Last November, we discussed Ron Tammen’s bank account—his earnings, expenses, savings, and outstanding debts at the time he disappeared. Even though university administrators had told the press at the time that Ron wasn’t in financial trouble, you and I couldn’t help but notice how hard he was working at a variety of jobs, and taking out loans to boot, yet he was still having difficulty keeping his head above water.
Meanwhile, Ron’s younger and less agreeable brother Richard didn’t seem at all strapped for cash during 1952-53. How could Richard seemingly coast through his freshman year of college, subsisting only on the money he’d earned caddying in the summer? As a sophomore, Ron had caddied PLUS worked for the city of Maple Heights during the summer PLUS he had a scholarship, PLUS he had two regular jobs at Miami—playing with the Campus Owls and counseling freshman residents of Fisher Hall—PLUS he was always looking into other ways to earn money, such as donating his blood and whatever else. By April 1953, Ron should have had a hefty sum accrued in his checking account, but he didn’t. He only had $87 and some change, and he still owed the university $110 for board plus he needed to pay back a $100 loan.
All of this begged the question: Was Ron Tammen supporting his brother Richard?
On this Labor Day weekend, a time when we celebrate America’s workers, I thought it would be fitting to discuss Richard’s Social Security earnings statement. That’s right, readers, thanks to the assistance of some very helpful people, I now have Richard’s Social Security earnings statement for 1952-1954, the years he attended Miami as a freshman and sophomore.
Before we delve, I’d like to discuss what a Social Security earnings statement is and what it isn’t.
But first, this caveat: OH MY GOSH, you guys, this is so not my area of expertise. I’m sitting here on a gorgeous Saturday reading the Social Security website just trying to understand this topic well enough to explain it adequately. If you happen to specialize in this area and I get anything wrong, please don’t hesitate to let me know, albeit gently. I didn’t pursue a career in tax law for a reason.
OK, let’s do this.
The Social Security earnings statement is a document that the Social Security Administration (SSA) produces detailing how much money you earned in a given year or years. They used to mail it to you but now you can create it on demand online. The earnings statement represents the amount of money that your employer has reported having paid you so that certain taxes can be withheld. Today, employers report annually, but in Richard’s and Ron’s day, it was reported quarterly. Come January of each year, we receive a W-2 with all of that info spelled out so we can use it to file our taxes. The SSA also uses the information to figure out our retirement income when that happy day arrives.
Still awake? Brilliant. The Social Security earnings statement may not include everything you earned for a particular year, however. Sometimes money will trade hands off the books, and the onus is on you to keep track of your earnings and file your taxes accordingly. Take caddying, for example. I’m sure both Ron and Richard were paid in cash by whomever they accompanied on the golf course on a given day. Also, Ron’s music gigs—I’m guessing the musicians were also paid in cash with no taxes withheld. But Ron’s jobs with the city of Maple Heights and Miami University would have definitely been included on his Social Security earnings statement. In Mr. Tammen’s letter to Ron in September 1952, he passed along tax information from Ron’s last check stubs from the city.
Other potential sources of income that would not show up on the earnings statement would be:
As I explained in an earlier post, Ron had a scholarship through the Cleveland District Golf Association. However, to the best of my knowledge, Richard didn’t have one. His academic standing wasn’t as good as Ron’s and a news article didn’t list him as a scholarship recipient for the year 1952-53.
Richard wasn’t eligible for a university loan as a freshman. However, if anyone else loaned him money—such as Willis Wertz, the architecture professor who co-signed a loan for Ron—I don’t know. My guess is that Richard wouldn’t have been a good candidate due to his poor grades and his lack of a steady income by which to reimburse the loan.
Keeping all of this in mind, I will now report Richard’s earnings for the years 1952-54.
Like I said, we know Richard was caddying over the summers, which didn’t show up here. And we don’t know if he had obtained a loan. (I doubt it.) But we also can conclude that Richard wasn’t working for the university during this time, whether it be washing dishes, waiting tables, or anything else students might be employed to do. That income would have been documented here. Likewise, a job with an employer off campus where he would have received a paycheck would have been documented in his earnings statement. From what I can tell, other than caddying, Richard wasn’t employed in 1952 or 1953.
The year after Ron disappeared, 1953-54, was abysmal for Richard. The first semester, he was placed on probation after he was caught cheating. Two grades were changed to Fs to accompany two Ds and a B. The second semester was almost as bad, where he earned a B, two Cs and an F. His transcript states that he was “Dropped for Scholarship.” Richard had flunked out.
That summer, Richard got a job with the G.W. Cobb Company, in Cleveland, which makes storage tanks and liquid handling systems. That’s where he earned the $322.41, which was good money for someone his age, translating to $3,272.08 in today’s dollars for about 3 months of work. (He was employed during a portion of the second and third quarters.) In September of 1954, he enlisted in the Army, where he would stay until September 1956.
In April 1956, Richard reapplied to Miami, asking to be readmitted to the Department of Architecture after his pending discharge from the Army. Miami said OK, providing that “he must make an average of 2.0 at the end of each semester henceforth; failure to do so to entail permanent suspension.” Richard managed to live by their rules, and he received his bachelor of architecture in August 1959 and his master of city design in June 1960. [Well, he *mostly* lived by the rules. See my correction in the comments below.]
So let’s get back to the big question: was Richard blackmailing Ron?
I think it’s a safe assumption that Richard wasn’t employed throughout his freshman year at Miami. Either he was earning enough money through caddying in the summer and during breaks or someone may have been helping him out—maybe Ron.
However, when Ron was a freshman in 1951-52, he didn’t appear to be working on or off campus either. Also, there’s no evidence of Ron needing to obtain loans during that first year. However, Ron did have his scholarship during his freshman year in addition to his caddying and city work in the summers and breaks. It’s possible that Ron’s and Richard’s income sources were enough to get them through their respective freshman years at Miami. For this reason, I don’t think we can jump to the conclusion that Richard was blackmailing Ron during Richard’s freshman year. It’s possible, and I’ll admit that I leapt there when I first saw Richard’s earnings statement, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.
What does seem pretty clear is that, during his second year at Miami, Ron’s expenses outweighed those of a typical college student back then. His sophomore year was substantially more costly for him than his freshman year had been, despite the fact that he was always working and didn’t go out much. His money seemed to be going out as fast as it was coming in.
I don’t know about you, but I’m even more convinced that someone was demanding money from Ron. I just still can’t be sure who it was or why.
What do you think? Am I overlooking something?
Also, in looking at my Social Security earnings statement, I see that I made $528 in my first-ever job, which was a waitress and grill cook at a local lunch counter. One of the skills I mastered there was bacon, where I learned to cook it extra crispy. An actual quote that I’ll never forget someone saying was, “We like to come here for Jenny’s bacon,” which I found hilarious but kind of cool.
And you? What was your first job as we celebrate Labor Day? Got any stories?
July 23rd would be Ron Tammen’s 88th birthday if he’s still living. To commemorate the day, I thought it would be fitting to discuss one of the more complicated and, as it turns out, pivotal figures in Ron’s life—his mother, Marjorie.
Of all the members of Ronald Tammen’s family, Marjorie Tammen is the one that people have been most reluctant to speak openly about—the one we’ve all been tiptoeing around. Throughout her married life, whenever Marjorie’s name came up in conversation, details would have likely been dodged and euphemisms employed. Only the nonverbals (the head shakes, the tsks) would convey the simple truth. I’m sure some people judged her as unfit. Others, usually women, felt deep sympathy for her. All too soon, her three oldest sons—John, Ronald, and Richard—considered her weak and unworthy of their respect. She embarrassed them.
It had to do with all the drinking. Even when her three oldest boys were small, and well before Ron went missing, Marjorie Tammen had an addiction to alcohol. Her day drinking affected her housekeeping and other wife and mom duties, which in those days had no end. Her dependency seeped into every crevice of her life. It’s what she died of at the age of 52—not of a broken heart, as some would say, but of cirrhosis of the liver. There. I said it. Now you know.
But addictions of any sort don’t define who we are. We’re a person first; the disease comes in at a distant second. And there’s always a starting point—there’s always a reason.
One of Marjorie’s main strengths lay in her family, where the bonds were tight and the safety net vast. It was Marjorie’s side of the family that supplied the relatives who were most influential to Ron and his siblings as they were growing up—the relatives they would go to for help without a moment’s hesitation, the people they tried to emulate.
And even though she embarrassed them, Marjorie’s three oldest sons would have been hard pressed to find a fiercer advocate for them. Which parent went running to school every time Richard bullied his way into a fresh world of trouble? Marjorie did. Who took it upon herself to call the Cleveland office of the FBI—the FBI!—to tell them about her son who’d gone missing while he was away at college? Marjorie. Who gave those FBI guys Ron’s fingerprints in 1953 to help with their investigation—the fingerprints she’d saved on a card since 1941? I’m sure it was Marjorie, since she’d mentioned those prints in an interview with a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter in 1960.
Say what you will about Marjorie, she wasn’t afraid to throw on a coat or pick up a phone in the interest of her kids.
Marjorie was born Marjorie Jane McCann on September 4, 1911, in Sharon, PA, less than 20 miles from Youngstown, OH, near the western edge of the Pennsylvania border. She was the baby of the family. Her brother John was three years older than she was and her sister Mary was one year older. When Mary was a toddler, she came down with polio, a deadly disease that, happily, was eradicated in the United States and throughout most of the world by a vaccine. (Speaking of vaccines, are you fully vaccinated against Covid-19 yet? If not, please do your part pronto. Personally, there’s no way I’d want to face the delta variant unvaccinated. And until there’s a vaccine for the under-12 crowd, I’ll still be masking indoors. Here’s that link again. Thank you for coming to my TED tirade. I’m afraid we don’t have time for questions.)
Mary’s bout with polio left her with a severe limp that lasted her whole life. Marjorie was her sister’s helper, especially during the hard early years, which cemented the bond between them. When Mary became a career woman with no kids of her own, her “favorite aunt” status was elevated to an art form—practically to the point of being an auxiliary mom. She was a giver—of her time, her money, whatever she had—and what she didn’t have to give, she’d loan to them. The latter included her car if the Tammen family needed to drive beyond where the city bus would take them. Among Ron’s siblings with whom I’ve had the chance to speak, Aunt Mary’s name was the one most frequently mentioned when they described the people who were there for them as children.
The McCanns moved from Pennsylvania to Lakewood, Ohio, in 1922, when father Albert was hired to work for an electrical company. Soon, he’d get a job in elevator manufacturing and would learn the ups and downs of that trade. Floranell, Marjorie’s mother, worked in a profession nearer and dearer to my heart: she was a librarian at the Cleveland Public Library as well as the Western Reserve Medical Library.
Albert and Floranell McCann
When it was time to start thinking about college, Marjorie’s brother John chose Miami University, thus setting the whole Miami legacy train into motion. By 1933, John McCann had received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business at Miami. Two years later, he married a fellow Miami grad, Eleanora Handschin, who’d studied psychology there. John’s and Eleanora’s ties to Miami were especially tight, since Eleanora’s father, Charles Hart Handschin, was a renowned German professor at Miami, and he and his wife Helena lived in Oxford. In 1934, Mary graduated from Miami in home economics education, which prepared her for a lifelong career in teaching. Marjorie would attend Miami too, and she would also study home economics, though she wouldn’t graduate. (More on that in a bit.) And of course, three of Marjorie’s five children—Ron, then Richard, and later Marcia—would attend Miami. (When Ron was at Miami, he was known to visit the Handschins, whose home was behind the Delta Tau Delta house.)
