It was the early afternoon of January 2, 1935, when a well-dressed man carrying no luggage walked into the Hotel President in Kansas City and asked for a room for the night. The man identified himself as Roland T. Owen and listed Los Angelas as his address. He had a long scar on his cheek and had appeared to be a professional fighter on account of his cauliflower ear, though no one could seem to place his age. Some witnesses claimed that he was as young as 20, while others believed that he may have been closer to 35.
Mr. Owen was checked in and promptly taken to room 1046. Bellboy Randolph Propst was tasked with escorting Mr. Owen. Propst said the two made small talk in the elevator on their way to the tenth floor of the hotel. Owen told him that he had stayed at the Muehlebach Hotel, but had decided to check out the following day after they had charged him the outrageous price of $5 for the night.
Once Owen and Propst arrived at room 1046, Owen proceeded to take out a comb, a hairbrush and a tube of toothpaste and place the items on the bathroom shelf. Owen then announced that he was going out and requested for Propst to lock the door. Propst went back to the room, shut off the light, locked the room from the outside and returned the key to Owen before Owen left the building.
That same day, Mary Soptic, a hotel maid, knocked on the door in order to perform her cleaning duties. Owen allowed Soptic to enter. She noticed the shades had been tightly drawn and the only light had been from a single lamp that had been situated on a desk which sat against the wall in the middle of the room.
Soptic had been collecting the towels when Owen asked her to leave the room unlocked because he was expecting a friend. Owen then entered the bathroom where he put on his overcoat and brushed his hair. Soptic later told police that she judged by his expression that he was either worried or afraid of something. Soptic had finished her cleaning duties in the room when Owen reminded her again to leave the door unlocked.
Soptic said that she returned to the room at about 4 pm that afternoon with fresh towels. The door had still been unlocked but she described the room as completely dark. The light from the hallway was enough for her to see that Owen had been lying across the bed, still fully clothed. On the writing desk a note read:
“Don, I will be back in fifteen minutes. Wait.”
Owen was reported to have been seen again by hotel staff the following morning. At 10:30 am, Soptic reported that she returned to room 1046 to perform her daily cleaning duties. She noticed the door had been locked from the outside and used her passkey to enter the completely dark room. She had believed Owen had been out when suddenly the phone rang.
Owen promptly took the call, startling Soptic in the process. After a brief pause Owen told the caller, “No, Don, I don’t want to eat. I am not hungry. I just had breakfast.” Owen paused again and repeated, “No. I am not hungry.” before hanging up the phone. Owen then asked the maid about her duties there at the hotel and enquired whether or not the Hotel President was a residential hotel. He continued to make small talk as Soptic collected towels, telling her the same story he told the bellhop on how the Muehlebach Hotel had attempted to overcharge him on a similar room.
Soptic had finished up her cleaning and left the room. She wouldn’t return to room 1046 again until 4 pm that same day.
Soptic knocked on the door in order to deliver a pile of freshly laundered towels. After several seconds a gruff voice asked, “Who is it?” Soptic identified herself as the maid and asked to bring in the towels. The unfamiliar voice yelled back, “We don’t need any!” Soptic found the exchange unusual since she had collected all the towels from the room that very morning, but complied with the request.
Two hours after the maid had left, a woman named Jean Owen checked into room 1048. Ms. Owen (no relation to Roland T. Owen) had been in town on a shopping trip with her boyfriend when she fell ill. Rather than drive back home to Lee’s Summit, she decided to get a room a the Hotel President. At 10 till seven, Owen phoned her boyfriend and asked him to come visit with her for a little while. Owen’s boyfriend showed up approximately two hours later and stayed with Owen for approximately two and a half hours.
Ms. Owen reported to police that during her boyfriend’s visit to the hotel they heard two men and a woman yelling and cursing. She believed it may have been coming from the same floor and had considered complaining about the noise to hotel management, but decided otherwise.
It was just after seven in the morning when the hotel operator noticed that the phone had been off the hook in room 1046. After she noticed that the phone had been off the hook for 10 minutes with no one using it she requested the bellboy on duty, Randolph Propst, to kindly ask the guest to hang up their phone.
Propst agreed to the request and had arrived at room 1046 to find that the door was locked from the inside and the “Do not disturb” sign had been hung on the door. Propst knocked on the door loudly. A booming voice answered and requested that he come in, but the door was still locked. Propst knocked again, which was again answered by the deep voice. This time the man requested for Propst to “turn on the lights.” After pounding on the door seven or eight more times and growing more impatient with each knock, Propst finally yelled through the door, “Put the phone back on the hook!” before leaving.
