In my recent Facebook post, I describe a newly released document that appears to be written to Griffith Wynne Williams, a hypnosis expert who’d studied under Clark Hull at the University of Wisconsin. Williams and St. Clair Switzer (Ronald Tammen’s psychology professor) would have known one another pretty well back in the day. They were graduate students under Hull at the same time, with Williams receiving his Ph.D. in 1929, the same year that Switzer earned his master’s degree. I’ve brought up Williams’ name before on this blogsite. I believe he’s the third person mentioned in our March 25, 1952, memo, along with Hull and Switzer.
In this newly discovered letter—dated December 6, 1956—the writer mentions the recipient’s workplace, Rutgers, a revelation that somehow escaped the CIA’s black pen. I know of exactly one hypnosis expert from Rutgers during that era. Griffith Wynne Williams.
December 6, 1956 letter
After reading more documents on The Black Vault from that general time period, not only am I even more convinced that the recipient was Williams, but I also believe that the letter writer was St. Clair Switzer. I also think that at the time that he was writing the letter, Switzer was on sabbatical and working with…
wait for it…
Louis Jolyon (Jolly) West.
Those are some bold assertions, I know, but I have evidence. Let’s do it this way: I’ll present two additional documents that I’ve found on The Black Vault website, one that was released in 2018 and the other that had been available on CD-ROM but that has gained new significance now that we know about the two letters. After each document, I’ll submit my arguments for why I’ve reached the above conclusions. Here we go.
February 8, 1957 letter
This letter is from the same person as before, and its recipient is also Griffith Williams. I’m 100 percent confident that it’s Williams because the letter writer refers to the recipient’s recent “attack of arthritis.” Williams had a long history with rheumatoid arthritis. Also, Williams was a respected hypnosis researcher who frequently demonstrated hypnotic phenomena before large audiences. In 1947, he hypnotized members of a theater troupe between the first and second acts to see if it might improve their acting ability, a stunt that brought him national attention. The topics of discussion in both letters were right up Williams’ alley.
Because this letter is tougher to read, I’m including the verbiage here:
8 February 1957
We were delighted to receive your most interesting letter of 22 January 1957. Sorry to hear of the attack of arthritis and we hope that it is better now. [BLANK] and I have gone over your material and suggestions and find them very useful.
The problem of the use of hypnosis by a public speaker or some related technique which could be used by an individual to control or influence a crowd is of considerable importance and as you have noted there is very little information along these lines anywhere. This area is particularly interesting to [BLANK]. He told me that he will obtain [BLANK’S] book immediately.
Your comments concerning the possibility of making the subjects do something against their ethics or religious convictions were also extremely interesting. Unfortunately, these single tests, without proper conditioning or properly building a background are not too valid. In general, your examples cover most of the experience in the field. However, the next time we see you we will tell you of some unusual work and results with which we are familiar. I found your reaction to the carotid artery technique interests me. Some people insist the technique is very dangerous and your reactions convinced me that this area could stand a great deal of work. I have not tried the technique myself but have been present when it has been done. There is some debate as to whether or not this is true hypnosis or a coma-like condition produced as a result of pressure on the artery. I’ll have to start looking for volunteers.
The rest of your suggestions and ideas are very worthwhile. As I said before I hope to discuss them with you in the near future at some greater length.
[BLANK] and I know that you are very busy what with teaching and the special work you do for the [BLANK]. We were, however, very impressed with you [sic] honesty in this field and the fact that you were willing to spend some of your valuable time with us. Sometime in the near future we will get in touch with you and try to arrange it so that our visit will not interfere with any school work or other work you may be doing. I am very much in favor of informal discussions in this [field?] at some quiet spot and perhaps we can arrange it so that you could come to the local hotel and have dinner with us and talk later.
While I know it is unnecessary for me to again caution you concerning the highly sensitive nature of this material, I will ask you to destroy this letter when you have read it.
With kindest personal regards.
Why I think St. Clair Switzer wrote the 1956 and 1957 letters
My dear BLANK
The opening to the 1956 letter, “My dear BLANK,” is pure Clark Hull. I have dozens of Hull’s letters to both Switzer and Everett Patten, Miami’s longtime department chair in psychology, and nearly every single one of them opens with that phrase. It’s cute and endearing. I think Switzer seemed to like it too. He would use it from time to time, depending on the stature of the recipient and his relationship with them. He used it in a letter to Miami University President Upham in 1936. Because he was writing to a fellow Hull student, he probably thought it would be a nice reminder of their former mentor, who’d passed away in 1952.
His use of telltale vocabulary words
In the 1956 letter, after the list of topics, the letter writer says “We grant that the above list is long and that any item individually could well deserve a Ph.D. thesis…”. In my experience, these are the words of someone who holds a doctoral degree. The general public frequently calls the product of someone’s doctoral research a dissertation. But among doctoral degree holders, they’ll frequently refer to their dissertation as a Ph.D. thesis. These are the words of someone in academia.
A telltale vocabulary word in the February 1957 letter is the reference to “conditioning” when talking about a subject being made to do something against his or her ethics or religious convictions. Clark Hull was a behaviorist who felt that all human behavior could be defined through conditioned responses. Conditioning was part of Switzer’s academic upbringing, probably Williams’ too. Switzer’s first scientific paper was titled “Backward Conditioning of the Lid Reflex.” The czar of conditioning himself—Pavlov!—had requested a reprint of Switzer’s paper back in 1932, which was a major coup. Clark Hull’s (endearing) response was “I think that if Pavlov should ask for anything that I had done I should have some kind of seizure – I don’t know just what!”
The insecure tone
Switzer’s words are gracious and deferential, but also self-important, which isn’t an easy vibe to pull off. He would be obsequious to those he viewed as “better” or more knowledgeable than he was about a particular subject area or if he needed something, both of which I think applied to Williams.
As for his self-importance—his repeated cautionary words, his bragging about being privy to insider info—I view Switzer as an insecure academic. He published very little after he returned to Oxford from WWII and he didn’t maintain strong relationships with his academic peers outside of Oxford. Therefore, he seemed to bolster his self-esteem through his association with the military.
He was writing to an old associate from his glory days with Hull
Switzer wasn’t good at making friends with colleagues. He didn’t attend professional meetings. He didn’t go to departmental picnics. He rubbed people the wrong way, especially as he got older. Because he published very little, he probably wasn’t keeping up with the scientific literature either. So, here he is, ostensibly working on a “highly classified” hypnosis project with someone big, and they have some questions about what’s currently happening in the field. Who does this letter writer contact? A person Switzer used to know in grad school.
He was approved for a sabbatical for the 1956-57 academic year
In his 1957 letter to Williams, the letter writer talks about how busy Williams must be with teaching, which made me wonder: why isn’t this person also busy with teaching? He’s an academic too. As it so happens, Switzer had been approved for a sabbatical that year. Originally, he was planning to go to UCLA to work in the laboratory of Marion A. (Gus) Wenger. (Uncle Gus! Nah…no relation.) However, that fell through at the last minute when Gus decided to go to India to study yogis.
So what’s a guy to do? Say “oh well” and go back to his regular teaching schedule at Miami? Hardly. That sabbatical had been approved two years earlier by President Millett and if Switzer could get out of a year of teaching, he surely would. I’m certain his friends in the Air Force helped him find a replacement gig, which leads us to the third document.
A proposal for “Studies in the Military Application of Hypnotism: 1. The Hypnotic Messenger”
As I said before, even though this document was included on the original CD-ROM I’d received from the CIA, it takes on new relevance when juxtaposed with the two letters that weren’t available until 2018.
First, note that it was written just two days before the February 1957 letter. Second, the timeframe is rather, um, ambitious, shall we say? The proposal writer calls the development of a hypnotic messenger “uncomplicated” and claims that he and his associate should be able to complete their project by the end of the summer. That’s a special kind of arrogance. Third, there’s no meat to this proposal. People who oversee federal grants might be inclined to call this a “trust me” proposal, something that a researcher—particularly one who is well known in his or her field—might send to a funding source before the details have all been fleshed out. (Thankfully, funders of today can spot a “trust me” proposal a mile away, and they’ll send it back unfunded.) But this proposal writer appears to be saying: “Hey, you guys, it’s me here. You know I can do the work. Heck, I have a couple other projects waiting in the wings that are MUCH harder. Can I expect the ten grand in the mail ASAP?” (In today’s money, that’s a little over $97,000.)
Why I think Jolly West was the proposal writer and St. Clair Switzer was his associate
Both West and Switzer are military officers in academia who have expertise in hypnosis. I don’t believe there would have been a large number of people meeting these qualifications back then.
The proposal writer seems to be a big deal. His cover letter is relatively informal, as if he’s on a first-name basis with the recipient. His tone isn’t the least bit deferential. They appear to have an “ask and you shall receive” sort of relationship.
The proposal writer’s cover letter also mentions a man he is fortunate to have with him “this year” who is “thoroughly familiar with hypnotism at the theoretical level.” That sounds a lot like St. Clair Switzer to me. The reference to his knowledge of hypnosis theory could certainly be attributed to his experimental work for Clark Hull’s 1933 book, Hypnosis and Suggestibility: An Experimental Approach.
On the last page, the proposal writer makes the point that both the principal investigator and his associate are academics and the work needs to be completed by summer. Guess when Switzer’s sabbatical likely ends?
West was well known to the CIA at that point. He’d communicated with Sidney Gottlieb, who headed the CIA’s MKULTRA program, about hypnosis research since at least 1953. He had other projects going on too—including his USAF study of interrogation tactics used on POWs during the Korean War and his MKULTRA Research, Subproject 43, “Psychophysiological Studies of Hypnosis and Suggestibility.”
The proposal states that volunteers would be recruited from military personnel as opposed to college students. West, who’d concluded his detail at Lackland Air Force Base, near San Antonio, in June 1956 and was now at the University of Oklahoma, had easy access to both demographic groups.
In March 1957 West had been given a SECRET security clearance for his POW interrogation research and, according to author Colin A. West, he held a TOP SECRET clearance for his work on Subproject 43. This could certainly explain why the letter writer referred to the information as “highly classified” and insisted that the letters be destroyed after they’d been read.
Since 2019, this blog has been waiting for confirmation on two CIA documents to help prove our theory: a March 25, 1952, memo that I believe recommends St. Clair Switzer and Griffith W. Williams as consultants in their hypnosis studies, and a January 14, 1953, memo that I believe recommends Major Louis J. West and the Lt. Colonel Switzer to lead a “well-balanced interrogation research center” for Project ARTICHOKE. Judging by the contents of these three documents, I don’t think our waiting is going to be in vain.
MANY THANKS to TheBlackVault.com for doing the hard work and pursuing the documents that had been missing from the CIA’s earlier release!
A commenter recently asked about Joe Cella’s 1976 revelation that, on the Friday night before Tammen disappeared, he’d stopped by the home of Glenn Dennison to pay his car insurance. She was wondering why Ron would show up at his insurance agent’s house on a Friday night to pay his premium. Who does that, right?
It’s a really good question. There were other aspects to that visit that were curious too—aspects that I haven’t discussed with you yet. So let’s talk about them now.
According to Cella’s April 18, 1976, Hamilton Journal News article, “Mrs. Dennison, who had never reported the visit to authorities, recalled Tammen came to their home Friday, April 17, 1953, about 8 p.m. to pay his car insurance premium.” Cella verified that the payment—totaling $17.45—had been made on that date through old records produced by Mrs. Dennison, who assisted her husband with his insurance business.
Dennison’s house, located on Contreras Road, is out beyond where the Taco Bell and LaRosa’s Pizza is now, and a couple miles from where Fisher Hall once stood. Also, Dennison’s business was out of his home, so it wasn’t all that weird that Tammen would show up at the house. A 1960 ad in the phone book lists his business address at Contreras Road, though it doesn’t include the house number.
What was weird was the time—8 p.m. on a Friday. Don’t most college students generally have more fun places to be on Friday nights? Why did Ron think it was so important to pay his premium then, when it wasn’t even due until April 24? He was a week early.
Here are the two things I haven’t shared with you about that visit and perhaps why Tammen might have ended up at the Dennison home at that time:
Everett Patten, the chair of Miami’s psychology department, lived on Contreras Road too. In the 1952-53 Miami Directory, his address is listed as R.R. 1, short for Rural Route 1, which tells us nothing about where he actually lived. In 1956, the Oxford telephone book listed Patten at R.D. 1, which I believe means Rural Delivery 1, and again, tells us nothing about his location. Thankfully, the 1958 Oxford phone book specified an actual house number. (By the way, if you’re thinking that he moved, I don’t think so. That was the same year in which St. Clair Switzer’s house was given a number, from his former designation of R.D. 2.)
So Everett Patten lived on the 6400 block of Contreras Road and Glenn Dennison lived and worked on the 6100 block of Contreras Road—less than a mile apart. It’s actually .4 miles.
Let’s imagine that Ron is at Dr. Patten’s house that night for some reason. We’ve already established that Patten seemed to know a lot about Ron—like Ron having dissociation in his background, for example—and we also know that the psychology department was hypnotizing students at that time. It would make a lot of sense for them to conduct their hypnosis sessions off campus, to avoid drawing attention. If Ron’s at Patten’s home on a Friday night for a hypnosis session, wouldn’t it make sense for him to stop off at Glenn Dennison’s house to pay his car insurance as long as he’s in the neighborhood? Whether coming or going, it would have been on the way.
The second thing I need to tell you is that the Campus Owls had a gig that night. According to the newspaper the Palladium Item of Richmond, IN, the Campus Owls played that Friday night from 8 to 11:30 p.m. at Short High School in Liberty, IN, which is about a 20-minute drive from Oxford.
In Cella’s article, Mrs. Dennison says, “He stayed about a half hour, talking about the Campus Owls in which he played and talked about other things.”
Of course, the times may be a little off, since Mrs. Dennison was recalling events from 23 years prior, however it still seems strange to me that Tammen would be so chatty on a night he was supposed to be in Indiana—at 8 p.m. My guess is that he didn’t go at all. And why would Ron, a guy who was forever looking for ways to earn money, choose not to go to a gig to make some additional cash?
Maybe he had something else to do that would also bring in money—something that would soon take precedence over everything else.
[NOTE: Be sure you read the comments. Stevie J raises a point about Indiana time zones that makes the Owls gig much more doable. However, a member of the Campus Owls has also provided some background intel that, in my view, makes it unlikely that Ron was going to a gig. I know we’re always being cautioned not to read the comments on other websites, but on this site, thanks to the savviness of you readers, I highly encourage it.] 🙂
The myriad ways Gilson Wright described Tammen’s open textbook without ever once using the word ‘psychology’
(Supplement to season 2, episode 4 of The One That Got Away)
One of the topics that Josh, Tyler, and I discuss in episode 4 of The One That Got Away, which dropped tonight, is the psychology book that was open on Ron’s desk the night he disappeared. We’d already established on this blog site that Joe Cella was the first reporter to reveal that it was a psychology book, and he did so in his one-year anniversary article, published in the Hamilton Journal News on April 22, 1954. Later still, 23 years after Tammen disappeared, we learned that the book was opened to “Habits,” thanks again to the intrepid Joe Cella, on April 18, 1976.
