We’re still in wait mode regarding the two hockey tapes, which means that I’m biding my time working on other questions pertaining to the Ron Tammen mystery. In fact, just a couple days ago, as I was going through photos from my last trip to University Archives, I noticed a new detail that was screaming to be investigated.
The item had to do with something a volunteer researcher had found on the second day of our visit this past June. In a box holding Tammen-related materials are notes that had once belonged to Dr. Phillip Shriver, president emeritus of Miami University and a historian who had done so much to keep the Tammen mystery alive on Miami’s campus. The notes were typewritten on index cards in outline format, and the purpose of these cards was to provide Dr. Shriver with a scaled-down version of his renowned Miami Mysteries talk. In order to keep his talk to 50 minutes, he decided to skip over the part about H.H. (Hi) Stephenson. Nevertheless, Dr. Shriver had elected to include one important detail in line #6, and that rarely disclosed detail was the name of a hotel, which was the Adirondack Inn.
I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. So was this our answer? Was the Adirondack Inn the hotel in Wellsville, NY, where Hi Stephenson thought he saw Ron Tammen? You’re probably brimming with questions about this discovery too, which is why I’ll now be switching over to Q&A format.
Q: So, is that the answer? Did the serendipitous meet-up happen at a restaurant in an establishment called the Adirondack Inn?
Oh, there’s no way.
Q: How can you be so sure?
Several reasons. According to Manning’s Directory for May 1953, there was no hotel by that name in the village of Wellsville, NY. Or Andover. Or Belmont. Or Scio. Those are four towns in Allegany County in order of population size. Wellsville was by far the biggest town in the county and it was also a major stopping point for travelers. If you were going to stop for dinner anywhere between New York and Ohio, Wellsville would have been a choice spot.
Under the category of “Hotels,” Manning’s listed five of them, all in Wellsville, all off of route 17, which, in town, was known as Main Street:
Al-Ha-Mar Motel, 475 N. Highland Avenue (Route 17)
Brunswick Hotel, 173-177 North Main
Fassett Hotel, 55 North Main
Pickup’s Hotel, 38-40 North Main
Wellsville Hotel, 470 North Main
Therefore, one of the reasons that it couldn’t be the Adirondack Inn is that there was no such hotel in or around Wellsville. I could go on.
Q: Please do.
I’ve also looked up the terms “Adirondack Inn,” “Adirondack Hotel,” and “Hotel Adirondack” in newspapers from that era to see if anything popped up that’s close to Wellsville. The only Adirondack Inn that I was able to find was the one at Sacandaga Lake in upstate New York. It was beautiful in its heyday, and I’m sure they had a nice restaurant, but it was 4 hours and 21 minutes from Wellsville.
There’s also the Adirondack Hotel, which is in Long Lake, NY. It, too, is nice, but it was over 5 hours from Wellsville. And that sums up our options.
It’s worth pointing out that the Adirondack Inn and the Adirondack Hotel are both located in the Adirondack Mountain region, which makes so much sense. What makes less sense is for a hotel in a town near the border of Pennsylvania to be named for a mountain range that’s 325 miles away.
Q: Where do you think Dr. Shriver got the name?
These things happen innocently. Phil Shriver surely would have known Hi Stephenson. Phil had arrived in Oxford in 1965 and Hi had already been working at the university since the 1940s. Hi retired in 1977. Phil stepped down from the presidency in 1981 and retired from teaching in 1998. Hi passed away in 2006 and Phil died in 2011. So I’m sure there were plenty of opportunities for Phil to ask Hi the question that I’d always wondered if Carl Knox had asked him—“What was the name of the hotel, Hi?”
The problem is…people’s memories have a way of jumbling things up over time. It could be that Hi accidentally told Phil the wrong name. Hi and his wife Kay had been vacationing in upstate New York before driving home through Wellsville. Maybe they even stayed in the Adirondack Inn, and, when he was talking to Phil, he accidentally confused the two hotel names. Or maybe Phil had gotten the details wrong. He’d mixed up other details about Hi’s story before, as a matter of fact.
Q: Really? What makes you say that?
On another note card, Phil has written some additional details regarding Hi’s story, several of which are inaccurate. In ink, he wrote the following:
“N.B. Hi & Kay Stephenson were returning from Connecticut and stopped in Waynesboro, PA.” Above that line he wrote, “Hi recalls young man’s piercing eyes.”
From what I can determine, the “N.B.” is a Latin phrase meaning “Nota bene,” or “Note well.” He’s saying that this is important, and I can totally see Phil Shriver using that terminology to do so. The man had panache.
But the locations—Connecticut and Waynesboro, PA—don’t agree with Joe Cella’s April 18, 1976, article in the Hamilton Journal-News. Joe was quoting Hi directly in that article, so that’s the source I’m going to go with factually: that the Stephensons were vacationing in upstate New York and they dined in Wellsville on the way back. (By the way, I checked and there’s no Adirondack Inn in Waynesboro, PA, either.)
But don’t be too critical of Phil or Hi. They couldn’t instantly fact check some fuzzy detail like we do now. If the information wasn’t stored securely in their brain or a file folder somewhere, it could get muddled up or completely lost.
Q: So where does that leave us? Are you still unsure about which hotel it was?
Well, funny you should ask, because when I revisited Joe Cella’s article I noticed an additional detail that could help us further narrow things down.
Let’s listen to Joe tell the story again, paying close attention to the last paragraph:
On Aug. 5, 1953, five months after Tammen was gone, Stephenson, who was in charge, and still is, of housing assignments and campus permits at Miami University, was returning with his wife from a short vacation in upper New York State.
Stephenson recalled they stopped for the evening in Wellsville, N.Y. At dinner that night, in a hotel dining room, he said he noticed three or four men sitting a few tables away. At once he said he became aware one of the men looked exactly like Tammen. He said he knew Tammen.
“When my eyes looked toward him, I would find he was looking at me. He was sort of looking right through me. For some reason that I’ll never know, I said nothing to my wife about the fact that this young man was Ron Tammen. I was sure it was him.”
After finishing dinner, Stephenson said he and his wife walked out of the hotel onto the street. He then told his wife. At her urging, they went back inside, but the men, one of whom Stephenson thought to be Ron Tammen, were gone. There was no trace of them in the lobby or anywhere else.
Thanks to Joe’s clues, I have three criteria to narrow things down. I’d had the first two criteria for a while now. The third one is new.
The hotel had to have a restaurant that served dinners. This may seem like a no-brainer, but two of Wellsville’s five hotels weren’t serving regular meals.
The hotel had to be on the street.
The hotel had to have a lobby near its restaurant.
Regarding criterion #1: The Al-Ha-Mar Motel was a typical 1950s-style one-story motel in which all overnight guests had their own street-level entrance. They didn’t have a restaurant.
The Brunswick Hotel had a coffee shop and a bar. According to local historians, they weren’t serving meals then. So those two hotels can be ruled out.
Regarding criterion #2: The Hotel Wellsville was a stately old building about one mile north of the center of town on Main Street. It also had a restaurant. However, the hotel was set back away from the road, nestled among trees. For this reason, I don’t think it was the Hotel Wellsville.
And finally, criterion #3. The Fassett Hotel was a striking red brick building with spectacular windows. They had a dining room that served breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week as well as Sunday afternoon. And importantly, the Fassett Hotel was right on North Main Street and had a lobby that owners made use of by frequently featuring the work of local artists.
Pickup’s Hotel wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the Fassett, but it had a coffee shop, a cocktail lounge, and a dining room, where they served meals. It was also on North Main Street. What isn’t clear is if there was a hotel lobby near the dining area. If there was one, I don’t think it was big. A 1961 article on a fire that had broken out had said that “Principal business activity in the building centered around its restaurant on the ground floor.”
