Let’s take a few steps back to the year 2010, when the FBI had sent me their first round of FOIA documents on the Tammen case. What do the FBI’s officially sanctioned records say and how might that information offer up some additional clues into the case, knowing everything else we know now?
For a quick recap, here are the FBI documents we’ve mentioned so far:
This is the initial report that was submitted roughly a month after Marjorie Tammen contacted the FBI informing them of her missing son.
This document shows that the FBI had Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints on file as early as 1941 “for personal identification.”
The document that I want to focus on today is the below letter, written to J. Edgar Hoover from Ronald Tammen’s father, Ronald H. Tammen, Sr.:
The document isn’t dated, however it references an Associated Press photo that appeared in the October 2, 1967, issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, as well as numerous other newspapers around the country. The photo was of a dog handler and his dog in Vietnam.
Here’s the photo:
And here’s the caption that ran beneath it:
COOLING OFF IN VIETNAM – A dog handler attached to the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade and his dog take a cooling swim in a stream near the unit’s home base at Bien Hoa, near Saigon. They had just returned from a patrol and both leaped into the water.
Mr. Tammen had this to say about the photo: “From the few features I can see of this soldier, I would swear it is my son.”
Although I can see a resemblance, I have no idea if the soldier in that photo was Ronald Tammen, who would have been 34 at that time. However, the letter does tell me a couple things about Mr. Tammen. First, counter to the FBI FOIA liaison’s claim that Mr. and Mrs. Tammen thought Ron “to be deceased given some suspicious facts” (the FBI’s supposed reason for sending me the FOIA documents without requiring proof of death or third-party authorization), as of October 1967, Mr. Tammen was still hopeful that his son was alive. (Mrs. Tammen had passed away by then, in 1964.) Second, the letter shows that Mr. Tammen had no idea what had happened to his son. If any readers have been secretly wondering if Ron’s parents might have known something by that time, this letter should put those suspicions to rest.
Now let’s review the response from then–FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, dated October 11, 1967:
I’m going to go ahead and say it: That was one lame-o response, J. Edgar Hoover! Why do I think so? This was a disappearance in which the FBI had, at least at one time, more than a little interest. It was a case on which they’d staked their fabled reputation, one they’d sunk some serious tax dollars into, dispersing agents hither and yon to investigate what might have happened to Ron. Then, after 14 years with (supposedly) little to no new evidence, Ron’s father—someone who knew Tammen about as well as anyone could—writes in to tell them, Hey fellas! I could swear the person in this photo is my son! Can you check it out? Mr. Tammen hadn’t asked that much of the FBI up until that point. It wasn’t as if he’d been calling them once a week asking for an update. I’m no expert, but I’d call this a potential lead.
But is J. Edgar intrigued? Does he put a couple of his dark-suited G-men back on the trail to follow up in hopes that he can wrap up this case, while getting some great P.R.? No, he does not. Instead, Hoover responds with a tepid, “In reference to the newspaper item you enclosed, you may wish to write directly to The Adjutant General, Department of the Army, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 20310, for possible assistance.”
That, Good Man readers, is what I would call a first-class, grade-A, top-of-the-line brush-off. If Mr. Hoover had truly been interested in finding out if the soldier in the photo was Ronald Tammen, don’t you think he would have made a phone call of his own to the Adjutant General? After all, in 1967, Tammen’s fingerprints were still on file with the FBI, and the Army obviously would have taken the soldier’s fingerprints when he enlisted. If the FBI didn’t already have the dog handler’s prints in their identification files (a big if), the Army could have sent them a copy, and, bada bing bada boom, question answered. But Hoover didn’t take that simple step. Why not?
I’ll venture a guess. By 1967, I think Hoover had stopped caring about what happened to Ronald Tammen. Either that, or he already had a good idea what the answer was. And if it was the latter, there must have been some reason that he didn’t want that information to be made public.
Congratulations! You’ve just completed post #20 of A Good Man Is Hard to Find. After reading some of the new details presented on this website, you may have begun forming an opinion of your own about what happened to Ronald Tammen—or maybe your opinion has evolved. If you wish to discuss your views, the floor is always open, and, at this stage of the game, there are no wrong answers. Also, don’t forget to share this blog with friends and family members! The more followers we have, the more people we can involve in the discussion, which could produce more leads and possibly more answers.
Chuck Findlay at his parents’ home in Dayton, Ohio. (Approx. 1953) Credit: Used with permission of Findlay family. Not for reproduction.
Chuck Findlay teaching roller skating in Wooster, Ohio. (Approx. 1956) Credit: Used with permission of Findlay family. Not for reproduction.
Charles Findlay, later in life, on Christmas morning. Credit: Used with permission of Findlay family. Not for reproduction.
There are moments in some people’s lives that prove to be pivotal. They’re rolling along, minding their own business, steady as they go on a plotted trajectory, and then a metaphorical meteor strikes and their life takes an abrupt left turn. In Charles Findlay’s case, that moment arrived on Sunday, April 19, 1953, at around 10:30 p.m., when he walked into his room in Miami University’s Fisher Hall after having spent the weekend in Dayton with his family.
At first glance, Chuck didn’t know that everything was about to change for him. By all appearances, his roommate, Ron Tammen, would be walking in at any minute and they’d be recounting to one another how they’d spent their weekends. Ron had left a light on, an open book on his desk, and his wallet, keys, and pretty much everything else he owned in the room, and his car was still parked outside. When, after some time, there was still no Ron, Chuck decided he was probably staying at the fraternity house that night and went to bed. He didn’t think much else about it.
The next day, when Ron still hadn’t shown up, Chuck grew a little more concerned. According to one knowledgeable source, Chuck had bumped into Richard, Ron’s younger brother and a freshman at Miami, while walking to class. He told him that Ron hadn’t come home the night before and asked if he knew where he might be. Richard responded that he didn’t know. Later that day, Chuck stopped by the Delt house and asked if Ron had been there the night before. Whoever he spoke with also told him no. We already know how the story ends—Ron never returned and, from that point on, Charles L. Findlay would be remembered as the roommate of the guy in the center of Miami’s most baffling mystery.
The first time I spoke with Chuck was in 2010. I was practically giddy at the prospect of talking with someone whom I’d hoped could finally answer all my questions about Ron Tammen. But, like everyone else, Chuck didn’t feel that he knew Ron very well. They might have been roommates, but they didn’t see each other much. “He was busy,” Chuck told me.
