I now know for sure where room 1126 was…

…and the answer has been on page 1 of Ron’s FOIA docs this whole entire time

One of the ongoing questions of my search for what happened to Ron Tammen has been the location of the “Ident Missing Person File Room”—the string of words that had been stamped on some, though not all, of Ron’s missing person documents. We’ve known that the Ident Missing Person File Room was in room 1126 of some building, ostensibly in the Washington, D.C. region, though we didn’t know which building.

For months, I’ve been expending some serious brainpower—and not just my brainpower, but yours too—trying to come up with ways that I might discover the location of room 1126. Thanks to your creative suggestions, I’ve submitted Freedom of Information Act  (FOIA) requests seeking phone directories, floor plans, key receipts, custodial routes, maintenance requests, installation orders, you name it, for some of the more likely contenders. You may recall reading blog posts in which I advanced hypotheses for the location of room 1126—first, inside the J. Edgar Hoover Building, and, on second thought, the Department of Justice Building

Why would I do all of that? Because I believe room 1126 is significant to Ron’s story.

But lately, I’ve grown weary of FOIA. So much back-and-forthing with the FBI has thrown buckets of water on my inner fire. They always have the final word, and that word (or words) has been: “unable to identify records that are responsive to your request.” So I thought I’d switch up my game a little. I decided to Google what’s already out there—but not your typical, run-of-the-mill Googling. I mean level-10 Googling. I mean cracking open “Google Books” and diving into the decades-old, government-produced publications that various librarians of sundry institutions have taken the time to copy, cover to cover. And let me tell you…what’s already out there has been illuminating. If you want to get an authentic picture of how things worked back in the day of J. Edgar Hoover, it’s best to consult what the key players had written or said, preferably under oath.

Before we address what makes room 1126 so special, let’s talk about the FBI’s filing system. Honestly, from everything I’ve read, it hasn’t changed that much since Hoover ran the place. OK, yeah, sure, computers. But the overall organization of the files and the related vocabulary are the same today as when Edgar discussed them with his associates and underlings. (Did you know that that’s what he called himself informally? I feel like such an idiot, but I’ve thought of him as J. Edgar for so long that I never knew that his friends called him Edgar.) 

For the most part, Edgar Hoover believed in filing everything together. In most cases, every single file representing every single investigation has been lumped together into one ginormous records system, which is referred to as the Central Records System. In Edgar’s idealistic world, everyone’s records should be treated the exact same way—whether you’re a habitual law breaker or a squeaky clean job applicant in need of a routine background check. Then as now, they commonly refer to these files as the “main files,” or the “main bureau files.”

What divides them are the classification numbers that precede every FBI case number. Missing person cases start with the number 79. Crime on the high seas begins with 45; fraud against the government is 46; and impersonation, 47.  If you had the number 53 in front of your case file, you were being investigated for “excess profits on wool,” which I guess was a problem around World War I, but they don’t use that one anymore. But, as mentioned earlier, it’s not all kidnappings (7), extortion (9), and counterfeiting (55). There are respectable classifications too—like 66 (administrative matters), 67 (personnel matters), and 240 (FBI training). As of this writing, there are 281 classifications in all, which you can peruse here.

To help FBI staff locate files, they created indexes, 3” X 5” cards arranged alphabetically by subject on which pertinent case numbers were written. Let’s say you worked in the Files and Communications Division and you were asked to name check someone. You’d look up that person’s name on a card in the general index, and there, on that card, would be numbers of relevant case files to check. It gets way more complicated, with multiple indexes and cross-references, but for our purposes, the indexes helped FBI staff find pertinent case files on a given subject.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “What about fingerprints?”

Fingerprint files are maintained separately from the Central Records System, as are records that are entered into the National Crime Information Center. These resources were formerly housed within the Identification Division, now the Criminal Justice Information Services Division, and are accessible to law enforcement agencies around the country. The Central Records System, on the other hand, is only accessible to FBI staff and, at least before computers, primarily staff in the Files and Communications Division, who would provide the files to other FBI staffers on a short-term loan basis.

What I’m getting at is that, under the normal system, missing person cases were filed along with everything else in the main files. If the FBI was fortunate enough to have a missing person’s fingerprints, as they did in Ron’s case, that person’s records would be filed in their fingerprint jacket in the Identification Division. And even though fingerprint jackets were maintained separately from the Central Records System, I’m guessing that the folks in Files and Communications would at least have an index card with the missing person’s name on it to help them find those records too if need be. But that’s just a guess.

What wasn’t a normal part of the FBI’s recordkeeping system was putting some of the missing person files in a special room: #1126. That was unusual. 

At this point, let’s switch over to my favorite format, Q&A. Who wants to start us off?

Where was room #1126?

Haha…OK, I suppose I deserve that. 

Room 1126 was in…

…wait for it…

…the Identification Building, which still stands at 2nd and D Streets SW, and is currently known as the Ford House Office Building. (Some very cool photos can be found on this web page:https://livingnewdeal.org/projects/ford-house-office-building-washington-dc/.)

The Identification Building—which was nicknamed the Ident Building—is so named because the enormous Identification Division was located there for many years. But other divisions were located there too, namely the Files and Communications Division, and later, once the FBI was computerized, the Computer Systems Division.

Why do you think the FBI would have needed a Missing Person File Room apart from the main files?

My guess? Secrecy. When Hoover was the FBI director, he and his leadership team felt the need to keep sensitive documents locked away in cabinets and special rooms, so that only a select few people would know about them or see them. I have a theory on why they might have done that for missing persons in particular, which I’ll explain a little later.

I’d heard that Hoover had kept secret files in his office. Did his associate directors and assistant directors have secret files too?

The short answer is yes. 

Not long after Hoover died on May 2, 1972, the public learned about files that he kept in his office area, which was a suite consisting of nine rooms on the fifth floor of the Department of Justice building. According to Helen Gandy, Hoover’s loyal secretary for over 50 years, there were several types of files housed there:

  • Hoover’s personal files, which were described as personal correspondence between Hoover and people in his sphere, many famous and politically powerful. (At Hoover’s instruction, Gandy destroyed all of the personal files shortly after Hoover died.)
  • Estate files, which had to do with Hoover’s house, taxes, etc.
  • Hoover’s “Official and Confidential” files, which had been widely publicized in the media and were considered extremely sensitive on a range of topics. 
  • A category that Gandy only referred to as “special,” which were also highly confidential, and kept under “lock and key.” 

Mark Felt, who is famously known as the anonymous source Deep Throat during Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting of Watergate, was responsible for taking over the Official and Confidential (OC) files after Hoover’s death. Felt oversaw the inventorying of those files, but they remained in his office until he retired in 1973. They were later placed in the Special File Room, a room set aside by the bureau for confidential files. (If you want to read Hoover’s OC files, you can do so here.)

In 1975, Felt told a subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations that it wasn’t just Hoover who was withholding sensitive documents. The division directors were too. Shortly before Hoover’s death, Felt had been tasked with consolidating the sensitive division files in his office. He obtained about two file cabinets’ worth, which he promptly locked up.

John P. Mohr, who oversaw the FBI’s Administrative Division and several others, said this to the subcommittee about his own secret files: “They were files that I maintained that were not in the record of the Bureau’s files, which were contacts that I had. If you are a smart investigator, and you should be one if you are going to be in this business, you should have your own sources and keep them to yourself.”

