Hotel rooms are bizarre. There are entire horror subgenres dedicated to just how weird these “liminal” spaces feel. It’s like everywhere you’ve ever been, but nothing like any real place a human would live. Hotel rooms are nowhere and everywhere all at once – making them extraordinarily creepy. It doesn’t help that so many unsolved murder mysteries are centered around hotels.
A man checked into a hotel room in Kansas City on a dark winter day in 1935. He gave a fake name and spent his last few days alive engaged in a bizarre back-and-forth with a gruff man who seemed to come and go as he pleased from the hotel room. The man, who gave hotel staff the name Roland T. Owen, died three days after he checked into the Hotel President.
What really happened to the man who called himself Owen? How did the hotel staff not notice the bizarre events in Room 1046, the escalating pattern of violence, or the killer who ended Owen’s life? This is the chilling true story of Room 1046 and the tragic murder of a young man that has gone unsolved for nearly a century.
On January 2, 1935, a man who gave his name as Roland T. Owen checked into the Hotel President in Kansas City, Missouri. He gave his home address as a location in Los Angeles, California, and carried surprisingly little luggage. Hotel staff reported that he brought a comb, a toothbrush, and some toothpaste, but little else aside from the clothes on his back.
Witnesses described him as looking anywhere from 20 to 35 years of age, with brown hair, a cauliflower ear, and a noticeable scar on his scalp. He was nicely dressed, according to the hotel staff, with the bellboy later telling authorities that he was surprised by how few items Owen brought with him, given his nice attire. Owen allowed the maid, Mary Soptic, to clean while he was in the room but asked that she leave the door unlocked when she left. He said he had a friend coming to visit.
Soptic told police that Owen kept the shades drawn and only allowed a small amount of light into the room from a bedside lamp. She noticed that Owen’s behavior made him seem worried and anxious, as though he was dreading something.
Strange Behavior in 1046
For the next several days, the staff noticed several odd things happening in Room 1046. Soptic later told investigators that Owen “always wanted to keep in the dark.” Around 4 p.m. on January 2, Soptic brought towels to Owen’s room but found him sitting on the bed, completely dressed in the dark. He had left the door unlocked.
Soptic also spotted a note reading, “Don, I will be back in fifteen minutes. Wait.” Later the following morning, she went to 1046 and found the door locked from the outside. She assumed that Owen had left for the day, but she once again found him sitting fully dressed on the bed when she let herself in. This means someone had locked Owen in from outside the room, suggesting that the “friend” he had mentioned earlier had paid him a visit.
Soptic reported hearing Owen on the phone in his room while she was cleaning it, addressing a man as “Don” and explaining that he wasn’t hungry. Later that day, around 4, Soptic tried to bring fresh towels to the room, but was turned away from within by a man with a gruff voice.
Concerning Events Escalate
A neighbor in Room 1048 reported on the evening of January 3 that she heard loud voices, both male and female, arguing and cursing either in the hall or the next room over. Investigators have pointed out that this evidence could be nothing. There was a party in Room 1055 that night, so those sounds could have been from an unrelated group.
Around 7 a.m. on January 4, the hotel’s phone operator realized that the phone in 1046 had been off the hook for a suspicious amount of time without being used. She sent Randolph Probst, the hotel’s bellboy, to check on Owen. Probst recalls seeing a “do not disturb” sign on the door but still hearing a voice from within the room beckoning him to enter and turn on the lights after he knocked. He could not enter, however, as the door was locked, and no one inside got up to let him in.
Probst assumed Owen was drunk and, frustrated, told him to put the phone back on the hook. An hour and a half later, the phone was still off the hook. The staff sent Harold Pike, another bellboy, let himself into the room with the master key and saw Owen in bed, nude and apparently drunk. He told authorities that the bed was darkened around the man but paid this little mind. He put the phone back on the hook and left the room without further investigation.
Discovery of a Crime Scene
Warning: the following description contains graphic imagery. Reader discretion is advised.
Two hours later, the operator again noticed the phone off the hook. Probst returned to 1046 to resolve the matter but found a horrifying scene upon reentry. He told authorities, “[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. I looked around and saw blood on the walls, on the bed, and in the bathroom. This frightened me, and I immediately left the room and went downstairs.” The hotel staff contacted the police immediately, who discovered that Owen was alive but in critical condition. He had several injuries that indicated he had been tortured, including wounds that showed he’d been tied up with a cord around his wrists and ankles. Investigators found blood on the walls by the bed, suggesting a violent attack. They quickly ascertained he’d been struck repeatedly in the head and had a fractured skull. Bruises on his neck suggested that he’d been strangled. The victim had also been stabbed in the chest, puncturing one of his lungs.
Incredibly, Owen had survived these attacks and was able to speak when the police found him. However, for reasons he wouldn’t elaborate on, he refused to tell the police who had tortured him. He insisted that he’d suffered his injuries from falling and hitting the bathtub. He then slipped into unconsciousness and was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds in a matter of hours.
Investigating the Murder
Doctors who examined Owen said he likely suffered his wounds six to seven hours before the police arrived. Investigators back at the hotel were unable to find any murder weapon, and also couldn’t find any of his small handful of belongings. Authorities in LA looked into the name “Roland T. Owen” but could not find any evidence of such a person.
The man who gave his name as “Owen” was now “John Doe,” as far as the police were concerned, and he was scheduled to be buried in a potter’s field. However, just before the funeral service was set to take place, a mysterious benefactor called the funeral home and wired the money for a proper burial. A set of flowers was sent for the service with a cryptic message: “Love for ever – Louise.” The police could never determine the identities of either the benefactor who paid for the funeral or “Louise.”
In the days following the death, many families reached out to the police in KC to ask if the John Doe there could be their missing loved one. One such family ended up being right: a woman who read about the case in 1936 noticed that “Owen” bore a striking resemblance to her friend Ruby’s missing son, Artemus Ogletree.
Ruby identified her son due to the distinctive scar on his scalp. She told investigators that he went missing from his home in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1934. What’s more, she noted that her son was only 17 years old when he disappeared. She had even received letters from her son throughout the summer of 1935, after his death. Notably, these letters were typed, not handwritten, so she was unable to determine that Artemus didn’t send them.
So, what happened to the teenager on those dark winter days in Kansas City? Some sleuths have theorized that the man he identified as “Don” might have simply acted alone and killed him over a personal dispute. Ogletree was described as behaving in a way that was obedient and submissive, bordering on downright bizarre, and the two might have had a deeper relationship.
Others have posited that Ogletree might have been involved in organized crime. These theories point out that “Don” might not be a name but, instead, a title. Mafia bosses are often called “Dons” by their subordinates.
Whatever the case, Artemus Ogletree’s unsettling final days remain a mystery. The identity of his killer might never be known, and his murder remains unsolved nearly a century after the fact.