In preparing for the podcast, I thought it might be fun to document all the ways that book was mentioned in the press during the 1953-1976 time period by the two reporters who covered the case the longest, along with one other major reporter. I wanted to find out how that uber dull yet utterly intriguing psychology book became part of the Tammen narrative.
Below is a chart I created of news articles about the Tammen disappearance that mention the textbook on Ron Tammen’s desk. The three primary reporters were: Joe Cella, a reporter for the Hamilton Journal News who followed the case for more than 20 years; Murray Seeger, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who wrote one well-researched article in 1956; and Gilson Wright, a journalism professor at Miami, who also was a freelance stringer/correspondent for area papers, and a long-time adviser to student journalists at the Miami Student. Because he was a Miami employee, Wright had a conflict of interest when reporting on the Tammen case in area papers, and it shows.
As you can see, only Cella and Seeger refer to the book on Tammen’s desk as his psychology book, as highlighted in red. At no time—ever, in his entire reporting career—does Gilson Wright refer to the book as a psychology book. (He retired from Miami in 1970, but kept writing for area newspapers on occasion.) Even when he was aware of Cella’s reveal in April 1954, Wright continued to refer to it as a book or books, or a textbook or textbooks. And if the university’s search algorithm didn’t let me down, it wasn’t until 1988—35 years after Tammen disappeared and 18 years after Wright had retired—that a reporter for the Miami Student, Julie Shaw, finally described the book as a psychology textbook.
left to right: Gilson Wright, Joe Cella, and Murray Seeger
This is tangible evidence that Gilson Wright was being used by the university to hide Ron’s psychology textbook from the curious public. Officials likely didn’t want people to find out that Ron was no longer enrolled in his psychology course, and to question why the book would be there. I believe they were attempting to steer reporters and others away from the psychology department because of their hypnosis activities at that time, which could implicate them in his disappearance. If Tammen’s psych book was opened to the page I think it was opened to, that would have worried them even more.
How Joe Cella obtained the information about the textbook, I don’t know. He may have had inside sources. Maybe Chuck Findlay told him. Remember that Cella’s April 22, 1954, article also included photographs of Tammen’s room after he disappeared, which also showed the open book on Tammen’s desk. [Article is provided with the permission of the Hamilton Journal-News and Cox Media Group Ohio.] From what I can tell, those were the first and last times those photos were ever published. I’m also not sure how Cella discovered the information about “Habits,” 23 years after Tammen disappeared. My guess is that he may have obtained it from Carl Knox. By then, Knox had moved to Florida, and had agreed to appear in The Phantom of Oxford with Cella in 1976. Perhaps Knox told Cella about the book pages then because he didn’t think it would cause a ruckus by that time.
Although Wright probably had the best of intentions in his reporting at the start, it appears as if someone at the university sat him down and gave him his marching orders. His cookie-cutter articles on the Tammen case year after year with no new revelations are indicative of a man living within boundaries. It was as if he was doing everything in his power not to mention that psych book, because, by God, he never did, even after Cella let the cat out of the bag.
In an April 11, 1977, article for the Dayton Daily News, Cella is quoted as saying: “The university covered it up. They wouldn’t give you any answers.”
Damn, Joe—I do believe you’re right, and the above chart helps prove it. If Gilson Wright and his superiors were going to these lengths to hide Ron’s psychology textbook from public view, then they obviously felt that it was important to the case.
I don’t know about you, but this tells me that we’re on the right track.
A Good Man primer on the CIA’s mind control program and the universities that took part
I know what you’re thinking. “A primer about MKULTRA? YAHOO!
Well, actually, that’s probably not what you’re thinking. Very few people on this planet truly appreciate a good primer. No one ever looked forward to curling up on a rainy day with a primer. No primer has ever won a Pulitzer. Some of you may have taken one look at the above title and decided to walk away until April 19th, when you can finally see for yourself the evidence that I’ve been dangling over your heads for lo these many months and then be done with it. And I guess that’d be OK. (If you do choose to skip this one, please be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post first for an update on what to expect that day.)
But please don’t go just yet. Because A.) you’d be hurting my feelings, and B.) primers can be super useful tools. They provide background details and references you can consult if you want to know more. And you can pick and choose what topic to read up on and what to skip till later. For the people who stick it out and read the 5000-plus words I have in store for you today, you’re going to be way ahead of the game. How so? Because when I post the two CIA documents on the 19th, you’re going to immediately understand their significance and why the information contained in them is newsworthy. While everyone else is busy looking up who a particular past researcher was, you’re going to be all, “Oh. My. GOSH! So-and-so is mentioned in the same document as What’s-his-name? Incredible!” And I’ll be like, “I know, right?!?” It’ll be amazing. So, Yahoo? Ya betcha!
Do I consider myself to be an MKULTRA expert? Not even a little. This topic is daunting and depressing and scary as hell. But I’ve learned at least a few things that I think will (in a couple short weeks) help us put things in perspective Tammen-wise. That said, I also recognize that I’m perfectly capable of oversimplifying a complex topic in order to wrap my ever-shrinking brain around it, and there’s a reasonable chance that I could do so here. If you feel that I’ve left out an important point or that I could do a better job of boiling things down, please feel free to add your two cents in the comments and I’ll make amends.
And now, without further ado, here’s everything you need to know to be conversant about one of the most egregious programs ever to come out of the CIA.
What was MKULTRA?
MKULTRA was the name of the CIA’s notorious mind control program that started in the early 1950s. There were similar programs that pretty much fit under the MKULTRA umbrella, but MKULTRA is the one that has received the most press. Of all the CIA’s mind control programs, MKULTRA was the top dog, the big kahuna.
In 1977, the Senate held a Joint Hearing on MKULTRA, referring to it as the CIA’s “Program of Research in Behavioral Modification.” Mind control, behavior modification—either description is apt, since it’s all about a person or persons having control over someone’s thoughts and actions.
What was the purpose of MKULTRA?
When MKULTRA and related programs were instituted, the United States was in the throes of the Korean War, and the powers that be were concerned about preventing U.S. intelligence from getting into enemy hands. Conversely, they also had a desire to obtain as much information as possible from the other side. They knew that one key way in which this potential transfer of information could take place was during the interrogation of prisoners.
The CIA wondered if techniques such as hypnosis and drugs could help prevent agency personnel and others from saying too much to potential captors while, if used in an alternative way, encouraging enemy operatives to share state secrets as openly as if they were shooting the breeze over a game of Canasta. As the CIA got further into things, their goals for the program crept into other areas. In the Senate Report, MKULTRA was described as “concerned with the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.”
Why was it called MKULTRA?
The CIA likes to assign bizarre names—called cryptonyms—to its programs to keep everyone in the dark about what they’re up to. One might be tempted to think that the MK is an abbreviation for “mind control,” but that would be way too obvious. Rather, MK is a digraph for the division of the CIA that oversaw the MKULTRA program, which was the Technical Services Staff (TSS), later renamed the Technical Services Division. As for the“ULTRA” part, during WWII, that word was used by British intelligence when referring to the highly sensitive information derived from encrypted German signals after they’d been decoded. Such info was also described as being “ultra secret.” With the CIA employing so many seemingly off-the-wall cryptonyms to describe its programs, the name MKULTRA seems to stand out as one that holds more meaning than most. The fact that they felt that this particular program should be held to a higher level of secrecy is especially noteworthy, since they pretty much feel that every single program they’re involved with is top secret, exempt from FOIA, and, to put it exceedingly mildly, nobody’s business but their own.
How was Project MKULTRA initiated?
In an April 3, 1953, memo written to CIA Director Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, then deputy director of the CIA, described some program activities as being “of such an ultra-sensitive nature” that they needed to be handled a little differently than the CIA’s usual way of handling outside contracts. He guesstimated that roughly 6 percent of their projects fell under this overall description whereby “they cannot and should not be handled by means of contracts which would associate CIA or the Government with the work in question.”
Helms then described the two categories as:
“Research to develop a capability in the covert use of chemical and biological materials.” [Read the full paragraph below.] And
Sorry, you don’t get to know about category B. [See the redacted paragraph below.]
Helms then laid out a plan by which the fewest number of people possible should know about the intentions of the government, including most of the people who were doing the actual work and where TSS should be given carte blanche to authorize the payment of invoices that fall within these two categories. The project would be called MKULTRA and TSS’s only restriction was that they stay within 6 percent of their approved budget. He closed with “The establishment and approval of Project MKULTRA will allow TSS to undertake highly desirable and necessary research in these two sensitive fields which would not be possible unless the work can be handled in this manner.” [Read the entire document here.]
On April 10, 1953—a Friday—CIA Director Allen Dulles stood before the National Alumni Conference of the Graduate Council of Princeton University in Hot Springs, Virginia. In his speech, titled “Brain Warfare,” Dulles treated attendees to frightening tales of how the Soviets and Chinese were able to both break down individuals’ old belief systems through extreme interrogation practices and instill new belief systems through indoctrination. In so doing, they were able to induce American citizens and others of the free world to make false confessions and even renounce their democratic ideals.
“This campaign for men’s minds, with its two particular manifestations, has such far reaching implications that it is high time for us to realize what it means and the problems it presents in thwarting our own program for spreading the gospel of freedom.”
The following Monday, April 13, 1953, Dulles put his official stamp of approval to Richard Helms’ April 3 memo, ramping up the government’s activities in mind and behavior control. [Read the April 13, 1953, memo here.]
What were the other related programs that fell under the mind control umbrella?
The way most people have described these programs is that BLUEBIRD was the first, which gave way to ARTICHOKE, which then evolved into MKULTRA. However, that explanation is a tad too simplistic, since, even after MKULTRA had gotten its official start, ARTICHOKE was still going strong.
BLUEBIRD, the first of the mind control programs, was authorized on April 20, 1950. According to the report of the Senate Select Committee on MKULTRA, dated August 3, 1977: “Its objectives were: (a) discovering means of conditioning personnel to prevent unauthorized extraction of information from them by known means, (b) investigating the possibility of control of an individual by application of special interrogation techniques, (c) memory enhancement, and (d) establishing defensive means for preventing hostile control of Agency personnel.” A fifth goal was then added: “the evaluation of offensive uses of unconventional interrogation techniques, including hypnosis and drugs.”
ARTICHOKE was officially on the books as of August 20, 1951, with the renaming of Project BLUEBIRD. ARTICHOKE was principally involved with “in-house experiments on interrogation techniques conducted ‘under medical and security controls which would ensure that no damage was done to individuals who volunteer for the experiments.’ Overseas interrogations utilizing a combination of sodium pentothal and hypnosis after physical and psychiatric examinations of the subjects were also part of ARTICHOKE.” The report says that “the CIA maintains that the project ended in 1956.” however, it also asserts that “special interrogation techniques” continued for several more years.
As for the other programs:
MKNAOMI had to do with the stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons “for specific use by the Technical Services Division.” The CIA was assisted in this venture by the Special Operations Division at Fort Detrick, MD, the same place where Frank Olson had worked.
MKDELTA was the program that oversaw the use of MKULTRA materials overseas. According to the Senate Report, this program probably began in 1953, and maybe as early as 1950.
MKSEARCH is probably the least-often mentioned program associated with CIA mind control. Interestingly, it was the name that replaced MKULTRA in 1964, which just goes to show us how some efforts at rebranding don’t work out very well.
When did these programs finally end?
In November 1969, President Nixon called for the end of the use and stockpiling of bioweapons, which brought MKNAOMI to a halt in 1970. As for MKULTRA/MKSEARCH, according to former CIA Director Stansfield Turner, the program ran until 1972, 22 years after the start of BLUEBIRD.
When were the MKULTRA documents destroyed?
In January 1973, Sidney Gottlieb, who headed up TSS’s chemical division, ordered all documents pertaining to the program to be destroyed in an effort to keep MKULTRA from the public. This was at the behest of then-CIA director Richard Helms, whom, as you’ll recall, was the guy who authored the memo that put MKULTRA into motion. Thankfully, they’d forgotten about the financial documents, underscoring the happy truths that everyone makes mistakes and what goes around eventually comes back around. Oh, and as for karma? It’s a comfort to know that she is and always has been quite the little bitch.
Why would someone give MKULTRA the green light?
Allen Dulles’ Brain Warfare speech serves as an excellent example of Cold War logic and the code-red-level fear of Communism it incited. Also, weird stuff had been happening. In 1949, Josef Cardinal Mindszenty, leader of the Catholic church in Hungary and staunch opponent to Communism, was tried for treason by the Soviets, and his dazed expression and willingness to admit to acts he hadn’t committed led many to believe he’d been drugged or hypnotized.
In 1952, it was widely reported that American POWs had been recorded admitting that the United States had been using germ warfare, such as disease-carrying bombs, on the Koreans. The government vehemently denied such activities and claimed that the prisoners had been forced into such confessions. As Dulles described in his speech:
“Here American boys—their identity is beyond doubt—stand up before the members of an international investigatory group of Communists from Western Europe and the Satellites and make open confessions, fake from beginning to end, giving the details of the alleged dropping of bombs with bacteriological ingredients on North Korean targets. They describe their indoctrination in bacteriological warfare, give all the details of their missions, their flight schedules, where they claim to have dropped the germ bombs, and other details. As far as one can judge from the film, these pseudo confessions are voluntary. There is little prompting from the Communist interrogators.”
As far as everyone was concerned, brainwashing—a term first used in September 1950 by CIA-paid journalist and author Edward Hunter—seemed like the only plausible explanation.
So, were the Cardinal Mindszenty and the POWs actually brainwashed?
Cardinal Mindszenty had indeed been treated harshly by his Soviet captors. A fellow captive, Father Bela Ispanky, told of his and the cardinal’s unspeakable treatment in a 1956 interview with the International News Service:
“I saw the room. I heard the crackle of high voltage electric current as it passed through his frail body. I heard the cardinal’s voice as they tried to break him in the room adjoining my own with third degree treatment. The next day I was in the same torture chamber, where I saw the tell-tale marks. The wall behind the electric activating switch was completely blackened by fresh burn marks indicating the current had been on for a long, long time.”
As for the POWs, this topic remains controversial, and some researchers contend that the prisoners were telling the truth and that the CIA’s claims that they were brainwashed were designed to both cover up for U.S. bioweapons activities in Korea AND to justify the CIA’s mind control experiments back home and elsewhere. [A recently released report on the topic of bioweapons can be found here.] Frank Olson’s son Eric believes that bioweapons were the reason behind his father’s death in November 1953. According to the Netflix documentary series Wormwood (spoiler alert), Frank Olson was slipped LSD in his drink, not so much because the CIA wanted to test the drug on a bunch of unsuspecting bureaucrats on retreat, but because of Olson’s knowledge of and outrage over the U.S.’s (alleged) use of bioweapons in Korea. The documentary contends that CIA representatives were using LSD as a truth serum to find out if Frank was planning to blow the lid off the government’s (alleged) bioweapons activities. Within the week, Frank Olson would (allegedly) “jump” from the tenth floor of Manhattan’s Hotel Statler.
What sorts of activities did MKULTRA and its related programs fund?
We’ll probably never know the complete truth behind MKULTRA. If you peruse the documents that are available and read some of the passages on the creative ways the CIA hatched to control people’s thoughts and actions, you’ll be sufficiently creeped out. But these are just the financial files. The Senate Report on MKULTRA described how the CIA maintained two documents on a project: one went to TSS, and the other version, which was said to be sanitized, went to the financial division. As former Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania said at the time: “I wonder what the real files contain.”
