Mini bonus post: Were Richard Cox’s FBI documents kept in the Identification Division’s ‘missing person file room’ too?

Richard Colvin Cox

Considering how similar the Ron Tammen and Richard Cox disappearances seemed to be, one question that may have crossed your minds at some point is: were Richard Cox’s missing person documents handled the same way as Ron Tammen’s? In other words, were some of Cox’s documents stamped “Return to Ident Missing Person File Room” too?

Also, you may recall that other Tammen documents had been stamped “Retain permanently in Ident jacket #358-406-B”—Ron’s fingerprint jacket—before they were “removed from Ident files” in June 1973. Was there a phrase on Cox’s documents to “Retain permanently in Ident jacket” too? We know the FBI had Cox’s fingerprints on file because of his Army ties, so he should have had a fingerprint jacket too.

To the best of my knowledge, the answer is “no” to both questions.

I know that some of you aren’t convinced that there was a missing person file room per se. But even so…the FBI seemed to be treating the two cases differently, even though there were distinct similarities between them and they’d occurred only three years apart.

Admittedly, I’ve been eyeballing hundreds of pages today and there’s a chance I may have missed something.

And so…I’ve decided to post all of Richard Cox’s FBI documents on this website. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the FBI’s files on Cox have ever been posted in their (supposed) entirety online before. Feel free to explore them at your leisure. There’s quite a bit there and some of it makes for fascinating reading. Also, if you do spot either of the above phrases, or anything else of interest, please let me know. You can find the three CDs’ worth of documents at the bottom of the home page, in the same area as the other documents I’ve posted.

Lastly, if their estimate is still on target, I should be hearing from the Department of Justice by early February regarding my appeal concerning Richard Cox’s Additional Record Sheets. It would be a huge deal if they rule in my favor. I don’t think anyone has ever requested—and received—Additional Record Sheets from the FBI before. Fingers crossed.

I think I may know where the FBI’s ‘missing person file room’ was located

A couple days ago, as  I was pondering my next move on a recent FOIA request that had left me empty-handed, I turned my sights once again to the July 1975 FBI telephone directory.

You may recall the directory in question. We’d discussed it when I was trying to track down someone who’d removed Ron’s missing person documents from “Ident” in June 1973—someone who appeared to have the initials MSL. The directory header says “Officials and Supervisors” in large print and “Secretaries, Stenos, and Clerical Supervisors” in smaller print. Beneath that header is an unredacted list of former employees and their phone extensions, and following those names are the names and locations of every division, section, unit, and desk in the Bureau. It’s a tiny window into the FBI in the mid-seventies and a window that I needed to peer through a little more intently. I guess you could call me the FBI’s own little Gladys Kravitz.

Not all officials are listed in the 1975 staff directory, mind you. Clarence M. Kelley had been the director since 1973, and his name is nowhere to be found. The logic may have been that if you’re an employee of the Bureau, you should already know who the director is. Shame on you if you needed to ask if Kelley was spelled with an “ey” or just a “y.” But Kelley’s underlings are all present and accounted for, including his associate director Nicholas P. Callahan and the associate directors of each of the 12 divisions and the Office of Planning and Evaluation. 

According to the directory, the director’s and associate director’s offices were located on the seventh floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, which had been newly completed that very year. Many of the FBI’s employees were also stationed there by then, though not all. People were still occupying space in the Identification Building at 2nd and D Streets SW, as well as an Annex at 215 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, the Old Post Office Building, and the Willste Building, which was a high-rise in nearby Silver Spring, MD (and is now a pricey condo building).

FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building, aka FBI Headquarters, in 1975; photo credit: FBI

Richard H. Ash, who headed up the Identification Division at that time, had an office on the top floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building—the 11th—in  room 11255.

Two days ago, I found myself staring vacuously at the second-to-last page of the directory at a general entry for the Identification Division. The entry looked modest for the largest division in the agency. The mammoth sections it oversaw appeared alphabetically as stand-alone entries, typed in all caps with their units beneath, but the division itself appeared on its own in mostly lower-case letters. Only its phone extension managed to convey an elevated degree of importance: 2222. The Identification Division’s room number was 11262 in the J. Edgar Hoover Building.

11262. 

11262.

It sounded familiar, but why? 

1126…

too.

And then it occurred to me that 1126 is the number for the “Ident. Missing Person File  Room,” which had been stamped on several of Ronald Tammen’s missing person records. So far, a total of zero people I’ve spoken with from the FBI’s Identification Division or its successor, Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS), as well as the Records Management Division, have ever heard of the Missing Person File Room. 

For those who may be new to the blog site, the Identification Division’s Missing Person File Room appears to have been a diversion from typical FBI protocol for missing persons. Several of Ron’s papers had been housed there, as indicated by the above stamp, and then the stamp was crossed out at some point, though we don’t know when or why, and we also don’t know where Ron’s papers were stored after that. My thinking is that Ron’s case wasn’t the typical missing person case. I also think they knew he was no longer missing. (You can read every blog post that discusses Ron’s missing person file at this link.)

Could it be, thought I, that the Missing Person File Room was in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, up on the 11th floor, under the watchful eye of the higher-ups in the Identification Division? It only had four numbers, not the five that was characteristic of the 11th floor’s numbering system. But is it…conceivable?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that it makes no sense. Ron’s missing person documents had (ostensibly) been stamped sometime before June 1973, which precedes the Hoover building by at least two years. How could they specify a room number for a new building before said building had even been built? 

Hear me out.

As it so happens, although the J. Edgar Hoover building was nowhere near finished in 1973, it had already been years in development by then, and had been since the early 1960s. In fact, if you’re ever in the mood for some light reading, or, better yet, a natural remedy for covid-fueled insomnia, documents pertaining to the entire process, which began with the formulation of an idea in 1940, can be found on the Government Attic website.

According to a 2014 General Services Administration document describing the building’s planning and construction, floor plans had been approved for at least the first, second, and seventh floors, and I’m guessing others as well, in 1967. (See figures 36-38.) The GSA document also states that some employees had already begun moving into the new building by June 1974.

So keeping all of the above in mind, it would seem feasible that, by the summer of 1973, the Identification Division’s management probably was already preparing for its big move. To assist in the transition, perhaps they’d even decided to label some documents according to the new floor plan, even though the numbering system may not have been 100 percent final. Perhaps when they were writing the number 1126 on the line provided by the rubber stamp, they meant 1126-ish.

That might help explain another minor mystery, by the way—the Missing Person File Room stamp itself. I’d often wondered why someone had to write in the room number as opposed to having the room number engraved on the stamp. Was the information held there so confidential that they had to change its location every so often? 

My thinking now is that the stamp was made during the transition period when they weren’t exactly sure where the Missing Person File Room would be located. “Just put a blank line there and we can fill in the room number later,” a 1970s office supervisor might have said before pivoting on her platform heels and walking away.

But what about the other buildings that the FBI used back in 1973? Could room #1126 have been in one of those?

I honestly don’t think so. I’ve attempted to obtain floor plans for the Robert F. Kennedy Building at 950 Pennsylvania NW, where the Department of Justice is housed and where some FBI officials were located before they moved next door to FBI Headquarters. Likewise, I tried to obtain floor plans of the Identification Building at 2nd and D Streets, SW, the hub of the fingerprint identification activities. I was unsuccessful. I also was unsuccessful in having someone answer my direct question regarding whether there is a room 1126 in the DOJ building now or in the Ident Building when the FBI was still a tenant. 

One kind soul did tell me that there is no such number in the Ford House Office Building, which is a renovated version of the Ident Building.

I was also able to locate some room numbers online for the RFK building, though 1126 isn’t among them. Although the numbering is in four digits and there could feasibly be a room number 1126 on the first floor, it seems unlikely that the Missing Person File Room would have been there. It’s more plausible that it would be accessible to wherever administrative staff would have been located, which was usually on a higher floor.

As for the Identification Building, the 1975 FBI telephone directory shows that most sections were on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th floors. The directory didn’t specify a room number for the Technical Section, which housed the criminal fingerprint cards. (The civil and Old Armed Forces cards were stored in the Willste Building, in Silver Spring.) Technical staff were most likely stationed in a large open space on the first and possibly second floors. But again, it doesn’t seem likely that the Missing Person File Room would have been located there, particularly since people who’d worked there didn’t seem to know that the room existed.

I also don’t think the Missing Person File Room was housed in the Willste Building due to the same accessibility issues as for the DOJ building. It’s difficult to say, since no room numbers are provided in the directory.

Yesterday, I wrote to the National Capital Planning Commission’s (NCPC’s) Office of Public Engagement seeking the 1967 approved floor plan for the 11th floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, if available. I also requested copies of the approved floor plans for the first, second, and seventh floors, since the drawings are blurry in the 2014 GSA document. (The NCPC has suggested going through the Public Engagement Office first before filing a FOIA request.)

In addition, I plan to reach out to two former employees from that era who may be able to answer my questions about the Missing Person File Room as well.

I’ll let you know what I find out.

In the meantime, what do you think? 

More smoking evidence that Ron Tammen was alive in 2002

Short post tonight, but I can’t keep it in. For most of today, I’ve been doing a deep dive into FBI protocol to help me revise my FOIA request seeking all fingerprint expungement requests between 1999 and June 2002 due to the Privacy Act. As many of you know, June 2002 was when Ron Tammen’s fingerprints had been expunged due to the Privacy Act or a court order. However, in my recent FOIA request on that subject, the FBI claimed that, based on the information I’d provided to them, they were “Unable to identify records responsive to your request.“ For my revised request, I want to point to specific FBI protocols in their own words so their FOIA folks won’t be able to pretend that I didn’t give them enough information.

One of the websites that I visited today was www.governmentattic.org, which is an invaluable website that believes in government transparency. They’ve posted all sorts of random documents from all areas of the federal government that they’ve obtained by submitting their own FOIA requests. There, I was thrilled to find an FBI FOIA and Privacy Act reference manual that covers the time period of January 8, 1987 through March 31, 1998.

Near the end of the manual are memos that deal with agency protocol when handling FOIA and Privacy Act requests. Memo 14, which deals with the correction or expungement of information in FBI files, was issued on March 31, 1998, just four years before Ron’s fingerprints were expunged. It’s pretty short, so I’ll let you read it at your leisure. (Note that the initials PLS stand for paralegal specialist.)

Here are the two key takeaways from this memo:

  1. Among other things, I plan to seek “all correspondence between the Bureau and the requester” for the period of January 1, 1999 through June 30, 2002. There’ll be tons of redactions, no doubt, but we still could get a sense of how many people requested that their fingerprints be expunged during that period due to the Privacy Act.
  2. Best of all, is the first sentence of the last paragraph: “The only person who can make a request for amendment/correction is the subject of the record.”

You guys, we’ve been saying all along that if Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged due to the Privacy Act, then he was alive in 2002, since he’s the only person who can make that request.

It’s just super nice to hear the FBI say so too.

Happy New Year, everyone!

On this date in 1958, FBI Headquarters wrote an ‘airtel’ to the Cincinnati Field Office that might have something to do with Ron Tammen…why?

(And also: what happened to it?)

Greetings! Today, I’d like to further discuss the memo that was written on May 9, 1973, by the special agent in charge (SAC) of the Cincinnati Field Office to the acting director of the FBI, who was then William Ruckelshaus. As you probably know by now, the memo concerns the anonymous phone call they’d received claiming that Ron Tammen was working at Welco Industries in Blue Ash, Ohio.

