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

Marjorie McCann Tammen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary McCann at her teaching job

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

Albert and Floranell McCann

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

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

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

Marjorie’s senior picture in high school

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

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

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

Ronald Tammen Sr.’s high school photo

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

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

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

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

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

Marjorie McCann Tammen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dearest Marcia,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Mama

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

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

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

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

So, say what you will about Marjorie. 

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

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

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

The FBI’s plagiarized narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As long as we’re talking about 2008…why did the FBI destroy a file on Tammen in the middle of a reopened investigation?

Hello! Tired of hearing from me so much? My apologies. Sometimes I get gabby. There’s another document I’ve been wanting to mention, but it falls slightly outside of last night’s theme—slightly—though the year 2008 is pertinent. This document was written in 2014 as part of my lawsuit settlement. The intended audience wasn’t law enforcement, just my lawyer and me.

The document is part of a declaration written by the chief of the FBI’s Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS) informing us of all the different places they searched for records on Tammen. The 2002 expungement of Tammen’s fingerprints isn’t mentioned anywhere, but I’m not sure that information is available in document form, which is a criterion of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It has to be a document. (Of course, even if there were a document on the expungement, I’m doubtful that they would have let me know about it if they weren’t willing to tell their friends in law enforcement.)

In the declaration, the RIDS chief created a table that listed search terms, the automated or manual indices searched, and the potentially responsive files. It also included the status of their search, such as “unable to locate” or “located, processed and released X pages” or “destroyed on X date.” One file that leaps out at me is numbered 190-CI-0, Serial 967, which I’ve circled in red.

On or about May 17, 2008—a Saturday—the FBI decided to destroy documents that had originated in the Cincinnati (CI) field office. Because the file number is preceded by the number 190, I believe it had something to do with the Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts. The book Unlocking the Files of the FBI, by Gerald K. Haines and David A. Langbart tells me that. The book goes on to say that “The Bureau established this classification in 1976 to handle citizen requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1966 as amended and the Privacy Act (PA) of 1974, which together provided for the expungements of records upon the request of an individual.”

Hmm. Those words have a familiar ring, don’t they?

With the case being reopened by Butler County, OH, and Walker County, GA, in 2008, and with the FBI opening a new file on Tammen that same year (not to mention the special file with the plagiarized narrative), doesn’t it seem a little curious that the Cincinnati office—just one county over from Butler County—would destroy a file on Tammen in mid-May of 2008? 

Let’s take a closer look at the timeline, shall we?

January 14, 2008 – The Atlanta office of the FBI is contacted by the Walker County (GA) sheriff’s office to request the “opening of a police cooperation matter.” The Atlanta office was told of Walker Co.’s interest in reopening a cold case having to do with a dead man who was found in a ditch near Lafayette in the summer of 1953. The Walker Co. sheriff’s office wanted to find out if the dead man might be Ron Tammen. According to the resulting FBI report, dated January 28, 2008, Walker Co. was “requesting Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assistance with positive identification and investigation.” The report ends with “In view of the above, it is requested that a Police Cooperation matter be opened and assigned to SA [redacted].”

February 8, 2008 – The remains of the unidentified man are exhumed from Lafayette City Cemetery, in Lafayette, GA, to obtain his DNA. That DNA would be compared with the DNA of Ron Tammen’s sister Marcia to see if it might have been Ron. Representatives of the Butler Co. (OH) and Walker Co. sheriff’s offices, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the media, and other onlookers are present.

February 26, 2008 – Frank Smith, Butler County cold case detective, writes to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) requesting a hand search for Ron’s fingerprint card.

February 28, 2008 – CJIS writes back, saying (and I’m paraphrasing): sorry, we’ve looked everywhere for Tammen’s fingerprints. They’re not here. The author neglects to mention that they’d expunged Tammen’s prints in 2002 in response to a court order or Privacy Act conflict.

March 14, 2008 – The dead man’s remains are received by the FBI Laboratory, DNA Analysis Unit.

May 17, 2008 – File number 190-CI-0, Serial 967 is destroyed in the FBI’s Cincinnati office.

June 2, 2008 – The FBI notifies the two sheriff’s departments that the DNA was not a match.

June 3, 2009 (one year later) – The Atlanta office of the FBI closes the case into the Police Cooperation matter.

So, to put this as simply as I can: a few months after the dead man’s remains had been exhumed, and while the two sheriff’s offices were eagerly awaiting the DNA results and wondering if they’d actually managed to solve both cold cases at once, an FBI file having something to do with Ronald Tammen was destroyed. On a Saturday. Just a short drive from the Butler Co. sheriff’s office, or, come to think of it, Oxford, Ohio. 

Also, the file in question just so happens to concern a possible FOIA or Privacy Act request from an individual. Yeah, I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. Nothing to see here.

Have a good weekend, everyone! I’m happy to entertain questions and comments.

Why did subsequent FBI reports fail to mention what officials had learned in 2002?

This is going to be a short post. What I’d like to do is compare several documents that were produced by the FBI after Ron’s fingerprints were expunged in 2002. The first one should be fresh in your mind: it’s the email sent to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) by the FBI’s records and information management specialist in April 2021. Even though the email’s language is vague about key details, such as what caused them to expunge Tammen’s fingerprints, it does provide some specifics that the specialist had obtained as she “researched [NARA’s] request for information.” (I wonder where she looked, since I was asking the FBI for everything they had on Tammen since 2010, and didn’t get nearly as much of the juicy stuff that she got.)

So that’s Exhibit A: The email written April 15, 2021, by the FBI’s records and information management specialist.

Exhibit B is the narrative that I received from my lawsuit settlement—you know, the settlement where I signed my life away so that I can never utter the name Ronald Tammen to the FBI ever again? The narrative about Tammen’s case is maintained in a database that members of law enforcement can access all over the country. I’m not allowed to say its name because they’ve told me I’m the first non-law-enforcement type to access anything from that database, which I seriously doubt, but I’ll play by the rules, even though they clearly aren’t.

The narrative contains some inaccuracies, which proved useful, because they led me to its source: The Charley Project, a website dedicated to missing persons. I also learned that the write-up was first posted on March 1, 2005, so it was available to the entire world at that time. Although the Charley Project write-up has since been updated, when I compared it to my narrative in 2014, it was almost a word-for-word match. The case number of the narrative begins with 2008, so I believe that’s the year it was created (i.e., plagiarized) by the FBI, though I couldn’t get confirmation on that. At the bottom of the pages, it says that it was “current as of 10/25/2012.” 

So, in 2002, something of consequence caused the FBI to expunge Tammen’s fingerprints 30 years ahead of schedule, and whoever typed up this “report” in 2008 didn’t consider it worthwhile to inform fellow law enforcement professionals about what it was. But then, come to think of it, why do you suppose they created this file so late in the game? 

Exhibit C is a fax that was sent from the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) to Frank Smith, former cold case detective for Butler County, Ohio, who had reopened the Tammen case in 2008. Smith had noticed the fingerprint shorthand on Tammen’s FBI files and requested a “hand search to see if any fingerprint cards can be located.” 

The fax, dated February 28, 2008, said “A SEARCH OF OUR CRIMINAL AND CIVIL FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR YOUR SUBJECT. A COMPLETE SEARCH OF OUR ARCHIVE MICROFILM FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR THIS MISSING SUBJECT AS WELL.”

Gosh, if they’d just done what their records and information management specialist had done and looked up Tammen’s name and birth date, they would have immediately discovered that his fingerprints had been expunged in 2002. All of that searching high and low for Tammen’s fingerprints could have been avoided.

Actually, I’m being facetious. I’m quite sure that the author of this memo had looked up Tammen’s name and birth date and knew that his fingerprints had been expunged. The person just elected not to inform Detective Smith—a fellow law enforcement professional—of that information. 

If I had to guess why in 2008 the FBI created the file for law enforcement with the plagiarized narrative, I’d say that it was Detective Smith’s efforts that had motivated them to do that as well. When Smith and his counterparts in Walker County, GA, were asking the FBI to compare the DNA of the dead body in Georgia with Marcia Tammen’s DNA, the FBI may have deemed it necessary to create the file—if for no other reason than for show.

The eager, anguished fingerprint expungement of June 2002

In June 2002, I was living at a place called the Car Barn of Capitol Hill, an old red brick fortress that used to house trolley cars in the northeast section of Washington, DC. Every weekday, I’d step out of the apartment, head right on East Capitol Street, stroll past the dogs and kiddos at Lincoln Park, and then turn up North Carolina Avenue on my way to Eastern Market to take the train to my job as a technical writer for the federal government. I was living my dream—immersed in the historic urban-ness of Capitol Hill, doing work I believed in, and feeling attuned to the inner-workings of our democracy. But, as it turns out, I was also sadly oblivious.

