Ronald Tammen had everything. A sophomore at the Miami University, he came from a good family, there were no money issues, he was part of a very popular university jazz band in the ’50s, he was a varsity wrestler, and his GPA was good (he had a 3.205). He was the resident hall adviser, a member of the US Navy ROTC, and a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity. He had everything going for him.
But in the evening of April 19, 1953, he left behind his wallet, car keys, class ring, identification, and other personal items in his dormitory room and never returned.
The Cold Case of Ronald Tammen
When Ronald Tammen was last seen by his fellow residents in Fisher Hall, it was cold with snow flurries, which was hardly an inviting night for a spur-of-the-moment stroll outside.
Ronald Tammen was studying the evening of April 19, 1953. According to Virginia Braden, a licensed private investigator out of northern Kentucky, April 19 was near enough to finals week at Miami. Tammen 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 him.
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Tammen’s roommate, Charles Findlay, returned to their room (room 225) that evening to the radio playing on Tammen’s desk with the light on, psychology book open and turned to “Habits,” and his belongings left behind. To add to the mystery, it was later reported that Ronald Tammen wasn’t taking a psychology class anymore. He had withdrawn from General Psychology sometime after spring break.
His gold 1938 Chevrolet sedan was not taken from its place in the school parking lot, he left his prized bass fiddle in the back seat of the car, and he left behind $200 in his bank account. Tammen was believed to have had no more than $10 to $15 on his person the night he disappeared.
Involvement with the CIA
It is speculated that Ronald Tammen ran from the draft, being that his disappearance was during the height of the Korean War. A May 5, 1953 article in the The Cincinnati Times-Star said that 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 also played in the campus dance band], they’ll ask him for his union card,” Decker said.
Marcia Tammen, Ronald’s sister, honestly believes it probably was an issue of either he didn’t want to enter the military during the Korean War or that he actually did enter the military. The height of the Korean War was 1953, a time when the CIA was actively involved in recruiting individuals at universities.
The FBI entered the Ronald Tammen case in 1953, citing the selective service act (the draft) as the reason. Once Ronald Tammen reached fugitive status in 1973, the FBI allegedly dropped out of the case.
“If the FBI or CIA do know anything, they’re not releasing it,” said Det. Frank Smith, a partner at the Butler County Cold Case Unit in Hamilton, Ohio.
Another speculation is that Ronald Tammen 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. Dr. Garret Boone, a family physician and coroner for Butler County, said that Tammen had visited his Hamilton office on November 19, 1952, five months before he disappeared. Boone still had the medical record to prove it. Tammen’s reason for the visit was to have his blood type tested, a request that Dr. Boone hadn’t received from anyone else in his 35 years of practice. Private investigator Braden thinks this circumstance might shame his family, a situation he wanted to escape from.
Having one’s blood typed in 1953 was due to a number of reasons including an expected surgery, paternity reasons, if one was applying for something maybe a marriage license, or planning to donate blood. According to David Paulides in his book North America and Beyond, Ronald Tammen told Dr. Boone that he wanted his blood typed as he might want to give blood someday. Dr. Boone then sent him to Mercy Hospital, where a blood sample was taken, and Ron got his results sent to him at Fisher Hall. He was O positive. Dr. Boone would later state that that was an odd request because Ron could’ve had this done on campus. Perhaps he felt he couldn’t have anyone close to school know if that was the case.
According to an April 28, 1953 article in the Miami Student, officials temporarily settled on amnesia as the reason for his disappearance.
The summer after Ronald Tammen disappeared, Mrs. Clara Spivey of Seven Mile, Ohio, came forward and said that a young man who looked like Ron had knocked on her door sometime around midnight on the same night that Tammen had disappeared. Seven Mile is roughly 11 miles southeast of Oxford, though it’s by no means a straight shot, especially on foot. She said the man looked disheveled, a little embarrassed, and there was a smudge of dirt or grease on his face, as if he’d been trying to fix a flat. “What town am I in?” the young man asked her. “Where will I be if I go in that direction?” he pointed toward Middletown. The stranger’s “short haircut and deep eyes” were most memorable to her, as was his lightweight checked jacket. Further investigation found the Oxford Bus Lines had suspended that night, so he could not have taken the bus.
However, many people, like Ron’s brother, Richard, noted discrepancies in Mrs. Spivey’s story and wasn’t convinced.
“It takes such a huge event to cause that sort of mental state that I just would almost think if he had been found wandering, someone would have picked him up and put him in a hospital,” Virginia Braden said.
Perhaps the most persistent theory is that this was a case of a fraternity prank gone wrong. The dead fish on Tammen’s bed is a detail that has caused imaginations to run wild over the years. Finding a fish in your bed was said to be a warning from the mob letting you know you were on their hit list—a way of telling you you’re going to be “sleeping with the fishes.”
Officials had ruled out foul play as a theory because Tammen was a varsity wrestler, but if his frat brothers indeed showed up to “abduct” him, he wouldn’t have to put up a fight.
Rumors in Miami say Ronald Tammen was killed by the frat brothers by accident and that the brothers have taken it to their grave and that the man who knocked at Mrs. Spivey’s door resembling Tammen was actually one of the frat brothers dressed as Ronald Tammen to cover it up.
Demolition of Fisher Hall
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.
When Fisher Hall was demolished in 1978, an extensive search of the rubble was conducted, but no signs of Tammen’s remains were found. As time passes, it becomes less and less likely that we will ever know what really happened to Fisher Hall’s most famous resident.