A commenter recently asked about Joe Cella’s 1976 revelation that, on the Friday night before Tammen disappeared, he’d stopped by the home of Glenn Dennison to pay his car insurance. She was wondering why Ron would show up at his insurance agent’s house on a Friday night to pay his premium. Who does that, right?
It’s a really good question. There were other aspects to that visit that were curious too—aspects that I haven’t discussed with you yet. So let’s talk about them now.
According to Cella’s April 18, 1976, Hamilton Journal News article, “Mrs. Dennison, who had never reported the visit to authorities, recalled Tammen came to their home Friday, April 17, 1953, about 8 p.m. to pay his car insurance premium.” Cella verified that the payment—totaling $17.45—had been made on that date through old records produced by Mrs. Dennison, who assisted her husband with his insurance business.
Dennison’s house, located on Contreras Road, is out beyond where the Taco Bell and LaRosa’s Pizza is now, and a couple miles from where Fisher Hall once stood. Also, Dennison’s business was out of his home, so it wasn’t all that weird that Tammen would show up at the house. A 1960 ad in the phone book lists his business address at Contreras Road, though it doesn’t include the house number.
What was weird was the time—8 p.m. on a Friday. Don’t most college students generally have more fun places to be on Friday nights? Why did Ron think it was so important to pay his premium then, when it wasn’t even due until April 24? He was a week early.
Here are the two things I haven’t shared with you about that visit and perhaps why Tammen might have ended up at the Dennison home at that time:
Everett Patten, the chair of Miami’s psychology department, lived on Contreras Road too. In the 1952-53 Miami Directory, his address is listed as R.R. 1, short for Rural Route 1, which tells us nothing about where he actually lived. In 1956, the Oxford telephone book listed Patten at R.D. 1, which I believe means Rural Delivery 1, and again, tells us nothing about his location. Thankfully, the 1958 Oxford phone book specified an actual house number. (By the way, if you’re thinking that he moved, I don’t think so. That was the same year in which St. Clair Switzer’s house was given a number, from his former designation of R.D. 2.)
So Everett Patten lived on the 6400 block of Contreras Road and Glenn Dennison lived and worked on the 6100 block of Contreras Road—less than a mile apart. It’s actually .4 miles.
Let’s imagine that Ron is at Dr. Patten’s house that night for some reason. We’ve already established that Patten seemed to know a lot about Ron—like Ron having dissociation in his background, for example—and we also know that the psychology department was hypnotizing students at that time. It would make a lot of sense for them to conduct their hypnosis sessions off campus, to avoid drawing attention. If Ron’s at Patten’s home on a Friday night for a hypnosis session, wouldn’t it make sense for him to stop off at Glenn Dennison’s house to pay his car insurance as long as he’s in the neighborhood? Whether coming or going, it would have been on the way.
The second thing I need to tell you is that the Campus Owls had a gig that night. According to the newspaper the Palladium Item of Richmond, IN, the Campus Owls played that Friday night from 8 to 11:30 p.m. at Short High School in Liberty, IN, which is about a 20-minute drive from Oxford.
In Cella’s article, Mrs. Dennison says, “He stayed about a half hour, talking about the Campus Owls in which he played and talked about other things.”
Of course, the times may be a little off, since Mrs. Dennison was recalling events from 23 years prior, however it still seems strange to me that Tammen would be so chatty on a night he was supposed to be in Indiana—at 8 p.m. My guess is that he didn’t go at all. And why would Ron, a guy who was forever looking for ways to earn money, choose not to go to a gig to make some additional cash?
Maybe he had something else to do that would also bring in money—something that would soon take precedence over everything else.
Joe Cella, the Hamilton Journal News reporter who never let the Tammen story die and who unearthed essential details about the case even decades later, would be turning 100 today if he were still alive. In April 1977, Joe was quoted in an article in the Dayton Daily News saying: “The university covered it up. They wouldn’t give you any answers.” On Joe’s centennial birthday, I thought it would be fitting to post some additional evidence that supports his cover-up theory.
For a long, long while, I used to believe that Miami University’s administrators and the Oxford PD didn’t have the slightest notion of what happened to Ron Tammen in the days following his disappearance. When they were quoted in the press bemoaning the lack of clues while actively ignoring, you know, actual clues, I just figured they were letting their inexperience show through. They were new at this, you guys. Cut ‘em some slack.
But then, as I discussed in my post “Proof of a cover-up,” it started appearing as if university administrators were purposely withholding key details. First and foremost: No one seemed to want the psychology book that was open on Tammen’s desk to make its way into a news article. Gilson Wright, the Miami journalism professor who also worked as a stringer for area papers, was how they conveniently managed to keep that info away from the interested public. Wright never mentioned the word psychology in any of his stories—ever—even though he would have known about the open textbook’s subject matter at the very latest by April 1954, when Joe Cella, of the Hamilton Journal News, introduced that detail into his one-year anniversary article. In the first 23 years of Tammen coverage, only two reporters—Cella and Murray Seeger, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer—ever mentioned the psychology book in their articles.
That discovery has led me to ask: what else was the university doing to keep details of the case away from the press, and—OK, I’ll say it—namely one member of the press? Although Seeger wrote a nice piece in 1956, he was primarily a political reporter for the Plain Dealerbefore moving on to bigger outlets, and he wasn’t keeping up with the story like Cella was. Cella was the only non-university-paid reporter who was following the story from the very beginning until 1976, and quite probably until his death in 1980.
Was the university doing anything to keep certain information out of Cella’s hands? For sure.
Last year, before Covid-19 reared its spikey little head, I was spending some time in Miami University’s Archives, and found something I didn’t recall seeing there before. Or, if I had seen it before, it didn’t seem nearly as significant as it does now. Tucked among a hodgepodge of Tammen-related news and magazine articles is an undated, unsourced, one-page sheet that appears innocent enough—a dishy “story behind the story” that someone had typed up on a computer. The font looks like Times New Roman and it was printed on a laser printer. The printer paper looks bright white, not yellowed with age. For these and a few other reasons, which I’ll be getting to in a moment, it appears to have been written fairly recently—long after I graduated from Miami in 1980 and certainly post-Cella. It could have been produced in the last 20 years, or perhaps even more recently than that. It’s too hard to tell.
The write-up has to do with an interview that was conducted with someone who worked for Carl Knox at the time that Ron Tammen disappeared. She was his secretary—that was her official job title—though the write-up refers to her as the “Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox.” (That’s another clue that the write-up was more recent: over the decades, the terms administrative assistant or administrative professional replaced the word secretary, with the professional association making the change only roughly 20 years ago, in the late 1990s and 2000.)
A sad, albeit surprising aspect of this story is that this person passed away only this year. What I’m driving at here is that it appears that someone who’d worked closely with Carl Knox when Ronald Tammen disappeared was interviewed by someone from the university relatively recently in my estimation, though I don’t know when or by whom. In Tammen world, this was the “get” of all gets. It would have been the closest thing to talking to Carl himself.
I’m not going to share the name of the assistant on this blog site out of respect for the family, who couldn’t recall ever hearing their mother comment on the Tammen case. But I will include the details that this person shared during her interview, which were typed up in bulleted format. The document reads as follows, with the only difference being that I’ve substituted “AD” (short for assistant to the dean) for the woman’s name:
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON RON TAMMEN, Jr.
From an interview with AD, Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox, at the time of Tammen’s disappearance on April 19, 1953
At the time, Hueston Woods held a work-camp for prisoners who were about to be released; they worked at clearing away brush from the future site of the lake. These prisoners assisted in the search for Ron Tammen.
AD’s office was across the hall from Dean Knox’s, with a bench across from her desk. After the disappearance, news reporters would sit on this bench awaiting any new information. On one occasion, AD called across the hall to Dean Knox that he had a telephone call from New York. Although the call had nothing to do with Ron Tammen, the reporters assumed it did, and this is how the rumor started that Tammen had been found in New York.
As a result of the false New York story (above), a buzzer was installed on AD’s desk so she could notify Dean Knox of his calls without calling out across the hall for the reporters to hear. She was also given a list of words that she should not say aloud in front of reporters.
After Fisher Hall was demolished in 1978, the wells and cisterns under the building were searched, since they had not been easy to search at the time of the disappearance. No signs of Ron Tammen, Jr. were found.
Before I begin dissecting the summary, please understand that I don’t think AD was in on every single convo surrounding the university’s investigation. Rather, in my view, her comments reflect what Dean Knox and perhaps others would have said to her. That’s what I’m commenting on—the words and actions of AD’s superiors based on her personal account. I’ll also add that the above summary is only someone’s interpretation of what she said during the interview. Unless we have the original transcript or recording, we can’t be sure that whoever wrote these notes did so with 100% accuracy. Plus, they may have left out some important details.
OK, let’s get to it:
1). The date of the interview
The author decided not to add his or her name to the summary, which is aggravating enough for someone like me who likes to contact people who know things about the Tammen case. But it would have been really helpful if they had thought to date it—either typed it in or scribbled it at the top to let us all know when it was written, and in turn, roughly when AD was interviewed. Instead, the first line is so confusing that it takes a couple reads to realize that they’re saying she was the “Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox, at the time of Tammen’s disappearance,” as opposed to being interviewed at that time, as one Miami staff member had speculated when I’d inquired about it. Based on the evidence I’ve described plus what I’m about to discuss—particularly regarding bullet #3 above—I’ve concluded that it’s a poorly worded phrase, and there’s simply no way the interview happened in 1953. It was later. We just don’t know how much later. I don’t want to get all conspiracy theory–minded on you this early in my blog post, but I mean…did they MEAN to throw us off by not dating it?
2). The work-camp prisoners
Yeah, yawn, we already knew about the prisoners. Good for them. Moving on.
3). The New York rumor
A couple weeks after Ron Tammen disappeared, a rumor had spread across campus about Tammen being spotted in New York. I’ve tried like crazy to find out what the rumor was—it was one of my standby questions for anyone I interviewed who was on campus at the time. No one with whom I spoke could recall the rumor. In fact the only other evidence I’ve had of the rumor was a May 8, 1953, editorial in the Miami Student (p. 2, top left) that stated that a rumor had been circulating that “…Tammen had been located, under conditions that were defamatory to his character.” But according to the same editorial, the rumor was started by an “enterprising student,” and the purpose was to see how fast it would spread. Other than that editorial, which chastised fellow students for disseminating the rumor in the first place (its title was “Must Tongues Wag”), no reporter ever mentioned the New York rumor in an article—not Joe Cella, not Gilson Wright, not even a student reporter.