What kinds of documents did FBI officials treat as confidential?

Oh, gosh, you name it. The Special File Room held a hodge podge of records on hot-button subjects of the day. They were all indexed, so still officially part of the Central Records System. The point was to restrict access to a limited few, and out of eye shot from most everyone else, especially the majority of Files and Communications staffers.

Included were files containing graphically violent photos, national defense secrets, informants’ names, stuff on Castro, stuff on Cosa Nostra, cases affecting an FBI employee’s family, and more. Of course, if someone important was rumored to be gay, that would have made the cut. The Special File Room wasn’t especially spacious so it was considered only temporary housing for a file, though admittedly “temporary” could mean years. Division heads were periodically asked to review the files they were maintaining there and to let Files and Communications staff know when a file had lost some of its radioactivity (so to speak) so they could be returned to the main files. Speaking of radioactivity, files related to the Atomic Energy Commission were included there as well.

Back to the Missing Person File Room, why would a bunch of missing person files be kept secret? 

I think I know. In the mid-1970s, Americans were learning that the FBI as a general practice held onto just about everything that anyone mailed or called in on someone—usually derogatory, rarely complimentary—even if the tipster was anonymous. (This helps explain why the Cincinnati Field Office responded to that anonymous call in 1973 to check out the employee at Welco Industries.) During another 1975 hearing (the 94th Congress was busy), members of the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights voiced their displeasure over this practice. They were particularly concerned about information being held on members of Congress, however, it was emphasized that legislators are treated no differently than any other citizen. 

Here’s an exchange between M. Caldwell Butler, of Virginia, and then-FBI Director Clarence Kelley concerning a made-up person named John Jones:

Mr. Butler: “Let us just take John Jones and somebody says to the Bureau there is a guy named John Jones in Boston who is nuts. What do you do with that? Can you not just throw it away, or do you have to really put it in the miscellaneous file, index it and keep it there, and then go through the purging procedure later, or does the guy lose his job if he does not file it?”

Mr. Kelley: “I am confident again that some of it is not put in the file. But the general instruction is that it does go into the file, it having been reported to us by a citizen, and in the orderly conduct of our business we are to take information which is unsolicited and comes to us.”

So let’s ponder on that for a second. Whenever someone—anyone—went missing, even if the FBI wasn’t conducting an investigation, which is the norm for most missing persons cases, they were probably receiving a lot of unsolicited letters and phone calls from acquaintances of that person, be they friend or foe. These wouldn’t be the “he was such a nice guy” sort of call. They’d be juicier, perhaps scandalous—something that might help explain why such a nice, quiet person up and vanished. Kelley admitted that that’s the sort of information the FBI would gladly accept and file. And with as much publicity as missing person cases receive, I’d imagine that if any of the classifications had a need for their very own special file room, classification 79 would. 

Why do you think room 1126 is in the Ident Building?

I was still leaning heavily toward the DOJ Building, when things began to fit much better for the Ident Building. Here’s what led me to my conclusion.

The Department of Justice Building Map doesn’t fit.

I managed to find several telephone directories for the Department of Justice during that general time period, which included a map of the DOJ building’s layout. (Thanks again, Google Books!) I then developed a chart of room numbers on the first floor where Special Investigative Division staff were located in 1975, before they moved into the FBI Building. Although they were located in almost every corridor, no one had an office in the 1100 corridor, which was still occupied by DOJ administrative staff.  Therefore, even if there was a room 1126 in that corridor (which I still haven’t confirmed), a DOJ administrator would’ve had to be responsible for the missing person files, which is highly unlikely. That isn’t how the FBI operated.

Files and Communications were responsible for all files, even the special ones.

The Files and Communications Division had a lot of say regarding management of the bureau’s files. If a division wanted to house a sensitive file in the Justice Building for accessibility, they needed to alert Files and Communications first, and it was signed out on a short-term basis, usually with the file kept in a supervisor’s office. Although we learned from Mark Felt that divisions had their own stash of special files, they would’ve been in a locked file drawer, not occupying an entire room. Also, they wouldn’t have had their own stamp declaring it the “Ident Missing Person File Room.”

The Files and Communications Division occupied much of the first floor of the Identification Building.

To reiterate, all bureau files—including those in the Special File Room—were the responsibility of the Files and Communications Division, which occupied several floors of the Identification Building, including the first floor. From 1961 to 1972, the Special File Room was located in room 1315 Ident, and the supervisor in charge of the Special File Room was located in room 1113 Ident. The Special File Room was later moved to the third floor of the Ident Building before everyone moved to the J. Edgar Hoover Building. 

The numbering fits.

Room numbers in the Identification Building were in four digits, with the first digit indicating the floor number. Therefore, room number 1126 fits the scheme for a first-floor room. Also, I compared office numbers listed in the 1975 telephone directory, and a number of them correspond to one another by floor. For example, there were offices in rooms 3129, 5129, and 6129. Even though no one had an office number 1126—why would they if it was full of missing person files?—someone did have an office in room 3126, two floors up. We also know that the health center was in room 1121, which would have been a few doors down from 1126.

‘Ident’ is used two ways.

This was perhaps a big source of my confusion. Sometimes “Ident” refers to the Identification Building. And sometimes it refers to the Identification Division. When they wrote “Removed from Ident files” on Ron’s missing person documents, they were talking about the division.

Likewise, the “Ident” in front of “Missing Person File Room” on the stamp was likely referring to the division, although it could have been referring to the building. Either interpretation works.

But are you ready for the clincher? On the first page of the May 26, 1953, report summarizing Mrs. Tammen’s phone call, off to the right of Ron’s identifying features, are the words “Copy of photo filed in 1126 Ident.” Below that is the date 6-5-73. And below that are the initials MSL. They did the customary thing and put the room number in front of the name of the building—1126 Ident. They told us which building. They’d been telling us all along.

And you guys? Now that we know the exact location of the Ident Missing Person File Room, suddenly I’m in the mood to submit a few more FOIAs. Funny how that happens.

FOIA follies, part 2: ‘Lost’ mail, an old Steve Martin bit, and the interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary

Photo credit: Photo by Anna Land on Unsplash

Sixty-nine years. As of tomorrow, that’s how long it’s been since Ron Tammen held a study session with Dick Titus, fetched some clean sheets from Mrs. Todhunter, headed to the Delt House for song practice, walked home in the snow with two fellow Delts, and promptly disappeared forever from the campus of Miami University. I wish I were releasing something groundbreaking for this year’s anniversary post—I really do. The unredacted names from those two CIA memos (memos 1 and 2) or the full interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary would’ve been peachy. 

Alas, I cannot. Things are moving along—not at the pace I’d like them to, but progressing nonetheless. I need to respect the process and chillax. Hopefully, we’ll have some news to report soon, good or bad (preferably the former).

In the meantime, I’d like to discuss several phenomena that I’ve noticed in my 12 years of FOIAing for Tammen-related documents, especially lately. For the newcomers to the group, FOIA stands for the Freedom of Information Act, a federal law that allows anyone, including non–U.S. citizens, to submit requests for government documents. Most states, including Ohio, also have public records laws, often referred to as sunshine laws, that allow a person to request documents from state agencies and institutions. In Ohio, you don’t even need to be a resident.

