Hotels are considered to be our homes when we’re away from home, a place to lay our hat, kick up our feet, and relax in solitude. That isn’t always the case, however. Sometimes, people check in, but they never check out . . . at least, not the way they expected.
10Rose Burkert And Roger Atkison
Amana Holiday Inn
In September 1980, Rose Burkert and Roger Atkison were hoping to have a romantic weekend away when they checked into the Amanda Holiday Inn near Williamsburg, Iowa. What they got, however, was far from that.
The day after they checked in, housekeeping went to clean the room but received no response from inside. Upon entering, the housekeeper saw feet peeking out from under the bedsheets and assumed that the couple was asleep. But when she peered in a little further, she discovered a grisly sight.
Blood was splattered on the walls, the carpet, and across the bed’s headboard. The couple was lying facedown on the bed with their skulls beaten in, most likely by an axe or hatchet. Their hands and fingers also showed defensive wounds, as if they had tried to protect their heads from the blows. In each case, the cause of death was determined to be acute blood loss and brain injuries.
There was no forced entry into the room. In fact, it looked like the couple had been entertaining because there were two chairs pulled up to the bed and evidence that someone had put their feet up on the hotel desk. The only thing really strange and out of place was the word “This” written on the bathroom mirror with soap.
Over 400 people were interviewed about the murders, including hotel employees and close friends of the deceased. The prime suspect was Burkert’s ex-boyfriend Danny Burton. Burkert had a restraining order against him and had told authorities that he would be responsible if anything ever happened to her.
However, Burton passed a polygraph test, and his alibi checked out. Another suspect was Atkison’s uncle Charles Hatcher, a serial killer who had recently escaped from a Nebraska mental health center. But he was never brought in for questioning.
Thirty-five years later, the murder of the young couple remains unsolved. Investigators described it as one of their most perplexing and unforgettable cases. They still hope that it will be solved one day.
Hotel La Salle
At one time, the Hotel La Salle in Detroit, Michigan, was one of the largest hotels in the state, boasting over 800 rooms in the entertainment district of the city. Along with renovations and improvements, the hotel has undergone several name changes—from “Savoy Hotel” to “Hotel La Salle” to “Hotel Detroiter.” For years, it had also been the scene of mob activity and crime, including one notoriously unsolved murder.
On July 23, 1930, popular radio show host Jerry Buckley was gunned down in the hotel’s lobby. A crusader against organized crime and mob activities, Buckley often used his radio show as a platform to voice his views on the matter.
That day, Buckley had just finished his broadcast on the mezzanine and had gone down to the lobby to read a newspaper. Three men entered the hotel. As one man stood by the door, the other two walked up to Buckley and fired multiple shots at him. Then all three criminals fled the premises. Out of 12 shots, only one missed its target.
The authorities aren’t sure why Buckley was gunned down, but there were some theories. Maybe a gang didn’t appreciate his broadcasts against organized crime, or maybe Buckley had links to mob bosses and had threatened to go to the police. Regardless, the murder remains unsolved.
The Deluxe Inn in Council Bluffs, Iowa, sits today where the Starlight Motel once stood and where one of Iowa’s coldest cold cases took place.
Linda Mayfield, a suspected prostitute, was stabbed several times in the face, chest, stomach, hand, and foot. Police believed the perpetrator was a man who had hired her for the evening. She was pronounced dead after arriving at Mercy Hospital, and police began to look for the man with whom she was last seen.
A friend of Mayfield’s described the man as a clean-shaven, white male around the age of 26–28 who was wearing a blue shirt and jeans. Other witnesses at the time claimed that the man drove a red Ford Mustang and went by the name of “Chris.” However, even with this information, police were unable to find the alleged attacker for questioning.
In 2009, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s Cold Case Unit was put into operation. Two agents and one criminalist set out to solve the case of Linda Mayfield. Although they solved two other cold cases, they didn’t succeed with the Mayfield investigation. In 2011, the unit was closed, reducing the chances that Mayfield’s murderer would ever be brought to justice.
Donald Fraser, owner of the Racecourse Hotel in Christchurch, New Zealand, was found shot to death in his room at the hotel on November 17, 1933. His wife, who had been asleep in the room, was awakened by the gunshots and discovered the body.
Two shots to the chest at close range from a double-barreled shotgun were the cause of death. Although police were able to test the shells found at the scene and knew they had been produced by a manufacturer on the west coast of New Zealand, police weren’t able to determine who owned the gun.
A party had been held at the hotel earlier that day. Guests were questioned extensively, but there wasn’t enough evidence for a solid case against anyone. Although the homicide was a media sensation and rewards were offered for information, no one was ever brought to trial for the crime.
6The Smith Brothers
Though the evidence has been lost or destroyed and those involved in the case have since passed, the double murder of the Smith brothers in Room 819 of the Severs Hotel in Muskogee, Oklahoma, remains clouded in mystery and speculation.
Around 8:30 PM on April 26, 1930, hotel staff was called to Room 819 by a frantic guest claiming his friends were being robbed in their room. Upon entering the room, the staff saw a gruesome scene.
George and David Smith were lying dead on the floor while a third man, John Wike, was bound around his hands and feet. Wike also had a giant, red welt across his face. The man who had called the hotel operator was Powell Seeley, the third-richest man in Connecticut. The men had been traveling together on business.
