We’re still in wait mode regarding the two hockey tapes, which means that I’m biding my time working on other questions pertaining to the Ron Tammen mystery. In fact, just a couple days ago, as I was going through photos from my last trip to University Archives, I noticed a new detail that was screaming to be investigated.
The item had to do with something a volunteer researcher had found on the second day of our visit this past June. In a box holding Tammen-related materials are notes that had once belonged to Dr. Phillip Shriver, president emeritus of Miami University and a historian who had done so much to keep the Tammen mystery alive on Miami’s campus. The notes were typewritten on index cards in outline format, and the purpose of these cards was to provide Dr. Shriver with a scaled-down version of his renowned Miami Mysteries talk. In order to keep his talk to 50 minutes, he decided to skip over the part about H.H. (Hi) Stephenson. Nevertheless, Dr. Shriver had elected to include one important detail in line #6, and that rarely disclosed detail was the name of a hotel, which was the Adirondack Inn.
I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. So was this our answer? Was the Adirondack Inn the hotel in Wellsville, NY, where Hi Stephenson thought he saw Ron Tammen? You’re probably brimming with questions about this discovery too, which is why I’ll now be switching over to Q&A format.
Q: So, is that the answer? Did the serendipitous meet-up happen at a restaurant in an establishment called the Adirondack Inn?
Oh, there’s no way.
Q: How can you be so sure?
Several reasons. According to Manning’s Directory for May 1953, there was no hotel by that name in the village of Wellsville, NY. Or Andover. Or Belmont. Or Scio. Those are four towns in Allegany County in order of population size. Wellsville was by far the biggest town in the county and it was also a major stopping point for travelers. If you were going to stop for dinner anywhere between New York and Ohio, Wellsville would have been a choice spot.
Under the category of “Hotels,” Manning’s listed five of them, all in Wellsville, all off of route 17, which, in town, was known as Main Street:
Al-Ha-Mar Motel, 475 N. Highland Avenue (Route 17)
Brunswick Hotel, 173-177 North Main
Fassett Hotel, 55 North Main
Pickup’s Hotel, 38-40 North Main
Wellsville Hotel, 470 North Main
Therefore, one of the reasons that it couldn’t be the Adirondack Inn is that there was no such hotel in or around Wellsville. I could go on.
Q: Please do.
I’ve also looked up the terms “Adirondack Inn,” “Adirondack Hotel,” and “Hotel Adirondack” in newspapers from that era to see if anything popped up that’s close to Wellsville. The only Adirondack Inn that I was able to find was the one at Sacandaga Lake in upstate New York. It was beautiful in its heyday, and I’m sure they had a nice restaurant, but it was 4 hours and 21 minutes from Wellsville.
There’s also the Adirondack Hotel, which is in Long Lake, NY. It, too, is nice, but it was over 5 hours from Wellsville. And that sums up our options.
It’s worth pointing out that the Adirondack Inn and the Adirondack Hotel are both located in the Adirondack Mountain region, which makes so much sense. What makes less sense is for a hotel in a town near the border of Pennsylvania to be named for a mountain range that’s 325 miles away.
Q: Where do you think Dr. Shriver got the name?
These things happen innocently. Phil Shriver surely would have known Hi Stephenson. Phil had arrived in Oxford in 1965 and Hi had already been working at the university since the 1940s. Hi retired in 1977. Phil stepped down from the presidency in 1981 and retired from teaching in 1998. Hi passed away in 2006 and Phil died in 2011. So I’m sure there were plenty of opportunities for Phil to ask Hi the question that I’d always wondered if Carl Knox had asked him—“What was the name of the hotel, Hi?”
The problem is…people’s memories have a way of jumbling things up over time. It could be that Hi accidentally told Phil the wrong name. Hi and his wife Kay had been vacationing in upstate New York before driving home through Wellsville. Maybe they even stayed in the Adirondack Inn, and, when he was talking to Phil, he accidentally confused the two hotel names. Or maybe Phil had gotten the details wrong. He’d mixed up other details about Hi’s story before, as a matter of fact.
Q: Really? What makes you say that?
On another note card, Phil has written some additional details regarding Hi’s story, several of which are inaccurate. In ink, he wrote the following:
“N.B. Hi & Kay Stephenson were returning from Connecticut and stopped in Waynesboro, PA.” Above that line he wrote, “Hi recalls young man’s piercing eyes.”
From what I can determine, the “N.B.” is a Latin phrase meaning “Nota bene,” or “Note well.” He’s saying that this is important, and I can totally see Phil Shriver using that terminology to do so. The man had panache.
But the locations—Connecticut and Waynesboro, PA—don’t agree with Joe Cella’s April 18, 1976, article in the Hamilton Journal-News. Joe was quoting Hi directly in that article, so that’s the source I’m going to go with factually: that the Stephensons were vacationing in upstate New York and they dined in Wellsville on the way back. (By the way, I checked and there’s no Adirondack Inn in Waynesboro, PA, either.)
But don’t be too critical of Phil or Hi. They couldn’t instantly fact check some fuzzy detail like we do now. If the information wasn’t stored securely in their brain or a file folder somewhere, it could get muddled up or completely lost.
Q: So where does that leave us? Are you still unsure about which hotel it was?
Well, funny you should ask, because when I revisited Joe Cella’s article I noticed an additional detail that could help us further narrow things down.
Let’s listen to Joe tell the story again, paying close attention to the last paragraph:
On Aug. 5, 1953, five months after Tammen was gone, Stephenson, who was in charge, and still is, of housing assignments and campus permits at Miami University, was returning with his wife from a short vacation in upper New York State.
Stephenson recalled they stopped for the evening in Wellsville, N.Y. At dinner that night, in a hotel dining room, he said he noticed three or four men sitting a few tables away. At once he said he became aware one of the men looked exactly like Tammen. He said he knew Tammen.
“When my eyes looked toward him, I would find he was looking at me. He was sort of looking right through me. For some reason that I’ll never know, I said nothing to my wife about the fact that this young man was Ron Tammen. I was sure it was him.”
After finishing dinner, Stephenson said he and his wife walked out of the hotel onto the street. He then told his wife. At her urging, they went back inside, but the men, one of whom Stephenson thought to be Ron Tammen, were gone. There was no trace of them in the lobby or anywhere else.
Thanks to Joe’s clues, I have three criteria to narrow things down. I’d had the first two criteria for a while now. The third one is new.
The hotel had to have a restaurant that served dinners. This may seem like a no-brainer, but two of Wellsville’s five hotels weren’t serving regular meals.
The hotel had to be on the street.
The hotel had to have a lobby near its restaurant.
Regarding criterion #1: The Al-Ha-Mar Motel was a typical 1950s-style one-story motel in which all overnight guests had their own street-level entrance. They didn’t have a restaurant.
The Brunswick Hotel had a coffee shop and a bar. According to local historians, they weren’t serving meals then. So those two hotels can be ruled out.
Regarding criterion #2: The Hotel Wellsville was a stately old building about one mile north of the center of town on Main Street. It also had a restaurant. However, the hotel was set back away from the road, nestled among trees. For this reason, I don’t think it was the Hotel Wellsville.
And finally, criterion #3. The Fassett Hotel was a striking red brick building with spectacular windows. They had a dining room that served breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week as well as Sunday afternoon. And importantly, the Fassett Hotel was right on North Main Street and had a lobby that owners made use of by frequently featuring the work of local artists.
Pickup’s Hotel wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the Fassett, but it had a coffee shop, a cocktail lounge, and a dining room, where they served meals. It was also on North Main Street. What isn’t clear is if there was a hotel lobby near the dining area. If there was one, I don’t think it was big. A 1961 article on a fire that had broken out had said that “Principal business activity in the building centered around its restaurant on the ground floor.”
Although it’s possible that Pickup’s Hotel was where Hi Stephenson saw Ron or Ron’s look-alike, I now strongly believe that the encounter happened at the Fassett Hotel. And doesn’t it sort of fit that, given a choice between a cobbled-together medley of wood, stone, and whatever else, and an elegant building of red brick, H.H. Stephenson and Ronald Tammen, Miamians through and through, would have been drawn to the latter?
Update 10/5/2022: Before posting the above write-up, I had emailed several historians from Allegany County to see if anyone had heard of an Adirondack Inn anywhere near there. Today, I heard back from Craig Braack, Allegany County’s official historian. Craig had asked a few local “old-timers” about a possible Adirondack Inn in Allegany County and no one knew a thing about it. This is one more piece of evidence that the Adirondack Inn was not the name of the hotel where Hi Stephenson thought he saw Ron Tammen.
Sorry to be a bother, you guys, but I can’t keep this in. This afternoon, I was busy working on — what else? — Tammen research when I discovered something pertinent to our topic du jour. In the summer of 2019, I was visiting University Archives (sigh…I really miss road trips) going through a bunch of documents. On that particular day, I was leafing through issues of their Information Bulletin for Faculty and Staff from the early 1950s — 1950 and 1952 to be exact. As I recall, the university didn’t produce a new bulletin every year. Sometimes they just produced an addendum. Fortunately, I had taken photos of numerous pages — some relevant to the topic I was obsessing about at that moment, and a couple having to do with what I’m obsessing about now: student loans.
Here’s what they had to say about student loans in the 1950 issue (apologies for the bad photos, but I’m guessing you’re used to that by now):
And here’s what they had to say about them in the 1952 addendum, right around the time when Ron would have been applying for one:
Here are the points I want to leave you with today:
Student loans were a big deal.
Since Ron was a sophomore, his loan would have been limited to $100.
I’m guessing that Ron had been a recipient of this loan, and it’s the same one that Mr. Alden had written up when discussing Ron’s outstanding debt.
And the juiciest tidbit of all: our friend H.H. Stephenson oversaw the student loan program.
So H.H. Stephenson was overseeing the student loan program when Ron received his loan. That loan may have even been relatively recent, since Carl Knox’s notes indicate that Ron had recently deposited a $100 check from a loan. What this tells me is that H.H. Stephenson was even better acquainted with Ron than we had previously known. Sure, sure, H.H. knew him because he’d given him a car permit. But he’d also just handed him $100! Could that be one of the reasons the university kept a lid on H.H.’s potential Ron sighting — they didn’t want the money issue to come out? What’s more, for me at least, it also makes the potential sighting more believable.
