"Love Forever, Louise": The Mystery of Room No. 1046

Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock

Ruby Ogletree knew something was wrong when a typewritten letter arrived from her son, Artemus, in the spring of 1935. The teenager didn’t know how to use a typewriter, as far as she knew; all of his previous letters, mailed home to Birmingham, Alabama, and written with the nonchalant cadence of a young man out seeing the country, were in longhand. The tone in the new letter wasn’t quite right, either—whoever wrote it used slang that didn't sound like her son.

Soon, more letters started arriving, always typewritten. One said Artemus was in Chicago attending a business school. One said he was sailing from New York to Europe. Then, in August of that year, a man who said his name was Jordan called Ruby, said he was a friend of her son, and claimed that Artemus had saved his life and was now married to a wealthy woman in Cairo, Egypt. Artemus couldn’t type anymore because he’d lost a thumb in a brawl, the man said. Growing increasingly suspicious, Ruby finally sought help from the cops, the FBI, and the American consulate in Egypt—but no one could locate Artemus.

As it turned out, her son's life had become entangled with one of the 20th century's strangest crimes, one that remains unsolved to this day: the mystery of room 1046.

THE MAN IN THE OVERCOAT

On January 2, 1935, a well-dressed young man checked into the President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, and signed the register as Roland T. Owen of Los Angeles. A little heavyset, he had the cauliflower ear of a boxer or wrestler and the left side of his head was marred by a large, white, horizontal scar. He carried no luggage.

Owen asked for an interior room (one without a window to the street), and a bellboy took him up to 1046. Later that day, a cleaning woman, Mary Soptic, walked in on a nervous-looking Owen. His shades were drawn—as they would be all three days of his stay—and a single lamp provided the only light source. Shortly after the maid arrived, Owen left; he asked her to leave the door unlocked, as he was expecting a friend. In later statements to police, Soptic said that Owen's actions and facial expressions made it seem like “he was either worried about something or afraid,” and that “he always wanted to kinda keep in the dark.”

A few hours later, Soptic entered the room again to deliver fresh towels. She found Owen lying on his bed, fully dressed. A note on the desk read: “Don, I will be back in fifteen minutes. Wait.”

The next time the maid saw Owen was mid-morning the following day, January 3. His door had been locked from the outside, so she was forced to use her passkey, which opened every door in the hotel. Again, he was alone, sitting in the dark.

As she proceeded to clean the room, Soptic overheard Owen on the phone. “No, Don,” he said, “I don’t want to eat. I am not hungry. I just had breakfast. No. I am not hungry.”

The locked door, darkened room, and nervous inhabitant were all strange enough, but it wasn’t over for Soptic. Later that day, bringing a new set of towels up to the room, she again knocked on the door. She heard two men talking and then was answered by a rough, decidedly non-Owen-sounding voice. When she offered the towels, he told her they didn’t need any.

The next person to interact with Owen was likely Robert Lane, a worker for the Kansas City water department. At around 11 p.m. on January 3, Lane offered a ride to a young man walking along 13th Street, about a mile and a half from the hotel. The man was clad in pants and an undershirt, with no coat, and had a deep scratch on his arm. Something about the way the young man cupped his hands made Lane think he was trying to hide the blood from another, worse wound somewhere else on his body. The young man asked to be dropped somewhere he could pick up a taxi. When Lane inquired about his arm, the young man mumbled, "I’ll kill [him] tomorrow," using an expletive that was redacted by the newspaper reports. He hopped out when they reached the taxi stand, and that was the last Lane saw of him.

Witness reports would later place Owen with two women in several bars along Twelfth Street earlier that afternoon. At the time, he was again wearing an overcoat. What he did to receive the slash on his arm, no one would ever find out.

"TURN ON THE LIGHTS"

As Thursday night broke into the wee hours of Friday morning, January 4, a guest in room 1048 heard arguing—what sounded like both male and female voices—in room 1046. Shortly after that, the telephone operator noticed that the phone in 1046 had been off the hook for a while and sent a bellboy up. When he knocked on the door, a deep voice told him to come in—but the door was locked. The bellboy told the guest this, but the man inside the room didn't address it, instead saying, “Turn on the lights.” The bellboy knocked for several more minutes, to no avail; before he left, he shouted through the door, “Put the phone back on the hook!”

At 8:30 a.m., the phone in 1046 was still off the hook, so another bellboy went to the room. When his knocks received no response, he let himself in with his passkey and noticed Owen, naked in his bed, in sheets stained with dark marks. Figuring that the guest was passed-out drunk, the bellboy put the phone on the stand and left.

