Seated in the center of historic San Antonio, the Sheraton Gunter Hotel is an impressive sight to behold: twelve-stories tall, beautiful tan brick and a flare of elegance that can only be found in old properties.
The Sheraton Gunter Hotel has this all in spades. It’s a blend of old and new; modern amenities and timeless elegance; trendy cuisine at its restaurant and bar, Bar 414, and historical significance. On January 9, 2007, The Sheraton Gunter Hotel was awarded for its historical importance and listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.
The Sheraton Gunter is a one of a kind place. In part because since the 1830s, it has almost always been a hotel—though under different management and different names—and also largely because it earned extreme notoriety in 1965 at no fault of its own.
In 1965, San Antonio’s most mysterious and brutal murder took place inside of one of The Sheraton Gunter’s guest rooms.
Since then, it appears that the residual energy from that terrible night replays over and over again, leaving a paranormal imprint on The Sheraton Gunter Hotel that it certainly never asked for . . .
Since 1837, just a year after fall of the Alamo, there has stood a hotel on current Sheraton Gunter Hotel Land. It went by the name, The Settlement Inn. Some called it The Frontier Inn, but the message was all the same: the owners had been (relatively) unimaginative and the Inn’s name came from the fact that San Antonio was, in fact, the border land at the time.
(I personally like to imagine that inspiration struck over an icy cold tumbler of whiskey at a saloon.)
The Inn was situated at the corner of what was then referred to as El Paso and El Rincon Streets. As one author put it: “The Inn had the best location in the center of a bustling town that sprawled comfortably along the banks of the winding San Antonio River."
When the Mexican cavalry swept into town to try and recapture the city of San Antonio in 1842, they were met with no luck. The Republic of Texas stood strong. The frontier had been established, and its people were sturdy and resilient.
The Settlement Inn was much the same, and survived both attempted strategic attempts on the Mexicans behalf to reclaim what they had lost less than a decade earlier at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Soon, The Settlement Inn would also be lost when new ownership emerged.
For $500, the Settlement/Frontier Inn was purchased and demolished in 1851.
Irish immigrant brothers William, John and James Vance had visions for the Settlement Inn. Times were changing, and they itched to be part of that progress. The street names at the corner where the Inn sat had changed to Houston and St. Mary’s Street, and that was the most minute of the progress being seen in San Antonio.
The Vance brothers erected a two-story building in place of the Inn, and subsequently rented it out to the US Army for the next decade. During that period, the property operated as the local Headquarters for the Army.
Then, the Civil War erupted. Brothers fought against brothers, fathers, sons. Homes were razed across the country. Cities like New Orleans were occupied by the Union troops, although the citizens of the Crescent City generally sided with the gray-uniformed Confederates.
Texas had seceded from the United States, like many other Southern states, and joined the Confederates. The Union (or US Army) parted from the headquarters base in San Antonio. It was not before long that the Confederates swooped in and took their place.
By the time the Civil War had ended, the property owned (in theory) by the Vance family had traded hands again. This time, it was the Federal troops who occupied the city and who also used the building. They did so until 1872 when the property was finally given back to the Vance family.
(You’ve got to wonder how excited they were, or if the enthusiasm for running a hotel by then was nonexistent).
Even so, the building was soon reopened as the Vance House (or Vance Hotel) and thanks to perfect timing—the first railroad tracks were put down in 1877—the hostelry was a success.
For a nickel, guests could hop into a carriage at the train depot and ride to Vance House. And for a whopping $2/day, which was more than many people’s wages at the time, guests could stay the night.
Luxury at its finest, I tell you.
1886 was the dawn of a new day. Although the property continued to be owned by the Vance family, two German immigrants had a new vision and they took over management of the property.
Ludwig Mahncke and Lesher A. Trexler were a business team concocted in heaven. Mahncke was conscious of that Old World allure when it came to managing successful hotels. Prior to managing a hotel, Mahncke had managed The Mission Garden. Trexler, on the other hand, had a resume of being an excellent hotelier, and was more than capable in convincing local cattlemen and businessmen to stay at the new Mahncke Hotel.
One contemporary newspaper claimed that the hotel “has no superior in the state,” and mentioned its airy rooms and extravagant modern amenities.
Not so long after, however, dreams aspired to make an even larger hotel on the site of Vance property.
And so they did.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the frontier was no longer so much of a frontier. San Antonio was finally hitting its stride, thanks to the arrival of the railroad but also in thanks to tourism.
In the early 1900s, a group of investors came together to form the San Antonio Hotel Company. There were thirteen men in total, including rancher Jot Gunter, whose name would later be given to the hotel which still stands at the corner of Houston and St. Mary’s Streets today.