As we all know, there was another possible New York connection to the Tammen story, though this one came several months later, in August 1953. Could housing official H.H. Stephenson’s potential Ron sighting in Wellsville, NY, have been the basis behind the phone call that Carl Knox had received? Perhaps Cella or Wright or someone else was in the vicinity when the call came in, and Knox was concerned that they’d heard something that he felt shouldn’t be made public. The only person who reported that potential sighting, however, was Cella in 1976, and that article was not based on a rumor or an overheard phone call. It was based on a conversation with H.H. Stephenson, who had worked directly for Carl Knox in 1953. (His title then was director of men’s housing and student employment.)
4). The bench across from her desk
The summary says that reporters—plural—used to sit on a bench across from AD’s desk waiting for updates. That’s rather hard to imagine, given the fact that there were so few clues to begin with and only two newspaper reporters who were covering the story from the beginning: Gilson Wright and Joe Cella. Wright, being a university employee, seemed to have an inside track with Carl Knox. Why would he have to sit on the bench waiting for updates? Besides, with all the university jobs he was juggling—teaching courses, advising student journalists, heading up the news bureau—he had other places to be.
Perhaps a Miami Student reporter had been occupying the bench. But students have classes to attend, and, moreover, there were no bylined Miami Student articles during the spring of 1953. Also, the early Student articles were similar to the articles Wright was submitting to area newspapers, which has led me to infer that Wright authored those as well.
That leaves Joe Cella, although I’m sure Joe was too busy to plant himself outside of Carl Knox’s office for hours on end. Besides, Joe’s best sources seemed to be the students and staff members who were closest to the action as opposed to seated behind a desk in Benton Hall.
As far as radio and TV coverage, there likely was some of that too, especially early on, though any trace of what was broadcast over the airwaves is gone. However, their reporting would have probably been bare-bones, with most of their info coming from Miami’s news bureau, courtesy of Gilson Wright and company. In short, I can’t imagine they’d be camped out either.
My hunch is that whoever was seated there when the New York phone call came in had set up an interview with Knox and was merely waiting…if a reporter was sitting there at all. More on that theory in a second.
5). The buzzer on her desk
Regardless of who was calling from New York and for what purpose, university administrators had clearly been shaken up about it—so much so that they decided to install a buzzer on AD’s desk.
For what it’s worth, the buzzer technology wouldn’t have been a huge technological feat in those days, according to two electrical engineers who weighed in after I put out a call for help on Facebook. (Thanks, Chris and Travis!) People have been ringing doorbells on a widespread basis since the early 1900s, which would basically accomplish the same thing—pressing a button and having it ring, or buzz, in another room with the aid of an electrical wire. (A similar concept is turning lights on and off using a button or toggle switch, connected to a light source by an electrical wire.) For this reason, AD’s buzzer would have been fairly simple for someone with that skill set to put together.
6). More on the bench, the buzzer, and the rumor
But seriously, you guys, how many reporters could there have been sitting on AD’s bench, day in and day out, and were they really creating such havoc around the office that it warranted instituting a secret buzzer system?
To be sure, a missing student is a very big deal. But installing a secret desk buzzer seems to be more like the act of someone who wants to play spy or top-secret government insider. Who were they protecting with their desk buzzer? Not Ron. Not the Tammen family. And honestly, so what if someone from the press overheard that Carl Knox had received a call from New York. No reporter worth his or her stripes would file a story based on that meager amount of info. They’d first ask Knox if the call pertained to Tammen, Knox would say no, and the potential misinformation would be squelched then and there, amIright?
I’m going to propose a different scenario: AD may have been told by Knox that her new buzzer system was because of reporters spreading the New York rumor—which, again, never made its way into newspapers—but I think it went beyond that. Remember that Carl Knox had jotted in his notes the name “Prof. Switzer,” Ron’s psychology professor who I believe was working for the CIA at the time Tammen disappeared. Switzer had even told one of my sources that he had indeed spoken with investigators at that time as well. What if Switzer had informed Carl Knox that Tammen’s disappearance involved a classified government program that’s important for protecting the nation’s security? Knox might have decided that a buzzer system would be a simple, effective way to do his patriotic duty. Incoming phone calls—from New York, D.C., or wherever—would be handled with utmost secrecy, no matter who happened to be standing nearby.
7). The list of words that she should not say aloud in front of reporters
OH. MY. LORD. Talk about burying a lede—this one got pushed to the tail end of bullet #3, after the work-camp prisoners but before the cisterns and wells.
Do you have any idea what I would give to know the words AD was instructed not to say in front of reporters? A lot. I would give a lot. Was one of the words “Switzer”? “Psychology”? “Hypnosis”? Or better yet “Post-hypnotic suggestion”? Or how about “MKULTRA” or “Project ARTICHOKE”? I mean, did AD’s interviewer think to ask the obvious follow-up question: What words were on the list? And if they did ask that question, why would they leave the most important part out of their summary page? Why indeed.
You guys, I’ve worked in several press offices in my career, and have fielded calls on topics that were considered political hot potatoes in their day. But I can’t think of a single time when I was instructed not to say certain words. Were they trying to protect Ron’s reputation? To avoid putting the university in an embarrassing light? Would the words have steered reporters too close to a probable cause for his disappearance? Whatever the reason, if the university was prohibiting the use of certain words to prevent a reporter from learning an inconvenient but potentially significant truth, that’s a cover-up.
Incidentally, I’m quite certain that AD would have never mentioned the forbidden words list back in 1953, when she was working for Carl Knox and the investigation was in full swing. That’s another reason that I feel that the interview was relatively recent.
One word that I’m pretty sure wasn’t on the forbidden list? Cisterns.
8). The cisterns
Speaking of cisterns, in part one (2:47) of the two-part segment on Ron Tammen last month from WXIX (Cincinnati), we were introduced to the concept of open cisterns on Miami’s campus by a Miami University spokesperson. Cisterns are generally described as large tanks that store water, though the cistern that was shown in the news segment was built in the 1800s and looked like a large open hole leading to a bricked-in area underground. I’ll tell you here and now, I had no idea that they were considered a safety problem back then. But I’m not sure students in those days felt that way either. If you type the search term “cistern” (singular) into the Miami Student digital archive for the time period of 1900 to 2020, two articles will pop up, one from 1903 and one from September 1986. The 1986 article discusses a cistern that the university had installed under Yager Stadium to conserve water when maintaining the athletic fields. The 1903 article was about a wrongly translated Latin passage and had nothing to do with cisterns on campus. The term “cisterns” (plural) yielded an article from 2000 about brick cisterns that were discovered during the construction of a park in uptown Oxford.
What AD said, however, was that they’d checked the wells and cisterns under Fisher Hall after the building was torn down in 1978 because they were difficult to get to. Of course, I don’t want to leave any stone unturned in my research, and that includes learning more about the university’s cisterns. Earlier this month, I emailed the spokesperson seeking background materials or a conversation on the topic, and so far, I haven’t heard back from him. I’ll keep you posted.
9). The full interview
Although the “Cliff Notes” version of AD’s interview is better than nothing, I really want to read the full transcript. Or better yet, I’d love to hear the recording. At the very least, I want to know when the interview was conducted and by whom so I can reach out to the interviewer for a conversation about all they remember that AD said, including, hopefully, at least one or two choice forbidden words.
I’ve reached out to senior administration officials for Miami University Libraries as well as Marketing and Communications, including the News Office, for assistance. Currently, the head of the libraries’ department that oversees Special Collections, Preservation and The University Archives is having his staff look for the source materials, though it may take a while due to Covid-19 restrictions. I’ll be touching base with them every so often for updates.
Here’s why I believe the university should still have the source materials: AD and her husband were well known, beloved figures at the university for many years. Although I still don’t know the reason behind the interview, it would make sense if someone had requested it for historical purposes. If that were the case, then tossing the original tape or transcript would be very, very strange, to put it mildly. I can’t say that that’s what happened at this point, but it’s a concern of mine.
Furthermore, as someone who believes in transparency in our public and governmental institutions, let me be transparent regarding my current thinking. In discussing the possibility of a university cover-up, I always gave the people in later administrations a pass. How could they have been privy to information that Carl Knox and his team were discussing off-the-record and in real time? If there was a cover-up, I used to think, it would have been the people who were making those judgment calls back then. Once they died, any evidence of wrongdoing would have died with them.
However, if someone who’d been around at that time briefed someone fairly recently, filling them in on forbidden words, for example, and any other pertinent intel from 1953, and if that interview was reduced to a few tamed-down bullet points and the original source materials were discarded to prevent someone like me from finding them? Well, the cover-up would live on. Is that what’s happening? I sincerely hope not. That’s why finding the source materials is so important.
I can only imagine what the late, great Joe Cella would say to me about the possibility of an ongoing cover-up. Probably something like: “Welcome to my world.” And then he’d add, “Keep on it.”
In light of the new revelations, I rewatched the 1976 documentary “The Phantom of Oxford” to listen again to what Carl Knox had to say 23 years after Tammen had disappeared. By then, Knox had moved to Boca Raton, Florida, and was serving as professor of education and vice president for student affairs at Florida Atlantic University.
In Part 1 (9:18), Knox briefly discusses Tammen having left his car behind with his bass inside, which is 100% true, but it doesn’t add anything to today’s topic. In Part 2 (2:40), he says this:
Carl Knox: In other campuses where I’ve been located, there have been disappearances, and there have been tragedies, but nothing which has sort of popped out of, no background of explanation, no way of reasonable anticipation, but just suddenly happening, and there you were with egg on your face, deep-felt concerns, and yet no answers for any part of it.
Ed Hart: And yet something tells you Ron Tammen is alive.
Carl Knox: Yes, I feel this. I feel it keenly.
Knox is believable in the interview, and his facial expressions could best be described as: deeply concerned, which is consistent with what he has to say. But, as we now know, there’s a lot of information concerning the university’s investigation that he’s chosen not to say here. Twenty-three years later, he has elected to keep his mouth shut—about open psychology books and dropped courses, about hypnosis studies, about three amnesiac Ohio youths, about Ron’s proneness to dissociation, about Dr. Switzer, about hidden buzzers and forbidden words.
In fact, the only time Carl Knox truly opens up about the case is in his last sentence. Knowing everything he knew back then, he keenly felt that Ron was alive—in 1953 as well as in 1976. And you know what? I keenly feel it too.
