On Friday, October 26, 1973, a calendar item appeared in the Miami Student announcing a talk to be delivered Halloween night. The speaker, Joe Cella, would be presenting at 8 p.m. in the Heritage Room of Miami’s former student center, now known as the Shriver Center. His presentation had been titled “The Ronald Tammen Disappearance.” There was no need for additional verbiage explaining who Ronald Tammen was or why anyone should care—everyone already knew.
Cella was the Hamilton Journal-News reporter who’d devoted decades to investigating Ron’s disappearance from Miami University in 1953. He’d intended to solve the mystery. He dug and he dug, until, quite probably, he’d made a nuisance of himself on Miami’s campus, at least in the minds of the administrators. If it hadn’t been for Joe Cella, some of the most significant clues of the case would have remained in faded notes and eroding memory banks.
In 1973, Cella had been on a roll. Earlier that year, he’d broken the story about Garret J. Boone, a family physician and Butler County coroner who’d said that Ron had walked into his office in Hamilton on November 19, 1952. (The article erroneously says the office was on Third Street, when it was actually located at 134 North Second Street. You can step inside that very building the next time you’re in or around Hamilton. Doc Boone’s old office is now a bar that features artisanal beer and live music.)
The reason for Ron’s visit was to request that his blood type be tested. Boone said he’d never received such an odd request in his 35 years of practice, and he’d asked Tammen why he needed to have his blood typed. Tammen responded, “I might have to give some blood one of these days.” Doc Boone was able to provide documentation to Cella—a medical record that included Ron’s name, address, and the date of Ron’s visit.
Cella’s fresh lead was published on April 23, 1973, for the 20th anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance, which had likely captured the attention of students serving on Miami University’s Program Board. Someone reached out to Cella to see if he’d be willing to give a talk on campus, and Joe said “sure.” Of course, they picked Halloween for the date of his talk. That’s when students always turned their thoughts to Tammen.
I mean DAYUMMM, you guys. Who among us wouldn’t have paid hundreds to hear that talk? I would have given my eye teeth, my “J” teeth, my “K” teeth, and my “LMNOP” teeth to get a chance to hear Joe Cella riffing verbatim on the Tammen case. The Heritage Room would have been packed to the rafters that night. Joe would have been fielding student questions way past his allotted time. But alas, it wasn’t to be. Something happened in the short time interval between Friday’s printed announcement and the following Tuesday that brought Joe’s talk to a grinding halt. In the next issue of the Miami Student—October 30th—this notice was published:
Joe Cella’s presentation on the “Ronald Tammen Disappearance” which was scheduled for October 31 has been cancelled. Cella, a news staff worker on the Hamilton Journal, has not received clearance from federal authorities to release material which he has acquired concerning the case. Cella has promised to present his material as part of a Program Board event pending receipt of such clearance.
“Hmmm,” thought I, when I first read the blurb.
Let me tell you a little something about practitioners of journalism, especially journalism of the investigative variety: we don’t wait around for permission to reveal something we’ve managed to dig up. We’ll protect our sources who have given us information till death if need be, and we’ll protect people’s personal information too. Also, journalists who have somehow accessed classified information that could impact our national security have often elected to withhold that information for, you know, national security’s sake. But material on Ron Tammen? That seems like fair game to me.
So who put the kibosh on Cella’s talk? I doubt that it was the students who served on the Program Board. In 1973, Watergate was front-page news and the Vietnam War still had two more years before all U.S. troops had exited Saigon. Students were wary of feds in general—plus, what student wouldn’t want to hear the inside scoop on Tammen?
What about Cella? From what I’ve learned about him over the years, I’m sure there’s no way that he would have accepted a speaking gig and then, at the last minute, said that he just needed to get an “all clear” from some federal agency before he could go public with the juicy tidbit he’d managed to get his hands on. Look at it this way: Can you imagine me calling the FBI and saying, “Hey, I’ve obtained a document stating that Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged due the Privacy Act or a court order. OK if I print that on my blog? If you could send me your blessing ASAP, I’d be so grateful.” Yeah, right. If you’ll recall, I posted that discovery within 24 hours of my learning it.
Also, how would Cella have obtained whatever he obtained? It’s difficult to say, since we don’t know what he had, but someone representing a federal agency had probably given it to him. And once that happens, boom. It becomes public information. No additional permission necessary.
That leaves us with Miami University administrators. Did Miami officials cancel Cella’s talk, and if so, why would they give two hoots about what Joe would be presenting that night and whether he’d obtained prior permission from “federal authorities”?
Before I address that question, let’s refer back to Cella’s article from April 23, 1973. Not only did we learn about Doc Boone’s visit from Tammen in November 1952 but we learned something else in that article: that Doc Boone had attempted to tell Miami officials about Tammen’s visit back in 1953 but he’d been summarily rebuffed.
“I offered this information (the medical file card contents) to local authorities at the time, but it was always discounted,” the article quoted him as saying. Also, “I discussed it in the past a number of times with two or three persons associated with Miami University, but they didn’t want to discuss the case.” And this: “I feel I definitely got the brush-off.” And then: “As I said before, I offered the information but they didn’t care to listen or pursue it. So I just put the card away and forgot about it.” And finally: “Maybe this information could have been valuable then. I was upset because I was given the run-around by the school.”
Terms like brush-off and run-around aren’t the sorts of things a university likes to read about itself, and the article had indeed been noticed on Miami’s campus. Affixed to the back of the article in University Archives is a note with the letterhead of the Office of Public Information, which was under the direction of Robert T. Howard. Howard had succeeded Gilson Wright in leading Miami’s News Bureau in 1956, and in 1960, he was promoted to director of the Office of Public Information.
The quasi-mocking note says:
Who’s left for him to scold but thee and me?
Based on the letterhead, I believe the note was written by Robert T. Howard. I’ve tried to determine who Paul is, and I’ll offer up my guess here: I think Robert Howard was writing to Paul Schumacher, the director of Miami University’s Health Service. There weren’t that many Pauls in high posts at Miami in 1973-74, and it seems that it would be on topic for Howard to write to the head of the health service over a fuming physician and his evidence of an off-site doctor’s visit by Tammen.
Several months later, that little flare-up would have still been fresh in the university’s mind, particularly in the mind of the person whose primary responsibility was to show the university in the best possible light, Bob Howard. As Howard was reading the October 26th issue of the Miami Student, sipping his coffee and pondering the fall weekend ahead, he probably had a mini-meltdown when he read who’d be coming to campus on Halloween night. As head of Miami’s Public Information Office, Howard oversaw media relations for the university. Managing Joe Cella would have certainly been within his job description.
