By now, you know that my aim is to post only truthful statements about the Ron Tammen case on this blog site. If I can’t provide supporting evidence—if the best I can do is speculate about some finding, for example—I’ll attempt to do so as transparently as possible, using the necessary qualifiers. That’s how we roll. Conversely, if I should discover I’ve jumped to a conclusion that is even the slightest bit untrue, it’s my belief that I should announce the correction loud and clear, and, if it’s significant enough, with fanfare.
So, you know how I’ve been harping on Carl Knox for writing that cryptic note regarding H.H. Stephenson? The note looks like this:
That H.H.S. note has always bothered me. Not only did Knox appear to ignore Stephenson’s possible Ron sighting when Stephenson returned from his vacay in Wellsville, NY, but it seemed as though, by only jotting down Stephenson’s initials, he didn’t want anyone else to find out about it.
Today, I’m announcing that it’s my strong belief that neither Carl Knox nor one of his assistants wrote that note in August 1953. My reason for thinking so has to do with the name that’s written above that note, on the same piece of paper. It’s the contact information for one James E. Larkins, who was then an associate professor at Wright State University. (The note erroneously says Larkins is affiliated with Wright-Patt.) I’ve blackened the phone number because I don’t know who owns it now, and, well, who needs to experience the fresh hell of having their phone number published online?
As it so happens, James (Jim) Larkins was a sophomore counselor in Fisher Hall with Ron, which is where he would have been in 1953, not teaching Spanish at Wright State. Therefore, the note had to have been written much later.
But when was it written, and why was it written, and who wrote it?
Here’s the timeline I’ve pieced together:
In November 1975, Larkins wrote a letter to Everett Lykins, who was Miami’s assistant dean of student life at that time. Although the letter is dated November 3, 1975, it’s stamped “RECEIVED” by the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs on January 12, 1976. That seems late, but maybe the holidays had something to do with it.
In the letter, Larkins relays his experience regarding Ron’s disappearance, including a wild story about being shot at while trying to chase down the strange “phantom” voice that students occasionally heard after Tammen disappeared. Larkins also mentions Joe Maneri, who was the head of Fisher Hall at the time Ron disappeared.
As luck would have it, 1976 was a busy year in Tammen world. In April 1976, Joe Cella, reporter for the Hamilton Journal News, revealed that H.H. Stephenson, a housing official who had known Ron, believed he saw him on August 5, 1953, in Wellsville, NY. People first read about Stephenson’s encounter in Cella’s news article on April 18, 1976, and then heard the story straight out of Stephenson’s mouth in the Phantom of Oxford, which aired the next night, on the 23rd anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance. [Stephenson is in Part 2, at the 04:15 mark.]
You know who else was interviewed in the documentary? Jim Larkins. [Larkins is in Part 1, at the 08:30 mark.]
Here’s what I think happened:
Jim Larkins wrote his letter, which Dean Lykins likely received in January 1976.
Around that same time, Joe Cella and Channel 2 producer Ed Hart, who were collaborating on the Phantom of Oxford, probably contacted the university seeking spokespersons to be interviewed on camera. Dean Lykins might have said, “Hey, I have this letter. We could put them in touch with Jim Larkins and Joe Maneri.”
Someone then pulled together the contact info for both Larkins and Maneri, who worked at the Columbus Technical Institute at that time. This seems like a no-brainer, since the contact info for both men are written on similar pieces of paper in the same handwriting. Apparently, Jim Larkins said yes to the documentary, but Joe Maneri wasn’t able. (Unfortunately, both men are now deceased—Maneri in 2007 and Larkins in 2015. Although Maneri had already passed away by the time I began my research, I did have the opportunity to speak with Larkins.)
Meanwhile, Stephenson, who still worked in Housing at Miami and therefore answered to Dean Lykins, may have heard about the documentary project and stepped forward with his story about seeing Ron in Wellsville—first to Lykins, and then to Cella, or possibly vice versa. Even though the H.H.S. note isn’t in the same handwriting as the Larkins and Maneri notes, its position below the Larkins note indicates it was written during the same period in 1976.
But in 1976, Carl Knox was no longer at Miami. He’d left Oxford in 1959, so he couldn’t have been the H.H.S. note’s author.
What does all of this mean? In my view, the Larkins/Maneri/H.H.S. notes tell us a trifle more about how the Tammen saga played out over the years—nothing earth shattering, but something more to ponder during a pandemic on a Friday night. Still, two questions stand out. First, there’s this old chestnut: why did the note writer use Stephenson’s initials instead of writing out his full name? And now a new one: did Carl Knox do anything at all when Stephenson first told him about his encounter in Wellsville?
A commenter recently asked about Joe Cella’s 1976 revelation that, on the Friday night before Tammen disappeared, he’d stopped by the home of Glenn Dennison to pay his car insurance. She was wondering why Ron would show up at his insurance agent’s house on a Friday night to pay his premium. Who does that, right?
It’s a really good question. There were other aspects to that visit that were curious too—aspects that I haven’t discussed with you yet. So let’s talk about them now.
According to Cella’s April 18, 1976, Hamilton Journal News article, “Mrs. Dennison, who had never reported the visit to authorities, recalled Tammen came to their home Friday, April 17, 1953, about 8 p.m. to pay his car insurance premium.” Cella verified that the payment—totaling $17.45—had been made on that date through old records produced by Mrs. Dennison, who assisted her husband with his insurance business.
Dennison’s house, located on Contreras Road, is out beyond where the Taco Bell and LaRosa’s Pizza is now, and a couple miles from where Fisher Hall once stood. Also, Dennison’s business was out of his home, so it wasn’t all that weird that Tammen would show up at the house. A 1960 ad in the phone book lists his business address at Contreras Road, though it doesn’t include the house number.
What was weird was the time—8 p.m. on a Friday. Don’t most college students generally have more fun places to be on Friday nights? Why did Ron think it was so important to pay his premium then, when it wasn’t even due until April 24? He was a week early.
Here are the two things I haven’t shared with you about that visit and perhaps why Tammen might have ended up at the Dennison home at that time:
Everett Patten, the chair of Miami’s psychology department, lived on Contreras Road too. In the 1952-53 Miami Directory, his address is listed as R.R. 1, short for Rural Route 1, which tells us nothing about where he actually lived. In 1956, the Oxford telephone book listed Patten at R.D. 1, which I believe means Rural Delivery 1, and again, tells us nothing about his location. Thankfully, the 1958 Oxford phone book specified an actual house number. (By the way, if you’re thinking that he moved, I don’t think so. That was the same year in which St. Clair Switzer’s house was given a number, from his former designation of R.D. 2.)
So Everett Patten lived on the 6400 block of Contreras Road and Glenn Dennison lived and worked on the 6100 block of Contreras Road—less than a mile apart. It’s actually .4 miles.
Let’s imagine that Ron is at Dr. Patten’s house that night for some reason. We’ve already established that Patten seemed to know a lot about Ron—like Ron having dissociation in his background, for example—and we also know that the psychology department was hypnotizing students at that time. It would make a lot of sense for them to conduct their hypnosis sessions off campus, to avoid drawing attention. If Ron’s at Patten’s home on a Friday night for a hypnosis session, wouldn’t it make sense for him to stop off at Glenn Dennison’s house to pay his car insurance as long as he’s in the neighborhood? Whether coming or going, it would have been on the way.
The second thing I need to tell you is that the Campus Owls had a gig that night. According to the newspaper the Palladium Item of Richmond, IN, the Campus Owls played that Friday night from 8 to 11:30 p.m. at Short High School in Liberty, IN, which is about a 20-minute drive from Oxford.
In Cella’s article, Mrs. Dennison says, “He stayed about a half hour, talking about the Campus Owls in which he played and talked about other things.”
Of course, the times may be a little off, since Mrs. Dennison was recalling events from 23 years prior, however it still seems strange to me that Tammen would be so chatty on a night he was supposed to be in Indiana—at 8 p.m. My guess is that he didn’t go at all. And why would Ron, a guy who was forever looking for ways to earn money, choose not to go to a gig to make some additional cash?
Maybe he had something else to do that would also bring in money—something that would soon take precedence over everything else.
[NOTE: Be sure you read the comments. Stevie J raises a point about Indiana time zones that makes the Owls gig much more doable. However, a member of the Campus Owls has also provided some background intel that, in my view, makes it unlikely that Ron was going to a gig. I know we’re always being cautioned not to read the comments on other websites, but on this site, thanks to the savviness of you readers, I highly encourage it.] 🙂
Joe Cella, the Hamilton Journal News reporter who never let the Tammen story die and who unearthed essential details about the case even decades later, would be turning 100 today if he were still alive. In April 1977, Joe was quoted in an article in the Dayton Daily News saying: “The university covered it up. They wouldn’t give you any answers.” On Joe’s centennial birthday, I thought it would be fitting to post some additional evidence that supports his cover-up theory.