In June 1929, Marjorie graduated from Lakewood High School. Her yearbook photo shows a cute grinning girl in a flapper haircut beneath which were three adjectives the yearbook staff felt summed her up best: mutable, jocular, and modest. Jocular and modest are great traits for any high schooler, but if Marjorie was mutable in any way, I’d say it was photographically. Whereas Mary usually looked the same way in photos—elegant and beautiful—Marjorie seemed to morph into someone else over the years. Still, she usually smiled.
Say what you will about Marjorie, she would smile for the camera, even when she was hurting.
Speaking of photographs, it probably goes without saying that Ron Tammen, Sr.—the soon-to-be love of Marjorie’s life—was handsome. Whether he was a young man with deep-set eyes in his 20s, or a Ronald Colman clone in his 30s and 40s, or a graying Mr. Chips-type in his 50s and upward, the man never seemed to take a bad picture. Marjorie met him at a dance when she was a freshman at Miami and he was playing in a band that had rolled into town for the night. Let’s just say that it was part kismet and part pyrotechnics that brought the two of them together. The fact that he was wailing away on a sax when she first laid eyes on him didn’t hurt one bit.
Marjorie was younger than Ron Sr. by four years, which at that stage of life was considerable. She decided not to return to Miami the following year, and in the words of Johnny and June Carter Cash, she and Ron Sr. “got married in a fever” and were indeed “hotter than a pepper sprout” for each other. They were married on January 31, 1931, though not everyone was happy about it.
“Grandfather McCann was very rigorously and religiously Catholic,” John Tammen once told me, and he “wouldn’t let her get married. And so my mother and father had to elope.”
The way John told it, Albert had wanted Marjorie to wait until Mary got married, since Mary was older, but I think there may have been more to the story. In our first interview, Marcia Tammen had recalled that Ron Sr. was raised as a Christian Scientist, which wouldn’t sit well with Albert. Back then, religions didn’t do a lot of commingling. Unless he became Catholic, I can’t imagine that Ron Sr. would have ever been a suitable mate as far as Albert was concerned. Marjorie probably thought it would be hopeless to try to convince her father otherwise. Besides, if Marjorie had abided by Albert’s rule to merrily wait for Mary to marry, Marjorie’s life would’ve been on pause until 1955, when Aunt Mary became Mrs. Edward Spehar.
So they eloped. And by “eloped,” I mean they got married in Mr. Tammen’s home on Ednolia Avenue in Lakewood, officiated by a local Presbyterian minister. Although the marriage license says she was 21, Marjorie was only 19—barely—by four months. It was a premeditated fib. According to Ohio marriage law at that time, Marjorie would have needed parental permission, which she most certainly did not have, if she’d given her true age.
Say what you will about Marjorie, she had a mind of her own.
I know what you’re thinking, and relax, everyone. It appears as though they made things right with the state of Ohio sometime after John was born. Also, I guess lying about one’s age on a marriage license was somewhat of a thing in those days. There’s even a Dick Van Dyke episode where Laura Petrie had lied about her age when she married Rob and they had to get married a second time. (You may want to watch the two-part episode sometime. I forgot how funny that show was, but then Carl Reiner was one of the best screenwriters ever.) [Part 1: Laura’s Little Lie; Part 2: Very Old Shoes, Very Old Rice]
We already know that times were hard during those years. It was the Depression, after all. Most people had it hard. Ron Sr. hadn’t gone to college, so he taught himself the skill of actuarial science, how to calculate risk in the insurance business. He landed himself a job as an insurance adjuster, which helped during the lean years.
But there was another hardship. Back then, people had fewer options available to them for birth control, especially if they’d been raised Catholic. Mr. and Mrs. Tammen’s method may well have been something akin to keeping track of the days of the month and hoping for the best. Turns out, whatever method they were using wasn’t foolproof. Each year of marriage would yield another brand new baby boy. On May 25, 1932, John was born. Five months later, Marjorie was pregnant again with Ron Jr. Six and a half months after giving birth to Ron, she was once again pregnant, this time with Richard. For someone in her early 20s, it was a lot—too much really. John seemed to think that this was the reason that his mother began drinking. There were too many rambunctious boys running around the house.
“Our mother was really very ill-prepared to handle us,” said John. We just absolutely drove her crazy from the time we were up and walking until our middle teenage years when kids begin to get focused on other things in life… Because we were forever into doing stuff. We were very active. We drove my mother really nuts. We literally drove her to drink.”
Maybe. Or it could have been a thought planted deep in Marjorie’s psyche, as if she’d convinced herself that her prolific baby-making ability was the sole reason that the family was struggling. As if she alone was the problem. At least that was the opinion of one woman who knew both Marjorie and Mr. Tammen well.
According to the woman, after Marjorie had the three boys, Mr. Tammen basically turned off. He criticized Marjorie for not using protection, she said. The woman recalled another person who’d felt the same way—as if Marjorie’s morale had been broken.
If Marjorie felt responsible for the family’s financial burdens, she must have also felt guilty about her inability to bring home a paycheck. It wasn’t as if she didn’t want to work. In 1930, before she got married, Marjorie had been a librarian, just like her mother. (Marjorie loved to read.) But how could she get a job when she needed to tend to three preschoolers?
Marjorie thought of an alternative. She knew how to sew. In the years that followed, she sewed clothes for all of her children—first for the three boys, then Marcia, and later Robert. She mastered sleeves and collars, pant legs and pockets, pleats and hems, not to mention the accompanying buttonholes and zippers. Marjorie sewed up a storm, and, as a result, her kids always stood out from the others. Marjorie’s kids looked amazing.
Say what you will about Marjorie, if she had no other means to help out, she’d go straight to her wheelhouse.
Things probably improved for John, Ron, and Richard as they got older and were working in various jobs away from home. I have no doubt that they loved their mother. And yet I can also imagine them looking forward to the day when they’d be heading to college and no longer living with her. To be able to invite a friend over on the fly or to walk home from class without a feeling of dread would be motivation enough to move to a school several hours away.
John’s memory is harsh. In a letter he wrote to Marcia in 2014 discussing the family’s most difficult years, he said: “Because of [Mom’s] bad habits, poor organization of the house, and what we saw and [sic] an almost total lack of caring for us, we all came to usually disregard what she said so that she had no effective control over what we did, where we went, and when we returned; we became almost emancipated at 15, 14, and 13.”
“Almost emancipated,” he said. Almost. Because despite all the sadness that the Tammen brothers had to endure—despite learning to adapt to Marjorie’s varying degrees of normal—they also knew that they could rely on Marjorie’s mother Floranell and sister Mary, both of whom lived nearby. (Albert McCann died in 1944.)
And even though he was farther away, Ron Jr.’s end-all, be-all role model, his influencer uncle, also maintained a strong connection with them. Uncle John McCann is probably one of the main reasons Ron chose to attend Miami. I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog site that Uncle John had sold bonds, which is why Ron felt that he wanted to have a career in bonds too. Uncle John was a business major; Ron was a business major. But John McCann was also a highly decorated colonel in the U.S. Air Force, which probably impressed Ron a great deal. Here are just a few of Uncle John McCann’s impressive military credentials:
Col. McCann worked in intelligence with the Army Air Corps during World War II.
In 1950, at the start of the Korean War, he was called back to the Air Force Reserves as an executive officer of a troop carrier wing in Greenville, South Carolina.
Weirdly enough, Ron’s Uncle John died on April 20 in 1995, one day after the 42nd anniversary of Ron’s disappearance from Uncle John’s alma mater. His children were great friends to the Tammens, their closest cousins. They’ve remained in touch with one another to this day.
I think we all know how Ron’s disappearance affected Marjorie. It devastated her, but I’d argue that it didn’t destroy her. She still had Marcia and Robert living at home—ages 10 and 7—and there was no way she could give up then. She also wanted to keep looking for Ron, which she vowed to do, granting interviews about her son when reporters asked and quickly responding to the periodic FBI letters asking whether Ron had been located yet or was he still missing. (Answer: always B.)
Family photos in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Click on photos for more info.
On September 30, 1962, Marcia’s 20th birthday, Marjorie Tammen wrote her daughter a letter. As usual, the resources available to her were limited. No Hallmark Greetings here—just a sheet of stationery with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen letterhead (Mr. Tammen’s workplace), and a blue ink pen.
By the time you recieve [sic] this you will be twenty. First and foremost, “Happy Birthday.”
I am not sure you are aware how older people tend to reflect. Now by “older” I don’t mean those with a foot in the grave.
But September 30th has always held a special meaning for me. That was the day it was our good fortune to be blessed with a girl.
As you have progressed through the years, we have seen you develop so well.
As of Oct. 1th [sic], you will take a step again toward the future. This is the day you leave your teens and enter the twenties. This is not a large step but just approaching the future.
If your next twenty years will see you develop as well as the first twenty, you will be fulfilling all that can be asked of anyone.
So again to you, Marcia, the very happiest of birthdays. With this goes all the love of all of us.
P.S. This doesn’t mean I won’t fight with you tomorrow. Mama
Here’s what I love about this letter: First, it came from Marjorie’s heart. She had no idea what to give her daughter on this momentous day, so she grabbed a sheet of stationery from a drawer and she wrote. Because feelings are free.
Second, the letter held so much meaning for Marcia, she saved it until the day she died. Do you have a card stored away from your 20th birthday? Yeah, me neither.
And best of all, 9 ½ years after her golden-boy son had disappeared and about 1 ½ years before she would die, Marjorie Tammen was still able to joke around with her daughter.
So, say what you will about Marjorie.
But she was still jocular, still modest, still mutable, and she still had some fight in her, right to the end.
Many of these photos and stories were part of Marcia Tammen’s genealogy files and were graciously shared with me by Marcia’s forever friend Jule Miller, who was practically a family member herself. Other photos were shared with me by one of Ron’s cousins, and I thank her so much for them. The remaining stories I obtained from interviews and additional research.
Surprise! I mean, seriously, what kind of blogger would I be if I posted something a week before the anniversary of Ron Tammen’s disappearance and then had nothing for you to ponder on the 19th? This bonus post is something I’ve been keeping in my back pocket since 2013: an analysis of Ron Tammen’s handwriting as well as the handwriting of his father.
Mind you, I didn’t have much for the handwriting specialists to work with. The sample from Ron Sr. is far more helpful, since I have the letter he’d handwritten in the fall of 1952 granting Ron Jr. permission to take over his own finances. For Ron Jr., the best thing I had at the time were two signatures: one from his junior yearbook and the other from his senior yearbook, which I’d purchased on eBay. As luck would have it, the yearbooks were originally owned by an extremely outgoing classmate of Ron’s who, during their senior year, asked every single person in her class to sign their senior photo, and managed to get a respectable number of signatures during her junior year as well. Impressive hustle, Mary Ellen Kleckner!
As is often the case, I need to provide some caveats:
First, I don’t know very much about handwriting analysis. When I consider my own handwriting, I know that it’s changed substantially since high school, and now, no one can read it, myself included. Seriously, I can’t imagine what someone would say about my personality after reading a grocery list or birthday card from me other than “she doesn’t write very well.”
Second, the skill seems fairly subjective, which is why I approached two people to look at Ron’s signature. I figured that if they said the same thing, that might carry more weight. (Maybe. I really don’t know.) One expert provided a quick assessment free of charge, and the other provided a more thorough assessment that I paid for. I’m not including the analysts’ names in this blog, only their assessments, however it appears to me that both hold strong credentials in their field.
Third, for the most part, I’m only including what the analyst said about the writing itself. If, for example, she shared her opinion of what might have happened to Ron based on some old news stories she found online (this was before my blog), I’ve left that part off. However, the analysis for Ron Sr. does discuss the content of the letter in addition to his style of writing. I’m letting it stand, but just be aware that it gives the analyst a head start when assessing his personality.
