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So the police of Kansas City. Mo., might have parodied the old adage on that morning,in 1935, when the curtain rose on one of the strangest murder mysteries in the annals of American crime.

Too many clues spoil the broth! So the police of Kansas City. Mo., might have parodied the old adage on that morning, in 1935, when the curtain rose on one of the strangest murder mysteries in the annals of American crime.

 “Roland T. Owen”, Artemus Ogletree

 The Mystery of Room 1046

 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.

Lane drove off.

In that first week of January 1935, future world heavyweight champion boxer Floyd Patterson was born in Waco, North Carolina. Bob Hope made his first appearance on national radio. The dry forces in Missouri announced that they would limit their efforts to lobbying the state legislature to pass a bill granting individual counties the authority to declare themselves liquor free. That first week, President Franklin Roosevelt informed Louisiana and its U.S. senator, Huey Long that federal funds would be withheld as long as Louisiana continued to observe the dictatorial state laws that that Long had pushed through the legislature while governor. Roosevelt also went to Congress and delivered his second State of the Union address.

Kansas City newspapers carried announcements that the son of the U.S. Secretary of War would marry the daughter of a bricklayer, and that the daughter of Missouri’s Lt. Governor would marry an Italian nobleman. Amelia Earhart was preparing to be the first person to fly non-stop from the Hawaiian Islands to California.

There was plenty of crime-related news being made that week as well.

In Topeka, Gov. Alf Landon called for modernization of methods of coping with Kansas bandits, pointing out what could be accomplished by a statewide law enforcement organization in driving out the criminal activities of the growing number of bandit gangs, who used the speed of automobiles to evade the jurisdictional limitations of local police.

In Flemington, New Jersey, the Bruno Hauptmann trial for the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby was producing daily headlines throughout the country. The jury at Kansas City’s Federal Courthouse found all four of the men accused in the Kansas City Massacre case guilty of conspiracy to cause the escape of a federal prisoner, and Judge Otis gave what some considered fairly light sentences.

On Wednesday, the second day of the New Year, a lone man, carrying no luggage, entered the Hotel President at 14th and Baltimore, four blocks from the Central Library. He apparently had one of those faces that different people read in different ways. One account gives his age as 20-25, another 25-30, and yet another around 35.

It was about 1:20 in the afternoon.

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.)

As the two got off the elevator on the tenth floor they turned right and headed down the corridor, turned left at the corner, then left again when the corridor reached the corner with the stairwell. Room 1046 was just down the hallway on their left, on the inner row of rooms looking down on the hotel’s court, rather than the outer row that looked down on 14th Street. Owen unlocked the door and entered while Propst turned on the light.

Owen walked through a short entryway—closet to his right, bathroom to his left—and saw the room itself. Beyond the entryway, it measured nine feet wide and 12 feet long. The bed was to his right and the small stand with the telephone to his left. Situated more or less along the middle of the left wall stood a writing table with chair, and beyond that, angled in the northwest corner, was the dresser. Angled in the northeast corner was an easy chair.

Propst watched as Owen took a black hair brush from his overcoat pocket, along with a black comb and toothpaste. That was it.

Owen placed the three items above the sink, and the two men then exited the room and were headed back down the hallway, toward the elevator, when Propst asked if it was okay with Owen if Propst went back to the room and locked it. Owen gave him the key, and Propst went back to the room, turned off the lights, and locked the door. He then returned to Owen, gave him the key, and the two of them took the elevator back to the first floor, where Propst went back to his duties and Owen left the building.

The maid that first day, Mary Soptic, had come back to work after a day off, and around noon went to room 1046 to clean, finding the door locked. She knocked, and Owen let her in, which surprised her a little, since a woman had been staying in the room before Soptic’s day off. Apologizing, she said she could call back later, but Owen said it was all right, and to go right ahead. Just moments later, Owen told her not to lock the door—that he was expecting a friend in a few minutes. Soptic noticed that the shades were tightly drawn (this was true every time she or any other member of the hotel’s staff entered), and that the lamp on the desk provided the only light, which was rather dim.

