The Phantoms of Oxford
By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
A university dorm, once an asylum spawned an enduring mystery of a missing student, that until this day remains unsolved.
In 1953, Ronald Henry Tammen Jr. was attending Miami University as a sophomore. He played string bass in the University dance band known as the Campus Owls, he was part of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, he was a member of the wrestling team, and he was enrolled in the Navy ROTC program. Ron drove a 1938 Chevrolet, and he was the picture of a prototypical university student of the 1950s.
His younger brother Richard also attended the university as a freshman.
On April 19, 1953, at 8 p.m. he left Room 225 in Fisher Hall to get new bedsheets because his friend Richard Titus had put a fish in his bed as a prank. Richard was in room 212, just a few feet from Tammen's dorm room. The hall manager gave him clean sheets, and he was the last person to see Tammen at 10:30 p.m. that night.
The identity of the prankster was not verified until 2010 by J. Wenger who runs a complete blog about the Tammen story. She points out that Titus slipped the dead fish into Tammen's bed on Saturday night. It seems that the night before he disappeared, Ron did not sleep in his bed at the dorm, and it wasn't until Sunday when he discovered the "corpse" hidden among his sheets.
Later his roommate Charles Findlay came to their room around 9 p.m. He had spent the weekend at his Dayton home. He found Tammen's psychology book open on his desk, the radio was playing and the lights in the room were blazing. The door to the dorm was unlocked.
The roommate did not think anything sinister, and thought Tammen had gone to spend the night in the Delta Tau Delta house. Strangely though Tammen had left his coat behind even though it was a snowy night. Also his wallet, school ring and car keys were in the room.
Visible from the window of the dorm was Ron's 1938, gold Chevy with his bass fiddle in the back seat. Both of these were cherished possessions, which apparently were left behind as well.
Only when Ron failed to appear the following day was a search initiated. A nearby pond was dragged. His parents and the police were not notified until April 23.
A week after his disappearance 400 students walked 3 miles in each direction as part of a search effort, but nothing came of it.
One witness, a Mrs. Spivey said that a dazed young man with a streak of dirt on his face, fitting Tammen's description came to her home at Village of Seven Mile early on the morning of April 20, asking for directions to the nearest bus stop. However she did not come forward with this information until June, and later on there was a question how accurate she was.
By May 18, the FBI had joined the hunt for Ron Tammen after the draft board was notified by his father that he was missing. Once he was not attending the university, his deferment would end. His parents were hoping that they would help to distribute their son's likeness across the country.
Oscar Decker the Oxford police chief said, "He's probably alive and quite healthy, but maybe hundreds of miles away where no one has recognized him." Again this was based on the theory that Ron was an amnesiac.
No doubt there were some that wondered if Ron had been a victim of a hazing gone wrong. Others felt the police investigation had not been adequate.
Ron's room was at the end of a hallway, where hardly anyone passed by, and it was close to a fire escape. Was it coincidental that if something nefarious was planned it was done when his roommate would be away for the entire weekend?
Two years passed, and the local newspapers ran a short story reminding everyone that Ron had yet to be found. His parents were interviewed at their Maple Heights home, and they said they believed he was still alive.
Hopes were stirred in 1958, when bones were discovered by workmen in a gravel pit near West Alexandria, Ohio which was 25 miles from Oxford. A complete set of teeth with no fillings were recovered from the body. Mrs. Tannen said her son had several teeth filled.
In 1967, his mother Marjorie passed away. His father remarried and moved to Florida.
Throughout the years, there have been supposed sightings of Ron, including those much closer to home where some say he haunts the campus he disappeared from.
In 1967, a spiritualist ceremony was held at Fisher Hall where a séance was scheduled. John T. Lilley from Dayton would be conducting it on a full moon night. The hall seated 200 persons, but the event became so popular that it was decided they should start to accept telephone reservations for a ticket.
Another attempt for spirit communication was made in 1975, not only to see if Ron would come forth, but also to see who else was haunting the building. The medium described where a young man heard a noise that drew him to the basement and he encountered two men. One of them struck him from behind. No other information came after this scene. This left everything just as mysterious as before.
In 1973, the Butler County Coroner said that Tammen visited his office 5 months before his disappearance asking for a blood test. The coroner thought this was a very unusual request.
Fisher Hall was demolished in 1978, and an extensive search was made of the rubble, nothing connected to Ron Tammen was found including his remains.
Some students went on to dub him the Phantom of Oxford.
In 2009, a DNA sample was taken from his sister and compared to a John Doe body found in 1953, in Georgia, however there was no match. Ron's sister passed away in 2020, his parents have also died as well as two of his other brothers. Only one brother is left who lives in Florida.
