Hi. I don’t have a lot of time to write this, so I really need to hurry. This is going to be a mini post that’s light on words and heavy on links and jpegs.
But first, I’d like to wish our veterans a happy Veteran’s Day, and to thank you for your service to our country. I’d also like to take this opportunity to discuss my favorite wartime movie. Actually, it’s not just my favorite war movie, it’s the only war movie I ever watch. And that movie is:
It’s so good, it’s on Steven Spielberg’s top five list. If you’ve never seen it before, TCM is airing it on Saturday at 5 p.m. Eastern Time. If you’re busy, DVR it. Then you can watch it whenever you want, and trust me, you’ll want to watch it more than once. I watch it at least once a year. If you’ve seen it before, be sure to mention your favorite parts in the comments. (Mine is when they go out clubbing the night they return home. I mean, does Boone City have an amazing night life, or what??)
OK, back to the real reason I’m writing this mini post—I’d like to focus on two veterans from WWII: Reuben B. Robertson, Jr., and John D. Millett. As you may recall, Reuben Robertson, Jr. was the much-loved, heavily dimpled president of Champion Paper and Fibre, in Hamilton, Ohio, from 1950 to 1960. In 1955, Reuben temporarily stepped down from that post to serve as deputy secretary of defense under Secretary Charles Wilson. In 1957, he went back to being president at Champion but, tragically, three years later, he was assisting a driver whose car was stopped in the middle of a highway and was killed by a drunk driver.
John D. Millett was Miami University’s 16th president. He’d been elected president in March 1953 after a committee that Reuben Jr. was a member of selected him as their preferred nominee. As far as Miami’s presidents go, I’d guess that Millett is considered one of their best. Steven Spielberg puts him in the top five. (Just kidding.) Millett didn’t officially start his duties at Miami until the fall of 1953, but, as president-elect, this was going to be a huge jump for him in his career. Before he came to Miami, he was a full professor at Columbia University. He’d done some impressive things, but from what I can tell, he didn’t have any administrative experience at a university. He likely wanted to hit the ground running. He attended the June meeting of the Board of Trustees. I’m sure he was doing other things to prepare as well.
As my most dedicated readers know, a woman named Dorothy Craig, whom I’ve narrowed down to being one of Reuben Jr.’s employees, wrote a check to Ronald Tammen shortly before he disappeared. Oddly enough, Dorothy Craig’s name was never, ever mentioned in any newspaper articles, even though Carl Knox had written it down in his notes. How did they manage to keep her name out of the papers? I think it may have to do with a friendship that goes back to WWII.
That’s right, just as the headline says, Reuben Robertson, Jr. and John Millett knew each other during the war. How do I know that they knew each other? Because I now have it on excellent authority that both men were working in the same extremely small branch of the same division of the Army Service Forces at the exact same time.
So let’s cut to the chase:
Both Reuben Robertson, Jr. and John D. Millett worked for the Control Division of the Army Service Forces.
The Army Service Forces was the part of the U.S. Army that was responsible for making sure that Army personnel had the necessary supplies and services to do their jobs. The Control Division was the part of the Army Service Forces that focused on improving efficiency. Control Division officers would travel to Army bases and monitor how things were being done. They helped reduce paperwork and whatnot. I’m sure they did more, but I have guests coming at 2 p.m. and I haven’t even started cleaning the downstairs yet.
OK, so where were we? Both men worked in the Control Division. But that’s not all.
Both men were officers in the same branch of the Control Division.
The Administrative Management Branch.
How small of a branch was it?
Really small. We’ll get to that in a minute.
OK, so this is the part where I stop writing words and start showing you pictures.
Here’s the preface to a book titled Organization of the Army Service Forces, a 700-plus page tome written by John D. Millett. In the preface, he describes his role in the Administrative Management Branch of the Control Division.
Here’s a document from Reuben Robertson Jr.’s separation papers that describes his time with the Army. In the first paragraph of the summary section, it describes his time in the Administrative Management Branch of the Control Division, a position he held for 18 months, beginning in March 1943. Although he did go to Georgia later, he was in Washington, D.C., for a portion of that time.
And lastly, here’s a citation from a book on the history of operations research in the Army that tells us how many people worked in the Control Division’s Administrative Management Branch.
We’re talking 28 officers and 3 civilians, all housed in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1943. Reuben Robertson, Jr. and John D. Millett were two of those officers.
Reuben Jr. was such an extrovert, he could get to know 30 other people really well by lunchtime. John Millett strikes me as a major people person too. You guys, they knew each other.
For this reason, I think Reuben Robertson Jr. probably encouraged John Millett to apply for the presidency at Miami when Reuben was asked to sit on the selection committee. John had Reuben to thank for that very large boost to his career, from professor to president. It would only make sense that Reuben would have John’s ear if he ever needed to keep a bothersome detail out of the paper.
Today, I’d like to elaborate a little more about one of the military guys whom Champion had hired. Recently, I learned something astonishing about him and I think I need to give it more column-inches than a mere mention on Facebook.
His name was Karl Robin Bendetsen. In my April 19 post, I’d reported that, before Karl had arrived at Champion Paper, he’d been the assistant secretary of the Army, and, eventually, undersecretary of the Army, both of which are very high up the climbing rope. As assistant secretary, he was in charge of general management issues, and as undersecretary, he was immediately below the secretary and above two assistant secretaries, one who oversaw research and materiel and the other who oversaw manpower and reserve forces. So, to sum up this paragraph for readers who, like me, have little to no military background, Karl R. Bendetsen was an important person in the U.S. Army before Champion Paper had hired him.
What I hadn’t realized at the time of the earlier writing was that Bendetsen was also famous the world over—infamous actually—at the time that Champion had hired him due to his activities during WWII. After the war, he’d tried to downplay those activities, conveniently glossing over his military past on his resume or in bios. Nevertheless, decades later, when Congressmen asked him about those (infamous) activities, he defended what he did, claiming that he still considered his and others’ actions to have been necessary at that time.
So let’s delve into Bendetsen’s military past now, shall we?
Right after Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, the Army was concerned that Japanese Americans living on the West Coast might be used as spies and whatnot to assist Japan, a country they no longer lived in or perhaps had never lived in. For this reason, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave the Army’s officer in charge of the Western Defense Command in San Francisco, a man named Lt. Gen. John DeWitt, the power to declare areas of the region “military zones” in which certain citizens—i.e., people of Japanese ancestry—must be evacuated. Plenty of politicians and Army brass were involved in the decision to institute such a program, but one man was given the dubious distinction of being in charge of said program, and that man was Karl Bendetsen. Indeed, with the job title of commanding officer of the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA), for which he reported to Lt. Gen. DeWitt, Karl was responsible for ousting Japanese Americans and immigrants from their homes and relocating them into primarily 10 concentration camps in California, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, and Arkansas.
If you happen to be feeling sorry for Karl, as if he was merely following orders, don’t. Karl was one of the principal authors of Executive Order 9066. He believed strongly in what he was doing. All over the internet, he’s known as the chief architect of the Japanese American internment program, which means that, by and large, he was the mastermind.
And so, as Nazis were forcibly removing people of Jewish ancestry from their homes and herding them into concentration camps, Karl was overseeing the forced removal of people of Japanese ancestry from their homes on American soil and herding them into concentration camps as well.
Still, when a government that represents the land of the free imprisons a segment of its populace, not for anything they’ve done, but because of their ancestral heritage, it’s not only immoral, it’s unconstitutional. With FDR’s signing of Executive Order 9066, the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for a subset of Americans was thereby revoked.
In point of fact, at the time that Karl was tearing Japanese-American men, women, and children away from their homes in states along the Pacific Coast and beyond, there wasn’t much dissention in other parts of the country. Perhaps people weren’t aware of what was happening or maybe they were looking the other way, somehow thinking that their government was beyond reproach and that the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans, 110,000 by force, was a disturbing though inevitable aspect of war.
But four years after WWII had ended, Americans across the country were taking a more critical view. The public was learning how egregious the government’s actions had been. They learned how, after being physically uprooted, forced to leave nearly everything behind including their pets, families were transported by bus and train, sometimes over state lines, and crammed together in makeshift buildings covered in tar paper with no kitchen or bathroom facilities. The living conditions were deplorable. Doctors and nurses; lawyers and clerks; professors and teachers; Buddhist monks and Shinto priests; artists and musicians; fishermen and farmers; cooks, wait staff, dishwashers, and all the rest were forced to leave their livelihoods, their very lives, behind. Their access to medical care was abysmal, though incarcerated doctors and nurses were known to step in to care for their fellow prisoners. And even though (to the best of my knowledge) no prisoner had been killed outright through the internment program, 1862 people died while being held there, perhaps some as a result of the unsanitary living conditions.
