You have questions? Here are some answers.

Last week, as we were observing the 65th anniversary of Ron Tammen’s disappearance, I promised to address some of your questions. Because that’s how it goes with this mystery, right? Every new tidbit of information brings with it a ton more questions. Some pertain to Ron and his open psych book. Others may have been bugging you for a while, either from earlier blog posts or from the few scant details that were made public about his last moments before going AWOL. Before we begin, let me just say this: you really know your stuff. No, I mean it. Many of you are veritable walking encyclopedias on Ronald Tammen.

Some of your questions are so good that I won’t be able to provide a satisfactory answer to them. They were probably the same questions on the minds of the people who had their hands on whatever evidence was available at the time. In fact, some of your questions could only be answered by those very people because they alone had access to information that was never mentioned to a reporter or even written down on a notepad. (Here’s a question I’d like to ask: why was that?) But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Some of your questions I’ve boiled down to a smaller word count, some I’ve clarified, and some I’ve combined if they cover similar territory. Even if I answered a question during the livestream event, I might still include it here, since some of you may have missed it and I felt like elaborating. Sometimes you really didn’t have a question, but more of a comment, and I felt like riffing on it anyway. Lastly, if I didn’t address a comment you’ve made—and that goes for anytime—don’t be offended. Many of your comments stand on their own and don’t seem to require further discussion from me. Nevertheless, all have been really, really good and totally on point.

Here goes:

Pretend you’re just now starting your project and can interview “Uncle Phil” (former President Phil Shriver). What do you ask him?

As I’ve mentioned before, Dr. Shriver was my first interview, and my questions were pretty uninspired. I did ask him about the Delts though, and I remember how surprised he seemed at my suggestion that it could have been a fraternity prank gone awry. That was the first time anyone had ever raised that question with him, he told me. I remember feeling a little silly—as if I were being scolded for thinking the thought. I quickly moved on to the next question.

Today, knowing everything we know now, the key question I’d most like to ask Dr. Shriver is: Have you ever heard of any hypnosis studies being conducted in the psychology department in the early-1950s? The reason I’d ask him this is because Dr. Shriver seemed to know at least several people in the psychology department. (And bear in mind: just because someone was in the psychology department and/or was a hypnosis expert back then doesn’t mean that I think he or she had something to do with Ron’s disappearance.) There’s a photo of Dr. Shriver socializing in one of the psychology labs in the 1960s. I’ve also seen some of the professors’ names in his daily planner shortly after he’d arrived as the new president. So I’d love to share with him some of my findings and ask for his perspective. Of course, maybe he’d respond in the same way he did to my question about Ron’s fraternity brothers. This time, however, I wouldn’t feel silly or move on to the next question so quickly.

If you were a friend of Ron’s and knew the answer to the mystery on April 18,1953, what would you say to him?

I’m not the type of person who doles out advice. I have enough trouble dealing with my own foibles and day-to-day schtuff to feel as if I have any business telling someone else what I think he or she should say or do when standing at one of life’s crossroads. I’m pretty sure this would still be the case if I had advance knowledge of what was about to happen to Ronald Tammen and why. Granted, if I knew that something bad was going to occur, like if he was going to be jumped by a couple thugs with a pillowcase, of course I’d warn him, risking whatever damage that might inflict on the space-time continuum. (But even if I did warn him on the 18th, who’s to say that the thugs wouldn’t return another day?) Thinking what I think at this moment, I probably wouldn’t say anything instructive or cautionary to Ron Tammen. Instead, I’d use the opportunity to ask him a few questions, because the one place I’ve most longed to be over these past eight years is inside Ronald Tammen’s head. So my three questions would be:

  • I hope you’re doing OK. Is something bothering you? You seem…stressed.
  • Who’s that woman from Hamilton we sometimes see you with? You know, the one with the car?
  • Have you ever heard of some sort of hypnosis studies being conducted in the psych department?

If we had time for one more question, I’d also ask: why did you drive all the way to Hamilton on a Wednesday to have your blood type tested when you could have had it tested on campus or at the blood donation center for free?

And one last thing: As he turned to go, I’d probably wish him well and let him know that he was about to become very, very famous.

Have you seen a picture that really struck you, mystery-related or not?

I love every photo that has anything to do with this story. I especially love every photo of Ron, and how different he looks depending on the circumstances. The wrestling photo in particular fascinates me because he doesn’t look at all like the fraternity guy in the suit. The prom photos of him standing next to Grace are awesome because you can just sense the excitement and the nervousness in the two of them. But the photo that I’ve found most compelling is the one of the open psychology book on Ron’s desk. In my mind, I feel as though it’s evidence that was largely ignored.

What’s been the biggest surprise?

The transcripts were a pretty big deal for me. Finding out that the FBI had purged Ron’s fingerprints in 2002 was also big. But the biggest surprise is yet to be revealed.

What was your original best guess back in 1980?

I just thought that he got fed up with school and all its stressors and walked (or hitchhiked) away from it all. I always thought he’d show up alive somewhere, which is why I kept checking online, just to see if anything new had turned up.

What I hadn’t realized back in 1980 was how shocking his disappearance was based on who he was. I knew a little bit about his activities at Miami, but I had no idea what a  fine person he was. (And I use that word in the best sense, as in fine wine or fine linens, not in the “How are you?” “I’m fine” sense.) Everyone seemed to look up to him for their own reasons—his niceness, his friendliness, his smartness, his handsomeness. All of those things and more. That discovery introduced a whole new level of mysteriousness to the mystery for me. Lots of people disappear, but Ron Tammen?! That’s when I decided that I needed to dig deeper, because the answer couldn’t have been as simple as his merely giving up and running away. There had to be more to the story.

What working hypothesis, in whole or in part, have you had shot down?

On the livestream, I answered this question as follows:

  • Charles Findlay had nothing to do with Ron’s disappearance.
  • Neither did Richard Tammen.
  • Neither did the Delts.
  • Neither did the Campus Owls.

