I’m back from my search for the third unposted recording from Miami University’s Oral History Project. Here’s what I found.

“I have news,” I announced to the audience of two.

The day was Thursday, June 16—just over a week ago. The time was 10:44 a.m. The place was the third floor of King Library at a wood table inside Miami University Archives. It was beastly hot outside—suffocating and sweat-inducing, with temperatures well on their way to the mid-to-upper 90s. There was no better place for us to be than that air-conditioned reading room. 

And yet, in that memorable moment, I was presented with the most uncomfortable of tasks.

Roughly 2 ½ hours earlier, three of us had arrived at this location from places hither and yon. One had driven 45 minutes that morning while two of us had driven four hours the day before—all for the purpose of perusing the university’s Oral History Project materials. It was the first day of a prearranged two-day visit in which we’d be searching for the third Oral History Project recording that hadn’t been posted to the university’s bicentennial website, as alluded to in a 2008 progress report. As we stared at the 15-20 boxes of file folders, DVDs, and audio and video tapes that the archivists had pulled for us, we felt enthusiastic. We felt focused. We felt amply equipped with university-supplied laptops and listening devices in addition to our own smartphones, notebooks, and pencils.

We divvied up responsibilities and got to work.

Kristin was reading consent forms that the interviewees had signed and marking up a chart. My sister Suzie was jotting down DVD titles. I was rifling through logs, worksheets, and progress reports and snapping pictures. Our last team member, Steve, hadn’t yet arrived—he’d be showing up in another 15 minutes.

It was at this moment, astonishingly early in the process, when I found something. But the document I’d found was no smoking gun—it was the opposite. It was a fully charged Super Soaker blasting liters of H20 all over my running theory concerning Carl Knox’s former secretary’s interview on Ron Tammen. 

The document I’d found was almost identical to the 2008 progress report, except it was the final summary, written sometime around May 29, 2009. (Interestingly, they still had 13 more interviews to conduct during Alumni Weekend and beyond, but for some reason the final summary was written before those interviews.) Instead of three recordings that weren’t posted online “for miscellaneous reasons,” there were now four. And footnoted at the bottom of the page was a list of the four unposted recordings.

Here they are:

Click on image for a closer view

We now had our answer to the question I’d kept asking people with the Oral History Project and that no one had answered: Was one of the unposted recordings of Carl Knox’s former secretary? The simple answer was no.

That’s when I walked over to Kristin and Suzie’s table and made my “I have news” announcement. I told them they could stop what they were doing and I explained why.

Of course they were stunned—Steve was too when he got the news. At times like these, it doesn’t really help to get upset. You shake your head. You laugh a little. Research can be that way—there are going to be disappointments. We all agreed that having an answer is progress. We also knew that our work wasn’t done. It just got way harder.

“We’ve now moved to the ‘needle-in-a-haystack’ part of our search,” I said. Instead of focusing on one unposted recording made sometime between 2006 and 2008, we would be searching every piece of audio or video occupying those 15-20 boxes—many unlabeled and spanning decades—for footage of Carl Knox’s former secretary.

Alas, in the ensuing day-and-a-half, we didn’t find it. But we did manage to find several interesting tapes and we gained some new insights which could help in my research.

In addition, on a progress log that was in the same folder as the Super Soaker document, I found evidence of a recording that had been conducted on May 19, 2009, for the Oral History Project that seemingly also never made it onto the bicentennial website. This one is titled “Miami Hockey Coaches,” and therefore also didn’t involve Carl Knox’s former secretary. Still, I would like to watch it sometime.

Click on image for a closer view

My lawyer and I will continue to work through the Ohio Court of Claims to resolve my request seeking the unposted recordings.

Do I have unresolved questions? I do. Like why didn’t at least one person affiliated with the Oral History Project remember one or more of the recordings that were held back from public view? Or, if they couldn’t name the recordings off the top of their head, why didn’t they at least know about the box in University Archives holding the folder containing reports that held the answer? If I could find the final progress report in 2 ½ hours, think how fast someone with the university could have found it. 

Which takes me back to the feeling I had the minute I discovered the final progress report. Even though I said earlier that it doesn’t help to get upset, when you add up all of the expenses that went into finding that sheet of paper—from the lawyer fees to the three-night stay in a hotel to all of the other travel-related expenses that went into the trip—not to mention everyone’s time and energy, would you blame me if I were just a little bit bothered?

**********

A big, BIG thank you to the three volunteers who’d helped me for two straight days at University Archives. There is no way that I could have gotten through all of those boxes without you! 🙏

The research team (l-r): Kristin, Suzie, me, and Steve

P.S. The big red square on the front page of this blog has been edited to extend the time period in which the interview took place. The interview still happened—we just can no longer make the case that it happened between 2006 and 2008 as part of the Oral History Project.

A very brief debriefing

Or: how I survived a mediation for three unposted Oral History Project recordings, one of which I believe was with Carl Knox’s former secretary

As you can see by the subhead on this blog post, I survived the mediation. I’m still here, and thanks to six hours of sleep and the coffee cup by my side, I’m feeling somewhat renewed—somewhat—after yesterday’s hourlong Zoom call in which I was the only participant without a law degree.

I’m not permitted to tell you what was said on the call. That’s confidential. I can say that things were said—sometimes by someone else, other times by me. If an award for “most zealous conferee” had been bestowed, I suppose that honor would have been granted to me. But that’s probably a given. Spending 12-plus years of your life researching a 1953 mystery in which there are strong signs that people knew something back then—and possibly know something now—will do that. It makes a girl zealous.

So, let’s see, let’s see, what can I tell you?