Chuck and I spoke several more times, the last being in the spring of 2015. My notes and transcripts reveal a pattern in which I was doing most of the talking, posing to him a string of questions or filling him in on the latest developments. “Do you remember anything about this (or that) detail?” I’d ask him. And he’d say, “Somewhat,” or “Maybe,” or, his favorite response, “No, I’m sorry, I don’t. It was so long ago.” To his credit, he didn’t want to send me on a wild goose chase based on a potentially faulty recollection. Nevertheless, by that time, I’d come to appreciate what a kind and gentle man Chuck Findlay was—always willing to return my call, always happy to listen to my latest hypothesis about what happened to his former roommate.
I left a voicemail message suggesting I come to visit him in person. Several days later, I received a call from Chuck’s son David. Knowing that couldn’t be a good sign, I braced myself for the sad news: Chuck Findlay had passed away May 26, 2017, at the age of 85. David also let me know that, in Chuck’s later years, the two had talked at length about Ron Tammen. “Would you be interested in meeting with me instead?” he asked. “Absolutely,” I replied.
We met in a Panera, in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and it was there that I more fully began to grasp the toll that Ron Tammen’s disappearance had taken on Chuck Findlay and how it impacted the life he led.
“Ronald Tammen’s disappearance is partly responsible for the person that’s sitting in front of you today,” David Findlay said to me mere minutes into our conversation. David is warm and energetic and he’s a big believer in the interconnectedness of the universe. Plus, he looked so much like his father, it wasn’t funny. We hit it off instantly.
Chuck Findlay was a little older than Ron Tammen. Born on April 1, 1932, he had just turned 21 when Tammen went missing. (Ron was still 19.) Although they didn’t know each other well, they were a good match, because they were similar people: quiet, introspective, and studious.
“The two of them liked each other, got along famously, but they weren’t close,” David said. “They weren’t close. They were roommates and they got along fine.”
After Ron disappeared, Chuck was left to fend for himself for the remainder of the school year—he was never provided with a replacement roommate, which, as David points out, couldn’t have been good psychologically. During Chuck’s junior year, he was once again assigned to Fisher Hall, and this time, his roommate was kicked out during the first semester for stealing tests. Again, Chuck was provided with no replacement. On top of all that, he became ill with mono during the latter part of 1953. He was struggling.
According to David, Chuck internalized Ron’s disappearance in the years that followed. He may have been silently marking off the anniversaries, but he would never raise the subject with anyone.
”He did not talk about it. I mean, it had that much of an effect on him,” David said.
A 1960 anniversary article in the Dayton Daily News, which included comments from Chuck’s mother, supported this observation. Although Mrs. Findlay claimed that Chuck and Ron had been “very, very close,” a point both David and his father would have disputed, she also mentioned that Chuck had been seeing a doctor for a nervous disorder he’d developed after Ron disappeared.
“He still can’t talk about it,” she’d said at the time.
During the summers when Chuck was still at Miami, he’d worked in sales for a hardware store and, later, a furniture store, both in his hometown of Dayton. However, when he graduated in the winter of 1956, he needed a break. He moved to Wooster, a small college town in northeast Ohio, and taught roller skating at the local skating rink. In the 1950s, this might have been comparable to a college grad today moving to Colorado to wait tables or teach downhill skiing. It was a chance for Chuck to get away and clear his head before diving into the lifelong responsibilities of adulthood.
“He and my uncle ran the teaching program through Wooster Skateland for several years, but that wouldn’t have happened if Ron Tammen hadn’t disappeared,” said David. “And that’s where he met my mom. So there’s this cause and effect thing—this ripple, cause, and effect thing.”
After Chuck and his wife married, the two moved to Dayton, where he managed a furniture store, and later, to Michigan, where they ran a roller rink of their own for 25 years. After leaving the skating world, he worked for a local car dealership, driving cars from state to state until Parkinson’s disease made it impossible for him to drive any longer. When he was 82, he finally decided to retire for good, though the owners told him that he was welcome to work for them for as long as he wanted. He was that loved.
Chuck was a sentimental dad, and he wasn’t ashamed to show it. He was the sort of father who said a prayer and kissed his sons on the forehead at night, whether they were grown adults or not. When the family was younger, he would help his wife hang cookies on the tree on Christmas Eve so the boys could munch on them the whole next day. He would tape record family gatherings so he could capture each word that was said for posterity.
In 1976, when a Dayton television station was producing The Phantom of Oxford, they called Chuck repeatedly, begging him to talk on camera with them. After two months, he finally agreed.
“They had to bring in big cameras and lighting and everything, and I sat in my pajamas, cross-legged, at the entrance to our living room, and sat there and listened to the story,” said David. “And that’s the first time I ever heard it. It gives me chills to this day. And then, the book closed and he didn’t speak of it for decades.”
That would change some 38 years later as David was helping his father become more accustomed to life in the digital world.
“About three years ago, I discovered that video online. Dad was asking me, ‘What’s the difference between Netflix and YouTube?’ And I was explaining the difference, and I said, ‘Everything and everyone is on YouTube.’ So I Googled him on YouTube, and that came up, and we have a Smart TV, and I said, ‘Dad, you want to know what’s on YouTube? Here.’ And I started playing his interview, and he was like, ‘That’s me!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you’re on YouTube.’”
After watching the video, Chuck started opening up more about his time at Miami: about Fisher Hall’s wobbly plywood floors that made funny sounds when they walked; or the dropped ceilings that would rattle with falling plaster; or how food would be transported by dumbwaiter from the kitchen in the basement to the dining area above; or how he used to carry a bow tie in his pocket so that he’d be able to clip it on for dinner (an occasion for which ties were required) without having to run to his room to change—his own little 1950s life hack.
Chuck also took to keeping a notebook during those years at Miami after Ron disappeared—daily affirmations to help him cope. They were simple sayings, many clichés. Things like: Don’t sweat the small stuff, or The past can only be used to reflect on. It should not be used as a guideline for the future.
David treasures that notebook as an opportunity to see into the psyche of his father after he’d withstood one of the biggest jolts imaginable—perhaps even bigger than death itself. In death, there’s grieving. There’s closure. In a disappearance, there’s a hole, and endless unanswered questions, and the off chance that you might run into that person 30 or 40 years later. Chuck never stopped looking for Ron in crowds or on the street.