On August 26, 1949, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had ruled that the government’s internment program was “unnecessarily cruel and inhuman.” In the ruling, Chief Judge William Denman lays out perhaps the most vivid description of how the prisoners were treated at the camp at Tule Lake, California, excoriating Lt. Gen. DeWitt in the process. He said: “The barbed wire stockade surrounding the 18,000 people there was like the prison camps of the Germans. There were the same turrets for the soldiers and the same machine guns for those who might attempt to climb the high wiring.” I encourage you to read it.
Karl Bendetsen was the poster child for all of the above.
In the fall of 1949, just weeks after the Court of Appeals ruling, Karl was being considered for the post of assistant secretary of the Army, which is when his name was making the biggest headlines, and not in a good way. At least 40 civil rights organizations joined together to declare their opposition to the nominee based on his deeply entrenched racist views. The organizations who denounced him included the Japanese-American Citizens League Anti-Discrimination Committee, the NAACP, and other members of the National Civil Liberties Clearing House. A priest from Los Angeles named Father Hugh Lavery who had first-hand knowledge of Bendetsen’s callousness sent an impassioned letter to President Truman hoping to persuade him to rescind the nomination. According to the book The Colonel and the Pacifist, by Klancy Clark De Nevers, and other sources, Father Lavery told Truman of the following exchange:
“Colonel Bendetsen showed himself to be a little Hitler. I mentioned that we had an orphanage with children of Japanese ancestry, and that some of these children were half Japanese, others one-fourth or less. I asked which children we should send to the relocation center.”
Bendetsen had replied “I am determined that if they have one drop of Japanese blood in them, they must all go to camp.”
Continued Lavery in his letter, “Just as with Hitler, so with him. It was a question of blood.”
You’d think that all of that bad press might have affected Karl negatively. You’d think he would have slunk away from the spotlight and found a less newsworthy way to make ends meet. He could put his Stanford law degree to use and set up a respectable practice in a small, out-of-the-way town.
But that’s not what happened. President Truman and the United States Congress waved away the letters and petitions and went through with his confirmation as secretary of the Army anyway, which, in turn, put him on the path to occupying the Army’s second-most-powerful office. Even so, Karl didn’t remain with the Army long. In 1952, he accepted a consultant position at Champion Paper and Fibre’s Texas division, and, from that point on, he went about reinventing himself, banking on the American public’s inability to retain names and faces for very long. Karl Bendetsen would go on to become vice president, president, and, by the time of his retirement in 1972, chairman of the board at Champion International, the company’s new name after it had merged with U.S. Plywood Corporation.
As for how Karl managed to get his foot in the door at Champion Paper at a time when his name was being equated with “little Hitler” in the minds of a large sector of Americans? A former colleague of his described it thusly:
I can see that several of you have questions.
A: I know. It’s a lot to process. Take your time.
Q: Kismet? Why did he consider it kismet?
A: That’s the word used by B. Joseph Feigenbaum, who used to work in the same San Francisco law firm as Karl Bendetsen, and whose interview is part of the Earl Warren Oral History Project at University of California, Berkeley.
Here’s the juicy gossip regarding how it all went down with Champion Paper in Feigenbaum’s words. Note that the transcriber misspelled Reuben, and I’ve spotted a number of other inaccuracies (which I’ve corrected in bold with my initials). It’s kind of a wild story:
Then comes, as it often does in life, kismet, fate. Secretary of the Army Gordon Gray was supposed to make a speech at the homecoming day at the University of North Carolina, I think it was, at Chapel Hill. And Gray gets some other assignment and can’t go. He gives the speech to Bendetsen (who’s by now Assistant Secretary of the Army, I guess. I don’t know whether he was Assistant Secretary of Defense [JW: there’s no such position, and he was never the deputy secretary of defense either] or Under-secretary of the Army, maybe it was still Army).
He goes down to Chapel Hill, makes the speech, finds himself sitting on the stand next to a prominent alumnus [JW: neither Reuben Jr. nor Reuben Sr. were alumni of the University of North Carolina; Reuben Jr. graduated from Yale, and Reuben Sr. graduated from Yale and the University of Cincinnati Law School], I guess, by the name of Ruben Robertson from Cincinnati who is the head of Champion Paper Company, a more or less family-controlled, but very large company. And as Karl told me the story, after they made their speeches, Mr. Robertson invited him up to his room to chat and drink and he went along, and Robertson says, “You know, some time when you’re out in Cincinnati, look me up. We could use somebody like you around our company.” Karl told me he said to Mr. Robertson, “When you’re in Washington sometime look me up.”
It happened that Robertson’s son at that time or just before had been Under-secretary [JW: deputy secretary] of Defense. Karl looked up Mr. Robertson, or vice versa, left the Army, and became a vice-president of Champion Paper. [JW: He started as a consultant at Champion in 1952, three years before Reuben Jr. was made deputy secretary of defense.] They sent him to a mill outside of Houston, Pasadena, Texas. Karl had never had any paper experience. He’d done a little work for a client of ours in the paper business. And he was there a number of years, did apparently an outstanding job and was called back to Cincinnati, where the company had gotten so big and loose they wanted somebody to pull tag ends together. [JW: I think he’s speaking metaphorically?] He was made one of the executive vice-presidents.
The president now was Ruben Robertson, Jr. Mr. Robertson, Jr., is driving in traffic in Cincinnati and somebody bumps the rear of his car. [JW: Reuben Jr. had hit someone who was stopped, not the other way around.] He opens the door to get out to see what happened and another car comes along and kills him, and two or three weeks [JW: actually, it was two days] later, Karl is the president of Champion Paper.
Q: I’m confused. Which of the Reubens bonded with Karl Bendetsen—was it Reuben Jr. or Reuben Sr.?
A: I’ve been trying to figure that out. The way that Feigenbaum tells the story, it sounds as if he thinks that Bendetsen had met with the father, Reuben Sr., since he refers to Reuben Jr. as “Robertson’s son.” But there’s one major problem: Reuben Sr. had been born and raised in Cincinnati. He received degrees from Yale and the University of Cincinnati, but his home was in Asheville, NC. So the part where Robertson says ““You know, some time when you’re out in Cincinnati, look me up,” sounds more like something Reuben Jr. would say, since he lived in Glendale, which is a Cincinnati suburb.
I still think it was the dad, though, since, of the two Robertsons, the one more likely to speak at a UNC homecoming (or whatever the event—we don’t know if Feigenbaum got that detail correct either), would be the man from Asheville who seemed to have a strong relationship with UNC’s Asheville campus. It could be that, when Karl recounted the story to Feigenbaum, he told him that Robertson had said, “If you’re ever in town, look me up,” and Feigenbaum had presumed he was talking about Cincinnati.
I’ve been consulting with the archivists at UNC Chapel Hill to find out if they have a record of an event where the two men were speaking. If they’re able to find anything, I’ll let you all know.
Q: Do you think it matters which one it was?
A: I think it does. I don’t know much about Reuben Sr.’s personality, but I happen to think Reuben Jr. was a warm human being who genuinely cared about his employees at Champion, treating them like family. For a man who treated his employees like family to have an interest in hiring a man who spent WWII tearing American families away from their homes and businesses seems out of character for Reuben Jr. It seems out of character for Reuben Sr. too, but more so for Reuben Jr., in my opinion.
Q: Do you have any other reasons for thinking it was Reuben Sr. who bonded with Karl Bendetsen?
A: Yes, the timeline. As it turns out, Gordon Gray was secretary of the Army for only one year, from April 28, 1949, to April 12, 1950, therefore that’s the time frame in which the UNC event likely occurred. What’s more, Gray, who was indeed an alumnus of UNC Chapel Hill, was named president of his alma mater in October 1950, so, again, the UNC event couldn’t have taken place after that date. If Bendetsen was assistant secretary of the Army when the UNC event took place, as Feigenbaum suggested, then we’re talking about a window of roughly 8 months after he was publicly described as “little Hitler” that one of the Robertsons told him that the company could really use somebody like him.
But here’s another clue: homecoming. If Feigenbaum is correct that the UNC event had been on homecoming, then it couldn’t have occurred in 1950. Homecoming in 1950 was on October 28, and President Gray was in attendance at the football game that day. The only other homecoming to fit within Gray’s timeline as secretary of the Army was the one in 1949, which occurred on November 26, 1949. Although Bendetsen hadn’t yet been confirmed as assistant secretary of the Army, reports indicate that he was working for Gray in a less official capacity.
If the UNC event occurred on November 26, 1949, then my strong suspicion is that it was Reuben Sr. who’d bonded with Bendetsen, not Reuben Jr. At that time, Reuben Jr. was still an executive vice president for the company. He was important, but he wasn’t the big boss. He wouldn’t be named president until July 1950, when his father was promoted to chairman of the board.