Oblivious, because I had no idea that on one of those June days, the FBI would be expunging the fingerprints of Ronald Tammen, the person who’d famously disappeared from my alma mater in 1953 and who, according to his friends and family, was still very much listed as missing. 

What about you? Where were you in June 2002 when the FBI purposely expunged Tammen’s fingerprints forever and always—gone in a flashno take-backs, no quitsies?

We’ve since learned a little bit about that expungement—namely that it was carried out in accordance with the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA’s) records schedule known as N1-65-88-3, Item 1a, which means that his fingerprints were expunged in response to either a court order or a conflict with the Privacy Act of 1974. If it’s because of the Privacy Act, and the odds are good that it was, then Tammen was likely alive when his fingerprints were expunged. (As you may recall, an expert I spoke with said that the Privacy Act far outweighs the court order as the reason for expungements.)

As much as the above revelations have told us, they’ve also managed to generate more questions. Therefore, I recently submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to NARA. I wanted to see whatever documents the NARA representative was reading when he or she informed me that: “The fingerprints in question were expunged from the FBI system as per N1-65-88-3, Item 1a,” and then quickly followed up with “NARA does not have any further information regarding the expungement of this file.”

Specifically, I wanted to get my hands on the relevant Request for Records Disposition Authority form, aka Standard Form 115, aka SF 115, that I believed someone must have filled out before they could expunge Tammen’s fingerprints. (To preserve ink, I’ll be referring to it as the SF 115 from here on out.) I also asked for “any additional documentation associated with the FBI’s action.”

I submitted my FOIA request on June 8 of this year and yesterday, July 6, I received a response. Theirs wasn’t one of those evasive “we can neither confirm nor deny” or “we can’t find anything” sort of responses I get from the CIA or the FBI. It was a responsive response. NARA sent me 24 documents totaling 80 pages. These people are big believers in FOIA and it shows. 

The majority of the documents don’t have anything to do with Tammen’s case per se, but they offer insight into how the FBI was handling its expungement cases before and after the fateful day in June 2002, which offered good background. However, one key document does tell us about Tammen’s case. That’s right. Someone from the FBI actually provided a short synopsis about Tammen’s fingerprints and what led to their being expunged. We’ll get to that synopsis in a second. 

First, let’s discuss some of the things I learned about court-ordered or Privacy Act expungements in general.

Let’s begin with this fun fact: The 1988 SF 115 that’s cited for all Privacy Act/court-ordered expungements was signed by Robert W. Scherrer, who led an interesting life before he was in charge of records at the FBI. He’s kind of famous.

You’ve already seen N1-65-88-3 on this blogsite, however a memo dated 11/30/87 is extremely helpful in describing that records schedule, particularly the meaning of Item 1a. (Don’t ask me what the acronyms at the top of the memo stand for—I’ve been all over NARA’s website, and can’t find a document that spells out NIRM or NIR. Just know that they appear to be in the Records Administration side of NARA and they seem to be charged with the proper disposition of records. If you happen to be from NARA and can solve this puzzle, please let us know in the comments section.)

Click on document for a closer view

Based on that memo, we now know that Item 1a refers to records that were already considered temporary, meaning they were slated to be destroyed after a given retention period had ended. Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were in this category. As you may recall, in my write-up Purged, I discuss at length how Tammen’s prints were expunged at a time when the FBI was operating under the records schedule that required holding onto fingerprints until an individual would have reached 99 years of age. In Tammen’s case, that would have been the year 2032. 

Because Item 1a records have already been approved for disposal (after the person is 99 years old in this case), if the FBI were presented with a court order to expunge or with an expungement request due to a Privacy Law conflict, they would be able to expunge those records immediately.

Here’s the most interesting part of this very helpful memo:

This will obviate the need to submit an SF 115 to NARA for each individual accelerated disposal action, thereby lessening the Bureau’s workload and ours. Also, it will speed the actual disposal of the records by eliminating our processing time and the 45 day waiting period while a job is at the Federal Register. In some cases, this waiting period causes anguish to individuals eager to see their file destroyed. For these reasons, NARA should approve this item. Records already have been appraised as lacking in historical value and there is no problem from the legal rights standpoint since the disposal of records has either been ordered by a court or is being done with the approval of the individual to whom the records pertain.

So to sum things up: for Item 1a records, no additional SF 115 is needed in order to expunge them before their normal retention period is over. Simply recording somewhere that the expungement was conducted on the basis of N1-65-88-3, Item 1a, is all the information the FBI would need to supply to NARA as back-up. As a result, there isn’t a specific SF 115 for Ron Tammen’s fingerprints. 

In contrast, Item 1b refers to files that are permanent or otherwise not scheduled for disposal. If an expungement request should come in, either because of a court order or Privacy Act conflict, 1b files did require an additional SF 115, and they would have to go through the lengthy process described above. Beginning in 2003, however, the FBI began inquiring about whether they needed to continue submitting SF 115s for the expungement of permanent records due to the time element, and they and NARA sought legal guidance on that question. As far as I can tell, in 2011, the FBI stopped sending in SF 115 forms for the expungement of permanent records.

So the question that’s probably on everyone’s mind is: if the FBI didn’t have to submit an SF 115 to expunge Ron Tammen’s fingerprints, what was the NARA rep looking at when he or she sent me an email saying that Tammen’s prints had been expunged as per N1-65-88-3, Item 1a? (On second read, if that’s the question that’s on everyone’s mind, my goodness, you are a brilliantly wonky bunch, aren’t you?)

This. NARA had contacted the FBI on April 15, 2021, a couple weeks before I received NARA’s email, and here’s what the FBI’s records and information management specialist had to say about Ron Tammen’s case:

Click on document for a closer view

So, that’s pretty cool, right? Do you think the FBI would have bothered telling me any of this if I’d reached out to them directly? I’d asked them at the outset why they expunged his prints and was told “no other info available,” so I’m fairly certain that they wouldn’t have. But I can ask NARA and NARA can ask the FBI, and voila, we have more answers. 

Here are my thoughts regarding the FBI email:

  1. We now know that Ronald Tammen’s parents had given Ron’s fingerprint card to the FBI when he disappeared. This question was always perplexing, since my FBI sources had said that children’s fingerprints were routinely returned to the parents, and it appeared as if the FBI had kept Ron’s prints since 1941. However, it doesn’t answer why they had an FBI number for him when Mrs. Tammen had reported him missing, #358406B. I’d been told that they wouldn’t create FBI numbers for fingerprints that were returned. But so be it.
  2. The FBI records specialist says that Ron’s fingerprints were filed with the civil prints. I’m pretty sure she’s mistaken on that. One, his missing person file had “crim” written on it—short for criminal—next to the fingerprint shorthand, and two, my sources said missing persons were routinely filed in the criminal file, since that was the most active one to check against incoming prints.
  3. The most loaded, convoluted sentence in the email is this one: “The prints in question would have been retained until the subject was 99 years of age had they not been responsive to an expungement initiated in or prior to 2002 with the final action taken in June of 2002.” So, I was right when I guessed that Tammen’s fingerprints should have originally been retained until he was 99. Woohoo! I love when that happens!
  4. As for her remark about an expungement that had been “initiated,” let’s consider the language that’s commonly used when describing the two reasons for expunging under N1-65-88-3. You either have a court order, an order coming from the court, or you have an expungement request, a request coming from an individual that’s decided and acted upon by the FBI. She uses neither word, but her phrasing sounds far more like a Privacy Act expungement where the FBI, not the courts, had control. Here’s what she also doesn’t say: she doesn’t give NARA a benign reason for Tammen’s prints to have been expunged, such as if it were part of a large number of missing persons who were expunged for Privacy Act reasons when the FBI automated their fingerprints. This tells me that Ron’s case is special.
  5. Despite her ambiguous language regarding the timeframe, I strongly suspect they expunged his record immediately. I’m sure it wasn’t a “let’s initiate an expungement sometime in or prior to 2002,” and then wait a few months. Remember why the FBI wanted to do away with submitting SF 115s for the 1b files? Time. They didn’t want to wait around.