FOIA and Ohio’s sunshine laws have become two of my trustiest tools for making the discoveries I’ve made concerning Ron Tammen’s case. My third tool is, of course, people—especially people who either knew Ron or were at Miami when he disappeared. In the number four spot is my ridiculously hard head, which, as I’ve mentioned before on this website, doesn’t take no for an answer terribly well, especially from certain powers that be.

Before we proceed with my latest observations, here’s a protip for anyone considering submitting a public records request to a state or federal agency: The instant you decide to become a submitter of records requests, you should prepare for the excuses, because, guuuuurl, you’re going to hear a lot of them. The most common is the “we looked, but we couldn’t find anything” excuse, which is a tough one to argue with if you happen to be a person who takes other people at their word. (Protip #2: If you’re going to become a submitter of records requests, you’ll need to stop being that type of person.) 

By far, the most creative excuse was dreamed up by the CIA. In 2016, I’d submitted a request asking them to lift the redactions from a July 1952 memo listing study group members for the ARTICHOKE program. (Unbelievably, the names are still being treated as if they’re top secret even though the memo is about to turn 70 years old, ARTICHOKE was shut down decades ago, and everyone involved has long since died.) After nearly three years of hearing nothing, a representative wrote to me and said that they looked high and low, but they only have the whited-out version of that memo. They can’t find the “full-text version.” I let out a scornful laugh and appealed their response. In June 2021, I was told that I can look forward to their ruling by an estimated date of December 8, 2022, which is very specific and an ETA in which I’m 100% skeptical. (See protip #2.) This little escapade also illustrates how a person can fritter their life away submitting FOIA requests to recalcitrant agencies—so much so that I will occasionally hear myself asking the universe, “Really? Is this my purpose? Is this why I’m here?” As of this writing, the universe’s response has been “’Fraid so. We good?”

What follows are two of the more innovative excuses I’ve received in recent months by state and federal officials, along with what I’ve done or intend to do in response. Also, if FOIA isn’t your passion, and you’re thinking of signing off right about now, I encourage you to hang on until excuse #2, or at least scroll there immediately. The reason is that I’ve further narrowed the timeframe when I think Carl Knox’s former secretary was interviewed by Miami University officials, and I’ll be telling you all about that. (It’s very cool and potentially huge.) 

Excuse #1: It was lost in the mail

I’ll start by asking this question: Have you ever mailed a letter to someone and it never made it to its destination? 

I don’t mean that it arrived late. Good Lord, we all know what that’s like. Do you remember December 2020? As a result of the pandemic, combined with the postmaster general’s *ahem* whimsical decision to give the heave ho to over 700 mail sorting machines in one fell swoop, it took months for a letter that I’d put in a collection box in northeast Ohio to make its way to the Seattle region. I’m not talking about those issues. I’m talking about mail that’s never arrived. I know it happens sometimes, but has it ever happened to you personally? Conversely, have you ever been anxiously waiting on a piece of mail that never came?

I honestly can’t think of a single time when either of the above has happened to me—at least not when I’m dealing with normal people and typical places of business. But when I’m doing business with the FBI and CIA? Well, apparently, it happens on a regular basis. Or at least that’s what they’d like you to believe.

Let’s first consider some statistics. I don’t trust the numbers that are pushed by businesses that compete with the U.S. Postal Service, so I won’t be repeating them here. I happen to support the USPS and I feel that their willingness to transport a first class letter anywhere in the country, including U.S. territories and military bases, for 58 measly cents is the best bargain on Planet Earth. 

The USPS Office of the Inspector General (IG) is the entity that keeps a watchful eye on the USPS’s service performance and they’ve produced nearly 200 reports on how things are going from year to year and region to region—way more information than we’re in need of here. From what I can tell, the question they’re most focused on isn’t so much IF the mail will arrive but WHEN, and the IG wants to make sure it’s arriving on time. In February 2022, the average amount of time it took for a first class letter to arrive at its destination was 2.7 days, which is incredible when you think of the size of this country and, again, the surprisingly little amount of money that they’re asking from us in return.

But strange things can and do happen. Mail can be damaged, stolen, and, OK, lost. In those instances, there’s a process in place for finding mail that’s gone AWOL, which is to go through the USPS’s Mail Recovery Center (MRC)—aka its “lost and found.”

According to the IG’s webpage, “In Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, the MRC received 67 million items from post offices and other facilities around the country. While that’s a large number, it’s a small fraction of a percent of the 142 billion mailpieces the Postal Service delivered that same year.” If you do the actual math [i.e., (67 million ÷ 142 billion) X 100], you’ll find that the “small fraction of a percent” is .047 percent, or roughly 1/2 of 0.1 percent, of wayward mail was forwarded to the MRC in FY 2019. And that doesn’t take into consideration the likelihood that some of the mail was eventually united with its intended recipient.

Therefore, despite some of the cranky comments on the IG’s website, I think we can say with confidence that lost mail isn’t a common occurrence.

Let’s now enter the bizarro world of the CIA and FBI. In the past five months, I can point to four instances in which they’ve subtly pointed the finger at the postal service for their own lack of responsiveness to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) request. It made no difference whether the mail was coming or going—both directions posed problems according to the two agencies. Moreover, each piece of mail that had presumably been lost had to do with one of the more formidable requests in our arsenal regarding the Ronald Tammen case. They never affected the boring, trivial stuff. I mean…what are the odds?

The CIA’s excuse: We never got your letter.

Protip #3For anyone planning to submit a FOIA or MDR request to the CIA, and you prefer to go the technological route, it’s advisable to get out your leg warmers and Duran Duran cassettes, because, my friend, you’ll be using an innovation that was all the rage when the world was 40 years younger. It’s called the Facsimile machine, or Fax for short, and you can reach the CIA’s Fax machine at 703-613-3007. Faxing can be annoying, tedious, and, if you don’t have a machine of your own or a landline to connect it to, expensive. (OK, I’m now being told that there are some computer apps that let you send a Fax online and, apparently, some people are still big believers in the Fax, but I don’t know who those people are. If you’ve sent a Fax in the past 15 years and remember it as a positive experience, feel free to weigh in on this controversy in the comments section.) 

In addition to Faxing, the CIA does offer the ability to send a FOIA or MDR request through their website, but only if you don’t plan to send attachments as back-up. In my experience, seeking random records from the CIA without support documentation is a losing proposition from the get-go. You’re being set up for failure. Unless you’re seeking documents that have been widely publicized and made readily available to the public—like the surviving MKULTRA documents, for example—I wouldn’t bother going this route.

That leaves the U.S. mail, which is how I send my requests to the CIA, as did my research associate recently. Here’s where they ask you to send them:

Information and Privacy Coordinator
Central Intelligence Agency
Washington, D.C. 20505

Given how simple the CIA’s mailing address is, it’s perplexing that so much can go awry with their incoming mail. There’s no street address to botch, no room number to accidentally transpose—just someone’s high-level job title, the agency name, and their exclusive ZIP code, 20505, in Washington, D.C. (Actually, the CIA’s headquarters is in McLean, VA—in a subsection referred to as Langley, VA—which is about 10 miles from D.C., but whatever.)

But, again, strange things can and do happen, even at the CIA. 