One thing is for certain: if the Robertson-Bendetsen meeting took place on November 26, 1949, it was at the height of the period in which Bendetsen was generating negative headlines about his activities during WWII. Perhaps Robertson was unaware of what Father Lavery had said about Bendetsen at that time, but plenty of other things were being written that could have, and should have, given Robertson pause.
In 1960, after Reuben Jr. died, and Reuben Sr. retired, the whole feel-good “Champion family” culture began to dry up. From what I’ve heard and read, many people point to Karl Bendetsen as the reason. According to a student research paper written by Brannon Ernest Aughe, Bendetsen was responsible for “sealing the end of the paternalistic nature of Champion Paper and Fibre Company.” Aughe went on to say that on March 31, 1961—a little over a year after Reuben Jr.’s death—Bendetsen laid off one-third of the employees in the Canton, NC, mill. That awful day came to be referred to as “Black Friday.”
Q: Are you sure the Robertsons were aware of the things that were being said about Bendetsen, especially Father Lavery?
A: I’m positive. Much of the bad press Bendetsen was receiving occurred in September and October of 1949. Also, even if the UNC event had occurred in November 1949, they would find out in a couple months what Father Lavery had said about Bendetsen.
On February 3, 1950, Drew Pearson, syndicated writer of the newspaper column Washington Merry-Go-Round, had written an article that included Father Lavery’s accusations, word-for-horrifying-word. Pearson said that many senators were opposed to Bendetsen’s nomination and that Lavery’s letter could put him in jeopardy, though, as we know, he was still confirmed.
Drew Pearson was huge in the newspaper field. If you were a politician in the nation’s capital, it didn’t matter if you were right, left, or center, if you were up to no good, he’d find out about it and let his readers know. And his readers were…everyone. His sources were iron-clad and he didn’t mince words, so people felt they were getting the unvarnished truth about the people who were representing them.
Pearson even came down hard on Reuben Jr. once. The article ran in February 1960, after Pearson had discovered that Champion Paper had paid $15K to Admiral Arthur Radford, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to work as a consultant even though he didn’t know anything about papermaking. Pearson had found a number of lucrative consultant gigs for Radford, which led him to question what he was actually doing for all that money. When he tried to reach Reuben Jr. for answers, he wound up getting Bendetsen instead, who, I must say, may be one of the best stonewallers of all time, what with all the “I don’t knows” and “Not my jobs” and “That’s out of my bailiwicks.”
Suffice it to say that it was never a good thing to be mentioned in a Drew Pearson article, which is probably why most people read it. It’s kind of like reading the obituaries—if your name wasn’t there, the day was off to a good start.
As it so happens, we know that both Reuben Jr. and Reuben Sr. had to have been aware of the tumult that Bendetsen’s nomination was causing nationally, since both Reuben Jr.’s newspaper, the Hamilton Journal-News, and Reuben Sr.’s paper, the Asheville Times, carried Pearson’s article the same day.
How anyone could read the accusations that were leveled against Karl Bendetsen in Pearson’s article and think “we need more of THAT on our team” is beyond me. But put in perspective, it might be one more indication that, in the 1950s, Champion Paper could be counted on to support anyone or anything having to do with the U.S. military. Even if a person was a political hot potato. Even if a project resulted in a student who mysteriously disappeared.
The last time we talked (which could be 5 minutes ago, 5 days ago, or 5 weeks ago—it’s totally your call), we were discussing the life of Reuben B. Robertson, Jr., the president of Champion Paper and Fibre Company from 1950 to 1955 and from 1957 to 1960. During the interim two years, Robertson was deputy secretary of defense under Secretary Charles Wilson.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that the part about his being the deputy defense secretary is impressive and all, but that was two years after Ron Tammen disappeared. Come to think of it, all of those hires he’d made of top-tier military and intelligence personnel happened during or after his Department of Defense (DoD) gig. What was he doing on a national level in the spring of 1953?
You make a good point. In the spring of 1953, Reuben Jr. had just returned from a trip. In February, he’d been named by President Eisenhower and Harold Stassen, director of the Mutual Security Agency, to lead a team of businessmen on a tour of Germany to assess the effects of U.S. spending there. The Mutual Security Agency was created in 1951 to facilitate the military and economic recovery of America’s allies after WWII. As director of the MSA, Stassen was a member of the National Security Council. He was also a member of Eisenhower’s cabinet. For this trip, 55 businessmen traveled to 14 Western European countries, and Reuben Jr. had led the German contingent, which included six other men. After two days of training, they arrived in Germany on February 16, 1953. Although news articles that I’ve read don’t state how long the trip lasted, I’m guessing that they were back by the end of February or early March.
One month earlier, in January 1953, Reuben Jr. had been elected to serve as one of four vice chairmen on the executive committee of the Business Advisory Council. The Business Advisory Council, now called the Business Council, was, at that time, an esteemed advisory group to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which was headed by the newly-appointed Secretary Sinclair Weeks. President Eisenhower had selected a number of his other cabinet posts from individuals who sat on the BAC, including Defense Secretary Charles Wilson, who was formerly president of General Motors.
So, in a nutshell, in the spring of 1953, Reuben Jr. was in Hamilton, while he was also helping out two of President Eisenhower’s cabinet members when he was asked, which seemed to be on a regular basis. He was traveling in powerful circles and making headlines while doing so.
Because I’m writing this on a deadline, and because much of this post involves speculation, I think we’ll go back to a Q&A format. Hope you’re cool with that?
Yeah, that’s fine. So you say he was making headlines. Is that how Miami University officials came to know him?
Headlines and word of mouth certainly contributed to his visibility in southwest Ohio. If you have a strong business school—and Miami University certainly does—you’re going to notice the most successful businesses in your area, especially if the company president’s network of friends and associates extends as broadly as Reuben Jr.’s did. People in the business school did take notice. In May of 1951, the School of Business Administration sponsored an industrial management conference and Reuben was the luncheon speaker. He spoke on wage stabilization, a topic he knew well, since his appointment on the federal Wage Stabilization Board was coming to an end in June.
Max Rosselot, an assistant professor of secretarial studies and office management in Miami’s School of Business Administration, spent the summer of 1952 working with Champion’s pool of stenographers, immersing himself in the company’s business practices to enhance his courses for future stenographers and secretaries. Rosselot would later go on to become Miami’s Registrar in the early- to mid-1960s.
Champion had noticed Miami too. In 1947, a staff member in Miami’s Psychology Department, R.C. Crosby, director of student counseling, taught a course in business psychology to 24 Champion employees. According to the December 1947 issue of The Log, “This course deals with some general principles of the psychology of human relationships and their application to business and industrial groups.” If you’re wondering why St. Clair Switzer wouldn’t be teaching the course—after all, business psychology was his baby—this was at a time when Switzer was still counseling veterans after the war and he hadn’t yet gone back to teaching courses at Miami. I’m sure he would have been interested though.
Another way that Miami officials would have known about Reuben Jr. was through his aunt.
His aunt? Who was Reuben Jr.’s aunt?
Rueben Robertson, Jr.’s aunt was Mary Moore Dabney Thomson, wife of Alexander Thomson, who, in turn, was Reuben Robertson, Sr.’s brother-in-law. (If you need to work that through your heads a minute, I can wait.) Alexander Thomson was a longtime executive with Champion Paper and Fibre, and was chairman of the board from 1935 until his death in 1939.
But Mary Moore Dabney Thomson did stuff too. From 1933 to 1941, she was a member of the Western College for Women’s Board of Trustees, and during the years 1941 though 1945, she was president of the college. As many of you know, Western College for Women was across the street from Miami University and, in 1974, it became part of the university. In fact, Thomson Hall was named for Mary Moore Dabney Thomson.
But here’s the rub: you know how I discussed in part 2 that women in those days tended to relinquish their first names when they got married? One case in point is Mary Moore Dabney Thomson, who was often referred to in the press as Mrs. Alexander Thomson. Seriously. She was president of a prestigious women’s college, and people still referred to her by her husband’s name, even when he was no longer alive. I say this with all due respect, but what the bloody hell is up with that, members of the 1930s…’40s…and ‘50s press?
Mary Moore Dabney Thomson was well-known in the Oxford community before the Champion Coated Paper Company merged with Champion Fibre Company in 1935, and well before her nephew Reuben Jr. arrived in Hamilton in 1937. I’d even bet that it was through her that some Miami officials became familiar with the Thomson and Robertson names.
In what can only be described as pure coincidence, Mary Moore Dabney Thomson’s portrait was revealed on April 18, 1953, in Western’s Clawson Hall, the day before Ron Tammen disappeared.