Police were baffled by the report of a robbery. Both of the Smith brothers were wearing gold-and-diamond watches, the room did not appear to be in disarray, and it seemed that only $10 in total had been taken from the men.
Police were even more confused by the statements from the two surviving victims because they didn’t match with information from the overall investigation and the autopsy reports. As a result, Wike and Seeley were initially arrested for the murders but released on bond. Eventually, all charges against them were dismissed.
With only vague leads to follow, investigators finally decided upon notorious robbers Pat McDonald, Larry DeVol, and James Creighton as the main suspects in the case. Though each man admitted to being in or around the hotel at the time of the murders and each was positively identified by hotel staff, there was never enough evidence to put any of them on trial. The case remains unsolved.
Nobody in the Melody Lounge on the second floor of the Phillips Motel in Stickney Township, Illinois, could have predicted their night of drinking and fun would be cut short by the appearance of a young man clutching his bleeding abdomen and shouting for help in the early morning hours of January 4, 1968.
On that fateful day, 19-year-old Richard Conn was shot while working the front desk of the Phillips Motel, although no one knows why. Police believed it was an armed robbery gone wrong, but no money was missing from the cash register. There were also two cups of warm coffee sitting on the front reception counter.
An off-duty employee of the motel who lived on the premises reported seeing two white males leaving the scene in a rusty, gray Chrysler. Police ordered any vehicles matching the description to be stopped, but no other units spotted the car.
Without any more leads, the police were stumped, and the investigation reached a dead end. Almost 50 years later, however, the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Cold Case Unit is still working on the murder with the slim hope that they might uncover more clues.
Park Sheraton Hotel
One of the mob’s most gruesome killings happened at the Park Sheraton Hotel (now the Park Central Hotel) in New York City on October 25, 1957. As mob boss Albert Anastasia was getting his hair cut at the hotel’s Grasso Barber Shop, two gunmen wearing masks walked in and fired at Anastasia. They hit him five times, killing him and causing him to fall out of the barber’s chair.
This type of hit was rare as it happened during the day in an open, public place. It was widely speculated that Anastasia’s underboss, Carlo Gambino, planned the ambush because he believed Anastasia had become a liability.
Anastasia was laid to rest a few days after the shooting at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, in a small, private burial attended by a few close friends and family members.
Although the murder was a media sensation, the case was never solved.
Golden Key Motel
Beyond the bright lights of Atlantic City, New Jersey, lies a dark mystery of murder and prostitution at the Golden Key Motel.
In November 2006, two women stumbled upon the body of Kim Raffo lying facedown in a drainage ditch behind the Golden Key Motel. After being called to the scene, police uncovered three more bodies, all in various states of decomposition, in the same ditch. Their names were Tracy Ann Roberts, Barbara Breidor, and Molly Dilts. All four women had worked as prostitutes in the area.
Dilts was believed to have been killed first, about a month before her body was found, and then Breidor, Roberts, and Raffo. Dilts and Breidor were so badly decomposed that authorities couldn’t determine a cause of death, but both Roberts and Raffo had been asphyxiated.
Police believed they had a serial killer on their hands. Their two main suspects were Terry Oleson, a man who lived at the hotel and worked as a handyman, and Eldred Raymond Burchell (aka the “River Man”) who had supposedly confessed to another prostitute about killing people. Oleson submitted DNA samples, but no forensic match was made. Burchell could not be reached for questioning.
No arrests were ever made. But authorities have continued to pursue the case and the serial killer possibility, especially after several more women were killed the same way in Long Island.
On November 10, 1975, Jolene Haas, a 22-year-old prostitute and informant for the Sioux Falls Police Department, was found murdered in her room at the Delroy Motel by two special agents who had gone to check on her. Haas had given information to police on crimes involving numerous members of the Sioux City drug culture and outlaw motorcycle gangs.
Police had moved Haas to the motel after she had been beaten and raped by three men during a drug deal. They thought that would keep her safe before she testified against several gang members. However, within a month of her check-in, she was dead.
Numerous people were questioned, including a man who had bragged about killing Haas for money. But he passed a polygraph test and was released. Another suspect was found murdered and buried in a cornfield. All other suspects and leads were exhausted, and the case remains unsolved.
In 2014, Rapid City Police hired Wayne Keefe as a cold case investigator. One of his cases is that of Jolene Haas, where he is prepping new information, organizing old files, and taking a fresh look at a murder that has remained unsolved for 40 years.
1Jon Weaver And Kerson Praponpoj
Saw Mill River Motel
The Saw Mill River Motel in Elmswood, New York, was a filming location for the 2012 movie Disconnect, but it was also the scene of an unsolved double homicide that had occurred almost 20 years earlier.
After working the night shift, Jon Weaver returned to the motel on the afternoon of September 5, 1995, to retrieve his paycheck. As he was leaving, he and Kerson Praponpoj, the clerk on duty, were shot. Weaver died at the scene, but Praponpoj lingered in a coma for over five years before succumbing to her injuries.
Although there were no eyewitnesses, the motive appeared to be robbery. The assailant made off with about $400. No fingerprints were found at the scene.
About six months later, the same gun was used in two other robberies. In the first, the victim survived his gunshot wound. In the second, deli owner Abe Lebewohl was killed with that gun. Three days after Lebewohl’s murder, the gun was discovered in Central Park.
Even with the weapon retrieved, the police have been unable to discover who committed the murders, and the cases remain open.
Tracy spends her days writing and designing in a tourist town where she lives with her dog.