cecil hotel

Inside the Cecil Hotel: The notorious location of LA’s most mysterious unsolved crimes

Elisa Lam’s death is not the only mystery to have occurred in the hotel


CW: Mentions of suicide, rape and details which some readers may find distressing

If you’ve been watching Netflix’s Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel, then you will be familiar with the Cecil Hotel. Elisa Lam was discovered dead in a hotel water tank after going missing. And even if you don’t have a Netflix subscription, you’ve probably heard something about this infamous hotel.

The Cecil Hotel is a hotel known for being the location of a high number of murders, suicides and mysterious unexplained events.

Built less than a 100 years ago, it’s become so notorious for eerie happenings that it’s become firmly placed in popular culture. It’s inspired episodes of American Horror Story, cocktails have been named after someone who died there and a video of a student who died on the roof went viral in 2013, and is now the subject of Netflix’s latest documentary.

This is everything you need to know about the mysterious Cecil Hotel:

The opening of the Cecil Hotel

The Cecil Hotel was built in 1924 by William Banks Hanner, Charles L. Dix and Robert H. Schops. The hotel opened with 700 rooms and featured a marble lobby, palm trees and stained glass windows.

However just five years later the Great Depression started and the area around the hotel became known as “Skid Row” due to the amount of homeless people living there.

The hotel soon began to gather a reputation as a meeting place for criminals and sex workers.

The first deaths

In 1931 the first known suicide took place at the hotel. 46-year-old W. K. Norton from Manhattan was discovered dead in his room after ingesting poison capsules. He had checked into the hotel a week before under a different name, calling himself “James Willys”.

Norton’s death was the first in a string of suicides which took place at the hotel.

One notable incident occurred in 1937 when Grace E. Magro fell from the ninth floor and her fall was broken by telephone wires which she became trapped in. Grace eventually died in a nearby hospital.

An odd similarity between many of the suicides is people registering at the hotel under false names and many are unidentifiable after their deaths, with some still not being known to this very day.

The case of Dorothy Jean Purcell

One of the more bizarre events which occurred at the Cecil Hotel is the story of Dorothy Jean Purcell. In 1944, the 19-year-old Dorothy checked into the hotel with her boyfriend 38-year-old Ben Levine.

Dorothy was apparently unaware she was pregnant, and when she went to the bathroom one evening she gave birth to a baby boy.

via Nick Ut/AP/Shutterstock

Thinking her son was dead she threw him out of the window and he landed on the roof of an adjacent building.

Dorothy was arrested for murder but during her trial was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The suicide of Pauline Otton

Pauline Otton’s suicide is infamous for causing the death of a passerby. In 1962 Pauline jumped from the ninth storey after an argument with her husband Dewey.

She landed on a pedestrian called George Gianinni, who was 65-years-old, and killed them both.

Police initially suspected they had jumped together, however because George had his hands in his pockets and his shoes on they determined Pauline had landed on George.

The Black Dahlia murder

The unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short is the first known murder in relation to the Cecil Hotel.

In 1947 Elizabeth’s body was discovered severed in two in a nearby park to the Cecil Hotel. Her face had been slashed from the corners of her mouth to her ears and it appeared the killer had washed her body before disposing of it.

Her death remains unsolved to this day, although there have been many suspects and people who claimed to have killed her. Most recently a former detective claimed his father, a surgeon, was the one to murder Elizabeth Short.

Elizabeth was given the nickname “Black Dahlia” by the media after her death and her murder continues to be referenced in popular culture including an episode of American Horror Story. The Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles now even serves a Black Dahlia cocktail which is a mixture of vodka, Chambord black raspberry liqueur and Kahlua.

The murder of “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood

The Cecil Hotel was the location of yet another unsolved murder. In 1964 “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood was discovered dead in her room.

She had been raped, beaten, stabbed and her room had been ransacked. Pigeon Goldie was a local resident who earned her nickname from feeding the pigeons in a local park.

Next to her body was the cap she always wore and a sack full of birdseed. Though one man, Jacques B. Ehlinger, was arrested for her murder because he was seen in the area after in bloody clothing, he was ultimately released and not charged with her murder.

The case remains unsolved.

Richard Ramirez

The subject of Netflix’s latest true crime series, Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalkerm was said to have stayed at the Cecil Hotel during the majority of his killing spree.

via Netflix

He lived in a room on the top floor of the hotel and paid $14 a night to stay there. It has been reported Ramirez would throw his bloody clothing into the dumpster of the hotel, and then walked into the lobby either naked or just in his underwear.

Jack Unterweger

The Cecil Hotel was later the residence for yet another serial killer. This time it was the Austrian killer Jack Unterweger who murdered between 12 and 15 people.

Unterweger committed his first murder in 1974 when he killed 18-year-old Margaret Schäfer by strangling her with her own bra. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1976.

During his time in prison he began to write poetry, short stories and an autobiography. In 1985 a petition began to have Unterweger pardoned and was supported by politicians and writers.

He was eventually released in 1990 and became a popular TV host and journalist. However a year later he travelled to LA and stayed at the Cecil Hotel, which he reportedly chose because of its connection to Ramirez.

Police discovered Unterweger had murdered eight women in Europe who were all killed with their own bras. During his time in LA three sex workers were murdered all with their own bras.

He was eventually caught in Florida and extradited to Austria and charged with 11 murders, including the three that took place in LA. Unterweger committed suicide on the night he was sentenced.

Elisa Lam

The most recent of mysterious deaths to occur at the Cecil Hotel was the death and disappearance of Elisa Lam.

21-year-old student Elisa Lam was discovered dead in a water tank on the roof of the hotel, three weeks after she was reported missing.

Elisa had been staying at the hotel and CCTV footage of her shortly before her disappearance went viral on social media, after it was shared by the police in hopes of gathering evidence.

via Netflix

Her death was ruled as an accidental drowning, however thanks to the footage there have been numerous theories circulated on the internet on what happened to her.

Elisa’s death and disappearance is set to be explored in Netflix’s upcoming documentary, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.

The Cecil Hotel today

In 2011 the hotel was renamed the Stay on Main hotel. And in 2015 a body was found of a man who reportedly committed suicide.

It has now closed and is being turned into apartments. The hotel is said to be the inspiration for season five of American Horror Story – Hotel.

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, quizzes, drops and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook. 

Featured image credit: Netflix

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