Happy holidays, everyone! Comments are now open. You’re also welcome to air a grievance or two (non-political please) in honor of Festivus, which also happens to be today.
Post-Christmas Post-Script(Dec. 27, 2020)
Hi, all! I’m back. I forgot to make a point in the above post that probably appears like a gaping, cistern-sized hole and it’s been eating at me. It concerns the fourth bullet point that discusses the cisterns and wells. There I was, offering up my reasoning regarding why the interview with AD couldn’t have been conducted in 1953, and I didn’t even bring up the fact that the fourth bullet discusses how they’d searched the cisterns and wells in 1978, when they tore down Fisher Hall. Did anyone else catch that? I mean, clearly, the interview occurred after 1978.
Sorry for the oversight!
I should also add that the same university rep who felt that the interview was conducted at the time of Tammen’s disappearance said that she didn’t think the fourth bullet was related to the interview with AD. But that’s not what the document says. The document says that the additional information was from the interview. So, it occurred after 1978, but, again, I think it was much more recent than that. I’m just hoping to find someone with the institutional memory to recall when the interview took place and with whom.
I think it’s time we chatted a little more about Richard, don’t you?
Richard, Richard, Richard. Where to begin?
Richard Tammen was…a pill. A troublemaker. A royal pain in the ass. All those things and then some. But could he have been a blackmailer?
Before we get too far into this discussion, I need to establish a few guiding principles:
Guiding principle number one: When I started this project, I’d promised myself (and my mother) that I wouldn’t be airing people’s dirty laundry indiscriminately. If I stumbled upon a few cadavers in someone’s closet, an arm bone or two in someone’s armoire, I wouldn’t be sharing that information unless it was pertinent to the case. So even though I knew as early as 2012 that the end of Richard Tammen’s life wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t prepared to publicize those details, because, to be honest, I didn’t think that they had anything to do with Ron’s disappearance. Now, however, I’m more inclined to believe that they may be indicative of someone with serious character flaws, which may be relevant to his Miami years after all.
Guiding principle number two: Anyone who is living who may be related to Richard through a marriage or whatever will not be named or discussed on this blogsite—ever. I believe in protecting people’s privacy, y’all.
And finally, guiding principle number three: We’re just tossing around some ideas at this point. Right now, I can’t say whether or not Richard was blackmailing Ron—or even if Ron was being blackmailed at all. But it’s a question worth pursuing, and so I will.
I’ve already passed along several details about Richard during his K-12 years, some of which may help explain how he came to be the person he was. One former neighbor who used to play street football with the three oldest Tammen boys said that they nicknamed Richard “Peewee” because he was so short. That’s bound to rile you after a while. John attributed Richard’s meanness to the fact that he was left-handed, and, for years, the teachers used to rap his knuckles to get him to switch hands. And while we’re on the subject of school, Richard was escorted to the principal’s office so often that John and Ron felt the need to employ a secret hand signal to let each other know if they’d spotted their mother Marjorie in the building. Her flair for the dramatic made things so much worse.
But lots of people who grew up in Richard’s day managed to survive nicknames and sore knuckles and trips to the principal’s office without becoming, um, blackmailers. John also said that the three boys got along, and were each other’s best friends—building forts, sliding down hills, cooking up money-making ventures. And Richard seemed to be following in Ron’s and John’s footsteps, joining all the same clubs in high school. Despite their personality differences, the Tammen boys looked alike. They dressed alike. They seemed to like to do the same kinds of things. When Richard came to Miami as a freshman during the 1952-53 academic year, he pledged Ron’s fraternity, Delta Tau Delta. Why would he do that if they didn’t get along?
Nevertheless, it’s nearly impossible to escape who we really are, even as we mature and mellow, and Richard’s bullying reputation followed him to Miami. The Delts weren’t that enamored with Richard either. They knew him to be a hothead…an aptly named Dick. One of them let me know that the only reason Richard was invited to join the fraternity was because of Ron. And maybe that was always Richard’s survival method—riding Ron’s coattails to get through any door. Did he have his hands in Ron’s coat pockets too?
Seriously, would he do that? Here’s why I’m looking into this question: as far as I can tell, Richard was working his way through college by caddying in the summers, and that’s all. It doesn’t appear as if he had a job as a freshman at Miami. His brother Robert doesn’t recall Richard having any additional income sources either.
Ron, on the other hand, was also caddying during the summers. Before starting his freshman year at Miami, he reported earning $350 from caddying for the Hawthorne Valley Country Club as well as performing semi-skilled labor for the City of Maple Heights. In addition, Ron had received a scholarship as a caddie through the Cleveland District Golf Association. The scholarship was for high school boys who had caddied for at least two years (Ron had been caddying for 7 years before college), who carried at least a B-plus average, and who were “unable to finance a university education.”
We don’t know the amount of Ron’s scholarship—it varied from person to person. We also don’t know if he received a two-year or a four-year scholarship, but, of course, that didn’t matter anyway, given the way things played out for him. As for the fund itself, in 1952, it totaled roughly $4300, which was split by all the overlapping recipients over a given academic year (18-ish, per a 1953 article). Ron’s piece of the pie would have likely been in the neighborhood of at least a couple hundred dollars a year. Possibly more.
But here’s my point: it seemed to be enough. Ron seemed to be getting along just fine during his freshman year between his scholarship and the caddying and city work over the summer and vacation breaks. He didn’t have his other sources of income yet—the Campus Owls, the residence hall counseling, the blood donations—until his sophomore year. And the university’s loan program didn’t apply to freshmen.
Richard, on the other hand, didn’t receive the caddie scholarship. I know that, because I have the newspaper article announcing the recipients for 1952-53 on my hot little hard drive. And yet, at a time when he seemed to be surviving with only the income from his summer caddying job, Ron was working more than ever, doing all of the above. And here’s the kicker: with all of Ron’s sources of income, including the loans, and with few living expenses other than his car, you’d think that he would have saved more. But all he had in his checking account when he disappeared was a little over $87. And he still owed the university for most of his dining hall fees plus that $100 loan.
Do I intend to continue following the money? Oh, you betcha. I’m currently attempting to obtain Richard’s Social Security earnings report for the years 1952-1954, and, while I’m at it, I think I’ll ask them for Ron’s entire earnings report just to see what they do. But the Social Security Administration is almost as difficult as the CIA when trying to obtain FOIA records. There are other sources I’ll be reaching out to as well. I’ll let you know how things go.
Now, at the beginning of this post I promised to reveal something I’ve been holding back about Richard, and here it is: when Richard died in an apartment fire on October 23, 2004, he was heavily armed. Not only that, but at least some of his weapons were potentially—and I’m going to say probably—illegal.
As it so happens, Richard had two Smith and Wesson guns in his possession when he died. One was a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and the other was a 40-caliber semi-automatic handgun. Now, this may surprise you, but I’m not a gun person. In fact, the above sentence reveals the extent of my knowledge regarding Richard’s taste in guns. At this point, let’s just say that they’re both lethal. Also, did a 69-year-old guy with health issues living in an apartment for seniors really need that kind of weaponry to defend his hearth and home? Me thinks not.
But what was most interesting about Richard’s firearms stash—and what gave at least one of the investigating police officers pause—was the ammunition. The pistol, which was found in the fire debris, was loaded with what appears to be 15 cartridges, though there are inconsistencies in that report. More clearly stated was what investigators had later found: another three magazines—two .40 caliber and one 9 mm—that were each fully loaded with 15 cartridges. For the non-gun afficionados, anything over 10 cartridges in one magazine is considered a “high-capacity magazine,” which was prohibited during the years 1994-2004 by the federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Here’s what the Giffords Law Center says on this topic:
“In 1994, Congress adopted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, making it unlawful to transfer or possess a “large capacity ammunition feeding device” not lawfully possessed on or before the law’s enactment.12 The law also banned the manufacture, transfer, and possession of semi-automatic assault weapons. See our summary on Assault Weapons for more information. The law was adopted with a sunset clause, however, and expired in 2004, despite overwhelming public support for its renewal. Thus, large capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons that were formerly banned under the federal law are now legal unless banned by state or local law.”
Keep in mind that Richard was living in Contra Costa County, California, at the time of his death. Even though the federal law against high-capacity magazines ended September 13, 2004—a little over one month before Richard died—California had its own law on the books.
Beginning in 2000, it was illegal to sell, manufacture, import, or transfer magazines that hold more than 10 bullets in California. However, if a person had already owned such magazines at the time the law went into effect, they were permitted to keep them. In 2016, 12 years after Richard died, it was illegal to own them. (You can read more on the California law here.) In August of this year, the Ninth Circuit voted to end the ban saying that it violated a person’s Second Amendment rights.
Were Richard’s high-capacity magazines illegal? It depends on when he bought them. Unfortunately, I’ve read that it’s practically impossible to tell when ammunition was purchased. (His guns and ammunition were destroyed in 2007.) I’m no lawyer, but it appears to me that if he purchased the magazines before 1994, then he would have been a law-abiding citizen. Is that what he did—held onto three, probably four, high-capacity magazines for 20 years? By the way, I’m also trying to determine if the semi-automatic guns were legal at that time, but the distinctions provided in the law are a lot tougher for a non-gun-person to determine. (According to a 2019 ABC News article that I found especially helpful, that’s why there were so many loopholes in the law.) I’ll be seeking the guidance of experts on that question.
And that leads me to ask this question: what is the point of no return when someone decides to start criming? Or, in Richard’s case, when did he decide to cross the line from buttoned-down college freshman to blackmailer and whatever else—if, in fact, that’s what he did? Could it have happened in an innocent, unintended way? Richard wanted to be an architect, but his personality was so repellant and his grades so bad that he may have had to ask his brother for an assist. If his brother said “No, sorry, you need to carry your own weight,” would he resort to force? Would he threaten to reveal some intel that he knew would destroy his brother if his brother didn’t cooperate?
Ron’s money problems seemed to have started during the summer of 1952, when he asked his father if he could control his own finances, and he showed signs of stress after returning home for spring break in 1953. Who would he have spent lots of time with during both of those periods? Little brother, that’s who.