Although it’s possible that Pickup’s Hotel was where Hi Stephenson saw Ron or Ron’s look-alike, I now strongly believe that the encounter happened at the Fassett Hotel. And doesn’t it sort of fit that, given a choice between a cobbled-together medley of wood, stone, and whatever else, and an elegant building of red brick, H.H. Stephenson and Ronald Tammen, Miamians through and through, would have been drawn to the latter?
Update 10/5/2022: Before posting the above write-up, I had emailed several historians from Allegany County to see if anyone had heard of an Adirondack Inn anywhere near there. Today, I heard back from Craig Braack, Allegany County’s official historian. Craig had asked a few local “old-timers” about a possible Adirondack Inn in Allegany County and no one knew a thing about it. This is one more piece of evidence that the Adirondack Inn was not the name of the hotel where Hi Stephenson thought he saw Ron Tammen.
At the risk of sparking controversy on this website, I feel the need to let you know that I’m not a huge fan of ice hockey. If I had to name a reason, I think it has to do with all the banging of Plexiglas. There seems to be a lot of that packed into 60 minutes of game play. And for what? The thrill of watching your team smack a puck into the other team’s goal maybe two or three times if you’re lucky? (Cautionary note: The above is merely this girl’s opinion. If you have other thoughts on this hot-button issue, the comment box is now open!)
So, again, not a fan. Nevertheless, I have to admit that my fervor for hockey has increased substantially lately.
It has to do with a video that I discovered on my recent trip to Oxford, Ohio, when I was in search of Oral History Project recordings that weren’t posted on the university’s bicentennial website.
Actually, let me rephrase that. I haven’t discovered the video just yet. What I discovered was a paper trail that points to the existence of a video recording, and the recording that the paper trail points to was ostensibly conducted on May 19, 2009, with a group of former Miami hockey coaches.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Why do you care about finding the hockey coach recording when you just got through telling us that you’re not a fan of the sport? What’s more, hockey coaches probably don’t have anything substantive to offer regarding the Tammen mystery.”
Here’s what I’m thinking: I’m thinking Carl Knox’s former secretary might be on that recording. I’m also thinking that the recording may still exist.
Here’s you again: “I had no idea that Carl Knox’s former secretary coached ice hockey.”
Haha, you’re such a kidder. No, Carl Knox’s former secretary didn’t coach ice hockey, and I don’t think she sat down with several Miami hockey coaches for an interview. What I’ve been wondering lately is whether Carl Knox’s former secretary’s interview was, um, for whatever reason, accidentally mislabeled “Miami Hockey Coaches” and that it somehow managed to become separated from all of the other Oral History Project recordings.
I’m not going to go into more detail tonight since I could be very wrong about this theory, and if I’m wrong, then I’ll need to walk everything back. I’m just asking the question at this point.
I can say this: on May 19, 2009, a recording of Miami hockey coaches supposedly existed, as evidenced by a progress log and an archive list.
It supposedly existed on May 29, 2009, when it was counted among the 11 “Completed sessions not yet on Website.”
It supposedly existed in July 2009, when it was mentioned in a narrative report.
But by September 2009, the hockey coach recording was left off of the 2006-2009 master list of recordings. It’s not mentioned on the Special Collections webpage of Oral History Project recordings and, it bears repeating, it’s not posted on the bicentennial website. I’m currently awaiting word as to its whereabouts.
“I have news,” I announced to the audience of two.
The day was Thursday, June 16—just over a week ago. The time was 10:44 a.m. The place was the third floor of King Library at a wood table inside Miami University Archives. It was beastly hot outside—suffocating and sweat-inducing, with temperatures well on their way to the mid-to-upper 90s. There was no better place for us to be than that air-conditioned reading room.
And yet, in that memorable moment, I was presented with the most uncomfortable of tasks.
Roughly 2 ½ hours earlier, three of us had arrived at this location from places hither and yon. One had driven 45 minutes that morning while two of us had driven four hours the day before—all for the purpose of perusing the university’s Oral History Project materials. It was the first day of a prearranged two-day visit in which we’d be searching for the third Oral History Project recording that hadn’t been posted to the university’s bicentennial website, as alluded to in a 2008 progress report. As we stared at the 15-20 boxes of file folders, DVDs, and audio and video tapes that the archivists had pulled for us, we felt enthusiastic. We felt focused. We felt amply equipped with university-supplied laptops and listening devices in addition to our own smartphones, notebooks, and pencils.
We divvied up responsibilities and got to work.
Kristin was reading consent forms that the interviewees had signed and marking up a chart. My sister Suzie was jotting down DVD titles. I was rifling through logs, worksheets, and progress reports and snapping pictures. Our last team member, Steve, hadn’t yet arrived—he’d be showing up in another 15 minutes.
It was at this moment, astonishingly early in the process, when I found something. But the document I’d found was no smoking gun—it was the opposite. It was a fully charged Super Soaker blasting liters of H20 all over my running theory concerning Carl Knox’s former secretary’s interview on Ron Tammen.
The document I’d found was almost identical to the 2008 progress report, except it was the final summary, written sometime around May 29, 2009. (Interestingly, they still had 13 more interviews to conduct during Alumni Weekend and beyond, but for some reason the final summary was written before those interviews.) Instead of three recordings that weren’t posted online “for miscellaneous reasons,” there were now four. And footnoted at the bottom of the page was a list of the four unposted recordings.
Here they are:
We now had our answer to the question I’d kept asking people with the Oral History Project and that no one had answered: Was one of the unposted recordings of Carl Knox’s former secretary? The simple answer was no.
That’s when I walked over to Kristin and Suzie’s table and made my “I have news” announcement. I told them they could stop what they were doing and I explained why.
Of course they were stunned—Steve was too when he got the news. At times like these, it doesn’t really help to get upset. You shake your head. You laugh a little. Research can be that way—there are going to be disappointments. We all agreed that having an answer is progress. We also knew that our work wasn’t done. It just got way harder.
“We’ve now moved to the ‘needle-in-a-haystack’ part of our search,” I said. Instead of focusing on one unposted recording made sometime between 2006 and 2008, we would be searching every piece of audio or video occupying those 15-20 boxes—many unlabeled and spanning decades—for footage of Carl Knox’s former secretary.
Alas, in the ensuing day-and-a-half, we didn’t find it. But we did manage to find several interesting tapes and we gained some new insights which could help in my research.
In addition, on a progress log that was in the same folder as the Super Soaker document, I found evidence of a recording that had been conducted on May 19, 2009, for the Oral History Project that seemingly also never made it onto the bicentennial website. This one is titled “Miami Hockey Coaches,” and therefore also didn’t involve Carl Knox’s former secretary. Still, I would like to watch it sometime.
My lawyer and I will continue to work through the Ohio Court of Claims to resolve my request seeking the unposted recordings.
Do I have unresolved questions? I do. Like why didn’t at least one person affiliated with the Oral History Project remember one or more of the recordings that were held back from public view? Or, if they couldn’t name the recordings off the top of their head, why didn’t they at least know about the box in University Archives holding the folder containing reports that held the answer? If I could find the final progress report in 2 ½ hours, think how fast someone with the university could have found it.
Which takes me back to the feeling I had the minute I discovered the final progress report. Even though I said earlier that it doesn’t help to get upset, when you add up all of the expenses that went into finding that sheet of paper—from the lawyer fees to the three-night stay in a hotel to all of the other travel-related expenses that went into the trip—not to mention everyone’s time and energy, would you blame me if I were just a little bit bothered?
A big, BIG thank you to the three volunteers who’d helped me for two straight days at University Archives. There is no way that I could have gotten through all of those boxes without you! 🙏
P.S. The big red square on the front page of this blog has been edited to extend the time period in which the interview took place. The interview still happened—we just can no longer make the case that it happened between 2006 and 2008 as part of the Oral History Project.
Or: how I survived a mediation for three unposted Oral History Project recordings, one of which I believe was with Carl Knox’s former secretary
As you can see by the subhead on this blog post, I survived the mediation. I’m still here, and thanks to six hours of sleep and the coffee cup by my side, I’m feeling somewhat renewed—somewhat—after yesterday’s hourlong Zoom call in which I was the only participant without a law degree.
