Good evening, dear AGMIHTF readers. Tonight I’ll be dropping three historic documents for your perusal. Please be advised: the forthcoming document drop will not be answering any major questions. Rather, these documents are more corroborating in nature. But, hey, corroboration is a good thing too, right? In fact, imho, there’s nothing quite like a little corroboration to get the weekend off to a half-decent start.
Tonight’s documents have to do with Richard Delp. As I explained two blog posts ago (and for those of you who are keeping score at home, that was post #79. Can you believe we’re now at #81?!), Richard Delp was an assistant professor in psychology who, for whatever reason, was listed in the number two spot of three professors in Carl Knox’s notes concerning Ron Tammen’s disappearance.
Here’s a quick refresher from that post:
In October 1952, Richard Delp had been called onto the carpet by an unidentified supervisor, most likely department chair Everett Patten, to discuss his lack of a Ph.D., a crucial thing for someone in his position to have. He was given until the end of the 1953-54 academic year to finish his thesis, otherwise, his job would be in jeopardy.
In a follow-up report of the conversation, the supervisor described admonishing Delp thusly: “I pointed out to him that he was now in his third year as an assistant professor, that the probation period was from two to four years, and that if he didn’t have his Doctor’s degree by the end of 1953-54, the question of his retention might arise.”
For those of you who are still keeping score at home, the end of academic year 1953-54 would be sometime in late May or early June of 1954, depending on whether or not you’re counting finals week in your calculations. Therefore, Delp had been given roughly 20 months in which to double down on getting his doctorate degree. Twenty months sounds totally doable, but it’s not realistic. Since Delp had such a taxing teaching schedule, and since he was pursuing his degree at Ohio State, he did most of his graduate work in the summers. Essentially, he had one summer—the summer of 1953—to get everything done.
In academia, tenure is a prestigious perk that assures a professor that, unless they do something egregious, their job will always be safe. It’s a big deal. In order for Richard Delp to receive tenure, his nomination would have to be approved by the president of the university—who was Dr. John Millett—and the Board of Trustees, which met every year at the end of the spring semester. But at that level, the list is pretty much rubberstamped. The more in-depth conversations would have taken place earlier in the year with the provost, Dr. Clarence Kreger; the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Dr. W.E. Alderman; and of course, the chair of the psychology department, Dr. Everett Patten.
So I wondered: were university administrators a little more lenient back then? I don’t know much about Dean Alderman, but I’ve read about how Kreger operated, and he was legendarily tough as nails. It wasn’t a secret that he intimidated people—a lot—Everett Patten being one of those people. How could Patten have convinced Kreger that Delp should be rewarded with tenure when his job performance in 1954 was so lackluster and he still didn’t have his Ph.D.? Was the one-sheeter accurate? I mean, look at it. It’s a mimeographed form with notations hand-scrawled in ink or pencil lead. It hardly looks like an official document. However, I’d seen records on professors in other departments, and they had the same penned-in forms. It seemed to be factual, but I wanted to be sure.
I went back to the university. The Board of Trustees meetings are posted on Miami’s Digital Collections, so I located the one that seemed to be the most promising contender for granting Delp’s tenure: June 4, 1954. However, when I read the minutes, I discovered that the handouts containing the names of the employees who were being voted on weren’t included online. I submitted a public records request to Miami’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC), asking if they still had them, and if so, could I have a copy.
Yesterday, the OGC sent me a scanned copy of the handout.
Document #1: Board of Trustees handouts – June 4, 1954
Two things jumped out at me: Not only did Richard Delp indeed receive tenure on June 4, 1954 (see page 7), but he’d been on leave during the spring semester of that year as well (see page 1).
So it all boils down to this:
In October 1952, Richard Delp is warned that he has until the end of the 1953-54 academic year—by June 1954—to get his Ph.D., and he promises to ask his thesis adviser and others at Ohio State how he can do that.
Except for the year he took off from Miami to work full-time on his doctorate degree, Delp was mainly commuting to Ohio State during the summers to work on his Ph.D.
The only summer between October 1952 and June 1954 was the summer of 1953. But Delp didn’t register for graduate work at Ohio State that summer.
Also, he took time off from teaching during the spring of 1954, though we don’t know why. Perhaps he was writing his thesis, but, if so, he never defended it. He never registered for graduate work at Ohio State after summer 1951.
June 4, 1954, Richard Delp is approved for tenure by Miami’s Board of Trustees.
I may be wrong, but I think something happened between October 1952 (when Richard Delp was warned to get his Ph.D.) and June 1953 (when he should have been enrolled in graduate work at Ohio State) to make Richard Delp think that his position was safe with the Department of Psychology.
The other two documents I’m dropping tonight were written in August 1956, when Richard Delp was invited to sit on the Men’s Disciplinary Board, a board by which male students who veered outside the university’s rules were dealt with accordingly. Delp felt conflicted about sitting on the board, and he wrote to Kreger to explain why. Mainly, it was because Delp had been informally counseling students and he felt that assuming the two roles—informal counselor and disciplinary board member—would be problematic.
Dr. Kreger was not pleased. The next day, he wrote Delp, telling him that he wasn’t aware that Delp was acting in that role, and adding: “If you have assumed a personal counseling function which is taking a sufficient amount of your time to interfere with intellectual growth and scholarly productivity, I think we ought to know about it.” In a postscript, he reminded Delp that any extra time should be devoted to working on his Ph.D. instead. Kreger invited Delp in for a meeting, though I don’t know if it took place. I do know that Delp served as a member of the Men’s Disciplinary Board for academic year 1956-57 and possibly the following year as well.
My point is this: Clarence Kreger was definitely not a softie and the fact that Delp still didn’t have his Ph.D. in 1956 did not escape his notice. I just wish I knew what convinced Kreger and all the others to nominate Delp for tenure in 1954.
Again, I’m just putting the question out there. If you have thoughts/comments/questions, please feel free to DM me or write email@example.com. Have a great weekend, everyone.
During the brief period in which Miami University officials were actively looking into Ronald Tammen’s disappearance, Carl Knox had written three names on a legal pad. The first name was Prof. Dennison, which makes total sense. J. Belden Dennison was a revered professor of finance at Miami in addition to being an academic adviser to students in the Business School, Ron included. If I were Carl Knox, I, too, would have reached out to Dennison—“Denny” as his colleagues liked to call him. Denny would have let Knox know about how Ron had been falling behind in his coursework that year. He would have been a little perplexed when Knox informed him that Ron’s psychology book was left open on his desk the evening of his disappearance.
“Are you sure it was his psychology book, Carl?” Denny might have asked.
“Hmmm. That’s weird,” Denny would probably say. “Tammen had dropped his psychology course just recently. I know because I signed his withdrawal slip.”
The third name on the list was Prof. Switzer, instructor of said psychology course. We’ve gotten to know Doc Switzer quite well over the years on this blog site. In fact, if he knew how many column-inches I’d be dedicating to his, um, extracurricular activities, I’m guessing the super-secretive Switzer would be rolling over in his grave right about now. (Sorry, Doc, but you fascinate me.)
It’s the second name on the list that we’ll be focusing on today: Prof. Delp.
In 1952-53, Richard T. Delp was an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. He, St. Clair Switzer, and Ted Perin, another Miami psychology professor who’d studied under Clark Hull, shared office space in room 118 of old Harrison Hall. I’ve mentioned earlier on this blog site that the inclusion of Delp’s name in the #2 position of Knox’s list is especially curious since Ron wasn’t taking a course from him. Why would Carl Knox think that Richard Delp could provide useful information concerning Ron Tammen?
Richard Delp was the consummate teacher. He loved to learn and he loved to teach. In fact, his zeal for learning made it somewhat difficult to pin down his area of expertise. As an undergraduate at Miami, he majored in psychology and sociology for his bachelor of arts degree, and the next year, he earned a bachelor of science degree in biology and English. As for biology, he especially enjoyed the flora and fauna of Ohio, and he seemed to get a lot of joy out of his farm on Morning Sun Road, where he would host picnics and lead groups of students on nature hikes. He built a cabin there for use by the local Boy Scouts, an organization he was active in for decades. A year after graduating with his B.S. degree, Delp earned his master’s, also from Miami, in education.
Delp’s academic career at Miami began in 1945-46, when he was hired by the English Department. (He taught recognition and code at the Naval School on campus for several months during WWII, although info is conflicting regarding the precise timeframe. Also, it was war-related so we’re not counting it here.) In 1946-47, he moved to the Department of Psychology, where Dr. Patten, the chair, probably felt incredibly fortunate to have found him. Throughout the war, the department had been chugging along on fumes as several faculty members had left their professorial posts to serve in the armed forces, including Switzer. After the war was over, the student population nearly doubled the next academic year, from 2345 to 4559. Courses in general psychology were back in high demand, jumping from 9 sections in 1945-46 to 22 in 1946-47. The department needed qualified people to teach heavy course loads throughout each day. Although Switzer had returned to Oxford, he wouldn’t be teaching for several more years as he was helping counsel returning veterans about possible career options. Richard Delp would have been a lifesaver to help carry some of the burden.
But there were aspects to academia that Delp struggled with, one of the main hurdles being the pursuit of a doctorate degree.
Currently, anyone who aspires to teach at a university generally progresses straight through their educational training, from undergraduate degree to doctorate, oftentimes earning a master’s degree along the way. He or she then performs post-doctoral research somewhere until finally landing a position as an assistant professor, usually somewhere else. It’s a long and arduous process, but essential. Having a doctorate is pretty much a prerequisite to getting your foot inside the door as a faculty member at a university.
That’s only the beginning. You’ve heard of the phrase “publish or perish”? It’s definitely a thing. As soon as a person is hired as an assistant professor, they have several years in which to publish as many papers as they can, plus do anything else to stand out among their peers: acquire grants, serve on university committees, accrue some grad students, hobnob at professional meetings, deliver presentations, take part in media interviews—establish themselves as an expert. They also have to teach a bunch of classes, which includes grading a ton of papers. A cake walk it is not.
After several years, the promotion and tenure committee holds a high-def magnifying lens to that person’s accomplishments and decides if they deserve to be promoted to associate professor. If the answer is yes, they’re usually granted tenure—job security—at roughly the same time, generally after a probationary period. An answer of no is tantamount to being fired, and they need to begin a job search. Of course the process by which an associate professor is promoted to full professor requires more of the above, although they’ll still have a job if they should be turned down since they already have tenure.
Back in Delp’s day, there was a little more wiggle room. A person holding a master’s degree might be hired as an instructor or even an assistant professor. Such new hires would be expected to work toward a higher degree, and Delp certainly worked toward his. After Patten hired him in 1946-47 as an instructor, Delp began taking graduate classes at The Ohio State University that summer. He continued doing so during the summers of ’48 and ‘49, and in 1949-50, he attended graduate school full-time, residing in Columbus. His research thesis was on student ratings of college instructors. When he returned to Oxford in 1950, he was promoted to assistant professor in psychology, which was accompanied by a nice pay raise. In the summer of ’51, he was back to commuting to Ohio State to work on his research.
However, he didn’t finish his dissertation. With no dissertation, there’s no Ph.D. And with no Ph.D., well…he probably shouldn’t have been teaching the courses he was teaching. The 1950 faculty manual stipulated for assistant professors “whose major responsibility is the teaching of academic classes, the doctor’s degree or its equivalent from an accredited college or university shall be required.”
Can I just interject here that I feel for the guy? Spending nine months a year teaching hundreds of students and grading thousands of papers and then taking time off during the summer months to take graduate classes—which he excelled at—and conduct research sounds like a hard life with no let-up. By 1952, he didn’t do anything more toward his degree at Ohio State, according to his transcripts. Goodbye, Columbus.
On October 15, 1952, someone in a position of authority—I’m guessing it was Patten—had a sit-down with Delp to discuss his situation. The supervisor reminded Delp that his probationary period as an assistant professor was nearing an end and if he didn’t have his Ph.D. “by the end of 1953-54, the question of his retention might arise.” Delp vowed to discuss the matter with the folks at Ohio State and to work out a plan to “finish for his degree” by 1954. To soften the tone of his write-up, the supervisor added in the last paragraph that Delp was extremely busy with teaching and that “he seems to be happy with the work which he is doing with the Business students…,” though the supervisor doesn’t specify what work Delp was doing.
As we all know, the next semester, Ron Tammen, a sophomore business student at Miami, went missing, and Delp’s name as well as that of his office mate, St. Clair Switzer, who taught Tammen’s General Psychology course, were jotted down in Carl Knox’s notes.
The year 1954 came and went, and Delp still hadn’t made headway toward his doctoral degree. A review of his accomplishments for January 1, 1954–June 1, 1955 shows none of the activities expected of someone in his position. Other than joining several professional organizations—paying his dues, basically—his form is mostly left blank. (Inexplicably, activities for subsequent years were written into the space for the last question.)
You might think that it would have been the end of the line for him. With no Ph.D. and no publications or any other accomplishments to speak of other than teaching, you’d think that the year 1954 would have been his last in the psychology department. But you’d be mistaken.
In 1954, Richard Delp was granted “indefinite tenure” according to his administrative one-sheeter, though he remained an assistant professor. He also received sizable pay increases for that year and the succeeding year, which are difficult to explain based on his 1954-55 progress review form.
The 1950 faculty manual defined tenure as “a means to certain ends, specifically: (1) Freedom of teaching and research and of extra-mural activities, and (2) A sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability.”
Despite being granted tenure, Richard Delp resigned from his position in psychology in 1961, shortly before Switzer was named department chair. In her book “Eighty Year of Psychology at Miami,” Fern Patten said that it was for health reasons. Two years later, he would be hired by the School of Education, where he would receive accolades as an outstanding professor.