What do you think? The floor is now open, but please note that any comments for or against gun control won’t be approved—this isn’t the place for that discussion. However, if someone has expertise on the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and whether a particular semi-automatic weapon was permissible or not, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Of course, anything else on the blackmail theory and Richard’s potential role is welcome too.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Despite the fact that (hopefully) most of us have adjusted our usual Thanksgiving plans and are keeping things small and meaningful this year, it’s still my favorite holiday. To commemorate this tumultuous year, I encourage you to use the comments section to tell us how you are—or aren’t—spending the holiday due to covid-19. (Send pics too!) I’ll go first: we won’t be making our annual trek to NYC to visit my brother and his partner this year. It sucks—it really, really does. But, for the good of the country, we’ll just have to wait until 2021 for my brother’s stupendous stuffin’ muffins (see my Thanksgiving 2018 post for recipe).
But I also have a surprise for you: an editorial on the topic of Thanksgiving that’s brought to us by our very own Ronald Tammen. So cool, right?? When Ron was a senior at Maple Heights High School, he oversaw the editorial page of the student paper, the Maple Heights Herald. Although I can’t say with 100% certainty that Ron wrote all of the editorials while he was in charge, they do sound a lot like Ron—or how I picture Ron’s writings to sound: serious and responsible and loaded with patriotism and advice about the importance of hard work to better oneself. If he didn’t write an editorial for a particular issue, at the very least, he would have given it a final polish and stamp of approval. But this one totally sounds like something he wrote.
The editorial I’m sharing with you was published 70 years ago—on November 16, 1950—and it certainly sounds that way in places. Plus, there’s nothing like reading the deep and earnest and not-quite-gelled thoughts of a high schooler on deadline. To provide additional perspective, in June of that year, the United States had entered into the Korean War. For a young man like Ron who would be registering for the draft in eight short months, the world was getting scary. (And if you think this editorial sounds somber, just give a read to this excerpt from the one he ran at Christmas: “As conditions are shaping in Korea, the atomic bomb may well be brought into use. And, if it is, assuredly, there are those of us who may not be around to celebrate the next Yuletide.”) Yikes. Despite the differences between then and now, some aspects still ring familiar, and, for this reason, I thought it would be worth posting.
Thanksgiving is a simple word—as simple and straightforward as the small band of Pilgrims who first gave it meaning over 300 years ago. They had given up every bit of security and even risked their very lives to come to America. And why did they sacrifice almost everything? They believed in having freedom from tyranny and despotism and were willing to give anything for this privilege.
Those first few years were very painful for the Pilgrims and they faced hardships never before encountered. Some died while they were in sight of shore and were buried before there was even thought of shelter. The Pilgrims had determination however, and still more important they had faith in God and in themselves. They had faith that if they worked hard enough things would brighten and take a turn for the better. They had faith in an ideal and nothing that happened would sway them from it.
Little by little they gathered strength and with the help of the friendly Indians, they were able to produce a crop large enough to maintain life. It was decided to set aside a day in which they could all feast and give thanks to the Lord for helping them.
It would be well for us to compare this Thanksgiving with the first one, in that we are experiencing a similar sense of uncertainty. Progress has changed our way of living, but we are still devoting our strength and faith to the same principles of freedom. We are the Pilgrims of the twentieth century and must stand as firm as they for our beliefs. Thus is Thanksgiving—the holiday that explains America.
(Supplement to season 2, episode 3 of The One That Got Away)
*This post was formerly titled “More thoughts on two ignored clues,” but that was really boring, so I changed it. The URL remains the same, however.
I’m not gonna lie—podcasting has been fun. Not only is it helping me cope with my covid-fueled despair in a meaningful and productive way, but it inspires me to revisit some of the old blog posts and think new thoughts in light of findings that came out a little later in the process. (Please note: I won’t be producing a supplemental blog post for every podcast episode; I’ll only create a new post if we cover territory there that I haven’t discussed here.)
What I’m about to share is discussed in season 2, episode 3 of the podcast The One That Got Away, which I encourage you to listen to when you have a few idle minutes on your hands. Josh and Tyler are delightful human beings and they’re becoming quite the avid Tammen fans as well. But if you prefer to get your Tammen news by way of written words on a screen, no problem. I love that you like to read. Here are my latest ruminations regarding two questions that you may have already wondered about but were too polite to ask. I’m also going to share some brand new info that was released by Josh and Tyler during episode 3.
Question 1: Why did investigators choose to dismiss Paul’s and Chip’s story so quickly?
Let’s talk about those two extra hours we discovered in Ron’s timeline. Remember when Paul (not his real name) swore up and down that he and a guy named Chip Anderson (real name, but deceased) walked home with Ron after song practice on the night of April 19, and that they didn’t arrive until around 10:30 p.m.? And remember how university reps and the police interviewed them but completely ignored their story, instead telling everyone that Ron disappeared from his room at around 8:30 p.m.?
But Mrs. Spivey didn’t come forward until June. Why then did investigators choose to dismiss Paul’s and Chip’s story right off the bat?
I think the answer has to do with their favorite theory as to how Tammen disappeared. Very early in the investigation, by Friday, April 24, the university had declared in several Miami Valley and Cleveland papers that Ronald Tammen probably had amnesia. “Officials believe that he might have suffered an attack of amnesia,” an article in the Hamilton Journal News read. The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote: “University officials said Tammen might be suffering from amnesia as he took no clothing or personal articles with him.” (Neither article contained a byline, but my guess is that they were penned by Gilson Wright, since he wrote for both papers.) At least the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed some healthy journalistic skepticism about the university’s conclusion. It read “The dean [Carl Knox] believed the youth might have suffered an attack of amnesia, but had nothing to back that theory.”
So, amnesia. Now let’s consider how investigators would have tried to explain their amnesia theory under both estimated times of departure. Under the 8:30 p.m. scenario, Ron would have developed his amnesia at some point while he was in his dorm room, after he’d changed his sheets. Maybe it had hit him while he was studying at his desk. No one could possibly know the reason, because no one was there. He was alone, so anything was possible. In their view, he just, you know, cracked.
Under the 10:30 p.m. scenario, Ron had walked back to the dorms with Paul and Chip. He dropped them both off at Symmes Hall, and then headed toward Fisher Hall. But Ron never made it back to his room in Fisher. How do we know that? We know it because that’s roughly when his roommate, Chuck Findlay, had returned from his weekend in Dayton. Chuck never saw Ron.
Therefore, and this is crucial: Ron would have been struck by amnesia at some point between Symmes Hall and Fisher Hall.
Below is a map that shows you how close the two buildings were to one another, circled in red. Symmes is building #37, and Fisher is building #36. In my driving video on Ron’s possible trip to Seven Mile, that’s Symmes Hall on the left, immediately after I exited the circular driveway that’s now in front of Marcum Hotel and Conference Center. That driveway used to be in front of Fisher. You guys…Symmes and Fisher are super close.
Which scenario do you think investigators gravitated toward? While both are a little tough to swallow, wouldn’t it be easier to explain the one in which Ron went wandering off when no one was watching as opposed to walking with two people and then forgetting who he was immediately afterward? Exactly. Scenario A was the one they chose: 8:30ish. This brings me to the second question.
Question 2: Why did no one follow up on the clue regarding the woman in the car?
In July 2017, I learned about an astonishing lead. I learned that Ron had reportedly been spotted sitting in a car with a woman from Hamilton late on April 19 and, after about 45 minutes or so, the two had driven away. I learned this after I’d met with a former member of the Oxford police force—someone who had actually worked for police chief Oscar Decker in 1953, when Tammen disappeared. In my blog post, I refer to this man as Ralph Smith, but that was just a pseudonym. I was keeping his identity secret.
In preparing for the podcast, I checked online to see if my source was still alive, and unfortunately, I found his very brief obituary. My source’s true name was Logan Corbin, and he passed away at the age of 97 on December 16, 2017, five months after our meeting. I’m posting his photo below as well as a link to an audio clip of him telling me about the purported woman in the car.
Logan was African American. In those days, it was virtually unheard of for a rural, small-town, predominantly white community such as Oxford to hire a Black cop, and, for that reason, I give the city credit for taking a step toward progress in the early-1950s. Nevertheless, racism was rampant there, and Logan endured daily doses of slurs from his fellow officers, sometimes over the police radio. Eventually, he decided to leave that position for another job, though he remained with the Oxford PD for seven years, from 1952 to 1959.
When you listen to Logan tell the story, one of the points he keeps repeating is that the lead concerning the woman in the car was never checked out. To that I say, WTfreakinF, Oscar Decker?! Logan wasn’t sure how the police had found out about it—”word just got out,” he’d told me. Granted, it would have taken some detective work to follow the lead. They didn’t know the woman’s name, the make or model of her car, its color, the exact time she drove away, any of that. But it would have been way easier to check out those details then, when all the major players were still alive and well, and walking around that small section of campus, as opposed to six decades later. The cops could have publicized the possible sighting far and wide, asking anyone with information to come forward. For some reason, they chose not to.
If, as I believe, Ron Tammen disappeared from somewhere between Symmes Hall and Fisher Hall, that circular driveway between the two buildings could have been ground zero to where it all happened.
So, again I ask, why wouldn’t investigators follow the one lead that places Tammen in that exact location—in a car, in the driveway between Symmes and Fisher Halls? For some reason, investigators felt the need to steer everyone in a different direction.
In the book Oblivion, which delves into the Richard Cox disappearance, the authors have suggested that (spoiler alert!) Richard Cox may have been gay or bisexual and that the CIA recruited him in 1950 for that reason. We’ve already discussed how Ronald Tammen’s 1953 disappearance draws a number of parallels to Cox’s disappearance, and I’ve also provided evidence that helps support the theory that Tammen may have been gay. So it begs the question: Was the CIA furtively recruiting gay men in the early 1950s, for whatever reason, and if so, were Tammen and Cox two of their more visible recruits representing the great state of Ohio?
Before I proceed with today’s post I need to state this caveat as clearly as possible: I can’t fathom the totality of the CIA’s operations back in the height of the Cold War. If the agency had an interest in hiring members of the gay or lesbian community for intelligence work, it has done an excellent job of keeping that detail a secret, in addition to its underlying reasons for doing so. What I’m presenting here is one scenario that has received a small amount of publicity. However, in no way do I intend to imply that, if Tammen or Cox were gay and recruited by the CIA, they would have been utilized in this way. I’m only asking if the CIA was hiring gay individuals when no one else in the federal government was doing so and presenting some supporting evidence.
