the potential Spivey sighting was on Monday, June 29, 1953, when at least two news articles were published. The article that I believe was in the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the visitor had arrived on Mrs. Spivey’s doorstep at “about midnight,” while the Hamilton Journal-News reported that the time of night was “about 11 o’clock.” The time discrepancy is intriguing, because the author of both articles was Gilson Wright, a Miami journalism professor who was also an on-call correspondent for a number of area papers. (I’m certain that Wright wrote both articles because, even though there isn’t a byline for either article, the Journal-News identifies Wright as the correspondent for its Oxford section on that date, and the two articles, though not identical, have the same phrasing throughout.) That the same reporter would publish conflicting times for the encounter on the same news day is kind of, um, bizarre, considering the significance of the hour to the overall timeline. “About midnight” was the most frequently reported time over the years, including later issues of the Journal-News, which is why I repeated it in the third paragraph of this post. Also, Oscar Decker is quoted directly in the September 18, 1953, article of the Miami Student, saying that the time was “about midnight.” On the other hand, the 11 p.m. time was attributed to Mrs. Spivey (who, after all, would have been the best source), though not as a direct quote. “Mrs. Spivey said the youth came to her door about 11 o’clock…,” Wright stated in that article.

If the June 29th Hamilton Journal-News version is closer to the truth, Ron wouldn’t have had the full three hours that Oscar Decker estimated a walk to Seven Mile would have required. According to this September 2018 fitness article and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a brisk walking pace is considered to be 3 miles per hour or 20 minutes per mile. If the time was midnight, Tammen would have had 180 minutes to walk approximately 11 miles, or a little over 16 minutes per mile. That would have been a pretty good clip, but still doable. But if the time was 11 p.m.? Ron would have needed to be in a full-on run. The latter scenario wouldn’t exactly fit the storyline that everyone was selling, would it? What’s more, if Ron had been at the Delta Tau Delta song practice until around 10:30 p.m., as has been claimed by at least one person, there was no way Ron could have made it to Seven Mile by either 11 p.m. or midnight if he was walking.

But what if Ron Tammen had actually been driven to Seven Mile? If a car was involved, there are a few possible scenarios to consider:

He hitchhiked.
Ron was known to hitchhike from place to place, especially when he didn’t have a car on campus. Granted, it would have been odd for him to choose to hitchhike out of Oxford as opposed to driving his own car. However, if, for some reason, he did so and someone picked him up somewhere between Fisher Hall and Seven Mile, chances are that person would have reported it when the media began publicizing his disappearance. If Oscar Decker had received such a call, you better believe that he would have announced it to the press. From what I can tell, there were no phone calls from anyone who either picked up a hitchhiker or who spotted someone walking alongside that stretch of road on April 19, 1953. One caller did think he’d spotted Tammen in Middletown the week after the Spivey article was published, though that obviously didn’t check out.

He was “kidnapped” and left in Seven Mile as a prank.
As we’ve discussed elsewhere on this site, fraternities back then used to kidnap pledges and drop them off in the middle of nowhere so they would have to find their way home. Many people, including yours truly at one point, have wondered if that might have been what happened to Ron—the whole fraternity-prank-gone-awry theory. But several factors have led me to rule this theory out. First, the men in Ron’s fraternity are wonderful people and they don’t act all weird when I ask them about Ron Tammen. They really would love to know what happened to him. Second, Ron wasn’t a pledge. He was an active member of Delta Tau Delta, which means that he wouldn’t have been a target for such antics. Third, he didn’t live in the fraternity house, which, according to one of his fraternity brothers, was home base from which a guy would have been kidnapped if he were being kidnapped.