For a long, long while, I used to believe that Miami University’s administrators and the Oxford PD didn’t have the slightest notion of what happened to Ron Tammen in the days following his disappearance. When they were quoted in the press bemoaning the lack of clues while actively ignoring, you know, actual clues, I just figured they were letting their inexperience show through. They were new at this, you guys. Cut ‘em some slack.
But then, as I discussed in my post “Proof of a cover-up,” it started appearing as if university administrators were purposely withholding key details. First and foremost: No one seemed to want the psychology book that was open on Tammen’s desk to make its way into a news article. Gilson Wright, the Miami journalism professor who also worked as a stringer for area papers, was how they conveniently managed to keep that info away from the interested public. Wright never mentioned the word psychology in any of his stories—ever—even though he would have known about the open textbook’s subject matter at the very latest by April 1954, when Joe Cella, of the Hamilton Journal News, introduced that detail into his one-year anniversary article. In the first 23 years of Tammen coverage, only two reporters—Cella and Murray Seeger, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer—ever mentioned the psychology book in their articles.
That discovery has led me to ask: what else was the university doing to keep details of the case away from the press, and—OK, I’ll say it—namely one member of the press? Although Seeger wrote a nice piece in 1956, he was primarily a political reporter for the Plain Dealerbefore moving on to bigger outlets, and he wasn’t keeping up with the story like Cella was. Cella was the only non-university-paid reporter who was following the story from the very beginning until 1976, and quite probably until his death in 1980.
Was the university doing anything to keep certain information out of Cella’s hands? For sure.
Last year, before Covid-19 reared its spikey little head, I was spending some time in Miami University’s Archives, and found something I didn’t recall seeing there before. Or, if I had seen it before, it didn’t seem nearly as significant as it does now. Tucked among a hodgepodge of Tammen-related news and magazine articles is an undated, unsourced, one-page sheet that appears innocent enough—a dishy “story behind the story” that someone had typed up on a computer. The font looks like Times New Roman and it was printed on a laser printer. The printer paper looks bright white, not yellowed with age. For these and a few other reasons, which I’ll be getting to in a moment, it appears to have been written fairly recently—long after I graduated from Miami in 1980 and certainly post-Cella. It could have been produced in the last 20 years, or perhaps even more recently than that. It’s too hard to tell.
The write-up has to do with an interview that was conducted with someone who worked for Carl Knox at the time that Ron Tammen disappeared. She was his secretary—that was her official job title—though the write-up refers to her as the “Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox.” (That’s another clue that the write-up was more recent: over the decades, the terms administrative assistant or administrative professional replaced the word secretary, with the professional association making the change only roughly 20 years ago, in the late 1990s and 2000.)
A sad, albeit surprising aspect of this story is that this person passed away only this year. What I’m driving at here is that it appears that someone who’d worked closely with Carl Knox when Ronald Tammen disappeared was interviewed by someone from the university relatively recently in my estimation, though I don’t know when or by whom. In Tammen world, this was the “get” of all gets. It would have been the closest thing to talking to Carl himself.
I’m not going to share the name of the assistant on this blog site out of respect for the family, who couldn’t recall ever hearing their mother comment on the Tammen case. But I will include the details that this person shared during her interview, which were typed up in bulleted format. The document reads as follows, with the only difference being that I’ve substituted “AD” (short for assistant to the dean) for the woman’s name:
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON RON TAMMEN, Jr.
From an interview with AD, Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox, at the time of Tammen’s disappearance on April 19, 1953
At the time, Hueston Woods held a work-camp for prisoners who were about to be released; they worked at clearing away brush from the future site of the lake. These prisoners assisted in the search for Ron Tammen.
AD’s office was across the hall from Dean Knox’s, with a bench across from her desk. After the disappearance, news reporters would sit on this bench awaiting any new information. On one occasion, AD called across the hall to Dean Knox that he had a telephone call from New York. Although the call had nothing to do with Ron Tammen, the reporters assumed it did, and this is how the rumor started that Tammen had been found in New York.
As a result of the false New York story (above), a buzzer was installed on AD’s desk so she could notify Dean Knox of his calls without calling out across the hall for the reporters to hear. She was also given a list of words that she should not say aloud in front of reporters.
After Fisher Hall was demolished in 1978, the wells and cisterns under the building were searched, since they had not been easy to search at the time of the disappearance. No signs of Ron Tammen, Jr. were found.
Before I begin dissecting the summary, please understand that I don’t think AD was in on every single convo surrounding the university’s investigation. Rather, in my view, her comments reflect what Dean Knox and perhaps others would have said to her. That’s what I’m commenting on—the words and actions of AD’s superiors based on her personal account. I’ll also add that the above summary is only someone’s interpretation of what she said during the interview. Unless we have the original transcript or recording, we can’t be sure that whoever wrote these notes did so with 100% accuracy. Plus, they may have left out some important details.
OK, let’s get to it:
1). The date of the interview
The author decided not to add his or her name to the summary, which is aggravating enough for someone like me who likes to contact people who know things about the Tammen case. But it would have been really helpful if they had thought to date it—either typed it in or scribbled it at the top to let us all know when it was written, and in turn, roughly when AD was interviewed. Instead, the first line is so confusing that it takes a couple reads to realize that they’re saying she was the “Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox, at the time of Tammen’s disappearance,” as opposed to being interviewed at that time, as one Miami staff member had speculated when I’d inquired about it. Based on the evidence I’ve described plus what I’m about to discuss—particularly regarding bullet #3 above—I’ve concluded that it’s a poorly worded phrase, and there’s simply no way the interview happened in 1953. It was later. We just don’t know how much later. I don’t want to get all conspiracy theory–minded on you this early in my blog post, but I mean…did they MEAN to throw us off by not dating it?
2). The work-camp prisoners
Yeah, yawn, we already knew about the prisoners. Good for them. Moving on.
3). The New York rumor
A couple weeks after Ron Tammen disappeared, a rumor had spread across campus about Tammen being spotted in New York. I’ve tried like crazy to find out what the rumor was—it was one of my standby questions for anyone I interviewed who was on campus at the time. No one with whom I spoke could recall the rumor. In fact the only other evidence I’ve had of the rumor was a May 8, 1953, editorial in the Miami Student (p. 2, top left) that stated that a rumor had been circulating that “…Tammen had been located, under conditions that were defamatory to his character.” But according to the same editorial, the rumor was started by an “enterprising student,” and the purpose was to see how fast it would spread. Other than that editorial, which chastised fellow students for disseminating the rumor in the first place (its title was “Must Tongues Wag”), no reporter ever mentioned the New York rumor in an article—not Joe Cella, not Gilson Wright, not even a student reporter.
As we all know, there was another possible New York connection to the Tammen story, though this one came several months later, in August 1953. Could housing official H.H. Stephenson’s potential Ron sighting in Wellsville, NY, have been the basis behind the phone call that Carl Knox had received? Perhaps Cella or Wright or someone else was in the vicinity when the call came in, and Knox was concerned that they’d heard something that he felt shouldn’t be made public. The only person who reported that potential sighting, however, was Cella in 1976, and that article was not based on a rumor or an overheard phone call. It was based on a conversation with H.H. Stephenson, who had worked directly for Carl Knox in 1953. (His title then was director of men’s housing and student employment.)
4). The bench across from her desk
The summary says that reporters—plural—used to sit on a bench across from AD’s desk waiting for updates. That’s rather hard to imagine, given the fact that there were so few clues to begin with and only two newspaper reporters who were covering the story from the beginning: Gilson Wright and Joe Cella. Wright, being a university employee, seemed to have an inside track with Carl Knox. Why would he have to sit on the bench waiting for updates? Besides, with all the university jobs he was juggling—teaching courses, advising student journalists, heading up the news bureau—he had other places to be.
Perhaps a Miami Student reporter had been occupying the bench. But students have classes to attend, and, moreover, there were no bylined Miami Student articles during the spring of 1953. Also, the early Student articles were similar to the articles Wright was submitting to area newspapers, which has led me to infer that Wright authored those as well.
That leaves Joe Cella, although I’m sure Joe was too busy to plant himself outside of Carl Knox’s office for hours on end. Besides, Joe’s best sources seemed to be the students and staff members who were closest to the action as opposed to seated behind a desk in Benton Hall.