“Oh, geez, that thing again?” some of you may be thinking.

Yeah, that. Sorry, but I still have unresolved issues.

[Click here if you have unresolved issues too and would like to read it again.]

In the last write-up, we discussed how shaky that lead was to begin with. The guy who’d called had refused to provide his name and then he told the FBI rep that a coworker of his might be Ron based on his physical description and “other reasons which he cared not to discuss.” He then “terminated the telephone call,” which sounds as if he hung up in the rep’s ear—a noisy click followed by the long, low waaaaaah of a dial tone. (Hanging up on someone was more dramatic back then.) Apparently, that’s all that was needed for an agent to be assigned to check things out that same day.

Here’s the question that keeps rolling around in my brain: If the FBI didn’t investigate missing person cases, as they claim not to do, why would they have assigned someone to fingerprint the guy at Welco just because some unnamed caller thought he fit Ron’s description? According to an unredacted version of the 1973 memo, the Welco man was an electronic technician from Virginia who’d served his country honorably from 1951 until 1960—a period that covers the time right before Ron entered Miami and extends until seven years after he’d disappeared.

I’d think that the FBI agent would have done his background research on the Welco guy before he made his trip to Blue Ash. The FBI has records on all sorts of people. If a person has a criminal record, they can access it, and they can also access a person’s military service records. Did they do any initial research or did they just pull a surprise pop-in and obtain his bio information there? According to the May 1973 memo, many of the biographical details were provided by the company’s vice president after pulling his employee’s personnel file. Pop-in, it is!

Out of respect for his family, I won’t be sharing the name of the Welco guy who was fingerprinted. His name sounds a little like Ron’s name, which is probably why the anonymous caller thought of him when he read the 20th anniversary article on Tammen’s disappearance and decided to alert the FBI. (I mean, who does that?) And despite whatever physical characteristics the Welco guy had that might have resembled Ron’s, one characteristic stands out that isn’t the least bit similar. It’s also an attribute that is far less likely to change after a person reaches adulthood: his height. The Welco guy was 6 feet 2 ½ inches tall. Ron was roughly 5 feet 9 inches tall. Nevertheless, the special agent fingerprinted the strapping electronic technician from Virginia and a couple weeks later, the Cincinnati Field Office was told that the fingerprints didn’t match Ron’s prints. Not the same guy, said they. (The Identification Division also did some curious things after arriving at their conclusion, which I discuss in the post The Ident Files.)

So there’s that. But the 1973 memo has introduced another small mystery in the Ron Tammen story, and that mystery has to do with the first sentence. It says: “Re Bureau airtel to CI, dated 12/19/58.” The CI stands for Cincinnati Field Office, and an “airtel” was one of the ways in which the FBI communicated internally, especially, I imagine, with its field offices. Think of it as a glorified memo. Most importantly, I wonder if the 12/19/58 airtel is the reason that a special agent was sent to Welco versus ignoring the call altogether, which would have been my inclination had I been on phone duty.

In light of that possibility, the airtel strikes me as important. Unfortunately, there are no 12/19/58 airtels anywhere in the documents I’ve received from the FBI. Back in 2011, I quoted that sentence as a reason for my appeal, when I felt the FBI was withholding documents on Ron. (I still feel that way, by the by.) Even though I won the appeal, I never received a 12/19/58 airtel. I only received documents having to do with DNA testing after Butler County, Ohio, and Walker County, Georgia, reopened their respective cold cases in 2008 to see if a dead body found in the summer of 1953 in Georgia might be Ron.

Although I can’t tell you what the nonexistent memo says, I can deduce a few things about it:

It likely had nothing to do with Ron’s Selective Service violation.

Whenever I’ve discussed Ron’s case with retired FBI folks, the issue of Ron’s avoiding the draft has become their go-to hypothesis as to why the FBI would have investigated his case at all. They can’t imagine why the FBI would spend person-hours, car mileage, or long-distance charges on Ron’s missing person case. 

But I’m not convinced. First, we’ve learned that the FBI was indeed visiting people in their homes and dorm rooms shortly after Ron went missing, before his draft status had changed, and also that the FBI had been sitting in on faculty conferences at Miami by May 1953. Second, one FBI retiree told me that he or she didn’t think they had the staffing to seriously investigate Selective Service cases. They might have posted a record with the National Crime Information Center, so that, if the person was arrested, the FBI would let law enforcement know that there was a Selective Service violation against him as well. But this person doesn’t remember the FBI actively searching for someone who didn’t report for induction.

So I don’t think that Ron’s Selective Service violation—case #25-381754— was the reason that the FBI investigated Ron’s disappearance, or at least not the sole reason. I also don’t think it’s the topic of the 12/19/58 airtel. Here’s why:

When FBI Headquarters responded on 5/22/73 saying that the Welco guy’s fingerprints didn’t match Ron’s, someone added a note at the bottom, which included this information:

Was a subj of SSA violation in 1953. Canceled in 1955 (USA Cleveland closed case).

Allow me to interpret by writing out all of the words: It says that Ron was the subject of a Selective Service Act violation in 1953, however, his case was canceled, or closed, in 1955 by the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland. 

I don’t know how weird it is for a U.S. Attorney, who is part of the Department of Justice (DOJ), to request that an SSA case be closed. That’s probably a question for another day. (Actually, I’ll be submitting a FOIA request seeking all SSA cases that were closed by the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland in 1955 to find out how weird it was.) 

For now, let’s concentrate on the timeframe. For whatever reason, in 1955, Ron’s case had been closed by the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland, which is part of the DOJ, which is the parent agency of the FBI. Because the airtel was written in 1958, three years later, the airtel likely had nothing to do with Ron’s Selective Service Act violation. 

The 12/19/58 airtel didn’t seem to be in Cincinnati in January 2008.

In May 1973, the Cincinnati Field Office possessed the 12/19/58 airtel. We know this because they referred to it in their memo. And that makes perfect sense. If FBI Headquarters sends you an airtel, you file it somewhere in case you need it, and they needed it in 1973.

But in 2008, the airtel didn’t seem to be in Cincinnati anymore. I think this because I obtained a set of the FBI’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents from the Butler County Sheriff’s Office after cold case detective Frank Smith had retired. It’s the set that Smith had obtained from the Cincinnati Field Office in January 2008. Just like my FOIA documents, Butler County’s set doesn’t include the 12/19/58 airtel either.

I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re thinking: Perhaps the airtel reached its record retention date, and Cincinnati destroyed it according to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) records schedule. Thank you for raising this important point. You’ve obviously become experts on the topic of NARA and records retention schedules, thanks to the FBI’s early expungement of Ron’s fingerprints in 2002, 30 years ahead of their normal schedule. 

While it’s true that the 1958 airtel may have been destroyed, the FBI hasn’t admitted to destroying very much on Tammen, at least not to me. Through my lawsuit settlement, I was provided with an in-depth declaration of all the places in which the FBI had searched for documents on Tammen. And in that search, they told me the approximate dates when certain documents had been destroyed. 

Click on chart for a closer view
Click on chart for a closer view

For example, although FBI Headquarters destroyed Ron’s Selective Service file “on or about 2/1/1997,” they also reported that the Cincinnati Field Office destroyed Ron’s Selective Service file in 1964. Ostensibly, the 1958 airtel was not in that file, otherwise Cincinnati’s SAC would not have referenced it in 1973. So that supports our conclusion that the 12/19/58 airtel didn’t have anything to do with Ron’s Selective Service violation.

Click on bulleted list for a closer view

The only other document that the FBI’s declaration claims was destroyed is Ron’s Classification 190 document, which had to do with either the Privacy Act or the Freedom of Information Act and which had originated in the Cincinnati Field Office. That document was destroyed “on or about 5/17/2008”—several months after Smith had reopened his investigation. But no matter what purpose the destroyed document had served when it was still with us on earth, it couldn’t have been the 12/19/58 airtel, since the latter document originated from FBI Headquarters, not Cincinnati. 

In their declaration, the FBI also says that one file on Ronald H. Tammen, file #252-IR-C5652, is missing and unable to be located (see top chart). Perhaps the 12/19/58 airtel is in that lost file? I have some thoughts on this question, but I can’t print them here just yet. Based on the file’s number, it has to do with the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime and/or its Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, known as ViCAP. It’s important that we not let our imaginations run wild regarding the missing file. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s anything pertaining to Ron that would be helpful. If there ever comes a time when I’m at liberty to discuss this topic, I will. But I also don’t think it has anything to do with the 12/19/58 airtel, particularly since the center wasn’t started until 1984.

The airtel may not have pertained to Ron specifically.

So where’s the 12/19/58 airtel and what might it have said? You got me. But it occurs to me that the reason neither Frank Smith nor I received the airtel in our FOIA documents could be because it wasn’t stored along with the Tammen documents. Maybe the airtel dealt with a separate topic. For example, perhaps it was an instructional document for how to handle anonymous phone calls.

For this reason, I’ve filed a FOIA request seeking “ALL FBI BUREAU AIRTELS dated 12/19/1958 that were addressed to the Cincinnati Field Office.” I’ll keep you posted.

I’m going to end things here for now. If I should hear back from any of my public records requests over the next week or two, you may hear from me again. Otherwise, I wish you all peaceful and healthy holidays (emphasis on the healthy), including a Belated Healthy Hanukkah, a Healthy Christmas, a Healthy Kwanzaa, and a Healthy New Year, not to mention a Healthy Boxing Day, Winter Solstice, and (of course) Festivus!

Herbie on Christmas morning a couple years ago. (Seriously, he posed under the tree, as if on cue.)

The Cincy files, part 2: some quasi-relevant reading material in honor of today’s game

Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash

At 4 p.m. ET today, a certain football team will be playing in the American Athletic Conference championship game—a team that’s currently ranked number four in the nation and could very well become this year’s national champion. And so…I thought it might be fun once again to focus our attention on the town of Cincinnati, Ohio.

For those of you who aren’t into football, I feel you. I have my own issues with the sport. Like: we’re asking college students who are still in their teens and early 20s—children, really—to inflict pain on one another every Saturday of every fall, why? Also: does it seem to you that the placement of the football by the ref is ridiculously arbitrary especially at those times when only inches are needed for a first down? And: what exactly is clipping, and can anyone truly recognize it if it happens?

This post is written specifically for the people who aren’t 100 percent into football or the Cincinnati Bearcats per se but who want to feel a part of things. The rest of you are welcome too, of course you are, but we’re not going to be talking about football anymore. I used up most of my football knowledge writing that last paragraph. Perhaps it would be best if you get ready for your watch party and come back tomorrow when you’re better able to concentrate. We’ll be here.

Today, for all the others, I give to you…a primer on the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office. 

[Audio provided by Zapsplat.com.]

To help refresh your memories, it was in this field office that a document on Ron Tammen had originated, but was summarily destroyed “on or about May 17, 2008,” just a few short months after Butler County cold case detective Frank Smith had reopened the case. The document was located in the Classification 190 files, which means it had something to do with the Privacy Act or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which should ring a bell. As you know, the FBI had expunged Ron’s fingerprints in 2002—30 years ahead of schedule—due to a Privacy Act conflict or a court order (probably the former). What’s more: Butler County is under the Cincinnati office’s jurisdiction and the Cincinnati office was aware that Smith had reopened the investigation. Pretty weird timing to destroy a potentially relevant document, amIright?