But my question is this: what happened between October 1952, when a supervisor was warning Delp about his precarious academic position, and academic year 1953-1954, when he received the first of two big pay increases, not to mention indefinite tenure, which was awarded in 1954?
I’m only asking the question, guys. There may be a perfectly good explanation.
Salary progression during time in the Psychology Department
I’ll be turning comments off for this one. I am continuing to seek documents that could help address my question. If you have thoughts on this topic or if you happen to have additional information, feel free to DM me on Facebook or Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Requests for anonymity will be honored.
As a postscript, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since we lost Marcia Tammen, who passed away on August 31, 2020. We miss her so much, and in her memory and honor, we will continue seeking evidence that may one day tell us what happened to her brother Ron.
In my recent Facebook post, I describe a newly released document that appears to be written to Griffith Wynne Williams, a hypnosis expert who’d studied under Clark Hull at the University of Wisconsin. Williams and St. Clair Switzer (Ronald Tammen’s psychology professor) would have known one another pretty well back in the day. They were graduate students under Hull at the same time, with Williams receiving his Ph.D. in 1929, the same year that Switzer earned his master’s degree. I’ve brought up Williams’ name before on this blogsite. I believe he’s the third person mentioned in our March 25, 1952, memo, along with Hull and Switzer.
In this newly discovered letter—dated December 6, 1956—the writer mentions the recipient’s workplace, Rutgers, a revelation that somehow escaped the CIA’s black pen. I know of exactly one hypnosis expert from Rutgers during that era. Griffith Wynne Williams.
December 6, 1956 letter
After reading more documents on The Black Vault from that general time period, not only am I even more convinced that the recipient was Williams, but I also believe that the letter writer was St. Clair Switzer. I also think that at the time that he was writing the letter, Switzer was on sabbatical and working with…
wait for it…
Louis Jolyon (Jolly) West.
Those are some bold assertions, I know, but I have evidence. Let’s do it this way: I’ll present two additional documents that I’ve found on The Black Vault website, one that was released in 2018 and the other that had been available on CD-ROM but that has gained new significance now that we know about the two letters. After each document, I’ll submit my arguments for why I’ve reached the above conclusions. Here we go.
February 8, 1957 letter
This letter is from the same person as before, and its recipient is also Griffith Williams. I’m 100 percent confident that it’s Williams because the letter writer refers to the recipient’s recent “attack of arthritis.” Williams had a long history with rheumatoid arthritis. Also, Williams was a respected hypnosis researcher who frequently demonstrated hypnotic phenomena before large audiences. In 1947, he hypnotized members of a theater troupe between the first and second acts to see if it might improve their acting ability, a stunt that brought him national attention. The topics of discussion in both letters were right up Williams’ alley.
Because this letter is tougher to read, I’m including the verbiage here:
8 February 1957
We were delighted to receive your most interesting letter of 22 January 1957. Sorry to hear of the attack of arthritis and we hope that it is better now. [BLANK] and I have gone over your material and suggestions and find them very useful.
The problem of the use of hypnosis by a public speaker or some related technique which could be used by an individual to control or influence a crowd is of considerable importance and as you have noted there is very little information along these lines anywhere. This area is particularly interesting to [BLANK]. He told me that he will obtain [BLANK’S] book immediately.
Your comments concerning the possibility of making the subjects do something against their ethics or religious convictions were also extremely interesting. Unfortunately, these single tests, without proper conditioning or properly building a background are not too valid. In general, your examples cover most of the experience in the field. However, the next time we see you we will tell you of some unusual work and results with which we are familiar. I found your reaction to the carotid artery technique interests me. Some people insist the technique is very dangerous and your reactions convinced me that this area could stand a great deal of work. I have not tried the technique myself but have been present when it has been done. There is some debate as to whether or not this is true hypnosis or a coma-like condition produced as a result of pressure on the artery. I’ll have to start looking for volunteers.
The rest of your suggestions and ideas are very worthwhile. As I said before I hope to discuss them with you in the near future at some greater length.
[BLANK] and I know that you are very busy what with teaching and the special work you do for the [BLANK]. We were, however, very impressed with you [sic] honesty in this field and the fact that you were willing to spend some of your valuable time with us. Sometime in the near future we will get in touch with you and try to arrange it so that our visit will not interfere with any school work or other work you may be doing. I am very much in favor of informal discussions in this [field?] at some quiet spot and perhaps we can arrange it so that you could come to the local hotel and have dinner with us and talk later.
While I know it is unnecessary for me to again caution you concerning the highly sensitive nature of this material, I will ask you to destroy this letter when you have read it.
With kindest personal regards.
Why I think St. Clair Switzer wrote the 1956 and 1957 letters
My dear BLANK
The opening to the 1956 letter, “My dear BLANK,” is pure Clark Hull. I have dozens of Hull’s letters to both Switzer and Everett Patten, Miami’s longtime department chair in psychology, and nearly every single one of them opens with that phrase. It’s cute and endearing. I think Switzer seemed to like it too. He would use it from time to time, depending on the stature of the recipient and his relationship with them. He used it in a letter to Miami University President Upham in 1936. Because he was writing to a fellow Hull student, he probably thought it would be a nice reminder of their former mentor, who’d passed away in 1952.
His use of telltale vocabulary words
In the 1956 letter, after the list of topics, the letter writer says “We grant that the above list is long and that any item individually could well deserve a Ph.D. thesis…”. In my experience, these are the words of someone who holds a doctoral degree. The general public frequently calls the product of someone’s doctoral research a dissertation. But among doctoral degree holders, they’ll frequently refer to their dissertation as a Ph.D. thesis. These are the words of someone in academia.
A telltale vocabulary word in the February 1957 letter is the reference to “conditioning” when talking about a subject being made to do something against his or her ethics or religious convictions. Clark Hull was a behaviorist who felt that all human behavior could be defined through conditioned responses. Conditioning was part of Switzer’s academic upbringing, probably Williams’ too. Switzer’s first scientific paper was titled “Backward Conditioning of the Lid Reflex.” The czar of conditioning himself—Pavlov!—had requested a reprint of Switzer’s paper back in 1932, which was a major coup. Clark Hull’s (endearing) response was “I think that if Pavlov should ask for anything that I had done I should have some kind of seizure – I don’t know just what!”
The insecure tone
Switzer’s words are gracious and deferential, but also self-important, which isn’t an easy vibe to pull off. He would be obsequious to those he viewed as “better” or more knowledgeable than he was about a particular subject area or if he needed something, both of which I think applied to Williams.
As for his self-importance—his repeated cautionary words, his bragging about being privy to insider info—I view Switzer as an insecure academic. He published very little after he returned to Oxford from WWII and he didn’t maintain strong relationships with his academic peers outside of Oxford. Therefore, he seemed to bolster his self-esteem through his association with the military.
He was writing to an old associate from his glory days with Hull
Switzer wasn’t good at making friends with colleagues. He didn’t attend professional meetings. He didn’t go to departmental picnics. He rubbed people the wrong way, especially as he got older. Because he published very little, he probably wasn’t keeping up with the scientific literature either. So, here he is, ostensibly working on a “highly classified” hypnosis project with someone big, and they have some questions about what’s currently happening in the field. Who does this letter writer contact? A person Switzer used to know in grad school.
He was approved for a sabbatical for the 1956-57 academic year
In his 1957 letter to Williams, the letter writer talks about how busy Williams must be with teaching, which made me wonder: why isn’t this person also busy with teaching? He’s an academic too. As it so happens, Switzer had been approved for a sabbatical that year. Originally, he was planning to go to UCLA to work in the laboratory of Marion A. (Gus) Wenger. (Uncle Gus! Nah…no relation.) However, that fell through at the last minute when Gus decided to go to India to study yogis.
So what’s a guy to do? Say “oh well” and go back to his regular teaching schedule at Miami? Hardly. That sabbatical had been approved two years earlier by President Millett and if Switzer could get out of a year of teaching, he surely would. I’m certain his friends in the Air Force helped him find a replacement gig, which leads us to the third document.
A proposal for “Studies in the Military Application of Hypnotism: 1. The Hypnotic Messenger”
As I said before, even though this document was included on the original CD-ROM I’d received from the CIA, it takes on new relevance when juxtaposed with the two letters that weren’t available until 2018.
First, note that it was written just two days before the February 1957 letter. Second, the timeframe is rather, um, ambitious, shall we say? The proposal writer calls the development of a hypnotic messenger “uncomplicated” and claims that he and his associate should be able to complete their project by the end of the summer. That’s a special kind of arrogance. Third, there’s no meat to this proposal. People who oversee federal grants might be inclined to call this a “trust me” proposal, something that a researcher—particularly one who is well known in his or her field—might send to a funding source before the details have all been fleshed out. (Thankfully, funders of today can spot a “trust me” proposal a mile away, and they’ll send it back unfunded.) But this proposal writer appears to be saying: “Hey, you guys, it’s me here. You know I can do the work. Heck, I have a couple other projects waiting in the wings that are MUCH harder. Can I expect the ten grand in the mail ASAP?” (In today’s money, that’s a little over $97,000.)
Why I think Jolly West was the proposal writer and St. Clair Switzer was his associate
Both West and Switzer are military officers in academia who have expertise in hypnosis. I don’t believe there would have been a large number of people meeting these qualifications back then.
The proposal writer seems to be a big deal. His cover letter is relatively informal, as if he’s on a first-name basis with the recipient. His tone isn’t the least bit deferential. They appear to have an “ask and you shall receive” sort of relationship.
The proposal writer’s cover letter also mentions a man he is fortunate to have with him “this year” who is “thoroughly familiar with hypnotism at the theoretical level.” That sounds a lot like St. Clair Switzer to me. The reference to his knowledge of hypnosis theory could certainly be attributed to his experimental work for Clark Hull’s 1933 book, Hypnosis and Suggestibility: An Experimental Approach.
On the last page, the proposal writer makes the point that both the principal investigator and his associate are academics and the work needs to be completed by summer. Guess when Switzer’s sabbatical likely ends?
West was well known to the CIA at that point. He’d communicated with Sidney Gottlieb, who headed the CIA’s MKULTRA program, about hypnosis research since at least 1953. He had other projects going on too—including his USAF study of interrogation tactics used on POWs during the Korean War and his MKULTRA Research, Subproject 43, “Psychophysiological Studies of Hypnosis and Suggestibility.”
The proposal states that volunteers would be recruited from military personnel as opposed to college students. West, who’d concluded his detail at Lackland Air Force Base, near San Antonio, in June 1956 and was now at the University of Oklahoma, had easy access to both demographic groups.
In March 1957 West had been given a SECRET security clearance for his POW interrogation research and, according to author Colin A. West, he held a TOP SECRET clearance for his work on Subproject 43. This could certainly explain why the letter writer referred to the information as “highly classified” and insisted that the letters be destroyed after they’d been read.
Since 2019, this blog has been waiting for confirmation on two CIA documents to help prove our theory: a March 25, 1952, memo that I believe recommends St. Clair Switzer and Griffith W. Williams as consultants in their hypnosis studies, and a January 14, 1953, memo that I believe recommends Major Louis J. West and the Lt. Colonel Switzer to lead a “well-balanced interrogation research center” for Project ARTICHOKE. Judging by the contents of these three documents, I don’t think our waiting is going to be in vain.
MANY THANKS to TheBlackVault.com for doing the hard work and pursuing the documents that had been missing from the CIA’s earlier release!
You know what’s really hard? Trying to figure out the precise way in which something happened nearly 70 years ago is really hard. I mean, you find a couple memos that are riddled with black blotches, you hear a few tales from way back when, you stumble upon several additional details that seem apropos of the situation, and all of the sudden, you think you know how everything went down. But do you know what else can happen? Nuances can happen—like the Sliding Doors phenomenon, where things play out wildly differently depending on whether Gwyneth Paltrow makes the subway or just misses it, or when a butterfly in Zimbabwe flaps its wings and causes a hurricane in south Texas…those sorts of unpredictables.
The question we’ll be delving into today is what’s the most likely way in which St. Clair Switzer, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves and Ron Tammen’s psychology professor, wound up dabbling in Project Artichoke?
Here’s the sequence of events as I initially pictured them:
On Tuesday, February 12, 1952, Morse Allen, a career CIA guy, went bounding off to his job in the Office of Security. He was super stoked about what he’d been tasked to do, which was to handle all the day-to-day operations in pursuit of controlling the minds of the nation’s and world’s citizenry—or at least certain unlucky members thereof.
On that particular morning, between 10:20 and 11:45 to be exact, he was on the receiving end of an earful from one Commander Robert J. (R.J.) Williams. Williams was in the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence and he was the project coordinator for Artichoke. He was also frustrated with how things were progressing. At the top of Williams’ wish list was a cadre of scientists with whom to consult who had expertise in the latest and greatest of a wide range of possible Artichoke techniques. Meanwhile, Allen and the crowd he ran with had been tinkering with only two of them: hypnosis and truth drugs.
On March 25, in response to R.J.’s concerns, Allen typed up a memo describing a conversation he’d recently had with one of the foremost experts in hypnosis. This was no stage act hypnotist, mind you. He’d spoken with the big kahuna himself—Clark Hull, a renowned psychologist and academician who’d written the seminal book on hypnosis, Hypnosis and Suggestibility: An Experimental Approach. Alas, Hull was old (he was only 68, but they wore their ages differently back then) and sickly (he died a little over six weeks later). What’s more, he had absolutely zero interest in hypnosis after he’d published his book.
