Mini bonus post: Were Richard Cox’s FBI documents kept in the Identification Division’s ‘missing person file room’ too?

Richard Colvin Cox

Considering how similar the Ron Tammen and Richard Cox disappearances seemed to be, one question that may have crossed your minds at some point is: were Richard Cox’s missing person documents handled the same way as Ron Tammen’s? In other words, were some of Cox’s documents stamped “Return to Ident Missing Person File Room” too?

Also, you may recall that other Tammen documents had been stamped “Retain permanently in Ident jacket #358-406-B”—Ron’s fingerprint jacket—before they were “removed from Ident files” in June 1973. Was there a phrase on Cox’s documents to “Retain permanently in Ident jacket” too? We know the FBI had Cox’s fingerprints on file because of his Army ties, so he should have had a fingerprint jacket too.

To the best of my knowledge, the answer is “no” to both questions.

I know that some of you aren’t convinced that there was a missing person file room per se. But even so…the FBI seemed to be treating the two cases differently, even though there were distinct similarities between them and they’d occurred only three years apart.

Admittedly, I’ve been eyeballing hundreds of pages today and there’s a chance I may have missed something.

And so…I’ve decided to post all of Richard Cox’s FBI documents on this website. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the FBI’s files on Cox have ever been posted in their (supposed) entirety online before. Feel free to explore them at your leisure. There’s quite a bit there and some of it makes for fascinating reading. Also, if you do spot either of the above phrases, or anything else of interest, please let me know. You can find the three CDs’ worth of documents at the bottom of the home page, in the same area as the other documents I’ve posted.

Lastly, if their estimate is still on target, I should be hearing from the Department of Justice by early February regarding my appeal concerning Richard Cox’s Additional Record Sheets. It would be a huge deal if they rule in my favor. I don’t think anyone has ever requested—and received—Additional Record Sheets from the FBI before. Fingers crossed.

I think I may know where the FBI’s ‘missing person file room’ was located

A couple days ago, as  I was pondering my next move on a recent FOIA request that had left me empty-handed, I turned my sights once again to the July 1975 FBI telephone directory.

You may recall the directory in question. We’d discussed it when I was trying to track down someone who’d removed Ron’s missing person documents from “Ident” in June 1973—someone who appeared to have the initials MSL. The directory header says “Officials and Supervisors” in large print and “Secretaries, Stenos, and Clerical Supervisors” in smaller print. Beneath that header is an unredacted list of former employees and their phone extensions, and following those names are the names and locations of every division, section, unit, and desk in the Bureau. It’s a tiny window into the FBI in the mid-seventies and a window that I needed to peer through a little more intently. I guess you could call me the FBI’s own little Gladys Kravitz.

Not all officials are listed in the 1975 staff directory, mind you. Clarence M. Kelley had been the director since 1973, and his name is nowhere to be found. The logic may have been that if you’re an employee of the Bureau, you should already know who the director is. Shame on you if you needed to ask if Kelley was spelled with an “ey” or just a “y.” But Kelley’s underlings are all present and accounted for, including his associate director Nicholas P. Callahan and the associate directors of each of the 12 divisions and the Office of Planning and Evaluation. 

According to the directory, the director’s and associate director’s offices were located on the seventh floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, which had been newly completed that very year. Many of the FBI’s employees were also stationed there by then, though not all. People were still occupying space in the Identification Building at 2nd and D Streets SW, as well as an Annex at 215 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, the Old Post Office Building, and the Willste Building, which was a high-rise in nearby Silver Spring, MD (and is now a pricey condo building).

FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building, aka FBI Headquarters, in 1975; photo credit: FBI

Richard H. Ash, who headed up the Identification Division at that time, had an office on the top floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building—the 11th—in  room 11255.

Two days ago, I found myself staring vacuously at the second-to-last page of the directory at a general entry for the Identification Division. The entry looked modest for the largest division in the agency. The mammoth sections it oversaw appeared alphabetically as stand-alone entries, typed in all caps with their units beneath, but the division itself appeared on its own in mostly lower-case letters. Only its phone extension managed to convey an elevated degree of importance: 2222. The Identification Division’s room number was 11262 in the J. Edgar Hoover Building.

11262. 

11262.

It sounded familiar, but why? 

1126…

too.

And then it occurred to me that 1126 is the number for the “Ident. Missing Person File  Room,” which had been stamped on several of Ronald Tammen’s missing person records. So far, a total of zero people I’ve spoken with from the FBI’s Identification Division or its successor, Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS), as well as the Records Management Division, have ever heard of the Missing Person File Room. 

For those who may be new to the blog site, the Identification Division’s Missing Person File Room appears to have been a diversion from typical FBI protocol for missing persons. Several of Ron’s papers had been housed there, as indicated by the above stamp, and then the stamp was crossed out at some point, though we don’t know when or why, and we also don’t know where Ron’s papers were stored after that. My thinking is that Ron’s case wasn’t the typical missing person case. I also think they knew he was no longer missing. (You can read every blog post that discusses Ron’s missing person file at this link.)

Could it be, thought I, that the Missing Person File Room was in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, up on the 11th floor, under the watchful eye of the higher-ups in the Identification Division? It only had four numbers, not the five that was characteristic of the 11th floor’s numbering system. But is it…conceivable?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that it makes no sense. Ron’s missing person documents had (ostensibly) been stamped sometime before June 1973, which precedes the Hoover building by at least two years. How could they specify a room number for a new building before said building had even been built? 

Hear me out.

As it so happens, although the J. Edgar Hoover building was nowhere near finished in 1973, it had already been years in development by then, and had been since the early 1960s. In fact, if you’re ever in the mood for some light reading, or, better yet, a natural remedy for covid-fueled insomnia, documents pertaining to the entire process, which began with the formulation of an idea in 1940, can be found on the Government Attic website.

According to a 2014 General Services Administration document describing the building’s planning and construction, floor plans had been approved for at least the first, second, and seventh floors, and I’m guessing others as well, in 1967. (See figures 36-38.) The GSA document also states that some employees had already begun moving into the new building by June 1974.

So keeping all of the above in mind, it would seem feasible that, by the summer of 1973, the Identification Division’s management probably was already preparing for its big move. To assist in the transition, perhaps they’d even decided to label some documents according to the new floor plan, even though the numbering system may not have been 100 percent final. Perhaps when they were writing the number 1126 on the line provided by the rubber stamp, they meant 1126-ish.

That might help explain another minor mystery, by the way—the Missing Person File Room stamp itself. I’d often wondered why someone had to write in the room number as opposed to having the room number engraved on the stamp. Was the information held there so confidential that they had to change its location every so often? 

My thinking now is that the stamp was made during the transition period when they weren’t exactly sure where the Missing Person File Room would be located. “Just put a blank line there and we can fill in the room number later,” a 1970s office supervisor might have said before pivoting on her platform heels and walking away.

But what about the other buildings that the FBI used back in 1973? Could room #1126 have been in one of those?

I honestly don’t think so. I’ve attempted to obtain floor plans for the Robert F. Kennedy Building at 950 Pennsylvania NW, where the Department of Justice is housed and where some FBI officials were located before they moved next door to FBI Headquarters. Likewise, I tried to obtain floor plans of the Identification Building at 2nd and D Streets, SW, the hub of the fingerprint identification activities. I was unsuccessful. I also was unsuccessful in having someone answer my direct question regarding whether there is a room 1126 in the DOJ building now or in the Ident Building when the FBI was still a tenant. 

One kind soul did tell me that there is no such number in the Ford House Office Building, which is a renovated version of the Ident Building.

I was also able to locate some room numbers online for the RFK building, though 1126 isn’t among them. Although the numbering is in four digits and there could feasibly be a room number 1126 on the first floor, it seems unlikely that the Missing Person File Room would have been there. It’s more plausible that it would be accessible to wherever administrative staff would have been located, which was usually on a higher floor.

As for the Identification Building, the 1975 FBI telephone directory shows that most sections were on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th floors. The directory didn’t specify a room number for the Technical Section, which housed the criminal fingerprint cards. (The civil and Old Armed Forces cards were stored in the Willste Building, in Silver Spring.) Technical staff were most likely stationed in a large open space on the first and possibly second floors. But again, it doesn’t seem likely that the Missing Person File Room would have been located there, particularly since people who’d worked there didn’t seem to know that the room existed.

I also don’t think the Missing Person File Room was housed in the Willste Building due to the same accessibility issues as for the DOJ building. It’s difficult to say, since no room numbers are provided in the directory.

Yesterday, I wrote to the National Capital Planning Commission’s (NCPC’s) Office of Public Engagement seeking the 1967 approved floor plan for the 11th floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, if available. I also requested copies of the approved floor plans for the first, second, and seventh floors, since the drawings are blurry in the 2014 GSA document. (The NCPC has suggested going through the Public Engagement Office first before filing a FOIA request.)

In addition, I plan to reach out to two former employees from that era who may be able to answer my questions about the Missing Person File Room as well.

I’ll let you know what I find out.

In the meantime, what do you think? 

The layperson’s unofficial, unauthorized FBI fingerprint protocol playbook**

**and the ways in which Ronald Tammen’s case was treated as an exception to the rule

The year that fingerprints first became part of J. Edgar Hoover’s tactical toolkit was 1924, the same year Hoover was named director of the Bureau of Investigation, forerunner of the FBI, and also the year in which the Identification Division was created. The technology itself has changed since then, but you’d expect that, wouldn’t you? In 1924, Calvin Coolidge was occupying the White House, the Charleston was all the rage, and “23 skidoo” was something people would actually say to one another to appear street smart and hip. It was a very long time ago.

And yet, change didn’t come quickly for the folks in the Identification Division—or Ident as they were known to their fellow employees. For decades, the FBI was collecting fingerprints with the same tried-and-true method that they’d used since 1924—rolling black inky fingers onto white cardstock—and training thousands of employees the art of eyeballing one card against another to assess whether they came from the same set of fingers. They were using this methodology through 1941, when Ronald Tammen was fingerprinted as a second grader. They were still using it in 1973, when they fingerprinted the guy at Welco Industries to see if he might be Ron. And they kept on using it for more than a quarter century after that. Not until 1999, after the FBI had changed the division’s name to Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) and later moved the division to West Virginia, did fingerprinting finally go digital.

Millions of cards—Ron’s, the guy from Welco’s, plus all the others—were trucked from FBI Headquarters to the new facility in Clarksburg, WV. So many cards. Enough to go around the world if laid back to back, according to a former employee. Each and every card was scanned into a database, a feat in itself. Initially, that database was the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS. IAFIS was a game-changing innovation that could sort through and match fingerprints in a fraction of the time that it would have taken an Ident staffer to do under the manual system. And as skillful as Ident staff were at reading fingerprint cards, no longer would the FBI need to rely on occasional judgment calls, which, much to Hoover’s and his successors’ chagrin, could vary. In 2011, CJIS began incrementally upgrading to the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, a massive database that is even faster and more powerful than IAFIS and incorporates fingerprint technology with all other biometric technologies except DNA. DNA has its own database, called the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which we’ve discussed in previous blog posts.

So the process of collecting, sorting, and searching fingerprints has become way faster and more efficient thanks to the digitization of fingerprint data. But the basis of the technology—where the loops, whorls, and arches found on everyone’s fingertips are counted, categorized, and compared—is essentially the same as it was in 1924. And the importance of fingerprints in identifying one individual from another hasn’t changed much either, even today, when DNA reigns supreme.

Speaking of which, you know the meme of the guy who’s walking down the street with his girlfriend while he’s checking out another woman who just passed by?

Distracted boyfriend

Yeah, that one. DNA and the latest biometric tools, such as palm prints, irises, and facial recognition, may be what evokes oohs and aahs from people who like to keep up on the coolest new tech trends, which, to some degree, is most of us. But dollar for dollar, fingerprints continue to be the cute, nice, reliable technology that’s sometimes taken for granted. And yet, even with all the advances that are made in biometrics, it’s a safe bet that fingerprinting will continue to be an important identification tool for years to come. That’s because it’s built on the utterly astounding and never-proven-otherwise premise that no two people’s fingerprints are ever the same, even those of identical twins. And—get this—according to the book The Fingerprint Sourcebook, produced by the National Institute of Justice, of the U.S. Department of Justice, some people in China were using fingerprints as a means of identification as early as 300 BC. Does that blow your mind as much as it blows mine? How could people from 300 BC have known that fingerprints were so special? I’m quite sure that the first person to have used them would be surprised, no stunned, to know that their wild, out-of-the-box idea—their ancient hack to a primitive need—would still be used in 2020 and beyond.

Don’t get me wrong: No one here wants to disparage DNA. DNA is great. DNA is important. DNA technology has improved so much since the early days that even miniscule samples have helped solve cold cases such as the Golden State Killer. And if your DNA is found at a crime scene? Well, you’re probably toast. It’s pretty much attained “smoking gun” status, which isn’t the case for fingerprints. Fingerprints that are left at a crime scene—called latent prints—can be damning too, but, they’re rarely perfect. According to a 2017 study of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, they are often refutable, since they’re usually incomplete and, as the AAAS study points out, nearly impossible to match to a single source.

Nevertheless, fingerprints, especially what the FBI calls the “ten print,” non-latent variety, aren’t going away anytime soon. If you want to know the true identity of someone, their fingerprints are better than a name. Better than a Social Security number. Better than a picture ID.

“Fingerprints are considered positive identification, so it’s a much better way to identify people who, for whatever reason, don’t want to be identified. And that probably means most of the criminal element,” said one former CJIS employee.

So yeah—fingerprints, baby!