Perhaps Howard was still stinging from Cella’s article about Doc Boone and decided that he wouldn’t be welcome on campus. If so, he might have called Joe to find out what he’d be talking about and made up the excuse that he’d need to obtain federal approval first, just to introduce a roadblock. Maybe.
Or could the request for clearance from federal authorities have reflected a degree of familiarity with Tammen’s case? Maybe Howard, who’d been working in communications for the university in various capacities since 1947, knew about the federal government’s involvement in Tammen’s disappearance. If so, he would have also known that the university wouldn’t want to anger the sorts of people whom I believe were pulling the strings. Perhaps Howard told Cella to seek clearance to make sure the university didn’t stray from whatever marching orders they might have been given back in 1953. If the feds say it’s OK, then it’s OK with us too, Howard might have told Cella.
I have no idea what materials Joe Cella had in his possession from the federal government concerning Tammen. Cella’s sons weren’t able to shed light on that question and his Tammen file is long gone. Likewise, when I asked them if they could recall the Halloween of 1973 when their father’s university talk had been abruptly canceled, it didn’t ring any bells with them. I also contacted former student representatives of Miami’s 1973-74 Program Board and asked if they could recall the incident. Only one person responded and that person had no recollection of the Tammen program that had been canceled.
In 1977, Cella was interviewed by a reporter for the Dayton Daily News about his search for Tammen. He didn’t mention the government materials he’d had in his possession in 1973. Instead, the article says: “Cella said that federal agencies have refused to cooperate with him or Tammen’s family.” In addition, it said that he’d attempted to obtain Tammen’s records from the Social Security Administration but was refused.
This past week, I was in Oxford again, conducting more Tammen research, and I was standing in Miami’s Athletic Hall of Fame inside Millett Hall. There, among the photos of swimmers, wrestlers, football players, basketball players, and the like was a photo of Robert T. Howard, who’d been inducted in 1989 for his role in directing sports information.
So…who do you think canceled Joe’s Halloween talk in 1973?
As for the year 2021, Happy Halloween to all who celebrate! 🎃
Last November, we discussed Ron Tammen’s bank account—his earnings, expenses, savings, and outstanding debts at the time he disappeared. Even though university administrators had told the press at the time that Ron wasn’t in financial trouble, you and I couldn’t help but notice how hard he was working at a variety of jobs, and taking out loans to boot, yet he was still having difficulty keeping his head above water.
Meanwhile, Ron’s younger and less agreeable brother Richard didn’t seem at all strapped for cash during 1952-53. How could Richard seemingly coast through his freshman year of college, subsisting only on the money he’d earned caddying in the summer? As a sophomore, Ron had caddied PLUS worked for the city of Maple Heights during the summer PLUS he had a scholarship, PLUS he had two regular jobs at Miami—playing with the Campus Owls and counseling freshman residents of Fisher Hall—PLUS he was always looking into other ways to earn money, such as donating his blood and whatever else. By April 1953, Ron should have had a hefty sum accrued in his checking account, but he didn’t. He only had $87 and some change, and he still owed the university $110 for board plus he needed to pay back a $100 loan.
All of this begged the question: Was Ron Tammen supporting his brother Richard?
On this Labor Day weekend, a time when we celebrate America’s workers, I thought it would be fitting to discuss Richard’s Social Security earnings statement. That’s right, readers, thanks to the assistance of some very helpful people, I now have Richard’s Social Security earnings statement for 1952-1954, the years he attended Miami as a freshman and sophomore.
Before we delve, I’d like to discuss what a Social Security earnings statement is and what it isn’t.
But first, this caveat: OH MY GOSH, you guys, this is so not my area of expertise. I’m sitting here on a gorgeous Saturday reading the Social Security website just trying to understand this topic well enough to explain it adequately. If you happen to specialize in this area and I get anything wrong, please don’t hesitate to let me know, albeit gently. I didn’t pursue a career in tax law for a reason.
OK, let’s do this.
The Social Security earnings statement is a document that the Social Security Administration (SSA) produces detailing how much money you earned in a given year or years. They used to mail it to you but now you can create it on demand online. The earnings statement represents the amount of money that your employer has reported having paid you so that certain taxes can be withheld. Today, employers report annually, but in Richard’s and Ron’s day, it was reported quarterly. Come January of each year, we receive a W-2 with all of that info spelled out so we can use it to file our taxes. The SSA also uses the information to figure out our retirement income when that happy day arrives.
Still awake? Brilliant. The Social Security earnings statement may not include everything you earned for a particular year, however. Sometimes money will trade hands off the books, and the onus is on you to keep track of your earnings and file your taxes accordingly. Take caddying, for example. I’m sure both Ron and Richard were paid in cash by whomever they accompanied on the golf course on a given day. Also, Ron’s music gigs—I’m guessing the musicians were also paid in cash with no taxes withheld. But Ron’s jobs with the city of Maple Heights and Miami University would have definitely been included on his Social Security earnings statement. In Mr. Tammen’s letter to Ron in September 1952, he passed along tax information from Ron’s last check stubs from the city.
Other potential sources of income that would not show up on the earnings statement would be:
As I explained in an earlier post, Ron had a scholarship through the Cleveland District Golf Association. However, to the best of my knowledge, Richard didn’t have one. His academic standing wasn’t as good as Ron’s and a news article didn’t list him as a scholarship recipient for the year 1952-53.
Richard wasn’t eligible for a university loan as a freshman. However, if anyone else loaned him money—such as Willis Wertz, the architecture professor who co-signed a loan for Ron—I don’t know. My guess is that Richard wouldn’t have been a good candidate due to his poor grades and his lack of a steady income by which to reimburse the loan.
Keeping all of this in mind, I will now report Richard’s earnings for the years 1952-54.
Like I said, we know Richard was caddying over the summers, which didn’t show up here. And we don’t know if he had obtained a loan. (I doubt it.) But we also can conclude that Richard wasn’t working for the university during this time, whether it be washing dishes, waiting tables, or anything else students might be employed to do. That income would have been documented here. Likewise, a job with an employer off campus where he would have received a paycheck would have been documented in his earnings statement. From what I can tell, other than caddying, Richard wasn’t employed in 1952 or 1953.
The year after Ron disappeared, 1953-54, was abysmal for Richard. The first semester, he was placed on probation after he was caught cheating. Two grades were changed to Fs to accompany two Ds and a B. The second semester was almost as bad, where he earned a B, two Cs and an F. His transcript states that he was “Dropped for Scholarship.” Richard had flunked out.
That summer, Richard got a job with the G.W. Cobb Company, in Cleveland, which makes storage tanks and liquid handling systems. That’s where he earned the $322.41, which was good money for someone his age, translating to $3,272.08 in today’s dollars for about 3 months of work. (He was employed during a portion of the second and third quarters.) In September of 1954, he enlisted in the Army, where he would stay until September 1956.