I submitted a second FOIA request to NARA in hopes of finding out if there had been a mass expungement sometime between January 1, 1999, and December 31, 2002, due to their transition to automation. Namely, I asked for all SF 115s that had been submitted during that period for the expungement of fingerprint records ahead of their retention date. As we now know, I won’t be receiving any SF 115s from the 1a crowd, which I would think are the ones I’m most interested in. I’m not sure if I’ll be seeing anything from the 1b crowd either, but I’ll let you know if I do.

Does the FBI know more about Tammen’s case? Oh, most definitely. Why do you think the records and information management specialist went to great pains to construct such a vague and confusing paragraph? 

As far as how we can find out more about the FBI’s expungement of Tammen’s fingerprints, unfortunately, my FOIA settlement prevents me from requesting any more documents on Tammen from the FBI, and I’m quite sure they’d push back hard on this question. (I’ve come to know them pretty well by now, and something tells me that they feel as though they know me pretty well too. 🥰) If there are other possible sources of information, I will seek them out. However, if anyone reading this now or in the future is interested in submitting their own FOIA request to the FBI concerning the “expungement initiated in or prior to 2002 with the final action taken in June of 2002,” here’s where to go: https://efoia.fbi.gov/#home

I only ask that, if you choose to submit a FOIA request, please don’t do it on my behalf, and please don’t tell me or announce it on this blog.** You’d be doing it out of your own curiosity and interest in knowing the truth. You’re also welcome to use whatever records I’ve posted online as supporting documentation, since it’s public information. That’s how researchers work. We share things.

Of all the documents that NARA sent me, one of my favorites was the 11/30/87 memo, especially where it discusses how a lengthy wait to expunge records “causes anguish to individuals eager to see their file destroyed.” Further down, it notes that expungement due to the Privacy Act is “being done with the approval of the individual to whom the records pertain.” If Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged due to the Privacy Act, and, again, the odds are with us that they were, then it’s my belief that Tammen was likely the eager and possibly even anguished person who was insisting that they be expunged ASAP.

OK, the floor’s now open. I’m eagerly awaiting your thoughts!

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

**If you should decide to submit a FOIA on the June 2002 expungement of Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints and you’re successful at obtaining information, by all means, please let us know. However, I’m just not permitted to be part of the FOIA process. Thanks!

Miami University’s deafening silence: proof of a cover-up, part 3

I’ll begin this blog entry by addressing an age-old conundrum head on: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I honestly don’t think so. In order for there to be a sound, you need someone to be on the receiving end. A falling tree produces vibrations—big ones—in the surrounding land, water, and air that can only be interpreted as sound by structures in the ear, be they human, bird, bunny, fox, or squirrel. Without an ear or two in the vicinity, it’s all just meaningless molecular vibrations. There’d be no crash of a trunk, no rustle of leaves, no flapping of startled wings. No sound.

Paradoxically, if you ask one or more knowledgeable sources a simple question, and no one utters a word—not one person produces a single sound vibration for your ear to hear—have they answered your question? I’d argue that they have. This time, instead of your ears doing the interpreting, it’s your brain. And my brain is telling me that if a person who’s in the know refuses to answer a reasonable and politely-asked question, then the answer may be of an incriminating nature. Somebody, prove me and my brain wrong.

I’m talking about the interview that was conducted with Carl Knox’s former secretary relatively recently by someone affiliated with the university that was summarized on one side of a laser-printed page and filed away in the university’s archives. First, I guesstimated that the timeframe of the interview was between 2001 and 2020 based mostly on computer and printer technology. Then we were able to narrow the cut-off to 2015, the year in which the Western College Memorial Archives, where the summary had been housed, were moved to University Archives. Later, I ascertained that the interview likely occurred between 2001 and 2008 after learning that the most recent document to be added to the vertical filing cabinet where the summary was kept was done so in 2008. We don’t know which document or documents was added in 2008—their record-keeping system was woefully imprecise—but we know that nothing in the file cabinet arrived after that year, so the summary can’t be any more recent. I’ll explain that discovery in a little more detail below.

But the time period in question is about to shrink again. Based on records posted on the Miami Libraries’ website as well as documents I’ve obtained through public records requests, I believe the interview with Carl Knox’s secretary happened between January 2006 and December 2008. Let’s think about that for a second. Here we have a document whose origin Miami officials have been claiming not to know anything about—a document that, I believe, was purposely undated and unsourced in order not to raise any flags with anyone who happened upon it—and we’ve narrowed it down to occurring sometime between (I believe) 2006 and 2008. I also have a pretty good idea of who wrote it. Do you think the people at the heart of this little cover-up are impressed? Maybe! Or maybe they’re really annoyed. It’s so hard to tell what they’re feeling when they’re not speaking to you.

The 2006-2008 timeframe may sound familiar to some of you. I’d first proposed it on Facebook a couple months ago, at which time a savvy Miami alum (A BIG thank you to Kristin Woosley! Guuuurl, we see you and your amazing memory!) who was a student back then was able to provide even more helpful identifying info. Her info was so helpful, in fact, I felt as if I may have a tough time promising anonymity if someone happened to come forward. For this reason, I decided to take down the post and to conduct my research out of view.

That research has been ongoing, and I’ve discovered some promising new details. But after receiving the silent treatment about those discoveries from so many people, I’ve decided to forego that strategy. What the heck, let’s bring some of this new info into the light of day, shall we? I’ll still refer to Carl Knox’s former secretary as AD (short for assistant to the dean), and I’ll continue to protect other people’s identities for various reasons as well. But whenever possible, especially when discussing people who are acting in official capacities, they’ll be named. Also, let’s do this in one of my favorite formats: Q&A. 

Why do you think the interview took place no later than 2008?

The 2008 comes from a public records request I’d submitted. As we’ve discussed, the summary is part of the Western College Memorial Archives in folder number 18, titled Ghosts and Legends. When archivists receive donations, the standard practice is to create an accessions record for that material documenting where the material came from, when it arrived, a description of the contents, the size of the collection, and other details. Since 2015, Miami University has subscribed to ArchivesSpace, an online database for cataloguing its holdings. Knowing this, I emailed the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), requesting the accessions records that, to my understanding, should have been created for the interview summary. 

What I received from the OGC was an explanatory email as well as a number of screen grabs from ArchivesSpace. The email said that the record had been created by Jacky Johnson, the university archivist, long after the document had been acquired as well as after the university’s transition to ArchivesSpace. “This document predates our cataloguing system and our current University Archives employees,” said OGC representative Aimee Smart.

The screen grabs weren’t specific to the document in question or even folder 18, but pertained to the vertical file cabinet in which the folder was housed. The vertical file was one of the most frequently visited file cabinets in the Western College Archives reading room. In addition to Ghosts and Legends, its subjects include Western College presidents, Western College faculty and staff; and Western College buildings, such as Peabody Hall and Kumler Memorial Chapel. Sadly, most of the fields of the accessions record were left blank. Johnson’s name occupied one of the fields, and in another field was an estimate that the file was two cubic yards in size. However, one section was helpful: Dates. Under “Inclusive Dates,” which is defined on an archivist website as “The dates of the oldest and most recent items in a collection, series, or folder,” the Begin date was 1810—one year after Miami was founded—and the End date was 2008. Therefore, if the recordkeeping is accurate, AD’s interview had to have taken place no later than 2008. I’m inclined to think that AD was interviewed in 2008, but let’s not pin ourselves down just yet.

Why do you think the interview happened no earlier than 2006?

This was more of a guess, but it makes so much sense. On Miami’s Special Collections and Archives website is a page titled “Miami Stories Oral” (short for Oral History Project). This page lists a number of interviews that had been conducted with past students, staff members, and administrators of the university, which seems like a natural fit for AD’s interview as well. In addition, nearly all of the interviews had taken place during a four-year period, from the beginning of 2006 through the end of 2009. When I factored in the accessions end date of 2008, I arrived at the 2006-2008 timeframe.

What “helpful identifying info” did Woosley provide?

After I posted my theory on Facebook, Woosley immediately recognized the Miami Stories/Oral History Project as being part of Miami’s bicentennial, which was officially celebrated in 2009. She mentioned how students and alumni were being videotaped during alumni reunions in the years leading up to the big event, and that detail jived with what I’d discovered in the digital archives. I’d noticed how a large chunk of the interviews had been conducted over the alumni weekends beginning in 2006, while other interviews—mostly of people who lived near Oxford—were conducted at other times of the year. (The recordings can be found online here.) This was a huge breakthrough and immediately opened up new research possibilities. 

Why was having AD’s interview potentially tied to Miami’s bicentennial so helpful to your research?