My guess is that it was during this conversation or maybe in a follow-up, after he’d given it some thought, that Hull had passed along to Allen the names of two of his top protégées as possible resources for the CIA’s hypnosis studies. In his third and fourth paragraphs, Allen tells R.J. about the two promising experts, who were by then psychology professors in their own right. Although their names have been redacted, they were St. Clair Switzer (I’m 100% positive), at Miami University, and Griffith Wynne Williams (I’m pretty sure), at Rutgers. Switzer’s added bonus was that he’d been a pharmacist before he studied psychology, which means that he also happened to know a lot about drugs.
What happened next was where I relied on logic and intuition. I figured that Switzer was probably contacted by someone with the CIA, because, by fall, he appeared to be embarking on some sort of hypnosis study or studies on Miami’s campus. There were students being recruited on the front lawn of Fisher Hall that September for a hypnosis project coordinated by the psychology department. Three Ohio youths had wandered off with amnesia around that time and then, happily, returned. One psychology student was told by the department chair that Ron Tammen had a proneness to dissociation. Things were happening in Oxford that appeared to be relevant.
Nevertheless, the evidence was admittedly thin and some pieces didn’t quite fit. For example, I’ve often wondered what research questions concerning hypnosis Dr. Switzer was pursuing at that time. His name has never been linked with CIA-sponsored research, such as the MKULTRA subprojects, which came later, beginning in April 1953. What could the CIA have been asking of him beginning in the spring of 1952?
As it happens, I no longer think that Dr. Switzer received a call from the CIA in March 1952. In my revised screenplay, there was no “Allen Dulles is on line two” defining moment.
I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t we still talking about Project Artichoke? If not the CIA, then who?
Me: You guys, I think Dr. Switzer was approached by someone with the RDB.
Me:. You know, the RDB? Short for the Research and Development Board?
You make an excellent point. The name is so nothing. So benign. So deadly dull. But that’s deceptive. The RDB was the research arm of the Department of Defense (DoD), created through the National Security Act of 1947 to coordinate the military’s research endeavors. On the DoD’s 1952 organizational chart, the RDB was on the same level as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both of which answered directly to the Secretary of Defense, who happened to be Robert A. Lovett.
In order to make its important research and development decisions, the RDB would oversee expert committees and panels, which, in the spring of 1950, involved some 1500 people, mostly volunteers. (The volunteers would have been experts who were already paid a salary by their military or civilian employers, and it would have been considered an honor to serve.) By the mid-1950s, the RDB’s permanent full-time staff totaled 315. To spell it out as simply as possible, OMG, the RDB was a BFD.
At the top of the RDB sat seven people: a civilian chairperson, who in 1952 was Walter G. Whitman, head of MIT’s chemical engineering department. The other six posts were held by members of the military’s three branches: Army, Navy, and Air Force. In 1948, the two Air Force representatives were Joseph T. McNarney, commanding general of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and L.C. Craigie, director of the Research and Development Office, who relocated to Wright Patterson AFB in September as commandant of the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology. Hence, both of the Air Force reps were with Wright Patt that year.
In 1949, Karl Compton, another MIT dignitary, chaired the RDB. The Air Force was represented by McNarney again, as well as Donald L. Putt, then stationed in Washington, DC, as deputy chief of staff for materiel, which is military-speak for supplies, equipment, and weapons—everything the military buys. Putt was from Sugarcreek, OH, also called “Little Switzerland of Ohio,” which is home to the “World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock.”
Putt was also a longtime friend of Wright Patterson AFB. He started at Wright Field as a test pilot, then as a student at the Air Corps Engineering School, and following WWII, he headed intelligence for the Air Technical Service Command and later, the Engineering Division. In 1952, the two Air Force representatives were Roswell Gilpatric, the undersecretary of the Air Force, and Putt, who was working concurrently as a vice commander of the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in Baltimore as well as commander of the Wright Air Development Center (WADC), at, you guessed it, Wright Patt.
So Wright Patterson was well known among the bigwigs of the RDB. But that makes perfect sense since Wright Patterson was at the center of research and development for the Air Force. R&D was Wright Patt’s jam.
But let’s get back to R.J. Williams, coordinator of Project Artichoke. A couple weeks before he and Morse Allen had their tête-á-tête, a memo dated January 28, 1952, had been drafted by the OSI for the signature of Allen Dulles, who was deputy director of central intelligence at that time. The memo was written to the secretary of defense asking for help with Project Artichoke. The OSI was seeking the assistance of the RDB, and suggested one of its ongoing committees, the Committee on Medical Sciences, to tackle an overriding problem. The problem was defined as: “Whether or not, and to what extent, any agent or procedure can be used to cause an individual to become subservient to an imposed control; and subsequently that individual be unaware of the event.” They were especially interested in discovering the feasibility of such methods because it was rumored that the Soviets were already using such tactics in their interrogations.
I don’t know if the January 28 memo was ever sent. However, on March 7, another memo was drafted, this one asking the director of central intelligence (Walter Bedell Smith) to seek technical assistance directly from the chairman of the RDB (Walter G. Whitman) regarding the “problem.”
At a meeting on March 12, Whitman told a small group of individuals (whose names are all redacted) that the RDB “will be pleased to undertake the study as requested and feel that it is something they should be doing.” However, he also said that he’d rather not put his acceptance in writing “if this conference could be considered as confirming his acceptance of the responsibility.” Whitman also said that he’d rather not use his Medical Sciences committee for such a task, but would prefer to assign the problem to an ad hoc committee.
On March 25, Allen wrote his memo to R.J. offering up the names of St. Clair Switzer (for sure) and Griffith Wynne Williams (maybe). Of special note is this partial sentence: “…his two principal research assistants are still active in psychology and would prove particularly valuable as consultants on a research project on hypnotism.”
I’ve probably read that memo a thousand times, and for 999 of those times, I was thinking much more broadly about the “research project on hypnotism.” I thought he was speaking about Project Artichoke in general, like: “Hey, if you want an expert on hypnosis to consult at some point, here are a couple good prospects.” Now, based on the events leading up to this memo, I think that Allen was suggesting the names of St. Clair Switzer and Griffith Williams for the RDB’s study.
A month later—April 26, 1952—R.J. wrote a 9-page memo to his boss, the assistant director of Scientific Intelligence, bringing him up to speed on Artichoke. Under the subhead “New items uncovered,” he discussed the RDB study, which the OSI would be monitoring:
“As an alternate measure to provide the best possible professional advice for the project, the Research and Development Board, at the request of the DCI, has undertaken a study of the technical feasibility of Artichoke-type techniques. Although the Study is designed ostensibly to provide CIA with a better basis for evaluating Soviet capabilities in this field, it can be useful in evaluating and guiding our own program. The committee members have been selected, and, subject to their availability and clearance, should be working on the subject in the near future.”
In May, the same memo was repurposed with the subject head “Special Interrogations,” and sent up the chain from the assistant director of OSI to Allen Dulles. Everyone was reassuring their bosses that things are being done in this area.
To be sure, there was a lot riding on the RDB’s shoulders. Until the technical feasibility study was completed, the CIA wouldn’t be able to do much else toward Project Artichoke.
On June 4, a memo was written by someone affiliated with the military. (The 1100 and 1200 hours were the giveaways.) They wanted to expedite the “setting up of the special committee to study Special Interrogation techniques.” Because the special committee wouldn’t be able to start meeting until August, they agreed to set up an “executive group” from the ad hoc committee as well as perhaps another group. (Unfortunately, the names are blacked out, though I’m certain the ad hoc committee is one of the groups.) “This group could do the spadework and actually represent an action group in being, pending the arrival of [the ad hoc committee] in August, the memo’s author wrote.
Are you interested in knowing who served on the RDB ad hoc study group? Me too. Here you go.
Yeah…fun times. In August 2016, I submitted a FOIA request to the CIA asking them to lift the redactions on the list of names of their study group. (I mean…come on, right?) On April 10, 2019, their FOIA office wrote me back and said “Please be advised that we conducted a thorough and diligent search in an effort to locate a full-text version of the document but unfortunately were unsuccessful.”
In short: we have the blacked-out version, but we can’t find the version with the words on it.
Here’s what I wrote in my appeal:
“The classification and declassification of national security information is a highly regulated process, most currently outlined by Executive Order 13526. It is my understanding that MKULTRA documents that hadn’t been destroyed in 1973 underwent a declassification review and those documents were released digitally, in CD-ROM form, in 2004. It is also my understanding that the redactions are put in place during this declassification review. I find it inconceivable that a government employee charged with the critical responsibility of declassifying national security documents would be so sloppy and abusive in his or her handling of this information as to somehow misplace or destroy the original document, particularly given the CIA’s already embarrassing history with mishandling documents pertaining to MKULTRA. I also feel it necessary to remind you of the following statement, provided by Senator Edward Kennedy during the Joint Hearing before the Select Committee on Intelligence on MKULTRA in August 1977:
The intelligence community of this Nation, which requires a shroud of secrecy in order to operate, has a very sacred trust from the American people. The CIA’s program of human experimentation of the fifties and sixties violated that trust. It was violated again on the day the bulk of the agency’s records were destroyed in 1973. It is violated each time a responsible official refuses to recollect the details of the program. The best safeguard against abuses in the future is a complete public accounting of the abuses of the past. [bold formatting added]”
Because we’re now nearing the two-year mark since they thanked me for my appeal and told me they’d get back to me, I gave them a call to see how things were going. (Of course I’m taking Covid into account, but two years is a long time, and I felt it was worth a check-in.) The person who answered took down my reference number, put me on hold for several minutes, and then returned to say, and I quote directly, “your case is still being worked on.” I’m pretty sure they’re waiting for me to die.
The ad hoc committee met four times in 1952—August 15, October 1, November 11, and December 9. They released their report on January 15, 1953, one day after the memo was written on “Interrogation Techniques,” the one in which I believe that Switzer and Louis Jolyon West are mentioned in paragraph 3 in setting up a “well-balanced interrogation research center.” The ad hoc produced a typical “more research needed” report, signed off by the people who conduct the research, thus ensuring job security for all concerned.
But there was another report produced by one of the RDB’s foot soldiers—on September 5, 1952—and one for which we only have a cover page, preface, and a table of contents. This report—referred to as the [BLANK] report—appears to have been passed around so much that they ran out of copies. It also had a bibliography, which the ad hoc committee report appears to lack. As the chief of the CIA’s technical branch wrote to the chief of their psychiatric division in May 1953: “We have just received this back after loaning it out sometime ago and since I promised to loan it to you, I am sending it with the understanding that, after you and your associates have finished reading it, you will return it to me since at the present time it is the only copy we have for our files.”
The report was produced with resources supplied by the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB), which was an elite group that reported to the National Security Council on topics pertaining to psychological operations. The same cast of characters in the upper echelons of the CIA and the Defense Department attended the PSB meetings along with the undersecretary of state.
Here’s the report’s preface:
Here’s the TOC:
You guys? I think St. Clair Switzer wrote this report. Why do I think so?
Based on Allen’s letter to R.J., I believe that Switzer was invited to sit on the ad hoc committee. In addition, two members of the committee were asked to start the ball rolling early as part of the “executive group,” as mentioned in the June 4 military memo.
The person who produced the PSB report appears to be addressing the very question the RDB was asking, so it pertains to the ad hoc committee’s charge.
The preface reeks of Switzer, who had the habit of brown-nosing his superiors while acting too busy to be bothered by everyone else. (Adorable.) He also minored in English, so he fancied himself a writer. The line “It has been possible to cover these large areas solely because of the great amount of valuable assistance, cheerfully given” sounds so much like the smarmy letters he wrote to President Upham and others who could help him climb the ladder. I doubt the national security adviser, the secretary of defense, and the CIA director cared one iota about how cheerfully assistance was given.
In his TOC, he leads with hypnosis. He follows with drugs. Those were his two favorite topics.
The author refers to himself as a consultant, which is how Allen described Switzer’s possible role in his March 25 memo to R.J.
The name that’s blacked out looks to be of the same length as Switzer.
Do I know why the report was produced by or for the PSB instead of the RDB? I don’t. But let’s look at it this way: the PSB was an interagency board that was above the RDB in rank, since it was established by President Truman. Also, one of the chief architects of the PSB was Sidney Souers, the first director of central intelligence, and a 1914 Miami graduate. Sidney was still an adviser to President Truman in 1952, and, though he didn’t sit on the PSB, it was his baby, so he kept close watch over it. Had he stepped in for some reason to assist?
This much we know: St. Clair Switzer’s name was advanced at a time when the CIA was seeking technical assistance from the RDB. R.J., eager to show progress, could have called RDB chair Walter G. Whitman straight away, saying that he had a couple nominees for their ad hoc committee. Whitman would have shared those names with his board members, at least one of whom would be very familiar with Switzer’s credentials.
Would Switzer have been eager to be involved? I have no doubt. Will I be asking the CIA to lift the redaction from the name at the bottom of the preface? Oh, you better believe it.
The floor is now open.
ADDENDUM:Supporting evidence that the author of the September 5, 1952, report was St. Clair Switzer
So sorry! That was rude of me to ask you to just trust me when I told you about how smarmy Switzer’s letters were to his superiors. I am now posting several letters that were either typed or handwritten by Doc Switzer to Alfred Upham, president of Miami University, or A.K. Morris, vice president of Miami. I include the letters in their entirety. If you have any questions about the who’s, where’s and why’s, feel free to ask. Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy the smarm.
I’m including Switzer’s letters to V.P. Morris because they also show how high up in the military he was during WWII. He had an office at the Pentagon and was in charge of placing servicemen at the end of the war. I think he enjoyed bragging to Morris about how truly important he was, as if to say “You’ll get me when the Air Forces say you’ll get me.”