With that caveat firmly in mind, let’s talk about spies and sex and the use of sex by spies for the sole purpose of sexy spying. Anyone who’s seen a James Bond film can understand how sex can be used as a tactical weapon in the world of espionage. Sexpionage, as some call it, works like this: someone on an organization’s payroll sets up a steamy little “honey trap” to entice an opposing target to swap his or her government’s secrets for sex. Or a late-night tryst might provide an opportunity for a spy to rifle through a high-level diplomat’s suitcase after drugging his daiquiri. Or there’s also the potential for blackmail. Sex makes a person vulnerable and if there’s one thing that people in the intelligence biz absolutely love 💕, it’s intelligence sources who are vulnerable.
As you can imagine, the sex lives of spies is a subject that the CIA doesn’t care to talk about. As this December 9, 2010, article from Slate states, “The Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t comment on whether its agents use their sexuality to obtain information, but current and former intelligence officials say it does happen occasionally.” (That quoted sentence used to link to an article from the April 17, 2007, issue of Harper’s Magazine, called “Sex and the CIA,” to back up its latter claim. Alas, if you click on it, you’ll see that the link no longer works, and the article is also nowhere to be found on the Harper’s website. Welcome to the world of intelligence research! Here’s a link to a portion of the original article—for now, at least.)
“Few national secrets have been more carefully guarded, but the CIA has provided kings, presidents, potentates and magistrates with female companionship,” wrote famed journalist Jack Anderson in his syndicated column in June 1976. “On a lower level, girls have been made available to defectors and the CIA’s own agents.”
According to the Anderson article, the CIA’s “sex shop” was run by its Office of Security. Sometimes the diplomat was in the know about the CIA’s role in that evening’s fix-up, however, other times, the agency made its arrangements more clandestinely, for the purpose of spying.
Wrote Anderson, “…the agency has used prostitutes to lure foreign diplomats into love traps where their sexual antics were filmed through one-way mirrors. The film was later used to blackmail the foreigners into becoming informants.”
If the CIA was employing women to pursue intelligence sources who were straight, wouldn’t they also employ men to target those who happened to be gay? The CIA often claimed that the Soviets wouldn’t hesitate to use the latter tactic on us, particularly for its blackmail potential, and, as a result, they supposedly felt that people who were gay or lesbian would be a risk to national security. (By the way, this logic only seems to make sense if the person were closeted and afraid of being outed.) But, if the Soviets were doing it, wouldn’t we have used the tactic too? Doesn’t the CIA generally consider turnabout to be fair play? (Asking for a friend…)
On the other hand, as you may recall, Executive Order 10450 was signed by President Eisenhower on April 27, 1953, thus introducing a policy against hiring federal civil servants who were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. What’s more, the Lavender Scare began even earlier than that, in the late 1940s, and by 1950, the government’s zeal for discriminating against people who were gay or lesbian picked up steam courtesy of the despicable Senator Joseph McCarthy. But since when does the CIA follow what everyone else is doing? I would think that, if the cloak and dagger crowd believed it was in their best interest to recruit gay operatives, then that’s what they’d do.
The public record doesn’t support this theory, however. Here’s what’s on record regarding the federal hiring policy of LGBT individuals, both in general and at the CIA specifically:
In the 1960s, gay rights organizations such as the Mattachine Society of Washington, cofounded by renowned activist Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols, began filing lawsuits to challenge the across-the-board firings of gay and lesbian federal employees simply because of their sexual orientation.
In 1969, the federal Civil Service Commission (CSC) lost a court case in which a NASA employee named Clifford Norton sued CSC chair John Macy for having been terminated after he was arrested for a gay liaison in D.C.’s Lafayette Square during non-working hours. The court ruled that “the Civil Service Commission has neither the expertise nor the requisite anointment to make or enforce absolute moral judgments …,” and, consequently, it had no right to fire someone for being gay or lesbian, though it took four more years before changes were fully implemented government-wide. While the ruling applied to some federal agencies, it didn’t apply to all of them. According to the 2015 book Hoover’s War on Gays, by Douglas M. Charles, “For agencies outside CSC coverage, political appointees, or those engaged in national security work, however—such as the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), and military—antigay employment discrimination continued unabated.”
In 1996, the CIA created a group called ANGLE, which stands for Agency Network for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Officers and Allies, and which has produced a 43-minute documentary about the transition that has taken place within the agency. Nevertheless, change came slowly for the folks in Langley, VA, as is also described in this 2015 article in the Daily Beast.
Sometime around 2011 or 2012 (sources vary), the CIA began publicizing the fact that it was actively recruiting LGBT individuals.
To sum things up: the CIA had a policy against the hiring of members of the LGBT community until the mid-1990s; the culture began to evolve after that, albeit slowly; and then around 2011 or 2012, their doors were flung wide open and they were actively recruiting. This doesn’t exactly mesh with the running thesis I’m investigating, but that’s their story and they’re sticking with it.
Fact-checking Oblivion: Was Richard Cox gay?
In the spring of 2014, I drove to Mansfield, Ohio, Richard Cox’s hometown, in hopes of meeting with one of Cox’s sisters to discuss the similarities between his and Tammen’s cases. Although Cox’s sister wasn’t available for a sit-down, she put me in touch with a family friend, whose overriding objective was to shoot down the book’s premise. For an uncomfortable 20 minutes or so, the man insisted to me that the book was “garbage,” “trash,” and that there was no evidence to back up its claims that Cox was gay and was recruited by the CIA. “There isn’t a shred of truth to it,” he said.
I’m not going to say here whether or not I think Richard Cox was gay. I didn’t know Richard Cox. The family friend, who also didn’t know Cox, was adamant that he wasn’t. I’m just going to share several FBI documents that may have led some people to infer that Richard Cox might have been gay or bisexual or, at the very least, experimenting. A lot has been redacted, and I’ve been unsuccessful in getting the whited-out details released, but I think you can get the gist of things from the surrounding verbiage.
The documents I’m about to share have to do with an incident that took place in April 1948 in New York City between Cox and a former soldier identified as Victor Wolf, from Detroit. The two met at Tony Pastor’s, a gay-friendly bar in Greenwich Village. Later that night, Cox visited Wolf’s room at the Hotel Dixie on 42nd Street and stayed the night. (Judging by this website, the hotel’s boasting of “700 rooms, each with bath and radio” leads me to think that we’re not talking spacious suites here.)
The following passage was part of a report from the FBI’s New York office in a document dated May 26, 1950. This redaction-free synopsis (from this point on, referred to as “item A”) helps us validate key details in subsequent passages.
The next three passages were included in a document dated July 13, 1951 created by the Detroit office of the FBI.
Background: Sometime in late June or early July 1951, the FBI interviewed Wolf’s landlords, Mr. and Mrs. A. R. Keith, of Detroit. Despite the redactions, we know they’re talking about Wolf because the address (1798 Field) is the same as that included in item A. One wonders what the Keiths had discovered about Wolf and his roommate that led them to immediately ask them to move out of their home. In the second paragraph, two informants from Detroit said that both BLANK and BLANK are known BLANKETY BLANKS. I’m sure that the first two blanks are referring to Wolf and his roommate. As for what they were “known” to be, one can only wonder about that as well.
Background: Included below is a three-page statement dated July 7, 1951, and signed by Victor Wolf concerning his interactions with Richard Cox. Again, despite the redactions, we know that it’s Wolf’s statement, thanks to item A, which describes the timeframe and locations of their liaison in New York. The third paragraph of page one says that Cox, Wolf, and “another soldier” had met up at Tony Pastor’s bar, which Wolf describes as “having a reputation of being BLANK.” Later that night, Cox showed up at Wolf’s hotel room and Wolf told him he could spend the night with Wolf and BLANK. Wolf was later awakened by something—a whole paragraph’s worth of BLANKING—that, to this day, the FBI deems too confidential or of such a delicate nature that it needs to protect the public from such details, 70 years after-the-fact.
As for next steps, the author of the FBI memo had suggested that the following lead needed to be checked out by the New York office regarding the “Subject,” Richard Cox.
Evidence that the CIA was recruiting gay men
If you were to contact the CIA (and I have) and ask them if they used to recruit gay men in the 1950s (and I did), they would likely tell you that they wouldn’t be addressing that question (and they didn’t). However, I’ve found several small clues over the years that deem it at least plausible that the CIA was knowingly hiring gay men back then, for whatever reason, regardless of what the agency’s official stance was at the time.
Clue #1: The CIA was modeled after Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, which had been employing gay spies for decades.
If you’re remotely interested in the world of espionage, you’ll know that one of the most notorious spies during the Cold War was Kim Philby, a handsome and sophisticated Cambridge-educated man who charmed a lot of people, including the CIA’s James Jesus Angleton. Angleton had studied under Philby. He developed his intelligence chops under him in London when Philby was with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, and Angleton was with the fledgling CIA. The trouble was, Philby also happened to be spying for the Soviets for many years and Angleton had handed him a lot of state secrets and contacts when Philby was serving in Washington as a liaison between MI6 and the CIA and FBI. Philby eventually defected to the Soviet Union, as did fellow KGB spies Guy Burgess, who was openly gay, and Don Maclean, who was bisexual. Phillip Knightley, an esteemed journalist who had interviewed Philby at length for his definitive book, contends in this 1997 piece that Britain has had a long history of gay spies and, moreover, that spying is a natural fit for someone who is gay. In addition, Jefferson Morely, who wrote an acclaimed recent biography on Angleton, has hypothesized that the relationship between Angleton and Philby may have been a lot closer than just that of mentor and mentee.
Clue #2: Jack Anderson said so (sort of).
I’ve already cited the 1976 news article by Jack Anderson that brought to light several sex operations overseen by the CIA. An article that he’d published a year earlier had gone into greater detail concerning the CIA’s love nests that were being used for blackmail purposes on the East and West Coasts. In the last paragraph, Anderson said this:
“To stage the shows, both male and female prostitutes with a variety of sexual skills were used. The CIA possibly got the idea from the Russians, who have long used sex blackmail to entrap Westerners into spying for them.”
Although Anderson doesn’t mention anything about the entrapped being gay, the fact that male prostitutes were used tells me that that’s what he was referring to, since most foreign diplomats would have been male.
Clue #3: Former CIA employee Victor Marchetti said so.
Victor Marchetti, who passed away this past October, was a former Soviet-military specialist and executive assistant to the deputy director of the CIA. Over time, he had become disillusioned with the agency’s actions and one of its most outspoken critics. He’s most famous for coauthoring a 1974 nonfiction book with John D. Marks, formerly of the State Department, titled The C.I.A. and the Cult of Intelligence, which entangled him in a drawn-out legal battle with his former employer.