  1. I can remind readers that the reason for the mediation was a 2008 progress report for the Miami Stories Oral History Project, an endeavor of Miami University Libraries to interview on camera a number of present and former Miamians and post them to a dedicated bicentennial website. The progress report had stated that, out of the 91 recordings they’d completed up to that point, three recordings hadn’t been posted on the bicentennial website “for miscellaneous reasons.” After seeing that document, I spent months asking Oral History Project representatives if Carl Knox’s former secretary was one of the three unposted interviews, and I never received an answer to that question. They either told me that they personally hadn’t interviewed Carl Knox’s former secretary, or they didn’t respond at all. If someone had simply said “no,” I would have walked away. No one did.

    In my public records request, I sought all three recordings or, if one or more of them no longer existed, the required documentation permitting their destruction. In their response, the university told me that “none of the individuals remember anything about those recordings.” They also sent me an Excel sheet listing more than 2000 recordings, many untitled, that were stored in boxes in University Archives. They let me know that I was welcome to go through them. That’s when I filed my complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims.
  1. I can also tell you that I now possess two out of the three recordings that hadn’t been posted online. In my May 4, 2022, blog post, I’d shared a document highlighting two unposted interviews, and the university has sent me their recordings. I’ve listened to both of them. Although they’re both interesting in their own way, they’re really not important to our cause. It’s the third interview that interests me most.
  1. Lastly, I can tell you that the mediation isn’t over. The next step is for me to drive to Oxford and go rummaging through those aforementioned tapes, again, many untitled, for evidence of the third unposted interview. Another mediation meeting has been scheduled for early next month.

It’s daunting, and I’m at a clear disadvantage, but rest assured that I’m still fighting and now that fight involves sitting in a hard-backed chair on the third floor of King Library listening to as many tapes as humanly possible. But if one of those tapes should reveal the kind voice of Carl Knox’s former secretary reciting a list of words that she was never to utter in the presence of reporters, it’ll all be worth it.

I believe I know who two of the three unposted Oral History Project interviews were with

Whether interview #3 was with Carl Knox’s former secretary remains to be seen

Lately, I’ve been preparing my arguments for the upcoming mediation meeting concerning my complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims, which, as of this writing, is in three weeks. But first, please accept my apology for that last sentence, which may be the dullest lede in the history of this blog—nay, in the history of all ledes. What can I say? Investigative research can be a tad dull at times.

To refresh your memories, my complaint has to do with the public records request I’d submitted to Miami University’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) seeking the three unposted recordings that are referenced in the second-to-last line of the 2008 Oral History Project progress report. Furthermore, if one or more of those recordings no longer exists, I’m seeking the signed documents requesting their destruction, as required by the OGC’s records retention protocol.

I’m not seeking these items just to be difficult. I’m trying to determine if one of those three recordings might have been an interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary. And why do I need to employ all the rights that are bestowed upon me by Ohio Revised Code 149.43, Ohio’s Public Records Law, to make that determination? Because no one from the university would answer that question when I asked them. If they’d answered that simple yes-or-no question—”Is one of the three unposted recordings with Carl Knox’s former secretary?”—then I would have reported their answer to you and likely moved on. Oh, OK, if the answer had been yes, then I suppose I wouldn’t have moved on very far. It’s likely that I would have invested more time and energy into finding the recording. But they didn’t answer the question, and here we all are.

In their response to my records request, Miami’s OGC told me that they’d asked several representatives of the Oral History Project which three unposted recordings were referenced in the 2008 progress report, and “none of the individuals remember anything about those recordings.”

I find their response, um, unconvincing, which is why I filed my complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims.

As I write this post, I’m trying very hard to behave myself and to watch what I say. Someone on the opposing side may be reading this, and I don’t want to give anything away before the big day. 

What I can say is this: as I’ve been reviewing everything that’s happened over the past 18 months in my efforts to locate the interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary, I’ve been flagging various, um, occurrences, if you will, that stand out as being particularly, uhh, if it pleases the court…telling. I’ve found other supportive evidence to bring before the court as well. I look forward to the mediation, and I plan to wear the grayest, most serious-minded two-piece dress in my closet just to show everyone that I mean business. Is said dress one of my favorite pieces of work attire that I’ve held onto for more than 20 years because it evokes a certain 1940s sort of vibe and makes me feel like Barbara Stanwyck whenever I put it on? I plead nolo contendere, your honor.

So why am I even here, interrupting your day and dancing around subjects of which I probably should not speak? Well, in my research, I stumbled on some pertinent information that refutes a hypothesis that I’ve advanced on this blog site, and whenever that happens, I feel I should let you know about it asap. It’s who I am. It’s what I do.

In my April 18, 2022, post, I’d written about an interview that had been mentioned in a May 2007 Oral History Project report, and that interview had never been posted online. I hypothesized that the interview, which had taken place in the spring semester of 2007 in Oxford, Ohio, might have been with Carl Knox’s secretary. 

Today, I need to let you know that I don’t think that that particular interview was with Carl Knox’s secretary after all. But you guys? We’re just fact-finding here, and, in my opinion, all facts are good facts. The information I’m about to convey is equally useful in helping us get to the answer we’re all seeking. Here’s the information that I wish to share: I think I’ve now determined two out of the three unposted interviews, and, in concurrence with the late, great singer Meat Loaf, that ain’t bad. The only interview for which I can’t find any record (other than the one-page summary that got this whole thing started) is the one with Carl Knox’s former secretary. 

What changed? As I was conducting my review of the events of the past year and a half, I landed upon a document that I’d received from Miami’s OGC from a separate public records request concerning the Oral History Project. Truth be told, I’d forgotten I had it. The document has to do with a completed list of interviews and story circles that had been conducted, and, although it isn’t dated, it appears to have been written in the spring of 2007. Here’s the document.