If the interview with AD had been conducted as a stand-alone effort in which some student or staff member had simply thought it would be a nice thing to do, then the missing source materials would be way too hard to track down. There wouldn’t be a trail. But if it’s tied to Miami’s bicentennial, documents would have been produced throughout the four-year process. Funders would be thanked, coordinators would be tapped, budgets would be tabulated, progress would be charted, and achievements ballyhooed—all on paper and obtainable through public records requests. And with all of those documents, new details would potentially dribble out that could lead to even more record requests, and eventually, evidence of an interview with AD.

Furthermore, because AD had been affiliated with Miami Libraries for most of her work life as well as afterward (I was told that she had a courtesy office in King Library), I’d always felt that her interview was conducted by someone with the library. Well, guess who played a major participatory role in the bicentennial? The Miami Libraries, with Jerome Conley, dean of Miami Libraries, serving on the Bicentennial Commission. So, that fits too. 

And? Did you find any evidence of AD’s missing interview?

I think so. Although I’m sure lots more documents were generated back then (and to be fair, 2009 was 12 years ago, so I’m glad to have what they were able to provide), there was one that was especially noteworthy. The document is a progress report that provided a running count of all of the taped interviews that had been conducted from 2006 up through December 2008. At the bottom of the report, above the line indicating that there were 91 recordings in all, there’s this: “Other recordings not on Website for miscellaneous reasons,” and after the tab is the number 3. Was one of those three recordings AD?

I tried to think of other possible documents that might reveal the names of the three unposted interviewees. One of the narrative updates had discussed the taping and editorial process, which required that all of the tapes first be converted from DVT to DVD format by the library’s digital staff. I submitted a request seeking any internal documents from those staff in which they tracked every video they’d converted for the Oral History Project during the 2006-2008 timeframe. That request yielded nothing. Another narrative described how consent forms had been signed ahead of time, so I requested AD’s signed consent form. After weeks of waiting, the email I received from the OGC was “Ms. Wenger, We are unable to locate records related to an interview with [AD].” I also sought a comprehensive listing of all OHP interviewees, but the list I received was incomplete, and of course, AD’s name wasn’t there. However, I did find one person or possibly two people on that list whose interviews hadn’t been posted online.

What about the people most closely associated with the Oral History Project? What did they have to say about AD and the three missing interviews?

I’ve had email conversations with several people who had worked on the Oral History Project. Our conversations were “on background” and therefore I won’t be providing their names or direct quotes. The people who responded did so quickly and said that they didn’t conduct an interview with AD. I believe them. One also said that they didn’t recall AD being interviewed for the Oral History Project (I believe that person was speaking honestly too), though the others didn’t go that far. As for the three interviews that weren’t posted online, no one could shed light on that question.

There was one retiree who didn’t respond to my email. I’ll refer to that person as Retiree A. Retiree A had interviewed several people for the project, at least one of whom wasn’t posted online.

How do you know that Retiree A even read your email? 

I don’t. However, I sent via USPS a hard copy of the email and some follow-up documents to their home, asking them to let me know either way if they had conducted the interview with AD. I also asked them if they knew about the three interviews that hadn’t been posted online and, again, to please let me know either way. That package was delivered on Monday, June 21. As of today, I haven’t heard from Retiree A.

Wasn’t there another retiree whom you thought had knowledge of the interview? Have you heard from him?

As you may recall, I discuss another retiree quite a bit in “The blog post I was hoping never to write.”  To help avoid confusion, let’s refer to that person as Retiree B. To date, he has not responded to my email. But again, as some of you have pointed out, there’s no way to be sure that he read it.

To help address that question, this past April, I Fed-Exed a follow-up letter with additional background information to Retiree B’s home, once again promising anonymity and asking him to check his university email account and to let me know if he knew anything about AD’s interview. I’m still waiting to hear from him. I also promised Retiree B that I wouldn’t be approaching him ever again with that question. People have a right to live their lives without forever being bothered by the likes of me. He knows I’d like to speak with him. I’m just hoping he decides to come forward on his own. If I’m off base, I’d very much like to know that. And if he has information about the Tammen case, well, I think he knows by now that I’d like to hear that too. 

What about the higher-ups? What do they have to say?

William Modrow’s response

Do you remember back in February 2021, when I was asking Bill Modrow, head of Special Collections, about AD’s interview? In an effort to find someone who knew something about it, I was trying to get a handle on how they went about conducting interviews of former employees. The exact words I used were: “how staff members arrange and conduct interviews with former employees for a project spearheaded by Collections, such as for the oral history project, and how those interview materials are subsequently processed.” I’d actually used those three words with him: Oral History Project.

Do you know what Modrow didn’t mention to me? He didn’t mention Miami’s bicentennial to me, which would have been a normal response. You know, like “Oh, the Oral History Project was a short-term project for the bicentennial. We don’t do those interviews routinely.”

No, his response to me was “We do not conduct oral history interviews. I do not have the resources to do this nor do we have an Oral History program. What we have done in the past – Freedom Summer for example came with the resources and partners to accomplish.”

I specifically asked about the Oral History Project and he answers with Freedom Summer. Was he trying to throw me off course by diverting my attention away from the bicentennial? I don’t know. Maybe the obvious response didn’t occur to him at that moment, but it certainly looks that way to me.

Jerome Conley’s response

Several weeks ago, I emailed Dr. Conley, dean of Miami Libraries, providing my evidence concerning the Oral History Project videos that hadn’t been posted online. (The 2008 progress report states there were three, but a tally up through 2009 indicates that there may be four.) Because Dr. Conley sat on the Presidential Bicentennial Commission, a leading endeavor of which was the Oral History Project, I felt he would be in a position to answer the question. If he didn’t know the answer, he would know who would.

I asked him or a spokesperson to let me know about who the individuals were and why their interviews weren’t posted. I didn’t mention AD’s name in that email and I didn’t provide a deadline, saying that I figured it may take some time to track down those answers. This past Wednesday at around 11:30 a.m., I wrote him again, letting him know that I’d be posting my blog entry sometime this weekend, and requesting his response by Friday at 5 p.m. ET. His response at a little after noon was:

I would like to thank you for your note. I was on vacation with my family earlier this month. I am unaware of the videos that you mentioned.  

At about 2:30 p.m. that day, I followed up with this email: 

Dr. Conley,

Thank you so much for getting back to me. Here’s what I’m attempting to ascertain: Do you know of any reason that I shouldn’t believe that one of the three unposted OHP interviews was with [AD]? 

In other words, the 2008 progress report (attached) states that there were three “recordings not on Website for miscellaneous reasons.” Was [AD] one of these three recordings?

Again, thank you.

5 p.m. has come and gone and, so far, I haven’t heard back from him.

Do you know who put the kibosh on AD’s interview?

We still don’t know if AD’s interview was one of the three Oral History Project interviews that weren’t posted, but for this question, let’s say hypothetically that it was. I’d asked organizers of the Oral History Project who had veto power over the videos—namely who might have made the decision not to post a particular interview, for whatever reason. No one knew of any measures that were in place for pulling a video. 

After a tape was converted to DVD, only light technical editing would be performed, if needed. Somewhere in the process, University Archives staff reviewed the digitized tape and Web copy before it was posted online. By the sound of it, University Archives was one of the last stops before a video was posted to the website. Though that doesn’t mean they would have been the ones who decided not to post a video, they may have had a good idea regarding why the decision was made. 

Do you know who wrote the summary?

I can’t say for sure who wrote AD’s interview summary, but I think it was someone from University Archives. Here’s why:

The location of the document

The summary sheet was originally stored in the Western College Memorial Archives, which had been a satellite to the University Archives. (Those archives are now housed on the third floor of King Library along with the University Archives.) It’s weird that it would have been placed there, though, since the Western College archives is intended to cover topics related specifically to Western College. Regardless, because it was part of the archives and because AD was a long-time friend of the library, I’ve always felt that someone from University Archives had typed it up and placed it there. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, you know where to find me.

AD’s job title

When I made my initial guess as to when the interview summary was typed up, one consideration was AD’s job title. Because AD was Carl Knox’s secretary—that’s how she referred to herself in a memo—I found it telling that whoever typed up the summary referred to her as the assistant to the dean of men. That sounded more recent, since the word secretary was mothballed sometime around 2001. That’s why I had 2001 at the lower end of my timeframe. (It’s a moot point now since we’ve moved it up to 2006.)

