It is perhaps no surprise that unsolved deaths are often circled by impenetrable mysteries and baffling clues that serve as obstacles to any further understanding. There is a reason why cold cases are cold, and often these clues that gravitate around them are completely outlandish and indecipherable. Every once in a while there is a case that is so bogged down in such puzzles that it becomes an utter mishmash of the strange, with so many intertwined mysteries, disparate threads, and cryptic pieces of evidence that it is hard to even to begin to unravel it all. One of these would certainly be the case of a mysterious man who checked himself into a hotel room and never checked out, leaving behind a wake of mysterious, shadowy people, confounding details and clues, and murky circumstances that continue to baffle to this day.
On the cold winter afternoon of January 2, 1935, a large, well-dressed man wearing a black overcoat came in out of the chilly air into the Hotel President in Kansas City, Missouri, in the United States. He immediately stood out with his height and build, and was distinguishable by a glaring facial scar on his face and cauliflower ears, perhaps a boxer or wrestler. The man had no luggage with him, but nevertheless booked a room for one night, specifically requesting an interior room not facing the street outside, paying his room fee up front in cash and signing in as “Roland T. Owen,” with an address in Los Angeles. The bellboy, Randolph Propst, then guided the man to room 1046, where Owen produced personal items from his pockets such as a comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, and brush, the extent of his baggage, and put them on the counter of the bathroom before getting the key from the bellboy and then promptly leaving the hotel on some unknown errand.
Later on that same day, hotel maid Mary Soptic entered room 1046 in order to clean it, and found a noticeably distraught and anxious looking Owen sitting there in the dim room with shades drawn and only a faint glow of light emanating from a single lamp to keep the clinging shadows at bay. Upon seeing the maid, he composed himself, stood up, and made to leave the room, telling Mary on the way out that she was to leave the door open as he was expecting a friend to come over later. He was very specific about her leaving the door open, and mentioned it several times before he left her to her work and went out again. Mary returned to the room at around 4 PM to leave clean towels and was somewhat startled to find Owen lying on his bed, fully clothed and staring morosely at the ceiling deep in thought as if trying to read letters upon it that weren’t there. The maid was able to notice a note perched upon the desk that read, “Don, I will be back in fifteen minutes. Wait.” Realizing that she was intruding she quietly left the man to his deep thoughts, deciding to return in the morning.
When morning came on January 3, Mary found the door oddly locked from the outside, and when she entered with her passkey she found Owen sitting there in the dark again, the shades still tightly shut and just that one lamp casting an eerie glow over the surreal scene. Owen, who was talking on the phone and seemed uncomfortable and shifty, waved her in and as she cleaned she overheard pieces of the conversation, with the strange man nervously saying at one point “No, Don, I don’t want to eat. I am not hungry. I just had breakfast. No. I am not hungry.” Mary quietly cleaned and took some dirty towels and left Owen to his own devices. Mary Scoptic would have yet another unsettling encounter at room 1046 when she went back for her late afternoon rounds and heard two male voices talking within. Not wanting to bother them she gently knocked and asked through the door if they needed fresh towels, which was answered by a gruff, angry sounding voice saying that they didn’t need any and that she should go away.
In the early morning hours of January 4, at around 1 AM, there was a disturbance from room 1046, which the guest in a neighboring room would later describe as what sounded like a man and a woman arguing, perhaps more than two people, as well as what could have been the sounds of a scuffle. At around 7 AM in the morning an operator noticed that the phone had been left off the hook and so sent a bellboy to go find out what was going on. The bellboy was about to have quite an odd experience, as a male voice from within told him to come in and turn on the lights but the door was locked. The bellboy, Probst, the same one who had guided Owen to his room, told the occupant that the door was locked and knocked for several minutes, but he was only met with silence after that, and left in frustration after shouting through the door to put the phone back on the hook. The guest in room 1046 obviously hadn’t listened or didn’t care, because when 8:30 AM rolled around it turned out that the phone was still off the hook and so another bellboy named Harold Pike was sent to order them to hang it up.
After knocking for several minutes with no response, Pike let himself into the room with his passkey and found Owen lying on his bed fully naked in the shadows, as well as the telephone lying on the floor. Assuming that Owen was just hung over, Pike put the phone back to its proper place and hastily let himself out. Oddly, just around an hour later the operator noticed that the phone for room 1046 was off the hook yet again, and Randolph Propst was sent up there once more to check things out. The room now had a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging outside, but knocking gathered no response and so Propst opened the door and entered to find Owen hunched over on the floor, holding his head in his hands and framed by splotches of blood on the floor and walls, as well as on the bed. This was enough to send the panicked Propst packing and authorities were notified.
When police arrived they were able to see that Owen was in dire shape indeed, and was quite seriously injured, having been stabbed repeatedly in the chest with a knife and his head sustaining fractures from some powerful blow. It was also found that he had severe bruises on his neck, his his wrists, ankles, and neck had ties around them, and for all appearances it seemed as if he had been strangled and tortured. The barely conscious Owen bizarrely told police that he had just fallen in the bathtub and that he had not been attacked by anyone, before slipping into a coma, and he would later die at the hospital.