Those were, in my view, some major findings which resulted in some additional questions that I’ve been attempting to have answered. For some, I’ve been successful. Others I’m still working on. Here’s where we stand so far, starting with an overview of the FBI’s field office system. As you read this post, please bear in mind that I have no red meat for you today. We’re serving up lentils and leafy greens, folks. Still important in the long haul—maybe more important—but not totally satisfying.

What’s an FBI field office and why do they exist?

As you know, crimes are committed all over the country, including the really bad ones that the FBI deals with. It would be hard for the FBI to do its job of fighting said crimes if all of its agents were located in D.C. For this reason, the FBI has constructed field offices across the country and in Puerto Rico—56 in all. The head of each field office is referred to as the special agent in charge, or the SAC; the second in command is the assistant special agent in charge, or ASAC; and the special agents (SAs) and administrative staff fill out the roster.

The state of Ohio has two field offices. The Cleveland Field Office covers the 40 counties in northern Ohio while the Cincinnati Field Office includes the lower 48 counties. Both field offices have been involved in Ron Tammen’s case. When Ron disappeared, his mother Marjorie had contacted the Cleveland Field Office because the Tammens lived in the Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights. Therefore, the Cleveland Field Office was the office of origin for Ron’s missing person case. In 1973, an anonymous caller had telephoned the Cincinnati Field Office to say that they thought Ron Tammen was working at Welco Industries in Blue Ash, OH, and an SA from Cincinnati investigated. We’ll discuss more on that visit a little later.

Where is the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office?

The FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office is a 4-minute drive from the Kenwood Towne Center, an upscale shopping mall on the outskirts of the city, near I-71. The current building was completed in 2012 by a design, engineering, and construction team represented by the Molasky Group of CompaniesBayer Becker, and Skanska.

Be advised that the Cincinnati Field Office is undoubtedly a highly secure facility. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone drop by without an invite.

Which counties is the Cincinnati Field Office responsible for?

As mentioned earlier, the Cincinnati Field Office oversees the 48 counties in central and southern Ohio, but this is where things get a little tricky again. As you know, crime happens all over the place—including  Ohio’s lower 48 counties. If someone robs a bank in Piqua—in Miami County—it wouldn’t be very convenient for an agent in Cincinnati to drop whatever they’re doing to investigate, particularly when they have bigger cities in Ohio to worry about, like Columbus and Dayton. 

Currently, the Cincinnati Field Office will send its agents to investigate bank robberies and other high crimes in six of its counties: Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton, and Warren, with Butler County encompassing the towns of Oxford and Hamilton, and Hamilton County including Cincinnati. (Yeah, I know…the whole “Hamilton” thing gets confusing.) The remaining 42 counties in Cincinnati’s domain are divvied up by resident agencies, which are smaller FBI offices situated around the state. The Cincinnati Field Office’s five resident agencies are in Athens, Cambridge, Columbus, Dayton, and Portsmouth. As I’m sure you can imagine, Columbus is the largest resident agency of the bunch—so big, in fact, that it rivals the size of the Cincinnati Field Office. Nevertheless, Cincinnati remains FBI headquarters for southern Ohio, which is why it’s often referred to as Headquarters City by its employees.

I seem to recall that there were more resident agencies in southern Ohio at one time. Or am I mistaken?

Great point! You are not mistaken.

Where were the other resident agencies located?

Based on news accounts, there was an additional resident agency in Middletown during the mid-to-late 1990s, possibly earlier, until at least 2014, which was the timeframe in which Frank Smith would have been inquiring about the Ronald Tammen case. The Middletown office reported directly to the FBI’s Resident Agency in Dayton.

Long before that, in 1971, the Cincinnati Field Office oversaw resident agencies in Athens, Chillicothe, Columbus, Dayton, Hamilton, Portsmouth, Springfield, Steubenville, and Zanesville. Four of these still exist, and the new one in Cambridge was added, though, again, I’m not sure when. But the resident agencies in Chillicothe, Hamilton, Springfield, Steubenville, and Zanesville, are gone. These offices would have been really small…staffed by 1-10 people and residing in borrowed space in a federal building, often a post office. 

Why aren’t those resident agencies there anymore?

I’m not sure why the Middletown office was closed—probably cost-cutting measures, but that’s just a guess.

As for the offices that existed in 1971, this is a fun story. Have you heard about the break-in that took place on March 8, 1971, in the FBI’s resident agency in Media, PA, outside Philadelphia? Several antiwar activists calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into the resident agency there and stole over 1,000 classified documents. Through that extremely daring act, they exposed the FBI’s illegal domestic surveillance activities, nicknamed COINTELPRO, to the world. (A 2014 film on the topic, titled 1971, is really good, though I don’t think it’s currently being streamed anywhere. If you can find a streaming service that’s offering it, please let us know in the comments.)

J. Edgar Hoover was furious when the break-in happened. By April 1971, he was publicly threatening to close roughly 100 of the 500 smaller resident agency offices as a means of improving security. Although the FBI was tight-lipped about which ones were being shut down at the time (they didn’t want ruffians taking advantage of the turn of events), I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the offices in Hamilton and elsewhere were part of the collateral damage.

When the anonymous caller telephoned the Cincinnati Field Office in 1973 about the guy at Welco Industries, why did they send someone from the Cincinnati Field Office? Couldn’t they have sent someone from a smaller resident agency?

I was wondering about this too. It has to do with the timing of the call. The smaller resident agencies had been closed by July 1971. The anonymous call was made in April 1973, so there were fewer resident agencies by then. Perhaps Cincinnati handled it because Blue Ash is in Hamilton County and they were closest. 

But here’s the rub: an anonymous source called the FBI and provided a few miniscule details about why he or she thought the person in Blue Ash might be Ron and then hung up the phone. Here’s what the report said: “The caller based his opinion upon physical description and ‘other reasons which he cared not to discuss.’ At this point the caller terminated the telephone call.” 

Seriously? The FBI claims that they don’t investigate missing persons cases unless there are signs of force or if a person was kidnapped or something. Missing persons are rock bottom on the FBI’s list of priorities. Why did they send anyone at all, let alone someone from Headquarters City on the same day the call was made?

What about in 2008? Did Frank Smith go through the Middletown or Dayton Resident Agency versus the Cincinnati Field Office?

Great question. Through news accounts and the DOJ document I linked to previously, we know that Middletown was in operation from the 1990s through at least 2014, and another news article from 2000 said that the Dayton Resident Agency oversaw 12 counties, which included Butler County. Theoretically, Frank Smith would have gone through the Dayton Resident Agency.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to communicate with Frank regarding these questions. The best I can do is refer to old transcripts. Here’s the most specific exchange I found:

JW: So when you did your FOIA, did you go through Cincinnati, or did you go through [Washington, D.C.] Headquarters? 

FS: We actually had an agent who was a dear friend of mine and we actually asked him if he could get a copy, and that’s how we came up with our files.

So, although in my gut I believe that Frank was talking specifically about an agent in Cincinnati, he doesn’t specify on the transcript. (Clever!) But honestly, it doesn’t matter if he was talking about someone in Cincinnati or Dayton or even Middletown. All of the FBI offices that were connected to the Cincinnati Field Office were automated in 2008 and all had access to the same documents.

Do we know whether Ron’s document was a FOIA request or an expungement request?

I’m afraid I haven’t been able to pin that down yet. You may recall that I’d submitted a FOIA request for all the documents that surrounded Ron’s in the Classification 190 “0” file. Since Ron’s serial number was 967, I requested documents 900 through 999. What I received didn’t tell us a lot other than the document titles. The rest of the information was redacted. However, I did notice several documents in which Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) provided guidance on how the Cincinnati Field Office should manage such files. I’ve since filed a FOIA request for the full, unredacted versions of those documents—they’re just administrative documents, so no one’s privacy is at stake—and am still awaiting a response. Once I understand the protocol better, I can submit more FOIA requests.

As for the possibility that Ron’s document was simply a FOIA request submitted by an interested third party like myself, I contacted a source who has always been one of the more avid followers of the Tammen story. He never submitted a FOIA request. One of his students—a Miami journalism major who’d written on Tammen for the Miami Student during her time there—had submitted a FOIA request on Tammen, but she’d submitted hers after I submitted mine in 2010. At this point I know of no one other than Frank Smith who submitted a FOIA request in or before 2008. Also, I’d argue that most FOIA requests go through FBI Headquarters in D.C., and not through a specific field office.

Where did Ron’s Classification 190 document originate from?

The document feasibly could have originated from any of the 48 counties represented by the Cincinnati Field Office or its resident agencies. I find this a little weird, though. I’ve never considered Ron living his dream in one of Ohio’s lower 48. I prefer to think of Ron living in Paris or Morocco or someplace cool like that. I’m afraid that’s still an open question for now.

How is a document added to the Classification 190-0 file?

To the best of my knowledge, in order for a document to be added to the Classification 190-0 file in Cincinnati, it would have been reported within the Cincinnati division—Columbus, Dayton, or anywhere else. Something was reported that didn’t rise to a criminal investigation, otherwise a separate file would have been created. 

An agent may have received information and thought, “this doesn’t amount to anything yet, but maybe something will turn up.” They wrote it up in a memo, and they routed it to the supervisor, who would then decide that it should go into the 0 file. It would be indexed—in this case under the name “Ronald Tammen”—which is why it turned up in the automated search.

Can a different FBI office expunge a document that originated with the Cincinnati Field Office?

Because the same documents pop up for every FBI office who searches for Ronald Tammen—whether they’re in Dayton, Cincinnati, or D.C.—it’s feasible that it wasn’t the Cincinnati Field Office who expunged Tammen’s record, but someone else. I’m looking into this question as well.

How can we learn more?

I definitely think there’s more to be learned. Yesterday, on a whim, I wrote to my friends at the Cincinnati Field Office. I understand that the Classification 190 files are managed by the chief division counsel, and so I’ve requested a sit-down with that person to describe their protocol. I assured this person that I would not be asking about Ron’s document—I know it’s long gone. I just would like to understand more about the day-to-day operations regarding the Classification 190 files. So far, I haven’t heard back, but I’ll keep you posted.

As I said—mostly quinoa and kale today. 

Go Bearcats!

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

BONUS QUESTION:

How are cases assigned in FBI field offices?

Special agents are assigned to a squad, and each squad covers a certain type of crime. One squad may cover civil rights cases, another might cover white-collar crime, another covers organized crime, and so on. It’s like how a news reporter covers a certain beat, be it crime, politics, education, etc.

If a call comes into an FBI field office, it’s assigned to whatever desk covers that violation. The desk supervisor will have a certain number of agents on his or her squad, and he or she will decide who’s going to get the case. As for missing persons, there’s no squad for that.

Things may not have been exactly the same in 1973, but I’ll bet they were similar. So it’s puzzling to me why a desk supervisor back then would think it worthwhile to take one of his/her agents off their normal beat to follow up on an anonymous hang-up call from Blue Ash, Ohio.

Putting a dent in the Ident files: more evidence that the FBI knew what happened to Ron Tammen in 1973

Turns out, I guess I’ve been needing to spend a little more time with Ron’s “Ident” files. I’m referring to Ron’s missing person documents that I’d obtained through my 2010 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI. As we’ve discussed in prior posts, someone with the initials MSL had handwritten on many of them that they were removed from the FBI’s Identification Division—called Ident for short—on June 5, 1973. Those same documents also carry a stamp saying that they were routed to the Records Branch. Inexplicably, the sender checked “Main File” as opposed to “79-1,” the classification for missing persons.