As luck would have it, I was looking through a 1952-53 Miami University Directory one day when I landed on AD’s name. Even though she informally went by the title of secretary, in the directory, she’s referred to as “asst. in office of dean of men and to freshman advisers.” “Assistant to the Dean of Men” sounds a lot like “asst. in office of dean of men,” which leads me to believe that whoever was typing up the summary sheet had access to the 1952-53 directory. The 1952-53 phone directory, as with other directories, can be found in University Archives.

The font

Here we go again, right? 😉 Even though I’m not the best person at analyzing typefaces (see the blog post on St. Clair Switzer’s typewriter), maybe I’m better at recognizing laser printer fonts than typewriter fonts? This could be a very minor point, which is why I’m placing it here, near the bottom of this blog post, but I believe the font used in the summary matches the font of the Oral History Project reports.

Hear me out. When I first wrote about AD’s interview summary in December 2020, I said that the font seemed to be Times New Roman. And what do you know, when I typed the summary in Times New Roman and compared that to the photo I took of the summary from the archives, they looked the same to me. So far, so good.

WELL, when the OGC sent me the reports I’d requested from the Oral History Project, most were written in Times New Roman. I know…it’s a popular font choice for some. It’s also rather, um…dull, shall we say? But the point here is that whoever typed up the summary could have also been a central player with the Oral History Project, and the folks in University Archives certainly occupied a pivotal position on that team.

Times New Roman sample for comparison
Summary of AD interview

Are you OK? You seem down.

Oh, gosh. I was trying to hide it, but yeah, I’m bummed. Here’s me, a wannabe author who relies on archival information for this book I’m working on, and I’ve found myself in a faceoff with what used to be my favorite place on campus. Every trip to Oxford used to include a visit to University Archives. While, at this point, it’s difficult for me to determine what else I can do to get to the bottom of the Miami Libraries’ interview with AD, I don’t plan to walk away. But I’m not gonna lie. It’s disheartening. 

Why do you think the university is acting this way? 

Actually, I think it’s important to look at the actions of individuals versus thinking of the university as some sort of impenetrable monolith, though sometimes it feels like the latter. The two most common responses from people who I think may know something about AD’s interview is to not respond at all, or to attempt to answer as much as they can honestly, leaving out anything that would put them in danger of lying. Because—and I truly believe this—most people don’t like to lie, especially people who work in a library. 

However, I also think that some individuals at the university have been deceptive, and in a couple instances, untruthful. (They know who they are.) I will also say this: Whatever it is that’s keeping people from coming forward must be pretty damn big. 

If the Privacy Act was the reason that Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged, then guess what? Ron was alive in 2002

A sample of someone’s fingerprints from the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Aug. 1953

Remember how, back in 2015 and 2016, I kept pestering the FBI to answer, yes-or-no, had they confirmed Ron Tammen to be dead? And remember how they chose not to answer that question despite the fact that a simple “no”—they had not confirmed him to be dead—would have sent me on my way, forlorn and (momentarily) defeated? 

Back then, I took their non-answer to mean that Ron was dead but they just didn’t want to say he was dead. Because Ron’s fingerprints had been expunged long before he’d turn 110 (the age at which a person’s fingerprints are normally expunged, as cited by the FBI’s spokesperson), I figured that was all the evidence I needed to conclude that he was dead and had been dead for at least 7 years (the alternative scenario cited by their spokesperson). But with our recent discovery that the FBI was able to expunge his fingerprints early because of #N1-65-88-3, Item 1a—the National Archives and Record Administration’s (NARA’s) record schedule having to do with a Privacy Act conflict or a court order—I now believe Ron was alive when they expunged his fingerprints. It’s also feasible that he could be alive today, although I don’t think so. 

You guys called it early. When I told you that the FBI was able to expunge Tammen’s fingerprints 30 years ahead of time due to a Privacy Act conflict or a court order, I think Blue was the first to say that he could have still been alive, and others agreed. Kudos to you, smart people! 

I was a little slower, probably because I was so focused on the “court order” lingo and how I’d heard that term before. A couple of the former FBI staffers I’d spoken with had mentioned it as a possible reason for early expungement of Ron’s fingerprints, while no one had brought up the Privacy Act. Also, among the smattering of documents online that cited N1-65-88-3 for early expungement, they all had to do with a court order. So that’s where my brain was. 

As for the “was he alive?” question, it seemed possible if it had to do with the Privacy Act, which I’d been bumping into with all of my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. That law is literally a question of life or death. If I couldn’t prove a person was dead, I (usually) didn’t get the info. The court order is so much grayer: what was the order and when was the order given and which court would have ordered it—federal or state or even lower? And if I were somehow able to get past all that, could we tell if Ron was still alive?

I knew I needed to talk to someone who was knowledgeable about such matters and who was willing to speak openly. Thankfully I found someone. I won’t be sharing the person’s name or credentials with you because I promised them we would be talking “on background.” (Translation: I can use the information they shared, but I won’t be identifying them.) 

A word of warning: you’ll find that there was a point in our conversation where things went a little…askew. From the start, I’d told my source that the reason the FBI had expunged Ron’s fingerprints was the Privacy Act or a court order—good old N1-65-88-3, Item 1a—and the early part of our discussion reflected that. However, as the conversation progressed, my source began to speculate about a different reason for the expungement. Things became a little uncomfortable as I pushed back. Still, even those moments offer important insights into Ron’s case.

Most responses have been lightly edited or paraphrased to reflect the overall substance of what was said in Q&A fashion. Occasionally I’ve supplied additional background information to help clarify a response. If I have thoughts to add regarding a particular response, those’ll be in blue next to my initials. Here we go!

What are the main reasons that FBI files might be expunged ahead of time because of the Privacy Act?

If a person were to file a FOIA request on themself, and their file had incorrect information in it, they might ask that it be expunged. Or perhaps the information was collected illegally. For example, if a person was exercising his or her First Amendment rights (such as voicing their opposition to a political issue), and the FBI started a file on them, they could request that the file be expunged. Most Privacy Act cases have to do with First Amendment issues.

What happens when an FBI file is expunged based on the Privacy Act or a court order?

According to the Federal Records Act, government records can’t be destroyed without the approval of the head of NARA. In the case of a Privacy Act or court-ordered expungement, however, those take precedence. Once the FBI agrees to expunge a record for either of those reasons, NARA’s role is to simply document the action. 

At my time of involvement, the FBI would write to the National Archives saying “we’re going to destroy file number XYZ under the Privacy Act.” The National Archives would keep that record and write back to the FBI. Then the FBI would destroy the file and replace it with a card saying “file number XYZ has been destroyed under the Privacy Act.”

JW: When I was told by the FBI that Ron’s fingerprints had been expunged in 2002, the spokesperson added “no other info available.” If the 2002 protocol was similar to the one described above, the spokesperson should have been able to tell me why Ron’s prints were expunged. Also, now that we know about NARA’s record schedule, the FBI spokesperson should have had access to that information too. At the risk of sounding naïve, I think the FBI was intentionally keeping it from me.

N1-65-88-3 doesn’t pop up much on Google. How frequently or rarely is this reason cited for the expungement of government records?

I don’t think that it happens a lot. It could be dozens or a hundred times a year, but I don’t think it’s that much.

Do they ever expunge FBI files for people who are deceased based on the Privacy Act?

That I don’t know. Under American law, dead people don’t have the right to privacy. But whether a family member could write it in, I’m not sure they would have the legal standing to make the request.

JW: Upon further reading, the Department of Justice has this to say: “Deceased individuals do not have any Privacy Act rights, nor do executors or next-of-kin.” This tells me that the FBI can’t expunge a file based on a Privacy Act conflict if the person is deceased. The FBI might request the file be expunged for another reason, but not for the Privacy Act. Therefore, if Ron’s file was expunged due to a conflict with the Privacy Act, it’s my belief Ron was alive in 2002.

On the other hand, in 2010, I was able to obtain Ron’s FBI files without providing proof of death or authorization from a third party. For this reason, I think Ron Tammen was deceased by 2010. 

What about the court order? Are these generally for living people?

To be honest, I’ve never heard of an example of a court ordering the destruction of records, although I’m sure it probably happens. I’d say that, by far, the majority of expungements based on either the Privacy Act or a court order are due to the Privacy Act.

Legal questions have come up, one of which is: can a federal judge order something to be kept or destroyed when the Federal Records Act gives that authority to the head of NARA? But I don’t think it happens that often.

JW: It’s telling that our source doesn’t recall ever seeing a court-ordered expungement. Perhaps most useful is our source’s estimation that Privacy Act expungements far outweigh court-ordered expungements. As a result, it seems more likely that Ron’s fingerprints were expunged due to a Privacy Act conflict.