But we aren’t going to be talking about the science of fingerprints anymore on this blog post. No, the topic for today is standard operating procedures—or the bureaucratic maneuverings and machinations that take place once a set of fingerprints has been collected. In essence, we’ll be examining the life and death of a fingerprint, from the moment it’s pressed onto a white card or scanner and entered into the FBI’s system to the day it’s expunged. And friends, I challenge you to find anything on the internet that attempts to do what we’re attempting here. For the first time ever (I’m pretty sure), we’re pulling together information obtained from experts who categorized and analyzed fingerprints for the FBI for many years, a process that was drilled so deeply into their skulls that they could do it in their sleep. Then—when possible—we’re going to compare what the FBI routinely did, and sometimes still does, to what they did in Ronald Tammen’s case. And, spoiler alert: they aren’t the same.

My sources requested anonymity so they could speak openly, and because they no longer officially represent the FBI. We’ll do it like last time, in Q&A fashion. This time, however, I’ll list a question, provide an answer that merges what my sources told me with info from other related resources, and then, when applicable, compare and contrast that summary with the way things were handled for Ron Tammen, which will be printed in blue. Some answers may sound familiar to you, since we’ve discussed them before. Sometimes I added two and two together. You ready? Let’s do this.

Who can submit fingerprints to the FBI?

Only law enforcement agencies or a court can submit fingerprints to the FBI.

How it pertains to Tammen: This jives with Tammen’s case. Evidence indicates that Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were taken by the local police in Fairview Park, Ohio, in 1941, when he was a second grader, and they submitted the fingerprints.

 How were fingerprints submitted to the FBI under the manual system?

The FBI generally didn’t accept fingerprint cards from local police departments because they would have been overwhelmed by the numbers. Instead, they had state police bureaus and other channeling agencies. Generally, the local police department would send the prints to the state police bureau and the state bureau would send them to the FBI. Conversely, once the FBI determined whether or not there was a match, they would respond to the state bureau and the state bureau would notify the local police.

How it pertains to Tammen: According to info I have from around that time, the Fairview Park police sent the fingerprints directly to the FBI as opposed to going through a state police bureau. It could be that they’d gotten such an early jump on the FBI’s civil fingerprinting efforts that they didn’t need to involve a middleman. Whatever—this little swerve from the norm isn’t a big deal, in my view.

How are fingerprints submitted now?

It’s still law enforcement types and the courts who can submit fingerprints to the FBI, but they can do so electronically using the NGI system. Police officers can even fingerprint someone using a mobile device in their squad car, hit the send key, and then, in a matter of seconds, receive information on the person’s identity and whether he/she has a criminal record and if there are possible warrants out for their arrest.

How it pertains to Tammen: It doesn’t. It’s just interesting.

What does the FBI number mean?

The FBI number is assigned to fingerprints when they are submitted and placed in a file. It would not be assigned to a “return print,” a civil fingerprint that was going to be returned immediately to a local police department or to someone’s parents. This was the number that the Identification Division would use to track all information pertaining to those fingerprints.

How it pertains to Tammen: Ron had an FBI number (#358 406 B] assigned to his fingerprints, which means that the Identification Division took the time to create a fingerprint jacket for him (the folder where fingerprints were stored). This tells us that the FBI likely retained Ron’s prints from day one, as opposed to sending them back to Fairview Park, and that they also likely had his fingerprints on file the day Ron went missing. Is it weird that the FBI would have kept his prints when every FBI source I’ve spoken with has found this detail most unusual? Yes, it’s weird. But I’m just glad that A) he was fingerprinted at all, and B) the FBI retained the prints. Think about how much less information we’d have on the Tammen case if the FBI hadn’t had a fingerprint file on him. All the strange behaviors during all those critical years (particularly 1967, 1973, and ultimately 2002) wouldn’t have occurred. If my theory of what happened to Tammen bears out, then those fingerprints could be the one detail that his shrewd handlers had no prior knowledge of, and that Tammen had long forgotten about, that could finally bring us some answers.

What information was included in the fingerprint file/jacket?

The fingerprint jacket contained a person’s fingerprint card or cards. In a missing person case, if the Identification Division was fortunate enough to have the missing person’s fingerprints, that’s the only information they would maintain in this file. Other descriptive information would be housed in Records Management. As we all know from the preceding post, there was also an Ident Missing Person File Room, but it didn’t appear to be well known among Ident staff, and it was not part of the usual protocol when handling missing person cases.

How it pertains to Tammen: According to the FBI memo from 5-22-73, there was only one fingerprint card in Ron’s file, which followed protocol. What was unusual were the documents that had been kept—and removed from—the Ident Missing Person File Room, number 1126, in June 1973. I’ve filed several FOIA requests in hopes of figuring out that little side mystery and will keep you posted.

What did the FBI do with the civil print cards they collected?

Most of the civil fingerprint cards that the Identification Division received were treated as “return prints,” which meant that the FBI had no intention of keeping them in their files. Each fingerprint card would be searched manually against the criminal fingerprint file and, if there was no match, it would be stamped on the back: “no criminal record.” The card would then be mailed back to the submitting agency. If the civil fingerprint matched a criminal record, the submitting agency would receive a copy of the criminal record known as “a rap sheet.” (The FBI likely held onto those prints.)

Generally, the only fingerprint cards that would have been permanently retained by the FBI in the civil file would be military personnel and employees of the federal government. However, there was one group in particular whom Hoover encouraged to be fingerprinted, and that was the Boy Scouts of America. The organization, which had developed a merit badge in fingerprinting, would send the scouts’ prints to FBI Headquarters, and, in return, the boys would receive a letter thanking them for helping with the cause. According to MuckRock.com, the Boy Scouts’ prints were maintained in the civil file, though my FBI sources recalled that they had been returned.

How it pertains to Tammen: Every FBI source I’ve spoken with has been both surprised and skeptical that the FBI would have kept Ron’s fingerprints from 1941. Apparently, it was extremely rare for the FBI to retain children’s fingerprints in the civil file back then. However, the FBI clearly had his fingerprints on file at some point because in 2002, they expunged them. The fact that Ron’s fingerprints were assigned an FBI number convinces me that they held onto them as opposed to sending them back to the police or parents and asking them to return them when he went missing. (It doesn’t really matter which scenario happened, to be honest, but we’re going for accuracy here.) If the FBI did keep his fingerprints from childhood, they would have maintained them in the civil file until 1953. Then, when he went missing, they would have moved them to the criminal file since the criminal file is the active file that is always consulted when new prints come in.

What does the FBI do with the criminal prints they collect?

They keep them all. People who’ve been arrested 10 times will have ten sets of fingerprints in their file, ostensibly as a means for identifying latent fingerprints in possible future arrests. For example, if the fingerprint picked up at a crime scene isn’t very good, the FBI could bring up a suspect’s fingerprints from all ten arrests to find if a corresponding section of one of those prints is a match with the latent print. Also, retaining all criminal fingerprints creates a comprehensive history of all the dates the person was arrested.

Under the manual system, the first fingerprint card from the first arrest would be filed in the master criminal file. Fingerprints from any subsequent arrests were filed together in the person’s fingerprint jacket. Likewise, under the digital system, all fingerprint data was also entered into the database for that person.

The criminal file includes the fingerprints of, you guessed it, criminals, such as people who are incarcerated, arrested, or who have warrants out for their arrest. It also includes missing persons as well as some federal employees, such as people who work for the FBI. The latter policy started with—who else?—Hoover, who said, “if any of my employees have any contact with the law, I want to know about it!” Several other federal agencies with law enforcement responsibilities have their fingerprints in the criminal file as well.

How it pertains to Tammen: As you can see, the FBI goes to great lengths to preserve every set of criminal fingerprints that it collects, even in cases where multiple sets of prints for the same person are already on file. However, Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints—of which they only had one set—were expunged in 2002, even though Tammen was ostensibly still missing. We’ll be discussing this development in more detail later, but, for now, let’s try to fully appreciate how inexplicable and bizarre this action seems to be. By that year, Tammen’s single set of fingerprints—the FBI’s only definitive means for identifying him—would have been entered into IAFIS, taking up a negligible amount of digital space and harming virtually no one as they sat there waiting for a potential hit. For what earthly reason would the FBI feel compelled to erase them forever from their vast database? Why would that be in their best interest? I wonder.

Did the FBI ever check the civil file for a match?

According to one knowledgeable source, the only time an Ident staffer would consult the civil file is in the case of an unidentified deceased individual. If a set of fingerprints came in of an unknown person who had died, they’d first search the criminal file, then they’d search the civil file. During the Vietnam War, for example, the fingerprints of unknown soldiers who had died in combat would be sent to the FBI for identification. In such cases, the civil file would always be checked, since that’s where the prints for members of the military were maintained.

How it pertains to Tammen: This would only pertain to Tammen if his fingerprints were in the civil file and he turned up dead. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing if either happened.

Do they still keep criminal and civil fingerprints separate in NGI, or are they all lumped together?

According to a 2015 article published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, all fingerprint data, civil and criminal, are now lumped together under NGI, and searched together thousands of times a day. While individuals found in the criminal file should be used to having their fingerprints searched for matches, this was a new development for people in the law-abiding civil file, and it creates privacy concerns. My FBI sources had retired before this policy was implemented, so they wouldn’t be able to comment. However, the controversy appears to be ongoing.

 How it pertains to Tammen: It doesn’t, since Tammen’s prints were expunged in 2002, nine years before the transition to NGI had begun.

How difficult would it be to compare two sets of fingerprints in 1967: Ron Tammen’s, whose prints were in the criminal file, and a soldier in Vietnam’s, whose prints would have been in the civil file? (Question is in reference to this post.)

On average it used to take an Ident staffer 30 to 60 minutes to manually search an incoming fingerprint card against the criminal file, depending on the complexity of the print. A longtime employee said: “…If there were two sets of prints, one from an individual, one the military, it would be very easy to compare them to see if they were the same individual or not.”

How it pertains to Tammen: When Mr. Tammen wrote J. Edgar Hoover in October 1967 asking if the soldier pictured in an AP photo might be his son, Hoover responded that he didn’t have any more information on Ron’s case and suggested that Mr. Tammen contact the adjutant general of the U.S. Army regarding the soldier. In my opinion, this was a classic attempt at appearing helpful without helping at all.

 Was Hoover’s response flaky? Couldn’t Hoover have found out the soldier’s name and asked his staff to test Ron’s prints against the soldier’s?

Said one expert: “Yes, it was. I thought so too.” Said another: “I am guessing that the Bureau did not have the time or resources to follow up on a newspaper article with a picture.”

How it pertains to Tammen: Let the record show that I consider it flaky—and telling—that Hoover wouldn’t have asked one of his Ident staffers to do this minor task for Mr. Tammen. As for the suggestion that Hoover may have had insufficient time and resources, the Identification Division was one of Hoover’s biggest bragging points, where hefty amounts of resources were devoted to the processing of millions of fingerprint cards each year. In 1964, the year of the FBI’s 40th anniversary, they were averaging 23,000-24,000 incoming fingerprint cards daily. Couldn’t they take some time to look at a couple more? Once Hoover had determined who the soldier was by calling the AP or the adjutant general himself, all he needed to do was ask one of his many Ident employees to spend an hour or less comparing the two cards. If it was a match, he could be a hero. For some reason, he didn’t feel it was worth that small effort.

 What does it mean to expunge fingerprints?

The word expunge is often used in legal situations when referring to a criminal record. If a criminal record is expunged—some indiscretion of youth, for example, for which a judge decides a person has done their penance and, in a sense, lets bygones be bygones—it’s either sealed or wiped clean, as if it never existed. In a missing person case, the preferred terminology is generally to purge the records.

How it pertains to Tammen: According to Stephen Fischer, the CJIS media liaison in 2015, Tammen’s prints were “expunged” in 2002, though no evidence exists to indicate that he had a criminal record. Fischer later referred to the criteria by which fingerprints are “purged,” using the terms interchangeably. From this point on in this post, I’ll use both terms interchangeably as well.

When are fingerprints expunged?

According to Stephen Fischer in 2015, “The FBI purges fingerprint data and records at 110 years of age or 7 years after confirmed death.” In addition, according to other sources, the FBI will purge fingerprint data upon receipt of a court order to do so.

How it pertains to Tammen: Ronald Tammen would have been 68 or 69 in 2002, far younger than the 110 years of age currently required with NGI or even the slightly more youthful 99 years of age that was required with IAFIS. Unless there was a court order (which I’m still attempting to find out), the only other (ostensible) possibility is that the FBI had confirmed Ronald Tammen to be dead. It should be noted, however, that when I asked my FBI sources if they would make the same inference, no one was willing to go out on that limb for reasons that I’ll get into shortly.

How does the FBI know when 7 years/110 years have expired?

Under the manual file system, it would have been more tedious and probably fairly random to keep track of expiration dates. Now, however, my sources concur that it is an automated process, though no one I spoke to was aware of how the system sifts through the file to detect expired records.

How it pertains to Tammen: Unless his fingerprints were purged because of a court order or there’s another possible reason to remove a person’s fingerprints that I’m unaware of, something must have tripped the automated system.

Why would the FBI want to expunge someone’s fingerprints?

In general, this is something they’d prefer *not* to do. The FBI still relies heavily on fingerprints as a means of identifying people, particularly all the standout folks whose prints are in the criminal file. It’s not in the FBI’s best interest to purge those fingerprints without a very good reason. Storage space happens to be one very good reason. Once the FBI digitized its fingerprint data in 1999, beginning with IAFIS, a need arose to free up some storage space on occasion. And with NGI adding biometric data that requires even more space, the need has grown stronger since 2011. That’s why they have the 110/7-year rule. Other reasons for purging involve the legal system—the court ruling we’ve discussed earlier, for example. But according to most of the FBI experts I’ve spoken with, the reasons for purging a fingerprint can be counted on three fingers of one hand.

