Who Is (or Was) Ronald Tammen?

On paper, he was Ronald. To childhood friends, Ronnie. Among family, Ron Jr. And at Miami, he went by Ron.

Ronald Henry Tammen, Jr., was born on July 23, 1933, in Lakewood (Ohio) City Hospital, which would put him in his 80s if he’s still alive today. He was from Maple Heights, Ohio, a working-class Cleveland suburb, where he and his family lived in a two-story colonial home at 21001 Hillgrove Avenue. At Miami, he was a wrestler, residence hall counselor, string bass player in a college jazz band called the Campus Owls, and member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity. Those four descriptors, and little else, would be repeated in news reports for the next 60-plus years to sum up Tammen’s character.

Ronald was the second oldest of five children. They included, from oldest to youngest: John, Ronald, Richard, Marcia, and Robert. Marcia and Robert were born much later than the others, so for a large part of Ron’s growing-up years, he was the middle child, and he upheld his middle-child duties to the fullest extent possible. Whereas John was a bit of a know-it-all and Richard a rabble rouser, always getting into trouble, Ron was the nice one—everyone’s favorite.

“If you had to choose between the three of them, everybody would choose Ronnie,” one of his childhood friends told me.

People who knew Ronald Tammen use adjectives such as handsome, nice, smart, and studious to describe him, with handsome always being at the top of the list. His movie-star looks weren’t perfect, however, which was endearing too. A front tooth slightly overlapped another, something that he planned to have fixed one day. He also had a cauliflower ear from wrestling.

Ronald Tammen wanted to succeed in life really badly. From the time he was a kid, he was working, whether he was delivering newspapers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, setting up pins at the local bowling alley, or caddying at the Hawthorne Valley Country Club in nearby Solon. According to brother John, Ron was always trying to come up with new money-making schemes early on, because, quite frankly, the Tammen family didn’t have much money. Ronald dreamed of one day having a job like his uncle on his mother’s side—a job that, in Ron’s view, would offer prestige and a good living and a chance to make full use of his innate talents: a bond salesman.

There are very few tales that his friends and family can think to tell about Ron Tammen, however. Even his former college roommates are hard-pressed to think of a story about their time together. Or his fraternity brothers. Or his bandmates. “He was always busy studying,” a fraternity brother would tell me. Or “He was always at his fraternity,” a roommate would say. Or “He was always playing with the Campus Owls.” That’s at least one takeaway that I could come up with regarding Ronald Tammen—he was so busy that he was always somewhere else.

To the youngest of the Tammens—Marcia and Robert—Ronald was playful and kind. They remember sitting on his knee and playing “find the toothpick,” a game in which he would hide a toothpick in his mouth and challenge them to find it. No matter how hard they tried, he would outsmart them, and they remember the frustration every bit as much as the fun they had. One of Ronald’s cousins recalls Ron being wonderfully approachable to her as a young girl, happy to answer questions she and others had on the perplexing topic of boys.

There was another thing that people would say about Ronald Tammen: that it was so unlike him to leave in such a drastic, final way. That’s why his disappearance was so shocking. He was, in everyone’s mind, the least likely person to disappear.