Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What Happened in Room 1046?


The following article was found in several publications throughout 1943...referencing a murder mystery that started on January 4, 1935:

Too many clues spoil the broth!

So the police of Kansas City. Mo., might have parodied the old adage on that morning, some eight years ago, when the curtain rose on one of the strangest murder mysteries in the annals of American crime.

At 7 a.m. on January 4, 1935, the switchboard operator of the Hotel President prepared to call Room 1046 in accordance with instructions left by the occupant, who had registered on New Year's Day as Roland T. Owen, Los Angeles, Cal. As she picked up the plug, the red light over 1046 blinked on, indicating that Mr. Owen had re moved the receiver from the hook, presumably to inform her he was already awake. But no response to her repeated 'good mornings' came from the other end of the line. Perhaps Mr. Owen had inadvertently knocked the receiver from its cradle in his sleep, she thought, and dispatched a bellboy. In answer to his knock a gruff voice responded, and the boy returned downstairs.

At 8.30 the phone in 1046 was again off the hook. Discovering the door locked—from the out side—the bellhop entered with a passkey. The blinds were drawn, the room dark; and he was surprised to see the shadowy, nude form of Owen sprawled on the bed, face to the wall. The bell boy, believing Owen intoxicated, replaced the phone which had fallen from its stand, and tiptoed out.

At 11.15 the same thing was repeated. This time the bed was empty. The bellboy raised a blind— and froze. A chair was overturned. The telephone sprawled on the floor. The bedclothes were in a rumpus, and everywhere— on sheets, pillows, wail— were crimson stains. Blood! The bathroom door was ajar. Seated on the edge of the tub. a stalwart figure, stripped, clung with scarlet hands to the wash stand. Shoulders, chest, abdomen were slashed and bleeding. The back of his head was crushed; his throat was gashed: blood pumped from a stab wound above his heart.

House doctor and detective, summoned by the bellboy's wails, found Owen still conscious. The detective knelt over him. 'Who did this. Mr. Owen?' 'Nobody,' he whispered. 'What happened?' 'I fell against the bathtub,' he mumbled, and collapsed.

He died 18 hours later without regaining consciousness. Meantime a police squad, rushed to the hotel: discovered that not a single article of Owen's remained in the room. His clothing, travelling kit. toothbrush, everything was gone. The door key, too, was missing. The telephone and a broken tumbler yielded smudged finger prints. Apparently a woman's. They could not be traced.

Guests in an adjoining room reported hearing visitors in 1046 around midnight. The voices indicated two couples, they thought, and about 2 a.m. a quarrel developed. Then at 4 there was a sound like drunken snoring. The night elevator man recalled taking up to the tenth floor a woman who inquired for 1046. A half-hour later she'd descended to the lobby. An hour after that she returned with a man and went up to the ninth floor. This couple departed the hotel around 4. So did a gentleman carrying a Gladstone bag.

The inquest established that Owen had been attacked about 4 a.m., but the identity or involvement of the nocturnal visitors could not be determined. His slayers had tortured Owen cruelly. Why? And why had he refused to name them? And who was Owen?

Los Angeles authorities, advised of the murder, were unable to find any records of such an individual. A maid in the hotel said that on the afternoon of the 2nd (Wednesday) she had entered 1046 and found Owen sitting with the shades drawn, in semidarkness. 'Leave the door unlocked. I'm expecting a friend.' he told her, and walked out looking worried. Returning later with fresh linen, she found him lying on the bed in the still-darkened r00m. The following morning she found the door locked from the outside and let herself in with a pass key to make up the bed. To her surprise there sat Owen, fully dressed, in the dark. He told her to go ahead with her work. Presently the phone rang and she heard Owen say. 'No, Don. I've had my breakfast. I don't care to go out.'

Obviously, then, Owen was being held a prisoner. And in a situation in which he did not dare attempt escape or appeal for help.

On March 3. 1935. the local papers carried an announcement that Owen's body was to be buried in potter's field.