Fourth (and perhaps foremost), instead of asking Mrs. Spivey for directions, wouldn’t Ron’s more obvious first question be “Can I use your phone?” According to Carl Knox’s notes, the door to his dorm room was left open and his car keys were in his desk. He could have asked someone from Fisher Hall to pick him up. His roommate, Chuck Findlay, would have been back by then. Also, the questions the visitor asked didn’t pertain to finding his way back to Oxford. In April 1954, Mrs. Spivey would embellish her conversation with the young man to include her pointing the way to Hamilton, Middletown, and Oxford. But that wasn’t the case in June 1953. As described above, the youth asked her what town he was in and where he would be if he went in “that direction,” which was toward Middletown. She’d told him how to catch the bus to Middletown, the crucial detail that enabled her to date stamp the night he’d appeared at her door, since the bus route had ended on April 19. Based on her earliest recollection and, in my view, the one that would have probably been most accurate, there was no mention of Oxford.

Someone who knew him drove him there.
Perhaps someone else could have driven Ron to Seven Mile—someone like the mysterious woman from Hamilton, for example. If that’s true, why he would have gotten out of the car at Mrs. Spivey’s residence isn’t clear, unless, perhaps, he’d tried to escape as the car had slowed down on Main Street. But if he did escape, why (again) wouldn’t he have asked Mrs. Spivey if he could use her telephone to call for help? And where did he go after he left Mrs. Spivey’s? Perhaps someone overpowered him and pushed him back in the car. Still, the young man’s questions for Mrs. Spivey don’t exactly jive with those that might have been asked by someone who was being taken somewhere against his will. At least, they aren’t the sorts of questions that someone would have asked had he been thinking clearly.

The other people in the room

In Joe Cella’s 1976 article in the Hamilton Journal-News, we learned that Clara’s daughter Barbara, whose last name was now Jewell after a second marriage, was also present when the visitor showed up at the door. Though Clara had died in 1975, Barbara stood by her mother’s story. Here’s what Cella wrote:

“Mrs. Spivey has since died but her daughter, Mrs. Barbara Jewell of Seven Mile, remembers the night well. She was there when the knock was answered.

 ‘I still believe it was him,’ said Mrs. Jewell. When her mother viewed a photograph of Tammen at the time, she said, ‘That’s him. I know I’m not mistaken.’”

Barbara Jewell passed away in 1999. However, in 2012, Frank Smith, Butler County’s former cold case detective, informed me of someone else who was present when the visitor showed up at the door. Smith had stopped by a United Dairy Farmers store for a cup of coffee around the time that the Butler County Sheriff’s Office was getting a lot of local press for their work regarding the dead body in Georgia. According to Smith, a guy came out of the store and said he’d been reading in the paper about the Tammen case.

Recounted Smith, “He said, ‘I was there that night when the door was opened too.’”

Smith then added, “And he told me, he said that he absolutely was confident that that was not Tammen that knocked on the door that night. He thought it was one of the local ruffians that lived down the road. But he was absolutely confident.”

According to Smith, the man who approached him—as he recalled, it was Mrs. Spivey’s son—had been in the military and was battling cancer. He also said that he’d passed away shortly after they talked. I accepted this information at face value and didn’t delve further, which turned out to be a mistake. Memories, as I’ve come to learn time and again, aren’t 100 percent foolproof. If I’d done my fact checking a little sooner, I might have been able to speak with the man myself.

Several years ago, as I was doing some online research, I discovered that the man who’d approached Frank Smith couldn’t have been Clara Spivey’s son. Jearl Spivey had died in 1980, long before Smith had gotten involved in the case. Donald Ries, who, along with Carl Spivey, had passed away in the 1970s, could also be ruled out. However, another possible candidate did pop up—Paul Jewell, Barbara’s second husband. Jewell died in 2014, two years after my conversation with Smith. According to his obituary, Jewell had worked at the Champion Paper Company and, later, The Workingman’s Store, a beloved clothing and shoe store for everyday working people that his parents had opened in Hamilton and where he eventually became owner. The obit also said that he’d served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1960, and suggested that memorials be given to the American Cancer Society, among other charities. My guess is that Paul Jewell was the man who approached Frank Smith.

