Kansas City Public Library
Infamous horror films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” have given hotels a whole new meaning by becoming an eerie setting for murders. These films show killings of guests and a hotel that can turn a man into a maniac within months. Frightening enough, the real-life unsolved murder of a man who claimed to be named “Roland T. Owen” seems as if it was something straight out of a horror movie. Room #1046 has been added to the list of the sinister hotel room numbers such as Room #1 and Room #237.
The man who named himself “Roland T. Owen”
“Roland T. Owen” checked in the President Hotel, now known as the Hilton President, in Kansas City, Missouri, on January 2, 1935. The man originally wanted to check into the Muehlebach Hotel but refused to once he was aware of the high price of $5 a night. He mentioned he was from Los Angeles and asked for an interior room, one without a window facing the street. Employee’s stated that Owen was well-dressed with a large overcoat and appeared to have a large, white, wedge-shaped scar, four and one-half inches across the base over the left ear and a cauliflower ear, a condition known in wrestlers and boxers. Owen was described as being “about 20 to 35 years old; 5 feet 10; weighed 180 pounds, had blue eyes and bushy brown hair.” He registered to stay for three days but had no luggage with him, other than a toothbrush and a comb. After Owen was granted his hotel room, a bell boy, Randolph Propst, took him to his fatal destination in room 1046.
The unusual guest
At a later time, the maid, Mary Soptic, had gone to tidy up the room. She noticed how the shades were drawn and a lamp being the only source of light, once she entered the room. Owen seemed agitated and left shortly after the maid arrived, but mentioned to her to leave the room unlocked once she was done since he was expecting a friend.
“He was either worried about something or afraid. He always wanted to kinda keep in the dark,” Mary Soptic reported to the police regarding Owen’s behavior.
Soptic had gone up to the room again around 4 p.m., with clean towels. She took notice of how the door was unlocked when she made her way inside the room. Once again, the room was strangely dimmed. Owen was on the bed, fully dressed and eerily watching Soptic’s every move in the dark. There was a note on the desk that read, “Don, I will be back in fifteen minutes. Wait.” After Soptic finished her duties, she left the room.
Soptic returned the following day, January 3, in the morning. The President Hotel doors were able to be locked from the outside instead of the inside. Owen’s door was locked from the outside, forcing Soptic to use her passkey. He was once again sitting in the dark and he offered no explanation as to who might have locked him inside the room without a key. There was an intense atmosphere between Soptic and Owen which later was interrupted by an incoming call. Soptic overheard Owen speaking on the phone with the mysterious “Don.”
“No, Don, I don’t want to eat. I am not hungry. I just had breakfast. No, I am not hungry,” Owen said.
Once he hung up, he began interrogating Soptic about her whereabouts in the hotel and continued to complain about the high rates of the Hotel Muehlebach.
Soptic became wary of the unusual events that kept coming her way but continued to work nonetheless. Soptic returned later that day with a set of fresh towels. However, Owen was not alone this time. Soptic noticed two men were talking inside the room. She knocked and told the men her reason for being there and a much harsher voice than Owen’s had let the maid know they weren’t in need of towels. Soptic shrugged it off and returned to work after getting the man’s response.
Robert Lane, a worker for the Kansas City Water Department, is said to have been the next person to have interacted with Owen after Soptic and “Don.” Lane had offered a ride to a young man running along 13th Street, about a mile and a half away from the President Hotel. Lane was surprised by the man being dressed in only pants and an undershirt, with no coat, due to the winter night. However, Lane noticed a deep scratch on the man’s arm and the way the man cupped his hands, to which Lane assumed the man was trying to hide the blood from another wound. Lane asked about the arm once the young man asked to get dropped off somewhere he could catch a taxi. The young man responded by saying, “I’ll kill him tomorrow,” to Lane’s curiosity. Lane dropped the man in a taxi stand and never saw him again.
On January 4, Jean Owen, a guest who was given the key to room 1048, the room next to Roland, (no relation to him) heard arguing between what sounded like a man and a woman in room 1046. According to police reports, she heard a ‘repeated commotion’ that night.