I’ve since learned that the questioner had wanted to know what hypothesis (or hypotheses) did I subscribe to that I eventually shot down. That’s slightly different, because I never suspected Charles, Richard, or the Campus Owls. (More on the Delts in a second.) Also, I feel the need to admit here that, while the idea that I could shoot down any theory on my own is flattering, I’m not sure how attainable it is. After so many years, and so much lost evidence, it’s not so much about disproving something happened as opposed to proving that something else is much more likely to have occurred. You know, like Perry Mason used to do: “It can’t be the defendant, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, because, take a look at the guy in the third row!”

Early on, I was delving into the Delts and the “fraternity prank gone awry” theory (even though Dr. Shriver wasn’t a fan). But I soon found that the Delts whom I was able to track down were utterly delightful and forthcoming and receptive to my calls and questions, which didn’t seem consistent with guilty parties who’d signed a pact of secrecy. When I asked a couple of them, point blank, if they’d ever “kidnapped” one of their own as a prank and dropped him off in the middle of nowhere (which might explain a potential Ron sighting in Seven Mile), some told me “no,” but one person said you had to live in the house for that to happen.

“They’d call you on the telephone and about four of them would throw you in the backseat of a car and all that kind of stuff, drop you in the middle of nowhere,” he said with a laugh.

But, he added, they wouldn’t have done it to Ron because Ron didn’t live in the house. Plus, don’t forget that one of the Delts distinctly remembers an evening of song practice, burgers, and wrestling moves at the house prior to a walk back to the dorms with Ron. It may seem unconvincing to some readers, but these guys are just as eager to find out what happened to their friend as the rest of us.

I also investigated the possibility that the mob might have been involved, not because of the fish in Ron’s bed, but because no one knows how to hide a body quite like they do. I’d trained my laser on one man and spent the first year of my investigation getting to know his story, but I eventually came to terms with the nothingness in that premise and moved on.

I’d also wondered if Ron might have gotten a girl pregnant, what with his blood type test on November 19, 1952. There was a girl he sometimes dated during his freshman year, but she’d moved to Colorado to attend nursing school after only one semester at Miami. There were some interesting aspects to that theory—one being that I wasn’t able to obtain confirmation that she’d earned a nursing degree from that institution. But the timeframe in which Ron had taken the blood test doesn’t work out. As I mentioned in this post, a potential baby would have had to be conceived by August 1951, which was before Ron had even started at Miami. Moreover, I’d begun gathering evidence that supported my current theory, and, in July 2014, I found what I considered to be the smoking gun.  Four years later, I’m still pursuing that lead in high gear.

One thing that I’d like to add: somewhere on my website, I mention that I plan to hold back some of the bigger findings for the book. I’ve had a change of heart on that front. If and when I obtain what I need regarding that document, I’ll be making the information public immediately. But it could take some time.

What could or should someone or anyone have done to stop the disappearance?

Truthfully, I don’t think anyone could have done a thing to stop it. As far as whether someone should have stopped it, I don’t know that answer either. Maybe Ron lived a good life afterward. I hope so.

 If Ron’s disappearance was voluntary, why didn’t Ron ever contact his family?

Make no mistake—Ron loved his family. His brother John told me that Ron was “family-oriented” and very caring toward his parents and siblings. If what I think happened did happen, I don’t think Ron had much of a choice. He may have thought that, as unthinkable as it was to leave his family for the rest of his life, it was the only answer to whatever dilemma he was in. I’m guessing that this is probably why he was showing signs of stress after spring break.

I’ve sometimes wondered if Ron was somehow involved in scheduling the Campus Owls gig at John Carroll University in Cleveland for the weekend before he disappeared. That way, he could see his parents and younger siblings at least one more time before he left. I’ve also wondered if he intentionally left his jacket at his parents’ home as a keepsake. (They immediately mailed it back to him.) The papers didn’t specify which jacket it was, but my hunch is that it was the same one that he’d worn the night he disappeared—his blue and tan checked Mackinaw.

Is there any possibility that his roommate was taking psychology and had left the book there instead of Ron? Could they have assumed it was Ron’s simply because the roommate was away?

I don’t think so. The open book was one of the few clues that investigators pointed to as an indication that Ron had been studying, and it was on Ron’s side of the desk. Also, Chuck was interviewed and photographed for the 1954 Hamilton Journal-News article that shows the book from two angles. I’m sure he would have said something if the book were his. Also, in October 2014, I spoke with Chuck about the book. Here’s how that exchange took place (paraphrased in my notes):

JW: Do you remember seeing the book open on his desk?

CF: I vaguely recall seeing the book, although it was a very long time ago.

JW: Do you recall seeing what section it was opened to? People have said it was open to Habits. Do you remember seeing that?

CF: No, I don’t remember that.

Again, if it had been Chuck’s book, I believe he would have said something.

Was there any human error involved with entries on Ron’s transcripts?

There’s always room for human error, but in this case, I don’t see it. Everything fits according to what was recorded and described. Ron’s student records said he was given Incompletes, and his transcripts confirm that. His transcripts also indicate that he’d withdrawn from PSY 261, and the Registrar’s Office possesses a grade card that confirms that he withdrew with a passing grade. Therefore, I think we’re interpreting this scenario correctly. Also, I believe Dean Knox found the open psych book to be more than a little interesting, and I have evidence that indicates he and others were investigating the matter. But that’s a post for another day.

Could there have been some misguidance in the way the book notations were written?

I’m assuming you’re referring to the notation that specified the book title and edition? I think we have enough clues to rule out the possibility that someone misidentified those details. We know from Dean Knox’s notes that the psych book was opened to “HABITS,” which is consistent with sections in Munn’s book. Also, the first edition of Munn’s book was published in 1946. That’s probably too dated for use in 1952-1953, especially since students purchase their own books, and the second edition had come out in 1951. The third edition was published in 1956, which is too late. I believe we have the right book.

Maybe Ron just had a profound interest in the subject of psychology and was reading on his own.

The only problem with that theory is that he’d dropped the course twice. So he couldn’t have been that interested in psychology. But, maybe there was some aspect of psychology that he found relevant to his life. That’s where my thinking is right now.

Was Ron being used as a guinea pig by one of the university’s professors? 

Hmmm. Interesting. By “guinea pig,” you’re referring to possible university studies. I do have evidence that there may have been something going on at that time. We’ll discuss this possibility more in future posts.

Do you suspect anyone, outside of the feds, of knowing but not telling?