But drunkenness wasn't the issue, as the next bellboy who went up to deal with the situation would discover. "[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," the bellboy would later tell police. "I noticed blood on his head." He turned the light on, placed the phone on the hook, and took a look around: "[I] saw blood on the walls on the bed and in the bath room ..." Frightened, he fled downstairs, telling a manager what he'd seen.

Detectives were quickly summoned. They discovered that Owen was tied around his neck, ankles, and wrists, and had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest. One of the knife thrusts had punctured his lung, and his skull was fractured from repeated blows to the right side.

A detective asked Owen who had been in the room with him. Though drifting into unconsciousness, Owen had a chance to finger his assailants, to earn a measure of justice for himself. Nevertheless, he answered: “Nobody.”

How did you get hurt?, the detective asked.

“I fell against the bathtub.”

Did you try to commit suicide?, the detective asked.

“No.”

Owen then slipped into a coma. He died at the hospital in the early morning hours of January 5, 1935.

WHO'S DON?

It was as befuddling a case as the Kansas City police department had ever encountered. Whoever had assaulted Owen had stripped him and his hotel room almost bare. No towels, no shampoo, no clothing. All detectives found were a necktie label, a hairpin, an unlit cigarette, a safety pin, and a small unopened bottle of diluted sulfuric acid. A broken water glass with a jagged edge was in the sink. The only prints found were lifted from the telephone stand, which police surmised belonged to a woman.

The bigger mystery was just who "Roland T. Owen" was. While several people could identify his body, they all knew him by different names. It turned out he’d stayed in more than one hotel prior to the President: The staff at the nearby Muehlebach Hotel knew him as single-night guest Eugene K. Scott of Los Angeles, who also preferred an interior room. He’d also stayed at the St. Regis Hotel in town, this time as Duncan Ogletree, and shared a room with a man who went by Donald Kelso. Then there was the wrestling promoter who said Owen approached him about signing up for some matches weeks earlier, under the name Cecil Werner of Omaha. As it turns out, in his own anonymous way, Owen had touched the lives of many people—yet he remained a mystery.

Police and the media put out calls to the public to help identify the battered young man with the unusual scar. Hundreds came to view him, but no one could claim him as their own.

The other shadowy figures—"Don" and the woman who may have left her prints behind—could not be located, nor could police figure out exactly how they fit into the crime. Was it a love triangle gone sour? And why had Owen refused to name his attacker(s)? Was it love, fear, loyalty, or the traumatic brain injury?

The mystery only deepened in March, when police announced they’d be burying Owen in a potter’s field. But before the burial could take place, an anonymous male donor called the funeral home and said he would send the funds to cover the young man’s funeral and burial in Kansas City's Memorial Park Cemetery. By some accounts, the man also explained that Owen had jilted a woman the man knew, and that the three of them had met at the hotel about it. “Cheaters usually get what’s coming to them,” the man said, and then hung up.

The cash arrived wrapped in a newspaper, and Owen was buried in a ceremony attended only by police detectives. An anonymous order was also placed with a local florist for 13 American Beauty roses to be laid on his grave, with a card that read, “Love forever—Louise.”

Around the time of the funeral, there was another puzzling phone call, this time to a local paper. A woman—who refused to identify herself—called to chastise an editor for reporting that Owen was to be buried in a pauper’s grave. (It's not exactly clear when the call occurred, but the paper had apparently not covered the subsequent burial at Memorial Park Cemetery.) “You have a story in your paper that is wrong . . . Roland Owen will not be buried in a pauper’s grave. Arrangements have been made for his funeral," the woman announced. When the editor pushed back and asked what had happened to Owen in the hotel room, the woman answered, “He got into a jam.”

ARTEMUS REVEALED

Shot of the exterior of the President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri
The President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri

In the fall of 1936, nearly two years after the murder, a friend of Ruby's showed her a copy of the May 1935 issue of The American Weekly, a now-defunct Hearst Sunday supplement. Inside, under the splashy headline “The Mystery of Room No. 1046,” lay Artemus in repose. His body was shown in profile, and there was no mistaking that scar on his head. He’d been burned as a child, she would later explain, and the mark of his injury had followed him into young adulthood.

But if the article was correct, and the boy in the photo was her son, he had been dead long before she started receiving those typewritten letters—and the phone calls from “Jordan.”

Letters and photos that Ruby subsequently sent to the Kansas City Police Department confirmed Owen’s identity as Artemus Ogletree, and in early November 1936, newspapers around the country printed Owen’s real name.

That was the last break in the case of Room 1046. In the decades since, many have tried to unearth new details or float new theories. Was "Don" the benefactor? Was he the murderer as well? Was Louise a jilted lover, somehow connected to Don, or both? Theories have abounded, but to date no one has puzzled out just why it was that Owen met his death that night, or at whose hand.

