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Trail to the truth: The Ron Tammen mystery 58 years later

Online Staff

Published: Thursday, April 21, 2011

Updated: Thursday, April 21, 2011 21:04


COLLEEN YATES | The Miami Student

Ronald Henry Tammen Jr., 19, was a well-rounded Miami University sophomore in April 1953. Tammen was one of four children brought up by a wealthy and patriotic family in Maple Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Tammen had been selected as a resident adviser, was a member of the U.S. Navy ROTC, member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, a bassist in the Campus Owls, a well-regarded university jazz band and a varsity wrestler. Tammen had dark brown hair, was 5-feet-10-inches tall and weighed 175 pounds. That is, until he disappeared 58 years ago on Sunday, April 19, 1953 — basically without a trace.

Tammen was studying the evening of April 19, 1953 in Fisher Hall (where the Marcum Conference Center now stands) and was last seen around 8:30 p.m. by the dorm mother, who exchanged his dirty sheets for clean linens. (His sheets were supposedly dirty from a dead fish – a prank a fellow resident pulled on Tammen).

Tammen's roommate, Charles Findlay, returned to their room that evening to the radio playing on Tammen's desk with the light on, psychology book open and his belongings (wallet with his personal information and car keys included) left behind. Findlay did not know at the time his roommate would not return.

Fisher Hall had a history of uses since it was built in 1856, according to the Miami University Archives. It was originally part of Oxford Female College, then a hotel and from 1882 to the 1920s, Fisher Hall was an insane asylum. Fisher was converted to a first-year residence hall in 1925 and was widely considered haunted.

It is speculated that Tammen ran from the draft, being that his disappearance was during the height of the Korean War, or he ran from his "pregnant girlfriend," which was never confirmed to the reporter's knowledge although many Fisher Hall residents said Tammen was dating a girl from Indiana University. More likely, Tammen was somehow assisted in leaving Miami the evening of April 19, 1953.

According to an April 28, 1953 article in The Miami Student, officials had ruled out foul play as a theory because Tammen was "rugged and strong," and had temporarily settled on amnesia as the reason for his disappearance. A May 5, 1953 article in the Cincinnati Times-Star FAMILY Magazine said then Oxford Police Chief Oscar Decker was sure Tammen would be found and soon: "Tammen may be asked for his draft registration card or, if he seeks a job in some dance orchestra (he played in the campus dance band), they'll ask him for his union card," Decker said." Both were left in Oxford. Someone will report him sooner or later, although he may still be suffering from a lack of memory, and the mystery will be solved."

The summer after Tammen disappeared, Mrs. Carl Spivey, a Seven Mile resident, told law enforcement that a male matching Tammen's description came to her door around midnight the same night Tammen disappeared. She said the man looked disheveled, wearing only a t-shirt and pants, which seemed strange for the freezing temperatures that night. Spivey said the man was looking for the bus stop. Further investigation found the Oxford Bus Lines had suspended that night, so he could not have taken the bus.

Tammen's younger brother, Richard, was a first-year student at Miami the same year and finished his years at Miami, graduating with his class. Richard was killed in an apartment fire years later. Marcia Tammen, his sister, was 10-years-old at the time her brother disappeared and is the only living relative today.

The cold case

The Tammen case now sits with Detective Frank Smith, a partner at the Butler County Cold Case Unit in Hamilton, Ohio. Smith has been a detective for 30 years. Tammen's case is the oldest cold case in the office since the start of their involvement in 2003. Smith has a large binder with documents regarding Tammen's disappearance in his office with several other more recent cases.

Smith said Tammen did not appear at the Spivey residence the evening he disappeared. He said he tracked down Spivey's son, who recalled the night very vividly.

"From an investigative standpoint, we do not believe that was Ronald Tammen," Smith said.

Smith said he went back and spoke with all the people that resided in Fisher Hall when Tammen disappeared.

"That was one of the most important things that we actually did do," Smith said.

Smith interviewed the man who lived one door down from Tammen — the last person to see him before he vanished. The two boys were studying for an exam when Tammen went to his own room to start studying for a history exam, according to the man. The man said he used the restroom, and when he came out, Tammen was gone. The man told Smith that nothing seemed wrong and Tammen didn't indicate that he was leaving or was being forced to leave.

Don Bledsoe was a first-year student living on the second floor of Fisher Hall with Tammen when he went missing who said he was never interviewed or questioned about Tammen's disappearance. One of Bledsoe's sons reached out to this reporter, through her blog she keeps on Tammen's case, and suggested she interview him.

Bledsoe was part of the Air Force ROTC that was assembled less than a week after Tammen's disappearance to search the woods behind Fisher Hall for any trace.

"They were looking everywhere for him," Bledsoe said, remembering the search through the woods. "We found nothing and then it was getting towards the end of the semester and he just never showed up and nobody knew."

Bledsoe said he thought Tammen may have left because of some pressure in his own life, or there was foul play because of his affiliation with Delta Tau Delta fraternity.

"I always thought that the pledge class (below Tammen) might have had something to do with his disappearance," Bledsoe said, explaining that pranks and hazing were a tradition for fraternities at that time although he did not pledge himself. "Reading about it — and there wasn't much about it, they really kept it hushed up — but I never thought that they pursued that pledge class."

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