And now, with a huge thank you to astute reader and commenter Stevie J, I attach some additional typing that was performed by Doc Switzer on his Miami U typewriter in 1951, one year before he would have produced the 9-5-52 report for the RDB (if it was Switzer, of course). Switzer filled out this application for a post at the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in Baltimore, for which he served from August to December 1951.
Among other anomalies, Stevie J has pointed out that, in the Preface of the report, “every lower case y is way left of center. Every single time.”
O.M.G.–the wayward ‘y’ that hugs its preceding letter. Do you see it? I’m freaking out. Freaking out on a Friday night. Pay special attention to the section at the bottom, under “Present Position,” especially the word Psychology.
What do you think? Is this the author of the 9-5-52 RDB report?
A commenter recently asked about Joe Cella’s 1976 revelation that, on the Friday night before Tammen disappeared, he’d stopped by the home of Glenn Dennison to pay his car insurance. She was wondering why Ron would show up at his insurance agent’s house on a Friday night to pay his premium. Who does that, right?
It’s a really good question. There were other aspects to that visit that were curious too—aspects that I haven’t discussed with you yet. So let’s talk about them now.
According to Cella’s April 18, 1976, Hamilton Journal News article, “Mrs. Dennison, who had never reported the visit to authorities, recalled Tammen came to their home Friday, April 17, 1953, about 8 p.m. to pay his car insurance premium.” Cella verified that the payment—totaling $17.45—had been made on that date through old records produced by Mrs. Dennison, who assisted her husband with his insurance business.
Dennison’s house, located on Contreras Road, is out beyond where the Taco Bell and LaRosa’s Pizza is now, and a couple miles from where Fisher Hall once stood. Also, Dennison’s business was out of his home, so it wasn’t all that weird that Tammen would show up at the house. A 1960 ad in the phone book lists his business address at Contreras Road, though it doesn’t include the house number.
What was weird was the time—8 p.m. on a Friday. Don’t most college students generally have more fun places to be on Friday nights? Why did Ron think it was so important to pay his premium then, when it wasn’t even due until April 24? He was a week early.
Here are the two things I haven’t shared with you about that visit and perhaps why Tammen might have ended up at the Dennison home at that time:
Everett Patten, the chair of Miami’s psychology department, lived on Contreras Road too. In the 1952-53 Miami Directory, his address is listed as R.R. 1, short for Rural Route 1, which tells us nothing about where he actually lived. In 1956, the Oxford telephone book listed Patten at R.D. 1, which I believe means Rural Delivery 1, and again, tells us nothing about his location. Thankfully, the 1958 Oxford phone book specified an actual house number. (By the way, if you’re thinking that he moved, I don’t think so. That was the same year in which St. Clair Switzer’s house was given a number, from his former designation of R.D. 2.)
So Everett Patten lived on the 6400 block of Contreras Road and Glenn Dennison lived and worked on the 6100 block of Contreras Road—less than a mile apart. It’s actually .4 miles.
Let’s imagine that Ron is at Dr. Patten’s house that night for some reason. We’ve already established that Patten seemed to know a lot about Ron—like Ron having dissociation in his background, for example—and we also know that the psychology department was hypnotizing students at that time. It would make a lot of sense for them to conduct their hypnosis sessions off campus, to avoid drawing attention. If Ron’s at Patten’s home on a Friday night for a hypnosis session, wouldn’t it make sense for him to stop off at Glenn Dennison’s house to pay his car insurance as long as he’s in the neighborhood? Whether coming or going, it would have been on the way.
The second thing I need to tell you is that the Campus Owls had a gig that night. According to the newspaper the Palladium Item of Richmond, IN, the Campus Owls played that Friday night from 8 to 11:30 p.m. at Short High School in Liberty, IN, which is about a 20-minute drive from Oxford.
In Cella’s article, Mrs. Dennison says, “He stayed about a half hour, talking about the Campus Owls in which he played and talked about other things.”
Of course, the times may be a little off, since Mrs. Dennison was recalling events from 23 years prior, however it still seems strange to me that Tammen would be so chatty on a night he was supposed to be in Indiana—at 8 p.m. My guess is that he didn’t go at all. And why would Ron, a guy who was forever looking for ways to earn money, choose not to go to a gig to make some additional cash?
Maybe he had something else to do that would also bring in money—something that would soon take precedence over everything else.
[NOTE: Be sure you read the comments. Stevie J raises a point about Indiana time zones that makes the Owls gig much more doable. However, a member of the Campus Owls has also provided some background intel that, in my view, makes it unlikely that Ron was going to a gig. I know we’re always being cautioned not to read the comments on other websites, but on this site, thanks to the savviness of you readers, I highly encourage it.] 🙂
Happy Halloween, everyone! October 31st has always held special significance in Tammen world—the whole phantom ghost schtick. Although the holiday has nothing to do with the Ron Tammen story, people do tend to think about him during this time of year and, like clockwork, I’ve been noticing an uptick in visits to the blogsite. So let’s take advantage of the fact that we’re all here together once again and have ourselves a little catch-up, shall we?
Research-wise, things are still moving forward, however, most of the balls happen to be in other people’s courts at the moment. For this reason, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have breaking news to share with you regarding hypnosis, mind control, psych professors, a university cover-up, and all the other topics we’ve come to enjoy pondering on this page. Don’t worry—we’ll get there. We will. Just not today.
What I will be sharing with you has to do with a topic that’s super apropos for the holiday—cemeteries! Specifically, we’ll be discussing the permanent resting place of several of the people who have something to do with Ronald Tammen. Some of the people you know well, some you sort of know, and several will be brand new to you. And the coolest part is that they’re all lying a mere stone’s throw from one another.
So, yeah…cemeteries, y’all. Do you love them as much as I do? The tranquility of nature commingling with the people who preceded us; the copious ways in which the dead choose to express their individuality, from dark and scary mausoleums to looming obelisks to blocks of granite, etched with butterflies and angels; the stark reminder that we’re here for but a brief blip in time and that we should probably make the most of it. As a wannabe author, one reason I love cemeteries so much is that the people who occupy them are so…dependable. You can go to a cemetery, rain or shine, and know that a certain person will always be there, no matter how important they were here on earth. No appointment necessary. Walk-ins accepted. They won’t stand you up, and ironically enough, they won’t ghost you.
The cemetery we’ll be discussing is Oxford Cemetery, a hilly little respite off Route 27 (Oxford Millville Road), just south of Peffer Park and Miami’s Western Campus. If you’re driving to Hamilton from Oxford, it’ll be on the righthand side. If you’re driving in the opposite direction, it’ll be on the left.
Here are some of the people you’ll find buried there. (You can click on the names to see a portion of their interment cards.)
You probably know this guy best. Dr. Patten was chair of the psychology department at Miami from 1932 to 1961. In the early days, he was St. Clair Switzer’s mentor, and very likely was the person who encouraged Switzer to pursue graduate study under Clark Hull, the famed behavioral psychologist and hypnosis expert. In 1961, Dr. Patten turned over the chairmanship to Switzer. He retired in June 1965 and, sadly, died one year later. Dr. Patten was one of the three hypnosis experts at Miami when Ron was a student.
Gilson Wright was the journalism professor at Miami who also worked as an on-call correspondent (stringer) for several area newspapers, including the Hamilton Journal-News,Dayton Daily News, and Cincinnati Enquirer. Wright also was an adviser for the Miami Student.I’ve already written quite a bit about Wright, so I won’t drone on here. Most importantly, it’s my belief that Wright was helping the university cover up certain aspects of the Tammen case, particularly that Tammen’s psychology book was open on his desk when he disappeared.
We haven’t talked about Robert Howard yet. According to a news article announcing Gilson Wright’s retirement (which was written by Howard), Robert Howard began heading up Miami’s news bureau in 1956 after Wright turned over those reins, while continuing with his journalist/advising/stringing duties. (This detail doesn’t quite jive with what it says on Howard’s tombstone, but hey, if a person can’t embellish his credentials a little on his tombstone, when can he do it?)
One of the more interesting anecdotes I have on Robert Howard is that, in 1973, when Joe Cella (Hamilton Journal-News) wrote the article that introduced the name of Dr. Garret J. Boone to our Ronald Tammen lexicon, we were told that university officials didn’t welcome Boone’s information warmly. In fact, he was given the brush-off, he told Cella.
Here’s the rest of that story: In the University Archives, a short message written on “Miami University, Office of Public Information” notepaper is stuck to the back of Cella’s article. Scrawled in pencil, the note reads: “Paul — Who’s left for him to scold but thee & me?” and it’s signed “Howard.” There’s no telling who Paul was—I checked the 1972 and 1973 M Books, and no relevant administrators went by Paul, be it a first or last name. Maybe he was an assistant in the news office. But I have a very strong hunch that the snarky comment was written by the guy who’s buried here, Robert T. Howard.
Did you know that Ronald Tammen had a relative who was an emeritus professor at Miami when he disappeared? True! Tammen’s favorite uncle, John McCann (Mrs. Tammen’s brother), married a woman named Eleanora Handschin, and her parents were Charles and Helena. Charles Handschin was a highly respected German professor at Miami. He also had been chair of the Department of Romance Languages for 39 years. The Handschins’ home was just around the corner from the Delt house, and Ron used to visit them from time to time. I’m not sure why this fact was never reported in the news—till today!—but perhaps the university wanted to spare them the publicity.
(A few more interesting facts about John McCann: he was a Miami graduate who later became a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. John A. McCann is buried in Arlington Cemetery and there’s even a Miami scholarship in his name.)
Karl Limper was an esteemed professor of geology at Miami beginning in 1946 until his retirement in 1981. How does a geology professor factor into the Tammen story? Dr. Limper served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1959 to 1971, and he was the person who interviewed Ted Perin as part of Miami’s oral history project. As you may recall, Dr. Perin was a psychology professor at Miami as well as a former doctoral student of Clark Hull’s and he had some interesting things to say about St. Clair Switzer. One of his best stories was how Doc Switzer, as a retiring department chair, packed up his office and left without saying goodbye to anyone, even though he’d been there for over three decades. Also worth noting was that, when Dr. Perin raised the subject of hypnosis, Dr. Limper would change the topic as quickly as possible. Whether that was on purpose or coincidental, I can’t say for sure. What I can say was that it happened at least twice, and, at least to me, it felt forced.
Another new name for you is Willis Wertz. Wertz was an architecture professor at Miami when Ron disappeared. Actually, he was one of the first two students to graduate from Miami’s architecture school, and in 1973, the year he retired, they named the art and architecture library after him. It still is.
So how would Willis Wertz have come into contact with Ron? Ron’s brother Richard was the architecture student in the family. Ron was business. Surprisingly, Professor Wertz is mentioned in Dean Carl Knox’s notes as having signed a bank note for Ron along with Glen Yankee, a former accounting professor. This seems…weird. What professor agrees to sign a bank note for a student, potentially making themselves liable for the repayment of said bank note if said student should, oh, I don’t know, disappear? I mean, I don’t care how much of a go-getter you are, can you imagine walking up to a professor and asking him or her to cosign a loan? Ballsy move, Ron!
Thankfully, a faculty memorial written about Professor Wertz explains a lot. First, he was a member of Delta Tau Delta as a Miami student, so maybe he felt a connection with Ron in that regard. One of Ron’s fraternity brothers had this to say about him: “Willis Wertz was our fraternity advisor. I’m not surprised that they co-signed a note with Ron. [Ron] was so smart and likeable.”
And here are the giveaway sentences in the memorial:
Retirement did not diminish his interest in students, past and present. His concern for them could not be terminated by his retirement. He was a friend, adviser, teacher, and, at times, banker to almost forty years of architectural students at Miami.
If Professor Wertz was in the habit of lending money to students, I’m sure Richard found out and he told Ron. I don’t know about Glen Yankee’s side of the story, however. That bank note is one riddle within this mystery that I’d love to learn more about.
Who among us doesn’t love the story of Mrs. Clara Spivey, the woman from Seven Mile who contacted authorities in June 1953 saying that a young man who appeared on her porch on April 19 answered Tammen’s description. Oxford police chief Oscar Decker embraced her story and said it supported the amnesia theory. Others, including Ron’s brother Richard, weren’t so sure. They said there were discrepancies in her story.
In 1976, Joe Cella wrote an article with accompanying photos that retold old details and divulged new ones. Although Clara had passed away by then, her daughter, Barbara Jewell, is quoted in the article. Barbara was with her mother when the visitor showed up at the door.
“I still believe it was him,” she told Cella.
However, Paul Jewell, Barbara’s second husband, said he was also there that night, and he didn’t believe it was Ron. Sometime around 2008, he told the Butler County cold case detective that he thought it was one of the local ruffians. Barbara and Paul Jewell are buried in Oxford Cemetery too, though their memorials are located further down the hill, away from the university section.
Last but not least is the gravesite of Dr. Phillip Shriver, the beloved former president of Miami University, who is buried in the newer part of the university section. Dr. Shriver was obsessed with the Tammen case and he used to give talks to students about his disappearance, especially around Halloween. Dr. Shriver was my first interview for this project, and I sometimes wonder what he would say if he knew where my research has taken me.
Dr. Shriver had arrived at Miami on July 1, 1965. (His planner for that day is completely blank except for the words “First Day!”) He’d been in meetings with St. Clair Switzer in 1966, the year Switzer retired, so he was at least acquainted with our person of interest. I don’t know when he became sucked in by the Tammen case, and I’m currently looking into that. Even though Joe Cella had already written in 1954 that the open book on Tammen’s desk was his psychology textbook, I feel Dr. Shriver played an important role in finally making it known around Miami’s campus. Regardless of how things eventually play out, I’ll always feel grateful to him for talking to me back in 2010 and for getting this party started.
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.