You mentioned previously that Reuben Robertson, Jr., sat on Miami’s Board of Trustees from 1957 until his death in 1960. Did Miami officials seek his input on anything earlier than that, such as when Ron was still a student?
Yes, they sure did. Shortly after President Ernest Hahne died in November 1952, Reuben Robertson, Jr., was asked by the vice president of Miami’s Board of Trustees to sit on the committee that would select the next president. Rueben Jr. represented the public on the six-member committee, which included the president of the Board of Trustees as an ex-officio member. Several months later, that committee decided upon John D. Millett, who was affirmed by the 27-member board in March 1953.
President Millett must have been equally impressed with Reuben Robertson, Jr. In 1956, he would invite him to be a commencement speaker, and, at that time, Reuben was bestowed an honorary law degree.
So…what’s your theory?
I’m thinking that someone contacted Lt. Col. Reuben Robertson, Jr., for help in funding research that was being conducted by Lt. Col. Switzer in Miami’s Department of Psychology. (Using military rank might go a long way when making the ask.) The asker might have come from Miami University, from the military, or from somewhere else. Reuben Robertson, Jr., knew a lot of people.
The reason that someone may have asked for his help is that universities are usually strapped for cash and the restrictions placed on the government’s spending of taxpayer dollars are tight. Perhaps they asked Reuben Jr. if he’d be willing to support students taking part in a university study that would benefit national security. That doesn’t sound too different than asking him if he’d be willing to buy a box of cookies to support the Girl Scouts. Reuben Robertson, Jr., believed strongly in education and national security. He was also a busy man. Maybe that’s all he felt he needed to know.
How might Dorothy Craig have fit into the picture?
Dorothy Craig was a loyal employee of Champion Paper and Fibre Company. In 1953 she’d been working there for 16 years as an order clerk, a job that carried a lot of weight. She was well-liked, and, like Reuben Jr., she treasured her family. Her main activity outside of work was church.
Even though Dorothy Craig dropped out of high school after her sophomore year, she still attended her alumni reunions—that’s how much of a people person she was. In a Hamilton Journal-News photo of their 45th class reunion, which took place in the summer of 1965, Dorothy is standing on the far righthand side of the third row. When I first saw the picture, I was hoping that Dorothy was the woman who was standing two people to her left. The other woman was tall with short, jet black hair, white-rimmed glasses with dark lenses, and dark lipstick. She looked like a spy who wouldn’t take sass from anybody. Dorothy, on the other hand, looked a little more motherly—a gentle woman with a genuine, sweet smile. If someone needed a go-between to provide payments to Ron Tammen—someone who could handle an errand without asking too many questions—Dorothy Craig would have been perfect. Besides, she probably would have wanted to help support college students and protect national security too.
(I tried to obtain permission to post the photo, but I haven’t heard back from my contact. If I ever do, I’ll post it. In the meantime, if you have access to Newspaperarchives.com, you can view it here.)
What do you find most telling about the check from Dorothy Craig?
The quiet…always the quiet. When Carl Knox wrote his note about Dorothy, he didn’t include any additional information about the check—the date, the amount, and where it was cashed—even though I’m sure that information was provided to him. He didn’t include contact information for Dorothy Craig either, even though that information would have been given to him as well. And he kept Dorothy’s identity to himself or among a very small circle of people. Neither he nor the Oxford PD ever mentioned her in the news. If someone had contacted her, and her transaction with Ron was deemed inconsequential, they could have still provided an update to news reporters while protecting her anonymity. Something like: “An area woman had written a check to Ron for X dollars, but it turned out to be for (fill in the blank).”
Likewise, Dorothy Craig had just written a check to Ronald Tammen, a smart, serious-minded college student who disappeared shortly afterward. The news coverage would have been hard to miss, especially for someone who happened to be sitting in a roomful of order clerks at a paper company. Early and often, investigators lamented the lack of clues in the case. If I were Dorothy? I think I would have come forward and told someone about that check, be it the university, the Oxford PD, or even the FBI when they stepped in. Something like: “I just saw him on Saturday when I wrote him a check for (fill in the blank). He seemed OK.”
That is, unless I was instructed not to.
Do you think Dorothy Craig was the ‘woman from Hamilton’?
Let’s put it this way: I think Dorothy Craig was a woman from Hamilton who may have been acting as a liaison to help compensate Tammen for some activity he was involved with, such as a university study, perhaps. Whether she was the woman from Hamilton who I believe drove Ron away from Fisher Hall, I really don’t know.
You know what I’m thinking?
I’m thinking that this new Hamilton connection could make Ron’s blood type test a little more significant.
Whew! This concludes today’s posts. I’d love to hear any comments or questions you might have about Dorothy Craig, Reuben Robertson, Jr., or any other topic you feel like discussing concerning Ronald Tammen’s disappearance.
Hamilton, Ohio, may seem like a long way from our nation’s capital, but in the 1950s, Champion Paper and Fibre Company had garnered the attention of some powerful people at the top. “What people?” you ask. Oh, only Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. Both Harry and Ike had a lot of respect for Champion Paper. They or people in their administrations would frequently turn to the company’s leadership for their expertise in business and matters pertaining to national defense.
You heard me. National defense.
Mostly, it had to do with the company’s president, Reuben Buck Robertson, Jr. Reuben Jr. was intelligent, innovative, and oh my gosh, the man had charm. He had looks too, especially in his youth. His dimples could stop traffic. (He was probably told that a lot.) You could say that he attained his position as a birthright—his father, Reuben Sr., had preceded him as company president—but Reuben Jr. was very good at his job. Exceptional, really.
Before I tell you anything more about Dorothy Craig’s larger-than-life boss, let’s have a quick run-down on the company’s history and how Reuben Jr. got where he was.
The Champion Paper and Fibre Company had its official start in 1893 as the Champion Coated Paper Company. Its founder, Peter G. Thomson, was a bookstore owner, publisher, and printer from Cincinnati. Because of Thomson’s love for the printed word, he had a high regard for paper as well. When printers started using halftones—tiny dots of ink—to reproduce illustrations instead of hand-drawing or etching them, Thomson knew that the paper needed to be coated to create a smooth surface that would hold the ink in place. If the paper weren’t coated, the ink would sink into little crevices and spread. In 1891, Thomson purchased 200 acres in Hamilton to build a coating mill, and in 1894, his new business was up and running. But there were a few snags: in order to operate a fully-functioning coating mill, he needed sufficient quantities of paper to coat. As a remedy, he constructed a paper mill in town. Next Thomson discovered that, in order to operate a fully-functioning paper mill, he needed a consistent supply of wood pulp. Thomson found an ideal spot in Canton, North Carolina, an area so thick with pine trees, it probably smelled like the world’s best car freshener 24/7. The pulp mill was constructed in 1908, and, with that addition, Thomson now had a self-sufficient paper-manufacturing operation that would continue to develop and grow.
The pulp mill in North Carolina was named the Champion Fibre Company, and Thomson’s son-in-law was put in charge. That son-in-law was Reuben Buck Robertson, and his marriage to Peter’s daughter Hope Thomson would be the start of the Thomson-Robertson dynasty of Champion Paper. Peter’s three sons, Peter Jr., Alexander, and Logan Thomson, would all assume positions of leadership in the company, as would other family members, including Reuben’s son, Reuben Robertson, Jr., who was born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1908.
Reuben Jr. graduated from Yale Sheffield Scientific School in 1930 with a degree in chemical engineering. That same year, he started working at Champion Fibre for his father. Reuben Jr. was the ultimate Undercover Boss. He started low—as a laborer in the woodyard—and worked his way up the ladder. He toiled and sweated along with everyone else. He asked a ton of questions. In doing so, he developed a keen understanding of every aspect of the papermaking business and the people on whose backs the business relied upon.
In 1935, the two companies were merged to form Champion Paper and Fibre Company, which included adding a new paper mill in East Texas. With the merger, Logan Thomson was made president, Reuben Jr. was vice president, and Reuben Sr. was executive v.p. Two years later, Reuben Jr. moved from North Carolina to work in the General Office Building in Hamilton, a stately building on North B Street that housed roughly 75 Champion office staff. That same year, Dorothy Craig was hired by Champion to work in its General Office Building as an order clerk.
Seventy-five people is a relatively small number of occupants, and Reuben Jr. was a people person. He would make a point of knowing his employees—both those in the office building, and those in all the other buildings too. Dorothy strikes me as a people person too.