The Vance family finally relinquished ownership in 1907, when the newly formed San Antonio Hotel Company made its purchase. Mrs. Mary E. Vance Winslow was paid $190,000, a very handsome figure that would probably amount to the millions of dollars in today’s currency.
The investors had a plan to tear the Mahncke Hotel down and replace it with a “palatial structure that would meet the demands of the state’s most progressive city."
Boy, did they accomplish it.
Unfortunately, Jot Gunter would never live to see the day when his dream became a reality. He died shortly after the deal was signed, but his co-investors decided to name the hotel in his honor.
When the property was completed in 1909, it was a gorgeous juxtaposition of opulence and new age-amenities. Eight-stories tall and 301 rooms in total—The Gunter Hotel blended steel, concrete and tan brick to create a hotel that was one of the finest in the country.
It had been designed by the St. Louis architectural firm of Mauran, Russel & Garden, and then erected by the Westlake Construction Company. Mauran, Russel & Garden were also responsible for building The Galvez Hotel in Galveston, and the Adolpus in Dallas. By that day’s definition, The Gunter Hotel was a skyscraper and by far the tallest building in San Antonio.
Not to be outdone, even within a race against itself, a ninth floor was added to the hotel in 1917. The record for tallest building in San Antonio once again was awarded to The Gunter. In 1924, the Baker Hotel Company purchased the property and in 1926, another three stories were added. The architect, Herbert Green, topped it off with a new annex that they nicknamed, the Gunter Roof.
Thanks to its position adjacent to the Majestic Theatre, a number of celebrities would find themselves staying at The Gunter Hotel throughout the twentieth century. Tom Mix, Mae West, philanthropist Will Rogers and President Harry S. Truman all called the hotel home at one point or another.
But one name that sticks out among the rest? John Wayne, who stayed The Gunter during the filming of his film, The Alamo.
Simply, The Gunter Hotel was the place to be.
By 1979, The Gunter Hotel had changed hands again. It was sold to Josef Seiterle, and a $20 million restoration was undertaken. Ten years later, The Gunter found a new home with the Sheraton hotel chain. A back-and-forth volley occurred after this, in which The Gunter went under various new ownerships for the next ten years.
In 1999, after an $8 million renovation, it once more became a member of the Sheraton hotel family and remains so today.
Guests at The Sheraton Gunter Hotel can enjoy amenities such as the fitness center, the new restaurant, bar and club lounge. Add to that is the fact that The Sheraton Gunter is extremely centrally located, making it a quick and painless walk to many of San Antonio’s tourist hotspots.
Pride exudes out of this twentieth-century hotel, which so enraptures all of its guests.
As the hotel’s website boasts, “The Sheraton Gunter preserves 1900s grace, infusing it with modern amenities to create a special atmosphere where past meets present."
Just remember: While The Sheraton Gunter today is one of the most stayed in hotels in San Antonio, the 1960s brought a different sort of notoriety to the hotel. The gruesome kind.
. . . As well as the ghosts while still haunt this historic hotel.
Like many haunted locations in San Antonio, people staying at The Sheraton Gunter Hotel have seen the spirits of the fallen Alamo defenders. There have been reported dips in temperature, the kind where your hair stands up on end and a chill whispers down your spine.
Others have experienced the sensation of being watched, of glancing of your shoulder with the expectation that someone is there . . .
But they never are. Your feet skid to a halt, and this time you turn your body completely. A nervous stand-off between you and the unknown. With a deep breath, you assure yourself that nothing is there. You turn on the balls of your feet in the direction you first started. One step. Two steps.
Then, that feeling begins anew. Eyes are watching you, following your form, perhaps even trailing along in your wake. Sometimes the sensation dissipates, and in others, it persists for a much longer stretch of time.
These are normal paranormal phenomena experienced at The Sheraton Gunter Hotel. But surprise, surprise, the hotel’s spirits inevitably have more up their sleeve to make your stay a most memorable one . . .
Two flappers are said to haunt the halls of The Sheraton Gunter Hotel.
Or, rather, they’re believed to be flappers from the 1920s. Others suggest that they were prostitutes of the same period.
The first spirit, who has been given the name Ingrid, is often seen wearing a long white dress while she ambles along the upper floors of the hotel. The second, alternatively, is nicknamed Peggy.
For the record, the two ghostly women do not get along.
Though the women are said to haunt opposing sections of the hotel, guests have reported hearing them heatedly argue. Is it a matter of ghostly territory? Or perhaps the womanly specters knew each other in life, and their squabbles have continued into the afterlife?
Whatever the case may be which has kept them here on the earthly plane, it’s plain to see their fighting causes a lot of the paranormal activity at The Sheraton Gunter. Guests have taken photos with their ghostly forms caught on film, as though they too want to be part of the fun.
There have been the sounds, and evidence, of furniture being moved in guest rooms as well as in the communal areas of the hotel when no one is around.
