Room 1046: Unusual Murder of Man in Hotel Room

My blog this week presents you with an unsolved murder mystery. It involves Room 1046 of a Kansas City, Missouri, hotel and dates to January 1935.

Roland Owen Checks Into Room 1046

Early in the afternoon of January 2, 1935, a man checked into the Hotel President in Kansas City. He asked for an interior room several floors up, and the desk clerk assigned him Room 1046. He said his name was Roland T. Owen, gave a Los Angeles address and paid for one night. Bellhop Randolph Propst accompanied Owen to the tenth floor and unlocked the door to Room 1046 for him. Owen had no luggage but removed a hairbrush, comb, and toothpaste from his overcoat pocket while Propst was in the room. The two then left, with Propst locking the door and giving Owen the key. After reaching the lobby, Propst observed Owen leave the hotel.

The Hotel President in 2012 (Nightryder84/Wikipedia)iid
The Hotel President in 2012 (Nightryder84/Wikipedia)

A short time later, a hotel maid, Mary Soptic, came into the room to clean and found Owen there. The shades were down, and only one dim lamp lit the room. She would find this to be the case in her subsequent encounters with Owen. She had been cleaning for only a few minutes when Owen put on his overcoat, brushed his hair, and left. On his way out, he asked Soptic to leave the room unlocked as he said he expected friends in a few minutes.

Soptic returned to Room 1046 with fresh towels and discovered the room dark and Owen lying on the bed, fully clothed. A note she saw on a bedside table read, “Don: I will be back in fifteen minutes. Wait.”

More Strange Goings-On in Room 1046

Mary Soptic paid another visit to Room 1046 at about 10:30 on the morning of January 3. She found Owen alone in the dark as he had been the previous afternoon. The phone rang. Owen answered it and said, “No, Don, I don’t want to eat. I am not hungry. I just had breakfast…No, I am not hungry.”

Sketch of Roland T. Owen distributed to help identify him (AllThatIsInteresting.com)
Sketch of Roland T. Owen distributed to help identify him (AllThatIsInteresting.com)

Around 4:00 p.m., Soptic returned with fresh towels. A male voice, not Owen’s, told her they didn’t need any towels, even though Soptic had removed all of them from the room earlier.

Two hours later, Jean Owen (no relation to the man in Room 1046) from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, checked in and received Room 1048. She later told police that she heard men and women talking loudly and profanely all over the tenth floor.

Violence in Room 1046

At 7:00 a.m. on January 4, switchboard operator Della Ferguson attempted to place a wakeup call to Room 1046. Seeing the light that indicated the phone was off the hook, she sent a bellhop—coincidentally, Propst—up to the room. He found the door locked and a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging from the knob. A voice told him to “come in” in response to his knocks, but he couldn’t. He left after telling the guest, presumably Owen, to hang up the phone.

By 8:30, the phone in Room 1046 was still off the hook. Another bellhop, Harold Pike, went up to the tenth floor. The “Do Not Disturb” sign was still out, but Pike had a key and let himself in. He found Owen in the dark, lying on the bed naked. The telephone had been knocked off its stand. Assuming the room’s occupant was drunk, Pike put the phone back on its stand and replaced the handset.

Photograph of "Roland T. Owen" that Ruby Ogletree identified as her son, Artemus (Kansas City Public Library)
Photograph of “Roland T. Owen” that Ruby Ogletree identified as her son, Artemus. The patch of missing hair is from a childhood injury. (Kansas City Public Library)

Two hours later, another operator reported that 1046’s phone was off the hook again. Propst drew the assignment to check on it. The “Do Not Disturb” sign was still in evidence, and the door was locked. This time, Propst had a key and let himself in when he didn’t get a response to his knocks. Owen was on his knees and elbows about two feet from the door, and his head was bloody. Propst replaced the phone’s handset and noticed blood on the walls of the room and bathroom and on the bed itself.

It’s Murder

Propst went downstairs for help and returned with the assistant manager. They could only open the door a few inches, as Owen had fallen on the floor after Propst left for help. He eventually got up and sat on the edge of the bathtub, allowing the two hotel employees to enter the room. The assistant manager called Kansas City Police.

Someone had bound Owen with cords around his neck, wrists, and ankles. Additional bruising on his neck suggested that someone had tried to choke him. He had been stabbed several times in the upper chest, and a blow to the head left him with a skull fracture. When asked who did this, he answered, “Nobody,” and claimed to have fallen and hit his head on the bathtub. He then lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital. He was comatose when he arrived and died shortly after midnight on January 5.

Who was the Man in Room 1046?

Police quickly learned that “Roland T. Owen” was an alias. Los Angeles police could not locate anyone by that name at the address he gave. A corpse with no name left detectives little to go on, but it made a great newspaper story. Papers worldwide circulated a sketch and postmortem photo of “Owen.”

Artemus Ogletree in a photograph provided by his family (Public Domain)
Artemus W. Ogletree in a photograph provided by his family (Public Domain)

In 1936, Eleanor Ogletree saw an issue of the Sunday newspaper insert, The American Weekly, containing an article about the murder. She felt the image of “Owen” strongly resembled her missing brother, Artemus Ogletree. Her mother, Ruby Ogletree, agreed and contacted the police in Kansas City.

Epilogue

On March 3, 1935, the funeral home that had been holding Ogletree’s remains announced it would bury him in Kansas City’s potter’s field the next day. That prompted a call from an unidentified man asking them to delay the service so that the caller could send money for a proper burial. The funeral home received an envelope on March 25 containing $25 (about $563 in 2024), sufficient to cover the funeral’s cost. A florist received $10 in two separate envelopes for an arrangement of 13 American Beauty roses to go to the grave. A hand-lettered card accompanying the payment read, “Love Forever—Louise.” The sender was never identified, and neither was “Louise.”

Identifying Ogletree did not help in determining who killed him. The case remains unsolved.

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