This week we’re going all the way from Espoo, Finland back to where I’m currently living, Kansas City, Missouri (well I live in KCK but who cares). Despite living in Kansas City for the past 6 months and the surrounding area for more than 20 I hadn’t heard of this story until I found a pretty great write up from the Kansas City Public Library. (By the way if you haven’t been to the Kansas City downtown library you really should. It’s located in an old bank building downtown. The video collection is in the old vault and it’s really cool. Plus the parking garage is painted to look like a bunch of books.)
The mystery we’re going to be talking about today is called either The Mystery in Room 1046 or The Horror in Room 1046. Personally I prefer horror simply because I think it’s more descriptive of what happened.
Our story starts on the afternoon of January 2nd, 1935, when a man going by the name “Roland T. Owen” checked into the Hotel President in downtown Kansas City. (It should be noted that the Hotel President is still in business today and still has a room 1046. I went down there myself just out of curiosity). Anyway, a man checks into the Hotel President on January 2nd, 1935, claiming to be Roland T. Owen from Los Angeles. He is described as a tall, slightly chubby man with cauliflower ears and a large scar on the side of his head. He pays for one nights stay, signs the register with the name “Roland T. Owen”, and asks for a room several stories up.
He is given room 1046 and is escorted to the room by the bellboy, Randolph Propst. Randolph is a pretty key witness in this story because he interacted with Owen more than just about anyone. Apparently while being taken to his room Owen told Randolph that he had originally planned on checking into Muehlebach Hotel but decided against it when he found out that they charged $5 per night. (The Muehlebach Hotel is also still standing although it is now part of the Kansas City Downtown Marriott. I had never heard of it before but apparently it was very famous back in the day. Celebrity such as, Babe Ruth, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, Babe Ruth, Elvis, The Beatles, and Helen Keller stayed there as well as every US president from Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. None of this is relevant at all I just thought it was interesting).
Anyway once Randolph let Owen into the room Owen took a comb, brush, and a tube of toothpaste out of his pocket and put them in the bathroom. This was apparently the only unpacking he did. Then Randolph locked the door, gave Owen the key, and Owen left the hotel.
Later that day a maid, Mary Soptic, came by room 1046. Owen let her in but when she started to clean he put on his coat and left. As he left he told her to leave the door unlocked because he was, “expecting a friend”. The maid later told police that she remembered the curtains being closed tightly with only a single lamp to light the room. She also said that Owen was nervous or afraid of something.
I don’t know how many times this hotel had maid service because around 4pm that same day the same maid returned to room 1046 to switch out the towels. The door was apparently still unlocked and was supposedly very dim. When the maid walked into the room she saw that Owen was fully dressed and lying on the bed. The maid also saw a note on the desk that read, “Don, I will be back in fifteen minutes. Wait.”
It should be noted that it is quite possible that the maid’s account of what happened could very easily be influenced by what happened later, but I think the important details that aren’t exaggerated are, the note, the fact that a friend was coming over, and that someone named Don was there.
Anyway the next account of what Owen was doing comes from that same maid again. At 10:30 the next morning she went back to 1046. She unlocked the door with a passkey which is something that can apparently only be done if the door was locked from the outside. I think it’s a situation where the room could only be locked with a deadbolt or something from the inside and the actual lock could only be used from the outside. Anyway, she unlocks the door with the passkey (meaning someone else was there and locked the door) and was startled to see Owen sitting in the dark in a chair just staring into the darkness. Apparently once she opened the door the phone rang and Owen said, “No, Don, I don’t want to eat. I am not hungry. I just had breakfast. No I’m not hungry.” After he finished talking to Don he hung up the phone and started to talk to the maid about what she did at the hotel. He also started complaining about the high prices at the Muehlebach hotel again.
The maid went back to the 1046 one more time that day around 4pm to replace the towels. This time the door was locked from the inside and she heard two men talking. She knocked and a man who wasn’t Owen responded by saying that they didn’t need any towels and they wouldn’t let her in. The maid knew this was a lie because she had taken the only towels with her before and was returning clean ones.
Okay, so the night of January 3rd into the morning of January 4th is when the important details of this case happen and they’re all a little confusing and scattered so bear with me.
Let me start by telling you about the actual mystery which is what happened to Roland T. Owen. On the morning of January 4th, around 7 am the operator at the hotel noticed that the phone in 1046 was off the hook. After waiting a while she sends the bellboy Randolf Propst (from the beginning of the story) up to the room. When Randolph got up there he found that the room was locked and had a “do not disturb” sign hanging up. He knocked on the door and a voice told him to come in. He tried to open the door again but found it was still locked. He knocked on the door again and the voice told him to turn the lights on. He knocked a few more times without an answer when he decided Owen must be drunk. He yelled at him through the door to hang up the phone and left.
Around 8:30 am the operator noticed that the phone was still off the hook so they sent a different bellboy name Harold Pike up to the room. When he got there he found that the door was still locked. This time he used the passkey (again something that could only be done if the door had been locked from the outside). The room was very dark but when he walked in he found Owen lying naked on the bed. The stand that held the phone had been knocked over. Harold assumed Owen must be drunk so he picked up the phone and left.
He didn’t check Owen closely so we don’t really know much more until another operator noticed the phone was off the hook again just a little before 11 am. Our good friend Randolph was sent up again and apparently he drew the short straw that day because this time something actually happened. When he got to 1046 he found the door was once again locked from the outside (I’m not sure if it is possible that this is still from Harold Pike or not). He used the passkey to get into the room again and walked inside.
This time Randolph found Owen, naked, crouched on the floor, covered in blood, and holding his head in his hands. When he turned on the lights he saw that the room was covered in blood including the walls and the bathroom. Randolph ran downstairs to get the manager and the manager called the police.