Why do I think that? A man named Bill McDulin used to write a folksy column for the Hamilton Journal-News titled “Got a Minute?” that shared newsy tidbits for the locals. McDulin’s guiding principle seemed to be to leave people with a good feeling about themselves and their community. Because they happened to be neighbors, Dorothy Craig, of Carmen Avenue, was mentioned several times in McDulin’s column. In one of his “Remember when” blurbs from 1976, he asked his readers “Remember when Charlie Betz was a member of the Hamilton police department?…Mrs. David (Geraldine) Adkins started writing poetry?”…[and so forth, and then]…Dorothy Craig worked at Champion?”
Literally thousands of people worked at Champion Paper and Fibre Company. For Bill McDulin to have singled out Dorothy over everyone else seems…well, it seems like she must have been known by quite a few people. So without question, Dorothy and Reuben Jr. would have known each other, and not just to say “hello.” Reuben Jr. would have asked Dorothy about Henry and the kids, or sometimes he likely would’ve wanted to know “How are the orders coming in today, Dorothy?” Dorothy would have felt at ease with Reuben Jr. and could answer him honestly, without sugarcoating, even if the news was less than favorable.
Reuben Jr. got his first taste of policymaking on the national stage in 1942, when he was asked to serve on the War Production Board. Although its name sounds as if it was a small group of men in suits sitting around a table and talking about war stuff, the War Production Board was an entire agency tasked with readying the country for WWII. The War Production Board was responsible for converting a variety of domestic manufacturing plants into weapons manufacturers. They’re the agency that coordinated the collection and recycling of aluminum, tin, rubber, steel, and other materials to be used for military purposes. For its part, the Champion Paper and Fibre Company had developed a paper substitute for the aluminum liner that went inside packs of cigarettes. They were brainstorming to that level of detail. And even though people today don’t normally think of foods like coffee and meat as commodities with implications for combat, the War Production Board did, and they formulated strict rules to ration certain foods to conserve resources.
But serving on the War Production Board didn’t stop Reuben Jr. from taking part in the war itself. He also enlisted. From 1942 to 1945, he was an officer in the Control Division of the Army Service Forces, advancing to lieutenant colonel by V-J Day.
Shortly after Reuben Jr.’s return to Hamilton, the Champion Paper and Fibre Company experienced another musical-chairs-style shift in leadership. Logan Thomson died in 1946, and with his death, Reuben Sr. became president. Four years later, Reuben Jr. would be elected president of the company, and his father would be elevated to chairman of the board.
Even with Reuben Jr.’s added responsibilities in running the entire company, Washington continued to call. Over the next five years, he was asked by the Truman and Eisenhower administrations to serve in the following ways:
So, yeah. The people in the highest posts of all the land were interested in hearing what Reuben Jr. had to say. And…are you ready for this? In 1955, President Eisenhower asked Reuben Jr. to serve as deputy secretary of defense under Secretary Charles Wilson. Which. Was. Huge. Reuben’s company would continue to be in good hands while he was away, since Reuben’s father would take over as president in the interim.
Some have described the deputy secretary of defense as the secretary’s alter ego. The deputy secretary knows everything the secretary knows, including issues pertaining to national security. I would hasten to remind readers that the U.S. was now engaged in the Cold War, so there was a lot to know, national-security-wise. I would quickly add that, on an org chart, the deputy secretary is immediately below the secretary and above anyone else having to do with the Department of Defense (DoD), including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Research and Development Board, the heads of all the military branches, you name it. It was Reuben Jr.’s job to oversee the day-to-day matters involved with managing the largest agency in the federal government. Of course, he was a natural.
Still, while he was in that awesomely important role at the DoD in the middle of the Cold War, Reuben Jr. would commute between Hamilton and D.C. by plane almost daily, according to a knowledgeable source. This was made possible thanks to an airstrip on his home property in Glendale, a small community about 12 miles from Hamilton. With that airstrip, plus the use of the company’s fleet of aircraft maintained at Lunken Airport, and Champion’s team of licensed pilots, Reuben Jr. could rub elbows with the nation’s top brass in the morning and still be home in time for dinner with wife Peggy and their six kids.
Oops, my bad. Did I neglect to mention that Reuben Jr. was an amazing husband and dad? Well, dude was an amazing husband and dad. There’s a photo in the company newsletter, The Log, in which he’s walking hand in hand with two of his children, who were dressed like a cowboy and a cowgirl, and he’s beaming away, dimples fully deployed. It’s so clear that Reuben’s children adored their father, just as Reuben’s employees adored their boss.
You may be wondering what papermaking could possibly have to do with the nation’s defense (other than the manufacture of paper liners for cigarette packs, that is). It had to do with the times they were living in. Back then, paper was—let’s see, I need to be careful not to overstate this—paper was everything. If someone from the DoD had an idea they wanted to put into motion, then they were going to need a sh*t-ton of paper to get that idea across to other people. It’s how the government communicated. It was how information was disseminated. After all, they didn’t earn the name “paper pushers” for nothing. Those ration books? Paper. The Uncle Sam posters asking people to bring in their toothpaste and shaving cream tubes for the tin? Paper. And maps. Millions of paper maps. In an August 1995 article, Jim Blount, a former editor for the Hamilton Journal-News who was also a treasured local historian for many years, shared this information that he’d found in a Champion newsletter concerning the importance of paper during WWII:
“For army maneuvers in 1942 in the Carolinas, 95 tons of paper went into 4.5 million maps. Every soldier in that operation received 21 maps covering the 12,000-square-mile area.
‘All ration cards and instructions must be printed on paper, and there is hardly a branch of this defense wherein paper is not used wholly or in part,’ noted The Log, a Champion publication. ‘It is necessary to plotting systems, giving instructions for air raid precautions, first aid instructions, communications and records of all kinds. Bonds, tax stamps, notes, orders, correspondence, even money itself is paper required by the Treasury Department, and the chances are that the bond you buy or the revenue stamp which is canceled on the can of tobacco is made by Champion.’
The 1942 article said ‘in this greatest of all wars in the history of mankind, there is needed for this year alone, 18 million tons of paper.’”
And that was just WWII. The United States needed paper during the Cold War too, for which 1950 was a banner year. On June 27, 1950, which happened to be Reuben Jr.’s 42nd birthday, the United States had entered the Korean War. On September 4, 1950, then-General Eisenhower—he wouldn’t be president until January 1953—kicked off Crusade for Freedom, a CIA-backed endeavor to raise funds for Radio Free Europe, which, at that time, was a U.S. propaganda tool based in West Germany. Even though it was said to be supported privately by everyday Americans, government dollars were also invested into the printing of stamps, posters, and leaflets by the millions. Some leaflets were used for fundraising at home and abroad. Others were dropped from balloons behind so-called Iron Curtain countries, such as East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, denouncing communism and advertising radio wavelengths and program schedules. Crusade for Freedom, which ran from 1950 to 1960, was a paper-palooza, and Champion Paper was there for it. Reuben Sr. oversaw the crusade’s two-state region of North and South Carolina. You can watch a 5-minute video on the Crusade for Freedom on C-Span’s Classroom program.
There was talk that Reuben Jr. would become defense secretary after Charles Wilson stepped down, but Reuben wasn’t interested. He wanted to be more present for his family, and he tendered his resignation in 1957. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t still have an avid interest in defense. In 1955, the same year in which he started at the DoD, Reuben Jr. kicked off the Chapaco Council—“Chapaco” being the initial letters from the three words Champion, Paper, and Company—which was a series of retreats for company management at Lake Logan in North Carolina. The line-up of speakers was a mix of military might with big names in business, industry, higher education, and journalism.
Speakers representing the U.S. government for the five years in which the retreats were held were:
Reuben Jr. also hired some of the highest military and intelligence officials the country had to offer to work for Champion Paper and Fibre Company. Conversely, one man, Thomas D. Morris, would be propelled from Champion to the DoD. Here’s the list that I’ve been able to assemble of Reuben’s most decorated hires. To keep things brief, instead of including their entire resume, I included the last position(s) held before they made their career change.
Col. Kilbourne “Pat” Johnston
Assistant director of CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination, 1950-52
Assistant for materiel program coordination to the commander, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, August 1952
Deputy director of supply and services, WPAFB, November 1952
Director of supply and services, WPAFB, May l954
Awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest military award during peacetime, 1959
Accepted position at Champion Paper and Fibre, 1959
I’d challenge anyone to find a similarly elite cadre of military brass working together at one civilian business anywhere. I have to believe that Reuben Robertson, Jr., was the reason.
Look, there’s no easy way to tell you what happened next. In the early hours of Sunday morning, March 13, 1960, Reuben Jr. was driving home with his wife Peggy from a social engagement in Cincinnati. On a dark stretch of highway, the Robertsons were startled by a car that was sitting in the center lane, unable to move. According to an Associated Press account: “Robertson swerved his Cadillac, but he clipped the stalled car and grazed a passenger who was standing outside.” Evidently, the other car had run out of gas. Of course, Reuben got out of his car to talk to the people in the disabled vehicle, probably to find out if they were OK and to tell them that his insurance would cover the damage to their car. I wouldn’t be surprised if he also offered to bring them back some gas. Suddenly, a drunk driver came careening down the road and knocked into Reuben, throwing him 50 feet into the air. Reuben Buck Robertson, Jr., died almost instantly at the age of 51.