On the left is Ron’s junior yearbook and on the right is his senior yearbook. How fast can you find his signature on the left-hand page?
Analyst #1 had this to say:
A signature only reveals what the writer wants the world to think about him and isn’t very useful without additional writing to compare to. It would be important to know how congruent the signature and the writing are before being able to determine what it all means.
As I said, a signature by itself doesn’t say much. The large capitals and clear writing suggest someone who thought a lot of himself, was probably ambitious and proud. He had an analytical mind and would dig for the facts of a matter. It’s hard to say for sure because this is a copy, but I wonder from the way the ink flows if he was ill. He may have had a problem in the abdominal area. [She later said this was due to the ink blobs in spots and how it was uneven in other areas.] He seems to have been open and outgoing, fairly consistent in his behavior.
Analyst #2 said this:
Note: The signature is representative of the public self image and shows how the writer would like to present himself to others and is not representative of the total personality.
Mr. Tammen’s signature is clear and legible which indicates that he presents himself in an honest fashion. He has large capital letters showing a degree of confidence with the inflated capital R indicating a lot of emotional energy. The letters are all connected revealing that he is was a logical thinker with some analytical ability as seen in the pointed strokes in his m’s. His a’s and o’s are clear and closed showing that he is honest, but discreet in his communications. The loop in the “d” reveals some sensitivity to personal criticism while the higher second leg on the capital H shows that he had an ambitious nature. The squared r’s indicate good manual dexterity and the full “y” loop can be interpreted as ample energy and financial motivation.
She then said that her first impression of his signature was that it made her wonder about Ron’s sexual orientation.
His writing indicates that he was a highly intelligent man who was concentrated and analytical in his thinking. He had a very logical and rational mind and could be skeptical and opinionated in his viewpoint. To convince him, a person would have to give very specific details and provide substantiated proof of their claims. He was not one to base his decision on intuition or emotion.
He operated more from intellect than ego and perhaps was self actualized and not looking for attention or recognition for his accomplishments. He was controlled and moderate in his display of self confidence and maintained his personal space and distance from others making him a bit unapproachable. He may have been somewhat aloof due to his station in life and could be tenacious in getting the results he desired.
As a father, he could be a firm, yet fair, but highly requiring. He had a domineering nature, but not in an aggressive or hurtful way. He may have set standards that he expected his children to achieve and could hand down stern reprimands if his expectations of them were not met. He could be discreet and diplomatic in his communications and, although not highly verbal, could probably rise to the occasion when he felt something needed to be said. He could be strict and controlling in managing both business and family.
His small, tight writing shows an intense and frugal nature, yet he was highly motivated by financial gain. His numbers reveal that he was very good with financial information and the only place he makes full loops in his writing is in the lower extensions of the y’s and g’s which represent his material and physical drive. It could be said that he had a lot of “money bags” in his writing.
In regard to what we have discussed about his son’s personality, it would be very hard for Ronald Tammen, Sr. to accept anything less than the standards of behavior and achievement he expected of his namesake.
Honestly, I don’t know how much faith to put into handwriting analysis. I’d probably say that I possess a healthy skepticism, which is why I’ve been holding onto these assessments for so long. But people have asked me in the past if I’d tried it, so I wanted to at least show you all that I have. Also, the analyses are interesting, and some points do ring true, though there are other parts that I’m not sure about at all. (Case in point: the comment about Ron’s possible abdominal issues is kind of out there. Also, I would never draw conclusions regarding Ron’s sexual orientation based solely on his handwriting.) Just thought you might find this of interest too. If you have thoughts to share, feel free.
I think it’s time we chatted a little more about Richard, don’t you?
Richard, Richard, Richard. Where to begin?
Richard Tammen was…a pill. A troublemaker. A royal pain in the ass. All those things and then some. But could he have been a blackmailer?
Before we get too far into this discussion, I need to establish a few guiding principles:
Guiding principle number one: When I started this project, I’d promised myself (and my mother) that I wouldn’t be airing people’s dirty laundry indiscriminately. If I stumbled upon a few cadavers in someone’s closet, an arm bone or two in someone’s armoire, I wouldn’t be sharing that information unless it was pertinent to the case. So even though I knew as early as 2012 that the end of Richard Tammen’s life wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t prepared to publicize those details, because, to be honest, I didn’t think that they had anything to do with Ron’s disappearance. Now, however, I’m more inclined to believe that they may be indicative of someone with serious character flaws, which may be relevant to his Miami years after all.
Guiding principle number two: Anyone who is living who may be related to Richard through a marriage or whatever will not be named or discussed on this blogsite—ever. I believe in protecting people’s privacy, y’all.
And finally, guiding principle number three: We’re just tossing around some ideas at this point. Right now, I can’t say whether or not Richard was blackmailing Ron—or even if Ron was being blackmailed at all. But it’s a question worth pursuing, and so I will.
I’ve already passed along several details about Richard during his K-12 years, some of which may help explain how he came to be the person he was. One former neighbor who used to play street football with the three oldest Tammen boys said that they nicknamed Richard “Peewee” because he was so short. That’s bound to rile you after a while. John attributed Richard’s meanness to the fact that he was left-handed, and, for years, the teachers used to rap his knuckles to get him to switch hands. And while we’re on the subject of school, Richard was escorted to the principal’s office so often that John and Ron felt the need to employ a secret hand signal to let each other know if they’d spotted their mother Marjorie in the building. Her flair for the dramatic made things so much worse.
But lots of people who grew up in Richard’s day managed to survive nicknames and sore knuckles and trips to the principal’s office without becoming, um, blackmailers. John also said that the three boys got along, and were each other’s best friends—building forts, sliding down hills, cooking up money-making ventures. And Richard seemed to be following in Ron’s and John’s footsteps, joining all the same clubs in high school. Despite their personality differences, the Tammen boys looked alike. They dressed alike. They seemed to like to do the same kinds of things. When Richard came to Miami as a freshman during the 1952-53 academic year, he pledged Ron’s fraternity, Delta Tau Delta. Why would he do that if they didn’t get along?
Nevertheless, it’s nearly impossible to escape who we really are, even as we mature and mellow, and Richard’s bullying reputation followed him to Miami. The Delts weren’t that enamored with Richard either. They knew him to be a hothead…an aptly named Dick. One of them let me know that the only reason Richard was invited to join the fraternity was because of Ron. And maybe that was always Richard’s survival method—riding Ron’s coattails to get through any door. Did he have his hands in Ron’s coat pockets too?
Seriously, would he do that? Here’s why I’m looking into this question: as far as I can tell, Richard was working his way through college by caddying in the summers, and that’s all. It doesn’t appear as if he had a job as a freshman at Miami. His brother Robert doesn’t recall Richard having any additional income sources either.
Ron, on the other hand, was also caddying during the summers. Before starting his freshman year at Miami, he reported earning $350 from caddying for the Hawthorne Valley Country Club as well as performing semi-skilled labor for the City of Maple Heights. In addition, Ron had received a scholarship as a caddie through the Cleveland District Golf Association. The scholarship was for high school boys who had caddied for at least two years (Ron had been caddying for 7 years before college), who carried at least a B-plus average, and who were “unable to finance a university education.”
We don’t know the amount of Ron’s scholarship—it varied from person to person. We also don’t know if he received a two-year or a four-year scholarship, but, of course, that didn’t matter anyway, given the way things played out for him. As for the fund itself, in 1952, it totaled roughly $4300, which was split by all the overlapping recipients over a given academic year (18-ish, per a 1953 article). Ron’s piece of the pie would have likely been in the neighborhood of at least a couple hundred dollars a year. Possibly more.
But here’s my point: it seemed to be enough. Ron seemed to be getting along just fine during his freshman year between his scholarship and the caddying and city work over the summer and vacation breaks. He didn’t have his other sources of income yet—the Campus Owls, the residence hall counseling, the blood donations—until his sophomore year. And the university’s loan program didn’t apply to freshmen.
Richard, on the other hand, didn’t receive the caddie scholarship. I know that, because I have the newspaper article announcing the recipients for 1952-53 on my hot little hard drive. And yet, at a time when he seemed to be surviving with only the income from his summer caddying job, Ron was working more than ever, doing all of the above. And here’s the kicker: with all of Ron’s sources of income, including the loans, and with few living expenses other than his car, you’d think that he would have saved more. But all he had in his checking account when he disappeared was a little over $87. And he still owed the university for most of his dining hall fees plus that $100 loan.
Do I intend to continue following the money? Oh, you betcha. I’m currently attempting to obtain Richard’s Social Security earnings report for the years 1952-1954, and, while I’m at it, I think I’ll ask them for Ron’s entire earnings report just to see what they do. But the Social Security Administration is almost as difficult as the CIA when trying to obtain FOIA records. There are other sources I’ll be reaching out to as well. I’ll let you know how things go.
Now, at the beginning of this post I promised to reveal something I’ve been holding back about Richard, and here it is: when Richard died in an apartment fire on October 23, 2004, he was heavily armed. Not only that, but at least some of his weapons were potentially—and I’m going to say probably—illegal.
As it so happens, Richard had two Smith and Wesson guns in his possession when he died. One was a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and the other was a 40-caliber semi-automatic handgun. Now, this may surprise you, but I’m not a gun person. In fact, the above sentence reveals the extent of my knowledge regarding Richard’s taste in guns. At this point, let’s just say that they’re both lethal. Also, did a 69-year-old guy with health issues living in an apartment for seniors really need that kind of weaponry to defend his hearth and home? Me thinks not.
But what was most interesting about Richard’s firearms stash—and what gave at least one of the investigating police officers pause—was the ammunition. The pistol, which was found in the fire debris, was loaded with what appears to be 15 cartridges, though there are inconsistencies in that report. More clearly stated was what investigators had later found: another three magazines—two .40 caliber and one 9 mm—that were each fully loaded with 15 cartridges. For the non-gun afficionados, anything over 10 cartridges in one magazine is considered a “high-capacity magazine,” which was prohibited during the years 1994-2004 by the federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Here’s what the Giffords Law Center says on this topic:
“In 1994, Congress adopted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, making it unlawful to transfer or possess a “large capacity ammunition feeding device” not lawfully possessed on or before the law’s enactment.12 The law also banned the manufacture, transfer, and possession of semi-automatic assault weapons. See our summary on Assault Weapons for more information. The law was adopted with a sunset clause, however, and expired in 2004, despite overwhelming public support for its renewal. Thus, large capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons that were formerly banned under the federal law are now legal unless banned by state or local law.”
Keep in mind that Richard was living in Contra Costa County, California, at the time of his death. Even though the federal law against high-capacity magazines ended September 13, 2004—a little over one month before Richard died—California had its own law on the books.
Beginning in 2000, it was illegal to sell, manufacture, import, or transfer magazines that hold more than 10 bullets in California. However, if a person had already owned such magazines at the time the law went into effect, they were permitted to keep them. In 2016, 12 years after Richard died, it was illegal to own them. (You can read more on the California law here.) In August of this year, the Ninth Circuit voted to end the ban saying that it violated a person’s Second Amendment rights.
Were Richard’s high-capacity magazines illegal? It depends on when he bought them. Unfortunately, I’ve read that it’s practically impossible to tell when ammunition was purchased. (His guns and ammunition were destroyed in 2007.) I’m no lawyer, but it appears to me that if he purchased the magazines before 1994, then he would have been a law-abiding citizen. Is that what he did—held onto three, probably four, high-capacity magazines for 20 years? By the way, I’m also trying to determine if the semi-automatic guns were legal at that time, but the distinctions provided in the law are a lot tougher for a non-gun-person to determine. (According to a 2019 ABC News article that I found especially helpful, that’s why there were so many loopholes in the law.) I’ll be seeking the guidance of experts on that question.
