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1935: "Roland T. Owen", Artemus Ogletree & The Mystery of Room 1046

Discussion in 'Historical Cold Cases - Pre 1950' started by Lily, Jul 23, 2015.

  1. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    Okay, this is a really weird one...

    Transcript of 1943 article about this peculiar "locked door mystery" murder, still unsolved to this day:

    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, L0s Angeles, Cal. As she picked up the plug, the red light over 1046 blinked on, indicating that Mr. Owen had re moved 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 dispatched 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 out side—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, wail— were crimson stains. Blood! The bathroom door was ajar. Seated on the edge of the tub. 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 wails, 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 finger prints. 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 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. 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 semidarkness. '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 r00m. 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 the Memorial Park Cemetery. Then he will be near my sister. I'll send funds to cover the funeral.'

    '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 McGilley'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: 'Love for ever — 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 pallbearers 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.

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  2. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    Artemus Ogletree

    Here's links and a few quotes from this awesome and well researched (from case files) 2-part article on the case, written by Dr. John Arthur Horner:

    A little before 11 p.m. on Thursday, January 3, 1935, Robert Lane was driving on 13th Street. Lane worked for the Kansas City water department. He later said that as he drove he noticed something rather strange. As he approached Lydia avenue, he saw a man was running west on the north side of the street. This man was clad in trousers, shoes, and an undershirt. That’s all. Though the day had been pretty mild by January standards, he must still have felt chilled.

    He waved and shouted to Lane to stop. He approached Lane’s stopped car, but slowed, furrowing his forehead. He apologized, saying, “I’m sorry. I thought you were a taxi,” then looked up and down the street. “Will you take me to where I can get a cab?”

    Lane nodded, and replied, “You look as if you’ve been in it bad.”

    The man grumbled, “I’ll kill that—” (here the Times printed a long dash to indicate a deleted expletive) “… tomorrow,” as he opened the door and got into the back seat.

    Lane glanced at the man, shifted gears, and headed his car toward 12th and Troost. He stared quietly at the man through his rearview mirror, noticing a deep scratch on his left arm. He also noticed that the man cupped his hands. Lane thought that the man might be trying to catch blood from a wound more profound than the scratch on his arm.

    As the car approached the desired intersection, the man thanked Lane as he jumped out, then ran to the driver’s side of a parked taxi, opened the door, and honked the horn. Very quickly the cabbie could be seen hurrying from the restaurant where he had been eating.

    The man went to the front desk and asked for an interior room several floors up. He signed the register as Roland T. Owen, and gave Los Angeles as his home address. He paid for one day.

    Owen had a cauliflower left ear, which made it easy for people to see him as a professional boxer or wrestler. He had dark brown hair and a large, horizontal scar in the side of his scalp, rising above his ear. This was at least partially covered by hair that he had combed over the disfigurement. The desk clerk gave Mr. Owen the key to room 1046 and sent bellboy Randolph Propst with him to the elevator, to show Owen the way to his room. Propst later described Owen as neatly dressed, wearing a black overcoat.

    Propst and Owen chatted on the way up to the tenth floor. Owen told the bellboy that he had been at the Muehlebach Hotel the night before, but they had charged him the outrageous price of $5.00 for his room. (With inflation, $5.00 in 1935 had the buying power of a little over $80.00 in 2012 dollars.)

    Charles Blocher was the elevator operator for the graveyard shift at the hotel, and he started work a little before midnight on January 3. For the first hour and a half of his shift he was pretty busy, but around half past one business tapered off, though there seemed to be a fairly boisterous party in room 1055. As he puts it in his statement, sometime in the first three hours

    I took a woman that I recognized as being a woman who frequents the hotel with different men in different rooms. It is my impression from this woman’s actions that she is a commercial woman. I took her to the 10th floor and she made inquiries for room 1026 (sic) – about 5 minutes after this I received a signal to come back to the 10th floor. Upon arriving there I met this same woman and she wondered why he wasn’t in his room because he had called her and had always been very prompt in his appointments and she wondered if the might be in 1024 because the light was on in there the transom was opened – she remained about 30 or 40 minutes then I received a signal to go back to the 10th floor – I went back and this same woman appeared there and came down on the elevator with me and left the elevator at the lobby. About an hour later she returned in company with a man and I took them to the 9th floor – I later received a signal to go to the 9th floor at about 4:15 AM and this same woman came down from the 9th floor and left the hotel. In a period of about 15 minutes later this man came down the elevator from the 9th floor complaining that he couldn’t sleep and was going out for a while.