In her signed statement to the police, she said that, from his actions and the expression on his face, Owen seemed like “he was either worried about something or afraid,” and that “he always wanted to kinda keep in the dark.”

While Soptic continued cleaning, Owen put on his overcoat, went into the bathroom to brush his hair, and then left the room, reminding her to leave the door unlocked, because “he was expecting a friend in a few minutes.”

Mary Soptic didn’t see Owen again until about four o’clock, when she went back to 1046 with the fresh towels that had finally been delivered by the laundry. The door remained unlocked, the room was dark, and she could see from the light from the hallway that he was lying across the bed, completely dressed. Presumably from the light from the hall, she noticed a note on the desk.

“Don, I will be back in fifteen minutes. Wait.”

The next morning, Thursday, January 3, Soptic headed to 1046 around 10:30 to clean it. Assuming that Owen was out, she unlocked the door with her passkey (which she could only do if it had been locked from the outside) and entered.

Owen was sitting in the dark.

Soptic realized that someone else had locked the door from the outside.

The telephone rang.

Owen answered, and after a moment said, “No, Don, I don’t want to eat. I am not hungry. I just had breakfast.” After a moment he repeated, “No. I am not hungry.”

After cradling the phone, Owen asked the maid about her job. Did she have charge of the entire floor? Was the President a residential hotel? Then he looked around, and said that the Muehlebach Hotel had tried to hold him up on the price for an inside room just like 1046.

Soptic finished cleaning, gathered up the soiled towels, and left.

Around four o’clock that afternoon, after the clean towels had arrived from the laundry, she took a fresh set to Owen’s room. She heard two men talking, and knocked gently on the door.

A rough voice asked, “Who is it?”

The maid identified herself and said that she wanted to leave the clean towels.

“We don’t need any,” replied the rough voice loudly, which was peculiar since Soptic knew there were no towels in the room, having removed them herself that morning.

That afternoon, Jean Owen (no relation to Roland T.), a 30-year-old woman who lived in Lee’s Summit, drove into Kansas City to do some shopping and then meet with her boyfriend, Joe Reinert, who worked at the Midland Flower Shop. After a few hours shopping, she started to feel ill and went to the flower shop and told Mr. Reinert that she didn’t feel up to going out that night, and that she would get a room at the Hotel President so she could avoid driving back to Lee’s Summit till the next day. She told Reinert that she would let him know what room she was staying in. She arrived at the Hotel President about six o’clock and registered a little over half an hour later.

Jean Owen called Reinert about ten to seven and told him that she was staying in room 1048. He came to the hotel about two and a half hours later, and they visited for another two hours, when he left.

In her statement to the police, she said that during the night she

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. When the noise continued I was about to call the desk clerk but decided not to.

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? (The use of 1026 as Owen’s room number appears to have gone out over the wire service account of the story, as that is what appears in the accounts I have seen in papers from the south and the northeast parts of the country.)

Blocher described the man as being about five foot six, slender, about 135 pounds, wearing a light brown overcoat, brown hat, and brown shoes. The woman was about five foot six, with black hair, weighing about 135 pounds, wearing a “coat of black hudson seal or imitation hudson seal.” The coat had a collar with a light fur strip, and the collar stood up.

The woman was also noted by James Hadden, hotel’s night clerk, when she left the building. He recognized her as someone he had seen “in and out of the hotel at various times and at various hours of the night and early mornings.”

The next known encounter between Owen and the hotel staff took place Friday, just a little after seven o’clock, when Della Ferguson, the telephone operator, took over the board. She noticed that the board indicated that the phone for 1046 was off the hook. At ten after, when the phone was still off the hook, with no one using it, she requested that bell service send a bellboy up to the room to tell the occupant to hang up the phone.