I do suspect that one or more people may have known something about Ron’s case, and that they managed to keep quiet over the years. One person whom I’ve wondered about is Ron’s younger brother Richard. His aggressive behavior leading up to Ron’s disappearance on April 19 makes me think that he was experiencing a great deal of inner turmoil about his brother, and his evasiveness afterward makes me think that he knew something and promised not to tell. I also think that people from the university might have known something, though perhaps they didn’t know the whole story. Maybe they were told by a higher authority that they needed to stop looking for Ron, but they weren’t told why. Judging by how closely they guarded the details of their investigation, someone might have been told to withhold some of their discoveries from the press. Thankfully, reporters such as Joe Cella managed to unearth certain details anyway.

Would you have done the same thing if you’d been in Ron’s shoes?

Perhaps. I don’t judge the choices he made. Whatever he was going through was a different reality from mine. Ron was a smart guy and, even though he was barely an adult, he had a good head on his shoulders. I have to assume that it took a lot of courage to do what he did. Maybe that’s the difference between the two of us. I probably wouldn’t have been as courageous as he was.

I once had a fleeting thought of asking if he was in a psychology class. I guess the many generic references to “he was doing well in school” took my mind off the more specific question.

I’ve found this interesting too. The April 24, 1953, Hamilton Journal-News said: “Miami professors said his work has been good in the classroom and that there was little likelihood of pressure from that point.” This stellar assessment was repeated in subsequent HJN issues as well as other newspapers, including the Dayton Daily News and Cleveland Plain Dealer. We now know that things were a lot shakier grade-wise that year for Ron than reporters had been led to believe.

Why was the university telling a different story, and why were they publicizing his higher freshman grade point average instead of his sophomore GPA? Did Miami officials want to avoid tarnishing a student’s reputation, even if that student happened to be missing and the information might help provide a clue? Or was it simply that the professors who said he was doing well represented courses Ron hadn’t dropped, thus skewing his academic performance in a more favorable light? If anyone understood the bigger picture, however, it would have been Carl Knox.

How is it Ron took Economics 201 two semesters in a row his sophomore year? Did he withdraw from the Economics class first semester, apparently while he was grading out as an A?

It’s true that Ron had withdrawn from Economics 201 the first semester of his sophomore year, and then he took the course again during the second semester. The A’s and B’s immediately following the course title appear to be sections, not grades. We don’t have his grades for either semester that he was enrolled in Economics 201.

When he withdrew from two courses to 11 hours, unless things were different back then, he was no longer a full-time student. That would affect grants, loans, ability to live on campus, etc.

Good point. I’d figured that he’d fallen below full-time status, but it didn’t occur to me that it could affect his ability to live on campus, among other issues. I suppose I didn’t think much about it because he was still living on campus the second semester. I don’t have the complete Miami Rules and Regulations booklet for 1952-53. I’m currently attempting to get a copy to see how this change in status might have affected other aspects of his college life.

So he falls below full-time student status first semester, then turns around and takes 2 of the very same classes he withdrew from in the second semester!

In my mind, I figured he was taking the same courses for a second time because they were requirements for a business degree. I’m currently seeking information on required courses for that degree program back then. It would be very strange indeed if he took the same courses twice in one year if they weren’t required.

His class schedule for the semester that he disappeared doesn’t sound very busy to me. Where was he, what was he doing?

Indeed. The Campus Owls kept him busy, but they played primarily on weekends. He was also known to study quite a bit. But from what I can tell, he wasn’t wrestling. He wasn’t very active with his fraternity. Many of his fraternity brothers have said they didn’t see him much because of his other activities, such as the Campus Owls, his work as a residence hall counselor, and his need to study. His roommate and the men Ron counseled mentioned how busy he was with other things, such as his fraternity and the Campus Owls. And his Campus Owl bandmates would often remark about how busy Ron was with his fraternity and his counseling.

Do you sense a pattern here? I think Ron may have had other things going on in his life that weren’t part of the activities we’ve read so much about. If we can figure out what those additional things were, I think we’ll have a better grasp on why he disappeared.

The blog says Knox wrote down a vague note: “all except putting pillow in pillow case.” To me that sounds like the pillowcase is laying there in the room, just not on the pillow. Did people interpret that phrase to mean that the pillowcase was missing? Or do we know for sure it was missing?

Welcome to my personal purgatory. So Ron goes downstairs to get some new sheets because of the fish. Even though Knox’s notes or subsequent news articles don’t say so explicitly, I’m sure that he dropped off the old sheets and pillowcase with Mrs. Todhunter and brought only the new ones up. Then, and this is critical, Knox’s notes say (with his capitalizations included): “Madeup [sic] Bed, all except putting pillow in Pillow Case.” I agree with you that his note implies that the pillowcase was sitting somewhere in the room and, for whatever reason, didn’t make its way onto the pillow.

But did you notice the photo of the bed in the April 22, 1954, Hamilton Journal-News article? [Article provided through permission of Hamilton Journal-News and Cox Media Group Ohio.]

It’s difficult to see in the online version, but in a copy held at Miami University’s Archives, you can see the striped pillow covering without its pillowcase. I can’t tell if the pillowcase is on the bed, however. The caption says: “ROOM LIKE HE LEFT IT…..book, freshly made bed without pillow case.”

That caption—written by someone who had a clear view of the photo—might be interpreted as saying that the pillowcase wasn’t there. And, as you point out, it could be a big deal if Mrs. Todhunter had given Ron a pillowcase and the pillowcase disappeared with Ron. One knock against the “missing pillowcase” theory is that Joe Cella doesn’t mention it in any of his articles. Only the photo caption alludes to the possibility that it may not be there, and Cella may not have helped write the caption.

So, to answer your question, yes, some people have interpreted the lack of a pillowcase on the pillow to mean that the pillowcase had disappeared. Because we don’t have a definite answer—and probably never will—I look at it both ways. Maybe it was there, and maybe it wasn’t. My theory doesn’t hinge on a missing pillowcase, but if it were missing, that would add some interesting color to the story.

And missing pillowcase or no missing pillowcase: Ron was considered a tidy person. It wasn’t like him to make a bed and leave the pillowcase off. At the very least, there’s that.

Would a musician normally leave his bass out in those temperatures for a long time?