Click on image to see the entire document

I’ve highlighted the two interviews that haven’t been posted online. The first was conducted on June 17, 2006, and the second was conducted on February 14, 2007. Although you can read the names of the interviewees on the document, I’m not going to say them out loud on this site—we don’t need to feed the search engines any more than they’re already being fed, and the individuals are only peripherally related to our question. Also, the two recordings still ostensibly exist and can be found in University Archives on the third floor of King Library. The first is included with the Oral History Project recordings, and the second can be found in box 7 of assorted audio and video tapes.

What’s bothering me most about the 6/17/06 and 2/14/07 interviews is that when I was trying to find out if one of the three unposted recordings was an interview with Carl Knox’s secretary, I’d brought up the names of those very same two people with representatives of the university. I’d asked them, point blank, if the above two interviews were part of the three unposted recordings. And even though the two people were interviewed as part of the Oral History Project, and even though their recordings are unmistakably not posted on the bicentennial web page, it didn’t seem to help jostle anyone’s memories.

I’ve said enough. I’ll let you know how things go.

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

Photo credit: Photo by Anna Land on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excuse #1: It was lost in the mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public information officer: We mailed it to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what they wrote:

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

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

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

Here’s what they said in response:

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

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

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

Excuse #2: We forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halloween 2021 and the muzzling of…me

Photo by Lucia Foster on Unsplash

As most of you know, I’m a fan of Joe Cella’s. After everyone else had moved on with their lives regarding Ron Tammen’s disappearance, after they’d all shrugged their collective shoulders and resigned themselves to the notion that they’d never truly know what had happened to Tammen, Cella refused to join them. He continued working the case, steadfast and alone, until the August day in 1980 that he abruptly passed away at the young age of 59. Thirty years later, when I began my book project, I consulted Cella’s news articles for guidance. I’d hoped to pick up the story where he’d left off. I aspired to follow in his footsteps.

I’ve now come to believe that I’ve achieved my dream. Not only am I following in Joe’s footsteps, but I’m facing the same old obstructions, smokescreens, and pushback that Joe had encountered in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.

What’s more, when it comes to the Tammen case, I’ve discovered that if a person employs more than the minimal amount of stick-to-itiveness in their investigation, it won’t be long before they breach the space-time continuum and go hurtling back to the days of Joe. 

Here are some examples: 

When I read Joe’s assertion in the Hamilton Journal-News that school officials hadn’t been cooperative, I thought “Same.”

When I saw in the Dayton Daily News that he felt that the university tried to cover up the case, I thought “Omg, SAME.”

And when I learned that, in 1973, the university had stepped in at the last minute to prevent Joe from presenting his latest evidence on Tammen to the campus community, I thought “OK, this is getting really weird.”

Because, you guys? They’re doing it to me too.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that the Miami University Alumni Association (MUAA) had written about Tammen’s disappearance on their blog known as Slant Talk. The post had been published online a year ago on October 30, 2020. For some reason, I’d missed it back then—2020 is such a blur. But early this month, I was searching a Tammen-related topic and up it popped. 

Here’s the post: Ron Tammen? Where are you?

I was bemused by their lack of new information. You and I have learned way more about the Tammen case than their write-up has indicated. All they had to do was Google “Ron Tammen” and they should have been able to find my blog. If they’d reached out to me—an alum who has dedicated a sizable chunk of her life to researching the Tammen case—I would have given them a nice quote. They didn’t even write about Butler County’s well-publicized reopened investigation in 2008. 

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Jenny, you didn’t make any new friends in Oxford with all your talk about Carl Knox’s former secretary and her relatively recent interview about the university’s Tammen investigation. Did you really think that they’d want to point anyone to your blog after all that?

But that’s the most interesting part. In October 2020, I hadn’t yet rediscovered the interview summary that someone had placed in the Ghosts and Legends folder in University Archives. The only post in which I’d written about a possible university cover-up had to do with Gilson Wright’s avoidance of the word “psychology” whenever he described the book that lay open on Ron’s desk.

That was such a long time ago. Could that have been the reason that they chose not to highlight my work, or was there another reason for the virtual snub?

At the bottom of their blog post is a comment made by a former friend of Ron’s from Fisher Hall. I recognized his name because I’d spoken with him early in my research. I’d also spoken with his roommate. He describes his memories searching for Ron as well as students’ mysterious encounters in the Formal Gardens after Ron had disappeared. It’s a moving sentiment.

The comment box is still open, so I decided to write a comment of my own. With as many followers as I’m sure MUAA has, I thought it would be a good way to talk about my project and steer people who have an interest in the Tammen story to my website.

Here’s what I wrote.

“Hi! I’m a 1980 Miami grad who has been researching the Tammen disappearance for nearly 12 years for a book project. I’ve been blogging about it too. I’ve discovered a lot of new information. Like…did you know that the FBI had Ron Tammen’s fingerprints when he disappeared and they expunged them in 2002, 30 years earlier than normal? You can read a lot more info here: https://ronaldtammen.com. Stop by!”

The comment made by Ron’s Fisher Hall friend was posted on November 1, 2020, two days after the blog was posted. My comment, which I’d submitted on October 8, 2021, is still awaiting moderation.