Born in 1933, if Ron were still alive he would be in his 80s. It seemed that if he did go on to live a life under an assumed identity, he never did anything which would require him to submit his fingerprints, such as an arrest or a job. It seems as if the earth swallowed Ronald Tammen Jr. whole.
Then there was story of a ghost being seen in the formal gardens behind Fisher Hall. Then the ghost was heard singing, however if anyone chased it, the phantom would just disappear.
Some believed it was Ron's phantom, others thought it was a prank, and then others wondered if someone played a practical joke on Ron that went too far.
A few years after Ron's disappearance the upper floors of Fisher Hall were left untenanted because they were unsafe. The first floor was used for the university's theater. The students all said there was a ghost there.
Items would disappear, and many were afraid to stay alone in the building. Shadows passed swiftly behind the windows, and once in a while muffled voices were heard, but what was being said could not be made out.
Eventually the entire building was deemed unsafe and it was only used for storage.
Students would remark that when passing by the building they would feel someone watching them.
Fisher Hall was razed in 1979, and in its place the Timothy Marcum Memorial Conference Center was erected. It was named after Joseph Timothy Marcum who graduated in 1973, and died in a one-car crash in July of that same year.
However Oxford College had mysteries and ghost stories long before Ron Tammen Jr. disappeared.
Old Fisher Hall was once the Oxford College for Women. In the 1880s, Dr. Harvey Cook bought the building and made into an asylum and sanitarium after it closed. He added other buildings and it was then called the Oxford Retreat. There was also the acquisition of a building that was named The Pines, and Dr. Cook lived at an adjacent structure called Cook Place.
There was a tunnel that led from The Pines to Cook Place. The story told about the tunnel, is that Dr. Cook used it get to his house from the Pines without being seen by the patients.
Miami University first acquired the Retreat property in 1925. The old college building was renamed Fisher Hall, and was used as a residence for the male students. Every once in a while the students would come across discarded strait jackets and other remnants of what the building was once used for.
According to When the Ghost Screams: True Stories of Victims Who Haunt (2006), Fisher Hall already had a reputation for being haunted. The structure had been occupied since 1856, when it was a female college with a dining room which seated 800 students. Two hundred students lived in the building.
During World War II, it was used as a barracks for the Naval radio training school.
It was September 14, 1898, when Professor Henry Snyder died at his home. There were whispers of suicide, but none could figure out why he would have done away with himself.
The coroner determined that Professor Snyder was "eccentric" and his death was a case of "suicide beyond doubt."
He had experienced trauma early in his life when he was 9 years old. In 1865, his mother Amanda died during childbirth of her last baby, Charles.
Dr. Harvey Cook from the university analyzed what poisons Snyder had taken, however at the inquest a month later he was unable to identify which drugs caused his death.
The widow, Hermine Snyder nee Meiser, 38, was asked to give testimony at the inquest about what she knew concerning her husband's death.
She confirmed they were married in 1884, and that he had been connected to the university all those years. He was the Chair of the Physics and Chemistry Department. Hermine said his health declined in the last 8 years, but six weeks before his death he had a sunstroke which affected him badly.
Coincidentally Professor Snyder had inherited a considerable fortune some months before upon the death of an uncle at Springfield, Ohio. The family was well off, and two uncles had died in 1896, William and John. Neither were married or had offspring.
Professor Snyder had gone to Springfield almost two months before his death to oversee the erection of a monument over his uncle's grave, which is when he became ill. Which one of the uncles is not certain.
Mrs. Snyder testified that he had been despondent. She had even asked Dr. Alexander, a friend to approach him, which he did by visiting his laboratory in Brice Hall, however Snyder refused to unbolt the door.
David Snyder, Henry's brother was also questioned, and he concurred that his brother had not been in his right mind the last few weeks of his life.
Professor Snyder had gone to Brice Hall where he taught, before he returned to his home and died. He refused to have a physician called. Some wondered if when he visited his laboratory he had concocted the strange chemical that took his life.
Later Dr. Alexander, Dr. George and Harvey Cook all used a stomach pump to wash out his stomach, but nothing worked.
Then there was his wife Hermine, nicknamed Minnie who was so different from him. While he was staid, she dressed like a gypsy who loved to sing on stage. Could she have done away with Professor Snyder? Some said no, but then she went on to marry her husband's lab assistant William Pugh in 1904.
He left her in 1919, destitute and without any knowledge of where he went to. Perhaps by then she had run out of any money she had inherited from her first husband. She died in 1940.
For 30 years, Helen Peabody was the president of the famous Western College for Women at Oxford, Ohio. She was known to be stern and unbending, and any boys trying to slip on campus knew they faced a dragon who believed proper young ladies didn't spend time with boys, unless they were chaperoned. She was vehemently against coed education.
She died on October 8, 1905, in Pasadena, California, and Seminary Hall built in 1855, was renamed for her that same year.
