From the moment Tamara Jaffe arrived in Washington in the fall of 1956, she stepped into a world where the giving and receiving of favors was an art. And here she was -- young, smart, attractive and appreciative -- someone people loved to help, and someone who seldom turned down a proferred favor.
Her living arrangements in Washington had been set before she left Portland in the fall of 1955. A professor at Lewis and Clark had called some of his contacts in Washington and described Tamara's situation: both for financial reasons and to please her father, she wanted to live with a family rather than on her own. With the help of the college president, the professor located an attorney, Bill Blum, whose wife was looking for someone to live with the family and help with her young children.
Tamara soon realized that in Bill Blum she had found an extraordinary benefactor. Not only did he and his family take her in and treat her more as a daughter and sister than a baby sitter, Blum also had her do work in the law offices of Powell, Dorsey & Blum, where she met his clients -- corporate executives, titled Europeans. From her receptionist's desk, she had a window on the doings of the powerful.
By her first winter in Washington, a number of these clients were treating Tamara Jaffe as something between a date and a protege, squiring her to Eisenhower's second inaugural ball in 1957 and offering her advice on her career. She was already growing lukewarm about the idea of the Foreign Service -- people at Georgetown University, where she was studying on scholarship, warned that her foreign birth might exclude her from many diplomatic posts. The work of a translator held little appeal for her. The world of Washington lawyers seemed increasingly attractive.
"I told her if she was working so hard learning the law, she ought to go to law school," Blum said recently. In the fall of 1956, she enrolled in George Washington University law school, and found herself immediately at home with a lawyer's way of thinking and analyzing problems. She was also at home with her fellow students, becoming part of a coffee-and-study group that included a young man named Tyler Abell, stepson of columnist Drew Pearson. She, Tyler and his wife Bess soon became good friends.
"She was a pretty girl, and though I was married at the time, I've always found pretty girls attractive," Abell said. "We used to have a regular group that would sit around and drink coffee and study for hours and hours."
At the time, Tamara was not seeing any man in particular. A young man from Portland would come and visit fairly often; he played with the Blum children and was a favorite with them. But that relationship didn't last. The longer she spent in Washington, the more Tamara seemed to be putting her life in Portland aside the way she had put aside the life that came before.
Her father was still there, of course but her father was very sick. Shortly after she came to Washington -- within a few weeks of her farewell party, recalled her friend Claude Oulman -- Boris Jaffe suffered the first of three debilitating strokes. Claude's father Theodore tried to take care of Jaffe, who was partially paralyzed and had difficulty speaking. But aside from visiting him in the hospital, there was little Oulman could do.
A second stroke followed about two months later. Tamara returned to help the Oulmans put her father in a nursing home and to shut up the basement apartment in the small redbrick building where she had spent her teen-age years. She wanted to take little of that life with her. For every handful of mementos she took, she left a boxful. "She just left everything she didn't want with us," said Claude Oulman. "We kept things because we thought she would want them. But she never did."
Then, on Jan. 11, 1957, as she was sitting at the receptionist's desk at Blum's law firm, Tamara got a call from Theodore Oulman. Her father was dead. A third stroke had killed him. f
In Blum's office at the time was one of his titled clients -- a Belgian baron for whom Tamara had done some translating work, and who had become fond of her. "He took hold of everything and said, 'You get right out there,'" recalled Blum. "He took her down to the airport in his private car and then just opened his wallet and took out a $100 bill and handed it to her. 'That's for all the favors you've done me,' he said."
Back in Portland, Tamara went to stay with the Oulmans. She asked to see her father's body, but Theodore forbade it. "Maybe it wasn't right," he acknowledged later. "But I felt -- he looked so terrible. You would have had difficulty recognizing him. He weighed about 80 pounds. And when she came and wanted to see him, I said, 'No' . . . . She was quite headstrong. She said I didn't have the right."
Tamara did not stay along in Portland on this, her last visit. When her father was buried and his affairs tidied up, she returned to Washington, rolling up her memories of the small Glisan Street apartment, the Willamette River, and the rest of that Northwest city and putting them away in some mental drawer she rarely openly thereafter. Tamara and Bill Wall
She had enough to consume her time in Washington when she returned. There was her work at school, her work at Blum's firm, her work at Blum's home taking care of the children. Years later, she would tell Blum's second wife Ruth: "It was Mr. B. who kept me going. On some nights when I felt like I couldn't do any more, he'd say, 'Just this one night.' And I'd get through it."
But while the Blums had become like family to her, she had an active social life outside, both among the older men who were Blum's law clients and among her study-group friends at law school. She would go to study-break parties at the Abells' apartment when the work became oppressive. It was at such a party that she met an old Army buddy of Tyler Abell, a man seven years her senior. His name was William Wall.
Bill Wall had dropped into the Abells' life somewhat unexpectedly, an aparition from the Army years that Tyler Abell was just as happy to forget. "I've always been a characterseeker, and he was a character," Abell said. Wall clearly regarded the Abells as close friends; they were among the first people he called when he got out.
"He came to Washington because Tyler talked him into it," recalled Wall's sister, Elaine Bluemel. Abell indicated he might know of an engineering job for Bill, she said.
"I said, 'Come on over and see us,'" Abell said. "After two or three days, Bess said, 'You've got to get rid of him.' I agreed. So we did." But by that time, he had already met Tamara.