Weird, right? The Identification Division was responsible for overseeing missing persons cases. Why would someone from Identification send Ron’s missing person documents somewhere else? As far as Tammen’s family and the rest of the world knew, he was still missing. Yet the FBI was acting like—dare I say it?—he didn’t seem to be missing anymore.

As many of you know, I’d consulted with people who used to work in the Identification Division, which later became Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS), to see if they could explain why. Unfortunately, no one could offer an explanation. Neither could my contact from Records Management. I’m not disparaging these individuals. They did their best with the information that was provided to them. There just wasn’t that much information to provide.

I tried seeking more documents. Because MSL appeared to be a subordinate of Fletcher Thompson’s, the head of the Identification Division in 1973, I submitted a FOIA request seeking every piece of correspondence that Thompson had written for the period of May to June 1973, regardless of the subject. My hope was to snag some missive in which Thompson ordered Mary Sue Lipschwitz—or whoever MSL turned out to be—to handle the Tammen situation STAT. Alas, the FBI’s response to me was that it was impossible for them to conduct a search of their indices based on my request. Fine. Be that way. I let it drop for the time being.

I also tried to learn more about the Ident Missing Person File Room, which had been stamped on several of Ron’s documents along with the handwritten room number 1126. None of my sources had ever heard of it. I’d come to believe that it had something to do with the Special File Rooms that J. Edgar Hoover had established for documents that he considered to be of utmost secrecy. I submitted a FOIA request seeking all documents relating to the establishment and protocol of the FBI’s Special File Rooms in general and the Missing Person File Room specifically. I received a couple hundred pages on the former, but nothing on the latter. I appealed. Again, nothing. The FBI claims that they have zero documents—not a one—that refers to a Missing Person File Room. They’d sent me some documents that had ostensibly inhabited that room at one time, but, yeah, OK, whatever they say. I mean…there must be at least one document that refers to the Missing Person File Room, since someone used taxpayer money to have those illicit words inscribed on a rubber stamp. (For fun, I’ll be submitting a FOIA request for the Identification Division’s office supply expenditures from, say, 1960 to 1970 to see if anything turns up.)

Today, the Missing Person File Room remains a closely guarded secret. If you haven’t done this yet, try typing the phrase into Google between quotation marks. Two documents will pop up—both of them mine. Soon there will be a third document—this one. I’m considering getting the phrase trademarked. [Note to FBI: You’ll still be able to use the phrase, but you’ll have to cite me and use the registered trademark symbol when you do. It’s a small price to pay for all the hardship you’ve caused me these last 12 years.]

This past weekend, after creating a public records request score card for this blog site, I was reminded of how those two FOIA requests had played out. I started ruminating about what I could do next. If I can’t learn about the Missing Person File Room, which seems to be the situation at present, surely there must be more to be learned about the Ident files. 

Well, there was. And just as before, we have archival documents to thank. The publications I found are available free, online. They are the back issues of the FBI’s in-house publication titled the Law Enforcement Bulletin, and you can find issues from January 1933 on up. The articles were (and still are) expressly written for the men and women who work closely with the FBI in enforcing the nation’s laws. For our purposes, the best issues are from the 1940s and 50s, a time when less was less and more was more. Why tighten when you can expound? Why gloss over when you can explain things in granular detail? How else were Andy, Barney, and all the other officers from Small Town USA supposed to learn how proper policing should be done?

An article from May 1951 was especially useful. (It doesn’t show up in the archives list, but you can find it if you Google “May 1951 Law Enforcement Bulletin.” As to why they’ve left all of 1950 and ‘51 off their list? 🤷🏻‍♀️) The article had to do with the Posting Section, which is the section within Identification that was responsible for posting notices such as wanted notices, missing person notices, and the like. Here’s what the article says about Missing Person Notices. I’ve bolded the parts that are most pertinent to Ron.

*****

Missing Person Notices 

The Posting Section prepares and maintains file notices regarding individuals whose location is desired by relatives. Although the FBI has no jurisdiction to conduct active investigations in missing person cases, missing person notices are placed in file on behalf of interested relatives inquiring either directly or through local law-enforcement agencies. If a fingerprint record for the missing person can be identified through an FBI number or a registry number, a notice is posted in that record. If the information set forth in the inquiry is insufficient to identify positively a fingerprint record with the missing person, a notice will be posted in the fingerprint record of the individual whose description is considered possibly identical with the missing person. In cases where no record can be located which is either positively or possibly identical a missing persons notice is placed in the indices of the Card Index Section. This index card also contains the descriptive data furnished by the interested relative. 

Missing-person notices are maintained in the files of the FBI Identification Division until information is received which indicates the probable whereabouts of the missing person. At this point the next of kin is notified directly, or the information is furnished to the agency through which the inquiry was received. Missing-person notices are of course removed from the files when interested relatives or agencies indicate that the notices are no longer desired. 

Whenever possible, a request for the posting of a missing-person notice should include information as to the date and place of the missing person’s birth. This information is most important in effecting a possible identification, where other specific descriptive data is lacking. 

If a person has been missing for a period of more than 7 years, no notice is placed in the file unless some information of a more recent nature relating to the individual is located during the initial search of the Identification Division files. 

No notices are posted in cases arising out of marital difficulties except in hardship cases where minor children are involved. Notices are not posted concerning missing persons having a lengthy history of criminal activity, nor under circumstances indicating that the missing person was involved in criminal activity in connection with his disappearance. 

*****

Here’s what I’ve concluded on the basis of the above protocol when combined with all of the other information we’ve collected to date.

  • Identification files, which were also referred to as identification jackets or fingerprint jackets, didn’t hold only fingerprint cards and Additional Record Sheets. They could hold other items too, such as missing person notices, wanted notices, and other relevant documents.
  • Ron’s fingerprint jacket was #358 406 B. When a missing person document said that it should be placed in #358 406 B, the handler was being instructed to put it in his fingerprint jacket.
  • Missing person notices were held indefinitely until the person was found. This is consistent with language on Ron’s missing person documents that said “Retain permanently [emphasis added] in Ident jacket #358 406 B.”
  • Once a missing person was found, the next of kin or the agency that submitted the missing person notice would be notified. Or at least they should have been notified. 

With this new take, I took a deeper dive into Ron’s missing person documents. I focused on the handwritten and stamped notations that provided instructions regarding where the individual documents were to be housed. I constructed a chart of each document up through May 1973, when the FBI’s Cincinnati field office had sought to compare Ron’s fingerprints with an employee from Welco Industries. After HQ had responded with their assessment—it wasn’t Ron—all further activity ceased on jacket #358 406 B.*** (Ron’s remaining documents came after 2008, when the case had been reopened by the Butler County (OH) and Walker County (GA) sheriff’s offices. We don’t care about those right now.)

Before we examine my chart, let’s review the FBI’s various numbers that had to do with Ron: 

#358 406 B
Again (and sorry for the redundancy), this is the FBI number that was assigned to Ron’s fingerprints. From what I can determine, this number would have been on the tab of his fingerprint jacket, as demonstrated from the photo in the October 1948 issue of the Law Enforcement Bulletin on how police departments should set up their files.


79-31966-1 (the last number varies)
As mentioned earlier, 79 is the classification number for missing persons. The 31966 was Ron’s case number, and the last number is the number of pages in Ron’s file, e.g., 1, 1x, 2, 2x, and 3. My source in Records Management explained that the Xs were a way to insert pages while keeping them in the proper order.

25-381754
This was Ron’s file regarding a possible Selective Service violation (aka draft dodging). According to the notation at the bottom of the October 11, 1967, letter to Mr. Tammen from J. Edgar Hoover, the case was opened in 1953 and canceled in 1955. It’s my understanding that this file would not have been held in the Identification Division.

As for the color coding:

The green bars have to do with the Ident files—those that refer to retaining them permanently in the Ident jacket #358406B (solid) and those that refer to removing them from Ident (striped). The blue bars/square have to do with language pertaining to the Missing Person File Room.

Here’s my chart:

Comparison chart based on Ron’s missing person documents; click on chart for a closer view

Based on this exercise, it appears as though Ron’s missing person documents weren’t treated exactly the same way. Some documents were housed in the Ident files—which I’ve ascertained was his fingerprint jacket—while others were housed in the Ident Missing Person File Room, room 1126 of an unnamed building.

Here’s why I think so:

  • On the document originally dated May 25, 1953, MSL had jotted down that a photo was put in room 1126 on 6-5-73, which was the same date that many of Ron’s missing person papers were removed from Ident. We also see that his photo had been added to his missing person notice on 6-2-53. Did MSL take the photo from his fingerprint jacket and move it into room 1126 on 6-5-73?
  • Most of Ron’s documents are stamped “Retain permanently in Ident jacket #358406B.” In June 1973, those same documents were marked “Removed from Ident files” and “Referred to Records Branch,” specifying “Main file” instead of 79, otherwise known as missing persons.
  • The other category encompasses the documents that had the stamp “Return to Ident Missing Person File Room.” Only four documents had that stamp on them. Three of those documents were generated by someone from HQ, including J. Edgar himself. The exception is the 1959 form letter. 
  • Ron’s file doesn’t appear to have been very large—only several pages, according to my source in Records Management. Perhaps those pages were kept one place while his other pages were kept somewhere else?
  • It appears that documents in Ron’s fingerprint jacket were removed from the Identification Division before the documents were removed from the Missing Person File Room (as indicated by the crossed-out words). I think this because of the photo that was added to room 1126 on the same day that his Ident files were removed.
  • By the time the Cincinnati memos were filed in May 1973, the Identification Division was no longer putting them into Ron’s fingerprint jacket. The document dated 5-9-73 was routed straight to the Records Branch’s Main File, nearly a month before the other documents were removed from Ident. Conversely, the document from HQ dated 5-22-73 was routed to the Missing Person File Room.

What could all of this mean? Shortly after the Cincinnati field office had sent the Welco employee’s fingerprints to be compared to Ron’s, Ron’s missing person documents were removed from his fingerprint jacket in the Identification Division and sent to the Records Branch. Documents that were in the Missing Person File Room were removed later, although we don’t know precisely when that happened. 

This tells me that, in the period in which HQ was comparing the Welco employee’s prints to Ron’s, the folks in Identification had discovered something about Ron’s case and felt the need to update his file, as indicated by the words at the bottom of the 5-22-73 memorandum: “MPN [missing person notice] placed in 1953 to be brought up to date.”

As always, there are discrepancies. A couple documents have both the “Ident files” and Missing Person File Room verbiage, which may indicate that they were filed in both locations. Also, the 5-22-73 memorandum says this about FBI #358 406 B: “This record consists of one personal identification fgpt card taken in 1941.” 

How could all those missing person documents have been retained permanently in jacket #358 406 B but the record only consisted of one fingerprint card? I had originally taken this to mean that there was one item in Ron’s fingerprint jacket—his fingerprint card. But I also knew that there must been some wiggle room in that description—after all, his fingerprint jacket would have contained an Additional Record Sheet too. 

I believe the operative word is “record.” The word record was frequently used to describe a person’s fingerprint card or cards. (As an example, look at the verbiage from the May 1951 Law Enforcement Bulletin.) I believe the memo’s author was speaking about Ron’s fingerprint record in the strictest sense. Otherwise, I’d think that they would have used the word jacket instead.

