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Cold case: Miami alumna resurrects mystery man

When Miami University alumna Amelia Carpenter ('12) was assigned a story for the Recensio yearbook, she had no idea she would be transformed into Nancy Drew.

Her byline in Miami's yearbook spearheaded the founding of her blog, "Trail to the Truth," a site committed to solving the case of Ronald Henry Tammen, Jr., a former Miami student who went missing in 1953.

In 2009, Carpenter, who was then a sophomore, was appointed to write a feature spread on notorious Miami mysteries and ghost stories. However, as a budding journalist with a hunger to cover controversy, Carpenter felt the assignment was a bit of a buzzkill.

"I was a little underwhelmed with the topic," Carpenter said. "Ghost stories? But I decided to write it anyway."

With slight trepidation, she delved into a realm of spooky hauntings on Miami grounds, investigating the so-called ghosts that creep through Peabody Hall, a murder that left bloody handprints splayed across a door in former Reid Hall and the cryptic poisoning of a popular chemistry teacher in 1898. But Carpenter became transfixed with one story in particular - the mysterious disappearance of Ron Tammen.

"I became fascinated with this guy," Carpenter said. "I became obsessed. I wanted to find him."

According to Miami University archives, Tammen was a sophomore student residing as a resident assistant in Fisher Hall (formerly the site of a mental asylum, and now the Marcum Conference Center) when he disappeared from his dorm room on April 19, 1953, never to be seen again. He left a psychology book open on his desk on that snowy evening, but no other clues as to where he may have departed.

The F.B.I. conducted a thorough search of the Oxford area after Tammen's disappearance, sweeping the river and surrounding woods. When old Fisher Hall was reconstructed into the Marcum Conference Center in the 1980s, its foundation was scoured for Tammen's remains. Nothing was ever found, even to this day.

"He disappeared without a trace," Carpenter said. "It is the weirdest thing. How could he still be missing 60 years later?"

When Carpenter finished her feature on the ghost stories, she felt she could not abandon the unsolved case of Tammen.

So, she founded a WordPress site titled "Trail to the Truth," which is dedicated to the "theories and advances in Miami University's missing student from 1935, Ronald Henry Tammen, Jr." This site was a place for Carpenter to put her investigative journalism skills to the test, to string together clues and developments and finally uncover the truth of Tammen.

"Since founding this blog, I have been hot on the trail," Carpenter said, adding that she has conducted research with the Oxford county coroner, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and the CIA.

Her favorite and most notable interview, she said, was with former Miami president, Phillip Shriver.

"The old archivist at Miami told me to call up Dr. Shriver for an interview because he had always had a lot of interest in Tammen," Carpenter said. "Shriver passed away in 2011, and I think his interview with me was one of the last he ever did."

Miami journalism professor Patti Newberry, who had Carpenter in her classes while she was a student, said it is just as well Carpenter would choose to devote herself to investigating such an elusive idea.

"She's the kind of student who always found her own breaks, she always took her own paths," Newberry said. "She was always working for the road-less-traveled publications. She had absolutely no fear to go up to people she didn't know and ask hard questions. It makes perfect sense she would become so intrigued with this idea."

Theories abound as to why and how Tammen disappeared. According to the Miami archives, Tammen was last seen by his hall manager the same evening as his disappearance, requesting new sheets because someone had placed a fish in his bed. Several analysts believe this is evidence that his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, had come into play.

Others believe Tammen was an accidental witness to a rape or another disturbing event, and was so distressed afterwards that he suffered a severe bout of amnesia.

"It is possible that it was a health issue," Carpenter said. "For people in his age group, amnesia or schizophrenia are not as uncommon as you think."

A Seven Mile resident had reported that a young man fitting Tammen's description had arrived on her doorstep on the night of Tammen's disappearance, dazed and disoriented. He had asked directions for the nearest bus station, and then wandered into the frigid night without a coat.

"I don't think this is true though," Carpenter added. "I think whoever claimed that happened was just trying to get publicity."

Carpenter has her own ideas as to what happened to Tammen, conclusions she drew through her meticulous detective work.

"I think it was something to do with the government," Carpenter said. "The head of the F.B.I. at the time was out looking for him. That's strange. And [Tammen] had visited the coroner's office requesting a blood test a few months before he disappeared. Maybe it was a witness protection thing."

Since creating the blog in 2010, Carpenter has received a small following, especially by those who went to Miami with Tammen. While she continues to renew the domain name, Carpenter has not uncovered any new developments as of late. However, until the case is closed, the blog will remain, and so will Carpenter's fervor for solving it.

"I think Tammen is still alive," she said. "I feel like he is still alive. We will have closure at some point."