There is one puzzling aspect to placing Jewell in Mrs. Spivey’s home late at night on April 19, 1953. Paul Jewell was 13 years younger than Barbara, born in September 1937. In April 1953, Barbara was still married to Donald Ries, whereas Paul would have been 15 years of age and a sophomore at McGuffey High School in Oxford. (He graduated in 1955.) From what I can tell from old city directories, Paul and Barbara were married in the mid-1960s. So one question I have is, if it was Jewell, why would he have been at the Spiveys so late on a Sunday night when the next day was a school day for him? Another big question I have is: again, if it was Paul Jewell who spoke with Frank Smith, did he and Barbara actually see the visitor or did they just hear Clara’s account, like the rest of us, and form their own opinions? Unfortunately, I’m not sure we’ll ever know the answer.

So what do you think? Was it Ronald Tammen at Mrs. Spivey’s door or merely one of Seven Mile’s local ruffians? Feel free to register your vote here:

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And now, for all you readers in the U.S., please be sure to vote for real if you haven’t already. It’s our right, our privilege, and our obligation and probably way more important than anything else we may have on our plates these days.

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Let’s also open up the floor. Feel free to weigh in on anything Tammen-related, especially your thoughts on Mrs. Spivey’s story and why you voted one way or the other in our poll.

A dead body in Georgia

(and other perfectly good clues that were ignored by investigators)

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Photo credit: Matthias Zomer at Pexels (cropped image)

By now, I think you should have a pretty good indication of how (in my opinion) the city of Oxford, Ohio, and Miami University conducted their investigations into Tammen’s disappearance. I’ll say it here plainly, just so there’s no confusion: They did a really bad job.

Time and again, investigators would lament in the news about what few clues they had to go on after Tammen disappeared. Sure, they’d received some early tips about several area hitchhikers and an apartment dweller in Cincinnati, but none of those panned out. Then, Clara Spivey came forward with her alleged late-night Ron sighting in Seven Mile, and they finally felt as if they had a true lead. (In response to one reader’s request, we’ll be discussing Mrs. Spivey’s story in more detail in another post that I’m planning for Tuesday, November 6. You’ll have a chance to vote on whether you believe the person who appeared at her door was Ron or not.**)

After Mrs. Spivey’s call in late June 1953, investigators hit another dry spell clue-wise, which supposedly lasted 20 long years. In 1973, the drought ended, at least for the interested public, when reporter Joe Cella revealed that Ronald Tammen had visited Dr. Garret Boone’s office five months before he disappeared to have his blood type tested. We also learned that university officials had already known about the doctor’s visit shortly after Tammen went missing. They just didn’t view it as a clue.

So, Mrs. Spivey’s story? Definite clue.

Dr. Boone’s? Not so much.

When it came to determining whether something was a potential clue or not, these guys were (again, my opinion) clueless.

We’ve already covered some additional details about Tammen’s disappearance that I would categorize as clues. Some of the most significant ones include:

  • Song practice

    Ron is alleged to have been to song practice at the Delt house the night he disappeared and had walked back to the dorms with two other guys at around 10:30 p.m. If true, Ron disappeared more than two hours later than what was widely reported.

  • The fight

    Ron allegedly had a fight with his younger brother Richard in the third-floor bathroom of Fisher Hall the night he disappeared.

  • The woman from Hamilton

    Ron was supposedly seen seated in a car with a woman from Hamilton for a long time and then driving away with her late that night.

  • The psych book

    Ron had been reported reading his psychology book the afternoon that he disappeared, and his psychology book was left open on his desk, even though he’d dropped his psychology course earlier that semester.

  • The things in Ron’s background

    Ron Tammen might have had “things in his background” that were consistent with his having experienced dissociation (amnesia).