Despite the discrepancies, I think we can surmise that something had been special about Ron’s case, necessitating the use of two locations within the same division for his documents. One was known to many and the other was known to a chosen few. 

It also tells me that the FBI knew what had happened to Ron by 1973, and probably much earlier. And yet, in a break with protocol, no one had thought to pick up a phone to tell his family. 

What are your thoughts? Have I overlooked something? Does anything else stand out?

***Clarification: when I say that all further activity ceased for jacket #358 406 B after June 1973, I’m only talking about Ron’s missing person documents. I’m not talking about his fingerprints, which, as we all know, were purged in 2002, 30 years ahead of schedule.

The tinderbox and the match: the honest truth about the St. Louis fire of 1973

This is a black and white image of the National Personnel Records Center building on fire. White and black smoke is pouring out of the top floor windows as water is being sprayed at opposite ends of the building.
The 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO; Source: FBI

Today, we’re going to take a break from my Ronald Tammen updates to discuss a topic that many of us have run into when seeking a person’s military records from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO. Perhaps you’re one of the unlucky persons who has tried to locate a family member’s records and received a letter that opens with these discouraging words:

“Thank you for contacting the National Personnel Records Center. The complete Official Military Personnel File for the veteran named above is not in our files. If the record were here on July 12, 1973, it would have been in the area that suffered the most damage in the fire on that date and may have been destroyed. The fire destroyed the major portion of records of Army military personnel who separated from the service between 1912 and 1959, and records of Air Force personnel with surnames Hubbard through Z who separated between 1947 through 1963.”

More than 22 million files were lost in the fire. Fortunately, staffers in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which oversees the records housed in the NPRC, have been able to reconstruct details of the affected veterans’ time spent while they were serving our country, though those details are likely incomplete. NARA employees are good at what they do, but they’re not magicians.

I’ve always wondered about that fire, which sounded suspicious to me. How did it even start?

Last month, I was submitting a request for Richard Tammen’s (Ron’s younger brother’s) military records—which, alas, I’m afraid may be among those that were destroyed—when I also decided to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI regarding their investigation into the St. Louis fire. Nine hundred digital pages later, the smoke has finally lifted. It took some work—the FBI never makes things easy, and you won’t believe the lengths they went to this time in order to keep the facts hidden. (Spoiler alert: I’m seeing strong signs of a cover-up that reeks of something far worse.) But after sifting through the documents and comparing what seemed to be the most relevant clues, a heartbreakingly human story has emerged. From what I can tell, this story has never been told publicly before. Other people have FOIA’d these same documents—I’m not the first person to do that. But you, Good Man readers—you, the most scholarly bunch of history-slash-mystery buffs I know, will be the first to learn the truth as best as I can tell.

First, let’s have a quick rundown on the fire. It broke out in the early morning hours of Thursday, July 12, 1973—around 12:15. At that time, most of the building’s occupants were custodians and maintenance workers who’d started their shifts at 4 p.m. the previous day and who would be officially off duty at 12:30 a.m. As the workers were winding things up for the night, returning trash carts and tools to the first floor of the building and signing out at the guards’ stations on the first and second floors, they started to smell the smoke. It was primarily traveling downward by way of the elevator shafts from one of the upper floors, though, at the beginning, they couldn’t be sure which one. Some people ventured to higher floors to scope things out, but the walls of smoke quickly drove them back.

As workers exited the building, some to their cars and others to the fenced-in area surrounding the building, their vantage points improved. Glowing flames were visible through the windows at the south end of the sixth floor—the uppermost floor of the building. Someone called the fire department and minutes later, the first firetruck arrived at the scene. Over the next five days, 42 fire departments would help battle the blaze.

Remarkably, the fire had grown so intense so quickly that firefighters couldn’t put it out until the sixth floor was in ashes and the concrete roof had collapsed upon it.

What’s more, no one would be able to officially pinpoint the fire’s cause, at least not from the physical evidence. Neither the fire marshal nor the FBI laboratory staff who flew in from D.C. to investigate would be able to safely explore the sixth floor before the roof caved in. The FBI’s ongoing talking point was that there were no signs of arson, but how could they know without having been on the sixth floor? Any possible signs of arson would have been buried under concrete rubble.

But make no mistake: arson was always the suspected cause. Building representatives and the FBI would occasionally speculate about faulty wiring or spontaneous combustion when speaking with news reporters, but the question in the front of their minds was always: who set this fire and why? Because for some reason, people were always lighting fires in that building. In the two years prior, a dozen or so fires had been discovered in rest room trash cans, custodial closets, and other areas. Some were reported to authorities. Other fires discovered in the nick of time were extinguished and quietly forgotten.

Also, the building, which was ballyhooed as being fireproof, was a proverbial tinderbox. Paper documents numbering in the tens of millions were tightly packed in cardboard boxes on metal shelves. As a cost-saving measure, someone from the General Services Administration (GSA), which oversaw the facility and the staff who maintained it, had made the decision to install sprinklers and fire alarms only on the first and part of the second floors. The upper floors, where the majority of the files were stored, went without. Another money-saving decision was to turn off air conditioners at 5 p.m. every night throughout most of the building, including the file areas. Custodians steered clear of the files as much as possible, though occasionally, someone would go there for a quick smoke , even though smoking was forbidden in those areas. They would brave the unbearable for some privacy and a nicotine buzz.

In addition to housing the military records, the NPRC served as an annex of sorts to the St. Louis field office of the FBI. Agents stationed on the second floor of the building could easily conduct background checks for persons who’d served in the various branches of the military. 

Even though FBI investigators couldn’t look through the physical evidence on the sixth floor, they still had access to the next best thing: people. On July 12, they began to interview as many workers as possible who might be able to share information about the fire’s origin, especially anyone who was working in the building the previous night. If they were working on or near the sixth floor, that was all the better. “Did you see anything or anyone unusual?” would have been one of their go-to questions.

One custodian who was interviewed twice—first on July 12, and later on the 16th—had told investigators that he’d been working on the sixth floor for part of his shift but then went downstairs at around 10:30-10:45 p.m. During his second interview, this additional detail was written in the summary: “There was a crew of possibly three people who were buffing the floors on the sixth floor after he left.”

A custodian who’d been waxing the floors that night (likely on the sixth floor, although that detail has been redacted), was interviewed on July 13. We’ll discuss his comments in a few minutes.

On Tuesday, July 17, another night custodian, Terry Gene Davis, was interviewed. Davis was a 22-year-old Vietnam veteran, formerly with the U.S. Coast Guard. He’d also attended Meramec Junior College for a time. He’d been working as a custodian at NPRC since June of the previous year.

Davis didn’t work on the sixth floor—he was mainly stationed on floors four and five. However, he was one of only a few people who’d gone upstairs after the fire had started to see if he could find the source. On his own initiative, he took the stairwell all the way to the sixth floor to have a look around.

Davis walked to the southern part of the building and reported that the “west one-third of the building on the sixth floor in the file section was not on fire and was relatively clear of smoke.” It was when he started walking eastward, however, that “he ran into a solid wall of heavy dense, grayish-black smoke.” 

Click on image for closer view
Click on image for a closer view

More than 80 individuals were interviewed in the ensuing days, offering up whatever details they could think of that might be of help. Nevertheless, it didn’t appear as if the FBI was getting any closer to finding the source of the fire.

That all changed on October 12, when a male custodian signed a confession stating that he’d been smoking a cigarette near the files on the sixth floor at roughly 11 p.m. on July 11. He couldn’t recall his exact location, but said that it was at the south end of the building, toward the western side. The person, whose name is redacted, recalled discarding the match on the floor, and then snuffing out the cigarette in a screw hole in one of the metal shelves. 

“It has been on my mind and I have been worried about the fire because I did not intend for it to happen,” he said. 

Then he addressed a point that the special agents who were grilling him had undoubtedly asked about. Five employees had first-hand knowledge of him stating that he’d set the fire on purpose.

“I told some people that I threw matches in the files but I was only running off at the mouth,” he said. “I lit one match for my cigarette and I shook it out and threw it down. I don’t know where it landed but I think it landed on the floor.”

He signed the statement, and then two special agents added their signatures as well as the smoker’s identifying information.

Click on image for a closer view
Click on image for a closer view
Click on image for a closer view

With this new development, U.S. Attorney Donald Stohr instructed the FBI to interview the five coworkers concerning the sixth-floor smoker’s remarks. They said that they recalled him saying things about starting the fire, but they didn’t take him too seriously. The smoker on the sixth floor was known as an attention-seeker, they said. But as the months wore on, his claims grew bolder. He was saying that the fire was intentional—that he’d pulled out a box of files and lit it with his matches. A couple people warned him to be cool and to stop talking. They actually started to believe him. He was also beginning to show signs of worry, wondering what they would do to the person who set the fire. The fire was beginning to consume him. 

“It was obvious that he felt things more deeply than he let on,” one of them said.

Their statements are included here:

Stohr also asked that the FBI check with the smoker’s school and doctor for possible background info. We don’t get to see much of anything that they said, but I’ll include those heavily redacted summaries anyway:

School records of the sixth-floor smoker; click on image for a closer view
Doctor’s records of the sixth-floor smoker; click on image for a closer view

They also checked with the local police, who had nothing on him:

Police records (or lack thereof) of the sixth-floor smoker; click on image for a closer view

Stohr didn’t think that they had enough evidence to prosecute the sixth-floor smoker. A remorseful confession plus hearsay repeated by five coworkers didn’t sound like a slam-dunk to him. He said that they had two choices: turn matters over to the GSA, the smoker’s employer, and let them deal with him as they saw fit. Or, they could present their evidence to the Federal Grand Jury in the Eastern District of Missouri to see if they had enough to initiate criminal proceedings. Stohr and others elected to do the latter and they argued their case on October 31, 1973. That same day, the Grand Jury returned a “no true bill,” which means that they didn’t feel that the U.S. Attorney had enough evidence to prosecute the case. The case was closed.

The next day, Terry Gene Davis shot himself in the head and died. Or at least that’s the official date that’s on the books. He hadn’t reported to work since October 30, and his body wasn’t discovered until November 5, when a concerned coworker who lived next door checked on him. The coroner said that, based on the state of decomposition of his body and the most recent sightings, he died on November 1. 

Here’s the note that Terry Gene left behind, which has been lightly censored by someone at the FBI. I have no idea what the three asterisks mean, but I’m pretty sure I know what the two blank lines represent, and I agree with him on that point 100 percent.

“There just isn’t any point to any of this. Nobody gives a damn and never has. Blame it on dope. Blame it on parents. But people *** are the cause of all the _______   _______ in the world. All I ever needed was to know somebody gave a damn about anything to do with me.

“Where is truth? Where is love? Where is anything that is real? Thank you KADI. Thank you KSHE. Thank you humanity.”

The FBI summary noted that KADI and KSHE were local rock stations and that “Davis’ main ambition in the world was to become a star rock and roll performer.” It also said that he had been given an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard due to “psychiatric difficulties involving depression and anxiety.” Recently, he’d been having troubles with his parents and his girlfriend had just left him. He’d also had a minor car crash and had been arrested for riding his motorcycle through a prohibited area.

Click on image for a closer view
Click on image for a closer view
Click on image for a closer view

The article that ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on November 9 showed no mercy: “Drug User Kills Self; ‘Nobody Gave a Damn,’” it said.