The myriad ways Gilson Wright described Tammen’s open textbook without ever once using the word ‘psychology’
(Supplement to season 2, episode 4 of The One That Got Away)
One of the topics that Josh, Tyler, and I discuss in episode 4 of The One That Got Away, which dropped tonight, is the psychology book that was open on Ron’s desk the night he disappeared. We’d already established on this blog site that Joe Cella was the first reporter to reveal that it was a psychology book, and he did so in his one-year anniversary article, published in the Hamilton Journal News on April 22, 1954. Later still, 23 years after Tammen disappeared, we learned that the book was opened to “Habits,” thanks again to the intrepid Joe Cella, on April 18, 1976.
In preparing for the podcast, I thought it might be fun to document all the ways that book was mentioned in the press during the 1953-1976 time period by the two reporters who covered the case the longest, along with one other major reporter. I wanted to find out how that uber dull yet utterly intriguing psychology book became part of the Tammen narrative.
Below is a chart I created of news articles about the Tammen disappearance that mention the textbook on Ron Tammen’s desk. The three primary reporters were: Joe Cella, a reporter for the Hamilton Journal News who followed the case for more than 20 years; Murray Seeger, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who wrote one well-researched article in 1956; and Gilson Wright, a journalism professor at Miami, who also was a freelance stringer/correspondent for area papers, and a long-time adviser to student journalists at the Miami Student. Because he was a Miami employee, Wright had a conflict of interest when reporting on the Tammen case in area papers, and it shows.
As you can see, only Cella and Seeger refer to the book on Tammen’s desk as his psychology book, as highlighted in red. At no time—ever, in his entire reporting career—does Gilson Wright refer to the book as a psychology book. (He retired from Miami in 1970, but kept writing for area newspapers on occasion.) Even when he was aware of Cella’s reveal in April 1954, Wright continued to refer to it as a book or books, or a textbook or textbooks. And if the university’s search algorithm didn’t let me down, it wasn’t until 1988—35 years after Tammen disappeared and 18 years after Wright had retired—that a reporter for the Miami Student, Julie Shaw, finally described the book as a psychology textbook.
left to right: Gilson Wright, Joe Cella, and Murray Seeger
This is tangible evidence that Gilson Wright was being used by the university to hide Ron’s psychology textbook from the curious public. Officials likely didn’t want people to find out that Ron was no longer enrolled in his psychology course, and to question why the book would be there. I believe they were attempting to steer reporters and others away from the psychology department because of their hypnosis activities at that time, which could implicate them in his disappearance. If Tammen’s psych book was opened to the page I think it was opened to, that would have worried them even more.
How Joe Cella obtained the information about the textbook, I don’t know. He may have had inside sources. Maybe Chuck Findlay told him. Remember that Cella’s April 22, 1954, article also included photographs of Tammen’s room after he disappeared, which also showed the open book on Tammen’s desk. [Article is provided with the permission of the Hamilton Journal-News and Cox Media Group Ohio.] From what I can tell, those were the first and last times those photos were ever published. I’m also not sure how Cella discovered the information about “Habits,” 23 years after Tammen disappeared. My guess is that he may have obtained it from Carl Knox. By then, Knox had moved to Florida, and had agreed to appear in The Phantom of Oxford with Cella in 1976. Perhaps Knox told Cella about the book pages then because he didn’t think it would cause a ruckus by that time.
Although Wright probably had the best of intentions in his reporting at the start, it appears as if someone at the university sat him down and gave him his marching orders. His cookie-cutter articles on the Tammen case year after year with no new revelations are indicative of a man living within boundaries. It was as if he was doing everything in his power not to mention that psych book, because, by God, he never did, even after Cella let the cat out of the bag.
In an April 11, 1977, article for the Dayton Daily News, Cella is quoted as saying: “The university covered it up. They wouldn’t give you any answers.”
Damn, Joe—I do believe you’re right, and the above chart helps prove it. If Gilson Wright and his superiors were going to these lengths to hide Ron’s psychology textbook from public view, then they obviously felt that it was important to the case.
I don’t know about you, but this tells me that we’re on the right track.
(Supplement to season 2, episode 3 of The One That Got Away)
*This post was formerly titled “More thoughts on two ignored clues,” but that was really boring, so I changed it. The URL remains the same, however.
I’m not gonna lie—podcasting has been fun. Not only is it helping me cope with my covid-fueled despair in a meaningful and productive way, but it inspires me to revisit some of the old blog posts and think new thoughts in light of findings that came out a little later in the process. (Please note: I won’t be producing a supplemental blog post for every podcast episode; I’ll only create a new post if we cover territory there that I haven’t discussed here.)
What I’m about to share is discussed in season 2, episode 3 of the podcast The One That Got Away, which I encourage you to listen to when you have a few idle minutes on your hands. Josh and Tyler are delightful human beings and they’re becoming quite the avid Tammen fans as well. But if you prefer to get your Tammen news by way of written words on a screen, no problem. I love that you like to read. Here are my latest ruminations regarding two questions that you may have already wondered about but were too polite to ask. I’m also going to share some brand new info that was released by Josh and Tyler during episode 3.
Question 1: Why did investigators choose to dismiss Paul’s and Chip’s story so quickly?
Let’s talk about those two extra hours we discovered in Ron’s timeline. Remember when Paul (not his real name) swore up and down that he and a guy named Chip Anderson (real name, but deceased) walked home with Ron after song practice on the night of April 19, and that they didn’t arrive until around 10:30 p.m.? And remember how university reps and the police interviewed them but completely ignored their story, instead telling everyone that Ron disappeared from his room at around 8:30 p.m.?
But Mrs. Spivey didn’t come forward until June. Why then did investigators choose to dismiss Paul’s and Chip’s story right off the bat?
I think the answer has to do with their favorite theory as to how Tammen disappeared. Very early in the investigation, by Friday, April 24, the university had declared in several Miami Valley and Cleveland papers that Ronald Tammen probably had amnesia. “Officials believe that he might have suffered an attack of amnesia,” an article in the Hamilton Journal News read. The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote: “University officials said Tammen might be suffering from amnesia as he took no clothing or personal articles with him.” (Neither article contained a byline, but my guess is that they were penned by Gilson Wright, since he wrote for both papers.) At least the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed some healthy journalistic skepticism about the university’s conclusion. It read “The dean [Carl Knox] believed the youth might have suffered an attack of amnesia, but had nothing to back that theory.”
So, amnesia. Now let’s consider how investigators would have tried to explain their amnesia theory under both estimated times of departure. Under the 8:30 p.m. scenario, Ron would have developed his amnesia at some point while he was in his dorm room, after he’d changed his sheets. Maybe it had hit him while he was studying at his desk. No one could possibly know the reason, because no one was there. He was alone, so anything was possible. In their view, he just, you know, cracked.
Under the 10:30 p.m. scenario, Ron had walked back to the dorms with Paul and Chip. He dropped them both off at Symmes Hall, and then headed toward Fisher Hall. But Ron never made it back to his room in Fisher. How do we know that? We know it because that’s roughly when his roommate, Chuck Findlay, had returned from his weekend in Dayton. Chuck never saw Ron.
Therefore, and this is crucial: Ron would have been struck by amnesia at some point between Symmes Hall and Fisher Hall.
Below is a map that shows you how close the two buildings were to one another, circled in red. Symmes is building #37, and Fisher is building #36. In my driving video on Ron’s possible trip to Seven Mile, that’s Symmes Hall on the left, immediately after I exited the circular driveway that’s now in front of Marcum Hotel and Conference Center. That driveway used to be in front of Fisher. You guys…Symmes and Fisher are super close.
Which scenario do you think investigators gravitated toward? While both are a little tough to swallow, wouldn’t it be easier to explain the one in which Ron went wandering off when no one was watching as opposed to walking with two people and then forgetting who he was immediately afterward? Exactly. Scenario A was the one they chose: 8:30ish. This brings me to the second question.
Question 2: Why did no one follow up on the clue regarding the woman in the car?
In July 2017, I learned about an astonishing lead. I learned that Ron had reportedly been spotted sitting in a car with a woman from Hamilton late on April 19 and, after about 45 minutes or so, the two had driven away. I learned this after I’d met with a former member of the Oxford police force—someone who had actually worked for police chief Oscar Decker in 1953, when Tammen disappeared. In my blog post, I refer to this man as Ralph Smith, but that was just a pseudonym. I was keeping his identity secret.
In preparing for the podcast, I checked online to see if my source was still alive, and unfortunately, I found his very brief obituary. My source’s true name was Logan Corbin, and he passed away at the age of 97 on December 16, 2017, five months after our meeting. I’m posting his photo below as well as a link to an audio clip of him telling me about the purported woman in the car.
Logan was African American. In those days, it was virtually unheard of for a rural, small-town, predominantly white community such as Oxford to hire a Black cop, and, for that reason, I give the city credit for taking a step toward progress in the early-1950s. Nevertheless, racism was rampant there, and Logan endured daily doses of slurs from his fellow officers, sometimes over the police radio. Eventually, he decided to leave that position for another job, though he remained with the Oxford PD for seven years, from 1952 to 1959.
When you listen to Logan tell the story, one of the points he keeps repeating is that the lead concerning the woman in the car was never checked out. To that I say, WTfreakinF, Oscar Decker?! Logan wasn’t sure how the police had found out about it—”word just got out,” he’d told me. Granted, it would have taken some detective work to follow the lead. They didn’t know the woman’s name, the make or model of her car, its color, the exact time she drove away, any of that. But it would have been way easier to check out those details then, when all the major players were still alive and well, and walking around that small section of campus, as opposed to six decades later. The cops could have publicized the possible sighting far and wide, asking anyone with information to come forward. For some reason, they chose not to.
If, as I believe, Ron Tammen disappeared from somewhere between Symmes Hall and Fisher Hall, that circular driveway between the two buildings could have been ground zero to where it all happened.
So, again I ask, why wouldn’t investigators follow the one lead that places Tammen in that exact location—in a car, in the driveway between Symmes and Fisher Halls? For some reason, investigators felt the need to steer everyone in a different direction.
Well, it’s finally happened, my peeps. I’ve been hypnotized. Yep, yours truly has experienced a trancelike state, and you know, I feel no different. Well, that’s not true. I feel a lot more knowledgeable about what the technique is all about; I feel silly for having been so scared in the first place; and I feel like I want to try it again.
First, a little bit about my hypnotist: His name is Anderson Hawes, and he’s one of the more interesting people I’ve encountered since I moved back to Ohio. He’s smart but unpretentious. Colorful and expressive but calming and confident. And he plays a mean harmonica.
