The Chilling Horror Behind the Door of Gunter Hotel Room 636

The Horror of Room 636 (Gunter Hotel, San Antonio, TX)

“He butchered someone in that room, but who?”

In 1975, an envelope addressed and mailed to the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas contained a shocking discovery: The original key and key tag to room 636.

Chambermaid Maria Luisa Guerra placed her pass key into entry the door lock of suite 636 at the Gunter Hotel in downtown San Antonio not realizing the horror she was about to witness. She was humming a new song she heard disc-jockey Howard Edwards introduced on radio station KONO that Monday. It was called, “Stop In the Name of Love,” by the Supremes. Having noticed the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for a couple of days, Guerra surmised the occupant had forgotten to remove it from the door knob.

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There was a chilling drizzle outside on Feb. 8, 1965. But up in the sixth floor hallway, at about 5:40 p.m., Guerra turned the knob.

She pushed opened the door to unleash a diabolic terror so horrific, that fifty-two years later, it is the nightly hallmark point of interest for tourists on various guided ghost hunting trips.

“My mind went into shock,” Guerra sobbed later as she told Police Homicide Detective Frank Castillon what she saw. “A man was standing next to the bloody bed and he put his finger up to his lips and told me ‘Shhhhhhhhhhsh.”

“All I could do was scream some more until someone came to help me.”

Hastily, the bloody man snatched a gory red bundle wrapped from the crimson bed linen. He “looked the maid straight in the eyes and ran out the door,” Castillon told this journalist in a 1976 interview. Initially the shocked chambermaid stood frozen in disbelief. Petrified to do anything, “all I could do was scream some more until someone came to help me.”

Horror at the Gunter Hotel (Jack Dennis)

“Well, the lady, Guerra, the maid, was scared and had to gather herself just to find another housekeeper,” Castillon said. “I think they finally got a bellboy or bell captain…by the time they got to management, well, a lot of time went by.”

Among the policemen who witnessed the crime scene was Walter “Corky” Dennis (the father of this writer, pictured above). He was a young officer, “only on the force about six years, at that time, and was assigned to downtown,” Dennis recalled. “Several of us went in and I can remember 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,” Dennis shook his head, keeping the scene in his mind. “We noticed the bathtub had a red ring around it, like it had been drained of blood.”

“Frank (Castillon) thought there must have been a butchering or dismemberment somehow,” Dennis continued. “He worked for (Inspector) Joe Hester, so Frank and (Detective) Bob Holt had the case and later they brought Ben Hart in.”

Castillon, Hester, Castillon, Holt and Detective Steve Salas found women’s panties, bra, nylon hose and a “nice new, smooth suitcase” with clothes, wine, sardines and cheese in it.

“They found hair samples, or full lengths of blond hair, too,” said Officer Ben Hart, who told his account to this writer in April 2010.

“Lobo traced the scent of the man out the door and the trail took us down the hall to a window.”

On Wednesday, November 20, 1963 the Canine Program was born. The Police Department accepted “Rocky”, “Prince” and “Lobo” as new Cadets. The city encompassed an area of more than 153 square miles and had a population of more than 655,000. There were 610 officers, so to compensate for the small manpower-size of the force and to facilitate wider distribution of policemen available, the K-9 Patrol was established.

“I was one of the first K-9 policemen on the force,” Hart recalled. “Hester called me in so we went up there. Lobo traced the scent of the man out the door and the trail took us down the hall to a window. It had been raining outside and it looked like he took her (torso) down the fire escape. We found some blood on the fire escape but we lost the trail there.”

Just four blocks west of the Alamo shrine, the site of the 1836 massacre of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Colonel William B. Travis and almost 200 Texas defenders, Dennis noted that in 1965 “there was a lot of construction and concrete pouring going on around there. They dragged the (San Antonio) river and looked in storm drains, everything. No one really knew, or still no one knows, what happened to the body.”