In April 1956, Richard reapplied to Miami, asking to be readmitted to the Department of Architecture after his pending discharge from the Army. Miami said OK, providing that “he must make an average of 2.0 at the end of each semester henceforth; failure to do so to entail permanent suspension.” Richard managed to live by their rules, and he received his bachelor of architecture in August 1959 and his master of city design in June 1960. [Well, he *mostly* lived by the rules. See my correction in the comments below.]
So let’s get back to the big question: was Richard blackmailing Ron?
I think it’s a safe assumption that Richard wasn’t employed throughout his freshman year at Miami. Either he was earning enough money through caddying in the summer and during breaks or someone may have been helping him out—maybe Ron.
However, when Ron was a freshman in 1951-52, he didn’t appear to be working on or off campus either. Also, there’s no evidence of Ron needing to obtain loans during that first year. However, Ron did have his scholarship during his freshman year in addition to his caddying and city work in the summers and breaks. It’s possible that Ron’s and Richard’s income sources were enough to get them through their respective freshman years at Miami. For this reason, I don’t think we can jump to the conclusion that Richard was blackmailing Ron during Richard’s freshman year. It’s possible, and I’ll admit that I leapt there when I first saw Richard’s earnings statement, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.
What does seem pretty clear is that, during his second year at Miami, Ron’s expenses outweighed those of a typical college student back then. His sophomore year was substantially more costly for him than his freshman year had been, despite the fact that he was always working and didn’t go out much. His money seemed to be going out as fast as it was coming in.
I don’t know about you, but I’m even more convinced that someone was demanding money from Ron. I just still can’t be sure who it was or why.
What do you think? Am I overlooking something?
Also, in looking at my Social Security earnings statement, I see that I made $528 in my first-ever job, which was a waitress and grill cook at a local lunch counter. One of the skills I mastered there was bacon, where I learned to cook it extra crispy. An actual quote that I’ll never forget someone saying was, “We like to come here for Jenny’s bacon,” which I found hilarious but kind of cool.
And you? What was your first job as we celebrate Labor Day? Got any stories?
July 23rd would be Ron Tammen’s 88th birthday if he’s still living. To commemorate the day, I thought it would be fitting to discuss one of the more complicated and, as it turns out, pivotal figures in Ron’s life—his mother, Marjorie.
Of all the members of Ronald Tammen’s family, Marjorie Tammen is the one that people have been most reluctant to speak openly about—the one we’ve all been tiptoeing around. Throughout her married life, whenever Marjorie’s name came up in conversation, details would have likely been dodged and euphemisms employed. Only the nonverbals (the head shakes, the tsks) would convey the simple truth. I’m sure some people judged her as unfit. Others, usually women, felt deep sympathy for her. All too soon, her three oldest sons—John, Ronald, and Richard—considered her weak and unworthy of their respect. She embarrassed them.
It had to do with all the drinking. Even when her three oldest boys were small, and well before Ron went missing, Marjorie Tammen had an addiction to alcohol. Her day drinking affected her housekeeping and other wife and mom duties, which in those days had no end. Her dependency seeped into every crevice of her life. It’s what she died of at the age of 52—not of a broken heart, as some would say, but of cirrhosis of the liver. There. I said it. Now you know.
But addictions of any sort don’t define who we are. We’re a person first; the disease comes in at a distant second. And there’s always a starting point—there’s always a reason.
One of Marjorie’s main strengths lay in her family, where the bonds were tight and the safety net vast. It was Marjorie’s side of the family that supplied the relatives who were most influential to Ron and his siblings as they were growing up—the relatives they would go to for help without a moment’s hesitation, the people they tried to emulate.
And even though she embarrassed them, Marjorie’s three oldest sons would have been hard pressed to find a fiercer advocate for them. Which parent went running to school every time Richard bullied his way into a fresh world of trouble? Marjorie did. Who took it upon herself to call the Cleveland office of the FBI—the FBI!—to tell them about her son who’d gone missing while he was away at college? Marjorie. Who gave those FBI guys Ron’s fingerprints in 1953 to help with their investigation—the fingerprints she’d saved on a card since 1941? I’m sure it was Marjorie, since she’d mentioned those prints in an interview with a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter in 1960.
Say what you will about Marjorie, she wasn’t afraid to throw on a coat or pick up a phone in the interest of her kids.
Marjorie was born Marjorie Jane McCann on September 4, 1911, in Sharon, PA, less than 20 miles from Youngstown, OH, near the western edge of the Pennsylvania border. She was the baby of the family. Her brother John was three years older than she was and her sister Mary was one year older. When Mary was a toddler, she came down with polio, a deadly disease that, happily, was eradicated in the United States and throughout most of the world by a vaccine. (Speaking of vaccines, are you fully vaccinated against Covid-19 yet? If not, please do your part pronto. Personally, there’s no way I’d want to face the delta variant unvaccinated. And until there’s a vaccine for the under-12 crowd, I’ll still be masking indoors. Here’s that link again. Thank you for coming to my TED tirade. I’m afraid we don’t have time for questions.)
Mary’s bout with polio left her with a severe limp that lasted her whole life. Marjorie was her sister’s helper, especially during the hard early years, which cemented the bond between them. When Mary became a career woman with no kids of her own, her “favorite aunt” status was elevated to an art form—practically to the point of being an auxiliary mom. She was a giver—of her time, her money, whatever she had—and what she didn’t have to give, she’d loan to them. The latter included her car if the Tammen family needed to drive beyond where the city bus would take them. Among Ron’s siblings with whom I’ve had the chance to speak, Aunt Mary’s name was the one most frequently mentioned when they described the people who were there for them as children.
The McCanns moved from Pennsylvania to Lakewood, Ohio, in 1922, when father Albert was hired to work for an electrical company. Soon, he’d get a job in elevator manufacturing and would learn the ups and downs of that trade. Floranell, Marjorie’s mother, worked in a profession nearer and dearer to my heart: she was a librarian at the Cleveland Public Library as well as the Western Reserve Medical Library.
Albert and Floranell McCann
When it was time to start thinking about college, Marjorie’s brother John chose Miami University, thus setting the whole Miami legacy train into motion. By 1933, John McCann had received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business at Miami. Two years later, he married a fellow Miami grad, Eleanora Handschin, who’d studied psychology there. John’s and Eleanora’s ties to Miami were especially tight, since Eleanora’s father, Charles Hart Handschin, was a renowned German professor at Miami, and he and his wife Helena lived in Oxford. In 1934, Mary graduated from Miami in home economics education, which prepared her for a lifelong career in teaching. Marjorie would attend Miami too, and she would also study home economics, though she wouldn’t graduate. (More on that in a bit.) And of course, three of Marjorie’s five children—Ron, then Richard, and later Marcia—would attend Miami. (When Ron was at Miami, he was known to visit the Handschins, whose home was behind the Delta Tau Delta house.)