  • The dead fish

    Ron likely hadn’t slept in his bed at least one night, and possibly two, before his disappearance. We know this because Dick Titus had put the fish in Ron’s bed after class on Saturday or perhaps even Friday.

All of the above (and probably more) were known by university officials and Oxford police. If they viewed these details as clues, they chose not to make them public. But from what I can tell, they didn’t do much more than the most perfunctory of probes either. In particular, they could have pursued the rumor about the woman from Hamilton more enthusiastically, enlisting the news media for help. The Journal-News could have run the headline “Tammen allegedly last seen in car with woman from Hamilton,” and the accompanying article could have closed with “Anyone with information is asked to call this number.” But, nah.

And, let’s not forget Heber Hiram (H.H.) Stephenson, the housing official who swore up and down that he’d seen Tammen sitting in a hotel restaurant with a small group of men in Wellsville, NY, on Wednesday, August 5, 1953. Stephenson had shared this information with university officials immediately upon his return—the next day, he said—and we see the cryptic “H.H.S., Aug. 5, 1953, Wellsville, New York” in Knox’s notes to confirm that a conversation had indeed taken place. Again, if it hadn’t been for Joe Cella revealing the detail in 1976, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it now.

HHS Note

So I have to ask: If the potential sighting by Mrs. Spivey was such a promising clue back on June 29, 1953, when it was first reported in the news, why wouldn’t H.H. Stephenson’s potential sighting have been considered just as promising when he reported it on August 6, about five weeks later? Hi Stephenson knew Ron. Clara Spivey didn’t.

And I have to follow with this question: Did university officials even think to alert the FBI about Stephenson’s story? On May 26, 1953, the FBI had a missing person file on Tammen, and roughly one week earlier, Carl Knox had informed Tammen’s parents that the FBI had been attending faculty conferences. Also, by July 27, 1953, Ron was listed as delinquent for his draft board physical, and therefore, in violation of the Selective Service Act. Carl Knox should have called them—immediately—and reported that an acquaintance of Ronald Tammen’s was quite sure he’d spotted him at a hotel restaurant in Wellsville, NY, the previous day. The FBI could have summoned their Buffalo office to check things out, and the Buffalo agents, in turn, could have shown the proprietor Ron’s picture and asked if anyone had seen him. They could have checked the hotel’s registry for the names of the young men. They could have asked if anyone had spoken with them, and if so, why were they there? Where were they going? Heck, if Knox had told them soon enough, the FBI could have possibly even dusted the lookalike’s chair for fingerprints, or, if he’d stayed overnight, the furniture in his room. But judging from the Stephenson quote in Joe Cella’s article, he was never approached again. Here’s what he told Cella: “I was under the impression all these years that my story was generally known by everyone, since Dr. Knox knew about it and was handling the investigation for the university. I am amazed to hear that this information was not known until now.” There’s nothing in the FBI files to indicate such a report was called in either.

So, again, Mrs. Spivey? Clue!

H.H. Stephenson? Better luck next time!

Which brings us to the spring of 1955, two years after Ronald Tammen’s disappearance, when Miami University received yet another potential clue in the Tammen case. Again, by all indications, officials promptly chose to sweep it under the rug.

The clue came in the form of a letter dated May 10, 1955, and addressed to: “Dean of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.” As vaguely worded as that was, it must have found its way to Carl Knox, who was still dean of men at that time, and several copies can be found in the Tammen materials at University Archives. The letter was signed by Major Delmar Jones, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Major Jones told of a dead body that had been found near LaFayette, Georgia, on June 24, 1953. The GBI, having received a news clipping about Tammen, was wondering if the body might have been Ron’s.

Here’s what the letter said:

Dear Sir:

A newspaper clipping was turned over to this Bureau several days ago by Mr. Hill Pope, the coroner of Walker County, Georgia. We do not know from whom this clipping came but it has reference to a young man by the name of RONALD TAMMEN, a nineteen year old sophomore who disappeared from your institution approximately two years ago.

