The Mysterious Murder in Room 1046

Kayla Snyder, Writer

On January 5th, 1935, a man who went by the name of Ronald T. Owen passed away after being found severely wounded in his apartment at the President Hotel located in downtown Kansas City Missouri. He had been staying there since January 2nd, a Wednesday, on the 10th floor in room 1046. Many residents, along with the staff, reported strange activities the days following his passing. When he checked in at 1:20 p.m., the bellboy, Randolph Propst, says Ronald had no luggage. Only a toothbrush, a hairbrush, and a comb. He said he was from Los Angeles and seemed to not be able to stop talking about his unpleasant experience with a hotel not too far away known as the Muehlebach Hotel. They described his appearance as a Caucasian man looking around 30-35 years old with a big scar on his scalp and a cauliflower ear which was common in boxers and wrestlers.

Many workers said the lights were always off in his room and that he would sit there fully clothed in the dark with only a dim lamp as a source of light and the shades shut. In the police report, his maid, Mary Soptic, said Owen was “either worried about something or afraid” and that “he always wanted to kind of keep in the dark.” She says he allowed her to come in and clean on that first day but told her to leave the door unlocked as a friend would soon be visiting him. She returned around 4:00 p.m. to replenish his supply of towels and read a note reading, “Don, I will be back in 15 minutes, wait.”

When she returned the next day, January 3rd, around 10:30 in the morning, she noticed the door was locked from the outside. At first, she assumed he had left and locked it behind him, but when she opened the door using the pass key, he was again sitting on his bed in the dark, implying someone had to have locked him inside. While she was in the room, he answered a call in which he spoke, “No, Don, I don’t want to eat; I just had breakfast.” Then he repeated, “No, I’m not hungry.” Then, as usual, Soptic returned at 4:00 p.m. to give him clean, fresh towels. She could hear two voices inside the room. She assumed one was Owen. The other was an unfamiliar “rough” voice. This unknown voice responded, “Who is it?” She then told them she had towels for them. A voice replied, “We don’t need any” even though she had not recalled seeing any other towels that morning. However, she knew better than to get involved and let them be. She did not know it then, but that would be the last time she would speak to Ronald T. Owen.

A motorist named Robert Lane picked up a man from the President Hotel the same day around 11:00 p.m. Lane described this man as appearing manic and confused. He was wearing pants, an undershirt, and no coat. He had a deep scratch on his arm and appeared to be trying to hide the wound or something more severe. Lane could see the man dripping blood and was said to have heard him say the words, “I’ll kill that man tomorrow.” He asked to be dropped off somewhere where he could pick up a taxi and was let off at 12th and Troost Ave. Robert Lane later confirmed that this man was Ronald T. Owen.

A few hours later, a hotel worker was said to have seen a “commercial woman” in all black come into the building and ask for room 1026, one digit off from room 1046. She came back down around 10 minutes later, saying it was the wrong room, and left. 30-40 minutes later, she returned with a man in a brown suit. They had similar features and were thought to possibly be related. They went into the hotel and left at 4:15 a.m. saying they needed a walk before bed, but they never returned.

That same night of January 3rd, a woman named Jean Owen, who is in no way related to Ronald Owen, was visiting her boyfriend. Because it was late and she wasn’t feeling well, she didn’t want to drive all the way back home and ended up staying at the President Hotel. She then checked into room 1048. According to the police reports, she recalled hearing repeated commotion throughout the night. “I heard a lot of noise which sounded like it [was] on the same floor and consisted largely of men and women talking loudly and cursing,” she said in her statement. “When the noise continued, I was about to call the desk clerk but decided not to.” However, there was also a party going on in room 1055. It is not certain if these noises came from room 1046 or not.

By the next morning, Friday, January 4th, no one was known to have seen or heard from Owen since Robert Lane gave him a ride at 11:00 p.m. the previous day. A little after 7:00 a.m., the hotel phone operator noticed a red, blinking light alerting them that the phone in room 1046 was off its hook. The original bell boy who brought Owen up to his room that first day, Randolph Propst, was sent to go ask Owen to put the phone back on the hook. When he got to his room, a sign reading “do not disturb” was hung on the doorknob, a common sign to see in hotels, so Randolph did not overthink it. He knocked on the door twice. In return, he got a “come in” in a faint voice and a “turn on the lights.” However, the door was locked, so Randolph could not open the door. He assumed Owen was just drunk and yelled at him to put his phone back on the hook.

At 8:30 a.m., the phone was still off the hook, so this time, a bell boy named Harold Pike got the passkey and let himself in. The room was pitch black. Harold went up to the bed to see Owen utterly nude on the bed. He saw that the phone had been knocked over, picked it up, and put it where it belonged. He then left and told the supervisor what he saw.

By 10:30-10:45 a.m, the phone was once again off the hook. Propst was sent to the room once again closer to 11:00 a.m. He would soon realize that something horrid had happened in this room. When he walked in, he squinted into the dark. That was when he noticed Owen a few feet away from the door on all fours cradling his head in his hands with blood all over him. Propst then rushed to turn on the lights and saw the room bathed in blood. It was on the walls, the floor, the bed, and even the ceiling. Owen was restrained around the neck with a cord, and his ankles were held together by the same material. His skull was fractured on the right side and looked to have been struck multiple times. Propst shouted for help, and when no one came, he ran away to alert the hotel assistant manager of what he had witnessed.
From this point on, the timeline becomes jumbled. They called the authorities, and Propst went back up to the room to find Owen collapsed against the door. He stayed with Owen until the police officers arrived. When they got there, they examined the crime scene while waiting for the doctor to arrive. They did not try to help Owen, leaving all medical decisions up to the doctor. Owen became slightly coherent and that was when the officers asked him who had been in the room. He responded with “nobody” and said he had only fallen against the tub Yet detective Johnson said, “There’s no doubt someone else is messed up in this.”
At around 11:30 a.m., 30 minutes after being found, the doctor arrived and proceeded to cut the cords off Owen. He was soon after rushed off to the hospital again, unconscious. The doctor said that he had likely been tortured as there were three stab wounds and bruising all along his neck, entailing he had been strangled. At 1-2p.m, doctor Flanders said the blood on the walls came from when Owen had been stabbed in the torso. However, this was estimated to have happened 7 hours prior (around 4:00a.m).
For the case of Ronald T. Owen, the detectives did not have the proper training or equipment to use blood or hair follicles as evidence, making the killer harder to identify. Investigators could not find any clothes in room 1046, not even socks or shoes. Along with missing clothes, no toiletries could be found either. The only clothing-related evidence they could uncover was the label of a necktie.
There were no weapons found in the room either. Potential items that could be a sign of who was in the room were a safety pin, sulfuric acid, a hairpin, and an unlit cigarette. This caused theories about torture using acid. Because of the hairpin, some said a woman was present. Also, four fingerprints on the telephone came back as from a female. Still, they could not figure out who specifically. In the bathroom were two drinking glasses, one was in its usual place and the other was broken in the sink. Suspiciously, the broken glass was missing a substantial chunk from it. Many suspect this could have been the cause of Owen’s stab wounds. There were only a few leads on who the attacker could be.
Owen died in a coma a little after midnight on January 5th. The autopsy confirmed head fractures that may or may not have happened prior to the torture. One of the three stab wounds was much deeper than the other two. Medical professionals say it is a miracle he even lasted as long as he did, let alone able to speak. His right lung had collapsed. Now that the only witness was gone, authorities had to try and figure out the mystery alone.
The day after his death, January 6th, the detectives went to the LAPD to find no Ronald T. Owen existed. They then created a sample of his fingerprint and sent it to the Justice Department.
On March 3rd, 1935, the Kansas City Journal post announced Owen’s burial would take place at Potter’s Field cemetery. An anonymous caller called the cemetery and said he would send money for Owen to have a proper funeral and would buy “13 American Beauty roses” He said, “I’m doing this for my sister. I’ll send you a five-dollar bill, special delivery.” The caller was asked about his connection to the case. “Owen hadn’t played the game fair, and cheaters usually get what’s coming to them.”
On March 23rd, money was wrapped in a newspaper and delivered to the funeral home, but no one knew who it was from. The 13 American Beauty Roses were sent to the funeral home with a letter reading “love forever, Louise.” No information was ever discovered about who these people were or why they sent these things for Owen.
A year following his death, a woman showed her friend an American Weekly piece about Owen’s case. The woman, Ruby Ogletree, confirmed the man as her 17-year-old son Artemus Ogletree from the recognizable scar on the side of his scalp. She said he had left Birmingham in 1934 to hitchhike to California and his dream was to be a professional wrestler, which explains the cauliflower ear. However, she had received three letters claiming to be Artemus in the spring of 1935. They were typed out, which Ruby thought was strange, considering he did not know how to use a printer. She described these letters as “slangy and unfamiliar.”
It was later discovered that Artemus had stayed at the St. Regis Hotel in Kansas City with another man before going to the President Hotel. Many think this could have been the mysterious “Don.” The last revelation in his case was in 2003-2004. A man by the name of Dr. John Horner, the author of an exhaustive account of the murder case, received an out-of-state call from someone who had found a box containing many papers concerning the case in a deceased elderly person’s home. They also said they found an object referred to in the newspaper articles inside of the box. However, who this person was and what that object was is still a mystery. Since then, the case has gone cold.
Since the murder, many theories have come up. Many detectives say it was “Don.” Others say it was the woman and the man who entered the hotel the night before, which is when the torture was estimated to have started. However, no leads were ever discovered.
Some even go deeper into the case. With social media being as big as it is today, more and more ideas have arisen. A video from “Buzzfeed Unsolved Network” is an excellent example of this. It was posted on September 1st, 2017, and dives into the room 1046 case. The comment section has some interesting theories. One person says Artemus may not have been saying “Don” but instead “Dawn” referring to a woman’s name, meaning a woman was behind this. Another commenter is sure that this case is the work of a mafia leader. They say that the dim lights, nice suits, and unlocked doors are all associated with the mafia and that “I’m not hungry” could potentially be code for “I can’t talk because someone is in the room.” Along with that, they point out that the word “Don” is another word to call the leader of a mafia. They end their argument by saying that not revealing a killer could be the result of fear since the mafia usually knows your family and friends and that Artemus could have been trying to protect them. Others think he was murdered for cheating on his spouse, which explains the anonymous man’s call and the fighting heard by Jean Owen.
Despite all the theories and all the evidence, the case continues to go on unsolved. The world has yet to find out who was responsible for the murder of the man in room 1046.