In a 1994 article for The Express News, staff writer Becky Whetstone Schmidt visited some of San Antonio’s most haunted locations. On visiting The Sheraton Gunter, she stopped and chatted with one of the employees.
She wrote, “Christina Richards, who works in accounting at the hotel, had hotel guests tell her they saw ghosts when she worked at the front desk. But she thought they were just making up stories to avoid paying their bill. Until she saw one herself. ‘I saw something that crossed from one side to the other side,’ said Richards. ‘So I turned to look and somebody crossed through the wall, and through yet another wall. She had on a long white dress.”
No doubt, the ghost that Richards saw was no one other than Ingrid herself. And as long as she didn’t find herself sandwiched in the middle of a ghostly argument, I don’t suspect that she had too much to worry about.
One of the most famous celebrities to stay at The Sheraton Gunter was the blues artist, Robert Johnson.
Johnson’s talent scout, H.C. Speir, had arranged for a recording session to be held at the hotel on November 23, 1936 in Room 414. In a strange twist of fate, it would be only one of two recording sessions that Robert Johnson would ever have.
Johnson was one of the most important (and influential) blues musicians of his day. He was so good that some people thought that Johnson had made a bargain with the devil at a crossroads to earn all the success that he had amassed in such a short period of time. But with all strokes of good luck, Johnson’s did not last forever.
In 1938, at the age of twenty-seven, Johnson was found dead near Greenwood, Mississippi. The cause of his death was unknown then, and is still up for speculation today. Some believe that Johnson had been poisoned by the jealous husband of a woman he had flirted with at a country dance club he’d played in for some weeks.
As the story goes, fellow blues musician Sonny Boy Williamson was with Johnson that night. When the woman who had caught Johnson’s eye gave him a bottle of whiskey, Williamson motioned to take it out of his hand.
“Don’t ever drink out of a bottle you didn’t see opened,” Williamson said.
Johnson was having none of it. He swiped the bottle back, and said, “Don’t ever knock a bottle out of my hand."
He tossed the whiskey back. Accepted another by the woman. By the following morning, Johnson’s body was racked with pain. He died three days later, and the cause of that mystery has never been figured out. The only suggestion has been poison, but even the type of poison used is lost to history.
At The Sheraton Gunter Hotel, it is said that Johnson’s spirit still lingers in Room 414, where he once held his first recording session. In 2009, musician John Mellencamp arrived at The Gunter to record a new album. He’d felt drawn to the hotel, Mellencamp once said, and Room 414 in particular.
Today, The Sheraton Gunter’s new bar is honored with the name Room 414, in reference to the room that Johnson was used. As for the ghost of Robert Johnson himself, if he is to be found at The Sheraton Gunter, it would be surely be in this room.
In February of 1965, San Antonio’s largest unsolved mystery would take place at The Gunter Hotel.
Albert Knox checked in 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 Albert 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.
But 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 when they’d already checked out of the hotel.
Guerra pushed open the door, only to stop dead in her tracks. Standing at the foot of the bed, Albert Knox stood with a bloody bundle in his arms. Blood splattered 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. Brutally. In a 1976 interview about the crime, Detective Walter “Corky” Dennis, who passed away in 2011, commented that “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 to forth only further pushed this idea.
The day before the murder, Knox had visited the local Sears department 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, luggage from the San Antonio Trunk and 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, who 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 Walter 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.
In the fifty years that have passed since those fateful nights, the woman’s identity has never been discovered and no missing reports have ever surfaced. Ten 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) 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 guest 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 the San Antonio Paranormal Investigations (SAPI) conducted one of its many investigations at The Sheraton Gunter, one of its psychics was actually physically attacked by an unseen force. Yet still another saw the 1965 murder so very clearly before.
Is it possible that the ghosts of Walter Emerick and his unknown victim are replaying the brutal murder in the after life?
No one is certain, but this can be said: if you hope to stay in Room 636, the hotel’s most recent renovation has split this haunted room into two separate guest rooms now.
I wish you the best of luck.
Are you looking to book your next visit to San Antonio? If so, the historic Sheraton Gunter Hotel might just be the place for you!
Do you like delicious food and a cosmopolitan atmosphere, with a touch of old world elegance? Do you like being centrally located, so that all of San Antonio’s tourist attractions are within walking distance? (Including The Alamo and The River Walk?)
Then The Sheraton Gunter Hotel is perhaps your best fit!
But if you hear the squabbling of two women in the dead of night, and see the flash of a long, white dress; if you hear the jubilant sound of a banjo strumming or the soulful voice of a blues star; and if you see the red blood coating the walls and the scenes of a unsolved murder from decades past . . .
Don’t say that we didn’t warn you that The Sheraton Gunter Hotel is one of the most haunted hotels in all of San Antonio.