I’d like to request a do-over. I have no idea who Terry Gene Davis was. His name is way too common for me to feel confident about my search results on genealogy websites. Did he go by Terry? Gene? TG? Or did friends and family call him by both names, like a Jim Bob or a Tommy Lee? Here’s what we know: he was born on July 29, 1950, and he died November 1, 1973. He was just getting his sea legs, doing what budding adults do. He attended a junior college. He joined the service. He valued love, truth, humanity, and rock and roll. Even though I didn’t know him, I think I can also safely say this: If Terry Gene Davis had anything to do with the NPRC fire, I’m quite sure that he was freaking out in the days before he died. 

We’ve all managed to eff things up on the job at least once or twice in our lives, am I right? Oh my God, I’ve done some cockamamie things in my youth while I was on the clock. Have I accidentally burned down the entire floor of a federal building? Well, no. I’ll admit, that was pretty huge. But I also think that it could have been worse. The loss was less monumental than first realized and although there were injuries among firefighters, no one died in the fire. Also, as mentioned earlier, NARA has been able to reconstruct many of the destroyed records.

I’m going to go ahead and say it: I think Terry Gene Davis was the smoker on the sixth floor. And if Terry Gene did it, I think he regretted it terribly. On the night it happened, who walked up to the sixth floor to the very place where the fire was thought to have originated? Terry Gene. That sounds like something I might have done if I wanted to make sure I hadn’t caused the fire, just to put my mind at ease.

I know, I know. The identifying info under the smoker’s confession doesn’t match Terry Gene at all—not his height, not his weight, not even his race. (Apologies for the obsolete and offensive term used by the 1973 FBI.) His confession also says that the smoker cleaned the escalators on all six floors and worked as a custodian at NPRC for three years. In October 1973, Terry Gene had only been there a year and four months.

Terry Gene’s description:

Click on image for a closer view

Sixth-floor smoker’s description:

Click on image for a closer view

But is it possible—hear me out—is it remotely feasible that the FBI altered the identifying details of the sixth-floor smoker to throw everyone off? 

As you know, I’m usually a big believer in archival documents. I often look to them as touchstones of truth we can all rely upon. Could it be that at least one or more members of the St. Louis FBI felt differently? Could someone have viewed the smoker’s signed confession as an opportunity to manufacture a new reality? Tweak a few details, and bada bing, bada boom…you have an edited version that’s more pleasing to the powers that be, for whatever reason.

Coincidentally, the special agent in charge of the St. Louis field office had some history with that very thing. His name was Robert G. Kunkel, and he’d recently been publicly demoted by Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray in 1972 for writing a false report to Gray about the D.C. field office that Kunkel oversaw. The report had to do with the actions of Kunkel’s special agents at an antiwar protest, and he doctored the report to present a more favorable account of what had transpired. In a Washington Post article, sources had said that they felt “that Kunkel’s report had been motivated by a long-standing ‘don’t embarrass the bureau’ syndrome.” By the time of the fire, Gray was gone, and Clarence Kelly was the new FBI director. Did Kunkel or his special agents feel more empowered under Kelly, a fellow Missourian, to reinstate past editorial protocols? 

Here’s why I believe Terry Gene Davis was the sixth-floor smoker:

  • A floor waxer mentioned a white male Vietnam veteran in his early 20s
    As I mentioned earlier, on July 13, the FBI had interviewed a custodian who’d been waxing floors the night of the fire, likely on the sixth floor, though the floor number is redacted. During that interview, the custodian had passed along various names and background info, most of which were redacted. The exception was when he described one—possibly two—white male Vietnam veterans in their early 20s. 

    Another custodian had said that the sixth-floor custodians were waxing floors around 10:30-10:45 p.m. If so, then the floor waxer could have seen the sixth-floor smoker at 11 p.m., and the smoker may have been one of the Vietnam vets that he’d mentioned to the FBI.
  • The sixth-floor smoker’s school and medical records were requested by US Attorney Stohr
    Stohr had requested school and medical records for the sixth-floor smoker. Although the words are redacted, we can see that his school record is a couple inches in length, which is likely to include more than his K-12 years. In the smoker’s confession, he said that before he started working for NPRC, he “attended” BLANK, which was redacted. So it seems as though the person attended some type of college after high school. Terry Gene had attended Meramec Junior College.

    As for medical records, I don’t think Stohr would have been interested in hearing from the sixth-floor smoker’s GP. Stohr was considering a possible arson case, so it makes more sense that the doctor who Stohr wanted to consult would have had direct knowledge of the smoker’s mental health. We know that Terry Gene experienced depression and anxiety in Vietnam, so much so that he received an honorable discharge on that basis. I’m no expert, but it sounds as if Terry Gene may have been suffering from PTSD, which has afflicted many Vietnam veterans. If Terry Gene was being treated by a Veterans Affairs–appointed psychiatrist, which is a reasonable hypothesis, and if he was the sixth-floor smoker, Stohr would have wanted to hear his psychiatrist’s opinion.
  • The sixth-floor smoker’s whereabouts and comments after the fire started match those of Terry Gene
    One of the five coworkers (coworker 4) recalled that the sixth-floor smoker had been on the sixth floor after the fire started and that he’d noticed no flames toward the west end. (See page 7 of the coworkers’ statements: paragraph 3, last sentence.)

    Based on Terry Gene’s 7/17/73 interview, he was on the sixth floor after the fire started. He also said the following: “He walked over to the south side of the building where the windows are located and said that the west one-third of the building on the sixth floor in the file section was not on fire and was relatively clear of smoke.” 
  • Terry Gene Davis killed himself one day after the Grand Jury ruling
    In the FBI report of Terry Gene’s suicide, we’re told about all the things that had been going badly in his life—his relationship with his parents, his girlfriend’s decision to leave him, his car accident, his arrest. If Terry Gene was responsible for the NPRC fire, then all of the above could have been the result of the stress he was under because of the fire. Stress can heat up our emotions. It can break up our relationships. It can make us prone to bad decisions. 

    The coroner said Terry Gene had died on November 1, a detail I can’t dispute. However, if Terry Gene was the sixth-floor smoker, is it possible that he hadn’t been made aware of the Grand Jury’s decision? No one mentioned calling him on October 31st, for whatever reason—they simply said that he hadn’t been to work since October 30. If Terry Gene was the sixth-floor smoker, then perhaps he didn’t even know that he wouldn’t be facing prosecution by the federal government, which probably would have been a huge relief to him. 
  • A handwritten note on the FBI report of Davis’ suicide refers to the “no bill” ruling that was returned by the U.S. Fed. Grand Jury for the sixth-floor smoker
    At the bottom of the FBI report on Terry Gene’s suicide, dated 11/6/73, someone has jotted the following note. As best as I can determine, it says [with question marks added where I’m unsure]: 

    ASAC Devic
    Advised 9:15 11/16[?]/73
    What[?] Co Report
    Submitted 11/5/73
    Reflecting no bill at U.S. Fed. Grand Jury

    The words “ASAC Devic” refer to the assistant special agent in charge of the St. Louis field officeThe next two lines are more cryptic. Perhaps that’s the date and time that someone had been advised of Terry Gene’s suicide, though it’s too difficult to say. The bottom two lines are easier to decipher. I believe they refer to the 11/5/73 FBI report that notified the US Attorney and the GSA about the “no bill” ruling for the sixth-floor smoker. Whoever wrote the note felt that the Grand Jury ruling on the sixth-floor smoker somehow pertained to Terry Gene Davis, who’d committed suicide one day after the Grand Jury’s ruling.
Handwritten notation refers to the “no bill” ruling by the Grand Jury for the sixth-floor smoker on the memo about Terry Gene Davis’ suicide; click on image for a closer view
  • The 11/6/73 memo on Terry Gene’s suicide says that Terry Gene furnished “strongest information implicating” the sixth-floor smoker 
    In the FBI’s response to my FOIA request, they supplied me with two versions of the same memo announcing Terry Gene’s suicide. The memo pertained to a report submitted by one of the special agents dated 10/17/73. That report included the sixth-floor smoker’s signed confession and the statements of the five coworkers who’d heard the smoker talk about starting the fire.
Click on image for a closer view

In one version of the memo (excerpt directly above), the first sentence reads “For information of Bureau, TERRY GENE DAVIS, who in interview set forth in referenced report furnished strongest information implicating REDACTED in captioned fire, discovered dead 8:30 PM, 11/5/73.” The words “strongest information implicating” are visible in that version but they’re redacted in the other version, which is shown with the handwritten notation under the preceding bullet. Bar none, the strongest information implicating the sixth-floor smoker was the signed confession, which tells me that, if the author of the memo is being truthful, Terry Gene furnished the signed confession.

The referenced report also included the statements of the five coworkers. Could one of those individuals have been Terry Gene? No, not based on the identifying characteristics that are provided. Not one person in the report has the same identifying characteristics as those supposedly belonging to Terry Gene Davis, as presented after his 7/17 interview. In other words, if Terry Gene’s information was so incredibly strong in implicating the sixth-floor smoker, where was he in the report?

Coworker 1

Coworker 2

Coworker 3

Coworker 4

Coworker 5

In July 1974, Ted Gest, of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, wrote an article on the probable cause of the fire, quoting US Attorney Stohr. The article said that the fire was due to an employee’s careless smoking in a nonsmoking area. I’m including Stohr’s quotes below because they’re especially interesting when they’re applied to the deceased Terry Gene Davis:

  • “Stohr said his office had concluded that the suspected smoker ‘is not prosecutable criminally.’” 
  • “Stohr said the suspect no longer worked for the government.” 
  • “Because he was ‘employed under a program for handicapped persons,’ no public identification will be made, Stohr said.”
  • “Stohr said of the suspected cigarette smoker that ‘there would appear to be very little merit in endeavoring to recover any damages in a civil proceeding because of (his) personal circumstances.’”

You may be wondering why the FBI and U.S. Attorney Stohr didn’t come clean about the person who caused the fire, be it Terry Gene Davis or someone else. Was the secrecy to protect the person responsible? I doubt it.

Here’s my guess regarding the reason: Typed on a sheet behind the sixth-floor smoker’s confession is a short, heavily redacted paragraph in which one of the FBI’s special agents who worked in the NPRC says that he loaned a cigarette to REDACTED on the night of the fire. 

Click on image for a closer view

A follow-up memo said that it happened at around 11 p.m. the night of the fire and that the cigarette-lending special agent also provided a light to the suspect. Unfortunately, the memo goes on to say that they aren’t able to get the special agent and the suspect in the same room for an ID since one of them was on administrative leave.

Click on image for a closer view

If an FBI special agent was the source of the cigarette that burned through 22 million veterans’ personnel records, that’d be bad. If Terry Gene Davis was the sixth-floor smoker and the FBI covered it up to hide their possible culpability, that’d be worse. And if, as part of their cover-up, they decided to say that the sixth-floor smoker was Black when he was white, that’s morally repugnant and racist as hell.

Terry Gene was right. “Where is anything that is real?”

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If you’re interested in obtaining a family member’s military records, go to this website and follow the instructions. Even if the record was destroyed in the fire, NARA personnel have been incredibly helpful in piecing together at least some pertinent information. They did it for me.

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The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is: 800-273-8255.

Help is available 24/7.

Zeroing in on Ron’s ‘zero’ file

Cincinnati Field Office, image credit: FBI.gov

On or about May 17, 2008, someone in the Cincinnati field office of the FBI discarded a document on Ron Tammen. The document was located in their Classification 190 files, right up front, in the file labeled “0”—known as the zero file. Classification 190 files have to do with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or Privacy Act. As for the 0 files, here’s what the National Archives and Records Administration has said about them: used for administrative and logistical matters but mostly were used for citizen correspondence related to a classification, routine request for information, and general reference materials.

