Note: This is Part 4 of Examiner reporter Jack Dennis’s story on the true murder and ghost story that begain at San Antonio’s Gunter Hotel in February 1965.
Part 1 Click Here
Part 2 Click Here
Part 3 Click Here
Walter A. Emerick, the man detectives from the San Antonio Police Department suspected of butchering the body of a blond woman in room 636 of the Gunter Hotel, had had indeed stolen 50 checks, according to his mother, Mrs. John J. McCarthy.
Inspector Joe Hester paid Mrs. McCarthy a visit at her 227 Claudia residence, located just south of downtown.
“He stole them on January 17th” said Mrs. McCarthy, who had already called this in to the police. He appeared back at the house one other time briefly because “we got into a fight about him stealing and drinking.”
The last time she saw her son was January 27, 1965.
“Walter drinks all the time and usually stays in hotels when he drinks like this,” Mrs. McCarthy told Hester. “And he never leaves town when he gets into trouble.”
Captain A. M. Davenport, upon hearing this information from Hester, was soon able to match Emerick’s criminal record fingerprints with the prints taken at room 636 of the Gunter Hotel.
On Wednesday, February 10, 1965 Captain Davenport announced to the 8:00 p.m. shift change, that some of the officers in the room would be checking with hotels and motels throughout San Antonio that night. Detectives issued a bulletin with information on Walter A. Emerick. The newspapers were contacted.
“When I drive down Travis Street, even today, I get a funny feeling and I think about all this,” Detective Frank Castillon revealed in 1976. “Other people told me they do too, right between the Gunter and the St. Anthony Hotels… I can’t help it, but it can give you chills, you know.”
Mike May, was working behind the counter of the St. Anthony Hotel at 300 East Travis Street, when a man checked into as “Robert Ashley.” It was 2 p.m. on Tuesday, September 9, 1965
On claim ticket #3094, Ashley listed his address was 2822 Swiss, in Dallas, Texas.
May did not know that the man claiming to be Ashley, had just 30 minutes earlier, been at the Sears and Roebuck Department Store at Romana Plaza trying to buy a meat grinder.
“The clerk at St. Anthony didn’t recall anything unusual, but he did tell us he would be able to recognize if he saw him again,” said Castillon.
By the next day, the news was on television, radio and the newspapers. It was the talk of the town. And with uniformed police officers visiting hotels, motels, bars and stores all over town, practically everyone in downtown was on alert.
St. Anthony’s chief of security, 54-year-old Sandor Ambrus, Jr., had been following the news of the murder and decided to check on things that evening. Ambrus, who would later tell reporters he had “the heart of a cop,” walked into the hotel at 6:30 p.m.
A housekeeper came up and told him that the man who checked into room 536 would just yell at her anytime she knocked to clean the room.
“The guest had refused all services four times” Ambrus learned from the front desk records.
Ambrus called Lt. George Martin of the SAPD about 8:30 p.m. Martin soon went to the St. Anthony with a sample of Walter A. Emerick’s handwriting as Albert Knox from the Gunter Hotel. He thought they matched too close to simply ignore.
Lt. Martin called Detective Castillon who soon arrived with more detectives and police officers.
“We had planned to use the hotel’s security passkey to just unlock that door,” Castillon said in his 1976 interview. “We were pretty sure he had a gun so that poor security man (Ambrus) was shaking real bad and when he went to put the key in, he started jingling those keys.”
The guest in the room yelled “Who is it?”
Ambrus replied immediately, “Security, we need to talk with you.”
“It’s the police,” yelled one of the detectives.
“We were ready for anything,” said Castillon. “Just about the time we were putting our ears against the door to try to listen….BAM…. a gun went off.”
The boxer instinct in Castillon took over and he kicked the door open.
“Damn, he shot himself in the right temple, so I grabbed that gun out of his hand and asked him he had killed anyone at the Gunter,” Castillon described the scene. “The pillow was soaked with his blood and all we could hear was a gurgling sound.”
Copyright, 2010 by Jack Dennis.
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