To this day, even certain portions of the so-called sanitized versions of these documents remain redacted, so I’m sure we’re missing out on some mind-blowing details. Nevertheless, what we do know is that there were 149 subprojects that ran the gamut from hypnotizing unwilling subjects to giving LSD to prisoners in Kentucky to constructing safe houses of prostitution to any number of assorted, sordid projects. [Find the full list of subprojects in Appendix C of the Senate Report, here.]
Who oversaw MKULTRA?
As we’ve discussed above, the office most closely associated with MKULTRA for the longest period of time is the Technical Services Staff (TSS), which was renamed the Technical Services Division and, later, the Office of Technical Services. (Is it just me or does the CIA like to change its org chart on occasion to keep us all guessing about that too?) However, it all began when the Office of Security and its director, Sheffield Edwards, initiated Project BLUEBIRD in April 1950 as a way of corralling agency-wide interest in the operational use of hypnosis. With an eye mostly on protecting the agency from infiltrators, Edwards set up interrogation teams consisting of a psychiatrist, a polygraph operator who specialized in hypnosis, and a technician. But make no mistake, the security folks were very interested in understanding what was happening on the world stage in the area of mind control and getting ahead of that ball.
In March 1951, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI), which, as its name implies, was composed mainly of science types as opposed to the law and order guys in security, took over BLUEBIRD and, later, ARTICHOKE. The security office, whose official name at that time was the Inspection and Security Office (IS&O), continued to do a lot of the leg work, however. This is why we have Commander Robert Jay Williams, who was with OSI and listed as project coordinator of ARTICHOKE at that time, in the “To” line of a March 1952 document that I believe links an associate of Ronald Tammen’s to that program.
Unfortunately, people are people, no matter how well-run the bureaucracy, and there were growing signs of friction between the two offices. OSI complained that IS&O wasn’t making enough progress on the science pertaining to ARTICHOKE techniques—they were mostly practicing hypnosis on staff and working on a training video—while IS&O felt that OSI wasn’t giving them enough information to work with. On October 29, 1952, ARTICHOKE was handed back over to IS&O, however, not for long. According to John Marks’ book, a couple years later, it was transferred to “yet another CIA outfit full of Ph.D.’s with operational experience”—TSS. Also, when MKULTRA was approved in April 1953, it, too, was given to TSS, which is where the program remained until it came to an end in 1972.
Which people oversaw it?
We’ve already discussed Sheffield Edwards and Commander Robert Jay Williams, who, I might add, had never been spoken of online with regard to his role in ARTICHOKE before we did on this blogsite. (We rock, y’all!) However, the person who was most in the trenches during MKULTRA’s formative years was Morse Allen, a security guy who, according to John Marks, headed up BLUEBIRD at the end of 1950, before it was handed over to OSI. Even after that happened, it was Allen who was often overseeing IS&O’s part of the collaboration, and, even though his name is often redacted, he appears to be the author on many memos that have survived from that period. Allen was born on March 6, 1910, in Washington, D.C., served in WWII, and was employed as a civil servant before signing on with the CIA. He was super zealous about the possibilities of hypnosis, and apparently had become fairly good at the technique himself. (Unfortunately, there isn’t much that I can link to online to provide additional background on Allen. I will, however embed the CIA’s initial response to author H.P. Albarelli’s 2015 FOIA request on Allen from the website MuckRock.com, because it also shows how difficult the CIA chooses to be in handling a simple request on a person who is well known to the CIA. He got the same treatment I got for Commander Robert Jay Williams. There was no other Morse Allen. Would they send the same reply for a request about Allen Dulles, I wonder?)
Once MKULTRA was approved, the person most involved was Sidney Gottlieb. Gottlieb didn’t head all of TSS at first—that was Willis Gibbons, a former executive with U.S. Rubber. Rather, he headed the chemical division of TSS, the arm that had direct oversight of MKULTRA, most likely because drugs and other chemicals played such a big role in the program. Gottlieb was an enigmatic man with eclectic interests, from raising goats to folk dancing to spearheading humanitarian efforts and it’s difficult to understand how he rationalized his work life with how he spent his time off hours. Nevertheless, the times were strange back then, and he believed in what he did, right up to the end. Robert Lashbrook, the man who was with Frank Olson on his fateful night, was Gottlieb’s former deputy.
What other government organizations took part?
Military intelligence collaborated with the CIA in these programs, including Army, Navy, and Air Force intelligence. According to John Marks’ book, the Army and Navy were most interested in “truth drugs,” while the Air Force was concerned with “interrogation techniques used on downed pilots.”
Which universities have been identified as having conducted research through MKULTRA so far?
In 1977, it was widely reported that 80 institutions played some role in MKULTRA, a number that included 44 colleges and universities. Because the ties to the CIA were often hidden by intermediary funding sources, many of these schools and the researchers themselves had no idea that they were linked to such a program. They were referred to as unwitting. The names of the institutions that have been publicly identified, and which then–CIA Director Stansfield Turner claimed were notified by the CIA in 1977 of their involvement, are listed below. Note that we still don’t have all 44 colleges or universities identified. (Sources: MKULTRA Briefing Book; The CIA Doctors, by Colin A. Ross; The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, by John Marks; NY Times; Alliance for Human Research Protection.)
University of Delaware
University of Denver
George Washington University
University of Florida
University of Georgia (the word “Leler” inexplicitly precedes the university’s name in most lists)
University of Helsinki
University of Houston
University of Illinois
University of Indiana
Johns Hopkins University
University of London
University of Maryland
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
McGill University, Montreal
University of Minnesota
Montana State College
University of Nijmegen Netherlands
Ohio State University
University of Oklahoma
University of Richmond
University of Rochester
Texas Christian University
University of Texas
University of Wisconsin
Who were some of the best-known university researchers with MKULTRA ties?
Many university researchers were connected to MKULTRA, however, most were considered unwitting participants, since they had no idea who they were working for. Here are three university researchers who seemed to be more witting than most in their activities. As illustrious as the rest of their careers may have been, their names have been indelibly linked to, and almost synonymous with, MKULTRA.
D. Ewen Cameron was a world famous psychiatrist who had immigrated to Canada in 1929 from Scotland. He was director of the Allan Memorial Institute, McGill University’s psychiatric facility, from 1943 to 1964. So revered was he in his field, he was elected president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, American Psychiatric Association, and the World Psychiatric Association. Cameron treated his psychiatric patients through a process called “depatterning,” in which he would subject them to drug-induced sleep and electroshock therapy to a point where they would be reduced to a childlike state. He’d received MKULTRA funding through Subproject 68, which was “to study the effect upon human behavior of the repetition of verbal signals,” a procedure he called “psychic driving” in which he played audio signals to patients on continuous loop for hours each day, every day, for weeks or even months. Needless to say, the harm he inflicted on his patients was profound. In May 2018, victims and their family members launched a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government for its role in helping fund his unconscionable experiments.
George Estabrooks was the chair of the psychology department at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. Estabrooks was a hypnosis expert, and, according to John Marks’ book, he’d advised the military on hypnosis since the early 1930s. In 1943, he wrote a book for public consumption on “Hypnotism,” in which, among other topics, he discussed potential military applications, including the creation of a multipersonality “Super Spy.” He described the process in great detail—not hypothetically, but from real-life experience—in this 1971 article from “Science Digest.” He also said, “I can hypnotize a man — without his knowledge or consent — into committing treason against the United States.” According to Colin A. Ross, M.D., author of “The CIA Doctors,” George Estabrooks is “the only psychiatrist or psychologist to have claimed in public that he created Manchurian Candidates.”
Louis Jolyon (“Jolly”) West was a renowned psychiatrist at the University of Oklahoma before becoming chair of UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry and director of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institutein 1969. Before his move into academia, West had been a major in the U.S. Air Force, and had been stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where he studied the indoctrination of POWs who had converted to Communism. West was the investigator of MKULTRA Subproject 43, titled, “Psychophysiological Studies of Hypnosis and Suggestibility.” His name became infamous when he accidentally killed a beloved Asian elephant named Tusko at the Oklahoma City Zoo using massive amounts of LSD. Here’s more on Jolly West.
Who were the victims?
Who are the usual victims when humans are inhumane to other humans? People who are most vulnerable. Prisoners. Prostitutes. People with mental health issues. Foreigners. So-called “sexual deviants.” Members of racial minorities. Lowly students in need of some cash. Anyone whom the CIA considered expendable seemed to be fair game.
How did researchers get funded?
As Richard Helms discussed in his April 3, 1953, memo to Allen Dulles, the CIA wanted to keep the actual funders of these research projects secret. As a result, CIA front organizations were established so that researchers would be none the wiser about where the money was coming from. Two of the most well-known to help serve as intermediaries were the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology and the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research.
What is meant by the term “Manchurian Candidate”?
In 1959, author Richard Condon wrote his bestselling novel “The Manchurian Candidate,” which was turned into a movie in 1962, and again in 2004. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to watch it asap (the 1962 version, natch). The story is about Sergeant Raymond Shaw who’d been captured during the Korean War and, through hypnosis, is turned into a sleeper agent and political assassin by the Communists. (Fun fact: Angela Lansbury is actually three years younger than Laurence Harvey, even though she plays his mother in the film. Dang, that woman was good at her craft.)
What’s most amazing is that Condon, thinking he was making the story up, had pretty much nailed what the U.S. government had been working toward when he wrote his book. According to a 2010 article by author H.P. Albarelli and psychologist and investigative researcher Jeffrey S. Kaye, a March 1952 CIA document told of an OSI objective in which “‘Two hundred trained [CIA] operators, trained in the United States, could develop [and command] a unique, dangerous army of hypnotically controlled agents’ who would carry out any instructions they were given without reservations.” In the same article, the researchers told of another 1952 document in which an ARTICHOKE official wrote, “Let’s get into the technology of assassination.”
We also know of this document in which members of the ARTICHOKE team are investigating the possibility of creating an unwitting foreign assassin. That project failed, but who’s to say they didn’t try, try again?
Did the CIA ever succeed at creating a Manchurian candidate?
According to the CIA, they didn’t. But, honestly, do you think they’d tell us if they did? Let’s look at it this way: Did they have a desire to create hypnotically controlled assassins? We know that they did. Do we know of political assassinations during that period in which someone who was implicated in the killing appeared to have memory issues, or had been recently hypnotized? We have evidence of that too. Robert F. Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassinations, both of which took place in 1968, have a possible hypnosis link. I mean, guys, it’s still me here. I need evidence before I buy into something. I know some of you are dyed-in-the-wool skeptics as well. But it’s a question worth looking into. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. These people are asking that the two cases, along with JFK’s and Malcolm X’s cases, be reopened as well.
Finally, this 1980 article posted online in the CIA’s reading room discusses highly-respected hypnosis expert Dr. Milton Kline, who was concerned about the CIA’s efforts in creating a Manchurian candidate. As to its feasibility, the article quotes Kline as saying, “It cannot be done by everyone. It cannot be done consistently, but it can be done.” Kline went on to say that “given the proper subject and circumstances, by using hypnosis he could produce such a killer in three to six weeks.”
So, again, I ask, if creating a hypnotically controlled Manchurian candidate can be done, and if the CIA was committing so many people and resources to making it happen, who’s to say that they didn’t achieve it?
What’s coming on April 19, 2019?
On April 19, I’ll be showing you all of my cards. Here’s the plan: at 8 a.m. ET (roughly—my automatic scheduler isn’t always precise), I’ll be posting the two documents that I think implicate someone Ronald Tammen knew in assisting with his disappearance, and I’ll spell out my current theory. In my view, this new information could potentially add at least one more university to the MKULTRA list, a university that many of you readers know…and love…and honor. I will also be sharing a couple people’s remembrances, one of which (I believe) places ARTICHOKE in the front yard of Fisher Hall in the fall of 1952.
From 1 to 2 p.m. ET, I’ll be hosting a Twitter chat, where you’ll be able to pose questions about those documents or anything else Tammen-related. You can take part in the conversation by tweeting and following the hashtag #Tammenchat. My social media adviser will be helping me out (thanks, sis!), but please keep in mind that neither of us is an expert at this. We just thought it would be fun to try. I’ll also leave comments open on the blog site just in case people prefer to have a discussion that way. I’ll answer as many questions as humanly possible. (Btw, my Twitter handle is @jwwenger. Please follow me! So far I have a small number of followers, and I’d love to drive that number up.)
If you happen to live or work anywhere near Oxford, Ohio, consider stopping by Mac & Joe’s during that hour (or a little after) and saying “hi.” I’ll be giving out some awesome Tammen key chains to the first 50 people. And if 50 people don’t stop by, well, I’ll give what’s left to the Mac & Joe’s waitstaff for being such good sports. It’s all good.
Then, on April 20, I’ll be putting the blog to bed. It’ll still be up and running, and I may add some different tools and functions and whatnot, but the posts will end and I’ll essentially be going back underground, subsisting mainly on roots and grubs. I’ll also be attempting to find an agent during that time and, you know, writing. The minute I hear from the interagency panel about whether they’ve supported my appeal to have the name revealed of my person of interest, I’ll post that update on the blog. If you follow me, you’ll be pinged, and we’ll all have our answer. If the news is good, there may be a party. I’ve always dreamed of getting all of my sources and loyal blog readers into one room for a giant meet and greet. We’ll see how it goes. As I’ve said before, this could take a while—years even.
Sound like a plan? Have I forgotten anything? Hope to see or tweet with you on the 19th!
Well, it’s finally happened, my peeps. I’ve been hypnotized. Yep, yours truly has experienced a trancelike state, and you know, I feel no different. Well, that’s not true. I feel a lot more knowledgeable about what the technique is all about; I feel silly for having been so scared in the first place; and I feel like I want to try it again.
First, a little bit about my hypnotist: His name is Anderson Hawes, and he’s one of the more interesting people I’ve encountered since I moved back to Ohio. He’s smart but unpretentious. Colorful and expressive but calming and confident. And he plays a mean harmonica.
By my count, Hawes—he goes by Andy—has three jobs. First, he’s a licensed professional clinical counselor, social worker, and licensed chemical dependency counselor who’s been in practice for 29 years. In addition, he’s the vice president of sales at an industrial software firm. Lastly, he’s the lead singer for the Fabulous Voices Band, a local cover and dance band that plays all the great songs. It seems as though everyone in my town and the next two towns over knows Andy, so I feel a little embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to get to know him too. But better late than never, I guess.
Because of his busy schedule, it took us a while to pin down a day, which turned out to be Wednesday, March 20. Andy told me that he’d be leading a self-hypnosis workshop in another town and asked if I would I like to tag along. He said I could interview him the whole way there and back (about a half hour each way) and then take part in the workshop, which would include a roomful of hypnotists and other interested people like me, who just wanted to learn more.
“Fantastic,” I said.
When I got to his office, he was catching up on some work, so he gave me several instructive handouts to review that he’d written for the workshop. Immediately, I felt myself begin to calm down. The process seemed more meditative in nature as opposed to what I’d always imagined, where a hypnotist exerts some kind of magical force over you and, before you know it, you’re clucking like a chicken.