Two weeks later, I wrote to MUAA to see if perhaps there was something about my comment that they weren’t happy with. I wanted to let them know that I’d be open to submitting a new comment that fell within their guidelines. Here’s my email:

Dear MUAA,

I’m a 1980 graduate and recurring donor to Miami University. Recently, I noticed that, in October 2020, your blog “Slant Talk” had discussed the disappearance of Ronald Tammen from Fisher Hall (https://miamialumniblog.com/2020/10/30/ron-tammen-where-are-you/).  I’ve been researching Tammen’s disappearance for nearly 12 years for a book project, and have turned up some interesting findings. I submitted a comment to Slant Talk encouraging people to come to my website to read more about that topic, but after two weeks, my comment is still awaiting moderation. Is there a problem with my comment that I should adjust? It would be wonderful if MUAA would acknowledge the work of one of its own in helping solve this mystery.

Their bounce-back email said that they receive a lot of email traffic, and they would try to respond as soon as they were able. If I needed a more immediate answer, however, they provided a number to call.

Six days later, I’d still heard nothing, so I decided to call the number today. I identified myself and asked if they’d be approving my comment. I was informed that they would not. When I asked why not, the MUAA staffer told me that they had a policy not to direct their readers to other websites. When I asked if I could resubmit my comment without the URL, she responded (and I paraphrase here), “Was that on Ronald Tammen?” “Yes,” I said. She then told me that they’d already written a couple times on Ron Tammen and had no interest in writing anything more. “Interesting,” I think I said, and I told her to keep an eye out for my blog because I’d be discussing their blog post. 

“Thank you,” said she. “You bet,” said I.

The internet can be a daunting place for people like me. Compared to an organization like Miami University, I’m small and insignificant. So when MUAA posts a generic piece on Ron Tammen, it’ll trounce my stuff every time. They have way more followers plus an IT team who is busy maximizing their SEO through meta tags and alt texts and all the other stuff I’m supposed to do but I’m not very knowledgeable about. 

Credit: The IT Crowd, via GIPHY

It’s OK though. When A Good Man Is Hard to Find winds up on page one of a Google search (we’re #2!) or DuckDuckGo search (we’re #1!) on “Ronald Tammen,” you can bet that it landed there based on the content (85 posts and counting!). The search engines are confident that if you click on one of my links, you’re going to learn something about Tammen. 

Does Miami University want people to ignore my blog? All signs point to yes, though I don’t get it. No one alive today on or off campus had anything to do with Tammen’s disappearance. Why doesn’t the university want to help find the solution? 

If they really wanted to know the answer to the question “Ron Tammen? Where are you?” they have a funny way of showing it.

Halloween 1973 and the muzzling of Joe Cella

On Friday, October 26, 1973, a calendar item appeared in the Miami Student announcing a talk to be delivered Halloween night. The speaker, Joe Cella, would be presenting at 8 p.m. in the Heritage Room of Miami’s former student center, now known as the Shriver Center. His presentation had been titled “The Ronald Tammen Disappearance.” There was no need for additional verbiage explaining who Ronald Tammen was or why anyone should care—everyone already knew.

Cella was the Hamilton Journal-News reporter who’d devoted decades to investigating Ron’s disappearance from Miami University in 1953. He’d intended to solve the mystery. He dug and he dug, until, quite probably, he’d made a nuisance of himself on Miami’s campus, at least in the minds of the administrators. If it hadn’t been for Joe Cella, some of the most significant clues of the case would have remained in faded notes and eroding memory banks. 

In 1973, Cella had been on a roll. Earlier that year, he’d broken the story about Garret J. Boone, a family physician and Butler County coroner who’d said that Ron had walked into his office in Hamilton on November 19, 1952. (The article erroneously says the office was on Third Street, when it was actually located at 134 North Second Street. You can step inside that very building the next time you’re in or around Hamilton. Doc Boone’s old office is now a bar that features artisanal beer and live music.)

The reason for Ron’s visit was to request that his blood type be tested. Boone said he’d never received such an odd request in his 35 years of practice, and he’d asked Tammen why he needed to have his blood typed. Tammen responded, “I might have to give some blood one of these days.” Doc Boone was able to provide documentation to Cella—a medical record that included Ron’s name, address, and the date of Ron’s visit. 

Cella’s fresh lead was published on April 23, 1973, for the 20th anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance, which had likely captured the attention of students serving on Miami University’s Program Board. Someone reached out to Cella to see if he’d be willing to give a talk on campus, and Joe said “sure.” Of course, they picked Halloween for the date of his talk. That’s when students always turned their thoughts to Tammen. 

I mean DAYUMMM, you guys. Who among us wouldn’t have paid hundreds to hear that talk? I would have given my eye teeth, my “J” teeth, my “K” teeth, and my “LMNOP” teeth to get a chance to hear Joe Cella riffing verbatim on the Tammen case. The Heritage Room would have been packed to the rafters that night. Joe would have been fielding student questions way past his allotted time. But alas, it wasn’t to be. Something happened in the short time interval between Friday’s printed announcement and the following Tuesday that brought Joe’s talk to a grinding halt. In the next issue of the Miami Student—October 30th—this notice was published:

Cella cancelled

Joe Cella’s presentation on the “Ronald Tammen Disappearance” which was scheduled for October 31 has been cancelled. Cella, a news staff worker on the Hamilton Journal, has not received clearance from federal authorities to release material which he has acquired concerning the case. Cella has promised to present his material as part of a Program Board event pending receipt of such clearance.

“Hmmm,” thought I, when I first read the blurb.

Let me tell you a little something about practitioners of journalism, especially journalism of the investigative variety: we don’t wait around for permission to reveal something we’ve managed to dig up. We’ll protect our sources till death if need be, and we’ll protect people’s personal information too. Also, journalists who have somehow accessed classified information that could impact our national security have often elected to withhold that information for, you know, national security’s sake. But material on Ron Tammen? That seems like fair game to me.