In my case, it happened after I’d discovered the four documents in the CIA’s MKULTRA collection (documents 123, and 4) in which I believe St. Clair Switzer was either the author or the author’s accomplice. In August 2021, I submitted a FOIA request asking that the names in those documents be declassified. Under normal circumstances, generally within a couple weeks, federal agencies will send an acknowledgment of your request along with an assigned FOIA number, to help in tracking your request. But this is the CIA we’re talking about, and they’ve always marched to a different drumbeat. But then August rolled into September, and September into October, and soon we were closing in on Thanksgiving, and I still hadn’t heard from them. 

When I called and asked for the status of my request, the FOIA representative told me that she was unable to find any record of it, as if all my efforts were just imaginings in my brain. I had to do it all over again. The second time, it worked (it always does), and our wait continues, but that little antic bought them three extra months, and, had I not checked when I did, it could have been a lot longer. (Protip #4: don’t make the same mistake I did and pop your request in the mail like a birthday card to your Aunt Trish. Always obtain a tracking slip and double check to make sure the envelope was delivered and, better yet, signed for.) 

The second case pertains to a colleague of mine who’d submitted a pretty important (read: REALLY important) records request to the CIA that has to do with the Ron Tammen case. I can’t say a lot about it, because I don’t want to give anything or anyone away. But the nuts-and-bolts of it is that he’d submitted a request to them in 2018, and last month—over three years later—my colleague was informed that they’d never received it. Don’t fret, my colleague is handling it. But the ”we never got it” excuse seems rather, oh, I don’t know, habitual?

The FBI’s excuse: Didn’t you get our letter?

OK, so that was pretty weird, but things are about to get weirder. It involves the FBI, which I’d FOIA’d twice to get a handle on how often people submitted expungement requests due to the Privacy Act versus a court order. I wanted to figure out which group Ron Tammen fell into. (If you’re new to the site and have no idea what we’re talking about, you can catch up here.) 

For openers, when you submit a FOIA request to the FBI on the topic of early expungements—whether it’s due to a court order or the Privacy Act—they’ll send all future communications via the mail instead of email. They seem have more faith in the mail when protecting people’s privacy…which is surprising, considering how frequently their mail appears to get lost.

This past July, I’d submitted two separate FOIA requests through the FBI’s online system, at efoia.fbi.gov. One request was for all paperwork having to do with early fingerprint expungement requests between January 1, 1999, and June 30, 2002, due to a court order and the other request was for the exact same thing, only due to the Privacy Act. On August 4, 2021, I received an acknowledgment on the court-order-related request, and on August 27, 2021, I received a letter in the mail stating that they’d searched “the places reasonably expected to have records” for early expungements due to a court order, and turned up nothing. I hadn’t yet received a letter regarding expungements due to the Privacy Act, and considered it a good sign, since that’s the category that I think applies to Ron.

By November, I’d still received nothing from them about my Privacy Act request, and I was beginning to wonder what had happened. I emailed them sometime between November 11 and November 29. Here’s an approximation of that email conversation:

Me: Hi, on July 29, I’d submitted two FOIA requests that dealt with early fingerprint expungements. The first had to do with court ordered-expungements, and the second had to do with the Privacy Act. I’ve only received a response for the one on court orders. I haven’t received anything for the request on Privacy Act expungements.

Public information officer: We mailed it to you.

Me: Really? Because I only received a response on court orders. I haven’t received anything on the Privacy Act. Can you please mail it to me again?

PIO: Oh, sorry. I misunderstood. We thought they were the same request.

Me: Nope, nope. Two different requests, filed separately.

They subsequently mailed an acknowledgment on November 29, 2021, and then, on December 14, 2021, they mailed their response, which was that they couldn’t find anything. But the email conversation was memorably bizarre.

You know what else is bizarre? That email conversation no longer exists. I’ve spent hours looking for it. After that exchange, I’d quoted the information officer’s comments on the Good Man Score Card, but removed them after I’d received their acknowledgment. This past weekend, as I was writing this post, I was looking for the conversation in my emails, and it’s not there. I’m not going to claim that someone from the FBI was somehow able to remove an entire email conversation from my gmail account. I’m just not. I’m human and, admittedly, I err sometimes. But to delete an entire conversation consisting of four or five emails between myself and a representative of the FBI? Well, that would be a first for me.

do have the emails to back up the second example, however. On New Year’s Day, 2022, I’d submitted a FOIA request that was a lot more specific than the July 2021 request. I’d stumbled on the FBI’s manual for FOIPA officers (FOIPA stands for Freedom of Information and Privacy Act) from around the time that they’d expunged Ron’s fingerprints, and it described the specific paperwork that was involved with fingerprint expungement requests due to the Privacy Act. In my new FOIA request, I was seeking those specific papers.

By March 30, I still hadn’t heard from them, so I emailed them and asked for a status update.

Here’s what they wrote:

Thank you for contacting foipaquestions@fbi.gov. Correspondence in response to your request, FOIA 1510466-000, was mailed via standard mail on December, 14, 2021.

Yes, that’s right. I inquired about a request I’d submitted on January 1, 2022, and they let me know that they’d responded to it two weeks prior to that date, on December 14, 2021, which would be stupendous customer service if we were actually talking about the same request.

I let them know that they were referring to the former request from July 2021. “This is a new request,” I said.

Here’s what they said in response:

Thank you for contacting foipaquestions@fbi.gov in reference to your Freedom of Information Act/Privacy (FOIPA) request. As requested, the FOIPA Request Number you have been assigned is 1514356-000. Correspondence for the request was mailed via standard mail on January 6, 2022.

Again with the “we mailed it.” But I hadn’t received it. And here we are, well into April, and I STILL haven’t received it. In fact, I feel I can confidently state that, even if I were to live to be 100, I would never, ever receive whatever they claim to have put in the “standard mail” on January 6, 2022. I asked them to send it again, and they did, and of course, this time it reached my mailbox just fine (it always does), although the letter I received was dated January 7, 2022. 

Here’s the problem I have with their “we mailed it” excuse: according to the FBI’s response—the one that I received on their so-called second try—they weren’t able to locate any records responsive to my request, which means that I need to submit an appeal. But the FBI places a 90-day time limit on the appeal process. Because the letter is dated January 7, 2022, that time limit had already passed by the time I received it. Of course, I’ll make sure the Department of Justice understands that I never received the FBI’s “first” letter, but is this a way that the FBI treats FOIA requests they’re not particularly thrilled about? 

Excuse #2: We forget

Anyone who was a near-adult in the 1970s knows how big Steve Martin was back then. He’s big again now, but this was different. Whenever Steve Martin was on Saturday Night Live, which was often, it was an event not to be missed. 

In addition to all of his other iconic phrases (the “Excuuuuuuse Me’s!” and whatnot), he had this bit that he’d do that my high-schooler brain found brilliant and hilarious. It was a two-word phrase he’d come up with that could get a person out of any jam: “I forgot!” 

“I forgot that armed robbery was a crime, officer!” he’d joke.

Well, weirdly enough, that’s the excuse that I feel Miami officials are giving me regarding the three Oral History Project (OHP) videotapes that were never posted on the university’s bicentennial website.