In June 1929, Marjorie graduated from Lakewood High School. Her yearbook photo shows a cute grinning girl in a flapper haircut beneath which were three adjectives the yearbook staff felt summed her up best: mutable, jocular, and modest. Jocular and modest are great traits for any high schooler, but if Marjorie was mutable in any way, I’d say it was photographically. Whereas Mary usually looked the same way in photos—elegant and beautiful—Marjorie seemed to morph into someone else over the years. Still, she usually smiled.
Say what you will about Marjorie, she would smile for the camera, even when she was hurting.
Speaking of photographs, it probably goes without saying that Ron Tammen, Sr.—the soon-to-be love of Marjorie’s life—was handsome. Whether he was a young man with deep-set eyes in his 20s, or a Ronald Colman clone in his 30s and 40s, or a graying Mr. Chips-type in his 50s and upward, the man never seemed to take a bad picture. Marjorie met him at a dance when she was a freshman at Miami and he was playing in a band that had rolled into town for the night. Let’s just say that it was part kismet and part pyrotechnics that brought the two of them together. The fact that he was wailing away on a sax when she first laid eyes on him didn’t hurt one bit.
Marjorie was younger than Ron Sr. by four years, which at that stage of life was considerable. She decided not to return to Miami the following year, and in the words of Johnny and June Carter Cash, she and Ron Sr. “got married in a fever” and were indeed “hotter than a pepper sprout” for each other. They were married on January 31, 1931, though not everyone was happy about it.
“Grandfather McCann was very rigorously and religiously Catholic,” John Tammen once told me, and he “wouldn’t let her get married. And so my mother and father had to elope.”
The way John told it, Albert had wanted Marjorie to wait until Mary got married, since Mary was older, but I think there may have been more to the story. In our first interview, Marcia Tammen had recalled that Ron Sr. was raised as a Christian Scientist, which wouldn’t sit well with Albert. Back then, religions didn’t do a lot of commingling. Unless he became Catholic, I can’t imagine that Ron Sr. would have ever been a suitable mate as far as Albert was concerned. Marjorie probably thought it would be hopeless to try to convince her father otherwise. Besides, if Marjorie had abided by Albert’s rule to merrily wait for Mary to marry, Marjorie’s life would’ve been on pause until 1955, when Aunt Mary became Mrs. Edward Spehar.
So they eloped. And by “eloped,” I mean they got married in Mr. Tammen’s home on Ednolia Avenue in Lakewood, officiated by a local Presbyterian minister. Although the marriage license says she was 21, Marjorie was only 19—barely—by four months. It was a premeditated fib. According to Ohio marriage law at that time, Marjorie would have needed parental permission, which she most certainly did not have, if she’d given her true age.
Say what you will about Marjorie, she had a mind of her own.
I know what you’re thinking, and relax, everyone. It appears as though they made things right with the state of Ohio sometime after John was born. Also, I guess lying about one’s age on a marriage license was somewhat of a thing in those days. There’s even a Dick Van Dyke episode where Laura Petrie had lied about her age when she married Rob and they had to get married a second time. (You may want to watch the two-part episode sometime. I forgot how funny that show was, but then Carl Reiner was one of the best screenwriters ever.) [Part 1: Laura’s Little Lie; Part 2: Very Old Shoes, Very Old Rice]
We already know that times were hard during those years. It was the Depression, after all. Most people had it hard. Ron Sr. hadn’t gone to college, so he taught himself the skill of actuarial science, how to calculate risk in the insurance business. He landed himself a job as an insurance adjuster, which helped during the lean years.
But there was another hardship. Back then, people had fewer options available to them for birth control, especially if they’d been raised Catholic. Mr. and Mrs. Tammen’s method may well have been something akin to keeping track of the days of the month and hoping for the best. Turns out, whatever method they were using wasn’t foolproof. Each year of marriage would yield another brand new baby boy. On May 25, 1932, John was born. Five months later, Marjorie was pregnant again with Ron Jr. Six and a half months after giving birth to Ron, she was once again pregnant, this time with Richard. For someone in her early 20s, it was a lot—too much really. John seemed to think that this was the reason that his mother began drinking. There were too many rambunctious boys running around the house.
“Our mother was really very ill-prepared to handle us,” said John. We just absolutely drove her crazy from the time we were up and walking until our middle teenage years when kids begin to get focused on other things in life… Because we were forever into doing stuff. We were very active. We drove my mother really nuts. We literally drove her to drink.”
Maybe. Or it could have been a thought planted deep in Marjorie’s psyche, as if she’d convinced herself that her prolific baby-making ability was the sole reason that the family was struggling. As if she alone was the problem. At least that was the opinion of one woman who knew both Marjorie and Mr. Tammen well.
According to the woman, after Marjorie had the three boys, Mr. Tammen basically turned off. He criticized Marjorie for not using protection, she said. The woman recalled another person who’d felt the same way—as if Marjorie’s morale had been broken.
If Marjorie felt responsible for the family’s financial burdens, she must have also felt guilty about her inability to bring home a paycheck. It wasn’t as if she didn’t want to work. In 1930, before she got married, Marjorie had been a librarian, just like her mother. (Marjorie loved to read.) But how could she get a job when she needed to tend to three preschoolers?
Marjorie thought of an alternative. She knew how to sew. In the years that followed, she sewed clothes for all of her children—first for the three boys, then Marcia, and later Robert. She mastered sleeves and collars, pant legs and pockets, pleats and hems, not to mention the accompanying buttonholes and zippers. Marjorie sewed up a storm, and, as a result, her kids always stood out from the others. Marjorie’s kids looked amazing.
Say what you will about Marjorie, if she had no other means to help out, she’d go straight to her wheelhouse.
Things probably improved for John, Ron, and Richard as they got older and were working in various jobs away from home. I have no doubt that they loved their mother. And yet I can also imagine them looking forward to the day when they’d be heading to college and no longer living with her. To be able to invite a friend over on the fly or to walk home from class without a feeling of dread would be motivation enough to move to a school several hours away.
John’s memory is harsh. In a letter he wrote to Marcia in 2014 discussing the family’s most difficult years, he said: “Because of [Mom’s] bad habits, poor organization of the house, and what we saw and [sic] an almost total lack of caring for us, we all came to usually disregard what she said so that she had no effective control over what we did, where we went, and when we returned; we became almost emancipated at 15, 14, and 13.”