I’m not permitted to tell you what was said on the call. That’s confidential. I can say that things were said—sometimes by someone else, other times by me. If an award for “most zealous conferee” had been bestowed, I suppose that honor would have been granted to me. But that’s probably a given. Spending 12-plus years of your life researching a 1953 mystery in which there are strong signs that people knew something back then—and possibly know something now—will do that. It makes a girl zealous.
So, let’s see, let’s see, what can I tell you?
I can remind readers that the reason for the mediation was a 2008 progress report for the Miami Stories Oral History Project, an endeavor of Miami University Libraries to interview on camera a number of present and former Miamians and post them to a dedicated bicentennial website. The progress report had stated that, out of the 91 recordings they’d completed up to that point, three recordings hadn’t been posted on the bicentennial website “for miscellaneous reasons.” After seeing that document, I spent months asking Oral History Project representatives if Carl Knox’s former secretary was one of the three unposted interviews, and I never received an answer to that question. They either told me that they personally hadn’t interviewed Carl Knox’s former secretary, or they didn’t respond at all. If someone had simply said “no,” I would have walked away. No one did.
In my public records request, I sought all three recordings or, if one or more of them no longer existed, the required documentation permitting their destruction. In their response, the university told me that “none of the individuals remember anything about those recordings.” They also sent me an Excel sheet listing more than 2000 recordings, many untitled, that were stored in boxes in University Archives. They let me know that I was welcome to go through them. That’s when I filed my complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims.
I can also tell you that I now possess two out of the three recordings that hadn’t been posted online. In my May 4, 2022, blog post, I’d shared a document highlighting two unposted interviews, and the university has sent me their recordings. I’ve listened to both of them. Although they’re both interesting in their own way, they’re really not important to our cause. It’s the third interview that interests me most.
Lastly, I can tell you that the mediation isn’t over. The next step is for me to drive to Oxford and go rummaging through those aforementioned tapes, again, many untitled, for evidence of the third unposted interview. Another mediation meeting has been scheduled for early next month.
It’s daunting, and I’m at a clear disadvantage, but rest assured that I’m still fighting and now that fight involves sitting in a hard-backed chair on the third floor of King Library listening to as many tapes as humanly possible. But if one of those tapes should reveal the kind voice of Carl Knox’s former secretary reciting a list of words that she was never to utter in the presence of reporters,it’ll all be worth it.
Whether interview #3 was with Carl Knox’s former secretary remains to be seen
Lately, I’ve been preparing my arguments for the upcoming mediation meeting concerning my complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims, which, as of this writing, is in three weeks. But first, please accept my apology for that last sentence, which may be the dullest lede in the history of this blog—nay, in the history of all ledes. What can I say? Investigative research can be a tad dull at times.
To refresh your memories, my complaint has to do with the public records request I’d submitted to Miami University’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) seeking the three unposted recordings that are referenced in the second-to-last line of the 2008 Oral History Project progress report. Furthermore, if one or more of those recordings no longer exists, I’m seeking the signed documents requesting their destruction, as required by the OGC’s records retention protocol.
I’m not seeking these items just to be difficult. I’m trying to determine if one of those three recordings might have been an interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary. And why do I need to employ all the rights that are bestowed upon me by Ohio Revised Code 149.43, Ohio’s Public Records Law, to make that determination? Because no one from the university would answer that question when I asked them. If they’d answered that simple yes-or-no question—”Is one of the three unposted recordings with Carl Knox’s former secretary?”—then I would have reported their answer to you and likely moved on. Oh, OK, if the answer had been yes, then I suppose I wouldn’t have moved on very far. It’s likely that I would have invested more time and energy into finding the recording. But they didn’t answer the question, and here we all are.
In their response to my records request, Miami’s OGC told me that they’d asked several representatives of the Oral History Project which three unposted recordings were referenced in the 2008 progress report, and “none of the individuals remember anything about those recordings.”
I find their response, um, unconvincing, which is why I filed my complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims.
As I write this post, I’m trying very hard to behave myself and to watch what I say. Someone on the opposing side may be reading this, and I don’t want to give anything away before the big day.
What I can say is this: as I’ve been reviewing everything that’s happened over the past 18 months in my efforts to locate the interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary, I’ve been flagging various, um, occurrences, if you will, that stand out as being particularly, uhh, if it pleases the court…telling. I’ve found other supportive evidence to bring before the court as well. I look forward to the mediation, and I plan to wear the grayest, most serious-minded two-piece dress in my closet just to show everyone that I mean business. Is said dress one of my favorite pieces of work attire that I’ve held onto for more than 20 years because it evokes a certain 1940s sort of vibe and makes me feel like Barbara Stanwyck whenever I put it on? I plead nolo contendere, your honor.
So why am I even here, interrupting your day and dancing around subjects of which I probably should not speak? Well, in my research, I stumbled on some pertinent information that refutes a hypothesis that I’ve advanced on this blog site, and whenever that happens, I feel I should let you know about it asap. It’s who I am. It’s what I do.
In my April 18, 2022, post, I’d written about an interview that had been mentioned in a May 2007 Oral History Project report, and that interview had never been posted online. I hypothesized that the interview, which had taken place in the spring semester of 2007 in Oxford, Ohio, might have been with Carl Knox’s secretary.
Today, I need to let you know that I don’t think that that particular interview was with Carl Knox’s secretary after all. But you guys? We’re just fact-finding here, and, in my opinion, all facts are good facts. The information I’m about to convey is equally useful in helping us get to the answer we’re all seeking. Here’s the information that I wish to share: I think I’ve now determined two out of the three unposted interviews, and, in concurrence with the late, great singer Meat Loaf, that ain’t bad. The only interview for which I can’t find any record (other than the one-page summary that got this whole thing started) is the one with Carl Knox’s former secretary.
What changed? As I was conducting my review of the events of the past year and a half, I landed upon a document that I’d received from Miami’s OGC from a separate public records request concerning the Oral History Project. Truth be told, I’d forgotten I had it. The document has to do with a completed list of interviews and story circles that had been conducted, and, although it isn’t dated, it appears to have been written in the spring of 2007. Here’s the document.
I’ve highlighted the two interviews that haven’t been posted online. The first was conducted on June 17, 2006, and the second was conducted on February 14, 2007. Although you can read the names of the interviewees on the document, I’m not going to say them out loud on this site—we don’t need to feed the search engines any more than they’re already being fed, and the individuals are only peripherally related to our question. Also, the two recordings still ostensibly exist and can be found in University Archives on the third floor of King Library. The first is included with the Oral History Project recordings, and the second can be found in box 7 of assorted audio and video tapes.
What’s bothering me most about the 6/17/06 and 2/14/07 interviews is that when I was trying to find out if one of the three unposted recordings was an interview with Carl Knox’s secretary, I’d brought up the names of those very same two people with representatives of the university. I’d asked them, point blank, if the above two interviews were part of the three unposted recordings. And even though the two people were interviewed as part of the Oral History Project, and even though their recordings are unmistakably not posted on the bicentennial web page, it didn’t seem to help jostle anyone’s memories.
I’ve said enough. I’ll let you know how things go.
I’ll begin this blog entry by addressing an age-old conundrum head on: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I honestly don’t think so. In order for there to be a sound, you need someone to be on the receiving end. A falling tree produces vibrations—big ones—in the surrounding land, water, and air that can only be interpreted as sound by structures in the ear, be they human, bird, bunny, fox, or squirrel. Without an ear or two in the vicinity, it’s all just meaningless molecular vibrations. There’d be no crash of a trunk, no rustle of leaves, no flapping of startled wings. No sound.