One promising lead surfaced in 1937 when a man who went by the alias "Joseph Ogden" (he refused to provide his real name) was arrested for the murder of his roommate. One of Ogden’s other known aliases was Donald Kelso, and his appearance was similar to the description of the Donald Kelso who’d stayed at the St. Regis with Ogletree. But the connection was never pursued.

And what about the mysterious “Jordan?” Could he have been Donald Kelso (a.k.a. Joseph Ogden), determined to keep the Ogletree family and the KCPD off his tail? If so, his actions had only succeeded in making them suspicious.

As of today, the secrets of the last days of Artemus Ogletree, a.k.a. Roland T. Owen, a.k.a. Eugene K. Scott, a.k.a. Duncan Ogletree, a.k.a. Cecil Werner, remain locked away in the lives of victim and perpetrator—or perpetrators. And by the look of it, they’ll continue to bedevil us for decades more to come.

Additional Sources: John Arthur Horner, "The Mystery of Room 1046, pt. 1: Roland T. Owen" and "The Mystery of Room 1046, pt. 2: Love Forever, Louise."

The Time Abraham Lincoln Stopped a Murder Trial in its Tracks

Abraham Lincoln as a lawyer, circa 1847
Abraham Lincoln as a lawyer, circa 1847

One day at the end of May, 1841, William Trailor hopped into a one-horse buggy and began the long journey to Springfield, Illinois, where he planned to reunite with his brothers Henry and Archibald. Joining him was his friend and housemate, a handyman named Archibald Fisher.

In Springfield, the men decided to go for a walk after lunch. But as the afternoon wore on, the brothers somehow lost sight of Fisher. When they returned to Archibald's Springfield home for supper, Fisher wasn't there. The brothers looked briefly for Fischer, but may have assumed he was still out enjoying himself.

But when Fisher failed to show up the next morning, the brothers began to feel uneasy. They spent the day in a fruitless search for the missing man. The same was true of the following day. William eventually left Springfield without him.

According to the local postmaster, rumors circulated that Fisher had died and left William with a large sum of money. True or not, the local postmaster knew about William's trip to Springfield and alerted the postmaster in that city of a possible crime. News of the missing man (and William’s supposed financial windfall) quickly spread.

Within days, all of the Trailor brothers would be arrested—charged with the disappearance and murder of Archibald Fisher.

 

Nobody could find the body. “Examinations were made of cellars, wells, and pits of all descriptions, where it was thought possible the body might be concealed,” wrote Abraham Lincoln, then a young defense lawyer in Springfield. “All the fresh, or tolerably fresh, graves at the grave-yard were pried into, and dead horses and dead dogs were disinterred.”

As locals searched for Fisher’s corpse, both Springfield’s mayor and the Illinois state attorney general ruthlessly interrogated Henry Trailor. For three days, Henry maintained his innocence. But he also began to show signs of cracking. “The prosecutors reminded him that the evidence against him and his two brothers was overwhelming, that they would certainly be hanged,” William H. Townsend wrote in the American Bar Association Journal in 1933, “and that the only chance to save his own life was to become a witness for the State.”

With that bait, Henry confessed: He claimed that his brothers, Archibald and William, had clubbed Fisher to death and had taken all of his money. Henry insisted that he had taken no part in the murder. Rather, he had simply helped his brothers dump the body in the woods.

News of Henry’s confession ignited the public's curiosity, prompting hundreds of people to rush to the forest where Fisher’s body was reportedly hidden. “The story related by Henry Trailor aroused the most intense public indignation, and the murder became almost the sole topic of conversation,” Townsend wrote. “Business was practically suspended as searching parties and amateur detectives scoured the woods and by-ways.”

There, in a dense thicket, investigators found buggy tracks and signs that something large had been dragged through the grass. A nearby pond was partially drained and a dam destroyed, despite protests from the dam's owner. Yet the body continued to elude investigators. The public became antsy.

“It was generally conceded that only a speedy trial and swift punishment could allay the clamor of the populace for the blood of the prisoners and avert the disgrace of a lynching,” Townsend wrote. By June 18, the murder trial had already begun—and a conviction seemed assured.

The courtroom, muggy from the summer humidity, was packed with spectators. Called to the stand, Henry Trailor repeated his confession, claiming that he had helped dispose of Fisher's body. Additional evidence was provided by a local woman who had seen two of the Trailor boys walk into the woods with Fisher—only to see them return alone. Furthermore, investigators claimed they had found human hair in the area near the buggy tracks. The tracks themselves, they noted, had led suspiciously to the pond, as if somebody had tried to dump something.

