The mysterious murder of Roland T. Owen in Room 1046

Roland T. Owen

The act of murder can be a barbaric one. Some obvious cases of murder go on to become infamous in the annals of criminal history — whether the police solve them or not. One unsolved death took place in the first week of January 1935. A tall man with a facial scar and a cauliflower ear entered the Hotel President in Kansas City, Missouri and asked for a single room several floors up for one night. Just like any other usual hotel guest, he paid a fee and signed the register under the name of Roland T. Owen. Even though the man brought no luggage with him, bellboy Randolph Propst accompanied him to room 1046.

On the way, Owen opened up to Propst about his original plans. Owen revealed that he preferred another hotel, the Muehlebach, but he thought the cost of a room was too high there. Once the pair reached the room, Owen removed several items from his pocket: a comb, a toothbrush, and a brush. He put all of them into the bathroom and then both men left the room. After Owens took the key from the bellboy, he left the hotel.

“Leave the Door Unlocked”

Later on that day, a maid went to clean room 1046. Owen had returned to the room and he allowed the maid inside to clean. He did insist that the door remain unlocked as he was expecting a visitor. The maid did as Owen instructed, but she did notice a few things. He had drawn the curtains and a single lamp provided all the illumination in the room. It was enough for her to notice that Owen seemed nervous or anxious.

Before she managed to finish the room, Owen left but reminded her once again to leave the door unlocked when she left. At about 4 p.m., the maid returned to the room with a clutch of fresh towels. Owen had returned to the room during her absence and was laying on the bed fully clothed. Nothing else about the room was different, but there was a note on the table that someone had handwritten. It read: Don, I will be back in fifteen minutes. Wait.

Staring Into Darkness

What happened between then and 10:30 the following morning is uncertain. Once again, the maid came to clean the room. Someone had locked the door from the outside, but Owen was inside the room. He was sitting in a chair and not talking. All he seemed to be doing was staring into the darkness. The phone rang and Owen answered it. Whoever was on the other end had spoken first. Owen replied after a moment. “No, Don. I don’t want to eat. I am not hungry. I just had breakfast.”

Owen hung up and turned to the maid and mentioned the Muehlebach to her as well. He also asked her about the President and what she was supposed to do there. The maid could not get out of that room quickly enough. Later on that day, she brought fresh towels back to the room. Before she could enter the room, a pair of male voices could be heard. From her position outside the room, she explained why she was there. A new voice, not Owen’s, bluntly told her towels were not needed. The maid simply left them alone.

The Scuffle and Gasping Noise

Some time after this exchange, a new guest registered with the hotel. Mrs. Jean Owen was not related to Roland T. Owen but was given the room next to his. Several times during the night, Mrs. Owen was disturbed by sounds of an argument. One voice was male, the other female. She then heard sounds of a scuffle and a gasping noise. She assumed it to be someone snoring. The nocturnal elevator operator, Charles Blocher, also reported after hours activity. According to Blocher, there was a party taking place in room 1055 and a familiar woman trying to find room 1026. Blocher saw this same woman several times during the night, the last time she was in the company of a man. At 4 a.m., she finally left the hotel. The man she was seen with left about fifteen minutes after her. Neither was ever identified.

Roland T. Owen and the Taxi Driver

Robert Lane also reported a strange event that happened to him while driving down a street at around 11 p.m. the day Owen registered. A man dressed only in his underwear flagged down Lane’s car, thinking it was a taxi. Lane explained that he was just a city worker but did agree to take the man to a place where he could get a taxi. Lane did notice a wound on the man’s arm and mentioned it. The passenger just nodded and swore revenge against “someone” tomorrow. Whoever this man was, he was less than complimentary and used several expletives to underline his point.

Do Not Disturb

At 7 a.m., the phone in room 1046 was off the hook. The telephone operator at the hotel first noticed it. Three hours later, it was still off the hook. Propst was sent back to the room to replace it. When he arrived, Propst found the door was locked and a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign was hanging on the handle. Propst knocked and was invited in. The door was still locked. Propst knocked on the door once more but was told to turn on the lights. Propst knocked another couple of times but was still unable to get inside the room. His patience had worn thin, and he bellowed at the occupant to replace the receiver on the phone.

An hour and a half later, the operator noticed that the phone was still off the hook. Another bellboy, Harold Pike, was sent to investigate. Pike took a passkey with him and was forced to use it. Owen was laying on the bed without any clothes on. The telephone stand had been nudged and the phone itself was lying on the floor. Like Propst before him, Pike regarded Owen as drunk and sleeping off a hangover. The phone was replaced and Pike left the room. Within an hour, the phone was reportedly off the hook once again. Propst was sent to the room again. Like before, the sign on the door was on display. Propst knocked a few times but got no answer from within the room. He had no other option but to use his passkey to gain access.

Crouched Over

Inside, it was immediately evident that Owen wasn’t suffering the effects of alcohol. He still had no clothes on but was crouched over on the floor. His head was bloodied and the walls were covered in bloodstains. Propst fled the room, called his manager, who called the police. The first that Owen told them when they arrived was that he “fell against the bathtub”. Police officers searched the room for clues. What they didn’t find was as strange as the things that they did find.