As you may recall, I was a little bemused when I learned that Ron’s 0 record had been destroyed in May 2008, since I also knew that Frank Smith, Butler County’s cold case detective, had reopened the case roughly five months earlier, in January. Butler County is in the Cincinnati field office’s jurisdiction. Why would the FBI have destroyed Ron’s record when they knew the case had been reopened? And did they ever pass along whatever was in the 0 file to Det. Smith? And if the document had to do with the Privacy Act, could it be that Ron Tammen himself had requested that his fingerprints be expunged? That seems…oh, I dunno…significant.

As I mentioned in The Cincy file, I wanted to know more. As you can see in the above graphic, Ron’s now nonexistent document was identified with the ending label “Serial 967,” which means that his was document number 967 within the 0 file, behind number 966 and ahead of 968. I wanted to see who Ron’s neighbors were in the file, so I submitted a FOIA request for all documents numbered between 900 and 999. For example, if the surrounding documents were all fingerprint expungement requests, then I’d be willing to bet that Ron’s now obliterated document was a fingerprint expungement request as well. Today I received 39 documents, which you can review here.

There’s not a lot of information to be gleaned from these documents. Only the titles are provided, which offer at least a glimpse into the 0 file’s contents. Some of the documents are administrative. Some have to do with expungement requests from various people whose names—and all other pertinent information—have been redacted. Some have to do with requests for documents, most likely from people who wanted to review whatever documents that the FBI has on them. And then there’s the beloved redacted category. Here’s a breakdown by subject and the number of documents having to do with each. (Note that I was conservative in my groupings.)

SUBJECTNUMBER OF DOCS
[Redacted]4
Inmates rights1
Copy of inmates rights1
Application to DEA (*Drug Enforcement Administration, I believe)1
Expungement5
Court orders re expungement should go to BCII (*Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, I believe)1
Proof of death1
Request all documents5
Imperfected request, notary needed1
Entry ordering expungement1
Extry (*?) ordering expungement1
ELSUR (Electronic Surveillance) [redacted]1
CJIS instructions re expungement1
Proper submission of expungement1
Order sealing conviction1
Returning order sealing conviction1
Disposition of case1
Return disposition sheet—referred to DEA1
Third-party request require privacy waiver or proof of death2
Enclosing copy of certified judgment order expunging record1
Returning enclosures1
Inquiry re [redacted] Ident record1
Return judgment entry with Ohio instructions from CJIS1
CJIS and need for fingerprints1
Copy of Attorney General order 556-731
ELSUR check for [redacted] inmate1
Corrections on rapsheet1

It is what it is—generally, a hodgepodge of requests from a bunch of random people plus some administrative guidance from Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) on expungement and other noteworthy topics. I’m actually a little baffled by the 0 file’s lack of specificity. They couldn’t create separate files for expungement requests versus FOIA requests versus administrative guidelines under Classification 190? They had to toss them all into the same gigantic file?

But let’s not give up just yet. I’ve also come to learn a few additional facts about the Cincinnati file:

  • Just because the document number has a “CI” in front of it doesn’t mean that it originated in the Cincinnati office per se. The FBI’s Cincinnati field office encompasses 48 counties in southern Ohio. (Cleveland’s field office has jurisdiction over the remaining 40 counties in northern Ohio.) The Cincinnati field office also comprises resident agencies, which are located in other cities, such as Dayton and Columbus. Ron’s document could have originated in any one of Cincinnati’s resident agencies—we can’t be sure of which one. However, we can be sure that it originated in southern Ohio.
  • The Classification 190 files are overseen by the chief division counsel—a lawyer. This person reports directly to the special agent in charge, or the SAC. The SAC heads up the entire Cincinnati field office. 
  • The destruction of files is overseen by the administrative officer, and he or she does so on the basis of the document retention schedules we’ve discussed in past blog posts, generally years later. This person also reports directly to the SAC.
  • Ever since the FBI automated its files, agents can enter a name and pop up a number of files in which that name appears, regardless of the file’s origin. When the agent working with Det. Frank Smith was conducting his or her search on Tammen in January 2008, all of the relevant files appeared on screen, including Tammen’s Classification 190 record.
  • Detective Smith’s file on the Tammen case was given to me by the Butler County Sheriff’s Office after Smith retired. His file contains all of the same FBI documents that I received from FBI Headquarters, with the exception that some portions of his documents had been unredacted (alas, nothing useful concerning Tammen, unfortunately). From what I can tell, he did not receive the 190-CI-0, Serial 967 document on Tammen.

One question I’ve had was whether the 190-CI-0, Serial 967 document was simply Det. Smith’s FOIA request to the Cincinnati office for Tammen’s documents. According to the FBI’s printout (above) of Tammen documents, which I’d obtained from my lawsuit, we don’t know the original date of the document that was destroyed in May 2008. Perhaps the FBI special agent whom Det. Smith was working with had created a record concerning Smith’s request  and he or she didn’t feel the need to send that to Smith as well. But I’ve discounted that theory, since the record was destroyed only five months later, far earlier than normal retention schedules would permit. 

Here’s where my head is at the moment: Document number 190-CI-0, Serial 967 could have been a boring old FOIA request from anyone seeking FBI documents on Ronald Tammen. Perhaps the agent working with Smith saw it and decided it was useless information for Smith’s purposes. (I can’t imagine who the FOIA requester would have been, though. I didn’t submit my FOIA request until 2010 and I think I preceded most others in the Tammen-obsessed public. For anyone reading this who may have submitted a FOIA request on Tammen to the Cincinnati FBI before 2008, please let me know.) Regardless, I’d think that the agent still would have passed the document to Smith. Who knows, the inquirer might have been relevant to Smith’s search. It’s tough to say without a date of origin.

It’s also feasible that Ron Tammen submitted a request to the FBI’s Cincinnati field office (or its resident agencies) to expunge his fingerprints, or, alternatively, that he submitted an information request to the FBI and that’s how he discovered that they’d had his prints. Either way, someone within the FBI may have felt the need to destroy that request in May 2008, five months after they found out that Butler County had decided to reopen his cold case.

Rest assured that Cincinnati hasn’t heard the last of me.

The Cincy file

Bridge into Cincinnati; Photo by David Lundgren on Unsplash

One question I’ve been mulling over lately is how in blue blazes did a document with Ronald Tammen’s name on it housed in the FBI’s Cincinnati office find its way into the agency’s “circular file” mere months after Detective Frank J. Smith of the Butler County Sheriff’s Office had reopened an investigation into Tammen’s disappearance? 

After all, Butler County is in the Cincinnati office’s jurisdiction. If a Butler County detective is actively working the case, you’d think those folks would realize that the record might be of interest. Also, it wasn’t as if the FBI didn’t know that the case had been reopened. They were supposedly providing assistance to Butler County and their counterparts in Walker County, Georgia, as the two offices had joined forces to determine if the remains of a John Doe buried in Lafayette, Georgia, happened to be Tammen.

Their timing seems…oh, I dunno…questionable?

And so, as per yoozh, I needed to investigate.

As we’ve discussed previously, the record in question is #190-CI-0, Serial 967. According to the FBI’s Record/Information Dissemination Section, it was “destroyed on or about 5/17/2008,” five months after Detective Smith and his Georgia counterpart, Mike Freeman, decided to reopen their respective cold cases.So why (again, in blue blazes) did the Cincinnati office feel that the time was ripe to destroy that particular document THEN? 

Click on image for a closer view

Because they’d been so helpful in the past, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), asking them for the Standard Form 115 (SF 115) that substantiated the FBI’s destruction of #190-CI-0, Serial 967.

Their FOIA specialist got back to me the next day. You heard me right. He got back to me—with an actual response—on the very next day that I submitted my FOIA request. When it comes to FOIA, NARA is the biggest, baddest bunch of rock stars ever in comparison to all the other federal agencies. They’re the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Aretha, Bruce, I’m gonna say Dire Straits but that’s just me, [fill in name of your all-time favorite artist/band], and James Brown all rolled into one. Put simply, dealing with NARA’s FOIA office is a feel-good experience.

And where do our friends at the FBI and CIA fall on the rock spectrum? I’d say that one could be likened to Milli and the other to Vanilli. (It makes no difference which is which.) They’re usually just mouthing some words, giving us some lip service. If there’s a document they don’t want the public to see, they’ll find a way to withhold it, regardless of whether their reason is justifiable or not, and they’ll stall for as long as humanly possible. It has to do with r-e-s-p-e-c-t. NARA respects FOIA and the public it serves. The FBI and CIA, um, don’t. Strong words, I know, but girl, you know it’s true. (P.S. The Milli Vanilli analogy doesn’t extend to the musicians and singers who backed them up, especially the drummer, who was playing his heart out in the above video. I have more to say about the drummer near the end of this post.)

Here’s what NARA’s FOIA representative told me: 

Agencies do not submit documentation to NARA to substantiate destruction of records. They use approved records schedules to determine the disposition of the records.

Oops. I should’ve checked the online records schedule before submitting my FOIA. But, truth be told, this stuff is confusing and sometimes I need to have things spelled out for me. Also, even if I’d consulted the records schedule first and it had said “Discard after such-and-such timeframe,” I couldn’t imagine that it would have applied to this scenario—during a newly reopened cold case investigation. Surely, there must be a clause that states: “If a document scheduled for destruction is potentially relevant to a newly reopened cold case, of course you should hang onto said document. Good Lord, did you even have to ask?” Or something to that effect.

The NARA rep then explained the file’s numbering system.

FBI File #190-CI-0 is as follows:
1. Classification 190 – Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Acts
2. CI – stands for the field office, Cincinnati, OH
3. “0” – the 0 files were used for administrative and logistical matters but mostly were used for citizen correspondence related to a classification, routine request for information, and general reference materials.

Allow me to interject here that one key difference between the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act is that, with a FOIA request, you’re generally seeking information about someone other than yourself or a specific government program. With a Privacy Act request, you’re seeking information about yourself. OK, carry on, NARA FOIA rep. 

NARA FOIA rep then added:

Classification 190 files do not include the underlying records. 

What he means by this is that the record being requested under FOIA or the Privacy Act—like a fingerprint record, for example—wouldn’t be part of the Classification 190 file. But correspondence that pertains to that record—e.g., “Dear Sir or Madam: Please expunge my fingerprints because blah blah blah and OH MY GOD CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE HOW A SENTENCE LIKE THAT MIGHT HAVE ENDED?!”—would. That’s just an example off the top of my head, mind you. We’ll never know what Ronald Tammen’s document actually said because, as I believe I’ve pointed out several times already, the FBI’s Cincinnati office destroyed it in the middle of Butler County’s reopened investigation.

NARA’s FOIA representative then sent me a link to the FBI’s applicable records schedule, N1-065-82-04,and he referred me to the pages having to do with field offices, which was Parts C and D. There’s a lot of overlap and plenty of room for judgment calls. Also, this is the honor system, an idyllic system of hope and trust whereby doing the right thing is expected and doing the wrong thing, well, I suppose that can happen too.

What Part C says

Of all the parts of the 309-page records schedule, Part C is the shortest and friendliest, offering up just three pages of general guidelines for FBI field offices regarding what to do with their aging records. I’m posting all three pages for you here.