When the police arrived they discovered that probably sometime between 5:00-6:00 AM someone had tied up Roland T. Owen and repeatedly stabbed him. He also sustained a fracture to his skull and had bruises on his neck suggesting he had been strangled. Owen was still semi-conscious when the police arrived and when asked what happened Owen replied that he, “fell against the bathtub”. Owen was immediately rushed to the hospital but because it was 1935, and people were still dying from diarrhea, he slipped into a coma and died shortly thereafter.
When the police searched the room they found that there wasn’t a single article of clothing in the room. They also found that the room’s soap, towels, and shampoo were all gone. The only things they found in the room were, a necktie label, an unsmoked cigarette, four bloody fingerprints on a lampshade, and a hairpin. There was also no sign of anything that could have been used to restrain Owen or anything that could have been used as a weapon against him.
The police weren’t able to find any record of a Roland T. Owen from Los Angeles meaning he had probably checked in under a fake name. Apparently when he had tried to check into the Muehlebach he used the name “Eugene K. Scott” again of Los Angeles. Again there was no record of a Eugene K. Scott so that name was most likely fake too. Owen/Scott/whoever he was apparently also reportedly checked into the St. Regis hotel in Kansas City. This time there was no record of a name but supposedly checked in with a man who was never identified.
On the afternoon of the 3rd a woman named Jean Owen (who was not related to Roland T. Owen) checked into the Hotel President and was given room 1048. She reported that she was bothered all night by at least two male voices and a female voice arguing violently in room 1046. She also reported hearing a scuffle and a “gasping” sound which, according to her, she mistook for snoring. This is important there was also a hotel employee who reported seeing a man and a women hurriedly leaving the hotel several hours before Roland was discovered. This isn’t conclusive but I would say that this indicates that there was probably more than one person involved and there was at least one man and one woman.
The body of Roland T. Owen was taken to a funeral home where it was put on public display in hopes that someone would recognize him. There are reports ranging from 60-300 people coming to see the body. Several bartenders testified that they had seen him in the company of two women on the night of January 3rd.
One of the visitors was a city worker named Robert Lane who testified that he had seen Roland T. Owen running down the street around 11 pm on January 3rd. Of course this was January in Kansas City so it was undoubtedly very cold outside so it was strange that Owen was only wearing pants and an undershirt. This was of course the height of the “everybody wore suits all the time” era. Anyway Owen apparently mistook Lane for a taxi and waved him down. Lane decided to give him a ride to a place he could catch an actual cab and let him in. During the ride Lane said something to the effect of, “you look like you’ve had a rough night” to which Owen responded, “I’ll kill that [expletive removed] tomorrow.” I honestly have no idea what that expletive is which is very frustrating because it could potentially reference gender which could be important here. Anyway Lane dropped Owen off and didn’t see him again until he identified his body.
There were several other people who recognized him from various other locations but none of the leads ended up going anywhere. After several months of investigation the police were about to bury Owen as a John Doe in an unmarked grave. Just before this could happen, however, the funeral director received a phone call from someone who offered to pay for a much better burial. The person was never identified but claimed that “Roland T. Owen” was the man’s real name and that he had been engaged to their sister. The caller also added that the police were off track and that Owen had simply “got in a jam”.
The money arrived in a couple days and Owen was buried in Memorial Park Cemetery (which is 10 minutes from my apartment). No one attended the funeral but someone had anonymously paid a florist to deliver flowers with a card that said, “Love forever--Louise”.
One more thing is that on the night of January 3rd the elevator operator reported taking a “woman who frequented the hotel with different men in different rooms” to the 10th floor. He claimed that she was meeting somebody in room 1026. He took her upstairs and after a few minutes was called back to take her down. Apparently the woman was upset because whoever she was supposed to meet wasn’t at room 1026 when she got there. About an hour later the woman returned to the elevator with a man. They were taken up to the 9th floor. Around 4 am the woman was taken back downstairs and the man followed her about 15 minutes later. It’s not known if this is connected but a prostitute getting the room number wrong could explain why he was so upset when he got picked up.
The case drifted into obscurity and was never solved but the victim was possibly identified. In late 1936 a woman named Eleanor Ogletree read a story about the murder. She claimed that the description of Owen matched that of her missing brother Artemus. He had apparently left his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama in 1934 to, “see the country”. When Eleanor was shown a picture of the victim she immediately identified him as her brother, but this really can’t be proven (if true Artemus was only 17). However, Artemus mother, Ruby, received three typed letters (Artemus couldn’t type) several months after “Owen” died. The last letter said Artemus was, “sailing for Europe”. Several months after this last letter (so quite a while after “Owen’s” death) the Ogletree’s received a call from a man who identified himself as, “Jordan”. Jordan said that Artemus had saved his life in Cairo and that he had settled down with a wealthy egyptian woman.
While researching this mystery I definitely felt like the more I learned, the more questions I had. Who really was Roland T. Owen? Why was he using false names? Who was Don? Who was Louise? Who was Jordan? Why was he just sitting in the dark? Why didn’t he have any luggage? Why did the killer take his clothes? Why did Owen insist it was an accident? Who paid for his funeral? Who wrote those letters to Mrs. Ogletree? Who murdered Roland T. Owen and why? I have some theories for a handful of questions, but for the big ones I have absolutely no idea.
That’s just about it for this story. The only other detail is that in 2003 or 2004 someone from out of state called the Kansas City Public Library claiming to be in the process of itemizing the estate of a deceased family member. While going through their belongings they claim to have found a box filled with newspaper clippings about the event as well as “something” that was mentioned in the police reports. The anonymous person never elaborated and has never come forward.
Most of my information came from a report from Dr. John Arthur Horner (the man who received the phone call at the KC public library). It can be found at the library’s website and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the case.