As you may recall, I recently submitted a public records request pointing them to the second-to-last line in their 2008 OHP progress report that stated that three recordings weren’t posted to their bicentennial website “for miscellaneous reasons.” I asked them to send those three videotapes to me or, if they no longer exist, to send me the forms documenting their destruction, per the Office of General Counsel’s (OGC) record retention protocol. A few weeks later, as part of the OGC’s response, they informed me that they’d asked several OHP representatives and “none of the individuals remember anything about those recordings.”

I subsequently filed a complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims, and we’re now gearing up for mediation, which is a legal proceeding at which I intend to present arguments countering their response. I’ll be keeping those arguments to myself for now.

With that said, I do have some news to share—something that I figured out as I was preparing my arguments. And you guys? I think I know when one of the three missing interviews took place. What’s more, I believe that this particular missing interview was with Carl Knox’s former secretary. 

Are you ready? 

I think the interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary happened during the spring semester of 2007, probably sometime between February and May. 

Here’s why I think this: it has to do with an OHP report that was written in May 2007. In that report, under the header “Accomplishments of Spring Semester 2007,” representatives of the Oral History Project had written the following paragraph:

Eight story circles and two interviews were conducted during the semester. These included the Digital Writing Collaborative, WMUB management/announcers, Student Affairs staff, 1970s faculty (different factions), and early African-American faculty. The sessions generally lasted an hour or two and were conducted in Oxford.

I consulted a chronological listing that I’d created of all the OHP recordings that had been posted online and found the ones that were produced during the spring semester of 2007, from January through May. (Most interviews were conducted in the summer, during the annual alumni reunion, when it was more convenient to schedule individuals who lived outside of Oxford.) 

Consistent with the report, I’ve counted eight story circles, which include all of the story circles that were named, plus Executive Assistants in the 1960s-90s, and three “different factions” of 1970s faculty (Political Activists, Part 1; Department of History Faculty; and Political Activists, Part 2). At first, the timing of the WMUB story circle confused me, since the report says that it was conducted in spring 2007, but it’s actually listed on the bicentennial website as having occurred on July 1, 2008. I now believe that something had gone wrong with the 2007 WMUB tape, which is supported by the 12/2008 OHP report. That report says “Since June 2008, 23 more sessions were recorded (including one that was a repeat of an earlier one due to recording problems).”

So the story circles check out. How about the two interviews?

Currently, only one individual interview from that timeframe is posted online: that of Heanon M. Wilkins, a retired Spanish professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, director of the Educational Opportunity, and director of the Black World Studies Program. Dr. Wilkins’ interview took place on March 21, 2007. It’s the second individual interview that I believe is one of the three recordings that weren’t posted online. I also think that was the interview that someone from the university had conducted with Carl Knox’s former secretary.

Listed in blue are the spring 2007 interviews minus the WMUB recording, which had experienced technical issues. The WMUB recording, in purple, was rerecorded on July 1, 2008. Plus marks following the recording dates indicate that these recordings had been posted on the main bicentennial website as opposed to the Western College OHP website..

Now, there’s an additional complicating factor I need to address. A former Miami baseball player named Clarence Wheeler (‘32) is listed on the bicentennial website as having been interviewed on April 27, 2007. Even the title slide says that the interview happened on April 27, 2007. And if that were indeed the date that the interview had taken place, then Clarence Wheeler would have been the clear answer to the question concerning the second individual to be interviewed that spring. Clarence also lived in Hamilton, Ohio, and, as the report states, all of the interviews and story circles had taken place in Oxford. He would have been the perfect fit for that time slot. Perfect, that is, except his interview didn’t occur for another year.

Clarence Wheeler’s title slide says that the interview was conducted in 2007, when the transcript below it shows the actual date, April 27, 2008.

That’s right. If you read Clarence’s transcript or watch the first few minutes of his tape, you’ll learn that his interview had taken place on April 27, 2008, which was Clarence Wheeler’s 100th birthday. 

Um. You guys? I’m not going to claim that someone from the university had intentionally mislabeled the title slide for Clarence Wheeler’s interview to concur with the May 2007 OHP report and therefore make it appear as if his was the second interview of the spring semester that year. I’m just not. I can’t imagine that the May 2007 report was that significant, and, let’s face it, university employees are human and they can err too.

I will say this: Heanon Wilkins had lived in Oxford until his death in 2015, so it’s easy to understand why his interview could have been conducted in Oxford during the spring of 2007. Coincidentally, Carl Knox’s former secretary was living in Oxford at that time too.

You guys. The ‘Ident Missing Person File Room’ wasn’t in the Hoover Bldg after all. And wait till you find out who I think was overseeing it.

Department of Justice Building

You know how it feels when you’re working on a jigsaw puzzle and a puzzle piece doesn’t fit quite right? It looks like it should fit. It seems as if it has all the right edges. But when you try to insert one piece’s knobby end into the corresponding cut-out area of another piece, you discover that you have to use too much force jamming it in. That’s how I felt about my hypothesis from January 21 on the location of the Ident Missing Person File Room—room #1126 in an unnamed building. Lots of details seemed to fit the J. Edgar Hoover Building, but I’ll admit that other details required a little too much, um, creative-thinking, shall we say? Case in point: when I proposed that the Identification Division had assigned a number to the Missing Person File Room that was based on the future numbering system of a building that was still in the blueprint stage, well, that’s getting pretty creative. Also, if the room was going to be housed on the 11th floor with all of the muckety mucks in Identification, as I’d proposed in my hypothesis, it should have had five digits, not four. It should have been room #1126-something, like 11261 or 11265. You get the gist.

So, I admit it. I was wrong. I apologize for the confusion and I humbly beg your forgiveness. As I believe I’ve mentioned in past posts, I am a human being with all of the accompanying accoutrement and baggage.

I’m not going to bore you with the precise details of how I came upon the new hypothesis because, truth be told, I don’t think I could replicate the sequence of events. Let’s just say that I read through a bunch of documents, plus I spent more time looking through the 1975 FBI phone directories, then I Googled a bunch of stuff based on what I’d learned through said documents and phone directories. Coffee was involved as well.

Now, several days later, I think we’re getting really, REALLY close to knowing the truth behind the Ident Missing Person File Room, and why some of Ron’s missing person documents were housed there.

Here’s how we’re going to do this. Far be it from me to bury the lede, so I’m going to tell you very soon—in the very next paragraph, in fact—what I discovered. Then, I’ll try to address all of the questions that I can imagine swirling around in your collective brains.

Here’s what I discovered: Room 1126 was very likely a room on the first floor of the Department of Justice Building, a building that had housed more than two-fifths of the FBI before the J. Edgar Hoover Building was completed in 1975. The division that maintained room 1126, the Ident Missing Person File Room, was very likely…wait for it…the FBI’s Special Investigative Division.

And now, some Qs and As:

Really? Are you sure?

I’m pretty darn sure. But you may have noticed that I used the words “very likely” twice in the above paragraph. That’s because, although I haven’t yet found a document that directly links room 1126 to the Special Investigative Division, I’ve discovered lots and lots of connecting dots that link the two together.

Why do you think the Missing Person File Room was in the DOJ Building?

First, the numbering format of the building fits. The DOJ Building is seven stories high, and its numbering system is always in four digits. Rooms on the first floor all begin with the number one followed by three other numbers.