As for the alive-or-dead question, in the few court-ordered expungements I’ve seen online, the person whose records were being expunged was ostensibly alive. I’ve been attempting to find someone who can definitively answer my question, and I’ll continue to look. 

Regarding the early expungement of fingerprint cards, have you heard of that happening before? If so, under what circumstances does that happen in your experience?

If I was thinking in terms of being a practical bureaucrat, if we’re in the process of converting tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of fingerprints to an automated system [which took place in 1999], and we have all these fingerprints that were gathered in World War II from school kids, and figuring they’re probably 70, 80 years old in the ‘90s, they might have simply gotten authority…and I’m not sure how. What they could have done is go to the National Archives with a blanket request saying “We’d like to destroy all fingerprint cards created before 1950 because they’re not relevant now, or we’re getting ready to convert these to the automated system and these will just add to the burden of doing that.”

How would that work?

If it was simply a request for expungement, the FBI would write the request on the Standard Form 115 [the form in which all such requests are written], send it to NARA with a brief explanation of why the records don’t have value to the FBI or anybody else, and describe when they would like to destroy them—when they’re 50 years old, 75 years old, or whatever. Then, one of the Archives staff would review the form and seek permission from the head of NARA. A copy would be returned to the FBI, and they would follow the schedule. 

Would that be the N1-65-88-3—would that be a Privacy Act expungement?

No. The FBI would have submitted something with a different number and it would probably just be a request to destroy fingerprint cards that are X number of years old.

JW: I found an example of one of the more routine “thinning-out” records schedules from the year 2000 (marked 00), which I’m posting here. As our source said, the number is different and doesn’t involve the Privacy Act or a court-ordered expungement. Could this request have been initiated because of the FBI’s move to automation in 1999?

But the person from National Archives cited N1-65-88-3, which tells me that it IS a little different than the switchover to the automated system.

That could be an oversight on NARA’a part. They probably just assumed that it was destroyed under the Privacy Act when it was actually destroyed under the authority of another Standard Form 115.

JW: The NARA rep’s exact words were “The fingerprints in question were expunged from the FBI system as per N1-65-88-3, Item 1a. NARA does not have any further information regarding the expungement of this file.” That sounds a lot more certain than someone who is just assuming something. Also, I used to respond to public inquiries with a federal agency. We’d never put anything in writing without double-checking to make sure we had our facts straight.

I’ve submitted a FOIA request to NARA for “the paperwork associated with the FBI’s early expungement of the fingerprints (both paper and electronic) for Ronald H. Tammen, Jr., FBI # 358 406 B. This should include the relevant Standard Form 115…plus any additional documentation associated with the FBI’s action.” Once I have that, I’ll be able to decide if I need to file more FOIAs to determine if there was a mass expungement around 2002 because of a Privacy Act conflict or court order or if Ron’s case was special.

In light of the above, here’s where I’m leaning at the moment:

  • Because Privacy Act or court-ordered expungements circumvent the role of the head of NARA, it imparts a higher level of import and urgency to the removal of Ron’s fingerprints.
  • It’s far more likely that Ron’s fingerprints were expunged due to a Privacy Act conflict than a court order.
  • If Ron’s fingerprints were expunged due to a Privacy Act conflict, then he was still alive in 2002.
  • Ron’s fingerprints were NOT expunged as part of a mass expungement of obsolete fingerprints (e.g., fingerprints obtained from children before WWII or some other characteristic) to reduce the burden on the FBI’s automated system or any other reason to thin out their records.
  • Whether Ron’s fingerprints were expunged as part of a mass expungement due to the Privacy Act or a court order remains to be seen. 

And you? Where do you lean?

Breaking: the 9-5-52 Project Artichoke report wasn’t typed on St. Clair Switzer’s typewriter*

*but that doesn’t mean Switzer didn’t write it

Sigh. It would have been so unbelievably cool, wouldn’t it? To be able to say that a CIA Project Artichoke report was typed up on Doc Switzer’s typewriter—a 1947 Smith Crappola, I’m guessing—with its wayward y’s and c’s and capital R’s, would have been too, too cool. A smoking typewriter could have saved this girl a lot of additional sweat and heartache and saved you all from having to read any more 3,000-word blog posts. (Oh, relax. This one’s shorter.) It would have been time for the party planning to begin because we would have attained our goal. Because, you guys, we’ll probably never know for sure what happened to Ron Tammen. The only thing we can probably hope to know is whether St. Clair Switzer indeed had CIA ties. And if the CIA was anywhere near Tammen during the second semester of 1952-53, then they made Tammen disappear. Plain and Simple. 

But the report that had been written for the Psychological Strategy Board on September 5, 1952, wasn’t written on St. Clair Switzer’s typewriter. We know this because a forensic document examiner compared the three surviving pages of that report to a job application and letters that Switzer had typed up in 1951. She’s certain that they came from different typewriters, and now, so am I.

In the world of forensic document examination, a questioned document (Q) is compared to a known document (K) to see if they came from the same source. In our case, the Q is the 1952 Project Artichoke report and the K is Switzer’s job application and letters. Our examiner, Karen Nobles, concentrated on the typefaces of the two documents to arrive at her conclusion, and the evidence is compelling. 

Here’s what she found:

  • the uppercase M: the center does not extend to the baseline on the questioned (Q) text, but does extend to the baseline in the known (K) text
  • the number 2 has a flat base on the Q, but a curvy base in the K
  • the bottom of the number 3 extends downward in the Q, but curves up in the K; the top of the 3 in the Q is rounded and in the K it is flat
  • the number 4 in the Q has an open top, but in the K it is closed
  • the number 5 in the Q has a flag on the top that extends upward and the bottom bowl extends downward; in the K the number 5 is flat on top and curves upward in the bottom bowl
  • the top of the number 6 extends upward in the Q, but in the K it curves downward and has a ball ending
  • the number seven may or may not have a downward extension on the top left in the Q but in the K, the 7 has a significant downward extension
  • the number 8 is much narrower in the Q than in the K
  • the number 9 extends downward in the Q, but curves upward and has a ball ending in the K

She also created this chart that shows the above differences in the numbers and letters:

So the report wasn’t typed on Switzer’s typewriter after all—OK, fine. That doesn’t mean that Switzer wasn’t on the RDB’s ad hoc committee or even that he didn’t write the report. It only means that our job isn’t over and we need to keep searching for clues.

How did Doc Switzer get tangled up with the CIA? All roads lead to the RDB

You know what’s really hard? Trying to figure out the precise way in which something happened nearly 70 years ago is really hard. I mean, you find a couple memos that are riddled with black blotches, you hear a few tales from way back when, you stumble upon several additional details that seem apropos of the situation, and all of the sudden, you think you know how everything went down. But do you know what else can happen? Nuances can happen—like the Sliding Doors phenomenon, where things play out wildly differently depending on whether Gwyneth Paltrow makes the subway or just misses it, or when a butterfly in Zimbabwe flaps its wings and causes a hurricane in south Texas…those sorts of unpredictables. 

The question we’ll be delving into today is what’s the most likely way in which St. Clair Switzer, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves and Ron Tammen’s psychology professor, wound up dabbling in Project Artichoke?

Here’s the sequence of events as I initially pictured them: 

On Tuesday, February 12, 1952, Morse Allen, a career CIA guy, went bounding off to his job in the Office of Security. He was super stoked about what he’d been tasked to do, which was to handle all the day-to-day operations in pursuit of controlling the minds of the nation’s and world’s citizenry—or at least certain unlucky members thereof. 

On that particular morning, between 10:20 and 11:45 to be exact, he was on the receiving end of an earful from one Commander Robert J. (R.J.) Williams. Williams was in the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence and he was the project coordinator for Artichoke. He was also frustrated with how things were progressing. At the top of Williams’ wish list was a cadre of scientists with whom to consult who had expertise in the latest and greatest of a wide range of possible Artichoke techniques. Meanwhile, Allen and the crowd he ran with had been tinkering with only two of them: hypnosis and truth drugs. 

On March 25, in response to R.J.’s concerns, Allen typed up a memo describing a conversation he’d recently had with one of the foremost experts in hypnosis. This was no stage act hypnotist, mind you. He’d spoken with the big kahuna himself—Clark Hull, a renowned psychologist and academician who’d written the seminal book on hypnosis, Hypnosis and Suggestibility: An Experimental Approach. Alas, Hull was old (he was only 68, but they wore their ages differently back then) and sickly (he died a little over six weeks later). What’s more, he had absolutely zero interest in hypnosis after he’d published his book. 

