Where are my true crime lovers? My companions of all things dark and dreary? My voyeurs, my couch detectives, my serial killer podcast addicts? This one is for you!
Let’s talk about the Cecil Hotel for a minute, shall we?
I know full-well that there is very little original content in the true crime world (maybe none, in fact) but I don’t care. If I were to wait to post something until I came across an original idea, I would never write at all. That’s the nature of the beast. Today, I just want to write about something that I find intriguing, ’nuff said.
Netflix currently has two…count ’em TWO…documentaries that reference the Cecil Hotel – Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer and Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. I’ll be honest. I watched the Night Stalker and don’t actually recall the specific reference to the Cecil Hotel so when I watched Crime Scene, it came as a bit of a surprise to see Richard Ramirez discussed as a regular of the establishment in the 1980s.
In brief, Night Stalker is about, you guessed it, Richard Ramirez and his almost unparalleled evil; Crime Scene is the story of Elisa Lam, the 21 year old student who was last seen on CCTV, acting very strangely in an elevator at the Cecil Hotel and then later found dead in Hotel’s water tower. The series also goes into some depth on the hotel itself which is why I’m currently in this rabbit hole. There’s a lot that could be said about both of those cases and the documentaries but they are fresh on Netflix so I’ll let you check them out yourselves. A word of warning though – I consider myself fairly inoculated to all things violence. I am not only a true crime fan but also love horror movies. Not much makes me jumpy. The Night Stalker documentary got me a couple of times though. Perhaps the visceral evil of Richard Ramirez or how the re-enacted gunshots sounds so…gunshot-y. Anyway, if you’re the type to be affected by such things, I’d recommend watching that one while the sun’s out.
But I’m here to focus on the hotel. Must.focus.
The truth is, if you google “most deaths at a hotel”, the Cecil Hotel is the first result you’ll see. In all likelihood, this is probably because of the popularity of searching for information on the hotel right now but still, it’s not a good look Cecil. Speaking of, if you look for the Cecil Hotel on Google Maps, you won’t find it. No surprise, the hotel changed names (to “Stay on Main”) in 2011 and is currently closed (and has been since 2017) for renovations. If ever there was a good time to rebrand…..
According to Wikipedia, there have been numerous deaths at the hotel since it’s opening in 1927. There’s some conflicting information out there and you’ll notice that if you get OCD about looking into this. The Wiki page on deaths at Cecil has the number around 17 but the manager interviewed in Crime Scene said that, in her 10 years of working there, she saw around 80 deaths. For the sake of argument, let’s all just agree that it’s too many. Any establishment where Richard Ramirez can return to his room, covered in blood and people just considered that a regular Tuesday, is not going to be on my list of top 10 accommodations.
Without further ado, here are some of the strangest/most horrifying events at the Cecil:
July 1934: Former Army Medical Corps Sergeant Louis D. Borden was found dead in his room after slashing his own throat with a razor. He cited poor health as the reason for his suicide.
September 1944: Dorothy Jean Purcell was sharing a room with her boyfriend who was apparently unaware that she was pregnant. Because she did not want to disrupt her boyfriend’s sleep, she hid in the bathroom where she went into labor. Allegedly thinking the baby boy was born dead, she threw him out of the window and he landed on the roof of an adjacent building. Purcell was accused of murder but found not guilty by reason of insanity.
1947: Elizabeth Short, also know as the Black Dhalia, was rumored to have been having drinks at the hotel’s bar in the days before her unsolved (and infamous) murder.
October 1954: Helen Gurnee jumped from the window of her seventh floor room (a lot of these happened from rooms on the seventh floor…hmmmmmm) and landed on the Cecil’s marquee sign.
October 1963: Pauline Otton jumped from the window of her ninth floor room and landed on a pedestrian, killing them both. Initially, police thought both individuals had killed themselves but later found out that the pedestrian had his hands in his pockets at the time of his death. (Can you imagine? Just strolling along and then….)
1980s: Likely used as one of the residences of Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, during his killing spree.
1991: Austrian Jack Unterweger stayed at the Cecil, perhaps because he idolized Richard Ramirez. He reportedly strangled at least three sex workers at the hotel. He was later convicted of these murders in Austria and hanged himself shortly after he was sentenced. (I had never heard of the guy. Turns out, he was a serial killer who murdered women West Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the United States. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that this guy looked like he belonged on wall street or a campaign rally – not on prime time news for his murdery ways. Never judge a book by its cover, right?)
January 2013: Elisa Lam’s body was found inside one of the water tanks on the hotel roof. She had gone missing almost three weeks earlier. Her body was found after guests complained about low water pressure and water that “tasted funny” (yikes!). CCTV footage from the hotel’s elevator (taken just prior to her death) showed her acting strangely, pressing multiple elevator buttons and waving her arms as if she was talking to someone. (There’s a metric ton of speculation about this case – everything from murder to the supernatural. Whatever happened, it’s certainly a tragedy and this poor 21 year old girl probably did not know what she was getting into when she booked a room at the Cecil.)
All that, and the Cecil Hotel is a mere stone’s throw from Skid Row whose reputation goes without saying but, if you’re interested in a visual representation, check out these portraits by photographer Ellyn Kail. I thought they were a pretty moving depiction of the marginalized slice of the American dream.
But before I get too off-topic… To me, there’s something inherently sinister about a spooky hotel or just hotels in general. It need not be haunted or peppered with a violent history for a hotel to feel….not right. You are away from the safety of your home and confined in a room where someone else can get in at any time. Even if you engage a secondary lock or bring your own safety gear (which I’d highly recommend btw), you’re pretty vulnerable. If someone wanted to get in, they could. It’s a little jarring, particularly for the solo traveler. Now add to that, this particular hotel’s notoriety and proximity to a violent neighborhood, and you’ve got a recipe for one helluva crime documentary (or two!). I mean, they’re not all Stanley Hotels (the inspiration for The Shining) but I’d hazard a bet that every hotel has a story…or several.
Bet you’re feeling pretty good about COVID-related travel limitations right now, eh?
Happy Monday friends!