And that leads me to ask this question: what is the point of no return when someone decides to start criming? Or, in Richard’s case, when did he decide to cross the line from buttoned-down college freshman to blackmailer and whatever else—if, in fact, that’s what he did? Could it have happened in an innocent, unintended way? Richard wanted to be an architect, but his personality was so repellant and his grades so bad that he may have had to ask his brother for an assist. If his brother said “No, sorry, you need to carry your own weight,” would he resort to force? Would he threaten to reveal some intel that he knew would destroy his brother if his brother didn’t cooperate?
Ron’s money problems seemed to have started during the summer of 1952, when he asked his father if he could control his own finances, and he showed signs of stress after returning home for spring break in 1953. Who would he have spent lots of time with during both of those periods? Little brother, that’s who.
What do you think? The floor is now open, but please note that any comments for or against gun control won’t be approved—this isn’t the place for that discussion. However, if someone has expertise on the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and whether a particular semi-automatic weapon was permissible or not, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Of course, anything else on the blackmail theory and Richard’s potential role is welcome too.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Despite the fact that (hopefully) most of us have adjusted our usual Thanksgiving plans and are keeping things small and meaningful this year, it’s still my favorite holiday. To commemorate this tumultuous year, I encourage you to use the comments section to tell us how you are—or aren’t—spending the holiday due to covid-19. (Send pics too!) I’ll go first: we won’t be making our annual trek to NYC to visit my brother and his partner this year. It sucks—it really, really does. But, for the good of the country, we’ll just have to wait until 2021 for my brother’s stupendous stuffin’ muffins (see my Thanksgiving 2018 post for recipe).
But I also have a surprise for you: an editorial on the topic of Thanksgiving that’s brought to us by our very own Ronald Tammen. So cool, right?? When Ron was a senior at Maple Heights High School, he oversaw the editorial page of the student paper, the Maple Heights Herald. Although I can’t say with 100% certainty that Ron wrote all of the editorials while he was in charge, they do sound a lot like Ron—or how I picture Ron’s writings to sound: serious and responsible and loaded with patriotism and advice about the importance of hard work to better oneself. If he didn’t write an editorial for a particular issue, at the very least, he would have given it a final polish and stamp of approval. But this one totally sounds like something he wrote.
The editorial I’m sharing with you was published 70 years ago—on November 16, 1950—and it certainly sounds that way in places. Plus, there’s nothing like reading the deep and earnest and not-quite-gelled thoughts of a high schooler on deadline. To provide additional perspective, in June of that year, the United States had entered into the Korean War. For a young man like Ron who would be registering for the draft in eight short months, the world was getting scary. (And if you think this editorial sounds somber, just give a read to this excerpt from the one he ran at Christmas: “As conditions are shaping in Korea, the atomic bomb may well be brought into use. And, if it is, assuredly, there are those of us who may not be around to celebrate the next Yuletide.”) Yikes. Despite the differences between then and now, some aspects still ring familiar, and, for this reason, I thought it would be worth posting.
Thanksgiving is a simple word—as simple and straightforward as the small band of Pilgrims who first gave it meaning over 300 years ago. They had given up every bit of security and even risked their very lives to come to America. And why did they sacrifice almost everything? They believed in having freedom from tyranny and despotism and were willing to give anything for this privilege.
Those first few years were very painful for the Pilgrims and they faced hardships never before encountered. Some died while they were in sight of shore and were buried before there was even thought of shelter. The Pilgrims had determination however, and still more important they had faith in God and in themselves. They had faith that if they worked hard enough things would brighten and take a turn for the better. They had faith in an ideal and nothing that happened would sway them from it.
Little by little they gathered strength and with the help of the friendly Indians, they were able to produce a crop large enough to maintain life. It was decided to set aside a day in which they could all feast and give thanks to the Lord for helping them.
It would be well for us to compare this Thanksgiving with the first one, in that we are experiencing a similar sense of uncertainty. Progress has changed our way of living, but we are still devoting our strength and faith to the same principles of freedom. We are the Pilgrims of the twentieth century and must stand as firm as they for our beliefs. Thus is Thanksgiving—the holiday that explains America.
Our recent discussions about Ron’s finances, loans, and faculty co-signers on those loans reminded me of something this morning: a letter that Ron’s father had written to Ron back in the fall of Ron’s sophomore year. Mr. Tammen wrote the letter on September 19, 1952—a Friday. Although his handwriting is beautifully legible, a remnant of days gone by, I’ve typed it out for you here:
19 Sept. 1952
Dear Ron: —
We have been waiting more or less to hear from you, but realize that you must be extremely busy not only with your studies, but also with your other activities: — such as, counselor and the Owls.
Mom picked up your checks today so we thought we would forward them as quickly as possible so you could get your “Savings Account” started. We are going along with you on this deal as we feel you are old enough and should have the experience of handling your own money. We hope you will be wise and remember that practically all of it will have to be used for next semester.
I am retaining your check stubs for your tax purposes, but will put down exactly what the stub shows:
All in all, it was slightly more than you expected and you were paid for that day.
When you do find time to write, please give us a brief on expenses and expenditures.
Mr. Tammen seemed to have a question concerning the dates of Ron’s bus-washing services. In addition, written in pencil at the bottom in the left-hand column is the following:
When I first read his letter, I was struck by how parental it sounded, but not in a warm way. It felt formal. The sentence that stood out most was the one about Ron being paid for that day, underlined twice. What could have happened at his city job that was so terrible, Mr. Tammen didn’t even want to put it in writing? Did Ron roll a truck? Did he get into a fistfight with another bus washer? The mind reeled. I tried to find out—I really did. I asked Ron’s siblings if they remembered some incident that happened to Ron at work that summer, and no one had any idea. I contacted the City of Maple Heights to see if they still had an employment record for Ron, but they didn’t. I visited the city’s museum where they store boxes of old books and city papers to see if his employment record might have been there. It wasn’t.
The rest of the letter didn’t interest me that much. It sounded like Ron was just trying to become more independent by handling his own finances, which only seemed fair. Ron was responsible for putting himself through college, just like his two brothers, John and Richard. Mr. Tammen wasn’t contributing a dime to his education. I filed the letter and didn’t think much more about it.
Several things stand out for me in light of what we now know:
First, the “Savings Account” that Mr. Tammen alludes to in the letter wasn’t mentioned by Mr. Shera of the Oxford National Bank when he wrote to Carl Knox about the $87.25 balance he’d mailed to Miami’s bursar. Mr. Shera calls it a “commercial account,” singular, and we already know that Ron was writing checks. I don’t think Ron had a savings account—I think it was just checking. In addition, a “commercial account” is defined as a business account where funds are readily accessible, as with a checking account. According to his brother John, in addition to playing with the Campus Owls, Ron was known to manage gigs on the side. Perhaps this is the reason his account is referred to as commercial? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer.
Second, Mr. Tammen’s last sentence, where he’s requesting a “brief on expenses and expenditures” is telling. He seems like a micromanager and, I’ll say it, a bit of a pain. With Ron taking over his own finances, perhaps he thought he could somehow avoid his father’s scrutinizing every little expenditure. This could be Ron’s way of making sure that Mr. Tammen didn’t know about every single check he wrote.
And that’s when it occurred to me. Perhaps Ron wasn’t seeking to manage his own finances so that he could expedite adulthood. Maybe he wanted to keep some expenses hidden from his father.
But what expenses? Ron was so busy working, he barely had time to spend his money. Nevertheless, he was always in need of money.
Here’s where my head is right now: blackmail.
Several of you have suggested this possibility and I think you may be right. Think about it: Ron’s freshman year at Miami went fairly well, but his sophomore year was pretty much a bust from the get-go. Even beginning that first semester, he started to drop courses and was no longer considered full-time. He was always working and his grades were slipping.
During the summer of 1952, Ron was working for the City of Maple Heights doing a number of assorted jobs. Could it be that sometime during that summer, Ron and another male were caught in a tryst and the witness decided to make it lucrative? Maybe the blackmailer said that he could be paid on the installment plan.
So how might this have played out: At the beginning of the fall semester, Ron asks his father to let him handle his own finances. That way, his dad wouldn’t know about any checks Ron might have written to his newfound “friend.”
He struggles to make it work, again taking on jobs and securing loans. Perhaps he even volunteered for the Psychology Department’s hypnosis study, both to make some money as well as to see if they could change him somehow, to prevent this situation from happening again.
When Ron went home during spring break, however, something happened. Maybe he saw his blackmailer and the person upped his amount. Whatever happened, when Ron returned to school the following week, people noticed a change in Ron’s behavior. According to Carl Knox’s notes, he was seen reading the Bible 5 or 6 times, and, he “spoke of being ‘tired lately’ since vacation.”
He was in a crisis. Someone may have been threatening to out him if he didn’t pay up, and he was way over his head in debt. Crazy as it sounds, this could have been what brought the CIA to his rescue.
A couple other thoughts:
I’m not sure who penciled in the calculations at the bottom of Mr. Tammen’s letter. It may have been Ron, though, based on another note page, the numbers appear to match those made by Carl Knox.
It amazes me that Ron had held onto his father’s letter for so long and that the university was able to obtain it. In addition, Carl Knox’s penciled-in notes asking “Did he owe Univ any money?” or telling himself to “Follow up re Check Book” clearly show that the university found Ron’s money issues to be as interesting as we do.
Sorry to be a bother, you guys, but I can’t keep this in. This afternoon, I was busy working on — what else? — Tammen research when I discovered something pertinent to our topic du jour. In the summer of 2019, I was visiting University Archives (sigh…I really miss road trips) going through a bunch of documents. On that particular day, I was leafing through issues of their Information Bulletin for Faculty and Staff from the early 1950s — 1950 and 1952 to be exact. As I recall, the university didn’t produce a new bulletin every year. Sometimes they just produced an addendum. Fortunately, I had taken photos of numerous pages — some relevant to the topic I was obsessing about at that moment, and a couple having to do with what I’m obsessing about now: student loans.
Here’s what they had to say about student loans in the 1950 issue (apologies for the bad photos, but I’m guessing you’re used to that by now):
And here’s what they had to say about them in the 1952 addendum, right around the time when Ron would have been applying for one:
Here are the points I want to leave you with today:
Student loans were a big deal.
Since Ron was a sophomore, his loan would have been limited to $100.
I’m guessing that Ron had been a recipient of this loan, and it’s the same one that Mr. Alden had written up when discussing Ron’s outstanding debt.
And the juiciest tidbit of all: our friend H.H. Stephenson oversaw the student loan program.
So H.H. Stephenson was overseeing the student loan program when Ron received his loan. That loan may have even been relatively recent, since Carl Knox’s notes indicate that Ron had recently deposited a $100 check from a loan. What this tells me is that H.H. Stephenson was even better acquainted with Ron than we had previously known. Sure, sure, H.H. knew him because he’d given him a car permit. But he’d also just handed him $100! Could that be one of the reasons the university kept a lid on H.H.’s potential Ron sighting — they didn’t want the money issue to come out? What’s more, for me at least, it also makes the potential sighting more believable.
Purposely lying to a member of the press is a big fat no-no for a spokesperson of any stripe. Obfuscating—intentionally throwing up smokescreens—is really bad too. But to look a reporter in the eye and say something that’s not in the least bit true takes a special kind of moxie. It also requires a motive. Otherwise, why not just tell the truth? For those with nothing to hide, honesty is so much easier.
So for someone like Carl Knox—who, from what I’ve been told, was an aboveboard kind of guy—to introduce an untruth with a reporter when discussing Tammen’s case seems especially bizarre. Wouldn’t he and other university officials have wanted to get everything out in the open in hopes that it might help them find Ron? What’s more, Knox was still in his first year as dean of men at Miami—a brand new post. He would have wanted to pour everything he had into a task that held such high visibility. Lying about it? That would be the last thing he would have wanted to do.