Someone had evidently secured knowledge whereby we were trying to identify a badly decomposed body that was found on the outskirts of LaFayette, Georgia, on June 24, 1953.

This investigation is still pending, and we are still endeavoring to ascertain the identification of this body.

It will be appreciated very much if you will give us the full details and complete description of Ronald Tammen so that we may compare them with the identification of the unidentified body.

Your response to this communication will be appreciated very much and we will do everything in our power to assist in locating the subject Ronald Tammen if he should be in our territory.

Yours very truly,

Delmar Jones, Major – Director

GEORGIA BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION

[View a copy of the original.]

Delmar Jones was Georgia’s number one law enforcement official from 1948 to 1962, and not someone to be taken lightly. (In 1962, he was demoted to trooper by the governor for campaigning for the former governor in a primary election, which, I suppose, was a risk he’d been willing to take.) Granted, H.H. Stephenson and Garret Boone weren’t slouches either. But you’d have to think that a letter from Georgia’s version of J. Edgar Hoover would have elicited some sort of response from the university.

I have no idea if Carl Knox or anyone else got back to Major Jones. In Miami’s archives, there are no carbon copies of letters mailed in reply. Perhaps Dean Knox placed a phone call to Major Jones, suggesting that the GBI contact the FBI, although no surviving FOIA documents indicate that contact had been made. (As a side note, Ron’s Selective Service case with the FBI was closed on April 29, 1955, 11 days before the GBI letter was written.) Or maybe officials called Major Jones and provided a full accounting of the case over the phone, but the GBI ruled Ron out for some reason and didn’t follow up with anyone. By all accounts, no one seemed to mention the letter to Joe Cella, Gil Wright, or Murray Seeger, since there are no news reports about a dead body in Georgia being possibly tied to Tammen’s case. I don’t even think the university bothered to tell the Oxford police. When I asked my friend Ralph (not his real name), the former cop who was still with the Oxford PD that year and several years after, he was surprised—stunned, actually—to hear about the letter.

So, once more: Confused guy on Mrs. Spivey’s doorstep on the night Tammen disappeared?

👍👍👍

Dead body found in ditch 400 miles south of Oxford two months later?

👎

Here’s what we can safely assume: no one went to the lengths that officials went to in late 2007 and early 2008 when, on their own, without even initially knowing about Delmar Jones’ letter, the Walker County, Georgia’s, Sheriff’s Office hypothesized that the two cold cases might be related.

It happened like this:

Mike Freeman, the cold case detective for Walker County, was conducting an end-of-the-year review of unsolved cases in his portfolio when his boss, Sheriff Steve Wilson, posed a question to him.

“What about that dead body found in a ravine back in 1953?” Wilson asked him (or something along those lines). Wilson wasn’t around when the dead body was discovered—he was born several years later—but his dad used to tell him about it, and he can point out the location to anyone who asks. To this day, people in the area refer to the site as Dead Man’s Hollow.

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Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson stands next to the site where the dead body was found in 1953.

Freeman didn’t know anything about the case, but the story intrigued him. The department no longer had a file, so, for starters, he headed to the local library (which, conveniently, is just a few buildings away from the sheriff’s department) and found news articles that ran at the time the body was found. Based on information found in the articles, he learned that an autopsy was conducted by the state medical examiner’s office, which, thankfully, he was able to obtain. [Read the full autopsy report here.]