The bellboy was Randolph Propst, who had taken Owen up to the room when he had first checked in. When he got to Room 1046 the door was locked, and a “Don’t Disturb” sign was hanging from the knob. Propst knocked loudly and got no response. After a moment he again knocked loudly and finally heard a deep voice say, “Come in.” He tried the doorknob and, yes, it was locked. Again he knocked, and this time heard the deep voice tell him to “Turn on the lights.” He knocked yet again, and again, and finally, after seven or eight times, yelled through the door, “Put the phone back on the hook!” He got no response and returned to the lobby, where he told Della Ferguson that the guy in the room was probably drunk, and that she should wait about an hour and send somebody else up them.

About half past eight, Della Ferguson noted that the phone for 1046 was still off the hook, and she sent bellboy Harold Pike up to ask Owen to replace the receiver. When Pike got there, he found that the door was still locked, and he used a passkey to let himself in—again indicating that the door had been locked from the outside. With the light from the hallway, Pike noted that Owen was lying on the bed naked, surrounded by what appeared to be dark shadows in the bedclothes, apparently drunk. He also saw that the telephone stand had been knocked over, and that the phone was on the floor. Pike straightened the stand and put the phone on it, securing the receiver in its place.

He locked the door behind him and returned to the lobby, telling his supervisor that Owen was lying naked on the bed, apparently drunk.

Around 10:30 to 10:45 that morning another operator reported to Betty Cole, the head operator, that the phone for 1046 was again off the hook. Around 11 o’clock Randolph Propst headed back up to the room, noting that the “Don’t Disturb” sign was still on the door. After knocking loudly three times with no response, he unlocked the door with his passkey and entered.

“[W]hen 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 – I then turned the light on – placed the telephone receiver on the hook – I looked around and saw blood on the walls on the bed and in the bath room …”

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.

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.

Around 10:30 to 10:45 Friday morning, January 4, 1935, a telephone operator at the Hotel President in Kansas City reported to Betty Cole, the head operator, that the phone for room 1046 was off the hook … again.

It was the third time that morning. Around 11 o’clock Randolph Propst, the bellboy who had gone to the room the first time, a little after 7:00, headed back up to the tenth floor and the room of Roland T. Owen. As Propst approached 1046, he noted that the “Don’t Disturb” sign was still on the door. He knocked loudly three times but got no response, so Propst unlocked the door with his passkey and entered. From his statement to the police—

[W]hen 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 – I then turned the light on – placed the telephone receiver on the hook – I looked around and saw blood on the walls on the bed and in the bath room – this frightened me and I immediately left the room and went downstairs …

Propst rushed to the assistant manager, M.S. Weaver, and told him what he had found. Joined by Percy Tyrrell, they hurried back to 1046, but could only open the door about six inches—apparently Owen had collapsed on the other side of the door.

Newspaper accounts, however, conflate the action, having Propst discovering Owen sitting on the edge of the bathtub, his head resting on the top of the sink, which occurred a short while later.

The police arrived in short order—Detectives Ira Johnson and William Eldredge, and Detective Sgt. Frank Howland—and at some point in this time Dr. Harold F. Flanders arrived from General Hospital. They were later joined by Detective D.C. King.

Owen had been restrained with cord—around his neck, his wrists, and his ankles—and looked like he had been tortured. Knife wounds bled on his chest from over his heart. One of these had punctured his lung. His skull was fractured on the right side, where he had been struck more than once. There was bruising around the neck, suggesting strangling as part of the torture. Besides the blood that was on the bed itself, more blood had spattered onto the wall next to the bed, and a small amount of blood could even be seen on the ceiling above the bed.

When Dr. Flanders arrived, he cut the cords around Owen’s wrists. His hands freed, Owen turned on the bathtub spigot, which Flanders shut off. Detective Johnson asked Owen who had been in the room with him. Owen, semiconscious and barely able to talk, said, “Nobody.” How had he gotten hurt? “I fell against the bathtub.” Had he tried to commit suicide? “No,” he mumbled, and then started to slip fully into unconsciousness.

Owen was rushed to the hospital.

Dr. Flanders later put the inflicting of the wounds at six to seven hours earlier, since a lot of the blood on the body had “dried to a hard mass,” and the blood on the walls and furniture had “solidified.” This would place the stabbing and cutting at well before Propst’s 7:00 trip to 1046.