Hypnosis is a therapeutic technique that has been around for centuries. It has long been recognized as an effective means for treating people with phobias, addictions, anxieties, depression, pain, and a variety of other health-related issues, including memory loss. It has helped transform countless lives for the better.
But in the first part of the 20th century, hypnosis had become something of a fad. These were the days before the profession had developed its ethical standards, and some people considered the phenomenon of putting someone under to be a means of amusement rather than a clinical tool. Any gathering seemed to be an excuse to bring in a hypnotist. They were the entertainment at fraternity parties, women’s luncheons, and Kiwanis club meetings. After an in-class demonstration, students would feel emboldened to try it out on each other afterward. Anyone with a pocket watch on a chain and a script in hand—“You’re getting sleepy…very sleepy”—could give it a go.
Such amateur antics would rankle hypnosis expert Everett Frank Patten, longtime head of Miami’s psychology department, to no end. “Many are the times that I remember a student frantically asking for his help in bringing a friend out of a hypnotic state,” Patten’s daughter relayed to me one day in an email. “It made my dad furious that students were using it as entertainment.”
It was no coincidence that Miami had become heavy into hypnosis by 1953. That’s generally how things operate in academia: A professor-researcher mentors a doctoral student, who, upon graduation (and, nowadays, after some post-doctoral training), becomes a faculty member somewhere else. That person mentors a student, who mentors another student, ad infinitum. Pretty soon, an extended family of professors is flourishing at universities around the country and globe with the entire lineage rooted, at least generally speaking, in a similar philosophy and upbringing. If the original researcher happens to be a superstar in a given field, he or she will have mentored scores of students during his or her most high-octane years.
On top of all that, Miami’s psychology department didn’t have a graduate program of its own back then. If you were a psych major who desired to work toward a higher degree, you had no choice but to go elsewhere. A professor who found an undergraduate student to be exceptional might have counseled that person to study at the same university as he studied, perhaps even with the same researcher.
So it was that, in 1953, Miami’s psychology department had on its payroll three faculty members who had been mentored by Clark Leonard Hull, an icon in the field of psychology and arguably the foremost scholar on hypnosis during the 1920s and early ‘30s. Hull was a creative genius on the one hand, a demanding micromanager on the other. He was a prolific writer—a dream come true for someone like me, what with my insatiable yearning to get to know the people I’m writing about down deep. He penned everything from witty, gossipy letters to friends and colleagues, to thoughtful descriptions of his research and career goals in notebooks (he called them his “idea books”), to weighty manuscripts for publication filled with his experiments and theories. He believed in science, even if the science he was espousing at a particular moment wasn’t popular with his peers.
Hull experienced lifelong health issues, having contracted both typhoid fever and polio as a young man. He had memory troubles—people’s names mostly—due to the former, and he walked with a cane due to the latter. Nevertheless, his charisma could fill a lecture hall, and his students revered him. His thirst for knowledge was so relentless that in the last decade of his life, when his heart and kidneys were beginning to fail, he wrote: “I seem to have no fear of death but only anxiety to salvage as much from life in the way of systematic science as possible.” Now that’s a scientist whose footsteps are worth following.
Dr. Patten was the guy who gave the dominoes a tap. He’d studied under Hull as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in 1921 and, by the time he’d completed his master’s degree in 1923, also under Hull, he’d already been hired as an assistant professor at Miami.
St. Clair Adna Switzer, who had received his bachelor’s degree from Miami in 1928, had undoubtedly heard about the esteemed Clark Hull from Patten, and decided that he should learn from the master as well. He went on to become a student of Hull’s for both his master’s and doctoral degrees—the first at Wisconsin, and the second at Yale, after Hull had changed affiliations.
The third faculty member to have studied under Hull was Charles Theodore Perin, Jr.—Ted for short. Perin had attended Miami beginning in 1934 and had impressed Patten so much with his stratospheric entrance exam scores that he served as a student assistant in the psychology department for most of his time as an undergraduate. He’d been planning to attend the University of Rochester for graduate school, but those plans changed when another Miami graduate who’d received an assistantship with Hull had become ill. Hull asked Patten if he knew of anyone who could take that student’s place, and Patten gave him Perin’s name. Elated by the opportunity to study with one of the world’s most eminent psychologists, Perin pursued his master’s and Ph.D. degrees under Hull in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. (The student who had become ill was Douglas G. Ellson, who eventually completed his Ph.D. under Hull and later became a psychology professor at Indiana University.)
Clark Hull, a scientist who helped take the hype out of hypnosis
Despite his becoming an authority on the topic, Clark Hull’s foray into hypnosis was mostly a diversion. He’s best known for his contributions in such areas as aptitude testing and his theories on learning and behavior. Hull was a behaviorist, and he believed that the actions of humans and other mammals could be boiled down to a set of mathematical formulas, most of which had to do with conditioned responses to some sort of reward. For his lab rats, that reward would be a pellet in a food tray, but for humans, he theorized, it could be whatever meets a particular need. A cognitive psychologist would contend that behaviorists don’t give enough credit to what goes on inside the brain in influencing a person’s actions. We don’t need to wade into that debate here, though I will say this: every time my cat Herbie waits for my phone alarm to go off in the morning before sprinting to the kitchen to be fed—as opposed to his former practice of yowling like a wounded coyote hours before sun up—I thank Hull and his fellow behaviorists (Pavlov, Watson, Skinner, and the rest) for introducing classical conditioning to the world. For this pet owner, they are heroes, all.
The many faces of Herbie, a classically conditioned cat
According to his autobiography, Hull became involved in hypnosis when he was a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin after taking over the lecture portion of an introductory course for premed students. He did so because he believed “suggestion, hypnotic and otherwise,” was being practiced widely by the profession. He described the first time he ever hypnotized someone in this way:
“I had never seen a person hypnotized, though I had entreated Professor Jastrow [the original course instructor] to demonstrate the technique to me. A medical student had given me a ‘hypnotic crystal’ which he had secured by mail from England; but he could not hypnotize with it. Late one night a student suffering from a bad phobia came to my home pleading for hypnosis to ‘save his life.’ I brought out the ‘crystal’ and tried it on him as the books described the hypnotic technique, and to my surprise the man went into a deep trance almost at once. This was the beginning of a long series of experiments in the field.”
The “long series of experiments” would be dreamed up by Hull but carried out by his students, which was his normal way of doing things. Though Hull dressed the part of a laboratory scientist—he regularly wore a lab coat and green eyeshade when walking the corridors of the University of Wisconsin’s Bascom Hall—he was the idea man who tended to let others do the actual lab work. But Hull closely watched over his students and he encouraged them to publish their results as principal authors. Patten was one such beneficiary of Hull’s magnanimous mentoring style. Five years after completing his master’s degree at Wisconsin, he passed the baton to Switzer, who began his master’s program there in 1928.
Despite the stock market crash and sudden launch of the worst economic depression in the Western world, 1929 would be filled with promise and new beginnings for Hull, Patten, and Switzer. Hull had accepted a research appointment with Yale’s Institute of Psychology (which later merged with the Institute of Human Relations), drawn to its assurance of greater prestige and vast research opportunities. Switzer returned to Oxford, Ohio, as a freshly minted assistant professor. He was also a newlywed, having married Elizabeth Hezlep, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister from Cincinnati, five days before Christmas. Meanwhile, Patten had been putting the finishing touches on his dissertation, “The Duration of Post-Hypnotic Suggestion,” which earned him a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
For at least the next several years, Switzer and Patten, who had also returned to Miami University, continued their collaborative relationship with Hull, corresponding with him frequently. In 1932, Switzer followed Hull to New Haven, Connecticut, to work on his doctoral degree in experimental psychology at the Institute of Human Relations.
It was also during that period—from the late 1920s to the early 1930s—that Hull set out to write the definitive book on hypnosis. Although he’d first become acquainted with the procedure by helping someone overcome a personal problem, he wasn’t interested in the clinical applications. Instead, he wanted to present the science behind hypnosis through experiments that were objective, observable, and quantifiable. As Hull put it, “the ends sought were principles and relationships rather than treatments and cures.” Hull wanted to more precisely define hypnosis—a state in which a person is highly responsive to suggestion—and its contributing factors. For example, researchers and practitioners had known that people are suggestible even when awake, although some are more suggestible than others. Hull and his students found that when a person is under hypnosis, he is at his peak in suggestibility—roughly twice as suggestible as in the waking state.
Hypnosis and Suggestibility—An Experimental Approach was published in 1933, and was largely based on the experiments that had been carried out by Hull’s students at the University of Wisconsin, with several add-ons. It’s now considered a classic, most recently reprinted in 2002.
Despite its adherence to science, the book’s success didn’t seem to impress Hull’s colleagues at Yale. According to a brief history on hypnosis written by Australian psychologist Campbell Perry, who passed away in 2003, one anecdote concerned one of Hull’s student assistants. That person had reportedly hypnotized another student—he didn’t say if it was a male or female—but failed to ensure the student was fully reawakened afterward. While crossing the street, the student who’d been hypnotized was supposedly hit by a car, which led to legal threats from his or her parents. The administration soon stepped in, terminating further hypnosis experiments and encouraging Hull to move on to other research areas. Hull, who had a number of other projects brewing in his brain, complied.
Besides, by the time the book was with the publisher, Hull didn’t seem to want to hear the word hypnosis ever again. On Sunday, June 4, 1933, Hull jotted down the following reflections in one of his idea books:
“Some weeks ago I finished the manuscript of the book on hypnosis. And while it is not yet in print and the index has yet to be made out, still the most of this work can be performed by my assistants and I may consider that project finished. It has been a most disagreeable task, particularly in its later stages, and I regret attempting to continue it when I came to New Haven. I should have dropped it on leaving Madison, and never breathed a word of its existence on coming to Yale. I shall never be able to live down the stigma cast upon me by it. And when the book comes out it will probably be worse than ever. I believe, however that the book itself has been worth doing from the point of view of the advancement of science. I believe that it is an important contribution, that it may mark the beginning of a new epoch in that form of experimentation, and that it will be read and quoted for a long time, possibly a hundred years. At all events it probably will be read after the work of those here at Yale who have thrown obstacles in the way of the experimental work upon which it is based, has long been forgotten. But even if all this should take place, I have paid a high price and would hardly do it again.”
In his autobiographical essay, published the year he died in 1952, Hull credited Patten and Switzer with being especially helpful in the completion of his book on hypnosis. Patten had conducted several remaining experiments in Oxford, while Switzer, who was then Hull’s graduate assistant, helped with “final preparation,” a catch-all category for the invisible yet nit-picky tasks required to ready the book for the printer.
When Hull finally bowed out of hypnosis research, Patten and Switzer kept the fever alive. In November 1933, running on the heels of the release of Hypnosis and Suggestibility, an Associated Press article with an Oxford, Ohio, dateline extolled the virtues of hypnosis in curing all sorts of problems through posthypnotic suggestion—from overeating to stage fright to smoking. The article broadcast the names E.F. Patten and S. A. Switzer far and wide, which soon backfired in the form of a tsunami of letters from people seeking help for their myriad problems.
In December of that same year, a follow-up article appeared in newspapers by way of the International News Service, with a lead paragraph so academically cringeworthy, I’m sure both men considered calling in sick that day:
Weight Loss by Hypnotism Is Attracting Wide Attention
With the principal characters considerably nettled, the hypnotism “show” at Miami University here has reached a complicated and amusing stage.
According to the article, Patten was “irked by a flood of letters he has received” and had “retreated to his laboratory,” concerned that his university peers would think he was running a “quack sanitarium.”
Few records remain concerning additional hypnosis research that might have been conducted at Miami. After Patten passed away in 1966, his wife Fern wrote a history of the department, entitled Eighty Years of Psychology at Miami, at the request of the new chairperson. Not everything she wrote was included in the final draft, however, and hypnosis was one of two unlucky chapters, along with several lengthy appendices, that would be given the heave ho. (The other chapter had to do with an early department chair who became mayor of Oxford for a couple years, a historical piece of trivia that even Fern admitted had nothing to do with the evolution of the psychology department.) The Foreword blamed “limitations of funds and space” for their exclusion, but promised: “These important segments, however, have been preserved in the Department files, and will no doubt be used by those who will study our history in the future.”
Sadly, those reassuring words turned out to be more uncertain than Mrs. Patten had anticipated. In 2014, and later in 2017, I emailed departmental representatives, letting them know that here I was, from the future, ready to peruse the hypnosis chapter that had supposedly been preserved in their files. Unfortunately, neither they nor University Archives could locate a copy. Dr. Patten’s daughter doesn’t have a copy either. What remains, on page 50, is a four-paragraph description of Patten’s time with Clark Hull, Patten’s and Switzer’s contributions to Hypnosis and Suggestibility, a sentence about Perin’s work helping “many troubled people in collaboration with local doctors,” and a list of Miami graduates who went on to study with Hull. (In addition to Switzer, Perin, and Ellson was a fourth person, Robert S. Sackett, who was an instructor at Rutgers before moving to Washington, D.C., to work for the Naval Research Laboratory, among other institutions.) No hypnosis studies conducted at Miami were included.
There were other things going on in Patten’s and Switzer’s careers in the 1930s as well. Patten was named chair of the psychology department in 1932, and he began transitioning from researcher to teacher-administrator. Switzer pursued his avid interests in standardized testing for aptitude and other attributes. He spent the summer of 1936 working as a psychologist at a model facility for prisoners known as the Northeastern Penitentiary, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (later renamed the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg).