Second, although I wasn’t able to find documentation of room 1126 (yet), I was able to find documentation of room 1127, which, in February 1976, was the office number of someone by the last name of Newman. Unfortunately, this particular Newman doesn’t appear to be listed in the 1975 FBI phone directories, but that’s OK. I have more to say on Newman in a second.

Third, if you examine those phone directories, you’ll see the names and abbreviations of five buildings listed at the top of the first page. These are the buildings in which the thousands of FBI staff were stationed, and they were scattered around DC and in nearby Silver Spring, MD. You’ll see the initials JEH for the J. Edgar Hoover Building and IB for Identification Building. But there’s one building that isn’t listed at all, even though people were still working inside it. In those instances, a person’s name would be listed, along with a phone extension, and a room number, but no building would be specified. I later found this was the Department of Justice Building. Furthermore, with one exception, all of the offices that were on the first floor were located in the DOJ building. 

Page 1 of the July 1975 phone directory. Note the five buildings that are mentioned with their abbreviations at the top left. At the top right are the numbers representing the divisions, with the number “9” representing the Special Investigative Division. The heads of each of the divisions are listed above the letter “A.” To look at the entire July 1975 directory, click here.

Why didn’t they write the name of the DOJ Building in the staff directory?

 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I’m thinking maybe it was for security reasons. Or maybe, because it was the main administrative building for so many years, the office culture had been to just write the room number. The only time they’d need to name a building was if they were describing a different building. Just guessing though.

Two parter: How did you figure out that the missing building in the directories was the DOJ building, and how did you tie everything to the FBI’s Special Investigative Division?

Oh, this is when things got fun. Remember Newman in office 1127? Well, the documents I found on him or her looked mighty investigative in nature. In February 1976, he or she had requested a slew of files from the Records Management Division. The files that were requested could be subversive or nonsubversive; some were restricted to the DC metro region, and others not. 

One of many records requests filed by Newman in Feb. 1976

Then I looked at the 1975 phone directories again. Many of the individuals who were listed without a building were in the FBI’s Special Investigative Division. And most of those individuals also happened to be on the first floor.

That’s when I started Googling the Special Investigative Division like mad. One person, a guy by the name of Courtney Allen Evans, had been named to head the division when it was created in 1961. According to his personnel documents that I found on the FBI Vault site, in 1962, as Evans was starting his new position, he received some room keys. Evans retired in 1964, however, those room numbers correspond to several of the rooms that are listed in the 1975 phone directory for people who worked in the Special Investigative Division, including the man in charge, William V. Cleveland.

Lastly, the annual inspections of the Special Investigative Division for 1962 and 1964 said outright that all division space is located on the first floor of the Justice Building with the exception of some employees who were on the seventh floor.

Hence: the unnamed building in the phone directories was the DOJ Building, and, in 1975, the FBI’s Special Investigative Division occupied the first floor.

Did any of Courtney Evans’ room keys happen to be for room #1126?

Sadly, no. But documents show that Courtney also had a master key to the entire first floor, which he returned when he retired.

You said there was one exception to your discovery that all of the offices that possessed first-floor room numbers in the phone directories were located in the DOJ Building. What was the exception? 

The exception was in the Identification Building, which had one room listed on the first floor, #1121. That room was the health service for the Identification Division. Although I’m a big believer in health, I wish this office hadn’t existed because its room number is very close to the number 1126, which plants a small seed of doubt regarding my theory. Nevertheless, I think the preponderance of evidence supports the notion that 1126 was in the DOJ Building.

That’s very interesting, but I’m still thinking about the health clinic in the Identification Building. Why don’t you think room 1126 was somewhere nearby?

Two reasons: First, not one person with whom I’ve spoken who had worked in the Identification Building has ever heard of the Ident Missing Person File Room. Not a soul. And I spoke with people who, if there was such a thing on the first floor of the building in which they worked, they should have known about it.

Second, it wasn’t the protocol. Missing person documents were normally filed with the Records Management Division. The missing person file room was not part of the Identification Division’s day-to-day business of handling missing person cases.

Wow. If you’re right, this would help answer a lot of questions about the Missing Person File Room stamp on Ron’s documents, wouldn’t it?

Go on…I’m listening…

Well, there’s the question of why don’t they identify the building after the room number on the stamp? But if it’s the DOJ Building, they probably didn’t feel the need to add the name of the building, just like with the phone directories.

Awesome point.

Also, there’s the question of why does the word “Ident” precede the words “Missing Person File Room”? If the room was housed somewhere in the Identification Division, they shouldn’t have to specify Ident, should they?

You know, that’s another really good point. If we put ourselves in the shoes of someone who worked in the Special Investigative Division, they might have labeled their Missing Person File Room with the prefix “Ident” to reinforce the fact that the files originated with the Identification Division. The name may have been a shout-out to the fine folks in Identification, though the file room resided within the Special Investigative Division.

What’s so special about the Special Investigative Division?

Let’s start with some historical perspective: the Special Investigative Division didn’t exist until 1961, when Courtney Evans was named to the head post by J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover had decided to split his investigations team into two divisions—the General Investigative Division and the Special Investigative Division—as a tactical maneuver to help reduce friction between the FBI and Hoover’s two nemeses, President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Both Kennedys liked and trusted Evans, and Evans served as a liaison to both men.

The General Investigative Division covered all of the typical FBI cases: murders, kidnappings, bank robberies, and the like, as well as fraud, embezzlement, and civil rights cases. 

The Special Investigative Division, on the other hand, covered three main categories. The first was organized crime, which, according to a 1975 FBI brochure, was defined as “a lawless empire involved in gambling, loan sharking, narcotics, prostitution, labor-racketeering, extortion, and any other venture where easy money can be made.” Organized crime includes the mafia, but it can also include gangs and other organized groups. The Special Investigative Division also investigated fugitives—people who escaped arrest or incarceration. They were also the group who investigated Selective Service Act violations, aka draft dodgers.

Lastly, agents in the Special Investigative Division were the ones who were called upon to investigate individuals who were being considered for employment in high or sensitive government posts under the “Security of Government Employees program.” As the 1975 brochure states, “These investigations ensure that appropriate Government officials have the necessary information on which to judge whether a person chosen to serve the American public is deserving of the trust placed in him as a public servant.”  

I’m including a link to the publication from 1975 so you can read about both divisions in more detail plus anything else of interest.

So why do you think the Special Investigative Division would have had Ron’s missing person file?

Exactly. Why would the Special Investigative Division want to investigate Ron Tammen? 

I don’t believe Ron was linked in any way to organized crime, so let’s just toss that one out right now. We know all about the source of the fish in the bed, and so did the FBI. It wasn’t the mob. And there’s no indication that Ron was involved in any of the nefarious activities previously mentioned.

What about fugitive or Selective Service Act violation cases? We already know that Ron was investigated for draft dodging beginning in 1953. But that case was closed in 1955 by the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland, Ohio. (I’ve submitted a FOIA request to the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, by the way, to find out how typical that action was.) So with the Special Investigative Division starting in 1961, I highly doubt that they would have reopened Ron’s Selective Service case. No way.

Let’s see, let’s see…so what’s left? 