As the detectives searched Room 1046 they began to realize that what they did find might not be as telling as what they didn’t. There were no clothes in the room, anywhere—no black overcoat, no shirt, no undershirt, no pants, no shoes or socks. The closest thing to clothing was the label from a necktie. Also missing were things like the usual hotel-supplied soap, shampoo, and towels. And any sort of knife or other weapon that might have been used in the stabbing and cutting.

This last, along with the cords that had bound Owen, early caused the police to set aside the possibility of suicide.

Beside the label (which showed the tie as originating from the Botany Worsted Mills Company, of Passaic, New Jersey), the only items found were a hairpin, a safety pin, an unlighted cigarette—and a small, unused bottle of dilute sulfuric acid.

There were also two water glasses. One remained on the shelf above the sink, and the other lay in the sink, missing a jagged piece. The glass top of the telephone stand yielded four small fingerprints, possibly from a woman.

The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Journal-Post, the city’s evening papers, both carried the story on page one that day. The Journal-Post quoted Detective Johnson as saying that “There is no doubt that someone else is mixed up in this.”

Jean Owen was held for questioning, and was finally released when police were able to verify her account with Joe Reinert.
Roland Owen slipped into a coma before they got him to the hospital. He died a little after midnight that night, Saturday, January 5.

During the night the police queried the Los Angeles police, who found no record of any Roland T. Owen. Before the night was over, via the wire photo process, the photo lab at the Star sent Owen’s fingerprints to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation (the future FBI).

Doubts were already being raised as to whether Roland T. Owen was the actual name of the victim. A woman had called the Hotel President during the night to ask for a description, and said the victim was a man who lived in Clinton, Missouri. By Sunday the Journal-Post reported that “Police believe Owen registered under an assumed name.”

This was just the start.

“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.

On Sunday people viewed the body at the Mellody-McGilley funeral home. One report says 50—another says over 300. Lane identified the victim as the man who had stopped him on 13th Street. He saw the deep scratch on the arm that he had noted Thursday night. He was sure that this was the man who had waved him down under such unusual conditions.

Detective Johnson, though, dismissed the identification, not believing that the passenger was “Owen,” though I haven’t found anything that indicates he doubted that Lane picked up somebody.

Police said they did not see how “Owen” could have gotten out of the hotel without any of the staff or passersby noticing him. (This, of course, presupposes that “Owen” was dressed the way Lane describes when he left the hotel.) Another account says “enter” the hotel.

The story had been picked up on the wire services, and more and more people started contacting the Kansas City police to see if the victim might be the relative or loved one who had gone missing.

Most of these either included no description or picture of the missing relative, or they sent a description or picture that bore no resemblance to “Owen.” The police began requesting that people send pictures to help speed the identification. The KCPD also started sending letters and telegrams to police departments in cities throughout the country, trying to track down the large number of leads they were amassing.

The police established that “Owen” had been “seen in certain liquor places on 12th street in the company of two women.”

As the detectives started to hear back from other police departments around the country, they began to close out the huge number of leads they had received. The rate of new leads slowed.

Upon re-examining the room on Sunday, police briefly thought they had come upon an important clue when they found a discarded towel that was covered with blood. They concluded, though, that the towel had been left by a hotel employee who had been sent to clean after the initial forensic examination by the police. I assume that someone remembered Soptic’s statement that she had picked up the soiled towels on Friday morning and had not been allowed to deliver the fresh ones that afternoon.

At some point the detectives followed up on the statement that “Owen” had stayed at the Hotel Muehlebach the night before he came to the President. They found that no one named Roland T. Owen had registered at the Muehlebach. But on the night in question, a man who looked like the picture had stayed there, insisting on an interior room—and he had given Los Angeles as his home address.

His name in the register was Eugene K. Scott.

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.

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.

The police contacted the LAPD again, this time concerning Eugene K. Scott, and received the same response as they had gotten for their query about Owen.