As far as radio and TV coverage, there likely was some of that too, especially early on, though any trace of what was broadcast over the airwaves is gone. However, their reporting would have probably been bare-bones, with most of their info coming from Miami’s news bureau, courtesy of Gilson Wright and company. In short, I can’t imagine they’d be camped out either.
My hunch is that whoever was seated there when the New York phone call came in had set up an interview with Knox and was merely waiting…if a reporter was sitting there at all. More on that theory in a second.
5). The buzzer on her desk
Regardless of who was calling from New York and for what purpose, university administrators had clearly been shaken up about it—so much so that they decided to install a buzzer on AD’s desk.
For what it’s worth, the buzzer technology wouldn’t have been a huge technological feat in those days, according to two electrical engineers who weighed in after I put out a call for help on Facebook. (Thanks, Chris and Travis!) People have been ringing doorbells on a widespread basis since the early 1900s, which would basically accomplish the same thing—pressing a button and having it ring, or buzz, in another room with the aid of an electrical wire. (A similar concept is turning lights on and off using a button or toggle switch, connected to a light source by an electrical wire.) For this reason, AD’s buzzer would have been fairly simple for someone with that skill set to put together.
6). More on the bench, the buzzer, and the rumor
But seriously, you guys, how many reporters could there have been sitting on AD’s bench, day in and day out, and were they really creating such havoc around the office that it warranted instituting a secret buzzer system?
To be sure, a missing student is a very big deal. But installing a secret desk buzzer seems to be more like the act of someone who wants to play spy or top-secret government insider. Who were they protecting with their desk buzzer? Not Ron. Not the Tammen family. And honestly, so what if someone from the press overheard that Carl Knox had received a call from New York. No reporter worth his or her stripes would file a story based on that meager amount of info. They’d first ask Knox if the call pertained to Tammen, Knox would say no, and the potential misinformation would be squelched then and there, amIright?
I’m going to propose a different scenario: AD may have been told by Knox that her new buzzer system was because of reporters spreading the New York rumor—which, again, never made its way into newspapers—but I think it went beyond that. Remember that Carl Knox had jotted in his notes the name “Prof. Switzer,” Ron’s psychology professor who I believe was working for the CIA at the time Tammen disappeared. Switzer had even told one of my sources that he had indeed spoken with investigators at that time as well. What if Switzer had informed Carl Knox that Tammen’s disappearance involved a classified government program that’s important for protecting the nation’s security? Knox might have decided that a buzzer system would be a simple, effective way to do his patriotic duty. Incoming phone calls—from New York, D.C., or wherever—would be handled with utmost secrecy, no matter who happened to be standing nearby.
7). The list of words that she should not say aloud in front of reporters
OH. MY. LORD. Talk about burying a lede—this one got pushed to the tail end of bullet #3, after the work-camp prisoners but before the cisterns and wells.
Do you have any idea what I would give to know the words AD was instructed not to say in front of reporters? A lot. I would give a lot. Was one of the words “Switzer”? “Psychology”? “Hypnosis”? Or better yet “Post-hypnotic suggestion”? Or how about “MKULTRA” or “Project ARTICHOKE”? I mean, did AD’s interviewer think to ask the obvious follow-up question: What words were on the list? And if they did ask that question, why would they leave the most important part out of their summary page? Why indeed.
You guys, I’ve worked in several press offices in my career, and have fielded calls on topics that were considered political hot potatoes in their day. But I can’t think of a single time when I was instructed not to say certain words. Were they trying to protect Ron’s reputation? To avoid putting the university in an embarrassing light? Would the words have steered reporters too close to a probable cause for his disappearance? Whatever the reason, if the university was prohibiting the use of certain words to prevent a reporter from learning an inconvenient but potentially significant truth, that’s a cover-up.
Incidentally, I’m quite certain that AD would have never mentioned the forbidden words list back in 1953, when she was working for Carl Knox and the investigation was in full swing. That’s another reason that I feel that the interview was relatively recent.
One word that I’m pretty sure wasn’t on the forbidden list? Cisterns.
8). The cisterns
Speaking of cisterns, in part one (2:47) of the two-part segment on Ron Tammen last month from WXIX (Cincinnati), we were introduced to the concept of open cisterns on Miami’s campus by a Miami University spokesperson. Cisterns are generally described as large tanks that store water, though the cistern that was shown in the news segment was built in the 1800s and looked like a large open hole leading to a bricked-in area underground. I’ll tell you here and now, I had no idea that they were considered a safety problem back then. But I’m not sure students in those days felt that way either. If you type the search term “cistern” (singular) into the Miami Student digital archive for the time period of 1900 to 2020, two articles will pop up, one from 1903 and one from September 1986. The 1986 article discusses a cistern that the university had installed under Yager Stadium to conserve water when maintaining the athletic fields. The 1903 article was about a wrongly translated Latin passage and had nothing to do with cisterns on campus. The term “cisterns” (plural) yielded an article from 2000 about brick cisterns that were discovered during the construction of a park in uptown Oxford.
What AD said, however, was that they’d checked the wells and cisterns under Fisher Hall after the building was torn down in 1978 because they were difficult to get to. Of course, I don’t want to leave any stone unturned in my research, and that includes learning more about the university’s cisterns. Earlier this month, I emailed the spokesperson seeking background materials or a conversation on the topic, and so far, I haven’t heard back from him. I’ll keep you posted.
9). The full interview
Although the “Cliff Notes” version of AD’s interview is better than nothing, I really want to read the full transcript. Or better yet, I’d love to hear the recording. At the very least, I want to know when the interview was conducted and by whom so I can reach out to the interviewer for a conversation about all they remember that AD said, including, hopefully, at least one or two choice forbidden words.
I’ve reached out to senior administration officials for Miami University Libraries as well as Marketing and Communications, including the News Office, for assistance. Currently, the head of the libraries’ department that oversees Special Collections, Preservation and The University Archives is having his staff look for the source materials, though it may take a while due to Covid-19 restrictions. I’ll be touching base with them every so often for updates.
Here’s why I believe the university should still have the source materials: AD and her husband were well known, beloved figures at the university for many years. Although I still don’t know the reason behind the interview, it would make sense if someone had requested it for historical purposes. If that were the case, then tossing the original tape or transcript would be very, very strange, to put it mildly. I can’t say that that’s what happened at this point, but it’s a concern of mine.
Furthermore, as someone who believes in transparency in our public and governmental institutions, let me be transparent regarding my current thinking. In discussing the possibility of a university cover-up, I always gave the people in later administrations a pass. How could they have been privy to information that Carl Knox and his team were discussing off-the-record and in real time? If there was a cover-up, I used to think, it would have been the people who were making those judgment calls back then. Once they died, any evidence of wrongdoing would have died with them.
However, if someone who’d been around at that time briefed someone fairly recently, filling them in on forbidden words, for example, and any other pertinent intel from 1953, and if that interview was reduced to a few tamed-down bullet points and the original source materials were discarded to prevent someone like me from finding them? Well, the cover-up would live on. Is that what’s happening? I sincerely hope not. That’s why finding the source materials is so important.
I can only imagine what the late, great Joe Cella would say to me about the possibility of an ongoing cover-up. Probably something like: “Welcome to my world.” And then he’d add, “Keep on it.”
In light of the new revelations, I rewatched the 1976 documentary “The Phantom of Oxford” to listen again to what Carl Knox had to say 23 years after Tammen had disappeared. By then, Knox had moved to Boca Raton, Florida, and was serving as professor of education and vice president for student affairs at Florida Atlantic University.
In Part 1 (9:18), Knox briefly discusses Tammen having left his car behind with his bass inside, which is 100% true, but it doesn’t add anything to today’s topic. In Part 2 (2:40), he says this:
Carl Knox: In other campuses where I’ve been located, there have been disappearances, and there have been tragedies, but nothing which has sort of popped out of, no background of explanation, no way of reasonable anticipation, but just suddenly happening, and there you were with egg on your face, deep-felt concerns, and yet no answers for any part of it.
Ed Hart: And yet something tells you Ron Tammen is alive.
Carl Knox: Yes, I feel this. I feel it keenly.
Knox is believable in the interview, and his facial expressions could best be described as: deeply concerned, which is consistent with what he has to say. But, as we now know, there’s a lot of information concerning the university’s investigation that he’s chosen not to say here. Twenty-three years later, he has elected to keep his mouth shut—about open psychology books and dropped courses, about hypnosis studies, about three amnesiac Ohio youths, about Ron’s proneness to dissociation, about Dr. Switzer, about hidden buzzers and forbidden words.