What about the very happy-sounding and not-at-all-worrisome program known as the “Security of Government Employees program”? When I looked up that program, a page popped up on the National Archives and Records Administration website that states that this investigative program (labeled Classification 140 in FBI parlance) was established by the FBI in 1953 as a way of enforcing Executive Order 10450, which was the executive order signed by President Eisenhower to root out and fire gay government employees. We’ve discussed the Lavender Scare on this site before, and how the FBI was descending on civil servants and subjecting them to intense interrogation about their personal lives. Well, now we know the people who were doing it: our friends in the Special Investigative Division.

Now, recall that, in 1953, the Special Investigative Division didn’t exist yet—they inherited the program later. But Ron’s documents were very likely passed along to them—for whatever reason—after they were established in 1961.

Do you think that’s why Ron’s documents were housed there—through the Security of Government Employees program?

It’s tough to say, since we don’t have the documents. But we do know that the FBI was investigating Ron’s case far more than they would a typical missing person case. I’ve often wondered where those interview reports landed, and my current belief is that many of them may have been stored in the Missing Person File Room.

Do you think the Missing Person File Room is still in the DOJ Building?

If I’m not mistaken, the Special Investigative Division moved out of DOJ later in 1976, and into their new digs at the J. Edgar Hoover Building. In September of that year, a group representing the General Counsel to the Public Documents Commission of the DOJ was occupying Newman’s old office.

So what’s next? What can you do to find out more?

I think this information opens up new territory for Freedom of Information Act requests. First off, I need a floorplan of the DOJ building, like, pronto. I’ve attempted this before and failed. But now I have more reason to push on that.

What do you all think? Can you think of some FOIA requests that are just begging to be submitted?

Any final thoughts?

Just one: We’ve been saying all along that Ron’s missing person case was special. Apparently the FBI’s Special Investigative Division thought so too.



Update regarding my 2/23/22 blog post:

As you may recall, I’ve been trying to figure out if there was a room 1126 in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Building in the early 1970s. If I can prove that, then I think we can reasonably conclude that the Ident Missing Person File Room was under the supervision of the FBI’s Special Investigative Division.

To answer that question, I’ve been attempting to get my hands on the DOJ Building’s floor plan. But I’ve come to learn that the DOJ Building is considered one of the most secure buildings in the federal government. Translation: I won’t be getting a copy. I did manage to locate someone from the General Services Administration who has a copy of the original floor plan from the 1930s, and who was willing to tell me if there was a room 1126. Here’s what she said:

“Looking at the original (1930s) first floor plan for the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters building at 950 Pennsylvania Ave NW, there does not appear to be a room 1126. It’s possible that the building was re-numbered between 1930 and 1970, however, the original plans do not contain that number.”

So that’s disappointing.

I then asked: “Did the original floor plan show a room 1127? That could help me determine if there could have been a renumbering afterward.”

Her response was: “No, I do not see a room 1127 either.”

So here’s my thinking: unless the staff member known as Newman was working out of a different building in 1976—and I don’t think he was—they must have renumbered the rooms sometime between 1935, when the DOJ Building was completed, and 1976, when Newman was making his records requests.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Jenny, Newman’s records requests didn’t include the building name—only the number 1127. Is it possible that Newman was working out of the Identification Building? Maybe the Special Investigative Division placed him there so he’d be closer to Records Management, which I seem to recall was also located in the Identification Building.”

Wow…you have an insanely good memory. But while anything is possible, I believe I have proof that that wasn’t the case.

First, although it might have been helpful to place Newman close to Records Management, here’s the snag in that theory: Records Management was part of the Files and Communications Division, and, in February 1976, they had already been occupying the fifth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building for over a year. There would have been no reason for Newman to be in the Identification Building in 1976 as everyone else was moving out.

Also, there really, truly was (and perhaps still is) a room 1127 in the DOJ Building. I know this because I have two documents from September 1976 that tell us so.

The first is a letter dated September 15, 1976, from the deputy archivist of the United States to the General Counsel’s office of the Public Documents Commission, a commission created in 1974 to study “the control, disposition, and preservation of documents produced by federal officials, particularly the President.” It appears as though the commission took over Newman’s office shortly after he and his colleagues moved into the J. Edgar Hoover Building that same year.

The letter’s recipient, an attorney named Dori Dressander, passed away in 1999, I’m sorry to report. Otherwise, I would have definitely reached out to her to ask about the room next door and whether she had any good stories she could tell us about Newman. Some additional research on Ms. Dressander reveals that she was a respected legal scholar who had been working on a book on civil rights under the Eisenhower Administration at the time of her death. After she died, the landlord of her Washington, D.C. apartment sent all of her research papers–which were on loan to her and should have been part of Eisenhower’s Presidential Library — to the landfill, which is sadly ironic, considering her obvious belief in public access to historical records. (Note to self: revise will to donate Ron Tammen files to a millennial whom I like and trust.)

The second document is a write-up from the September 16, 1976, issue of the Federal Register that also lists room 1127, Department of Justice.

So, at least for now, our theory is holding up.

Mind you, there’s still a chance that room 1126 is or was on the first floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, but I doubt it. The stamp on Ron’s missing person documents likely preceded 1975, the year in which the Hoover building was constructed. Also, the first floor was predominantly devoted to administrative-type purposes, such as classrooms, an auditorium, and the personnel office. A computer room for the National Crime Information Center was also on the first floor, in room 1328. Although, at this point, we can’t rule out the J. Edgar Hoover Building entirely, hopefully the additional FOIA documents I’ve requested will help us do so. And who knows, maybe with those documents in hand, we’ll be knocking on the door to the Ident Missing Person File Room–a door that’s maddeningly unremarkable; a door that’s in full view but is way too easy to miss–sooner than we know.

Tuesday two-fer: two new pieces of evidence that support our theory that Ron Tammen was alive in 2002

I have a couple pieces of news for you. First, the FBI responded to my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Lyndal Ashby’s Additional Record Sheets yesterday. 

Lyndal Ashby’s Additional Record Sheets

For those who need some refreshing, Lyndal Ashby is the name of a young man who’d gone missing seven years after Ron Tammen. Ashby was 22 when he’d disappeared in 1960 from Hartford, KY, a town of roughly 2700 people on the western side of the state. His story is different from Ron’s. He was a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. According to Ashby’s obituary, after he’d gone missing, it was learned that he’d been living under a new name in California and had died on April 11, 1990. He had a family. 

Photos of Lyndal Ashby from the “Find a Grave” website

Although Ashby was cremated and his ashes were strewn in the Pacific Ocean, near the Golden Gate Bridge, his family erected a memorial to Lyndal in Walton’s Creek Church Cemetery, in Centertown, KY—the town where he was born and where he’d graduated from high school.

Ashby’s case had nothing to do with the CIA or hypnosis or any of the curious details we’ve discussed regarding Tammen’s case. However, the two cases did have at least two things in common. First, J. Edgar Hoover was very much at the helm of the FBI when both men disappeared. Second, both men had their fingerprints on file with the FBI’s Identification Division when they’d disappeared. Theoretically, the FBI protocol that had initially applied to Ron’s fingerprint records—that they be kept until he was 99 years of age—should have applied to Ashby’s fingerprint records too. Since Ashby was born in 1938, the FBI should have his fingerprint records until at least 2037.