How it pertains to Tammen: This is the question that keeps me up nights. Ron didn’t make the 110-year age cut, so it’s either that he’s dead, and the FBI knows he’s dead but they don’t want us to know they know he’s dead, or it’s the court order thing. However, one source I spoke with speculated that perhaps someone in CJIS decided to purge Ron’s prints when they noticed that, if alive, he would be a much older adult in 2002, and maybe he didn’t want to be found:

“There were some situations where people were adults that had been reported missing and they weren’t really missing. They didn’t want to be found for some reason. And so, to me, it makes a difference whether you’re a minor child or above the age of 18 or 21, because an individual can choose, for whatever reason, just choose to disappear for their own reasons, for whatever purpose.”

The problem with that theory is that it completely goes against protocol. Nowhere have I read or heard that the FBI would purge a missing person’s fingerprints once a missing youth had reached adulthood. Perhaps an Ident staffer might have been inclined to make that sort of judgment call under the manual system…I don’t know. But, in 2002, when they were relying on the automated IAFIS system? I doubt it. There’s another reason I don’t think someone would have removed his fingerprints simply because he was older. I’ll discuss it in the next question.

What happens if a missing person turns out to be dead?

If an unidentified body was found, the local police could submit their fingerprints to the FBI through the state bureau. If the FBI already had the missing person’s fingerprints on file and they were a match, the submitting agency would have been notified of the match through the state bureau. In addition, a notice would have been placed in the missing person’s file saying that they had been confirmed dead, and, if available, the date they died. Here’s an important point to remember: the FBI doesn’t immediately purge the fingerprints of a missing person who has been proven dead. They just add the note. Even if a person is dead, those prints can still be valuable. They might be useful in helping solve cold cases or for identifying bodies following a disaster. That’s why they have a policy to wait seven years before purging them.

How it pertains to Tammen: If the FBI purged Ron Tammen’s prints in 2002 because he’d been confirmed dead seven years prior, that would mean that he would have died in 1995 at the latest. The FBI was still using its manual system in 1995. They were still using fingerprint jackets, and there should have been a note in the jacket saying that he was dead, and perhaps when he’d died.

As one knowledgeable source said:

“And even if a print had been identified as deceased, in that jacket, there still would have been information written in there by hand that it had been identified as deceased individual such-and-such. So all that would have been automated [after IAFIS was introduced], along with the actual fingerprints themselves that were digitized.”

Ostensibly, no notes have been written claiming that Tammen is deceased. However, it also bears repeating that, even if they’d found Tammen to be dead, it wouldn’t be reason for immediately tossing his fingerprints. They would have waited the seven years. If the FBI doesn’t think it should just toss the prints of a dead person right away, I doubt very much that they’d purge the fingerprints of a missing person who’d managed to evade detection for many years as an adult.

Would the FBI purge a missing person’s prints after they’re found?

Same answer as above. The fact that a missing person was located would be noted in the jacket but the fingerprint card would be retained. A court order would be needed to physically remove the print—which would also include a note saying that the prints had been expunged. Otherwise, they’d wait until that person was 110 years of age or seven years after confirmed death.

How it pertains to Tammen: Again, no explanatory information was in his file—no record of having been located and, as pointed out earlier, no record of his being found dead, and no record of a court-ordered purging. Also, to further drive home this point, if the FBI isn’t willing to purge a missing person’s fingerprints after they’ve been found, why would they remove them while he was still out there, unaccounted for? Answer: they wouldn’t.

How do you fingerprint a dead body?

[Warning: this is gross] If an unknown deceased body was discovered, sometimes the fingerprints would be in bad shape due to decomposition. However, fingerprints have three ridges that penetrate the skin fairly deeply. In such cases, a technician would put on rubber gloves and remove the skin down to a more, um, legible layer, shall we say? Then, they’d roll those prints on a ten print card. According to one former employee, any fingerprint that came from a deceased body was generally of poor quality—too dark or too light. Therefore, it was often difficult to conduct a manual search using a dead person’s fingerprints.

How it pertains to Tammen: Sorry about that. But if Ron Tammen died and the FBI confirmed that he died, they might have had to do that. We don’t know.

What types of records are kept after fingerprints are expunged?

We’re building up to one of our primary take-home messages, and here it is: Fingerprints aren’t supposed to just disappear without some sort of record. Based on information provided by Stephen Fischer in 2015, no other info was available on Tammen other than the fact that his prints were expunged in 2002. But the removal of fingerprints while they were considered still active would require some note of explanation regarding when they were removed and why. And these notes of explanation were all to be digitized as part of IAFIS.

According to FBI protocol back then, the notes were to be printed in the file jacket on sheets called Additional Record Sheets or ARS’s. Not only did the ARS require an employee to provide their employee number and date the sheet any time they removed the file, but they also were required “to record any disseminations of the record, including notations of expungement or purges of record entries, such as deletions of arrests for non-serious offenses.”

And here was their record retention policy after adding these notes to IAFIS:

Hard copy files: DESTROY after verification of a successful scan.

Scanned version: DELETE when the individual has reached 99 years of age, or 7 years have elapsed since notification of individual’s death, whichever is later.

ARS
Instructions regarding how notations were to be made on the Additional Record Sheets, and later, how the ARS’s were to be digitized when CJIS converted to IAFIS.

You guys, and I’ll put this in bold italics for added emphasis: the information on Tammen’s ARS should theoretically still be available for his expunged fingerprints.

There was an additional record-keeping system that the FBI used to implement between the years 1958 and 1999. When the FBI purged a fingerprint file, they would put those fingerprints on microfilm for archival purposes. However, CJIS stopped making microfilm copies after IAFIS was implemented, which had been in place for roughly three years when Tammen’s prints were purged. Therefore, the microfilm library doesn’t apply to Tammen’s case.

How it pertains to Tammen: In February 2008, when former Butler County, OH, cold case detective Frank Smith requested a “hand search” for Tammen’s fingerprints, CJIS sent this response a couple days later by Fax:

“A SEARCH OF OUR CRIMINAL AND CIVIL FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR YOUR SUBJECT. A COMPLETE SEARCH OF OUR ARCHIVE MICROFILM FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR THIS MISSING SUBJECT AS WELL.”

What the CJIS rep neglected to tell the detective—a member of law enforcement, and therefore a supposedly valued working partner of the FBI’s—was that they’d expunged them in 2002. So, to recap:

  • It appears as if someone in the Identification Division or CJIS didn’t document, didn’t digitize, or flat-out destroyed the ARS notations from Tammen’s manual jacket, including the reason for the expungement of his fingerprints in 2002, which is a clear break with protocol.
  • CJIS also didn’t disclose to the Butler County Sheriff’s Department the full extent of their knowledge about the case, the very least of which would be that they’d expunged Ron’s prints in 2002. This, in my view, is another break in protocol since I would think that members of law enforcement should generally try to be forthcoming with one another. (I’m guessing that, if the FBI had told Smith that they’d expunged the prints, they could anticipate a potential follow-up question that they didn’t feel like answering. Something along the lines of “Oh, really? Why?”)

Does the FBI verify someone’s identity before they expunge their prints?

The FBI will not purge someone’s fingerprints unless they’re certain that the person whose prints they’re purging is who they think he or she is. If the FBI is purging fingerprints because of a court order, the court or submitting agency would have to provide identification to ensure that the FBI was removing the right set of prints. Often, this would involve another set of fingerprints since fingerprints are still one of the best ways to identify someone. Other times, they may get away with simply providing telling details, such as the FBI number, the date of the arrest, and other specifics on the case, but fingerprints are still best. In the case of a deceased person or a missing person’s fingerprints being purged, a source said that it would be based on comparing two sets of fingerprints to make sure they’re the same individual.

How it pertains to Tammen: Think about the above paragraph for a second and maybe read it again, because it says a lot. First, the FBI wouldn’t have purged Ron Tammen’s fingerprints without verifying that they were indeed Ron Tammen’s prints. This helps solve a gnarly little question about the year in which Ron would have supposedly died. If they purged his prints in 2002, that would mean that Ron had probably died around 1995. Well, guess who else died in 1995: Ronald Tammen, Sr., who died on January 10 in Florida. So that was always a possibility. But according to my FBI sources, this likely didn’t happen because they would have verified it. Second, if they purged Ron’s fingerprints in 2002 because he’d been dead for seven years, then they would have verified those prints against a second set of prints sometime around 1995. Remember what Stephen Fischer had said about the seven-year rule: “seven years after confirmed death.” That means that they would have confirmed Ron to be dead by comparing his prints against the prints on file, and then waited seven years before the system purged them. That could also mean that they know where his remains are. Third is the question raised by the source who said it could be that someone tossed Ron’s prints because he would now be an adult who doesn’t want to be found. If the FBI ensures that every fingerprint that’s purged needs to be verified, then that rule would nullify this possibility. How could they verify that it’s the correct person if they don’t have a second set of prints with which to compare his to?

Discussion: When a missing person’s records go missing

Are we any closer to being able to say that the FBI knows more than they’re letting on? I think so. It’s clear that the FBI broke protocol at least once, and possibly more than once when dealing with Ron’s fingerprints. Since the last update, I’ve submitted several more FOIAs, one of which has to do with the question about Ron’s father. Although I’m nearly positive that it was Ron Jr.’s fingerprints that were purged in 2002, I’ve submitted a FOIA request asking the FBI to search the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) offline historical database for any files on Mr. Tammen too, including evidence of possible fingerprint files. If they don’t have anything, I think we can safely conclude they were Ron Jr.’s. With this latest post, you can see that there are more FOIA requests to submit, including, for example, an in-depth search of Ron’s digitized Additional Record Sheets.

It’s probably also a good time to raise another possibility with you, a “what if?” that may have been in the back of some readers’ minds throughout this entire blog. What if Ron’s fingerprints weren’t destroyed because he died in 1995 but because someone in a high place decided that, for whatever reason, they needed to be purged—someone who also didn’t want telltale notes getting in the way of “plausible deniability.”  Missing notes and expunged fingerprints aren’t smoking guns. The missing notes could possibly be blamed on anything: a distracted employee, an inadvertent mix-up, a computer glitch, whatever. Or they may have never existed at all. Likewise, it’s extremely tough to explain why fingerprints were expunged when the records that could give the backstory on why they’re missing are also missing.

Most maddening of all is that If I were to lay out my (nonexistent) evidence before an official FBI spokesperson, this is what I’d get:

IDK

That’s essentially what I got when I asked them a while back to comment, yes or no, whether they’d confirmed that Ron was dead. Remember what the spokesperson said? “The FBI has a right to decline requests.”

All along, I’ve been pointing to the FBI’s 2002 purging of Ron’s fingerprints as reason to believe that Tammen is dead. But if the missing documents and destroyed fingerprints tell us anything, it’s that, for whatever reason, the FBI may have made the decision to break protocol in Tammen’s case. And if protocol wasn’t being followed, well, that opens up a whole range of new possibilities, doesn’t it? I mean, could it be that Tammen, who would be 87 on the 23rd of this month, is still alive after all?

 

A dead body in Georgia

(and other perfectly good clues that were ignored by investigators)

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Photo credit: Matthias Zomer at Pexels (cropped image)

By now, I think you should have a pretty good indication of how (in my opinion) the city of Oxford, Ohio, and Miami University conducted their investigations into Tammen’s disappearance. I’ll say it here plainly, just so there’s no confusion: They did a really bad job.

Time and again, investigators would lament in the news about what few clues they had to go on after Tammen disappeared. Sure, they’d received some early tips about several area hitchhikers and an apartment dweller in Cincinnati, but none of those panned out. Then, Clara Spivey came forward with her alleged late-night Ron sighting in Seven Mile, and they finally felt as if they had a true lead. (In response to one reader’s request, we’ll be discussing Mrs. Spivey’s story in more detail in another post that I’m planning for Tuesday, November 6. You’ll have a chance to vote on whether you believe the person who appeared at her door was Ron or not.**)

After Mrs. Spivey’s call in late June 1953, investigators hit another dry spell clue-wise, which supposedly lasted 20 long years. In 1973, the drought ended, at least for the interested public, when reporter Joe Cella revealed that Ronald Tammen had visited Dr. Garret Boone’s office five months before he disappeared to have his blood type tested. We also learned that university officials had already known about the doctor’s visit shortly after Tammen went missing. They just didn’t view it as a clue.

So, Mrs. Spivey’s story? Definite clue.

Dr. Boone’s? Not so much.

When it came to determining whether something was a potential clue or not, these guys were (again, my opinion) clueless.

We’ve already covered some additional details about Tammen’s disappearance that I would categorize as clues. Some of the most significant ones include:

  • Song practiceRon is alleged to have been to song practice at the Delt house the night he disappeared and had walked back to the dorms with two other guys at around 10:30 p.m. If true, Ron disappeared more than two hours later than what was widely reported.
  • The fightRon allegedly had a fight with his younger brother Richard in the third-floor bathroom of Fisher Hall the night he disappeared.
  • The woman from HamiltonRon was supposedly seen seated in a car with a woman from Hamilton for a long time and then driving away with her late that night.
  • The psych bookRon had been reported reading his psychology book the afternoon that he disappeared, and his psychology book was left open on his desk, even though he’d dropped his psychology course earlier that semester.
  • The things in Ron’s backgroundRon Tammen might have had “things in his background” that were consistent with his having experienced dissociation (amnesia).
  • The dead fish
    Ron likely hadn’t slept in his bed at least one night, and possibly two, before his disappearance. We know this because Dick Titus had put the fish in Ron’s bed after class on Saturday or perhaps even Friday.