“Almost emancipated,” he said. Almost. Because despite all the sadness that the Tammen brothers had to endure—despite learning to adapt to Marjorie’s varying degrees of normal—they also knew that they could rely on Marjorie’s mother Floranell and sister Mary, both of whom lived nearby. (Albert McCann died in 1944.)
And even though he was farther away, Ron Jr.’s end-all, be-all role model, his influencer uncle, also maintained a strong connection with them. Uncle John McCann is probably one of the main reasons Ron chose to attend Miami. I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog site that Uncle John had sold bonds, which is why Ron felt that he wanted to have a career in bonds too. Uncle John was a business major; Ron was a business major. But John McCann was also a highly decorated colonel in the U.S. Air Force, which probably impressed Ron a great deal. Here are just a few of Uncle John McCann’s impressive military credentials:
Col. McCann worked in intelligence with the Army Air Corps during World War II.
In 1950, at the start of the Korean War, he was called back to the Air Force Reserves as an executive officer of a troop carrier wing in Greenville, South Carolina.
Weirdly enough, Ron’s Uncle John died on April 20 in 1995, one day after the 42nd anniversary of Ron’s disappearance from Uncle John’s alma mater. His children were great friends to the Tammens, their closest cousins. They’ve remained in touch with one another to this day.
I think we all know how Ron’s disappearance affected Marjorie. It devastated her, but I’d argue that it didn’t destroy her. She still had Marcia and Robert living at home—ages 10 and 7—and there was no way she could give up then. She also wanted to keep looking for Ron, which she vowed to do, granting interviews about her son when reporters asked and quickly responding to the periodic FBI letters asking whether Ron had been located yet or was he still missing. (Answer: always B.)
Family photos in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Click on photos for more info.
On September 30, 1962, Marcia’s 20th birthday, Marjorie Tammen wrote her daughter a letter. As usual, the resources available to her were limited. No Hallmark Greetings here—just a sheet of stationery with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen letterhead (Mr. Tammen’s workplace), and a blue ink pen.
By the time you recieve [sic] this you will be twenty. First and foremost, “Happy Birthday.”
I am not sure you are aware how older people tend to reflect. Now by “older” I don’t mean those with a foot in the grave.
But September 30th has always held a special meaning for me. That was the day it was our good fortune to be blessed with a girl.
As you have progressed through the years, we have seen you develop so well.
As of Oct. 1th [sic], you will take a step again toward the future. This is the day you leave your teens and enter the twenties. This is not a large step but just approaching the future.
If your next twenty years will see you develop as well as the first twenty, you will be fulfilling all that can be asked of anyone.
So again to you, Marcia, the very happiest of birthdays. With this goes all the love of all of us.
P.S. This doesn’t mean I won’t fight with you tomorrow. Mama
Here’s what I love about this letter: First, it came from Marjorie’s heart. She had no idea what to give her daughter on this momentous day, so she grabbed a sheet of stationery from a drawer and she wrote. Because feelings are free.
Second, the letter held so much meaning for Marcia, she saved it until the day she died. Do you have a card stored away from your 20th birthday? Yeah, me neither.
And best of all, 9 ½ years after her golden-boy son had disappeared and about 1 ½ years before she would die, Marjorie Tammen was still able to joke around with her daughter.
So, say what you will about Marjorie.
But she was still jocular, still modest, still mutable, and she still had some fight in her, right to the end.
Many of these photos and stories were part of Marcia Tammen’s genealogy files and were graciously shared with me by Marcia’s forever friend Jule Miller, who was practically a family member herself. Other photos were shared with me by one of Ron’s cousins, and I thank her so much for them. The remaining stories I obtained from interviews and additional research.
A word-by-word comparison of the 2008 FBI narrative to the source from which it was copied
For my last post this weekend, I want to hammer home just how similar the narrative that I received from my 2014 lawsuit settlement is to a write-up on Tammen’s case on The Charley Project website. Because The Charley Project write-up has been edited over the years and now includes information obtained from this blog, let’s time travel back to the halcyon days of 2008, a simpler time when all of us were 13 years younger and perhaps a little more naive, including the folks at the FBI. Who knows, maybe they had no idea back then that the use of another person’s words without attribution is frowned upon.
Thanks to the website Wayback Machine, I’m including a screen shot of the verbiage from The Charley Project’s web page on Tammen from March 23, 2008—an arbitrary date in 2008 for which they had a page capture—as well as a link to that page. I’m also including the two pages of the narrative that the FBI emailed to me in 2014, claiming that I had unprecedented access to such information. The true author of the verbiage is Meaghan Good, who has told me that she first posted the Tammen write-up to The Charley Project website on March 1, 2005. What the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) seem to think I’ve had unprecedented access to has been available to literally every man, woman, and child since 2005. Can you see why I’m bitter?
To make things easier on you, I’ve copied the write-up from The Charley Project page, and have inserted in blue the places where the FBI narrative strays from the original. If a word is omitted or a sentence is moved, I indicate that as well. Here you go:
Tammen [*THE VICTIM] was last seen in old Fisher Hall, a former Victorian mental asylum converted to a dormitory at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio on April 19, 1953 [4/19/1953]. He was a resident hall advisor at Fisher Hall, and lived in room 225. At 8:00 p.m., he requested new bedsheets because someone had put a dead fish in his bed.
Sometime around 8:30 p.m., Tammen [*THE VICTIM] apparently heard something outside his room that disturbed him, and went out into the hallway to investigate. He never returned. His roommate came in at 10:00 p.m. and found him gone. The roommate originally assumed Tammen [*THE VICTIM] was spending the night at his Delta Tau Delta fraternity house, and did not report his disappearance until the next day.
There is no indication that Tammen left of his own accord. [*previous sentence moved to end of paragraph] His clothes, car keys, wallet, identification, watch, high school class ring and other personal items were left behind in his dormitory room, and he also left the lights on, the radio playing, and a psychology textbook lying open on his desk. His gold 1938 [*year missing] Chevrolet sedan was not taken from its place in the school parking lot, he left his bass fiddle in the back seat of the car, and he left behind $200 (the equivalent of over $1,300 in today’s money) in his bank account. Tammen is believed to have [*IT IS BELIEVED THE VICTIM] had no more than $10 to $15 on his person the night he disappeared, and [*ALSO, HE] was not wearing a coat. [*first sentence in paragraph moved here;]
However, authorities have not found any indication of foul play in Tammen’s [*HIS] disappearance either.They do not believe he could have been forcibly abducted, as he was large enough and strong enough to defend himself against most attackers. They theorize that he could have developed amnesia and wandered away, but if that was the case he should have been found relatively quickly.