“I heard a lot of noise which sounded like it (was) on the same floor, and consisted largely of men and women talking loudly and cursing,” she said in her statement. “When the noise continued I was about to call the desk clerk but decided not to,” Jean said.
The man in room 1026
A ‘commercial woman’, a term given to women of the night in the 30’s, had walked into the hotel looking for a man in room 1026. Supposedly, the woman was a “very prompt” customer, according to Charles Blocher, the graveyard shift elevator operator at the hotel. The woman supposedly had a meeting with the man in room 1026 whom she failed to find. At a later time, Blocher was summoned by the woman, who was with a man. Blocher took them to the ninth floor and it is still unknown what connection they had with Owen.
The bloody day
The upcoming morning, the hotel’s telephone operator had told a Randolph Propst to go up to room 1046 due to inactivity of the telephone. The phone had been off the hook for ten minutes without being used. When the bellhop made his way to room 1046, the “Do not disturb” sign was hanging on the doorknob. The bellhop decided to knock, despite the sign. A deep voice told him to come in, but the door was locked. The bellhop notified the man of the situation but the man failed to address it and continued on by saying, “Turn on the lights.” The bellboy continued to heavily knock for several minutes but received no response. “Put the phone back on the hook,” the bellboy shouted through the door before making his way back to the lobby.
Around 8:30 in the same morning, another bellhop, Harold Pike, had gone up to room 1046 due to the telephone remaining off the hook. He knocked, but unlike the first bellhop, received no response within the first try. The bellhop decided to make his way inside the room with a passkey, which ended up with encountering Owen’s naked body in the bed, in sheets with dark marks. The bellhop had assumed Owen was passed-out drunk and proceeded to put the telephone back in the stand and left the room.
The bellhop had made a mistake with this assumption, as Propst, who went up to deal with the same situation would discover.
“When I entered the room, this man was within two feet of the door on his knees and elbows-holding his head in his hands. I noticed blood on his head,” the bellboy reported to the police.
When the witness turned on the lights, he saw more blood on the walls and in the bathroom. There was blood everywhere. The terrified bellboy ran out of the room to notify the assistant manager about the horrendous experience that he had encountered. The assistant manager proceeded to call the police.
According to the police, someone had committed the horrible things to Owen about six or seven hours earlier when they arrived. Meaning, Owen had been brutally tortured far long before the first bellboy had gone up to check the room. He was tied up around his neck, ankles, and wrists. He had been repeatedly stabbed in the chest, with one of the knife thrusts puncturing his lung. His skull was fractured from repeated blows to the right side of the head.
A detective at the scene had asked Owen who had been in the room with him. However, before drifting into unconsciousness, he answered, “Nobody,” to the detective, losing his opportunity for justice. The detective proceeded on by asking Owen how he ended up getting hurt, to which Owen responded by stating that he fell against the bathtub. The detective asked Owen whether if he tried to commit suicide or not, and before slipping into a comma, Owen answered with a faintly, “No.”
Owen reportedly died at the hospital 18 hours later, in the early morning hours of January 5, 1935.
Evidence in room 1046
The police had not discovered much in the crime scene but enough to assume someone else had been mixed in with this. The little evidence consisted of a label from a necktie, an unsmoked cigarette, four bloody fingerprints on a lampshade, a hairpin, a small unopened bottle of diluted sulfuric acid, a broken water glass with a jagged edge in the sink, and to the police’s surprise, no clothing that matched Owen’s description, and the hotel utilities such as soap and toothpaste were also missing. There was no sign of the cords which must have been used to tie up Owen and the weapon that stabbed him. The only prints that were found in the scene were from the telephone, which police suspected belonged to a woman. A hotel employee had reportedly seen a woman and a man hurriedly rush out the hotel which made the police convinced that “someone else is mixed up in this.”
Searching for an identity
After Owen’s corpse was put in display and sketches of the victim were published in the newspaper, several people claimed they knew him, but with different names. Tony Bernardi, a wrestling promoter, had identified the dead man as someone who had visited him several weeks earlier to sign up for wrestling matches. However, Bernardi mentioned the man gave himself the name, “Cecil Warner.” Multiple bartenders also stated that Owen was accompanied by different women during the night that Robert Lane had offered him a ride. According to police’s discovery, a man who fit the description of “Owen” did spend some time in the Muehlebach, as well as the Kansas City and St. Regis Hotel. The man used the name of “Eugene Scott.” The Staff at the Regis Hotel had informed the police that Owen had a companion who has yet to be identified. Now the police had yet to identify the real identity of the dead man and his killer.
