Lafayette Man’s Death Fuels True Crime Mystery ‘The Body in Room 348′
When Beaumont, Texas police found a Lafayette oil-and-gas man dead on the floor in his room at the Eleganté Hotel, it appeared to be a sad but explainable death by natural causes. However, things quickly turned out to be anything but explainable.
On the evening of Wednesday, September 15, 2010, Greg Fleniken of Lafayette, La was enjoying a quiet, laidback evening in his hotel room, Room 348 of the MCM Eleganté Hotel, in Beaumont, Texas.
Lounging on his bed, eating some candy, having a few cigarettes, and watching "Iron Man 2" were all of the evening's events planned.
This wasn't an out-of-the-ordinary evening for Fleniken. He had started a successful oil-land leasing business with his brother Michael, OGM Land Company in Beaumont, Texas. As such, Fleniken routinely started his work week every Monday morning by driving from Lafayette to the Houston area, then back home to Lafayette for the weekend.
According to Vanity Fair Greg Fleniken and his wife, Susie would speak to each other every morning when he was traveling, but on the morning of September 16, there was no answer when she called.
Susie contacted Fleniken's coworkers to see if they could get in touch with him to no avail. Worried, two of Fleniken's coworkers drove to his hotel and knocked on his door, but Greg didn't answer.
From Vanity Fair -
"At some point during the loud, computer-generated showdown at the end of the film, amid all the fake violence, Greg was struck from nowhere with a very real and shattering blow. A blow so violent it would blind a man with pain. He managed to get off the bed and move toward the door before he fell, legs splayed and face-first."
Authorities report they believe Greg Fleniken was dead before he even hit the floor of his hotel room.
Was Fleniken a victim of a violent break-in robbery?
According to Vanity Fair's 2013 story titled "The Body in Room 348", police found no signs of a break-in, no signs of a struggle, nothing was even disturbed in Fleniken's room, and there was no blood found at the scene.
Fleniken had no apparent wounds aside from an abrasion on his left cheek from his face hitting the carpet when he fell.
Police also found Fleniken's wallet still in his back pocket which contained almost $1,000 according to reports, so robbery was ruled out.
No drugs were found anywhere in his room, on his person, or in his luggage so Fleniken's death being drug-related was out of the picture.
Fleniken reportedly was a fairly heavy smoker and drank often, but not in excess. Because of this, police at the scene chalked his death up to natural causes.
After conducting numerous interviews with other guests at the hotel, and being satisfied there was nothing left to examine or discover, police released Fleniken's body to the Jefferson County medical examiner for transport and autopsy.
Dr. Tommy Brown, the Jefferson County medical examiner, only found two marks on Fleniken's body when beginning the autopsy. One mark on Fleniken's cheek from his fall, and another small mark in Fleniken's groin area.
However, as the autopsy progressed, a seemingly simple death by natural causes turned into something Dr. Brown couldn't explain.
From VanityFair.com -
"The condition of his insides reflected severe trauma: Fleniken had been beaten to death, or crushed. Brown concluded that the wound to his groin likely had been caused by a hard kick. He had also taken a blow to the chest so severe it had caused lethal damage.
The doctor found small lacerations on the stomach and liver, as well as two broken ribs and a hole in the right atrium of his heart."
Clearly, not what Dr. Brown was expecting to see from a death deemed to be of natural causes.
At that point, Brown officially listed Fleniken's cause of death as a homicide.
Dr. Brown explained to the lead detective on the case, Detective Scott Apple, that Fleniken's internal injuries were consistent with those seen in crash victims, or in victims found underneath heavy objects.
Fleniken's internal injuries depicted a severe, rib-cracking beating, yet externally his body showed no signs of trauma and, after countless interviews, no one staying at the hotel that night heard anything that would indicate such a savage beating.
Detective Apple learned from hotel records that early on the night of Fleniken's death he made a call to hotel maintenance. While making some popcorn in the room's microwave "Greg had inadvertently blown an electrical circuit" according to Vanity Fair.