By my count, Hawes—he goes by Andy—has three jobs. First, he’s a licensed professional clinical counselor, social worker, and licensed chemical dependency counselor who’s been in practice for 29 years. In addition, he’s the vice president of sales at an industrial software firm. Lastly, he’s the lead singer for the Fabulous Voices Band, a local cover and dance band that plays all the great songs. It seems as though everyone in my town and the next two towns over knows Andy, so I feel a little embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to get to know him too. But better late than never, I guess.
Because of his busy schedule, it took us a while to pin down a day, which turned out to be Wednesday, March 20. Andy told me that he’d be leading a self-hypnosis workshop in another town and asked if I would I like to tag along. He said I could interview him the whole way there and back (about a half hour each way) and then take part in the workshop, which would include a roomful of hypnotists and other interested people like me, who just wanted to learn more.
“Fantastic,” I said.
When I got to his office, he was catching up on some work, so he gave me several instructive handouts to review that he’d written for the workshop. Immediately, I felt myself begin to calm down. The process seemed more meditative in nature as opposed to what I’d always imagined, where a hypnotist exerts some kind of magical force over you and, before you know it, you’re clucking like a chicken.
“All hypnosis can be considered self-hypnosis,” the document said. Also, it said that we’ve been using self-hypnosis since we were kids. Every time we pretend, imagine, daydream, meditate, or even pray, we’re using self-hypnosis. The handout also said that “Problems are often the result of hypnosis happening naturally,” and that “problem behaviors become reinforced when situations cause us to message ourselves unintentionally with defensive or self-defeating ideas or strategies.” Stressing ourselves out was a good example of that, he’d written—a skill I’ve always excelled at. Apparently I was already something of a hypnosis aficionado without even realizing it.
When it was about time to leave for the workshop, Andy came around his desk and asked if I wanted to go into a trance. “Yes,” I said. (That step is important. To be hypnotized, you have to be willing to be hypnotized—the whole “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis” idea—and therefore open to following his suggestions.) He asked me to position my hands a certain way in front of my eyes and to concentrate on them as he wrapped an invisible string around them. He then instructed me to drop my hands and, as he told me that I was going deeper into the trance, I felt my arms grow heavier, more and more weighted down, and a little tingly, as if someone had injected them with low-dose novocaine. He then said that one of my hands would feel lighter than the other and that it would begin to float toward my face. And, yeah, my right hand did feel lighter. It didn’t make it the entire way to my face, but given a little more time, it might have. And then he brought me back to the here and now and we left for the workshop.
Was I the most suggestible person he’d ever met? Hardly. But I think with practice, I could get better at focusing and buying into the experience. And that’s part of the process too.
Despite Andy’s excellent sense of humor, he gets serious and scientific when he talks about hypnosis. He’s a member of the Dana Brain Alliance, a nonprofit organization that sponsors Brain Awareness Week (which was March 11- 17 this year) so he keeps up on the latest scientific literature on neuroscience and the brain.
Andy views hypnosis as a useful and cost-effective tool to help people tap into their brains directly as a way of solving problems. Whereas a clinical therapist might engage in in-depth discussions to get to the root of a problem, a hypnotherapist can get there much more rapidly by accessing the subconscious and reprogramming some of a person’s old beliefs into new ones.
“If I do that kind of cognitive work, let’s say through standard therapeutic verbal talk and the Socratic method, that might take 20 sessions,” he told me, “but I can do it in one session with hypnosis because I can bypass all of their resistance and get a buy-in and get the person motivated to want that. And once they want it, then we can acquire it, like immediately, by just cutting right to the chase.”
Andy acknowledges that not everyone has used hypnosis for good, such as in the controlling way that we’ve been discussing on this blog, however that’s not normally the case. “Most hypnosis is done with a lot of permission and it’s done for the good of the person and usually for certain targeted behaviors,” he said.
Here are some of his takes (occasionally shortened or paraphrased) on a few of the more popular questions I asked him as we drove to and from the workshop. Apologies in advance for not getting to all of the questions that were suggested, insightful as they were. However, I think we were able to hit most of the big stuff.
JW: When is it more appropriate to go to a licensed hypnotist such as yourself as opposed to doing self-hypnosis?
AH: Most people look at the changes they want to make at the surface. They want to quit smoking. They want to lose weight. They want to feel less anxiety. They’re depressed. But what they’re not aware of are the things that are underneath—that the fact that they’re smoking is because they worry a lot and they worry a lot because they weren’t parented very well, or they had a car accident and they’re afraid they’re going to have another car accident and smoking takes away that fear. So they’re medicating, they may even be enjoying it, but they don’t know how they got into that situation.
When I work with someone and I’m doing an assessment, I’ll dig up all the stuff that I think could be contributing to that by looking at their history, their pattern, their temperament, etc. I’ll start digging in and looking at the precursors. I’ll also look very closely at what they’re getting out of eating or cigarette smoking or worrying or whatever it is. I’ll also measure if they’re a sequential thinker or if they think holistically, which we normally call attention deficit disorder, though it’s not really a disorder. We just call it that because they have a hard time sitting in a classroom doing sequential learning. They want to look at the big picture. Once we know all of that about a person, we can come up with a strategy to help bring about a change. And the method can be enhanced more directly if that person isn’t blocking it because of fears or insecurities. That’s where hypnosis comes into play—to remove whatever might block a person’s response to treatment.
JW: Is there a personality trait that would make a person more hypnotizable or suggestible?
There’s definitely a skill involved with going inside and staying with your imagination. And some people become so focused on linear thinking and learning and existing in the outside world that they don’t indulge themselves as much in the inside world. But there are other people who have spent their whole lives daydreaming and pulling themselves inside. So obviously those people are more comfortable and more skilled at going inside and working their own…let’s call it a trance. And they’re using their imagination to visualize or feel or hear and then exhibiting behaviors that are consistent with that internal process. The other people are more calculating, and those different kinds of thinking access different parts of the brain. So they may not think they’re hypnotizable, but in fact, with a little bit of coaching and a little bit of training, they can experience the same depth of trance that most other people can experience.
Now there are people who, by nature, are more comfortable and can go even deeper and can completely lose their sense of reality much more deeply with suggestions than other people. If you look at a bell curve, you’ve got the norm in the middle and you’ve got people on either extreme. But most people—about 80 percent of everybody—can visualize a lemon sitting in the refrigerator, can feel it, and will salivate if I suggest to them that they cut it and squeeze it over their tongue. Eighty percent of everybody gets a little parched and swallows.
JW: I just did that.
AH: You just did that, right? But you went right there. And other people may go up in their head and logically deduce or be kind of observing themselves doing the exercise so much so that they might miss out on that experience. But nonetheless, with a little bit of training and coaching, as long as they’re interested or willing, they can go there. If they’re hell bent on staying in control and staying in the present, if they have fear, they can resist that, and many people do. It takes a little bit of intelligence to be hypnotized, not a lot. It doesn’t take a lot of heavy lifting. But it does take a willingness.
JW: What are the most important elements required to put someone into a trance?
AH: The standard formula of hypnosis is to help a person relax so much that they open their mind and become less guarded and that reveals an access to the part of their brain that is kind of running everything without your awareness—your heart, lungs, etc. So we’re tapping into a level of your consciousness that is below your level of awareness. And we call that your subconscious.
There was a guy who studied yoga, hypnosis, prayers, religions, spiritual healing, and all these other things, and he found that they all have three things in common. One of the three things is that you slow your breathing down. The second thing is to focus your thinking. You focus on something that somebody’s talking about or maybe something that doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning. And, third, you also have to have what we call a dismissive attitude. You have to be willing to let go of A in order to experience B.
You can hypnotize dogs. You can hypnotize chickens. There’s a video of this girl who hypnotizes frogs and everything, she’s quite amazing, and she can bring them out of it. And she just does it with this calming, soothing voice. They’re not intelligent. Animals don’t think of the future or the past. They just live in the here and now.
But this is a natural phenomenon. And we’re just learning how it works and how to use it. Hopefully for good. But it can be used to sell. It can be used to persuade people. It can be used for entertainment. But it’s all the same thing—tapping into these three principles that Herbert Benson outlined in his book called The Relaxation Responseafter doing a lot of research.
JW: I found it interesting in the handout, you said that, with self-hypnosis, you’re replacing certain bad habits that probably originated when you talked yourself into those at some point.
AH: Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize, how did this cigarette become in control? It started with smoking one and overcoming the negative side of it. When people first smoke, they often experience a bad feeling—shortness of air, irritation, they cough, they turn green because of the nicotine—but they reinterpret it in their mind that they want to look like James Dean. And so they visualize that and that minimizes their feeling of pain and accentuates finding the pleasure in it.
JW: What are your thoughts on the use of truth serum with hypnosis?
AH: Truth serum, like sodium pentothal, is a sedative, so it’s going to lower inhibition, and when it lowers inhibition, naturally, a person is less inhibited, so they’re more likely to go with any kind of suggestion.
JW: I’ve watched demos on YouTube, and some people go real deep into a trance almost immediately. Have they achieved the optimal brainwave—theta is it?
AH: That’s part of it. They’re slowing their brain down and they’re less conscious, but their attention is directed inwardly. And their attention goes to a point where they’re in a little trance or a deepened state where a suggestion becomes real, sort of like the idea of salivating at the image of the lemon, which, as you can see, doesn’t take a deep trance to get there. But by deepening the trance more and more, people can experience either a positive hallucination, where they believe something is there that isn’t there, or a negative hallucination, where something that is there becomes invisible to them. So the mechanisms behind that are either the brain sees it and negates it or doesn’t see it and puts it there.
We still have not completely discovered how a lot of these mechanisms really occur. It’s still very theoretical. But we know that people who have brain injuries, where one part of the brain is damaged, can train another part of their brain to take over that function. They can learn to walk. They can learn to drive, even though the part of the brain that was operating that activity is no longer functioning. The brain has that elasticity, that adaptability. So these are adaptive functions that exist in all of us so that we can ultimately survive. So by knowing how it works, we can do some other interesting things, like make someone feel no pain when we’re doing surgery, or if someone normally feels anxiety and fear when they’re flying in an airplane or when they’re riding a chair lift at a ski resort, we can make it so that they can just totally relax and focus on the enjoyment of that whole experience.
JW: Let’s say that you’ve given someone the posthypnotic suggestion that the thought of a cigarette will make them feel ill or disgusted. How long does that posthypnotic suggestion last?