When the United States entered WWII, Patten and Switzer joined in to help with the cause. Miami University had become the site of a U.S. Naval Radio Training School, and Patten, who had served as a radio operator during WWI, taught radio code to Naval trainees in Fisher Hall in between his psychology classes. Switzer, who, as a young man, had performed a two-year stint in the Navy, received a leave of absence from Miami in the summer of 1942 to enlist with the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF), the forerunner to the U.S. Air Force (USAF). His expertise was in aptitude testing, and he gradually worked himself into the upper levels of responsibility in psychological testing, classification, and placement throughout the war. From July to November 1945, he was stationed at Army Headquarters in Washington, D.C.—the Pentagon—serving as chief of the Demobilization Procedures Section, which means that he, in his own words, “formulated and monitored Air Force demobilization procedures, and prepared regulations pertaining thereto, with special responsibility for separation counseling procedures.” (TRANSLATION: Sorry, military speak stymies me, but, by the sound of it, he was important in the areas of aptitude testing, job placement, and job classification during the war and job reassignment after the war. If someone out there knows better, feel free to chime in.)
Switzer’s activities during the post-War years continued to focus heavily on the military, even after he returned to Oxford in December 1945. In January 1946, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and he was employed by the federal government as chief vocational appraiser in the Veterans Guidance Center, a resource based out of the university hospital for all veterans, particularly the thousands who had arrived at Miami on the G.I. Bill. In September 1949, he returned to teaching psychology full-time (with occasional stints with the Air Force), and, as we all know, he had been Ronald Tammen’s General Psychology instructor the semester that Ron went missing—before Ron had dropped the course. In 1961, Switzer was selected to replace Patten as department chair, and in his remaining five years at Miami, he’s credited with transitioning the department into offering a graduate program. He also laid the groundwork for moving the department from the ever-cramped and crumbling old Harrison Hall to a spacious, updated new building, Benton Hall, whose foundation was installed the year he retired. By all appearances, he seemed to have moved on from his time with the “hypnotism ‘show’ at Miami University.”
Dr. Patten hadn’t published a scientific paper since the early 1930s, however he continued hypnotizing students into the 1960s. One article from September 25, 1962**, (reprinted October 15, 1964**), detailed how he would use hypnosis to help students break unwanted habits such as smoking or nail-biting or to help with weight loss. Because he was venturing into medical treatment, the article offered this caveat: “since these cases may sometimes have deep seated emotional problems, the professor only accepts subjects at the request of doctors or psychiatrists.”
Patten also demonstrated hypnosis to his students during class. Patten’s daughter recalled sitting in on one of his abnormal psychology classes to watch her father hypnotize someone. She described it to me in this way:
It was a student that he worked with before. He had her look at a reflected light in his eye, and he said, “When I count to three, you will be hypnotized.” And then, he told her that when she named people in the class, she would name a particular person a different name. And also, after she woke up, she would ask [my father] for a pen, to write with. And it was fairly brief. Then he said, “When I count to three, you will wake up,” which she did. And he said, so and so—I can’t remember her name now—he said, “would you name the folks in the class?” It wasn’t a very big class. Which, she did, and for that one particular person, she had used the name he had given her, not the name of the person. So he asked, “Why did you do that?” And she said, “Well, that’s what I thought it was,” or something. And then she asked [my father] for a pen. And he said, “Well, why do you want a pen? How about a pencil?” And she insisted on getting a pen. And he asked her why. And she said, well, she just felt like she just had to have it. So, you know it was amazing really.
Perin’s research efforts in hypnosis were highlighted in an October 8, 1963**, article in the Miami Student. It told of how the psychology department had used funds from the National Science Foundation to purchase a polygraph machine, not to determine if someone was lying, but rather to measure a person’s physiological responses—heart rate, blood pressure, and the like—while he or she was in a trance. The photo is the most compelling part of the article, with a college coed named Nancy (who was also the article’s author) looking warily at Perin as he leaned in, asking stress-inducing questions such as how many classes she’d cut that week.
After Patten and Switzer retired—Patten in 1965 and Switzer in 1966—Perin single-handedly upheld Miami’s tradition in hypnotherapy and hypnosis research. In 1976, Dr. Perin retired, bringing Miami’s hypnosis era—a span of over 40 years—to a quiet close. By that time, the university appears to have been ready to move on from those days anyway.
For one thing, there’s that missing hypnosis chapter from Fern Patten’s book. For another, there was a taped interview between Perin and Karl Limper, a professor emeritus in geology who had been dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1959 to 1971, as well as acting provost for academic year 1964-65. During the interview, conducted as part of Miami’s Oral History archival project on February 25, 1992, Perin discussed his time at Miami as both student and professor. And each time that Perin attempted to discuss his hypnosis activities, Limper changed the subject as soon as the h-word was uttered.
Here’s the first time:
KL: Did the courses that you taught change through the years? Did you give some up and take others to replace them?
TP: Well, not a whole lot. I picked up the History of Psychology…some of the philosophical history, which I enjoyed very much because I had been exposed to that at great length at Yale.
KL: I would think so. Yes.
TP: And Patten had always taught that and later on he turned that over to me, and I taught Social Psych. Since I’m not much good as a sociologist or social psychologist, I did not enjoy that. I upgraded our Business Psychology course to a 400 level course.
KL: Oh, you did. Wonderful!
TP:…which I taught. And that was…I enjoyed that. And I even taught, for a couple of semesters, a course in Hypnosis for our graduate students.
KL: How many chairmen did you serve under? Can you list those?
Weird segue, don’t you think? I mean, was Perin even finished listing his courses? We’ll never know. And then there was this time, which came minutes later:
KL: Did you sense Lex [Milton, a former department chair] was one who wanted to move on to larger fields as quickly as possible?
TP: I think so.
KL: He was going to do everything he could for his department. He was a very demanding chairman, as far as the Dean was concerned.
TP: Well, of course, I couldn’t see that really…how demanding he was, I didn’t know, but…
KL: He was demanding for his faculty. I mean from the Dean’s point of view.
TP: Yeah. Yeah. Uh huh. I remember, one thing I resented, when Lex wanted me to cut down my hours of teaching, and I was enjoying teaching, and I…but he wanted me to cut back, so I’d have more time for research, and by that time, I was an old so and so—pretty far from research. But I’d gotten into this hypnosis area, and so I did do some meaningful research on hypnosis, and it was all right.
KL: What about the presidents under whom you served? You care to comment on any of those?
I don’t know about you, but speaking as a person who has conducted numerous interviews with university types, I would have let the man expound on that topic for a while. Something like “Such as?” springs to mind as a good follow-up question. But when Perin mentioned the word hypnosis, Limper first steered the conversation toward naming his former department chairmen, and, later, the university presidents under whom he’d served. Had someone said to him, “If Ted starts in on the hypnosis stuff, just change the subject”? Again, we’ll never know.
As I was learning more about Clark Hull and his cadre of disciples in Oxford, Ohio, it wasn’t a huge leap for me to wonder whether any of Miami’s experts might have been approached by the CIA as the agency was getting started with its hypnosis and drug experiments. It wasn’t even my main theory at that point. I just wondered. After I decided to work on my book project fulltime, I began conducting research at the National Archives in College Park, MD, searching through CIA documents to see if I might be able to find a connection. (This was before the nonprofit MuckRock had won its lawsuit forcing the CIA to post everything online instead of making people drive to College Park.) In July 2014, after spending a long day at the Archives, I was at home on my laptop, perusing CIA documents that had already been posted online. Several of my searches focused on what their hiring policy was regarding people who were gay but others focused on terms such as hypnosis or hypnotism or hypnotists.
And that’s when I happened on it, the first document that told me that at least one Miami University psych professor had likely been identified by the CIA as someone worth consulting during its ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA period. What’s more, the career path he’d pursued before becoming a psychology professor—one that I’d been aware of since I’d read the reason he went by the nickname “Doc” on page 39 of Fern Patten’s book—would make him especially attractive to the CIA. Because not only did this professor have expertise in hypnosis, he had a degree in pharmacy and had worked as a pharmacist for nearly two years. Could anyone have been better suited than he was?
**Note: These articles are currently not available online, otherwise I’d link to them. It’s my understanding that the university has recently completed a migration of its digital collections, so they may still be working out the kinks. I’m letting them know about the missing articles, and will include the links when they’re available.
As we’ve discussed, my plan is to release two documents on April 19 that I believe are related to what happened to Tammen. I’m planning some other fun stuff for that day too. Stay tuned.
Gilson Wright was a dedicated journalist—a consummate newsman’s newsman—who taught his students at Miami the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys of getting to the heart of every story. (You can read his memorial here.) His daughter has spoken with high regard for her father’s impartial reporting and nose for news. So committed was he to chasing after a story, he was willing to put fact-gathering above even friends, and she recalled a time when an article he’d written about a close colleague wasn’t received very well and may have inflicted some permanent damage to that friendship. During her growing-up years, she worried that if she did anything wrong, her dad wouldn’t hesitate to write an article about her too.
Wright was so much the model journalist that, if asked, he probably would have agreed that his part-time gig with the local papers—filing occasional news stories about the institution that employed him full-time—probably wouldn’t pass the smell test anywhere else. Imagine if Kenneth Lay had said to the Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine (the two news outlets credited with first uncovering Enron’s misdeeds), “Don’t bother assigning a reporter to this story. We’ll conduct our own investigation, and send updates your way.” The folks from the Hamilton Journal-News probably recognized Wright’s potential conflict of interest, which may be why they double-teamed the Tammen story with the intrepid Joe Cella.
On the other hand, there were obvious benefits for the area newspapers to hire Wright as an on-call correspondent, or stringer. Being an insider at Miami, he was in prime position to hear the scuttlebutt of whatever was happening at one of Ohio’s larger public universities. Also, if a topic was political or sensitive in nature, Miami’s faculty and administrators might have been more inclined to open up to him, at least more than they would have with Cella.
I think one of those occasions may have taken place during the first week after Tammen disappeared in one of the earliest stories to be printed about the case. I stumbled on the article in question as a news clipping in the Miami University Archives. Its dateline is April 26, 1953—seven days after Tammen’s disappearance—and it likely ran that day (a Sunday) or perhaps the following day. We don’t know. We also don’t know precisely which newspaper it ran in, and trust me, I’ve checked all of them. Whoever clipped it didn’t write the source in the margin, as was done for other articles. The article doesn’t even have a byline, so one might wonder who the reporter was, though I’m quite confident that it was Wright. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
But first: why would I care so much about the origin of an old newspaper clipping? Or, to be more specific, why would I seek the help of more than a half dozen reference librarians and archivists in Butler and Hamilton Counties, one researcher at the State Library of Ohio, and another at the Library of Congress, not to mention paying a special visit to the latter, to try to identify the outlet that carried it? Because, in it, the author reveals a detail that has never appeared in any other news article on the Tammen case. Because that detail generates a slew of follow-up questions, yet, instead, it was left to languish, ignored for decades. And finally, because that strange, surreal detail, buried in the second paragraph of the second column, might be an honest-to-goodness clue to the case.
In parts 1 and 2 of this series, we discussed three possible reasons why investigators were so quick to suspect that Tammen’s disappearance was due to amnesia. To recap, they were:
Why else would a responsible guy like Tammen go missing, leaving everything behind?
Tammen’s psychology book was open on his desk, possibly to a section on posthypnotic suggestion, even though he had dropped his course. Also, Carl Knox had jotted down the names of two psych professors in his notes, one of whom was a hypnosis expert.
According to a conversation someone had with Dr. Patten, chair of Miami’s psychology department at the time, there were things in Tammen’s background that would be consistent with his having experienced dissociation.
Reason #4: The three Ohio youths
Before we consider my fourth and final reason, I should probably let you know that I have both good news and bad news. The bad news is that, despite the assistance I received from all of those librarians, I’m still unable to identify with 100% certainty the source of the article in question. The papers that were examined—digitally, on microfilm, or both—are as follows, with the letters GW next to the papers in which Gilson Wright was a stringer or, in the case of Miami’s student newspaper, the adviser:
Miami Student (GW – adviser)
Hamilton Journal-News (GW)
Cincinnati Enquirer (GW)
Cincinnati Post (GW)
Cincinnati Times-Star (GW)
Dayton Daily News (GW)
Dayton Journal Herald (GW)
Because posting copyrighted material without obtaining permission is generally frowned upon (and by “frowned upon,” I mean that it’s not allowed and puts me at risk of being sued for copyright infringement), I don’t feel comfortable posting the article in question on this website. Our only evidence that the article existed at all is that two incredibly awesome people—scissor-wielding superheroes, actually—clipped it and socked it away for safe keeping, so that, eventually, it found its way into the Miami University Archives (clipping #1) and the Smith Library of Regional History, on the second floor of the Lane Public Library in Oxford (clipping #2). Its title, with the first letter of every word in caps, is: “Searchers At Oxford Fail To Find Missing Student; Amnesia Theory Stronger.” If you should find yourself in one of those two places, you can access it there.
But, as promised, I also have good news. The story—or at least a shorter version of it—ran in a second newspaper! A clever researcher at the State Library of Ohio, in Columbus, discovered that a truncated version was printed in the Dayton Journal Herald on Monday, April 27, 1953. He managed to find it by searching for phrases other than what was in the first article’s headline, since the two headlines are vastly different. In addition, the sentence with the outlandish detail (which I’ll be divulging momentarily) isn’t included in the Dayton Journal Herald article. That version includes everything up to the point where the sentence would have appeared and ends there.
But that’s OK, because I can post the Dayton Journal Herald’s version of the article on this website, having obtained permission. Here it is:
And here, without further ado, is the sentence that appeared in the first article but not the second:
“Parents of three other Ohio youths who have disappeared in recent years but who recovered from their loss of memory have telephoned to Tammen’s parents to encourage them, it was learned here.”