“All hypnosis can be considered self-hypnosis,” the document said. Also, it said that we’ve been using self-hypnosis since we were kids. Every time we pretend, imagine, daydream, meditate, or even pray, we’re using self-hypnosis. The handout also said that “Problems are often the result of hypnosis happening naturally,” and that “problem behaviors become reinforced when situations cause us to message ourselves unintentionally with defensive or self-defeating ideas or strategies.” Stressing ourselves out was a good example of that, he’d written—a skill I’ve always excelled at. Apparently I was already something of a hypnosis aficionado without even realizing it.
When it was about time to leave for the workshop, Andy came around his desk and asked if I wanted to go into a trance. “Yes,” I said. (That step is important. To be hypnotized, you have to be willing to be hypnotized—the whole “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis” idea—and therefore open to following his suggestions.) He asked me to position my hands a certain way in front of my eyes and to concentrate on them as he wrapped an invisible string around them. He then instructed me to drop my hands and, as he told me that I was going deeper into the trance, I felt my arms grow heavier, more and more weighted down, and a little tingly, as if someone had injected them with low-dose novocaine. He then said that one of my hands would feel lighter than the other and that it would begin to float toward my face. And, yeah, my right hand did feel lighter. It didn’t make it the entire way to my face, but given a little more time, it might have. And then he brought me back to the here and now and we left for the workshop.
Was I the most suggestible person he’d ever met? Hardly. But I think with practice, I could get better at focusing and buying into the experience. And that’s part of the process too.
Despite Andy’s excellent sense of humor, he gets serious and scientific when he talks about hypnosis. He’s a member of the Dana Brain Alliance, a nonprofit organization that sponsors Brain Awareness Week (which was March 11- 17 this year) so he keeps up on the latest scientific literature on neuroscience and the brain.
Andy views hypnosis as a useful and cost-effective tool to help people tap into their brains directly as a way of solving problems. Whereas a clinical therapist might engage in in-depth discussions to get to the root of a problem, a hypnotherapist can get there much more rapidly by accessing the subconscious and reprogramming some of a person’s old beliefs into new ones.
“If I do that kind of cognitive work, let’s say through standard therapeutic verbal talk and the Socratic method, that might take 20 sessions,” he told me, “but I can do it in one session with hypnosis because I can bypass all of their resistance and get a buy-in and get the person motivated to want that. And once they want it, then we can acquire it, like immediately, by just cutting right to the chase.”
Andy acknowledges that not everyone has used hypnosis for good, such as in the controlling way that we’ve been discussing on this blog, however that’s not normally the case. “Most hypnosis is done with a lot of permission and it’s done for the good of the person and usually for certain targeted behaviors,” he said.
Here are some of his takes (occasionally shortened or paraphrased) on a few of the more popular questions I asked him as we drove to and from the workshop. Apologies in advance for not getting to all of the questions that were suggested, insightful as they were. However, I think we were able to hit most of the big stuff.
JW: When is it more appropriate to go to a licensed hypnotist such as yourself as opposed to doing self-hypnosis?
AH: Most people look at the changes they want to make at the surface. They want to quit smoking. They want to lose weight. They want to feel less anxiety. They’re depressed. But what they’re not aware of are the things that are underneath—that the fact that they’re smoking is because they worry a lot and they worry a lot because they weren’t parented very well, or they had a car accident and they’re afraid they’re going to have another car accident and smoking takes away that fear. So they’re medicating, they may even be enjoying it, but they don’t know how they got into that situation.
When I work with someone and I’m doing an assessment, I’ll dig up all the stuff that I think could be contributing to that by looking at their history, their pattern, their temperament, etc. I’ll start digging in and looking at the precursors. I’ll also look very closely at what they’re getting out of eating or cigarette smoking or worrying or whatever it is. I’ll also measure if they’re a sequential thinker or if they think holistically, which we normally call attention deficit disorder, though it’s not really a disorder. We just call it that because they have a hard time sitting in a classroom doing sequential learning. They want to look at the big picture. Once we know all of that about a person, we can come up with a strategy to help bring about a change. And the method can be enhanced more directly if that person isn’t blocking it because of fears or insecurities. That’s where hypnosis comes into play—to remove whatever might block a person’s response to treatment.
JW: Is there a personality trait that would make a person more hypnotizable or suggestible?
There’s definitely a skill involved with going inside and staying with your imagination. And some people become so focused on linear thinking and learning and existing in the outside world that they don’t indulge themselves as much in the inside world. But there are other people who have spent their whole lives daydreaming and pulling themselves inside. So obviously those people are more comfortable and more skilled at going inside and working their own…let’s call it a trance. And they’re using their imagination to visualize or feel or hear and then exhibiting behaviors that are consistent with that internal process. The other people are more calculating, and those different kinds of thinking access different parts of the brain. So they may not think they’re hypnotizable, but in fact, with a little bit of coaching and a little bit of training, they can experience the same depth of trance that most other people can experience.
Now there are people who, by nature, are more comfortable and can go even deeper and can completely lose their sense of reality much more deeply with suggestions than other people. If you look at a bell curve, you’ve got the norm in the middle and you’ve got people on either extreme. But most people—about 80 percent of everybody—can visualize a lemon sitting in the refrigerator, can feel it, and will salivate if I suggest to them that they cut it and squeeze it over their tongue. Eighty percent of everybody gets a little parched and swallows.
JW: I just did that.
AH: You just did that, right? But you went right there. And other people may go up in their head and logically deduce or be kind of observing themselves doing the exercise so much so that they might miss out on that experience. But nonetheless, with a little bit of training and coaching, as long as they’re interested or willing, they can go there. If they’re hell bent on staying in control and staying in the present, if they have fear, they can resist that, and many people do. It takes a little bit of intelligence to be hypnotized, not a lot. It doesn’t take a lot of heavy lifting. But it does take a willingness.
JW: What are the most important elements required to put someone into a trance?
AH: The standard formula of hypnosis is to help a person relax so much that they open their mind and become less guarded and that reveals an access to the part of their brain that is kind of running everything without your awareness—your heart, lungs, etc. So we’re tapping into a level of your consciousness that is below your level of awareness. And we call that your subconscious.
There was a guy who studied yoga, hypnosis, prayers, religions, spiritual healing, and all these other things, and he found that they all have three things in common. One of the three things is that you slow your breathing down. The second thing is to focus your thinking. You focus on something that somebody’s talking about or maybe something that doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning. And, third, you also have to have what we call a dismissive attitude. You have to be willing to let go of A in order to experience B.
You can hypnotize dogs. You can hypnotize chickens. There’s a video of this girl who hypnotizes frogs and everything, she’s quite amazing, and she can bring them out of it. And she just does it with this calming, soothing voice. They’re not intelligent. Animals don’t think of the future or the past. They just live in the here and now.
But this is a natural phenomenon. And we’re just learning how it works and how to use it. Hopefully for good. But it can be used to sell. It can be used to persuade people. It can be used for entertainment. But it’s all the same thing—tapping into these three principles that Herbert Benson outlined in his book called The Relaxation Responseafter doing a lot of research.
JW: I found it interesting in the handout, you said that, with self-hypnosis, you’re replacing certain bad habits that probably originated when you talked yourself into those at some point.
AH: Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize, how did this cigarette become in control? It started with smoking one and overcoming the negative side of it. When people first smoke, they often experience a bad feeling—shortness of air, irritation, they cough, they turn green because of the nicotine—but they reinterpret it in their mind that they want to look like James Dean. And so they visualize that and that minimizes their feeling of pain and accentuates finding the pleasure in it.
JW: What are your thoughts on the use of truth serum with hypnosis?
AH: Truth serum, like sodium pentothal, is a sedative, so it’s going to lower inhibition, and when it lowers inhibition, naturally, a person is less inhibited, so they’re more likely to go with any kind of suggestion.
JW: I’ve watched demos on YouTube, and some people go real deep into a trance almost immediately. Have they achieved the optimal brainwave—theta is it?
AH: That’s part of it. They’re slowing their brain down and they’re less conscious, but their attention is directed inwardly. And their attention goes to a point where they’re in a little trance or a deepened state where a suggestion becomes real, sort of like the idea of salivating at the image of the lemon, which, as you can see, doesn’t take a deep trance to get there. But by deepening the trance more and more, people can experience either a positive hallucination, where they believe something is there that isn’t there, or a negative hallucination, where something that is there becomes invisible to them. So the mechanisms behind that are either the brain sees it and negates it or doesn’t see it and puts it there.
We still have not completely discovered how a lot of these mechanisms really occur. It’s still very theoretical. But we know that people who have brain injuries, where one part of the brain is damaged, can train another part of their brain to take over that function. They can learn to walk. They can learn to drive, even though the part of the brain that was operating that activity is no longer functioning. The brain has that elasticity, that adaptability. So these are adaptive functions that exist in all of us so that we can ultimately survive. So by knowing how it works, we can do some other interesting things, like make someone feel no pain when we’re doing surgery, or if someone normally feels anxiety and fear when they’re flying in an airplane or when they’re riding a chair lift at a ski resort, we can make it so that they can just totally relax and focus on the enjoyment of that whole experience.
JW: Let’s say that you’ve given someone the posthypnotic suggestion that the thought of a cigarette will make them feel ill or disgusted. How long does that posthypnotic suggestion last?
AH: Theoretically, a posthypnotic suggestion can work as long as it’s reinforcing. If you think about it, someone hypnotized that person to smoke. We’re just undoing that hypnosis and giving them a different way of looking at it again.
I ran the heroin clinic in Akron for 20 years and I never met a heroin-addicted person who didn’t tell me that they at one time swore they would never use a needle. And the only reason they used the needle is because a friend talked them into it, or after they were high without using a needle, they were more suggestible and less inhibited, and somebody said, “Look, you’ve been inhaling heroin, it tastes terrible, use a needle. And we don’t have much, but we want to get high, so this is more efficient.” You know, they gave them a reason to go along with it and they did it. And once they’ve experienced it, they found out it didn’t hurt and it did feel even better than they’ve ever imagined, and of course they want to do it again. James Baldwin in his famous book about heroin addiction said heroin is so good, don’t even do it once. But that’s not true for everybody. It’s only true for the people who buy into it, who maybe have some rationale that it supports. That’s why when we undo things, we want to use the reason that a person got into something as a reason to get out of it. Help them raise their awareness to get back in control. Nonetheless, people will go on the wagon and stay off drugs, but underneath, they’re still buying into those posthypnotic suggestions that they’d put there. Posthypnotic suggestion, if it’s reinforcing, can help undo another posthypnotic suggestion. Whichever one is stronger, whichever one is more interesting, whichever one is reinforced is going to win.
JW: Can you give an example of the type of reinforcement you’re talking about?
AH: So, in the case of alcohol, coming back to an AA meeting and listening to the stories is going to be more satisfying and you’re going to have a greater sense of personal achievement than by drinking. And if you buy into that and you keep coming to the meetings, it’s going to get reinforced over and over and over again. And you’re going to be applauded by your neighbors and your friends as a winner, not a loser. So these are powerful tools.
Intermission: We go to the workshop where we practice self-hypnosis, which is a little different than the hypnosis Andy performed on me in his office. Here, we learned how to slow down our breathing and our thinking, focused on counting down from 5 to 0 to take ourselves deeper into a trance, focused on a positive suggestion that we want to apply to our lives, and then counted ourselves back out. “It’s not necessary to go into a deep trance to get your subconscious mind to respond,” Andy told the group.
Back in the car:
JW: Is there ever a time when you’re practicing self-hypnosis that you’re so deep in a trance that you can’t even count yourself out?
AH: You always have control. On the other hand, for some people, it’s like a drug. They can be tranced out because it’s the only time they actually feel anything or that they feel normal. So once people learn these tools—and the countdown technique I discussed in the session tonight is extremely powerful—they can really learn to enjoy them or take advantage of them.
JW: Can a person be put into a trance by being stared at from across the room? (I asked this after I told him the story of H.H. Stephenson and the hotel restaurant in Wellsville, NY.)
AH: Different people can react to being stared at in different ways. If someone had been conditioned to react to a stare in a certain way…you can use nonverbal things like staring or posturing, and they’ll feel more comfortable or not comfortable. But is there a mental telepathy that would actually cause someone to behave out of character? Probably not. It sounds like an awkward moment—maybe it was Ron, maybe it wasn’t Ron—but if he’s staring so intently at this Ron character, this guy looking back might have been, “What is wrong with this guy?” It’s just really impossible to say what that really was, if anything. But that’s not a hypnotic phenomenon.
JW: Just staring somebody down?
AH: Exactly. Somebody you don’t have a connection with, with no rapport, and putting them in a trance—unlikely.
JW: Is the verbal part of hypnosis essential?
AH: Not necessarily. Let me give you an example. Andy Kauffman was a comedian who didn’t say a word. He would just go up and stand there, and put people in all kinds of giddy moods just by standing there. And he was exceptionally non-emotive. He wasn’t doing any gesturing—a complete blank. And people reacted to that by filling it in. So when you leave a space open, your mind fills it in, in whatever way is appropriate. But let’s face it. He had an audience. They paid to get in to have a good time. So they’re already pretty hypnotized that they’re having a good time. There’s a lot you can do by just being aware of what state other people are in.
Now in terms of Ron Tammen, there’s not a lot of evidence to make a lot of meaning out of it. But maybe these are subtle clues, not only to what happened to Ron Tammen, but what happened to all the people wonderingabout Ron Tammen. Where did their heads go? And the things that they were able to come up with to create their own beliefs could very likely be 100 percent projection—stuff from their world experiences, their world view, their excitement with drama or fiction or mysteries—to investigate and fill it all in.
JW: So it’s possible, and one reader has said this, that H.H. Stephenson may not have seen Ron at all, and he may have just projected that?
AH: He projected it and this person reacted to that projection and it was maybe, at best, an awkward moment. But he reinforced H.H.’s feeling by looking back with a blank stare. But what was really going on with the guy may not have had anything to do with Ron Tammen, and may have had more to do with the fact that H.H. thought it was Ron Tammen and was staring real hard at him and the guy was just staring back. So there’s really not a lot of data, but it does open a door for speculation more than conclusions.
JW: Is there a placebo effect for hypnosis?
AH: You could say that all hypnosis is the placebo effect. You could say that the placebo effect is a form of believing what you want to believe and selling yourself on it based on someone else’s suggestion based on this pill, or this technique, or this book, or eating this food, etc. The placebo effect has been measured. On a cultural level, the placebo effect in the American culture is getting bigger. Things that don’t do anything have a larger effect but not because of the substance itself. The only way we know to test the placebo effect is called a double-blind study [a study in which neither the participant nor the researcher knows whether you’re taking the experimental drug or the placebo]. They can even say to a person, “We did a double-blind study and that pill doesn’t do anything,” and the person will turn to them and say, “You know what? It does for me.” And right there, they’re telling you that the placebo effect is valuable to them. They value it and totally buy into it.
JW: Do you have to believe that hypnosis can work in order for it to work?
AH: You have to be receptive to any physical or mental suggestion for that suggestion to be helpful. If somebody is really cynical, a lot of times it might mean that they’re going to take whatever you tell them to support their self image that they’re a nonbeliever. Once somebody’s heels are dug in, you can do things to try to persuade them, but as long as their heels are dug in, they’re incapable of benefiting from something at all.