    The woman’s searching for 1026 rather than 1046 raises some interesting questions. Was she actually there to see Owen, or was it another man altogether? Did she get the room number wrong, or did Owen inadvertently give her the wrong number? Did this woman have anything to do with what happened in 1046 that night?

    On Friday night, January 12, Toni Bernardi of Little Rock, Arkansas, viewed the body at Mellody-McGilley. Bernardi was a wrestling promoter, and he identified Owen/Scott as the same man who had approached him several weeks earlier, wanting to sign for some wrestling matches. Bernardi said the man had given his name as Cecil Werner, and had said he had wrestled for Charles Loch of Omaha.

    On Saturday, Loch looked at pictures that had been sent to Omaha, but did not recognize Owen/Scott as anyone who had ever wrestled for him.

    For over a year Ruby Ogletree had not received anything from her son, except three short, typed letters, the first of which was mailed in the spring of 1935—after Owen/Scott had died. Mrs. Ogletree had exchanged more than one letter with J. Edgar Hoover, and she had written to the U.S. consul in Cairo, Egypt, seeking help in finding her son.

    When she received the magazine from her friend, she finally verified what she had long feared—her son was dead.

    Over time other facts came out. One of the most important of these was that, during his time in Kansas City, Ogletree had stayed at a third hotel, the St. Regis, sharing a room with another man, who may have been the mysterious “Don.”

    But the main questions remained unanswered. Who killed him? Why was he killed? What exactly happened in room 1046 that night? Was “Don” the rough voiced man? Who was Louise? Was she the woman whose voice was heard?

    The case remains unsolved. There are reports that are dated into the 1950s in the case file that usually end with the detective writing something along the lines of “I will continue to pursue the investigation.”

    And that’s where things stand today.

    Except …

    About eight or nine years ago, when the Main Branch of the Library filled the northern half of the Board of Education Building on 12th St., and the Missouri Valley Room was located on the third floor, I took an out of state phone call from someone who asked about the case.

    This person and another had been helping itemize the belongings of an elderly person who had recently died. They found a box with several newspaper clippings about the case. The caller said that, besides the newspaper clippings, something mentioned in the newspaper stories was also in the box.

    The caller tantalizingly refrained from telling me what that something was.

    Part One: http://www.kclibrary.org/blog/kc-unbound/mystery-room-1046-pt-1-roland-t-owen

    Part Two: http://www.kclibrary.org/blog/kc-unbound/mystery-room-1046-pt-2-love-forever-louise
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  3. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

  4. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    from this incredibly interesting blog (very worth reading!): http://strange1380.rssing.com/chan-36375549/all_p7.html

    The Horror in Room 1046

    "Owen's" body was taken to a funeral home, where it was publicly displayed in the hope that someone could recognize him. Among the visitors was Robert Lane, who identified him as the peculiar man he had seen on the night of January 3. Several bartenders testified seeing a man matching "Owen's" description in the company of two women. Police also discovered that the night before "Owen" registered at the President Hotel, a man matching his description had briefly stayed at the Muehlebach, giving his name as "Eugene K. Scott" of Los Angeles. Unsurprisingly, no trace of anyone by that name could be found, either. Earlier, Owen/Scott had stayed at yet another Kansas City hotel, the St. Regis, in the company of a man who was never identified.

    They were having no more luck with tracing the "Don" "Owen" had talked to during his stay at the President. Was he the man who was there with the prostitute? Was he the strange voice who had told the maid not to bother bringing in fresh towels? Was "Don" the man "Owen" had told Lane he wanted to kill? Was "Don" the man who had been at the St. Regis with him? All excellent questions, which were fated never to be answered.

    Nine days after "Owen" died, a wrestling promoter named Tony Bernardi identified the dead man as someone who had visited him several weeks earlier to sign up for wrestling matches. Bernardi said the man gave his name as "Cecil Werner."