All of the above (and probably more) were known by university officials and Oxford police. If they viewed these details as clues, they chose not to make them public. But from what I can tell, they didn’t do much more than the most perfunctory of probes either. In particular, they could have pursued the rumor about the woman from Hamilton more enthusiastically, enlisting the news media for help. The Journal-News could have run the headline “Tammen allegedly last seen in car with woman from Hamilton,” and the accompanying article could have closed with “Anyone with information is asked to call this number.” But, nah.

And, let’s not forget Heber Hiram (H.H.) Stephenson, the housing official who swore up and down that he’d seen Tammen sitting in a hotel restaurant with a small group of men in Wellsville, NY, on Wednesday, August 5, 1953. Stephenson had shared this information with university officials immediately upon his return—the next day, he said—and we see the cryptic “H.H.S., Aug. 5, 1953, Wellsville, New York” in Knox’s notes to confirm that a conversation had indeed taken place. Again, if it hadn’t been for Joe Cella revealing the detail in 1976, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it now.

HHS Note

So I have to ask: If the potential sighting by Mrs. Spivey was such a promising clue back on June 29, 1953, when it was first reported in the news, why wouldn’t H.H. Stephenson’s potential sighting have been considered just as promising when he reported it on August 6, about five weeks later? Hi Stephenson knew Ron. Clara Spivey didn’t.

And I have to follow with this question: Did university officials even think to alert the FBI about Stephenson’s story? On May 26, 1953, the FBI had a missing person file on Tammen, and roughly one week earlier, Carl Knox had informed Tammen’s parents that the FBI had been attending faculty conferences. Also, by July 27, 1953, Ron was listed as delinquent for his draft board physical, and therefore, in violation of the Selective Service Act. Carl Knox should have called them—immediately—and reported that an acquaintance of Ronald Tammen’s was quite sure he’d spotted him at a hotel restaurant in Wellsville, NY, the previous day. The FBI could have summoned their Buffalo office to check things out, and the Buffalo agents, in turn, could have shown the proprietor Ron’s picture and asked if anyone had seen him. They could have checked the hotel’s registry for the names of the young men. They could have asked if anyone had spoken with them, and if so, why were they there? Where were they going? Heck, if Knox had told them soon enough, the FBI could have possibly even dusted the lookalike’s chair for fingerprints, or, if he’d stayed overnight, the furniture in his room. But judging from the Stephenson quote in Joe Cella’s article, he was never approached again. Here’s what he told Cella: “I was under the impression all these years that my story was generally known by everyone, since Dr. Knox knew about it and was handling the investigation for the university. I am amazed to hear that this information was not known until now.” There’s nothing in the FBI files to indicate such a report was called in either.

So, again, Mrs. Spivey? Clue!

H.H. Stephenson? Better luck next time!

Which brings us to the spring of 1955, two years after Ronald Tammen’s disappearance, when Miami University received yet another potential clue in the Tammen case. Again, by all indications, officials promptly chose to sweep it under the rug.

The clue came in the form of a letter dated May 10, 1955, and addressed to: “Dean of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.” As vaguely worded as that was, it must have found its way to Carl Knox, who was still dean of men at that time, and several copies can be found in the Tammen materials at University Archives. The letter was signed by Major Delmar Jones, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Major Jones told of a dead body that had been found near LaFayette, Georgia, on June 24, 1953. The GBI, having received a news clipping about Tammen, was wondering if the body might have been Ron’s.

Here’s what the letter said:

Dear Sir:

A newspaper clipping was turned over to this Bureau several days ago by Mr. Hill Pope, the coroner of Walker County, Georgia. We do not know from whom this clipping came but it has reference to a young man by the name of RONALD TAMMEN, a nineteen year old sophomore who disappeared from your institution approximately two years ago.

Someone had evidently secured knowledge whereby we were trying to identify a badly decomposed body that was found on the outskirts of LaFayette, Georgia, on June 24, 1953.

This investigation is still pending, and we are still endeavoring to ascertain the identification of this body.

It will be appreciated very much if you will give us the full details and complete description of Ronald Tammen so that we may compare them with the identification of the unidentified body.

Your response to this communication will be appreciated very much and we will do everything in our power to assist in locating the subject Ronald Tammen if he should be in our territory.

Yours very truly,

Delmar Jones, Major – Director

GEORGIA BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION

[View a copy of the original.]

Delmar Jones was Georgia’s number one law enforcement official from 1948 to 1962, and not someone to be taken lightly. (In 1962, he was demoted to trooper by the governor for campaigning for the former governor in a primary election, which, I suppose, was a risk he’d been willing to take.) Granted, H.H. Stephenson and Garret Boone weren’t slouches either. But you’d have to think that a letter from Georgia’s version of J. Edgar Hoover would have elicited some sort of response from the university.

I have no idea if Carl Knox or anyone else got back to Major Jones. In Miami’s archives, there are no carbon copies of letters mailed in reply. Perhaps Dean Knox placed a phone call to Major Jones, suggesting that the GBI contact the FBI, although no surviving FOIA documents indicate that contact had been made. (As a side note, Ron’s Selective Service case with the FBI was closed on April 29, 1955, 11 days before the GBI letter was written.) Or maybe officials called Major Jones and provided a full accounting of the case over the phone, but the GBI ruled Ron out for some reason and didn’t follow up with anyone. By all accounts, no one seemed to mention the letter to Joe Cella, Gil Wright, or Murray Seeger, since there are no news reports about a dead body in Georgia being possibly tied to Tammen’s case. I don’t even think the university bothered to tell the Oxford police. When I asked my friend Ralph (not his real name), the former cop who was still with the Oxford PD that year and several years after, he was surprised—stunned, actually—to hear about the letter.

So, once more: Confused guy on Mrs. Spivey’s doorstep on the night Tammen disappeared?

👍👍👍

Dead body found in ditch 400 miles south of Oxford two months later?

👎

Here’s what we can safely assume: no one went to the lengths that officials went to in late 2007 and early 2008 when, on their own, without even initially knowing about Delmar Jones’ letter, the Walker County, Georgia’s, Sheriff’s Office hypothesized that the two cold cases might be related.

It happened like this:

Mike Freeman, the cold case detective for Walker County, was conducting an end-of-the-year review of unsolved cases in his portfolio when his boss, Sheriff Steve Wilson, posed a question to him.

“What about that dead body found in a ravine back in 1953?” Wilson asked him (or something along those lines). Wilson wasn’t around when the dead body was discovered—he was born several years later—but his dad used to tell him about it, and he can point out the location to anyone who asks. To this day, people in the area refer to the site as Dead Man’s Hollow.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_70b
Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson stands next to the site where the dead body was found in 1953.

Freeman didn’t know anything about the case, but the story intrigued him. The department no longer had a file, so, for starters, he headed to the local library (which, conveniently, is just a few buildings away from the sheriff’s department) and found news articles that ran at the time the body was found. Based on information found in the articles, he learned that an autopsy was conducted by the state medical examiner’s office, which, thankfully, he was able to obtain. [Read the full autopsy report here.]

The details, provided in news accounts and the autopsy, aren’t pretty. The body was found in a highly decomposed state in a wooded ravine off Rogers Road, five miles south of LaFayette, on June 24, 1953. According to Dr. Herman Jones, director of the GBI crime lab (and probably no relation to Delmar, but who really knows?), it was “heavily infested from head to foot with maggots and other worms,” a sure sign that the man had been dead for a while. What was left of his face (which, by that point, was devoid of soft tissue and therefore any recognizable features) was angled upward, toward the sky, and his arms and legs were fully extended, kind of like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

Some features were still discernible. His hair was dark brown to black, his height was 5’9,” and, when he was alive, and still had all of his internal organs and tissues in place, his weight would have been around 150 pounds. He had long arms and long slender fingers from which extended nails that were also long and “apparently well kept,” according to Dr. Jones, who’d conducted the autopsy on the same day the body was found. The decedent’s teeth weren’t as well cared for as his nails. Two lower back molars had large cavities in them and several teeth had been extracted. “No dental work done,” Dr. Jones reported, which could be interpreted to mean that he didn’t have any fillings or crowns. There was no evidence that any of the bones in his body had been broken, either recently or in the past. He was estimated to be between 25 and 30 years of age.

The man was wearing only a white T-shirt, size 38, with four round holes in it, and boxer shorts, size 32, the kind with buttons up the fly and a drawstring around the waist. Two khaki-colored wool socks lay at his feet. One sock lay near where his left foot should have been—it was missing, as were the toes on his right foot—and the other sock lay between his straddled legs. (Dr. Jones blamed an animal for the missing foot.) The shorts and socks were military-issue—U.S. Army. A quarter-inch-wide rubber band encircled each ankle, most likely to blouse the bottom of each pant leg, a common practice of G.I.s so that the full boot shows underneath. As for the man’s boots and pants, they were nowhere to be found, but, based on the items that had been left behind, it was clear that he was probably a soldier. What wasn’t clear was how the man died, though officials presumed it was a homicide. According to the sheriff at that time, the holes in his T-shirt were about the size of .38-caliber bullets, however Dr. Jones found no broken bones or skull damage and no evidence of foreign bodies.

The GBI also conducted an investigation (hence Delmar Jones’ letter), and they exhumed the body a second time after the autopsy for additional analysis, including obtaining fingerprints. The Army conducted an investigation as well. Unfortunately, neither have been able to produce records on the case.

Freeman went on the internet—something they obviously didn’t have in 1953—and searched for missing persons from that year. He immediately discovered the treasure trove of websites discussing the Tammen case (except, alas, for this one, which obviously came later). Freeman noted that both LaFayette and Oxford were on U.S. Route 27, and, in fact, the dead soldier was discovered only about 200 yards away from the highway. If Ron had been hitchhiking to Florida, he thought, it was the best possible route to take, since there was no interstate system back then. Ron’s height, weight, and hair color seemed to be in the ballpark too, and his age wasn’t too far off. Ron wasn’t in the Army, but who’s to say that he didn’t enlist after he left Miami? It was worth a shot.

Freeman contacted Frank Smith, Butler County’s cold case detective at that time, and the two decided to make use of another new technology—DNA testing—to determine if the dead man was Tammen. On February 8, 2008, Freeman, Wilson, and Smith, along with Georgia’s chief medical examiner, GBI’s forensic anthropologist, Walker County’s coroner, members of the media, and curious onlookers witnessed the exhumation of remains buried in an unmarked grave in Lot 206 , Block A, in LaFayette Cemetery. The few bone remnants they obtained were forwarded to the FBI and other facilities for DNA testing. The results would be compared with a DNA sample that had been submitted a couple weeks prior by Tammen’s sister Marcia.

The following June, they got their answer: there was no match. The soldier wasn’t Tammen. It was a big disappointment, but cold case detectives probably get used to these sorts of let-downs. Interestingly, I arrived at the same conclusion in another, more roundabout way. In August 1958, human bones had been found in a gravel pit in Preble County, Ohio, which is about 25 miles north of Oxford. Authorities there had sent bone and teeth samples to Ohio’s Bureau of Identification and Investigation, in New London, for analysis to see if the remains might be Ron’s. (Before DNA testing, dental records were the primary method for identifying unknown victims and they’re still valuable today.)

According to an article in the August 17, 1958, Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Preble County sheriff had said that no dental work had been performed on the teeth that they’d unearthed, though, admittedly, the set was incomplete.

The article continued:

 Ronald’s mother, when informed of the find, said that her son had several teeth filled.

“Also, his upper teeth lapped,” she continued, “and he had planned to have them straightened.”

“Furthermore, he had a couple of broken bones that could be identified. When he was three, he got a broken collarbone jumping off a bed. Later, playing football in the street, he broke one of the small bones in one of his hands.”

As you’ll recall, the dead soldier in Georgia appeared to have had no dental work and no evidence of having broken any bones. Plus, there was no mention of an overlap of the front teeth. Based on the fact that Ron had had several fillings plus the overlap plus a couple broken bones, it’s obvious that, even before the DNA test, the person buried in Walker County, Georgia, wasn’t Tammen. The DNA evidence sealed the deal.

Miami and Oxford officials couldn’t have stated the above so unequivocally. In fact, it almost seems as if they’d given up looking for Tammen not long after he disappeared. Did someone in a position of authority tell them to stop their investigation? I wonder.

*******

Oh, and P.S. As for the dead guy in Georgia, could it have been Richard Cox? I wonder about that sometimes too…

**NOTE: For those who prefer to vote early, the Mrs. Spivey post is now up! You can find it here: https://ronaldtammen.com/2018/11/01/a-late-night-knock-at-the-door/.

The fish in Ron’s bed

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Photo credit: Michael Weidner onUnsplash

Let’s take a breather from the whole hypnosis/amnesia/psych book question right now. Rest assured, things are happening in that arena as we speak—things having to do with (fingers crossed) the possible declassification of key names on significant documents. But these things take time, and I need to chill for a little while and let some important people make their pivotal decisions in peace. We’ll jump right back over to that topic as soon as there’s a new development.

In the meantime, let’s talk about the fish in Ron’s bed a little more. Why? Because there’s something intriguing about that fish story that I haven’t shared with you yet.

We already know that the fish was a prank, not a message from the Mafia. We also know who put it there. It was Richard (Dick) Titus, the guy who lived down the hall from Ron in room 212. The same guy who’d been studying with Ron at around 7 p.m. on April 19, 1953. In 2010, he confessed to me that he was the culprit behind the fish prank and, in 2013, he elaborated a little more on the incident. So, what more can that fish—that cold, slimy, disgusting, long-dead fish—teach us about Ronald Tammen?

Think of it this way: in these emotionally charged and divisive times, when no one seems to agree on much of anything, I present to you one shining example of a core belief with which all of humanity can surely agree. And that time-honored value is this: no one in his or her right mind would ever knowingly sleep with a dead fish in their bed.