But then, nobody starts out planning to lie.
Lately, after finding tangible evidence of a university cover-up, I’ve been examining all of the old news articles for what feels like the zillionth time. I’ve been tracking any lies and obfuscations that are quoted—directly or indirectly— from university officials, knowing what they knew at the time.
We already know about a couple of them. We know that Gilson Wright (and others) chose to mislead the public about the psychology textbook on Ron’s desk, most likely to direct attention away from Dr. Switzer. We also know that they tried to depict Ron as doing very well in his classes. Once we saw his transcripts, however, we knew that Ron had recently dropped his psychology course for the second time in a year and was slipping far behind in his degree program. Again, the motive behind the deception was most likely to avoid shining a big bright light on Switzer.
There were the other lies and obfuscations too. Among the greatest hits are:
When Carl Knox decided not to divulge Paul’s (not his real name) story about his walk back to the dorms after song practice with Ron and Chip Anderson the night Ron disappeared.
When Gilson Wright disclosed in a news article that three amnesiac youths had wandered off and later returned, but never mentioned the youths in his articles again.
When Oscar Decker added an hour to the time of arrival of the young man who appeared on Mrs. Spivey’s doorstep on the night Tammen disappeared.
Living your life with one lie can be hard enough. But juggling all of those lies and obfuscations TOGETHER? That’s practically a full-time job.
Today, I want to discuss another lie that officials opted to tell about Ron—the one about his finances.
On April 25, 1953, the Saturday after Ron disappeared, Carl Knox was quoted in the Hamilton Journal-News by Gilson Wright, with the following matter-of-fact pronouncement:
“‘He was not in financial difficulties,’ Dean Knox said after a checkup Friday. ‘But he could not have had more than $10 or $11 in his possession when he left Fisher Hall.’”
On April 29, 1953, Wright wrote this in the Cincinnati Enquirer:
“A sizable balance was left in a downtown bank.”
And on May 4, 1953, Wright wrote this in the Hamilton Journal-News:
“…he took only $10 or $11 and left more than $100 in a local checking account.”
I don’t know how much money Ron had in his pocket when he disappeared, but I do believe Carl Knox fibbed about Tammen’s finances. Ron Tammen was experiencing financial difficulties. Despite the fact that Ron was always busy earning money as well as looking for ways to earn more money, he still owed a lot of money, with one of his primary creditors being the university. Also, his bank balance wasn’t “more than $100”—it was $87.25.
Here’s what was going on behind the scenes:
On May 26, 1953, Miami’s bursar, a guy named David C. Alden, wrote a memo to Carl Knox summarizing Tammen’s standing with the university. He said that Tammen still owed the university $100 in board (dining hall fees) and $100 on a “loan fund note,” minus the pay Ron was due as a residence hall counselor ($29.41) and a refund on his room rent and laundry ($29.10). The total Tammen owed, therefore, would be $141.49.
(We’ll get more into that boarding fee and loan fund note in a second.)
Mr. Alden added: “If the brother is still in town and the father and brother have approved the transfer of the account at the Oxford National Bank against the University account, the balance could be reduced by the amount of the account at the bank.”
The Tammens must have agreed to the transfer of funds. On July 2, 1953, Don Shera, vice president of the Oxford National Bank, wrote to Carl Knox letting him know that Ron’s balance of $87.25 had been sent via a certificate of deposit to bursar Alden to help defray the balance owed to the university.
That same day—July 2, which was a Thursday—Alden wrote to Mr. Tammen letting him know that the board fee was actually $110, not $100, and that, with the money from Ron’s bank account applied to the balance, the amount owed by Mr. and Mrs. Tammen was now $64.24. That might not sound like much, but if you plug the numbers into the inflation calculator, you’ll see that $64 in 1953 was worth almost ten times as much as it is today, or $624.
But that’s not my favorite part of Alden’s letter. Here’s the best part:
“I was sorry not to have had a chance to talk with you when I stopped at your residence on Monday. Please be assured that this communication is not being written to press for payment on the balance. Whatever time you need to clear it is satisfactory.”
Um, excuse me? At a time when the Tammens were at a perpetual Red Alert readiness level, hoping and praying with every doorbell and telephone ring for news of Ron, Miami’s bursar thought it would be a swell idea to hop into his car and drive to the Tammens’ house at least 4 hours away (probably longer back then) to discuss Ron’s outstanding balance. What’s more, it sounds as though he did it unannounced. A surprise pop-in! Let me put it thusly: if the university thought the situation warranted the bursar’s driving from Oxford to Maple Heights to personally discuss Ron’s balance, then please don’t tell me that Ron wasn’t in financial difficulties. If $64 meant that much to the university, then think about how much more it must have meant to Ron and Ron’s parents.
But let’s also talk about the university’s initial bill. The bursar said that Ron’s outstanding debts equaled $110 for board plus another $100 for a loan. According to the 1952-53 M Book, every semester, in-state male students who lived in the dorms had to pony up $315.88 for all of their expenses, which included tuition, residence hall rent, board, laundry, and other fees. The most expensive cost was board—eating in the dining hall—which for males came to $175. Although the university asked students to pay the entire amount upfront at the start of each semester, they did allow students to pay board in installments, as Ron chose to do.
But Ron wasn’t keeping up very well with the installment plan either. The second semester was almost exactly four months long, starting February 3 and ending with the last day of finals on June 4. Ron should have paid more than two months’ worth in board ($43.75/month), and possibly three months’ worth, yet he’d only paid $65 when he disappeared. (If you think that doesn’t sound like much, I’ll just direct you to Mr. Alden, who felt differently. And don’t forget to use the inflation calculator.)
Now here’s the weirdest part of the university’s bill: that $100 loan fund note. Ron had received a loan from the university for some unnamed purpose. Could this be the same loan that Willis Wertz and Glen Yankee had co-signed, according to Carl Knox’s notes? However, when you take a closer look at what Knox had written, you see that next to Wertz’s name, he wrote “co-signed a note at bank” while next to Yankee’s name, he wrote “co-signed a note.” It appears as if there may have been two loans, one a bank loan signed by Wertz and the other a university loan, ostensibly signed by Yankee. Or maybe Yankee’s note and the university note are different, in which case he may have had three notes.
Which leads me to my next question: why was Ron struggling so much financially when he was bringing in money from residence hall counseling, playing the bass, donating blood, and who knows what else? During the summers and breaks, he worked his butt off at decent-paying jobs as well. He didn’t drink or do drugs. Didn’t go out much with friends. Didn’t date much. He didn’t drive his car much. Even with his car on campus, he was known to hitchhike and bum rides from other people. Where was his money going?
In his notes, Knox scribbled in some expenses that Ron had incurred here and there with little explanation. Here’s my best attempt at a summary:
Of the most recently deposited money, Ron deposited a total of $40 from playing jobs (band gigs) and he also deposited a $100 check on a loan. (Could this be the university loan?) There was no “activity” in Ron’s bank account—and by “activity,” I think Knox means bank deposits—after April 6, 1953.
According to Knox, here were the checks that Ron had written the week before he disappeared.
4/13/53 $24.45 Delta Tau Delta
4/13/53 $4.07 Shillitos (clothing store)
4/15/53 $15.00 Cleveland Trust Co., Cleveland, Ohio, American Express Co.
4/16/53 $5.00 Check cash, John Minnis (drug store)
Knox also noted that in December 1952, Ron had obtained a $50 loan to clear up a “Housebill,” which I think means that he needed the loan to pay off his board from the first semester. Knox also noted that he “planned to repay [the loan] after Christmas work.”
By far, the most sizable payment had to do with Ron’s car, a green 1939 Chevy sedan, for which he needed to pay approximately $175 sometime before Christmas 1952. That was a major expense that may have involved some servicing problem—an engine, brakes, or something equally huge. From what I can tell, Ron had paid for the car in full after trading in his first car, a 1929 Ford. (His first car was really old-timey. These days, they’re cute in parades, but compared to what wealthier guys his age were driving, I’m sure he felt the need to upgrade asap.) Thanks to reporter Joe Cella, we know that Ron also paid his car insurance on the Friday night before he disappeared for $17.45. Both the $175 car bill and the $50 housebill expenses had also been paid.
But let’s be real. Ron wasn’t just juggling his grades, he was juggling his finances as well—taking out loans to pay his bills and other loans, which I suppose would be fine if it weren’t for the other bills and loans that lay in wait. See how cyclical debt can be? Ron was drowning in it, and Knox and the others in Miami’s administration knew it. But for some reason, they didn’t want anyone else to know.
The Tammens weren’t made of money either. I think they were a little freaked out by the bursar’s in-your-face manner of doing business—wouldn’t you be?—and said so to Carl Knox, which prompted Knox to send a follow-up letter on July 6, backing up what Alden had said in his letter and cushioning it with some hopeful news about Mrs. Spivey’s possible sighting. On August 17, 1953, roughly 4 months after Ron disappeared and 12 days after Ron was possibly spotted in Wellsville, NY, Mr. Tammen submitted his check for $64.24, thus closing the university’s ledger on Ronald Tammen, and making Mr. Alden a very, very happy man.
So why did university officials feel the need to lie about Ron’s finances in addition to everything else they lied about? My feeling is that they already had their narrative in place and didn’t want to deviate from it. In their imaginary world, Ron was a stellar student with no failings, therefore, he MUST have walked away with amnesia. If he was having problems—with grades, with money, with his personal life, or anything else—then that would just raise problematic questions from troublesome reporters. And if someone wielding a lot of power was requiring the university to cover up the truth, maybe Carl Knox and the others didn’t have any choice in the matter.
Monday, 11/16/20, add-on:
Because Mr. Alden’s visit and July 2, 1953, letter to the Tammens was of particular interest to readers, I thought I’d also post Carl Knox’s follow-up letter to Mr. and Mrs. Tammen from July 6, 1953. Although I paraphrased the letter in my write-up, perhaps I didn’t do it justice.
Is it just me, or do you detect a certain officiousness/harshness/annoyance in his tone concerning payment, even while telling them to take whatever amount of time they need? Perhaps his decision to open with the words “It was my understanding” is what gives it a less-than-fuzzy feel, despite the “hoping and praying” that comes later, in the 3rd paragraph.
I’m heartbroken to share the news of the passing of Marcia Tammen, Ronald’s only sister. Marcia died this morning of complications from a chronic health condition. She would have been 78 on September 30.
Marcia was only ten years old when Ron disappeared, but she carried his memory and the hope of finding him with her all her life.
On the day of her brother’s disappearance, Marcia had won a framed print at her church after memorizing 18 verses of the Bible. The print was of Christ at Heart’s Door, by Warner Sallman. On the back, her teacher had written: “Only one life—‘Twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” Marcia kept that print with her for the next 67 years.
Marcia was my go-to source and confidante as I was conducting my research about Ron, and she was always open to whatever information I sent her way. A couple times each year, we’d meet up at Wendy’s or Bob Evans’ near her home, and I’d fill her in on updates. She’d listen intently to what I had to say, taking meticulous notes, and then would usually respond with, “Well…that sounds interesting. Keep up the good work.” She was warm, kind, and unflappable in a Midwestern sort of way.
The last time I saw her was this past February, just before the coronavirus impacted all of our lives. She was interviewed in her apartment by a Cincinnati TV reporter about Ron’s disappearance, and did a beautiful job sharing her thoughts about her family’s loss. The segment never aired because of COVID-19, but I’m so glad that we had the chance to do it. After our interviews, Marcia, her roommate Jule, and I drove to a local diner and had lunch together and gabbed like old friends. On the drive home, Marcia wanted me to look at a building I was driving by and she suddenly raised her arm to point it out. I thought she was telling me to take a quick left, and I jerked the wheel and very nearly rolled the car. Usually, she kept a straight face with me, but this time, she started cracking up, again, like an old friend. That was cool.