Paradoxically, if you ask one or more knowledgeable sources a simple question, and no one utters a word—not one person produces a single sound vibration for your ear to hear—have they answered your question? I’d argue that they have. This time, instead of your ears doing the interpreting, it’s your brain. And my brain is telling me that if a person who’s in the know refuses to answer a reasonable and politely-asked question, then the answer may be of an incriminating nature. Somebody, prove me and my brain wrong.
I’m talking about the interview that was conducted with Carl Knox’s former secretary relatively recently by someone affiliated with the university that was summarized on one side of a laser-printed page and filed away in the university’s archives. First, I guesstimated that the timeframe of the interview was between 2001 and 2020 based mostly on computer and printer technology. Then we were able to narrow the cut-off to 2015, the year in which the Western College Memorial Archives, where the summary had been housed, were moved to University Archives. Later, I ascertained that the interview likely occurred between 2001 and 2008 after learning that the most recent document to be added to the vertical filing cabinet where the summary was kept was done so in 2008. We don’t know which document or documents was added in 2008—their record-keeping system was woefully imprecise—but we know that nothing in the file cabinet arrived after that year, so the summary can’t be any more recent. I’ll explain that discovery in a little more detail below.
But the time period in question is about to shrink again. Based on records posted on the Miami Libraries’ website as well as documents I’ve obtained through public records requests, I believe the interview with Carl Knox’s secretary happened between January 2006 and December 2008. Let’s think about that for a second. Here we have a document whose origin Miami officials have been claiming not to know anything about—a document that, I believe, was purposely undated and unsourced in order not to raise any flags with anyone who happened upon it—and we’ve narrowed it down to occurring sometime between (I believe) 2006 and 2008. I also have a pretty good idea of who wrote it. Do you think the people at the heart of this little cover-up are impressed? Maybe! Or maybe they’re really annoyed. It’s so hard to tell what they’re feeling when they’re not speaking to you.
The 2006-2008 timeframe may sound familiar to some of you. I’d first proposed it on Facebook a couple months ago, at which time a savvy Miami alum (A BIG thank you to Kristin Woosley! Guuuurl, we see you and your amazing memory!) who was a student back then was able to provide even more helpful identifying info. Her info was so helpful, in fact, I felt as if I may have a tough time promising anonymity if someone happened to come forward. For this reason, I decided to take down the post and to conduct my research out of view.
That research has been ongoing, and I’ve discovered some promising new details. But after receiving the silent treatment about those discoveries from so many people, I’ve decided to forego that strategy. What the heck, let’s bring some of this new info into the light of day, shall we? I’ll still refer to Carl Knox’s former secretary as AD (short for assistant to the dean), and I’ll continue to protect other people’s identities for various reasons as well. But whenever possible, especially when discussing people who are acting in official capacities, they’ll be named. Also, let’s do this in one of my favorite formats: Q&A.
Why do you think the interview took place no later than 2008?
The 2008 comes from a public records request I’d submitted. As we’ve discussed, the summary is part of the Western College Memorial Archives in folder number 18, titled Ghosts and Legends. When archivists receive donations, the standard practice is to create an accessions record for that material documenting where the material came from, when it arrived, a description of the contents, the size of the collection, and other details. Since 2015, Miami University has subscribed to ArchivesSpace, an online database for cataloguing its holdings. Knowing this, I emailed the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), requesting the accessions records that, to my understanding, should have been created for the interview summary.
What I received from the OGC was an explanatory email as well as a number of screen grabs from ArchivesSpace. The email said that the record had been created by Jacky Johnson, the university archivist, long after the document had been acquired as well as after the university’s transition to ArchivesSpace. “This document predates our cataloguing system and our current University Archives employees,” said OGC representative Aimee Smart.
The screen grabs weren’t specific to the document in question or even folder 18, but pertained to the vertical file cabinet in which the folder was housed. The vertical file was one of the most frequently visited file cabinets in the Western College Archives reading room. In addition to Ghosts and Legends, its subjects include Western College presidents, Western College faculty and staff; and Western College buildings, such as Peabody Hall and Kumler Memorial Chapel. Sadly, most of the fields of the accessions record were left blank. Johnson’s name occupied one of the fields, and in another field was an estimate that the file was two cubic yards in size. However, one section was helpful: Dates. Under “Inclusive Dates,” which is defined on an archivist website as “The dates of the oldest and most recent items in a collection, series, or folder,” the Begin date was 1810—one year after Miami was founded—and the End date was 2008. Therefore, if the recordkeeping is accurate, AD’s interview had to have taken place no later than 2008. I’m inclined to think that AD was interviewed in 2008, but let’s not pin ourselves down just yet.
Why do you think the interview happened no earlier than 2006?
This was more of a guess, but it makes so much sense. On Miami’s Special Collections and Archives website is a page titled “Miami Stories Oral” (short for Oral History Project). This page lists a number of interviews that had been conducted with past students, staff members, and administrators of the university, which seems like a natural fit for AD’s interview as well. In addition, nearly all of the interviews had taken place during a four-year period, from the beginning of 2006 through the end of 2009. When I factored in the accessions end date of 2008, I arrived at the 2006-2008 timeframe.
What “helpful identifying info” did Woosley provide?
After I posted my theory on Facebook, Woosley immediately recognized the Miami Stories/Oral History Project as being part of Miami’s bicentennial, which was officially celebrated in 2009. She mentioned how students and alumni were being videotaped during alumni reunions in the years leading up to the big event, and that detail jived with what I’d discovered in the digital archives. I’d noticed how a large chunk of the interviews had been conducted over the alumni weekends beginning in 2006, while other interviews—mostly of people who lived near Oxford—were conducted at other times of the year. (The recordings can be found online here.) This was a huge breakthrough and immediately opened up new research possibilities.
Why was having AD’s interview potentially tied to Miami’s bicentennial so helpful to your research?
If the interview with AD had been conducted as a stand-alone effort in which some student or staff member had simply thought it would be a nice thing to do, then the missing source materials would be way too hard to track down. There wouldn’t be a trail. But if it’s tied to Miami’s bicentennial, documents would have been produced throughout the four-year process. Funders would be thanked, coordinators would be tapped, budgets would be tabulated, progress would be charted, and achievements ballyhooed—all on paper and obtainable through public records requests. And with all of those documents, new details would potentially dribble out that could lead to even more record requests, and eventually, evidence of an interview with AD.
Furthermore, because AD had been affiliated with Miami Libraries for most of her work life as well as afterward (I was told that she had a courtesy office in King Library), I’d always felt that her interview was conducted by someone with the library. Well, guess who played a major participatory role in the bicentennial? The Miami Libraries, with Jerome Conley, dean of Miami Libraries, serving on the Bicentennial Commission. So, that fits too.
And? Did you find any evidence of AD’s missing interview?
I think so. Although I’m sure lots more documents were generated back then (and to be fair, 2009 was 12 years ago, so I’m glad to have what they were able to provide), there was one that was especially noteworthy. The document is a progress report that provided a running count of all of the taped interviews that had been conducted from 2006 up through December 2008. At the bottom of the report, above the line indicating that there were 91 recordings in all, there’s this: “Other recordings not on Website for miscellaneous reasons,” and after the tab is the number 3. Was one of those three recordings AD?
I tried to think of other possible documents that might reveal the names of the three unposted interviewees. One of the narrative updates had discussed the taping and editorial process, which required that all of the tapes first be converted from DVT to DVD format by the library’s digital staff. I submitted a request seeking any internal documents from those staff in which they tracked every video they’d converted for the Oral History Project during the 2006-2008 timeframe. That request yielded nothing. Another narrative described how consent forms had been signed ahead of time, so I requested AD’s signed consent form. After weeks of waiting, the email I received from the OGC was “Ms. Wenger, We are unable to locate records related to an interview with [AD].” I also sought a comprehensive listing of all OHP interviewees, but the list I received was incomplete, and of course, AD’s name wasn’t there. However, I did find one person or possibly two people on that list whose interviews hadn’t been posted online.
What about the people most closely associated with the Oral History Project? What did they have to say about AD and the three missing interviews?