In a September 1982 Reuters article, Marchetti is quoted in the following snippet:
“Soviet intelligence agents routinely cruise gay bars seeking candidates for blackmail who could be coopted as spies, a spokesman for the CIA, another agency which is concerned about possible espionage, said.
“Former CIA official Victor Marchetti said in a separate interview that the United States employed similar techniques not only against Communists but in order to extract information from officials of allied governments who were ‘closet’ homosexuals.
“The CIA declined to comment on Mr. Marchetti’s statement.”
Clue #4: Allen Dulles was told by his mistress of OSS’s need to penetrate an underground gay network during WWII.
In her book, Autobiography of a Spy, author Mary Bancroft shared an experience she had while she was the mistress of spy master and future CIA Director Allen Dulles during WWII. Dulles was with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner to the CIA, in Zurich, and had been using Bancroft to obtain information from various sources. While in this role, she felt it her duty to inform Dulles, who was ten years older than she and utterly naïve about the subject, about an underground gay network among the “Foreign Offices of England, Switzerland, Greece, and our own State Department and through which information traveled even more rapidly than by the channels of the Catholic Church and various Jewish organizations.” She recalled how “a colleague of my generation had told me how essential it was for us to tap this homosexual underground by having, as he put it, ‘Washington send us a guy with a pretty behind.’” Bancroft doesn’t say if Washington responded after she conveyed this request to Dulles, however, if people in intelligence were aware of the benefits of gay operatives in the 1940s, I can’t imagine what would have changed their minds by the 1950s.
Clue #5: Former CIA Director Roscoe Hillenkoetter admitted as much to Congress.
On July 14, 1950, Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, then-director of Central Intelligence, testified before Congress regarding his views of whether a person who was gay was considered to be a risk to national security. His answer was a resounding yes, and he emphasized that a gay employee needed to be “weeded out of government employment wherever he is found.” His final sentence is a doozy: “The failure to do this can only result in placing a dagger in the hands of our enemies and their intelligence services, and the point of that dagger would lie at the heart of our national security.”
However strong that statement was, and however homophobic his views are throughout the rest of his statement, he actually does a 180 in a couple places and shares that it wouldn’t be so bad after all, and may actually be beneficial, to have a gay person on his intelligence squad. On page 25 of his typed comments, he says this: “…while this agency will never employ a homosexual on its rolls, it might conceivably be necessary, and in the past has actually been valuable, to use known homosexuals as agents in the field.” (bold added)
In addition, on pages 35 and 36, he says: “In one case in which were were [sic] interested abroad in the early months of this year, we found what I believe to represent a Soviet intelligence operation, and we believe that our task will be made considerably easier by the appearance in the area of a known homosexual who we think will be extremely helpful in this particular case.” (bold added)
[You can read his full statement here. But be prepared: it’s, um, a wee bit vile.]
Granted, the above evidence isn’t much to go on, but, at the very least, it doesn’t rule out the argument that the CIA may have recruited gay men back in Tammen’s and Cox’s day for some purpose that it deemed useful to our country’s service, despite its official policy. I’ll close with these two thoughts:
Executive Order 10450 was signed eight days after Tammen disappeared, at which time, it would have likely been extremely difficult for a person who was gay to obtain a security clearance. Could the CIA have recruited Ron the week prior to get his name on the books before the E.O. went into effect?
Also, some have wondered why the CIA would have had any interest in recruiting a student from quaint little Miami University in rural southwest Ohio, be he gay or straight. Didn’t they have a hefty supply of Ivy Leaguers to choose from on the East Coast? But those doubters probably aren’t aware that the first director of Central Intelligence was a Miami graduate. His name was Sidney W. Souers, and he was born in Dayton. Just saying.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! As families and friends gather round the Thanksgiving table, maintaining the peace by avoiding whatever elephant happens to be occupying the room in which you’re seated, I’d like to acknowledge a topic I’ve been tiptoeing around since I started this blog. It’s a question that has been raised every so often online, but with little back-up information, other than the fact that Ronald Tammen was a good-looking guy who didn’t date much. That question is: Was Ronald Tammen gay? (For those of you who are wondering why I would choose this topic for today, I guess you could say that I’m thankful that we now live in a time when we can talk openly on this subject without having people get all judgy and weird. So…let’s go there, and please pass the wine.)
But first, I feel the need to out myself, of sorts. I’m the proud sister of a 58-year-old gay man. In fact, at this very moment, he and I are together once again for our annual celebration of turkey and his stupendous “stuffin’ muffins.” (What’s so stupendous about them? He adds artichoke hearts to Stove Top stuffing and bakes them in a muffin tin to create single-sized portions with uniformly crispy tops. You’re welcome, Good Man readers!) So, I know a little bit about this topic from a close-up perspective. More on that in a few.
Another thing you should know: I count myself among the nature (versus nurture) crowd regarding a person’s sexual orientation, which means that I believe that biology plays a major role. Recent studies suggest that epigenetics may be involved, meaning that it’s not just our genes that are responsible—there’s probably no “gay gene” per se—but some other biological X factor—scientists call it an epi-mark—that can be inherited or acquired in utero. An epi-mark won’t alter a developing human’s DNA sequence but may switch a gene or genes on or off in such a way that influences his or her sexual orientation. Also, it’s been shown that a mother’s immune response can influence sexual orientation in some males based on their fraternal birth order. I mean, if animals in the wild engage in same-sex relationships (and they do), why not people? There’s no shame. No blame. It’s all in how a person is wired. Cool? Cool.
And third: To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t want to live in a world without people who are L, G, B, T, or Q. My life is richer and more vibrant thanks to my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual friends, family, and associates. I’ll just leave it at that.
Now that you have a better sense of where I’m coming from, let’s dive into some of my evidence and musings regarding Ronald Tammen’s sex life.
The girls Ronald Tammen dated
Ronald Tammen was no player, to be sure, but he was known to date girls on occasion. We’re already acquainted with Grace, the friend he took to the Maple Heights High School prom, when he was a senior and she was a sophomore. Having had the privilege to get to know Grace as I have makes me admire Ron even more than I did at the outset of my research. She’s a warm, kind, beautiful, salt-of-the-earth sort of person, and his association with her gives his character added depth and dimension.
After Ron was in college, there were supposedly two other girls whom he was said to have dated on a relatively regular basis. One girl was named Joan and I learned about her through the Miami University Archives. I heard about the other girl from Frank Smith, Butler County’s former cold case detective. Unfortunately, I can only refer to her as “the girl from Indiana University.”
Let’s start with Joan, who pronounced her name Joanne—spoken like Woodward, spelled like Crawford. I learned this from her brother when I was trying to track her down in 2010 after reviewing the documents in Miami’s archives. A Western Union telegram from Carl Knox to Joan asks if she’s heard from or seen Ron and to let him know if she has. The telegram, dated April 27, 1953, carries this address:
1624 Vine Street
(At Children’s Hospital, Denver).
In his notes, Carl Knox had written this about Joan: “Last year had a girl friend; left school after one semester (maybe).” (That was true. On the same day that I called Joan’s brother, I called Miami’s Registrar’s Office, and they confirmed that she indeed had dropped out after the fall semester of her freshman year.) Knox then wrote her name and where she was from, misspelling the town of Fairborn, Ohio. He added: “Since last fall she has moved out west. She broke off with Him.” Additional background information includes the name of an older sister as well as their father, who was an engineering inspector. In the 1952 Recensio, Joan is listed as being a member of Sigma Kappa, which was a sorority on Miami’s campus at that time, though it isn’t anymore.
In an April 1956 Cleveland Plain Dealer article, Murray Seeger reported that “Tammen had broken off with his girl friend in the fall, and she went to Denver for nurses’ training. He has never contacted her, Dean Knox said.” That’s a little misleading, since it was the fall of 1951-52, not the fall of 1952-53, in which they’d broken up, and, according to Dean Knox, it was she who’d done the breaking. The last sentence leads me to conclude that Joan had followed up with Dean Knox to tell him that she indeed hadn’t heard from Ron after he went missing.
So, to sum up the little we know: Ron dated Joan in the fall of his freshman year. She broke things off with him (I’ll go with Dean Knox’s version over Murray Seeger’s), for whatever reason, and then moved to Denver to start nursing school at the Children’s Hospital. That seems pretty clear cut, but, as with everything else in this case, there are discrepancies. First, the address of 1624 Vine Street isn’t associated with the Children’s Hospital but a home in Denver that, I would later learn, was owned in 1953 by a woman in her 50s named Lillian Dunn. Also, I learned from a representative of Children’s Hospital Colorado that the nursing program had been discontinued in 1953, “but it did offer a place for students from other schools to train either in a diploma program or an associate degree program.” Another Children’s Hospital source said that they have no student records on Joan. When I asked if their records might be incomplete because too much time had passed, the reference librarian responded, “I do think the school of nursing register is reliable.”
I was never able to connect with Joan, who passed away in 2011. Likewise, attempts at contacting other family members have been unsuccessful. I’d love to know what happened in Denver. I’d also be interested in hearing more about her relationship with Ron and why she broke things off with him. If I ever hear anything on that front, I’ll let you know. But I think it bears repeating that the one girl whom Carl Knox identified as a girlfriend had left Miami more than one year before Ron disappeared. That alone tells us how little he dated.
I know even less about the girl from Indiana University. When Frank Smith first told me about her in 2010, he mentioned that she and Ron had dated during the summer of 1952, and that she supposedly ended the relationship with him. He also said this: “She was supposed to be pregnant, and that was the reason for the blood test here. But that didn’t go anywhere either.”
Smith declined to give me her name in 2010. However, after he retired in 2012, I obtained all of his files from the Tammen case (or so I was told by the Butler County Sheriff’s Department) and discovered that there was no mention of a girl from Indiana there. I emailed him and asked him about his records on her and other potentially missing documents—even going so far as to send him a copy of the entire stack of materials to see if he felt there was anything missing. Unfortunately, he responded that it looked as if everything was there. I wondered if she might have been someone from high school whom he dated during the summer, but, so far, I haven’t been able to turn up anyone among his Maple Heights friends who went to IU.
But the question about the blood test and a possible pregnancy is interesting. I’d wondered the same thing about Joan. Back then, if a girl became pregnant—if she were “in trouble,” so to speak—she might relocate somewhere to ride out a pregnancy until the baby was born and then perhaps put the child up for adoption. Could that have been the real reason Joan moved to Denver?
