The mystery of Room 1046

Those of you who are followers of this blog should know that I have an interest in the unusual, bizarre and the unexplained. One event that fits all of these categories, as well as being chilling and scary, is what happened in the room of a hotel in Kansas City in early 1935.

Here is a newspaper account from the Newcastle Sun of the 22nd of May 1943, of the murder that took place in Room 1046 of the Hotel President, and the unusual events that took place both before and after the grisly death of Roland T Owen.

Mystery Murder in Room 1046

Too many clues spoil the broth! So the police of Kansas City, Mo., might have parodied the old adage on that morning, some eight years ago, when the curtain rose on one of the strangest murder mysteries in the annals of American crime.

At 7 a.m. on January 4, 1935. the switchboard operator of the Hotel President prepared to call Room 1046 in accordance with instructions left by the occupant, who had registered on New Year’s  Day as Roland T Owen, Los Angeles, Cal.  As she picked up the plug, the red light over 1046 blinked on. Indicating that Mr. Owen had removed the receiver from the hook, presumably to inform her he was already awake. But no response to her repeated “good mornings” came from the other end of the line. Perhaps Mr. Owen had inadvertently knocked the receiver from its cradle in his sleep, she thought, and despatched a bellboy. In answer to his knock a gruff voice responded, and the boy returned downstairs.

At 8.30 the phone in 1046 was again off the hook. Discovering the door locked-from the outside-the bellhop entered with a passkey. The blinds were drawn, the room dark; and he was surprised to see the shadowy, nude form of Owen sprawled on the bed, face to the wall. The bell boy, believing Owen intoxicated, replaced the phone which had fallen from its stand, and tiptoed out. At 11.15 the same thing was repeated. This time the bed was empty. The bellboy raised a blind-and froze. A chair was overturned. The telephone sprawled on the floor. The bedclothes were in a rumpus, and everywhere-on sheets, pillows, wall- were crimson stains. Blood! The bathroom door was ajar. Seated on the edge of the tub was a stalwart figure, stripped, clung with scarlet hands to the wash stand. Shoulders, chest, abdomen were slashed and bleeding.  The back of his head was crushed; his throat was gashed: blood pumped from a stab wound above his heart. House doctor and detective, summoned by the bellboy’s walls, found Owen still conscious. The detective knelt over him. ‘Who did this. Mr. Owen?’ ‘Nobody.’ he whispered. ‘What happened?’ ‘I fell against the bathtub,’ he mumbled, and collapsed. He died 18 hours later without regaining consciousness. Meantime a police squad, rushed to the hotel: discovered that not a single article of Owen’s remained in the room. His clothing, travelling kit, toothbrush, everything was gone. The door key, too, was missing. The telephone and a broken tumbler yielded smudged fingerprints-apparently a woman’s.  They could not be traced. Guests in an adjoining room reported hearing visitors in 1046 around midnight. The voices indicated two couples, they thought, and about 2 a.m. a quarrel developed. Then at 4 a.m. there was a sound like drunken snoring. The night elevator man recalled taking up to the tenth floor a woman who inquired for 1046. A half-hour later she’d descended to the lobby. An hour after that she returned with a man and went up to the ninth  floor. This couple departed the hotel around 4 a.m. So did a gentleman carrying a Gladstone bag.

The inquest established that Owen had been attacked about 4 a.m., but the identity or involvement of the nocturnal visitors could not be determined.  His slayers had tortured Owen cruelly. Why? And why had he refused to name them? And who was Owen? Los Angeles authorities, advised of the murder, were unable to find any records of such an individual. A maid in the hotel said that on the afternoon of the 2nd (Wednesday) she had entered 1046 and found Owen sitting with the shades drawn, in semi-darkness. ‘Leave the door unlocked. I’m expecting a friend.’ he told her, and walked out looking worried. Returning later with fresh linen she found him lying on the bed in the still darkened room. The following morning she found the door locked from the outside, and let herself in with a pass key to make up the bed. To her surprise there sat Owen, fully dressed, in the dark. He told her to go ahead with her work.  Presently the phone rang and she heard Owen say. ‘No, Don I’ve had my breakfast. I don’t care to go out.’   Obviously, then, Owen was being held a prisoner. And in a situation in which he did not dare attempt escape or appeal for help. On March 3, 1935 the local papers carried an announcement that Owen’s body was to be buried in potter’s field.