Most websites advise against keeping a stringed instrument in the car ever, and definitely not in extreme temperatures. My husband, a percussionist, had this to say on the topic: Even if the temperatures were hovering around freezing that night, they probably wouldn’t have damaged the wood in that amount of time. The temperatures would have to be really cold—below zero—to damage the wood. Ron probably would’ve had to retune his bass the next time he played, but that wouldn’t have been a big deal.

Therefore, even though leaving a bass fiddle out in the car in those temperatures wouldn’t have been recommended, it isn’t necessarily a sign that Ron was signing out.

It’d be wonderful to find someone who was in the same class who could confirm a hypnosis experiment. Or to narrow it down, you might be able to track down a grad student in Psychology in that year who conducted the experiments.

Yes, absolutely. I’ve been attempting to track down possible psychology students/grad students for several years now. It’s been slow going, but I’ve found a couple noteworthy remembrances that have spurred me on. One of the reasons I’ve decided to post this discovery is the hope that it might jog more people’s memories. If anyone reading this recalls participating in or hearing about hypnosis studies in the early-1950s at Miami University or wherever, please contact me.

The woman from Hamilton

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Photo credit: Monica Silva at Unsplash

Of all the movie genres that are out there, the one I adore most is the film noir. The shadowy lighting, the 1940s fashions, the witty repartee spoken in clipped sentences between drags on a smoldering cigarette, the monsoon-like levels of rainfall—such are the elements of a truly great mystery. But, perhaps above all, there’s the mysterious woman—the glamorous vixen who knocks on Humphrey Bogart’s office door late at night in need of a P.I., or the femme fatale who fixes Fred MacMurray a drink as the two plot out a new life insurance policy for her husband. Who is she? What’s her story?, we all think. I’d almost contend that no great mystery goes without one.

Well, hold onto your fedoras, Ron Tammen fans, because we have a mysterious woman too.

She sauntered her way into our saga back in 2010, when I was having a phone conversation with Ron Tammen’s freshman roommate. Tammen had resided in Fisher Hall both of his years at Miami—as a freshman and a sophomore—and, just as it was with Tammen’s sophomore roommate, his freshman roommate really didn’t have any stories to share about Tammen. He thought he was a nice guy, but that’s about it. And then he brought up her.

He remembered that Ron had told him that he was dating an older woman, although, to an 18-year-old guy, the term “older” could have meant anything—from someone in her early 20s to way up in her 30s even. She had a car. She wasn’t a student. She was from somewhere like Hamilton or Middletown, he said, and she would pick Ron up, and the two would drive off together. Some of the other Fisher Hall residents used to whisper about her, he told me. He didn’t recall her name, and in a more recent conversation, he said that he didn’t recall Ron ever mentioning her name to him. He’d never seen her before, so he couldn’t describe what she looked like.

While I found the revelation fascinating, I had no idea where to go with it. I couldn’t imagine that there would be any hard evidence I could seek in document form. The phrase “A woman from Hamilton or Middletown” is a tad too vague when searching a database or submitting a FOIA request. (Actually, I did try searching old newspapers to see if a woman from either of those towns might have gone missing at the same time that Ron did, in the event the two had run off together, but nothing turned up.)

I knew that what I was dealing with was the flimsiest form of evidence there is—hearsay—though that’s not to say that hearsay isn’t valuable. If I could find just one other person who remembered the same obscure details, then I’d be getting somewhere. I asked a few Delts and Fisher Hall residents if they’d ever seen or heard about Ron with an older woman, but that’s about all I could think to do.

After hearing so many “Nos” in reply, I began leaving that question off my list. It didn’t seem pertinent to where the story was heading. Besides, even if Ron Tammen was hanging out with an older woman during his freshman year, how would that relate to his disappearance during his sophomore year?

Then, just last month, I met with Ralph Smith (not his real name), the nearly 97-year-old man who’d been on the Oxford police force when Tammen disappeared. Ralph felt that there were two compelling clues in the case. One was public knowledge and one wasn’t.

The first clue, the one that had already been made public, had to do with the fish in Ron’s bed. To Ralph, that fish was the key to the mystery. He felt that Ron had been so startled and outraged by the fish that he confronted the culprit(s) and a fight ensued. He thought Ron was probably killed and thrown into the basement and never found. Ralph believes this theory so fervently that he wasn’t about to change his mind even after I told him who’d put the fish in Ron’s bed and why. It’s hard to abandon something we’ve believed in for so many years, I guess.

The second clue—the one that hadn’t made its way into public discourse (until now)—had to do with a woman.

Ralph mentioned her early in our conversation, when he told me that there was a report that someone had seen Ron “sitting in a car with a lady out front, and they drove off.” At first, I viewed his comment with skepticism, thinking that it sounded a lot like the hitchhiking reports that had been called in to the Oxford police shortly after Ron disappeared but that had been disproved. However, as he continued bringing up his two main talking points—the fish and the woman, the woman and the fish—I started taking his story more seriously. Here’s exchange number 2 (with light edits and extraneous conversation removed for readability):

RS: I thought, when they talked about him sitting in the car with some lady, I thought it might have been a lady friend or a girl that he liked or something. But why would he just drive off with her, unless she had so much money, that he’d leave his billfold, his contact with the bank?…

JW: OK, who saw him in a car with the lady? Do you remember?

RS: I don’t know. I think one of the fraternity members. I think that was made up…It’s possible that it did happen, but she lived in Hamilton, Ohio. I know that much.

JW: Do you know the name?

RS: No. No name was given.

JW: Was she older? Was she an older person?

RS: No, she was about the same age.

Later, with about 20 minutes left in our conversation, the topic of the woman in the car came up one more time, and I tried to extract any additional information about her that I could  (again, transcript lightly edited for readability):

JW: When did you find out about the woman? Of him talking to a woman or sitting in a car?

RS: I think the next day or so.

JW: Somebody said that he saw Ron Tammen. In a car. With a woman.

RS: Yeah. And they never, they haven’t investigated the person. Nobody knows who the person was who said that, whether it was a fake deal to cover up for a cover-up or what. They definitely said that he was in a car. They saw him in a car about 45 minutes or close to an hour and all of a sudden they just drove off.

JW: And they drove off, but we don’t know what time.