So who put the kibosh on Cella’s talk? I doubt that it was the students who served on the Program Board. In 1973, Watergate was front-page news and the Vietnam War still had two more years before all U.S. troops had exited Saigon. Students were wary of feds in general—plus, what student wouldn’t want to hear the inside scoop on Tammen?

What about Cella? From what I’ve learned about him over the years, I’m sure there’s no way that he would have accepted a speaking gig and then, at the last minute, said that he needed to get an “all clear” from some federal agency before he could go public with the juicy tidbit he’d managed to get his hands on. Look at it this way: Can you imagine me calling the FBI and saying, “Hey, I’ve obtained a document stating that Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged due to the Privacy Act or a court order. OK if I print that on my blog? If you could send me your blessing ASAP, I’d be so grateful.” Yeah, right. If you’ll recall, I posted that discovery within 24 hours of my learning it.

Also, how would Cella have obtained whatever he obtained? It’s difficult to say, since we don’t know what he had, but someone representing a federal agency had probably given it to him. And once that happens, boom. It becomes public information. No additional permission necessary.

That leaves us with Miami University administrators. Did Miami officials cancel Cella’s talk, and if so, why would they give two hoots about what Joe would be presenting that night and whether he’d obtained prior permission from “federal authorities”?

Before I address that question, let’s refer back to Cella’s article from April 23, 1973. Not only did we learn about Doc Boone’s visit from Tammen in November 1952 but we learned something else in that article: that Doc Boone had attempted to tell Miami officials about Tammen’s visit back in 1953 but he’d been summarily rebuffed.

“I offered this information (the medical file card contents) to local authorities at the time, but it was always discounted,” the article quoted him as saying. Also, “I discussed it in the past a number of times with two or three persons associated with Miami University, but they didn’t want to discuss the case.” And this: “I feel I definitely got the brush-off.” And then: “As I said before, I offered the information but they didn’t care to listen or pursue it. So I just put the card away and forgot about it.” And finally: “Maybe this information could have been valuable then. I was upset because I was given the run-around by the school.”

Terms like brush-off and run-around aren’t the sorts of things a university likes to read about itself, and the article had indeed been noticed on Miami’s campus. Affixed to the back of the article in University Archives is a note with the letterhead of the Office of Public Information, which was under the direction of Robert T. Howard. Howard had succeeded Gilson Wright in leading Miami’s News Bureau in 1956, and in 1960, he was promoted to director of the Office of Public Information. 

The quasi-mocking note says:

Paul –

Who’s left for him to scold but thee and me?

Howard

Based on the letterhead, I believe the note was written by Robert T. Howard. I’ve tried to determine who Paul is, and I’ll offer up my guess here: I think Robert Howard was writing to Paul Schumacher, the director of Miami University’s Health Service. There weren’t that many Pauls in high posts at Miami in 1973-74, and it seems that it would be on topic for Howard to write to the head of the health service over a fuming physician and his evidence of an off-site doctor’s visit by Tammen.

Several months later, that little flare-up would have still been fresh in the university’s mind, particularly in the mind of the person whose primary responsibility was to show the university in the best possible light, Bob Howard. As Howard was reading the October 26th issue of the Miami Student, sipping his coffee and pondering the fall weekend ahead, he probably had a mini-meltdown when he read who’d be coming to campus on Halloween night. As head of Miami’s Public Information Office, Howard oversaw media relations for the university. Managing Joe Cella would have certainly been within his job description. 

Perhaps Howard was still stinging from Cella’s article about Doc Boone and decided that he wouldn’t be welcome on campus. If so, he might have called Joe to find out what he’d be talking about and made up the excuse that he’d need to obtain federal approval first, just to introduce a roadblock. Maybe. 

Or could the request for clearance from federal authorities have reflected a degree of familiarity with Tammen’s case? Maybe Howard, who’d been working in communications for the university in various capacities since 1947, knew about the federal government’s involvement in Tammen’s disappearance. If so, he would have also known that the university wouldn’t want to anger the sorts of people who I believe were pulling the strings. Perhaps Howard told Cella to seek clearance to make sure the university didn’t stray from whatever marching orders they might have been given back in 1953. If the feds say it’s OK, then it’s OK with us too, Howard might have told Cella.

I have no idea what materials Joe Cella had in his possession from the federal government concerning Tammen. Cella’s sons weren’t able to shed light on that question and his Tammen file is long gone. Likewise, when I asked them if they could recall the Halloween of 1973 when their father’s university talk had been abruptly canceled, it didn’t ring any bells with them. I also contacted former student representatives of Miami’s 1973-74 Program Board and asked if they could recall the incident. Only one person responded and that person had no recollection of the Tammen program that had been canceled.

In 1977, Cella was interviewed by a reporter for the Dayton Daily News about his search for Tammen. He didn’t mention the government materials he’d had in his possession in 1973. Instead, the article says: “Cella said that federal agencies have refused to cooperate with him or Tammen’s family.” In addition, it said that he’d attempted to obtain Tammen’s records from the Social Security Administration but was refused.

This past week, I was in Oxford again, conducting more Tammen research, and I was standing in Miami’s Athletic Hall of Fame inside Millett Hall. There, among the photos of swimmers, wrestlers, football players, basketball players, and the like was a photo of Robert T. Howard, who’d been inducted in 1989 for his role in directing sports information.

So…who do you think canceled Joe’s Halloween talk in 1973?

As for the year 2021, Happy Halloween to all who celebrate! 🎃

The second man, part 2: a Friday-night document drop

Good evening, dear AGMIHTF readers. Tonight I’ll be dropping three historic documents for your perusal. Please be advised: the forthcoming document drop will not be answering any major questions. Rather, these documents are more corroborating in nature. But, hey, corroboration is a good thing too, right? In fact, imho, there’s nothing quite like a little corroboration to get the weekend off to a half-decent start.