Keeping that singular uniting principle in mind—that people of all stripes are inherently averse to sleeping with rotting fish—isn’t it just a little bit odd that Ronald Tammen would wait to change his sheets until Sunday night, when the fish had been there since at least one day prior, and possibly two?

That’s right. During our second or perhaps third conversation, Dick Titus and I had moved beyond his surprise revelation of being the person behind the fish in Ron’s bed and conducted a deep dive into the question of when he put it there. Walking me through the incident with what seemed to be the clarity of his adolescent self, Dick told me that it happened on the way home from class. He didn’t have retaliation on his mind, he told me. In their ongoing game of prank/counterprank, Ron had most recently short-sheeted Dick’s bed, throwing in some Rice Krispies for added crunch. In this telling, Dick told me that their back-and-forth had been going on for about a month and that Dick had allowed some time to go by after Ron’s latest stunt. (This version differs from our 2010 conversation, when his timeline was a little more condensed. In that interview, he’d said that Ron had pulled the sheet trick the day before he disappeared. I allowed the slight variation and continued listening.)

It was on Dick’s walk home that he spotted the dead fish in the pond outside of Fisher Hall, and a lightbulb had gone off. “Perfect,” his 18-year-old brain told him. He managed to bring the fish ashore and then carried it upstairs (by the tail? under his arm? I forgot to ask him for those specifics, but I’m sure it was gross) and placed the fish in Ron Tammen’s bed. It could have been a Saturday, because classes were held on Saturday mornings in those days. It might have even been as early as Friday. But, in his mind, it was most definitely not on Sunday.

Here’s a paraphrased snippet from our conversation that I typed up after we spoke:

Dick: I remember I was coming back from class, so it had to be a Friday or Saturday.

Me: Did you take the fish up to Ron’s bed right away?

Dick (sounding a little perplexed): Yes…so I don’t understand why he didn’t change his bed until that Sunday. Unless he didn’t come back to his room until Sunday.

Bingo.

In 1953, they didn’t have security cameras to track everyone’s comings and goings. There were no towers registering the pings of nearby cell phones. There was no such thing as GPS. However, thanks to Dick Titus, there was a fairly foolproof tracking device in Ronald Tammen’s room the weekend that he disappeared. Because of that foul little fish, we can reasonably conclude that Ron hadn’t slept in his bed on Saturday, the 18th, and he might not have been there the preceding Friday night either.

I know what you’re thinking. Can we trust the memory of someone 60 years after an event had taken place? I’d wondered about that too. Maybe Dick Titus hadn’t spotted the fish while returning from a class. Maybe he’d been walking back to Fisher Hall after some Sunday activity—a baseball game, a fraternity function, a trip to the library—and that’s how his brain had edited the scene. We already know that his 2013 timeline was a little different from the one in 2010. Could he have gotten things scrambled?

Fortunately, Murray Seeger, a nationally renowned reporter who was employed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in the 1950s, published an article on May 4, 1956, that supports the story Dick told in 2013. The article said this:

“At about 8 p.m., [Tammen] went downstairs and asked the house manager for clean linen. Some freshmen pranksters had put a dead fish in his bed the night before.” [emphasis added]

It wasn’t some pranksters, it was one prankster. And, according to Titus, it happened during the day, not the night. But Seeger places the fish in Ron’s bed at least on the Saturday before Ron went missing. I’d call that corroborating evidence.

A two-day-old fish in Ron’s bed also helps clear up one minor mystery I’d been grappling with for a while. Namely, if Ron wasn’t planning to go to bed early Sunday evening—if he were still planning to attend song practice, for example—what would have motivated him to change his sheets at 8 p.m.? In other words, how would he even know about the fish unless he’d turned down the covers? But after at least two days, I’d think that the fish would have made its presence known even before Ron observed the visual evidence. Put simply, I’m sure it was smelling up the room.

The fish was probably one of several topics university investigators spoke about with Dick, whose name is included in Dean Knox’s notes, though the fish isn’t mentioned. The feds were well aware of the fish. Dick described to me a time in which two men from the FBI paid a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Titus at their home in Rocky River to discuss the fish incident, scaring poor Dick to death. [View Carl Knox’s note by clicking here.]

Even though we can deduce that Tammen wasn’t in his bed that Saturday night, we still don’t know where he went. It had to have been late when he arrived, however. He was said to have been playing with the Campus Owls at the Omicron Delta Kappa carnival that evening and then reportedly at a bull session at the Delt house. His brother Richard had said that he was with Ron until between 11 and 11:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Perhaps Ron was involved with someone whom none of his friends or family knew about. Maybe he was out with a group of people, although that wasn’t exactly like him. I doubt very much that he was alone. Other than stalkers, serial killers, and the occasional cat burglar, who goes out by himself all night?**

If Ronald Tammen was with one or more people on the night of Saturday, April 18, 1953, no one appears to have come forward after he went missing. Were they too embarrassed or afraid? Were they somehow responsible for his disappearance? It’s all just a little…fishy.

***********************************

(** Note: Stargazers, late-night wayfarers, sometimes insomniacs, etc., excepted, though I don’t think these describe Ron very well either.)

A case of amnesia, part 2: Things in Ron’s background

who am I?
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In May 2011, I was conversing by email with a Miami alum, let’s call him Peter, who was a psychology major at Miami when Ronald Tammen disappeared. Like many students, Peter was curious about Ron’s disappearance and read whatever stories he could find on it. Peter also had a friendly acquaintance with Dr. Patten, then-chair of Miami’s psychology department, and looked up to him as a mentor, which wasn’t unusual. Dr. Patten was highly respected in the psych department—knowledgeable, yet warm and grandfatherly.

Here’s a remembrance Peter shared with me that provides yet another reason why investigators likely thought Ronald Tammen had amnesia. I’ve copied the email directly, typos and parenthetical asides included. I have, however, inserted a missing word or two in brackets for clarity or correction.

 Reason #3: There were ‘things in his background’

“Now, when Ron ‘vanished’ the university formed a committee of facility [sic] and administrators (I don’t really know who was on the committee). Patten was the chair, and there was a short article in The [Miami] Student saying the committee had met (I don’t know if it was more than once) and had concluded that Ron’s disappearance was most likely due to a dissociation (forgetting who he was, where he belonged, wandering, etc.)…

 “When I saw Patten I said I’d seen the article in The Student, and that the committee felt the best explanation was the dissociation hypothesis. He commented, and I believe this is exactly what he [said], ‘Yes. There are things in his background that would be consistent with that.’ Naturally, I asked ‘Really? What kind of things?’ (or words to that effect). Unfortunately, Dr. Patten said, ‘Well, I can’t comment on that.’ (I’m sure that is exactly what he said.) So…I never heard what things in Ron’s background had been considered to be ‘consistent’ with proneness to a dissociative disorder.”

Peter’s story raised a number of questions in my mind, the first being something along the lines of: What the …?! 

And then:

  1. What could be in Ronald Tammen’s background that would be consistent with dissociation?
  2. How would Dr. Patten (and a university committee of faculty and administrators) have known about something in Ron’s background that would lead them to such a conclusion?
  3. What faculty panel? I don’t remember reading about a faculty panel.
  4. Oh, and by the way: where was this Miami Student article that Peter referred to?

The first thing I tried to do was locate the article and, guys, I might as well break it to you sooner rather than later: I can’t find it. I asked Peter when it ran, and he said that he thought it was early, before the semester ended. That would make sense, because that’s when the amnesia theory came to the forefront. But, from what I can tell, there were only five articles on Ronald Tammen that appeared in the Miami Student between April 19 and the end of classes for the spring 1953 semester. Here are the titles, with links to the applicable issue:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, April 24, 1953, Miami Sophomore Missing, page 1, near bottom

Tuesday, April 28, 1953, Missing Youth Baffles Police; Clues Lacking, page 1, upper left

Friday, May 1, 1953, no article

Tuesday, May 5, 1953, Police Find No Trace of Tammen, page 1, upper right

Friday, May 8, 1953, Must Tongues Wag?, page 2, editorial section

Tuesday, May 12, 1953, no article

Friday, May 15, 1953, no article

Tuesday, May 19, 1953, no article

Friday, May 22, 1953, no article

Tuesday, May 26, 1953, Name of Tammen Added to Missing Persons by FBI, page 4, upper right

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s not as if any issues are missing. The Miami Student published every Tuesday and Friday (except for vacation days and the week that followed), and they all appear to be there, online. I also checked for possible articles on the faculty panel that might have run during the next academic year, and nothing turned up. I asked Peter if it could have been in another publication—some internal newsletter that the psych department put out or something. He said no. Still, his memory was unwavering about his conversation with Dr. Patten. We discussed the scenario several times, and the details remained consistent.

Even though the article that Peter recalls reading is nowhere to be found, we do have a few details to help corroborate his story:

Dr. Patten was an early spokesperson on the Tammen story…


As we already know from the preceding post, Dr. Patten became a spokesperson on the Tammen story fairly quickly. As early as April 28, 1953, he was quoted by Gilson Wright for his article that ran in the Dayton Daily News. If Patten had headed up a faculty panel and that information was somehow made public at Miami, that would have put him on Gilson Wright’s radar for an interview request. That’s what reporters do—they call the person who’s in charge. It makes a lot more sense for Wright to approach Dr. Patten about his views on amnesia and overstudy if he knew that Patten was leading a panel that had already declared publicly that Ronald Tammen’s disappearance was probably “due to a dissociation.”

…a spokesperson who seemed to know more than he was saying publicly.


In the communications field, there’s one response that PR flacks far and wide are forever advising subject experts not to say when speaking with a reporter. That response is “no comment.” To say “no comment” implies that you’re hiding something—that you know something that you don’t think should be made public. In his April 28, 1953, Dayton Daily News article, Wright reported this about Patten: “He refused to comment on the Tammen case except to say that it is his ‘guess’ that the Maple Heights, O., youth will be found alive.” Refused to comment. Not even a more subtle “hesitated to” or “didn’t wish to” comment. He flat-out refused.

Here’s why I think that Wright was practically quoting Patten verbatim when he wrote that sentence: it’s because of what Peter said he remembered Patten saying to him about why things in Ron’s background were consistent with dissociation. “Well, I can’t comment on that,” Patten had said, according to Peter.

Think about it. If someone asked you if you knew where Jimmy Hoffa was buried, would you say, “I can’t comment on that”? Only if you were kidding around. The more typical response would be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Dr. Patten’s response to the reporter hints to me that he had access to additional information about Tammen that, for some reason, he wasn’t ready, willing, or able to discuss publicly, which would be consistent with Peter’s account.

Faculty were meeting about Tammen.


Not long ago, I was revisiting some old news articles and landed on this headline from the May 18, 1953, issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “FBI Joins Hunt for Miami Student.” The article, which was written principally to inform readers that Tammen had been added to the FBI’s missing persons list, includes this sentence that I’d somehow previously overlooked: “Dean Carl Knox told the boy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald H. Tammen, Sr., that the FBI had been called into faculty conferences.”

It’s one thing for law enforcement to meet with university officials about Tammen. “Officials” generally means administrators, which, in the case of Tammen’s disappearance, usually meant Carl Knox. But if Carl Knox informed the family that there were faculty conferences about Tammen’s disappearance, that has an entirely different connotation—professors. Professors seated around a table. Professors discussing what they knew about Ronald Tammen with a representative of the FBI.

One possible theory worth mulling over is that Ronald Tammen’s psychology textbook—potentially open to a section on posthypnotic suggestion—could very well have inspired Dean Knox to convene a faculty committee to see if they could determine where Ron’s head was when he disappeared. If that’s the case, it would make sense to install the chair of the psychology department, Everett F. Patten, a noted hypnosis expert, as head of the panel. It also would have made sense to ask the three faculty members listed in Carl Knox’s notepad—Professors Dennison, Delp, and Switzer—to take part on the panel as well.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know who was participating on the faculty panel. The article Peter remembers having read no longer seems to be in the public record. Also, no notes from any faculty conferences have turned up—not in the university’s archives, and not in the FBI’s Central Records System either.

Dr. Patten indeed thought that Ron had experienced dissociation.


In an article that ran in the Miami Student on April 20, 1965, Dr. Patten was once again approached about his theories on what happened to Tammen. This time, however, he didn’t refuse to comment. Instead, the newspaper reported the following:

“Consulted at the present time, Dr. Patten added, ‘Tammen’s condition can be labeled as a fugue, which is a species of conversion hysteria, characterized by wandering and other unusual antics of which the individual is not conscious.’”

The word “fugue” is a shortened term for dissociative fugue, which involves forgetting one’s identity and wandering, as Peter described in his email. It’s a subcategory of dissociative (or functional or psychogenic) amnesia. (The term “hysteria” is generally not used to describe this condition anymore.) It’s also rare, estimated to occur in only 0.2 percent of the general population.

Perhaps Dr. Patten felt he could speak more openly by that time—a dozen years after Tammen disappeared and two months before Patten would retire. Also, four years earlier—in 1961—he’d stepped down as department chair and turned the reigns over to Dr. Switzer. Perhaps he felt freer to speak because he was speaking only for himself, and not as the whole department or as the head of a faculty panel.

By that time, Dr. Patten’s opinion wasn’t necessarily the popular viewpoint. In 1960, the Dayton Daily News had printed an article that provided this update: “Two theories—that the youth met with foul play or that he was a victim of amnesia—have long since been discarded. A third theory, that he deliberately planned to leave the campus and to start a new life under an assumed name, is considered ‘most likely’ by authorities.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Patten didn’t have the long, enjoyable retirement that he earned from all his years of teaching and administering. He passed away in September 1966 at the age of 71, taking with him whatever knowledge he had about Tammen’s tendency toward dissociation.