RS: No. It was late. It was night, real late.

JW: OK, was this after the fish?

RS: After the fish deal. It was after the fish deal. After the episode with that…

JW: Interesting.

RS: So he had to go down, and either she called him, or he had called her. Why she came up there, that was never expressed. And she wasn’t investigated.

JW: But did they know her name at one point?

RS: They didn’t know her name. They just said she was a lady who drove up in a car and he got in, and they sit there and then all of the sudden they drove off.

JW: Do you remember what kind of car?

RS: There was no further investigation. Who the lady was or…

JW: OK, so Oscar Decker [the police chief in charge of the investigation] couldn’t act on it because there was no name.

RS: No names involved. The person that said it—they didn’t know the woman. And see, most…the only way, he might have been a fraternity brother or a resident of the same dorm, and she might have been at one of the parties that they had. That was the only way that she might have been known. Because, they all have their own woman at the party. You don’t have no two or three women.

JW: OK, and I don’t know what I would do with this, but do you remember what kind of car?

RS: No. It wasn’t even mentioned.

JW: A color of a car?

RS: The color of the car, nothing. The only thing that was mentioned was that somebody saw him in a car. They didn’t say if it was red, blue, or what or what kind of car, and they were sitting there and they saw them drive off. And no check was made on whether that was true or whether it was a make-up deal or some type of cover-up or whether it really happened and where she really lived. She wasn’t a student. She wasn’t a student. She was just a lady.

JW: From Hamilton? Do we know that for sure?

RS: From Hamilton, they said. They thought she was. So she might have been his connection for a party when he had…See, whenever fraternities on weekends, they all have parties.

JW: Right. And did this person who reported it…

RS: We have no idea who that person is and nobody has no idea who said it.

JW: Can I ask who they told? Did they talk to the university and you found out or did they tell the police? Who did the person who saw Ron in the car…

RS: None of that was ever mentioned.

JW: You don’t know who they told.

RS: No. That’s what I say.

JW: Nobody talked to the police.

RS: Word just got out that…

JW: Word got out.

RS: Yeah. Word just got out, just like, “yeah, I saw him in the car and they drove off.”

After my sit-down with Ralph, I touched base with Ron’s freshman roommate again to see if he could provide additional details about the older woman, but he couldn’t think of anything more to add. I’m currently following up with more Delts and Fisher Hall residents to see if anyone remembers seeing or hearing about Ron and a woman from Hamilton, either on the night in question or any other night. Of course, it still isn’t clear if the older woman is the same person as the woman from Hamilton or if there actually was a woman from Hamilton.

It could be something, or it could be nothing, but it’s another clue that was never investigated, which is something in and of itself.

A big thank you to the Miami University Alumni Association, which recently posted a link on its Facebook page that drew more than 1000 Miami alumni to this website.
If you’re a Miami alumnus who was there at the time and who recalls hearing something about Ron Tammen and a woman from Hamilton, I’d love to talk to you. Please write me through the contact form.

Happy birthday, Ronald Tammen

 

 

Ronald Tammen was born on July 23, 1933, which means that, if he’s still alive, he’d be 84 today. In celebration, I thought we’d steer clear of our usual topics of why and how he disappeared, and share a few stories that his friends and family members have told me—stories that, if Ron were still here, seated at a table with his cake aglow, would elicit that winning grin of his. Many articles have been written about Ronald Tammen over the years, yet very little information has been revealed concerning who Ron was as a human being. I hope the following stories, as told by the people who were fortunate enough to know him personally, will help.

P.S. These tapes were originally created for my own use, and not with the intent of playing them for the public. As a result, I apologize for my less-than-stellar interview style accompanied by the occasional clattering dishes, background voices, country-western tunes, wind gusts, etc. Needless to say, broadcast journalism was never my calling.

For accessibility purposes, a transcript is provided below each audio clip.

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Ron Tammen’s prom date

Ronald Tammen’s date to the senior prom, a woman by the name of Grace, describes the qualities she liked best in Ron. (1:00)

Prom date transcript

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Ron Tammen’s fraternity brother

A fellow Delt describes two reminiscences he has of Ronald Tammen:

a happy memory of Ron playing the bass in the Delt house while people sang along. (0:43)

Delt transcript 1

— a rather frightening memory of when Ron and he hitchhiked from Miami University to Akron/Cleveland. (0:44)

Delt transcript 2

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Ron Tammen’s fellow bandmate

A former Campus Owl discusses how good the band was when he and Ronald Tammen were members as well as some of the perks they enjoyed by playing in one of the best campus bands in the country. (2:23)

Campus Owl transcript

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Ron Tammen’s counselee in Fisher Hall

Former Fisher Hall resident Richard Titus tells how the dead fish wound up in Ron Tammen’s bed. (1:41)

Richard Titus transcript

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John

Ronald Tammen’s older brother John talks about what a natural-born salesperson Ron was. (2:04)

John transcript

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Marcia

Ronald Tammen’s sister Marcia discusses how much fun Ron was as a big brother. (0:46)

Marcia transcript

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Robert

Ronald Tammen’s brother Robert, the youngest of the Tammen siblings, describes a distant memory of when the entire family was together. (0:44)

Robert transcript

Happy birthday, Ronald Tammen! Here’s hoping we have a much clearer picture of what happened to you by the time you turn 85.

 

8:30, 10:30…does it really matter?

Carl Knox note--jpg
A page from Dean Carl Knox’s notes describing what Charles Findlay had discovered when he walked into their room (see red arrow): “Sunday 10:30 Light on — Door Open, but [Ron] never returned.”

Does it even matter whether Ronald Tammen disappeared two hours later than what we’d all been led to believe? Who cares if it was 8:30 or 10:30 p.m.? We still don’t know what happened to Tammen.

It matters because of what it might mean regarding how Ron went AWOL. Did he walk out of his room voluntarily or was he ushered out by force? One knock against the “foul play” theory with regards to an 8:30 departure time was that, with Ron sticking so close to his room for most of the evening, there would have been little opportunity for someone to catch him off guard and whisk him away. First he was studying with Dick Titus down the hall, then he was supposedly reading in his room, and next he was walking downstairs to pick up some sheets as well as reportedly talking on the phone with his brother Richard. While it’s possible for someone to nab him under those circumstances, it doesn’t seem ideal. My guess is that if he disappeared at around 8:30 p.m., he likely walked out of his room on his own.