Records show the blown circuit had not only affected the power in Fleniken's room but also affected the power in the room next to his, Room 349.
There was a group of out-of-town electricians staying at the MCM Eleganté Hotel the same night as Fleniken, two of those electricians were staying next door in Room 349.
Could the breaker incident have caused an argument between Fleniken and the two men next door that led to a physical altercation in the hallway?
That could explain Fleniken's room showing no signs of a struggle.
A little over a week after Fleniken's death, Detective Apple went back to the hotel to interview Lance Mueller and Tim Steinmetz, two electricians who were still in town working and still staying in Room 349.
The two men were reportedly helpful and cooperated fully with the questioning. They told Detective Apple that when they returned to their room from the hotel bar the night of Fleniken's death, they thought they remembered hearing someone coughing next door in Room 348.
They told Detective Apple that was the only noise they heard from Fleniken's room the night of September 15, 2010, and gladly offered their cell numbers to investigators in the event they could be of any future help.
It appeared Greg Fleniken's death was, unfortunately, becoming a cold case.
That is until Greg's wife Susie Fleniken hired private investigator Ken Brennan.
A former Long Island cop and D.E.A. special agent, P.I. Ken Brennan had a reputation for solving tough cases. He certainly had a tough one with Fleniken's death but he was up for the task.
In April of 2010, Brennan traveled to Lafayette to sit down with Susie Fleniken to get as many details as he could to get started on the case. In their conversation, there was one thing that stood out to Brennan.
According to vanityfair.com, Brennan asked Susie if there was anything that didn't seem right to her about the crime scene.
Susie told Brennan "that she was surprised that the room was so warm when Greg’s co-workers entered it the following morning. Her husband liked to crank up the A.C. at night."
Brennan then traveled to Beaumont to meet with Detective Apple and review the case files.
After meeting with Apple and reviewing all of the evidence and crime scene photos, Brennan tells Apple “I think I know how this guy died. I think I know when he died. I think I know who killed him. And I think I know how we’re going to catch him” as reported by vanityfair.com.
Brennan realized while reviewing the evidence that Fleniken was still holding a cigarette in his left hand at the time of his death.
He quickly called Susie and asked if Fleniken was right or left-handed, and asked which hand he smoked with. Susie confidently told Brennan her husband was right-handed, and positively without a doubt always smoked with his right hand.
From vanityfair.com -
"As Brennan saw it, the air conditioner had shut down with everything else when the circuit breaker blew. Hotel records showed that their repairman had left Greg alive and well around 8:30 P.M. The movie resumed, and apparently Greg forgot to flip the A.C. back on. It would have taken a few minutes for the room to grow warm enough for him to notice, and by the time it had, he was dead.
If Greg was right-handed, why was the cigarette found in his left hand? As Brennan pieced it together, examining the state of the room, Greg had gotten up from the bed and headed toward the door, shifting the cigarette to his left hand in order to grab the door handle with his right."
The next step was to speak with Dr. Tommy Brown, the Jefferson County medical examiner. In their conversation, Detective Brennan asks Dr. Brown if the internal injuries suffered by Fleniken could have been caused by a severe beating.
Dr. Brown said yes, and the injury found on Fleniken's groin, in his opinion, could have been caused by someone wearing steel-tipped boots.
The two electricians in Room 349 wore construction boots.
Apple explains to Brennan that he didn't pick up on any red flags when he interviewed the men the day Fleniken's body was discovered.
Having not yet connected all of the dots for his theory about Fleniken's death, Brennan returned home to Long Island with the Hotel's surveillance footage and asked Detective Apple to reinterview the two men from Room 349 while he was gone.
Weeks later when Brennan returned to Beaumont, he and Detective Apple met to share any new information they might have uncovered. While Brennan discovered nothing of interest in the Hotel's surveillance footage, Apple had indeed discovered something interesting in his interviews.
Apple told Brennan that when interviewing "one of the crew foremen, a man named Aaron Bourque had heard something about a gun going off."
No one previously interviewed about the night in question had mentioned anything about hearing a gunshot at the MCM Eleganté Hotel.