    While all of this established that "Roland Owen" was a very peculiar man, none of it was the slightest help in discovering his real identity, let alone the name of his killer. The woman's hairpin found in his room, plus the angry male and female voices Jean Owen had heard led to talk that the murder stemmed from a "love triangle," but that theory remained mere speculation. Police were becoming resigned to writing off his death as one of the unsolved mysteries, and by the beginning of March, preparations were made to bury the John Doe in an unmarked grave.

    However, before "Owen" could be brought to the city's Potter's Field, the head of the funeral home in charge of the body received an anonymous phone call. The man asked that the burial be delayed until money could be sent to cover the costs of a decent internment. The caller claimed that "Roland T. Owen" was the dead man's real name, and that Owen had been engaged to the caller's sister. The funeral director said that the mysterious benefactor told him that Owen "just got into a jam." He added that the police "are on the wrong track."

    Shortly afterward, the cash arrived via special delivery mail--again anonymously--and "Owen" was finally buried in Memorial Park Cemetery. No one attended the funeral other than a handful of detectives. More money was sent with equal mysteriousness to a local florist to pay for a bouquet of roses for the grave. It was accompanied by a card to be placed with the flowers. It read, "Love forever--Louise."

    The Owen case drifted into obscurity until late 1936, when a woman named Eleanor Ogletree learned of an account of the murder given in the magazine "American Weekly." She thought the description given of "Owen" matched that of her missing brother Artemus. The Ogletrees had not seen him since he left his home in Birmingham, Alabama in April 1934 to "see the country." The last his mother Ruby had heard from him were three brief, typewritten letters. The first of these notes arrived in the spring of 1935--several months after "Owen" died. Mrs. Ogletree later said she was suspicious of these letters from the start, as her son did not know how to type. The last letter said he was "sailing for Europe." Several months after the last letter, she received a phone call from a man calling himself "Jordan. "Jordan" 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 died.

    This is one of those irritating unsolved murders that is nothing but a bunch of questions left in a hopelessly tangled mess. Why was Artemus Ogletree using multiple false names? What was he doing in Kansas City? Who killed him and why? Who was "Louise?" Who was "Jordan?" Who sent the money to pay for Ogletree's funeral? Who really wrote those letters to Ruby Ogletree? What in God's name happened in room 1046?

    It's almost certain we will never know. The investigation into Ogletree's death was briefly reopened in 1937, after detectives noted similarities between his murder and the slaying of a young man in New York, but this also went nowhere. The case has remained in cold obscurity ever since, except for one strange incident about ten years ago. This postscript to the story was related in 2012 by John Horner, a librarian in the Kansas City Public Library who has done extensive research into the Ogletree mystery. One day in 2003 or 2004, someone from out-of-state phoned the library to ask about the case. This caller--who did not give his or her name--said that they had recently gone through the belongings of someone who had recently died. Among these belongings was a box containing old newspaper clippings about the murder. This caller mentioned that this box also contained "something" which had been mentioned in the newspaper reports. Horner's caller would not say what this "something" was.

    It seems only fitting that a case so mysterious throughout should have an equally baffling last act.

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  5. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    What intrigues me with this one is the question of what this group of people may have been into, that they have all acted so furtively. Looking at how efficiently the room was stripped of all evidence, and the weird letters & phone calls, etc., it's almost cloak and dagger, isn't it? Things that have crossed my mind so far (random ideas, at this point):

    -- Ogletree was sucked into a malignant cult
    -- or a spy ring
    -- or organised crime (fighting rings & links to the mob..?)
    -- or he could have been a male prostitute (sorry, Artemus, but it IS a possibility..)

    I haven't had the time to think these options through, yet, I must add!
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2015
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  6. Robin Banks

    Robin Banks Active Member

    I spent a weekend at the President a mere 37 years later. Gloomy.
  7. Kimster

    Kimster Director Staff Member

    Hi @Robin Banks !!!

    Did you know about this case at the time?
    spike, GarAndMo49 and Lily like this.
  8. Robin Banks

    Robin Banks Active Member

    Actually, I can't recall hearing of it till I read it here.

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