A woman living outside of Oxford, twelve miles east of the Miami University campus, claims that a young man came to her door at 11:00 p.m. the evening Tammen [*THE VICTIM] disappeared and asked what town he was in. Then he asked directions to the bus stop, which she gave him, and he left. However, the bus line had suspended its midnight run, so he could not have gotten on a bus. The witness says the man she spoke to was disheveled and dirty and appeared upset and confused. He was not wearing a coat or hat, although it was a cold night and there was snow on the ground. He was apparently on foot, since the woman did not see or hear a car. The man matched the physical description of Tammen [*THE VICTIM] and was wearing similar clothes, but it has not been confirmed that they were the same person, and Tammen’s [*THE VICTIM’s] brother stated he did not believe the man the witness saw was Tammen [*HIS BROTHER].
Five months to the day before Tammen [*The VICTIM] vanished, he went to the Butler County Coroner’s office in Hamilton, Ohio and asked for a test to have his blood typed. The coroner claims that this was the only such request he ever got in 35 years of practice. It is unknown why Tammen [*THE VICTIM] wanted the test done and why he did not have it conducted in Oxford, where local physicians or the university hospital could have typed his blood for him. Tammen [THE VICTIM] was scheduled for a physical examination by the Selective Service for induction into the army, but inductees did not need to know their blood type in advance of the physical.
Tammen’s [*THE VICTIM’S] parents, who lived in the 21000 block of Hillgrove Avenue in Maple Heights, Ohio in 1953, last saw him a week before he disappeared and say he did not appear to be troubled by anything at the time. He was on the varsity wrestling team in college, played in the school dance band, and was a business major and a good student. He dated at the time that he vanished but did not have a steady girlfriend.
In the decades after Tammen’s [*THE VICTIM’S] disappearance, students at Miami University claimed his ghost haunted Fisher Hall. His parents are now deceased. Fisher Hall was torn down in 1978 and an extensive search was conducted in the rubble for Tammen’s [THE VICTIM’S] remains, but no evidence was located. His case remains unsolved. [*THE VICTIM’S OH DL IS C-779075.]
In running my little comparison, I noticed a few things:
The Charley Project write-up is well-written, so I can understand why someone from the FBI thought it provided a good summary of the case in few words. Nevertheless, there are several inaccuracies and areas of conjecture that have accrued by way of other media outlets over time. The FBI, who should have access to the most accurate source information on the case, allowed those inaccuracies to remain in their narrative for law enforcement.
Only one detail was omitted from the FBI narrative: the year 1938 in the description of Tammen’s car (actually, his car was a green 1939 Chevy).
The only information that the FBI added to its narrative is Ron’s driver’s license number.
As we’ve discussed in an earlier post, even though the FBI obviously had new intel from 2002 that led to the expungement of Tammen’s fingerprints, that information didn’t make it into this narrative for law enforcement, which, ostensibly, was written in 2008. Perhaps it and other details were somehow mentioned in the full report, but alas, only law enforcement can access that. Judging by their unwillingness to disclose that information to former Butler Co. cold case detective Frank Smith when he inquired about Tammen’s fingerprints in 2008, I doubt it.
Hello! Tired of hearing from me so much? My apologies. Sometimes I get gabby. There’s another document I’ve been wanting to mention, but it falls slightly outside of last night’s theme—slightly—though the year 2008 is pertinent. This document was written in 2014 as part of my lawsuit settlement. The intended audience wasn’t law enforcement, just my lawyer and me.
The document is part of a declaration written by the chief of the FBI’s Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS) informing us of all the different places they searched for records on Tammen. The 2002 expungement of Tammen’s fingerprints isn’t mentioned anywhere, but I’m not sure that information is available in document form, which is a criterion of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It has to be a document. (Of course, even if there were a document on the expungement, I’m doubtful that they would have let me know about it if they weren’t willing to tell their friends in law enforcement.)
In the declaration, the RIDS chief created a table that listed search terms, the automated or manual indices searched, and the potentially responsive files. It also included the status of their search, such as “unable to locate” or “located, processed and released X pages” or “destroyed on X date.” One file that leaps out at me is numbered 190-CI-0, Serial 967, which I’ve circled in red.
On or about May 17, 2008—a Saturday—the FBI decided to destroy documents that had originated in the Cincinnati (CI) field office. Because the file number is preceded by the number 190, I believe it had something to do with the Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts. The book Unlocking the Files of the FBI, by Gerald K. Haines and David A. Langbart tells me that. The book goes on to say that “The Bureau established this classification in 1976 to handle citizen requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1966 as amended and the Privacy Act (PA) of 1974, which together provided for the expungements of records upon the request of an individual.”
Hmm. Those words have a familiar ring, don’t they?
With the case being reopened by Butler County, OH, and Walker County, GA, in 2008, and with the FBI opening a new file on Tammen that same year (not to mention the special file with the plagiarized narrative), doesn’t it seem a little curious that the Cincinnati office—just one county over from Butler County—would destroy a file on Tammen in mid-May of 2008?
Let’s take a closer look at the timeline, shall we?
January 14, 2008 – The Atlanta office of the FBI is contacted by the Walker County (GA) sheriff’s office to request the “opening of a police cooperation matter.” The Atlanta office was told of Walker Co.’s interest in reopening a cold case having to do with a dead man who was found in a ditch near Lafayette in the summer of 1953. The Walker Co. sheriff’s office wanted to find out if the dead man might be Ron Tammen. According to the resulting FBI report, dated January 29, 2008, Walker Co. was “requesting Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assistance with positive identification and investigation.” The report ends with “In view of the above, it is requested that a Police Cooperation matter be opened and assigned to SA [redacted].”
February 8, 2008 – The remains of the unidentified man are exhumed from Lafayette City Cemetery, in Lafayette, GA, to obtain his DNA. That DNA would be compared with the DNA of Ron Tammen’s sister Marcia to see if it might have been Ron. Representatives of the Butler Co. (OH) and Walker Co. sheriff’s offices, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the media, and other onlookers are present.
February 26, 2008 – Frank Smith, Butler County cold case detective, writes to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) requesting a hand search for Ron’s fingerprint card.
February 28, 2008 – CJIS writes back, saying (and I’m paraphrasing): sorry, we’ve looked everywhere for Tammen’s fingerprints. They’re not here. The author neglects to mention that they’d expunged Tammen’s prints in 2002 in response to a court order or Privacy Act conflict.
March 14, 2008 – The dead man’s remains are received by the FBI Laboratory, DNA Analysis Unit.
May 17, 2008 – File number 190-CI-0, Serial 967 is destroyed in the FBI’s Cincinnati office.
June 2, 2008 – The FBI notifies the two sheriff’s departments that the DNA was not a match.