Miss Peabody had resigned as president in 1889, and traveled to Japan on mission business. She returned and relocated to Pasadena, however despite her absence, her body was shipped back and interred in a cemetery in Oxford, Ohio.
She left no immediate family except nieces and nephews, and her estate worth $50,000 which included different properties were to be used to found a home for Christian workers in foreign and home missionary fields.
Students claimed that it's her ghost that haunts Peabody Hall. Low growls are heard, also reports of the shower turning off by itself. A large portrait of Helen dominates the foyer, and many claim the painted eyes follow you as you hurry along.
Reid Hall is also said to be haunted. Footsteps are heard in empty rooms and bloody hand prints were seen on a door. Supposedly the prints will not wash away, and were made many years ago by a student shot and killed when he tried to break up a fight.
Two boys once experienced what they called a small earthquake that was only felt in their room.
On May 9, 1959, Herbert A. Lucas, 18, was being searched for by the police. Earlier in day he came to the dormitory at Reid Hall looking for another student named James Walker, 18. There was a dispute over a Sandra Epps, 18, a freshman from Greenville who both young men had dated.
Roger T. Sayles, 20, also a dormitory counselor like Ron Tammen came to quiet the students. Then Herbert Lucas pulled a .22 caliber automatic and fired at Walker who was wounded, and then shot Sayles dead.
Sayles was affiliated with Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity. His reward for being a peacemaker was death.
Lucas was later found in a telephone booth at Ogden Hall where he shot himself in the head. He was carrying two stolen .22 caliber automatic pistols with 250 rounds of ammunition. He had gained entry into the indoor rifle range by breaking in through the roof.
In a heartbreaking turn of events, Sayles' mother was visiting him for Mother's Day and had been staying at the campus.
Another ghost story that circulates at Miami University is the story of a young Oxford man who was decapitated by barbed wire stretched across a road. He ran through the wire while riding his motorcycle.
The story goes that he was traveling on Oxford-Milford Road, on the way to visit his girlfriend who lived on Earhart Road. He is said to repeat the ride that he is never destined to finish. To see him one would go to Earhart Road, and park facing south. If you flash your headlights three times, you may see the motorcycle headlights which suddenly disappear as they approach the fatal curve.
There is no record of this incident occurring at this place or the way described. It's probably an urban myth.
Likely the story was based on the death of George Higgins. On June 21, 1911, he was instantly killed when he ran into a barbed wire stretched across the main road near Colby, Kansas. The wire caught him below the chin. He was riding tandem with another man named Charles Quick who was also badly cut, but would eventually recover. They were traveling at a high speed and it was believed the wire was put across the road maliciously. They were on their way to Atwood near Jim Campbell's farm.
Higgins was the custodian of the school buildings of Colby and Quick, and was formerly the Clerk of Thomas County.
Within a week it was discovered that the barb wire was stretched across the road by a boy, at the direction of a farmer in the area who made it his custom to stretch the wire, while driving the stock from one pasture to another.
The boy would have taken the wire down within another five minutes. The repercussions of that ill-fated day went on to claim other lives. Higgins was a man in his 40s, and had a 22-year-old son. His wife Mary Ann was an invalid, and she died the following year. It was described she arose on a Sunday morning to prepare breakfast, and suddenly fell over dead. Many believed the grief of her husband's death contributed to her collapse.
Charles Quick the tandem rider survived and by 1913, was back on a motorcycle. He made the papers because he broke down out on a country lane, and the story recalled how he barely escaped with his life only two years before. By 1914, he was working for the Twin City Tractor Company, and went on to live many more yeras.
Harry Thobe was a brick mason born in 1870, and during his lifetime became notorious for gate crashing different sports events, including 20 World Series games, 8 Rose Bowls, 3 Orange Bowls and a Sun Bowl, of course without paying.
He sported a white suit and hat, and diamond-studded teeth. Thobe also carried an umbrella and megaphone. In other words he was unmistakable.
He claimed he attended 54 Miami University Homecoming games, consecutively.
In 1900, he won $150 on that year's election. He hired bands and exploded fireworks and set fire to a huge pile of boxes and barrels in Oxford's public square.
Thobe claimed that the outcome of Miami games would come to him in a dream. Then he would announce it through his megaphone on gameday.
He "designed, donated and built" a fountain for the Miami's campus. The fountain was used to duck "overfresh Freshmen", and the administration was forced to fill it with rocks.
After his death in 1950, it fell into disrepair, and a smaller one was put in its place. This replacement was removed in 1959, and a plaque and monument was erected to commemorate Harry's gift.
If there was something about Harry is that he didn't like to be overlooked. Stories are that his spirit still hangs out by the site of the fountain, which is between King Library and Harrison Hall. All you have do is call out his name, and he'll echo his name back to you.
Leave a Reply.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer