On January 2, 1935 a man calling himself Roland T. Owen was shown to Room 1046 in the President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. He had asked for a room that faced the inner courtyard rather than the street. His only luggage: a hair brush, a comb, and toothpaste, all carried in the pockets of his black overcoat.
Owen was a strange guest. The hotel maid later told police he kept the room dark - shades drawn and only a single dim desk lamp turned on. On his first day in the room, Owen told the maid to leave the door open because he was expecting a friend. She said he seemed frightened.
The next day, January 3, while she was in Room 1046 cleaning, she said Owen received a phone call. “No, Don, I don’t want to eat,” Owen said into the phone. Later, when the maid went to deliver fresh towels she said she heard two male voices inside the room. The door was locked. A “rough” voice told her they didn’t need any towels when asked, though she knew there were none in the room.
The Running Man
That night, around 11 pm, a city worker named Robert Lane was driving home. He was flagged down by a man running down the street, without a coat, wearing just an undershirt though it was winter. When he stopped, he noticed a deep scratch on the man’s arm. From the way he was holding himself, Lane thought he might have more serious injuries.
“You look as if you’ve been in it bad,” Lane told the man.
“I’ll kill that ---- tomorrow,” the man reportedly replied. (The newspaper of 1935 was too delicate to print the expletive.) Lane agreed to drive the man to a taxi stand, where he saw him jump in a cab. He would later identify his strange passenger as Roland T. Owen.
The Bloody End
That following day, a Friday, the story reached its grisly end. In the morning, the hotel operator noticed the phone in Room 1046 was off the hook. She sent a bellboy upstairs to replace the receiver. The bellboy used his passkey to open the door and found Owen lying on the bed, naked. The bellboy assumed he was drunk. The phone had been knocked over. The bellboy replaced the receiver and left.
A few hours later, the phone in Room 1046 was again off the hook and, again, a bellboy was sent upstairs to replace it. After knocking loudly and getting no response, the bellboy again used his passkey.
The room was dark. When the bellboy turned on the light he was shocked to discover Owen just two feet from the door, on his hands and knees, holding his bloody head in his hands. Owen was alive, but barely. “I looked around and saw blood on the walls, on the bed, and in the bathroom,” the bellboy reported. Frightened, he fled the room to get help.
When a doctor and the police arrived, the scene proved even more gruesome. Owen was bound at the neck, the wrists and the ankles. It looked like he had been tortured. He had a fractured skull and numerous knife wounds, one of which had punctured a lung. Blood was even on the ceiling. Much of it had dried, leading the doctor to conclude the injuries were six or seven hours old.
That means when the bellboy first visited the room hours before, the man he thought was drunk on the bed was actually severely injured.
There were few clues. All of Owen’s clothes, including the black coat, were gone. Police found a hairpin, an unlighted cigarette, and, on the telephone stand, four small fingerprints which they speculated could be from a woman.
The Mystery Deepens
Owen was still semi-conscious, but the few words he spoke only deepened the mystery. He said nobody had been in the room with him. “I fell against the bathtub,” was his only explanation for his injuries. Owen was in a coma by the time he reached the hospital and a little after midnight he died.
Police began to try to figure out who their murder victim was. It quickly became clear Owen was not his real name. A sketch of the victim was published in the newspaper under the heading, “Do You Recognize This Man?” His body was put on display at a local funeral home. Several people claimed to have seen him, but all reported different names. The families of missing people sent photos to Kansas City, but no match was made.
The mystery murder victim was about to be buried as John Doe in a Potter’s Field when an anonymous donor sent money for a proper funeral. He was laid to rest, under the false name Roland T. Owen. A bouquet of roses, also paid for anonymously, was placed on the grave. The card read, “Love for ever - Louise.”
His Identity Discovered
A year later a woman named Ruby Ogletree saw a magazine article about the mysterious murder, including a picture of the victim. She recognized him. It was her son, Artemus Ogletree, who had been missing since he vanished from Birmingham, Alabama in April of 1934. Ogletree was younger than anyone suspected - just 17.
Police now knew who their victim was. But they they still did not know who killed him, or why. Who was the man with the “rough” voice who told the maid to go away? Was it Don? Whose fingerprints were found in Room 1046? Did they belong to a woman? Was it Louise? Did she pay for the funeral? Was Louise the killer? Was Don? Those mysteries remain unsolved to this day.
We’d like to extend a special thanks to Dr. John Arthur Horner for providing invaluable information about the Room 1046 mystery. Read his article about the case here.
Feature photo of the mysterious Roland T. Owen / Artemus Ogletree: The Kansas City Public Library