June 3, 2009 (one year later) – The Atlanta office of the FBI closes the case into the Police Cooperation matter.
So, to put this as simply as I can: a few months after the dead man’s remains had been exhumed, and while the two sheriff’s offices were eagerly awaiting the DNA results and wondering if they’d actually managed to solve both cold cases at once, an FBI file having something to do with Ronald Tammen was destroyed. On a Saturday. Just a short drive from the Butler Co. sheriff’s office, or, come to think of it, Oxford, Ohio.
Also, the file in question just so happens to concern a possible FOIA or Privacy Act request from an individual. Yeah, I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. Nothing to see here.
Have a good weekend, everyone! I’m happy to entertain questions and comments.
This is going to be a short post. What I’d like to do is compare several documents that were produced by the FBI after Ron’s fingerprints were expunged in 2002. The first one should be fresh in your mind: it’s the email sent to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) by the FBI’s records and information management specialist in April 2021. Even though the email’s language is vague about key details, such as what caused them to expunge Tammen’s fingerprints, it does provide some specifics that the specialist had obtained as she “researched [NARA’s] request for information.” (I wonder where she looked, since I was asking the FBI for everything they had on Tammen since 2010, and didn’t get nearly as much of the juicy stuff that she got.)
So that’s Exhibit A: The email written April 15, 2021, by the FBI’s records and information management specialist.
Exhibit B is the narrative that I received from my lawsuit settlement—you know, the settlement where I signed my life away so that I can never utter the name Ronald Tammen to the FBI ever again? The narrative about Tammen’s case is maintained in a database that members of law enforcement can access all over the country. I’m not allowed to say its name because they’ve told me I’m the first non-law-enforcement type to access anything from that database, which I seriously doubt, but I’ll play by the rules, even though they clearly aren’t.
The narrative contains some inaccuracies, which proved useful, because they led me to its source: The Charley Project, a website dedicated to missing persons. I also learned that the write-up was first posted on March 1, 2005, so it was available to the entire world at that time. Although the Charley Project write-up has since been updated, when I compared it to my narrative in 2014, it was almost a word-for-word match. The case number of the narrative begins with 2008, so I believe that’s the year it was created (i.e., plagiarized) by the FBI, though I couldn’t get confirmation on that. At the bottom of the pages, it says that it was “current as of 10/25/2012.”
So, in 2002, something of consequence caused the FBI to expunge Tammen’s fingerprints 30 years ahead of schedule, and whoever typed up this “report” in 2008 didn’t consider it worthwhile to inform fellow law enforcement professionals about what it was. But then, come to think of it, why do you suppose they created this file so late in the game?
Exhibit C is a fax that was sent from the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) to Frank Smith, former cold case detective for Butler County, Ohio, who had reopened the Tammen case in 2008. Smith had noticed the fingerprint shorthand on Tammen’s FBI files and requested a “hand search to see if any fingerprint cards can be located.”
The fax, dated February 28, 2008, said “A SEARCH OF OUR CRIMINAL AND CIVIL FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR YOUR SUBJECT. A COMPLETE SEARCH OF OUR ARCHIVE MICROFILM FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR THIS MISSING SUBJECT AS WELL.”
Gosh, if they’d just done what their records and information management specialist had done and looked up Tammen’s name and birth date, they would have immediately discovered that his fingerprints had been expunged in 2002. All of that searching high and low for Tammen’s fingerprints could have been avoided.
Actually, I’m being facetious. I’m quite sure that the author of this memo had looked up Tammen’s name and birth date and knew that his fingerprints had been expunged. The person just elected not to inform Detective Smith—a fellow law enforcement professional—of that information.
If I had to guess why in 2008 the FBI created the file for law enforcement with the plagiarized narrative, I’d say that it was Detective Smith’s efforts that had motivated them to do that as well. When Smith and his counterparts in Walker County, GA, were asking the FBI to compare the DNA of the dead body in Georgia with Marcia Tammen’s DNA, the FBI may have deemed it necessary to create the file—if for no other reason than for show.
Surprise! I mean, seriously, what kind of blogger would I be if I posted something a week before the anniversary of Ron Tammen’s disappearance and then had nothing for you to ponder on the 19th? This bonus post is something I’ve been keeping in my back pocket since 2013: an analysis of Ron Tammen’s handwriting as well as the handwriting of his father.
Mind you, I didn’t have much for the handwriting specialists to work with. The sample from Ron Sr. is far more helpful, since I have the letter he’d handwritten in the fall of 1952 granting Ron Jr. permission to take over his own finances. For Ron Jr., the best thing I had at the time were two signatures: one from his junior yearbook and the other from his senior yearbook, which I’d purchased on eBay. As luck would have it, the yearbooks were originally owned by an extremely outgoing classmate of Ron’s who, during their senior year, asked every single person in her class to sign their senior photo, and managed to get a respectable number of signatures during her junior year as well. Impressive hustle, Mary Ellen Kleckner!
As is often the case, I need to provide some caveats:
First, I don’t know very much about handwriting analysis. When I consider my own handwriting, I know that it’s changed substantially since high school, and now, no one can read it, myself included. Seriously, I can’t imagine what someone would say about my personality after reading a grocery list or birthday card from me other than “she doesn’t write very well.”
Second, the skill seems fairly subjective, which is why I approached two people to look at Ron’s signature. I figured that if they said the same thing, that might carry more weight. (Maybe. I really don’t know.) One expert provided a quick assessment free of charge, and the other provided a more thorough assessment that I paid for. I’m not including the analysts’ names in this blog, only their assessments, however it appears to me that both hold strong credentials in their field.
Third, for the most part, I’m only including what the analyst said about the writing itself. If, for example, she shared her opinion of what might have happened to Ron based on some old news stories she found online (this was before my blog), I’ve left that part off. However, the analysis for Ron Sr. does discuss the content of the letter in addition to his style of writing. I’m letting it stand, but just be aware that it gives the analyst a head start when assessing his personality.
On the left is Ron’s junior yearbook and on the right is his senior yearbook. How fast can you find his signature on the left-hand page?
Analyst #1 had this to say:
A signature only reveals what the writer wants the world to think about him and isn’t very useful without additional writing to compare to. It would be important to know how congruent the signature and the writing are before being able to determine what it all means.
As I said, a signature by itself doesn’t say much. The large capitals and clear writing suggest someone who thought a lot of himself, was probably ambitious and proud. He had an analytical mind and would dig for the facts of a matter. It’s hard to say for sure because this is a copy, but I wonder from the way the ink flows if he was ill. He may have had a problem in the abdominal area. [She later said this was due to the ink blobs in spots and how it was uneven in other areas.] He seems to have been open and outgoing, fairly consistent in his behavior.