When the prosecutor rested his case, it seemed like there was no hope for the Trailor brothers.

But the defense had a secret weapon—a 32-year-old lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. The future president calmly stood up and called his one and only witness to the stand.

 

Dr. Robert Gilmore was a widely respected physician in those parts of Illinois. Sitting in the sauna-like courtroom, the doctor patiently explained that he knew Archibald Fisher well—the man had twice lived in his home. Years ago, Gilmore explained, Fisher had suffered a serious head injury from a gun-related accident and had never fully recovered his wits. The poor man was prone to spells of amnesia, blackouts, and derangement. It was very possible that Fisher had just wandered off.

Dr. Gilmore then calmly told the court that he had proof to back up his theory, and proceeded to drop a bombshell: Archibald Fisher was alive and staying in his home.

The courtroom murmured in shock.

Dr. Gilmore continued. Fisher had suffered from a terrible bout of memory loss and had no recollection of his time in Springfield. In fact, Fisher had wandered all the way to Peoria before regaining his senses. The only reason the man had failed to show up to the courtroom today was because his health prevented it.

Lincoln scanned the crowd with glee. “When the doctor’s story was first made public, it was amusing to scan and contemplate the countenances and hear the remarks of those who had been actively engaged in the search for the dead body,” he would later write in a letter, “some looked quizzical, some melancholy, and some furiously angry.”

At first, many were skeptical of the doctor’s claims, but officials were quick to confirm that Fisher was indeed alive. He’d eventually show up to court, later explaining how, indeed, he had no memory of ever visiting Springfield.

To the prosecution's great embarrassment, much of the evidence was proven bunk: It was soon discovered that the controversial path in the forest was, in fact, created by children who had been building a rope swing; meanwhile, the hairs in the woods belonged to a cow. It also became awfully clear that Henry Trailor had been coerced into making a false confession—when the officers had threatened Henry's life, Henry told them what they wanted to hear instead.

All of the charges would be dropped and the men's lives spared. “We have had the highest state of excitement here for a week past that our community has ever witnessed,” Lincoln would write after the trial.

In fact, the case enchanted Lincoln so much that he tried to immortalize the events in a short story written in the style of the true-crime genre. The future president, of course, was justifiably proud of the outcome: It wasn't every day that a single surprise witness helps solve a mystery and saves two people from the hangman's noose.

 

To read Lincoln's own account, check out this excerpt at Smithsonian.

12 Doomed Facts About the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
When the wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too
'Twas the witch of November come stealin'
-Gordon Lightfoot, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" (1976) 

On November 10, 1975, two ships made their way in tandem across the stormy waters of Lake Superior. One was the Arthur M. Anderson, led by Captain Jesse Cooper. The other, captained by Ernest McSorley, was the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald.

The ship was last seen on radar around 7:15 p.m. All 29 men on board were lost with it, and today, more than four decades after the most famous shipwreck in Great Lakes history, the cause is still a mystery.

Here's what we do know about the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, and what happened to it that fateful day:

1. IT WAS THE LARGEST SHIP ON THE GREAT LAKES.

The large cargo vessels that roamed the five Great Lakes were known as lakers, and the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was, at the time, the biggest ever built. It was constructed as a “maximum sized” bulk carrier and spanned 729 feet—the first laker to reach that length—sat 39 feet high with a width of 75 feet, and weighed more than 13,000 tons without cargo. It was christened on June 8, 1958, and made its first voyage on September 24 the same year. 

2. THE SHIP WAS OWNED BY AN INSURANCE COMPANY.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Great Lakes Engineering Works of Ecorse, Michigan, was contracted to build the ship in 1957 by Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company, which had invested heavily in the iron and minerals industries. With the commissioning of the Fitzgerald, Northwestern Mutual became the first American insurance company to build its own ship—at a cost of $8.4 million, the most expensive price tag for a freighter at the time, according to Michael Schumacher’s The Mighty Fitz.

3. IT WAS NAMED AFTER THE HEAD OF THE COMPANY.

The chairman of Northwestern Mutual had a long history with the Great Lakes shipping industry. Edmund Fitzgerald’s grandfather captained a ship on the lakes, his father owned a shipyard, and they both had ships named after them. After construction of the Fitzgerald was complete, Northwestern Mutual placed its charter with the Columbia Transportation Division of Oglebay Norton Company, based in Cleveland. 