Now do you see why I’ve been so obsessed with this article? That one loaded sentence has generated quite a few follow-up questions for me. However, because none of the A-listers are available for an interview (due to their being deceased and all), let’s unpeel this onion ourselves, layer by layer, and do a little speculating, shall we?
Who wrote the article?
Even though neither article has a byline, I’m sure that the author was Gilson Wright because he was a stringer for the Dayton Journal Herald, in addition to all of the other papers indicated above. For the article to show up in at least two area papers convinces me that Wright was responsible.
Who were the Ohio youths?
At the very least, we know that the individuals concerned weren’t full-fledged adults. They also weren’t children, otherwise the writer would have probably chosen that term instead. On the global stage, “youth” is defined as someone between 15 and 24 years of age. In the United States, the term is broader, incorporating early adolescence up to age 25. I would guess, then, that anyone from the seventh grade on up to the mid-20s would have fit the description. Ron Tammen was frequently identified in news accounts as a youth. Richard Cox, the West Point cadet who disappeared in January 1950 at the age of 21, was too.
Attempting to figure out who the three youths might have been, I searched two archival news databases for articles about young people from Ohio who’d gone missing due to amnesia from 1948 to 1953. I had to draw the line somewhere to define “in recent years,” so I cut it off at around five.
In addition, I had two hard-and-fast rules:
The youths had to be single. As the article implies, these particular youths were still accountable to their parents as opposed to a spouse. If a missing person was married, I automatically disqualified him, since no newspaper that I came across ever referred to a married person as a youth. If he was married with children, he was doubly disqualified. If, on the other hand, the person was a little older than 25—maybe 26 or 27, for example—and still single, he (or she) was still in the running.
They had to have returned, safe and sound. That was the point behind the phone call to Ron’s parents—that they’d recovered their memories and returned. Obviously, anyone found dead or who was reported to be still missing after April 1953 was disqualified.
Two additional assumptions that I had, but that I didn’t enforce as strictly as the above, were:
Preferably, the memory loss had to be “real,” or at least had to have some sort of backing or proof. If it was just a theory put forth by a parent searching for some explanation behind their son or daughter’s disappearance, it carried a lot less weight.
Preferably, the youths recovered their memories all by themselves.The way the article reads, it implies to me that, for the most part, the youths had managed to regain their memories with little to no assistance. Therefore, I considered any major effort put forth by third parties, such as the use of hypnosis or truth serum to bring the person back to the here and now, as less likely to have occurred with our gang of three.
Based on the above, my list of potential contenders can be viewed here. (Note: People who were too old and/or who were known to be married were immediately disqualified and aren’t included. People who were a contender but who were subsequently disqualified because of one of the hard-and-fast rules are marked with a red “X.” People who didn’t conform to one or both of the lesser-two assumptions are marked with an orange “?”.)
What I’ve learned from this rather arduous, unscientific exercise is that amnesia was being blamed for a whole lot of missing persons cases back then. When people in their late teens and twenties with Ohio roots occasionally went missing, as sure as night follows day, some distraught parent or a law enforcement official would propose the big A as the cause. The more likely reason was that they’d run away voluntarily, with their memories intact, because they wanted to get married, or they didn’t want to get married, or they’d grown tired of school, or they were experiencing some other unseen stress or desire to reinvent themselves. When one or more of these cases was later solved, amnesia was the perfect face-saving cover story. In 1948, one missing persons bureau chief from another state, obviously fed up with the amnesia excuse, had this advice for would-be fakers: “Phoney [sic] amnesia is fairly easy to spot and real amnesia is as rare as a picture of Joseph Stalin without a mustache.”
Do I think Roger Robinson, Rita Sater, Richard Resseger or anyone else with an orange question mark in front of his or her name were among the three who were alluded to in the April 26th article? (No one passed all four criteria.) No, I really don’t. Unlike today, investigators back then didn’t have digitized articles that they could scan by plugging in a few keywords. They had only their own memory banks to comb through. Also, the identities of the three Ohio youths seemed to be held in confidence for some reason. If investigators had reached out to someone who’d famously gone missing several years prior, I’d think that they would have simply named them. Lastly, there was the time element. I don’t think investigators could have come up with the names of the three Ohio youths so quickly if they didn’t already have that information at their fingertips, including how to go about contacting them.
Where in Ohio were they from?
If the youths happened to be from a particular town, such as Dayton or Cincinnati, or from a specific region, such as southwest Ohio, Wright would have likely written that. But by saying they were “Ohio youths,” it sounds as if they were from all over the state, doesn’t it? But, again, how would investigators have known about amnesia cases from all over the state of Ohio, and so quickly? I have a theory on this, which I’ll talk about a little later in this post.
How did they lose their memories?
As we discussed in parts 1 and 2 in this series, the type of amnesia that causes someone to forget his or her identity and wander off is called dissociative fugue, which is considered a type of psychogenic or dissociative amnesia. It’s the type of amnesia that one might get from severe emotional trauma. But, as we’ve also previously discussed, it’s also rare. According to the American Psychiatric Association, dissociative fugue is estimated to occur in just 0.2% of the general population. Jason Brandt, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says that the prevalence of psychogenic amnesia is unknown, since no one’s conducted a definitive study. However, in his entire career, which, at the time of our conversation in 2015, spanned roughly 34 years of diagnosing and treating individuals with memory loss, Brandt guesstimated that he’d probably seen only 12 people with psychogenic amnesia.
In 34 years.
Knowing this, how was it possible that, in 1953, the good folks of rural, southwest Ohio were aware of such an abundance of amnesia cases that they were able to locate three cases—again, all conveniently from Ohio—within one week of Ron’s disappearance? I have a theory on this too—keep reading.
How long did it take the youths to recover their memories?
I don’t think the three Ohio youths had amnesia for very long. The longer the duration, the more likely the news media would have caught wind of their disappearances (from their parents, no doubt) and we would have seen a few articles. But, as I’ve already discussed, I’ve found nothing in the press that might be applicable. I’m thinking that they were gone for no more than a day or two, but that’s just a guess.
Who coordinated the telephone call between the youths’ parents and Mr. and Mrs. Tammen?
In my view, the person (or persons) who had known about the three Ohio youths who went missing is the most likely coordinator of the phone call. This also may have been the person who Gilson Wright spoke with for his April 26th article. Alternatively, it might have been Dean Knox, as the university’s investigator and chief spokesperson, who coordinated the phone call after hearing about the youths from his original source.
Who was the source of origin concerning the three Ohio youths?
While Wright’s immediate source about the three Ohio youths may well have been Dean Carl Knox, Knox wasn’t an amnesia expert. Neither was Oscar Decker, the Oxford police chief. They wouldn’t have been able to locate three young people who’d recently lost their memories on such short notice on their own. As we learned in part 1, one of the university’s experts on amnesia was Dr. Everett Patten, chairman of the psychology department at Miami. In fact, Dr. Patten had spoken directly with Wright for an in-depth article on amnesia that appeared two days later in the Dayton Daily News, on April 28, 1953. If I were a betting person, I’d bet that the information about the three Ohio youths originated with Dr. Patten.
You can read the article in its entirety here:
How was it possible for investigators to locate three Ohio youths who had recently lost their memories so soon after Ron went missing?
This, in my mind, is the most compelling question of all. If it had happened today, police could check online for names of people who had recently disappeared from Ohio and were later found. But, again, this was before computers. There was no centralized recordkeeping system, such as NamUs. There were no grassroots websites tracking missing persons, such as the Doe Network, Websleuths, and the Charley Project. It would have been extremely tough for law enforcement units of differing jurisdictions to keep track of each other’s cases, and even more so for those in towns with paltry police forces such as Oxford, Ohio. Furthermore, this happened before the FBI became involved, so there was no help available on a national level.
Again, if I had to place bets, I’d say that whoever first informed Dean Knox and/or Gilson Wright about the three missing youths had prior knowledge of those young people. They may have even known them personally, and experienced anxiety first-hand when the youths had gone missing and great relief when they returned.
Because of its rarity, I don’t think that psychogenic amnesia was what caused the three Ohio youths to wander. Instead, I wonder if they’d had a different type of memory loss—the kind one might experience after being hypnotized. That would explain why investigators would be made aware of the three other amnesia cases so quickly after Ron’s disappearance. It could also be why the youths were described as being from Ohio in general. Maybe they came from various parts of Ohio but they happened to be attending a university that drew students from all over the state. Somewhere like, I don’t know, Miami?
Why didn’t Gilson Wright seek more information about the Ohio youths?
Honestly, I don’t know why Wright wouldn’t have pursued the Ohio youths lead further. Maybe he tried to. But herein lies that squishy zone between his role as reporter and university employee. If Wright’s source was a dean or department head who said, “That’s all I’m able to say on this subject—the rest is strictly confidential,” would he have pushed back? Would he have tried to dig up another source who could have told him more? And if they had told him more, would he have put that information into print, undoubtedly burning a few bridges in the process or maybe even putting his job in jeopardy? All I know is that no further details about the three amnesiac youths were included in any other article written by Wright. In fact he never mentioned the three Ohio youths again.
Why didn’t anyone else cover this story?
It seems to me that another reporter—Joe Cella, for example—would have loved following up with those three Ohio youths, especially if they happened to be students around Ron’s age who’d lost their memories in recent years. “How did you lose your memory?” he would have certainly asked them, upon which, if it was hypnosis, a cascade of additional questions would have sprung forth. (E.g., Who hypnotized you?, Why were you being hypnotized?, Was Ron Tammen being hypnotized too?, etc.)
But Cella (or any other reporter) may not have even seen Wright’s article. My reasoning has to do with the more obvious question that has been bugging me ever since I stumbled onto the newspaper clipping: why haven’t I been able to find a digital or microfilm version of that article?
I’d always thought that, once an article was printed in a newspaper, it would live on into perpetuity, thanks to microfilm and those hulking viewers housed in the dark corners of libraries. Countless news pages are also being systematically digitized as we speak for online viewing. For these reasons, at least for the major local newspapers, I thought that any article that had ever been written would be accessible in one form or another decades hence.
But one of my reference librarian friends quickly torpedoed my naïve, Pollyanna-ish view. As you may know, even today, newspapers usually produce multiple editions in a single day, beginning with an early edition, which is typically trucked to points farthest away, and ending with a final edition, for those living closest to the city center. Usually (and ideally), the final edition is the one that’s archived. Also, you might have editions that are geared to a neighboring state, just as the Cincinnati Enquirer produces a Kentucky edition and the Washington Post publishes editions for Maryland and Virginia. (The Newseum describes the process for the Washington Post in this fact sheet, under Edition.)
The front pages of the assorted editions can be very different. For example, the same reference librarian sent me the front page of a final edition from the Cincinnati Enquirer for June 22, 1953, that differed dramatically from an earlier edition from that day. Although the earlier edition carried an update about Ronald Tammen, that article never made it to the final.
A few weeks ago, a representative of the Cincinnati History Library and Archives emailed me saying that she’d run my “Ohio youths” article by a retired editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer who was acquainted with how they did things back then, and he’d sent her some thoughts. The man guessed (and he emphasized that it was just that—a guess) that the article had appeared in the “state” edition of the Enquirer. The state edition was distributed to subscribers in communities outside Cincinnati—towns like Oxford and Hamilton and Middletown. It was printed after the street edition (which appeared in newsstands at around 8:00 p.m. the preceding night), but before the Kentucky and final editions. What was different about the state edition was that it featured a page that included news from the surrounding counties. If an article in the state edition was significant enough, it might make its way to the local page in the final edition, which was distributed to Cincinnati and the rest of Hamilton County.
The editor based his guess on the following observations:
He recognized the font as Cheltenham, which he said was frequently referred to as just Chelt.
The headline format was standard for the paper back then. In news parlance, they referred to it as “2/36/3,” which meant that it was two columns wide, with 36-point type, and three lines deep.
The subject matter was more appropriate for the surrounding communities as opposed to downtown subscribers.
The dateline is consistent with what the Enquirer used in those days when someone from a bureau (he guessed it was probably Hamilton) submitted a story about another community.
The occasional bolding of paragraphs was also a practice of the Enquirer’s. Every fifth or sixth paragraph would be bolded for no obvious reason other than, probably, to break up the sea of grey, he suggested.
Interestingly, I’d arrived at the same conclusion—that the article had appeared in an early edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer—for pretty much the same reasons, except I didn’t know the insider lingo. I’d just noticed that the font and dateline looked similar to other Enquirer articles and that the headlines were lengthy with semicolons separating the clauses. I also noticed that the headline writer tended to refer to Miami University as “Oxford.” That was because they liked to include a local town’s name in the headline as an attention-grabber, the editor explained to me in a follow-up meeting.
What does all of this mean to those of us interested in the Tammen case? It means that, assuming the Enquirer had been the source of the article, it’s entirely possible (and maybe even probable) that a story could have run in the newspaper’s state edition but didn’t make it into the final version. As mentioned earlier, on June 22, 1953, a story about Tammen that was on the front page of an earlier edition doesn’t appear on the front page or anywhere else in the final edition. If not for the news clipping that my librarian friend had found, not only would people from the future (aka you and I) not have discovered the article, but people who read a later edition that day wouldn’t have known what they’d missed. Is that what happened on April 26, 1953, as well? Was the article dropped, for whatever reason, after it was run in an earlier issue?