“He was 21. And so much of [what’s in the notebook] is who I knew to be my father my whole lifetime. And I think that was the start of it,” said David. “So it was really amazing that this tragedy, for my father, in the end, gave him a deep love for life and a passion for living life to the fullest that may not have been if not for that fateful night so very long ago.”
David and Charles Findlay, August 2015. David is wearing his grandfather’s cap, while Chuck is wearing a cap he purchased in 1953 in Oxford, Ohio. Credit: Photo used with permission of Findlay family. Not for reproduction.
In the last post, we discussed how busy Ronald Tammen was on his final official day on the grid. Our big revelation was that, in the morning and early afternoon of April 19, 1953, Ron was allegedly in Cincinnati making three 78 records—six recordings in all—with the Campus Owls for their competition entry for DownBeat magazine.
So King Records now takes the #1 spot in Ron’s itinerary for that day. Before I make the next reveal, here’s a brief synopsis of what we know (or think we know) about his actions from that point on:
With this timeline in mind, we now have one more impromptu brush with Ronald Tammen that supposedly happened on April 19. This information comes to us by way of a former resident of Fisher Hall—let’s call him Hal—who lived on the third floor. Although I haven’t yet been able to corroborate his story with anyone else, I wanted to share it because it’s so compelling and because Hal is so confident that it happened. (Several of Ronald Tammen’s family members have reviewed this post in advance, and I’ve included a couple observations from one of them below, where applicable.)
From the Fisher Hall resident: Ron was in Fisher Hall’s third-floor bathroom when he got into a fight with his younger brother Richard.
To say that Hal is an extrovert is an understatement. Hal was known as the guy who had his finger on the pulse of Fisher Hall. He pretty much knew everyone in the dorm, in addition to what the day-to-day goings-on were as well as what was churning in the rumor mill. Today, he’s a retired businessman who has enjoyed great success in the construction field, but back in 1953, he was the ringleader of a group of guys who would play hearts from early evening until well into the night. When they weren’t playing cards, they occasionally broke rules and ignored boundaries, but only in a harmless sort of way. If they got hungry, they’d been known to try to sneak food from the kitchen. If they wondered where an unmarked door might lead, they’d open it and go exploring.
Hal explained to me that on the evening that Ronald Tammen disappeared, he and some of the guys had been playing cards in one of the rooms on the third floor. And then, ever so nonchalantly, he dropped this little bombshell:
“Now the two Tammen brothers fought in the bathroom. And both of them were husky guys, not big, but quite husky…and that night they had a real bang-up in the third-floor bathroom.”
Upon reflection, Hal isn’t exactly sure what time the fight happened and he has no idea why it happened. He wasn’t there. He’d only heard about the fight after the fact. He also isn’t sure if there had been yelling or fists flying—just that the Tammens were in a fight, and someone broke it up. It wasn’t the first time that Ron and Richard had fought, he said, though it wasn’t out of the ordinary for fights to break out in the dorm either, usually between roommates. He just recalls hearing that Ron and Richard Tammen had fought in the third-floor bathroom sometime on the day Ron disappeared. (A Tammen family member questions the description of the brothers as husky, noting that they were slim to medium in build.)
Why Ron and Richard would be on the third floor of Fisher Hall at all is anyone’s guess, since Ron’s room was on the second floor and Richard, who was a freshman that year, lived in nearby Symmes Hall. When I asked Hal that question, he said that Ron often took showers on the third floor. (To find out why Ron did that, I suppose we’d have to ask him directly. Maybe it was so he could have some privacy and a little distance from the freshman guys he oversaw. Maybe the water pressure was better. Alas, we’ll never know.)
Hal’s hypothesis is that something terrible must have happened in relation to that fight. He imagines a scenario in which a second fight broke out, things got out of hand, and Ron died somehow—by accident. He pictures Richard carrying Ron’s body up a ladder to the attic and putting him in one of the large cisterns that Hal had discovered during one of his clandestine expeditions around Fisher Hall. Hal says that he spoke with the Oxford police about it, encouraging them to search the attic, but they had little regard for what he had to say and, at least to his knowledge, no one followed up. (The same Tammen family member finds it difficult to believe that Richard would have been able to carry Ron up a ladder to the attic, since Richard was smaller than Ron. Although they were both roughly 5’9″ in height, Richard was probably no more than 150 pounds in comparison to Ron’s 175 pounds at the time of his disappearance.)
Click on image to enlarge. A page from Dean Carl Knox’s notes showing Ronald Tammen’s height and weight at the time of his disappearance.
Hal also recalls Chuck Findlay, Ron’s roommate, interrupting their card game the night of Ron’s disappearance and asking the group if anyone had seen Ron. Hal says that he and several others took it upon themselves to check the rooms of everyone in Fisher Hall, to no avail. They also supposedly checked the entrances to the dorm to see if there were any tracks in the snow. It was the absence of footprints that signaled to Hal that Ron had never left the dorm. (Although Hal’s sleuthing instincts were excellent, I’m not sure they were infallible considering the amount of snow that had reportedly fallen that day. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the snowfall appears to have been between .01 and .04 inches per hour for most of the afternoon and early evening for Dayton and Cincinnati, and continued at that level in the early afternoon of April 20. This would be consistent with news accounts that described the weather as chilly with snow flurries. In short, the snow may have been sticking, but it probably hadn’t accumulated very much.)
Click on image to enlarge. Hourly precipitation (HPCP) for April 19-20, 1953, in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, region. Source: NOAA National Climatic Data Center.
Hal isn’t the first person to suspect Richard. In contrast to his likable older brother, Richard could be a hothead and a bully. John, the oldest Tammen brother, credited Richard’s teachers with bringing out the mean in him by continuously smacking his dominant left hand in school. Some have wondered if Richard might have done something terrible to Ron in true biblical, Cain v. Abel fashion.
I think we should take a few steps back, however. We don’t know what the argument was about. But we might be able to piece a few things together, assuming, again, that it indeed happened:
By taking place in Fisher Hall’s third-floor bathroom, it’s pretty clear who the aggressor would have been. Something could have set Richard off, and he came to find his brother to have it out with him.
According to Ken McDiffett, the former head resident of nearby Collins Hall who had conducted his own research into the Tammen disappearance, Ronald and Richard supposedly spoke by phone at 8 p.m. That phone call probably had something to do with whatever they were arguing about, irrespective of whether the call took place before or after the fight.