4. THE SHIP'S MAIN JOB WAS HAULING IRON ORE. 


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Most lakers traversing the Great Lakes and the connecting waterways carry massive amounts of raw materials such as rock, salt, and grain. The Edmund Fitzgerald generally loaded taconite, low-grade iron ore, from mines on the shores of Minnesota and transported the pellets to steel mills near Detroit and Toledo, Ohio.

5. "THE FITZ" WAS WELL-KNOWN EVEN BEFORE IT SANK.

Its impressive size made the ship popular with boat-watchers, and over the years it garnered many nicknames, including “The Queen of the Great Lakes,” “The Toledo Express,” and the unfortunate “Titanic of the Great Lakes.” Crowds would watch as the massive freighter moved through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The “Soo” Locks, which connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron, allowed the Fitz to reach ports on the lower Great Lakes.

6. THE SHIP RAN INTO A DEADLY STORM ON LAKE SUPERIOR.

November is a brutal month on the Great Lakes. Frequent storms and hurricane-force winds can batter even the toughest-built freighters. On November 9, the Fitz was loaded with 26,116 tons of iron ore pellets at the Burlington Northern Railroad Dock in Superior, Wisconsin. It left at 2:30 p.m. A second ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, sailed 10-15 miles behind the Fitzgerald as a precaution, and the two ships remained in radio contact until just after 7 p.m. on November 10.

Gale warnings had been issued by the National Weather Service the previous day, and by the morning of the 10th, the advisories had been upgraded to an official storm warning. 

As swells reached 35 feet and winds raged at nearly 100 mph, the ship contacted Coast Guard officials in Sault Ste. Marie and said they were taking on water. Later, a blizzard obscured the Fitz on the Anderson’s radar, but Captain Ernest McSorley, who was on his final voyage before retirement, assured a crew member on the Anderson at 7:10 p.m. that, “We are holding our own.” It was the last anyone heard from McSorley or the Fitzgerald.

7. NO DISTRESS SIGNAL WAS SENT.

After that, there was nothing on the radar. No radio contact. The ship was approximately 15 miles north of Whitefish Point when it seemingly vanished. Captain Cooper, on the Anderson, was in contact with the Coast Guard and made it to Whitefish Point sometime after 8 p.m. with no sign or word from the Fitzgerald. Later, the Anderson made its way back into the storm to search for the ship, but found only a pair of lifeboats and debris. 

8. ALL 29 CREW MEMBERS DIED. 

Along with the captain, the other crew members of the Fitzgerald included porters, oilers, engineers, maintenance workers, cooks, watchmen, deck hands, and wheelsmen. Most crew members were from Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Minnesota.

9. THERE IS STILL NO DEFINITIVE EXPLANATION FOR THE SINKING.

The treacherous weather conditions are an obvious factor, but experts differ on what they think specifically caused the accident. Following the wreck, the U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board agreed that the tragedy was likely due to faulty cargo hatches, which led to flooding. Predictably, there are still those who harbor other theories, including unsecured hatches, maintenance troubles, massive waves, structural issues, and yes, even aliens. Author and Great Lakes historian Frederick Stonehouse posited that the ship likely hit a shoal and took on too much water before plunging into Lake Superior.

10. THE TRAGEDY WAS IMMORTALIZED BY A CANADIAN FOLK SINGER.

Gordon Lightfoot, who had released 10 albums from 1966 to 1975, was inspired to write the ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” after reading an article about the tragedy in Newsweek. He included the song on his 1976 album Summertime Dream, and the nearly six-minute single reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts that year and became Lightfoot’s second-most successful hit.

11. FAMILY MEMBERS REQUESTED A SYMBOLIC MEMORIAL FROM THE SHIP.

The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard deployed planes and cutters with magnetic anomaly detectors, sidescan sonar, and sonar survey to find the wreckage. In May, a Navy underwater recovery vehicle was sent to the site, and on May 20, 1976, the ship was spotted 535 below the surface of the lake.

In the decades since, only a handful of people have been able to see the wreck, which lies in two pieces. A pair of divers made their way down in 1995, the same year a crew—with help from the Canadian Navy, the National Geographic Society, Sony, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians—retrieved the ship's bell at the behest of the families of those who were lost. The Canadian government has since prohibited access to the site. 

In eerie archival tapes below, you can hear Anderson skipper Jesse Cooper correspond with the Coast Guard, and see video of the wreck.

12. THERE'S AN ANNUAL REMEMBRANCE DAY.

The annual Edmund Fitzgerald memorial ceremony takes place on November 10th at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. The recovered and restored bell will toll 29 times for each member of the Fitzgerald's crew, and a 30th for the estimated 30,000 mariners lost on the Great Lakes.

For more on the story and the ship, visit S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online

This article originally appeared in 2015.

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