AH: Theoretically, a posthypnotic suggestion can work as long as it’s reinforcing. If you think about it, someone hypnotized that person to smoke. We’re just undoing that hypnosis and giving them a different way of looking at it again.
I ran the heroin clinic in Akron for 20 years and I never met a heroin-addicted person who didn’t tell me that they at one time swore they would never use a needle. And the only reason they used the needle is because a friend talked them into it, or after they were high without using a needle, they were more suggestible and less inhibited, and somebody said, “Look, you’ve been inhaling heroin, it tastes terrible, use a needle. And we don’t have much, but we want to get high, so this is more efficient.” You know, they gave them a reason to go along with it and they did it. And once they’ve experienced it, they found out it didn’t hurt and it did feel even better than they’ve ever imagined, and of course they want to do it again. James Baldwin in his famous book about heroin addiction said heroin is so good, don’t even do it once. But that’s not true for everybody. It’s only true for the people who buy into it, who maybe have some rationale that it supports. That’s why when we undo things, we want to use the reason that a person got into something as a reason to get out of it. Help them raise their awareness to get back in control. Nonetheless, people will go on the wagon and stay off drugs, but underneath, they’re still buying into those posthypnotic suggestions that they’d put there. Posthypnotic suggestion, if it’s reinforcing, can help undo another posthypnotic suggestion. Whichever one is stronger, whichever one is more interesting, whichever one is reinforced is going to win.
JW: Can you give an example of the type of reinforcement you’re talking about?
AH: So, in the case of alcohol, coming back to an AA meeting and listening to the stories is going to be more satisfying and you’re going to have a greater sense of personal achievement than by drinking. And if you buy into that and you keep coming to the meetings, it’s going to get reinforced over and over and over again. And you’re going to be applauded by your neighbors and your friends as a winner, not a loser. So these are powerful tools.
Intermission: We go to the workshop where we practice self-hypnosis, which is a little different than the hypnosis Andy performed on me in his office. Here, we learned how to slow down our breathing and our thinking, focused on counting down from 5 to 0 to take ourselves deeper into a trance, focused on a positive suggestion that we want to apply to our lives, and then counted ourselves back out. “It’s not necessary to go into a deep trance to get your subconscious mind to respond,” Andy told the group.
Back in the car:
JW: Is there ever a time when you’re practicing self-hypnosis that you’re so deep in a trance that you can’t even count yourself out?
AH: You always have control. On the other hand, for some people, it’s like a drug. They can be tranced out because it’s the only time they actually feel anything or that they feel normal. So once people learn these tools—and the countdown technique I discussed in the session tonight is extremely powerful—they can really learn to enjoy them or take advantage of them.
JW: Can a person be put into a trance by being stared at from across the room? (I asked this after I told him the story of H.H. Stephenson and the hotel restaurant in Wellsville, NY.)
AH: Different people can react to being stared at in different ways. If someone had been conditioned to react to a stare in a certain way…you can use nonverbal things like staring or posturing, and they’ll feel more comfortable or not comfortable. But is there a mental telepathy that would actually cause someone to behave out of character? Probably not. It sounds like an awkward moment—maybe it was Ron, maybe it wasn’t Ron—but if he’s staring so intently at this Ron character, this guy looking back might have been, “What is wrong with this guy?” It’s just really impossible to say what that really was, if anything. But that’s not a hypnotic phenomenon.
JW: Just staring somebody down?
AH: Exactly. Somebody you don’t have a connection with, with no rapport, and putting them in a trance—unlikely.
JW: Is the verbal part of hypnosis essential?
AH: Not necessarily. Let me give you an example. Andy Kauffman was a comedian who didn’t say a word. He would just go up and stand there, and put people in all kinds of giddy moods just by standing there. And he was exceptionally non-emotive. He wasn’t doing any gesturing—a complete blank. And people reacted to that by filling it in. So when you leave a space open, your mind fills it in, in whatever way is appropriate. But let’s face it. He had an audience. They paid to get in to have a good time. So they’re already pretty hypnotized that they’re having a good time. There’s a lot you can do by just being aware of what state other people are in.
Now in terms of Ron Tammen, there’s not a lot of evidence to make a lot of meaning out of it. But maybe these are subtle clues, not only to what happened to Ron Tammen, but what happened to all the people wonderingabout Ron Tammen. Where did their heads go? And the things that they were able to come up with to create their own beliefs could very likely be 100 percent projection—stuff from their world experiences, their world view, their excitement with drama or fiction or mysteries—to investigate and fill it all in.
JW: So it’s possible, and one reader has said this, that H.H. Stephenson may not have seen Ron at all, and he may have just projected that?
AH: He projected it and this person reacted to that projection and it was maybe, at best, an awkward moment. But he reinforced H.H.’s feeling by looking back with a blank stare. But what was really going on with the guy may not have had anything to do with Ron Tammen, and may have had more to do with the fact that H.H. thought it was Ron Tammen and was staring real hard at him and the guy was just staring back. So there’s really not a lot of data, but it does open a door for speculation more than conclusions.
JW: Is there a placebo effect for hypnosis?
AH: You could say that all hypnosis is the placebo effect. You could say that the placebo effect is a form of believing what you want to believe and selling yourself on it based on someone else’s suggestion based on this pill, or this technique, or this book, or eating this food, etc. The placebo effect has been measured. On a cultural level, the placebo effect in the American culture is getting bigger. Things that don’t do anything have a larger effect but not because of the substance itself. The only way we know to test the placebo effect is called a double-blind study [a study in which neither the participant nor the researcher knows whether you’re taking the experimental drug or the placebo]. They can even say to a person, “We did a double-blind study and that pill doesn’t do anything,” and the person will turn to them and say, “You know what? It does for me.” And right there, they’re telling you that the placebo effect is valuable to them. They value it and totally buy into it.
JW: Do you have to believe that hypnosis can work in order for it to work?
AH: You have to be receptive to any physical or mental suggestion for that suggestion to be helpful. If somebody is really cynical, a lot of times it might mean that they’re going to take whatever you tell them to support their self image that they’re a nonbeliever. Once somebody’s heels are dug in, you can do things to try to persuade them, but as long as their heels are dug in, they’re incapable of benefiting from something at all.
JW: Is it possible to hypnotize someone without their knowing it?
AH: There’s a whole group of techniques called covert hypnosis where people use powerful language to be able to manipulate people and move them in a certain direction. Powerful words that connect with people—that resonate with people—can do that. Knowing what’s going on with a person can open the door to leading them either into a trance or into a lightweight trance. Imagine your own resistance to something you really don’t like, and imagine that that resistance can wear out. And maybe somebody working on their behalf or on your own behalf could accelerate that process. By going this way with your imagination, you buy into it more and more, and as you do buy into it, you feel less and less resistance. And pretty soon, you want to give me money. These are things that people do all the time.
The car ride and interview come to an end.
As I was listening to Andy talk about the prerequisites for someone to be hypnotized—the openness, the willingness, the buy-in—it got me to thinking about how these traits might apply to Ron Tammen. If Ron was being hypnotized in the days or weeks before his disappearance, and evidence indicates that he was, he was obviously willing to let his imagination go there, wherever “there” was. Yet Ron Tammen doesn’t seem to be the most adventurous or experimental sort of guy, from what I can tell. I don’t think he would have been doing it for the fun of it. And even though he was always seeking ways to earn money, I don’t think a paycheck would have been enough incentive either, particularly if he doubted or feared the process. No, I believe that Ron Tammen fervently wanted to make a change in his life, and he was willing and open to try anything to make that happen. If the change he desired is what I think it was, it wasn’t a habit that he was hoping to change, but a personal trait, something embedded in his DNA. And that’s something that hypnosis, or any other therapy for that matter, can’t touch.
If you are interested in receiving psychological services, you can find someone in your area on the Psychology Today website. If you wish to contact Andy Hawes, visit his Web page. If you are feeling a threat, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Do NOT leave a message, as time may be of the essence.
Unfortunately, I need to turn off comments for this post, since I’m conducting research for the next week and won’t be able to respond within a satisfactory amount of time. However, you can still reach me through the contact form or you can comment at facebook.com/agmihtf.
Coming soon: MKULTRA and ‘U’ — A Good Man primer on the CIA’s mind control program and the universities that took part
One question that’s been floating around for decades is whether housing official Heber Hiram (aka H.H., aka Hi) Stephenson actually bumped into Ronald Tammen at a hotel restaurant in Wellsville, NY, on Wednesday, August 5, 1953. If it did happen to be Ron, the next question would be: who were the men he was with? And third: why were they there?
As I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this blog, these questions could have been fairly answerable back in 1953, after Hi told Carl Knox, dean of men at Miami who oversaw the university’s investigation, about his encounter. Knox could have helped spur the process along by asking H.H. this no-brainer: “Which hotel, Hi?”, and then calling his contact at the FBI. The FBI’s Buffalo office could have chased down some of those details and, if they determined that it was likely Ron, they would have had a super hot lead on their hands. If they decided it wasn’t Ron, they would have reported that info back as well. It’s what they do. But, for some reason, Carl Knox didn’t get that ball rolling.
For what it’s worth, I believe H.H. saw Ronald Tammen that day. I believe it for three reasons. One is that H.H. knew Ron and, as his son has told me, he never forgot a face. That’s big, in my view—much bigger than a stranger who saw a photo in a newspaper and thought that same person had showed up at her doorstep late at night two months prior.
My second reason has to do with human behavior. H.H.’s account is consistent with how two people who think they recognize each other in an out-of-context location would normally act. I mean, we stare, don’t we? We wait for eye contact, assessing whether the other person recognizes us too, and if they do, then we say something. And that’s what they both did—they stared at each other. Because it was less than four months since his disappearance, Ron would have looked about the same, as did H.H. And although we wish he would have acted differently, even H.H.’s decision to not approach the young men’s table seems consistent with what many people would have done in that situation.
OK, perhaps that wouldn’t apply to readers of this blog. Members of our little clique would have likely spoken up. Maybe something like: “Pardon my intrusion, but you look like someone I know. I don’t suppose your name is Ron Tammen?” Or, as one reader pointed out, he would have expected a 1950s version of “WTF, Ron?!?” Either would have been a normal response. But H.H.’s decision to walk out the door and immediately regretting it is normal too. And what did Ron’s lookalike do? He got the heck out of there before H.H. returned. If it were Ron, isn’t that what you’d expect him to do—to run as soon as he had an opening?