Tonight’s documents have to do with Richard Delp. As I explained two blog posts ago (and for those of you who are keeping score at home, that was post #79. Can you believe we’re now at #81?!), Richard Delp was an assistant professor in psychology who, for whatever reason, was listed in the number two spot of three professors in Carl Knox’s notes concerning Ron Tammen’s disappearance. 

Here’s a quick refresher from that post:

In October 1952, Richard Delp had been called onto the carpet by an unidentified supervisor, most likely department chair Everett Patten, to discuss his lack of a Ph.D., a crucial thing for someone in his position to have. He was given until the end of the 1953-54 academic year to finish his thesis, otherwise, his job would be in jeopardy. 

In a follow-up report of the conversation, the supervisor described admonishing Delp thusly: “I pointed out to him that he was now in his third year as an assistant professor, that the probation period was from two to four years, and that if he didn’t have his Doctor’s degree by the end of 1953-54, the question of his retention might arise.”

For those of you who are still keeping score at home, the end of academic year 1953-54 would be sometime in late May or early June of 1954, depending on whether or not you’re counting finals week in your calculations. Therefore, Delp had been given roughly 20 months in which to double down on getting his doctorate degree. Twenty months sounds totally doable, but it’s not realistic. Since Delp had such a taxing teaching schedule, and since he was pursuing his degree at Ohio State, he did most of his graduate work in the summers. Essentially, he had one summer—the summer of 1953—to get everything done.

He didn’t.

Most people would guess that Delp’s job in psychology would have come to an abrupt end, but that’s not what happened. A one-page administrative sheet documenting his salary and promotions while in the psychology department said that, in 1954, not only didn’t he receive a pink slip, but he received tenure. 

This concludes the refresher.

In academia, tenure is a prestigious perk that assures a professor that, unless they do something egregious, their job will always be safe. It’s a big deal. In order for Richard Delp to receive tenure, his nomination would have to be approved by the president of the university—who was Dr. John Millett—and the Board of Trustees, which met every year at the end of the spring semester. But at that level, the list is pretty much rubberstamped. The more in-depth conversations would have taken place earlier in the year with the provost, Dr. Clarence Kreger; the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Dr. W.E. Alderman; and of course, the chair of the psychology department, Dr. Everett Patten.

So I wondered: were university administrators a little more lenient back then? I don’t know much about Dean Alderman, but I’ve read about how Kreger operated, and he was legendarily tough as nails. It wasn’t a secret that he intimidated people—a lot—Everett Patten being one of those people. How could Patten have convinced Kreger that Delp should be rewarded with tenure when his job performance in 1954 was so lackluster and he still didn’t have his Ph.D.? Was the one-sheeter accurate? I mean, look at it. It’s a mimeographed form with notations hand-scrawled in ink or pencil lead. It hardly looks like an official document. However, I’d seen records on professors in other departments, and they had the same penned-in forms. It seemed to be factual, but I wanted to be sure.

I went back to the university. The Board of Trustees meetings are posted on Miami’s Digital Collections, so I located the one that seemed to be the most promising contender for granting Delp’s tenure: June 4, 1954. However, when I read the minutes, I discovered that the handouts containing the names of the employees who were being voted on weren’t included online. I submitted a public records request to Miami’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC), asking if they still had them, and if so, could I have a copy.

Yesterday, the OGC sent me a scanned copy of the handout.

Document #1: Board of Trustees handouts – June 4, 1954

Two things jumped out at me: Not only did Richard Delp indeed receive tenure on June 4, 1954 (see page 7), but he’d been on leave during the spring semester of that year as well (see page 1).

So it all boils down to this:

  • In October 1952, Richard Delp is warned that he has until the end of the 1953-54 academic year—by June 1954—to get his Ph.D., and he promises to ask his thesis adviser and others at Ohio State how he can do that. 
  • Except for the year he took off from Miami to work full-time on his doctorate degree, Delp was mainly commuting to Ohio State during the summers to work on his Ph.D.
  • The only summer between October 1952 and June 1954 was the summer of 1953. But Delp didn’t register for graduate work at Ohio State that summer.
  • Also, he took time off from teaching during the spring of 1954, though we don’t know why. Perhaps he was writing his thesis, but, if so, he never defended it. He never registered for graduate work at Ohio State after summer 1951.
  • June 4, 1954, Richard Delp is approved for tenure by Miami’s Board of Trustees.
Richard Delp’s transcripts from Ohio State University. He never attended after summer 1951.

I may be wrong, but I think something happened between October 1952 (when Richard Delp was warned to get his Ph.D.) and June 1953 (when he should have been enrolled in graduate work at Ohio State) to make Richard Delp think that his position was safe with the Department of Psychology.

Documents 2&3: Men’s Disciplinary Board nomination

The other two documents I’m dropping tonight were written in August 1956, when Richard Delp was invited to sit on the Men’s Disciplinary Board, a board by which male students who veered outside the university’s rules were dealt with accordingly. Delp felt conflicted about sitting on the board, and he wrote to Kreger to explain why. Mainly, it was because Delp had been informally counseling students and he felt that assuming the two roles—informal counselor and disciplinary board member—would be problematic.

Dr. Kreger was not pleased. The next day, he wrote Delp, telling him that he wasn’t aware that Delp was acting in that role, and adding: “If you have assumed a personal counseling function which is taking a sufficient amount of your time to interfere with intellectual growth and scholarly productivity, I think we ought to know about it.” In a postscript, he reminded Delp that any extra time should be devoted to working on his Ph.D. instead. Kreger invited Delp in for a meeting, though I don’t know if it took place. I do know that Delp served as a member of the Men’s Disciplinary Board for academic year 1956-57 and possibly the following year as well.