I’ve had email conversations with several people who had worked on the Oral History Project. Our conversations were “on background” and therefore I won’t be providing their names or direct quotes. The people who responded did so quickly and said that they didn’t conduct an interview with AD. I believe them. One also said that they didn’t recall AD being interviewed for the Oral History Project (I believe that person was speaking honestly too), though the others didn’t go that far. As for the three interviews that weren’t posted online, no one could shed light on that question.
There was one retiree who didn’t respond to my email. I’ll refer to that person as Retiree A. Retiree A had interviewed several people for the project, at least one of whom wasn’t posted online.
How do you know that Retiree A even read your email?
I don’t. However, I sent via USPS a hard copy of the email and some follow-up documents to their home, asking them to let me know either way if they had conducted the interview with AD. I also asked them if they knew about the three interviews that hadn’t been posted online and, again, to please let me know either way. That package was delivered on Monday, June 21. As of today, I haven’t heard from Retiree A.
Wasn’t there another retiree whom you thought had knowledge of the interview? Have you heard from him?
As you may recall, I discuss another retiree quite a bit in “The blog post I was hoping never to write.” To help avoid confusion, let’s refer to that person as Retiree B. To date, he has not responded to my email. But again, as some of you have pointed out, there’s no way to be sure that he read it.
To help address that question, this past April, I Fed-Exed a follow-up letter with additional background information to Retiree B’s home, once again promising anonymity and asking him to check his university email account and to let me know if he knew anything about AD’s interview. I’m still waiting to hear from him. I also promised Retiree B that I wouldn’t be approaching him ever again with that question. People have a right to live their lives without forever being bothered by the likes of me. He knows I’d like to speak with him. I’m just hoping he decides to come forward on his own. If I’m off base, I’d very much like to know that. And if he has information about the Tammen case, well, I think he knows by now that I’d like to hear that too.
What about the higher-ups? What do they have to say?
William Modrow’s response
Do you remember back in February 2021, when I was asking Bill Modrow, head of Special Collections, about AD’s interview? In an effort to find someone who knew something about it, I was trying to get a handle on how they went about conducting interviews of former employees. The exact words I used were: “how staff members arrange and conduct interviews with former employees for a project spearheaded by Collections, such as for the oral history project, and how those interview materials are subsequently processed.” I’d actually used those three words with him: Oral History Project.
Do you know what Modrow didn’t mention to me? He didn’t mention Miami’s bicentennial to me, which would have been a normal response. You know, like “Oh, the Oral History Project was a short-term project for the bicentennial. We don’t do those interviews routinely.”
No, his response to me was “We do not conduct oral history interviews. I do not have the resources to do this nor do we have an Oral History program. What we have done in the past – Freedom Summer for example came with the resources and partners to accomplish.”
I specifically asked about the Oral History Project and he answers with Freedom Summer. Was he trying to throw me off course by diverting my attention away from the bicentennial? I don’t know. Maybe the obvious response didn’t occur to him at that moment, but it certainly looks that way to me.
Jerome Conley’s response
Several weeks ago, I emailed Dr. Conley, dean of Miami Libraries, providing my evidence concerning the Oral History Project videos that hadn’t been posted online. (The 2008 progress report states there were three, but a tally up through 2009 indicates that there may be four.) Because Dr. Conley sat on the Presidential Bicentennial Commission, a leading endeavor of which was the Oral History Project, I felt he would be in a position to answer the question. If he didn’t know the answer, he would know who would.
I asked him or a spokesperson to let me know about who the individuals were and why their interviews weren’t posted. I didn’t mention AD’s name in that email and I didn’t provide a deadline, saying that I figured it may take some time to track down those answers. This past Wednesday at around 11:30 a.m., I wrote him again, letting him know that I’d be posting my blog entry sometime this weekend, and requesting his response by Friday at 5 p.m. ET. His response at a little after noon was:
I would like to thank you for your note. I was on vacation with my family earlier this month. I am unaware of the videos that you mentioned.
At about 2:30 p.m. that day, I followed up with this email:
Thank you so much for getting back to me. Here’s what I’m attempting to ascertain: Do you know of any reason that I shouldn’t believe that one of the three unposted OHP interviews was with [AD]?
In other words, the 2008 progress report (attached) states that there were three “recordings not on Website for miscellaneous reasons.” Was [AD] one of these three recordings?
Again, thank you.
5 p.m. has come and gone and, so far, I haven’t heard back from him.
Do you know who put the kibosh on AD’s interview?
We still don’t know if AD’s interview was one of the three Oral History Project interviews that weren’t posted, but for this question, let’s say hypothetically that it was. I’d asked organizers of the Oral History Project who had veto power over the videos—namely who might have made the decision not to post a particular interview, for whatever reason. No one knew of any measures that were in place for pulling a video.
After a tape was converted to DVD, only light technical editing would be performed, if needed. Somewhere in the process, University Archives staff reviewed the digitized tape and Web copy before it was posted online. By the sound of it, University Archives was one of the last stops before a video was posted to the website. Though that doesn’t mean they would have been the ones who decided not to post a video, they may have had a good idea regarding why the decision was made.
Do you know who wrote the summary?
I can’t say for sure who wrote AD’s interview summary, but I think it was someone from University Archives. Here’s why:
The location of the document
The summary sheet was originally stored in the Western College Memorial Archives, which had been a satellite to the University Archives. (Those archives are now housed on the third floor of King Library along with the University Archives.) It’s weird that it would have been placed there, though, since the Western College archives is intended to cover topics related specifically to Western College. Regardless, because it was part of the archives and because AD was a long-time friend of the library, I’ve always felt that someone from University Archives had typed it up and placed it there. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, you know where to find me.
AD’s job title
When I made my initial guess as to when the interview summary was typed up, one consideration was AD’s job title. Because AD was Carl Knox’s secretary—that’s how she referred to herself in a memo—I found it telling that whoever typed up the summary referred to her as the assistant to the dean of men. That sounded more recent, since the word secretary was mothballed sometime around 2001. That’s why I had 2001 at the lower end of my timeframe. (It’s a moot point now since we’ve moved it up to 2006.)
As luck would have it, I was looking through a 1952-53 Miami University Directory one day when I landed on AD’s name. Even though she informally went by the title of secretary, in the directory, she’s referred to as “asst. in office of dean of men and to freshman advisers.” “Assistant to the Dean of Men” sounds a lot like “asst. in office of dean of men,” which leads me to believe that whoever was typing up the summary sheet had access to the 1952-53 directory. The 1952-53 phone directory, as with other directories, can be found in University Archives.
Here we go again, right? 😉 Even though I’m not the best person at analyzing typefaces (see the blog post on St. Clair Switzer’s typewriter), maybe I’m better at recognizing laser printer fonts than typewriter fonts? This could be a very minor point, which is why I’m placing it here, near the bottom of this blog post, but I believe the font used in the summary matches the font of the Oral History Project reports.
Hear me out. When I first wrote about AD’s interview summary in December 2020, I said that the font seemed to be Times New Roman. And what do you know, when I typed the summary in Times New Roman and compared that to the photo I took of the summary from the archives, they looked the same to me. So far, so good.
WELL, when the OGC sent me the reports I’d requested from the Oral History Project, most were written in Times New Roman. I know…it’s a popular font choice for some. It’s also rather, um…dull, shall we say? But the point here is that whoever typed up the summary could have also been a central player with the Oral History Project, and the folks in University Archives certainly occupied a pivotal position on that team.
Are you OK? You seem down.
Oh, gosh. I was trying to hide it, but yeah, I’m bummed. Here’s me, a wannabe author who relies on archival information for this book I’m working on, and I’ve found myself in a faceoff with what used to be my favorite place on campus. Every trip to Oxford used to include a visit to University Archives. While, at this point, it’s difficult for me to determine what else I can do to get to the bottom of the Miami Libraries’ interview with AD, I don’t plan to walk away. But I’m not gonna lie. It’s disheartening.