The third reason is that H.H. reported his encounter to Carl Knox the next day. If Stephenson had any reservations about who the young man was, he might have said something like, “Wow—I just saw a guy who, if I didn’t know better, looked exactly like Ronald Tammen.” But H.H. fully expected Knox to act on the tip. Considering the fact that they were colleagues and he was putting his credibility on the line, he obviously had no doubt in his mind that it was Ron.
“I was sure it was him,” he told reporter Joe Cella in April 1976.
There is, however, one thing I learned about Hi Stephenson that doesn’t quite jive with my theory. According to his son, Hi Stephenson kept a journal throughout his life, and, as of our phone conversation in February 2013, his son still had the collection. Needless to say, when his son shared this news with me, I was stoked. To obtain a more complete accounting of that encounter in Wellsville would be amazing, would it not? Maybe Stephenson would have described the table of guys a little more—their appearance, their demeanor. Maybe he’d included the name of the hotel and what the daily special was. (The latter tidbit wouldn’t add much to the mystery, but it’s the sort of color I adore.)
Unfortunately, a couple weeks after we spoke, his son sent me an email saying that, after looking through his father’s journal for the date in question, he couldn’t find an entry regarding the Ron Tammen sighting. Of course I was profoundly disappointed, not to mention surprised. On a day when most of Hi’s time was spent reading road signs and counting miles, how he could have thought to write anything other than “Gadzooks—I just spotted Ron Tammen!” is beyond me.
In September 2014, I took a little trip to Wellsville myself.
When I’m on one of my typical Ronald Tammen road trips, there’s one song on my playlist that I crank up louder and more often than the others. It’s Brandi Carlile’s The Story. The studio version is great, but the version with the Seattle Symphony is my all-time favorite. The reason I love this song so much is that A.) It allows me to scream like a rock goddess when she hits that high note, and B.) I feel the lyrics apply to my search for Tammen. I mean, I’ve literally or figuratively done all of those things (which I won’t name, for copyright reasons) for Ron. And that thing she says about her, um, creases in her countenance? After dedicating nearly nine years of my life to this project, well, let’s just say that that hits home in a very big way too.
So there I was, one sunshiny fall Tuesday, blasting Brandi along the highways between my then-home in D.C. and Wellsville, NY. Wellsville is the name of both a village and surrounding town totaling around 7400 people in the southwest part of the state, just eight miles north of the Pennsylvania border. As I neared my destination, I had a strong sense that I was passing the same houses and barns that Ron would have passed by—if indeed it was Ron in that hotel restaurant.
Even a billboard for a restaurant called Texas Hot, which has been serving up chili dogs to Wellsvillians since 1921, looked as if it had been standing along that stretch of road for decades. I knew as soon as I passed it that I’d be eating dinner there that night on the off chance that Ron might have eaten there too.
Texas Hot is named for a type of hot dog topped with mustard, chili sauce, and chopped onions, all on a soft, steamed bun. They are, culinarily speaking, ridiculously delicious. The iconic restaurant has been owned and operated all these years by the same two families, and is now run by the grandsons of the longtime partners and Greek immigrants who got it all started, James Rigas and George Raptis. If you’re anywhere near Wellsville, you have to go. (No, seriously, promise me.)
After finishing off the specialty of the house, accompanied by french fries and gravy, I roamed the town and was soon drawn to the old train station located one block north of Main Street on the corner of Pearl and Depot Streets. The red brick building, once bustling with visitors and the people who welcomed them or bid them goodbye, was boarded up and rimmed with weeds. Located in the center of town, it ostensibly had been a pipeline that helped power Wellsville’s prosperity in the early part of the 20th century.
Most noticeably, the train station was steps away from one of the four hotels that, with the help of a 1953 phone directory, I’d narrowed down as being H.H.’s and Ron’s most likely meeting spots. That was the Hotel Brunswick, at the corner of North Main and Pearl Streets, which now houses a real estate office among other businesses. The other three possible hotels, all of which are no longer standing, were the Fassett Hotel, which was a short walk southeastward on Main Street (55 North Main), Pickup’s Hotel (38-40 North Main), and, a little less than a mile to the north, the Wellsville Hotel (470 North Main), where the Lutheran church now stands.
The proximity of the train station to the Hotel Brunswick led me to wonder: Could Ron have been journeying by train and stopped off at Wellsville for a quick bite or to spend the night? Before that little epiphany, I’d been operating under the assumption that Ron was temporarily living in Wellsville—that perhaps he and his associates were being prepped for some clandestine purpose in a nearby government facility. But if Ron was traveling by train to parts unknown, then the odds of Ron and Hi Stephenson bumping into one another were even more astronomical than I’d originally thought.
The next morning, I paid a visit to the office of Craig Braack, Allegany County’s historian, whose building was located one town over in Belmont, the county seat. Braack, who has since retired, seemed genuinely intrigued by the Ron Tammen mystery, and he ventured a guess that the hotel in which the sighting occurred was probably the Fassett or Brunswick, which had been my top two choices at that point as well. In addition to occupying space among the businesses that lined Main Street, both hotels seemed upscale enough that they would offer the type of restaurant that might suit the tastes of a woman in her mid-thirties—Hi’s wife Kay. Then again, the restaurant couldn’t be too fancy, or it might have discouraged a group of young men from eating there, at least one of whom was on the lam and possibly didn’t have a lot of cash on him.
Braack wasn’t aware of any government training facility, covert or overt, in Wellsville. He was more inclined to believe that Ron was just passing through town, by road or by rail. He informed me that before the Interstate system, Main Street was part of State Route 17, a major east-west thoroughfare at the time. (State Route 17 has since been replaced by 417, which circumvents Main Street.)
“Route 17 goes parallel to our New York-Pennsylvania state line, so it’s possible that they could have been on that,” he suggested.
“Sounds reasonable,” I replied, “as long as they had access to a car.”
I explained that Ron had left his car parked outside of his dorm the night he disappeared, though there was also a chance that he could have been riding in someone else’s vehicle. The other option would have been the train. Braack pointed out that Wellsville’s train station was a major stop along the Erie Railroad, which, like Route 17, ran east and west. Each day, three or four passenger trains would arrive in Wellsville, connecting Chicago to New York City and places in between.
“If they were taking the train, that would have been a way to easily travel a long distance in a very short period,” he said. “That could also be why he was at the hotel.”
Later that afternoon, I stopped by Wellsville’s Nathanial Dyke museum. I was greeted by Mary Rhodes, who was town historian when I met with her, but who recently moved to South Carolina, and Jane Pinney, then-president of the Thelma Rogers Genealogical and Historical Society. (A September 18, 2018, article in the Wellsville Daily Reporter describes Rhodes’ and Pinney’s commitment to preserving the history of the area and their many contributions.) They agreed with Braack that the Erie Railroad and State Route 17 were the two most likely means by which Ron might have rolled into town, since that’s how most people did it back then. Pinney recounted how neighborhood kids peddling lemonade on Main Street would play the license plate game, making a list of the states that were represented as cars either barreled by or pulled over to make a purchase.
“They had every state in the union by the end of the summer,” she said.
But there were plenty of reasons for people to stay in Wellsville as opposed to just passing through. There were jobs there—lots of them. In the late 1800s, oil was discovered in the region, and a refinery was built, which, in 1953, was owned and operated by Sinclair Oil. The refinery was shut down in 1958 after a fire, but the remnants of oil money are still evident by the string of mansions, oozing with opulence, along the roadside north of town.
“OK. Now the name Wellsville makes sense,” I said. As if by reflex, both women jumped in to correct me, something they’d no-doubt done with out-of-towners many times before. Wellsville wasn’t named for its oil wells, but rather for Gardiner Wells, who was the principal landowner when residents were deciding upon the important matter of what to call themselves.
Other major industries in 1953 were the Air Preheater Company, which produced equipment for improving the efficiency of electrical power plants, and the Worthington Corporation, which produced steam turbines, also used in energy production. According to Pinney and Rhodes, the companies were frequent recipients of federal contracts, especially during WWII, and it wasn’t uncommon for hotels to be filled with clients who wished to tour the facilities, to inspect the product, or to be trained in operations. Pinney recalls driving to her job at 7:00 a.m. each day and seeing 20 or 30 executives who were visiting from China performing their exercises on the sidewalk in front of the Fassett Hotel.
In other words, at the time that Ron was potentially spotted by Hi Stephenson, Wellsville was by no means just a tranquil little town along the Genesee River. It was a player, both nationally and internationally.
“The place was booming,” said Rhodes.
Even so, I couldn’t see Ron throwing his old life away to reinvent himself in Wellsville, NY. I mean no disrespect to the good people of Wellsville. It’s just that I don’t understand why there would be any urgency for a young man to run away, cutting off all ties to friends and family to pursue a career in the power industry. I asked if they had any idea which hotel Ron might have been more likely to eat or spend the night in—if, again, it was Ron. Mary said that she thought that the Brunswick was being used as a residence hotel by then, so the sighting probably wouldn’t have been there. Jane’s husband Dave, who’d grown up in Wellsville and who’d joined our conversation by that time, agreed, and added that he didn’t think the Brunswick had a dining room then. The three decided that the Fassett was a more likely candidate. Or Pickup’s. Or the Hotel Wellsville.
Months after my visit, in an email, Mary let me know that she had followed up with one of the town’s residents, who said that the Hotel Brunswick only had a coffee shop and a bar. “Not a real dinner place,” she told me.I decided to eliminate it from consideration, narrowing the options to three.
In Joe Cella’s 1976 news article, Hi had remarked that “he and his wife walked out of the hotel onto the street” when he told Kay about his possible Ron sighting, which is consistent with the locations of the Brunswick, Fassett, and Pickup’s hotels. The Hotel Wellsville, however, was set farther back from the main road, on landscaped grounds. I eliminated it from consideration as well. I was now down to two possibilities: Pickup’s Hotel and the Fassett Hotel.
Pickup’s might seem a little weird for the name of a hotel, but it was named for the family who bought the building in 1936. Constructed in 1852, it was the oldest building in the Main Street business district, though the owners had modernized it. The building had a big sign that said “RESTAURANT” out front that would have been a draw for travelers. An article describing a 1961 fire that “ravaged” the hotel noted that very little of the building was devoted to hotel space and the “principal business activity…centered around its restaurant on the ground floor.” For these reasons—the prominence of the restaurant, and its nice-but-not-too-nice modern touches—Pickup’s was becoming more appealing to me as the backdrop of Hi’s potential Tammen sighting. Plus, it would have likely been the first restaurant Hi would have seen driving into town.