My guess is that it was during this conversation or maybe in a follow-up, after he’d given it some thought, that Hull had passed along to Allen the names of two of his top protégées as possible resources for the CIA’s hypnosis studies. In his third and fourth paragraphs, Allen tells R.J. about the two promising experts, who were by then psychology professors in their own right. Although their names have been redacted, they were St. Clair Switzer (I’m 100% positive), at Miami University, and Griffith Wynne Williams (I’m pretty sure), at Rutgers. Switzer’s added bonus was that he’d been a pharmacist before he studied psychology, which means that he also happened to know a lot about drugs.

What happened next was where I relied on logic and intuition. I figured that Switzer was probably contacted by someone with the CIA, because, by fall, he appeared to be embarking on some sort of hypnosis study or studies on Miami’s campus. There were students being recruited on the front lawn of Fisher Hall that September for a hypnosis project coordinated by the psychology department. Three Ohio youths had wandered off with amnesia around that time and then, happily, returned. One psychology student was told by the department chair that Ron Tammen had a proneness to dissociation. Things were happening in Oxford that appeared to be relevant. 

Nevertheless, the evidence was admittedly thin and some pieces didn’t quite fit. For example, I’ve often wondered what research questions concerning hypnosis Dr. Switzer was pursuing at that time. His name has never been linked with CIA-sponsored research, such as the MKULTRA subprojects, which came later, beginning in April 1953. What could the CIA have been asking of him beginning in the spring of 1952?

As it happens, I no longer think that Dr. Switzer received a call from the CIA in March 1952. In my revised screenplay, there was no “Allen Dulles is on line two” defining moment.

I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t we still talking about Project Artichoke? If not the CIA, then who?

Me: You guys, I think Dr. Switzer was approached by someone with the RDB.

You: 🤨

Me:. You know, the RDB? Short for the Research and Development Board?

You: 

You make an excellent point. The name is so nothing. So benign. So deadly dull. But that’s deceptive. The RDB was the research arm of the Department of Defense (DoD), created through the National Security Act of 1947 to coordinate the military’s research endeavors. On the DoD’s 1952 organizational chart, the RDB was on the same level as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both of which answered directly to the Secretary of Defense, who happened to be Robert A. Lovett. 

In order to make its important research and development decisions, the RDB would oversee expert committees and panels, which, in the spring of 1950, involved some 1500 people, mostly volunteers.  (The volunteers would have been experts who were already paid a salary by their military or civilian employers, and it would have been considered an honor to serve.) By the mid-1950s, the RDB’s permanent full-time staff totaled 315. To spell it out as simply as possible, OMG, the RDB was a BFD.

At the top of the RDB sat seven people: a civilian chairperson, who in 1952 was Walter G. Whitman, head of MIT’s chemical engineering department. The other six posts were held by members of the military’s three branches: Army, Navy, and Air Force. In 1948, the two Air Force representatives were Joseph T. McNarney, commanding general of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and L.C. Craigie, director of the Research and Development Office, who relocated to Wright Patterson AFB in September as commandant of the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology. Hence, both of the Air Force reps were with Wright Patt that year.

In 1949, Karl Compton, another MIT dignitary, chaired the RDB. The Air Force was represented by McNarney again, as well as Donald L. Putt, then stationed in Washington, DC, as deputy chief of staff for materiel, which is military-speak for supplies, equipment, and weapons—everything the military buys. Putt was from Sugarcreek, OH, also called “Little Switzerland of Ohio,” which is home to the “World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock.”

This clock looked a lot bigger when I was younger.

Putt was also a longtime friend of Wright Patterson AFB. He started at Wright Field as a test pilot, then as a student at the Air Corps Engineering School, and following WWII, he headed intelligence for the Air Technical Service Command and later, the Engineering Division. In 1952, the two Air Force representatives were Roswell Gilpatric, the undersecretary of the Air Force, and Putt, who was working concurrently as a vice commander of the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in Baltimore as well as commander of the Wright Air Development Center (WADC), at, you guessed it, Wright Patt. 

So Wright Patterson was well known among the bigwigs of the RDB. But that makes perfect sense since Wright Patterson was at the center of research and development for the Air Force. R&D was Wright Patt’s jam.

But let’s get back to R.J. Williams, coordinator of Project Artichoke. A couple weeks before he and Morse Allen had their tête-á-tête, a memo dated January 28, 1952, had been drafted by the OSI for the signature of Allen Dulles, who was deputy director of central intelligence at that time. The memo was written to the secretary of defense asking for help with Project Artichoke. The OSI was seeking the assistance of the RDB, and suggested one of its ongoing committees, the Committee on Medical Sciences, to tackle an overriding problem. The problem was defined as: “Whether or not, and to what extent, any agent or procedure can be used to cause an individual to become subservient to an imposed control; and subsequently that individual be unaware of the event.” They were especially interested in discovering the feasibility of such methods because it was rumored that the Soviets were already using such tactics in their interrogations.

I don’t know if the January 28 memo was ever sent. However, on March 7, another memo was drafted, this one asking the director of central intelligence (Walter Bedell Smith) to seek technical assistance directly from the chairman of the RDB (Walter G. Whitman) regarding the “problem.”

At a meeting on March 12, Whitman told a small group of individuals (whose names are all redacted) that the RDB “will be pleased to undertake the study as requested and feel that it is something they should be doing.” However, he also said that he’d rather not put his acceptance in writing “if this conference could be considered as confirming his acceptance of the responsibility.” Whitman also said that he’d rather not use his Medical Sciences committee for such a task, but would prefer to assign the problem to an ad hoc committee.

On March 25, Allen wrote his memo to R.J. offering up the names of St. Clair Switzer (for sure) and Griffith Wynne Williams (maybe). Of special note is this partial sentence: “…his two principal research assistants are still active in psychology and would prove particularly valuable as consultants on a research project on hypnotism.”

I’ve probably read that memo a thousand times, and for 999 of those times, I was thinking much more broadly about the “research project on hypnotism.” I thought he was speaking about Project Artichoke in general, like: “Hey, if you want an expert on hypnosis to consult at some point, here are a couple good prospects.” Now, based on the events leading up to this memo, I think that Allen was suggesting the names of St. Clair Switzer and Griffith Williams for the RDB’s study.

A month later—April 26, 1952—R.J. wrote a 9-page memo to his boss, the assistant director of Scientific Intelligence, bringing him up to speed on Artichoke. Under the subhead “New items uncovered,” he discussed the RDB study, which the OSI would be monitoring: 

“As an alternate measure to provide the best possible professional advice for the project, the Research and Development Board, at the request of the DCI, has undertaken a study of the technical feasibility of Artichoke-type techniques. Although the Study is designed ostensibly to provide CIA with a better basis for evaluating Soviet capabilities in this field, it can be useful in evaluating and guiding our own program. The committee members have been selected, and, subject to their availability and clearance, should be working on the subject in the near future.”

In May, the same memo was repurposed with the subject head “Special Interrogations,” and sent up the chain from the assistant director of OSI to Allen Dulles. Everyone was reassuring their bosses that things are being done in this area.

To be sure, there was a lot riding on the RDB’s shoulders. Until the technical feasibility study was completed, the CIA wouldn’t be able to do much else toward Project Artichoke.

On June 4, a memo was written by someone affiliated with the military. (The 1100 and 1200 hours were the giveaways.) They wanted to expedite the “setting up of the special committee to study Special Interrogation techniques.” Because the special committee wouldn’t be able to start meeting until August, they agreed to set up an “executive group” from the ad hoc committee as well as perhaps another group. (Unfortunately, the names are blacked out, though I’m certain the ad hoc committee is one of the groups.) “This group could do the spadework and actually represent an action group in being, pending the arrival of [the ad hoc committee] in August, the memo’s author wrote. 

Are you interested in knowing who served on the RDB ad hoc study group? Me too. Here you go.

Yeah…fun times. In August 2016, I submitted a FOIA request to the CIA asking them to lift the redactions on the list of names of their study group. (I mean…come on, right?) On April 10, 2019, their FOIA office wrote me back and said “Please be advised that we conducted a thorough and diligent search in an effort to locate a full-text version of the document but unfortunately were unsuccessful.”

In short: we have the blacked-out version, but we can’t find the version with the words on it.