The Los Angeles police found no record of anyone living in Los Angeles named Eugene K. Scott.

The detectives tried to find out more information about the other man, the one who was coming to be known as “the mysterious ‘Don.’”
Was he the same man who was in Owen/Scott’s room with the unnamed woman Thursday night and Friday morning? Were they the couple who both stood about five foot six—he all in brown, she all in black except for a light fur collar on her sealskin coat? Could he be the rough voiced man who told Mary Soptic through the locked door that room 1046 didn’t need any towels when she knocked on the door Thursday afternoon? Was “Don” the man that the man Robert Lane identified as Owen told Lane (Lane told police) he was going to kill?

We know that Owen/Scott told Soptic that he was expecting a visitor, and to leave the door unlocked when she finished cleaning the room. She later heard him talking with “Don” on the phone.

The search for “Don” continued.

Others came forward and identified the body. Ernest Johnson of Kansas City viewed the body and positively indentified Owen/Scott as his cousin, Harvey Johnson, formerly of Dallas. Ernest Johnson’s sister, Mrs. Anderson, came to view the body later, and told police that her cousin Harvey had died five years ago. Ernest was surprised and indicated that Owen/Scott looked exactly like Harvey.

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.

On Tuesday, January 15, Lester W. Kircher and Clarence T. Ratliff, two city detectives were reassigned to the homicide squad. The squad was investigating two other murders beyond the one at the Hotel President.

On Monday morning Vincent J. Cibulski, manager of the Mid-State Finance Company, was in his back yard when he was shot in the abdomen and shoulder after getting out of his car. Monday night carpenter John Logan was found near Missouri Ave. and Harrison St. in an alley. Logan appeared to have been killed with an ax.

As time went by, the detectives continued to follow up leads, but the Owen/Scott case seemed to grow colder and colder. On Sunday, March 3, the Journal-Post published an announcement that Owen/Scott would be buried the next day in the potter’s field.

This story was hardly 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 parlours. ‘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 endeavour. A love vendetta seemed evident. Louise was the jilted. Owen, supposedly faithless, had been decoyed into a trap and vengefully slain.

The Rev. E.B. Shively of Roanoke Christian Church conducted the funeral, and the only people who attended were police detectives.

The Detectives served as pallbearers and guarded the funeral. Others. Disguised as grave diggers, watched the cemetery for days. But nothing happened.

The police continued to try and track down the elusive “Don,” looking into different possibilities, but with no conclusive success.

In mid May, The American Weekly magazine, a Sunday supplement published by the Hearst Corporation, carried a sensationalistic account of the murder titled “The Mystery of Room No. 1046.” This contained a photograph of Owen/Scott’s profile, presumably taken as he lay on the coroner’s table.

(In the police file on the case there was also a letter from Harry Keller, editor of Official Detective Stories to Chief of Detectives Thomas Higgins, KCPD, indicating that his magazine later had also published a review of the case.)

And that’s where things stood, with little real progress towards finding out Owen/Scott’s real identity or finding his killer.

Nothing obvious happened for another year and a half.

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’/Scott’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.

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

Mrs. Ogletree exchanged letters with the KCPD, and on November 2, 1936, twenty months to the day that he had registered at the Hotel President, several newspapers around the country carried the story that let us know that Roland T. Owen’s real name was Artemus Ogletree. His mother gave Ogletree’s age as 17. She also explained that the scar in the scalp above his ear was the result of a childhood accident when he was burned by some hot grease.

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?

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 …

Justice for his brutal death, however, remained hopelessly elusive. This is one of those irritating unsolved murders that are 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? Was she the woman whose voice was heard?

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 thirteen or so 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.

Strange Company: The Horror in Room 1046

The mystery of Room 1046 | Graham’s Blog

22 May 1943 – MYSTERY MURDER “ROOM 1046 – Trove

What happened to Artemus Ogletree/Roland T. Owen? – Reddit

The Mystery of Room 1046, pt. 1: Roland T. Owen | Kansas City Public …

 


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