But the Fassett Hotel had its pluses too. Built in 1870, it was a stately brick building whose ground floor had been updated in the 1940s with eye-catching window treatments. It, too, was a popular place for dining—it advertised a “Dining Room” on the sign facing Main Street—in addition to hosting other events.
“You don’t happen to know where I could get my hands on some old hotel registries, do you?” I asked the trio as I was getting up to leave. At once, I felt silly for suggesting that anyone would hold onto 60-year-old hotel registries—even there, in a museum, among people who were fanatical about preserving their town’s history.
Mary said that the former owner of the Fassett Hotel still lived in town and she promised to ask him for me. I thanked her, but I knew the chances were next to nil he would have stored them away somewhere. Unfortunately, I was right.
And that’s where I’m afraid we’ve hit a dead end. My best guess for where Hi Stephenson saw Ronald Tammen or Tammen’s lookalike is at Pickup’s Hotel or the Fassett Hotel, with my personal choice being Pickup’s.
Either it was a run-of-the-mill doppelganger sighting, nothing more, or it was a coincidence beyond all coincidences—an encounter whose odds of occurring are so remarkably small that it appears that something or someone bigger than all of us may have stepped in to make it happen. Call it fate. Call it the universe. Call it a supreme being overriding free will and moving a couple human chess pieces himself. I can think of no other explanation for why two people so close to the Tammen mystery—one being Tammen himself—would land 480 miles away from Oxford in the tiny town of Wellsville, on the same day, at the same hour, and in the same hotel restaurant. But that’s exactly what Hi Stephenson believed had happened.
And Carl Knox? Regardless of whether it was Ronald Tammen or not, the only reasonable explanation for his inaction is that his investigation into Tammen’s disappearance had taken a back seat to his other university responsibilities sometime between June 29, 1953, when newspapers reported Clara Spivey’s possible Ron sighting, and August 6, when Hi Stephenson reported his. Did someone of a higher ranking step in during that period to call off the search? That’s my best guess too.
Clara Josephine Spivey lived with her husband, Carl, in a two-story home on North Main Street in Seven Mile, Ohio. Carl, who was once the mayor of that small town, was an electrician by trade and Clara’s second husband. Her first husband had been tragically killed when, in 1918, a mere five months into their marriage, the delivery truck he was driving collided with a train in nearby Hamilton. Clara married Carl two years later.
By the spring of 1953, Clara was 54 years of age with two grown children. Son Jearl was 32 years old and married. The best I can tell, he was also an electrician living about 20 miles from his parents, in Lebanon, Ohio. Daughter Barbara was 28 and married to a man named Donald Ries. (They would divorce in 1963.) From what I can tell, the couple was also living in Seven Mile.
Late on Sunday, April 19, 1953, reportedly at about midnight, there was a knock on the Spiveys’ front door. Clara was apparently still up at that hour, along with Barbara and at least one other person whom we’ll discuss a little later in this post. Perhaps Clara was emboldened by the presence of the other night owls sitting up with her—safety in numbers, and all that. Or maybe it was just the innocence of the times. Whatever her reason, she went ahead and opened the door.
Thankfully, there was nothing to fear. Standing on her porch was a well-mannered young man with a smudge on his cheek—probably from fixing a flat tire, she presumed—and an embarrassed look on his face. The jacket he had on didn’t seem at all sufficient for the chilly temperatures, in her viewpoint, and he wasn’t wearing a hat either. He had dark, deep-set eyes and close-cropped hair—his most distinguishing characteristics in her mind’s eye. He asked for nothing except some direction.
“What town am I in?” the youth had asked her, according to the earliest news accounts. And then: “Where will I be if I go in that direction?”, pointing northeastward, toward Middletown.
Clara recalled telling the youth that he could catch the bus to Middletown, which just so happened to stop at the nearby corner at that time of night. It wasn’t until the next day that she realized the information she’d given him was in error. The bus schedule for the Oxford Coach Lines had been changed that very day, April 19, and the last run from Oxford to Middletown, which passed through Seven Mile, had been suspended.
Other than perhaps a twinge of regret for having led her visitor astray, Clara didn’t think much about the incident afterward. Then, that June, she learned about Ronald Tammen. She’d somehow missed all the ballyhoo about Tammen when he’d first disappeared, and only became aware of the story by way of a follow-up news article that, in essence, reported that A) he’d been gone for two months, and B) there were no new leads. The article, which featured a large photo of Tammen, appeared in the June 20 issue of the Hamilton Journal-News, Clara’s most likely preferred news source. The same article also appeared in the June 22 issue of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Sometime after seeing the article, she notified the Oxford police, and by June 29, her story was being reported across the Miami Valley as the first real clue in the case. Clara Spivey was convinced that the young man at her doorstep had been Tammen. That photo, which had immediately whisked her back to the night in question, served as proof.
Oscar Decker, Oxford’s police chief, welcomed the potential sighting with a great big bear hug. If it happened to be Ron Tammen, he reasoned, that would bolster the amnesia theory very nicely.
“Tammen disappeared about 8:30 or 9 o’clock from his room in Fisher Hall,” Decker was quoted as saying in one of the June 29th articles. (Based on the font and layout, I think it was the Cincinnati Enquirer, though my clipping doesn’t contain a reference.) “If he wandered away, it would have taken him about three hours to walk to Seven Mile.”
Sure, it was cold, it was hilly, it was late, but it was totally doable in his opinion.
Also convincing to Decker was Clara’s description of what Tammen was wearing that night. The June 29th Hamilton Journal-News article said this: “Mrs. Spivey described the youth’s wearing apparel almost perfectly, according to the chief.” Also, the September 18, 1953, issue of the Miami Student said: “Although she could not see under the dim porch light what the man was wearing, Mrs. Spivey declared that he seemed to have on a light-weight coat with a checked pattern and dark trousers.” Investigators had described Tammen as wearing a blue and tan checked or plaid wool jacket (sometimes referred to as a mackinaw) and blue pants when he disappeared.
An article in the July 3, 1953, Hamilton Journal-News stated that Henry Ciesicki, who was identified as president of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, had interviewed Mrs. Spivey and found that she was indeed positive that the young man she saw was Tammen after looking at photographs of him. However, the article continued, “There were certain discrepancies as to the type of clothing the missing student was wearing and that of the man whom Mrs. Spivey saw, Ciesicki said.” The discrepancies were brought up again in an article by Joe Cella in the April 22, 1954, issue of the Hamilton Journal-News: “[Tammen’s] brother, Richard, maintains that there are some discrepancies in Mrs. Spivey’s story. The type of clothing worn and missing has come up for considerable discussion throughout the investigation.”
Was the visitor on Mrs. Spivey’s porch Ronald Tammen? Before placing your vote, here are some additional points to consider:
If it was Ron who showed up on Mrs. Spivey’s doorstep, he would have most likely traveled State Route 73 East to 127 South, which leads directly into Seven Mile. The terrain is hilly, and it seems as if it would require some fairly purposeful trekking as opposed to the wanderings of someone with amnesia. Moreover, if Ron had been on foot, he would have passed by numerous homes along Main Street on his way to Mrs. Spivey’s. An atlas from 1930, which shows the number of properties that existed in northern Seven Mile at that time and, presumably, a corresponding number of houses, can be viewed below. (Mrs. Spivey’s property is along Hamilton & Eaton Road, aka Main Street, near High Street.)
An atlas of the northern part of Seven Mile from 1958 is here.
But don’t just take the Butler Co. cartographers’ word for it. Follow the route for yourself in this video, and try to picture a totally out-of-it Ronald Tammen walking these roads on a chilly, snowy night in unsuitable outerwear. Are you as convinced as Oscar Decker that it was Ron? (Uncopyrighted traveling music provided by the YouTube Audio Library. Apologies in advance for my knack for driving over every possible bump in the road.)
The time of the encounter
As discussed earlier, the first time anyone had heard about the potential Spivey sighting was on Monday, June 29, 1953, when at least two news articles were published. The article that I believe was in the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the visitor had arrived on Mrs. Spivey’s doorstep at “about midnight,” while the Hamilton Journal-News reported that the time of night was “about 11 o’clock.” The time discrepancy is intriguing, because the author of both articles was Gilson Wright, a Miami journalism professor who was also an on-call correspondent for a number of area papers. (I’m certain that Wright wrote both articles because, even though there isn’t a byline for either article, the Journal-News identifies Wright as the correspondent for its Oxford section on that date, and the two articles, though not identical, have the same phrasing throughout.) That the same reporter would publish conflicting times for the encounter on the same news day is kind of, um, bizarre, considering the significance of the hour to the overall timeline. “About midnight” was the most frequently reported time over the years, including later issues of the Journal-News, which is why I repeated it in the third paragraph of this post. Also, Oscar Decker is quoted directly in the September 18, 1953, article of the Miami Student, saying that the time was “about midnight.” On the other hand, the 11 p.m. time was attributed to Mrs. Spivey (who, after all, would have been the best source), though not as a direct quote. “Mrs. Spivey said the youth came to her door about 11 o’clock…,” Wright stated in that article.
If the June 29th Hamilton Journal-News version is closer to the truth, Ron wouldn’t have had the full three hours that Oscar Decker estimated a walk to Seven Mile would have required. According to this September 2018 fitness article and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a brisk walking pace is considered to be 3 miles per hour or 20 minutes per mile. If the time was midnight, Tammen would have had 180 minutes to walk approximately 11 miles, or a little over 16 minutes per mile. That would have been a pretty good clip, but still doable. But if the time was 11 p.m.? Ron would have needed to be in a full-on run. The latter scenario wouldn’t exactly fit the storyline that everyone was selling, would it? What’s more, if Ron had been at the Delta Tau Delta song practice until around 10:30 p.m., as has been claimed by at least one person, there was no way Ron could have made it to Seven Mile by either 11 p.m. ormidnight if he was walking.
But what if Ron Tammen had actually been driven to Seven Mile? If a car was involved, there are a few possible scenarios to consider:
Ron was known to hitchhike from place to place, especially when he didn’t have a car on campus. Granted, it would have been odd for him to choose to hitchhike out of Oxford as opposed to driving his own car. However, if, for some reason, he did so and someone picked him up somewhere between Fisher Hall and Seven Mile, chances are that person would have reported it when the media began publicizing his disappearance. If Oscar Decker had received such a call, you better believe that he would have announced it to the press. From what I can tell, there were no phone calls from anyone who either picked up a hitchhiker or who spotted someone walking alongside that stretch of road on April 19, 1953. One caller did think he’d spotted Tammen in Middletown the week after the Spivey article was published, though that obviously didn’t check out.