Oops, sorry. Did I neglect to mention that Miami University had known Reuben B. Robertson, Jr., quite well? My bad.
UPDATE: Two readers have asked for more details about the accident, wondering if its cause could have been more nefarious in nature. The driver of the car that killed Reuben Jr. was Willie Lee Griffin, age 31, of Rockdale Avenue, in Avondale, Ohio, which is part of Cincinnati. Oddly, he was only charged with drunk and reckless driving even though he killed someone. Vehicular manslaughter, a felony, was definitely a charge that could have been brought against him at that time. Later, in 1967, Ohio law divided the category into first and second degree vehicular manslaughter, with drunk and/or reckless driving considered to be first degree offenses, and therefore, still a felony. I don’t know why they didn’t hold him accountable for Reuben Jr.’s death.
Before we conduct our search for Dorothy Craig, let’s think a little about how unusual it was for Dorothy’s name to be written at the top of Carl Knox’s notepad. In those dwindling days before Ron Tammen disappeared, all of his other check-writing or check-cashing or check-depositing activities pertained to businesses or organizations: places like Cleveland Trust, Delta Tau Delta, Shillito’s, and whatever entity had given him a loan. But Dorothy Craig wasn’t a business. She was a person. And weirder still, Dorothy Craig happened to be a female person.
In the year 1953, women weren’t generally known for their business transactions. Women were known for getting married. And once a woman was married, her identity was pretty much subsumed by her husband’s. Even her name. Once she was married, her signature would no longer begin with the name she was lovingly given on day 1 of her life—be it Helen, Margaret, Sadie, and, yes, Dorothy. Rather, she was now expected to use her husband’s name with the title “Mrs.” slapped in front. She was now Mrs. William this or Mrs. A.K that.
A woman in the 1950s was frequently told not to worry her pretty little head about something she was worried about. She would be asked to leave the room so the men could discuss something that was way too complicated for her cute, loveable brain. Actually, men in the 1950s were pretty ingenious. By telling women over and over (and over) that their place was in the home, they’d essentially removed half of the competition for the jobs they were vying for. Plus after a long, hard day of glad-handing and 2-hour lunches, they could come home to a clean house with sparkling children, not to mention dinner and a cocktail. Brilliant, boys…brilliant.
Sorry. I realize that last part comes off as a bit harsh, and I also realize that it doesn’t hold true for every ‘50s-era man. However, if you’ve read as many articles and ads from back then as I have lately, well, it can make a girl cranky.
Back to Dorothy Craig. What could this female person of the feminine persuasion have to do with Ronald Tammen that would have warranted her writing him a check? Conversely, what good or service could Ronald Tammen have provided in order to have earned said check?
As I began my search for Dorothy Craig, I soon realized that lots of women back then were named Dorothy. The surname of Craig was also common. I needed to establish some criteria. Here’s what I came up with:
First, she must be at least 18 years old in 1953 in order to have her own checking account.
Second, because the check was written on Oxford National Bank, which had no branches, she should live relatively close to Oxford, preferably within an hour’s drive.
And third, although this isn’t a requirement, I think it would be helpful if she had a job outside the home, since she would need some form of income in order to have her own checking account. Look at it this way: If Dorothy Craig had been single and living on her own, she would have needed a job—and a checking account—until she got married, that is. But if she were married and not working outside the home, Dorothy Craig would likely be the second name listed on a joint checking account. And if that had been the case, then Carl Knox would in all probability have written her husband’s name at the top of his notepad. See how it worked back then? If a man’s name had been anywhere near that check, even if Dorothy had written the check and signed it at the bottom, he would be given top billing and Dorothy would be largely ignored.
Keeping the above in mind, I conducted a search of the 1940 and 1950 censuses for all of the relevant counties and, if available, 1953 city directories for the tri-state area of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. I looked for anyone named Dorothy Craig who fit the first two criteria, and I also kept track of each contender’s employment status. I also checked Miami University’s 1953 student directory as well as the alumni database to see if Dorothy Craig could have been a fellow student. (Answer: no.) I also checked the census forms of any Miami students in the 1953 directory who had the last name of Craig to see if their mother’s name might be Dorothy. (Answer: again, no.) Then I made an interactive map.
So let’s interact, shall we? Here’s how:
Click on the map above, which links to the interactive map.
In the legend at the left, there are three categories. The first category is the location of unemployed Dorothy Craigs. The second category is the location of employed Dorothy Craigs. The third category is the location of Miami University.
Start by checking the box next to each list so you can see all of the Dorothys at once and where they were located in comparison to Miami University.
Now uncheck the Dorothys who were employed to see only the stay-at-home Dorothys and their location in comparison to Miami University. Click on each pin or the address in the legend to learn a little more about each person.
Now uncheck the Dorothys who were unemployed and check the Dorothys who were employed and their location in comparison to Miami University. Click on each pin or the address in the legend to learn a little more about those Dorothy Craigs.
The best I can tell, there were 10 Dorothy Craigs that fit the criteria. Four Dorothy Craigs lived in Cincinnati; one lived in Newport, Kentucky, but worked in Cincinnati; one lived in a rural township in Montgomery County that later merged with the small town of Clayton; one lived in Dayton; one lived in Hamilton; one lived in Covington, Kentucky; and the last lived in Richmond, Indiana.
Let’s start by discussing the unemployed Dorothy Craigs. I don’t know about you, but I’m having trouble imagining how Ron’s life would have intersected with a random home-bound housewife whose husband worked in a factory or on a farm. It might happen if Ron were selling something door-to-door, but I’ve seen zero evidence of that—especially if said door was 40 miles away.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that, if Dorothy had anything to do with Ron’s disappearance, she might have been covertly working for a government agency—the CIA perhaps—and had purposely sought Ron out. Where better to conduct clandestine activities than a farmhouse in Randolph Township, Ohio?
Well, maybe. But she herself would have to be discovered by the CIA in the first place. If Dorothy were married to a mechanic or salesman and living in a brick bungalow in Cincinnati, well…I don’t think she would have been hobnobbing with the sorts of people who might have approached her with an opportunity filled with mystery and intrigue. If Roscoe Craig, husband to the Dorothy in Dayton, had been working for Wright Patterson Air Force Base, I suppose it would be somewhat possible, but he wasn’t. He was a maintenance worker at General Motors. I could be wrong, but I just don’t see how a housewife named Dorothy Craig could have sashayed her way into the CIA.
Only three Dorothy Craigs were employed. One was a single woman of 24 who worked at a drugstore in Cincinnati. The second was a 34-year-old married mother of four sons under 12, who commuted to Cincinnati from Kentucky to work for Gibson Art, forerunner to Gibson Greeting Cards. The third was a 51-year-old married mother of three adult children who worked at a paper mill in Hamilton.
Speaking of children, one issue that I began to consider a potential dealbreaker was the issue of offspring. Raising kids can be a lot of work, or so I’ve been told. They can take up a lot of their parents’ time and resources, particularly if they’re school-aged. No matter if Dorothy Craig was employed or unemployed, I think it would be way more difficult for her to have the motive, means, and opportunity to develop some sort of business relationship with Ron Tammen if she was raising one or more children under the age of 12 or 13. If Ron had been known to make some side money through babysitting, then maybe, but we have no evidence of that.
Which Dorothy Craig was it?
Let’s imagine that we have a bunch of ping pong balls, and each ball represents a different Dorothy Craig on our list. Now imagine that each individual ball is magically weighted according to how well that particular Dorothy Craig meets the criteria we’ve set for Ron’s Dorothy plus a few bonus attributes. The heavier the ball, the better the candidate. If we put the balls into one of those wire Bingo cages, and turned the crank, the heaviest ball would tumble out first, which would indicate that the Dorothy Craig it represents is more likely than the rest to have written the check to Ronald Tammen. And the most likely candidate to tumble out first is…
…51-year-old Dorothy Craig, on Carmen Avenue, in Hamilton, Ohio!
She lived and worked roughly 12 miles from Oxford, Ohio.
The Dorothy Craig on Carmen Avenue was the closest of all the Dorothy Craigs to Miami University—roughly 17 miles closer than the second-closest Dorothy Craig, who lived in Richmond, Indiana. It would have been more convenient for her to open a checking account at Oxford National Bank in comparison to the others. Likewise, it wouldn’t have been too out-of-the-way for her to make periodic in-person visits if she needed to make a deposit or withdrawal.