Propst had presumed that the man was drunk. Returning to the hotel lobby, Propst reported the encounter and requested for someone else to go and check in with the man in about an hour.
At approximately 8:30 that morning, the hotel operator noticed that the phone in room 1046 had still been off the hook. This time another bellboy on duty, Harold Pike, was asked to go up to the room and place the phone back on its cradle. Pike proceeded towards the room and took notice of the sign and the locked door but was able to enter the room with his passkey, indicating that the door had been locked from the outside.
The room was completely dark but the hallway light was enough for Pike to see that Mr. Owen had been sprawled across the bed completely naked and presumably drunk. Pike picked up the phone and placed it back on the hook before locking the door behind him.
Two hours later, again, the hotel operator noticed that the phone had been taken off the hook in room 1046. Randolph Propst was sent up to the room to again ask the gentleman to hang up the phone. The “Do not disturb” sign still remained up and the door had been locked from the outside just as Pike had left it.
Propst used his passkey to enter the room after knocking garnered no response. When Propst entered the room he found Owen sitting on his knees with his elbows on the floor and his hands over his head. Propst walked to the desk to return the phone to its receiver. When he turned on the light he was met by a ghastly sight.
The bed had been completely soaked in blood, as well as the bathroom. Terrified by the grisly scene, Propst fled the room, reporting what he had witnessed to the manager on duty.
Joined by the manager, as well as another man named Percy Tyrrell, the men returned to the room. When they attempted to open the door they realized that Owen had collapsed in front of it. Police were dispatched and arrived on the scene shortly after the call.
Owen was discovered by detectives semi-conscious in the bathroom. He had been bound, with cord wrapped around his wrists and ankles, as well as around his neck. He appeared to have been tortured with cuts and stab wounds across his chest and had been suffering from a punctured lung. His skull had also been fractured.
Owen’s ligatures were cut off and he was questioned by police as he struggled to stay alive. Police asked who did this to him. Owen responded, “Nobody.” When pressed further, Owen claimed that he had fallen against the bathtub. The police then asked Owen if this had been the result of a suicide attempt. Owen muttered, “No,” as he completely lost consciousness.
Investigators continued to examine the scene as Owen was rushed to a local Kansas City hospital. It was noticed that some of the blood on the bed had dried and police believed that Owen had been bleeding out in the room for at least six or seven hours, well before the hotel operator had initially noticed the phone had been off the hook that morning.
Police found it unusual that the room appeared to have been cleaned out. All of Owen’s clothes had been taken, as well as the toiletries and towels. Investigators also failed to produce any sort of weapon that could have been used to make the large gashes in Owen’s chest.
The only items collected from the room included a tie label from the Botany Worsten Mills Company, a hairpin, a safety pin, an unlit cigarette, and an unused bottle of dilute sulfuric acid.
Two water glasses were found in the bathroom. One had been left on the shelf above the sink, while a second broken glass had been left inside the sink. Fingerprints on the phone indicated that a woman may have also been in the room.
A background check on Owen produced no information and authorities believed that he had checked into the hotel under an alias. Owen died at the hospital in the early hours of January 5th before police were able to gather any more information about the attack.
Several days after the investigation began, police released a sketch of Owen to the media hoping that someone would be able to come forward and identify the man or provide more information on the case. It was during Owen’s showing that a man named Robert Lane entered into this strange tale.
It was just before 11 pm when Lane, a water department employee, claims he was flagged down by a man in nothing but pants and t-shirt on 13th street. He found this unusual since it was the third of January, and though it had been a particularly mild winter, the outfit was not weather-appropriate by normal standards. The man had been running from the direction of the Hotel President and had mistaken Lane’s vehicle for a cab.
Lane agreed to take the man to the nearest taxi. He noticed a deep scratch on the man’s arm, the same scratch he had noticed on the corpse of the man known as Roland T. Owen, and had been holding the palm of his hand as if he were attempting to stop a wound from bleeding. Lane dropped the man off and watched as he climbed into the cab as the pair went their separate ways.
Police did not know what to make of Lane’s story since it would have been nearly impossible for Owen to have left the hotel without anyone taking notice. Nevertheless, investigators did not doubt that Lane had picked up someone that night.
As word to the press continued to travel tips began rolling in. Some claimed that a man fitting the description of Owen had been seen at a liquor agency near the hotel in the company of two women. Police followed up on every lead that came in, but just as quickly found themselves at a dead end.