Hardly was this story on the street when the phone rang in one of the city's editorial rooms. 'You have a story in your paper that is wrong,' a woman's voice said. 'Roland Owen will not be buried in a pauper's grave. Arrangements have been made for his funeral.' 'Who are you?' queried the startled editor. 'Who's calling?' 'Never mind. I know what I'm talking about.' 'What happened to Owen at the hotel?'' 'He got into a jam,' was the laconic answer, punctuated by the receiver's click. Meantime: 'Don't bury Owen in a pauper's grave,' a man's voice instructed McGilley's undertaking parlors. 'I want you to bury him in the Memorial Park Cemetery. Then he will be near my sister. I'll send funds to cover the funeral.'

'Who is this? I'll have to report this to the police.' 'That's all right, Mr. McGilley,' the undertaker was assured. In answer to another question the voice explained that Owen had jilted a girl he'd promised to marry— the speaker had witnessed the jilting— the three had held a little meeting at the President Hotel. 'Cheaters usually get what's coming to them!' he exclaimed, and hung up.

A little while later the telephone rang in the office of the Rock Floral Company. 'I want 13 American Beauty roses sent to Roland Owen's funeral,' the anonymous caller said. 'I'm doing this for my sister. I'll send you a five-dollar bill, special delivery.'

None of these phone-booth calls could be traced. Neither could the subsequent letter to McGilley's mortuary— its address carefully printed by pen and ruler. Enclosed was 25 dollars. A similar missive with money reached the florist. Inside was a card, its handwriting obviously disguised, to go with the flowers: 'Love for ever — Louise.'

These melodramatic developments, tauntingly brazen, drove the Kansas City authorities to new furies of endeavor. A love vendetta seemed evident. Louise was the jilted. Owen, supposedly faithless, had been decoyed into a trap and vengefully slain. Detectives serving as pallbearers guarded the funeral. Others. disguised as grave diggers, watched the cemetery for days. But nothing happened.

Two years went by— then In November. 1936. Mrs. L. E. Ogletree, of Birmingham, Ala., saw a resume of the case published in 'The American Weekly,' with 'Owen's' photograph. Mrs. Ogletree was shocked to recognise the portrait. The scar — result of a childhood burn. The features — stalwart build. No doubt about it. 'Ronald Owen.' was Artemus Ogeltree— her son!

Early in 1934, Artemus, then a 17-year-old high-school student, had started to hitch-hike to California. she said. Ample funds were sent him while he was apparently enjoying his holiday. Then, early in 1935, Mrs. Ogletree had received a typewritten letter, signed 'Artemus,' queerly slangy and unfamiliar, postmarked Chicago. In May, from New York, came a second note, telling her Artemus was going to Europe, followed immediately by a special delivery saying he was sailing that day. The letters seemed spurious— Artemus had never before used a typewriter— and Mrs. Ogletree was suspicious, and worried. Then, on August 12, 1935, she received a long-distance call from Memphis, Tenn. A man, who gave his name as Jordan and explained that her son had once saved his life, said that Artemus was in Cairo, Egypt, and well. He called later to tell her Artemus had married a wealthy woman in Cairo and was unable to write because he'd lost a thumb in a bar-room brawl. The speaker sounded irrational.

Mrs. Ogletree sent her son's photograph to the Kansas City police. Sergeant Howland identified the youth at once. And the grim fact was immediately evident — Mrs. Ogletree had received mysterious phone calls and typewritten letters after Artemus was dead. Was the purpose of this cruel deception to further cloak the slain youth's identity? Perpetrator of letters and calls has never been found. The mystery of Room 1046 is still unsolved.

This case leaves so many unanswered questions. Why was Artemus Ogletree using so many alias? Who murdered him and why? Who was 'Louise' and 'Jordan?' Who paid for Ogletree's funeral? Etc...etc... But simply, what the hell happened in room 1046?

I later found the following postscript to this case:

The investigation into Ogletree's death was briefly reopened in 1937, after detectives noted similarities between his murder and the slaying of a young man in New York, but this also went nowhere. The case has remained in cold obscurity ever since, except for one strange incident more recently. This postscript to the story was related in 2012 by John Horner, a librarian in the Kansas City Public Library who has done extensive research into the Ogletree mystery. One day in 2003 or 2004, someone from out-of-state phoned the library to ask about the case. This caller, who did not give his or her name, said that they had recently gone through the belongings of someone who had recently died. Among these belongings was a box containing old newspaper clippings about the murder. This caller mentioned that this box also contained "something" which had been mentioned in the newspaper reports. Horner's caller would not say what this "something" was.

This may be mysterious end to this baffling case.

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