Every time someone associated with the Tammen mystery passes away, I feel as if I’ve let that person down. I really wanted to solve this in time. In fact, I’ve always pictured throwing a big party, and getting us all together, hopefully with Ron showing up as the main attraction. This one hurts so much.
Good morning! Is everyone sufficiently caffeinated and ready for the big reveal? Good. Let’s get to it.
But first, a disclaimer: What I’m about to share with you is a theory I’ve arrived at after assembling some key evidence and determining the most likely person that the clues point to. Admittedly, there are holes, and I could be wrong about some details. In order to help you distinguish between what’s fact and what’s conjecture, I’ll be making a clear distinction in my wording. In the case of the latter, I’ll be using words like “may” and “could” and “possibly” and “allegedly” whereas, if I’m 100 percent certain about something, I’ll use words like “is” and “was” and maybe the occasional “for sure.” I’ll also post original documents as supporting evidence. Despite the holes, I believe that, if we haven’t hit the nail directly on the head, this is as close as we’ve ever been to the truth about what happened to Ronald Tammen. And if you’re with the CIA or FBI and feel that you know better, I simply ask that you prove me wrong.
ACT 1: The I & I memo
On Tuesday, March 25, 1952, when the CIA was still young and green, though hardly naïve, one of its foot soldiers sat down at his typewriter to compose a memo. The memo’s intended recipient was Robert Jay Williams, a former Naval commander who’d grown up in Spokane, WA, and now, at the age of 38, was one of the head honchos in the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI). The author decided on the subject line of “I & I,” which, cryptic as it sounds to the rest of us, was crystal clear to Williams. As you may recall from earlier posts, Williams was at that time the project coordinator of ARTICHOKE, the CIA’s secret program in which they aimed to control people’s thoughts and behaviors with drugs, hypnosis, and other means. I’m sure he preferred to keep things as vague as possible.
Even though the memo writer’s name is redacted, I think it was probably Morse Allen, since he was the person who did so much of the day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE work in the early days. However, because his name is still considered classified for some unknown and ridiculous reason (it’s been released in other memos, why not this one?), there continues to be a shred of doubt as to the author’s identity, so I’ll just refer to him as “the author.” (But I’m 99 percent sure it was Allen.)
As for the subject head, I can only wager a guess regarding what that means too. The first “I,” I believe, stands for interrogation, since the interrogation process was always a primary focus for ARTICHOKE—both to prevent the release of U.S. intelligence while, at the same time, getting more info out of the enemy. The other “I,” I believe, stands for indoctrination, since that word seemed to go hand-in-hand with interrogation. We know this is true from the words of Allen Dulles in his Brain Warfare speech, delivered April 10, 1953. In that speech, Dulles used some form of the word “indoctrination” ten times and “interrogation” nine times in describing Communist brainwashing methods. For example, he described how Americans were indoctrinated into making false confessions, and that one reason that the Communists hadn’t caused this to happen on a more widespread basis was a “shortage of trained interrogators.” In the CIA’s mindset, interrogation went together with indoctrination like Desi went with Lucy, Martin went with Lewis, and Tonto went with the Lone Ranger. Other examples of these two “I” words used in tandem is a report from 1955 in which the subject head is referring to the “Interrogation and Indoctrination of PWs” (prisoners of war) and this 1956 report for the American Medical Association, conducted at Dulles’ request by Drs. Lawrence Hinkle and Harold Wolff. So I’m pretty confident that “I & I” was shorthand for Interrogation and Indoctrination, even though I couldn’t get confirmation of this while I was on the phone with a CIA rep one day (shocker).
In the weeks leading up to the March 25 memo, Williams (I think, since the name is always redacted) had expressed his frustration with how ARTICHOKE had been progressing, or, rather, not progressing. The folks at OSI wanted to pursue cutting-edge scientific research in ARTICHOKE methods—they were especially enamored with the “very latest ‘ideas’” in “electroshock, lysergic acid [LSD], drugs, electro-encephalograph, hypnosis, etc., etc.,” while the guys in the Inspection and Security Office (IS&O), which happened to include Allen, were all about operations. The security guys wanted to pursue whatever worked best, and, as one meeting summary stated (also likely written by Allen), the writer didn’t understand why OSI wanted to pursue electroshock and lysergic acid, when [sodium] amytal and pentothal had “been used with some success in the United States and elsewhere.”
The aforementioned summary document, which had been typed up for the departmental files on February 12, 1952, described “a long, involved, and somewhat heated discussion concerning ‘Artichoke’” between the author and someone who was obviously in command. Among other things, the author described how the person he was speaking with—again, I’m thinking Williams—had been inquiring about a hypnosis researcher who wouldn’t be averse to working on a project such as this. Maybe that conversation was the impetus for the March 25 memo, or maybe it was just one of many exchanges they’d had of late on the topic.
Regardless, on this particular Tuesday, March 25, the author was hoping to placate Williams by providing names of serious-minded hypnosis researchers. “You have asked me to put down in writing some of my ideas on how I would go about getting expert help on hypnotism,” the author began. “Above all, I would rely upon proven experimental psychologists who have their feet on the ground on this subject and who have done plenty of research work on hypnotism.”
Nice lead. Way to write for your audience, my dude.
In paragraph 2, our author then begins to discuss perhaps one of the foremost researchers in hypnosis, and, even though, some 67 years later, the CIA still considers this information to be classified, we can figure out many of the words that were redacted, and, I would venture to say, they are quite undeserving of the “classified” designation. Let’s give it a shot, Mad Libs-style, shall we?
“The most extensive and careful series of experiments on hypnotism were carried out by BLANK over a ten-year period,” he said.
Does anyone know who our author is referring to? I’ll give you a hint: three Miami professors studied under him.
That’s right, it’s Clark Hull.You’ll see why in a second. Moving on:
“He began his work while he was still at the BLANK and finished his studies after he transferred to the BLANK.”
Some of you who have read this post may recall that these answers are the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Yale University Institute of Human Relations. Easy breezy.
If you had any doubts about the above answers, here’s the giveaway sentence:
“His book, entitled BLANKETY BLANK, “is a carefully documented research classic which is a [sic] ‘must’ reading for anybody who professes to be even seriously interested in the subject.”
“Unfortunately, BLANK is no longer interested in hypnotism and moreover he has become quite feeble…”
The answer, again, is Clark Hull. Remember how Hull had stopped studying hypnosis as soon as his book came out, and even wrote in a journal that “I shall never be able to live down the stigma cast upon me by it”? Also, regarding the “feeble” part, Hull had always had health issues, but it turns out that a “bad heart condition” had limited his activities over his last several years at Yale, and he died on May 10, 1952, just six weeks after the memo was written. So feeble—weak, ailing—fits too.
“…but his two principal research assistants are still active in psychology and would prove particularly valuable as consultants on a research project on hypnotism. They are BLANK AND BLANK.
There’s no way to figure out who the two researchers are with that limited amount of information. Thankfully, we have paragraphs three and four to help us. Bear in mind that these individuals aren’t going to be nearly as obvious as Hull. However, what first narrows down our options is the fact that they had to have studied under Hull and were at some point considered his “principal research assistants.” Also, they needed to be active in the field of psychology in March 1952. So at least we have that.
Let’s proceed to paragraph 3:
“BLANK BLANKETY-BLANKED before he became a psychologist.” That could be anything. We’ll have to come back to it once we have a little more information.
“He is an extremely competent, broad-minded, and non-dogmatic scientist.” Very nice, but again, no giant arrows pointing to someone we know.
“At the present time, he serves as a BLANK.” Grrrr. Fine, we’ll come back to this one too.
“He has plenty of experience in research, experimental, clinical, and business psychology.”
I’ll ask you to ignore the lack of parallel structure in the above sentence and concentrate on the last two words, which happen to provide a big clue. Why would Commander Robert Jay Williams give a whit about business psychology when he’s looking for a serious-minded scientific researcher in hypnosis? Nevertheless, I am so glad our author inserted that needless selling point, because, guess what? I do know of one person who was a principal research assistant to Clark Hull who also happened to have experimental, clinical, and, yes, even business psychology expertise. He was Clark Hull’s right-hand man during the publication of his book Hypnosis and Suggestibility and Hull singled him out in his autobiography by expressing his indebtedness to him. He had experimental research experience through his time spent with Hull for his master’s and Ph.D. degrees as well as in hypnosis studies that he helped conduct at Miami in the 1930s. He obtained clinical experience in the summer of 1936 when he worked for the U.S. Public Health Service as a clinical psychologist for prisoners of Northeastern Penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA. And he oversaw the business psychology course at Miami, a course that all business majors were required to take. That person is St. Clair Adna Switzer, Ronald Tammen’s psychology professor.
“I would certainly trust his judgment on any problem dealing with hypnosis and drugs,” the author stated.
Hmmm…Switzer was a psychology professor—he didn’t dispense drugs. However, perhaps the author was referring to something Switzer had done in a former life. Maybe he was referring to the two years Switzer had spent as a pharmacist in Farmington, MI, before he decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology at Miami? Bingo. Let’s go back to the beginning of this paragraph and fill in some blanks to see if they fit.
Sentence 1: “St. Clair Adna Switzer (or Adna St. Clair Switzer—he went by both names) was a pharmacist before he became a psychologist.” Absolutely true. Switzer referred to himself as a “registered pharmacist” in a publication as late as 1950. He was extremely proud of that degree in pharmacy from Ferris Institute School of Pharmacy, and, according to Fern Patten’s book, Eighty Years of Psychology at Miami, that’s the reason he asked his colleagues to call him by his nickname, Doc.
Sentence 2: “He is an extremely competent, broad-minded, and non-dogmatic scientist.” That’s true too. He was fairly no-nonsense from what I can tell, and judging by Hull’s letters to him, Hull felt he was an exceptional scientist, which tells me that Switzer was no slouch in the research department.
Sentence 3: “At the present time, he serves as a professor of psychology at Miami University.” Or maybe it said, “At the present time, he serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves,” because he was doing that intermittently too. I’m guessing it was the former though.
Then comes the business psychology reference and the reference to hypnosis and drugs.
And finally: “An indication of his writing and thinking can be obtained from a recent article entitled BLANK.”
At this point in Switzer’s career, most of his publications were from the 1930s, which makes sense, since his military responsibilities took over much of the 1940s, throughout the war, and then, after the war, in the Veteran Guidance Center in Oxford. In 1950, however, Switzer authored a small section of the book Handbook of Applied Psychology, edited by Douglas H. Fryer and Edwin R. Henry. The second chapter was titled “Individual Efficiency,” and Switzer’s section, “Drugs and Smoking,” was three pages in length plus references. In 1951, Switzer wrote a chapter on “Personnel Tests” for the book Personnel Handbook, edited by John F. Mee. Perhaps our author cited one of these? If so, my money would be on the “Drugs and Smoking” section, since it’s more relevant to the subject at hand.