It is impossible to re-create what might have drawn these two people to one another; even at the time, her friends thought it highly unlikely that a bright, ambitious young law student who had no trouble attracting men should attach herself to a hard-drinking dreamer who had little sense of where he was going. What was the mutual attraction? "God knows," said Bess Abell.
Tamara clearly lost her head over him immediately. The terse notes she left on her 1957 calendar suddenly were surrounded with stars and hearts when she recorded her first date with him on Nov. 29. He proposed to her on Dec. 22, and she brought him to the Blums' house for Christmas dinner. They had a mock engagement ceremony with a dime-store ring shortly after New Year's, and on Jan. 11, she wrote, "Bill placed the icecube on my anxious finger."
She began to tell her friends that she and Bill were getting married. The Abells were appalled. "We just kept thinking, 'My God, Tammy's going to marry that idiot,'" said Abell. According to Bluemel, Tyler Abell "told Bill this was the last person in the world he should marry."
Independently, both Bess and Tyler Abell tried to take Tamara aside and talk her out of it. About a month before the wedding, Tyler called Tamara and asked to see her. When he got to her apartment, he found Wall there, so he took Tamara out for a walk around the block, trying to dissuade her. "I talked and talked and talked and finally worked up the courage to say, diplomatically, that people shouldn't intervene in marriages, but since I'd introduced them, I felt I had to say this guy wasn't right for her.
"Tammy said, 'I know what you mean, and I told him that if he got drunk again, I'd call it off.'
"But I wasn't talking about drinking. I said, 'I didn't know he drank that much.' And she said, 'I know what you're talking about, but things have gone too far.'" Her mind was made up."
Her adopted family did their best to made it work. Kay Leonard, the office manager at Powell, Dorsey & Blum, chipped in to advance the bride the money for her wedding dress and a fancy hat. "She was an extravagant little person -- she got herself the best of everything," Leonard recalled.
Bluemel flew in for the wedding, and said she found her prospective sister-in-law "very attractive, very sweet, a little frightened of people . . . . Among the other guests were Drew Pearson, Tyler Abell's stepfather, and Sen. Richard Neuberger and his wife Maurine -- two friends from Portland with whom Tamara had not lost touch.
"I remember sitting there in amazement, looking at all the people in Washington she knew," recalled Maurine Neuberger. "Lobbyists, people from the Hill, people I considered moved in government circles. And here was this little immigrant girl from Germany walking up the aisle."
Waiting at the other end of the aisle in St. Alban's Church that day in March 1958 was the bridegroom and a very unhappy best man, Tyler Abell. The Unhappy Marriage
A little less than two years after their wedding, Tamara kicked Bill Wall and out of the house they shared in Woodley Park.
If the marriage ever had happy moments, Tamara didn't speak of them. What she described to a few friends in the years that followed were her husband's drunken rampages. He was jealous of her law school friends, jealous of the powerful people she met at Blum's firm, jealous of the favors that were done for her.
Bluemel, who eventually intervened on her brother's behalf, hints that Wall may have had reason for his jealousy. "Tammy had been around. Bill wasn't exactly her first date," she said. But, she added, "I'm not going to deny that he had a drinking problem."
Once, after Blum loaned Tamara his new car for an evening, he found that sugar had been put into the gas tank, ruining the engine. Tamara told him and later told a friend at school that Wall had done this. "He got very bitter at the fact that I rode her into the office with me and took her back home," said Blum.
There was always liquor in the picture. Blum said later that Wall would generally have four or five beers on his way home from his work with a local engineering firm, and that Tamara would come home and check the apartment to see if Bill was drunk before she decided whether to go in or to go back to the Blums for the evening.
"Her marriage seemed pretty stormy, compared with the calm cheerfulness that Tammy usually exuded," said Peggy Blum, who was a young girl at the time. "I can recall [Bill] being very drunk and yelling one time. . . . And Tammy was a very hard-working person. She was committed to her career goals, and at that period she was very single-minded about it. . . . She was not ambivalent. She wanted to pursue her career, and that was it."
There was something else, however -- their child. On Sept. 25, 1958, Cynthia Lee Wall was born.But whatever happiness was brought by the child was moderated by Wall's increasingly erratic behavior. She told friends that he had started to threaten her and even physically abuse her, according to both Blum and Lilla Cummings, Tamara's close friend. "You just can't live like this," Cummings said she told Tamara. "You fear for your safety and you fear loneliness; you're really tremendously vulnerable," Cummings added.
Apparently, Tamara's fears for her safety won out. One night, shortly before Christmas in 1960, Wall came by the apartment -- which he had moved out of -- to bring Cindy a present and return some wedding presents to his wife. Tamara refused to let him in. So he took a carving knife -- one of the wedding presents -- and stuck it in the doorbell. Tamara then called police and had her husband jailed. After Bluemel came down and bailed her brother out a few days later, he left town for good.
"She could never find him to serve any papers on him after that," said Cummings. He never returned to look her up. "The hatred between them was very bad," said Bluemel.
A dozen years later, when Tamara was enrolling her daughter Cindy at a school in Northeast Washington, one of the administrators sent Tamara Wall a letter, addressing it to "Mrs. William Wall."
"I got a phone call from her almost immediately," said the administrator. "She told me very nicely but in no uncertain terms I was never to address her by that name."