He was “kidnapped” and left in Seven Mile as a prank.
As we’ve discussed elsewhere on this site, fraternities back then used to kidnap pledges and drop them off in the middle of nowhere so they would have to find their way home. Many people, including yours truly at one point, have wondered if that might have been what happened to Ron—the whole fraternity-prank-gone-awry theory. But several factors have led me to rule this theory out. First, the men in Ron’s fraternity are wonderful people and they don’t act all weird when I ask them about Ron Tammen. They really would love to know what happened to him. Second, Ron wasn’t a pledge. He was an active member of Delta Tau Delta, which means that he wouldn’t have been a target for such antics. Third, he didn’t live in the fraternity house, which, according to one of his fraternity brothers, was home base from which a guy would have been kidnapped ifhe were being kidnapped.
Fourth (and perhaps foremost), instead of asking Mrs. Spivey for directions, wouldn’t Ron’s more obvious first question be “Can I use your phone?” According to Carl Knox’s notes, the door to his dorm room was left open and his car keys were in his desk. He could have asked someone from Fisher Hall to pick him up. His roommate, Chuck Findlay, would have been back by then. Also, the questions the visitor asked didn’t pertain to finding his way back to Oxford. In April 1954, Mrs. Spivey would embellish her conversation with the young man to include her pointing the way to Hamilton, Middletown, and Oxford. But that wasn’t the case in June 1953. As described above, the youth asked her what town he was in and where he would be if he went in “that direction,” which was toward Middletown. She’d told him how to catch the bus to Middletown, the crucial detail that enabled her to date stamp the night he’d appeared at her door, since the bus route had ended on April 19. Based on her earliest recollection and, in my view, the one that would have probably been most accurate, there was no mention of Oxford.
Someone who knew him drove him there.
Perhaps someone else could have driven Ron to Seven Mile—someone like the mysterious woman from Hamilton, for example. If that’s true, why he would have gotten out of the car at Mrs. Spivey’s residence isn’t clear, unless, perhaps, he’d tried to escape as the car had slowed down on Main Street. But if he did escape, why (again) wouldn’t he have asked Mrs. Spivey if he could use her telephone to call for help? And where did he go after he left Mrs. Spivey’s? Perhaps someone overpowered him and pushed him back in the car. Still, the young man’s questions for Mrs. Spivey don’t exactly jive with those that might have been asked by someone who was being taken somewhere against his will. At least, they aren’t the sorts of questions that someone would have asked had he been thinking clearly.
The other people in the room
In Joe Cella’s 1976 article in the Hamilton Journal-News, we learned that Clara’s daughter Barbara, whose last name was now Jewell after a second marriage, was also present when the visitor showed up at the door. Though Clara had died in 1975, Barbara stood by her mother’s story. Here’s what Cella wrote:
“Mrs. Spivey has since died but her daughter, Mrs. Barbara Jewell of Seven Mile, remembers the night well. She was there when the knock was answered.
‘I still believe it was him,’ said Mrs. Jewell. When her mother viewed a photograph of Tammen at the time, she said, ‘That’s him. I know I’m not mistaken.’”
Barbara Jewell passed away in 1999. However, in 2012, Frank Smith, Butler County’s former cold case detective, informed me of someone else who was present when the visitor showed up at the door. Smith had stopped by a United Dairy Farmers store for a cup of coffee around the time that the Butler County Sheriff’s Office was getting a lot of local press for their work regarding the dead body in Georgia. According to Smith, a guy came out of the store and said he’d been reading in the paper about the Tammen case.
Recounted Smith, “He said, ‘I was there that night when the door was opened too.’”
Smith then added, “And he told me, he said that he absolutely was confident that that was not Tammen that knocked on the door that night. He thought it was one of the local ruffians that lived down the road. But he was absolutely confident.”
According to Smith, the man who approached him—as he recalled, it was Mrs. Spivey’s son—had been in the military and was battling cancer. He also said that he’d passed away shortly after they talked. I accepted this information at face value and didn’t delve further, which turned out to be a mistake. Memories, as I’ve come to learn time and again, aren’t 100 percent foolproof. If I’d done my fact checking a little sooner, I might have been able to speak with the man myself.
Several years ago, as I was doing some online research, I discovered that the man who’d approached Frank Smith couldn’t have been Clara Spivey’s son. Jearl Spivey had died in 1980, long before Smith had gotten involved in the case. Donald Ries, who, along with Carl Spivey, had passed away in the 1970s, could also be ruled out. However, another possible candidate did pop up—Paul Jewell, Barbara’s second husband. Jewell died in 2014, two years after my conversation with Smith. According to his obituary, Jewell had worked at the Champion Paper Company and, later, The Workingman’s Store, a beloved clothing and shoe store for everyday working people that his parents had opened in Hamilton and where he eventually became owner. The obit also said that he’d served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1960, and suggested that memorials be given to the American Cancer Society, among other charities. My guess is that Paul Jewell was the man who approached Frank Smith.
There is one puzzling aspect to placing Jewell in Mrs. Spivey’s home late at night on April 19, 1953. Paul Jewell was 13 years younger than Barbara, born in September 1937. In April 1953, Barbara was still married to Donald Ries, whereas Paul would have been 15 years of age and a sophomore at McGuffey High School in Oxford. (He graduated in 1955.) From what I can tell from old city directories, Paul and Barbara were married in the mid-1960s. So one question I have is, if it was Jewell, why would he have been at the Spiveys so late on a Sunday night when the next day was a school day for him? Another big question I have is: again, if it was Paul Jewell who spoke with Frank Smith, did he and Barbara actually see the visitor or did they just hear Clara’s account, like the rest of us, and form their own opinions? Unfortunately, I’m not sure we’ll ever know the answer.
So what do you think? Was it Ronald Tammen at Mrs. Spivey’s door or merely one of Seven Mile’s local ruffians? Feel free to register your vote here:
And now, for all you readers in the U.S., please be sure to vote for real if you haven’t already. It’s our right, our privilege, and our obligation and probably way more important than anything else we may have on our plates these days.
Let’s also open up the floor. Feel free to weigh in on anything Tammen-related, especially your thoughts on Mrs. Spivey’s story and why you voted one way or the other in our poll.
By now, I think you should have a pretty good indication of how (in my opinion) the city of Oxford, Ohio, and Miami University conducted their investigations into Tammen’s disappearance. I’ll say it here plainly, just so there’s no confusion: They did a really bad job.
Time and again, investigators would lament in the news about what few clues they had to go on after Tammen disappeared. Sure, they’d received some early tips about several area hitchhikers and an apartment dweller in Cincinnati, but none of those panned out. Then, Clara Spivey came forward with her alleged late-night Ron sighting in Seven Mile, and they finally felt as if they had a true lead. (In response to one reader’s request, we’ll be discussing Mrs. Spivey’s story in more detail in another post that I’m planning for Tuesday, November 6. You’ll have a chance to vote on whether you believe the person who appeared at her door was Ron or not.**)
After Mrs. Spivey’s call in late June 1953, investigators hit another dry spell clue-wise, which supposedly lasted 20 long years. In 1973, the drought ended, at least for the interested public, when reporter Joe Cella revealed that Ronald Tammen had visited Dr. Garret Boone’s office five months before he disappeared to have his blood type tested. We also learned that university officials had already known about the doctor’s visit shortly after Tammen went missing. They just didn’t view it as a clue.
So, Mrs. Spivey’s story? Definite clue.
Dr. Boone’s? Not so much.
When it came to determining whether something was a potential clue or not, these guys were (again, my opinion) clueless.
We’ve already covered some additional details about Tammen’s disappearance that I would categorize as clues. Some of the most significant ones include:
Song practiceRon is alleged to have been to song practice at the Delt house the night he disappeared and had walked back to the dorms with two other guys at around 10:30 p.m. If true, Ron disappeared more than two hours later than what was widely reported.
The fightRon allegedly had a fight with his younger brother Richard in the third-floor bathroom of Fisher Hall the night he disappeared.
The woman from HamiltonRon was supposedly seen seated in a car with a woman from Hamilton for a long time and then driving away with her late that night.
The psych bookRon had been reported reading his psychology book the afternoon that he disappeared, and his psychology book was left open on his desk, even though he’d dropped his psychology course earlier that semester.
The things in Ron’s backgroundRon Tammen might have had “things in his background” that were consistent with his having experienced dissociation (amnesia).
The dead fish Ron likely hadn’t slept in his bed at least one night, and possibly two, before his disappearance. We know this because Dick Titus had put the fish in Ron’s bed after class on Saturday or perhaps even Friday.
All of the above (and probably more) were known by university officials and Oxford police. If they viewed these details as clues, they chose not to make them public. But from what I can tell, they didn’t do much more than the most perfunctory of probes either. In particular, they could have pursued the rumor about the woman from Hamilton more enthusiastically, enlisting the news media for help. The Journal-News could have run the headline “Tammen allegedly last seen in car with woman from Hamilton,” and the accompanying article could have closed with “Anyone with information is asked to call this number.” But, nah.
And, let’s not forget Heber Hiram (H.H.) Stephenson, the housing official who swore up and down that he’d seen Tammen sitting in a hotel restaurant with a small group of men in Wellsville, NY, on Wednesday, August 5, 1953. Stephenson had shared this information with university officials immediately upon his return—the next day, he said—and we see the cryptic “H.H.S., Aug. 5, 1953, Wellsville, New York” in Knox’s notes to confirm that a conversation had indeed taken place. Again, if it hadn’t been for Joe Cella revealing the detail in 1976, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it now.
So I have to ask: If the potential sighting by Mrs. Spivey was such a promising clue back on June 29, 1953, when it was first reported in the news, why wouldn’t H.H. Stephenson’s potential sighting have been considered just as promising when he reported it on August 6, about five weeks later? Hi Stephenson knew Ron. Clara Spivey didn’t.