That’s why I submitted a FOIA request for Ashby’s Additional Record Sheets. As we’ve discussed elsewhere on this site, Additional Record Sheets were sheets of paper that were part of a person’s fingerprint jacket, attached to the back of their fingerprint cards with two-pronged fasteners. Identification staff would jot down notes on them whenever they performed an action on the file and then place everything back into the fingerprint jacket. When the fingerprint cards were digitized beginning in 1999, so were the Additional Record Sheets.

Here’s what the FBI sent me.

As happy as I was to receive anything at all from them, it’s not what I was hoping for. I was hoping for the sort of document that’s in this photo, which I’d captured from an FBI video:

I was hoping for scribbles denoting every potential sighting of Ashby as well as the exact moment when the FBI figured out that he’d changed his name and was living in California.

Instead, I received Ashby’s fingerprints from his time in the military.

Do I think the FBI sent me everything in Ashby’s fingerprint jacket? I do not. Am I going to appeal? I will not.

The reason is that I’m a small person of limited means, and I need to prepare myself for bigger battles. Also, I’ve learned enough from what they’ve sent me. By sending me Lyndal Ashby’s fingerprints, the FBI has let me know something valuable: They didn’t expunge them. They didn’t expunge them when they knew he was no longer missing, and they didn’t expunge them after he died almost 32 years ago.

The FBI appears to be abiding by its record retention schedule and holding onto Lyndal Ashby’s fingerprints until at least the year 2037. (The retention period has since been extended to 110 years, so they may be holding them until then.) They ostensibly didn’t even expunge his fingerprints seven years after his confirmed death, which is part of their retention schedule protocol.

Moreover, the fact that they still have Lyndal Ashby’s fingerprints on file, and not Ron Tammen’s, reinforces the notion that the expungement of Tammen’s fingerprints was due to unusual circumstances.

We already know that Ron’s fingerprints were expunged in 2002 due to the Privacy Act or a court order. Some readers have wondered if there might have been a mass expungement of fingerprints when the FBI automated its system beginning in 1999—whether to protect the fingerprint owners or to simply thin out the numbers of prints to be digitized. Although, admittedly, Ashby was deceased by then, I don’t know the precise date when the FBI made that discovery. FBI records that I’ve received indicate that they were still conducting DNA testing for his case in February 2011. Therefore, it’s reasonably safe to conclude that there was no mass expungement of missing persons’ fingerprints sometime around 2002 due to the Privacy Act.

Court-ordered expungements in 2002

My second piece of news has to do with court-ordered expungements. You may recall that, in an effort to figure out the precise reason for Ron’s expungement—was it the Privacy Act or was it a court order?—I’d submitted two FOIA requests to the FBI. In the first, I requested documents associated with the early expungement of fingerprints between 1999 and 2002 on the basis of a court order. In the second, I requested documents pertaining to the early expungement of fingerprints for the same time period due to the Privacy Act. Both FOIA requests resulted in the same response: “Unable to identify records responsive to your request.“

I’ve since refined my request having to do with Privacy Act expungements, and I’m eagerly waiting for the FBI to acknowledge that request, which, I might add, is a thing of beauty. As for the one having to do with a court order, I’ve been letting it lie, since I wasn’t sure where to go next. 

And then, last weekend, I put two and two together. 

You may recall when I was seeking records from the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office in relation to another aspect of the Tammen case. They’d responded by sending a raft of electronic documents with only subject headings, and one of those documents was titled “COURT ORDERS RE EXPUNGMENT [sic] SHOULD GO TO BCII.” Now, I would very much love to see what the entire document has to say on that topic, and I’ve asked them to declassify it, please and thank you. But I was wondering if something can be determined now, in the meantime, from the subject head alone?

For example, exactly who or what is BCII? At first, I thought it might have been part of the FBI or Department of Justice, but I’ve found no evidence of that. What I later discovered was that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has a Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), which also has an Identification (I) Section. So they have all the necessary letters. Upon further reading, I learned that Ohio’s BCI handles court-ordered expungements for cases throughout the state of Ohio, in care of the Identification Section, and that the people there work closely with the FBI. It makes total sense that the FBI’s field office in Cincinnati would recommend that court-ordered expungements be sent to Ohio’s BCII.

Over the weekend, I’d submitted a public records request to the Ohio Attorney General’s office seeking “all segregable records pertaining to the expungement of fingerprint records that took place in the year 2002 due to a court order.” Again, I was trying to figure out if they had any court-ordered expungements at all that year, and if not, we could be certain that Ron’s expungement was not due to a court order. Of course, there could also have been 10 or 20 or 50 court-ordered expungements in 2002, in which case I’d be back to square one, not knowing if Ron’s case was among them.

Yesterday morning, I’d just gotten back from my run when I checked my phone and saw that someone had left a voicemail. It was from the chief counsel for Ohio’s BCI, and he’d called seeking more information about my request. I returned his call, expecting to be immediately directed to voicemail or at least to have to run through a menu of choices and button-pushes to reach him, but no. Dude picked up on the first ring.

You guys. You know how I think the people from the National Archives and Records Administration are rock stars when it comes to FOIA? Well, move over, NARA, because the people in the Ohio AG’s office have you beat. NARA had responded to one of my requests the next day, which is super impressive. But Ohio’s chief counsel for the BCI responded to my public records request the very same day. 

Now, before I tell you what their response was, let me just say that, in our phone conversation, as I was giving him the specifics, he let me know that they don’t maintain court orders by year. But knowing the person in question was helpful, he said, though, again, he wasn’t sure what information he’d be able to provide. I sent him all of Ron’s identifying information. I also pointed out to him that the AG’s web page on missing persons has a page devoted to Ron.

“Who knows…we may be able to solve your missing person case,” I told him.

At around 3 p.m. yesterday, I received the BCI’s response:

BCI has searched its records for “all segregable records pertaining to the expungement of fingerprint records that took place in the year 2002 due to a court order. The records that I’m seeking will document that an expungement of fingerprint records has taken place due to a court order in the year 2002.” Following receipt of your request, I contacted you by telephone to clarify your request and to narrow the focus of BCI’s search of its records.

Upon review of BCI’s records, BCI does not have any records responsive to your specific request.  As such, this concludes BCI’s response to your request. 

When we consider these two findings together, I think we can say with confidence that Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged in 2002 because of a conflict with the Privacy Act, and not because of a court order. Also, his conflict with the Privacy Act had nothing to do with a mass expungement during the period in which the FBI was switching to an automated system. 

I’m more and more certain of it: Ronald Tammen was alive in 2002 and he himself requested that his fingerprints be expunged from the FBI’s system.

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.



It sounded familiar, but why? 



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!

The FBI’s plagiarized narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 14, 2008 – The Atlanta office of the FBI is contacted by the Walker County (GA) sheriff’s office to request the “opening of a police cooperation matter.” The Atlanta office was told of Walker Co.’s interest in reopening a cold case having to do with a dead man who was found in a ditch near Lafayette in the summer of 1953. The Walker Co. sheriff’s office wanted to find out if the dead man might be Ron Tammen. According to the resulting FBI report, dated January 29, 2008, Walker Co. was “requesting Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assistance with positive identification and investigation.” The report ends with “In view of the above, it is requested that a Police Cooperation matter be opened and assigned to SA [redacted].”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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