The details, provided in news accounts and the autopsy, aren’t pretty. The body was found in a highly decomposed state in a wooded ravine off Rogers Road, five miles south of LaFayette, on June 24, 1953. According to Dr. Herman Jones, director of the GBI crime lab (and probably no relation to Delmar, but who really knows?), it was “heavily infested from head to foot with maggots and other worms,” a sure sign that the man had been dead for a while. What was left of his face (which, by that point, was devoid of soft tissue and therefore any recognizable features) was angled upward, toward the sky, and his arms and legs were fully extended, kind of like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

Some features were still discernible. His hair was dark brown to black, his height was 5’9,” and, when he was alive, and still had all of his internal organs and tissues in place, his weight would have been around 150 pounds. He had long arms and long slender fingers from which extended nails that were also long and “apparently well kept,” according to Dr. Jones, who’d conducted the autopsy on the same day the body was found. The decedent’s teeth weren’t as well cared for as his nails. Two lower back molars had large cavities in them and several teeth had been extracted. “No dental work done,” Dr. Jones reported, which could be interpreted to mean that he didn’t have any fillings or crowns. There was no evidence that any of the bones in his body had been broken, either recently or in the past. He was estimated to be between 25 and 30 years of age.

The man was wearing only a white T-shirt, size 38, with four round holes in it, and boxer shorts, size 32, the kind with buttons up the fly and a drawstring around the waist. Two khaki-colored wool socks lay at his feet. One sock lay near where his left foot should have been—it was missing, as were the toes on his right foot—and the other sock lay between his straddled legs. (Dr. Jones blamed an animal for the missing foot.) The shorts and socks were military-issue—U.S. Army. A quarter-inch-wide rubber band encircled each ankle, most likely to blouse the bottom of each pant leg, a common practice of G.I.s so that the full boot shows underneath. As for the man’s boots and pants, they were nowhere to be found, but, based on the items that had been left behind, it was clear that he was probably a soldier. What wasn’t clear was how the man died, though officials presumed it was a homicide. According to the sheriff at that time, the holes in his T-shirt were about the size of .38-caliber bullets, however Dr. Jones found no broken bones or skull damage and no evidence of foreign bodies.

The GBI also conducted an investigation (hence Delmar Jones’ letter), and they exhumed the body a second time after the autopsy for additional analysis, including obtaining fingerprints. The Army conducted an investigation as well. Unfortunately, neither have been able to produce records on the case.

Freeman went on the internet—something they obviously didn’t have in 1953—and searched for missing persons from that year. He immediately discovered the treasure trove of websites discussing the Tammen case (except, alas, for this one, which obviously came later). Freeman noted that both LaFayette and Oxford were on U.S. Route 27, and, in fact, the dead soldier was discovered only about 200 yards away from the highway. If Ron had been hitchhiking to Florida, he thought, it was the best possible route to take, since there was no interstate system back then. Ron’s height, weight, and hair color seemed to be in the ballpark too, and his age wasn’t too far off. Ron wasn’t in the Army, but who’s to say that he didn’t enlist after he left Miami? It was worth a shot.

Freeman contacted Frank Smith, Butler County’s cold case detective at that time, and the two decided to make use of another new technology—DNA testing—to determine if the dead man was Tammen. On February 8, 2008, Freeman, Wilson, and Smith, along with Georgia’s chief medical examiner, GBI’s forensic anthropologist, Walker County’s coroner, members of the media, and curious onlookers witnessed the exhumation of remains buried in an unmarked grave in Lot 206 , Block A, in LaFayette Cemetery. The few bone remnants they obtained were forwarded to the FBI and other facilities for DNA testing. The results would be compared with a DNA sample that had been submitted a couple weeks prior by Tammen’s sister Marcia.

The following June, they got their answer: there was no match. The soldier wasn’t Tammen. It was a big disappointment, but cold case detectives probably get used to these sorts of let-downs. Interestingly, I arrived at the same conclusion in another, more roundabout way. In August 1958, human bones had been found in a gravel pit in Preble County, Ohio, which is about 25 miles north of Oxford. Authorities there had sent bone and teeth samples to Ohio’s Bureau of Identification and Investigation, in New London, for analysis to see if the remains might be Ron’s. (Before DNA testing, dental records were the primary method for identifying unknown victims and they’re still valuable today.)

According to an article in the August 17, 1958, Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Preble County sheriff had said that no dental work had been performed on the teeth that they’d unearthed, though, admittedly, the set was incomplete.