JW: Is it possible to hypnotize someone without their knowing it?
AH: There’s a whole group of techniques called covert hypnosis where people use powerful language to be able to manipulate people and move them in a certain direction. Powerful words that connect with people—that resonate with people—can do that. Knowing what’s going on with a person can open the door to leading them either into a trance or into a lightweight trance. Imagine your own resistance to something you really don’t like, and imagine that that resistance can wear out. And maybe somebody working on their behalf or on your own behalf could accelerate that process. By going this way with your imagination, you buy into it more and more, and as you do buy into it, you feel less and less resistance. And pretty soon, you want to give me money. These are things that people do all the time.
The car ride and interview come to an end.
As I was listening to Andy talk about the prerequisites for someone to be hypnotized—the openness, the willingness, the buy-in—it got me to thinking about how these traits might apply to Ron Tammen. If Ron was being hypnotized in the days or weeks before his disappearance, and evidence indicates that he was, he was obviously willing to let his imagination go there, wherever “there” was. Yet Ron Tammen doesn’t seem to be the most adventurous or experimental sort of guy, from what I can tell. I don’t think he would have been doing it for the fun of it. And even though he was always seeking ways to earn money, I don’t think a paycheck would have been enough incentive either, particularly if he doubted or feared the process. No, I believe that Ron Tammen fervently wanted to make a change in his life, and he was willing and open to try anything to make that happen. If the change he desired is what I think it was, it wasn’t a habit that he was hoping to change, but a personal trait, something embedded in his DNA. And that’s something that hypnosis, or any other therapy for that matter, can’t touch.
If you are interested in receiving psychological services, you can find someone in your area on the Psychology Today website. If you wish to contact Andy Hawes, visit his Web page. If you are feeling a threat, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Do NOT leave a message, as time may be of the essence.
Unfortunately, I need to turn off comments for this post, since I’m conducting research for the next week and won’t be able to respond within a satisfactory amount of time. However, you can still reach me through the contact form or you can comment at facebook.com/agmihtf.
Coming soon: MKULTRA and ‘U’ — A Good Man primer on the CIA’s mind control program and the universities that took part
I have hypnosis anxiety. There, I said it. I mean, I have a fairly adventurous spirit. I’ve jumped out of an airplane in Xenia, OH, and drifted over Santa Fe, NM, in a hot air balloon. I like to hike and bike and, in the winter, cross country ski. I’ve spent a weekend caving and rappelling with a group of fellow novices and lived to tell about it. I’ve gone camping in Canada equipped with nothing more than a ground tarp and a frying pan just for the thrill of viewing a meteor shower from a new angle. I’ve handled snakes in the wild and have been attacked by a raccoon. I haven’t ziplined yet, but I intend to. As you know, I sued the FBI and now I’m going after the CIA. Some days, I can be fearless as all get out.
But hypnosis? That terrifies the crap out of me.
I don’t generally like the thought of someone getting into my head and telling me what to think or do or say. I’ve spent years customizing my internal filter into what I believe does the best job of presenting the true me to the world, and I prefer that it be switched on at all times. When I signed on to look into the Ronald Tammen disappearance, I had no idea that it would put me at this crossroads, where I would consider being hypnotized just to see what it’s all about, but what do you know, here I am.
What am I so afraid of? Lots of people do it. Heaven knows I have a few issues that it could probably help with.
In attempting to answer a question that recently came up on this blog, I’d been doing some research—reading, reaching out to experts…the yoozh. The question that was raised then was: can a person be hypnotized by being stared at from across a room? Specifically, it applied to H.H. Stephenson’s alleged Wellsville, NY, sighting of Ronald Tammen, whom he said was staring at him, as if he was looking through him, and yet Stephenson inexplicably said nothing to the young man. A resource of mine, a retiree who used hypnosis frequently in the treatment of patients, was willing to entertain the notion that, if it was Ron who was seated there, there was a chance that Ron was either in a trance or had been given a posthypnotic suggestion not to recognize anyone from his former life. Another hypnosis expert had suggested to me earlier that, again, if it was Ron, he was probably just thinking something like, “I know that guy from somewhere, but where?” But as for the notion that Tammen was hypnotizing Stephenson with his stare, in my retired expert’s view, it isn’t feasible.
OK, fine. Good to know. But it got me to thinking about hypnosis in general and how I really don’t understand it very well because I’ve never been hypnotized before. I’ve written about things that I’ve never done myself—things that require years of training on the part of the doer—but being hypnotized is different since it requires zero training on my part. It’s actually quite passive. I started Googling “hypnosis” along with the name of my town, and discovered that there are a whole lot of hypnotists near where I live. I found one with a kind face and a long list of credentials who has been practicing for decades and reached out to him yesterday.
And so, dear readers, I’ve decided that this is the next step. I’m going to give it a try. For me. For you. I will do this as part of my background research so that I can become more enlightened about the hypnotic process. My new resource is also willing to entertain some of my questions about hypnosis, a list of which I’m developing now. If you have questions on this topic that you’ve been wondering about—pertaining to Tammen or something more general—feel free to jot them down in the comments section, and I’ll consider adding them to my list.
Oh, and please understand that this could take some time. I’ll be in touch.
Hypnosis is a therapeutic technique that has been around for centuries. It has long been recognized as an effective means for treating people with phobias, addictions, anxieties, depression, pain, and a variety of other health-related issues, including memory loss. It has helped transform countless lives for the better.
But in the first part of the 20th century, hypnosis had become something of a fad. These were the days before the profession had developed its ethical standards, and some people considered the phenomenon of putting someone under to be a means of amusement rather than a clinical tool. Any gathering seemed to be an excuse to bring in a hypnotist. They were the entertainment at fraternity parties, women’s luncheons, and Kiwanis club meetings. After an in-class demonstration, students would feel emboldened to try it out on each other afterward. Anyone with a pocket watch on a chain and a script in hand—“You’re getting sleepy…very sleepy”—could give it a go.
Such amateur antics would rankle hypnosis expert Everett Frank Patten, longtime head of Miami’s psychology department, to no end. “Many are the times that I remember a student frantically asking for his help in bringing a friend out of a hypnotic state,” Patten’s daughter relayed to me one day in an email. “It made my dad furious that students were using it as entertainment.”
It was no coincidence that Miami had become heavy into hypnosis by 1953. That’s generally how things operate in academia: A professor-researcher mentors a doctoral student, who, upon graduation (and, nowadays, after some post-doctoral training), becomes a faculty member somewhere else. That person mentors a student, who mentors another student, ad infinitum. Pretty soon, an extended family of professors is flourishing at universities around the country and globe with the entire lineage rooted, at least generally speaking, in a similar philosophy and upbringing. If the original researcher happens to be a superstar in a given field, he or she will have mentored scores of students during his or her most high-octane years.
On top of all that, Miami’s psychology department didn’t have a graduate program of its own back then. If you were a psych major who desired to work toward a higher degree, you had no choice but to go elsewhere. A professor who found an undergraduate student to be exceptional might have counseled that person to study at the same university as he studied, perhaps even with the same researcher.
So it was that, in 1953, Miami’s psychology department had on its payroll three faculty members who had been mentored by Clark Leonard Hull, an icon in the field of psychology and arguably the foremost scholar on hypnosis during the 1920s and early ‘30s. Hull was a creative genius on the one hand, a demanding micromanager on the other. He was a prolific writer—a dream come true for someone like me, what with my insatiable yearning to get to know the people I’m writing about down deep. He penned everything from witty, gossipy letters to friends and colleagues, to thoughtful descriptions of his research and career goals in notebooks (he called them his “idea books”), to weighty manuscripts for publication filled with his experiments and theories. He believed in science, even if the science he was espousing at a particular moment wasn’t popular with his peers.
Hull experienced lifelong health issues, having contracted both typhoid fever and polio as a young man. He had memory troubles—people’s names mostly—due to the former, and he walked with a cane due to the latter. Nevertheless, his charisma could fill a lecture hall, and his students revered him. His thirst for knowledge was so relentless that in the last decade of his life, when his heart and kidneys were beginning to fail, he wrote: “I seem to have no fear of death but only anxiety to salvage as much from life in the way of systematic science as possible.” Now that’s a scientist whose footsteps are worth following.
Dr. Patten was the guy who gave the dominoes a tap. He’d studied under Hull as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in 1921 and, by the time he’d completed his master’s degree in 1923, also under Hull, he’d already been hired as an assistant professor at Miami.
St. Clair Adna Switzer, who had received his bachelor’s degree from Miami in 1928, had undoubtedly heard about the esteemed Clark Hull from Patten, and decided that he should learn from the master as well. He went on to become a student of Hull’s for both his master’s and doctoral degrees—the first at Wisconsin, and the second at Yale, after Hull had changed affiliations.
The third faculty member to have studied under Hull was Charles Theodore Perin, Jr.—Ted for short. Perin had attended Miami beginning in 1934 and had impressed Patten so much with his stratospheric entrance exam scores that he served as a student assistant in the psychology department for most of his time as an undergraduate. He’d been planning to attend the University of Rochester for graduate school, but those plans changed when another Miami graduate who’d received an assistantship with Hull had become ill. Hull asked Patten if he knew of anyone who could take that student’s place, and Patten gave him Perin’s name. Elated by the opportunity to study with one of the world’s most eminent psychologists, Perin pursued his master’s and Ph.D. degrees under Hull in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. (The student who had become ill was Douglas G. Ellson, who eventually completed his Ph.D. under Hull and later became a psychology professor at Indiana University.)
Clark Hull, a scientist who helped take the hype out of hypnosis
Despite his becoming an authority on the topic, Clark Hull’s foray into hypnosis was mostly a diversion. He’s best known for his contributions in such areas as aptitude testing and his theories on learning and behavior. Hull was a behaviorist, and he believed that the actions of humans and other mammals could be boiled down to a set of mathematical formulas, most of which had to do with conditioned responses to some sort of reward. For his lab rats, that reward would be a pellet in a food tray, but for humans, he theorized, it could be whatever meets a particular need. A cognitive psychologist would contend that behaviorists don’t give enough credit to what goes on inside the brain in influencing a person’s actions. We don’t need to wade into that debate here, though I will say this: every time my cat Herbie waits for my phone alarm to go off in the morning before sprinting to the kitchen to be fed—as opposed to his former practice of yowling like a wounded coyote hours before sun up—I thank Hull and his fellow behaviorists (Pavlov, Watson, Skinner, and the rest) for introducing classical conditioning to the world. For this pet owner, they are heroes, all.
The many faces of Herbie, a classically conditioned cat
According to his autobiography, Hull became involved in hypnosis when he was a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin after taking over the lecture portion of an introductory course for premed students. He did so because he believed “suggestion, hypnotic and otherwise,” was being practiced widely by the profession. He described the first time he ever hypnotized someone in this way:
“I had never seen a person hypnotized, though I had entreated Professor Jastrow [the original course instructor] to demonstrate the technique to me. A medical student had given me a ‘hypnotic crystal’ which he had secured by mail from England; but he could not hypnotize with it. Late one night a student suffering from a bad phobia came to my home pleading for hypnosis to ‘save his life.’ I brought out the ‘crystal’ and tried it on him as the books described the hypnotic technique, and to my surprise the man went into a deep trance almost at once. This was the beginning of a long series of experiments in the field.”
The “long series of experiments” would be dreamed up by Hull but carried out by his students, which was his normal way of doing things. Though Hull dressed the part of a laboratory scientist—he regularly wore a lab coat and green eyeshade when walking the corridors of the University of Wisconsin’s Bascom Hall—he was the idea man who tended to let others do the actual lab work. But Hull closely watched over his students and he encouraged them to publish their results as principal authors. Patten was one such beneficiary of Hull’s magnanimous mentoring style. Five years after completing his master’s degree at Wisconsin, he passed the baton to Switzer, who began his master’s program there in 1928.
Despite the stock market crash and sudden launch of the worst economic depression in the Western world, 1929 would be filled with promise and new beginnings for Hull, Patten, and Switzer. Hull had accepted a research appointment with Yale’s Institute of Psychology (which later merged with the Institute of Human Relations), drawn to its assurance of greater prestige and vast research opportunities. Switzer returned to Oxford, Ohio, as a freshly minted assistant professor. He was also a newlywed, having married Elizabeth Hezlep, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister from Cincinnati, five days before Christmas. Meanwhile, Patten had been putting the finishing touches on his dissertation, “The Duration of Post-Hypnotic Suggestion,” which earned him a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
For at least the next several years, Switzer and Patten, who had also returned to Miami University, continued their collaborative relationship with Hull, corresponding with him frequently. In 1932, Switzer followed Hull to New Haven, Connecticut, to work on his doctoral degree in experimental psychology at the Institute of Human Relations.
It was also during that period—from the late 1920s to the early 1930s—that Hull set out to write the definitive book on hypnosis. Although he’d first become acquainted with the procedure by helping someone overcome a personal problem, he wasn’t interested in the clinical applications. Instead, he wanted to present the science behind hypnosis through experiments that were objective, observable, and quantifiable. As Hull put it, “the ends sought were principles and relationships rather than treatments and cures.” Hull wanted to more precisely define hypnosis—a state in which a person is highly responsive to suggestion—and its contributing factors. For example, researchers and practitioners had known that people are suggestible even when awake, although some are more suggestible than others. Hull and his students found that when a person is under hypnosis, he is at his peak in suggestibility—roughly twice as suggestible as in the waking state.
Hypnosis and Suggestibility—An Experimental Approach was published in 1933, and was largely based on the experiments that had been carried out by Hull’s students at the University of Wisconsin, with several add-ons. It’s now considered a classic, most recently reprinted in 2002.
Despite its adherence to science, the book’s success didn’t seem to impress Hull’s colleagues at Yale. According to a brief history on hypnosis written by Australian psychologist Campbell Perry, who passed away in 2003, one anecdote concerned one of Hull’s student assistants. That person had reportedly hypnotized another student—he didn’t say if it was a male or female—but failed to ensure the student was fully reawakened afterward. While crossing the street, the student who’d been hypnotized was supposedly hit by a car, which led to legal threats from his or her parents. The administration soon stepped in, terminating further hypnosis experiments and encouraging Hull to move on to other research areas. Hull, who had a number of other projects brewing in his brain, complied.
Besides, by the time the book was with the publisher, Hull didn’t seem to want to hear the word hypnosis ever again. On Sunday, June 4, 1933, Hull jotted down the following reflections in one of his idea books:
“Some weeks ago I finished the manuscript of the book on hypnosis. And while it is not yet in print and the index has yet to be made out, still the most of this work can be performed by my assistants and I may consider that project finished. It has been a most disagreeable task, particularly in its later stages, and I regret attempting to continue it when I came to New Haven. I should have dropped it on leaving Madison, and never breathed a word of its existence on coming to Yale. I shall never be able to live down the stigma cast upon me by it. And when the book comes out it will probably be worse than ever. I believe, however that the book itself has been worth doing from the point of view of the advancement of science. I believe that it is an important contribution, that it may mark the beginning of a new epoch in that form of experimentation, and that it will be read and quoted for a long time, possibly a hundred years. At all events it probably will be read after the work of those here at Yale who have thrown obstacles in the way of the experimental work upon which it is based, has long been forgotten. But even if all this should take place, I have paid a high price and would hardly do it again.”