In fact, the only time Carl Knox truly opens up about the case is in his last sentence. Knowing everything he knew back then, he keenly felt that Ron was alive—in 1953 as well as in 1976. And you know what? I keenly feel it too.
Happy holidays, everyone! Comments are now open. You’re also welcome to air a grievance or two (non-political please) in honor of Festivus, which also happens to be today.
Post-Christmas Post-Script(Dec. 27, 2020)
Hi, all! I’m back. I forgot to make a point in the above post that probably appears like a gaping, cistern-sized hole and it’s been eating at me. It concerns the fourth bullet point that discusses the cisterns and wells. There I was, offering up my reasoning regarding why the interview with AD couldn’t have been conducted in 1953, and I didn’t even bring up the fact that the fourth bullet discusses how they’d searched the cisterns and wells in 1978, when they tore down Fisher Hall. Did anyone else catch that? I mean, clearly, the interview occurred after 1978.
Sorry for the oversight!
I should also add that the same university rep who felt that the interview was conducted at the time of Tammen’s disappearance said that she didn’t think the fourth bullet was related to the interview with AD. But that’s not what the document says. The document says that the additional information was from the interview. So, it occurred after 1978, but, again, I think it was much more recent than that. I’m just hoping to find someone with the institutional memory to recall when the interview took place and with whom.
I think it’s time we chatted a little more about Richard, don’t you?
Richard, Richard, Richard. Where to begin?
Richard Tammen was…a pill. A troublemaker. A royal pain in the ass. All those things and then some. But could he have been a blackmailer?
Before we get too far into this discussion, I need to establish a few guiding principles:
Guiding principle number one: When I started this project, I’d promised myself (and my mother) that I wouldn’t be airing people’s dirty laundry indiscriminately. If I stumbled upon a few cadavers in someone’s closet, an arm bone or two in someone’s armoire, I wouldn’t be sharing that information unless it was pertinent to the case. So even though I knew as early as 2012 that the end of Richard Tammen’s life wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t prepared to publicize those details, because, to be honest, I didn’t think that they had anything to do with Ron’s disappearance. Now, however, I’m more inclined to believe that they may be indicative of someone with serious character flaws, which may be relevant to his Miami years after all.
Guiding principle number two: Anyone who is living who may be related to Richard through a marriage or whatever will not be named or discussed on this blogsite—ever. I believe in protecting people’s privacy, y’all.
And finally, guiding principle number three: We’re just tossing around some ideas at this point. Right now, I can’t say whether or not Richard was blackmailing Ron—or even if Ron was being blackmailed at all. But it’s a question worth pursuing, and so I will.
I’ve already passed along several details about Richard during his K-12 years, some of which may help explain how he came to be the person he was. One former neighbor who used to play street football with the three oldest Tammen boys said that they nicknamed Richard “Peewee” because he was so short. That’s bound to rile you after a while. John attributed Richard’s meanness to the fact that he was left-handed, and, for years, the teachers used to rap his knuckles to get him to switch hands. And while we’re on the subject of school, Richard was escorted to the principal’s office so often that John and Ron felt the need to employ a secret hand signal to let each other know if they’d spotted their mother Marjorie in the building. Her flair for the dramatic made things so much worse.
But lots of people who grew up in Richard’s day managed to survive nicknames and sore knuckles and trips to the principal’s office without becoming, um, blackmailers. John also said that the three boys got along, and were each other’s best friends—building forts, sliding down hills, cooking up money-making ventures. And Richard seemed to be following in Ron’s and John’s footsteps, joining all the same clubs in high school. Despite their personality differences, the Tammen boys looked alike. They dressed alike. They seemed to like to do the same kinds of things. When Richard came to Miami as a freshman during the 1952-53 academic year, he pledged Ron’s fraternity, Delta Tau Delta. Why would he do that if they didn’t get along?
Nevertheless, it’s nearly impossible to escape who we really are, even as we mature and mellow, and Richard’s bullying reputation followed him to Miami. The Delts weren’t that enamored with Richard either. They knew him to be a hothead…an aptly named Dick. One of them let me know that the only reason Richard was invited to join the fraternity was because of Ron. And maybe that was always Richard’s survival method—riding Ron’s coattails to get through any door. Did he have his hands in Ron’s coat pockets too?
Seriously, would he do that? Here’s why I’m looking into this question: as far as I can tell, Richard was working his way through college by caddying in the summers, and that’s all. It doesn’t appear as if he had a job as a freshman at Miami. His brother Robert doesn’t recall Richard having any additional income sources either.
Ron, on the other hand, was also caddying during the summers. Before starting his freshman year at Miami, he reported earning $350 from caddying for the Hawthorne Valley Country Club as well as performing semi-skilled labor for the City of Maple Heights. In addition, Ron had received a scholarship as a caddie through the Cleveland District Golf Association. The scholarship was for high school boys who had caddied for at least two years (Ron had been caddying for 7 years before college), who carried at least a B-plus average, and who were “unable to finance a university education.”
We don’t know the amount of Ron’s scholarship—it varied from person to person. We also don’t know if he received a two-year or a four-year scholarship, but, of course, that didn’t matter anyway, given the way things played out for him. As for the fund itself, in 1952, it totaled roughly $4300, which was split by all the overlapping recipients over a given academic year (18-ish, per a 1953 article). Ron’s piece of the pie would have likely been in the neighborhood of at least a couple hundred dollars a year. Possibly more.
But here’s my point: it seemed to be enough. Ron seemed to be getting along just fine during his freshman year between his scholarship and the caddying and city work over the summer and vacation breaks. He didn’t have his other sources of income yet—the Campus Owls, the residence hall counseling, the blood donations—until his sophomore year. And the university’s loan program didn’t apply to freshmen.
Richard, on the other hand, didn’t receive the caddie scholarship. I know that, because I have the newspaper article announcing the recipients for 1952-53 on my hot little hard drive. And yet, at a time when he seemed to be surviving with only the income from his summer caddying job, Ron was working more than ever, doing all of the above. And here’s the kicker: with all of Ron’s sources of income, including the loans, and with few living expenses other than his car, you’d think that he would have saved more. But all he had in his checking account when he disappeared was a little over $87. And he still owed the university for most of his dining hall fees plus that $100 loan.
Do I intend to continue following the money? Oh, you betcha. I’m currently attempting to obtain Richard’s Social Security earnings report for the years 1952-1954, and, while I’m at it, I think I’ll ask them for Ron’s entire earnings report just to see what they do. But the Social Security Administration is almost as difficult as the CIA when trying to obtain FOIA records. There are other sources I’ll be reaching out to as well. I’ll let you know how things go.
Now, at the beginning of this post I promised to reveal something I’ve been holding back about Richard, and here it is: when Richard died in an apartment fire on October 23, 2004, he was heavily armed. Not only that, but at least some of his weapons were potentially—and I’m going to say probably—illegal.
As it so happens, Richard had two Smith and Wesson guns in his possession when he died. One was a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and the other was a 40-caliber semi-automatic handgun. Now, this may surprise you, but I’m not a gun person. In fact, the above sentence reveals the extent of my knowledge regarding Richard’s taste in guns. At this point, let’s just say that they’re both lethal. Also, did a 69-year-old guy with health issues living in an apartment for seniors really need that kind of weaponry to defend his hearth and home? Me thinks not.
But what was most interesting about Richard’s firearms stash—and what gave at least one of the investigating police officers pause—was the ammunition. The pistol, which was found in the fire debris, was loaded with what appears to be 15 cartridges, though there are inconsistencies in that report. More clearly stated was what investigators had later found: another three magazines—two .40 caliber and one 9 mm—that were each fully loaded with 15 cartridges. For the non-gun afficionados, anything over 10 cartridges in one magazine is considered a “high-capacity magazine,” which was prohibited during the years 1994-2004 by the federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Here’s what the Giffords Law Center says on this topic:
“In 1994, Congress adopted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, making it unlawful to transfer or possess a “large capacity ammunition feeding device” not lawfully possessed on or before the law’s enactment.12 The law also banned the manufacture, transfer, and possession of semi-automatic assault weapons. See our summary on Assault Weapons for more information. The law was adopted with a sunset clause, however, and expired in 2004, despite overwhelming public support for its renewal. Thus, large capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons that were formerly banned under the federal law are now legal unless banned by state or local law.”
Keep in mind that Richard was living in Contra Costa County, California, at the time of his death. Even though the federal law against high-capacity magazines ended September 13, 2004—a little over one month before Richard died—California had its own law on the books.