Here’s what I wrote in my appeal:

“The classification and declassification of national security information is a highly regulated process, most currently outlined by Executive Order 13526. It is my understanding that MKULTRA documents that hadn’t been destroyed in 1973 underwent a declassification review and those documents were released digitally, in CD-ROM form, in 2004. It is also my understanding that the redactions are put in place during this declassification review. I find it inconceivable that a government employee charged with the critical responsibility of declassifying national security documents would be so sloppy and abusive in his or her handling of this information as to somehow misplace or destroy the original document, particularly given the CIA’s already embarrassing history with mishandling documents pertaining to MKULTRA. I also feel it necessary to remind you of the following statement, provided by Senator Edward Kennedy during the Joint Hearing before the Select Committee on Intelligence on MKULTRA in August 1977:

The intelligence community of this Nation, which requires a shroud of secrecy in order to operate, has a very sacred trust from the American people. The CIA’s program of human experimentation of the fifties and sixties violated that trust. It was violated again on the day the bulk of the agency’s records were destroyed in 1973. It is violated each time a responsible official refuses to recollect the details of the program. The best safeguard against abuses in the future is a complete public accounting of the abuses of the past. [bold formatting added]”

Because we’re now nearing the two-year mark since they thanked me for my appeal and told me they’d get back to me, I gave them a call to see how things were going. (Of course I’m taking Covid into account, but two years is a long time, and I felt it was worth a check-in.) The person who answered took down my reference number, put me on hold for several minutes, and then returned to say, and I quote directly, “your case is still being worked on.” I’m pretty sure they’re waiting for me to die. 

The ad hoc committee met four times in 1952—August 15, October 1, November 11, and December 9. They released their report on January 15, 1953, one day after the memo was written on “Interrogation Techniques,” the one in which I believe that Switzer and Louis Jolyon West are mentioned in paragraph 3 in setting up a “well-balanced interrogation research center.” The ad hoc produced a typical “more research needed” report, signed off by the people who conduct the research, thus ensuring job security for all concerned. 

But there was another report produced by one of the RDB’s foot soldiers—on September 5, 1952—and one for which we only have a cover page, preface, and a table of contents. This report—referred to as the [BLANK] report—appears to have been passed around so much that they ran out of copies. It also had a bibliography, which the ad hoc committee report appears to lack. As the chief of the CIA’s technical branch wrote to the chief of their psychiatric division in May 1953: “We have just received this back after loaning it out sometime ago and since I promised to loan it to you, I am sending it with the understanding that, after you and your associates have finished reading it, you will return it to me since at the present time it is the only copy we have for our files.”

The report was produced with resources supplied by the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB), which was an elite group that reported to the National Security Council on topics pertaining to psychological operations. The same cast of characters in the upper echelons of the CIA and the Defense Department attended the PSB meetings along with the undersecretary of state. 

Here’s the report’s preface:

Here’s the TOC:

You guys? I think St. Clair Switzer wrote this report. Why do I think so?

  • Based on Allen’s letter to R.J., I believe that Switzer was invited to sit on the ad hoc committee. In addition, two members of the committee were asked to start the ball rolling early as part of the “executive group,” as mentioned in the June 4 military memo.
  • The person who produced the PSB report appears to be addressing the very question the RDB was asking, so it pertains to the ad hoc committee’s charge.
  • The preface reeks of Switzer, who had the habit of brown-nosing his superiors while acting too busy to be bothered by everyone else. (Adorable.) He also minored in English, so he fancied himself a writer. The line “It has been possible to cover these large areas solely because of the great amount of valuable assistance, cheerfully given” sounds so much like the smarmy letters he wrote to President Upham and others who could help him climb the ladder. I doubt the national security adviser, the secretary of defense, and the CIA director cared one iota about how cheerfully assistance was given.
  • In his TOC, he leads with hypnosis. He follows with drugs. Those were his two favorite topics.
  • The author refers to himself as a consultant, which is how Allen described Switzer’s possible role in his March 25 memo to R.J.
  • The name that’s blacked out looks to be of the same length as Switzer. 

Do I know why the report was produced by or for the PSB instead of the RDB? I don’t. But let’s look at it this way: the PSB was an interagency board that was above the RDB in rank, since it was established by President Truman. Also, one of the chief architects of the PSB was Sidney Souers, the first director of central intelligence, and a 1914 Miami graduate. Sidney was still an adviser to President Truman in 1952, and, though he didn’t sit on the PSB, it was his baby, so he kept close watch over it. Had he stepped in for some reason to assist? 

This much we know: St. Clair Switzer’s name was advanced at a time when the CIA was seeking technical assistance from the RDB. R.J., eager to show progress, could have called RDB chair Walter G. Whitman straight away, saying that he had a couple nominees for their ad hoc committee. Whitman would have shared those names with his board members, at least one of whom would be very familiar with Switzer’s credentials. 

Would Switzer have been eager to be involved? I have no doubt. Will I be asking the CIA to lift the redaction from the name at the bottom of the preface? Oh, you better believe it.

The floor is now open.

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ADDENDUM: Supporting evidence that the author of the September 5, 1952, report was St. Clair Switzer

So sorry! That was rude of me to ask you to just trust me when I told you about how smarmy Switzer’s letters were to his superiors. I am now posting several letters that were either typed or handwritten by Doc Switzer to Alfred Upham, president of Miami University, or A.K. Morris, vice president of Miami. I include the letters in their entirety. If you have any questions about the who’s, where’s and why’s, feel free to ask. Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy the smarm.

I’m including Switzer’s letters to V.P. Morris because they also show how high up in the military he was during WWII. He had an office at the Pentagon and was in charge of placing servicemen at the end of the war. I think he enjoyed bragging to Morris about how truly important he was, as if to say “You’ll get me when the Air Forces say you’ll get me.”

And now, with a huge thank you to astute reader and commenter Stevie J, I attach some additional typing that was performed by Doc Switzer on his Miami U typewriter in 1951, one year before he would have produced the 9-5-52 report for the RDB (if it was Switzer, of course). Switzer filled out this application for a post at the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in Baltimore, for which he served from August to December 1951.

Among other anomalies, Stevie J has pointed out that, in the Preface of the report, “every lower case y is way left of center. Every single time.”

O.M.G.–the wayward ‘y’ that hugs its preceding letter. Do you see it? I’m freaking out. Freaking out on a Friday night. Pay special attention to the section at the bottom, under “Present Position,” especially the word Psychology.

What do you think? Is this the author of the 9-5-52 RDB report?

Here it is: the document that allowed the FBI to expunge Ron Tammen’s fingerprints 30 years ahead of time

This is just a quick update, but it’s significant, so I thought it was worthy of being an official blog post.

I was getting ready to FOIA the FBI for their 1988 records schedule–hoping to find the meaning of N1-65-88-3, Item 1 a–when I found myself on a new page for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA): the Records Control Schedules. Before that moment, I’d only seen the schedules referred to as Records Schedules, which was how I must have missed this page earlier.

Click on this link for all the records control schedules for the FBI.

Then scroll until you get to N1-065-88-003. Note that they’ve placed zeros before the 65 and the 3, which is probably why it wasn’t turning up in Google.

And here it is, you guys: the document that the FBI (through a NARA spokesperson) cited as its reason for expunging Ron Tammen’s fingerprint file 30 years ahead of time.

Click on document for a closer view.

We’ve seen this language before in similar documents. As Item 1 reads:

Case files or any portion of their contents, including specific information within documents, whose continued maintenance by the FBI may conflict with the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. 552a, as amended, or whose destruction is mandated by court order.

Note that Ron’s scenario is described in Item 1 A, which ends with this fateful decree: DESTROY immediately.

That’s so interesting that the FBI may have felt that continued maintenance of the fingerprints of a person who’d been missing since 1953 might have been in conflict with the provisions of the Privacy Act. I wonder: Did they feel the need to expunge all missing persons’ fingerprints for the same reason?

Lately, I’ve been reading up on the Privacy Act and things of that ilk. Someday, we may have a longer discussion on the topic, once I’ve had all my questions answered. However, at this stage, I can say this: I’ve been living under the Privacy Act rules for the past 11 years as I’ve been filing FOIA request after FOIA request. And this question stands out:

Q: When does a person’s privacy protections pretty much go out the window (with certain caveats, such as with HIPAA and FERPA)? 

A: When they die. Once a person has died, a whole world of information opens up to us through FOIA. The ticket for entry is proof of death.

Several of you have said that it sounds more likely that Ron was alive in 2002 in order for them to have reason to expunge his fingerprint records. Although we still can’t rule out the court order, I believe a potential Privacy Act conflict supports this theory. 

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I’d like to thank you for your astute questions and observations to date on this topic–you’ve been extremely helpful. The floor is now open.