My point is this: Clarence Kreger was definitely not a softie and the fact that Delp still didn’t have his Ph.D. in 1956 did not escape his notice. I just wish I knew what convinced Kreger and all the others to nominate Delp for tenure in 1954.

Again, I’m just putting the question out there. If you have thoughts/comments/questions, please feel free to DM me or write rontammenproject@gmail.com. Have a great weekend, everyone.

The second man

During the brief period in which Miami University officials were actively looking into Ronald Tammen’s disappearance, Carl Knox had written three names on a legal pad. The first name was Prof. Dennison, which makes total sense. J. Belden Dennison was a revered professor of finance at Miami in addition to being an academic adviser to students in the Business School, Ron included. If I were Carl Knox, I, too, would have reached out to Dennison—“Denny” as his colleagues liked to call him. Denny would have let Knox know about how Ron had been falling behind in his coursework that year. He would have been a little perplexed when Knox informed him that Ron’s psychology book was left open on his desk the evening of his disappearance.

“Are you sure it was his psychology book, Carl?” Denny might have asked.

“That’s right—by Norman Munn. It was open to a section on Habits…or maybe he was reading about post-hypnotic suggestion on the righthand page. I don’t know.”

“Hmmm. That’s weird,” Denny would probably say. “Tammen had dropped his psychology course just recently. I know because I signed his withdrawal slip.” 

The third name on the list was Prof. Switzer, instructor of said psychology course. We’ve gotten to know Doc Switzer quite well over the years on this blog site. In fact, if he knew how many column-inches I’d be dedicating to his, um, extracurricular activities, I’m guessing the super-secretive Switzer would be rolling over in his grave right about now. (Sorry, Doc, but you fascinate me.)

It’s the second name on the list that we’ll be focusing on today: Prof. Delp.

In 1952-53, Richard T. Delp was an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. He, St. Clair Switzer, and Ted Perin, another Miami psychology professor who’d studied under Clark Hull, shared office space in room 118 of old Harrison Hall. I’ve mentioned earlier on this blog site that the inclusion of Delp’s name in the #2 position of Knox’s list is especially curious since Ron wasn’t taking a course from him. Why would Carl Knox think that Richard Delp could provide useful information concerning Ron Tammen?

Richard Delp was the consummate teacher. He loved to learn and he loved to teach. In fact, his zeal for learning made it somewhat difficult to pin down his area of expertise. As an undergraduate at Miami, he majored in psychology and sociology for his bachelor of arts degree, and the next year, he earned a bachelor of science degree in biology and English. As for biology, he especially enjoyed the flora and fauna of Ohio, and he seemed to get a lot of joy out of his farm on Morning Sun Road, where he would host picnics and lead groups of students on nature hikes. He built a cabin there for use by the local Boy Scouts, an organization he was active in for decades. A year after graduating with his B.S. degree, Delp earned his master’s, also from Miami, in education. 

Richard Delp

Delp’s academic career at Miami began in 1945-46, when he was hired by the English Department. (He taught recognition and code at the Naval School on campus for several months during WWII, although info is conflicting regarding the precise timeframe. Also, it was war-related so we’re not counting it here.) In 1946-47, he moved to the Department of Psychology, where Dr. Patten, the chair, probably felt incredibly fortunate to have found him. Throughout the war, the department had been chugging along on fumes as several faculty members had left their professorial posts to serve in the armed forces, including Switzer. After the war was over, the student population nearly doubled the next academic year, from 2345 to 4559. Courses in general psychology were back in high demand, jumping from 9 sections in 1945-46 to 22 in 1946-47. The department needed qualified people to teach heavy course loads throughout each day. Although Switzer had returned to Oxford, he wouldn’t be teaching for several more years as he was helping counsel returning veterans about possible career options. Richard Delp would have been a lifesaver to help carry some of the burden.

But there were aspects to academia that Delp struggled with, one of the main hurdles being the pursuit of a doctorate degree. 

Currently, anyone who aspires to teach at a university generally progresses straight through their educational training, from undergraduate degree to doctorate, oftentimes earning a master’s degree along the way. He or she then performs post-doctoral research somewhere until finally landing a position as an assistant professor, usually somewhere else. It’s a long and arduous process, but essential. Having a doctorate is pretty much a prerequisite to getting your foot inside the door as a faculty member at a university.

That’s only the beginning. You’ve heard of the phrase “publish or perish”? It’s definitely a thing. As soon as a person is hired as an assistant professor, they have several years in which to publish as many papers as they can, plus do anything else to stand out among their peers: acquire grants, serve on university committees, accrue some grad students, hobnob at professional meetings, deliver presentations, take part in media interviews—establish themselves as an expert. They also have to teach a bunch of classes, which includes grading a ton of papers. A cake walk it is not.

After several years, the promotion and tenure committee holds a high-def magnifying lens to that person’s accomplishments and decides if they deserve to be promoted to associate professor. If the answer is yes, they’re usually granted tenure—job security—at roughly the same time, generally after a probationary period. An answer of no is tantamount to being fired, and they need to begin a job search. Of course the process by which an associate professor is promoted to full professor requires more of the above, although they’ll still have a job if they should be turned down since they already have tenure.