It might seem strange that our memo’s author would even be aware of St. Clair Switzer, who, at that time, was toiling away in a crumbling and bug-infested Harrison Hall (the first one, which was torn down in 1958) in Oxford. But Switzer was known by the U.S. government. The Air Force certainly knew where to find him and would regularly send orders for him to appear at such-and-such Air Force Base on assignment. Moreover, in August through December 1951, Switzer had served a stint with the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in Baltimore, a facility tasked with the development of state-of-the-art aircraft and missiles. His role was a civilian consultant, and, according to Switzer, he “assisted in formulating the long-range training program for Reserve officer scientists who have research and development assignments in the Air Force.” So Switzer was indeed a known commodity in the Air Force and, because the Air Force worked closely with the CIA in Project BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE, it wouldn’t have been a stretch for him to be noticed by the folks in Langley too. But that’s probably not how Morse Allen (or whomever our memo’s author was) knew about Switzer. I think the memo’s author telephoned Clark Hull one day in February or March 1952 to ask him about hypnosis researchers. Hull would have informed him that he was no longer in the hypnosis business and that his health was in decline, and then, ever the mentor, he would have passed along the names of the two assistants whom he remembered fondly and who he thought might be interested in assisting in some government work. That seems like the most logical way in which Switzer’s name would have been passed along, at least in my view.
As for the person mentioned in paragraph 4, at first, I wondered if it might have been Everett F. Patten, but then I sought the opinion of someone who has studied Hull’s work in hypnosis, and is acquainted with Switzer and Patten’s contributions as well as other hypnosis researchers from the past. That person agreed that Hull was undoubtedly the first person, and said that he would bet good money that Switzer was the second person. However, he suggested that the person described in paragraph 4 was Griffith Wynne Williams, who was by then a psychology professor at Rutgers. Griffith Williams was another of Hull’s primary research assistants, having accompanied him on his move from the University of Wisconsin to Yale. The reason my source arrived at this conclusion is that Williams had been prolific in publishing on the topic of hypnosis and had also conducted many hypnosis demonstrations, as described in the memo. Also, Griffith Williams had developed a test for determining a person’s suggestibility, which was featured in Hull’s book. Although he’s not important to our story, I’ll hazard the guess that person number two is Griffith Wynne Williams and leave it there.
Of course, just because the names St. Clair Switzer and Griffith Williams may have been suggested to Commander Williams in a memo, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that they were actually approached by the CIA and that they subsequently signed on. At this point, it’s just a “You know who we should approach? We should totally approach so-and-so,” sort of deal and it could have all died there. Except for one tiny little thing. In the CIA’s zealousness to keep its people and intelligence sources confidential, they may have given themselves away. (You might want to read that last sentence a second time, since it’s so deliciously ironic.) Remember the post titled FOIA follies where I described my efforts to get the three people’s names released? If so, do you also remember what the CIA said? To make things easy on you, I’ll just copy/paste that verbiage here:
SEC. 6. [50 U.S.C. 403g] In the interests of the security of the foreign intelligence activities of the United States and in order further to implement section 102A(i) of the National Security Act of 1947 that the Director of National Intelligence shall be responsible for protecting intelligence sources and methods from unauthorized disclosure, the Agency shall be exempted from the provisions of sections 1 and 2, chapter 795 of the Act of August 28, 1935 1 (49 Stat. 956, 957; 5 U.S.C. 654), and the provisions of any other laws which require the publication or disclosure of the organization, functions, names, official titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed by the Agency: Provided,That in furtherance of this section, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget shall make no reports to the Congress in connection with the Agency under section 607, title VI, chapter 212 of the Act of June 30, 1945, as amended 1 (5 U.S.C. 947(b)).
I’m no lawyer, but this seems to tell me that all three individuals whose names were redacted in the memo had worked for the CIA at some point in their lives.
Would I be showing my bias if I told you that I agree completely with my past self? I mean, it appears as if the CIA is saying that all three people—including feeble old Clark Hull—had some affiliation with the CIA. In my appeal, I mentioned Hull’s feebleness as a reason that they could at least release HIS name. Right? Wrong. Appeal denied. Of course, if Hull had worked for the CIA before 1952? Well, you got me there.
I’ve gone the entire FOIA route with this document, short of filing a lawsuit, which an extremely knowledgeable lawyer has dissuaded me from based on the impossible-to-beat exemptions they’re claiming. Now, someone else has kindly picked up this ball and is running with it. That’s all I’ll be saying on the matter, but hopefully, that person will be more successful than I in getting the names released.
I’m less sure of the second document, though my confidence is growing. While the first document landed on my laptop in nanoseconds, after I ran a search for “hypnosis” on the CIA’s online reading room, I stumbled on the second one while reading page after grueling page of the PDFs on the CIA’s MKULTRA DVD.
It’s dated January 14, 1953, still several months before Allen Dulles approved MKULTRA, and the subject head is “Interrogation Techniques.” The memo is written to Dr. BLANK. While I’ll post the whole document, the only paragraph I’m concerned with is paragraph 3.
Here’s what it says:
3. If the services of Major BLANK, USAF (MC), a trained hypnotist can be obtained and another man well grounded in conventional psychological interrogation and polygraph techniques, and the services of Lt. Colonel BLANK, a well-balanced interrogation research center could be established in an especially selected location.
The sentence is pretty terrible and appears to be missing a comma after the word “hypnotist,” but let’s just focus on the two people whose names are redacted. Even though the first person isn’t identified in our version, other sources have identified it to be Major Louis Jolyon West, who was chief of the Psychiatric Service at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio at that time. (Here’s a reprinted article from the magazine Nexxus that also identifies him from that sentence.) As you may recall, Jolly West was heavily into hypnosis and LSD research (he infamously killed Tusko, the elephant, in the Oklahoma City Zoo) and, when MKULTRA came to be, he was funded under Subproject 43. According to author Colin Ross, M.D., West had received “top secret” clearance from the CIA, which tells us that he would have been able to see a lot more of what the government was up to than a typical unwitting MKULTRA-funded researcher.
As for the second individual, Lt. Colonel BLANK, from what I can tell, that person has never been identified, or even attempted to be identified. Until today. Guys, I think the person named there is Switzer. I kid you not. St. Clair Switzer was made a lieutenant colonel in 1946, after WWII ended. That was quite a feat, since it normally takes 16 years’ time in the service in order to attain lieutenant colonel status. In 1946, Switzer had only spent four years with the Army Air Corps (precursor to the U.S. Air Force) and two years with the Navy before he went to pharmacy school. A Miami Student article from September 15, 1942, said that Switzer was in the Army Air Corps Intelligence Service during WWII, the only reference to intelligence that I’ve seen published about him. This might have expedited his escalation in military rank and bolstered his status with the CIA as well. Also, we already know from the I & I memo that, if Switzer is named there, and I am 99 percent sure that he is, he likely had something to do with the CIA’s efforts in interrogation and indoctrination.
And now I want you to do me a favor. I want you to open up the document at the link below and I want you to focus on that second name in the third paragraph, even though it’s blacked out. Zoom in as high as you can and really examine it. It says Switzer, does it not? I swear, I can see a capital “S,” a “w,” a “z,” and an “er.” It seems to have the right number of letters. There’s a little tail after the “er,” but I think that was a hand-drawn closing parenthesis. I especially like how the author doesn’t feel the need to identify him further—they just refer to “the services of Lt. Colonel BLANK,” as if he’s already well-known around there. Good ol’ reliable Lt. Colonel BLANK.
This time, instead of submitting a FOIA request, I submitted a mandatory declassification review (MDR) request to the CIA for the release of the two names in paragraph 3. (A person can submit a FOIA request or an MDR request, but not both for the same document.) After having heard nothing in over a year, I’ve submitted an appeal to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) for a ruling. If they should order the CIA to release the names and the lt. colonel turns out not to be Switzer, well, OK then. I’ll just crawl under a rock and promise not to bother anyone ever again. But if it does say Switzer? Oh, man. Then, I’m going to have one or two follow-up questions for the CIA. Because if St. Clair Switzer was working for the CIA’s ARTICHOKE program in 1953 and one of his students just so happened to disappear that spring, then we need to find out if he was involved and how. And if St. Clair Switzer is mentioned in the same sentence as Louis Jolyon West in connection with the creation of an interrogation research center for ARTICHOKE, well, I don’t think that I have to tell you that that would also be a very big deal.
So THIS, Good Man readers, is what we’ll be waiting on from here on out. The current appeals log is below, and, as you can see, my name is on line 1379, ISCAP number 2018-089. I’ll definitely let you know how the panel eventually rules, but you can also keep abreast of my case by visiting their website and downloading the latest log whenever you feel like it.
Documents are great—I love how straightforward they are in a bureaucratic, understated sort of way. But documents can be destroyed, which is why so little is left concerning the CIA’s ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA years. Stories, from the mouths of actual people, can help fill in some gaps created by missing documents, and I just so happen to have several to share.
The men in front of Fisher Hall
The sun was shining on this particular fall day. Classes were about to start for the 1952-53 academic year, and some older students with added responsibilities were beginning to arrive and settle in to their dorm rooms before the onslaught of the rest of the students. So many years later, a peer of Ronald Tammen’s recalls feeling energized on that day. Like Tammen, he, too, was going to be a sophomore residence hall counselor in Fisher Hall, and he was looking forward to receiving training on how to do his job. After dropping off his stuff and taking a look around his room, the young man, we’ll call him Walt, went back outside to soak in the excitement. He immediately was drawn to a group of men who were engaged in conversation on the front lawn of Fisher Hall.
They looked different to him. Their ages were a little outside the norm—older than a typical student, though younger than the professors. Their clothes looked different too. They wore jackets, but not full-on suits. Sport coats and ties. He decided that they were probably administrators who would conduct the residence counselor training, and he walked over to the group to introduce himself.
“Hi! I’m Walt, and I’m one of the new counselors,” he said jovially. He fully expected a “hi” back, and an invitation to join in their conversation.
What he got was stony silence. The men turned to face him and just stared.
“Oh, pardon me. Pardon me,” he said, “Pardon me. I’ve intruded in your personal conversation.”
Walt was deeply humiliated—so deeply that he still cringes when he thinks about the incident, even more than six decades later. He left quickly, finding sanctuary in another group standing nearby.
“Do you know what that is over there, because I don’t have an idea what was going on,” he remembers saying. “Because I’m really embarrassed.”
He recalls one person saying something to the effect of, “Well, they were talking about hypnosis and a program in hypnosis in the psychology program.”
As it turns out, Walt had an interest in learning how to hypnotize people, and he thought this sounded like a great opportunity. But there was no way he was going to be heading back over to the group of men talking on the lawn. He’d go to the source. He was enrolled in a psychology course that semester, and, one day, he inquired about the program at the departmental office. A secretary told him that she wasn’t aware of such a program but suggested that he ask Dr. Patten, the department chair who also happened to be Walt’s instructor.
After waiting a couple weeks for the right moment and summoning his courage after class, he said, “Dr. Patten, I have a question to ask you. I’m interested in hypnosis. It may be presumptuous of me, but I’d like to be a physician, maybe even a psychiatrist.” (He felt really weird saying that last part.)
I’ll let him tell the rest:
“And he turned around and looked at me—not hostilely, and not really indifferently. And he said, ‘We don’t have a curriculum here in hypnosis,’ something like that. And I said, ‘Well, I heard there’s a special program and that you were taking volunteers.’ I used the word ‘volunteers,’ because the other guy said it was some kind of a volunteer program or something. I said I’d volunteer if I could learn something, and he said, ‘Well, maybe in the future.’ And that dropped it. To me, these were powerful people, psychology professors and all that, and I didn’t force the issue.”
The clandestine exit
In my post The hypnotists of Oxford, Ohio, I described a conversation between C. Theodore (Ted) Perin and former Dean Karl Limper about Perin’s time both as a student and a faculty member in the Department of Psychology. Perin was the other hypnosis expert who’d studied under Clark Hull, in addition to Patten and Switzer. Here’s another interesting snippet from that conversation:
KL: Did he [Patten] leave the chairmanship upon retirement, or had he done it before that?
TP: No, he was chairman until he retired. [Correction: Actually, Patten stepped down from the chairmanship in 1961, and retired in 1965.]