Beginning in 2000, it was illegal to sell, manufacture, import, or transfer magazines that hold more than 10 bullets in California. However, if a person had already owned such magazines at the time the law went into effect, they were permitted to keep them. In 2016, 12 years after Richard died, it was illegal to own them. (You can read more on the California law here.) In August of this year, the Ninth Circuit voted to end the ban saying that it violated a person’s Second Amendment rights.
Were Richard’s high-capacity magazines illegal? It depends on when he bought them. Unfortunately, I’ve read that it’s practically impossible to tell when ammunition was purchased. (His guns and ammunition were destroyed in 2007.) I’m no lawyer, but it appears to me that if he purchased the magazines before 1994, then he would have been a law-abiding citizen. Is that what he did—held onto three, probably four, high-capacity magazines for 20 years? By the way, I’m also trying to determine if the semi-automatic guns were legal at that time, but the distinctions provided in the law are a lot tougher for a non-gun-person to determine. (According to a 2019 ABC News article that I found especially helpful, that’s why there were so many loopholes in the law.) I’ll be seeking the guidance of experts on that question.
And that leads me to ask this question: what is the point of no return when someone decides to start criming? Or, in Richard’s case, when did he decide to cross the line from buttoned-down college freshman to blackmailer and whatever else—if, in fact, that’s what he did? Could it have happened in an innocent, unintended way? Richard wanted to be an architect, but his personality was so repellant and his grades so bad that he may have had to ask his brother for an assist. If his brother said “No, sorry, you need to carry your own weight,” would he resort to force? Would he threaten to reveal some intel that he knew would destroy his brother if his brother didn’t cooperate?
Ron’s money problems seemed to have started during the summer of 1952, when he asked his father if he could control his own finances, and he showed signs of stress after returning home for spring break in 1953. Who would he have spent lots of time with during both of those periods? Little brother, that’s who.
What do you think? The floor is now open, but please note that any comments for or against gun control won’t be approved—this isn’t the place for that discussion. However, if someone has expertise on the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and whether a particular semi-automatic weapon was permissible or not, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Of course, anything else on the blackmail theory and Richard’s potential role is welcome too.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Despite the fact that (hopefully) most of us have adjusted our usual Thanksgiving plans and are keeping things small and meaningful this year, it’s still my favorite holiday. To commemorate this tumultuous year, I encourage you to use the comments section to tell us how you are—or aren’t—spending the holiday due to covid-19. (Send pics too!) I’ll go first: we won’t be making our annual trek to NYC to visit my brother and his partner this year. It sucks—it really, really does. But, for the good of the country, we’ll just have to wait until 2021 for my brother’s stupendous stuffin’ muffins (see my Thanksgiving 2018 post for recipe).
But I also have a surprise for you: an editorial on the topic of Thanksgiving that’s brought to us by our very own Ronald Tammen. So cool, right?? When Ron was a senior at Maple Heights High School, he oversaw the editorial page of the student paper, the Maple Heights Herald. Although I can’t say with 100% certainty that Ron wrote all of the editorials while he was in charge, they do sound a lot like Ron—or how I picture Ron’s writings to sound: serious and responsible and loaded with patriotism and advice about the importance of hard work to better oneself. If he didn’t write an editorial for a particular issue, at the very least, he would have given it a final polish and stamp of approval. But this one totally sounds like something he wrote.
The editorial I’m sharing with you was published 70 years ago—on November 16, 1950—and it certainly sounds that way in places. Plus, there’s nothing like reading the deep and earnest and not-quite-gelled thoughts of a high schooler on deadline. To provide additional perspective, in June of that year, the United States had entered into the Korean War. For a young man like Ron who would be registering for the draft in eight short months, the world was getting scary. (And if you think this editorial sounds somber, just give a read to this excerpt from the one he ran at Christmas: “As conditions are shaping in Korea, the atomic bomb may well be brought into use. And, if it is, assuredly, there are those of us who may not be around to celebrate the next Yuletide.”) Yikes. Despite the differences between then and now, some aspects still ring familiar, and, for this reason, I thought it would be worth posting.
Thanksgiving is a simple word—as simple and straightforward as the small band of Pilgrims who first gave it meaning over 300 years ago. They had given up every bit of security and even risked their very lives to come to America. And why did they sacrifice almost everything? They believed in having freedom from tyranny and despotism and were willing to give anything for this privilege.
Those first few years were very painful for the Pilgrims and they faced hardships never before encountered. Some died while they were in sight of shore and were buried before there was even thought of shelter. The Pilgrims had determination however, and still more important they had faith in God and in themselves. They had faith that if they worked hard enough things would brighten and take a turn for the better. They had faith in an ideal and nothing that happened would sway them from it.
Little by little they gathered strength and with the help of the friendly Indians, they were able to produce a crop large enough to maintain life. It was decided to set aside a day in which they could all feast and give thanks to the Lord for helping them.
It would be well for us to compare this Thanksgiving with the first one, in that we are experiencing a similar sense of uncertainty. Progress has changed our way of living, but we are still devoting our strength and faith to the same principles of freedom. We are the Pilgrims of the twentieth century and must stand as firm as they for our beliefs. Thus is Thanksgiving—the holiday that explains America.
Our recent discussions about Ron’s finances, loans, and faculty co-signers on those loans reminded me of something this morning: a letter that Ron’s father had written to Ron back in the fall of Ron’s sophomore year. Mr. Tammen wrote the letter on September 19, 1952—a Friday. Although his handwriting is beautifully legible, a remnant of days gone by, I’ve typed it out for you here:
19 Sept. 1952
Dear Ron: —
We have been waiting more or less to hear from you, but realize that you must be extremely busy not only with your studies, but also with your other activities: — such as, counselor and the Owls.
Mom picked up your checks today so we thought we would forward them as quickly as possible so you could get your “Savings Account” started. We are going along with you on this deal as we feel you are old enough and should have the experience of handling your own money. We hope you will be wise and remember that practically all of it will have to be used for next semester.
I am retaining your check stubs for your tax purposes, but will put down exactly what the stub shows:
All in all, it was slightly more than you expected and you were paid for that day.
When you do find time to write, please give us a brief on expenses and expenditures.
Mr. Tammen seemed to have a question concerning the dates of Ron’s bus-washing services. In addition, written in pencil at the bottom in the left-hand column is the following:
When I first read his letter, I was struck by how parental it sounded, but not in a warm way. It felt formal. The sentence that stood out most was the one about Ron being paid for that day, underlined twice. What could have happened at his city job that was so terrible, Mr. Tammen didn’t even want to put it in writing? Did Ron roll a truck? Did he get into a fistfight with another bus washer? The mind reeled. I tried to find out—I really did. I asked Ron’s siblings if they remembered some incident that happened to Ron at work that summer, and no one had any idea. I contacted the City of Maple Heights to see if they still had an employment record for Ron, but they didn’t. I visited the city’s museum where they store boxes of old books and city papers to see if his employment record might have been there. It wasn’t.
The rest of the letter didn’t interest me that much. It sounded like Ron was just trying to become more independent by handling his own finances, which only seemed fair. Ron was responsible for putting himself through college, just like his two brothers, John and Richard. Mr. Tammen wasn’t contributing a dime to his education. I filed the letter and didn’t think much more about it.
Several things stand out for me in light of what we now know:
First, the “Savings Account” that Mr. Tammen alludes to in the letter wasn’t mentioned by Mr. Shera of the Oxford National Bank when he wrote to Carl Knox about the $87.25 balance he’d mailed to Miami’s bursar. Mr. Shera calls it a “commercial account,” singular, and we already know that Ron was writing checks. I don’t think Ron had a savings account—I think it was just checking. In addition, a “commercial account” is defined as a business account where funds are readily accessible, as with a checking account. According to his brother John, in addition to playing with the Campus Owls, Ron was known to manage gigs on the side. Perhaps this is the reason his account is referred to as commercial? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer.
Second, Mr. Tammen’s last sentence, where he’s requesting a “brief on expenses and expenditures” is telling. He seems like a micromanager and, I’ll say it, a bit of a pain. With Ron taking over his own finances, perhaps he thought he could somehow avoid his father’s scrutinizing every little expenditure. This could be Ron’s way of making sure that Mr. Tammen didn’t know about every single check he wrote.
And that’s when it occurred to me. Perhaps Ron wasn’t seeking to manage his own finances so that he could expedite adulthood. Maybe he wanted to keep some expenses hidden from his father.
But what expenses? Ron was so busy working, he barely had time to spend his money. Nevertheless, he was always in need of money.
Here’s where my head is right now: blackmail.