If, however, Ron was at song practice, a planned occurrence that occupied a designated block of time, someone would have had nearly two hours in which to prepare for an encounter of some sort. According to a Fisher Hall resident whose room faced Ron and Chuck’s room, Ron frequently left the door to their room open, even if he left the building.

“The only time he closed the door was when he went to bed,” the person told me. “Otherwise, it was open at all times, even when he was studying or out.”

What’s more, there was a fire escape outside their window. If someone knowledgeable about Ron’s schedule and habits wished to ambush him (for whatever reason), that person could have entered through the door or window, stepped into the closet, pillowcase in hand (remember the pillowcase that never made its way onto the pillow?), and waited until Ron returned to his room.

Of course, 10:30 was also the time at which Findlay returned to the room, according to Dean Knox’s notes (see red arrow in image), which means that, whether it was precision planning, uncanny luck, or both, someone would have pulled off a fantastic feat just in the nick of time. Or perhaps someone was hiding outside in the shadows of Fisher Hall at 10:30 p.m. awaiting Ron’s return and he never made it back inside. The latter scenario makes it more difficult to explain why Ron’s wallet and keys were left in the room, but perhaps he’d emptied his pockets before heading to song practice. Either way, whether it happened indoors or outdoors, if Ron had disappeared after 10:30 p.m., it seems more likely that someone else had been involved.

There’s a third option, one recently suggested to me by a reader, that combines a voluntary exit with a forced departure. Suppose Ron walked outside on his own to meet someone—maybe at 10:30 p.m. after song practice, but it could have happened at 8:30 too. Ron might have been leery of the person, so much so that he decided to leave most of his personal effects behind. He might have even brought along the pillowcase to carry something back from a transaction. At some point, the person (or persons) could have thrown Ron into the back of a car and driven him somewhere, perhaps Seven Mile. This is a possibility too, which (sadly) means that the potential discovery of two additional hours doesn’t rule out very much—not without more information.

Perhaps the true implication of whether Ron left at 8:30 or 10:30 is this: for some odd reason, university and law enforcement officials never told reporters about their discussions with Paul. (It still isn’t clear who, in addition to Carl Knox, had interviewed Paul. Although Paul first described him as a member of the police force in Oxford, he later said that he wasn’t entirely sure what operation he was affiliated with since the man was out of uniform.) Investigators publicly discussed other leads that had gone nowhere—a lady in Cincinnati, for example, who’d thought that she’d rented an apartment to someone who looked like Tammen or motorists who’d reported picking up hitchhikers who resembled him—but they never disclosed Paul’s claim that Ron had been to song practice that night. The case was so lacking in clues that, even if investigators had possessed ironclad evidence that ruled out Paul’s story (which, by the way, I haven’t seen any indication of), you’d think that they would have at least mentioned to reporters that they’d chased down that lead but that it, too, was a bust. So the secrecy—the secrecy about song practice—may be what matters most.

Addendum — What about the fraternity pin?

As an addendum to today’s post, it’s interesting how a new discovery can affect how you look at old clues. Just as I was adding the above image to this page, I reread the words Dean Knox had penciled in at the top: “Car Keys in Desk with Fraternity Pin.” It struck me: were the Delts required to wear their fraternity pins to all functions, including song practice? If so, and if we are to believe Paul’s story, then it would appear that Ron did make it back to his room before he disappeared. I asked Paul if he remembered having to wear his pin to all fraternity functions, to which he said, “The House encouraged guys to wear their pin but I don’t recall a fine for not wearing it.” Looks as though I may need to get my hands on the 1953 Delta Tau Delta bylaws.

On birthdays, memories, and song practice

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Today’s my birthday. I share it with the birth of our country, which has always made me feel kind of special. Other notable birthday buddies include George Steinbrenner, Leona Helmsley, and Geraldo Rivera. (We Cancers can be characters.) If I could have chosen a day of the year on which to be born, I suppose I would have even chosen this day. There was always something fun to do—picnics, ball games, boat rides, and pyrotechnics to cap it all off.

When something happens on my birthday, chances are pretty good that I’m going to remember it. While I can’t remember every detail of every birthday I’ve ever had, I do remember many of them. And if something out of the ordinary happened on my birthday, that made a bigger dent. It became a part of me—filed away for the rest of my life. I’d venture to say that, if something happens on my birthday, there’s a better chance that I’ll remember it than if it happens on July 5 or 10 or 31.

Which brings me back around to the Ronald Tammen story and my most recent discovery. You may still be unsure about whether to believe Paul’s version of events. I get that. It was so long ago, and memories do have a way of morphing over the years.

But there’s something I haven’t shared with you up until now.  April 19 is Paul’s birthday. That’s why his memory of song practice that night is so vivid. He kept his birthday to himself, he told me, because he’d seen how merciless those guys could be in celebrating other Delts’ birthdays. No sense in putting oneself through that if you can help it. But regarding the question of whether there was a song practice that night, and who it was he walked home with? On those topics he’s quite sure. Sure as the day he was born.

 

When memories collide, part 2: Song practice, the University of Kentucky, and a meeting over coffee

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Photo credit: Dan Gold on Unsplash

In my last post, Paul (again, not his real name), a fraternity brother of Ronald Tammen’s with an extraordinary gift for remembering, had just told me a story that added roughly two hours to the timeline of Tammen’s known whereabouts before he went missing. Of course, the easiest way to corroborate Paul’s version would have been to track down the third guy who allegedly walked home from song practice with Ron and Paul—Chip Anderson—and ask him what he remembered about the night Tammen disappeared. Unfortunately, Chip passed away more than 20 years ago, in 1993. I reached out to his family in hopes that Chip might have shared his tale with them over the years, however, Chip’s wife has also passed away, and two of his sons don’t recall ever hearing their father talk about Ronald Tammen or a fateful walk home.

I also tried contacting the fraternity—both the Miami chapter and national headquarters—to see if there might be old records documenting a song practice held on April 19, 1953, and, if so, the names of the attendees. It was a long shot that also failed.

