Tale of vanishing student lives on
"The rumors spread around Halloween'

Saturday, October 31, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

OXFORD -- Ronald Henry Tammen Jr. was just another hard-working Miami University student until that cold Sunday night on April 19, 1953, when he walked out of Room 225 and into oblivion.

Forty-five years later, the sophomore business major remains Oxford's favorite ghost story.

But is he dead, lost or in hiding?

"The rumors spread around Halloween," said Phillip R. Shriver, a former Miami president and history professor who will talk about the case today on campus.

  • Born: July 23, 1933, Lake Hospital, Lakewood, Ohio.
  • Parents: Ronald H. Tammen and Marjorie Jane McCann.
  • Physical features: Dark hair and muscular.
  • Weight: 175 pounds.
  • Height: 5 feet, 10 inches.
  • Last home address: 21001 Hillgrove Ave., Maple Heights, Ohio. Education: Maple Heights High School graduate; one year at Miami University.
  • Campus affiliations: Member of Delta Tau Delta, Campus Owls dance band and the Miami varsity wrestling squad.
  • Grade-point average: 3.2.
  • Blood type: O positive.
    Source: Enquirer research

  • Mr. Tammen, a 19-year-old residence hall adviser, vanished from old Fisher Hall, a former Victorian mental asylum that was some said was haunted.

    "About 8:30 p.m., he entered his room after returning from a road engagement with the Campus Owls, a popular dance band for which he played string bass," Dr. Shriver said. "Outside sat his 1938 Chevrolet sedan. It is said he heard something that disturbed him, and he went into the hall to investigate. Apparently he didn't intend to go anywhere. He left his wallet, car keys and personal items on his desk."

    He also left the lights on, a book open, the radio playing and his clothes in the closet. His bank account, with about $200, remained active.

    It was as if Mr. Tammen had slipped into another dimension.

    Authorities checked all bus, rail and air terminals. The Air Force ROTC sent 400 men to help students search the countryside.

    "Officials have discounted any theory of foul play, commenting that the missing man is rugged and strong," the Miami Student reported five days after the disappearance. "Dean of Men Carl Knox, after an investigation, said Tammen was not in any financial difficulty . . . since counselors are chosen for their stability, there seems to be no reason for a voluntary disappearance. Thus, officials have temporarily settled upon the thesis of amnesia."

    Friends and family -- from Maple Heights, near Cleveland -- said Mr. Tammen wouldn't leave without telling them. At first, police developed the amnesia theory, but later they did consider that he might have deliberately disappeared.

    Mr. Tammen's mother died a short time later. His father moved to Florida and has since died. A brother, who graduated from Miami, lives in California, but could not be reached.

    Dr. Shriver, who came to Miami in 1965, thinks Ronald Tammen somehow lost his memory and later that night arrived on the doorstep of Mrs. Carl Spivey in Seven Mile, about 15 miles east of Oxford.

    "At midnight, she heard a knock," he said. "She saw a young man -- he fit Tammen's description -- standing outside. When she opened the door, he asked her how to get to the bus station.

    "But there was no bus station in Seven Mile. She told him to go to Hamilton. She noticed he had a smudge of dirt on a cheek and his eyes were vacuous. Snow was on the ground that night, but he wore no coat or hat. She shut the door and expected to hear his car start, but it didn't. Then she realized the young man was walking.

    "There's every belief he was Ronald Tammen. The supposition is that he had an attack of amnesia. He had no idea who he was, but he wanted to get to the bus stop."

    That night, the Tammen story ended. But not totally. He has continued to inspire a morbid curiosity in students and reporters.

    "We keep a thick file on him," said Holly Wissing, director of the university's News Bureau. "He's been written about a lot over the years. It's one of those good Halloween stories."

    Intrigued by his story, a student group invited a spiritualist to campus to conduct seances on Halloween in 1967 and 1975. If Mr. Tammen was dead, they reasoned, he might reveal it to them.

    "The spiritualist said he had a vision of a young man studying at his desk," Dr. Shriver said. "He heard a noise that disturbed him and he went to the basement to investigate. There he encountered two men. One came up from behind and hit the young man with some kind of object.

    "Now, I'm not a spiritualist, nor do I necessarily believe in that sort of thing, but it is an interesting aspect of the case."

    The problem with the amnesia theory is the condition doesn't usually last.

    Dr. Peter Simson, a psychologist at Miami, said most post-traumatic conditions last a matter of months, at most.

    "I've never heard of it lasting for years," he said. "It's hard to imagine it going on since the 1950s."

    The late Joe Cella, a reporter who covered Mr. Tammen's disappearance for the Hamilton Journal-News, claimed the police investigation wasn't thorough. He continued to inquire about Mr. Tammen for 25 years, and he carried the student's class photo in his wallet.

    He learned that Mr. Tammen asked for sheets and pillowcases an hour before he disappeared. Mr. Cella also discovered that five months before Mr. Tammen disappeared, he visited Garrett Boone, a Hamilton physician, to determine his blood type. Nothing more.

    "It hardly seems possible that a young college student would walk out of his room and vanish from the face of the earth," Mr. Cella said in a 1977 interview.

    But by then, police had neither leads nor reasons to continue the investigation. They didn't even keep the original case files. The next year, the university razed 120-year-old Fisher Hall to make way for the Marcum Conference Center.

    "It happened so long ago," Lt. Dan Umbstead of the Oxford Police Department said this week. "About the only thing we have left from that time is a picture of the police chief.

    "I did find an arrest card on Mr. Tammen, though. He was cited for running a red light at Main and High streets on March 21, 1953. His $5 fine was suspended.

    "Who knows? Maybe that had something -- however small -- to do with the case. I've seen people kill themselves over less."

    Phillip Shriver will tell Ronald Tammen's story at 9 a.m. today in Room 128 at Miami University's Pearson Hall. The talk is free and open to the public.

    Local Headlines For Saturday, October 31, 1998

    "Justice" for death delayed 9 years
    Broadway wins informal poll
    Bystanders stop alleged abduction
    CAA event focuses on effectiveness
    Cleves' fate brings out a big effort
    Coaches' rivalry extends to campaign
    Ex-Kenton Co. attorney's claim to $1.15M upheld
    Family keeps vigil with boy in coma
    Fire levy would fund 24-hour staff
    FWW reopening delayed
    Home rapes suspect arrested
    House of screams
    House race gets big names
    HUD report largely clears Covington unit
    Letters claim to carry anthrax
    Many Democrats might envy Fisher
    Middletown minister to be retried
    Newport adds movie theater
    Parent-teacher conference left someone out
    Partin's jersey retired
    Scare up something for Halloween
    Taft defends quote
    Tale of vanishing student lives on
    Train rides give glimpse of past
    Wreck shuts down I-275