Analyst #2 said this:
Note: The signature is representative of the public self image and shows how the writer would like to present himself to others and is not representative of the total personality.
Mr. Tammen’s signature is clear and legible which indicates that he presents himself in an honest fashion. He has large capital letters showing a degree of confidence with the inflated capital R indicating a lot of emotional energy. The letters are all connected revealing that he is was a logical thinker with some analytical ability as seen in the pointed strokes in his m’s. His a’s and o’s are clear and closed showing that he is honest, but discreet in his communications. The loop in the “d” reveals some sensitivity to personal criticism while the higher second leg on the capital H shows that he had an ambitious nature. The squared r’s indicate good manual dexterity and the full “y” loop can be interpreted as ample energy and financial motivation.
She then said that her first impression of his signature was that it made her wonder about Ron’s sexual orientation.
His writing indicates that he was a highly intelligent man who was concentrated and analytical in his thinking. He had a very logical and rational mind and could be skeptical and opinionated in his viewpoint. To convince him, a person would have to give very specific details and provide substantiated proof of their claims. He was not one to base his decision on intuition or emotion.
He operated more from intellect than ego and perhaps was self actualized and not looking for attention or recognition for his accomplishments. He was controlled and moderate in his display of self confidence and maintained his personal space and distance from others making him a bit unapproachable. He may have been somewhat aloof due to his station in life and could be tenacious in getting the results he desired.
As a father, he could be a firm, yet fair, but highly requiring. He had a domineering nature, but not in an aggressive or hurtful way. He may have set standards that he expected his children to achieve and could hand down stern reprimands if his expectations of them were not met. He could be discreet and diplomatic in his communications and, although not highly verbal, could probably rise to the occasion when he felt something needed to be said. He could be strict and controlling in managing both business and family.
His small, tight writing shows an intense and frugal nature, yet he was highly motivated by financial gain. His numbers reveal that he was very good with financial information and the only place he makes full loops in his writing is in the lower extensions of the y’s and g’s which represent his material and physical drive. It could be said that he had a lot of “money bags” in his writing.
In regard to what we have discussed about his son’s personality, it would be very hard for Ronald Tammen, Sr. to accept anything less than the standards of behavior and achievement he expected of his namesake.
Honestly, I don’t know how much faith to put into handwriting analysis. I’d probably say that I possess a healthy skepticism, which is why I’ve been holding onto these assessments for so long. But people have asked me in the past if I’d tried it, so I wanted to at least show you all that I have. Also, the analyses are interesting, and some points do ring true, though there are other parts that I’m not sure about at all. (Case in point: the comment about Ron’s possible abdominal issues is kind of out there. Also, I would never draw conclusions regarding Ron’s sexual orientation based solely on his handwriting.) Just thought you might find this of interest too. If you have thoughts to share, feel free.
A commenter recently asked about Joe Cella’s 1976 revelation that, on the Friday night before Tammen disappeared, he’d stopped by the home of Glenn Dennison to pay his car insurance. She was wondering why Ron would show up at his insurance agent’s house on a Friday night to pay his premium. Who does that, right?
It’s a really good question. There were other aspects to that visit that were curious too—aspects that I haven’t discussed with you yet. So let’s talk about them now.
According to Cella’s April 18, 1976, Hamilton Journal News article, “Mrs. Dennison, who had never reported the visit to authorities, recalled Tammen came to their home Friday, April 17, 1953, about 8 p.m. to pay his car insurance premium.” Cella verified that the payment—totaling $17.45—had been made on that date through old records produced by Mrs. Dennison, who assisted her husband with his insurance business.
Dennison’s house, located on Contreras Road, is out beyond where the Taco Bell and LaRosa’s Pizza is now, and a couple miles from where Fisher Hall once stood. Also, Dennison’s business was out of his home, so it wasn’t all that weird that Tammen would show up at the house. A 1960 ad in the phone book lists his business address at Contreras Road, though it doesn’t include the house number.
What was weird was the time—8 p.m. on a Friday. Don’t most college students generally have more fun places to be on Friday nights? Why did Ron think it was so important to pay his premium then, when it wasn’t even due until April 24? He was a week early.
Here are the two things I haven’t shared with you about that visit and perhaps why Tammen might have ended up at the Dennison home at that time:
Everett Patten, the chair of Miami’s psychology department, lived on Contreras Road too. In the 1952-53 Miami Directory, his address is listed as R.R. 1, short for Rural Route 1, which tells us nothing about where he actually lived. In 1956, the Oxford telephone book listed Patten at R.D. 1, which I believe means Rural Delivery 1, and again, tells us nothing about his location. Thankfully, the 1958 Oxford phone book specified an actual house number. (By the way, if you’re thinking that he moved, I don’t think so. That was the same year in which St. Clair Switzer’s house was given a number, from his former designation of R.D. 2.)
So Everett Patten lived on the 6400 block of Contreras Road and Glenn Dennison lived and worked on the 6100 block of Contreras Road—less than a mile apart. It’s actually .4 miles.
Let’s imagine that Ron is at Dr. Patten’s house that night for some reason. We’ve already established that Patten seemed to know a lot about Ron—like Ron having dissociation in his background, for example—and we also know that the psychology department was hypnotizing students at that time. It would make a lot of sense for them to conduct their hypnosis sessions off campus, to avoid drawing attention. If Ron’s at Patten’s home on a Friday night for a hypnosis session, wouldn’t it make sense for him to stop off at Glenn Dennison’s house to pay his car insurance as long as he’s in the neighborhood? Whether coming or going, it would have been on the way.
The second thing I need to tell you is that the Campus Owls had a gig that night. According to the newspaper the Palladium Item of Richmond, IN, the Campus Owls played that Friday night from 8 to 11:30 p.m. at Short High School in Liberty, IN, which is about a 20-minute drive from Oxford.
In Cella’s article, Mrs. Dennison says, “He stayed about a half hour, talking about the Campus Owls in which he played and talked about other things.”
Of course, the times may be a little off, since Mrs. Dennison was recalling events from 23 years prior, however it still seems strange to me that Tammen would be so chatty on a night he was supposed to be in Indiana—at 8 p.m. My guess is that he didn’t go at all. And why would Ron, a guy who was forever looking for ways to earn money, choose not to go to a gig to make some additional cash?
Maybe he had something else to do that would also bring in money—something that would soon take precedence over everything else.
[NOTE: Be sure you read the comments. Stevie J raises a point about Indiana time zones that makes the Owls gig much more doable. However, a member of the Campus Owls has also provided some background intel that, in my view, makes it unlikely that Ron was going to a gig. I know we’re always being cautioned not to read the comments on other websites, but on this site, thanks to the savviness of you readers, I highly encourage it.] 🙂
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.