For those of you who are in your 20s, 30s, or, good grief, even your 40s, this may be new information to you, but that was something that people used to do in those days. They would make a trip to the bank, in person, all the time, especially on pay day. There was no such thing as direct deposit. There were no ATMs. What’s more, banking hours were super tight in those days. In that part of the state, the commonly observed hours of operation back then were 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Friday nights for people who weren’t able to get there during the day. There were no Saturday hours.
If my experience as a bank teller in the late 1970s and early ‘80s is any indication, we used to see the same customers routinely—some every day, others weekly. We knew people by name. We had conversations with them that had nothing to do with banking. We had our favorites and they had theirs. From the sound of it, Dorothy Craig was a friendly, likeable woman, and Oxford was a tiny little town. I’d venture to say that one or more of the cashiers at Oxford National Bank had probably gotten to know her by face and name as well.
She had an income.
Dorothy Craig didn’t just have an income—she had a good income.
This is despite the fact that, in her youth, Dorothy Mueller (her maiden name) had dropped out of high school after the 10th grade. At first, it seemed odd to me that she would end her education so soon, but I don’t judge. Apparently, people, especially women, did that a lot more back then. (See paragraph two.) I mean, if a young girl was constantly being told that a woman’s place was in the home, would she really need to learn about Euclidian geometry?
But Dorothy had ambition. She mastered the skill of stenography and landed herself a good-paying job at the local paper mill. For many years, she worked as an order clerk in the General Scheduling Division at the paper mill, a job for which accuracy would be imperative. From what I gather, Dorothy and her colleagues in Scheduling helped ensure that enough paper was being manufactured from pulp in order to meet the demand of customer orders. That seems important.
In 1939, Dorothy had earned $1300, which was $180 more than her husband Henry, a laborer at a stove foundry, had earned. Although that may not sound like a big difference, salaries back then were distributed along a much narrower spectrum. A person earning a salary of $5000 was at the upper end of the pay scale, according to the U.S. census. In the 1940 census, if you made more than that—if, for example, you were the boss of a major corporation or if, say, you were the beloved exuberant singer of show tunes known as Ethel Merman—your salary was marked down as “$5000+.”
Back at the paper mill, a secretary with two years of college had earned $1000 in 1939, $300 less than Dorothy. An order clerk with two years of college had earned $1800 that year, just $500 more than Dorothy, and he was male, which was always more lucrative. Another high school classmate of Dorothy’s—also male—with a bachelor’s degree and a lofty post in personnel at the paper mill, made $2000—just $700 more than Dorothy had earned that year. So she was well compensated. In 1949, her salary had nearly doubled to $2500.
By 1951, all three of Dorothy’s children were married and living their own lives. She and Henry were officially empty nesters, which allowed her to concentrate more on her work as well as the outside activity that seemed to buoy her most: her church. In the 1955-56 Hamilton city directory, Dorothy was listed as an order editor, which ostensibly was a promotion from clerk. In 1960, Henry passed away after a lengthy illness, but Dorothy kept working. In 1961, she was listed as an office secretary at the paper mill. According to her obituary, she retired in 1967 after 30 years of service. She died at the age of 80 in 1982.
Dorothy didn’t just work at any paper mill. She worked at THE paper mill.
It was probably sometime around 2012, not long after reading Carl Knox’s note for the first time, that I’d found Dorothy Craig of Hamilton in the 1940 census. So I’ve known about her for a while. When the 1950 census was released last year, I’d looked her up there too. Both said she worked at a paper mill, and my reaction was, “?” I figured she must be the wrong Dorothy Craig. I couldn’t imagine Ron Tammen ever bumping into someone who worked as a stenographer at a paper mill, just as I couldn’t imagine a stenographer at a paper mill writing a check to Ron Tammen.
But that changed last month. As I’ve mentioned earlier, in his book Baseless, Nicholson Baker described a person who was high up in the CIA—Col. Kilbourne Johnston, the assistant director of the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination, AKA covert activities, from 1950 to 1952. Shortly after his time at the CIA, Johnston had joined the Champion Paper and Fibre Company, one of the most successful paper manufacturers in the country. He started at their Texas location in 1955, and in 1957, he moved to their headquarters, which was based in Hamilton, Ohio, and worked as director of operations programming staff. (He chose to go by “Pat” instead of Kilbourne now.) He was named vice president in 1962.
“Hold on,” thought I, “The number two guy in the CIA’s covert activities division moved to Hamilton, Ohio?”
I love Hamilton. It’s an easy-going, walkable city that celebrates its art, music, and history—everything I adore in a town. It has a fantastic library too. You should go there sometime.
Could I picture the assistant director of the CIA putting down roots there in the mid-1950s? Not really. I knew that St. Clair Switzer would have loved having a fellow military officer and former CIA guy living close by. I wondered who or what might have lured Johnston there.
Several weeks later, when I set out on my Dorothy Craig search, I reread the census forms for the Dorothy Craig who lived in Hamilton, and was reminded that she’d worked for a paper mill. Those words had suddenly taken on new relevance. I wanted to know which paper mill, since there was more than one in Hamilton. Sure enough, Dorothy Craig had worked at Champion Paper and Fibre. In the company’s vernacular for all of its valued employees, Dorothy Craig was a Champion.
I have no idea how well Dorothy Craig and Kilbourne Johnston knew one another. Nevertheless, I’m 100 percent confident that the two of them were sharing the same hallways for years, beginning when he arrived in Hamilton in 1957. That realization led me to ask if anyone else of importance was sharing those hallways with her in the days before Dorothy Craig wrote the check to Ronald Tammen.
According to Carl Knox’s notes, shortly before Ronald Tammen disappeared, he cashed a check from Dorothy Craig. He doesn’t say the date or the amount of the check. He doesn’t say why the check was written. He doesn’t say where Ron cashed it. And he doesn’t say who Dorothy Craig was. Why do I even bother to mention it here? I mention it because of all the information he did say. Despite the ambiguity, he still managed to tell us quite a bit.
Here are the exact words that Carl Knox had written at the top of one of his note pages:
Where was it cashed
For this first blog post of the 70th anniversary of Ron’s disappearance, I think I’m going to return to my favorite format—good ol’ Q&A—because Q&As are the cotton blend joggers of journalism, the baggy shorts of blogging, which is to say that they’re my comfort zone. You get to bounce around from topic to topic without an outline or even a game plan and yet, in the end, you still end up with something reasonably cohesive. Also, the topic we’re about to discuss just naturally raises a bunch of questions. It just does.
I should probably also let you know that I was a bank teller at one time. I wasn’t the head teller or even the back-up head teller when the head teller was sick or on vacation. I was just a run-of-the-mill teller in her late teens to early 20s who was trying to figure out her life’s purpose and, during that time, cashed checks for people. It’s just kind of hilarious that I’m having to tap into that forgettable part of my past now as I try to figure out this aspect of Ron’s case.
OK, let’s do this.
How do you know that Dorothy Craig wrote the check to Ron and not the other way around?
Four words: Where was it cashed. (He left off the question mark.) I love Carl’s question soooo much. We know that Dorothy Craig wrote the check to Ron Tammen because Carl wouldn’t care where the check was cashed if Ron had written the check to Dorothy. He might have asked “Who’s Dorothy Craig?” or “Why did Ron write the check to Dorothy?” but not “Where was it cashed?” Carl Knox cares where the check was cashed because it’s an obvious question to ask when you’re busy looking for a missing person. If Carl found out where Dorothy’s check was cashed, he might have learned something about Ron’s whereabouts.
Which bank was the check written on?
As you’ll soon see why, I’m convinced that the check was written on an account from “Oxford Natl,” short for Oxford National Bank. In 1953, the Oxford National Bank was located at 7 West High Street, where Rapid Fired Pizza is now located. The building was impressively bank-like in appearance, constructed of etched stone and, according to a picture in the 1957 Miami Recensio, a lit sign that provided the time and temperature to passersby. There were no branches in nearby cities and towns—the building on High Street was all there was.
To say that the Oxford National Bank had close ties to its collegiate community would be a colossal understatement. Sure, both Miami and the Western College for Women had bank accounts there. But more than that, several individuals affiliated with Oxford National Bank concurrently held high positions at Miami University.
Take A.K. Morris, for example. According to the Dayton Daily News, Morris was president of Oxford National Bank from 1932 until 1960. But that wasn’t all he did for a living. Beginning in 1922, he’d worked in a variety of roles, including alumni relations, as an assistant to Miami University Presidents Raymond Hughes and Alfred Upham. In 1937, Morris was named vice president of Miami, and in 1946-47, he became acting president of the university—again, while serving as president of Oxford National Bank. At the time of Ron’s disappearance, Morris was working solely at the bank, though he undoubtedly knew Miami’s leadership well.