Blood Soaked Walls

Not a single stitch of clothing was found in the entire room. The standard hotel room requisites — such as shampoo and towels, etc, were all missing. Aside from the blood-soaked walls, police found evidence that someone else was in the room. A label from a tie was discovered. Four fingerprints were found on a lampshade as well as a couple of discarded items. An unsmoked cigarette and a hairpin. Police came to the conclusion that about six hours before he was discovered, Owen was tortured by a person or persons unknown for reasons that were unknown. Owen’s injuries were severe and would later prove to be fatal.

The investigation into finding Roland T. Owen’s killer didn’t start very well. One of the first discoveries that they made was that Roland Owen was actually an alias. One woman phoned in a tip that Owen lived in Clinton, Missouri. When his corpse was put on public display in an effort to help identify him, several people came forward and said that they knew him. One of these was Robert Lane, who said that this was the man who mistook him for a taxi.

Multiple bartenders also stated that Owen was the man they had seen in the company of different women. Police did make a couple of discoveries that they thought may have provided a breakthrough. A man matching Roland T. Owen’s description did indeed spend some time at the Muehlebach, as well as the Kansas City Hotel and St Regis Hotel. The name used at the Muehlebach was Eugene Scott, which turned out to be another alias. The staff at the Regis said that an unidentified man accompanied Owen at their hotel.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Looking for Don

Police concentrated their efforts to find ‘Don’ instead. With just a Christian name, there wasn’t much to go on. Don might have been the man visiting Owen who insisted to the maid that fresh towels were not necessary. He could have been the guest that left the hotel just after 4 a.m., or he could have been the man at the Regis. Perhaps he was the target of Owen’s wrath and got his in first. Police never found out if Don was any of those or none of them.

Just after a week after the strange events of January 2nd, a new lead came to light. Local wrestling promoter Tony Bernardi said that Owen resembled a man that turned up the previous December to register for wrestling matches. According to Bernardi, Owen used the name, Cecil Warner. This information did not shed any more light on the deceased. Without knowing Owen’s true name, there was little hope of ever finding his killer. At best, they had a scenario that fit the facts as they knew them. The hairpin found linked the argument overheard by Mrs. Owen, which could have linked to the second man telling the maid not to bother with new towels. This would indicate some sort of love triangle leading to the death of Roland T. Owen. That is all speculation and hearsay, though.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An Anonymous Call

Preparations for the funeral were not being made until March. Shortly before the funeral was due to take place, an anonymous phone call from a man that never identified himself was answered by the head of the funeral home. The caller asked that the funeral be delayed so that money for the service could be sent over. The man claimed to be Owen’s potential brother-in-law and that Owen was indeed the deceased’s genuine name. The caller also mentioned that Owen had got into difficulties and that investigators were ‘on the wrong track’. A few days later, money for the service arrived with no return address. The funeral took place at Memorial Park Cemetery and the only mourners were investigating officers.

However, additional funds were sent anonymously to a local florist with a card for the wreath: Love forever — Louise.

With the victim of this bizarre murder interred, details might have been buried along with him. For a while, that was what had happened. In 1936, a woman calling herself Eleanor Ogletree read the magazine American Weekly. Reading the account in the magazine, it occurred to her that the image of Roland T. Owen published in the article strongly resembled her missing brother, Artemus. The last time Artemus was seen was when he left home in Birmingham, Alabama in April 1934. He said that he wanted to see the country.

Who Was Artemus Ogletree?

Approximately a year after he left, the initial letter of three arrived through the post. Someone had briefly typed each missive and this aroused suspicion from Eleanor’s mother, Ruby. As far as Ruby was aware, Artemus didn’t know how to type. Several months after the final letter arrived, which stated that he was sailing to Europe, a man calling himself Jordan phoned the family. Jordan provided an update on Artemus that said his life was saved by the missing son and that he had married a woman in Cairo. When Ruby was shown a photo of Owen, she recognized him as her missing son. At the time, Artemus was only 17 years of age.

If Roland T. Owen was, in reality, Artemus Ogletree, then it raises quite a lot of questions that have no answers. Why did he use so many aliases? Who was Don and Louise and what role, if any, did they play in Owen’s death? What was Ogletree doing in Kansas? What relationship did Jordan have with him? Was Jordan the man seen at the hotel on the night Owen died? Who paid for the funeral? Perhaps there will never be a solution to the murder, but on more than one occasion police have reopened this odd cold case. The first time was in 1937, while the last was 2003.

What Was in the Box?

In 1937, detectives noticed a similar death that took place in New York. No links between the crimes or both victims could be established and the Owen case went cold once more. Renewed interest in Roland T. Owen surfaced in 2003 when someone got in touch with Kansas City Public Library librarian John Horner by phone. The caller didn’t identify himself but did say they phoned from outside Missouri and that someone had recently passed away. While he was scouring the belongings of the recently deceased person, he discovered a box full of old newspaper clippings. All of these clippings were about the murder of Roland T. Owen. Also in the box was something that the newspaper reports had mentioned. The caller refused to say what this something was.

Ever since 1936, speculation has been rampant as to what exactly took place in room 1046. The honest truth is that there is very little in the way of evidence to support any of the prevailing theories. It could well be a professional hit, but on a possible teenager? It might well be a love triangle that went wrong; maybe that was why Owen ‘hit the bathtub’.