If the fight took place after the 8 p.m. phone call, then Hal and his guys would have likely heard the commotion while they were playing cards, since the two bathrooms, which were located across the hall from one another, were nearby.
If Ron was in the third-floor bathroom to take a shower, he probably did so at the same time he was seen walking around in a towel. That would put the fight sometime within our 4-7 p.m. window, which is my guess regarding when the fight occurred.
As Hal said, the argument in the bathroom didn’t last. Someone broke things up. What’s more, according to Paul, the Delt, Ron attended song practice at around 9 p.m., which means that there would have been a cooling-off period. If the fight had resumed, it would have had to occur sometime after 10:30 p.m., when Ron returned from song practice. And if so, the altercation likely wouldn’t have taken place inside Fisher Hall, since more people would have heard it at that hour. Even if Ron didn’t attend song practice, any possible rematch sometime after 8 p.m. would have had to occur outside, again, because too many people would have noticed it inside Fisher Hall. This makes the cistern theory less plausible.
Richard’s behavior after his brother disappeared was all over the map—from reticence to defensiveness to panic. Robert Tammen, the youngest of the Tammen siblings, doesn’t remember Richard ever talking about Ron’s disappearance when he was home on break. A former dorm counselor said that, when he asked Richard if he knew where Ron might be, Richard’s demeanor turned sour, and he said something like, “I’m not my brother’s keeper.” Paul, the Delt, remembers Richard bursting into the fraternity house living room the Saturday after Ron went missing, when a group was watching a baseball game, and asking if anyone had seen his brother. Of course, if Richard had spoken with his brother the day of his disappearance, either by phone or in person, he remained tight-lipped about it when speaking with news reporters. (He’s on record as having last seen Ron at around 11 or 11:30 p.m., Saturday, April 18.) Any of those behaviors could be interpreted in a number of ways, some of which might arouse suspicions about Richard.
Two of Richard’s actions have led me to see things differently, however. First, news accounts had reported that Richard didn’t believe Mrs. Spivey’s claims that Ron had showed up on her doorstep in Seven Mile later that night because Richard had found some discrepancies in her story. If he had put his brother in the attic, or anywhere else, wouldn’t it have been to his advantage to go along with whatever Mrs. Spivey said, to throw people off the trail? Also, many years afterward, when the university had been publishing articles around Halloween that portrayed the Tammen case as a ghost story, Richard contacted Miami’s news bureau to ask them to stop. He didn’t want his brother remembered in that way. Those don’t sound like the actions of a guilty person to me.
I would give anything to talk with Richard, because, in my mind, what took place in that third-floor bathroom might not have begun as a fight at all. Perhaps Richard was pleading—loudly, aggressively—with Ron not to do something that Ron was determined to do, even to the point of throwing some punches at him. Angst and anger can look the same to a casual observer. Unfortunately, in October 2004, Richard died of carbon monoxide poisoning in an apartment fire that was ruled accidental, with the probable cause being “the careless use of smoking materials.”
Did Richard do something drastic? I don’t think so—even though I know he was no angel. I’m not the only person who has come to that conclusion either. The FBI has no records on Richard, and people familiar with the inner workings of the Oxford PD and university investigations have told me that they never heard his name mentioned as a suspect. The cold case detective from the 2008 Butler County Sheriff’s Department investigation also didn’t consider him a suspect.
Did Richard know something about Ron’s whereabouts that he would take to his grave? That’s a possibility I haven’t ruled out.
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, Reproduction number LC-USW3- 029978-E, LOT 820
Something I’ve discovered as I’ve been researching the Ronald Tammen disappearance is that there’s never a straightforward route to a solution. Scads of rabbit holes are lying in wait between point A and point Z, and the minute you start tunneling down one of them, there will invariably be an unrelated side burrow needing to be checked out. It’s kind of like driving from Cleveland to Cincinnati and getting caught up in every roundabout and cul-de-sac along the way. It’s a road trip, and road trips are generally awesome, but who really knows when we’ll be hitting I-275, let alone the Skyline Chili at 7th and Vine?
Case in point: For the past two weeks, I’d been placing calls and sending out emails to the former residents of Fisher Hall following up on our “woman from Hamilton” lead. The conversations have been captivating, and I’m amazed by the large number of octogenarians who are able to retrieve obscure college memories on demand. (Seriously, can you recall the name of your resident assistant from your freshman year of college or reel off the number of your dorm room or your class schedule? Some of these guys honestly can.) And then, during one such conversation, another side burrow came into view: a possible clue related to Ron’s blood type test.
Remember that story? On Wednesday, November 19, 1952—five months before he disappeared—Ronald Tammen had stepped into the office of Dr. Garret J. Boone, a family physician in Hamilton, Ohio, who also happened to be the county coroner. The reason for Ron’s visit was to have his blood typed, which seemed odd to Doc Boone. It was so odd, in fact, that, when he later realized that the young man was the same person who disappeared from Miami, he dug up Ron’s medical record and contacted university officials to see if the new information might help in their investigation. But the officials weren’t interested in what Doc Boone had to say. He was angry by the “brush-off” (his word choice) he’d received, and kept that potential lead to himself until 20 years later, in 1973, when he told Hamilton Journal-News reporter Joe Cella.
Doc Boone’s account left readers scratching their heads. Why a blood type test? It’s not exactly a high-priority medical procedure that warrants a full-fledged doctor’s visit. The two most obvious reasons for having one in those days were probably: a) to donate blood or b) to take a paternity test. (I’d originally thought that blood typing was required if a person wanted to get married, but most information sources state that, back then, the required pre-wedding blood test was for detecting sexually transmitted diseases and other health issues, as opposed to determining blood type.)
So what about a paternity test? A couple years ago, I spoke with a person at the DNA Diagnostics Center, a national paternity testing laboratory and affiliate of the American Pregnancy Association. Paternity tests in the 1950s were generally conducted six months after a baby was born, for the baby’s protection. Six months prior to November 19 would have been May 19, 1952, a ballpark guess for a potential baby’s birthday. Nine months before that date—roughly the time when the alleged baby would have been conceived—is August 1951, when Ron was fresh out of high school. Considering how rarely he dated back then, I’m sure Ron would have been free and clear of any worry that he’d fathered a child.