Brennan immediately tells Apple they need to go back to the MCM Eleganté Hotel "to look for a bullet" in Room 348 and Room 349.
Arriving back at the Eleganté Hotel, Brennan and Apple went through Rooms 349 and 348 with a fine-toothed comb and found...nothing. Brennan grew frustrated because, at this point in his investigation, he was convinced there was a gun involved in the death of Greg Fleniken.
Right before giving up, Brennan noticed some drywall patchwork on the wall shared with the adjoining room. He opened the door to see if the patchwork lined up with the doorknob, and it didn't.
The damage on the wall wasn't caused by the Hotel room's doorknob.
He and Apple then quickly examined the room next door, the same room the two electricians were staying in the night of Fleniken's death.
Once inside Room 349, the two investigators found a small hole patched with what appeared to be toothpaste.
And, the holes in Room 348 and Room 349 lined up perfectly with each other.
Those two holes were caused by a bullet.
From vanityfair.com -
"Brennan stood alongside a small neat hole in the wall that had been patched with a daub of faintly pink filler that turned out to be dried toothpaste. He measured its height against his hip, then walked back to 348 and measured the indentation. They lined up. A bullet had gone through the wall. The small, neat hole in 349 marked its entry; the larger hole in 348, its exit."
Brennan concluded that Greg Fleniken was sitting on his bed, eating candy, smoking a cigarette, and watching "Iron Man 2" when he was shot in his groin by a bullet fired from Room 349.
Brennan and Apple then brought their findings to Dr. Tommy Brown, the Jefferson County medical examiner but, Brown wasn't buying it.
Being that Fleniken was cremated, there wasn't a body to exhume and reexamine, so the three men then reexamined the autopsy photos.
As the photos were reexamined, it eventually became clear that Fleniken's internal injuries were not caused by a beating, but in fact, caused by a bullet.
The bullet that entered Greg Fleniken's body in his groin traveled through his internal organs and eventually led to Fleniken's heart where the three men discovered...a bullet hole.
It was time to go speak to the two men who were staying in Room 349 again.
At this point in the investigation Tim Steinmetz and Lance Mueller, the two men who were staying next door to Fleniken at the Eleganté Hotel, were no longer in Beaumont, Texas at this point and had already traveled back home to Wisconsin.
Brennan and Apple quickly traveled to Wisconsin and arranged interviews with the two men at the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department.
First to be interviewed was Tim Steinmetz.
Everything went smoothly during the interview, and when Brennan and Apple were done with their questions, they asked Steinmetz to go over his statement and make any changes if needed.
After changing a few minor things, Steinmetz signed his statement.
That's when Brennan and Apple threatened him with arrest for filing a false police report unless he told them the truth about what happened that night.
After some good cop/bad cop tactics, Steinmetz eventually told them what really happened that night.
The Truth About What Really Happened That Night
Steinmetz told Brennan and Apple that he and two coworkers, Lance Mueller and Trent Pasano, were drinking and unwinding after a long day of work. At one point during the afternoon, Mueller asked Pasano to go get a bottle of whiskey and his gun, pistol, a 9-mm. Ruger, out of his vehicle downstairs.
When Pasano returned to Room 349, Mueller took the gun and began playing with it, eventually dropping the gun.
Steinmetz says when the gun hit the floor it fired into Room 348.
At the time no one was sure if anyone was in Room 348.
After not hearing any noises coming from Room 348, Steinmetz said they left and went down to the hotel bar to continue drinking.
When Steinmetz and Mueller returned to their room later that night, he says they heard someone coughing in Room 348, so they assumed whoever was in the room was ok.
Could Greg Fleniken have still been alive when the two men returned from the bar? Could he have been who they heard coughing inside Room 348?
Sadly, that question will never be answered because they never took the time to find out.
On October 29, 2012, Lance Mueller was charged with manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
If Steinmetz and Mueller had told Detective Apple the truth about what happened the morning Greg Fleniken's body was discovered in Room 348, it's quite likely Mueller wouldn't have been charged.
Read more at vanityfair.com.