Following up on the information that Owen, himself, had told hotel staff about his stay at the Muehlebach, police began interrogating hotel staff. There had been no record of a Roland T. Owen ever having stayed at the hotel but Muehlebach Hotel staff did recognize the man in question. The man claimed to be from Los Angeles and had registered under the name Eugene K. Scott. Like the previous alias, detectives could find no records of a Eugene K. Scott ever having lived in the Los Angeles area.
When questions lead to more questions and clues lead to dead ends, it’s inevitable that cases quickly turn cold. With nothing left to go on, the suspected murder of Roland T. Owen AKA Eugene K. Scott would become nothing but a dusty file in the back of a desk drawer in no time.
By the time March 3rd had rolled around no one had come forward to claim the body, nor to offer any information that could at least offer a positive identity of the mysterious man. The press announced that the man known as Roland T. Owen would be buried in a potter’s field.
That same day, Mellody-McGilley, the funeral home that had agreed to perform the services for Owen, received an odd phone call. The caller told the funeral home that they need not bury Owen so quickly and promised to deliver the money necessary to provide him with a proper burial.
On March 23, the funeral home received an unmarked envelope with enough cash to cover the funeral and burial expenses. Owen was buried at the Memorial Park Cemetary in Kansas City, Kansas. Left on his grave was a single bouquet of flowers with a card that read, “Love for ever—Louise.” No one except for police were present at the funeral services.
It would be another year before investigators would receive any new viable leads on the case.
After seeing Owen’s picture in a magazine article, a woman claimed that she had recognized the man. The woman told police that she believed the man was the son of a friend of her’s who had left Birmingham, Alabama in April of 1934 and hadn’t seen him since.
According to Mrs. Ogletree, her son Artemus had left home straight after high school in order to hitchhike to California. It wouldn’t be until a year later, and well after the man who she believed to be her son was dead, that she would receive three typed letters.
Mrs. Ogletree found this unusual since Artemus did not know how to type. The first letter had been postmarked in Chicago, while a second had been sent from New York. In the second letter, Artemus claimed that he was going to Europe and was setting sail that day. It wouldn’t be until August of 1935 that she would hear any word of her son again.
According to Mrs. Ogletree, on August 12 she received a long distance call from Memphis, Tennessee. The man on the line identified himself as “Jordan” and claimed that her son had saved his life. The caller confided in Mrs. Ogletree that Artemus was currently in Cairo, Egypt where he met and married a wealthy woman. He also stated the reason he was calling on Artemus’ behalf was because Ogletree had lost his thumb in a bar-room brawl and thus could not dial a phone.
Mrs. Ogletree did not know what to make of the unusual letters, nor the bizarre phone call made on her son’s behalf. She feared her son was dead, which was later confirmed upon viewing his picture in the annals of crime.
Positively identifying the man as Artemus Ogletree may have been a big break in the case, but only led to more questions. To date, no one knows why Artemus Ogletree had been using false identities, nor have investigators ever positively identified either “Don” or “Louise”, the only two people who presumably knew Ogletree after he had left Birmingham.
This isn’t the only cold case involving an alleged globetrotter who covered their tracks by using a litany of false identities.
On November 29, 1970, a woman and her daughters had been hiking in the Isdalen Valley near Bergen, Norway when they stumbled upon a disheveled campsite. In the middle of the campsite lay the dead body of a woman surrounded by little pink pills. It appeared that the woman had taken a large quantity of the pills before collapsing onto the smoldering fire. The woman’s death was quickly ruled to be a suicide, but others believe there may be more to the story.
A day prior to the discovery of the woman’s body, a fellow hiker remembered seeing the woman walking through the area, along with two other men who were traveling behind her. As investigators attempted to piece together the woman’s identity, they quickly learned that she had been to Bergen several times that year, each time using a different identity.
Inside a storage locker police uncovered a suitcase with nine passports, each bearing a different name. In addition to the passports, several different forms of currency, a prescription bottle with the label removed, and clothing sans the labels had been found. Some believe that “The Isdal Woman” had been working as a spy.
Is it possible that the man later identified as Artemus Ogletree had also been working as a spy, as some have speculated in the Isdal Woman case?
Others have suggested that Ogletree had been caught up in an affair and paid the ultimate price at the hands of the woman’s jealous husband or boyfriend. We may never know what had befallen Ogletree in the year after leaving his home in Birmingham, but whatever the case may have been, it is certainly one hell of a story.