“They sent us to the Katy Depot (a train station, just west of downtown) and the bus station, but Lobo didn’t find anything,” Hart added. One of the policemen found a spent .22 caliber bullet shell in the room.

“They found the slug in a bullet hole in the wall next to a dresser and bloody chair,” said Dennis. “One of the cigar butts found in the room had lipstick on it.”

Investigators learned that a five-foot-nine-inch blonde haired man signed the name “Albert Knox” on the register when he checked in Saturday afternoon of February 6, 1965.

“By the end of the day all we knew was she had type A-negative blood.”

“Of course, one of the first things we did was interview employees and possible witnesses,” Castillon explained. “We learned that Knox had been coming in and out, back and forth the last couple of days with a blond woman…an attractive blond lady.”

The Alamo (San Antonio)

“They seemed happy,” Castillon said. “Some people said she might have been a prostitute, some a girlfriend, but who really knows?”

“By the end of the day all we knew was she had type A-negative blood, might have smoked cigars, at least one she did, she had small feet and was probably shot while she was sitting in that chair from the direction of the bed.”

The maid had told detectives that the bloody bundle looked like it was wrapped in brown paper bags and a sheet.

“It was dripping a little blood because it was wrapped tight,” Castillon spread his palms apart almost two feet. Various articles indicate Mrs. Guerra described the bundle at about a foot high and 20 inches long. Besides the blood dripping bundle, the second major clue was the suitcase.

“We traced it to a luggage company by the Alamo,” said Castillon. “This opened up the investigation because this guy was going around writing hot checks all over downtown.”

Albert Knox was not his real name, it turned out. On February 3, the man walked into the San Antonio Trunk and Gift Company at 211 Alamo Plaza and bought a suitcase with a check signed by “John J. McCarthy.”

Detectives learned “McCarthy was the stepfather of a man named Walter Emerick,” said Castillon. “The investigation and evidence escalated from there, and things started making more sense to me on this puzzle. We just needed to keep collecting more evidence, more facts.”

“…this subject wanted a larger meat grinder…”

Sears Roebuck, Romana Plaza (San Antonio)

“One of the most interesting, and disturbing tips, came from the downtown Sears and Roebuck (now the site of the main San Antonio Library),” Castillon pointed. “This raised our suspicions, because I thought all along Knox, or Emerick, rather, had tried to butcher and cut her up.”

Officer A.L. Zapata, affectionately called “Shoes” by his fellow officers was tasked by Inspector Hester and Lt. Joe DiStefano to contact Mr. M.D. Allerbee at the Sears located at 642 Soledad. Allerbee had called on Tuesday, Sept. 9, after hearing about it on the local news, but with so many tips coming in, it was not until Thursday, after lunch, on Sept. 11 before Zapata was able to talk with the retailer.

Allerbee, as indicated on the assignment # 16258 report, told Zapata that on “Tuesday, between one and one-thirty, an Anglo male who he identified the mug (picture) of Walter A. Emerick that I showed him as the one who had been there at the time and attempted to buy a meat grinder.”

“Mr. Allerbee stated that this subject wanted a larger meat grinder, and powerful than the one Mrs. Wilson (a part time Sears employ who also waited on Emerick) showed him. “

“Mr. Allerbee and Mrs. Wilson told him that they did not have any larger grinders than the one they had but they were willing to get him one from the warehouse. Subject told them that he did not have time, that he wanted it now and left.”

Schilos (San Antonio)

San Antonio detectives canvassed the downtown establishments, and with the help of the local newspapers, people started calling in tips. At Schilo’s, a famous delicatessen and restaurant on Commerce Street, they learned Emerick and the woman spent $12.80 for a to-go order, including cheese and sardines. Emerick had paid by check–the same type of check he used to purchase the suitcase a few blocks away. Why had the check been signed by the stepfather, McCarthy?

The restaurant told the police “Mr. McCarthy didn’t sign the check; it was his stepson, Walter.”

