The Mysterious Death of Roland Owen

The evening of January 2nd, 1935 in Kansas City, Missouri began as a fairly unremarkable winter day. This was the night that Roland T. Owen checked into the Hotel President. Just a few days later, Roland would be found dead...and his death and its strange circumstances remain a mystery all these years later.

Source Source Source

While he was checking in, Roland told the Hotel President staff that he was disgruntled. He had been at another, unnamed, hotel that he believed had been overcharging him. When interviewed at a later date, hotel staff noted that the man had said he was from Los Angeles and had hopes of becoming a professional wrestler. Despite his original location and professional dreams, staff did find it strange that he did not seem to have any significant luggage with him. Just a few belongings, like a comb and toothpaste. 

The wrestler story seemed to check out. It was noted that he had the infamous wrestler’s condition, cauliflower ear, as well as several scars on his face. Roland’s age would be disputed by all those that came into contact with him. Most believed him to be quite young, between 20 and 25. However, some people who met this stranger believed him to be as old as 35.

Despite being kind, the hotel staff believed found him odd and skittish. He had been very specific in the kind of room he wanted: he had requested an interior room without a window that looked onto the street. This turned out to be room 1046. According to some reports, several of the maids who had cleaned his room or near his room they had heard him on the phone with someone named ‘Don’, as well as reports of hearing two male voices in the room. 

On day three of his stay, Mary Soptic, a maid at the hotel, walked in on Roland. Soptic did not expect to see a guest there, as his door was locked and Roland did not seem to have a key. She reported that he looked nervous. The shades were drawn and only a single lamp was lit in the room. Roland asked her to leave the door unlocked as he passed by her, as he was expecting a friend to stop by. Soptic would later report to the police that Roland was “either worried about something or afraid.” 

About fifteen minutes after this slightly strange interaction, Soptic stopped by room 1046 again to drop off some fresh towels. When she entered the room she encountered a fully dressed Roland lying on the bed. There was a note on the desk that read: “Don, I will be back in fifteen minutes. Wait.”

Although all of these circumstances seemed a bit odd, Soptic didn’t seem to think much of it. The next morning she returned for the morning clean at about 10:30 am. She noticed that the door had been locked from the outside and assumed Roland was up and about. However, Owens was sitting on his bed with the lights off, which meant someone else had locked the door from the outside.

On January 4th, at around 7 AM, the hotel phone operator noticed that Roland’s hotel phone had been off the hook for a significant amount of time without any apparent use. Slightly concerned, and perhaps he had the stories of this strange guest, the phone operator sent up a bellboy to check the room. On the door, a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign hung but the bellboy knocked a few times. Frustrated, the bellboy yelled through the door for Roland to hang up his phone.

An hour and a half passed and Roland’s phone remained off the hook. Frustrated, another bellboy named Harold Pike decided to go upstairs and check on the strange guest. He entered the room through a hotel skeleton key. Almost immediately he knew something was strange. Originally, he believed Roland was laying in bed naked and drunk and noted that the bedding around him was darkened. Freaked out but determined, Pike put the phone back in its cradle and left the room.

The hotel believed the problem was solved until 10:45 am rolled around and the phone was once again off the hook. A third bellboy was sent up to the room to resolve the situation...but he was not prepared for the scene he walked into.

The bellboy told police, “[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." 

Then, the bellboy decided to turn on the lights and return the phone to its cradle once again. It was then that he “saw blood on the walls on the bed and in the bathroom ..." The terrified bellboy fled the room and rushed downstairs to the nearest manager to handle the horrific scene in 1046. 

Roland’s injuries were quite extensive. According to police reports, he had been tied up with a cord around his wrists, ankles, and neck. His skull was significantly fractured, he had a punctured lung, and had been stabbed in the chest multiple times.

Shockingly, when police arrived at the scene in the room Roland was alive. When police questioned him who had been in the room he hauntingly said: “Nobody.” He claimed that he had just fallen badly in the bathtub. He soon lost consciousness as he was taken to the hospital. He lived for several more hours before succumbing to his injuries in the hospital that night. It was believed his injuries had occurred approximately 5-6 hours before he had been found.

After failing to find any relatives or friends, it was reported in the paper that Roland would be buried in a Potter’s field. Strangely enough, the Melody Mcgilley Funeral Home, where his body was being held, received an anonymous call that night on March 22nd. The caller said they would send money necessary for a proper funeral and to not bury Roland in a Potter’s field. The next morning, the money was found wrapped in a newspaper. Sent to the funeral was a lovely flower arrangement. The card simply read: “Love Forever, Louise.” 

The case seemed to be closed and Roland had been buried. But, in 1936 the police station received a call from Ruby Ogletree. She had seen an article in the American Weekly about Roland and identified her as her son, Artemus Ogletree who would have been about 17 at the time of his death. Strangely enough, Ruby had received several strange letters from her son during the spring of 1935...after his death.

Theories on what may have happened to abound in this case, which remains unsolved to this day.

One of the most promising leads happened shortly after Ruby identified her son. In 1937, a man who went by the name of Joseph Ogden (a fake name) was arrested when he killed his roommate. Interestingly enough, one of his other known aliases was ‘Donald Kelso’ and apparently his appearance was similar to the Don that staff at the St. Regis. However, this was lead was never pursued (which I found quite shocking). 

Others believed that it could have been a hit from a jilted lover, Louise, who had gotten Roland/Artemus into a bit of a jam. Her jealousy may have gotten so out of control that she ordered his death or was somehow involved in the jam that cost him his life. 

However, even these two theories are quite bare. What happened to Roland? And how could this young man, who was strong, well-mannered, and healthy by all accounts, have met his death so young?

Thanks to Janelle V for this #Blogstonishing topic! 

The above image is of The NRHP-listed Hotel President in Kansas City, MO taken by BriYZZ and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.