I touched base with a couple Delts in Ron’s pledge class with whom I’d spoken at the start of my book project. Neither had any recollection of song practice on the same night as Tammen’s disappearance. I then drew up a longer list of Delts—this time including men who had pledged during the spring of ‘53 plus anyone else who, for whatever reason, wasn’t pictured in Miami’s yearbook until the following year. I called or emailed as many men as I could find to see if anyone remembered having song practice on April 19 and, if so, was Ronald Tammen standing there among them? Again, no one could recall attending song practice that night. One person said that he thought he’d seen Ron at the house that evening, sometime around 7 or 8 p.m., although he was just guessing about the time and he didn’t know the reason why Ron might have been there.

Just as I was about to lose all hope, one of Ron’s fraternity brothers—I’ll call him Bill—let me know that he had a very distinct memory of the topic in question. The reason, he said, was that he was in charge of the Delts’ participation in the Intrafraternity Sing on Mother’s Day weekend that year. He also remembers—vividly—Ron asking to meet with him on the Thursday before Ron disappeared. The reason for the meeting was a scheduling conflict that Ron was experiencing.

“So Ron at the time was the song leader for Delta Tau Delta, and he called me and said, ‘Can we meet? I’ve got everything rearranged.’ And I said ‘OK,’” Bill explained. “So we went to a little restaurant on High Street called Coffee Pete’s, and he and I talked about what was going to happen on the Saturday when they were having the song [competition].”

Bill recalls their conversation like this: Ron had told him that the Campus Owls were scheduled to play at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington, that upcoming weekend, and Ron needed to be there. Fortunately, Ron assured him, he’d found a replacement who was willing to serve as the group song leader, a guy named Ted Traeger. Traeger would direct the group on Saturday, which, as Bill recalls, was the day of the Intrafraternity Sing.

“[Ron] went through the whole deal, what Traeger was going to do,” said Bill, “and when that concluded, we shook hands, and I said, ‘Have a good weekend,’ and he said, ‘You too. Everything will be all right,’ and to be honest with you, that was the last I ever saw Ron.”

As intriguing as Bill’s story was, a couple key points—both easy enough to fact check—didn’t fit very well, namely:

  • Miami’s Mother’s Day weekend was held on the second weekend in May in 1953, not the weekend of Ron’s disappearance. The Intrafraternity Sing took place on Saturday, May 9.
  • The Campus Owls weren’t playing in Kentucky the weekend that Ron disappeared. According to news accounts, at least some band members were playing at Short High School, near Richmond, Indiana, that Friday night (though it doesn’t appear that Ron was among them), and they played at the Omicron Delta Kappa carnival at Miami on Saturday, which Ron did attend.

I didn’t want to quibble with him about the inconsistencies. People remember what they remember, and (I can’t stress this enough) it was 64 years ago. I made a mental note to work out the dates and places a little later and moved on.

I asked Bill if he attended all of the Delts’ song practices, and he told me no. While he was in charge of their participation in the competition, he sang in a quartet instead of the bigger group. Hence, he wouldn’t have known whether Ron was at song practice that weekend or not.

I then told Bill that news organizations had reported that Ron had been asked to step down as song practice leader because of his many activities. It was my thinking that, if anyone had the authority to ask Ron to step down, it would have been Bill.

“So it wasn’t you who asked him to step down?” I asked him.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

This was in sync with what Paul had remembered as well. In Paul’s view, there was no way that anyone would have asked Ron to step down as song leader. Ron was the only one of the bunch who was musically inclined. I later followed up with Paul and asked him if he remembered Ron being replaced by Ted Traeger after Ron disappeared, and he responded that Traeger “was indeed the replacement song leader.” (Unfortunately Traeger passed away in 2012, so I was unable to ask him directly.) So those two details checked out.

Why, then, would Ron need to seek a replacement? He was still in town for the weekend of April 17-19. But Bill was so sure that the Campus Owls had traveled to the University of Kentucky, I consulted the archives of the university’s student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, to see if they might have a record of it.

As expected, the Campus Owls weren’t mentioned anywhere during April 1953. However, an article appearing in the Friday, May 8, 1953, issue said that the Campus Owls would be entertaining the students the next night—May 9—which also happened to be the date of Miami’s Intrafraternity Sing. (See the upper lefthand corner of the paper.)

Campus Owls to be at UK, 5-8-53, p1
Used with permission of The Kentucky Kernel

And that’s when it all made sense. When Ron asked Bill to meet with him the Thursday before he disappeared, Ron was doing what Ron did best—he was being responsible. The Campus Owls were going to be playing at the University of Kentucky the same day as the Intrafraternity Sing, and he knew about that conflict weeks in advance. He made arrangements to have Ted Traeger take his place and he wanted to let Bill know about the change ahead of time. Sure, Bill may have confused the date over the years, but his recall regarding the reason behind the switch was spot on.

But that left a remaining question: if Ron had been planning to play at the University of Kentucky on May 9, why would he attend song practice on April 19? My guess is that he was just being his responsible self. Perhaps he wanted to show Ted the ropes before he turned him loose. Maybe he thought his presence was still needed to help his vocally challenged fraternity brothers. Regardless of the reason why Ron would have attended song practice that night, I’m leaning in favor of the notion that he was there. I think this even though I was unable to find a single living soul other than Paul who remembered Ron being there. And I have Murray Seeger to thank.

In his 1956 Cleveland Plain Dealer article, the one in which someone had mistakenly (in my view) told Seeger that Ron had been asked to step down as song leader as opposed to voluntarily finding his own replacement, Seeger wrote:

“But this did not seem to upset him unduly—he took a place in the singing group and let someone else direct it.”

Ron “took a place” in the group. If we are to believe what Seeger is saying, we’re left to conclude that Ron had attended at least one song practice after his meeting with Bill. And since Ron had met with Bill the Thursday before he disappeared, there was only one practice that he could have attended—the one that occurred on Sunday, April 19.

What do you think? Was he there or not? And does it even matter?