Apparently the McCarthy family were regular customers to Schilo’s. One account indicates “the restaurant management recognized Mr. McCarthy’s stepson and didn’t want to make a big deal over his signing his stepfather’s check.”

Emerick’s mother was Caroline McCarthy. She and husband John J. McCarthy, lived at 227 Claudia, just south of present day “Southtown,” or southeast of the King William area. It was so common to see Mr. and Mrs. John McCarthy, her sons Walter and Charles Edward Emerick downtown, that when Walter used one of the fifty checks he had stolen from his mother, to buy food for him and a blond woman on February 1, 1965, the staff at Schilo’s readily accepted it.

Elsa Krueger, an employee of Schilo’s showed police the check was signed by Walter, even though it was his stepfather, John J. McCarthy’s personalized check. When Inspector Joe Hester heard this new information he summoned Captain A.M. Davenport, the Police Department’s best fingerprint man. They also learned Emerick been convicted in January 29, 1960 of similar charges involving hot checks.

Castillon put his right hand up. As if to stop what he was about to say, he placed a finger on his lips and a thumb under his chin.

“Think about it,” the veteran detective squinted. “He was barely a mile from home and up there butchering a body.”

Documentation and evidence indicates that the spirit of Walter A. Emerick (the killer) continues to manifest in this room despite committing suicide in another hotel. Evidence also indicates that the spirit of the victim manifests but at a much lower frequency. –Texas Paranormal Investigators

St. Anthony Hotel (Travis Park, San Antonio)

The following Tuesday, Feb. 9, 1965, a block east of the Gunter Hotel, a man identified as Robert Ashley walked into the lobby of the St. Anthony Hotel on Travis Street and checked in. Ashley wrote on claim ticket #3094 that his address was 2822 Swiss, in Dallas, Texas.

“He asked for room 636,” Castillon said, looking very serious. “A security guard and the lady behind the registration counter noticed Ashley had no luggage so this aroused their suspicions. I think he told them his luggage was coming later or something, but the deal is, room 636 was not available, so they gave him 536.”

“The guy just looked like he had been traveling, and it was cold, and wet outside, and he just wanted to rest, to sleep,” added Castillon. Ashley noted he would be staying until “2-13” on the St. Anthony ticket.

“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.”

Soon 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.

“The pillow was soaked with his blood and all we could hear was a gurgling sound.”

“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.”

Walter A. Emerick (San Antonio Light archives)

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.”

Castillon kicked the door open.

“Damn, he shot himself in the right temple, so I grabbed that gun out of his hand and asked him if 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.”

Twenty minutes later Dr. Ruben Santos, the Bexar County Medical Examiner noted the official time of death for Emerick at 11:25 p.m. While attendants were wrapping the body, detectives were gathering evidence. They found another suitcase with a new pair of black shoes and slacks, various men’s clothing, a black raincoat, and a woman’s cigarette lighter engraved with the initials “C.A.R.”

“He butchered someone in that room, but who?”

Who was the mysterious woman killed at the Gunter Hotel?(NL)

“Everything matched up with Emerick,” said Detective Frank Castillon. “Gunter Hotel room 636 and St. Anthony room 536—fingerprints matched, the gun, same type of cigars….we even found brown paper grocery bags, and the bank checks….everything.”

“We had our murderer,” he continued. “He butchered someone in that room, but who?”

“Later, we identified the lighter with the initials from a separate blond who had spent some time with Emerick at the Gunter,” explained Castillon. “She was cleared and gave us some helpful information about his demeanor, but really nothing on the cause of killing and butchering someone.”

“There was blood and gore all over that room,” Detective Dennis recalled. “It was clear he had been forcing pieces of body parts down the bath tub drain and flushing them down the toilet.”

The Gunter Hotel is now considered one of the most haunted hotels in North America and has become legendary among ghost hunters and paranormal investigators world-wide. To this day, no one knows who sent the original key through the U.S. mail to  the Gunter Hotel in 1975.

Luis Robert Vera, Jr. Law office

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