The second possibility is that he wanted to donate blood. In 1952, the American Red Cross was fairly new to its blood program. According to the organization’s timeline, its first national blood collection program began for the military during WWII and the first collection center for civilians was established in 1948 in Rochester, N.Y. The number of collection centers mushroomed to nearly 1600 the following year. But who would make a special trip—on a Wednesday—to a doctor 14 miles away to have his blood typed for the purpose of giving blood on a future date? Normally, if a person had blood donation on his mind, he’d walk into the collection center, they’d conduct a blood type test for him, free-of-charge, and he’d donate the blood then and there. Why visit a doctor in another town who was unknown to him and who certainly charged a fee? Or, as an alternative, why not get his blood typed at the student health center on campus, again likely for free?
According to the 1973 Hamilton Journal-News article, when Doc Boone asked Ron point-blank why he needed to have his blood typed, Ron responded, “I might have to give some blood one of these days,” which always sounded made up to me. If he really meant to give blood, there wouldn’t have been a “might” or “one of these days”—he would have said, “I want to donate blood.” (Granted, we’re working with a quote that was provided 20 years later from memory, so we can’t be sure of its accuracy, but Doc Boone obviously wasn’t very sold on Ron’s excuse either.) To me, that quote sounded way too secretive. Ron was up to something, I decided, and it had nothing to do with blood donation.
And then, last week, I talked to one of Ron’s fellow residents of Fisher Hall.
As I was asking my source, let’s call him Joe, about a possible woman from Hamilton, he said he hadn’t heard any rumor about her nor could he recall ever seeing Ron with a woman. But then he described one memory that did stand out: He remembered Ron asking him one day if he would accompany him to Dayton to a facility where people were paid to donate blood. (Although we can’t know with 100 percent certainty that the facility was operated by the Red Cross, it’s true that the organization sometimes paid donors during this time period.) Joe remembers being apprehensive about it, but Ron pretty much insisted that he join him.
“It was his nature to find something exciting to do,” said Joe. “If he got an idea to do something, he’d put it into effect.”
Joe needed the money for a pending night out with a girl, so he agreed to go along. He hitchhiked with Ron to Dayton—in the snow—and remembers quite clearly thinking, “This is crazy. This is nuts.” But he looked over at Ron, and Ron seemed fine with it. Joe said it was probably December when they made their trip, which would have been a month or so after Ron’s blood type test, though it could have been a little later.
I asked Joe if he needed to make a special trip to a doctor to have his blood typed beforehand, and he said, no, they probably took care of that at the collection center—either that, or he was already aware of his blood type. Joe was O positive, just like Ron.
Ron and Joe received $25 apiece for the pint of blood they’d each donated, and then they hitchhiked back to Oxford. It was the only time Joe had joined Ron for such an excursion. Other than their trip to Dayton, they had very little contact.
“He went his way and I went my way,” Joe said.
It’s important to understand how substantial $25 was back then. Twenty-five dollars in December 1952 was roughly the equivalent of $230 today, which isn’t chicken feed. In an old Honeymooners episode that first aired in the spring of 1956, Ralph Kramden considered putting his bus driver job in jeopardy and becoming a steam iron salesman for a prospective $40 a day. “Imagine that—$40 a day!” he said to Alice. Twenty-five dollars in one afternoon probably seemed just as huge to Ron Tammen. And compared to the amount Ron earned as a Campus Owl, which was also pretty good money, $25 was a tidy sum that only required that he lie down for a short while.
“I think we got paid about $12-15 for one gig,” one of Ron’s bandmates told me in an email. “One weekend I made $40 when we played three. That was a heck of a lot better than 35 cents an hour scraping dishes in a women’s dorm.”
When Ron first heard of this amazing moneymaking opportunity, he might have felt the need to have his ducks in a row before setting off for Dayton. It would be frustrating to show up at a blood bank more than 40 miles away only to be turned back because he didn’t know his blood type. Or, maybe the collection center only paid for a certain blood type, so he’d need to know if he was eligible before he made the trip. That still doesn’t explain why he chose to visit Doc Boone’s office, but not everything going on in a 19-year-old guy’s head back then is going to make perfect sense today. Who knows—maybe he happened to be in the neighborhood. Furthermore, maybe he chose to hitchhike with Joe to Dayton—in the snow, no less—as opposed to driving his own car so that none of his earnings would be wasted on gas.
By the early 1970s, the practice of paying blood donors became controversial as the opportunity to make good money in a physically undemanding way often drew people who were down on their luck and who were at high risk for diseases such as hepatitis. It was at this time that the American Red Cross switched over to a volunteer-only system.
Could it be that, in the end, Ron Tammen had told Doc Boone the truth—that he “might have to give some blood one of these days”?
The solution to this part of the Ronald Tammen puzzle may end up being just that obvious and that irrelevant to Tammen’s disappearance…and, in the words of Joe, also a little crazy and nuts.
Ronald Tammen was born on July 23, 1933, which means that, if he’s still alive, he’d be 84 today. In celebration, I thought we’d steer clear of our usual topics of why and how he disappeared, and share a few stories that his friends and family members have told me—stories that, if Ron were still here, seated at a table with his cake aglow, would elicit that winning grin of his. Many articles have been written about Ronald Tammen over the years, yet very little information has been revealed concerning who Ron was as a human being. I hope the following stories, as told by the people who were fortunate enough to know him personally, will help.
P.S. These tapes were originally created for my own use, and not with the intent of playing them for the public. As a result, I apologize for my less-than-stellar interview style accompanied by the occasional clattering dishes, background voices, country-western tunes, wind gusts, etc. Needless to say, broadcast journalism was never my calling.
For accessibility purposes, a transcript is provided below each audio clip.
Ron Tammen’s prom date
Ronald Tammen’s date to the senior prom, a woman by the name of Grace, describes the qualities she liked best in Ron. (1:00)
Ronald Tammen was a sophomore business major from near Cleveland who disappeared from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, one snowy Sunday evening in April 1953. As the story goes, he was last seen near his room in Fisher Hall before he went missing. His roommate, who had been away for the weekend, returned later that evening to find the lights on, the radio playing, and a textbook open on Tammen’s desk. He’d left all of his possessions behind, including his wallet, his car, and the string bass he played in the campus dance band. For the past seven years, I’ve been investigating Tammen’s disappearance in an effort to shed new light on — and possibly even solve — the mystery of what happened to him. The following is one detour I took in the process.