In his autobiographical essay, published the year he died in 1952, Hull credited Patten and Switzer with being especially helpful in the completion of his book on hypnosis. Patten had conducted several remaining experiments in Oxford, while Switzer, who was then Hull’s graduate assistant, helped with “final preparation,” a catch-all category for the invisible yet nit-picky tasks required to ready the book for the printer.
When Hull finally bowed out of hypnosis research, Patten and Switzer kept the fever alive. In November 1933, running on the heels of the release of Hypnosis and Suggestibility, an Associated Press article with an Oxford, Ohio, dateline extolled the virtues of hypnosis in curing all sorts of problems through posthypnotic suggestion—from overeating to stage fright to smoking. The article broadcast the names E.F. Patten and S. A. Switzer far and wide, which soon backfired in the form of a tsunami of letters from people seeking help for their myriad problems.
In December of that same year, a follow-up article appeared in newspapers by way of the International News Service, with a lead paragraph so academically cringeworthy, I’m sure both men considered calling in sick that day:
Weight Loss by Hypnotism Is Attracting Wide Attention
With the principal characters considerably nettled, the hypnotism “show” at Miami University here has reached a complicated and amusing stage.
According to the article, Patten was “irked by a flood of letters he has received” and had “retreated to his laboratory,” concerned that his university peers would think he was running a “quack sanitarium.”
Few records remain concerning additional hypnosis research that might have been conducted at Miami. After Patten passed away in 1966, his wife Fern wrote a history of the department, entitled Eighty Years of Psychology at Miami, at the request of the new chairperson. Not everything she wrote was included in the final draft, however, and hypnosis was one of two unlucky chapters, along with several lengthy appendices, that would be given the heave ho. (The other chapter had to do with an early department chair who became mayor of Oxford for a couple years, a historical piece of trivia that even Fern admitted had nothing to do with the evolution of the psychology department.) The Foreword blamed “limitations of funds and space” for their exclusion, but promised: “These important segments, however, have been preserved in the Department files, and will no doubt be used by those who will study our history in the future.”
Sadly, those reassuring words turned out to be more uncertain than Mrs. Patten had anticipated. In 2014, and later in 2017, I emailed departmental representatives, letting them know that here I was, from the future, ready to peruse the hypnosis chapter that had supposedly been preserved in their files. Unfortunately, neither they nor University Archives could locate a copy. Dr. Patten’s daughter doesn’t have a copy either. What remains, on page 50, is a four-paragraph description of Patten’s time with Clark Hull, Patten’s and Switzer’s contributions to Hypnosis and Suggestibility, a sentence about Perin’s work helping “many troubled people in collaboration with local doctors,” and a list of Miami graduates who went on to study with Hull. (In addition to Switzer, Perin, and Ellson was a fourth person, Robert S. Sackett, who was an instructor at Rutgers before moving to Washington, D.C., to work for the Naval Research Laboratory, among other institutions.) No hypnosis studies conducted at Miami were included.
There were other things going on in Patten’s and Switzer’s careers in the 1930s as well. Patten was named chair of the psychology department in 1932, and he began transitioning from researcher to teacher-administrator. Switzer pursued his avid interests in standardized testing for aptitude and other attributes. He spent the summer of 1936 working as a psychologist at a model facility for prisoners known as the Northeastern Penitentiary, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (later renamed the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg).
When the United States entered WWII, Patten and Switzer joined in to help with the cause. Miami University had become the site of a U.S. Naval Radio Training School, and Patten, who had served as a radio operator during WWI, taught radio code to Naval trainees in Fisher Hall in between his psychology classes. Switzer, who, as a young man, had performed a two-year stint in the Navy, received a leave of absence from Miami in the summer of 1942 to enlist with the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF), the forerunner to the U.S. Air Force (USAF). His expertise was in aptitude testing, and he gradually worked himself into the upper levels of responsibility in psychological testing, classification, and placement throughout the war. From July to November 1945, he was stationed at Army Headquarters in Washington, D.C.—the Pentagon—serving as chief of the Demobilization Procedures Section, which means that he, in his own words, “formulated and monitored Air Force demobilization procedures, and prepared regulations pertaining thereto, with special responsibility for separation counseling procedures.” (TRANSLATION: Sorry, military speak stymies me, but, by the sound of it, he was important in the areas of aptitude testing, job placement, and job classification during the war and job reassignment after the war. If someone out there knows better, feel free to chime in.)
Switzer’s activities during the post-War years continued to focus heavily on the military, even after he returned to Oxford in December 1945. In January 1946, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and he was employed by the federal government as chief vocational appraiser in the Veterans Guidance Center, a resource based out of the university hospital for all veterans, particularly the thousands who had arrived at Miami on the G.I. Bill. In September 1949, he returned to teaching psychology full-time (with occasional stints with the Air Force), and, as we all know, he had been Ronald Tammen’s General Psychology instructor the semester that Ron went missing—before Ron had dropped the course. In 1961, Switzer was selected to replace Patten as department chair, and in his remaining five years at Miami, he’s credited with transitioning the department into offering a graduate program. He also laid the groundwork for moving the department from the ever-cramped and crumbling old Harrison Hall to a spacious, updated new building, Benton Hall, whose foundation was installed the year he retired. By all appearances, he seemed to have moved on from his time with the “hypnotism ‘show’ at Miami University.”
Dr. Patten hadn’t published a scientific paper since the early 1930s, however he continued hypnotizing students into the 1960s. One article from September 25, 1962**, (reprinted October 15, 1964**), detailed how he would use hypnosis to help students break unwanted habits such as smoking or nail-biting or to help with weight loss. Because he was venturing into medical treatment, the article offered this caveat: “since these cases may sometimes have deep seated emotional problems, the professor only accepts subjects at the request of doctors or psychiatrists.”
Patten also demonstrated hypnosis to his students during class. Patten’s daughter recalled sitting in on one of his abnormal psychology classes to watch her father hypnotize someone. She described it to me in this way:
It was a student that he worked with before. He had her look at a reflected light in his eye, and he said, “When I count to three, you will be hypnotized.” And then, he told her that when she named people in the class, she would name a particular person a different name. And also, after she woke up, she would ask [my father] for a pen, to write with. And it was fairly brief. Then he said, “When I count to three, you will wake up,” which she did. And he said, so and so—I can’t remember her name now—he said, “would you name the folks in the class?” It wasn’t a very big class. Which, she did, and for that one particular person, she had used the name he had given her, not the name of the person. So he asked, “Why did you do that?” And she said, “Well, that’s what I thought it was,” or something. And then she asked [my father] for a pen. And he said, “Well, why do you want a pen? How about a pencil?” And she insisted on getting a pen. And he asked her why. And she said, well, she just felt like she just had to have it. So, you know it was amazing really.
Perin’s research efforts in hypnosis were highlighted in an October 8, 1963**, article in the Miami Student. It told of how the psychology department had used funds from the National Science Foundation to purchase a polygraph machine, not to determine if someone was lying, but rather to measure a person’s physiological responses—heart rate, blood pressure, and the like—while he or she was in a trance. The photo is the most compelling part of the article, with a college coed named Nancy (who was also the article’s author) looking warily at Perin as he leaned in, asking stress-inducing questions such as how many classes she’d cut that week.
After Patten and Switzer retired—Patten in 1965 and Switzer in 1966—Perin single-handedly upheld Miami’s tradition in hypnotherapy and hypnosis research. In 1976, Dr. Perin retired, bringing Miami’s hypnosis era—a span of over 40 years—to a quiet close. By that time, the university appears to have been ready to move on from those days anyway.
For one thing, there’s that missing hypnosis chapter from Fern Patten’s book. For another, there was a taped interview between Perin and Karl Limper, a professor emeritus in geology who had been dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1959 to 1971, as well as acting provost for academic year 1964-65. During the interview, conducted as part of Miami’s Oral History archival project on February 25, 1992, Perin discussed his time at Miami as both student and professor. And each time that Perin attempted to discuss his hypnosis activities, Limper changed the subject as soon as the h-word was uttered.
Here’s the first time:
KL: Did the courses that you taught change through the years? Did you give some up and take others to replace them?
TP: Well, not a whole lot. I picked up the History of Psychology…some of the philosophical history, which I enjoyed very much because I had been exposed to that at great length at Yale.
KL: I would think so. Yes.
TP: And Patten had always taught that and later on he turned that over to me, and I taught Social Psych. Since I’m not much good as a sociologist or social psychologist, I did not enjoy that. I upgraded our Business Psychology course to a 400 level course.
KL: Oh, you did. Wonderful!
TP:…which I taught. And that was…I enjoyed that. And I even taught, for a couple of semesters, a course in Hypnosis for our graduate students.
KL: How many chairmen did you serve under? Can you list those?
Weird segue, don’t you think? I mean, was Perin even finished listing his courses? We’ll never know. And then there was this time, which came minutes later:
KL: Did you sense Lex [Milton, a former department chair] was one who wanted to move on to larger fields as quickly as possible?
TP: I think so.
KL: He was going to do everything he could for his department. He was a very demanding chairman, as far as the Dean was concerned.
TP: Well, of course, I couldn’t see that really…how demanding he was, I didn’t know, but…
KL: He was demanding for his faculty. I mean from the Dean’s point of view.
TP: Yeah. Yeah. Uh huh. I remember, one thing I resented, when Lex wanted me to cut down my hours of teaching, and I was enjoying teaching, and I…but he wanted me to cut back, so I’d have more time for research, and by that time, I was an old so and so—pretty far from research. But I’d gotten into this hypnosis area, and so I did do some meaningful research on hypnosis, and it was all right.
KL: What about the presidents under whom you served? You care to comment on any of those?
I don’t know about you, but speaking as a person who has conducted numerous interviews with university types, I would have let the man expound on that topic for a while. Something like “Such as?” springs to mind as a good follow-up question. But when Perin mentioned the word hypnosis, Limper first steered the conversation toward naming his former department chairmen, and, later, the university presidents under whom he’d served. Had someone said to him, “If Ted starts in on the hypnosis stuff, just change the subject”? Again, we’ll never know.
As I was learning more about Clark Hull and his cadre of disciples in Oxford, Ohio, it wasn’t a huge leap for me to wonder whether any of Miami’s experts might have been approached by the CIA as the agency was getting started with its hypnosis and drug experiments. It wasn’t even my main theory at that point. I just wondered. After I decided to work on my book project fulltime, I began conducting research at the National Archives in College Park, MD, searching through CIA documents to see if I might be able to find a connection. (This was before the nonprofit MuckRock had won its lawsuit forcing the CIA to post everything online instead of making people drive to College Park.) In July 2014, after spending a long day at the Archives, I was at home on my laptop, perusing CIA documents that had already been posted online. Several of my searches focused on what their hiring policy was regarding people who were gay but others focused on terms such as hypnosis or hypnotism or hypnotists.
And that’s when I happened on it, the first document that told me that at least one Miami University psych professor had likely been identified by the CIA as someone worth consulting during its ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA period. What’s more, the career path he’d pursued before becoming a psychology professor—one that I’d been aware of since I’d read the reason he went by the nickname “Doc” on page 39 of Fern Patten’s book—would make him especially attractive to the CIA. Because not only did this professor have expertise in hypnosis, he had a degree in pharmacy and had worked as a pharmacist for nearly two years. Could anyone have been better suited than he was?
**Note: These articles are currently not available online, otherwise I’d link to them. It’s my understanding that the university has recently completed a migration of its digital collections, so they may still be working out the kinks. I’m letting them know about the missing articles, and will include the links when they’re available.
As we’ve discussed, my plan is to release two documents on April 19 that I believe are related to what happened to Tammen. I’m planning some other fun stuff for that day too. Stay tuned.
This is a mini-post—just a little over 300 words in length—but I can’t sit on it any longer. First: I need to point out that the government shutdown is affecting this blog as we await a decision on the possible release of certain names on key documents. No matter where you stand politically, I think we can all agree that our federal workers need to be called back in to do their jobs ASAP.
Remember Commander Robert Jay Williams (aka Cmdr. Robert J. Williams, or just plain old R.J. Williams), of the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence), of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)? As I mentioned in the Dec. 7, 2018 post, Commander Williams’ name appears on a memo that I believe also contains the name of my person of interest—a person from whom I can draw a direct link to Ronald Tammen.
Well, today, I’m posting another document with our friend R.J.’s name prominently displayed. The document is long and dense. Some of you may choose to read the whole thing, which is great. I admire your enthusiasm! For others, just seeing how R.J. is identified should do the trick.
Here’s the To, From, and Subject head:
And here’s the signature:
That’s right. In this 9-page memo, which was written about a month after my memo in question was written, R. J. Williams is identified as the project coordinator of ARTICHOKE. ARTICHOKE! For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Project ARTICHOKE is the forerunner of MK ULTRA, the CIA’s ignoble mind control program. Some of you have been predicting this all along, and to you I offer high fives and fist bumps all around. Yes, Good Man readers, this is indeed the direction in which we’re headed—full throttle. As soon as the government shutdown ends, that is.
Gilson Wright was a dedicated journalist—a consummate newsman’s newsman—who taught his students at Miami the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys of getting to the heart of every story. (You can read his memorial here.) His daughter has spoken with high regard for her father’s impartial reporting and nose for news. So committed was he to chasing after a story, he was willing to put fact-gathering above even friends, and she recalled a time when an article he’d written about a close colleague wasn’t received very well and may have inflicted some permanent damage to that friendship. During her growing-up years, she worried that if she did anything wrong, her dad wouldn’t hesitate to write an article about her too.
Wright was so much the model journalist that, if asked, he probably would have agreed that his part-time gig with the local papers—filing occasional news stories about the institution that employed him full-time—probably wouldn’t pass the smell test anywhere else. Imagine if Kenneth Lay had said to the Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine (the two news outlets credited with first uncovering Enron’s misdeeds), “Don’t bother assigning a reporter to this story. We’ll conduct our own investigation, and send updates your way.” The folks from the Hamilton Journal-News probably recognized Wright’s potential conflict of interest, which may be why they double-teamed the Tammen story with the intrepid Joe Cella.
On the other hand, there were obvious benefits for the area newspapers to hire Wright as an on-call correspondent, or stringer. Being an insider at Miami, he was in prime position to hear the scuttlebutt of whatever was happening at one of Ohio’s larger public universities. Also, if a topic was political or sensitive in nature, Miami’s faculty and administrators might have been more inclined to open up to him, at least more than they would have with Cella.
I think one of those occasions may have taken place during the first week after Tammen disappeared in one of the earliest stories to be printed about the case. I stumbled on the article in question as a news clipping in the Miami University Archives. Its dateline is April 26, 1953—seven days after Tammen’s disappearance—and it likely ran that day (a Sunday) or perhaps the following day. We don’t know. We also don’t know precisely which newspaper it ran in, and trust me, I’ve checked all of them. Whoever clipped it didn’t write the source in the margin, as was done for other articles. The article doesn’t even have a byline, so one might wonder who the reporter was, though I’m quite confident that it was Wright. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
But first: why would I care so much about the origin of an old newspaper clipping? Or, to be more specific, why would I seek the help of more than a half dozen reference librarians and archivists in Butler and Hamilton Counties, one researcher at the State Library of Ohio, and another at the Library of Congress, not to mention paying a special visit to the latter, to try to identify the outlet that carried it? Because, in it, the author reveals a detail that has never appeared in any other news article on the Tammen case. Because that detail generates a slew of follow-up questions, yet, instead, it was left to languish, ignored for decades. And finally, because that strange, surreal detail, buried in the second paragraph of the second column, might be an honest-to-goodness clue to the case.