I really don’t think so. As you’ll recall in the post on Ron’s blood type test, a paternity test wouldn’t have been conducted until a child was at least six months of age. If we count backwards, we find that a prospective child would have to have been conceived immediately after Ron graduated from high school, in the August of 1951, which doesn’t match the timeline for when he was seeing Joan (fall of 1951-52) or the girl from Indiana University (summer of 1952).
The good news is that, if Ronald Tammen did father a child, whether before or after he disappeared, and that person is still walking among us, we may still be able to find him or her if they took one of the DNA tests that are now commercially available. Ron’s sister Marcia has submitted her DNA to the two main commercial entities who conduct genealogical testing, and, although no one has turned up to date, she will be alerted if someone does (if the person agrees to be listed as a match, that is). Also, if the person should wind up in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database because of a crime he or she committed or as an unidentified body, we’ll find him or her that way too, since Marcia’s DNA is on file there as well (after she was tested to see if the dead body in Georgia was Ron). So I think our bases are now covered as much as possible in this department.
There’s one last girl I’m aware of whom Ronald Tammen asked out, though that date never came to be. We’ll discuss her a little later in this post.
Was Ron gay?
Let’s discuss for a moment what it would have been like to be gay in 1953. First, sodomy was illegal in every state, and you risked being imprisoned if you were caught. In addition, these were the days of the Lavender Scare, when the federal government had determined that, for national security purposes, it needed to invade people’s bedrooms and obtain a full accounting of what took place between two consenting adults behind closed doors. In October 1949, the Department of Defense had issued a memorandum stating: “Homosexual personnel, irrespective of sex, should not be permitted to serve in any branch of the Armed Services in any capacity, and prompt separation of known homosexuals from the Armed Forces be made mandatory.” (See Rand Corporation’s Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy,Chapter 1, page 6.) Consequently, servicemen and women who were identified as being gay or lesbian were commonly issued what was known as a “blue discharge,” a humiliating blotch on a person’s record that left them without veterans’ benefits and usually any hope of finding meaningful employment. To be identified was to be outed and to be outed was to be labeled as such for the rest of their lives—not just in the military but by anyone who requested their records, including prospective employers.
On April 27, 1953, what was being practiced in the military was extended to civilian federal workers when President Eisenhower signed an executive order authorizing the federal government to fire anyone who was gay or lesbian. That’s right—the infamous Executive Order 10450 that stripped an estimated 10,000 American citizens of their government jobs for being gay or lesbian was signed a week after Ron disappeared. The take-home message was clear: to be outed in 1953 would have been cataclysmic. It was the single piece of information that could ruin someone forever.
I can imagine how bad it was in the 1950s because, even in the 1960s and ‘70s, when my brother was coming of age, things were really bad. He couldn’t hide his “differentness” very well—he was much too small and sensitive in comparison to other boys his age, and the pain they inflicted on him, both mentally and physically, for that supposed infraction was indelible. Even some of his teachers were brutal. Thankfully, things are infinitely better now, and he has been living an awesome life in New York City with his partner of 23 years.
There’s no direct evidence that I can point to that proves that Ronald Tammen was gay. No love interest, partner, or one-night hook-up has ever come forward, and the male friends whom I’ve interviewed have said that he never hit on them. (Incidentally, whenever I ask Ron’s former friends—male or female—if they ever had the feeling Ron might have been gay, not one has responded derisively. A typical response is “Well, no, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t. We just didn’t think about it back then.” Is it just me, or have octogenarians gotten way cooler than they used to be?) Likewise, no document has surfaced that alleges any “perverted,” “sexually deviant,” “degenerate,” or “immoral” behavior on Ron’s part, the unbelievably offensive language they used back then when referring to people who were gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
A gay man in the 1950s did everything in his power not to leave a trail, and for good reason. Yet subtle behaviors—some calculated, others impromptu—could possibly be interpreted as a sign that a person might be gay. Here are several of the possible signs Ron left, beginning with a few you already know:
Ron didn’t date many girls.
As we’ve already discussed, Ron was no ladies’ man in high school or in college, even though he was, by all accounts, a total catch. Younger brother Robert doesn’t remember Ron ever bringing a girl home. In 1954, Mrs. Tammen was quoted as saying that Ron didn’t have a girlfriend but “simply played the field.” Ron’s older brother John also couldn’t name a girlfriend in Ron’s past, though he didn’t think it was at all strange. Ron didn’t date much, he said, since he needed to put himself through college, and he didn’t want to ruin his academic career over a girl. There would be plenty of time for women later. John told me that he—John—was living proof of what not to do, which was to throw away a scholarship to Princeton because he was head over heels in love with a girl named Joyce. This infuriated Ron.
In the Miami University Archives is a letter written to John that basically reads him the riot act over how foolish he was being to give up so much for love. Though the letter indicates on a couple of its pages that it was “Ron Tammen’s last English paper,” a member of the Tammen family feels strongly that the letter was, in fact, written by mother Marjorie. The date at the top of the letter is also confusing, since Ron was still in high school in April 1951. Regardless of the letter’s origin, it’s pretty clear how vexed Ron and the rest of the family felt about John’s choices. Here’s one telling paragraph, with typos and misspellings corrected:
“Whether you realize it or not, John, or will admit it, you are not the first person who has been separated from someone of whom you are fond. Death has severed associations that have survived for years; army inductions separate engaged couples and even disrupt families with children; and then there are those who love and are not loved in return. No matter how deep the sorrow, each person has a task to perform and he does his best to adapt himself to a separation, bereavement, or temporary parting. The world has never been won or lost by love, but by the individual who has been able to make his compromise with life. I have known people close to me who have had disappointments of magnitude [sic] but who have been able to turn them to an advantage. We mourn for a few days, but when we lose one we care for, we go about our days not forgetting but doing what is expected of us. After all, we have to live with ourselves and it is up to us to try to make a decent job of it.” [Read the original letter here.]
When Ron did date, he wasn’t all roving hands and raging hormones, at least from one girl’s perspective. Grace, Ron’s date to the 1951 Maple Heights High School prom, considered Ron to be the ultimate gentleman. Their relationship was vastly more friendly than physical. When I asked her if she and Ron had ever made out in a car, she said they probably had, though it wasn’t memorable. She added:
“In the next couple of years, I came to find out what aggressive was. He was not aggressive. He was nice. He was comfortable. He was my friend. And, you know, there’s not any adjective that I could find to describe him that wasn’t a good thing.”
Ron didn’t sleep in his bed the night before he disappeared.
Thanks to Richard Titus and his dead fish, it appeared that Ron hadn’t slept in his bed on the Saturday night before he disappeared and possibly both Friday and Saturday nights. If he was with another person or persons—a likely prospect—no one had come forward after he’d disappeared. Why not? Wouldn’t he, she, or they have wanted to give the authorities whatever information might help them find Ron? To not do so could mean that whomever Ron was with may have had too much to lose by coming forward, especially if his or her identity would cause an uproar. Whereas a college coed would have raised eyebrows back then, I’m sure the cops would have kept her name out of the papers in return for whatever information she might be able to provide. But if it were a man? That would have been the most scandalous possibility one could imagine.
According to Craig Loftin, an expert on gay culture in the 1950s and ‘60s, and a lecturer on American Studies at California State University, Fullerton, “…Going forward to the police with info would not only likely land you in jail, but it would also likely result in a massive police crackdown against whatever fragile gay social networks existed in that area. For gay people in the 1950s, dealing with the police was a nightmare.”
Ron was seen reading the Bible shortly before he disappeared.
After Ron returned from spring break, shortly before he disappeared, he was spotted reading the Bible five or six times. When I asked Chuck Findlay about that passage in Dean Knox’s notes, he was flummoxed. He’d never seen Ron reading a Bible. Didn’t even recall their ever having one in the room.
Ron was known to attend church, but reading the Bible on one’s own time is different—more personal, more devout than what a typical college guy would likely do. The fact that Bible reading was even mentioned in Dean Knox’s notes seems to indicate that this behavior was considered out of the ordinary for Ron.
“I don’t think he was, quote, any kind of reborn Christian or any of that stuff,” John told me when I asked him if he remembered Ron as being religious. “He just didn’t go in for that at all.”
What personal crisis might have driven a young man who normally didn’t read a Bible to consult one five or six times within a short period? It could simply mean that he was tapping into his spiritual side. But it also reminds me of something I used to do as a kid when I was faced with a life dilemma and I wanted a divine answer pronto. I’d close my eyes, crack open a Bible, and drop my index finger onto a random verse, hoping it would apply. (It didn’t.) It seems to me that Ron was trying to find an answer to a question that could only come from a supreme being—a being who could help him address his own personal dilemma. And from what I’ve read, there was no greater personal dilemma than being gay in 1953 America.
There were rumors.
If Ronald Tammen was gay, he was able to fool nearly everyone around him. However, I know of at least a couple people who heard or sensed something about Ron that led them to wonder if he might be gay. Someone’s 1950s version of gaydar had been tripped.
According to Frank Smith, a woman who’d worked in the laundry in Fisher Hall had caught a certain vibe during her interactions with Ron, which she told Smith about decades later.
“She actually called us and said she was a young woman and she was doing the laundry up there and she remembered Tammen very well,” he told me in 2010.
“She said he was always ‘yes, maam, no maam,’ very polite, very good looking. He had everything. And then she laid something on us that was sort of, she said, ‘but I think that he was bisexual.’ And I said ‘what do you mean by that?’ And she said, ‘well, just the way that he carried himself at times, his demeanor. I really believe that there were some homosexual tendencies there.’”
Unfortunately, Smith wouldn’t provide the woman’s name to me in 2010 when he was still on the case, and, as with the girl from Indiana University, there were no notes about their conversation in the file I obtained after he retired. Now, after his retirement, he isn’t able to recall her name. Trust me, I’ve tried everything to locate her with no success.
One other person with whom I spoke also mentioned to me that there may have been some buzzing about Ron among the residents of Fisher Hall.
This person lived in Ron’s corridor, and was one of the freshman students that Ron counseled. He didn’t know Ron very well—no one really did, he told me. When I told him about the woman who used to work in the laundry, however, it sparked a memory.
“You know that’s an interesting conversation,” he said. “It seems to me that there was some conversation about that in the dormitory.”
“Oh really? After he disappeared?” I asked.