Back in Delp’s day, there was a little more wiggle room. A person holding a master’s degree might be hired as an instructor or even an assistant professor. Such new hires would be expected to work toward a higher degree, and Delp certainly worked toward his. After Patten hired him in 1946-47 as an instructor, Delp began taking graduate classes at The Ohio State University that summer. He continued doing so during the summers of ’48 and ‘49, and in 1949-50, he attended graduate school full-time, residing in Columbus. His research thesis was on student ratings of college instructors. When he returned to Oxford in 1950, he was promoted to assistant professor in psychology, which was accompanied by a nice pay raise. In the summer of ’51, he was back to commuting to Ohio State to work on his research.

However, he didn’t finish his dissertation. With no dissertation, there’s no Ph.D. And with no Ph.D., well…he probably shouldn’t have been teaching the courses he was teaching. The 1950 faculty manual stipulated for assistant professors “whose major responsibility is the teaching of academic classes, the doctor’s degree or its equivalent from an accredited college or university shall be required.”

Can I just interject here that I feel for the guy? Spending nine months a year teaching hundreds of students and grading thousands of papers and then taking time off during the summer months to take graduate classes—which he excelled at—and conduct research sounds like a hard life with no let-up. By 1952, he didn’t do anything more toward his degree at Ohio State, according to his transcripts. Goodbye, Columbus.

On October 15, 1952, someone in a position of authority—I’m guessing it was Patten—had a sit-down with Delp to discuss his situation. The supervisor reminded Delp that his probationary period as an assistant professor was nearing an end and if he didn’t have his Ph.D. “by the end of 1953-54, the question of his retention might arise.” Delp vowed to discuss the matter with the folks at Ohio State and to work out a plan to “finish for his degree” by 1954. To soften the tone of his write-up, the supervisor added in the last paragraph that Delp was extremely busy with teaching and that “he seems to be happy with the work which he is doing with the Business students…,” though the supervisor doesn’t specify what work Delp was doing.

A supervisor’s report from a meeting with Delp on 10-15-52; click on image for a closer view

As we all know, the next semester, Ron Tammen, a sophomore business student at Miami, went missing, and Delp’s name as well as that of his office mate, St. Clair Switzer, who taught Tammen’s General Psychology course, were jotted down in Carl Knox’s notes.

The year 1954 came and went, and Delp still hadn’t made headway toward his doctoral degree. A review of his accomplishments for January 1, 1954–June 1, 1955 shows none of the activities expected of someone in his position. Other than joining several professional organizations—paying his dues, basically—his form is mostly left blank. (Inexplicably, activities for subsequent years were written into the space for the last question.)

Click on image for a closer view

Click on image for a closer view

Click on image for a closer view

You might think that it would have been the end of the line for him. With no Ph.D. and no publications or any other accomplishments to speak of other than teaching, you’d think that the year 1954 would have been his last in the psychology department. But you’d be mistaken.

In 1954, Richard Delp was granted “indefinite tenure” according to his administrative one-sheeter, though he remained an assistant professor. He also received sizable pay increases for that year and the succeeding year, which are difficult to explain based on his 1954-55 progress review form. 

Click on image for a closer view

The 1950 faculty manual defined tenure as “a means to certain ends, specifically: (1) Freedom of teaching and research and of extra-mural activities, and (2) A sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability.”

Despite being granted tenure, Richard Delp resigned from his position in psychology in 1961, shortly before Switzer was named department chair. In her book “Eighty Year of Psychology at Miami,” Fern Patten said that it was for health reasons. Two years later, he would be hired by the School of Education, where he would receive accolades as an outstanding professor. 

But my question is this: what happened between October 1952, when a supervisor was warning Delp about his precarious academic position, and academic year 1953-1954, when he received the first of two big pay increases, not to mention indefinite tenure, which was awarded in 1954?

I’m only asking the question, guys. There may be a perfectly good explanation.

Salary progression during time in the Psychology Department

Here’s a chart I’ve created of Richard Delp’s salary progression, year-by-year, while in the Psychology Department. The numbers to the right of the bars are the percent increase he received from the prior year.

I’ll be turning comments off for this one. I am continuing to seek documents that could help address my question. If you have thoughts on this topic or if you happen to have additional information, feel free to DM me on Facebook or Twitter or email me at rontammenproject@gmail.com. Requests for anonymity will be honored.

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As a postscript, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since we lost Marcia Tammen, who passed away on August 31, 2020. We miss her so much, and in her memory and honor, we will continue seeking evidence that may one day tell us what happened to her brother Ron.

Marcia Tammen

The sabbatical: how I think St. Clair Switzer and a well-known MKULTRA psychiatrist spent the summer of 1957

There’s nothing quite like the fourth wave of a pandemic to put one in the mood to read old MKULTRA documents. For some reason, the prospect of reading indecipherable photocopies with all the good parts blacked out made me want to do anything else BUT that. However, because the delta variant has been keeping me from doing more exciting research, I’ve decided to mosey on back to The Black Vault website. I’m currently rummaging through the stash again—both the documents I’d already been through as well as the ones that were released in 2018. 

It’s been time well spent.

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

Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view
Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view

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.

Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view
Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view

Because this letter is tougher to read, I’m including the verbiage here:

8 February 1957

Dear [BLANK],

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.

Very sincerely,

[BLANK]

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. 

Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view
Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view
Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view
Document provided thanks to TheBlackVault.com; click on image for a closer view

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.

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MANY THANKS to TheBlackVault.com for doing the hard work and pursuing the documents that had been missing from the CIA’s earlier release!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What “helpful identifying info” did Woosley provide?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Modrow’s response

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

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

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

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

Jerome Conley’s response

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

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

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

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

Dr. Conley,

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

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

Again, thank you.

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

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

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

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

Do you know who wrote the summary?

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

The location of the document

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

AD’s job title

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

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

The font

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

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

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

Times New Roman sample for comparison
Summary of AD interview

Are you OK? You seem down.

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

Why do you think the university is acting this way? 

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

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