KL: In those days, chairmen usually went right to the retirement.
TP: That’s right. And he got out of it and Switzer…in those days, they didn’t have searches, you know, throughout the country, they just…
TP: Inherited…Switzer was next in line, and so he took it over. That was in the 1960s—early 1960s, I think. Yes. And Switzer…you can erase this stuff…remember…these tapes, you only need to copy what you…what you want.
KL: That’s right.
TP: Switzer was very difficult. He was not overly friendly.
KL: I got the feeling he was not one of everybody’s favorites. He was very military in his operation of the…
TP: He was very military. That is correct. And very private.
KL: The dean received? He had him…
TP: He had a lot of interesting other people, I think.
TP: And he suffered through several years there as chairman. When Switzer retired, I may have told you this before, Karl, he locked his door, went out and left the office and never came back…never said goodbye to anybody—even myself—I had been there since 1934, and he never said goodbye to anybody.
KL: Isn’t that interesting?
TP: The only…I only saw him one other time up in a bank box when he was gettin [sic] his box out and I was gettin [sic] my box out and he exchanged a couple of little words—pleasantries—and he moved to California and died.
KL: Well, I assume he emptied his office before he locked it.
TP: Yeah, he…
KL: I mean, he didn’t lock everything in there.
TP: Yeah, but he just moved it all out himself and then he was gone.
KL: Isn’t that strange?
TP: Uh huh.
Karl and Ted are correct. It is strange. Do you know what’s also strange? After Switzer retired, he obtained a post office box for his mail. Why would a retiree need a post office box when he had a perfectly good mailbox at his home? What sort of mail was he expecting to receive that warranted the additional privacy? True, people use P.O boxes all the time, but this just seems…well, I suppose it fits the behavior of a guy who surreptitiously cleans out his office and then leaves without saying goodbye to the people he’d worked alongside for more than 30 years. Yeah, come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t strange at all.
The phone call
St. Clair Switzer died in May 1976, before I even started at Miami, so I would have never had the chance to ask him about Ron Tammen, even if I’d started my investigation on my first day of class. The good news, however, is that I’ve spoken with someone who did have the chance to talk to Switzer by phone about Tammen. Here’s a transcript of our conversation about that phone call:
Person On the Phone (POP): “…I found out that Ron Tammen had been in Doc Switzer’s class. I thought, ‘Oh, I know him. I’ll call him.’ So I called. Now, you’re asking me to remember something from, what, 45 years ago?”
Actually, it was probably even longer than that, since it was in the late 1960s that this person contacted Switzer, after he’d moved to California.
POP: “And it wasn’t really a conversation. He said, ‘Yes, Ron had been in his class. He had no particular memory of him. He’d been questioned at the time, and there really hadn’t been anything that he could add to anything.’ And that was the extent of it.”
JW: “I see.”
POP: “So, it wasn’t really anything like an enlightening conversation. You sort of hope that someone would say, ‘Oh yes, I remember him. He was a bright student. Blah blah blah,’ whatever, but there was nothing like that.”
JW: “Yeah. Did he still seem open and welcoming to talk about it, or was he, I don’t know…”
POP: “Well, he had not been a particularly friendly person when we met him here, and if anything, I mean, he didn’t seem to have anything to say that was as though, ‘I don’t really have anything more to say,’ and that’s it. I mean, there was nothing, there was nothing.”
JW: “Yeah, got it. And he never mentioned that Ron had actually dropped the course by the time he disappeared?”
POP: “No, and honestly, that surprises me because if Ron had dropped the course, why did he have his psych book open on his desk the night he disappeared? Are you sure he dropped it?”
JW: “Yeah, I have it on his transcript. I got it from the Registrar’s Office.”
So put yourself in the shoes of St. Clair Switzer. If someone whom you knew had contacted you to ask about Ronald Tammen being in your psychology class, wouldn’t your first response be, “Actually, he wasn’t enrolled in my class at the time he disappeared. He’d already dropped the course.” That’s the first thing I would have said, especially if I’d been questioned about it by investigators, as he’d said he was, and that crucial detail had ostensibly been discussed at that time. But he didn’t say that. Instead, he said something along the lines of “I have no particular memory of him.” And then something like “I don’t really have anything more to say.”
Ummm…really? Because, normally, when we humans come into contact with a newsworthy person or event, even a tragic one, we tend to talk about our slice of the story. Something like “Oh, yeah, I remember he was such a quiet guy,” or “We were all so surprised when he disappeared,” or maybe even “He dropped my course a few weeks before he disappeared—that was so strange!”, or whatever. But all he could think of was…nothing. Also, I don’t care how many years had transpired, this is the sort of thing that a person doesn’t forget. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who had far less in common with Tammen than Switzer did and still had plenty of thoughts on the topic.
It occurred to me that maybe Switzer’s psychology course was simply too big for him to notice Ronald Tammen. If there were a couple hundred students in his class, then perhaps it would have been easier for Ron to blend in and to not make an impression. I knew that Switzer’s class was held in room 124 of old Harrison Hall, but I didn’t know how many students were enrolled in the class. I tried the Registrar’s Office, but they don’t keep records of class sizes. I settled on seating capacity. If I knew how many seats a classroom could hold, then it would at least give me an upper limit of the number of students in the class. Here’s what Jacky Johnson, Miami’s Archivist, told me:
“The maximum student load for Room 124 of Harrison Hall was 45.”
Guys, that’s not a big number. At all. And again, if one of those 45 (or fewer) students happened to disappear shortly after dropping your course, well, it’s something you’re still going to remember. Surely, St. Clair Switzer knew more about Ronald Tammen than he was letting on. To me, his answers are indicative of someone who wanted to end the phone call as quickly as possible. What does that tell you?
Sun City, here we come!
In June 1968, St. Clair Switzer and his wife Elizabeth (she went by Betty) purchased one side of a duplex in Sun City, CA, to live out their golden years. Their home was on Pebble Beach Drive, a name that evokes sand and sea, even though there’s no water or beach in sight. It was the fourth Sun City retirement community to be created by developer Del Webb (the first and most famous being Sun City, AZ), and was located in Riverside County about 78 miles east of L.A. The Switzers moved there in August 1968.
It has always mystified me why the Switzers would move to Sun City, CA. As far as I could tell, they had no friends or family there. Their only daughter and her husband lived in Washington, D.C., at the time. One person has suggested that they did it for Betty, who had mobility issues, so that she could get out of the cold. But by then, there was a Sun City Center in Florida. If they were so determined to get in on the Sun City fun, why not move there, where you could get all the sun you wanted and still be close enough to family? I needed to see what the draw was.
Last month, my husband and I took a trip to California, where I spent the first two days at UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library going through Jolly West’s correspondence and other papers. While Switzer’s name on anything could have provided me with one sweet smoking gun, I’m sorry to report that I was unsuccessful. But that’s OK. Because if anyone was going to spend two perfectly gorgeous days in L.A. camped out in UCLA’s Special Collections room searching for St. Clair Switzer’s name on Jolly West’s archival documents, I do believe that I’m the only person in the world who was cut out for that job. And it’s not like I didn’t find anything of interest—just not that.
Another stop on the trip was Sun City. Though it appears to be a nice retirement community with tidy homes and well-maintained recreational facilities, it still didn’t seem like a place for two Midwesterners to settle with no friends or family nearby, although I’m told that plenty of them did back in the day. Besides the golf course and shuffle board courts, one of Sun City’s enticements at that time was the opportunity to socialize with other retirees by participating in various clubs. From what I can tell, though, the Switzers weren’t joiners. Some former Oxford neighbors even considered them somewhat reclusive. So that didn’t make sense either. I toured Sun City’s new museum, which is a room set aside for records and nostalgic knick-knacks in the Arts and Crafts building, and so far, we haven’t found any signs of the Switzers in photo or roster form. The very helpful people there told me they’d notify me if they do. (I particularly loved one photo in which husbands and wives were ballroom dancing in the rec center in the middle of the day, the wives’ purses dangling from the crooks of their arms. You can look at other photos and news articles on their Facebook page.)
The one place that did look as if it might appeal to St. Clair Switzer was March Air Force Base, now March Air Reserve Base (ARB), which is just up the road from Sun City. Could Switzer have been called to work there? When I wrote them to ask if he might have been employed there, I was told that March ARB doesn’t keep records for anyone who is not currently assigned there and their historian position was vacant. Of course, it also occurred to me that, if the CIA were involved, his assignment probably would have been kept off the books anyway. On May 26, 1976, just around the time MKULTRA was becoming public knowledge, St. Clair Switzer died in his sleep of “suspect cardiac arrhythmia,” due to coronary artery insufficiency that was tied to coronary artery atherosclerosis, according to his death certificate. Two years later, a national cemetery was dedicated outside Riverside, near March AFB/ARB, and this is where St. Clair and Elizabeth are now buried.
Epilogue: My theory
With all of this new information, plus all of the new details I’ve presented over the past two years, here’s where my head is concerning what happened to Ron Tammen:
I think the reason that the FBI, DOJ, and/or CIA haven’t told the Tammens about what happened to Ron is because it could open a Pandora’s box—either of other families who were affected in the same way or of new details regarding some MKULTRA-related project that is yet unknown.
On what the university knew
I think someone from the federal government told university officials and the Oxford PD to call off their searches.
After spring break, Ron was showing signs of stress, I believe, over his grades and draft dilemma and perhaps because of a sexual relationship he may have been in.
Dr. Switzer may have approached him with an offer: see the world, serve your country, make a good living, and be true to who you are. However, he wouldn’t be able to see family and friends anymore, for whatever reason, which would have also been stressful for him.
I think Ron chose to cut his losses and agreed to sign on with the CIA. He also could have dropped his psychology course at this time to create distance between Switzer and him, since his credit hours/grades would no longer matter once he joined the CIA.
I don’t think he knew when he would be officially brought on board for whatever they had planned for him.
On the day of Ron’s disappearance:
Ron had no idea what was in store for him on April 19.
Ron had a jampacked schedule that Sunday, and he didn’t suspect that his life was in for a drastic change. He cut records with the Campus Owls all morning and then returned to campus in the afternoon. He had some questions about posthypnotic suggestion, and read up on the topic in his psychology book, even though he’d dropped the course. He did everything else that’s been documented: showered, ate dinner with Collins head resident Ken McDiffett and a table of fellow students, helped Dick Titus study, and changed his sheets.
He told his brother Richard something on the phone that may have angered Richard—maybe he even told him that he was planning to leave Miami.
Whew! So there you have it. I realize it’s a lot to digest, and I’m opening myself up to a few darts and arrows for not fleshing out some details particularly well and not addressing certain questions (like the blood test, which I think was a red herring). But that’s OK. I’m just letting you know where I stand and letting you have your say as well. Feel free to comment below. Also, don’t forget to join us from 1 to 2 p.m. ET today for our Twitter chat (@jwwenger; #Tammenchat). Or, if you’re near Oxford, stop by Mac & Joe’s during that hour to say “hi”!
Oh, and one last thing: These last two years have been extremely instructive for me and a total blast as well. I’m going to miss our talks. Thanks so much for being part of this community, everyone. I’ll be in touch as soon as I hear from ISCAP or if anything else really huge happens on the Tammen front that you need to know about. I feel honored to count you among my posse.
ADDENDUM TO POST (April 22, 2019): Please note that, just because I’m putting my blog on hiatus doesn’t mean that I’ll be putting an end to my research. There’s still much to learn on the Tammen case, and I have every intention of chasing down whatever lead I can find as well as filling in as many details as possible. I’m not going away anytime soon–I’m just going to be doing things a little more quietly, under the radar. I’ll aways be accessible through the contact page, however.