I believe Peter did have that conversation with Dr. Patten all those years ago. But when I asked Ron’s siblings if they were aware of anything in Ron’s background that might make him prone to dissociation, no one had an inkling what it could be. They couldn’t recall any time in their brother’s past when he’d forgotten who he was and wandered off.

Besides, how would Dr. Patten and his fellow professors have found out about Ron’s propensity to forget who he was? Ron was a vigorously private person who strived to present himself to the world in the most positive light. I can’t imagine him volunteering personal details of that nature to a professor or administrator, even if they were true. Also, no such information was included in his student records. His freshman adviser wrote only this about Ron: “Earnest and capable student. Plays in dance bands some. Loyal and well behaved. May have periods of slump in interest.” There was nothing in the realm of “tends to forget who he is and wander.” When I attempted to obtain Ron’s student health records, Miami’s general counsel responded that “medical treatment records are not public records” and “student health records are only maintained for a period of 6 years following attendance.” So, we’re out of luck there too.

Still, it seems unlikely that Ronald Tammen had experienced dissociative fugue, based on its low prevalence and, moreover, how baffled Ron’s family members are by Peter’s story. On the other hand, the similarities between dissociation and hypnosis are well-documented in the scientific literature. In fact, experts in dissociative disorders frequently use hypnosis in the treatment of their patients. For many years, hypnosis had been widely considered to be a dissociative state based on such phenomena as posthypnotic amnesia. According to the 1997 review article “Hypnosis, memory and amnesia” by John F. Kihlstrom (Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences), posthypnotic amnesia “has long been considered to be a laboratory model of the functional amnesias associated with hysteria and dissociation.”

Could it be that Dr. Patten’s references to dissociation and fugue were another way of hypothesizing that Ron may have been experiencing a form of amnesia brought on by hypnosis? If so, was someone from the university tinkering with Tammen’s memory? And for what purpose? And was Ron the only one?

To be continued—A case of amnesia, part 3: Three youths from Ohio

******

A general note of caution: This story gets complicated. Please keep in mind that my mentioning someone here is not intended to imply that he or she had something to do with Ronald Tammen’s disappearance. I’m simply presenting old details about the case next to new ones and asking a few questions. It’s still early.

You have questions? Here are some answers.

Last week, as we were observing the 65th anniversary of Ron Tammen’s disappearance, I promised to address some of your questions. Because that’s how it goes with this mystery, right? Every new tidbit of information brings with it a ton more questions. Some pertain to Ron and his open psych book. Others may have been bugging you for a while, either from earlier blog posts or from the few scant details that were made public about his last moments before going AWOL. Before we begin, let me just say this: you really know your stuff. No, I mean it. Many of you are veritable walking encyclopedias on Ronald Tammen.

Some of your questions are so good that I won’t be able to provide a satisfactory answer to them. They were probably the same questions on the minds of the people who had their hands on whatever evidence was available at the time. In fact, some of your questions could only be answered by those very people because they alone had access to information that was never mentioned to a reporter or even written down on a notepad. (Here’s a question I’d like to ask: why was that?) But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Some of your questions I’ve boiled down to a smaller word count, some I’ve clarified, and some I’ve combined if they cover similar territory. Even if I answered a question during the livestream event, I might still include it here, since some of you may have missed it and I felt like elaborating. Sometimes you really didn’t have a question, but more of a comment, and I felt like riffing on it anyway. Lastly, if I didn’t address a comment you’ve made—and that goes for anytime—don’t be offended. Many of your comments stand on their own and don’t seem to require further discussion from me. Nevertheless, all have been really, really good and totally on point.

Here goes:

Pretend you’re just now starting your project and can interview “Uncle Phil” (former President Phil Shriver). What do you ask him?

As I’ve mentioned before, Dr. Shriver was my first interview, and my questions were pretty uninspired. I did ask him about the Delts though, and I remember how surprised he seemed at my suggestion that it could have been a fraternity prank gone awry. That was the first time anyone had ever raised that question with him, he told me. I remember feeling a little silly—as if I were being scolded for thinking the thought. I quickly moved on to the next question.

Today, knowing everything we know now, the key question I’d most like to ask Dr. Shriver is: Have you ever heard of any hypnosis studies being conducted in the psychology department in the early-1950s? The reason I’d ask him this is because Dr. Shriver seemed to know at least several people in the psychology department. (And bear in mind: just because someone was in the psychology department and/or was a hypnosis expert back then doesn’t mean that I think he or she had something to do with Ron’s disappearance.) There’s a photo of Dr. Shriver socializing in one of the psychology labs in the 1960s. I’ve also seen some of the professors’ names in his daily planner shortly after he’d arrived as the new president. So I’d love to share with him some of my findings and ask for his perspective. Of course, maybe he’d respond in the same way he did to my question about Ron’s fraternity brothers. This time, however, I wouldn’t feel silly or move on to the next question so quickly.

If you were a friend of Ron’s and knew the answer to the mystery on April 18,1953, what would you say to him?

I’m not the type of person who doles out advice. I have enough trouble dealing with my own foibles and day-to-day schtuff to feel as if I have any business telling someone else what I think he or she should say or do when standing at one of life’s crossroads. I’m pretty sure this would still be the case if I had advance knowledge of what was about to happen to Ronald Tammen and why. Granted, if I knew that something bad was going to occur, like if he was going to be jumped by a couple thugs with a pillowcase, of course I’d warn him, risking whatever damage that might inflict on the space-time continuum. (But even if I did warn him on the 18th, who’s to say that the thugs wouldn’t return another day?) Thinking what I think at this moment, I probably wouldn’t say anything instructive or cautionary to Ron Tammen. Instead, I’d use the opportunity to ask him a few questions, because the one place I’ve most longed to be over these past eight years is inside Ronald Tammen’s head. So my three questions would be:

  • I hope you’re doing OK. Is something bothering you? You seem…stressed.
  • Who’s that woman from Hamilton we sometimes see you with? You know, the one with the car?
  • Have you ever heard of some sort of hypnosis studies being conducted in the psych department?

If we had time for one more question, I’d also ask: why did you drive all the way to Hamilton on a Wednesday to have your blood type tested when you could have had it tested on campus or at the blood donation center for free?

And one last thing: As he turned to go, I’d probably wish him well and let him know that he was about to become very, very famous.

Have you seen a picture that really struck you, mystery-related or not?

I love every photo that has anything to do with this story. I especially love every photo of Ron, and how different he looks depending on the circumstances. The wrestling photo in particular fascinates me because he doesn’t look at all like the fraternity guy in the suit. The prom photos of him standing next to Grace are awesome because you can just sense the excitement and the nervousness in the two of them. But the photo that I’ve found most compelling is the one of the open psychology book on Ron’s desk. In my mind, I feel as though it’s evidence that was largely ignored.

What’s been the biggest surprise?

The transcripts were a pretty big deal for me. Finding out that the FBI had purged Ron’s fingerprints in 2002 was also big. But the biggest surprise is yet to be revealed.

What was your original best guess back in 1980?

I just thought that he got fed up with school and all its stressors and walked (or hitchhiked) away from it all. I always thought he’d show up alive somewhere, which is why I kept checking online, just to see if anything new had turned up.

What I hadn’t realized back in 1980 was how shocking his disappearance was based on who he was. I knew a little bit about his activities at Miami, but I had no idea what a  fine person he was. (And I use that word in the best sense, as in fine wine or fine linens, not in the “How are you?” “I’m fine” sense.) Everyone seemed to look up to him for their own reasons—his niceness, his friendliness, his smartness, his handsomeness. All of those things and more. That discovery introduced a whole new level of mysteriousness to the mystery for me. Lots of people disappear, but Ron Tammen?! That’s when I decided that I needed to dig deeper, because the answer couldn’t have been as simple as his merely giving up and running away. There had to be more to the story.

What working hypothesis, in whole or in part, have you had shot down?

On the livestream, I answered this question as follows:

  • Charles Findlay had nothing to do with Ron’s disappearance.
  • Neither did Richard Tammen.
  • Neither did the Delts.
  • Neither did the Campus Owls.

I’ve since learned that the questioner had wanted to know what hypothesis (or hypotheses) did I subscribe to that I eventually shot down. That’s slightly different, because I never suspected Charles, Richard, or the Campus Owls. (More on the Delts in a second.) Also, I feel the need to admit here that, while the idea that I could shoot down any theory on my own is flattering, I’m not sure how attainable it is. After so many years, and so much lost evidence, it’s not so much about disproving something happened as opposed to proving that something else is much more likely to have occurred. You know, like Perry Mason used to do: “It can’t be the defendant, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, because, take a look at the guy in the third row!”

Early on, I was delving into the Delts and the “fraternity prank gone awry” theory (even though Dr. Shriver wasn’t a fan). But I soon found that the Delts whom I was able to track down were utterly delightful and forthcoming and receptive to my calls and questions, which didn’t seem consistent with guilty parties who’d signed a pact of secrecy. When I asked a couple of them, point blank, if they’d ever “kidnapped” one of their own as a prank and dropped him off in the middle of nowhere (which might explain a potential Ron sighting in Seven Mile), some told me “no,” but one person said you had to live in the house for that to happen.

“They’d call you on the telephone and about four of them would throw you in the backseat of a car and all that kind of stuff, drop you in the middle of nowhere,” he said with a laugh.

But, he added, they wouldn’t have done it to Ron because Ron didn’t live in the house. Plus, don’t forget that one of the Delts distinctly remembers an evening of song practice, burgers, and wrestling moves at the house prior to a walk back to the dorms with Ron. It may seem unconvincing to some readers, but these guys are just as eager to find out what happened to their friend as the rest of us.

I also investigated the possibility that the mob might have been involved, not because of the fish in Ron’s bed, but because no one knows how to hide a body quite like they do. I’d trained my laser on one man and spent the first year of my investigation getting to know his story, but I eventually came to terms with the nothingness in that premise and moved on.

I’d also wondered if Ron might have gotten a girl pregnant, what with his blood type test on November 19, 1952. There was a girl he sometimes dated during his freshman year, but she’d moved to Colorado to attend nursing school after only one semester at Miami. There were some interesting aspects to that theory—one being that I wasn’t able to obtain confirmation that she’d earned a nursing degree from that institution. But the timeframe in which Ron had taken the blood test doesn’t work out. As I mentioned in this post, a potential baby would have had to be conceived by August 1951, which was before Ron had even started at Miami. Moreover, I’d begun gathering evidence that supported my current theory, and, in July 2014, I found what I considered to be the smoking gun.  Four years later, I’m still pursuing that lead in high gear.

One thing that I’d like to add: somewhere on my website, I mention that I plan to hold back some of the bigger findings for the book. I’ve had a change of heart on that front. If and when I obtain what I need regarding that document, I’ll be making the information public immediately. But it could take some time.

What could or should someone or anyone have done to stop the disappearance?

Truthfully, I don’t think anyone could have done a thing to stop it. As far as whether someone should have stopped it, I don’t know that answer either. Maybe Ron lived a good life afterward. I hope so.

 If Ron’s disappearance was voluntary, why didn’t Ron ever contact his family?

Make no mistake—Ron loved his family. His brother John told me that Ron was “family-oriented” and very caring toward his parents and siblings. If what I think happened did happen, I don’t think Ron had much of a choice. He may have thought that, as unthinkable as it was to leave his family for the rest of his life, it was the only answer to whatever dilemma he was in. I’m guessing that this is probably why he was showing signs of stress after spring break.

I’ve sometimes wondered if Ron was somehow involved in scheduling the Campus Owls gig at John Carroll University in Cleveland for the weekend before he disappeared. That way, he could see his parents and younger siblings at least one more time before he left. I’ve also wondered if he intentionally left his jacket at his parents’ home as a keepsake. (They immediately mailed it back to him.) The papers didn’t specify which jacket it was, but my hunch is that it was the same one that he’d worn the night he disappeared—his blue and tan checked Mackinaw.

Is there any possibility that his roommate was taking psychology and had left the book there instead of Ron? Could they have assumed it was Ron’s simply because the roommate was away?

I don’t think so. The open book was one of the few clues that investigators pointed to as an indication that Ron had been studying, and it was on Ron’s side of the desk. Also, Chuck was interviewed and photographed for the 1954 Hamilton Journal-News article that shows the book from two angles. I’m sure he would have said something if the book were his. Also, in October 2014, I spoke with Chuck about the book. Here’s how that exchange took place (paraphrased in my notes):

JW: Do you remember seeing the book open on his desk?

CF: I vaguely recall seeing the book, although it was a very long time ago.

JW: Do you recall seeing what section it was opened to? People have said it was open to Habits. Do you remember seeing that?

CF: No, I don’t remember that.

Again, if it had been Chuck’s book, I believe he would have said something.

Was there any human error involved with entries on Ron’s transcripts?

There’s always room for human error, but in this case, I don’t see it. Everything fits according to what was recorded and described. Ron’s student records said he was given Incompletes, and his transcripts confirm that. His transcripts also indicate that he’d withdrawn from PSY 261, and the Registrar’s Office possesses a grade card that confirms that he withdrew with a passing grade. Therefore, I think we’re interpreting this scenario correctly. Also, I believe Dean Knox found the open psych book to be more than a little interesting, and I have evidence that indicates he and others were investigating the matter. But that’s a post for another day.

Could there have been some misguidance in the way the book notations were written?

I’m assuming you’re referring to the notation that specified the book title and edition? I think we have enough clues to rule out the possibility that someone misidentified those details. We know from Dean Knox’s notes that the psych book was opened to “HABITS,” which is consistent with sections in Munn’s book. Also, the first edition of Munn’s book was published in 1946. That’s probably too dated for use in 1952-1953, especially since students purchase their own books, and the second edition had come out in 1951. The third edition was published in 1956, which is too late. I believe we have the right book.