In parts 1 and 2 of this series, we discussed three possible reasons why investigators were so quick to suspect that Tammen’s disappearance was due to amnesia. To recap, they were:
Why else would a responsible guy like Tammen go missing, leaving everything behind?
Tammen’s psychology book was open on his desk, possibly to a section on posthypnotic suggestion, even though he had dropped his course. Also, Carl Knox had jotted down the names of two psych professors in his notes, one of whom was a hypnosis expert.
According to a conversation someone had with Dr. Patten, chair of Miami’s psychology department at the time, there were things in Tammen’s background that would be consistent with his having experienced dissociation.
Reason #4: The three Ohio youths
Before we consider my fourth and final reason, I should probably let you know that I have both good news and bad news. The bad news is that, despite the assistance I received from all of those librarians, I’m still unable to identify with 100% certainty the source of the article in question. The papers that were examined—digitally, on microfilm, or both—are as follows, with the letters GW next to the papers in which Gilson Wright was a stringer or, in the case of Miami’s student newspaper, the adviser:
Miami Student (GW – adviser)
Hamilton Journal-News (GW)
Cincinnati Enquirer (GW)
Cincinnati Post (GW)
Cincinnati Times-Star (GW)
Dayton Daily News (GW)
Dayton Journal Herald (GW)
Because posting copyrighted material without obtaining permission is generally frowned upon (and by “frowned upon,” I mean that it’s not allowed and puts me at risk of being sued for copyright infringement), I don’t feel comfortable posting the article in question on this website. Our only evidence that the article existed at all is that two incredibly awesome people—scissor-wielding superheroes, actually—clipped it and socked it away for safe keeping, so that, eventually, it found its way into the Miami University Archives (clipping #1) and the Smith Library of Regional History, on the second floor of the Lane Public Library in Oxford (clipping #2). Its title, with the first letter of every word in caps, is: “Searchers At Oxford Fail To Find Missing Student; Amnesia Theory Stronger.” If you should find yourself in one of those two places, you can access it there.
But, as promised, I also have good news. The story—or at least a shorter version of it—ran in a second newspaper! A clever researcher at the State Library of Ohio, in Columbus, discovered that a truncated version was printed in the Dayton Journal Herald on Monday, April 27, 1953. He managed to find it by searching for phrases other than what was in the first article’s headline, since the two headlines are vastly different. In addition, the sentence with the outlandish detail (which I’ll be divulging momentarily) isn’t included in the Dayton Journal Herald article. That version includes everything up to the point where the sentence would have appeared and ends there.
But that’s OK, because I can post the Dayton Journal Herald’s version of the article on this website, having obtained permission. Here it is:
And here, without further ado, is the sentence that appeared in the first article but not the second:
“Parents of three other Ohio youths who have disappeared in recent years but who recovered from their loss of memory have telephoned to Tammen’s parents to encourage them, it was learned here.”
Now do you see why I’ve been so obsessed with this article? That one loaded sentence has generated quite a few follow-up questions for me. However, because none of the A-listers are available for an interview (due to their being deceased and all), let’s unpeel this onion ourselves, layer by layer, and do a little speculating, shall we?
Who wrote the article?
Even though neither article has a byline, I’m sure that the author was Gilson Wright because he was a stringer for the Dayton Journal Herald, in addition to all of the other papers indicated above. For the article to show up in at least two area papers convinces me that Wright was responsible.
Who were the Ohio youths?
At the very least, we know that the individuals concerned weren’t full-fledged adults. They also weren’t children, otherwise the writer would have probably chosen that term instead. On the global stage, “youth” is defined as someone between 15 and 24 years of age. In the United States, the term is broader, incorporating early adolescence up to age 25. I would guess, then, that anyone from the seventh grade on up to the mid-20s would have fit the description. Ron Tammen was frequently identified in news accounts as a youth. Richard Cox, the West Point cadet who disappeared in January 1950 at the age of 21, was too.
Attempting to figure out who the three youths might have been, I searched two archival news databases for articles about young people from Ohio who’d gone missing due to amnesia from 1948 to 1953. I had to draw the line somewhere to define “in recent years,” so I cut it off at around five.
In addition, I had two hard-and-fast rules:
The youths had to be single. As the article implies, these particular youths were still accountable to their parents as opposed to a spouse. If a missing person was married, I automatically disqualified him, since no newspaper that I came across ever referred to a married person as a youth. If he was married with children, he was doubly disqualified. If, on the other hand, the person was a little older than 25—maybe 26 or 27, for example—and still single, he (or she) was still in the running.
They had to have returned, safe and sound. That was the point behind the phone call to Ron’s parents—that they’d recovered their memories and returned. Obviously, anyone found dead or who was reported to be still missing after April 1953 was disqualified.
Two additional assumptions that I had, but that I didn’t enforce as strictly as the above, were:
Preferably, the memory loss had to be “real,” or at least had to have some sort of backing or proof. If it was just a theory put forth by a parent searching for some explanation behind their son or daughter’s disappearance, it carried a lot less weight.
Preferably, the youths recovered their memories all by themselves.The way the article reads, it implies to me that, for the most part, the youths had managed to regain their memories with little to no assistance. Therefore, I considered any major effort put forth by third parties, such as the use of hypnosis or truth serum to bring the person back to the here and now, as less likely to have occurred with our gang of three.
Based on the above, my list of potential contenders can be viewed here. (Note: People who were too old and/or who were known to be married were immediately disqualified and aren’t included. People who were a contender but who were subsequently disqualified because of one of the hard-and-fast rules are marked with a red “X.” People who didn’t conform to one or both of the lesser-two assumptions are marked with an orange “?”.)
What I’ve learned from this rather arduous, unscientific exercise is that amnesia was being blamed for a whole lot of missing persons cases back then. When people in their late teens and twenties with Ohio roots occasionally went missing, as sure as night follows day, some distraught parent or a law enforcement official would propose the big A as the cause. The more likely reason was that they’d run away voluntarily, with their memories intact, because they wanted to get married, or they didn’t want to get married, or they’d grown tired of school, or they were experiencing some other unseen stress or desire to reinvent themselves. When one or more of these cases was later solved, amnesia was the perfect face-saving cover story. In 1948, one missing persons bureau chief from another state, obviously fed up with the amnesia excuse, had this advice for would-be fakers: “Phoney [sic] amnesia is fairly easy to spot and real amnesia is as rare as a picture of Joseph Stalin without a mustache.”
Do I think Roger Robinson, Rita Sater, Richard Resseger or anyone else with an orange question mark in front of his or her name were among the three who were alluded to in the April 26th article? (No one passed all four criteria.) No, I really don’t. Unlike today, investigators back then didn’t have digitized articles that they could scan by plugging in a few keywords. They had only their own memory banks to comb through. Also, the identities of the three Ohio youths seemed to be held in confidence for some reason. If investigators had reached out to someone who’d famously gone missing several years prior, I’d think that they would have simply named them. Lastly, there was the time element. I don’t think investigators could have come up with the names of the three Ohio youths so quickly if they didn’t already have that information at their fingertips, including how to go about contacting them.
Where in Ohio were they from?
If the youths happened to be from a particular town, such as Dayton or Cincinnati, or from a specific region, such as southwest Ohio, Wright would have likely written that. But by saying they were “Ohio youths,” it sounds as if they were from all over the state, doesn’t it? But, again, how would investigators have known about amnesia cases from all over the state of Ohio, and so quickly? I have a theory on this, which I’ll talk about a little later in this post.
How did they lose their memories?
As we discussed in parts 1 and 2 in this series, the type of amnesia that causes someone to forget his or her identity and wander off is called dissociative fugue, which is considered a type of psychogenic or dissociative amnesia. It’s the type of amnesia that one might get from severe emotional trauma. But, as we’ve also previously discussed, it’s also rare. According to the American Psychiatric Association, dissociative fugue is estimated to occur in just 0.2% of the general population. Jason Brandt, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says that the prevalence of psychogenic amnesia is unknown, since no one’s conducted a definitive study. However, in his entire career, which, at the time of our conversation in 2015, spanned roughly 34 years of diagnosing and treating individuals with memory loss, Brandt guesstimated that he’d probably seen only 12 people with psychogenic amnesia.
In 34 years.
Knowing this, how was it possible that, in 1953, the good folks of rural, southwest Ohio were aware of such an abundance of amnesia cases that they were able to locate three cases—again, all conveniently from Ohio—within one week of Ron’s disappearance? I have a theory on this too—keep reading.
How long did it take the youths to recover their memories?
I don’t think the three Ohio youths had amnesia for very long. The longer the duration, the more likely the news media would have caught wind of their disappearances (from their parents, no doubt) and we would have seen a few articles. But, as I’ve already discussed, I’ve found nothing in the press that might be applicable. I’m thinking that they were gone for no more than a day or two, but that’s just a guess.
Who coordinated the telephone call between the youths’ parents and Mr. and Mrs. Tammen?
In my view, the person (or persons) who had known about the three Ohio youths who went missing is the most likely coordinator of the phone call. This also may have been the person who Gilson Wright spoke with for his April 26th article. Alternatively, it might have been Dean Knox, as the university’s investigator and chief spokesperson, who coordinated the phone call after hearing about the youths from his original source.
Who was the source of origin concerning the three Ohio youths?
While Wright’s immediate source about the three Ohio youths may well have been Dean Carl Knox, Knox wasn’t an amnesia expert. Neither was Oscar Decker, the Oxford police chief. They wouldn’t have been able to locate three young people who’d recently lost their memories on such short notice on their own. As we learned in part 1, one of the university’s experts on amnesia was Dr. Everett Patten, chairman of the psychology department at Miami. In fact, Dr. Patten had spoken directly with Wright for an in-depth article on amnesia that appeared two days later in the Dayton Daily News, on April 28, 1953. If I were a betting person, I’d bet that the information about the three Ohio youths originated with Dr. Patten.
You can read the article in its entirety here:
How was it possible for investigators to locate three Ohio youths who had recently lost their memories so soon after Ron went missing?
This, in my mind, is the most compelling question of all. If it had happened today, police could check online for names of people who had recently disappeared from Ohio and were later found. But, again, this was before computers. There was no centralized recordkeeping system, such as NamUs. There were no grassroots websites tracking missing persons, such as the Doe Network, Websleuths, and the Charley Project. It would have been extremely tough for law enforcement units of differing jurisdictions to keep track of each other’s cases, and even more so for those in towns with paltry police forces such as Oxford, Ohio. Furthermore, this happened before the FBI became involved, so there was no help available on a national level.
Again, if I had to place bets, I’d say that whoever first informed Dean Knox and/or Gilson Wright about the three missing youths had prior knowledge of those young people. They may have even known them personally, and experienced anxiety first-hand when the youths had gone missing and great relief when they returned.
Because of its rarity, I don’t think that psychogenic amnesia was what caused the three Ohio youths to wander. Instead, I wonder if they’d had a different type of memory loss—the kind one might experience after being hypnotized. That would explain why investigators would be made aware of the three other amnesia cases so quickly after Ron’s disappearance. It could also be why the youths were described as being from Ohio in general. Maybe they came from various parts of Ohio but they happened to be attending a university that drew students from all over the state. Somewhere like, I don’t know, Miami?
Why didn’t Gilson Wright seek more information about the Ohio youths?
Honestly, I don’t know why Wright wouldn’t have pursued the Ohio youths lead further. Maybe he tried to. But herein lies that squishy zone between his role as reporter and university employee. If Wright’s source was a dean or department head who said, “That’s all I’m able to say on this subject—the rest is strictly confidential,” would he have pushed back? Would he have tried to dig up another source who could have told him more? And if they had told him more, would he have put that information into print, undoubtedly burning a few bridges in the process or maybe even putting his job in jeopardy? All I know is that no further details about the three amnesiac youths were included in any other article written by Wright. In fact he never mentioned the three Ohio youths again.
Why didn’t anyone else cover this story?
It seems to me that another reporter—Joe Cella, for example—would have loved following up with those three Ohio youths, especially if they happened to be students around Ron’s age who’d lost their memories in recent years. “How did you lose your memory?” he would have certainly asked them, upon which, if it was hypnosis, a cascade of additional questions would have sprung forth. (E.g., Who hypnotized you?, Why were you being hypnotized?, Was Ron Tammen being hypnotized too?, etc.)
But Cella (or any other reporter) may not have even seen Wright’s article. My reasoning has to do with the more obvious question that has been bugging me ever since I stumbled onto the newspaper clipping: why haven’t I been able to find a digital or microfilm version of that article?
I’d always thought that, once an article was printed in a newspaper, it would live on into perpetuity, thanks to microfilm and those hulking viewers housed in the dark corners of libraries. Countless news pages are also being systematically digitized as we speak for online viewing. For these reasons, at least for the major local newspapers, I thought that any article that had ever been written would be accessible in one form or another decades hence.
But one of my reference librarian friends quickly torpedoed my naïve, Pollyanna-ish view. As you may know, even today, newspapers usually produce multiple editions in a single day, beginning with an early edition, which is typically trucked to points farthest away, and ending with a final edition, for those living closest to the city center. Usually (and ideally), the final edition is the one that’s archived. Also, you might have editions that are geared to a neighboring state, just as the Cincinnati Enquirer produces a Kentucky edition and the Washington Post publishes editions for Maryland and Virginia. (The Newseum describes the process for the Washington Post in this fact sheet, under Edition.)
The front pages of the assorted editions can be very different. For example, the same reference librarian sent me the front page of a final edition from the Cincinnati Enquirer for June 22, 1953, that differed dramatically from an earlier edition from that day. Although the earlier edition carried an update about Ronald Tammen, that article never made it to the final.
A few weeks ago, a representative of the Cincinnati History Library and Archives emailed me saying that she’d run my “Ohio youths” article by a retired editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer who was acquainted with how they did things back then, and he’d sent her some thoughts. The man guessed (and he emphasized that it was just that—a guess) that the article had appeared in the “state” edition of the Enquirer. The state edition was distributed to subscribers in communities outside Cincinnati—towns like Oxford and Hamilton and Middletown. It was printed after the street edition (which appeared in newsstands at around 8:00 p.m. the preceding night), but before the Kentucky and final editions. What was different about the state edition was that it featured a page that included news from the surrounding counties. If an article in the state edition was significant enough, it might make its way to the local page in the final edition, which was distributed to Cincinnati and the rest of Hamilton County.
The editor based his guess on the following observations:
He recognized the font as Cheltenham, which he said was frequently referred to as just Chelt.
The headline format was standard for the paper back then. In news parlance, they referred to it as “2/36/3,” which meant that it was two columns wide, with 36-point type, and three lines deep.
The subject matter was more appropriate for the surrounding communities as opposed to downtown subscribers.
The dateline is consistent with what the Enquirer used in those days when someone from a bureau (he guessed it was probably Hamilton) submitted a story about another community.