Several of you have suggested this possibility and I think you may be right. Think about it: Ron’s freshman year at Miami went fairly well, but his sophomore year was pretty much a bust from the get-go. Even beginning that first semester, he started to drop courses and was no longer considered full-time. He was always working and his grades were slipping.
During the summer of 1952, Ron was working for the City of Maple Heights doing a number of assorted jobs. Could it be that sometime during that summer, Ron and another male were caught in a tryst and the witness decided to make it lucrative? Maybe the blackmailer said that he could be paid on the installment plan.
So how might this have played out: At the beginning of the fall semester, Ron asks his father to let him handle his own finances. That way, his dad wouldn’t know about any checks Ron might have written to his newfound “friend.”
He struggles to make it work, again taking on jobs and securing loans. Perhaps he even volunteered for the Psychology Department’s hypnosis study, both to make some money as well as to see if they could change him somehow, to prevent this situation from happening again.
When Ron went home during spring break, however, something happened. Maybe he saw his blackmailer and the person upped his amount. Whatever happened, when Ron returned to school the following week, people noticed a change in Ron’s behavior. According to Carl Knox’s notes, he was seen reading the Bible 5 or 6 times, and, he “spoke of being ‘tired lately’ since vacation.”
He was in a crisis. Someone may have been threatening to out him if he didn’t pay up, and he was way over his head in debt. Crazy as it sounds, this could have been what brought the CIA to his rescue.
A couple other thoughts:
I’m not sure who penciled in the calculations at the bottom of Mr. Tammen’s letter. It may have been Ron, though, based on another note page, the numbers appear to match those made by Carl Knox.
It amazes me that Ron had held onto his father’s letter for so long and that the university was able to obtain it. In addition, Carl Knox’s penciled-in notes asking “Did he owe Univ any money?” or telling himself to “Follow up re Check Book” clearly show that the university found Ron’s money issues to be as interesting as we do.
Sorry to be a bother, you guys, but I can’t keep this in. This afternoon, I was busy working on — what else? — Tammen research when I discovered something pertinent to our topic du jour. In the summer of 2019, I was visiting University Archives (sigh…I really miss road trips) going through a bunch of documents. On that particular day, I was leafing through issues of their Information Bulletin for Faculty and Staff from the early 1950s — 1950 and 1952 to be exact. As I recall, the university didn’t produce a new bulletin every year. Sometimes they just produced an addendum. Fortunately, I had taken photos of numerous pages — some relevant to the topic I was obsessing about at that moment, and a couple having to do with what I’m obsessing about now: student loans.
Here’s what they had to say about student loans in the 1950 issue (apologies for the bad photos, but I’m guessing you’re used to that by now):
And here’s what they had to say about them in the 1952 addendum, right around the time when Ron would have been applying for one:
Here are the points I want to leave you with today:
Student loans were a big deal.
Since Ron was a sophomore, his loan would have been limited to $100.
I’m guessing that Ron had been a recipient of this loan, and it’s the same one that Mr. Alden had written up when discussing Ron’s outstanding debt.
And the juiciest tidbit of all: our friend H.H. Stephenson oversaw the student loan program.
So H.H. Stephenson was overseeing the student loan program when Ron received his loan. That loan may have even been relatively recent, since Carl Knox’s notes indicate that Ron had recently deposited a $100 check from a loan. What this tells me is that H.H. Stephenson was even better acquainted with Ron than we had previously known. Sure, sure, H.H. knew him because he’d given him a car permit. But he’d also just handed him $100! Could that be one of the reasons the university kept a lid on H.H.’s potential Ron sighting — they didn’t want the money issue to come out? What’s more, for me at least, it also makes the potential sighting more believable.
Purposely lying to a member of the press is a big fat no-no for a spokesperson of any stripe. Obfuscating—intentionally throwing up smokescreens—is really bad too. But to look a reporter in the eye and say something that’s not in the least bit true takes a special kind of moxie. It also requires a motive. Otherwise, why not just tell the truth? For those with nothing to hide, honesty is so much easier.
So for someone like Carl Knox—who, from what I’ve been told, was an aboveboard kind of guy—to introduce an untruth with a reporter when discussing Tammen’s case seems especially bizarre. Wouldn’t he and other university officials have wanted to get everything out in the open in hopes that it might help them find Ron? What’s more, Knox was still in his first year as dean of men at Miami—a brand new post. He would have wanted to pour everything he had into a task that held such high visibility. Lying about it? That would be the last thing he would have wanted to do.
But then, nobody starts out planning to lie.
Lately, after finding tangible evidence of a university cover-up, I’ve been examining all of the old news articles for what feels like the zillionth time. I’ve been tracking any lies and obfuscations that are quoted—directly or indirectly— from university officials, knowing what they knew at the time.
We already know about a couple of them. We know that Gilson Wright (and others) chose to mislead the public about the psychology textbook on Ron’s desk, most likely to direct attention away from Dr. Switzer. We also know that they tried to depict Ron as doing very well in his classes. Once we saw his transcripts, however, we knew that Ron had recently dropped his psychology course for the second time in a year and was slipping far behind in his degree program. Again, the motive behind the deception was most likely to avoid shining a big bright light on Switzer.
There were the other lies and obfuscations too. Among the greatest hits are:
When Carl Knox decided not to divulge Paul’s (not his real name) story about his walk back to the dorms after song practice with Ron and Chip Anderson the night Ron disappeared.
When Gilson Wright disclosed in a news article that three amnesiac youths had wandered off and later returned, but never mentioned the youths in his articles again.
When Oscar Decker added an hour to the time of arrival of the young man who appeared on Mrs. Spivey’s doorstep on the night Tammen disappeared.
Living your life with one lie can be hard enough. But juggling all of those lies and obfuscations TOGETHER? That’s practically a full-time job.
Today, I want to discuss another lie that officials opted to tell about Ron—the one about his finances.
On April 25, 1953, the Saturday after Ron disappeared, Carl Knox was quoted in the Hamilton Journal-News by Gilson Wright, with the following matter-of-fact pronouncement:
“‘He was not in financial difficulties,’ Dean Knox said after a checkup Friday. ‘But he could not have had more than $10 or $11 in his possession when he left Fisher Hall.’”
On April 29, 1953, Wright wrote this in the Cincinnati Enquirer:
“A sizable balance was left in a downtown bank.”
And on May 4, 1953, Wright wrote this in the Hamilton Journal-News:
“…he took only $10 or $11 and left more than $100 in a local checking account.”
I don’t know how much money Ron had in his pocket when he disappeared, but I do believe Carl Knox fibbed about Tammen’s finances. Ron Tammen was experiencing financial difficulties. Despite the fact that Ron was always busy earning money as well as looking for ways to earn more money, he still owed a lot of money, with one of his primary creditors being the university. Also, his bank balance wasn’t “more than $100”—it was $87.25.
Here’s what was going on behind the scenes:
On May 26, 1953, Miami’s bursar, a guy named David C. Alden, wrote a memo to Carl Knox summarizing Tammen’s standing with the university. He said that Tammen still owed the university $100 in board (dining hall fees) and $100 on a “loan fund note,” minus the pay Ron was due as a residence hall counselor ($29.41) and a refund on his room rent and laundry ($29.10). The total Tammen owed, therefore, would be $141.49.
(We’ll get more into that boarding fee and loan fund note in a second.)
Mr. Alden added: “If the brother is still in town and the father and brother have approved the transfer of the account at the Oxford National Bank against the University account, the balance could be reduced by the amount of the account at the bank.”
The Tammens must have agreed to the transfer of funds. On July 2, 1953, Don Shera, vice president of the Oxford National Bank, wrote to Carl Knox letting him know that Ron’s balance of $87.25 had been sent via a certificate of deposit to bursar Alden to help defray the balance owed to the university.
That same day—July 2, which was a Thursday—Alden wrote to Mr. Tammen letting him know that the board fee was actually $110, not $100, and that, with the money from Ron’s bank account applied to the balance, the amount owed by Mr. and Mrs. Tammen was now $64.24. That might not sound like much, but if you plug the numbers into the inflation calculator, you’ll see that $64 in 1953 was worth almost ten times as much as it is today, or $624.
But that’s not my favorite part of Alden’s letter. Here’s the best part:
“I was sorry not to have had a chance to talk with you when I stopped at your residence on Monday. Please be assured that this communication is not being written to press for payment on the balance. Whatever time you need to clear it is satisfactory.”