The instant I saw the photos, I knew that I was in for a long slog with a new addiction. I’d already been searching for the boy—Ronald Tammen—for several years by that time, but now I would need to find the girl too. The two scenes, freeze-framed in black and white, had managed to survive one thrilling day that had come and gone ages ago—a day when stomachs fluttered and a pair of teens had adorned tux and gown with the weighty expectation of looking better than they’d ever looked in their young lives. A day when a mystery girl had accompanied Ronald Tammen to the 1951 Maple Heights High School prom.
In the first shot, Ron and his date are faced forward, their eyes squinting into the sun. Her dress is white chiffon with a tiered bodice and simple jewel neckline. A similarly colored wrap hugs her neck and shoulders, bolero-style. Her corsage, an orchid, is enormous, bound to bother as the evening progresses. Her short hair is newly permed, the tight Lilt curls framing her face. (In cruel contrast, Ron’s hair glistens with product, an effort to tame his natural waves.) She is a dazzling girl next door, and anyone can see by her unprovoked smile that she’s been anticipating this moment for weeks. That smile might have been what had led Ron to ask her to the prom in the first place. She seems to be genuinely nice.
Ron is standing to the right of his date. Their shoulders are touching, possibly for the first time. He’s wearing a white jacket and shirt with a perfectly knotted black bow tie. A carnation pinned to his left lapel is the same deep shade of gray as the handkerchief peering out of his pocket—probably crimson in real life. He’s dashing without really trying. A half smile on his lips and a slight tilt of his head give him swagger. If someone had told me I was looking at a youthful Paul Newman before he made it big, I would have believed it.
It’s the second photo, the one snapped when neither of the pair is quite ready, that draws me in most. Ron’s sister Marcia, who would have been eight, is standing in front of Ron and smiling at the camera, an ornery, lopsided grin. Ron’s date is turned toward Ron, while Ron faces forward and is looking downward. His date’s smile has dimmed a little and she appears to be looking past Ron, perhaps in response to his expression, which is…what? It could be simple shyness or modesty, self-conscious embarrassment at the prospect of exchanging a glance with someone he doesn’t know very well. But there’s something else. Sadness? A pang of worry? His head is bowed as if he’s done something wrong.
“Do you happen to remember her name?” I’d asked Marcia when she’d raised the topic of Ron’s senior prom with me one spring day in 2011. We were sitting in a Denny’s in Cleveland, our inaugural meeting. It would be two more years until I had the actual photos in my hand, but the subject had always intrigued me.
“Grace,” said Marcia. “But I couldn’t tell you her last name. She was one of the girls who lived down the street.”
“Was she in Ron’s class?” I asked.
“I don’t know. She could have gone to a parochial school for all I remember.”
It was a start. I’d already bought several Maple Heights High School yearbooks on eBay—covering Ron’s sophomore, junior, and senior years. Ron had even signed a couple of them—a big, loopy signature in perfect cursive. It would be easy enough for me to leaf through the pages of the 1951 issue, Ron’s senior year, stopping only at the Graces, and then asking Marcia to help me narrow the field to the one and only Grace to grace Ron’s arm at the prom.
Grace was an uncommon name back then, unlike the Carols, Jeans, and Peggys that populated the pages. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single Grace in Ron’s senior class. There was one Grace in the junior class, a Grace P., and there appeared to be no Graces in the sophomore class either, though I barely looked at that section. The students seemed so young. You’d think that I would have tried to track down the lone Grace immediately, but I didn’t. In my mind, if Ron could have taken anyone to the prom, as so many of his friends had claimed, there really wasn’t any reason for him to look beyond his own age group. Or possibly, I had already locked onto what Marcia had said: that Grace may have attended a parochial school. Her comment had reminded me of a similar remark made by a former classmate of Ron’s when I’d asked her if she’d remembered Ron ever dating anyone.
“Not anyone from our school,” she’d told me. If there was a dance, Ron was the type of guy who would bring a girl from another school, she’d said.
A nearby Catholic school would certainly qualify as another school. But the possibilities were too wide open. I put Grace on the back burner and continued my main pursuit—trying to figure out what had happened to Ron.
In the spring of 2013, Marcia and I were catching up over coffee at a Wendy’s near her new hometown, a farm community in northeast Ohio. It was one of our usual rendezvous spots whenever I came to visit. As my list of discussion topics was winding down, she said that she’d been doing some digging in preparation for our meeting. She turned to a carryall bag and began pulling out some of her most cherished possessions. There were 8” X 10”s of Marcia and her four brothers—stunning high school senior portraits that, for as long as Marcia could remember, had been lined up on a bookcase in her parents’ home, the same place where Mr. Tammen used to put his hat at the end of the day. There was a photo of her mother Marjorie when she was probably in her 20s, her eyes as big as a doe’s and her hair in a flapper-esque ‘do.
There was a yellow-bound report that Marcia had written when she was a junior in high school. Titled “The Tammen Ancestors,” it described the origins of the two sides of her family and included a chart filled with relatives’ names, many of which had already become familiar to me. Marcia’s narrative described how the Tammens (on her father’s side) and McCanns (on her mother’s) had conducted their lives—where they had lived, how they had been employed, and whom they had married and conceived. There was one exception: Ron Jr. His life had been summed up in one forlorn sentence: “Ronald Henry Tammen Jr. was born July 23, 1933.”
I could understand why Marcia had so little to say about Ron. What else could she have written about him? That he had disappeared from his second floor room in Miami’s Fisher Hall when he was a sophomore and no one had seen him since? That would have sounded too tragic. Besides, everyone in Maple Heights had already heard the story by then. There was no reason to bring it up here. Also, at that time, the family still believed that Ron was alive, and there was no telling what had happened to him. For all Marcia knew, he was a grown man with a new name and identity living in a sunny climate and raising a family of his own—one that would never make it onto her chart. By then, memories of her brother were receding so fast that one of the few things that Marcia could state unequivocally was that he had indeed been born.
The next item that Marcia pulled from her bag was a picture in a frame. I immediately recognized it as a painting of Jesus standing outside a cottage door, knocking. The artist was Warner Sallman, an American painter who had created many of the iconic religious images that I’d seen since I was a kid in Sunday school. He’d also painted the close-up, profile view of Jesus with shoulder-length hair and beard. I’d seen that image so often in hospitals and nursing homes that I figured it was Jesus. The brown and gold tones made it appear ancient, as if it had been pulled from 2000-year-old Jerusalem rubble. But no, it was painted in 1940 by a guy from Chicago. Marcia’s picture, the one titled “Christ at Heart’s Door,” was painted a couple years later.