At the top of page one, it says:

“These authorities apply regardless of the classification” but then they have some caveats concerning what might be discussed in other parts (e.g., Parts D or E), with this important NOTE: “Care must be taken to insure that records designated for permanent retention by other items in this schedule are not erroneously destroyed using authorities in this part.”

Translation: field offices should do what’s in Part C, regardless of classification, but if other parts of the schedule say that you need to do something else, do that. And most importantly, when in doubt, don’t throw it out.

Actually, that reminds me of a story someone told me. When J. Edgar Hoover was director of the FBI, he didn’t want to let go of anything. For decades, the FBI hoarded all of their records and wouldn’t even let folks from the National Archives touch their stuff. It wasn’t until after Hoover died that they finally let NARA in the door to work out a disposition schedule. The FBI changed their policy in part because they were getting a new building in Washington, D.C., so they used that opportunity to get permission from NARA to destroy a lot of their records. (Incidentally, the FBI still isn’t 100 percent onboard with NARA and FOIA and the whole public transparency cause. Although they dutifully send their records over to NARA on the agreed-upon timetable, they have yet to send an index to help NARA navigate their FBI holdings and address any subsequent FOIA requests they may receive.)

Back to Part C. Because Ron’s document was in the “0” file, the Cincinnati office was instructed to “DESTROY” it when it was 3 years old or “when all administrative needs have been met, whichever is later.” 

I suppose it’s possible that the document had coincidentally reached its three-year mark in May 2008. However, even if that were the case (which I don’t believe for one second) I can’t imagine that whoever destroyed it then had determined that all administrative needs had been met when, you know, a cold case investigation had been reopened the next county over. I know at least one detective who might have had an administrative need or two for that document.

There’s another item in Part C that might apply as well. Because Ron’s document is in the Classification 190 category, we know that it had to do with FOIA or the Privacy Act (most likely the latter). Item #9 deals specifically with cases in which the subject requests disposal because “continued maintenance would conflict with provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974.” If that were the reason for destroying the document, then Cincinnati ostensibly should have submitted an SF 115 to NARA beforehand. However, if they’d submitted one, I’m pretty sure I would have received it from NARA when I’d FOIA’d them. (NARA’s FOIA rep’s exact words were: “There are no other records responsive to your request.”) Either item #9 didn’t pertain or, well… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Confused? Stay with me. You’re doing great.

There’s a chance that the folks in Cincinnati also consulted Part D, the guidelines for each of the individual classifications for field offices. This is where things really get complicated. Under Classification 190, we’re told to “See Part C (which we’ve already seen), except for those cases where disposition is governed by General Records Schedule 14.” 

Part D, Classification 190

Oh, good, a new records schedule. It’s as if they knew I was growing tired of the first one.

When you go online to find General Records Schedule (GRS) 14, you’ll soon learn that in 2017, it was superseded by General Schedules 4.2, 6.4 and 6.5. However, back in May 2008, federal agencies were still doing things according to the 1998 version of GRS 14.

And if you take a gander at that schedule, you’ll soon be presented with a menu of very strict and specific instructions that depend on what the record is—which, alas, we don’t know because the FBI’s Cincinnati office destroyed it.

But wait. Maybe we can figure out what kind of document it was based on the two dates we already know. We know that Ron’s fingerprints were expunged in June 2002 due to the Privacy Act or a court order, most likely the former. And we also know that in May 2008, the Cincinnati office destroyed a Tammen-related document having to do with FOIA or the Privacy Act, most likely the latter—though we’re less certain about that one. If both actions were due to the Privacy Act, they could be related, with a difference of six years between them. And if we look at the 1998 version of GRS 14, only one Privacy Act-related document specifies waiting six years before it can be destroyed. It’s this one:

  • Erroneous release records—files relating to the inadvertent release of privileged information to unauthorized parties, containing information the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

Maybe that’s the reason they destroyed Ron’s record? It’s impossible to say. But honestly, as I’m wading through the bureaucratic jargonistic blather that is today’s post, annoyed and discouraged and bored out of my mind, I don’t think it matters if the Cincinnati field office was operating under Part C or Part D (or even Part E, the catch-all “Miscellaneous” category for files kept elsewhere) or the old GRS 14—whatever—I still believe they could have turned over Ron’s “0” file document to their law-enforcement partners in Butler County when they had the chance. And make no mistake about it, they had the chance. I’ll tell you why shortly.

Serial 967

There’s one part of Ron’s record that we haven’t discussed the meaning of yet—the number at the end, Serial 967. Serial 967 is what identifies Ron Tammen’s record from everyone else’s in the “0” file. To help you visualize things, picture a metal filing cabinet with a bunch of drawers in it and Classification 190 occupying one of those drawers. (I’m sure it occupies more space than that, but this is just to help us understand the organization.) Now picture the “0” file as a folder inside that drawer in front of all the other folders. The “0” folder holds a large number of documents, and each document has its own serial number, which are arranged in numerical order. When Cincinnati still had Ron’s record, it would have been located pretty far back, between serial numbers 966 and 968.

I have no idea what kinds of documents shared a folder with Ron Tammen’s document, but it might be interesting to find out, mightn’t it? For this reason, I’ve submitted a FOIA request for the documents that surrounded Ron’s—beginning with serial number 900 and ending with number 999. Today, I received a letter of acknowledgement from the chief of the FBI’s Record/Information Dissemination Section letting me know that it was an acceptable request and assigning it a number. If I receive anything of interest, I’ll be sure to let you know.

More on Milli Vanilli’s drummer and how he relates to the FBI’s Cincinnati office

Milli Vanilli’s drummer was Mikki Byron, an accomplished musician who not only played the drums really well, but he also played the guitar, saxophone, and keyboard and sang vocals. In addition to his time spent with Milli Vanilli and the Real Milli Vanilli (the true singers behind Milli Vanilli plus band members), he played in a number of bands, including Mikki Byron and The Stroke, Custom Pink, and the L.A. Ratts. Tragically, Mikki died in 2004 at the age of 36. (As for Milli Vanilli, Rob Pilatus, one-half of the duo, also died tragically in 1998. Fab Morvan, the other half, is still performing.)

Whether or not you’re a fan of Mikki’s music, here’s the point I wish to make: Despite sharing a stage with two guys who were fake singing and whose purported dance moves were just plain awkward, Mikki Byron was for real. He had innate talent and he had training, and he brought everything to the stage when he performed. Fans miss him. They still talk about him. There’s a tribute page on Facebook for him. If you didn’t watch the video of Mikki playing the drums when I mentioned it before, please watch it now. You won’t be sorry.

I was hoping that I’d found my own version of Mikki Byron within the FBI—someone in their ranks who’d be willing to break free of all the stonewalling and duplicity and actually answer a couple simple questions truthfully.

This past Saturday, I sent an email to the Cincinnati office’s community outreach specialist. I said:

I’m wondering if you can help me. For a book and blog that I write, I’m interested in learning more about the Cincinnati field office’s protocol with regard to potentially relevant records during reopened cold cases. 

Specifically, if a cold case has been reopened in a county within your jurisdiction, and the FBI has been made aware that the case has been reopened and is providing assistance, what is the Cincinnati field office’s protocol if it possesses one or more potentially relevant records? 

The outreach specialist responded that day and told me they’d forwarded my email to the appropriate person. That person—whom we’ll refer to as Mikki—responded on Monday morning. Mikki’s emails will be in blue to help you keep track.

Thank you for your message. 

For your background, if the FBI is assisting a local law enforcement agency on a case, relevant records can be shared with the investigators of that agency. If this does not fully answer your question, please provide me with additional details and I will try to provide a more specific answer.

Holy crap, right? Perhaps I’ve finally landed someone who’s willing to address my questions about how they handled Ron’s document.

Here’s me again:

Thank you so much for your quick response. I really do appreciate it. What I’m trying to understand is why the Cincinnati field office destroyed document #190-CI-0, Serial 967 in May 2008 (see attached) when the Butler County Sheriff’s Office had reopened a cold case investigation into the subject of that document, Ronald Tammen, in January 2008 and the investigation was ongoing. It’s my understanding that the records retention schedule for “0” files in field offices appears to allow flexibility for document retention for administrative needs, which I’d think would apply in this case. From what I can tell, it doesn’t appear as if the document was shared with Butler County before it was destroyed, unless you can determine otherwise.

Any information you can offer would be truly appreciated.

And back to Mikki:

Thank you for the added details. My previous response was very general in nature and not pertaining to any specific case or investigation.

Since you are interested in specific case information, it would be best to submit a FOIA request (which you may have already done) or contact the National Press Office (npo@fbi.gov) about any records management questions. 

Thank you.

Riiiiiiight. We tossed it, but you’ll need to talk to those helpful folks over at FBI headquarters about why we went ahead and tossed it.

Here’s me again:

OK, will do. Are you able to say whether you shared the document with Butler County? 

And back we go to Mikki: 

Haha, just kidding. It’s been 5 days. Mikki hasn’t responded and I’m quite certain that he won’t.

On second read, maybe I came on too strong with Mikki. He asked for details and I gave him some. I’m afraid that my details drove Mikki away. 

But you guys, if there was nothing to this mystery—if it was a big fat nothingburger, as they say—he could have said something like: “The document had already been destroyed by the time we learned about Butler County’s renewed efforts. We destroyed it on the basis of Part C, item #2, when the document was three years old.” You know…a credible explanation that could have sent me on my way.

Most telling was that he didn’t answer my question about whether they’d shared the document with Butler County, when, under normal protocol, that’s something they would have done.

There are a few things I can still do to try to learn more about the Cincinnati document on Ronald Tammen, and I will do them, though I won’t put the most promising ones into writing at this point. Will I be asking the FBI’s press office about the file? Oh, yeah, I suppose I’ll do that too, just as I told Mikki, but I can’t  imagine that they’ll say anything other than “The FBI has a right to decline requests.” (I’ve heard that one before.)

I also want to make good on a promise I made to you earlier in this post. Some of you may have been wondering to yourselves whether it was possible that Cincinnati had destroyed the Tammen document without ever knowing that Butler County had reopened its cold case on Tammen. I mean, pleading ignorance is a very understandable and forgivable excuse, and Cincinnati is a big city and Butler County is about 35 miles away. Also, you may recall that it was the FBI’s Atlanta office that had opened the “Police Cooperation” matter for the two sheriff’s offices. Is it possible that Cincinnati had no idea that Butler County had reopened its cold case?

Oh, they knew. They so knew. 

Here’s how I know they knew: In August 2010, just as I was getting started with my little book project, I interviewed Butler County Detective Frank Smith about his investigation. I’d submitted my FOIA request to the FBI for Ron Tammen’s documents several months earlier, and I was still waiting for their response. Frank had also obtained Ron’s FBI documents—the same ones that I would eventually receive. But Frank, being with law enforcement, would be able to go another route to get his documents—one that was much quicker. Frank had contacted someone with the FBI’s Cincinnati field office, likely by phone. He told them that he’d restarted the Tammen investigation and asked if they could send him whatever files they might have on Tammen. 

Can I pin down the precise date that it happened? I can. After Frank Smith retired from the sheriff’s office, I obtained his old file on Tammen. He’d created a log of actions and developments complete with dates and times. Frank Smith had obtained his FBI file on January 22, 2008, at 6:30 p.m. to be exact—just as his investigation was getting started and nearly five months before someone within the Cincinnati office decided to destroy its Classification 190 file on Tammen.

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.