Um, excuse me? At a time when the Tammens were at a perpetual Red Alert readiness level, hoping and praying with every doorbell and telephone ring for news of Ron, Miami’s bursar thought it would be a swell idea to hop into his car and drive to the Tammens’ house at least 4 hours away (probably longer back then) to discuss Ron’s outstanding balance. What’s more, it sounds as though he did it unannounced. A surprise pop-in! Let me put it thusly: if the university thought the situation warranted the bursar’s driving from Oxford to Maple Heights to personally discuss Ron’s balance, then please don’t tell me that Ron wasn’t in financial difficulties. If $64 meant that much to the university, then think about how much more it must have meant to Ron and Ron’s parents.
But let’s also talk about the university’s initial bill. The bursar said that Ron’s outstanding debts equaled $110 for board plus another $100 for a loan. According to the 1952-53 M Book, every semester, in-state male students who lived in the dorms had to pony up $315.88 for all of their expenses, which included tuition, residence hall rent, board, laundry, and other fees. The most expensive cost was board—eating in the dining hall—which for males came to $175. Although the university asked students to pay the entire amount upfront at the start of each semester, they did allow students to pay board in installments, as Ron chose to do.
But Ron wasn’t keeping up very well with the installment plan either. The second semester was almost exactly four months long, starting February 3 and ending with the last day of finals on June 4. Ron should have paid more than two months’ worth in board ($43.75/month), and possibly three months’ worth, yet he’d only paid $65 when he disappeared. (If you think that doesn’t sound like much, I’ll just direct you to Mr. Alden, who felt differently. And don’t forget to use the inflation calculator.)
Now here’s the weirdest part of the university’s bill: that $100 loan fund note. Ron had received a loan from the university for some unnamed purpose. Could this be the same loan that Willis Wertz and Glen Yankee had co-signed, according to Carl Knox’s notes? However, when you take a closer look at what Knox had written, you see that next to Wertz’s name, he wrote “co-signed a note at bank” while next to Yankee’s name, he wrote “co-signed a note.” It appears as if there may have been two loans, one a bank loan signed by Wertz and the other a university loan, ostensibly signed by Yankee. Or maybe Yankee’s note and the university note are different, in which case he may have had three notes.
Which leads me to my next question: why was Ron struggling so much financially when he was bringing in money from residence hall counseling, playing the bass, donating blood, and who knows what else? During the summers and breaks, he worked his butt off at decent-paying jobs as well. He didn’t drink or do drugs. Didn’t go out much with friends. Didn’t date much. He didn’t drive his car much. Even with his car on campus, he was known to hitchhike and bum rides from other people. Where was his money going?
In his notes, Knox scribbled in some expenses that Ron had incurred here and there with little explanation. Here’s my best attempt at a summary:
Of the most recently deposited money, Ron deposited a total of $40 from playing jobs (band gigs) and he also deposited a $100 check on a loan. (Could this be the university loan?) There was no “activity” in Ron’s bank account—and by “activity,” I think Knox means bank deposits—after April 6, 1953.
According to Knox, here were the checks that Ron had written the week before he disappeared.
4/13/53 $24.45 Delta Tau Delta
4/13/53 $4.07 Shillitos (clothing store)
4/15/53 $15.00 Cleveland Trust Co., Cleveland, Ohio, American Express Co.
4/16/53 $5.00 Check cash, John Minnis (drug store)
Knox also noted that in December 1952, Ron had obtained a $50 loan to clear up a “Housebill,” which I think means that he needed the loan to pay off his board from the first semester. Knox also noted that he “planned to repay [the loan] after Christmas work.”
By far, the most sizable payment had to do with Ron’s car, a green 1939 Chevy sedan, for which he needed to pay approximately $175 sometime before Christmas 1952. That was a major expense that may have involved some servicing problem—an engine, brakes, or something equally huge. From what I can tell, Ron had paid for the car in full after trading in his first car, a 1929 Ford. (His first car was really old-timey. These days, they’re cute in parades, but compared to what wealthier guys his age were driving, I’m sure he felt the need to upgrade asap.) Thanks to reporter Joe Cella, we know that Ron also paid his car insurance on the Friday night before he disappeared for $17.45. Both the $175 car bill and the $50 housebill expenses had also been paid.
But let’s be real. Ron wasn’t just juggling his grades, he was juggling his finances as well—taking out loans to pay his bills and other loans, which I suppose would be fine if it weren’t for the other bills and loans that lay in wait. See how cyclical debt can be? Ron was drowning in it, and Knox and the others in Miami’s administration knew it. But for some reason, they didn’t want anyone else to know.
The Tammens weren’t made of money either. I think they were a little freaked out by the bursar’s in-your-face manner of doing business—wouldn’t you be?—and said so to Carl Knox, which prompted Knox to send a follow-up letter on July 6, backing up what Alden had said in his letter and cushioning it with some hopeful news about Mrs. Spivey’s possible sighting. On August 17, 1953, roughly 4 months after Ron disappeared and 12 days after Ron was possibly spotted in Wellsville, NY, Mr. Tammen submitted his check for $64.24, thus closing the university’s ledger on Ronald Tammen, and making Mr. Alden a very, very happy man.
So why did university officials feel the need to lie about Ron’s finances in addition to everything else they lied about? My feeling is that they already had their narrative in place and didn’t want to deviate from it. In their imaginary world, Ron was a stellar student with no failings, therefore, he MUST have walked away with amnesia. If he was having problems—with grades, with money, with his personal life, or anything else—then that would just raise problematic questions from troublesome reporters. And if someone wielding a lot of power was requiring the university to cover up the truth, maybe Carl Knox and the others didn’t have any choice in the matter.
Monday, 11/16/20, add-on:
Because Mr. Alden’s visit and July 2, 1953, letter to the Tammens was of particular interest to readers, I thought I’d also post Carl Knox’s follow-up letter to Mr. and Mrs. Tammen from July 6, 1953. Although I paraphrased the letter in my write-up, perhaps I didn’t do it justice.
Is it just me, or do you detect a certain officiousness/harshness/annoyance in his tone concerning payment, even while telling them to take whatever amount of time they need? Perhaps his decision to open with the words “It was my understanding” is what gives it a less-than-fuzzy feel, despite the “hoping and praying” that comes later, in the 3rd paragraph.
Happy Halloween, everyone! October 31st has always held special significance in Tammen world—the whole phantom ghost schtick. Although the holiday has nothing to do with the Ron Tammen story, people do tend to think about him during this time of year and, like clockwork, I’ve been noticing an uptick in visits to the blogsite. So let’s take advantage of the fact that we’re all here together once again and have ourselves a little catch-up, shall we?
Research-wise, things are still moving forward, however, most of the balls happen to be in other people’s courts at the moment. For this reason, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have breaking news to share with you regarding hypnosis, mind control, psych professors, a university cover-up, and all the other topics we’ve come to enjoy pondering on this page. Don’t worry—we’ll get there. We will. Just not today.
What I will be sharing with you has to do with a topic that’s super apropos for the holiday—cemeteries! Specifically, we’ll be discussing the permanent resting place of several of the people who have something to do with Ronald Tammen. Some of the people you know well, some you sort of know, and several will be brand new to you. And the coolest part is that they’re all lying a mere stone’s throw from one another.
So, yeah…cemeteries, y’all. Do you love them as much as I do? The tranquility of nature commingling with the people who preceded us; the copious ways in which the dead choose to express their individuality, from dark and scary mausoleums to looming obelisks to blocks of granite, etched with butterflies and angels; the stark reminder that we’re here for but a brief blip in time and that we should probably make the most of it. As a wannabe author, one reason I love cemeteries so much is that the people who occupy them are so…dependable. You can go to a cemetery, rain or shine, and know that a certain person will always be there, no matter how important they were here on earth. No appointment necessary. Walk-ins accepted. They won’t stand you up, and ironically enough, they won’t ghost you.
The cemetery we’ll be discussing is Oxford Cemetery, a hilly little respite off Route 27 (Oxford Millville Road), just south of Peffer Park and Miami’s Western Campus. If you’re driving to Hamilton from Oxford, it’ll be on the righthand side. If you’re driving in the opposite direction, it’ll be on the left.
Here are some of the people you’ll find buried there. (You can click on the names to see a portion of their interment cards.)
You probably know this guy best. Dr. Patten was chair of the psychology department at Miami from 1932 to 1961. In the early days, he was St. Clair Switzer’s mentor, and very likely was the person who encouraged Switzer to pursue graduate study under Clark Hull, the famed behavioral psychologist and hypnosis expert. In 1961, Dr. Patten turned over the chairmanship to Switzer. He retired in June 1965 and, sadly, died one year later. Dr. Patten was one of the three hypnosis experts at Miami when Ron was a student.