Why do you think the university is acting this way?
Actually, I think it’s important to look at the actions of individuals versus thinking of the university as some sort of impenetrable monolith, though sometimes it feels like the latter. The two most common responses from people who I think may know something about AD’s interview is to not respond at all, or to attempt to answer as much as they can honestly, leaving out anything that would put them in danger of lying. Because—and I truly believe this—most people don’t like to lie, especially people who work in a library.
However, I also think that some individuals at the university have been deceptive, and in a couple instances, untruthful. (They know who they are.) I will also say this: Whatever it is that’s keeping people from coming forward must be pretty damn big.
By now, you know that my aim is to post only truthful statements about the Ron Tammen case on this blog site. If I can’t provide supporting evidence—if the best I can do is speculate about some finding, for example—I’ll attempt to do so as transparently as possible, using the necessary qualifiers. That’s how we roll. Conversely, if I should discover I’ve jumped to a conclusion that is even the slightest bit untrue, it’s my belief that I should announce the correction loud and clear, and, if it’s significant enough, with fanfare.
So, you know how I’ve been harping on Carl Knox for writing that cryptic note regarding H.H. Stephenson? The note looks like this:
That H.H.S. note has always bothered me. Not only did Knox appear to ignore Stephenson’s possible Ron sighting when Stephenson returned from his vacay in Wellsville, NY, but it seemed as though, by only jotting down Stephenson’s initials, he didn’t want anyone else to find out about it.
Today, I’m announcing that it’s my strong belief that neither Carl Knox nor one of his assistants wrote that note in August 1953. My reason for thinking so has to do with the name that’s written above that note, on the same piece of paper. It’s the contact information for one James E. Larkins, who was then an associate professor at Wright State University. (The note erroneously says Larkins is affiliated with Wright-Patt.) I’ve blackened the phone number because I don’t know who owns it now, and, well, who needs to experience the fresh hell of having their phone number published online?
As it so happens, James (Jim) Larkins was a sophomore counselor in Fisher Hall with Ron, which is where he would have been in 1953, not teaching Spanish at Wright State. Therefore, the note had to have been written much later.
But when was it written, and why was it written, and who wrote it?
Here’s the timeline I’ve pieced together:
In November 1975, Larkins wrote a letter to Everett Lykins, who was Miami’s assistant dean of student life at that time. Although the letter is dated November 3, 1975, it’s stamped “RECEIVED” by the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs on January 12, 1976. That seems late, but maybe the holidays had something to do with it.
In the letter, Larkins relays his experience regarding Ron’s disappearance, including a wild story about being shot at while trying to chase down the strange “phantom” voice that students occasionally heard after Tammen disappeared. Larkins also mentions Joe Maneri, who was the head of Fisher Hall at the time Ron disappeared.
As luck would have it, 1976 was a busy year in Tammen world. In April 1976, Joe Cella, reporter for the Hamilton Journal News, revealed that H.H. Stephenson, a housing official who had known Ron, believed he saw him on August 5, 1953, in Wellsville, NY. People first read about Stephenson’s encounter in Cella’s news article on April 18, 1976, and then heard the story straight out of Stephenson’s mouth in the Phantom of Oxford, which aired the next night, on the 23rd anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance. [Stephenson is in Part 2, at the 04:15 mark.]
You know who else was interviewed in the documentary? Jim Larkins. [Larkins is in Part 1, at the 08:30 mark.]
Here’s what I think happened:
Jim Larkins wrote his letter, which Dean Lykins likely received in January 1976.
Around that same time, Joe Cella and Channel 2 producer Ed Hart, who were collaborating on the Phantom of Oxford, probably contacted the university seeking spokespersons to be interviewed on camera. Dean Lykins might have said, “Hey, I have this letter. We could put them in touch with Jim Larkins and Joe Maneri.”
Someone then pulled together the contact info for both Larkins and Maneri, who worked at the Columbus Technical Institute at that time. This seems like a no-brainer, since the contact info for both men are written on similar pieces of paper in the same handwriting. Apparently, Jim Larkins said yes to the documentary, but Joe Maneri wasn’t able. (Unfortunately, both men are now deceased—Maneri in 2007 and Larkins in 2015. Although Maneri had already passed away by the time I began my research, I did have the opportunity to speak with Larkins.)
Meanwhile, Stephenson, who still worked in Housing at Miami and therefore answered to Dean Lykins, may have heard about the documentary project and stepped forward with his story about seeing Ron in Wellsville—first to Lykins, and then to Cella, or possibly vice versa. Even though the H.H.S. note isn’t in the same handwriting as the Larkins and Maneri notes, its position below the Larkins note indicates it was written during the same period in 1976.
But in 1976, Carl Knox was no longer at Miami. He’d left Oxford in 1959, so he couldn’t have been the H.H.S. note’s author.
What does all of this mean? In my view, the Larkins/Maneri/H.H.S. notes tell us a trifle more about how the Tammen saga played out over the years—nothing earth shattering, but something more to ponder during a pandemic on a Friday night. Still, two questions stand out. First, there’s this old chestnut: why did the note writer use Stephenson’s initials instead of writing out his full name? And now a new one: did Carl Knox do anything at all when Stephenson first told him about his encounter in Wellsville?
Joe Cella, the Hamilton Journal News reporter who never let the Tammen story die and who unearthed essential details about the case even decades later, would be turning 100 today if he were still alive. In April 1977, Joe was quoted in an article in the Dayton Daily News saying: “The university covered it up. They wouldn’t give you any answers.” On Joe’s centennial birthday, I thought it would be fitting to post some additional evidence that supports his cover-up theory.
For a long, long while, I used to believe that Miami University’s administrators and the Oxford PD didn’t have the slightest notion of what happened to Ron Tammen in the days following his disappearance. When they were quoted in the press bemoaning the lack of clues while actively ignoring, you know, actual clues, I just figured they were letting their inexperience show through. They were new at this, you guys. Cut ‘em some slack.
But then, as I discussed in my post “Proof of a cover-up,” it started appearing as if university administrators were purposely withholding key details. First and foremost: No one seemed to want the psychology book that was open on Tammen’s desk to make its way into a news article. Gilson Wright, the Miami journalism professor who also worked as a stringer for area papers, was how they conveniently managed to keep that info away from the interested public. Wright never mentioned the word psychology in any of his stories—ever—even though he would have known about the open textbook’s subject matter at the very latest by April 1954, when Joe Cella, of the Hamilton Journal News, introduced that detail into his one-year anniversary article. In the first 23 years of Tammen coverage, only two reporters—Cella and Murray Seeger, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer—ever mentioned the psychology book in their articles.
That discovery has led me to ask: what else was the university doing to keep details of the case away from the press, and—OK, I’ll say it—namely one member of the press? Although Seeger wrote a nice piece in 1956, he was primarily a political reporter for the Plain Dealerbefore moving on to bigger outlets, and he wasn’t keeping up with the story like Cella was. Cella was the only non-university-paid reporter who was following the story from the very beginning until 1976, and quite probably until his death in 1980.
Was the university doing anything to keep certain information out of Cella’s hands? For sure.
Last year, before Covid-19 reared its spikey little head, I was spending some time in Miami University’s Archives, and found something I didn’t recall seeing there before. Or, if I had seen it before, it didn’t seem nearly as significant as it does now. Tucked among a hodgepodge of Tammen-related news and magazine articles is an undated, unsourced, one-page sheet that appears innocent enough—a dishy “story behind the story” that someone had typed up on a computer. The font looks like Times New Roman and it was printed on a laser printer. The printer paper looks bright white, not yellowed with age. For these and a few other reasons, which I’ll be getting to in a moment, it appears to have been written fairly recently—long after I graduated from Miami in 1980 and certainly post-Cella. It could have been produced in the last 20 years, or perhaps even more recently than that. It’s too hard to tell.
