The Infamous Cecil Hotel

The Cecil Hotel opened in 1925 by a hotelier William Barks Hanner. The vision for the hotel when it was built was for it to be a destination hotel for international business men and social elites. He spent $1 million on the 700 room “Beaux Arts Style” hotel fully equipped with a marble lobby, stained glass windows, palm trees, and a lavish staircase. Shortly after it opened, the Great Depression caused the surrounding area to become part of “Skid Row”. The hotel then became known as a “budget hotel”- it housed displaced people, prostitutes, and drug users. The hotel has become notorious for being a landmark for mysterious deaths. Numerous deaths (possibly 16 accounted for) by unnatural causes whether labeled as accidents, murders, or suicide.

In the 1930’s there was at least 6 reported suicides. Some of the residents ingested poison, while others shot themselves, slit their throats, or jumped out a window. In 1934, an army sergeant named Louis D Borden slashed his throat with a razor. About 4 years later, Roy Thompson who was part of the Marine Corps , jumped from the hotel and his body was found on the skylight of a neighboring building. In September 1944, a 19 year old named Dorothy Jean Purcell was staying at the hotel with a 38 year old shoe salesman named Ben Levine. Dorothy woke up in the middle of the night with sharp abdominal pains. She went to the hotel restroom without waking Ben up. When she got to the bathroom she realized she was in labor and gave birth to a baby alone. In the news clipping found, she claimed she believed the child was dead when born. She proceeded to throw the baby out the window and the baby was found on the roof of the next building over. She claimed she Ben never knew of the incident in any capacity. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. In 1962, a 65 year old man named George Gianni was just walking by the hotel and was struck to death by a woman who jumped out of her window. Pauline Otto was 27 and was supposedly having an argument with her husband at the time.

The infamous hotel also housed some of history’s famous serial killers. In the mid 80’s, serial killer Richard Ramirez stayed there during the majority of his killing spree. Richard is known to have murdered 13 people. At the time he would have paid about $14/night, and at the time the hotel was mostly full of junkies. No one would have noticed Richards suspect behavior or clothes due to the fact that the hotel was full of chaos at the time. It also housed Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger. He was known for strangling prostitutes with their own bras. He had been convicted of murder and was supposed to serve a life sentence. He was released on parole in 1990. In 1991 he stayed at the Cecil Hotel as a journalist covering street crime in Los Angeles at the time. While he was there, there were three prostitutes that were killed in the same way Unterweger had killed before, and investigators were able to link him to the murders.

About five years ago, guests at the Cecil Hotel complained of a funny taste and low water pressure. On February 19, 2013 they found the body of Elisa Lam, a 21 year old from Vancouver.She had been touring the city alone and was staying at the hotel prior to going missing for two weeks. Elisa was labeled as bipolar and depressive by her family and was taking about 4 different medications. She had not had any history of suicidal thoughts or behavior. Prior to her disappearance, they have footage of her from the hotel cameras in the elevator. She was acting erratic, pressing random buttons, popping her head in and out to look around and appearing to speak to someone who either was not there or can’t be seen on camera. The video is super disturbing and creepy. I was too scared to even watch the whole video by myself at night. Her body was found 3 weeks later inside the water tank on the roof of the hotel.

The hotel eventually became the inspiration for FX’s show American Horror Story Season “Hotel”.

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