It wasn’t until Marcia had turned the frame around that I understood its significance. Marcia had won the picture as a child in a competition at church after memorizing 18 verses of the Bible. At the top, Marcia’s instructors had inked in the date of the competition: April 19, 1953, the same day that Ron had disappeared. What they’d written beneath the date gave me a chill: “Only one life—‘Twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” Did the universe already know what was about to happen? Was Ron’s life about to come to an abrupt end that day?
That’s not why Marcia had held onto the print, however. The painting itself had spoken to her and, for that reason, accompanied her throughout her life, tacked to the assorted walls of the houses and apartments she’d resided in since she was ten. Only after a friend pointed out the date to her did she realize that she’d been living with that picture for as long as she’d been carrying the grief of losing her brother.
As we prepared to leave, Marcia mentioned that she also had a couple videotapes that I was welcome to borrow. She suggested I drop by her home the next day to pick them up, along with all of the other materials that she said I could take with me to duplicate. As I drove away the following day, my priceless cargo in a manila envelope on the passenger seat, it occurred to me that Marcia and I had turned a corner. I had finally earned her trust. Out of all the people who had written about Ronald Tammen’s disappearance—and after 60 years, there were quite a few—I had managed to convince Marcia that I was in it for the long haul. We both wanted the same thing: to find out what happened to her brother, and we would be allies in that search.
The first video, titled “The Phantom of Oxford,” was a half-hour documentary produced in 1976 by a TV station in Dayton. I’d already seen that tape, a re-dredging of all of the details surrounding the mystery, and featuring interviews with some of the main players. The second video was shorter and more recent. It had been produced by a Cincinnati news team when investigators were trying to determine if a dead body found in Georgia in 1953 could have been Ron. (It wasn’t.) Within the first few seconds of the news segment, there it was: a photo of Ron and his date to the high school prom. Moments later came the second photo, the one of Ron gazing downward. Grace was on the front burner once again.
I screen-grabbed stills of the prom photos along with several other shots of the family and had a few copies made of each. I then mailed a set to one of Ron’s classmates and former neighbors who agreed to let me know if she or anyone else she kept in touch with recognized Ron’s date. After several weeks of hearing nothing, I revisited the possibility that his date might have attended a parochial school. I recalled that one of Ron’s friends whom I’d interviewed a couple years earlier had attended a Catholic high school in the area.
“Do you happen to recognize this person?” I asked him in a Facebook message. “I think her first name is Grace.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t,” he replied.
Of course, in the back of my mind I’d always wondered if Grace might not have been her name after all. I knew how my memory worked when it came to the names of people I used to go to school with. Some names I could call up, but others stayed on the tip of my tongue, stuck at the first letter. Perhaps her name was actually Gladys or Gloria. I ran my theory past Marcia, who said no, she was quite sure it was Grace.
Her certainty increased my momentum. I found an online database of yearbooks, which made it possible to search electronically for all of the Graces who attended schools in the area, both public and private.
The first person to turn up was Grace P., the same girl I’d spotted in the 1951 Maple Heights yearbook as a junior. Her senior picture looked somewhat like the Grace in my photo, though not identical. I found her married name from a brother’s obituary and gave her a call.
No one picked up, so I began to leave my message: “Hi, I’m looking for a person named Grace, who graduated from Maple Heights High School in 1952. I’m writing a book about the disappearance of Ronald Tammen…”
“Hello?” Grace P. interrupted.
That was par for the course. Early in my project, I was pleased to discover that the people I was attempting to track down for interviews—people in their late 70s and early 80s—picked up their phones no matter what, and usually on the first or second ring. But within the last year or so, many were letting their calls roll over to voicemail. The robots and scam artists had finally jaded them too. When I mentioned the name of Ronald Tammen, however, the screening ended, and we were talking one-to-one. Ron Tammen was my instant in.
“You’re writing a book about Ronald Tammen?” she asked.
“I am,” I said, and then explained a little about my project. “I don’t suppose you went to the prom with him, did you?”
“No,” she laughed. She said she hadn’t dated very much in high school. She had an Italian father who was pretty strict in that regard.
I’d already known her answer would be no. If she’d attended the prom with Ronald Tammen, she would have volunteered that information immediately, without my asking. I followed up with a question that I asked anyone who had known Ron in high school or college. Unfortunately, it was a question that usually yielded disappointing results.
“What kinds of memories do you have of Ron back then?”
“Not much, I’m afraid,” she said. “I was just a junior when he was a senior, so I didn’t know him very well.”
That was common. Ronald Tammen wasn’t exactly a well-known guy. Sure, everyone knew him—they’d seen him playing in the orchestra or singing in the choir. They admired him. But very few had stories to share.
I was back to square one. I returned to the database, and searched for more Graces in the Cleveland area during the 1950s. This time, another Grace from Maple Heights popped up, one I hadn’t noticed before. Her name was Grace H., and her last name, with its shortage of vowels, sounded Eastern European. She was standing in the back row of the home economics club in the 1951 yearbook. She’d managed to fly below the radar because, for whatever reason, she hadn’t appeared in any of the class photos that year—not with the seniors and not in the homeroom shots of juniors, sophomores, or freshmen. Her smile was unmistakable though, as were her curls. She was the one.
I checked an online phone directory on the off chance that she was still going by her maiden name, but came up empty. After conducting a few additional Google searches, I landed on a contact page for several alumni of Maple Heights High School. Miraculously, among the names included under the class of 1952, there was Grace’s. In addition to the discovery that her new last name is gentler to the ear and by far more common, there was an email address to a customer service account at a small business in Georgia. Even if she were no longer working there, I figured, someone might be able to point me to her home address and phone number, which someone promptly did. Roughly an hour after finding Grace’s name online, I was dialing her phone number. A couple seconds after that, I was talking to her machine.
“Hi, I’m writing a book about Ronald Tammen…,” I began.
There was a beep and some jostling and then a woman’s voice. The voice was deep and full, nothing like what I’d imagined from the girl in the photos. It was the voice of a woman who’d been around the block several times over. It was a voice like some of my rowdier aunts on my father’s side—not fancy, not terribly feminine, but warm and jovial and strong.