Hardly was this story on the  street when the phone rang in one of the city’s editorial rooms. ‘You have a story in your paper that is wrong,’ a woman’s voice said. ‘Roland Owen will not be buried in a pauper’s grave. Arrangements have been made for his funeral.’ ‘Who are you?’ queried the startled editor. ‘Who’s calling? ”Never mind. I know what I’m talking about.’ ‘What happened to Owen at the hotel?’ ”He got into a jam,’ was the laconic answer, punctuated by the receiver’s click. Meantime: ‘Don’t bury Owen in a pauper’s grave.’ a man’s voice instructed McGilley’s undertaking parlors. ‘I want you to bury him in Memorial Park Cemetery. Then he will be near my sister. I’ll send funds to cover the funeral expenses.

‘Who is this? I’ll have to report this to the police.’   ‘That’s all right, Mr. McGilley,” the undertaker was assured.   In answer to another question the voice explained that Owen had jilted a girl he’d promised to marry— the speaker had witnessed the jilting— the three had held a little meeting at the President Hotel. ‘Cheaters usually get what’s coming to them!’ he exclaimed, and hung up. A little while later the telephone rang in the office of the Rock Floral Company. ‘I want 13 American Beauty roses sent to Roland Owen’s funeral.’ the anonymous caller said. ‘I’m doing this for my sister. I’ll send you a five-dollar bill, special delivery.’ None of these phone-booth calls could be traced. Neither could the subsequent letter to McGllley’s mortuary— its address carefully printed by pen and ruler. Enclosed was 25 dollars. A similar missive with money reached the florist. Inside was a card, its handwriting obviously disguised, to go with the flowers: ‘Leave for East. — Louise.’ These melodramatic developments, tauntingly brazen, drove the Kansas City authorities to new furies of endeavor. A love vendetta seemed evident. Louise was the jilted. Owen, supposedly faithless, had been decoyed into a trap and vengefully slain. Detectives serving as pall bearers guarded the funeral. Others, disguised as grave diggers, watched the cemetery for days. But nothing happened.

Two years went by-then in November 1936. Mrs. L. E. Ogletree, of Birmingham, Ala., saw a resume of the case published in ‘The American Weekly,’ with ‘Owen’s’ photograph. Mrs. Ogletree was shocked to recognise the portrait. The scar-result of a childhood burn. The features-stalwart build. No doubt about it. ‘Ronald Owen’ was Artemus Ogeltree-her son! Early in 1934, Artemus, then a 17-year-old high-school student, had started to hitch-hike to California, she said. Ample funds were sent him while he was apparently enjoying his holiday. Then, early in 1935, Mrs. Ogle tree had received a typewritten letter, signed ‘Artemus,’ queerly slangy and unfamiliar, postmarked Chicago. In May, from New York, came a second note, telling her Artemus was going to Europe, followed immediately by a special delivery saying he was sailing that day. The letters seemed spurious-Artemus had never before used a typewriter-and Mrs. Ogletree was suspicious, and worried. Then, on August 12, 1935, she received a long-distance call from Memphis, Tenn. A man who gave his name as Jordan and explained that her son had once saved his life, said that Artemus was in Cairo, Egypt, and well. He called later to tell her Artemus had married a wealthy woman in Cairo and was unable to write because he’d lost a thumb in a bar-room brawl. The speaker sounded irrational. Mrs. Ogletree sent her son’s photograph to the Kansas City police. Sergeant Howland identified the youth at once. And the grim fact was immediately evident-Mrs. Ogletree had received mysterious phone calls and typewritten letters after Artemus was dead. Was the purpose of this cruel deception to further cloak the slain youth’s identity? Perpetrator of letters and calls has never been found. The mystery of Room 1046 is still unsolved.”

I originally was made aware of the story of Room 1046 through this blog entry on the Strange Company blog, which has some further details. One detail from this account is how Owen was found wandering the street and hitched a ride to a cab rank. If he was in such mortal danger, why didn’t he just flee Kansas City and go somewhere else?

It looks like the murder in Room 1046 will never be solved.