The occasional bolding of paragraphs was also a practice of the Enquirer’s. Every fifth or sixth paragraph would be bolded for no obvious reason other than, probably, to break up the sea of grey, he suggested.
Interestingly, I’d arrived at the same conclusion—that the article had appeared in an early edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer—for pretty much the same reasons, except I didn’t know the insider lingo. I’d just noticed that the font and dateline looked similar to other Enquirer articles and that the headlines were lengthy with semicolons separating the clauses. I also noticed that the headline writer tended to refer to Miami University as “Oxford.” That was because they liked to include a local town’s name in the headline as an attention-grabber, the editor explained to me in a follow-up meeting.
What does all of this mean to those of us interested in the Tammen case? It means that, assuming the Enquirer had been the source of the article, it’s entirely possible (and maybe even probable) that a story could have run in the newspaper’s state edition but didn’t make it into the final version. As mentioned earlier, on June 22, 1953, a story about Tammen that was on the front page of an earlier edition doesn’t appear on the front page or anywhere else in the final edition. If not for the news clipping that my librarian friend had found, not only would people from the future (aka you and I) not have discovered the article, but people who read a later edition that day wouldn’t have known what they’d missed. Is that what happened on April 26, 1953, as well? Was the article dropped, for whatever reason, after it was run in an earlier issue?
Granted, the June 22 article about Tammen was simply a rehash of old info, and, for that reason alone, the editor probably decided to replace it with a more relevant article in the final. Their reason for pulling the April 26th article may have been just as innocuous. However, April 26 was much earlier in the case, and I would think that reader interest would have been high for even the most minuscule of details. At first, I wondered if perhaps someone—a university official perhaps—was uncomfortable with the “Ohio youths” detail he’d read in the state edition and asked Wright to pull the article from the final. But my Enquirer friend assured me that articles in the state edition frequently didn’t make it to the final edition, and, moreover, no reporter had the power to stop an article from being printed. In addition, the production schedule for the three Ohio editions during that period, which he was able to recite to me by heart, was as follows:
According to this schedule, even if a person were standing at the front door of the Enquirer at 11:15 p.m. and snagged one of the first available copies of the state edition, they would have had only 15 minutes in which to convince the editor to pull the article from the final edition. A less frantic timeline would have been to pick up the street edition at 8:00 p.m. and to request the article be pulled in time for the state (10:30 p.m.) or final (11:30 p.m.) editions. However, my editor friend told me that, for the most part, there was no state news in the street edition, and, again (it bears repeating), no reporter had the power to pull an article. Based on all these factors, I’m convinced that it didn’t happen that way. But what if Wright had submitted his article earlier in the day and his editors told him that they would consider putting his article into the final edition but they’d first need more detail on the three Ohio youths. Gil would have gone back to his source, who might have responded with “Sorry, the rest is confidential,” and the story would die with the state edition.
To be sure, it’s just a hypothesis, but it also helps explain two indisputable truths: the Dayton Journal Herald printed the article the next day minus the offending sentence and Wright never raised the matter of the three youths again. Somehow, someway, Wright seemed to have gotten the message not to push that detail any further.
As additional supporting evidence, Wright used to repurpose his articles in other papers all the time. Although the front-page Tammen story from an early edition of the June 22, 1953, Cincinnati Enquirer is nowhere to be found online, the same story with a different headline had appeared in the June 20, 1953, issue of the Hamilton Journal-News. And on April 27, 1953, the same day in which the Dayton Journal Herald article ran its shortened version of Wright’s April 26th article, a different Wright article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, with the headline “Still No Leads In Case of Missing Miami Boy.” That same article, again, with a different headline, also appeared in the Hamilton Journal-News on the same date.
So with all of that recycling and repurposing, why wouldn’t the Hamilton Journal-News have published Wright’s April 26th article that mentioned the three Ohio youths? One possible reason was simply that the Hamilton Journal-News didn’t have a Sunday paper, though, in my view, that’s no excuse. As we’ve already seen, the same article could run in different newspapers on different days. Wright’s April 26th article contained all the new information found in the article that ran on April 27th plus the tidbit about the three Ohio youths. If I were editor, I’d have chosen to run it on Monday instead. No, with all this in mind, I can’t help but wonder if the problematic detail was left to die in the Enquirer’s state edition for a reason. And if that’s the case, then none of us would have ever known about the three Ohio youths if it hadn’t been for those two incredibly heroic people—scissor-brandishing badasses, actually—who saw fit to clip the article just in case someone might need it someday.
What do you think?
This is probably a good time to open up the floor. What are your thoughts on the topic of amnesia as it applies to the Tammen case?
Artwork developed using WordArt.com. Not for reproduction.
In May 2011, I was conversing by email with a Miami alum, let’s call him Peter, who was a psychology major at Miami when Ronald Tammen disappeared. Like many students, Peter was curious about Ron’s disappearance and read whatever stories he could find on it. Peter also had a friendly acquaintance with Dr. Patten, then-chair of Miami’s psychology department, and looked up to him as a mentor, which wasn’t unusual. Dr. Patten was highly respected in the psych department—knowledgeable, yet warm and grandfatherly.
Here’s a remembrance Peter shared with me that provides yet another reason why investigators likely thought Ronald Tammen had amnesia. I’ve copied the email directly, typos and parenthetical asides included. I have, however, inserted a missing word or two in brackets for clarity or correction.
Reason #3: There were ‘things in his background’
“Now, when Ron ‘vanished’ the university formed a committee of facility [sic] and administrators (I don’t really know who was on the committee). Patten was the chair, and there was a short article in The [Miami] Student saying the committee had met (I don’t know if it was more than once) and had concluded that Ron’s disappearance was most likely due to a dissociation (forgetting who he was, where he belonged, wandering, etc.)…
“When I saw Patten I said I’d seen the article in The Student, and that the committee felt the best explanation was the dissociation hypothesis. He commented, and I believe this is exactly what he [said], ‘Yes. There are things in his background that would be consistent with that.’ Naturally, I asked ‘Really? What kind of things?’ (or words to that effect). Unfortunately, Dr. Patten said, ‘Well, I can’t comment on that.’ (I’m sure that is exactly what he said.) So…I never heard what things in Ron’s background had been considered to be ‘consistent’ with proneness to a dissociative disorder.”
Peter’s story raised a number of questions in my mind, the first being something along the lines of: What the …?!
What could be in Ronald Tammen’s background that would be consistent with dissociation?
How would Dr. Patten (and a university committee of faculty and administrators) have known about something in Ron’s background that would lead them to such a conclusion?
What faculty panel? I don’t remember reading about a faculty panel.
Oh, and by the way: where was this Miami Student article that Peter referred to?
The first thing I tried to do was locate the article and, guys, I might as well break it to you sooner rather than later: I can’t find it. I asked Peter when it ran, and he said that he thought it was early, before the semester ended. That would make sense, because that’s when the amnesia theory came to the forefront. But, from what I can tell, there were only five articles on Ronald Tammen that appeared in the Miami Student between April 19 and the end of classes for the spring 1953 semester. Here are the titles, with links to the applicable issue:
—Tuesday, April 28, 1953,Missing Youth Baffles Police; Clues Lacking, page 1, upper left
—Friday, May 1, 1953, no article
—Tuesday, May 5, 1953,Police Find No Trace of Tammen, page 1, upper right
—Friday, May 8, 1953,Must Tongues Wag?, page 2, editorial section
—Tuesday, May 12, 1953, no article
—Friday, May 15, 1953, no article
—Tuesday, May 19, 1953, no article
—Friday, May 22, 1953, no article
—Tuesday, May 26, 1953,Name of Tammen Added to Missing Persons by FBI, page 4, upper right
It’s not as if any issues are missing. The Miami Student published every Tuesday and Friday (except for vacation days and the week that followed), and they all appear to be there, online. I also checked for possible articles on the faculty panel that might have run during the next academic year, and nothing turned up. I asked Peter if it could have been in another publication—some internal newsletter that the psych department put out or something. He said no. Still, his memory was unwavering about his conversation with Dr. Patten. We discussed the scenario several times, and the details remained consistent.
Even though the article that Peter recalls reading is nowhere to be found, we do have a few details to help corroborate his story:
Dr. Patten was an early spokesperson on the Tammen story…
As we already know from the preceding post, Dr. Patten became a spokesperson on the Tammen story fairly quickly. As early as April 28, 1953, he was quoted by Gilson Wright for his article that ran in the Dayton Daily News. If Patten had headed up a faculty panel and that information was somehow made public at Miami, that would have put him on Gilson Wright’s radar for an interview request. That’s what reporters do—they call the person who’s in charge. It makes a lot more sense for Wright to approach Dr. Patten about his views on amnesia and overstudy if he knew that Patten was leading a panel that had already declared publicly that Ronald Tammen’s disappearance was probably “due to a dissociation.”
…a spokesperson who seemed to know more than he was saying publicly.
In the communications field, there’s one response that PR flacks far and wide are forever advising subject experts not to say when speaking with a reporter. That response is “no comment.” To say “no comment” implies that you’re hiding something—that you know something that you don’t think should be made public. In his April 28, 1953, Dayton Daily News article, Wright reported this about Patten: “He refused to comment on the Tammen case except to say that it is his ‘guess’ that the Maple Heights, O., youth will be found alive.” Refused to comment. Not even a more subtle “hesitated to” or “didn’t wish to” comment. He flat-out refused.
Here’s why I think that Wright was practically quoting Patten verbatim when he wrote that sentence: it’s because of what Peter said he remembered Patten saying to him about why things in Ron’s background were consistent with dissociation. “Well, I can’t comment on that,” Patten had said, according to Peter.
Think about it. If someone asked you if you knew where Jimmy Hoffa was buried, would you say, “I can’t comment on that”? Only if you were kidding around. The more typical response would be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Dr. Patten’s response to the reporter hints to me that he had access to additional information about Tammen that, for some reason, he wasn’t ready, willing, or able to discuss publicly, which would be consistent with Peter’s account.
Faculty were meeting about Tammen.
Not long ago, I was revisiting some old news articles and landed on this headline from the May 18, 1953, issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “FBI Joins Hunt for Miami Student.” The article, which was written principally to inform readers that Tammen had been added to the FBI’s missing persons list, includes this sentence that I’d somehow previously overlooked: “Dean Carl Knox told the boy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald H. Tammen, Sr., that the FBI had been called into faculty conferences.”
It’s one thing for law enforcement to meet with university officials about Tammen. “Officials” generally means administrators, which, in the case of Tammen’s disappearance, usually meant Carl Knox. But if Carl Knox informed the family that there were faculty conferences about Tammen’s disappearance, that has an entirely different connotation—professors. Professors seated around a table. Professors discussing what they knew about Ronald Tammen with a representative of the FBI.
One possible theory worth mulling over is that Ronald Tammen’s psychology textbook—potentially open to a section on posthypnotic suggestion—could very well have inspired Dean Knox to convene a faculty committee to see if they could determine where Ron’s head was when he disappeared. If that’s the case, it would make sense to install the chair of the psychology department, Everett F. Patten, a noted hypnosis expert, as head of the panel. It also would have made sense to ask the three faculty members listed in Carl Knox’s notepad—Professors Dennison, Delp, and Switzer—to take part on the panel as well.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know who was participating on the faculty panel. The article Peter remembers having read no longer seems to be in the public record. Also, no notes from any faculty conferences have turned up—not in the university’s archives, and not in the FBI’s Central Records System either.
Dr. Patten indeed thought that Ron had experienced dissociation.
In an article that ran in the Miami Student on April 20, 1965, Dr. Patten was once again approached about his theories on what happened to Tammen. This time, however, he didn’t refuse to comment. Instead, the newspaper reported the following:
“Consulted at the present time, Dr. Patten added, ‘Tammen’s condition can be labeled as a fugue, which is a species of conversion hysteria, characterized by wandering and other unusual antics of which the individual is not conscious.’”
The word “fugue” is a shortened term for dissociative fugue, which involves forgetting one’s identity and wandering, as Peter described in his email. It’s a subcategory of dissociative (or functional or psychogenic) amnesia. (The term “hysteria” is generally not used to describe this condition anymore.) It’s also rare, estimated to occur in only 0.2 percent of the general population.
Perhaps Dr. Patten felt he could speak more openly by that time—a dozen years after Tammen disappeared and two months before Patten would retire. Also, four years earlier—in 1961—he’d stepped down as department chair and turned the reigns over to Dr. Switzer. Perhaps he felt freer to speak because he was speaking only for himself, and not as the whole department or as the head of a faculty panel.
By that time, Dr. Patten’s opinion wasn’t necessarily the popular viewpoint. In 1960, the Dayton Daily News had printed an article that provided this update: “Two theories—that the youth met with foul play or that he was a victim of amnesia—have long since been discarded. A third theory, that he deliberately planned to leave the campus and to start a new life under an assumed name, is considered ‘most likely’ by authorities.”
Unfortunately, Dr. Patten didn’t have the long, enjoyable retirement that he earned from all his years of teaching and administering. He passed away in September 1966 at the age of 71, taking with him whatever knowledge he had about Tammen’s tendency toward dissociation.
I believe Peter did have that conversation with Dr. Patten all those years ago. But when I asked Ron’s siblings if they were aware of anything in Ron’s background that might make him prone to dissociation, no one had an inkling what it could be. They couldn’t recall any time in their brother’s past when he’d forgotten who he was and wandered off.
Besides, how would Dr. Patten and his fellow professors have found out about Ron’s propensity to forget who he was? Ron was a vigorously private person who strived to present himself to the world in the most positive light. I can’t imagine him volunteering personal details of that nature to a professor or administrator, even if they were true. Also, no such information was included in his student records. His freshman adviser wrote only this about Ron: “Earnest and capable student. Plays in dance bands some. Loyal and well behaved. May have periods of slump in interest.” There was nothing in the realm of “tends to forget who he is and wander.” When I attempted to obtain Ron’s student health records, Miami’s general counsel responded that “medical treatment records are not public records” and “student health records are only maintained for a period of 6 years following attendance.” So, we’re out of luck there too.
Still, it seems unlikely that Ronald Tammen had experienced dissociative fugue, based on its low prevalence and, moreover, how baffled Ron’s family members are by Peter’s story. On the other hand, the similarities between dissociation and hypnosis are well-documented in the scientific literature. In fact, experts in dissociative disorders frequently use hypnosis in the treatment of their patients. For many years, hypnosis had been widely considered to be a dissociative state based on such phenomena as posthypnotic amnesia. According to the 1997 review article “Hypnosis, memory and amnesia” by John F. Kihlstrom (Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences), posthypnotic amnesia “has long been considered to be a laboratory model of the functional amnesias associated with hysteria and dissociation.”
Could it be that Dr. Patten’s references to dissociation and fugue were another way of hypothesizing that Ron may have been experiencing a form of amnesia brought on by hypnosis? If so, was someone from the university tinkering with Tammen’s memory? And for what purpose? And was Ron the only one?
To be continued—A case of amnesia, part 3: Three youths from Ohio
A general note of caution: This story gets complicated. Please keep in mind that my mentioning someone here is not intended to imply that he or she had something to do with Ronald Tammen’s disappearance. I’m simply presenting old details about the case next to new ones and asking a few questions. It’s still early.