Gilson Wright was the journalism professor at Miami who also worked as an on-call correspondent (stringer) for several area newspapers, including the Hamilton Journal-News,Dayton Daily News, and Cincinnati Enquirer. Wright also was an adviser for the Miami Student.I’ve already written quite a bit about Wright, so I won’t drone on here. Most importantly, it’s my belief that Wright was helping the university cover up certain aspects of the Tammen case, particularly that Tammen’s psychology book was open on his desk when he disappeared.
We haven’t talked about Robert Howard yet. According to a news article announcing Gilson Wright’s retirement (which was written by Howard), Robert Howard began heading up Miami’s news bureau in 1956 after Wright turned over those reins, while continuing with his journalist/advising/stringing duties. (This detail doesn’t quite jive with what it says on Howard’s tombstone, but hey, if a person can’t embellish his credentials a little on his tombstone, when can he do it?)
One of the more interesting anecdotes I have on Robert Howard is that, in 1973, when Joe Cella (Hamilton Journal-News) wrote the article that introduced the name of Dr. Garret J. Boone to our Ronald Tammen lexicon, we were told that university officials didn’t welcome Boone’s information warmly. In fact, he was given the brush-off, he told Cella.
Here’s the rest of that story: In the University Archives, a short message written on “Miami University, Office of Public Information” notepaper is stuck to the back of Cella’s article. Scrawled in pencil, the note reads: “Paul — Who’s left for him to scold but thee & me?” and it’s signed “Howard.” There’s no telling who Paul was—I checked the 1972 and 1973 M Books, and no relevant administrators went by Paul, be it a first or last name. Maybe he was an assistant in the news office. But I have a very strong hunch that the snarky comment was written by the guy who’s buried here, Robert T. Howard.
Did you know that Ronald Tammen had a relative who was an emeritus professor at Miami when he disappeared? True! Tammen’s favorite uncle, John McCann (Mrs. Tammen’s brother), married a woman named Eleanora Handschin, and her parents were Charles and Helena. Charles Handschin was a highly respected German professor at Miami. He also had been chair of the Department of Romance Languages for 39 years. The Handschins’ home was just around the corner from the Delt house, and Ron used to visit them from time to time. I’m not sure why this fact was never reported in the news—till today!—but perhaps the university wanted to spare them the publicity.
(A few more interesting facts about John McCann: he was a Miami graduate who later became a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. John A. McCann is buried in Arlington Cemetery and there’s even a Miami scholarship in his name.)
Karl Limper was an esteemed professor of geology at Miami beginning in 1946 until his retirement in 1981. How does a geology professor factor into the Tammen story? Dr. Limper served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1959 to 1971, and he was the person who interviewed Ted Perin as part of Miami’s oral history project. As you may recall, Dr. Perin was a psychology professor at Miami as well as a former doctoral student of Clark Hull’s and he had some interesting things to say about St. Clair Switzer. One of his best stories was how Doc Switzer, as a retiring department chair, packed up his office and left without saying goodbye to anyone, even though he’d been there for over three decades. Also worth noting was that, when Dr. Perin raised the subject of hypnosis, Dr. Limper would change the topic as quickly as possible. Whether that was on purpose or coincidental, I can’t say for sure. What I can say was that it happened at least twice, and, at least to me, it felt forced.
Another new name for you is Willis Wertz. Wertz was an architecture professor at Miami when Ron disappeared. Actually, he was one of the first two students to graduate from Miami’s architecture school, and in 1973, the year he retired, they named the art and architecture library after him. It still is.
So how would Willis Wertz have come into contact with Ron? Ron’s brother Richard was the architecture student in the family. Ron was business. Surprisingly, Professor Wertz is mentioned in Dean Carl Knox’s notes as having signed a bank note for Ron along with Glen Yankee, a former accounting professor. This seems…weird. What professor agrees to sign a bank note for a student, potentially making themselves liable for the repayment of said bank note if said student should, oh, I don’t know, disappear? I mean, I don’t care how much of a go-getter you are, can you imagine walking up to a professor and asking him or her to cosign a loan? Ballsy move, Ron!
Thankfully, a faculty memorial written about Professor Wertz explains a lot. First, he was a member of Delta Tau Delta as a Miami student, so maybe he felt a connection with Ron in that regard. One of Ron’s fraternity brothers had this to say about him: “Willis Wertz was our fraternity advisor. I’m not surprised that they co-signed a note with Ron. [Ron] was so smart and likeable.”
And here are the giveaway sentences in the memorial:
Retirement did not diminish his interest in students, past and present. His concern for them could not be terminated by his retirement. He was a friend, adviser, teacher, and, at times, banker to almost forty years of architectural students at Miami.
If Professor Wertz was in the habit of lending money to students, I’m sure Richard found out and he told Ron. I don’t know about Glen Yankee’s side of the story, however. That bank note is one riddle within this mystery that I’d love to learn more about.
Who among us doesn’t love the story of Mrs. Clara Spivey, the woman from Seven Mile who contacted authorities in June 1953 saying that a young man who appeared on her porch on April 19 answered Tammen’s description. Oxford police chief Oscar Decker embraced her story and said it supported the amnesia theory. Others, including Ron’s brother Richard, weren’t so sure. They said there were discrepancies in her story.
In 1976, Joe Cella wrote an article with accompanying photos that retold old details and divulged new ones. Although Clara had passed away by then, her daughter, Barbara Jewell, is quoted in the article. Barbara was with her mother when the visitor showed up at the door.
“I still believe it was him,” she told Cella.
However, Paul Jewell, Barbara’s second husband, said he was also there that night, and he didn’t believe it was Ron. Sometime around 2008, he told the Butler County cold case detective that he thought it was one of the local ruffians. Barbara and Paul Jewell are buried in Oxford Cemetery too, though their memorials are located further down the hill, away from the university section.
Last but not least is the gravesite of Dr. Phillip Shriver, the beloved former president of Miami University, who is buried in the newer part of the university section. Dr. Shriver was obsessed with the Tammen case and he used to give talks to students about his disappearance, especially around Halloween. Dr. Shriver was my first interview for this project, and I sometimes wonder what he would say if he knew where my research has taken me.
Dr. Shriver had arrived at Miami on July 1, 1965. (His planner for that day is completely blank except for the words “First Day!”) He’d been in meetings with St. Clair Switzer in 1966, the year Switzer retired, so he was at least acquainted with our person of interest. I don’t know when he became sucked in by the Tammen case, and I’m currently looking into that. Even though Joe Cella had already written in 1954 that the open book on Tammen’s desk was his psychology textbook, I feel Dr. Shriver played an important role in finally making it known around Miami’s campus. Regardless of how things eventually play out, I’ll always feel grateful to him for talking to me back in 2010 and for getting this party started.
I’m heartbroken to share the news of the passing of Marcia Tammen, Ronald’s only sister. Marcia died this morning of complications from a chronic health condition. She would have been 78 on September 30.
Marcia was only ten years old when Ron disappeared, but she carried his memory and the hope of finding him with her all her life.
On the day of her brother’s disappearance, Marcia had won a framed print at her church after memorizing 18 verses of the Bible. The print was of Christ at Heart’s Door, by Warner Sallman. On the back, her teacher had written: “Only one life—‘Twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” Marcia kept that print with her for the next 67 years.
Marcia was my go-to source and confidante as I was conducting my research about Ron, and she was always open to whatever information I sent her way. A couple times each year, we’d meet up at Wendy’s or Bob Evans’ near her home, and I’d fill her in on updates. She’d listen intently to what I had to say, taking meticulous notes, and then would usually respond with, “Well…that sounds interesting. Keep up the good work.” She was warm, kind, and unflappable in a Midwestern sort of way.
The last time I saw her was this past February, just before the coronavirus impacted all of our lives. She was interviewed in her apartment by a Cincinnati TV reporter about Ron’s disappearance, and did a beautiful job sharing her thoughts about her family’s loss. The segment never aired because of COVID-19, but I’m so glad that we had the chance to do it. After our interviews, Marcia, her roommate Jule, and I drove to a local diner and had lunch together and gabbed like old friends. On the drive home, Marcia wanted me to look at a building I was driving by and she suddenly raised her arm to point it out. I thought she was telling me to take a quick left, and I jerked the wheel and very nearly rolled the car. Usually, she kept a straight face with me, but this time, she started cracking up, again, like an old friend. That was cool.
Every time someone associated with the Tammen mystery passes away, I feel as if I’ve let that person down. I really wanted to solve this in time. In fact, I’ve always pictured throwing a big party, and getting us all together, hopefully with Ron showing up as the main attraction. This one hurts so much.