And I have to follow with this question: Did university officials even think to alert the FBI about Stephenson’s story? On May 26, 1953, the FBI had a missing person file on Tammen, and roughly one week earlier, Carl Knox had informed Tammen’s parents that the FBI had been attending faculty conferences. Also, by July 27, 1953, Ron was listed as delinquent for his draft board physical, and therefore, in violation of the Selective Service Act. Carl Knox should have called them—immediately—and reported that an acquaintance of Ronald Tammen’s was quite sure he’d spotted him at a hotel restaurant in Wellsville, NY, the previous day. The FBI could have summoned their Buffalo office to check things out, and the Buffalo agents, in turn, could have shown the proprietor Ron’s picture and asked if anyone had seen him. They could have checked the hotel’s registry for the names of the young men. They could have asked if anyone had spoken with them, and if so, why were they there? Where were they going? Heck, if Knox had told them soon enough, the FBI could have possibly even dusted the lookalike’s chair for fingerprints, or, if he’d stayed overnight, the furniture in his room. But judging from the Stephenson quote in Joe Cella’s article, he was never approached again. Here’s what he told Cella: “I was under the impression all these years that my story was generally known by everyone, since Dr. Knox knew about it and was handling the investigation for the university. I am amazed to hear that this information was not known until now.” There’s nothing in the FBI files to indicate such a report was called in either.
So, again, Mrs. Spivey? Clue!
H.H. Stephenson? Better luck next time!
Which brings us to the spring of 1955, two years after Ronald Tammen’s disappearance, when Miami University received yet another potential clue in the Tammen case. Again, by all indications, officials promptly chose to sweep it under the rug.
The clue came in the form of a letter dated May 10, 1955, and addressed to: “Dean of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.” As vaguely worded as that was, it must have found its way to Carl Knox, who was still dean of men at that time, and several copies can be found in the Tammen materials at University Archives. The letter was signed by Major Delmar Jones, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Major Jones told of a dead body that had been found near LaFayette, Georgia, on June 24, 1953. The GBI, having received a news clipping about Tammen, was wondering if the body might have been Ron’s.
Here’s what the letter said:
A newspaper clipping was turned over to this Bureau several days ago by Mr. Hill Pope, the coroner of Walker County, Georgia. We do not know from whom this clipping came but it has reference to a young man by the name of RONALD TAMMEN, a nineteen year old sophomore who disappeared from your institution approximately two years ago.
Someone had evidently secured knowledge whereby we were trying to identify a badly decomposed body that was found on the outskirts of LaFayette, Georgia, on June 24, 1953.
This investigation is still pending, and we are still endeavoring to ascertain the identification of this body.
It will be appreciated very much if you will give us the full details and complete description of Ronald Tammen so that we may compare them with the identification of the unidentified body.
Your response to this communication will be appreciated very much and we will do everything in our power to assist in locating the subject Ronald Tammen if he should be in our territory.
Delmar Jones was Georgia’s number one law enforcement official from 1948 to 1962, and not someone to be taken lightly. (In 1962, he was demoted to trooper by the governor for campaigning for the former governor in a primary election, which, I suppose, was a risk he’d been willing to take.) Granted, H.H. Stephenson and Garret Boone weren’t slouches either. But you’d have to think that a letter from Georgia’s version of J. Edgar Hoover would have elicited some sort of response from the university.
I have no idea if Carl Knox or anyone else got back to Major Jones. In Miami’s archives, there are no carbon copies of letters mailed in reply. Perhaps Dean Knox placed a phone call to Major Jones, suggesting that the GBI contact the FBI, although no surviving FOIA documents indicate that contact had been made. (As a side note, Ron’s Selective Service case with the FBI was closed on April 29, 1955, 11 days before the GBI letter was written.) Or maybe officials called Major Jones and provided a full accounting of the case over the phone, but the GBI ruled Ron out for some reason and didn’t follow up with anyone. By all accounts, no one seemed to mention the letter to Joe Cella, Gil Wright, or Murray Seeger, since there are no news reports about a dead body in Georgia being possibly tied to Tammen’s case. I don’t even think the university bothered to tell the Oxford police. When I asked my friend Ralph (not his real name), the former cop who was still with the Oxford PD that year and several years after, he was surprised—stunned, actually—to hear about the letter.
So, once more: Confused guy on Mrs. Spivey’s doorstep on the night Tammen disappeared?
Dead body found in ditch 400 miles south of Oxford two months later?
Here’s what we can safely assume: no one went to the lengths that officials went to in late 2007 and early 2008 when, on their own, without even initially knowing about Delmar Jones’ letter, the Walker County, Georgia’s, Sheriff’s Office hypothesized that the two cold cases might be related.
It happened like this:
Mike Freeman, the cold case detective for Walker County, was conducting an end-of-the-year review of unsolved cases in his portfolio when his boss, Sheriff Steve Wilson, posed a question to him.
“What about that dead body found in a ravine back in 1953?” Wilson asked him (or something along those lines). Wilson wasn’t around when the dead body was discovered—he was born several years later—but his dad used to tell him about it, and he can point out the location to anyone who asks. To this day, people in the area refer to the site as Dead Man’s Hollow.
Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson stands next to the site where the dead body was found in 1953.
Freeman didn’t know anything about the case, but the story intrigued him. The department no longer had a file, so, for starters, he headed to the local library (which, conveniently, is just a few buildings away from the sheriff’s department) and found news articles that ran at the time the body was found. Based on information found in the articles, he learned that an autopsy was conducted by the state medical examiner’s office, which, thankfully, he was able to obtain. [Read the full autopsy report here.]
The details, provided in news accounts and the autopsy, aren’t pretty. The body was found in a highly decomposed state in a wooded ravine off Rogers Road, five miles south of LaFayette, on June 24, 1953. According to Dr. Herman Jones, director of the GBI crime lab (and probably no relation to Delmar, but who really knows?), it was “heavily infested from head to foot with maggots and other worms,” a sure sign that the man had been dead for a while. What was left of his face (which, by that point, was devoid of soft tissue and therefore any recognizable features) was angled upward, toward the sky, and his arms and legs were fully extended, kind of like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
Some features were still discernible. His hair was dark brown to black, his height was 5’9,” and, when he was alive, and still had all of his internal organs and tissues in place, his weight would have been around 150 pounds. He had long arms and long slender fingers from which extended nails that were also long and “apparently well kept,” according to Dr. Jones, who’d conducted the autopsy on the same day the body was found. The decedent’s teeth weren’t as well cared for as his nails. Two lower back molars had large cavities in them and several teeth had been extracted. “No dental work done,” Dr. Jones reported, which could be interpreted to mean that he didn’t have any fillings or crowns. There was no evidence that any of the bones in his body had been broken, either recently or in the past. He was estimated to be between 25 and 30 years of age.
The man was wearing only a white T-shirt, size 38, with four round holes in it, and boxer shorts, size 32, the kind with buttons up the fly and a drawstring around the waist. Two khaki-colored wool socks lay at his feet. One sock lay near where his left foot should have been—it was missing, as were the toes on his right foot—and the other sock lay between his straddled legs. (Dr. Jones blamed an animal for the missing foot.) The shorts and socks were military-issue—U.S. Army. A quarter-inch-wide rubber band encircled each ankle, most likely to blouse the bottom of each pant leg, a common practice of G.I.s so that the full boot shows underneath. As for the man’s boots and pants, they were nowhere to be found, but, based on the items that had been left behind, it was clear that he was probably a soldier. What wasn’t clear was how the man died, though officials presumed it was a homicide. According to the sheriff at that time, the holes in his T-shirt were about the size of .38-caliber bullets, however Dr. Jones found no broken bones or skull damage and no evidence of foreign bodies.
The GBI also conducted an investigation (hence Delmar Jones’ letter), and they exhumed the body a second time after the autopsy for additional analysis, including obtaining fingerprints. The Army conducted an investigation as well. Unfortunately, neither have been able to produce records on the case.
Freeman went on the internet—something they obviously didn’t have in 1953—and searched for missing persons from that year. He immediately discovered the treasure trove of websites discussing the Tammen case (except, alas, for this one, which obviously came later). Freeman noted that both LaFayette and Oxford were on U.S. Route 27, and, in fact, the dead soldier was discovered only about 200 yards away from the highway. If Ron had been hitchhiking to Florida, he thought, it was the best possible route to take, since there was no interstate system back then. Ron’s height, weight, and hair color seemed to be in the ballpark too, and his age wasn’t too far off. Ron wasn’t in the Army, but who’s to say that he didn’t enlist after he left Miami? It was worth a shot.
Freeman contacted Frank Smith, Butler County’s cold case detective at that time, and the two decided to make use of another new technology—DNA testing—to determine if the dead man was Tammen. On February 8, 2008, Freeman, Wilson, and Smith, along with Georgia’s chief medical examiner, GBI’s forensic anthropologist, Walker County’s coroner, members of the media, and curious onlookers witnessed the exhumation of remains buried in an unmarked grave in Lot 206 , Block A, in LaFayette Cemetery. The few bone remnants they obtained were forwarded to the FBI and other facilities for DNA testing. The results would be compared with a DNA sample that had been submitted a couple weeks prior by Tammen’s sister Marcia.
The following June, they got their answer: there was no match. The soldier wasn’t Tammen. It was a big disappointment, but cold case detectives probably get used to these sorts of let-downs. Interestingly, I arrived at the same conclusion in another, more roundabout way. In August 1958, human bones had been found in a gravel pit in Preble County, Ohio, which is about 25 miles north of Oxford. Authorities there had sent bone and teeth samples to Ohio’s Bureau of Identification and Investigation, in New London, for analysis to see if the remains might be Ron’s. (Before DNA testing, dental records were the primary method for identifying unknown victims and they’re still valuable today.)
According to an article in the August 17, 1958, Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Preble County sheriff had said that no dental work had been performed on the teeth that they’d unearthed, though, admittedly, the set was incomplete.
The article continued:
Ronald’s mother, when informed of the find, said that her son had several teeth filled.
“Also, his upper teeth lapped,” she continued, “and he had planned to have them straightened.”
“Furthermore, he had a couple of broken bones that could be identified. When he was three, he got a broken collarbone jumping off a bed. Later, playing football in the street, he broke one of the small bones in one of his hands.”
As you’ll recall, the dead soldier in Georgia appeared to have had no dental work and no evidence of having broken any bones. Plus, there was no mention of an overlap of the front teeth. Based on the fact that Ron had had several fillings plus the overlap plus a couple broken bones, it’s obvious that, even before the DNA test, the person buried in Walker County, Georgia, wasn’t Tammen. The DNA evidence sealed the deal.
Miami and Oxford officials couldn’t have stated the above so unequivocally. In fact, it almost seems as if they’d given up looking for Tammen not long after he disappeared. Did someone in a position of authority tell them to stop their investigation? I wonder.
Oh, and P.S. As for the dead guy in Georgia, could it have been Richard Cox? I wonder about that sometimes too…