When authorities searched room 1046 they would find quite a few oddities. For one there were no clothes anywhere to be found, nor was there any sign of the towels or toiletries that the hotel usually provided. A large amount of blood was found on the walls and the bedsheets, as well as in the bathroom, and there were four fingerprints found on the lampshade, which were thought to be those of a woman. There were two water glasses, one of them with a jagged piece taken out of it and the other sitting pristine and intact, as well as an unlit cigarette and a tiny unopened bottle of dilute sulfuric acid. The room other than that was completely barren, and hotel staff told them that the curtains had not once been opened the entire time of Owen’s stay. There were no other clues at all, and police were already having trouble figuring out exactly what had happened, but things would only steadily get weirder than they already were.
It was soon discovered that Roland T. Owen was not the man’s real name, and that he had apparently been booked at several other hotels called the Muehlebach, the Kansas City Hotel, and St Regis Hotel in the days before the incident, booking under different aliases, all of which were bogus, and on one occasion was seen together with another unidentified man. Additionally, some rather unusual tips came in as well, such as a city worker named Robert Lane, who claimed that he had been approached by a man mistaking him for a taxi on the night that “Owen” had checked in. Lane claimed that this mysterious passenger was dressed only in his underwear and t-shirt despite the cold weather, and that when he was told that it wasn’t a taxi he had been asked where he could get one. Lane had noticed that the man had a bloody wound on his arm, and when asked about it the man spat out that he’d get revenge on some unknown party before wandering off into the night.
Other tips came in from various bartenders saying that they had seen a man matching Owen’s description frequenting the bars of the area in the company of several different women, and an elevator operator at the President claimed that he had seen what he took to be a prostitute wandering around on that night looking for a room “1026,” although considering the room number is wrong it is hard to say whether this was a mistake on her part or whether she had anything to do with Owen’s death at all. In the meantime, police sent out sketches of the dead man all over the place but no one seemed to know who he was.
When his body was put on display several people claimed to know who he was, including a local wrestling promoter who said he had been approached by the man to participate in matches and that his real name was Cecil Warner, but none of these claims led anywhere, and Owen’s real identity remained elusive. During the funeral preparations another potential lead came in with an anonymous caller who claimed that the dead man was his brother-in-law, that police were “on the wrong track,”and that they were not to bury him in Potter’s field as planned. The mysterious caller even had all of the funeral expenses paid for, a wad of cash sent wrapped in newspaper, but no other information was forthcoming and it was yet another dead end.
During the actual funeral no friends or family of the dead man turned up, although an anonymous person did some send money and flowers with a note saying “Love Forever, Louise,” but Owen’s real identity remained a specter. Police tried to focus on finding out who the mysterious “Don” was that Owen had mentioned in his note, but they had little to go on. All of this swirled together with the testimony of Owen’s bizarre behavior in the preceding days and the odd evidence turned up in the room to create a baffling conundrum for authorities, who couldn’t seem to piece together what could have possibly happened or who had carried it out or why.
Owen was eventually buried at Memorial Park Cemetery, the whole thing paid for by an anonymous party, his death and the strange circumstances surrounding it far from solved, and the case would remain ice cold, with no new leads until 1936, when a woman called authorities and identified herself as “Eleanor Ogletree” from Birmingham, Alabama. The mysterious woman claimed that she had come across a photo of Owen as she was reading a magazine article about the case, and that she had immediately recognized him as her brother Artemus, who had long ago gone missing. According to her, he had disappeared in 1934, and there had been suspicious circumstances surrounding it, as Atemus had apparently sent a series of strange letters to his mother, Ruby Ogletree, even though he had no idea how to type, and the tone of the letters was all wrong too. The final letter had said that he wanted to see the world and planned to sail to Europe and that would be the last of it until a strange phone call had come in.
The call had originated in Memphis, Tennessee, and was from a man calling himself “Jordan,” who merely said that Artemus had saved his life and had gone on to get married and settle down in Cairo, Egypt, but an intensive search could not locate him. Interestingly, photos of Artemus were sent to authorities and the resemblance was uncanny, right down to the facial scar, and bizarrely, if it was really Owen then considering the timeline the letters and the phone call had happened after his death. Was Artemus Ogletree really the mysterious Roland T. Owen, and if so, how had he would up in Kansas City? Was the mysterious Jordan actual “Don,” the man who had been heard talking to Owen and who had been seen with him? Had he killed Artemus and then sent those letters and made that call to his family after the fact? If so, then why? Who was the woman involved in it all and what part did she have to play? Who knows? This promising lead eventually went cold and investigators were left with nothing.
In the years since there have been other possible leads that have turned up from time to time, most recently in 2003, when Kansas City Public Library librarian John Horner was contacted by phone by an anonymous caller who claimed that as he had been going through the belongings of a recently deceased person he had found a box containing some odd things. There within the box was apparently a pile of numerous newspaper articles on the Owen/Ogletree case all meticulously arranged, as well as “something mentioned in the newspaper stories,” but no clue as to what this “something” could be was divulged. It was a tantalizing bit of a clue, but once again led to a dead end.
There are so many odd, often bizarre details, clues, and questions orbiting this case that it is almost impossible to know where to start, and of course there have been various theories such as that this was the result of a love triangle gone bad, that Owen/Ogletree had been imprisoned within his room by unknown parties for murky reasons, that he had some sort of psychotic break, or that he was the victim of a hit, but none of these scenarios really seems to totally fit all of the surreal clues fluttering about it. In the meantime, there have been no other leads, no new insights, and it seems just about the only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know anything. There have never been any suspects in the death, no clear motive, and nothing to satisfactorily tie together all of the threads. Who was Roland Owen and what happened in room 1046? It looks like we will probably never know.