In February of 1965, San Antonio’s largest unsolved mystery would take place at The Gunter Hotel in downtown in East Houston Street. Each evening, when my father returned home from his shift as a city police officer, he would brief our family on the day’s investigation status.
Albert Knox checked into the historical Gunter on February 6th. He was a blond man, said to be quite handsome. A charmer, really.
According to some, Knox was coming off a drinking binge. According to others, Knox was still in the thick of that partying run, content to thrive on the chaos until he sobered up and went back home to his parent’s house.
For two days, guests of The Gunter saw Knox come and go with a tall woman. The inquisitive gazes that followed the couple labeled the woman as a call girl–a prostitute– though no one will ever know for certain that she was. And so the party raged on.
On February 8th, one of the hotel’s housekeepers was bringing some items to Knox’s hotel room: Room 636.
Maria Luisa Guerra noted the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, but paid it no attention. Most people tended to forget to take it down, even just before they were ready to be checked out of the hotel.
Guerra pushed open the door, only to stop dead in her tracks.
Standing at the foot of the bed, Knox stood with a bloody bundle in his arms. Blood splattered practically every inch of the guest room, like a mosaic of death that needed no explanation.
In the face of Guerra’s horrified expression, Knox lifted one finger up to his mouth. “Shhh.”
The housekeeper’s mouth parted on a scream, and Knox used that moment to dash past her and out of the room. It took forty minutes for Maria Luisa Guerra’s report to make it to management. By that time, Albert Knox had disappeared.
The evidence remaining in Room 636 was clear: somebody had died…and it was brutal.
In a 1976 interview about the crime, I interviewed my father for an article about the murder. I was writing for the University Star as student reporter at Texas State University (in the 1970’s, it was known as Southwest Texas University).
Dad, or Detective Walter “Corky” Dennis, passed away in 2011, but I will never forget his words.
“It was the bloodiest place I had ever seen up until then. The bathroom was especially bad and just sticky with blood all over the place. We [he and the other detectives] noticed the bathtub had a red ring around it like it had been drained of blood.”
(Some wonder if, after murdering the woman with his .22 caliber-weapon, Knox then butchered the body and flushed her down the toilet and bathtub).
The San Antonio police suspected dismemberment, and one of the witnesses description only further pushed this idea.
The day before the murder, Knox had visited the local Sears Department Store on Romaine Plaza in search of a meat grinder. When the Sears employee informed him that they didn’t have the larger size that Knox wanted, the employee offered to order one from the warehouse. For Knox, however, that would take much too long. He stormed off in a huff.
Little evidence was found inside the room. A lipstick-smeared cigarette, brown paper bags, and luggage from the San Antonio Trunk & Gift Company. The purchase for the suitcase had been made by a check from John J. McCarthy . . . who happened to be the stepfather of thirty-seven-year old Walter Emerick.
Emerick had disappeared on one of his “drinking bents” at the end of January and had stolen his parent’s checks and some of their items.
Police scoured the city for the woman’s body, so sure were they that someone had been murdered. They checked construction sites, and even sections of streets where cement was being laid down.
On February 9th, a blond man walked into The St. Anthony Hotel, just one block away from The Gunter. He came with no luggage. And when he requested to book a room, he made it known that he wanted Room 636. That particular room was not available, and after some arguing, he settled for Room 536. He checked in under the name Roger Ashley.
But the man had aroused the suspicions of the front desk attendants, and after tipping the San Antonio Police that the murderer might have just checked in to their hotel, the detectives rushed over.
They hurried up to Room 536. Banging on the door, the police tried to apprehend Emerick for the crimes. But as they struggled to open the door, they heard the single, hollow sound of a gun shot.
Walter Emerick had killed himself, and taken whatever information he had with him to the grave.
It’s now over fifty-five years that have passed since those fateful nights. The woman’s identity has never been discovered and no missing reports have ever surfaced. About 20 years ago, however, the formal general manager of The Gunter received an envelope with no return address. It was directed to “The Gunter” (not the Sheraton Gunter as it is identified now) and the zip code dated to 1965. Inside the envelope was an old room key, the one for Room 636, and was the kind used during that period.
A bit of folklore to add to an already strange story? No one is quite certain, but many people have witnessed the murder replay in the years since then, as though the imprint of that devastating death has no choice but to reenact the scene over and over again.
Staff and guests both have reported such paranormal phenomena–one guest even witnessed seeing a ghostly woman who held her hands out and stared at the guest with a gaze that appeared almost soulless.
When I lived across the street above the Majestic Theater from 2007-2011, I would take guests to the hotel for sightseeing. In one case a clairvoyant from Florida wanted to explore the murder room. What she didn’t know was that room 636 today is not the same one it was in 1965. The original room has been remodeled and is now two separate suits. Current 636 is around the corner at the end of the hallway.
As we passed the murder location, she suddenly said “STOP!”
The lady placed her hand on the wall exactly where the doorway was in 1965.
Over the years, I have interviewed police officers, detectives, witnesses and hotel staff who were involved during the murder. Some of the most interesting people I’ve met were actual guests (that had no clue there was ever a murder there) who have experienced strange occurrences: screaming, crying, furniture movement, loud walking on the carpet floor and even ghostly images.
Today, the Gunter is a must see stop during guided downtown ghost tours that begin at the nearby Alamo.
Please Support These American Owned Businesses