An unmarked grave
Regardless, by the beginning of March, preparations were made to bury the victim in an unmarked grave. However, the head of the funeral home in charge of the body received an anonymous phone call before “Owen” could be brought in to the city’s Potter’s Field. The man asked that the burial is delayed until money could be sent to cover the expenses of a burial in the Memorial Park Cemetery, near the caller’s sister. He then carried on by claiming that “Roland T. Owen” was the dead man’s real name and that he had been engaged to his sister. Supposedly, Owen had left a woman he knew and mentioned: “cheaters usually get what’s coming to them.” The funeral director said that the mysterious patron told him that Owen “just got into a jam,” and that the police “are on the wrong track.” The man failed to identify himself and hung up.
After some time the call ended, the telephone rang in the office of the Rock Floral Company. It was a woman who wanted ‘13 American Beauty roses sent to Roland T. Owen’s funeral,’ and who said that she was doing it for her sister. None of these calls were able to be traced and both identities are still unknown today.
Once the money came in anonymously via special delivery mail, “Owen” was finally buried in Memorial Park Cemetery. Other than a handful of detectives, no one attended the funeral. The bouquet of roses for the grave arrived and it was accompanied by a card within the flowers, which read, “Love forever, Louise.”
The anonymous man identity remained unknown until late 1936 when a woman named Eleanor Ogletree had read about the murder in an “American Weekly” magazine. Ogletree stated that the description that was given to “Owen” had matched her missing brother, Artemus. The Ogletree’s hadn’t seen him since he left his home in Birmingham, Alabama in April 1934 with aspirations to “see the country.” The last his mother, Ruby, had heard from him was from three short typewritten letters. The first of these notes arrived in the spring of 1935, months after “Owen” died. Mrs. Ogletree later said she was suspicious of the letters due to his son not knowing how to type. The last letter said he was “sailing for Europe.” Additionally, several months after the last letter, Mrs. Ogletree had received a call from a man calling himself “Jordan.” The man had said that Artemus had saved his life in Egypt and that her son had married a wealthy Cairo woman. When Mrs. Ogletree was shown a photo of “Owen,” she immediately recognized the dead man as her missing son. He was only 17 when he was murdered.
In 2003, a researcher at the Kansas City Public Library received an anonymous phone call from someone probing the case of “Roland T. Owen.” The person claimed they were going through the belongings of a deceased person and found a bunch of newspaper clippings about the case in a box. They mentioned that “something” was found in the box but failed to say what it was before hanging up. As to what the person found, it still remains a mystery today.
Despite being identified, so many questions remained unanswered. If the dead man was truly Artemus, why did he use false identities? Who were Don and Louise and how did they contribute to the murder? Who was the “commercial woman?” What was Artemus doing in Kansas City? Who sent the three typewritten letters? What relationship did Jordan and Ogletree have? Who paid for the funeral and the roses? Was Jordan the man who was seen at the hotel the night that Artemus died?
The most common theory
There have been multiple theories that have emerged regarding the case but the most popular of them all involves Artemus cheating on the mysterious caller’s sister. Looking back at the evidence, such as the commotion of a man and a woman loudly arguing in room 1046, the fingerprint on a telephone that supposedly belonged to a woman, the sighting of the pair hurriedly making their way out of the hotel, the patron caller who informed the funeral director that “Owen” was engaged to his sister and that “cheaters usually get what’s coming to them” and the mysterious “Louise” that had sent flowers to the burial, it all somehow added up. Both “Don” and “commercial woman” might have been related and together in this crime. “Don” had paid for the funeral expenses in order for Artemus to be buried next to his sister. And the woman who sent the flowers felt guilty enough to send roses in tribute of her sister. Perhaps, Artemus was unfaithful to the deceased sister and the siblings took it upon themselves to punish him? The world might never know.