Maybe Ron just had a profound interest in the subject of psychology and was reading on his own.

The only problem with that theory is that he’d dropped the course twice. So he couldn’t have been that interested in psychology. But, maybe there was some aspect of psychology that he found relevant to his life. That’s where my thinking is right now.

Was Ron being used as a guinea pig by one of the university’s professors? 

Hmmm. Interesting. By “guinea pig,” you’re referring to possible university studies. I do have evidence that there may have been something going on at that time. We’ll discuss this possibility more in future posts.

Do you suspect anyone, outside of the feds, of knowing but not telling?

I do suspect that one or more people may have known something about Ron’s case, and that they managed to keep quiet over the years. One person whom I’ve wondered about is Ron’s younger brother Richard. His aggressive behavior leading up to Ron’s disappearance on April 19 makes me think that he was experiencing a great deal of inner turmoil about his brother, and his evasiveness afterward makes me think that he knew something and promised not to tell. I also think that people from the university might have known something, though perhaps they didn’t know the whole story. Maybe they were told by a higher authority that they needed to stop looking for Ron, but they weren’t told why. Judging by how closely they guarded the details of their investigation, someone might have been told to withhold some of their discoveries from the press. Thankfully, reporters such as Joe Cella managed to unearth certain details anyway.

Would you have done the same thing if you’d been in Ron’s shoes?

Perhaps. I don’t judge the choices he made. Whatever he was going through was a different reality from mine. Ron was a smart guy and, even though he was barely an adult, he had a good head on his shoulders. I have to assume that it took a lot of courage to do what he did. Maybe that’s the difference between the two of us. I probably wouldn’t have been as courageous as he was.

I once had a fleeting thought of asking if he was in a psychology class. I guess the many generic references to “he was doing well in school” took my mind off the more specific question.

I’ve found this interesting too. The April 24, 1953, Hamilton Journal-News said: “Miami professors said his work has been good in the classroom and that there was little likelihood of pressure from that point.” This stellar assessment was repeated in subsequent HJN issues as well as other newspapers, including the Dayton Daily News and Cleveland Plain Dealer. We now know that things were a lot shakier grade-wise that year for Ron than reporters had been led to believe.

Why was the university telling a different story, and why were they publicizing his higher freshman grade point average instead of his sophomore GPA? Did Miami officials want to avoid tarnishing a student’s reputation, even if that student happened to be missing and the information might help provide a clue? Or was it simply that the professors who said he was doing well represented courses Ron hadn’t dropped, thus skewing his academic performance in a more favorable light? If anyone understood the bigger picture, however, it would have been Carl Knox.

How is it Ron took Economics 201 two semesters in a row his sophomore year? Did he withdraw from the Economics class first semester, apparently while he was grading out as an A?

It’s true that Ron had withdrawn from Economics 201 the first semester of his sophomore year, and then he took the course again during the second semester. The A’s and B’s immediately following the course title appear to be sections, not grades. We don’t have his grades for either semester that he was enrolled in Economics 201.

When he withdrew from two courses to 11 hours, unless things were different back then, he was no longer a full-time student. That would affect grants, loans, ability to live on campus, etc.

Good point. I’d figured that he’d fallen below full-time status, but it didn’t occur to me that it could affect his ability to live on campus, among other issues. I suppose I didn’t think much about it because he was still living on campus the second semester. I don’t have the complete Miami Rules and Regulations booklet for 1952-53. I’m currently attempting to get a copy to see how this change in status might have affected other aspects of his college life.

So he falls below full-time student status first semester, then turns around and takes 2 of the very same classes he withdrew from in the second semester!

In my mind, I figured he was taking the same courses for a second time because they were requirements for a business degree. I’m currently seeking information on required courses for that degree program back then. It would be very strange indeed if he took the same courses twice in one year if they weren’t required.

His class schedule for the semester that he disappeared doesn’t sound very busy to me. Where was he, what was he doing?

Indeed. The Campus Owls kept him busy, but they played primarily on weekends. He was also known to study quite a bit. But from what I can tell, he wasn’t wrestling. He wasn’t very active with his fraternity. Many of his fraternity brothers have said they didn’t see him much because of his other activities, such as the Campus Owls, his work as a residence hall counselor, and his need to study. His roommate and the men Ron counseled mentioned how busy he was with other things, such as his fraternity and the Campus Owls. And his Campus Owl bandmates would often remark about how busy Ron was with his fraternity and his counseling.

Do you sense a pattern here? I think Ron may have had other things going on in his life that weren’t part of the activities we’ve read so much about. If we can figure out what those additional things were, I think we’ll have a better grasp on why he disappeared.

The blog says Knox wrote down a vague note: “all except putting pillow in pillow case.” To me that sounds like the pillowcase is laying there in the room, just not on the pillow. Did people interpret that phrase to mean that the pillowcase was missing? Or do we know for sure it was missing?

Welcome to my personal purgatory. So Ron goes downstairs to get some new sheets because of the fish. Even though Knox’s notes or subsequent news articles don’t say so explicitly, I’m sure that he dropped off the old sheets and pillowcase with Mrs. Todhunter and brought only the new ones up. Then, and this is critical, Knox’s notes say (with his capitalizations included): “Madeup [sic] Bed, all except putting pillow in Pillow Case.” I agree with you that his note implies that the pillowcase was sitting somewhere in the room and, for whatever reason, didn’t make its way onto the pillow.

But did you notice the photo of the bed in the April 22, 1954, Hamilton Journal-News article? [Article provided through permission of Hamilton Journal-News and Cox Media Group Ohio.]

It’s difficult to see in the online version, but in a copy held at Miami University’s Archives, you can see the striped pillow covering without its pillowcase. I can’t tell if the pillowcase is on the bed, however. The caption says: “ROOM LIKE HE LEFT IT…..book, freshly made bed without pillow case.”

That caption—written by someone who had a clear view of the photo—might be interpreted as saying that the pillowcase wasn’t there. And, as you point out, it could be a big deal if Mrs. Todhunter had given Ron a pillowcase and the pillowcase disappeared with Ron. One knock against the “missing pillowcase” theory is that Joe Cella doesn’t mention it in any of his articles. Only the photo caption alludes to the possibility that it may not be there, and Cella may not have helped write the caption.

So, to answer your question, yes, some people have interpreted the lack of a pillowcase on the pillow to mean that the pillowcase had disappeared. Because we don’t have a definite answer—and probably never will—I look at it both ways. Maybe it was there, and maybe it wasn’t. My theory doesn’t hinge on a missing pillowcase, but if it were missing, that would add some interesting color to the story.

And missing pillowcase or no missing pillowcase: Ron was considered a tidy person. It wasn’t like him to make a bed and leave the pillowcase off. At the very least, there’s that.

Would a musician normally leave his bass out in those temperatures for a long time?

Most websites advise against keeping a stringed instrument in the car ever, and definitely not in extreme temperatures. My husband, a percussionist, had this to say on the topic: Even if the temperatures were hovering around freezing that night, they probably wouldn’t have damaged the wood in that amount of time. The temperatures would have to be really cold—below zero—to damage the wood. Ron probably would’ve had to retune his bass the next time he played, but that wouldn’t have been a big deal.

Therefore, even though leaving a bass fiddle out in the car in those temperatures wouldn’t have been recommended, it isn’t necessarily a sign that Ron was signing out.

It’d be wonderful to find someone who was in the same class who could confirm a hypnosis experiment. Or to narrow it down, you might be able to track down a grad student in Psychology in that year who conducted the experiments.

Yes, absolutely. I’ve been attempting to track down possible psychology students/grad students for several years now. It’s been slow going, but I’ve found a couple noteworthy remembrances that have spurred me on. One of the reasons I’ve decided to post this discovery is the hope that it might jog more people’s memories. If anyone reading this recalls participating in or hearing about hypnosis studies in the early-1950s at Miami University or wherever, please contact me.

Hoover, JFK, and the day the FBI stopped writing to the Tammens

Over these next several posts, we’ll be continuing to focus our attention on what’s in the documents that were sent to me by the FBI as a result of my 2010 FOIA request, and what, if anything, they might add to the story.

________________________________

 

JFK funeral
Jacqueline, Caroline, and John Kennedy, Jr., among other family members, on the day of Kennedy’s funeral. Photo credit: National Archives; Photographer: Abbie Rowe, National Park Service

On the morning of Tuesday, May 2, 1972, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover didn’t wake up. His body was discovered at around 8:30 a.m. by his maid, who had arrived at his home to make his breakfast. He’d worked all day at the office the day before, had dinner with his long-time companion and deputy director, Clyde Tolson, and then died of a heart attack sometime during the night or early morning.

Immediately upon Hoover’s death, and at his instruction, his secretary, Helen Gandy, went into high gear destroying what she later claimed to a House subcommittee to be “letters to and from friends, personal friends, a lot of letters.”

Yes. How very thoughtful of this man who’d made an art form of gathering the goods on the powerful, famous, and nonconforming to preserve the trust of those he held most dear by having his secretary tear up, and then send away for further shredding, all of those friendly, personal letters.

Hoover’s death also seemed to bring an end to a different kind of letter—something more relevant to those of us who are concerned with what happened to Ronald Tammen: the form letters. You may recall that the FBI would send a form letter to the Tammens every two or three years, usually in the autumn, to ask if they should continue looking for Tammen. Mr. or Mrs. Tammen would check the box marked “Is still missing,” sign the bottom, and mail the letter back to the FBI. After Hoover died, however, the letters came to a halt, even though, in the final letter, the “Is still missing” box was checked by Ron’s father.

While Hoover was still alive, the FBI had been fairly consistent about sticking to the schedule—jarringly so in 1963. That letter was dated November 29, just seven days after President Kennedy had been assassinated, and the last day of a grueling week in which the country had bid their tearful goodbyes to him. On a day when the nation was still mired in the shock and grief of having seen their young, energetic leader being carried around in a flag-draped casket, someone in Hoover’s employ had the clarity of mind to glance at the calendar and say to him or herself, “Time to send the Tammen family another form letter.”

To put the above action into context, let’s take a quick look at the timeline of that unspeakably sad week, juxtaposed with a few of the more tangible ways in which J. Edgar Hoover had busied himself.

Friday, Nov. 22, 1963

President John F. Kennedy is murdered in Dallas; President Johnson is sworn in. Hoover speaks with Attorney General Robert Kennedy and later sends a memo to his executive staff summarizing his conversation: that the person whom he believed shot and killed the president was in custody at Dallas Police headquarters, and the name of the shooter was Lee Harvey Oswald, who was “working in the building from which the shots were fired.” He concluded, “I told the Attorney General that, since the Secret Service is tied up, I thought we should move into the case.”

Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963

President Kennedy’s casket is on display in the East Room of the White House. President Johnson declares Monday, Nov. 25, 1963, a National Day of Mourning. J. Edgar Hoover briefs LBJ about the FBI’s investigation (transcript — 3 pages), telling him, among other things: they had charged “this man in Dallas” with the president’s murder; they had the rifle that killed the president, the bullet, and the gun that killed the policeman; and “one angle that’s confusing”: a person who showed up at the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City in September 1963 using Oswald’s name was not Oswald.

Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963

JFK’s casket lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda for 21 hours. Roughly 250,000 mourners wait in long lines to pay their respects. At Dallas Police headquarters, as he is being transferred to the county jail, Lee Harvey Oswald is shot on live television by nightclub owner Jack Ruby, and he later dies. At 4:00 p.m. ET, J. Edgar Hoover dictates a summary of the investigation, saying that Oswald is dead, and that he was shot in the stomach by Jack Ruby. “The thing that I am concerned about, and so is [deputy attorney general] Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin,” he said.

Monday, Nov. 25, 1963 – National Day of Mourning

Beginning at roughly 11 a.m., there is a procession and funeral for John F. Kennedy, after which he is buried at Arlington Cemetery at roughly 3:30 p.m. (View Associated Press footage.) President Johnson calls J. Edgar Hoover at 10:30 a.m., to speak about his concern that people are calling for a presidential commission to look into the assassination. “Some lawyer in Justice is lobbying with the [Washington] Post because that’s where the suggestion came from for this presidential commission, which we think would be very bad,” (Hoover: “I do too,”)…“and put it right in the White House. We can’t be checking up on every uh, every uh, shooting scrape in the country…” Johnson then said that they planned to do two things: 1) Hoover would give a full report to the attorney general, which would be made available to the public, and 2) the attorney general of Texas would “run a court of inquiry.” Listen to the conversation (20:23) or read the transcript.

Wednesday, Nov. 27, 1963

President Johnson gives his “Let Us Continue” speech before Congress.

Thursday, Nov. 28, 1963Thanksgiving

(Unbelievably, Americans that year had to celebrate Thanksgiving three days after watching the funeral of their president.)

That evening, President Johnson delivers a televised speech to the nation asking Americans for their help, strength, and prayers, “that God may guard this Republic and guide my every labor.” (See transcript.)

Friday, Nov. 29, 1963

On Friday evening, President Johnson names the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy.

 

Earlier that day, at 1:49 p.m., President Johnson and Hoover discuss possible members of the presidential commission. When they move on to the FBI investigation, Hoover says “We hope to have this thing wrapped up today, but could be we probably won’t get it before the first of the week.”  Listen to Part 1 (10:06) and Part 2 (10:24) of the taped conversation or read the transcript.

Oh, and one more thing: a form letter signed by Hoover is mailed to the Tammen family.

I don’t know about you, but I find it extraordinary that the FBI was even thinking about Ronald Tammen during that momentous week in our nation’s history.