The article continued:

 Ronald’s mother, when informed of the find, said that her son had several teeth filled.

“Also, his upper teeth lapped,” she continued, “and he had planned to have them straightened.”

“Furthermore, he had a couple of broken bones that could be identified. When he was three, he got a broken collarbone jumping off a bed. Later, playing football in the street, he broke one of the small bones in one of his hands.”

As you’ll recall, the dead soldier in Georgia appeared to have had no dental work and no evidence of having broken any bones. Plus, there was no mention of an overlap of the front teeth. Based on the fact that Ron had had several fillings plus the overlap plus a couple broken bones, it’s obvious that, even before the DNA test, the person buried in Walker County, Georgia, wasn’t Tammen. The DNA evidence sealed the deal.

Miami and Oxford officials couldn’t have stated the above so unequivocally. In fact, it almost seems as if they’d given up looking for Tammen not long after he disappeared. Did someone in a position of authority tell them to stop their investigation? I wonder.

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Oh, and P.S. As for the dead guy in Georgia, could it have been Richard Cox? I wonder about that sometimes too…

**NOTE: For those who prefer to vote early, the Mrs. Spivey post is now up! You can find it here: https://ronaldtammen.com/2018/11/01/a-late-night-knock-at-the-door/.

The fish in Ron’s bed

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Photo credit: Michael Weidner on Unsplash

Let’s take a breather from the whole hypnosis/amnesia/psych book question right now. Rest assured, things are happening in that arena as we speak—things having to do with (fingers crossed) the possible declassification of key names on significant documents. But these things take time, and I need to chill for a little while and let some important people make their pivotal decisions in peace. We’ll jump right back over to that topic as soon as there’s a new development.

In the meantime, let’s talk about the fish in Ron’s bed a little more. Why? Because there’s something intriguing about that fish story that I haven’t shared with you yet.

We already know that the fish was a prank, not a message from the Mafia. We also know who put it there. It was Richard (Dick) Titus, the guy who lived down the hall from Ron in room 212. The same guy who’d been studying with Ron at around 7 p.m. on April 19, 1953. In 2010, he confessed to me that he was the culprit behind the fish prank and, in 2013, he elaborated a little more on the incident. So, what more can that fish—that cold, slimy, disgusting, long-dead fish—teach us about Ronald Tammen?

Think of it this way: in these emotionally charged and divisive times, when no one seems to agree on much of anything, I present to you one shining example of a core belief with which all of humanity can surely agree. And that time-honored value is this: no one in his or her right mind would ever knowingly sleep with a dead fish in their bed.

Keeping that singular uniting principle in mind—that people of all stripes are inherently averse to sleeping with rotting fish—isn’t it just a little bit odd that Ronald Tammen would wait to change his sheets until Sunday night, when the fish had been there since at least one day prior, and possibly two?

That’s right. During our second or perhaps third conversation, Dick Titus and I had moved beyond his surprise revelation of being the person behind the fish in Ron’s bed and conducted a deep dive into the question of when he put it there. Walking me through the incident with what seemed to be the clarity of his adolescent self, Dick told me that it happened on the way home from class. He didn’t have retaliation on his mind, he told me. In their ongoing game of prank/counterprank, Ron had most recently short-sheeted Dick’s bed, throwing in some Rice Krispies for added crunch. In this telling, Dick told me that their back-and-forth had been going on for about a month and that Dick had allowed some time to go by after Ron’s latest stunt. (This version differs from our 2010 conversation, when his timeline was a little more condensed. In that interview, he’d said that Ron had pulled the sheet trick the day before he disappeared. I allowed the slight variation and continued listening.)