Two other individuals with an Oxford National Bank/Miami University connection were Philip D. Shera and his brother Donald. Their father, Caleb, had founded the bank in 1902. For 12 years, until his death in 1942, Philip was treasurer of Miami’s Board of Trustees while also serving as vice president and cashier at the bank. Donald Shera was named to the post of treasurer of the Board of Trustees in 1949, also while serving as vice president and cashier at the bank. You might remember Don Shera’s name from an earlier blog post. He was corresponding with Carl Knox about how to apply Ron’s bank balance of $87.25 to Ron’s outstanding university bills after he’d disappeared. Don Shera replaced E. Bruce Ferguson, who died unexpectedly, and who was a treasurer for the Board of Trustees from 1942 to 1949 while also an assistant cashier for the bank.
If you think these dual appointments seem unusual and, quite frankly, a conflict of interest, I agree with you. But I’m so happy that they didn’t see it that way back then. As a result of Oxford National Bank’s close ties to Miami University, we can feel confident that Carl Knox had first-hand knowledge of Ron’s bank account information, not to mention Dorothy Craig’s.
How do you know that Carl was talking to someone from Oxford National Bank about Dorothy Craig’s check?
We already know that Ron banked there, since we have Don Shera’s letters to Carl Knox about Ron’s balance after Ron disappeared. Carl Knox certainly would have contacted someone there early in his investigation to learn as much as he could about Ron’s finances.
At the top of the same note that held Dorothy Craig’s information is a note about a $15 deposit to the Cleveland Trust Co. that Ron had written concerning an American Express account. Therefore, it’s logical to conclude that the source was someone from Oxford National Bank. I suspect that, in those frantic early days, Carl’s source was Don Shera or A.K. Morris.
What makes you think that Dorothy had a checking account at Oxford National Bank?
It’s true that the words “Oxford Natl” above Dorothy Craig’s name could be interpreted in a few ways. While one interpretation is that it refers to Dorothy’s checking account, another view could be that it’s in reference to Carl’s source—the person he’s speaking with—and a third might be that Oxford National was the institution who cashed Ron’s check for him. There may be other interpretations as well.
Here’s why I believe the first interpretation is the correct one:
We know that Carl is speaking with someone from Oxford National Bank because of the information about the $15 deposit to Cleveland Trust. We know that Dorothy wrote the check because of Carl’s question, “Where was it cashed.” And we also know that Ron had cashed the check versus depositing it, again because of Carl’s question.
If Shera or Morris had told Carl “We recently cashed a check for Ron Tammen from someone named Dorothy Craig,” then Carl might have jotted down the bank’s name above Craig’s in response, but he also would have had his answer regarding where the check had been cashed. In other words, if Oxford National Bank had cashed Ron’s check, Carl wouldn’t have even written the question down. Therefore, we can conclude that Ron had cashed the check somewhere else.
But here’s the kicker: If Ron had cashed the check somewhere else, and if Dorothy’s check had been written on another bank account, then Oxford National Bank officials wouldn’t have even known about the check. They would have been bypassed completely. But they did know about the check so the check must have been written on an Oxford National Bank account—Dorothy Craig’s.
Carl’s brilliantly simple 4-word question gave us two key pieces of intelligence: that Dorothy Craig had written a check to Ron Tammen and that Dorothy’s checking account was with Oxford National Bank, which happened to be an annex of sorts to Miami University.
Why wouldn’t Ron have cashed the check at the Oxford National Bank?
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Not sure. It’s where he banked. It was conveniently located on High Street and he could have cashed it when he was depositing another check. Of course, in those days, bankers would frequently call it a day at 2:30 p.m.—something known as bankers’ hours—so maybe the bank had closed and Ron decided to cash the check elsewhere. Or perhaps he did it for another reason.
Is it possible that Dorothy alerted the university that she’d written the check to Ron?
Unlikely. If she’d notified the university, there would have been more info in Carl’s notes concerning who she was, why she’d written the check, how she knew Ron, perhaps his disposition when she last saw him—things like that. Carl’s note was about a check, not a person. It came from a bank official.
Do you think Carl got an answer to his question of where the check was cashed?
Carl’s notes don’t indicate whether he’d received an answer to his question, though he should have. No matter where Ron cashed the check, the Oxford National Bank, as the drawing bank, would have received the check back from the establishment that had cashed it, likely for deposit, or from the establishment’s bank. Officials could have easily told Carl where the check was cashed as well as the date of the check and the check’s amount, just as they did for another check that Ron had cashed at a drugstore up the street, which you’ll hear about in a second.
Do you remember how newspaper reports said that Ron had $11 or $12 on him when he disappeared? Could that be the value of Dorothy’s check?
Interesting theory. Actually, newspapers credit Charles Findlay with that guesstimate, which is all I think that it was. I don’t think he was basing that number on any prior knowledge regarding Ron’s check-cashing activity. For example, Carl Knox had written a note saying that, on April 16, Ron cashed a $5.00 check at John Minnis Drugstore. Does that mean that Dorothy’s check was for $6.00 or $7.00? I doubt it. My guess is that Dorothy’s check was for a larger amount.
Did Carl Knox try to track down Dorothy Craig?
This, I believe, is the crucial question, since, In the eyes of university officials, this could have been a big clue. Carl had undoubtedly been told by students and the Oxford Police about a woman from Hamilton who was spotted driving Ron away the night of April 19. Was this our girl? Regardless of whether she was or wasn’t, Carl should have been interested in tracking her down. He could have done so easily thanks to the contact information that she would have supplied when she opened her bank account—information that Morris or Shera could have given to him. So far, I’ve seen no evidence that a conversation took place, however.
If the check was written by Dorothy Craig to Ron, and he cashed it somewhere else, how did bank officials manage to flag it?
I think it could have happened like this: Carl Knox appears to have had at least two conversations with officials of Oxford National Bank concerning Ron’s bank transactions. In the first conversation, which appeared to occur very early in Knox’s investigation, officials reported on checks that the bank had received by April 6, 1953. In other words, when Carl first contacted them, let’s say sometime around April 22 perhaps, the bank had only received checks that Ron had written up through April 6, 1953. (Things obviously moved at a slower pace back then.)
After their initial conversation, however, several additional checks had arrived at the bank. In the second conversation, officials had reported on checks that the bank had received later—most of which were written during the week prior to Ron’s disappearance. Among those checks was the check written by Dorothy Craig to Ron.
Here’s a timeline of Ron’s banking activity according to Carl Knox’s notes:
Knox wrote down the words “$10 check $30 check” and beside that: “Playing Jobs,” in reference to a couple of Ron’s gigs. Ron had either cashed or deposited those checks, likely the latter.
Knox wrote “$100 check on a Loan,” which evidently would have been a check that Ron had written to help pay off one of his loans.
Beneath those two notes, Knox had written “No activity in Bank Account since April 6th,” which supports the conclusion that this information came from the first of two conversations.
On Monday, April 13, Ron wrote two checks. One was for $24.45 to Delta Tau Delta, Ron’s fraternity, and the other was to Shillito’s, a Cincinnati-based department store for which Oxford had a small outlet, for $4.07.
On Wednesday, April 15, he wrote the $15.00 check for deposit to the Cleveland Trust Company, which had to do with an American Express account.
On Thursday, April 16, he wrote a $5.00 check payable to “cash” at John Minnis Drugstore.
(Note: In 1976, we learned from Joe Cella, reporter for the Hamilton Journal-News, that on Friday, April 17, Ron had paid a car insurance premium of $17.45 by personal check to Glenn Dennison. I’m not sure why Carl Knox hadn’t learned of this check during his second conversation, although, perhaps it hadn’t arrived at the bank yet.)
It was sometime during this second conversation that Carl Knox would come to learn that Ron had cashed the check from Dorothy Craig. This is further confirmation that the check had been written on the Oxford National Bank and had made its way back to them by way of the establishment that had cashed it or the establishment’s own bank. The check’s amount would be withdrawn from Dorothy’s account and Dorothy would receive the canceled check with her next statement. (Can you imagine being Dorothy Craig and reading all of the headlines about Ronald Tammen going missing and you’re sitting there with a canceled check with his signature on it? Too bad they didn’t have eBay back then.)
Although I don’t know exactly how bank officials managed to flag it, my guess is that, by the time it had arrived, they were on high alert for anything with Ronald Tammen’s name on it. Still, I think we’re fortunate that someone did catch it and let Carl Knox know.
What isn’t clear is why Carl Knox didn’t write down the date and amount of Dorothy’s check as he had been doing for every other check during that second conversation.
So who was Dorothy Craig and why did she write a check to Ron Tammen?