The write-up has to do with an interview that was conducted with someone who worked for Carl Knox at the time that Ron Tammen disappeared. She was his secretary—that was her official job title—though the write-up refers to her as the “Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox.” (That’s another clue that the write-up was more recent: over the decades, the terms administrative assistant or administrative professional replaced the word secretary, with the professional association making the change only roughly 20 years ago, in the late 1990s and 2000.)
A sad, albeit surprising aspect of this story is that this person passed away only this year. What I’m driving at here is that it appears that someone who’d worked closely with Carl Knox when Ronald Tammen disappeared was interviewed by someone from the university relatively recently in my estimation, though I don’t know when or by whom. In Tammen world, this was the “get” of all gets. It would have been the closest thing to talking to Carl himself.
I’m not going to share the name of the assistant on this blog site out of respect for the family, who couldn’t recall ever hearing their mother comment on the Tammen case. But I will include the details that this person shared during her interview, which were typed up in bulleted format. The document reads as follows, with the only difference being that I’ve substituted “AD” (short for assistant to the dean) for the woman’s name:
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON RON TAMMEN, Jr.
From an interview with AD, Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox, at the time of Tammen’s disappearance on April 19, 1953
At the time, Hueston Woods held a work-camp for prisoners who were about to be released; they worked at clearing away brush from the future site of the lake. These prisoners assisted in the search for Ron Tammen.
AD’s office was across the hall from Dean Knox’s, with a bench across from her desk. After the disappearance, news reporters would sit on this bench awaiting any new information. On one occasion, AD called across the hall to Dean Knox that he had a telephone call from New York. Although the call had nothing to do with Ron Tammen, the reporters assumed it did, and this is how the rumor started that Tammen had been found in New York.
As a result of the false New York story (above), a buzzer was installed on AD’s desk so she could notify Dean Knox of his calls without calling out across the hall for the reporters to hear. She was also given a list of words that she should not say aloud in front of reporters.
After Fisher Hall was demolished in 1978, the wells and cisterns under the building were searched, since they had not been easy to search at the time of the disappearance. No signs of Ron Tammen, Jr. were found.
Before I begin dissecting the summary, please understand that I don’t think AD was in on every single convo surrounding the university’s investigation. Rather, in my view, her comments reflect what Dean Knox and perhaps others would have said to her. That’s what I’m commenting on—the words and actions of AD’s superiors based on her personal account. I’ll also add that the above summary is only someone’s interpretation of what she said during the interview. Unless we have the original transcript or recording, we can’t be sure that whoever wrote these notes did so with 100% accuracy. Plus, they may have left out some important details.
OK, let’s get to it:
1). The date of the interview
The author decided not to add his or her name to the summary, which is aggravating enough for someone like me who likes to contact people who know things about the Tammen case. But it would have been really helpful if they had thought to date it—either typed it in or scribbled it at the top to let us all know when it was written, and in turn, roughly when AD was interviewed. Instead, the first line is so confusing that it takes a couple reads to realize that they’re saying she was the “Assistant to the Dean of Men, Carl Knox, at the time of Tammen’s disappearance,” as opposed to being interviewed at that time, as one Miami staff member had speculated when I’d inquired about it. Based on the evidence I’ve described plus what I’m about to discuss—particularly regarding bullet #3 above—I’ve concluded that it’s a poorly worded phrase, and there’s simply no way the interview happened in 1953. It was later. We just don’t know how much later. I don’t want to get all conspiracy theory–minded on you this early in my blog post, but I mean…did they MEAN to throw us off by not dating it?
2). The work-camp prisoners
Yeah, yawn, we already knew about the prisoners. Good for them. Moving on.
3). The New York rumor
A couple weeks after Ron Tammen disappeared, a rumor had spread across campus about Tammen being spotted in New York. I’ve tried like crazy to find out what the rumor was—it was one of my standby questions for anyone I interviewed who was on campus at the time. No one with whom I spoke could recall the rumor. In fact the only other evidence I’ve had of the rumor was a May 8, 1953, editorial in the Miami Student (p. 2, top left) that stated that a rumor had been circulating that “…Tammen had been located, under conditions that were defamatory to his character.” But according to the same editorial, the rumor was started by an “enterprising student,” and the purpose was to see how fast it would spread. Other than that editorial, which chastised fellow students for disseminating the rumor in the first place (its title was “Must Tongues Wag”), no reporter ever mentioned the New York rumor in an article—not Joe Cella, not Gilson Wright, not even a student reporter.
As we all know, there was another possible New York connection to the Tammen story, though this one came several months later, in August 1953. Could housing official H.H. Stephenson’s potential Ron sighting in Wellsville, NY, have been the basis behind the phone call that Carl Knox had received? Perhaps Cella or Wright or someone else was in the vicinity when the call came in, and Knox was concerned that they’d heard something that he felt shouldn’t be made public. The only person who reported that potential sighting, however, was Cella in 1976, and that article was not based on a rumor or an overheard phone call. It was based on a conversation with H.H. Stephenson, who had worked directly for Carl Knox in 1953. (His title then was director of men’s housing and student employment.)
4). The bench across from her desk
The summary says that reporters—plural—used to sit on a bench across from AD’s desk waiting for updates. That’s rather hard to imagine, given the fact that there were so few clues to begin with and only two newspaper reporters who were covering the story from the beginning: Gilson Wright and Joe Cella. Wright, being a university employee, seemed to have an inside track with Carl Knox. Why would he have to sit on the bench waiting for updates? Besides, with all the university jobs he was juggling—teaching courses, advising student journalists, heading up the news bureau—he had other places to be.
Perhaps a Miami Student reporter had been occupying the bench. But students have classes to attend, and, moreover, there were no bylined Miami Student articles during the spring of 1953. Also, the early Student articles were similar to the articles Wright was submitting to area newspapers, which has led me to infer that Wright authored those as well.
That leaves Joe Cella, although I’m sure Joe was too busy to plant himself outside of Carl Knox’s office for hours on end. Besides, Joe’s best sources seemed to be the students and staff members who were closest to the action as opposed to seated behind a desk in Benton Hall.
As far as radio and TV coverage, there likely was some of that too, especially early on, though any trace of what was broadcast over the airwaves is gone. However, their reporting would have probably been bare-bones, with most of their info coming from Miami’s news bureau, courtesy of Gilson Wright and company. In short, I can’t imagine they’d be camped out either.
My hunch is that whoever was seated there when the New York phone call came in had set up an interview with Knox and was merely waiting…if a reporter was sitting there at all. More on that theory in a second.
5). The buzzer on her desk
Regardless of who was calling from New York and for what purpose, university administrators had clearly been shaken up about it—so much so that they decided to install a buzzer on AD’s desk.
For what it’s worth, the buzzer technology wouldn’t have been a huge technological feat in those days, according to two electrical engineers who weighed in after I put out a call for help on Facebook. (Thanks, Chris and Travis!) People have been ringing doorbells on a widespread basis since the early 1900s, which would basically accomplish the same thing—pressing a button and having it ring, or buzz, in another room with the aid of an electrical wire. (A similar concept is turning lights on and off using a button or toggle switch, connected to a light source by an electrical wire.) For this reason, AD’s buzzer would have been fairly simple for someone with that skill set to put together.
6). More on the bench, the buzzer, and the rumor
But seriously, you guys, how many reporters could there have been sitting on AD’s bench, day in and day out, and were they really creating such havoc around the office that it warranted instituting a secret buzzer system?
To be sure, a missing student is a very big deal. But installing a secret desk buzzer seems to be more like the act of someone who wants to play spy or top-secret government insider. Who were they protecting with their desk buzzer? Not Ron. Not the Tammen family. And honestly, so what if someone from the press overheard that Carl Knox had received a call from New York. No reporter worth his or her stripes would file a story based on that meager amount of info. They’d first ask Knox if the call pertained to Tammen, Knox would say no, and the potential misinformation would be squelched then and there, amIright?