“You’re writing a book about Ronnie Tammen?” she asked, the word Ronnie revealing the utmost in familiarity, the word Tammen accented with disbelief. “He took me to the prom!”
Deep down, I felt myself do a double cartwheel.
“I was just thinking about him yesterday!” she exclaimed. And as I filled her in on my book project and the hoops I’d jumped through to find her, Grace began to cry.
Grace and I continued our conversation the following Friday, once I’d had the chance to pull together the million or so questions I wanted to ask her, and once she had time to recover from being blindsided by a certain ghost in her past. Marcia was right—Grace had lived in the same neighborhood as the Tammens, though her time there wasn’t exactly carefree. Grace’s mother had been a single parent in an era when divorce was considered a suitable reason for shunning in the eyes of neighbors.
“My mom was the anomaly,” she told me. “My mom was the one they talked about. They didn’t have any reason to talk about her. All she did was work all the time. But that’s what single moms do—they work all the time.” I was beginning to see where Grace had gotten her moxie.
“So the year that Ron took you to the prom—he was a senior and you were a junior?” I asked. I was basing this on the date provided on the alumni page I’d found online.
“I was a sophomore,” she corrected me.
Impressive. A junior going to the prom with a senior is one thing, but a sophomore and a senior? That was a much bigger deal.
Grace described herself as an average student, adding that, other than her involvement in the home economics club, she wasn’t a joiner. (This is in contrast to Ron, who signed on to just about everything that was offered.) Still, she managed to break into a circle of popular girls whose ranks included several cheerleaders and one majorette. So many years later, it was hard for her to explain her reason for being in that particular clique.
“Maybe I was the nice one,” she offered. She admitted that she was pretty and well-liked. In 1952, the year after Ron graduated from high school, she attended the prom with the star of the football team, the highest rung there is on the high school social ladder.
Grace and her friends called themselves the “slick chicks,” a name she regretted many years later after she became a member of the National Organization for Women. When she spilled that detail, I thought about how surprised Ron would have been to see his friend—pretty, well-liked, average Grace—marching in front of the White House in support of a woman’s right to equal pay. Another surprise for him would have been the news that she’d gotten married right before her senior year of high school.
“I was precocious,” she said. “The first one who got married, the first one who had babies, the first one who got a divorce.”
“Cool,” I said with a laugh.
No, I didn’t think it was cool that she’d gotten married and divorced at such a young age. I’m not a total jerk. It was that my perception of Grace had been changing by the minute. Here was a woman who had made a few bad gambles in her life and still managed to come out for the better. A survivor.
But that was all post-Ron. When Ronald Tammen asked Grace to the prom, she was still young and naïve and, like him, didn’t have any dating chops to speak of. She doesn’t exactly remember when she first became aware of Ron, but if her Maple Heights yearbooks are any indication, it was in 1950 during her freshman—his junior—year. In 1948 (when she was in the seventh grade and he was in the ninth), he signed his name—that big, loopy signature—but nothing more. His signature doesn’t appear anywhere in her 1949 yearbook. But in 1950, he penned the following: “To the girl with the smile in her voice.”
Grace and Ron had dated a few times before and after the prom, sweet little meet-ups featuring movies and ice cream, but when he took her to the prom, that was the high point of their relationship. She was over the moon with excitement.
“I thought I was a big deal because a senior took me to the prom,” she said. “He looked really good, and he was smart, and he was musical. I really liked that. It was a good package.”
“What do you remember most about that night?” I asked.
“It seems to me that it was in a big, very nice hotel, and the weather was very nice and there was a big patio, like an outdoor space,” she said. “I just remember walking outside and it was so…the weather was perfect and it was a beautiful night and, oh my gosh, you know? It was just…”
At that critical point, our phone connection broke up, and I didn’t catch her last few words, which she followed up with a girlish giggle. I knew where she was headed though. It was sublime. It was dreamlike. It was a moment so special that, above all of the other moments that had come and gone that evening, it seared itself into her consciousness, forever occupying brain space for as long as she’d live.
Several months after our conversation, while preparing her house to go on the market, Grace would discover the program from that evening. The dance had been held in the ballroom of the Park Lane Villa, an iconic building in Cleveland that had started out in the 1920s as a luxury hotel. The date was May 19, 1951, and they’d dined on fruit cup, garden salad, Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, and peas. There were dinner rolls and pie and ice cream, and, to drink, they had their choice of coffee or milk. Grace had saved the program from all those years ago. Grace had saved the program! So, yeah, it was a special evening.
“Did you ever neck with him in the back seat of a car?” I asked.
“Probably, but not so far that I even remember it because it was not…he was not…” She paused a beat. “In the next couple of years, I came to find out what aggressive was. He was not aggressive. He was nice. He was comfortable. He was my friend. And you know, there’s not any adjective that I could find to describe him that wasn’t a good thing.”
Weeks later, Ron would sign Grace’s yearbook for the last time. In it, he wrote, “To Grace: The sweetest and prettiest sophomore girl. I guess you know how I feel about you and I can only hope that you can go through life having a good time as I had going with you. Best of luck always, Ron.”
There was no formal break-up, although his yearbook sentiment almost conveys a tone of goodbye. Best of luck. She doesn’t recall ever seeing him during his visits home after he started at Miami.
Grace thought about the person she was during those years and what Ron might have seen in her—beyond her smile and her voice.
“He was good looking and he was on the wrestling team. He was somebody around school,” she said. (And by somebody, she means someone of substance.) “He could have taken anybody to the prom. And the fact that he took a sophomore says that he was shy and he was reaching to somebody who was not threatening to him.”
She was devastated when she heard the news about Ron. By then, she was a newlywed with a new last name. In the weeks that followed, she would worry about what might have happened to him, until she eventually concluded that someone he trusted must have lured him to a terrible end. As her life continued moving forward—after she married for the second, and then the third time—she’d think of him every so often, particularly when she read in the news that someone had gone missing. Decade after decade, she continued to carry Ronnie Tammen inside her, protected from view. Protected, that is, until 60-some years after the fact, when a late-morning phone caller seeking information about her friend caused the tears to flow as if it had happened that very week. As if she were the girl from the photo who had just been told that the handsome, perfect boy who had taken her to the prom was nowhere to be found.