When memories collide, part 1: The Delts, song practice, and a momentous walk home

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Photo credit: David Beale on Unsplash

It can be a jolting experience when a highly credible person I’m interviewing reveals information that doesn’t jive with what’s been said or written on Ron Tammen’s disappearance. If my underlying premise is solid, new details can adjust and resettle around the old, and things can return to normal fairly quickly. My understanding of what happened is slightly altered, but stronger. If, however, the premise is more loosely constructed, full of gaps and leaps, I’d know pretty much then and there that I needed to abandon it and start rebuilding from scratch. Such was the test I faced one recent Thursday morning when everything I thought I knew about Ronald Tammen’s last minutes at Miami experienced a tremor measuring about 7.1 on the Richter scale.

I’d been speaking to a former fraternity brother of Ron’s, whose name had been passed along to me by one of his classmates. He’d just celebrated his 84th birthday, but his voice sounded as if he were in his 60s or early 70s, and his memory was strong and sure on the most minuscule of details.

“The only times that I really saw him was at song practices,” my Delt friend told me (let’s call him Paul), when I’d asked him if he ever interacted socially with Ron. Paul explained that on Mother’s Day weekend, an event in May when students’ moms would descend on Miami’s campus in lavender-scented droves, fraternities would hold a singing competition at Withrow Court. (Withrow, a beloved brick building where dances were held and basketball games played, was demolished last summer.) The competition was the high point of the weekend, and an occasion for which the Delts had been preparing for weeks. It was, Paul let me know, a very big deal.

“The only guy who could carry a tune or who knew anything about music in the Delt house was Ron,” Paul said, so Ron was the Delts’ obvious choice for song leader. Paul also remembers the day and time at which they’d scheduled their practices: Sunday evenings at around 10 p.m., after women’s curfew. (That way, a guy could return from a date and still make it to singing practice.) Sometimes, however, they might opt to hold practice an hour earlier, he said.

With respect to the practice on April 19, 1953, Paul is unsure if it was held at 9 or 10 p.m. It was, after all, 64 years ago.

“But you do remember that Ron was at practice?” I asked.

“There’s no question. I walked home with him,” he responded.

What?, I thought. The seismic rumblings had begun.

“So what happened that night was we had the song practice, and Daddio [the house chef] made hamburgers for us, and then we all broke up,” he said.

Paul then proceeded to tell me how he, a guy named Chip Anderson, and Ron walked back to their dorms on a path that ran from the Delt House, between the Natatorium and Withrow Court, and across what is now the baseball field. They ended near Symmes Hall, the freshman dorm where Chip and Paul lived.

“And we said good night to [Ron] and he walked on. And as far as we know, Dean Knox told me we were probably the last ones that he knows that saw him.”

I’m not going to lie—the entire time that I was listening to his story, I was thinking that he must be mistaken. I wondered if it might have been Richard, Ron’s younger brother, who had walked back with them. That would have made more sense to me. Richard had pledged Delta Tau Delta that spring. I could easily imagine how, as the years rolled by, the part of the brain where memories are stored might replace one Tammen with another one. Or maybe it was Ron whom he walked home with but just on a different night.

But his last comment—the one about Carl Knox, the dean of men who headed up the university’s investigation—suddenly gave me pause. That’s a memory that would stick hard and fast.

“This is all new information,” I stammered. I said something about there being no news accounts putting Ron at song practice at 10 p.m—that everything I’d read stated that he returned to his room at about 8 or 8:30 after picking up the sheets.

“It’s possible that he was back in his room at 8:30,” he replied, “but the point is that if he was there at 8:30, he wasn’t in for the night. He had left and come back out to the Delt house for song practice. There’s no question—he wasn’t back before 10:30 p.m.”

Before my conversation with Paul, song practice was one of the more benign details of the case. In 1956, Murray Seeger of the Cleveland Plain Dealer had reported that, about a week before Ron disappeared, he had been asked by the fraternity to step down as song practice leader because his other activities were getting in the way. “But this did not seem to upset him unduly—he took a place in the singing group and let someone else direct it,” wrote Seeger.

Whatever, I thought, after stumbling on that passage for the first time. Ron Tammen was a busy guy. Being the bar-setting overachiever that he was, he was probably a little embarrassed to be asked to step down, but also relieved to give up one of his many obligations. Maybe he was experiencing some stress, but name one college sophomore who hasn’t. In my seven-plus years of research into Ron Tammen’s disappearance, I honestly don’t think I spent more than ten minutes thinking about the Delts’ song practice and how it might have fit into the equation.

Now, all of the sudden, I was being told that Ron was actually at song practice on the night of April 19 and walking back to Fisher Hall at around 10:30 p.m.? That was too much to wrap my head around at that moment.

“There was information in the news saying that Ron led the song practice, but then like a week before he disappeared, he was asked to step down. Do you remember that?” I asked.

“Not at all.”

“…and that somebody else took over?”

“I can’t imagine. We didn’t have another guy that could carry a tune, Jenny. There’s no question. We couldn’t have. That’s not true.”

So here was my predicament: Paul’s story had never before reached the light of day, yet he was crystal clear on the details, many of which were aligned with what I already knew (or thought I knew). He told me that he remembered Ron teaching wrestling moves to a few other guys that night as they waited on their burgers. He recalled a light snow falling, barely covering the ground, yet enough so that he had noticed his footprints as they walked to the dorms.

“I remember it well because I went through all kinds of interrogations on this. Dean Knox talked to me several times. There was a member of the police force in Oxford who also spoke to me about it, so I remember the details pretty well of what happened that night.”

After the call ended, and I had time to fully process what he’d just told me, questions began churning in my brain regarding the implications of this new version of events:

  • If Ron was going to song practice after he changed his sheets, why would he tell Mrs. Todhunter that he was going straight to bed?
  • Why didn’t someone from the fraternity tell Chuck Findlay, Ron’s roommate, that Ron had been at song practice, when he asked them on Monday if anyone had seen him?
  • If Ron had arrived at his room at around 10:30 p.m., how did he not run into Chuck, who also supposedly arrived at the dorm at that time?
  • And finally, how did this fairly explosive detail get past every single reporter who’s ever written about the case, particularly Murray Seeger, who actually had a conversation with someone on the very topic of song practice?

One thing was obvious: if Ronald Tammen had arrived at his dorm room at 10:30 p.m., there was no way that he’d be able to hike the 11 or so miles to Seven Mile and knock on Mrs. Spivey’s door before midnight. Not without a little help.

Coming soon: my search for corroborating evidence