Granted, the June 22 article about Tammen was simply a rehash of old info, and, for that reason alone, the editor probably decided to replace it with a more relevant article in the final. Their reason for pulling the April 26th article may have been just as innocuous. However, April 26 was much earlier in the case, and I would think that reader interest would have been high for even the most minuscule of details. At first, I wondered if perhaps someone—a university official perhaps—was uncomfortable with the “Ohio youths” detail he’d read in the state edition and asked Wright to pull the article from the final. But my Enquirer friend assured me that articles in the state edition frequently didn’t make it to the final edition, and, moreover, no reporter had the power to stop an article from being printed. In addition, the production schedule for the three Ohio editions during that period, which he was able to recite to me by heart, was as follows:
According to this schedule, even if a person were standing at the front door of the Enquirer at 11:15 p.m. and snagged one of the first available copies of the state edition, they would have had only 15 minutes in which to convince the editor to pull the article from the final edition. A less frantic timeline would have been to pick up the street edition at 8:00 p.m. and to request the article be pulled in time for the state (10:30 p.m.) or final (11:30 p.m.) editions. However, my editor friend told me that, for the most part, there was no state news in the street edition, and, again (it bears repeating), no reporter had the power to pull an article. Based on all these factors, I’m convinced that it didn’t happen that way. But what if Wright had submitted his article earlier in the day and his editors told him that they would consider putting his article into the final edition but they’d first need more detail on the three Ohio youths. Gil would have gone back to his source, who might have responded with “Sorry, the rest is confidential,” and the story would die with the state edition.
To be sure, it’s just a hypothesis, but it also helps explain two indisputable truths: the Dayton Journal Herald printed the article the next day minus the offending sentence and Wright never raised the matter of the three youths again. Somehow, someway, Wright seemed to have gotten the message not to push that detail any further.
As additional supporting evidence, Wright used to repurpose his articles in other papers all the time. Although the front-page Tammen story from an early edition of the June 22, 1953, Cincinnati Enquirer is nowhere to be found online, the same story with a different headline had appeared in the June 20, 1953, issue of the Hamilton Journal-News. And on April 27, 1953, the same day in which the Dayton Journal Herald article ran its shortened version of Wright’s April 26th article, a different Wright article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, with the headline “Still No Leads In Case of Missing Miami Boy.” That same article, again, with a different headline, also appeared in the Hamilton Journal-News on the same date.
So with all of that recycling and repurposing, why wouldn’t the Hamilton Journal-News have published Wright’s April 26th article that mentioned the three Ohio youths? One possible reason was simply that the Hamilton Journal-News didn’t have a Sunday paper, though, in my view, that’s no excuse. As we’ve already seen, the same article could run in different newspapers on different days. Wright’s April 26th article contained all the new information found in the article that ran on April 27th plus the tidbit about the three Ohio youths. If I were editor, I’d have chosen to run it on Monday instead. No, with all this in mind, I can’t help but wonder if the problematic detail was left to die in the Enquirer’s state edition for a reason. And if that’s the case, then none of us would have ever known about the three Ohio youths if it hadn’t been for those two incredibly heroic people—scissor-brandishing badasses, actually—who saw fit to clip the article just in case someone might need it someday.
What do you think?
This is probably a good time to open up the floor. What are your thoughts on the topic of amnesia as it applies to the Tammen case?
Artwork developed using WordArt.com. Not for reproduction.
In May 2011, I was conversing by email with a Miami alum, let’s call him Peter, who was a psychology major at Miami when Ronald Tammen disappeared. Like many students, Peter was curious about Ron’s disappearance and read whatever stories he could find on it. Peter also had a friendly acquaintance with Dr. Patten, then-chair of Miami’s psychology department, and looked up to him as a mentor, which wasn’t unusual. Dr. Patten was highly respected in the psych department—knowledgeable, yet warm and grandfatherly.
Here’s a remembrance Peter shared with me that provides yet another reason why investigators likely thought Ronald Tammen had amnesia. I’ve copied the email directly, typos and parenthetical asides included. I have, however, inserted a missing word or two in brackets for clarity or correction.
Reason #3: There were ‘things in his background’
“Now, when Ron ‘vanished’ the university formed a committee of facility [sic] and administrators (I don’t really know who was on the committee). Patten was the chair, and there was a short article in The [Miami] Student saying the committee had met (I don’t know if it was more than once) and had concluded that Ron’s disappearance was most likely due to a dissociation (forgetting who he was, where he belonged, wandering, etc.)…
“When I saw Patten I said I’d seen the article in The Student, and that the committee felt the best explanation was the dissociation hypothesis. He commented, and I believe this is exactly what he [said], ‘Yes. There are things in his background that would be consistent with that.’ Naturally, I asked ‘Really? What kind of things?’ (or words to that effect). Unfortunately, Dr. Patten said, ‘Well, I can’t comment on that.’ (I’m sure that is exactly what he said.) So…I never heard what things in Ron’s background had been considered to be ‘consistent’ with proneness to a dissociative disorder.”
Peter’s story raised a number of questions in my mind, the first being something along the lines of: What the …?!
What could be in Ronald Tammen’s background that would be consistent with dissociation?
How would Dr. Patten (and a university committee of faculty and administrators) have known about something in Ron’s background that would lead them to such a conclusion?
What faculty panel? I don’t remember reading about a faculty panel.
Oh, and by the way: where was this Miami Student article that Peter referred to?
The first thing I tried to do was locate the article and, guys, I might as well break it to you sooner rather than later: I can’t find it. I asked Peter when it ran, and he said that he thought it was early, before the semester ended. That would make sense, because that’s when the amnesia theory came to the forefront. But, from what I can tell, there were only five articles on Ronald Tammen that appeared in the Miami Student between April 19 and the end of classes for the spring 1953 semester. Here are the titles, with links to the applicable issue:
—Tuesday, April 28, 1953,Missing Youth Baffles Police; Clues Lacking, page 1, upper left
—Friday, May 1, 1953, no article
—Tuesday, May 5, 1953,Police Find No Trace of Tammen, page 1, upper right
—Friday, May 8, 1953,Must Tongues Wag?, page 2, editorial section
—Tuesday, May 12, 1953, no article
—Friday, May 15, 1953, no article
—Tuesday, May 19, 1953, no article
—Friday, May 22, 1953, no article
—Tuesday, May 26, 1953,Name of Tammen Added to Missing Persons by FBI, page 4, upper right
It’s not as if any issues are missing. The Miami Student published every Tuesday and Friday (except for vacation days and the week that followed), and they all appear to be there, online. I also checked for possible articles on the faculty panel that might have run during the next academic year, and nothing turned up. I asked Peter if it could have been in another publication—some internal newsletter that the psych department put out or something. He said no. Still, his memory was unwavering about his conversation with Dr. Patten. We discussed the scenario several times, and the details remained consistent.
Even though the article that Peter recalls reading is nowhere to be found, we do have a few details to help corroborate his story:
Dr. Patten was an early spokesperson on the Tammen story…
As we already know from the preceding post, Dr. Patten became a spokesperson on the Tammen story fairly quickly. As early as April 28, 1953, he was quoted by Gilson Wright for his article that ran in the Dayton Daily News. If Patten had headed up a faculty panel and that information was somehow made public at Miami, that would have put him on Gilson Wright’s radar for an interview request. That’s what reporters do—they call the person who’s in charge. It makes a lot more sense for Wright to approach Dr. Patten about his views on amnesia and overstudy if he knew that Patten was leading a panel that had already declared publicly that Ronald Tammen’s disappearance was probably “due to a dissociation.”
…a spokesperson who seemed to know more than he was saying publicly.
In the communications field, there’s one response that PR flacks far and wide are forever advising subject experts not to say when speaking with a reporter. That response is “no comment.” To say “no comment” implies that you’re hiding something—that you know something that you don’t think should be made public. In his April 28, 1953, Dayton Daily News article, Wright reported this about Patten: “He refused to comment on the Tammen case except to say that it is his ‘guess’ that the Maple Heights, O., youth will be found alive.” Refused to comment. Not even a more subtle “hesitated to” or “didn’t wish to” comment. He flat-out refused.
Here’s why I think that Wright was practically quoting Patten verbatim when he wrote that sentence: it’s because of what Peter said he remembered Patten saying to him about why things in Ron’s background were consistent with dissociation. “Well, I can’t comment on that,” Patten had said, according to Peter.
Think about it. If someone asked you if you knew where Jimmy Hoffa was buried, would you say, “I can’t comment on that”? Only if you were kidding around. The more typical response would be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Dr. Patten’s response to the reporter hints to me that he had access to additional information about Tammen that, for some reason, he wasn’t ready, willing, or able to discuss publicly, which would be consistent with Peter’s account.
Faculty were meeting about Tammen.
Not long ago, I was revisiting some old news articles and landed on this headline from the May 18, 1953, issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “FBI Joins Hunt for Miami Student.” The article, which was written principally to inform readers that Tammen had been added to the FBI’s missing persons list, includes this sentence that I’d somehow previously overlooked: “Dean Carl Knox told the boy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald H. Tammen, Sr., that the FBI had been called into faculty conferences.”
It’s one thing for law enforcement to meet with university officials about Tammen. “Officials” generally means administrators, which, in the case of Tammen’s disappearance, usually meant Carl Knox. But if Carl Knox informed the family that there were faculty conferences about Tammen’s disappearance, that has an entirely different connotation—professors. Professors seated around a table. Professors discussing what they knew about Ronald Tammen with a representative of the FBI.
One possible theory worth mulling over is that Ronald Tammen’s psychology textbook—potentially open to a section on posthypnotic suggestion—could very well have inspired Dean Knox to convene a faculty committee to see if they could determine where Ron’s head was when he disappeared. If that’s the case, it would make sense to install the chair of the psychology department, Everett F. Patten, a noted hypnosis expert, as head of the panel. It also would have made sense to ask the three faculty members listed in Carl Knox’s notepad—Professors Dennison, Delp, and Switzer—to take part on the panel as well.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know who was participating on the faculty panel. The article Peter remembers having read no longer seems to be in the public record. Also, no notes from any faculty conferences have turned up—not in the university’s archives, and not in the FBI’s Central Records System either.
Dr. Patten indeed thought that Ron had experienced dissociation.
In an article that ran in the Miami Student on April 20, 1965, Dr. Patten was once again approached about his theories on what happened to Tammen. This time, however, he didn’t refuse to comment. Instead, the newspaper reported the following:
“Consulted at the present time, Dr. Patten added, ‘Tammen’s condition can be labeled as a fugue, which is a species of conversion hysteria, characterized by wandering and other unusual antics of which the individual is not conscious.’”
The word “fugue” is a shortened term for dissociative fugue, which involves forgetting one’s identity and wandering, as Peter described in his email. It’s a subcategory of dissociative (or functional or psychogenic) amnesia. (The term “hysteria” is generally not used to describe this condition anymore.) It’s also rare, estimated to occur in only 0.2 percent of the general population.
Perhaps Dr. Patten felt he could speak more openly by that time—a dozen years after Tammen disappeared and two months before Patten would retire. Also, four years earlier—in 1961—he’d stepped down as department chair and turned the reigns over to Dr. Switzer. Perhaps he felt freer to speak because he was speaking only for himself, and not as the whole department or as the head of a faculty panel.
By that time, Dr. Patten’s opinion wasn’t necessarily the popular viewpoint. In 1960, the Dayton Daily News had printed an article that provided this update: “Two theories—that the youth met with foul play or that he was a victim of amnesia—have long since been discarded. A third theory, that he deliberately planned to leave the campus and to start a new life under an assumed name, is considered ‘most likely’ by authorities.”
Unfortunately, Dr. Patten didn’t have the long, enjoyable retirement that he earned from all his years of teaching and administering. He passed away in September 1966 at the age of 71, taking with him whatever knowledge he had about Tammen’s tendency toward dissociation.
I believe Peter did have that conversation with Dr. Patten all those years ago. But when I asked Ron’s siblings if they were aware of anything in Ron’s background that might make him prone to dissociation, no one had an inkling what it could be. They couldn’t recall any time in their brother’s past when he’d forgotten who he was and wandered off.
Besides, how would Dr. Patten and his fellow professors have found out about Ron’s propensity to forget who he was? Ron was a vigorously private person who strived to present himself to the world in the most positive light. I can’t imagine him volunteering personal details of that nature to a professor or administrator, even if they were true. Also, no such information was included in his student records. His freshman adviser wrote only this about Ron: “Earnest and capable student. Plays in dance bands some. Loyal and well behaved. May have periods of slump in interest.” There was nothing in the realm of “tends to forget who he is and wander.” When I attempted to obtain Ron’s student health records, Miami’s general counsel responded that “medical treatment records are not public records” and “student health records are only maintained for a period of 6 years following attendance.” So, we’re out of luck there too.
Still, it seems unlikely that Ronald Tammen had experienced dissociative fugue, based on its low prevalence and, moreover, how baffled Ron’s family members are by Peter’s story. On the other hand, the similarities between dissociation and hypnosis are well-documented in the scientific literature. In fact, experts in dissociative disorders frequently use hypnosis in the treatment of their patients. For many years, hypnosis had been widely considered to be a dissociative state based on such phenomena as posthypnotic amnesia. According to the 1997 review article “Hypnosis, memory and amnesia” by John F. Kihlstrom (Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences), posthypnotic amnesia “has long been considered to be a laboratory model of the functional amnesias associated with hysteria and dissociation.”
Could it be that Dr. Patten’s references to dissociation and fugue were another way of hypothesizing that Ron may have been experiencing a form of amnesia brought on by hypnosis? If so, was someone from the university tinkering with Tammen’s memory? And for what purpose? And was Ron the only one?
To be continued—A case of amnesia, part 3: Three youths from Ohio
A general note of caution: This story gets complicated. Please keep in mind that my mentioning someone here is not intended to imply that he or she had something to do with Ronald Tammen’s disappearance. I’m simply presenting old details about the case next to new ones and asking a few questions. It’s still early.