It was on Dick’s walk home that he spotted the dead fish in the pond outside of Fisher Hall, and a lightbulb had gone off. “Perfect,” his 18-year-old brain told him. He managed to bring the fish ashore and then carried it upstairs (by the tail? under his arm? I forgot to ask him for those specifics, but I’m sure it was gross) and placed the fish in Ron Tammen’s bed. It could have been a Saturday, because classes were held on Saturday mornings in those days. It might have even been as early as Friday. But, in his mind, it was most definitely not on Sunday.

Here’s a paraphrased snippet from our conversation that I typed up after we spoke:

Dick: I remember I was coming back from class, so it had to be a Friday or Saturday.

Me: Did you take the fish up to Ron’s bed right away?

Dick (sounding a little perplexed): Yes…so I don’t understand why he didn’t change his bed until that Sunday. Unless he didn’t come back to his room until Sunday.

Bingo.

In 1953, they didn’t have security cameras to track everyone’s comings and goings. There were no towers registering the pings of nearby cell phones. There was no such thing as GPS. However, thanks to Dick Titus, there was a fairly foolproof tracking device in Ronald Tammen’s room the weekend that he disappeared. Because of that foul little fish, we can reasonably conclude that Ron hadn’t slept in his bed on Saturday, the 18th, and he might not have been there the preceding Friday night either.

I know what you’re thinking. Can we trust the memory of someone 60 years after an event had taken place? I’d wondered about that too. Maybe Dick Titus hadn’t spotted the fish while returning from a class. Maybe he’d been walking back to Fisher Hall after some Sunday activity—a baseball game, a fraternity function, a trip to the library—and that’s how his brain had edited the scene. We already know that his 2013 timeline was a little different from the one in 2010. Could he have gotten things scrambled?

Fortunately, Murray Seeger, a nationally renowned reporter who was employed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in the 1950s, published an article on May 4, 1956, that supports the story Dick told in 2013. The article said this:

“At about 8 p.m., [Tammen] went downstairs and asked the house manager for clean linen. Some freshmen pranksters had put a dead fish in his bed the night before.” [emphasis added]

It wasn’t some pranksters, it was one prankster. And, according to Titus, it happened during the day, not the night. But Seeger places the fish in Ron’s bed at least on the Saturday before Ron went missing. I’d call that corroborating evidence.

A two-day-old fish in Ron’s bed also helps clear up one minor mystery I’d been grappling with for a while. Namely, if Ron wasn’t planning to go to bed early Sunday evening—if he were still planning to attend song practice, for example—what would have motivated him to change his sheets at 8 p.m.? In other words, how would he even know about the fish unless he’d turned down the covers? But after at least two days, I’d think that the fish would have made its presence known even before Ron observed the visual evidence. Put simply, I’m sure it was smelling up the room.

The fish was probably one of several topics university investigators spoke about with Dick, whose name is included in Dean Knox’s notes, though the fish isn’t mentioned. The feds were well aware of the fish. Dick described to me a time in which two men from the FBI paid a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Titus at their home in Rocky River to discuss the fish incident, scaring poor Dick to death. [View Carl Knox’s note by clicking here.]

Even though we can deduce that Tammen wasn’t in his bed that Saturday night, we still don’t know where he went. It had to have been late when he arrived, however. He was said to have been playing with the Campus Owls at the Omicron Delta Kappa carnival that evening and then reportedly at a bull session at the Delt house. His brother Richard had said that he was with Ron until between 11 and 11:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Perhaps Ron was involved with someone whom none of his friends or family knew about. Maybe he was out with a group of people, although that wasn’t exactly like him. I doubt very much that he was alone. Other than stalkers, serial killers, and the occasional cat burglar, who goes out by himself all night?**

If Ronald Tammen was with one or more people on the night of Saturday, April 18, 1953, no one appears to have come forward after he went missing. Were they too embarrassed or afraid? Were they somehow responsible for his disappearance? It’s all just a little…fishy.

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(** Note: Stargazers, late-night wayfarers, sometimes insomniacs, etc., excepted, though I don’t think these describe Ron very well either.)