“No, I think even while he was there. And, you know, most of us would just put it off and say, ‘Oh, you’re crazy.’ You know? But now that you mention it, I think there was a little conversation going around the dormitory.”
I’ve followed up with as many former residents of Fisher Hall as I can locate—on all three floors—and haven’t found anyone else to confirm the rumor. However, Craig Loftin had this to say on the matter: “The fact that someone assumed he was gay at the time is significant.”
Ron used to carry cigarettes with him even though he didn’t smoke.
Ronald Tammen had a curious habit. Even though he didn’t smoke, he used to carry cigarettes around with him all the time. Robert had told me about this during our first sit-down in 2012. When I asked Marcia about it later, she said that she remembered it too and thought Ron mainly did it as a way of making friends.
Of course, smoking was viewed differently back then. It was a sign of budding adulthood, an emblem of sophistication and sociability. But it seems strange to me that a cash-conscious young man such as Tammen would throw away his hard-earned money on something like cigarettes, which he didn’t even smoke. Even though they were only 25 cents a pack in 1950, that translates to roughly $2.50 today—nothing to scoff at if he was buying them frequently. Besides, were Tammen’s friends often in the position of needing to bum a cigarette? Why did Ron consider this a necessary expenditure?
It was when I read a passage from Craig Loftin’s book Masked Voices: Gay Men and Lesbians in Cold War America that I thought I’d landed on the answer. In researching his book, Loftin had pored over letters that had been mailed to the editors of ONE Magazine, the first periodical in the United States to provide an authentic perspective of gay culture in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“Gay cruising in densely traveled spaces was highly ritualized and generally imperceptible to nonparticipants,” Loftin wrote. “Men used eye contact, body language, or small talk, such as asking for a cigarette or the time, to connect with each other; one person would then follow the other to a more private place.”
It made a lot more sense to me that Ron might have carried a pack of cigarettes as a way to meet other guys. During an email exchange, I raised the question with Loftin, who offered some additional perspective:
“I would say that a gay man in the 1950s would certainly be more likely to carry cigarettes around for ‘making friends,’ but I’ve heard of this in non-gay contexts as well—so many people smoked back then that having a pack to give others wasn’t completely unusual. But for gay men, the exchange of a cigarette provided a very useful opportunity to gauge potential sexual interest from the other person. Gay men cruising for sex partners in the 1950s had to be very careful. You didn’t want to try to pick up the wrong person (especially an undercover vice cop)…During the cigarette exchange and lighting, there is the matter of voice and vocal inflections (which can signify gayness), eye contact (the key to gay cruising—a sustained friendly stare was usually enough to signify interest), and, most compellingly, physical contact during the actual lighting (think old Bette Davis movies here). Within a few seconds, sexual interest (or disinterest) could be made very clear.”
John Tammen provided an alternative explanation for the cigarettes, however. According to John, their father had encouraged his sons to smoke to help them be successful in society. I’m sure Mr. Tammen changed his outlook in the ensuing decades, but during those early years, he viewed smoking as a way for his sons to climb the social ladder. John was repulsed by smoking and his father used to scold him for it. Maybe Ron reasoned that keeping a pack of cigarettes on hand would prove useful as a workaround on a couple issues. First, the cigarettes would help appease his father even though Ron had no intention of smoking them, and second—and, again, I really don’t know—perhaps they provided a way for him to meet guys in the way that Loftin described. As long as he was doing what was expected of him by his father, who’s to say that his motives had to be the same?
Ron asked a girl who was practically a relative to a dance nine months away.
Speaking of John Tammen, we need to come back to Ron’s feelings about John’s relationship with Joyce, and their decision to get married in July 1952. According to John, Ron was so livid with him when he married Joyce that he cut off all ties with him. He’d be John’s best man, Ron told him. But once the wedding was over, so was their relationship.
“He was very disappointed that I had allowed myself to flunk, literally, flunk out of Princeton, and he did promise to go ahead and be my best man at our wedding,” John explained. “He carried through on his promise, but he also said, ‘Hey, that’s it. We’re through. My hands are washed of everything from now on. I don’t want to talk to either one of you,’ and he was a man of his word. We didn’t talk after that at all.”
John and Joyce were divorced in 1974, but Joyce’s story backs up John’s—the couple hadn’t seen Ron since their wedding day on July 29, 1952. However, Joyce had something new to add.
“There was [to be] a big dance down there on the campus, and he asked my sister to go to this dance,” Joyce told me. “But of course she never went because he disappeared.“
That’s right. Ron had cut off his brother and brand new sister-in-law from all communication but saw fit to ask Joyce’s sister to a dance.
In February 2017, I tracked down Joyce’s sister, who, because of a severe hearing loss, agreed to a phone conversation with her daughter serving as go-between. The woman said that she had known Ron, though not very well, and, indeed, he had asked her to a dance that was scheduled for the spring in which he’d disappeared. They never dated, she said, rarely spoke even.
“Does she remember whenhe asked her to the dance?” I asked her daughter. “How far in advance did he ask her?”
“During the summer,” her daughter reported back. I’d heard her mother say this loud and clear in the background as well. Whereas other details were a little iffy after so many years, on that fine point she was sure. He asked her during the summer of 1952.
Why would Ron ask the younger sister of an extended family member with whom he was supposedly incommunicado? And why so far in advance? Not only were they not dating, they were barely even friends, and he was doing nothing to upgrade their status in the interim. The dance Ron had on his mind for all those months was likely the Interfraternity Ball. Attended by members of all of the fraternities on campus and their guests, the ball was the culmination of Greek Week, and, for the second year in a row, featured Count Basie and his orchestra. As fate would have it, the dance was held the Saturday after Ron disappeared.
Based on his looks alone, Ron probably could have taken anyone he wanted to the dance. In fact, I’ve spoken with several acquaintances who would have gladly accompanied him. In my mind, to go to a dance with his brother’s sister-in-law would likely have seemed safe to Ron—almost like going with a cousin.
Connecting a few dots
Again, I have no direct proof whether or not Ronald Tammen was gay. However, if he were gay, it would help explain a few details that have been left dangling for a while on this blog site. First, the fact that Ronald Tammen disappeared at all is a clue to the mystery. In an article on the Richard Cox disappearance that appeared in the April 14, 1952, issue of LIFE magazine, authors Herbert Brean and Luther Conant discussed the relatively few reasons that a typical adult might have for running away at that time. Men mainly leave for “business difficulties or domestic problems (money or sex),” they said, while the reason for a woman leaving is “usually an emotional problem involving husband or lover.” (Yeah, we women can do some nutty things on account of our womanly emotions and all.) More significantly, they also wrote that “homosexuality underlies far more vanishments than is suspected by a loving wife or husband.” There are no statistics available regarding how many gay people ran away from their lives back in the 1950s, however, it’s generally presumed that many did, often moving to large, more culturally diverse cities, where they could get lost in the crowd.
If Ron were gay, that also might have been a reason for him to seek help from the hypnosis experts in Miami’s psychology department. In those days, hypnosis was sometimes sought out as a possible treatment for homosexuality, a term that was defined broadly as a mental disorder and, more narrowly, as a sociopathic personality disturbance in the 1952 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-I) of the American Psychiatric Association. Perhaps Ron wanted to “fix” this so-called disorder which he otherwise had no control over.
In addition, although he was carrying a “B” average, Tammen’s transcripts reveal that he had been dropping his required courses to such a degree that he was no longer carrying a full load. This likely put him in jeopardy of losing his deferment from military service. If Ron happened to be gay, being drafted would have created a full-blown crisis for him. As mentioned earlier, the military was weeding out gay men and lesbians at an unparalleled rate, and their methods for identifying individuals whom they suspected were both systematic and sneaky. If Ron were gay and outed by the military, his long-held dream of finding his place in society would have been destroyed. There wasno place in American society at that time for someone who was gay.
Finally, the possibility that Ron was gay also helps answer the perplexing question of why he might have voluntarily left his family forever, without ever contacting them. If Ron were gay, he might have thought he was doing the people he loved most a favor. Perhaps he reasoned that they’d be better off thinking him dead than as a gay man in 1950s America.
I realize there’s a lot to ponder here. I also realize that not everyone is going to agree with my point of view, in whole or in part. Due to the sensitivity of this topic, let’s discuss it on another day, after I’ve established a few guidelines for comments. In the meantime, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone! I’m thankful to have you as part of the Good Man community.
If you’d like to read more on the topic of what it was like to be gay during the Cold War years, here are several resources that I highly recommend:
The better acquainted I become with Ronald Tammen and the person he was, the more inclined I am to doubt that he would have been thrilled about his crammed schedule on the Sunday of his disappearance. Why do I think this? Having spent my entire life as an introvert, I think I’ve become pretty adept at spotting one, and, deep down, I can’t help but believe that Ronald Tammen was an introvert too.
Ronald Tammen seemed to spend a lot of time on his own. The vast majority of people I’ve spoken with couldn’t associate him with a best friend or group of friends, which would make him particularly private. Yes, he was a joiner of organizations. Yes, he was busy. But those activities had an end purpose—to build up his résumé or to bulk up his bank account. Adjectives I’ve heard to describe him include serious, studious, and polite. Does that sound like someone who was the life of every party?
Introverts are listeners. We’re planners. We need time alone to recharge. Days with wide-open blocks of time are what we crave; days packed with people, meetings, and spur-of-the-moment demands drain us to the core. Ronald Tammen and I aren’t identical—he was far more entrepreneurial—but I think it’s a safe bet that when Ronald Tammen woke up that morning, knowing all the obligations that lay before him along with the impromptu interactions that would soon be carving into his Sunday, he would have let out a sigh. But Ronald Tammen was also irrepressibly responsible. He got out of bed and set his momentous day into motion.
Here’s a key takeaway about introverts: we make promises to ourselves all the time. If faced with a morning of meetings, we might treat ourselves to some reading or a walk at lunch. If we spend a day with swarms of people, that evening will be devoted to me time. These are the sorts of compensation techniques that help us succeed in life. If Ron Tammen did all of the things that people are claiming he did that Sunday, when did he finally wind down? Did he decide at the end of a long, hard day that now would be an excellent opportunity to upend his life, leaving his car, string bass, and everyone he knew behind? No reasonable introvert would do that. An introvert would at least wait until the next day, after a night’s rest. I’ll go out on a limb here: I don’t think Ronald Tammen knew when he got out of bed that morning that he would soon be walking away from his life. In one crucial moment, the young man who loved to plan may have left the planning to someone else.
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.