I’m going to propose a different scenario: AD may have been told by Knox that her new buzzer system was because of reporters spreading the New York rumor—which, again, never made its way into newspapers—but I think it went beyond that. Remember that Carl Knox had jotted in his notes the name “Prof. Switzer,” Ron’s psychology professor who I believe was working for the CIA at the time Tammen disappeared. Switzer had even told one of my sources that he had indeed spoken with investigators at that time as well. What if Switzer had informed Carl Knox that Tammen’s disappearance involved a classified government program that’s important for protecting the nation’s security? Knox might have decided that a buzzer system would be a simple, effective way to do his patriotic duty. Incoming phone calls—from New York, D.C., or wherever—would be handled with utmost secrecy, no matter who happened to be standing nearby.
7). The list of words that she should not say aloud in front of reporters
OH. MY. LORD. Talk about burying a lede—this one got pushed to the tail end of bullet #3, after the work-camp prisoners but before the cisterns and wells.
Do you have any idea what I would give to know the words AD was instructed not to say in front of reporters? A lot. I would give a lot. Was one of the words “Switzer”? “Psychology”? “Hypnosis”? Or better yet “Post-hypnotic suggestion”? Or how about “MKULTRA” or “Project ARTICHOKE”? I mean, did AD’s interviewer think to ask the obvious follow-up question: What words were on the list? And if they did ask that question, why would they leave the most important part out of their summary page? Why indeed.
You guys, I’ve worked in several press offices in my career, and have fielded calls on topics that were considered political hot potatoes in their day. But I can’t think of a single time when I was instructed not to say certain words. Were they trying to protect Ron’s reputation? To avoid putting the university in an embarrassing light? Would the words have steered reporters too close to a probable cause for his disappearance? Whatever the reason, if the university was prohibiting the use of certain words to prevent a reporter from learning an inconvenient but potentially significant truth, that’s a cover-up.
Incidentally, I’m quite certain that AD would have never mentioned the forbidden words list back in 1953, when she was working for Carl Knox and the investigation was in full swing. That’s another reason that I feel that the interview was relatively recent.
One word that I’m pretty sure wasn’t on the forbidden list? Cisterns.
8). The cisterns
Speaking of cisterns, in part one (2:47) of the two-part segment on Ron Tammen last month from WXIX (Cincinnati), we were introduced to the concept of open cisterns on Miami’s campus by a Miami University spokesperson. Cisterns are generally described as large tanks that store water, though the cistern that was shown in the news segment was built in the 1800s and looked like a large open hole leading to a bricked-in area underground. I’ll tell you here and now, I had no idea that they were considered a safety problem back then. But I’m not sure students in those days felt that way either. If you type the search term “cistern” (singular) into the Miami Student digital archive for the time period of 1900 to 2020, two articles will pop up, one from 1903 and one from September 1986. The 1986 article discusses a cistern that the university had installed under Yager Stadium to conserve water when maintaining the athletic fields. The 1903 article was about a wrongly translated Latin passage and had nothing to do with cisterns on campus. The term “cisterns” (plural) yielded an article from 2000 about brick cisterns that were discovered during the construction of a park in uptown Oxford.
What AD said, however, was that they’d checked the wells and cisterns under Fisher Hall after the building was torn down in 1978 because they were difficult to get to. Of course, I don’t want to leave any stone unturned in my research, and that includes learning more about the university’s cisterns. Earlier this month, I emailed the spokesperson seeking background materials or a conversation on the topic, and so far, I haven’t heard back from him. I’ll keep you posted.
9). The full interview
Although the “Cliff Notes” version of AD’s interview is better than nothing, I really want to read the full transcript. Or better yet, I’d love to hear the recording. At the very least, I want to know when the interview was conducted and by whom so I can reach out to the interviewer for a conversation about all they remember that AD said, including, hopefully, at least one or two choice forbidden words.
I’ve reached out to senior administration officials for Miami University Libraries as well as Marketing and Communications, including the News Office, for assistance. Currently, the head of the libraries’ department that oversees Special Collections, Preservation and The University Archives is having his staff look for the source materials, though it may take a while due to Covid-19 restrictions. I’ll be touching base with them every so often for updates.
Here’s why I believe the university should still have the source materials: AD and her husband were well known, beloved figures at the university for many years. Although I still don’t know the reason behind the interview, it would make sense if someone had requested it for historical purposes. If that were the case, then tossing the original tape or transcript would be very, very strange, to put it mildly. I can’t say that that’s what happened at this point, but it’s a concern of mine.
Furthermore, as someone who believes in transparency in our public and governmental institutions, let me be transparent regarding my current thinking. In discussing the possibility of a university cover-up, I always gave the people in later administrations a pass. How could they have been privy to information that Carl Knox and his team were discussing off-the-record and in real time? If there was a cover-up, I used to think, it would have been the people who were making those judgment calls back then. Once they died, any evidence of wrongdoing would have died with them.
However, if someone who’d been around at that time briefed someone fairly recently, filling them in on forbidden words, for example, and any other pertinent intel from 1953, and if that interview was reduced to a few tamed-down bullet points and the original source materials were discarded to prevent someone like me from finding them? Well, the cover-up would live on. Is that what’s happening? I sincerely hope not. That’s why finding the source materials is so important.
I can only imagine what the late, great Joe Cella would say to me about the possibility of an ongoing cover-up. Probably something like: “Welcome to my world.” And then he’d add, “Keep on it.”
In light of the new revelations, I rewatched the 1976 documentary “The Phantom of Oxford” to listen again to what Carl Knox had to say 23 years after Tammen had disappeared. By then, Knox had moved to Boca Raton, Florida, and was serving as professor of education and vice president for student affairs at Florida Atlantic University.
In Part 1 (9:18), Knox briefly discusses Tammen having left his car behind with his bass inside, which is 100% true, but it doesn’t add anything to today’s topic. In Part 2 (2:40), he says this:
Carl Knox: In other campuses where I’ve been located, there have been disappearances, and there have been tragedies, but nothing which has sort of popped out of, no background of explanation, no way of reasonable anticipation, but just suddenly happening, and there you were with egg on your face, deep-felt concerns, and yet no answers for any part of it.
Ed Hart: And yet something tells you Ron Tammen is alive.
Carl Knox: Yes, I feel this. I feel it keenly.
Knox is believable in the interview, and his facial expressions could best be described as: deeply concerned, which is consistent with what he has to say. But, as we now know, there’s a lot of information concerning the university’s investigation that he’s chosen not to say here. Twenty-three years later, he has elected to keep his mouth shut—about open psychology books and dropped courses, about hypnosis studies, about three amnesiac Ohio youths, about Ron’s proneness to dissociation, about Dr. Switzer, about hidden buzzers and forbidden words.
In fact, the only time Carl Knox truly opens up about the case is in his last sentence. Knowing everything he knew back then, he keenly felt that Ron was alive—in 1953 as well as in 1976. And you know what? I keenly feel it too.
Happy holidays, everyone! Comments are now open. You’re also welcome to air a grievance or two (non-political please) in honor of Festivus, which also happens to be today.
Post-Christmas Post-Script(Dec. 27, 2020)
Hi, all! I’m back. I forgot to make a point in the above post that probably appears like a gaping, cistern-sized hole and it’s been eating at me. It concerns the fourth bullet point that discusses the cisterns and wells. There I was, offering up my reasoning regarding why the interview with AD couldn’t have been conducted in 1953, and I didn’t even bring up the fact that the fourth bullet discusses how they’d searched the cisterns and wells in 1978, when they tore down Fisher Hall. Did anyone else catch that? I mean, clearly, the interview occurred after 1978.
Sorry for the oversight!
I should also add that the same university rep who felt that the interview was conducted at the time of Tammen’s disappearance said that she didn’t think the fourth bullet was related to the interview with AD. But that’s not what the document says. The document says that the additional information was from the interview. So, it occurred after 1978, but, again, I think it was much more recent than that. I’m just hoping to find someone with the institutional memory to recall when the interview took place and with whom.
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.