Of course, Hoover may not have been aware that a letter with his name and signature was mailed to the Tammens on November 29, 1963. It could be that a low-level civil servant had readied the memo and had it signed with an autopen while Hoover was on the phone with the president telling him about Oswald’s ties to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee or the ACLU. Regardless, what this says to me is that in a week when the FBI should have been firing on every cylinder in an effort to determine who killed our president and why, someone within the organization had a more menial task on his or her plate. Even if that person’s job had nothing to do with helping with the Kennedy assassination investigation, even if his or her only job was sending out missing person memos, in my view, it was rather unseemly to be going off-topic so soon. For the rest of the country, the week was rife with cancellations, postponements, and closings in somber reflection of the upheaval we’d experienced. Why couldn’t the FBI—the nation’s top law enforcement agency—have held off on some of its other public duties until, say, after the weekend? Apparently, the bureau had moved on, and they didn’t seem to care if anyone outside its walls knew it.

One last point about the 1963 memo: it wasn’t as if there was a firm date when the memos were mailed out. Nope, the dates were all over the map, as can be seen here:

August 25, 1955

October 1, 1957

November 16, 1959

October 30, 1961

November 29, 1963

January 19, 1967

October 1, 1970

I’m sure the Tammens wouldn’t have minded if the FBI had waited another week or two before sending the letter.

Here’s the other thing that I want to point out about those dates. Based on the above pattern (other than the blip in January 1967), it would be logical to conclude that Mr. Tammen was due to receive another letter in 1972 or 1973, probably in October or November. But then Hoover died in May 1972 and the letter was never mailed. In fact, if these documents are telling us what I think they are, the FBI never wrote the Tammens again. Either Tammen’s case had fallen by the wayside or someone had made the decision that it was time to put a stop to the form letters.

________________________________

In my next post, I’ll discuss the two documents from May 1973.

 

 

The dog handler, the dad, and the director

Director Hoover Portrait
J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director from 1924 to 1972 — Photo credit: FBI

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.”
  • This form letter (as well as this one) sent by the FBI to Ron’s parents features the notations used to describe Ron’s fingerprints.

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.:

Mr. Tammen's letter to JEH on AP photo
Click on link for closer view

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:

Vietnam South U.S.  Forces  Dogs
ASSOCIATED PRESS — For Editorial Use  — http://www.apimages.com

 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:

Hoover response to Mr. Tammen
Click on link for closer view

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.

Did Ronald Tammen cross paths with Richard Colvin Cox?

Richard Cox
Richard C. Cox

Happy New Year, Good Man followers! Did you know that January 2018 marks the 68th anniversary of another person’s disappearance from his college dorm? That individual is Richard Colvin Cox, from Mansfield, Ohio, who was a sophomore cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in New York, in 1950, the year he disappeared. On the day he went missing, Cox had been watching a basketball game with roommate Deane Welch, and, on their return to their room in the North Barracks, he took a detour to check his grades. While in that vicinity, Cox ran into an acquaintance who had visited him the previous weekend—a person he’d known in Germany while he was in the Army who supposedly went by the name of George. After a brief conversation, Cox headed back to his room to change into the requisite uniform before going to dinner at the Thayer Hotel with his visitor. At 6:18 p.m., he said a quick goodbye as Welch preceded him out the door, and was never heard from again.

Although the two young men’s stories have their differences, there are plenty of parallels. Here’s a short list:

Personal/Family Characteristics

  • Both were from Ohio. Tammen was from Maple Heights, a Cleveland suburb, while Cox was from Mansfield, a small town between Cleveland and Columbus.
  • Both were intelligent and studious.
  • Both were considered leaders in their class. Tammen was a counselor in Fisher Hall, and Cox was voted by his classmates as the highest-ranking yearling (the term used for sophomores at West Point) in his company.
  • Their birthdays were only two days apart, though Tammen was five years younger than Cox. Cox was born July 25, 1928, and Tammen was born July 23, 1933.
  • Both were considered friendly, but private. They tended to keep things to themselves.
  • Both were handsome with similar smallish builds. Cox was 5’8” and 165 lb.; Tammen was 5’9” and 175 lb.
  • Both came from families of modest means. Cox’s family owned an insurance agency in Mansfield, however Mr. Cox had passed away when Richard was 10. Tammen’s father worked as a clerk for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen in Cleveland.

Conditions of Disappearance

  • Both disappeared while they were sophomores in college.
  • They disappeared within three years of each other. Cox disappeared Jan. 14, 1950, and Tammen disappeared April 19, 1953.
  • They disappeared on a weekend—Cox on a Saturday, and Tammen on a Sunday.
  • They disappeared at the end of the day. Cox disappeared a little after 6:15 p.m., while Tammen disappeared sometime between 8:00 and 10:30 p.m., based on varying accounts of his final moments.
  • Both young men appeared to be showing signs of stress or inner conflict. Cox sometimes shared that he was growing fed up with West Point, while Tammen had spoken of being “tired lately” and had been seen reading the Bible several times, which was considered out of character.
  • Both seemed to be in good spirits on the day of their disappearance.
  • Both walked away with just the clothes on their backs and little money.
  • Both had supposedly been sighted after-the-fact by people who knew them. Cox was reportedly spotted in March 1952 at a restaurant in the Greyhound bus terminal at 11th Street and New York Avenue, N.W., in Washington, D.C. Ernest Shotwell, a friend of Cox’s from their days at the Stewart Field Prep School in New York, had seen him sitting at a table, and they spoke briefly, though Cox appeared uncomfortable and left shortly thereafter. (The Greyhound building is still there, a curvy, Art Deco blast from the past now bordered on three sides by more modern—and boring—structures.) Tammen was potentially seen in a restaurant in Wellsville, NY, in August 1953, by H. H. Stephenson, the housing administrator at Miami who had given Tammen permission to have a car on campus. Stephenson had walked out of the restaurant without saying anything to the young man.
  • Both men’s fingerprints were on file with the FBI when they’d disappeared. Tammen’s had been on file since 1941, when he was in the second grade, and Cox’s was on file at least since he’d enlisted in the Army in September 1946.
  • After committing significant resources and manpower into finding the young men, the FBI ostensibly, failed to solve either case.
IMG_0314 New York Ave terminal
The Greyhound bus terminal, in Washington, D.C., where there had been a potential sighting of Richard Cox in 1952.

Finding the similarities compelling, in June 2011, I submitted a FOIA request to the FBI seeking all documents that they had on the Richard Cox investigation. At that time, I hadn’t yet come to fully appreciate the nuances of FOIA—and by “nuances,” I mean, well, let’s just say that it isn’t an exact science. People at the agency of interest are likely to make judgment calls on a regular basis. Some decisions may hinge on the topic in general, the way a request is phrased, and any number of factors.

With that said, the FBI saw fit to send me 24 pages on the Cox case within the same month of my request. (They told me that they were sending me information that had already been processed for another requester, which is the probable reason behind the quick turnaround.) As with my FOIA documents on Tammen, the amount seemed surprisingly small to me, considering the fact that Cox had been affiliated with the U.S. Army, and the military doesn’t take disappearances from its ranks lightly. Nevertheless, I moved on without submitting an appeal. I had little knowledge of the case at that point and 20-odd pages seemed to be the FBI’s M.O. when it came to men who’d gone missing in the 1950s.

And then I dug deeper. What I found was that two people had done a good deal of digging ahead of me, and they got much, much more from the FBI. One person was James Underwood, who, as a reporter for the Mansfield News Journal, wrote an in-depth investigative series on Cox’s disappearance in 1982. (In 2012, Mr. Underwood appeared on the History Channel’s episode on West Point and the Cox disappearance.) The second person was Marshall Jacobs, a retired Florida teacher who began investigating Cox’s disappearance several years after Underwood. Jacobs eventually collaborated on a book, titled Oblivion, with Harry J. Maihafer, a graduate of West Point. Jacobs had conducted the research, while Maihafer did the writing. In their respective publications, Underwood and Marshall/Maihafer had disclosed that they’d both received thousands of pages from the government—some from the Army, some from the FBI—which provided me with ammunition for a follow-up FOIA request. In 2013, I wrote (in part):

…after reading the attached article from the 8-1-1982 issue of the Mansfield (OH) News Journal, I’d like to make a second FOIA request for FBI Bureau file 79-23729 as well as file #79-25 from the Cleveland field office. I understand that Mr. Underwood and another researcher (Marshall Jacobs, who is now deceased) received more than 1200 pages [I guesstimated] on the Cox disappearance from their FBI FOIA requests, and I would like to receive the same documents they received…

Of course, I realized that it had also been roughly 30 years since they’d submitted their FOIA requests, and a lot of purging can happen in that amount of time. Still, I thought it was worth a try. The one thing I had going for me was that, because Richard Cox had been declared dead by the state of Ohio in 1957, there was no need to provide proof of death or third-party authorization.

With little fanfare, and no apology whatsoever, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI’s parent agency, sent me three CDs with 1631 pages of documents on them—which is a far cry from the original 24 pages the FBI had sent me in 2011, and serves to underscore the oft-repeated advice that one should always appeal his or her FOIA request. Why my Cox FOIA was bumped up all the way to the DOJ, I’m not sure. At the time, we were still in the middle of my FOIA lawsuit on Tammen, and they seemed to be tying the two cases together, even though they’re unrelated. (As for the Army, they’ve been harder to crack than the FBI. So far, they’ve sent me a smattering of documents, though I’m currently following up on one FOIA request.)

Incidentally, I wasn’t re-requesting the Cox files to be a thorn in anyone’s side or because I didn’t have anything better to do. I was trying to locate the source of a certain piece of information that had been mentioned on page 97 of Marshall and Maihafer’s book. What to most readers appeared as a footnote of little consequence seized my attention as if it had been written in blazing, buzzing neon.

Maihafer wrote: “Meanwhile, tips about Cox had continued to come in at the rate of nearly three a day. One report said a man resembling Cox was working at Miami University in Ohio…”

What kind of a crazy coincidence would it be to have one inexplicably missing person turning up in the same tiny university town just prior to someone else going inexplicably missing? What’s more, wouldn’t it be incredible if Richard Cox and Ronald Tammen had actually known one another? The book said that all of the leads turned up nothing. Still, I had to see the documents for myself.

I feel compelled to point out here that the documents I received from the FBI weren’t electronically searchable. They’re PDFs of old, difficult-to-decipher pages that require reading. Lots and lots of reading. On evenings and weekends, and even during a trip to Switzerland, I’d insert one of the CDs into my laptop and, folder by folder, wade through the bureaucratic minutia of names, places, and dates, until I was bored out of my mind, my lower neck muscles were screaming, or both. Periodically, I’d have to reassure myself that this wasn’t a colossal waste of my time. It took months for me to get through them all. As I was nearing the end of the third CD, when I’d just about given up hope, I found the reference to Oxford, Ohio.

The first document to catch my eye was an FBI report recounting a visit to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Sandage, of Lombard, Illinois, by agent William H. Gray. The report was dated November 21, 1952, and the visit was in response to a letter that Mr. Sandage had written to the Army’s 10th Criminal Investigation Detachment in New York, NY, on August 5, 1952. A few details of the letter were included, such as the fact that the couple had recognized Cox’s photo from a recent article in Life magazine. Although Mr. Gray didn’t specify the date of the magazine, I can tell you that it was the April 14, 1952 issue. The article can be read here (albeit not easily), beginning on page 147.

FBI report
For closer view, click on link

Gray indicated that the visit yielded no new information, as Mrs. Sandage had “nothing pertinent” to add to what her husband had written in the letter. In the main narrative, however, he also mentioned that the Sandages didn’t know the young man by name, but that both felt sure that “the man they knew was employed in some public or semi-public place such as a restaurant or filling station in Oxford, Ohio and that he wore sport clothing.”

About 20 pages later, I arrived at the letter, which had been reproduced in a summarizing document by the Army and thus the reason that there’s no signature. Here it is:

Page 1:

Sandage letter to CID, page 1
For closer view, click on link.

Page 2:

Sandage letter to CID, page 2
For closer view, click on link.

As the letter states, the Sandages, who were both faculty members at Miami, remember seeing Cox (or someone who looked like Cox) between January and September 1950, before they moved to Illinois. During that same winter and spring, Ronald Tammen was a junior in high school, and, that September, he was just beginning his senior year. If it were Richard Cox and he was pumping gas over the next couple years, when Ronald Tammen was at Miami, I’d think that the chances would have been pretty good that they would have bumped into one another, especially since Tammen was one of the few students with a car on campus during his sophomore year. Those are a lot of “ifs,” I know, but it’s interesting to ponder.

The Sandages have both passed away, however, I contacted a son to find out if he was aware of their potential sighting of Richard Cox. He was interested, but knew nothing about it.

I won’t be discussing Jacobs’ theory regarding what may have happened to Richard Cox in this post. Cox’s family feels strongly that the assertions made in his and Maihafer’s book are untrue, so I’ll be steering clear of that debate for now.

I will say this: Nothing I read in the FBI files indicated that they had followed up on the Oxford sighting after the November 1952 visit to the Sandages’ home. (The pages I’ve received from the Army don’t mention the potential sighting.) That also means that I’ve seen nothing to indicate that the FBI had ruled out whether the person in Oxford might have been Cox.

Although we can’t be sure that the person the Sandages knew in Oxford was Richard Cox, here’s what I come away with as a result of their story:

  • There’s a chance that Richard Cox and Ronald Tammen may have known one another or perhaps had a common acquaintance.
  • It’s also possible that their disappearances might have been related to one another.
  • It’s intriguing how, just five months after their visit with the Sandages to discuss a possible sighting of Richard Cox in Oxford, Ohio, the FBI was brought in to search for Tammen, who happened to disappear from, of all places, Oxford, Ohio. If anyone at the FBI wondered if there was a connection between two high-profile cases of missing college men and the town of Oxford, they didn’t put it in writing.

What does their story tell you?