Jul 17, 2020

The Cecil Hotel Has a Chilling History

Omar Abubakar

heltered within downtown Los Angeles’ busy streets is one of the most infamous buildings in horror myths — the Cecil Hotel.

Since it began business in 1927, the Cecil Hotel has experienced many mysterious and unfortunate incidents. These incidents have given it an unrivaled reputation for horror. At least seventeen different suicides, murders, and paranormal events have occurred in the hotel. Even more alarming — the hotel served as a temporary home for some of America’s most notorious serial killers! This is the unpleasant history of Los Angeles’ Cecil Hotel.

The Cecil Hotel of 1927 was Glorious!

Hotelier William Banks Hanner built the Cecil in 1924. Hanner meant it to be a destination hotel for social elites and international business people. He spent approximately $1 million on the 700-room hotel, complete with a marble lobby, palm trees, stained-glass windows, and an ornate staircase.

Unfortunately, Hanner would come to regret his investment. Barely two years after commissioning the Cecil, the world — including Los Angeles — experienced the Great Depression. Soon enough, the area around the Cecil Hotel would become ‘Skid Row’ — a shelter for thousands of homeless people.

The formerly beautiful hotel eventually gained a reputation as a commune for runaways, addicts, and criminals. Even worse, Cecil ultimately gained a reputation for death and chaos.

The Cecil Hotel: A Serial Killer’s Abode

The Cecil Hotel has served as a temporary abode for some of the cruelest murderers in American history. In the mid-80s, Richard Ramirez —a serial killer, the murderer of 13 people, better known as the Night Stalker— stayed in a room on the top floor of the hotel during most of his killing spree.

After killing his most recent victim, he’d throw his bloodstained clothes into the hotel’s dumpster and walk into the hotel stark-naked or in just his underwear. According to Journalist Josh Dean, his appearance wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow “since Cecil in the 1980s… was total, unmitigated chaos.”

Ramirez was able to stay at the Cecil for just $14 per night. With bodies of addicts and hobos found in alleyways near the hotel, and in its hallways, Ramirez’s sketchy lifestyle went unchecked.

In 1991, Jack Unterweger — an Austrian serial killer that strangled prostitutes with their bras — also lived in the hotel.  Rumors emphasize that Unterweger chose the spot because of its connection to Ramirez.

The area around the Cecil was teeming with prostitutes, so Unterweger haunted the surroundings repeatedly in search of victims. A prostitute he allegedly killed disappeared down the street from the hotel, and he even claimed to have dated the hotel’s receptionist.

Murder and Suicide At Los Angeles’ “Most Haunted Hotel”

In the 1930s alone, the Cecil Hotel was the location of at least six suicides. Some residents shot themselves, while others ingested poison, jumped out of their bedroom windows, or slit their throats.

For example, in 1934, a sergeant, Louis Borden, split open his throat with a razor. Roy Thompson also committed suicide a little over three years later by jumping from a room in the hotel. He was found on the skylight of a nearby building. Thompson was a member of the Marine Corps.

The following decades only brought more gruesome deaths. In September 1944, Dorothy Jean Purcell — a 19-year-old — woke up in the middle of the night with a stomach ache. Purcell had lodged at the Cecil with Ben Levine, 38. She went into the bathroom to prevent waking Levine, and — to her utter shock — gave birth to a male child. She didn’t even know she was pregnant!

For some reason, Purcell assumed the baby was dead, so she threw it out of the window onto the roof of the neighboring building. The courts found her not guilty of murder at her trial. Instead, they admitted her to a hospital for psychiatric treatment based on insanity.

In 1962, a 65-year-old man named George Giannini was walking by the hotel with his hands in his pocket when a falling woman struck him to death. The woman turned out to be Pauline Otton, a 27-year-old that jumped from the windows of her ninth-floor room. Reportedly, she was hysterical following an altercation with her estranged husband. The fall killed both she and George Giannini immediately.

At first, the police thought it was a joint suicide case, but the theory didn’t hold up with Giannini still wearing his shoes. The reasoning being — if he had jumped, his shoes would have fallen off mid-fall.

Due to the horrific happenings at the hotel, Angelinos nicknamed the Cecil “the Most Haunted Hotel in Los Angeles.”

The Cecil’s Creepy Cold Cases

Most of the violence stories around Cecil are from its association with serial killers and suicides, but there are unsolved murders too. A noteworthy guest of the Cecil was Elizabeth Short.

Short came to be known as the “Black Dahlia” after her 1947 murder in Los Angeles. According to reports, she stayed at the hotel just before her unsolved mutilation. What connection her death may have had to the Cecil — apart from lodging there — is not known. However, Short was found on a street close to the hotel on the morning of January 15. Elizabeth Short’s mouth has been carved ear to ear by her assailant and her body cut in two.

Again, Goldie Osgood was discovered to be dead in her ransacked room at the Cecil. Her assailant had raped her before a fatal stabbing and beating. And although a suspect was spotted walking with bloodstained clothing nearby, the authorities eventually cleared him. No one ever convicted her killer, adding to the cases that never got justice served from the death toll in the Cecil hotel.

Such stories of violence are not merely a thing of the past. Decades after Short, arguably the most mysterious death to take place at the Cecil Hotel happened as recently as 2013.

In 2013, Canadian college student Elisa Lam was found naked and dead inside the water tank on the roof of the hotel three weeks after she had gone missing. This was after hotel guests complained of lousy water pressure and a funny water taste.

Lam’s death attracted a lot of negative publicity for the Cecil hotel. Even though the authorities ruled her death an accidental drowning, conspiracists believed otherwise, and it was easy to see why.

Prior to her death, surveillance cameras captured Lam in one of the hotel’s elevators. She was acting strangely — yelling at someone out of view, attempting to hide from someone or something, frantically waving her arms and pressing the  elevator buttons.

After the video surfaced publicly, people began to believe the rumors of the haunted hotel to be true. Horror aficionados started drawing parallels between the Black Dahlia murder and Lam’s murder. They pointed out that both women were in their twenties, traveling alone from L.A. to San Diego, last seen at the Cecil Hotel, and were missing for several days before their bodies turned up.

Although these connections might sound thin, it hasn’t stopped the hotel’s reputation from forming.

The latest body found was in 2015. It is believed the victim committed suicide, but this did nothing to calm the ghost stories that swirled once more.

A Cecil of the Future?

Since it’s soiled reputation became public news, the hotel has served as the inspiration for a season of American Horror Story about a hotel that’s home to unimaginable murder and mayhem.

In 2011, the Cecil attempted to rebrand as the $75-per-night budget hotel for tourists. But this didn’t last very long. After the brief stint as the Stay On Main Hotel and Hostel, the hotel closed down.

More recently, New York developers signed a 99-year lease on the property. It is currently undergoing a $100 million renovation, as they aim to convert the space to $1,500-a-month micro-apartments. The new Cecil hotel will include an upscale boutique hotel as well.

Maybe with the New Yorkers spin on it, the hotel can shake off its reputation for the macabre. We guess we’d just have to wait and see.

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